28 December 2007

angels watching over us

last week i forgot to blow out the candles in the advent wreath after evening chapel. at 2 a.m. the fire alarm went off. the people rushing to check out the alarm found the smoke and the smell and quickly put out the remains of the wreath.

we are all deeply thankful that God protected us via the fire alarm. and i am thankful that we could joke about how it was about time to have a fire drill - and now we've seen that people know what to do in case of a fire - get up, turn out the alarm, have people check for fire, and be ready to leave the house and help others (especially children) also leave. and i am also thankful that people can tease each other (especially me) about remembering to blow out the candles. and we have been talking about a safer way for next year, for i am not the only foolish one living in the house.

zr. Seraphim commented that the black circle on the chapel floor left from the wreath will help us remember advent for awhile. and it will also remind us of God's continued protection over our house.

13 December 2007

transitioning from master student to official ph.d. student at the Vrije

later today i will (hopefully) make the transition from my being a master's student to being an official ph.d. student (in the "all but dissertation" stage) at the Vrije Universiteit. my thesis has been read by my professor and a second professor - and received the approval of "good" and "good enough" for my master's diploma. since it's going to be built on and revised in the years to come, i'm more than happy with that level of approval.

in honour of this hopeful transition (which might still take some paperwork but hopefully limited revisions, if any at all), i thought i'd clarify what i actually wrote my thesis on ...

The question I wanted to answer was what the purpose of the Confession (vv. 10-21) in Jeremiah 15 was. (This was done in order to find what the meaning of the passage was for the average person reading it). In order to answer that question, I studied all of Jeremiah 15; translating it, breaking it into parts and discovering it's structure, looking closely at the grammar (especially verbs - vv. 6-9 are pretty difficult since it switches from YQTL (more present/future not yet verbs) to QTL (more past, completed verbs) in what seems to be a haphazard way - although with further study, you can see that this haphazardness has a way of communicating certainty of an event (the exile) that has not fully happened at the time the words are originally to have been said), and looking at who was named and involved in the text.

I looked specifically at a couple of studies on the Confessions done in the context of the whole book (studies done by Smith, O'Connor, and Diamond about 20 years ago) and used them as a standard of evaluation for finding the meaning of the text. The different purposes they gave (along with a couple of commentaries) for the Confession in Jer 15 were: that it was a text that spoke about judgment, that it was a text that gave questions about God's goodness (i.e. theodicy), and that the text validated Jeremiah as a prophet (along with the exile and judgment). Almost all of them were very clear that the text was not to be taken as an example to follow. But, none of these purposes have an obvious meaning to the average person reading the text. And since I believe that the text ought to be able to speak to (all) people hearing/reading it (that's what I believe when I say the whole Bible is the Word of God), I wanted to understand whether these purposes could be shown to have meaning or whether something was missing in these understandings of the passage.

And so I looked as close as I could at Jeremiah 15, then I asked if the meaning changed when I looked at in terms of the first half of the book and when I looked at it in terms of the whole book. The verdict was that the purposes given by these major sources did not fully do justice to the meaning of Jer 15:10-21 both by itself (in light of the whole chapter), and in light of the whole book.

Although Jer 15:10-21 might seem to be a validation of Jeremiah's prophetic task - and of the judgement that comes/came with the exile, this makes sense only in light of the first half of the book where there is limited details about Jeremiah's suffering and the actual judgment. However, if you look at the whole book, there are a lot of places where Jeremiah is shown to be doing a better job of being a prophet (in this passage, Jeremiah calls down vengeance on his enemies, calls the LORD a deceitful brook, and is told to turn to the LORD (e.g. repent) - all details which call into question what kind of prophet he was). Also, a validation of Jeremiah, although has much to say to Jews after the exile who would be helped by seeing how Jeremiah fulfilled his prophetic role effectively and that their judgment was deserved, does not have much to say to people who are not in that specific historical situation - and I believe the text was written for more than just the Jews in exile.

That Jer 15:10-21 includes judgment does not mean that it has a lot to say about judgment. In light of the whole book, this passage has actually a limited amount to say about judgment (vv. 13-14, which mention judgment the most, are fairly obscure - if you read different translations, you can see a significant difference in the translations - and quite a number of people would argue that these verses are not part of the original text. Although I would argue that these verses do fit into the text here (and thus are not only a later redaction), all the questions surrounding them makes me loathe to make too many conclusions based on them!) In fact, what is unique about this passage in terms of judgment, is that the judgment is mixed with hope and a promise of the LORD turning to Jeremiah (in spite of Jeremiah's desire to give up being a prophet and his harsh words to the LORD). This paradox of judgment and hope/mercy is one of the main themes of the passage.

Jer 15:10-21, I would argue, does raise a lot of questions about God's faithfulness and goodness (which is unique to this place in the book). But if you look at the story of Jeremiah in the whole book, you'll see that the LORD was with Jeremiah most of the time - and does help him, so his questions/accusations are not necessarily valid. Yet, irrelevant of the validity of Jeremiah's questions to God, the passage does not focus on these questions. The LORD's answer to Jeremiah in v. 19 pretty much ignores his concerns. The focus of the passage is less then on the questions of Jeremiah (e.g. theodicy) and more on the prophetic task - and the relationship of Jeremiah to the LORD.

So, why did these major studies come up with answers that are so different than mine? Part of the answer to the differences was that I expanded the study to include the whole book, which gave a different perspective. But besides that, I would also argue that a lot of it had to do with how one reads the text, which is a major focus of my thesis. I would argue that everyone comes to the Bible with certain assumptions. As a confessing Christian, I come to the Bible with certain assumptions about it being the inspired Word of God that has meaning for everybody - and I ought to read it that way. Others come to the text using primarily the methodologies of the day that are often reacting against bad ways of reading the Bible. The assumptions that you make affect whether you ignore certain parts of the passage (because they don't fit for whatever reason), what you're looking for when you read it, who you assume the text is written to (and who wrote it), and why the text matters. I explored these assumptions quite a bit - but I recognize that this is a place that I want to learn more about - especially since this an area where the academic study of the Bible can interact with the study done by an average person trying to live the Christian life!

So, after all of this, what is the meaning of the passage for the average person? Well, the point is not to be "just like Jeremiah." Although this might seem to be an obvious (and somewhat simple) way to give meaning to the passage, there are way too many ways in which this can be taken the wrong way (e.g. cursing your enemies, being self-righteous in the midst of suffering, etc.) - and so in this, the major studies had a good point. But, nonetheless, the average person can find meaning in the passage from looking at Jeremiah and the words in this book. The questions raised by Jeremiah are shown to be permissible, even as the focus is on faithfulness and a relationship, instead of on the questions - and this pattern/focus is something that people can take as an example to follow. And the mixture of judgment/suffering with hope/mercy is also something that people today can relate to - because it seems like life is a lot like this.

There's more still - at the end, I asked whether finding the purpose of the passage was even the best way to find meaning in the passage. The passage raises questions about intercession and the role of the prophet - and since these are tasks that Christians today are called to in some way, the questions here matter. But these are questions I've only begun to look at - and I don't have an answer that I'm happy with yet (hopefully today after talking with my prof(s), I'll get a bit more direction on the answer to this).

And there's more I want to study. There are a couple of people (Polk in The Prophetic Person and Brueggemann in Like Fire in the Bones) who I want to study more because they've shown how to connect the academic work on Jeremiah with why it would matter to real people. And I'll be expanding the study to include more of the Confessions, so I have a broader base for my conclusions. I'm far from done, but I'm excited about what's next. After all, I get to study the Bible and ask how it matters to real life (and how can I help people see that?)!

11 December 2007

still surprised that God is good

i have many, many good memories of the last year and a half (and from before that, too). and i am convinced that God's hand was involved in this. i know in my head that God has been good to me in the past; yet, despite knowing deep inside that God is good, i continue to be surprised when i recognize how God has been good to me.

perhaps it is the fact that i am surrounded by a world where sin and brokenness can not be easily hidden or ignored. perhaps it is the fact that there's a lot of pain and frustration involved in growing and being who God has created me/us to be. perhaps it is simply the dull-ness that comes from the ordinary - the kazillions of chores and details necessary just to participate in life.

but despite (and maybe even because of) all these things, there are moments when i am filled with intense joy and thankfulness. and i wonder how i could not recognize the goodness of God in my life?!? after all, i get to delight in biking through a park in Amsterdam on a Sunday afternoon. i've been accepted by so many people, even and especially when i mess up. i continue to bump into new friendships and am given more and more people who love me (and who i love). and none of these things are really new to here and now, so it's not logical that i'm surprised. but the surprise reminds me that i do not deserve God's grace; yet, nonetheless, i receive his grace and goodness. and his grace and goodness are so great that it is good that i be struck with a sense of wonder and astonishment :)

07 December 2007

"the usual"

the other morning i was asked my plans for the day, and i responded with "the usual." my plans included reading for my classes, writing some e-mails, organizing and planning things for teaching, working on re-writing my thesis for Calvin Seminary, and we'd see what else came up during the day. as i've learned from living here, i can't exactly plan for all of the unexpected things of the day. and "the usual" usually includes a couple of surprises....

