30 December 2008

Sinterklaas - a bit late

Sinterklaas is celebrated on the evening of 5 December in the Netherlands but he worked around the schedules in the community so that he could come a couple of days late. Traditionally, if a child were good, presents would be given - but if a child was bad, Zwarte Piet (Black Pieter), Sinterklaas's helper, would put him/her in his sack to take to Spain where Sinterklaas lives (Seeing as a lot of Dutch people vacation in Spain because of the warmth, it does seem a bit of an odd punishment). Nowadays, Sinterklaas just brings presents (and sometimes quite large ones).

With the present comes a poem. And the present has to be wrapped in a "surprise," which generally means creatively designing a package for the present that has something to do with the present or the one receiving it. This can take hours and sometimes involves papier-maché and sometimes involves an waterproof container that needs to be fished out of several litres of pudding... Often the poem and surprise are the best part of the present - and both allow give ample opportunity to tease and annoy each other, making present giving fun for adults, too.

To see photos of the day, check out the pictures on Facebook, as well as Tom's blog entry on Sinterklaas (which was up in a much more timely manner).

27 December 2008

Christmas with my family in Canada

i always find it hard to go through advent in one place and then celebrate Christmas in another. it's as if i can't carry over from one place to another the longing for Christ's coming. that movement of places makes it hard for me. but i have to smile a bit at myself: if i find this movement difficult, think of how hard it would have been for Mary and Joseph. 9 months pregnant, travelling to the home of their distant family, with a lot of the unknowns in their future - and they still celebrated a miracle.

and i have celebrated being with my family, even as i recognzed a twinge of sadness in not getting to be closer to be able to see everyone more often. and Christmas meant getting to read read some books to my niece, put together a cool kitchen set for the other niece, see a lot of my cousins and aunts and uncles, spend time talking to my siblings, see my sister pregnant, meet the dog of my other sister (although i learned the hard way that he responds really well to "poop" as a command eve if he isn't outside to do it), and spend a lot of time just hanging out with my mom. since my mom and i both look good in blue and the sweater was a great price (and we don't live in the same area), we got the same sweater when we went out shopping on friday. there's something lovely about sharing clothes :)

perhaps the best way to describe my feeling of Christmas is a celebration amidst a bit of sadness. in that way, Christmas is taking awhile to settle in for me this year. a bit of the advent longing still lingers, the wishing that it were different. but i take the memories of this time here with my family, the love i have for them - and they for me - and i will pull them out again in the days and months to come. i will ponder them in my heart, even as i already hold dear to my heart my other family who i missed out in sharing Christmas with in Amsterdam.

18 December 2008

Amsterdam to Toronto

My flight left late enough and packing was so easy that I could set out breakfast, go to chapel, and drink a coffee before catching the train. I'd checked in online before leaving (i figured it wouldn't hurt to try), so instead of waiting in a line of 30 people, i had only 3 people before me. I had enough time left over to buy Christmas presents for my nieces and still be early through security for my plane!

The flight to Washington was tolerable. It was 8.5 hours with limited sitting positions and limited things to do and plane food – so even though the airline nicely bumped me up to a slightly better seat, i wouldn't exactly call it pleasant.

We were late coming in – a strong wind. I had a shorter layover and i'd never done customs in Washington before so i was unsure if i'd make my connection. And American immigration/customs aren't so great if you're not American – these lines are usually twice as long and twice as slow. And then through security again, just in case we'd taken something dangerous out of our checked luggage – it's not like any of us could have left the airport.

I was still standing in security when my plane was supposed to start boarding. 25 minutes before my plane was supposed to leave for good, i started running to catch the little shuttle that would take me to the right terminal. I arrived sweaty and out-of-breath at my gate to hear that they were just about to start boarding. So i went to wash my face and brush my teeth and fill my water bottle – when i was done, i heard last boarding call for Toronto – another adrenalin rush! My seatmate was also hot and sweaty from running – she'd been on the same plane from Amsterdam.

In Toronto i discovered that my luggage hadn't moved quite as quickly as i had – it was still stuck in Washington. But customs had been short and simple (and i had clean clothes in my carry-on), so no problem. I was just about home with friends – and my trip was finished, so I was happy.

