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.