"the usual" this week has included some work on re-writing the thesis (yay!), reading some books in Dutch (a children's book called Jip en Janneke and half of the third Harry Potter), reading and making notes on the textbook for my class on community (The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne), talking to a lot of people (some related to the organization of daily life in a community and some personal and pastoral), having a party thrown in my room by a 7-year-old, a lot of shared meals, going for a walk (that included a run over an obstacle course) in the WesterPark, writing a lot of e-mails, drinking a lot of tea, organizing details for teaching and travelling in the spring, cooking this evening, crying and being cried on, some meetings, morning and evening prayers, strengthening relationships, helping take out the garbage this morning (which we needed to bring across the street (i.e. over the canal) because the garbage truck came way earlier than normal on our own side), and so on.

i'm expecting that life in Grand Rapids will have a much quieter version of "the usual." i think i'll miss the unexpected-ness of life here (a lot) but i think i'm also looking forward to a bit of quiet-ness and the hope that i can get some more academic stuff done (which i'm growing to long for more and more). i realize that i could probably do more academic stuff here (and that i want that to be more part of my "usual"), but then i'd miss some of the adventure of life here - and since i'm not going to be here for most of the spring, i want to store up on extra community-related time and memories.

23 November 2007

dating amidst community

i've been dating one of the guys from the community here for a few months now. and the experience of dating in a community where we are surrounded by people who know us well has had its moments...

neither of us had any desire to keep our dating a secret from the community. and we assumed that people would figure out that we were dating fairly quickly. sure, we had been friends for the last year, but daniël and i could now be found together often enough that we assumed people would start to wonder. but time passed, we spent a lot of time hanging out with others (including a weekend away with most of the community), and yet still no one asked or teased us.

slowly people found out. a good friend of daniël's was suspicious when daniël was more interested in a text message (sms) that he received than in his friend's company. a couple of people saw us together often enough. we told a few people. and even if people hadn't noticed that we were dating, some had noticed that we were both a bit different: daniël had become more cheerful; and i had become more thoughtful and contemplative (sometimes i tease him that he got the better deal in this relationship :)). and it was good to hear and see people's reactions - and to know that they were happy for us - and wanted the best for us.

nonetheless, it remained a source of amusement for me to see how long it would take before everybody realised we were dating. a few weeks ago, a bunch of us were sitting around in the kajuit (our common living space), and i gave a fake kiss of appreciation to one of the guys here (on account of his help with the kitchen). one of the community members teased me that this was not so romantic. i responded by saying, well, of course not, i have a boyfriend. she didn't believe me at first. but nobody else in the room seemed surprised by my comment. so she checked with them to see if i really was telling the truth, and she discovered i was. and then she had to figure out who it was (and as we were all laughing at her and her astonishment, none of us helped her). she was happy to find out, although astounded that she hadn't suspected anything - and declared that she was going to talk to the other community members (and their families) to see who'd been keeping the secret from her. and well, now we're pretty sure that almost everybody knows.

and one of the best parts about dating amidst community is being surrounded by people who care about both daniël and i - and pray and hope for the best for both of us. sometimes it's a bit overwhelming to know that all these people are watching out for us (and won't always respect our privacy). but privacy is sometimes overrated. i know that we are surrounded by people who know us well - and are willing to speak up if they are worried that our relationship is poor or causing either of us to change being who we are - and who God made us to be.

we're not sure where this relationship is going. neither daniël or i knows what's next in our lives. i don't know if we'll be able to continue to work through the different expectations we have of each other and of what a relationship should be. and whether our different understandings of how to see the world will bring us to different visions of how we can best live out our lives. but for now, the relationship is good. for, as my friend (Judith) says, it brings life to both of us.

16 November 2007

another picture of life here in community

Marco moved into our community 6 weeks ago and has been sharing on his blog his experience of living here. part of his expectation in writing it is to give a bit of an account of his reactions to life here in community - and see how that changes as time goes on. if you read his accounts of community and compare it to my accounts of community life, they're fairly different. they both do paint a picture of life here - and so perhaps it's only fair for me to give you an opportunity to see another perspective of life here. not that i think that Marco has a full picture of how the community here is (nor do i :)).

yet the picture he paints of life here fits. he's right, sometimes breakfast conversations are annoying. although i have to admit i find the alert-ness quality of some of the others to be highly entertaining (you have to pay attention to a lot of subtleties, though - and be able to appreciate how and whether the amount of time a person stares at their bread contemplating what to put on it changes). and i've been contemplating lately how more to contribute to improving the atmosphere at breakfast, especially when the conversation annoys me.

and yep, sometimes there are not enough people for dishes. since i watch over the kitchen (at least kind of), this is something i pay quite a bit of attention to - and it annoys me - and sometimes annoys me a lot. so the people who tend to disappear instead of doing dishes have been approached and the hope is that things change somewhat - even if this is a re-occuring problem. and it helps, too, that i know better now that some of the people leaving without helping are off to do other necessary things...

and there are more things that are disappointing and annoying for me. but i don't want to dwell on them. if they annoy me enough, then i need to talk to somebody about changes - whether the change needs to be my attitude or my expectations or whether the change can happen elsewhere. but otherwise i'll try to focus on what is life-giving about community here.

for this, too, is a good picture of life here: a friend from the community went to the hospital today with heart problems. and it was great to see how much the community came together to reach out to him and his wife and children. it was obvious, too, that we were all grateful to hear that he's doing better.

and after chapel, a bunch of us were sitting around. daniël and i were talking about what we were doing this weekend and what we wanted to do. he mentioned how much he loved "hints" (a game of charades) and would really like to play that this weekend. and after a bit of random chatting, Petra got up and started acting. and so a group of us played. and we laughed. and the joy of having this unexpected fun together - as well as making space for each other, being able to be fully ourselves, and being spontaneous - reminded me again that this is where i want to be - and this is how i want to live my life. and so when i picture life in community, this is the picture i want to paint most - because it is the picture of how i want more and more to live my life.

14 November 2007

being able to exercise my love for teaching

one of the things i've missed in moving to Amsterdam has been the opportunities for teaching that i'd built up over the years in Grand Rapids. not that i really miss grading Hebrew quizzes, but i do miss being able to tutor people in Hebrew, mentor college students, help international students with their english for term papers, lead small groups, and even get to teach my own class a couple of times. getting to teach in a few months (and now having the time and energy to start prepping for the classes) has helped take away some of this disappointment of not knowing how to use my love for teaching here. but besides language and cultural challenges, not being able to use my gift and love of teaching is probably one of the hardest things i find in living here - and it is probably the biggest question i have in how long i will stay here.

and yet this week, i've been given a lot of teaching moments. i got to share my research on postmodern Christianity with someone here who has to write a paper on the effect of postmodernity on Christianity. i got to share my knowledge and wonder of "new monasticism" with somebody for whom this seemed to be a great possibility for her desire to take time off from studying and do some service ministry. i got to wonder about the significance of temple prostitution in ancient near Eastern cultures and about what the LORD's banning this in Israel revealed about Him. i get to teach two class periods on the Confessions of Jeremiah - and i can do and teach whatever i want provided we look at the text!

as i've been reminded more in the last couple of days of the nuisance and pain that can be caused by the reality that my choices and way of living affects other's lives and vice versa, i am thankful for being reminded of the joy that using my gifts and being myself can be a blessing to others. what makes each teaching moment special is the feeling of how my joy and excitement over the topic (and getting to share it) gets combined with the excitement and interest and experiences and knowledge of the other person, so that we are both (all) enriched by the experience.

04 November 2007

the joy of sunday mornings

on sunday mornings, i lay in bed a bit longer. but eventually i get out and shower and piddle around - read a bit, think a bit, pray a bit, and get ready for the day.

breakfast isn't until 8:45 - and i don't even have to go if i don't want to. but i do want to, because on sundays we have some kind of special cheese and eggs and bacon and juice and coffee and so on. and we sit around longer.

and after breakfast, i help out with the dishes. because i know i have the time - and some people have to hurry to get ready for church. and then most of the house goes off to church at 9:45 and i don't have church until 11, so i have the house to myself.

and so i take over the piano in the living room - and play as much as i want, as loud as i want, and sing if i want. and just generally delight in the fact that it is sunday morning and on sundays i have no "have to"s.

instead, on the best of sundays, the whole day is open. and i get to spend it with people i love - but i don't have to - so i can also sit in my room and read. and i get to go to church - and even if sometimes i don't always want to - i know that i get to - and that going to church is one way that i can be more able to meet God.

and on sunday mornings, it is easier to be peaceful and joyful and hopeful. and so i savor them as being a gift of God.

