Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Peace Blogger Interview #3: Patrik Hagman

patrik_hagman.pngWelcome to the 3rd Christian Peace Blogger Interview.  The first 2 posts in this series are here and here. Up this time is Patrik Hagman, a theology student and blogger in Pargas, Finland. Welcome to the Christian Peace Bloggers’ interview, Patrick.

MLW-W: How would you describe yourself? 

Patrik: Very determined and rather confused at the same time. 

MLW-W: Interesting answer. Since I could describe U.S. President Bush the same way, maybe it’s a good thing you aren’t head of a country. 🙂 Determined about what? Confused about what? 

Patrik: When I know what I want, I can do what it takes to get there. For example, writing my thesis comes rather naturally for me. On the other hand, I have no idea what I really want to do with my life. 

MLW-W: Okay. I see what you mean. Well, can you tell us about your family? 

Patrik: I’m married. 

MLW-W: Congratulations. You want to elaborate any? 

Patrik: Not really, I’m kind of private about such matters.

 MLW-W: Alright. Moving on. You’ve hinted that you are a student. Is that right? 

 Patrik: I’m working on my PhD in Theology on the 7th century ascetic, St. Isaac of Nineveh.

 MLW-W: I’m no expert in Medieval ascetics, but I have to say that I have  never heard of St. Isaac of Ninevah. Do you want to say something  about him and what drew you to him as a thesis subject? 

Patrik: He was born in what is now Qatar and lived most of his life in what is now (the ruins of) Iraq. He was bishop for five months until he reached the conclusion that  a bishop is not a job for a sane man. So he spent his life in prayer, instead, and wrote these magnificent, 
beautiful texts about spiritual life. He is not so well known in the West, but in Russia he is considered one of the most important [Church]Fathers and he has had tremendous importance in the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, for example. The West is catching up. I’m studying his asceticism; I can’t say what originally drew me to him, (I have my suspicions…) but today I am actually seeing things in his life and thinking that might actually be very relevant in our time. His asceticism is a way of living in a corrupt world.

MLW-W: Wow! St. Isaac sounds fascinating. Well, when you aren’t studying or blogging, what do you like to do?  

Patrik:  In my free time I like to interact with my friends, play and listen to rock music and practice karate. 

 MLW-W: Well, practicing karate will certainly help dispel the  stereotype of the “wimpy pacifist.” 🙂 

Patrik: Yeah, I see how people can find that strange. For me, karate practice has little to do with violence, it is more about learning to control my body and get some exercise. It is a very fun way to keep in shape. But of course, you also have to face the question what you would do in a situation where violence is a real option and your training might give you an advantage. Those are difficult questions.

MLW-W: I was teasing, some. I have known other pacifists who were students of the martial arts. I know a former police officer-turned-pastor who is a black belt in Kung Fu (don’t ask me what type). He said that the training helped him deal with anger and the knowledge that he could respond to violence with violence, made the commitment to nonviolence deliberate and stronger. 

MLW-W:. Tell us something about your faith. How long have you been a Christian? 

Patrik: Hmm. I don’t really like these kind of questions. I was raised in a believing family and was baptized as a 14 year old. 

 MLW-W: Well, I certainly don’t want to make you uncomfortable. Do  you want to say something about why you dislike these types of   questions? Personal? Theological? Cultural? 

Patrik: Well, it’s just that I feel spirituality is a very personal matter,  and I really dislike the kind of loud spirituality that many  Chrisitans seem to prefer. 

MLW-W: Of what local congregation/parish are you a member? If your local church is part of a denomination, what is it?   If your local congregation is non-denomination, how do you identify your church tradition (i.e., Evangelical, Pentecostal, Emergent Church, Liberal, etc.)? 

Patrik: Another tricky one. I am a member of a Baptist congregation in my old home town. There is no Baptist congregation where I live now, and I regularly go to the Lutheran Church here but I have no plans for converting. I consider me a kind of ecumenical post-confessional, a member of the One, Holy, Apostolical and Catholic Church, wherever it exists. Any tradition that values the sacraments I feel at home in. Sometimes they have a problem with me, but that is their problem.  

 MLW-W: A fellow Baptist! I’ve met a Finnish Baptist before at a  meeting of the Baptist World Alliance. But I take it from your  answer that Baptists aren’t all that large in Finland. Do you want  to say something about Baptist life in Finland? 

