Fellowship Class

Tarrytown United Methodist Church

Sept. 21, 1997

Wayne Danielson

Scandinavian Blues

Psalm 126.Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy, A man may go out weeping, carrying his bag of seed; but he will come back with songs of joy, carrying home his sheaves.

Luke 6:38. “Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”

Luke 12:27. “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you,  O Ye of little faith?”

I’ve got the Scandinavian blues.

Swedes and Norwegians and Danes and Icelanders and Finns are well known for being subject to the blues.

Almost anything will put them into a depression.

Ingmar Bergman used to make films about this.  Do you remember The Seventh Seal — where Death, a specter robed in black — dances off across the hilltop at the end of the film, followed by a long line of people he has captured? Or Winter Light, a cheery little number where the chief character played by the lugubrious Max Von Sydow worries about the overpopulation of the world.  Or my favorite — a more recent film, not by Bergman but in his tradition —Babette’s Feast, where a group of aging religious conservatives living in a village on the coast of Denmark resolve not to have a good time at a delicious feast prepared by their French cook?  As far as I could tell, everyone in this movie had the  Scandinavian blues. When I told LaVonne this was one of my favorite films, she almost dumped me then and there!

Many of my relatives back on their farms in Iowa were depressed. They didn’t have Prozac in those days, and they just kind of endured it, with maybe an occasional nip from a bottle of Southern Comfort or Hadacol tucked away in the cow barn.Most of them were prosperous.  They had no reason to be depressed. They had lots of land, some of the best farming land in the world.  They had money in the bank, no mortgage, and bumper crops in the field — and still they were gloomy as all get out.

“Wasn’t that a nice rain we had last night?” I would ask my Uncle Clarence.

“I don’t know,” he would moan.  “If we get any more, we’ll lose the hay crop in the south forty.”

Even though he had nothing to be depressed about, he was depressed.   Scandinavian blues.

People up there loved country music, primarily because it is so depressing.  They liked songs like  “It’s a fine time to leave me, Lucille,” about a man whose wife runs off with someone, leaving him with “four hungry children.”  Or “Goodnight Irene,”  with its famous verse, “Last Saturday night I got married. Me and my wife settled down.  Now me and my wife are parted. I think I’ll take a walk downtown.” Or   “Tennessee Waltz.”  in which “my friend stole my sweetheart from me” while they were “dancin’ the beautiful Tennessee Waltz.” Those were favorites.  If you weren’t depressed when you woke up, you would be after listening to a few of those babies while driving the pickup 30 miles to town to get the pipe wrench you should have remembered to buy at “Monkey Wards” the day before. Scandinavian blues.

Some people didn’t even have a good time at parties.  I can remember family reunions that were glorious affairs with lots of fried chicken, sweet corn right out of the field, deviled eggs to die for, and such desserts — Aunt Nettie’s orange cake with the burnt sugar frosting, Aunt Bertha’s home made vanilla ice cream tasting of real vanilla beans, and best of all, Aunt Esther’s double-fudge Coca Cola brownies. Those were wonderful parties.  But some aunt always sat by herself in a corner, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes because Eunice wasn’t here this year.  She hadn’t really liked Eunice.  To tell the truth, only a few people had ever liked Eunice.  But she was gone, gone, gone — taken by heavy blood — Eunice wasn’t there to irritate everyone, and the reunion would never be the same.  “Might as well not have it next year, not without Eunice.”

Scandinavian blues. I know them well.  I know the symptoms.  And I’ve had a good dose this month.

First of all, of course, was Princess Di. We were up late that night when the news began coming in from Paris.  We stayed up until nearly 4 a.m., watching clips over and over again of the car being hauled out of the tunnel.  Di was in the hospital, the spokesman said, and her condition was “grave.”  “That usually means dead,” I said. “They’re trying to get word to the family before they announce it on television.”

It was depressing. The whole week was depressing. And the funeral!  I had to go out and buy two extra boxes of Kleenex to endure:

• Elton John singing his sad song about a “Candle in the Wind.” 

• The two boys, who looked so much like their mother, walking behind the hearse. 

• Big-eared Charles, who didn’t know a good thing when he had it, kind of gangling about not knowing what to do or say.

• The Queen, so stiff, so formal, standing in front of her palace like a common person and managing — at last — to give a little nod to Diana. 

• The aging Queen Mother, not knowing what was going on  — “Who was it who died?” — but obviously enjoying a good funeral.

• Di’s angry brother lashing out. 

• The coffin with the little bouquet of roses from the boys with the card reading “Mummy.”

• And all the people piling flowers in front of the gate at Kensington Palace just down the street from the little hotel we stay at when we visit London.

It was  depressing.  It really was.  Diana was one of those people whose lives seem to be part of our own, people who are a part of “our story,” even though they really are not.  I got the Scandinavian blues bigtime over Diana.