30 October 2007

maybe tomorrow my life will be balanced...

tomorrow i do the final proofread of the final draft of my thesis for the research master at the Vrije Universiteit. my supervising professor and another professor will respond to it with suggestions for further improvement (they have commented on the first 80 pages already) and/or things to address in the dissertation, then i make (hopefully minimal) corrections, and i am finished my second master's degree. and more importantly, i become officially a ph.d. student with all but my dissertation finished (actually it'll be with a couple of chunks of my dissertation done, since my thesis is a starting point for my ph.d!). the whole process will hopefully be finished by the end of november. finally. it has been all but finished for too long.

and there have been several valid reasons for it taking so long. i chose to take on more work in the community for the month of september because there was a need that i could fill, and for a number of reasons this extra work continued into october. i had a rather large computer problem (the solution being a complete overhaul). i have been spending extra time thinking and processing. i stopped to research and ponder biblical methodology for awhile. i live in community and that takes time and energy, even without the extra work. my parents came to visit and i wanted to spend significant time with them. and so on...

thus, my expectation for how long it would take and the actually reality were significantly different. and that caused some stress in my life. not because i've missed the deadline (i just need to be finished by 3 january to get a certain pay level and by 20 february to be qualified for a position - and as it's ironically financially better for me not to be finished, dragging out the deadline is not a bad thing). but i couldn't help but be disappointed at how little i was able to accomplish academically. and how it felt that this thesis kept hanging over my head, like i didn't really have the space to do everything i really wanted because i really should be finishing my thesis. sure, i don't expect to do what i want all the time, but it also felt like i didn't have the space to be available to others as much as i wanted to, the time to spend more on dutch, more on the fairly delightful task of prepping classes, more on growing in academic knowledge, and so on. in other words, it felt like my life was out of balance.

and even if i can explain my delay in finishing the thesis by the valid reasons given above, part of me wonders what it is about me that tends to make it so that i often have something hanging over my head. or struggle with a desire to be busy and tend towards being overly responsible. and that this has a tendency towards slowly pushing my life out of balance.

but i will keep trying (and praying and asking for help) to restore the balance. to help with that, i was given time off from some of my house chores and am passing on some of the chores (and this is what has given me time to finish my thesis). i'll be asked in a week if i've done the lovely things that i know bring me joy (like biking to the university a couple of times a week, eating at friends' houses, and having a couple of fun dates). and i will spend some extra time processing again - and wonder and pray about how to balance proper amounts of productivity in academic stuff with a desire to make space for and be available to the people in my life.

and maybe tomorrow, my life will be balanced. i have some work to do (academic and for the community). a bike ride planned. some emails to respond to. a date that i'm looking forward to. and somewhere in the midst of all of that, i hope for time to ponder and pray, good conversations, some unexpected things for which i now have space and energy to meet, and most of all, the wonder of meeting God.

14 October 2007

Photos from my parents' visit

More stories are coming about my parents' visit - but for now I'll just share some of the photos my mom has taken about their trip here. The photos can be found on facebook.

10 October 2007

how i sometimes feel about love and living in community

The following is a quote from Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White that I found on the blog, ricklibrarian.

"There is no beginning to love," Roger said. "It just creeps over you."

"Oh," said Hilma, "like brown rot on a plum tree in the dark winter months, and by the time you become aware of it, the leaves are out and it's too late to spray."

I have to admit that this quote struck me as fitting. Perhaps I wouldn't quite compare love to rot, but it does have a way of creeping up on you and it does cause pain - so maybe the description isn't so bad. And rot can be beautiful in its own way :)

06 October 2007

my parents in Amsterdam

i picked up my parents Wednesday morning at the airport. they were excited to be here, but fairly tired. the tired-ness only got worse, despite the fact that travelling to my place is fairly easy [a 15-minute train ride and a 10-minute walk (albeit through the usual crooked streets pulling a suitcase)]. by the time they'd seen my room, shared coffee/tea after chapel with some of the people that lived here, and helped carry their stuff to the fifth floor, they were more than ready for a nap.

Wednesday afternoon, we were off to a canal cruise because one of the guys in the community (Harm) is a captain of a tour boat. ideally, we'd have meandered a bit more on this day or taken bikes to get there, but this was the only day that Harm could take us and biking in Amsterdam is not exactly something you'd want to try on little sleep. so, my parents discovered the busy-ness of Amsterdam a little more abruptly than ideal. As my mom wrote to my sister, "Had lunch here and then we walked and walked the streets of Amsterdam. The streets are narrow and the bikers are worse than the cars and you better be on the bawl or you will get run over." they managed not to get hit by any bikers or cars, so they did pretty good.

for the canal cruise, we had the captain (Harm) all to ourselves, since the rest of the group was Italian and had their own tour guide. so my parents could ask tons of questions, which they enjoyed. then back to my place, meandering through the flower market and the shopping street, and finally time for supper. then sitting around, tea, and chapel. chapel was run by the oldest member of our community and didn't quite follow the liturgy, so it was a bit confusing for all of us. and since my parents don't exactly know church-y dutch and were still pretty tired, the fact that they made it through without falling asleep or being completely overwhelmed, was impressive. and then bed for them and a community meeting for me (a fascinating discussion of truth and perspective in journalism, which i followed most of the time despite it being in dutch and about dutch journalism and not having yet read the articles related to it!)

the next day, i had to clean the kitchen (we're a bit short-staffed with cleaning so switching seemed more complicated than it was worth), so they headed off to the huge flea market - and meandered through the streets of Amsterdam by themselves. they managed to get themselves back again by themselves and i think had a lot of random conversations along the way (they're walking proof that Canadians are really friendly!). in the afternoon, we tried to make plans about what to do next and where to go. having spent all their lives in the country-side with lots of space and cars being the obvious way of getting around, they were starting to feel claustrophobia from Amsterdam and felt that they lacked freedom in not having a car. and as our/their plans are somewhat dependent on when people are available, planning on when and where to go and what to do has been a bit difficult. but by mid-Thursday, plans were in place - and since i was going with them the next day for an indefinite period of time, i left them alone ago in order to go on a date (sorry, no parents invited). my parents went to the Heineken museum, meandering through the city again and went out for a nice supper.

Friday morning, they made me look good by being on time to breakfast (since it's 7:15, that's a bit of a feat for everyone around here). and then with a bit of packing and organizing, we skipped town to pick up a rental car and go off to Friesland.

so, my parents got an introduction to my world. they've had their fill of the Red Light District and second-hand pot smoke. and with the view out of their window of a corner where drugs get sold and a prostitute or two in windows across the way, they've been exposed to the sadder part of my life here. unfortunately, i think the busy-ness and ugliness of my neighbourhood and the confusion of things being so different (including and especially language) has overshadowed the joy and delight of living in this community that i want to share with them. hopefully, that will still happen more and more as time goes by. and for now, i'm trying to help them out as much as i can in their holiday and am delighting in being able to be with them as we discover more and more about our roots.

29 September 2007

celebrating small successes

as someone who tends towards idealism and perfectionism, i'd prefer to celebrate the huge, amazing things that i (and others) have been able to do. but more and more, i realize that many of the greatest successes are really just a number of little successes and often the result of much effort along the way. and so i'm learning to celebrate the small successes.

in my own life, i see that in learning how to live in a different country in a community made of people different from me, each with his/her own weaknesses and strengths (both of which i bump into on account of living in community). and ordinary things in life, which sometimes seem unworthy of celebration, often have meant lots of time and effort every time on account of language and different regulations. and so i'm learning to celebrate the little things: of getting money on my mobil phone (thanks to Jackie for her old phone), to getting health insurance that covers me here and back in North America, to being able to read the newspaper, to understanding much of a sermon in dutch, to having a great conversation with a friend, to being able to lead a chapel all in dutch.

and in the community, there are even more reasons to celebrate the small successes. what with the many people and the many possibilities for things going wrong, things like the bathroom being regularly cleaned, supper being cooked regularly (and enough for everybody), people not taking things out of the fridge and cupboards for themselves, and things generally running on time/schedule are successes to be celebrated. the many hours that we spend sharing our lives over coffee and tea and meals and dishes and celebrating together are actually extraordinary in how they are an expected part of life here. being thanked for how much someone enjoyed doing dishes with me (or that her stomach hurt from laughing so hard) is something to be celebrated - because it shows one of the best parts of community: joy. and where there is joy, it is easier to hope and believe that God can work wonders amidst the many possibilities of things going wrong and the difficulties of living together, learning healthier patterns, and putting lives back together.

Br. Luc mentions this last part a bit in his last "blurb" over life here. In the blurb, he mentions that a couple of new people had come to live with us but left within a day or two of coming here. There is sadness involved in not being able to provide a place for people to start over again, but there are many difficulties in transitioning from a time of homelessness to the structure involved in living here. As br. Luc says "It is a very great step, after a period of homelessness to live independently again. Whoever is successful deserves a lot of admiration. On account of this, assistance is often so beautiful because you meet brave people who can give their life a positive turn. But sometimes it is difficult, like with these two people who left."

So since the large and amazing success stories take a lot of effort and time, every small success along the way ought to be celebrated, instead of focusing on what still needs to happen for living well. and so i'm learning to open my eyes to the small successes - whether they be my own steps towards well-being in growing competency in functioning here or whether they be the steps of others towards well-being in language, independence, raising children, and/or living out their faith.

26 September 2007

a weekend with family

From 7-9 September, I spent the weekend in Friesland with many of the people in the community. It was a lot of fun: full of games, a few chores, chatting, and laughter. And true to family form, we made fun of each other, competed against each other, shared food from each other's plates, and laughed a lot. Last year, I had a lot of fun at the weekend, but this year it was even better - because I knew everyone better and understood a lot more of what was going on - and felt a bit more like I could participate better, even if I still felt clueless at times. The following are a few examples:
- I somehow managed to get put in charge of bathroom cleaning on the day we left;
- My shoes were stolen by two of the girls and (amidst much laughter) I had to go chasing after them barefoot trying to get it back;
- I got to play one of the characters in the mystery of the disappearing sheep.