03 December 2008

brenda vs. the work computer

my computer has been unkind to me in the past (by losing my data or crashing the program). even though it's been frustrating, it's been generally minor. but on friday, we got into a serious fight.

it began when it wouldn't let me login. i went to the opening screen, typed in my name, typed in my password, and then got rebooted to the opening screen again. hmmm. must have typed in something wrong. after trying again (a couple of times) and noticing there was no error message but still i got the opening screen, i gave up. turns out there's a random network misfunction in my computer - so i moved to another person's computer. no problems there.

and then, i ran the data program in Ezekiel 1. or at least tried to. after it crashed (and deleted some of my data in the process), i forced it to crash in a different chapter (after saving all my data) - so i could find the problem. i found the problem file. i backed it up and deleted it - and then tried the program again. no success (it remade the faulty file). so i modified the faulty file somewhat. still no success. so i gave up - our computer expert had bumped into the same problem (so it was bigger than just a faulty file in my system) and was working on it. but i could just prune the faulty file and try anyways. and after tricking the system with a much shorter copy of the faulty file, it worked again. and i was back to crunching data.

and at the end of my fight with my computer, i feel like i won. sure, i lost data - but my understanding of the program and system is good enough now to know generally how to work around whatever it throws at me.... [hopefully :)]

01 December 2008

doing dishes

on a good day, doing dishes in the community is a delight.

sometimes the delight is found in a sense of accomplishment - after clearing away the pile of dishes made by dinner for 35, it's obvious to see that i've actually done something.

and sometimes, after a day spent on too much thinking, it's nice to do something physical - getting my hands dirty with too much grease and scrubbing some pots and pans.

and sometimes it's a delight because it's gezellig [warm and cozy] to do chores with other people. i often end up a bit wet afterwards (although i usually end up making myself wet most of the time i do dishes). and i usually have delightful conversations and laugh. the other tonight i was laughing at the daughter of someone drying the dishes - she was cleaning up the kitchen with another girl - by rearranging the stools and wiping up the floor. and the two guys by me ended up singing Sinterklaas songs, with a strange nasal (Amsterdam?) accent (i was in stitches). and it all ended with someone else trying to convince the two little girls that Sinterklass didn't really exist - i don't think he was too successful as the girls responded by singing Sinterklaas songs :)

30 November 2008

and that fire hazard is once again hanging in the chapel

"ooehh, fire hazard" is how i greeted the first sign of advent that i saw. an advent wreath, with candles and pine branches, is hanging in the chapel. the evidence of my forgetfulness in blowing out the candles last advent is branded in a black circle on the floor of the chapel. and in the teasing i once again received about not being given responsibility to look after the candles and a reminder again that God has been watching over us, advent began for me.

and advent continued as i sang in church with the choir today. as i took my place with the choir, i struggled with whether i should be there or whether i shouldn't have chosen to be present at the baptism of a child born in the community. and in this struggle and the sense that things aren't quite how they're supposed to be, i felt a bit of advent.

and advent came as we sang "o come, o come Emmanuel." even though it's my favourite advent song, i had no joy in singing it today in church. it was too much something - too loud, too perky, too fast? it missed the feeling of longing, the feeling of sadness that something is missing - and choosing despite that to rejoice and hope. for that is advent: an acknowledgement that things are not as they should be. and it is a looking forward to Christ's coming(s): the first coming which brought hope and a bit of God's kingdom to earth and the second coming when God's kingdom will be fully here.

and colouring advent for me this year, is my anticipation of going (home?) to Canada this Christmas. as i anticipate my trip, i am reminded of how much i miss family and friends. and yet, i also know that as i stay with different people, delighting in visiting them and celebrating Christmas, i will also carry a bit of advent longing with me - for as much as i rejoice, i will also not feel completely home - and will miss the Christmas celebration here in Amsterdam, just as i miss celebrating with my family when i am here.

26 November 2008

a classic work moment

i work for/by/in the Werkgroep Informatica. if you google that, you'll find an [extremely] outdated and non-user friendly website that's also not very informative. as such, we could definitely use a revision. in a meeting of the werkgroep discussed it further - seeing as our computer systems guy (the werkgroep has its own computer guy! nice, eh?) is fairly busy coding and what-not for the syntax program(s), it didn't seem the best idea for him to have to work on the website. so, i get to look at it a bit more - as i have some computer knowledge and work much better if i have several projects (thus far, i've only had one project - the syntax of Ezekiel - and the novelty has started to wear off, especially after staring too long at the last chapters of Ezekiel and crashing the syntax program almost daily).

having done some basic research on the website, and the information related to the werkgroep on the internet, i bumped into another website related to the werkgroep. it's very simple but with more helpful information, including a form for accessing our database and a more recent bibliography (including a helpful analysis of the linguistics system of the syntax program by the computer guy). this was more what the werkgroep website should look like! but nowhere did it appear that the first website and the second website were at all connected, which raised a lot of questions.

the mystery of the sorry state of the website and the lack of links to and from the much better second website was solved at lunch the other day. we were talking about the state of the werkgroep website with the computer guy, and he seemed a bit puzzled. according to him, we don't have a website - it stopped being udpated and was taken off aeons ago (an exaggeration i'm sure, but i missed the exact date). we disagreed - after all, when you google us, you do find something that looks like us and is pretty official! turns out that what you find is a copy of our original website that's on the Vrije Universiteit's site - that obviously has not been anyone's official responsibility for awhile. the mystery of the sorry state of the website solved, the discussion continued further about how a website could be helpful and how it could also be a nuisance.

and i wonder how long this sorry website will remain online. i guess i could consider it part of my new responsibility to do something about it - although seeing as how difficult it is to find things that should be on the VU website, i'm not sure how easy it will be to remove something that shouldn't be....

