27 March 2007

thesis update

since most of what i do is work on my thesis, spend time with the people in my house, and read novels, blog entries are not exactly thrilling (sorry - it's not that life in the house has been dull, it's more than i've been trying to avoid any excitement unrelated to my thesis).

one of the highlights in my world was the moment a little over a week ago when I was finally convinced that I would be able (without phenomenal hardship) to get my thesis (for Calvin Seminary) written by the 20 April deadline [the deadline has since been bumped up a week since i'm being "dragged" to France for the week prior to the deadline by some wonderful friends]. it really is do-able [something i was slightly nervous about whether i would be able to do considering my paper-writing anxieties]. the cost has been disappointment over not getting to participate in life in community as much as i'd like - as well as postponing getting more work done on my thesis for the Vrije Universiteit (so i'll be working on a good chunk of that at home this summer).

and for now, i give thanks for the 56 pages that i've written (out of 75 needed), and hope and pray for the grace and energy to write the last couple chapters and continue the messy process of editing.

but before i return with (hopefully) great motivation and full effort (on Thursday), it's time to go shopping for some clothes (something i have been putting off for months and despately need) and tomorrow i get to visit the village where my father was born.

P.S. In case you're wondering what exactly I'm spending all my time on, the following is the outline for my thesis (as given in my introduction). Hopefully i'll be sharing some highlights of my thesis sooner or later (probably when i stop seeing it for hours each day).

thesis overview

1. Scholarly work on the feelings in Jeremiah has produced an understanding of the prophetic task that tends to ignore the feelings. Instead, the feelings of Jeremiah are often dismissed as merely a redaction to the original text and/or a fascinating insight into the psychological state of the prophet. Even those who understand the feelings as being representative of more than Jeremiah are not in unity over whether the feelings are representative of God or the community. This paper thus hopes to explain how the feelings function both for the prophet as an individual and for the prophetic task.

2. Chapter Two will list the feelings textually evident in the entire Book of Jeremiah, demonstrating the range and extent of feelings found therein. The range of feelings displayed will include, but not be limited to, anger, sadness, compassion/love, and joy. The agent and incitement for these feelings, as well as the historical situation(s) will then be given.

3. Chapter Three further explains the feelings given in Chapter Two. The listed feelings represent those manifested by God, the people of Israel, and Jeremiah. The parallel relationships between the agents of the feelings and the feelings that they manifest, as well as the incitements of those feelings, will be diagrammatically presented. This investigation of the agents and incitements of the feelings will indicate that these feelings are more than just a reflection of Jeremiah’s internal life. [need to show how it is proving that feelings are representative]

4. Chapter Four shows that the prophet’s feelings are not only his own, but are also those of the community and God. Recent scholarship is moving away from focusing on the feelings as being solely about Jeremiah in order to show how the feelings are representative of the LORD and/ or the community. Yet, the focus is more towards the feelings being representative of a single group than seeing the necessity of a three-dimensional representation (of self, of community and of God) of the feelings. It will be argued that a three-dimensional understanding of the representation of the feelings is the most appropriate understanding of the feelings in the book. This understanding then provides a deeper insight into the prophetic task.

5. Chapter Five provides several examples of how this proposal is also true of other prophets and thus elucidates other prophetic literature.

6. Chapter Six concludes by providing indications to how the representative nature of Jeremiah’s feelings provide insight into God and His relationship with His people. It will be fruitful to apply this fuller understanding of the affective dimension of the prophetic task to a reexamination of the necessity and function of Christ’s incarnation and to a grounding and reevaluation of the church’s contemporary prophetic task.