I also got the Scandinavian blues this month as I finished work on the three accreditation reports for UT.  The visiting team will be coming in November 2-5 to look us over.  The president of the University of Tennessee, the leader of the delegation, will be flying in tonight to help set up the November meetings.  It should be a time for rejoicing, a time for celebration — two years of work coming to a conclusion.  But I’ve been sad and worried.

In my opinion, UT has a wonderful story to tell.  It is a great University after all.  But right now — we have no president — the charismatic Robert Berdahl has gone off to be president at Cal-Berkeley.  We have no provost — the energetic and brilliant Mark Yudof has gone off to be president at the University of Minnesota.  In spite of the regents’ willingness to put $90 million into the athletics operation, including rows of lavish sky boxes, we have no football team. The Horns managed to lose to UCLA a week ago Saturday by the biggest margin in nearly 100 years.  Added to all that,  we seem to have no common sense.  A law professor, speaking on television, has managed to insult every minority person in the state of Texas, or the world, for all I know.

In the face of all these difficulties, how are we going to get this place accredited?

I have the Scandinavian blues.

I am going back to teaching in January, and I should be pleased about that.  Actually, I am pleased about it.  I’m going to work with 15 of our top students, figuring out how we can use the internet more effectively to display student  accomplishments.  This should be a good semester.  People are already calling up to see whether they can hire some of my students at least part-time, because of what they think they are going to  learn.  That’s flattering.  And I should be happy.

But Friday the Austin head of the Cox internet business came to call at the College to see what we were up to and to try to get a couple of interns.  He was a gray-haired, middle-aged fellow, very professional and energetic.  In the middle of our discussion, he suddenly turned to me and said, “Did you know you taught my mother?”

It set me back.

“What was her name?” I asked.

He told me, but I couldn’t make the connection.  He said she had worked at the American Statesman years and years ago.

“Oh,” I said. “Well please give her my regards the next time you see her.”

“I can’t do that,” he said. “She has passed.”

The Scandinavian blues descended upon me. Here I was talking to this gray-haired guy about my new course, and I taught his mother, for heaven’s sake.  And she, my student, after having a career and a satisfactory life, had gone on to her eternal reward, and I was still here, still plugging away, still teaching after all these years. As they say, it gave me quite a turn. I felt as if I should be on display in the Field Museum with a sign around my neck saying — Ancient Dinosaur Bones Still Intact after 40 Million Years.

I’ve got the Scandinavian blues. I hope you never get them, but maybe you do sometimes.

What do you do to break the cycle?  What do you do to get going again?  What do you do to beat the blues.

I needed some help here, I decided.  I needed a list of things to do. I checked the magazines at Randalls.  Actually, the stories for this month didn’t seem to be exactly encouraging:

• Tired? 8 Ways to Beat Fatigue (Readers Digest)

• How Old Do You Look? The 3 Give-Aways. (Ladies Home Journal)

• 20 Ways to Wake Up Your Face (Good Housekeeping)

• Who Needs Plastic Surgery? 30 Solutions that are Better and Safer (Glamour)

No, the magazines weren’t too helpful.  I made my own list of things that I have found DO NOT cure the Scandinavian blues. When you have the Scandinavian blues, here is what you should NOT do:

1. Do not drink.

2. Do not eat chocolate.

3. Do not go on a diet.

4. Do not clean house.  My mother used to do that.  If I heard the vacuum cleaner going at 2 in the morning, I knew she was feeling bad, and that we would all suffer the next day.  Especially if I heard her singing, “Work for the Night is Coming.”

5. Do not reorganize the junk drawer in the kitchen.

6. Do not go shopping. (LaVonne said that.)

7. Do not begin a really big project like painting the house or putting in a swimming pool.

8. Do not tell someone all the bad things about them you have been saving up for 10 years.  (Save that until you’re feeling better.)

9. Do not read self-help books. 

          10. Do not blame God.

Don’t do these things.  They will make you feel worse.

On the other hand, I finally decided that doing some things will help you get over the Scandinavian blues.  Here’s my list:

1. Do pray.  Go off by yourself in a quiet place and pray.  Ask God for help.  It will make you feel better.

2. Do bake bread.  Make two loaves and give one away.

3. Do plant something. 

4. Do feed the birds.

5. Do visit or write or call an old friend who is worse off than you are.

6. Do take a walk and look at the flowers.

7. Do forgive someone.  Just let it go. Now and forever. Quit nursing that grudge.

8. Do do something nice for someone who dislikes you.

9. Do perform a good deed in secret.

          10. Do be kind to a child.

Where do these ideas come from? If you think about them a little bit, you will recognize that they all come from the Bible. They represent lessons learned so long ago we’ve just forgotten their origin.

1. Do pray. That’s written all over the Bible, but we remember these verses in particular: Matthew 6:6. “But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” And we remember the wonderfully optimistic words of  Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; and the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.” Pray.