And the joy of being together as family made up somewhat for the fact that I (once again) missed Heyink family camping the weekend before that - and so I missed out on a lot of games and good food and fun and laughter. I think what I missed most was just being with my family. and i'm sure i would have loved to see my sister, Janice, and her husband, Hugh, actually fighting in person:

maybe next year, i'll be able to go to both weekends - with both "families":) [at least, that's my hope now].

You can see photos of our weekend in Friesland on the website. [Just to warn you, I didn't do so well at making the photos this year].

And the following is the description of the weekend (in dutch) that I helped write for our internal newspaper (100-praatjes):
Op vrijdagavond kwamen we aan in Friesland (Maria ter Claesze). We hebben onze slaapplaatsen gevonden, ons corvee ontdekt en toen gingen we naar de kapel voor een hoogdienst. Na de hoogdienst, gingen we terug naar Maria ter Claesze om te kletsen.

Op zaterdag na kapel en ontbijt, moesten we onze klussen doen (appels plukken en schillen, bonen schoonmaken, hout hakken, het kippenhok ververn, het onkruid tussen de tegels weghalen, werken aan het hek van de schapen en vlierbessen plukken). Na de lunch moest iedereen vertellen waarom zijn eigen klus het meest ‘ in orde’ was. Ed zijn toast op een vlierbes had bijna gewonnen, maar de groep die iets met de appels deed, had een heel goed liedje gemaakt over ‘appels appels’ en zo waren zij het meeste ‘ in orde’. Later werd er een spel gespeeld. Er waren zes groepen en drie onderdelen: een quizz, het liedje raden dat Erik op de piano speelde en praten over een uitvinding. Voor ieder punt kreeg de groep paaseitjes. Om meer geld te verdienen, kon je de paaseitjes op de bank zetten (rente) of gokken welk team de competitie zou winnen. Iedere groep wilde graag meer paaseitjes winnen, maar de competitie bleek een beetje socialistisch te zijn. De groep met de meeste eitjes heeft niet gewonnen; in plaats daarvan won een andere groep, omdat de belastingen van de eerste te hoog waren. De rest van de middag aten we paaseitjes (er waren er zoveel in de krypte, dat dit erg goed was), sommigen speelden op een instrument en nog een paar anderen speelden voetbal.

Na het avondeten hebben we een Bijbelstudie gedaan over de tien geboden en het thema ‘ in orde’. De dingen die iedere groep had geleerd, werden gebruikt in de kapel. Na de kapel werd er meer gekletst en toen naar bed.

Op zondag gingen we na het ontbijt naar de kerk voor een feestelijke dienst van drie kerken. Voor de dienst was er speciale muziek van de ‘The lighthouse’ groep (vrij vertaald). Na de dienst was er koffie. Tijdens de koffie begon het middagprogramma toen sr Georgine binnenkwam en zei dat er een schap weg was en dat iemand iets met het schaap had gedaan! Er volgde een ruzie tussen sr Georgine (gespeeld door Brenda), br Sjoerd (door br luc), br Luc (gespeeld door Margreet), Renate (door Dorothea), Daniel (Erik-Jan), br Jozef (br Rik) en Muriel (Emma). Er werden vijf groepen gemaakt die al deze mensen vragen konden stellen om te onderzoeken wat er met het schaap was gebeurd. Op het eind, was iedereen verdacht volgens br Jozef, echter iedereen dacht dat br Sjoerd of br Luc iets slechts had gedaan. De schuldige was br Luc, hij had het schaap geslacht! Hierna was er nog middageten, schoonmaken, een reisgebed en avondeten thuis op Oudezijds 100. Kortom, het eten was erg lekker, het kletsen was heel gezellig, de spelletjes waren uitdagend, het werk gaf voldoening (je kon zien wat je had gedaan) en zo was het een heel leuk gezellig ‘great’ weekend. Hartelijk dank aan zr Rosaliene en br Sjoerd en Dorothea en Sjoerd voor al het werk.

24 September 2007

"a year of life in the zoo:" a summary of a year of living in community

Catapult Magazine has just published an issue focused on community, so I wrote an article about what I've learned about living in community this past year. The article is based on several blog entries that I've written about community (so if you've been reading this regularly, it should sound vaguely familiar). I feel good about how it turned out as I think I was able to share well some of the challenges and joys of living in community.

The article can be found at: http://www.catapultmagazine.com/lets-get-together-5

13 September 2007

children shouldn't be playing here

last night as i was heading out, several of 'our' children were outside playing. a group of guys walking by made a comment: "children shouldn't be playing here." and i responded fairly loudly "maar wij wonen hier." and then i recognized that i had responded in the wrong language. but my correction to saying "but they live here" was too late to get a response. my implicit question was that if we live here, shouldn't we be allowed to stand in front of our house and play games together?

somehow by saying we live here, i wanted to show that children playing games in front of one's own house shouldn't be considered inappropriate or even unusual. instead the selling of sex and drugs in our neighbourhood ought to be what raises comments about what should not be happening.

10 September 2007

not the marrying type

a friend of mine said recently that he was not the marrying type. i told him that statistically married people are happier so maybe he should re-consider. the irony is that what he said has made me re-consider some of my own thoughts on being the marrying type.

growing up, my getting married was always assumed. sure, Christians would talk about the gift of single-ness but many of those with the 'gift' weren't particularly thrilled about being so gifted. and although most people don't put it quite so bluntly, i still feel a bit like people wonder what's wrong with me that no one has married me yet. see, Christians are the marrying types, sort of by default. according to most Christians, sex is only for marriage, so that's a pretty large incentive for becoming the marrying type. add to that the emphasis in Christian circles about the blessing of families (included in this is the call "to multiply" from Genesis 1). and finally add the loneliness generally associated with being single. all in all, marriage provides a lot of joy and the opportunity of learning to live and love unselfishly (as Christians are called to do). and thus, it seems pretty obvious that i should be the marrying type.

yet, as i thought about it, my being the marrying type no longer seems so obvious. after all, if i really was the marrying type, why do i get so annoyed when singleness is understood primarily as 'not yet married'? and there have been guys in my life who have been fun to be with, good Christians, interested enough in me, and i think i would have been content being married to, but i never pursued it - and more so, i've made choices that weren't so conducive to getting married. i always figured that i just hadn't found the "right guy," but i'm starting to recognize that there's more to my being single than simply not having (yet) found the right one.

many years ago, i read that being single gives you the freedom to love more people more, as your love is not primarily directed towards your own family. that stuck with me - being able to love more people more freely was something that spoke to my heart - it spoke of a life that had a certain kind of crazy reckless intensity to it. and when i compared being able to serve God by having the freedom to go wherever whenever and love more people more, the joys and challenges of marriage didn't necessarily come out higher. and thus i was kind of single by default. yet, living in community has shown me that this comparison isn't quite the way i have to see singleness and/or marriage.

living in community, the picture i have in my head of both single-ness and marriage have been re-shaped. my being single hardly means that i'm doomed to live a quiet, lonely existence. living in community is anything but quiet and dull. in community, i've found people with whom not only to share the house chores but also who are interested in how my day was and are willing to share the burdens and joys in my life. and since these same people also sometimes annoy me and demand more of me than i always want to give, learning to live unselfishly is something i am challenged with constantly. and joy and laughter comes in piles - although it helps if you delight in adventures and are good at laughing at yourself. as i still have no great desire to have my own children, marriage no longer seems like the only choice i have for joy, companionship, children, and growing to be less selfish. and most of all, i have seen that community provides a tangible way for me to love more people more fully - and in that way i've discovered that living in community speaks to this desire of my heart. and i have no question that i want to live the rest of my life in community somehow.

and yet, even as much as i feel complete as a single person and that i'm not just waiting around anxiously to get married, i don't have to have to reject the possibility of marriage either. it's just i would want marriage to allow me to continue to follow the desire to love people more. and so getting married would be a means for me to live even more fully in community - to be better able to participate, be further supported, and further challenged - and provide extra joy in the midst of the challenges of serving God and loving others. though i do have to admit that i kind of wonder how God would ever find someone for me who is okay with my odd, somewhat nomadic approach to life, but as i believe in a God who is capable of the impossible, who knows?

as for now, i'm not entirely sure of all the implications of re-classifying myself as not exactly the married type - but i think it's got some benefits, not the least of which is the realization that i think i'm going to enjoy dating more :)

04 September 2007

learning how to dream again

months ago, i sent an email about the possibility of teaching an interim (DCM) class at Calvin College (i had previously taught a DCM class on postmodernity and truth in January 2006). the topic i suggested for the DCM this time was theology from the Red Light District. i received a fairly positive response to the possibility of my teaching but later realized that i didn't think i could teach this topic in any way that it was not sensationalized nor was i sure if this really fit best with what i wanted to learn and do this year - and so i dropped the discussion. and never thought more of it.

last week, however, i received an email asking if i was still interested in teaching. no longer liking my previously proposed topic, having planned somewhat already what i was going to do this year, spending another month away from the community here didn't seem to fit with my desire to learn more about community, and having already decided against teaching by having dropped the discussion previously, i had planned to decline the offer to teach. i even had the email all written.

however, before sending it away, i paused to ask myself whether i had really thought and prayed over the possibility of teaching. even if the logical answer to teaching was no, perhaps the unexpectedness of the offer spoke of God's hand in it. and as i paused to wonder about whether i ought to teach, it came to me what topic i would love to talk about more: community - how community is lived here - and how it is lived in the examples of "new monasticism" that i know of in America. and wondering together what it means to live and be community in the midst of sin (both the sin of us as individuals and the sin around us). and trying to know better how to live out community in our every day lives wherever we are - and whether we're part of a formal community. combining these questions of community with the Reformed ideas of creation being good, the fall (us all being broken), and redemption (a restoration to how things should be) would provide for a lot of great discussion.