22 March 2007

you’re interrupting my real work!!!

i’ve been focused so much on writing my theses that whatever events or work outside of this focus felt like an interruption. getting this thesis done is a necessary step in my being able to teach old testament sooner or later. so i have to do it – and as the deadline is 20 april (and friends are coming on 12 april), i have to get my act together to get it done now already. and as i was on a roll by the end of last week (which is out of the ordinary), i resented anything that infringed on the momentum i had. however, i live in community, which by its nature, interrupts. and last weekend, it was my turn to share the responsibilities for all of the house’s activities.

i’d always been a bit scornful of pastors who resented interruptions while writing a sermon or organizing or planning – or whatever else they were doing that was "key" to their ministry. couldn’t they see that the interruptions were also ministry? that the persons at the door and the questions being asked were just as much a part of their serving God as the tasks that these people interrupted?

but i think i understand a bit better why the interruptions are so hard. my thesis (like others’ sermons) are pretty obviously a way in which i can serve God better. and i haven’t always as much time or energy to put on it as i’d like. and it very much needs to get done. the interruptions aren’t an obvious way in which to serve God – they are sometimes simply things that many others could (and perhaps should) do – but for whatever reason aren’t there to do it. and the sense that the interruptions are ministry, too, is lost in the overwhelming reality that the tasks i do need to get done are being pushed to the side for others’ needs and/or wants. resentment over the interruptions is not really all that surprising, even if i know theoretically that these interruptions are opportunities to serve God in the ordinary aspects of every day.

i finally acknowledged my resentment and the feeling that all this stuff (mostly connected to life in the community) was interrupting my real work. and that helped me to see how i had made my time and energy more important than others’ – and that perhaps i’d developed a skewed picture of my real work – along with a limited understanding of God’s grace in helping me doing this work in the time needed – and finding a way to provide that time and energy.

and so after acknowledging my skewed vision, i could see the interruptions in different ways:
in the past week, i have been able to offer a listening ear. and have been offered more than one. i have laughed with and encouraged others. i have extended grace – and been extended it back. i celebrated a birthday. i got to help share some of the delightful quirks of a volunteer here with others here via an interview in our internal newsletter. i got to help someone with her chapel leading ‘premiere.’ i had the opportunity to have a couple of conversations for which i’d been looking for the right moment for awhile. and i get to walk alongside people as they ask difficult questions and grow in knowledge and wisdom and love for God.

and i still managed to do quite a bit on my thesis. i expect God to be smirking slightly a bit at how the lesson i've finally learned - it is me who often interrupts the real work that God can do through me.

without ever even having to leave the house…

not leaving the house is generally the epitome of boring-ness for most people. some days i attempt that boring-ness by hiding in my room all day. sometimes i’m successful…

but without ever leaving the house, i can bump into or experience the following:

3 cats. 5 buildings each with at least four stories. coffee and tea with at least 20 daily. suppers with about 30. in silence now which leads to some fascinating non-verbal conversations. 15 or so children. dozens of adults. about 7 different nationalities. at least that many different languages. every different kind of personality there exists. chapel twice daily. cleaning to be done almost always. the necessity of schedules and lists and mailboxes and noteboards and bike parking places and signing oneself out. rooms are named so that they can be found. receptionists. social workers. doctors. nurses. cleaners. maintenance people. volunteers. visitors. personalities with varying degrees of reliability and stability and ability to be responsible and show up on time. many of us having an outside job. fire alarms and other alarms. 4 pianos. a number of other instruments. who knows how many radios. a library. two chapels. a candle making place. a bike shop. umpteen nooks and crannies to hide and store things in. a couple hundred stairs. something always lost. an ability to know whether there’s a major football game based on the level of noise one can hear through a closed window at the back of the house at 10 at night. from 7 in the morning to 11 at night there’ll be at least one person outside their room willing to sit around and talk. and all this without ever having to leave the house.

anyone who wants more excitement in their life ought to live in community. some days i choose to leave the house to get a little less excitement in my life.

but even as much as the excitement can be tiring, i can’t imagine any better way to live. or any other way where one is given so many glimpses into who others are – from how/whether they function at breakfast, their interactions with others, their relationships with their families, their desires and hopes, the range of experiences they’ve already had. and even it feels a bit of a burden sometimes (as no one quite grows or acts exactly how we want want them to), one is given the honour and privilege of walking alongside others as they grow in faith, wisdom, stability, and more.

