17 August 2019

God in unexpected places

Ethan Vanderleek, a Christian Reformed campus minister in British Columbia, recently wrote an article in Christian Courier about how God shows up in unexpected places. In the article he describes working together with another faith group in order to serve others - and how God, not surprisingly, is present in that action.

He closes the article by speaking about one of the things that is fundamental to my understanding of campus ministry from a (Christian) Reformed perspective. My calling as a campus pastor is not to bring God to the university. Instead, God is already present there. I simply have the task (and joy!) of highlighting how God is at work. Or as Ethan puts it:
"Since God in his goodness is at work in quiet and persistent ways, we ourselves should be willing to see God’s faithfulness at work in unfamiliar places – not in the places where we normally look. We should be willing to confess that we don’t always know where to look for God. We didn’t know to look for God in the suffering man on the cross, nor do we look for God often enough in the poor and lonely people of the world, nor perhaps in faith communities which seem so different from our own. But if goodness is an often shrouded and hidden thing, as the crucified Christ helps us to see, then these strange places are perhaps precisely where we ought to look for God and for goodness."

15 August 2019

I'd rather not be known as nice

When I was in Seminary, a professor asked us to describe God. When someone said that God was nice, the professor almost lost it. God was a lot of things, but NOT nice.

I'd probably not go that far, but I would prefer not to be known as nice. I do want to be gracious and kind, a non-anxious presence, and generally pleasant to be around - but I'd still rather not be known primarily as being nice. For me, 'niceness' is too close to making other people comfortable, not speaking up for others (including oneself), and even not living or following God passionately.

A recent Christianity Today article explains well how niceness can be problematic. Sharon Hodde Miller notes that
"“Niceness” is a form of superficial kindness that’s used as a means to a selfish end. . . . My devotion to it has won me a lot of acceptance and praise, but it has also inhibited my courage, fed my self-righteousness, encouraged my inauthenticity, and produced in me a flimsy sweetness that easily gives way to disdain."
She goes on further to point out how this superficial kindness that we consider to be 'niceness' is antithetical to what it means to be a Christian:
"I cannot follow Jesus and be nice. Not equally. Because following Jesus means following someone who spoke hard and confusing truths, who was honest with his disciples—even when it hurt—who condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and turned over tables in the temple."
I pray that I might not be tempted by my own tendencies towards niceness built of a desire to be loved and appreciated by others, as well as fitting in with those around me. Instead, I pray that my dislike for the word might push me to have courage to be full of truth, while still acting and speaking with grace.

12 July 2019

The injustice of silencing women

At The Resistance Prays, Rev. Posey Krakowsky illustrates well how Scripture continues to speak to us today. Sadly enough, the Scripture speaks into the brokenness of the world then and now: it is disturbing how real the story of Tamar is today. Not only is she sexually assaulted, but many, including those who ought to love her, do not listen to her voice, do not come to her aid, and do not act for justice on her behalf. 

Krakowsky notes how the story
"shows us the layers upon layers of enabling behavior by other men that result in the systemic violation of girls and women. Jonadab helps Amnon plan the rape. David sends Tamar to her brother without asking any questions about why Amnon wanted so badly to eat food “from her hand.” The story tells us that there were many servants nearby — Amnon sends them out so that he may be alone with Tamar. None of them question these actions. Tamar speaks boldly to defend herself from his attack: none of the servants, who surely were still within earshot, come to her defense. Later, after the rape, Amnon’s male servant throws Tamar out, barring the door to her. Her father, King David, never speaks of the rape, nor does he defend his daughter. His concern is only for his two sons. Even Absalom, her full brother who avenges her by murdering Amnon, silences Tamar. He does so that he may seek justice behind the scenes, proving that he is well aware of the systemic injustice enacted on women which makes it impossible for Tamar to seek justice out in the open."
 Krakowsky highlights that such injustice continues to happen too often today, citing especially the #metoo movement.

How can the story of Tamar, and so many other texts in the Bible, especially God's words about hating injustice and the wicked, challenge us to act when such injustices occur?

06 June 2019

Acknowledging ugliness in the Bible - Tamar, Amnon, and David

I deeply appreciated Christianity Today's recent article asking whether we can finally break the silence around Tamar.