and starting to dream about getting to teach about community, which has obviously been on my heart this last year, was a bit overwhelming. all my good, logical excuses for not teaching came crashing down. and i saw that my plans for the coming year were being re-worked. so, as i often do when i'm overwhelmed and need to pray and process, i went for a bike ride. and sooner or later, i knew that i wanted to say, yes, i'd love to teach. yes, i'd love to teach about what i love (community) to first-year college students who are enthusiastic about life, who are willing to dream about the impossible (including the craziness of living in community), and who still believe they can and will change the world.

so, i worked out some logistics. a place to stay in Grand Rapids has been found. i've moved my vacation time from here to be in January instead of for much of Advent. everyone i've talked to (family and friends here and back home) have all responded with delight over the fact that i'd get to do this (and are okay with my changing my plans even if it means that i don't get to see everyone as soon and as much as we'd all like). and as the logistics have worked out and with the encouragement of those i love, i feel like i've been allowed to dream again. for i get to be paid to do what i love (teach) and share about what i love (community)!

i'm deeply thankful to God for being pushed to dream again - and to believe that He does want to give me the desires of my heart. i do have to admit, though, that as delighted as i am to dream again, i'm also a bit nervous - dreaming has the unpleasant habit of making me have to re-adjust my life....


the readings in chapel have been out of Genesis lately. as we read through the stories of the patriarchs, i'm struck by how much deception is involved. Jacob is deceived into marrying Leah along with Rachel. Laban makes all the spotted/streaked animals he's promised Jacob go away, so Jacob uses his own devices to cause the healthiest animals in the flocks to become spotted/streaked (and thus his). Rachel steals her father's idols, and then pretends it's "that time of the month" so she can't get up from where she's sitting on them. and then Dinah's brothers trick the men of Shechem into believing that all they need to do to make things good between the families is get circumcised - and then Dinah's 2 brothers kill them off while they're in pain. that's not even all the deception involved - and we haven't even got to the story of Judah and Tamar yet (Gen 38)!

all this deception has got me to thinking more about deception in general. one of the fascinating things i learned when studying hebrew narrative (and Genesis specifically) at Calvin Seminary was that the Bible does not always see deception as evil/wrong. Michael Williams wrote his dissertation on how deception being considered positive was a uniquely biblical phenomenon. the best example of positive deception would be the case of Tamar, who is called righteous by Judah, when Judah discovers what really happened in her becoming pregnant. because Tamar's deception restored shalom (i.e. it restored things to how they should be - and by how things should be, she rightly deserved to be able to bear a child from Judah's line), her deception of Judah is not considered evil but is instead considered righteous.

because understanding how deception could really restore shalom, as opposed to merely creating more brokenness (and go against the eighth commandment), deception is a bit difficult for me as a Christian to know what to do with. yet, i also know that being completely honest also creates brokenness. if i'm too honest with others, i can unnecessarily hurt others' feelings (and who really needs to know my exact opinion on their clothing style?!) and i open myself up to being hurt and having what i've said be used against me. i wouldn't say that i deceive people so much as i don't always correct other's perceptions - because i'm often scared of being hurt, i tend towards not being as honest as i could be.

the questions of deception and honesty are brought forward more when living in community. when living in community, it is hard to deceive others as one can hardly put on a false face every hour of the day. and yet, in other ways living in community makes it easier to hide other things. deception is best done not with outright lying but by saying louder something else that is also true. and when you live in community, certain things keep coming up loudly. like one person's dislike of the rules is so loud that you don't see how much he has adjusted to those rules even when he feels that the rules are hardly applied fairly to everyone. when something doesn't happen the way it should, it gets noticed louder than the hundreds of things that do go well - or the umpteen chores that a couple of people quietly do to make life easier for everyone else. and sometimes you miss how much people enjoy life or are good at expressing themselves - and only see it when they play volleyball or find the right task that fits their gifts or go dancing or sit down for tea with just the right person(s). and with lives that are busy with our own problems/issues, our own work, and the umpteen people that daily cross our paths, sometimes it is hard to see both the obvious things that are true/honest alongside the glimpses of other parts of people that are also true/honest.

and in some ways, i, too, say some things more loudly than others. i try to speak more loudly about the good things about community and not talk so much about the painful parts. living in community does hurt a lot because it hurts to choose to love people and not be overwhelmed by the sadness of how broken the world is - both outside the community and in all of us. and it's hard work not to complain about how others don't do things the way i think they should (or i would do better) - and it's hard work to acknowledge that i also hurt people and am broken and my way is not always the best way. and as much as i ought to be honest about how hard community is, i don't want that to be the only thing that people hear. i want them to hear that it is good. and to help with showing that it is good, i choose to laugh (and i think i laugh louder now than i used to!). and in some ways, there's deception in that - because when i laugh, what people generally see is that i am happy - and it effectively hides the sadness i have over the brokenness. and yet, it is mostly good deception. because when i laugh, i am in some ways saying that the pain and the brokenness are not the biggest things in life - instead, joy and hope are bigger. and when i laugh, it is easier to believe that God is working good in all of us, even if sometimes i don't always feel that or see that.

27 August 2007

returning to normal life

my thesis is almost finished. i couldn't quite get it done for today. but it is still almost finished - i completed a lot (80 pages in final draft form! and 35 pages in almost final draft!) - and for that i'm thankful.

i'm a bit disappointed that i didn't get it finished but the disappointment is mixed with feeling a satisfaction of having focused all my energy and time on it last week. the feedback i've received on what i've done has been positive - what i've handed in thus far is a good beginning for my ph.d. dissertation (yay!), which i'll start as soon as my thesis is done. and the paperwork in registering for school again wasn't quite as difficult as i thought it would be (and ironically enough it might be cheaper for me to do it this way - even if it means that i pay again for at least part of a year!)

but most of all, i'm so grateful to return to normal life. it has been good to spend so much time in my head - and it was good to try to exercise my brain/intelligence to the utmost of my abilities. but i missed my crazy family. Crystle and Dave Numan were here for awhile and surrounded me with community - but i missed coffee times and sharing in chores and processing what's going on around me and blogging and emailing and hearing others' joys and complaints and practicing my dutch and laughing too loud. academic books and living inside my head are a bit dull compared to the surprises and joy of everyday life in community (just in time to start welcoming new people :)).

so hopefully life will be slightly more balanced again for awhile - and it's a wonderful relief not to have the weight of a far-from-done (and late) thesis hanging over my head.

22 August 2007

an image for the day

as i continue to try to spend every waking hour focused on my thesis (3 more days of this regiment!), i'm reminded again of why i'm spending all this energy on it now. the hope is that by getting it finished (or at least almost finished) now before the season here starts, my unfinished (late) thesis won't be hanging over my head. and i'll be able to divide my energy a little more evenly amongst theological and biblical issues, prepping for a couple of classes, finding/earning some kind of income, spending time with friends, and participating in community.

this morning in chapel, i got an image of what community is. one of 'our' little girls who is 2 came with her mother to chapel - she was obviously sick as she was burrowing into her mother's arms when we all know she'd much prefer meandering around the chapel, especially as her friend was there. her friend (another of 'our' 2-year-olds) saw that she was sick and was quieter during chapel and kept looking over to see how she was. at one point, her friend walked over with the picture Bible that they both like a lot to give it to her in order to make her feel better.

and watching this little 2-year-old respond to her sick friend was an image to me of what community should be like. if someone is not doing well, it changes a bit how we act - and should prompt us to reach out to them in some way.

20 August 2007

thesis blogging break

As I haven't put anything on my blog for awhile now, I thought I'd officially acknowledge that most of my energy in trying to clarify what's going on in my head has been directed towards my thesis. The thesis is now over 100 pages long, and more than 50 of those pages are in all-but-final form (This may be challenged by my supervisor today). So, until that gets finished (hopefully in less than 2 weeks!), there probably won't be anything new up here (except for possible updates on the thesis).

And other than somewhat 'out-of-sorts' feeling I generally get from spending too much time writing a paper, life has been good, and I'm looking forward to being able to share more about it hopefully sooner rather than later.

07 August 2007

one of the most important things i learned last year: methodology

At some point in time, I'd like to talk/write a bit more about my own (developing) methodology in looking at the Bible - and about how i want to (and can) share more about the academic side of my life. but until then, here is something with which to begin.