15 March 2007

i'm an aunt :)

as of yesterday at 1:30 p.m. (Ontario time), after almost 24 hours of labour, i am now an aunt. my brother had a baby girl, who my sister says "is really cute and quite alert for just having such an eventful day."

below are Brian and Sonya and their daughter (who doesn't look quite so alert here).

a picture with her looking a little cuter, although a bit sleepy from all the excitement:

14 March 2007

okay, so maybe writing's not that bad

my life for the last few weeks has been fairly absorbed with writing my theses. the adventures of life in the house/ community have kept me from being completely devoted to it every moment of the day (which, along with my daily bike rides and chats over lunch and/or coffee, have probably helped with my general sanity). but things are getting quieter in the house - as someone has an unexpected vacation and the 'newer' people are settling into routines better or deciding that the demands of community life aren't what they're looking for right now. even these events require some adjusting but the emotional energy required is a lot less. and thus, i have more time and energy to focus on writing the theses (which filled me with a bit of trepidation as the adventures of life in the house, even if emotionally tiring, are a lot more interesting than my theses).

yet yesterday, as i sat down in front of the computer yet again (as i'm currently late with hadning in the last chapter, my punishment is that thesis writing is what i should be doing every moment of the day), i realized (much to my surprise!) that i didn't mind doing this - in fact, i kind of even liked it (although 'kind of' is the key phrase here). as writing papers has always been what i liked least about studying, the period of writing theses (and even more a dissertation!) seemed like it was something i had to put up with in order to do what i really love - which is learning and teaching.

perhaps it is the topic that i'm writing on, perhaps it's the fact that i actually have enough time to research (tons) and re-write, perhaps it's the sense that this is not just another assignment of someone else's choosing that i have to crank out in order to finish a class, perhaps its this year's pause from constant paper writing (which dominated my life for the last five years) and/or perhaps i've just changed what i dislike. but whatever the reason, i am deeply thankful to be able to greet with some enthusiasm my daily task (thesis writing) that will remain with me for the next few months.

08 March 2007

an article about the journey

for a long time, i’ve heard and thought about how being a Christian means that i am on a journey. the journey is not necessarily geographical (although for me it has been!), but is instead about following the leading of God - however He leads. and it means i never get to ‘arrive’ as a Christian (i.e. i never get to stop growing as a Christian [even if some days i think i’m good enough – or at least better than others]). who i am and who i am becoming is to reflect continually reflect God’s working in me. and the journey is made up of God working in me to change that which i ought not to have become and work through who i struggle to be. at times, the journey seems a bit overwhelming – but it is one that i don’t do alone – but do so with the grace of God and along with many other pilgrims.

i was reminded of the journey of Christianity – and the tension between being and becoming – in reading an article by Scott Cairnes (a poet) as he talks of his journey to a monastery. The article is quite long but worth reading (at least partially). The first half shares an honest longing to be more who God has for us to be (something that resonates with me) while the second half is focused more on the monastery he visits.

06 March 2007

a series of moments

i said to a housemate yesterday that only here could ‘this’ happen. the ‘this’ of the moment was someone sitting at the piano playing random songs in various keys with whoever wanted to loudly singing along (including me). and it was delightful – for it was done with gusto and joy, celebrating the gift of music and wanting to share that with others.

and there have been so many other 'this' moments lately – which could, like the above, theoretically happen elsewhere – but likely not as many or as often.

on Thursday, i was invited out to a ballet (La Bayadere) for the next evening [the friend who had originally been planning to go was sick and couldn’t go]. i’ve never been to a ballet before [i grew up in a small town] and being in the seventh row of a great theatre watching the National Ballet perform a classic is definitely how i'd recommend how one be introduced to ballet :).

and Friday night, in the midst of our silent supper [the silence at suppers, by the way, has been quite delightful, although getting enough water, food and the salt are a bit of a challenge at times], one of the women at the table wanted more water. so she reached her glass over to where someone was pouring water (he was two seats away from her). the easiest way to do that was to bring it in front of the person who was sitting between them. but it just so happened that that person was raising her glass to her lips at the same time. and so the two cups clinked together the way you’d do if you toasted someone. the look of surprise brought on by having one’s glass bumped into without any warning was priceless. and the ensuing giggling of everyone who saw it nearly interrupted the silence we were practicing.

on Sunday, i attended a practice concert of a friend (Jackie) in an orchestra. there were about ten chairs for the audience, and we were about two metres from the director and some of the players. the music was well-done and being live, it was delightful to hear. but the best part was the atmosphere – getting to be that close and watch people’s faces, their actions, and their participation in the music. but it was also delightful just to get to see another part of Jackie’s life – and hang out and chat over coffee together afterwards.