2. Do bake bread and give it away.  We remember from The Lord’s Prayer that it is God who gives us “our daily bread.”  And it was Jesus in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, who told us to follow God’s example and give bread away. The famous teaching in Luke 6:38 reminds us: “Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.” Bake bread.

3. Do plant things. In Psalm 126 we read: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy, A man may go out weeping, carrying his bag of seed; but he will come back with songs of joy, carrying home his sheaves.”  And in the words of Jesus we read, “And some seed fell into rich soil and grew and produced its crop a hundredfold.” Saying this he cried, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’”  Plant things.

4. Do feed the birds.  In caring for wild things, we imitate God, of whom Jesus said in Luke 12:6, “Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies?  And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight.” Feed the birds.

5. Do visit or write or call an old friend who is worse off than you are.  In  Matthew 25:35,

we read: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison, and you came to see me.” Be social. Get in touch with others, not to talk about your problems, but theirs. It’s God’s work. It helps. Visit someone.

6. Do take a walk and look at the flowers. Luke 12:27. “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you,  O Ye of little faith?” Walking and admiring the handiwork of God restores our souls. Walk and look.

7. Do forgive someone.   Well we all know the famous line of the prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  But truly forgiving is hard to do. Often we think we have done it when we really haven’t.   But if we can do it, we find we can rise out of hatred and despair and achieve peace. Now and forever, we need to let go of our anger and hurt feelings centered on someone else. Forgive someone.  And while we’re at it, we should forgive ourselves.

8. Do do something nice for someone who  dislikes you.  Matthew 5:43. “You have learned how it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.”

Not long ago, I was asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone who was, to put it politely, not my friend.  I said yes, but then I agonized about actually doing it.  Should I let it all hang out in the letter, tell the prospective employer exactly what I thought?  After some soul-searching, I decided to think of all the good things I could think of about this person and put them in the letter.  It took a long time to come up with a short list, as I recall, but I did it.  The letter was a beauty, very nice, very complimentary.  The person did not get the job he was after, but I found out that he did see a copy of the letter I had written.  The change in his attitude toward me was impressive — it was not a complete “about face,”  but it was a real improvement. And I was a happier person than I would have been had I written the mean letter I originally intended to write. Do something nice for an enemy.

9. Do good in secret.  Matthew: 6:3. “But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”  When I suffer from the Scandinavian blues, I sometimes try to do something nice for LaVonne — something I know she doesn’t like to do — like change the burned out light bulbs.  Or I try to do something for her that she does like — like having fresh flowers in the kitchen when she comes home.  The other day I left a potted plant, a miniature rose, on her desk at school when she was out of the room, with a message saying that it was from “a secret admirer.”  She figured it out. The bumper sticker we see so often these days says it all: Perform acts of random kindness and senseless beauty. It’s good advice for bringing us out of the Scandinavian blues. Do good in secret.

10. Do something kind for a child.  Mark 9: 13-16 says, “People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them.  The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’  Then he put his arms around them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.”

LaVonne has some difficult special education students this year.  One of the most difficult is — we’ll call him Bill.  Bill is 9 years old. He is autistic. He is hyperactive.  Someone has to be with him or near him all the time or he gets in trouble.  He’s difficult to motivate.  It’s hard to find anything that can reach him in that strange internal world in which he lives. LaVonne sometimes comes home with a bad case of the Scandinavian blues after a long day with Bill. One Friday, at the end of a difficult week and a difficult day, LaVonne and Bill were together in her classroom that she calls the Rainbow Room.  She had some soft music playing on the record player to calm everyone down.  Bill came up to her and grasped her hands.

On impulse LaVonne said, “Bill, would you like to dance with me?”

“Oh, yes,” he said.  And so, at the end of that terrible week and that dreadful day, they listened to the music and danced. They danced slowly, solemnly, round and round the Rainbow Room.  LaVonne had found a way to reach this remote and difficult child — Bill loved to dance. Bill’s behavior has improved dramatically.  He is more social. He will do almost anything to be sure he gets to dance with Mrs. Danielson at the end of week. (By the way, so will I.) Sometimes Bill messes up, to be sure.  But more and more often, he doesn’t. LaVonne told him that people usually smile when they dance, and he actually smiles when he dances now.  And LaVonne is happy on Fridays. Children don’t expect much out of life. They are often uncommonly grateful for the little things adults do for them. Be kind to a child.


Scandinavian blues. We all get them from time to time, don’t we? Like my relatives back in Iowa, we get them even when we don’t have much to be blue about.  But the blues are real enough.  They’re difficult enough.  How do we move through them and beyond them?  How do we leave the blues behind?  Some things — the things of this world — don’t seem to help much.  Some things — the things of heaven —  do.  In my own life, the things that often help me the most are the simple things I learned long ago and that I am still learning today in Sunday School.