Academically speaking, the most important thing i learned last year was about methodology [i'd define methodology as how one looks at something and then on what basis one makes conclusions]. It was partially through reading texts dealing with methodology (including several case studies related to prostitution). My learning occurred mainly through the general atmosphere of the University that methodology should be taken very seriously, including being able to respond to the questions that different methodological perspectives would bring to one's work.

since methodology is one of the things that Calvin Seminary did not spend a lot of time on (as one cannot really preach methodology), my understanding of methodology could use some work. without an awareness of the methodology involved, i lose one of my best tools in evaluating another's work and conclusions. your methodology belies the assumptions that you have made in coming to the conclusions that you have. if your methodology is faulty, so are your results (methodology is thus one of the biggest concerns in writing a dissertation). if your work is not capable of withstanding criticism and the questions addressed by certain methodologies, then your work will be dismissed. so if i want both to understand and be heard better, i need to understand, acknowledge my use of, and argue against the different methodologies involved in studying the Bible.

i've included below the report i made on biblical exegesis and the books i read to learn more about this. my supervisor thought it was done well (and it is slightly less academic and more personal than a published work on methodology) so it's read-able but it's still a discussion on biblical methodology (with a bit of a feeling of a book report - so if you haven't read the books, you're a bit lost, although maybe you'll want to read one of the books now) - and i don't expect it to be the kind of thing that most non-theology people find fascinating. but for the few people who will appreciate it, here it is:

Methods of Biblical Exegesis
Completed by Brenda Heyink - December 2006

A Discussion of Various Perspectives on Methodology

Several different authors and books were read to get a better understanding of methodology in biblical exegesis [see endnote 1]. Although each approached the text slightly differently, all were careful not to advocate for only one single method of 'standard' methodology. As space allowed, each showed positive and negative aspects to the different methodologies. This attempt to give each method a valid hearing allowed the authors better to be heard, but also pointed out the need in exegesis for something other than using only one of the existing methodologies.

This essay will begin with a summary of the books and articles, followed by a short evaluation of them. Barton's book provided the most helpful overview, and Cline's article was the most helpful in providing a short overview of the challenges involved in our own understanding of methodology. Jonker's book was probably the one that I found the most difficult to understand and appreciate, even though his attempt to find some common ground was appreciated. Talstra seems to be better able to navigate the different methodologies and give a viable alternative to either one methodology or the necessity of using all methodologies. Acknowledging that I have come to these readings with a certain bias towards some methodologies based on my past (academic) training and the influence of my church, I realize that the most helpful part of this exercise was to give me an appreciation for methodologies that I might have ignored previously as well as recognizing these biases.

Barton's book presupposes a knowledge of the different methodologies currently used in biblical exegesis. His goal is to explain the purpose of the methods [endnote 2] and show their interrelationship as "these methods are not just a random collection of techniques but hang together, make up a family, cover the range of possible questions people can ask about texts" (Barton, 3). Barton, in no ways, is trying to invalidate different methods on his way to showing which exegetical method is the most correct. He argues that "all interpretations of texts are 'readings', not the final word on the subject… Interpreters have deluded themselves into thinking that correct answers exist, if we could only find them (Barton, 216)." Barton thus does not advocate any one method but does indicate that some provide more validity than others.

Barton shows what the method is trying to correct as well as acknowledging its problems. For example, in his analysis of source criticism, he notes that the possibility of different sources arose as a logical explanation for 'discrepancies' in the text. Form criticism also arose as an explanation for the discrepancies. Barton, in his evaluation, does point out that what is understood by 'discrepancies' in the ancient text is problematic as there are no set guidelines for determining what is a discrepancy and what was placed there purposely by the redactor or written that way for rhetorical purposes, as redaction criticism and rhetorical criticism respectively might argue.[endnote 3] He uses the example of Ecclesiastes to show how all of these methods would actually work, illustrating how different methodologies bring different exegetical emphases but many of them still do come to a very similar answer to the purpose of Ecclesiastes.

Barton's work has the goal of being very objective, and for the most part he does this well. I grew in appreciation for the methodologies that I had sometimes dismissed in the past (e.g. source criticism, new criticism) as well as understanding some of the pitfalls of the methodologies I had a tendency to favour (e.g. canonical criticism, structuralism, form criticism). However, I had the impression that he thought less of the validity of canonical criticism than the other methodologies. I also got the impression that even though he was willing 'to play' with post-structuralist methodologies, he dismissed them overall as being illogical. My impression is that the 'newer' methodologies have not been around long enough to receive the tempered evaluation that Barton gave to the methodologies that have been used in exegesis for a longer time.

Barton's article continued along the same lines (as would be expected as it was written about the same time.) He argues that there is not common ground between historical criticism and literary interpretation but that this does not mean that each cannot help the other nor that they do not both struggle with certain issues. Both struggle with a similar problem - defining what is considered to be a discrepancy in the text. They also both focus on finding a single 'theme' in the text, which is the purpose of the text. Barton argues that this concept of theme is not necessarily how things were written (to be read). His evaluation once again helps point out how everyone, no matter which methodology they use, comes to the text with a bias - and thus so do I. His work has encouraged me to try not to allow any bias I have towards certain methods to prevent me from acknowledging the insights gained from these methods, which are not necessarily ones that I would have received with the questions I have been asking of the text.

Jonker's work also evaluated the different methodologies, although in a different way than Barton. Jonker spent less time on evaluating the methodologies and more illustrating them with the purpose of finding a multidimensional or integrated methodology. He exegetes Judges 13 through first a diachronic (historical-critical) methodology and then a synchronic (narrative) methodology. He explains the different methodologies in the first part, does the exegesis in the second part, and evaluates the results in the third part. I found his book not only to be less helpful than Barton's, but it also left me feeling slightly frustrated.

There was much in Jonker's book that I felt I did not understand properly. His explanations for the different methodologies consisted mainly of quotes in German, which caused some of the misunderstanding in terms of what he meant by the methodologies. However, his understanding of historical-critical methodology is significantly different than the understanding I have, even after reading Barton's book. Under this category of diachronic analysis, he includes a section called Theologische Kritik, which I would consider not to be inherently diachronic nor would I consider redactional criticism [endnote 4] to be diachronic. Under the category of synchronic methodology he looks at the text only from a literary view (narrative methodology as understood by Sternberg, Alter, and Berlin).

Besides having a problem with how he understood a diachronic and synchronic analysis, it did not seem that he gave the synchronic method a fair evaluation. The synchronic evaluation was based primarily on one kind of methodological criticism defined by Barton whereas the diachronic evaluation had several kinds. I also found it frustrating that he assumes that his diachronic methodology was religious whereas the synchronic method only dealt with literary methods. [endnote 5] Jonker clarifies this slightly by acknowledging that both methodologies argue that the text has meaning (Jonker, 297-98), but the language that he uses to differentiate the methodologies seems problematic to me. Perhaps I am misunderstanding Jonker, but I would argue against Jonker in saying that literary methods of approaching the text do not implicitly consider the text any more the word of God than historical-critical methods. [endnote 6]

Although Jonker does a good job of highlighting the exegetical insights he received from the different methodologies, he does not do a good job of comparing his results. The insights from the different methodologies were not all that different. He never gives an explanation of why such similar insights were obtained from two different methods. More importantly, he did not point out what one would miss by only using one method, which would have more adequately proving the need for an integrated methodology. His study, although fruitful in its exegesis, was slightly disappointing in terms of its methodology.

Although I agree that neither a synchronic or diachronic methodology alone is the best way of approaching the text, the articles that I read did a better job of convincing me of this than the work by Jonker or even that of Barton. The work, Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate in Method in Old Testament Exegesis was especially helpful with this.

Cline's article is probably the one that I found the most helpful. His article is actually a summary of a workshop. It begins with a brief summary of his belief that the opposition of diachronical and synchronical methods is unhelpful. He thus goes on to define what he means by a workshop, provides the questions and handouts of the workshop, and then reports on what the results were. The questions brought forward helped participants better to understand the terminology of diachronic and synchronic, to acknowledge their emotional investment in the concepts, to see how different biblical methodologies contained both synchronic and diachronic elements, and to evaluate the process by which they could learn all this. His article not only gave a basic overview of the concepts but also showed the questions that those doing biblical exegesis could ask in a non-threatening environment. As a compliment to him, there are elements of his workshop that I would be interested in 'copying' in a classroom setting to help students better understand biblical methodologies.

Talstra's article on methodology was especially of interest to me, as it is prudent to understand the methodological preferences of one's supervisor. As his suggestion of how to approach the text is different than the other methodologies, it is slightly difficult to understand at first. However, after having now taken a class with him, things make slightly more sense. Unlike others, he does not assume that the more methodologies the better: “I do not agree with some modern statements that a maximum of methods should be used, that every single method has its own way of asking questions of the text, so that applying all of them would help us achieve a maximum of insight” (Talstra 1998, 3). Instead, he argues for a hierarchy of techniques/methods in approaching a text. One needs to first study the text carefully, understanding the text first in terms of syntax and literary elements before trying to understand the text based on such things as authorial intent or redactional elements. Asking how a modern day reader understands is a final element. He uses the examples of Dtn. 29, 1 Kgs. 9 and Jer 22 to illustrate this in one article (Talstra 1998) and looks at Dtn. 9-10 in the other article (Talstra 1995). It is clear that Talstra is actively trying to get past some of the problems of the other methodologies (for example, seeing chiasms in every thing, as well as using source criticism to get the Bible to say whatever you’d like it to, such as the theory that judges were good and kings were bad).

I am certain that there are things still to be worked out in the methodology of Talstra but he provides a way of appropriating the insights from the different methodologies without being stuck into a little box having to defend one methodology. It does not necessarily validate each method to the same extent at the same time nor does it require one to go through the lengthy process of using all the methods to show in multiple ways a lot of similar things with a few discrepancies (as illustrated by both Barton and Jonker).