 Patrik: Well, there are two Baptist movements in Finland, one Finnish  speaking, very conservative Southern Baptist kind, and one Swedish  speaking that has a tradition of more interaction with society, that  maybe is more rooted in the British [Baptist] tradition but also find people like Martin Luther King important. Both movements are very small[N.B.: According to the European Baptist Federation’s official statistics, Finnish-Speaking Finnish Baptists have 11 congregations with 692 members; Swedish-Speaking Baptists in Finland have 19 congregations with 1, 290 members. It should be noted for pedobaptist readers that Baptists do not count children or unbaptized adolescents as members and, in Europe especially, often have more adults attending who have not committed to joining by baptism than they do baptized members–precisely because they take committed discipleship very seriously.-MLW-W], so if the guy you  met is Swedish-speaking, he’s likely to be a friend of mine.

MLW-W: Actually, I don’t know. We communicated in a mixture of his limited English and my (even more) limited German–since he had studied several foreign languages. I think many resonate with being ecumenical and post-confessional  and your (small “c”) catholic sympathies. You say you feel at home with any tradition that “values the sacraments,” but that is something that some parts of the Baptist family have not always been  great about (although British Baptists are recovering a sacramental emphasis). Do you find the Lutheran emphasis personally refreshing or does Finnish Baptist life have a greater sacramental emphasis than some  other parts of Baptist-dom? 

 Patrik: Not really; this is a problem I have with my own tradition. I value the [Baptist] countercultural tradition, the disregard for authorities  (religious and secular) and – when it works – the sense of community  in the congregation, but I think it was a great mistake to de-value the sacraments. An unfortunate by-product of the much needed revolt  against what was around at the time. 

 MLW-W: Were you raised Baptist?  Have you ever been part of a different Christian denomination or tradition? 

Patrik: As a kid we belonged to a Pentecostal Congregation. No ties in that direction though. 

 MLW-W: How did you get into blogging?   What do you like about it?  Are there problems you see with blogging? 

Patrik: I wanted a place to develop my ideas for how theology should react to the fact that our culture and very possibly our civilization is in decline. I like what everybody else likes: the contact you get with similarly-minded people around the world. I dislike that it tends to take up to big a part in my life.  

MLW-W: Your blog’s title is unusual, “God in a Shrinking  Universe.” Since the cosmos is still expanding, I assume this title  refers to media communications connecting people? Tell us some more   about this theme, if you would? 

Patrik: Not exactly. It is an adaption of a Muse tune, that goes “you’re a god in a shrinking universe” which just struck me as a great way of  telling someone he’s not much good. But what I mean with it is that  our universe is shrinking in the sense that our culture has lost most  of its vitality and we are using up the world’s resources. I want to use my blog to explore what it means to believe in God in that  scenario. A lot of the theology that is done today is based on an idea  that “everything will work out all right” on a very unconscious level,  I think. I think we will very soon see that that kind of theology is  not useful anymore. I’d like to work out a theology that does not  revert to “God is punishing us” as soon as the trouble starts.

MLW-W: Now, that is fascinating and very helpful. I recommend readers go to Patrik’s blog and especially check out his posts on “ideas for a theology of decline.” This brings us to a central question of this interview series: How do you relate your faith to issues of peacemaking? What sources of strength have you found? 

 Patrik: I see the Church as a place where we practice life as it is lived in the coming existence, and peacemaking is certainly a central part of that. The Eucharist is a place where people come together regardless of political background, race, class, gender and celebrate together. There is no better symbol for peace than that. 

 MLW-W:  Do you have (a) military experience? (b) experience in nonviolent struggle? (c) experience in conflict resolution/transformation practices?  Describe your experiences with any or all of these. 

Patrik:In Finland we have mandatory military service for all males with two possible alternatives: (a) jail for those that reject the military system completely and (b) civilian service which is a rather pointless 13 month service in some form of society based activity. I chose the latter and worked in a school. As I was young when I made this choice it was based more on instinctive dislike for the military’s authoritarian system than pacifism, but I’m glad today that I made that choice.  

MLW-W: I knew that much of Europe had mandatory military service, but I am  glad that Finland has an alternative service option. Apparently, one  doesn’t have to declare one’s self a conscientious objector to get  such an option, either, as was true in the U.S. when we had military  conscription.

MLW-W:  Do you consider yourself a pacifist? If so, say something about how you see nonviolence (or nonresistance) and its connections to the gospel.  Were you raised a Christian pacifist or did you convert to this view and, if the latter, tell us something of how that came about?

