Thanks to Dr. Marv Slind, author of “Norse to the Palouse,” I know that today is "Syttende Mai" (17th of May), which is Norway's "Constitution Day." For those of you who think it is "Independence Day,” Dr. Slind would tell you that is not so! Today is the anniversary – number 205 - of Norway's constitution, signed at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814. It is the second oldest constitution in the world still in continuous force (after the US constitution).
If you lived in Decorah, Iowa, Stoughton, Wisconsin – or other similar communities where the Norwegians are most dense (high percentage of the population – shame on you, if you thought otherwise!!), you would be celebrating today. On May 17, 1814, Norway declared independence and adopted the most democratic constitution in Europe. But Norway was not really independent until 1905, when it dissolved its ties to Sweden. And 1991 was the first time in more than 600 years that Norway had a king born in Norway.
That first May 17 marked the beginning of a new national pride. But Norway still was poor, and by 1915, it had lost 750,000 people to the United States, the highest percentage of population for any country except Ireland. Some of them came to the Palouse, where many folks here still have family ties with those rugged pioneers. The emigrants did not forget Syttende Mai (pronounced SEH-tend-ah MY), though. While the festivities in LaCrosse and surrounding areas were rather subdued – nigh to invisible! - tens of thousands came to Stoughton, Wisconsin – perhaps the largest May 17 celebration in the world. It is no wonder that we love the Norwegians so much, considering the food they brought from the old country. Case in point: lutefisk, or dried cod soaked in lye. And then there is Rømmegrøt, a butter-soaked cream pudding that some have called “heart-attack-in-a-cup.” We love and admire Norwegians because they have a sense of humor about everything, including their food:
O Lutefisk, how fragrant your aroma. Ah Lutefisk, you put me in a coma. You smell so strong, you look like glue, You taste yust like an overshoe. Such foods and the sense of humor are on display at Syttende Mai celebrations, which include a rømmegrøt-eating contest in Westby, Wisconsin and the national lutefisk-eating contest in Spring Grove, Minnesota. I have heard that scores of doctors are on call!!
So, today is Syttende Mai. That's when Norwegian-Americans drop their famous reserve and indulge themselves with folk-dancing, lefse-baking and troll-hunting. In recent years, North Sea oil has brought Norway a very high standard of living - which is to say, they do not eat so much lutefisk anymore!
But once it was desperately poor and dominated by Denmark, which used Norway as a source of taxes, timber and young men to fight its wars.
Norway's language and culture were suppressed, a time playwright Henrik Ibsen called the "400 years' night.'' Norway is famous for incredible views of the Northern Lights, and its people are well-known as hospitable, considerate, hard-working and kind.
Norwegians are very religious people. At Sunday School, young people recite the first books of the Bible: “Genesis, Exodus, Lutefisk...”
Norwegians have a keen sense of biblical stewardship: Lars will give a rousing and inspiring talk on financial giving tomorrow at Lake Wobegone, titled: "Jesus Paid It All!" (Which is a good thing, ‘cause Lars sure is cheap!!) Lars sent me a copy of the bulletin, also inspiring: Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community. Pastor Inkfest is on vacation. Massages can be given to church secretary. Fourteen members were present at the church meeting held at the home of Mrs. Lena Larson last evening. Lena and Lola sang a duet, "The Lord Knows Why." The Norwegian choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir. Wobegone Weight Watchers for Norwegians will meet at 7 p.m. Please use large double doors at the side entrance. On this Syttende Mai, I close with something more serious - an inspiring story of Norwegian commitment to Christ – which, ultimately, is why Selbu Lutheran Church is still serving the Lord today: Lars Olsen Skrefsrud was born in Norway in 1840. He wanted to become a pastor, but his family was very poor, and after minimal education he was trained as a coppersmith. Unhappy with his life, he began to drink heavily. With some drinking companions, he robbed a bank when he was nineteen years old. He was caught, refused to name the other robbers, and was sent to jail. A girl he had known, Anna Onsum, visited him and had faith in him. Lars would not give up because Christ had transformed his life. A Norwegian named Hans Hauge had recently led Scandinavia in revival. The influence of 5 Hauge's movement reached Lars even in prison. It was in jail that he began to read books of faith. After a talk with a visiting pastor, he dedicated himself to study to become a pastor. He was released in 1861 when he was 21, and went to the Gossner Missionary Society in Berlin, which accepted him as a trainee. He worked, studied, fasted and prayed - living for the next two years almost entirely on bread, cheese, and water while attending worship services daily. Such religious commitment – NO (GASP!) lutefisk! 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. In 1863, he left for India, where he joined E. C. Johnson to work among the Santals of northern India. Anna Onsum joined him a year later, and they were married. The first converts were baptized in a little over a year, and when Skrefsrud died about 45 years later, there were about 20,000 baptized Santal Christians. The Santals were a tribe oppressed by their neighbors. He appealed to the British government to protect them. They were illiterate. He gave them a written language, and translated the Gospels into it, and wrote hymnals and textbooks. He founded schools to teach them farming, the care of animals, carpentry and the like. His aim was an indigenous church, with its own language and clergy, retaining the native culture. He died December 11, 1910, and is buried in Santalistan. The Christian community he founded there continues to flourish. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. I know that my life has been blessed by men and women of faith, many of whom – such as Lars Skrefsrud – who lived and served long before my 6 birth. On this special day, May 17, anniversary (205) of Syttende Mai, I thank God for the brave people of faith who changed lives for eternity. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. And just as I give thanks for 116 years of faithful ministry here at Selbu - only imagining the number of lives that have been impacted – I look forward to keeping the dream alive for many years to come... 3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. PRAYER: Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the Santal people of northern India. Raise up in this and every land, heralds and evangelists of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen Mud Flat Preacher Selbu Lutheran Church 6004 Mud Flat Road LaCrosse, WA 99143 Pastor John writes these musings as a gift of love for the extended family of faith around the world. He sends these messages to a growing list of 550 + faithful email readers. Please contact John if you wish to be removed from the list or if you would like to add friends and family members to the list!! Members and friends of Selbu and Bethel Lutheran churches receive these musings. 7 P.S. Norwegians are loyal marriage partners and many live together over 50 years. For example, Ole and Lena: After 58 years of marital bless, Ole passed on to be with the Lord. So Lena went to the local paper to put a notice in the obituaries. The gentleman at the counter, after offering his condolences, asked Lena what she would like to say about Ole. Lena replied, "You yust put 'Ole died'." The gentleman, somewhat perplexed, said, "That's it? Just 'Ole died?' Surely, there must be something more you'd like to say about Ole. If it’s money you're concerned about, the first five words are free. We must say something more." So Lena pondered for a few minutes and finally said, "O.K. You put 'Ole died. Boat for sale!' " Happy "Syttende Mai!!" And, finally, just a couple minutes ago, I got an email from a full-blooded Norwegian who is a life-long member of Selbu (any guesses?!! ) From this authentically Norwegian person, I received these bits of humor – enjoy!!