As I felt like my understanding of the different methodologies of reading the Bible was lacking somewhat (it was something I had previously ignored as much as possible), this assignment was good for me to do. I think that I am more well-versed in the different methodologies. This allows me at least a few more insights into the biblical text and a significant amount of insight into those who are analyzing and writing about the text. Understanding someone's method helps one to see what they might be over-emphasizing and what they might be missing.

As I continue to learn more about methodologies, J. Barr's comment at the end of his essay is helpful. It is a wry comment on the state of biblical exegesis today and something which it is helpful to remember to keep things in perspective:

In conclusion, I feel I ought to apologize for reading a paper which has in it little or no detailed reference to the Old Testament. This however is not an accident. The methodological discussions in which biblical studies are now engaged see to me to have rather little to do with the Bible itself. They are not based on the Bible, nor can they be settled by the Bible….These discussions seem to me to be discussions of our own modern experience and it is our own modern experience in its many varied aspects that is the authority to which we are appealing. (Barr, 14).

[1] The books and articles are listed in a bibliography at the end of this paper.

[2] The methods that he discusses are: source analysis (literary criticism), form criticism, redaction criticism, canonical approach, structuralist criticism (both literary and biblical), 'new' criticism (which is an adaptation of literary criticism of about a hundred years ago), rhetorical criticism, postmodernist, and deconstructionist.

[3] This problem of discrepancies is illustrated well in the article by Carroll. He gives several discrepancies in the book of Jeremiah (Nebuchadnezzar being called servant of the LORD in one place and a beast in another), which he believes can only be explained through a diachronic reading. He argues that those who attempt to read the text synchronically have tended to pretend this is not really a discrepancy. Carroll thus shows how one's approach/ methodology can have a significant effect on what one considers as a discrepancy and then how one solves that 'problem'. His conclusion of the need for a diachronic method thus seems to me a bit false but I'm not sure if I dislike the conclusion because of my background or because I dislike the claim he makes for the (absolute) need of the diachronic method.

[4] He also includes Redaktionskritik under historical-critical methodology.

[5] Certainly the literary methods can ignore religious questions but synchronic readings are not only literarily based.

[6] Barr is careful in noting that good theology is not something that is inherent to either synchronic or diachronic methods (Barr, 11).


Barr, J., 'The Synchronic, the Diachronic and the Historical: A Triangular Relationship?', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 1-14.

Barton, J., Reading the Old Testament. Method in Biblical Study (revised and enlarged edition), Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, Kent., 1996 (orig. ed. 1984).

Barton, J. 'Historical Criticism and Literary Interpretation: Is There Any Common Ground?', in S.E. Porter, P. Joyce, D. E. Orton, Crossing the Boundaries. Essay in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder, Leiden: Brill, 1994: 3-16.

Carroll, R. P., "Synchronic Deconstructions of Jeremiah: Diachrony to the Rescue?', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 39-51.

Clines, D. J. A., 'Beyond Synchronic/ Diachronic', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 52-71.

Jonker, Louis C., Exclusivity and Variety. Perspectives on Multidimensional Exegesis, Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 19, Kampen, 1996.

Talstra, E., 'Deuteronomy 9 and 10: Synchronic and Diachronic Observations', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 187-210.

Talstra, E., 'From the Eclipse of the Art of Biblical Narrative. Reflections on Methods of Biblical Exegesis', in E. Noort (ed.), Perspectives on the Study of the Old Testament and Early Judaism: A Symposium in Honour of Adam S. van der Woude on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, Groningen 1997, Leiden: Brill, 1998: 1-41.

05 August 2007

some of the great parts of living in community

having people around to talk to, and share with, and help each other out are some of the reasons i love living in community. and tonight was a good illustration of those things.

i was wandering around the house saturday afternoon doing odd chores hoping to bump into somebody to talk to as a break from spending way too much time sitting in my room thinking about my thesis (or trying to avoid thinking about it). as i was returning a book to the library (having our own library is, incidentally, another one of the great parts of living in community), i bumped into someone using the computer. i was clearly in a chatting mood and he looked like he'd welcome a distraction, so we ended up having a good conversation about emotions and general well-being. and i returned to my room, content to get back to the chores awaiting me.

awhile later, i got a knock in the door announcing a phone call/message from the people who'd just left for a 2-week vacation and had lent me their apartment during that time (and i'd water the plants). turns out they'd left a load in the washing machine and could i take it out? of course (i only live downstairs and can you imagine unhung wash after 2 weeks?!?). we did have to laugh at them, though.

then i decided to join whoever was around for tea for awhile. so a bunch of us sat outside and 'tourist-watched.' when you live in a high sight-seeing area, most of the people coming by are tourists who are rubber-necking and include my house (and all of us in it) as part of the potential attractions to check out. they usually are a bit startled by the rather ordinary-ness of a bunch of people sitting around on their porch (steps usually), drinking tea, chatting, and living ordinary life in a place people expect something a lot different. (The report from the Americans who visited mentions how the normalcy is a witness: "the community we are serving this week are so normal and simple that we become a show. At dinner people walk by the front window by the street and see a community dinner. It is glaringly different to what is in windows on either side of us. People stand and watch decent people doing decent things... It saddens me that our normalcy is such a show, but it is inspiring that so many people stop and inquire to what is going on.")

while sitting outside, i saw a former house-mate coming home for whom i'd been watching out for about week. so i went to see her new apartment. and met the new kitten who was sleeping over at her house while the couple above went on vacation - and because the house has a bit of a mouse problem, which has not gone over well with her (her initial reaction to finding a mouse has been repeated a few times through the community, with chuckles). so the couple have a cat-sitter and she has a mouse-scarer (it's a bit young so i'm not sure if it's really a mouse-catcher yet or more of a mouse-player) - and everyone benefits. and i had a lovely chat in english and dutch. and got a dinner invitation for tuesday :)

finally, back to those chores. only to hear within a few minutes someone outside in my hallway (which i don't share with anyone at the moment). it was someone checking to see if our machine for doing the floor had been returned by someone else using it (the floor-machine is only one of many machines that we own - our new super efficient high-duty clothes dryer is my favourite at the moment, though). and so we chatted for awhile and shared stories. and my chores waited awhile longer.

the chores finally did get done. my room might now pass for neat (by my mother's standards and not just mine:)). and the evening was great for getting to spend time with the people here that i know and love - and of being reminded of some of my favourite parts of community.

03 August 2007

the effect of global warming on Amsterdam

this summer, most of the people i know have been suffering from super hot summers. i spent a week or two in humid Grand Rapids and am very glad not to be spending my summer there (nor having any plans to do so for awhile). i'm fairly certain that global warming has something to do with this heat and the other crazy weather disasters around the world.

and i'm pretty sure that global warming is at least partially to blame for the Amsterdam weather that most of us are complaining about. it's been raining a lot lately (which isn't entirely unusual - except not usually so much at this time of the year). and the lack of sun is kind of sad. but more so, it's chilly. like "sweater and pants in the middle of the day" kind of chilly. and so, since we had such a warm winter here, i don't think that the average temperature in the summer has been much warmer than that in the summer!

i'm rather a large fan of 17 degree celsius weather, so i won't be complaining too much about the weather here (summer or winter!). and i think the Netherlands has fared the best with the weather this year. but all of these funny temperatures make me slightly unsettled about what else will be coming to all of us as we start to feel more and more effects of global warming.

28 July 2007

stories and pictures from summer at Oudezijds 100

update: you can also watch a video of them (and me) eating herring.

last week we had a group of American young adults here to experience life in community. they were eager, helpful, energetic, and enthusiastic. they did a lot of work around the place - and so now the balcony outside my window is cleaned up, and our common area looks really good - it feels and looks a lot more gezellig (cozy) - the way a living room ought to feel. a write-up of their visit is on the website. as are photos of them fixing things up. (The photos are of them fixing up the balconies, the common room, eating together and having coffee/tea together - since i joined in on the food parts, i'm in a few of them).

and besides bringing with them energy to do work, they also brought with them a desire to learn more and experience God further. they helped us remember the goodness of living in Christian community. there is great joy to be had in shared meals and shared work. there is peace, prayers, and a history of people trying to serve God faithfully, which all provide space to ask questions about what God would have next. there is the duty and joy of worshipping together - whether spontaneously or through planned chapels - and all of us worshipped in ways we weren't always familiar with but could see the beauty of. and there is the love of God, which makes us all immediately family.

yet, one question from the week made me realize that perhaps some of them might have missed out on one part of life in community here. someone asked me something along the lines of "based on the reputation of americans, didn't i feel a bit "put out" about their coming?" certainly, i'd argue that Americans in general have a lack of awareness of (and healthy concern for) the rest of the world, but that hardly makes me disappointed at their presence. community is about making space for others - irrelevant of differences or my own personal opinions and preferences. and by welcoming people in community, i learn better how to share the grace and love of God with others - and am often given an opportunity to see God better because of their presence in my life. i wish i had been able to share that better when i had been originally asked the question but perhaps it is also a lesson that one learns only with time - and the "opportunity" of having people make their differences apparent in ways that are sometimes inconvenient.

20 July 2007

Some Thoughts about the Red Light District and Prostitution

I recently wrote an article for an online journal about living in the Red Light District and some of the things I've learned about prostitution in the past year. It lacks a theological perspective at the moment but this article only reflects the beginning of some of my reflections on this subject.

Red light.
originally published in the June 15, 2007 issue of catapult magazine.