Patrik: Yes. I think I said enough about that in [the last question]. Pacifism was kind of a declining tradition in my religious surroundings when I grew up. Some of the Baptist leaders went to jail during [World War II]. In Finland this was an extremely tough choice to make and even today people get angry about that. But, as I said, when I was growing up one did not talk much about it. War was too distant a concept then.

 MLW-W: Yeah, 50 years later, people here are still upset with C.O.s from the “last good war,” as many see World War II.  If we  reach further back in history, Finland was historically threatened  by Russia. Does that shape views concerning war and peace, now or is   it primarily more recent history?

Patrik: Yes, Finland had its own WWII against Russia. [Jail for conscientious objection] must have been an  extremely difficult decision to make. Finland has because of those  wars a very strong militaristic tradition – it is considered very important for a male to have done well in the military service. It is  not so bad now, but even ten years ago you would have had trouble  getting certain positions if you had taken the alternative service.  But the Finnish defense is really a defense – apart from UN  peace-keeping there have been no Finns in active war duty since WWII.

MLW-W: Is Finland part of NATO? Are there chances that Finland could be sucked into something like the NATO involvement inAfghanistan? I doubt that conscientious  objection would seem so abstract to many, in that case.

Patrik: Finland is not member of the NATO, though there is an ongoing  discussion about it. Many politicians are for joining, but the people  are hesitant. We will see what happens.

MLW-W: What led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers?  Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking?  Have they gotten any feedback from readers?  Patrik: A good idea I’d like to support. Not really, because I haven’t blogged much at all lately. MLW-W. Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Patrik: Nothing organized, no. I was in Rome when the Iraq war broke out. It was a wonderful moment to be in, the city just exploded in these huge spontaneous demonstrations.  

 MLW-W:  Does your local congregation take peace issues seriously? Give us some example, if “yes.” If “no,” what could you do to raise awareness about this in your local congregation? 

Patrik: Not really. The Lutheran Church in Finland is too closely tied to the state to be very radical in any question, really. 

MLW-W: Well, maybe there could be a chance to hook up with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Finland doesn’t have an IFOR branch or affiliate, but Sweden does and might want to help sponsor such a group.

MLW-W:  Have you travelled outside your home nation? How well do you stay informed with global events? 

Patrik: Of course. I’m not much for tourism, but I’ve been in many European nations, and spent a little time in Syria andTurkey. I stay informed by reading a lot, both on-line and in books. Blogs are good for this too.  

MLW-W: I asked the question about travel because most  Americans seldom do. Even half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives  do not have a passport! I think our lack of knowledge about the  world contributes to our militarism–or, said differently, I am   exploring the question of whether travel to other cultures gives one  a global sensitivity that may reinforce peacemaking attitudes. 

Patrik: Oh it does. I have to tell you, and I hope it is not offending anyone,  but everyone here was predicting that Iraq would come to this before the war started. It is a mystery to most Europeans that the Americans  did not see what they were getting into. It may have to do with more  traveling or (slightly) better news media.

MLW-W: Actually, that is a mystery to a significant minority of Americans, too. What was it like in Syria and Turkey? Do you have friends there?

Patrik: No, I only stayed for a few weeks. It was a wonderful experience, especially Syria. It is a much more alive culture than Western culture  today, people seem to care for each other, families are really close,  people are helpful. Of course there is also a growing resentment for  the West, but what else could you expect when we have treated them as we have. I was just walking around desperately trying to show them that not all Westerners are like Bush and Blair. Must have acted  rather silly.

MLW-W: Somehow, I doubt you were perceived as silly. Patrik, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.  I continue to look forward to reading God in a Shrinking Universe.

March 13, 2007 - Posted by | blog-ring, blogs, pacifism, peace, peacemaking, sexism


  1. Good interview Michael (and Patrik). This series is turning out to be quite a bit more interesting than I first expected. If anything, the first three interviews show that Christian peacemakers are hardly a homogenous group of people!

    Comment by haitianministries | March 14, 2007

  2. I was thinking just the same thing, Dan. It’s been nice to see the diversity.

    Comment by graham | March 14, 2007

  3. Displaying that diversity is one of the reasons I wanted to do these interviews. One of my contentions is that Christian peacemakers are far more diverse in personality, theology, etc. than pro-militarists–who all seem boringly the same.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 14, 2007

  4. I was about to comment on the very same thing, but you fellas beat me to it 😆

    Comment by Brandy | March 14, 2007

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