Jen Wilkin makes the following point about the story in 2 Samuel 13:
"Amnon, one of David’s sons, violates his own sister and then casts her aside. When her brother Absalom learns what Amnon has done, he tells her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this thing to heart.” Absalom’s shushing and dismissing are certainly vile, but it is David’s reaction that stuns: “When King David heard all this, he was furious” (vv. 20–21). 
Furious. That’s it. No public denouncement of Amnon, no vindication of Tamar. No justice, no words of comfort or kindness for his daughter, just impotent, mute anger. David is silent. He takes no action against Amnon, opening the door for Absalom to have his brother murdered in revenge. And Tamar is left desolate."
She argues that David's own sin (with Bathsheba) and guilt prevent him from acting appropriately. We, the readers need to acknowledge not only that David's response was deeply inadequate - an anger that goes nowhere, but that we, as God's people, are called to respond very differently: with justice and compassion. Justice to punish those who have sinned and compassion to not abandon those who have been hurt.

05 June 2019

Talking about the things that matter

At the recent Christian Reformed Campus ministry association conference we talked about a lot of hard things: racism, abuse of power, and sexuality (and all in one day!). It hadn't really occurred to me that people might perceive this as strange until one person asked me why we were focusing on all these things and another wondered if we'd planned in a drink at the end of the day (pub locations were indeed made public).

The hard conversations were framed by worship and by sharing with each other about how we [campus ministers and students] were doing. That, I hope, helped place the conversations in the right perspective, even as I believe that the conversations were still hard and could potentially have caused people distress and anxiety. I hope and pray that people are still positively working through what we talked about. After all, we have these conversations together because we all need to see how faith relates to all areas of our lives, including and especially the hard things.

Furthermore, I believe these are areas "where a lot of pain and distress has happened and continues to happen,” and so “I’d like to do all I can to be equipped to know best how to bring the hope of Christ to those [who] are hurting.”

cross-posted on the Campus Edge blog

24 April 2019

More Jesus

For many years I attended churches that celebrated the Lord's Supper every Sunday, and I looked forward to this very tangible reminder of Christ's presence with us. I miss this at my current church, and so I often try to find a way to attend a (liturgical) church and participate in communion.

More often than not, the little is with me/us for these services. Thankfully, most of the churches welcome and enjoy her presence - and she seems to enjoy their attention to her.

Because the little is also part of the body of Christ, many churches will allow her to participate in communion. And I gladly encourage her to participate, which has perhaps led to challenges for Matthijs, as she's no longer content with receiving only a blessing. But her participation in communion seems good and fitting: I want her to know and experience Jesus and this is one tangible way to do so, even if she doesn't fully understand what is going on. At the same time, her presence helps me experience Christ more fully: awhile ago, she asked for 'more' after getting some communion bread, and while it was mildly disruptive, it made me pray that all of us would echo her words: more, please, more Jesus.

20 April 2019

Easter and Church

Growing up, I wanted to attend an Easter sunrise service. But the church I was part of never held such a service, and so my desire to celebrate the joy and wonder of Christ's resurrection at dawn went unfulfilled for years. That changed somewhat in Seminary when a friend and I experienced the wonder (and length) of an Eastern Orthodox Easter Vigil: it started around 10:30 p.m. and ended at 4 a.m. I also started regularly visiting St. Gregory's Abbey and discovered there the goodness of the Palm Sunday liturgy, especially hearing the Passion story anew (and also learned to appreciate being immersed in the Psalms before dawn).

And then I moved to Amsterdam, and I became a part of a community that not only held an Easter sunrise service, but held multiple services as part of the three days of Easter. In the three days of Easter, I'd participate in footwashing and the last supper, strip the chapel of everything and change the liturgical colours, hold vigil for Christ's death, hear the Passion story again and again, sit in stillness by the cross and grave, and remember Christ's death. Each time of gathering would end without a blessing, as a tangible reminder that something was deeply wrong. When Easter morning came, I would have come to a place where I was ready to celebrate Christ's resurrection, including sharing in a delicious breakfast afterwards. For three days, I was focused primarily on Christ's death and resurrection, and it was good. I miss that.

Since moving to Lansing, we've done our best to celebrate Easter well, but it has been different - and often less focused than back in Amsterdam. Since having a child, it feels like that focus has decreased even more - the little is currently more interested in running around than in hearing or remembering. Yet, I'm also thankful for the time in Amsterdam and what it showed me: first, that the Easter Vigil (something I never even knew existed as a child) is really the church service of the year (and I wouldn't miss it). Second, that there are many ways to remember and celebrate, and that being able to share the joy of Easter with family (or friends) is also one of those good ways.