Recently I started filling out a questionnaire related to pornography. The first question asked how often I looked at pornography. When I answered daily, I knew there was a problem. Yet, it wasn't quite the problem that the survey anticipated. My daily exposure to pornography (and prostitution) happens to be an inevitable consequence of living where I live.

For the last year I have been living in a Christian community in Amsterdam's Red Light District. All of us who live in this community are in some way a light to the world around us. But living here also means that we are exposed to much that Christians try to avoid. Porn theatres, second-hand pot smoke, and window prostitutes are impossible to miss if I walk outside my front door—and my exposure to these things has affected how I see the world.

People tend to see prostitutes as either victims or active agents. In other words, either innocent women have been forced into prostitution or some sinful women have actively chosen this means of work. If a woman is there by force, she could be a literal prisoner, or it could be less violent. She might see this as her only choice: either because of a poor understanding of her worth as a female or by perceiving prostitution as the only means to get enough money. If a prostitute has chosen this work, the choice is made primarily on the basis of prostitution being the best way to earn the most money. If I see prostitutes as innocent victims of their circumstances or there through some fault in society, prostitutes' need for help and my desire to do so are a lot greater. But seeing prostitutes as only victims, even if many do not start out working as prostitutes by choice, causes me to ignore the voice of the prostitutes themselves. Most of the prostitutes that I see on a day-to-day basis would argue strongly that they are there by choice and do not need someone like me to come in and 'rescue' them. And if I truly want to be a light to this world around me, then I have to be willing to hear and see what those around me are willing to share—and not just what confirms what I want to believe.

It would be much simpler to avoid the whole situation and dismiss prostitution as evil—whether the prostitutes themselves or the persons who force someone into prostitution. But living in the midst of the Red Light District makes such a dismissal impossible. I am faced daily with the reality that the prostitutes are there—and that prostitutes are real people like me. Outside of working hours, they blend into the scenery as easily as I do. Even when working, they'll appreciate being waved to by a child barely old enough to walk, just like the rest of us will. Being exposed to prostitution on a daily basis makes any simple response to prostitution difficult.

Some days I just try to ignore it. I dodge the men looking in the windows as I pass by without acknowledging the prostitutes, knowing that I will be ignored by them for I have no place in their work. Knowing that if I look like I belong here, I won't be asked whether I'm interested in whatever drug is currently being offered to the tourists. For even after living here a year, I still don't have a great answer for those offering me drugs. Nor do I know a good way of acknowledging the prostitutes.

Some days I am filled with sadness. The work of a prostitute requires distancing oneself from one's feelings and the need to function amidst logical inconsistencies. The brokenness that results from this work (a reality few deny) seems too large a price to pay for the monetary benefits received from it.

Some days I am filled with annoyance. I am annoyed that I live in a world and place where prostitution can be the best choice for some. I am angered that prostitutes are looked down upon while those who visit them are considered to be doing something normal. And I am frustrated with the many tourists who come to explore and implicitly affirm what is happening here.

And some days I am overwhelmed with compassion. And so I've been reading as much as I can about this strange world around me. I've contacted people who minister to the prostitutes to see how I might be able to help out.

The world around me daily proclaims that money, drugs, and sex really do bring true happiness. The hope is that I might be part of painting a picture of what true hope and joy and community are and that by exposing our neighbours to a better picture of what God intended for people, we might be a light to the world around us.

end of article

I had received a response to the article but I wasn't sure how to respond, so I delayed in posting this article. I have now responded - and this discussion can be found on the culture is not optional forums.

19 July 2007

back home in Amsterdam

the best things about coming home are the feeling of belonging and the comfort of returning to the familiar.

on the day i returned,
- the electricity was out in 2/3 of the house for half the day;
- i had to navigate around the extra furniture in the hallway and in my room to get my stuff into my room;
- one of our regular homeless visitors got into a fight with social worker and was asked to leave;
- i discovered my bike had a flat (and fixed it mostly by myself the next day - i try to time it right so that there's someone competent around who can help me out);
- i attended chapel services twice;
- i ate supper with 20 people or so, including a group of young adults from Florida who are visiting this week (and i got to wash dishes again);
- communication was a mixture of dutch and english - and not always the right language to the right person;
- i was warmly welcomed back by many, including a 2-year old who made me her favourite person for the evening.

and well, overall, i'd have to say that it's wonderful to return to a place where i feel like i belong. and the first day convinced me that things are the same here as they always are, which means that each day is full of unexpected surprises :)

and now a couple of days later, i've been warmly welcomed by even more people, have caught up on news, have been practicing my dutch (and it's going okay), have biked to school, have bought groceries, am leading chapel tonight (and have started figuring out how i can help out with the work around here), and have started working on my thesis again.

it's good to be back.

11 July 2007


Probably the best description of the time i've spent in North America these last couple of months is fragmented. My summer has consisted of connecting with a lot of different people – and spending a lot of time in different places, and having a lot of different experiences. these experiences have been generally a blessing. I have loved being able to connect with different people and join people in their every-day life. but all the experiences and changes have left me feeling somewhat disordered. I have had a hard time ordering all these fragments of experiences together – and finding a way to sort through all of my thoughts and get work done for my studies.

i had always thought that i never needed a lot of structure in my life (and that i thrived on interruptions and fragments). this summer has proved that this to be both true and untrue. the fragments have been great for getting different perspectives on things and getting new ideas. the fragments have not been so great for writing a thesis. as much as i can read anywhere – and even study from books in most places, i now realize that i cannot, however, write anywhere. reading is something i love and do naturally. writing is not. as such, i'm once again (still?) behind in my studies. and i'm disappointed about that.

And i am learning. learning more about me and how i do things well. learning what i can expect of myself (like for trips i should be doing a lot more reading than writing). learning how to create structure to be able to do work and remain in contact with others (purchasing a laptop has helped). the hope is that as i continue to live a life that is filled with many different fragments that this is more of a blessing than a hindrance to my being able to serve God in my whole life – studies, relationships, and everything in between. i don't really want to give up the opportunity to be in different places and have different experiences. such opportunities allow me to be challenged by people from different countries and by those who've had different experiences than me – who open my eyes to seeing things about the world around me and myself that i would most likely miss if i stayed in one place. and moving around lets me get to be present with others in their everyday lives – and since so much of showing love is a willingness to be with someone, i don't want to give up these chances to spend ordinary time with people.

for now, though, i still have many fragments of thoughts to continue to sort through – hopefully some of which i'll share sooner rather than later.

24 June 2007

does it matter enough to inconvenience my life?

this has been slightly modified from the version originally published on friday.

i was reminded recently of a conversation i had with a friend where i rather bluntly dismissed her claims that she was environmentally friendly. i have since realized that my dismissal was neither gracious nor effective in communicating, but it did make me aware of some criteria i have in evaluating whether something matters: does it matter enough to inconvenience my life?

now this criteria hardly means that things only matter if they do inconvenience me and/or give me limited to no pleasure. nor does it imply that we ought to live our life in a means that inconveniences all the time. but it does give me a standard to judge what really is important to me - and hopefully open my eyes to what i only claim is important.

caring for the environment is something that i believe that every Christian is called to do, as much as he or she is able. if i believe God created the earth (how God made that happen is irrelevant to the discussion), then i believe that it is good - and that God would want us to use and take care of his good gift as much as we are able. thus, being environmentally friendly is something that ought to matter in my life.

i recycle (as do my parents now - and they've spent years burning garbage so that was a pretty big step for them). i don't own a car. biking is my ideal mode of transportation. i use public transportation. i believe those saying that we've done damage to the ozone and thus try to get as little sun as possible (and have become okay with the pale-ness of my skin in summer). i use limited amounts of air-conditioning - partly to conserve energy and partly because i'm not entirely sure the "juice" in air-conditioning is really great for the environment. i turn out lights and turn off water. but i wonder how much of this i do as a means to make myself feel better (and because my generation is expected to be environmentally friendly), how much because most of the above means saving money, and how much because i actually do care about the environment. i know that one can't perfectly separate all of the motives but i still wonder.

see, i know that saving money is something that i'm willing to inconvenience myself on (it comes from years of trying to live on next-to-nothing). and using the monetary gifts that God has given me is also using well the gifts that God has given me. and i know that living in Amsterdam is hardly conducive to owning a car - and i don't like driving that much anyways. and that hitching a ride with my truck-driving father to visit my friends is a lot cheaper (and more convenient for my parents) than my borrowing one of their vehicles. and since i've never gone out of my way to buy the energy efficient light-bulbs (one obvious way to be environmentally friendly), i have to pause to ask myself how much my being environmentally friendly really matters to me. or whether wanting money for other things matters to me more.

seeing things that way kind of puts things in perspective. helping the environment is something that is important to me - and i do get excited when people do things that make a difference for the environment (like the design of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC) and i would love to see the community at Oudezijds 100 become more environmentally friendly (in a slightly bigger way than my annoying habit of turning off the light in the backroom). but as much as it is important to me, i ought to realize that my concern does not also have other motivations. nor that my concern to be environmentally friendly should also be balanced for my trying to be faithful with the money i have and appropriately enjoying the gifts God has given us.

but even after the perspective, it's helpful to ask the question of inconvenience. if something (not just the environment) really matters to me, then i ought to be willing to be inconvenienced sometimes because of it. and that includes not only changing patterns in my life, but also being willing to put in the energy and time to share and encourage that concern in a way that other people can hear and understand.