Everyone who knows me knows that I am deeply into my Norwegian heritage and assumes that, naturally, I must be excited by the visit of King Harald and Queen Sonja.
Instead of excitement, my attitude is: Been there. Done that.
I had a chance to wave to the royals once before, under the palace window in Oslo during the 17 May parade in 2009, when I was a contestant on the Norwegian reality show, "Alt for Norge." To be honest, I am conflicted about the validity of monarchy in the modern world. So, I discovered, are many Norwegians.
When I was a student at Luther College in the 1980s, we had a great debate on the topic. One Norwegian exchange student was a conservative Republican who thought that spending money on a royal family was a waste of tax dollars and that the royals should earn their wealth. Another Norwegian was a liberal Socialist who thought that having a royal family went against the principles of an egalitarian society and that everyone should be supported by the state equally. A few students thought that as royal families go, the Norwegians were pretty modest and made good, nonpartisan ambassadors for their country.
As an American, I tend not to support monarchies because, after all, we fought a war to get out from under all that. And I am not one to be impressed with rock star status, either. I was raised in a home that emphasized equal status among all humans.
This conflict deepened for me as a scholar of Norway's runes and pre-Christian mythology and spiritual practice. Old Norway was made up of Heathen chieftains, called petty kings, who could be voted out if they were failing the communities they were meant to serve. In 870 A.D., my Sognefjord ancestors reportedly fought against Harald I, who succeeded in "unifying" Norway under a single monarchy and taxation system, paving the way for monotheism. Many of the Christian-era sagas trace the lineage of the kings of Sweden and Denmark back to the old gods themselves, perhaps in an attempt to establish "divine right" status.
After the national tragedy on July 22 -- the bomb in Oslo and the shootings on Utoya -- the royal family played an important role as it grieved and sought to unify the nation with compassion and caring. As nonpartisan ambassadors for their own people in a time of deep shock and grief, Harald and Sonja were the nation's healers. (We saw William and Kate doing this for their people after the riots in England.) A nonpolitical, nonreligious, ceremonial figurehead is something we lack here in America. After 9/11 we could have used one to lead us in grieving and unifying as a nation. Instead we grew more divided.
Monarchy is being redefined in the modern world. Norway's royals are a model of the new idea -- humble, grounded and deeply in love with their country and people. This position should be of human construction, not divine right or birthright. Nature sees all humans as equals. That's something King Harald believes, as revealed by his explanation of why he loves competitive sailing: "The wind ... it does not take into account who is in the boat."
So, while I won't be changing my schedule to catch a glimpse of King Harald and Queen Sonja, I would certainly accept a lunch invitation. They are the kind of royalty who would listen to my concerns and contemplate my suggestions. If Norwegians could vote their kings in or out, as they did in the old days, I think they would continue to vote for Harald and Sonja.