lately, i’ve had the growing realization that life here has changed how i relate to others. and i’m not sure what to make of that – even if i believe i have grown by life and interacting here. i know i’m not as nice as i used to be. i’m more opiniated about what i consider inappropriate behaviour – and less patient when i experience it. and more likely to express my thoughts on it. i’m not sure how much of this is healthier, how much of this is because living here takes up a lot of emotional energy so i have less for people outside of the community, and how much is my feeble attempts to learn healthy(er) boundaries. but the immediate consequence is having hurt a couple of friends by what i’ve said. we’ll talk about it sooner or later but i’m nervous about the conversations – as i want to be loving, am not sure how to express my feelings that i think some of their behaviour inappropriate/unloving, and be willing to admit that maybe my opinion/thinking has also been appropriate/ unloving.

coming home on Friday night, i discovered (as i had kind of suspected by a conversation at breakfast) that one of the evening’s cooks hadn’t showed up. the one who had showed up tried to figure out how to do it on his own but realized too late that he had bought something with meat – which we eat only on Sundays during lent. so, we put that aside until Sunday, took soup out of the cellar, and i explained how to make garlic bread (out of our overflow of bread that we currently had). and he managed okay on his own (giving me time to send back a german movie from amazon.de [a procedure highly complicated by the process on their website and my inability to read German] and buy a bright orange fleece blanket, whose colour and comfort just make me happy). and supper was fine (although ironically the vegetable soup actually had meatballs in it – oops! so much for avoiding meat).

but friday made it five consecutive days when there had been some glitch with the cooking. Monday, one of the helpers needed to be reminded umpteen times and then still showed up late (which is not really my problem but as the person’s whose problem it really is was gone and i feel responsible for helping the cooks out, the glitch involved me). Tuesday, the person expected to help was 'sick as a dog' – and no one knew that the regularly scheduled person to help was coming back in time to do it (though thankfully the regular cook is more than capable of handling these challenges, so i could be completely uninvolved). Wednesday, several attempts to find a substitute for the helper (who was kind of on vacation that week) were unsuccessful. and the cook he was helping was new (and the first time cooking for 20+ is always a bit overwhelming) – we’d got her to substitute for someone who’d asked for vacation. but the person who’d asked for vacation actually cooked on Thursday. because it was the funeral of the mom of the person who normally cooks on Thursdays. so both me and the other cook searched for replacements. and in the end, we’d found two people who were semi-experienced and somewhat familiar with cooking to work together but it wasn’t exactly ideal. and when one of them became sick that day, i was very thankful that we were helped out by the person who had asked for and been given a vacation. the week’s cooking turned out okay/well, but there was a lot of extra work involved.

and extra work kind of describes much of the last week. some people were on vacation. there was a death in a family. the newer people seem to be taking longer than usual to adjust. some people were sick. and although i wasn’t ever asked specifically to do more work that week, it just kind of happened that way. people forget to do things, so others step in. there are less regular people to help out with cleaning up and organizing things, so you stay a bit longer or do a couple of extra things. and i know if i’d been overwhelmed, i could have done less - but it would mean passing on the work to a couple of others who i knew were already doing extra to cover those who were sick and gone – and it seemed unloving to them not to help out if i saw the work and i could do it. but it still felt a bit unfair that some people have to suffer because of other’s choices and/or neglect.

i have learned that in the community one needs to learn how to let things slide – for trying to be responsible for every detail in a house like this is impossible and even planning well is no guarantee for avoiding glitches (e.g. last week’s cooking). but it’s hard to know how much one ought to let slide when you see work forgotten and/or neglected and when people act in ways that are disrespectful of others (and as i also know i act in these ways sometimes, what do i do with the anger i feel about the unfairness of some people suffering because of other's inconsider choices). i’ve thought, prayed and cried over the challenge of loving the others i share my life with: when (and with whom) is it more loving to extend grace over actions done and when is it more loving to point out to someone that their choices, even if they seem inconsequential, have unnecessarily inconvenienced the lives of others?

so as much as the extra work has made me tired, i have spent more energy on processing all this (which consequently interrupted my focus on homework – something i would choose again but know that my crazy schedule doesn’t really have much space for). so the joy and delight of the moments of the weekend were a gift in restoring some of my joy and energy.

and Monday night was one more gift - we had a going-away party of a couple who’d participated in the community here for nine years. and as good-byes and thanks were being said, there was a lot of emotion. i was reminded again why we are crazy enough to choose life in community. as much as life here brings questions and sadness, it also brings amazing memories, a lot of excitement, and unexpected joys. and most of all, it embodies (albeitly imperfectly) the body of Christ – so that in the midst of the questions and sadness, one of God’s family is close by enough to comfort us and walk with us through the questions and sadness.

01 March 2007

Would you like to get to know the community at Oudezijds 100 and the city of Amsterdam better - from the inside out?

such are a few of the lines taken from the (english) write-up for the summer program in the community at Oudezijds 100.

the community is trying something new – inviting whoever is interested in the work and life in the community at Oudezijds 100 to come and live with us for a week. and i have volunteered be part of the adventure, helping out in the house [by the time it starts, i’ll need a break from all the thesis writing i’ll hopefully have finished – and i want to put some serious effort (like hours daily) into getting my Dutch better].

besides the delight in getting to share (and thus remember) the joys and challenges of life in community and in the heart of Amsterdam, new people bring energy - and the opportunity to see this world a little differently. (i'm especially looking forward to the two more concentrated weeks that are part of the summer program: a week dedicated to cultural events [i hope to do some of the things that one tends to forget to do when one lives somewhere instead of going there for a vacation] and one week for people who are pastors, students, or interested in theology where we ponder together the theory and practice of missions)

the following is the write-up from the website (in english and in dutch):
The contrast can hardly be greater: in the middle of the summer busyness of the Amsterdam Red Light District the community is an oasis of peacefulness. This year it is possible to experience this and take part in the community life that has been for 50 years. During the coming summer season Oudezijds 100 is organizing several different week-long summer programs, in which people can participate in the life and work of the community, as well as participating in extra cultural activites, theological discussions, or just have some extra time to visit the city. Would you like to get to know the community and the city better - from the inside out? Would you like to combine this with cultural excursions or studies on Christian life in the centre of Amsterdam? Then the summer program at Oudezijds 100 might be something for you.

and we would really love to have you :)

six months

it has now been six months that i've been in Amsterdam - and in the community. and i am deeply thankful for what i have learned, how i have been challenged, and how i have been accepted with love. i understand better now how community changes with each person that comes and goes - the joy that some people bring, the quiet work that others do [that you only notice when they're gone or quietly taking care of other's tasks], the energy that some people demand, the sadness that comes with missing others and/or remembering another time, and the utter delight in having everyone there again and all things well.

and one of the delights of community is getting to see people change and grow. Steven has been here for five months now - which is about half of the time that he's been a Christian. he has been trying hard to learn what Christianity is all about: both intellectually and with how he lives. before becoming a Christian he spent the majority of his energy for twenty-plus years on avoiding responsibility and using others to get whatever he wanted. so Steven has had quite a bit of a learning curve - and there have been moments when i think we all wanted to scream at him (and/or God) that the work of sanctification wasn't happening faster. but he has grown (taking responsibility with cooking, paying more attention to others and their needs, being willing to help out with extra tasks, being less adament about being right all the time, and so on) - and he has grown so much that everyone can't help but notice.

and then there is Emperatriz. she came to the community because she desperately needed a home and desperately needed to learn Dutch. communication was a significant challenge for her (her English was not much better than her Dutch) - and life in the community was hard for her, even if she was thankful to have a home and belong to this crazy family. after struggling through dutch classes (and being recently transferred to one where she feels a bit more confident) and working at speaking to people here (who try to include her), she is able to communicate well enough for all of us to laugh together (something that she loves to do). and more so, she is just the right person to have reached out (in Dutch!) to the new woman who moved into the house - for she knows well the challenges of being separated from children, the challenges of living in a new country, and the frustration of trying to function in a foreign language.

and through both of them, i can see God work - and i see how God can use community as a way for all of us to give and receive.