24 November 2008

don't you have a man for that?

"don't you have a man for that?" was the question i was asked while i was fixing a hole in my bike tire the other day. umm, no. no husband, no boyfriend. to make the woman asking feel better, i did say that i knew i could always call one of the guys from the community if i couldn't get the outer tire back on. i figured a discussion on why i'd need a man to do it was probably not helpful [and would have been a bit premature if i hadn't managed to get the outer tire on myself].

sure, it'd be nice to have a man around who'd fix my bike tires for me (recognizing of course that just being a man does not make one qualifed or capable of fixing bike tires). nonetheless, being able to fix a flat tire myself is something i'd still want to be able to do (it's kind of like how in college i decided i ought to be able to change the oil in my car [i can, although i have no desire to do it again]). and i will honestly admit that i try to work on my bike at the same time i know other very helpful individuals in the community will be around to help (rescue) me, if needed.

22 November 2008

odd weather

although there is much in my head that i could talk about, i'll begin with the weather. the weather is, after all, a favourite topic of conversation here. the weather tends to change a lot - and very quickly. for several months of the year, packing an umbrella is a wise thing to do, even if it's sunny when you leave the house. and i tend not to bike when it's raining, because if i don't have to be at work at a certain time - and can wait an hour or two, it will have most likely stopped raining.

but even though the weather here is usually somewhat odd, the last two days have been exceptionally odd. i think it's snowing now. but it's also been sunny. and raining. and hailing. and the wind is 30 km/hour (20 mph). and yesterday, the wind was even stronger! i biked yesterday, and although the buildings around me mostly blocked out the wind and i managed to stay dry for both trips to and from the University, it wasn't the most pleasant of trips. hail, even for five minutes, is not something i have any desire to experience again - biking into it is rather painful.

we'll see if the snow comes back again or decides to remain at all, but for now here is a picture of the amount of snow we usually get in Amsterdam:
as you can see, you have to search for the evidence of snow. there's some white in the large plant pot :)

10 November 2008

being colour positive

in Catapult's magazine issue on racism and cultural differences, i wrote the following article about dealing with the differences between cultures.

I used to think that the phrase, “I didn’t even notice that she was black,” was a compliment. When I hear some variation of this phrase now, it makes me cringe. The colours of our skin very much relate to the cultures that form who we are. If I don’t notice another’s cultural uniqueness, either I’m lousy at being aware of other cultures or one of us has lost a distinctive expression of our own culture.

Yet, since culture and skin colour have often been the cause of much discrimination and pain, it’s hard to talk about cultural differences in a way that is both honest about difficulties within cultures, while still honouring and respecting those who are different from ourselves. This difficulty came up again while reading the September and October blog entries in Gruntled Center, written by William Weston.

In his blog, he relays some statistics that focus on African American culture and comments on it. He notes that the number of single mothers with non-supporting men in their life is significantly higher statistically for African Americans than any other group in Ameria. As well, the number of men who participate in behavior that could (easily) lead to children but are unwilling to take responsibility for the children is much higher among African Americans. He indicates that there is something disturbing about this, and not only because poverty and well-being of children has a lot to do with whether parents are married. And he starts asking why.

I’m not sure what to make of these statistics, and I know I’m much less qualified to try than Weston is as a professor of sociology. I’m anxious about moving from verifiable statistics to discussing values and practices that seem to have become part of a culture-and then moving to questioning what really is good. Yet, if I don’t ask about what might be good and better, am I hiding from my responsibility as a Christian?

I believe that different cultures and skin colours and languages are truly gifts from God that we should notice and delight in. And I believe that each culture has aspects that fit better with following God’s commands for us and certain aspects that seem to move away from God’s intentions for humans. In this way, certain things are better, in terms of how they fit with God’s intentions, about/in/from each culture. As Christians, we have the responsibility to acknowledge this, while still trying to be wise concerning all of the discrimination and hate between cultures and all of the sensitivity and pain related to discussing cultures and differences. [1] It helps significantly to recognize that none of us lives in a vaccuum. Even as we all have our own cultures, these cultures shape each other and affect the values of other cultures. As I raise concerns about other cultures, I need to pay attention to how my culture has negatively affected other cultures. And as I attempt to examine other cultures more closely, I ought to be noticing how my own culture has values that fail to fit with God’s intentions. [2] And I have so much to learn from these others who are different from me.

I am still nervous about questioning values in culture-and about raising statistics and questions that can so easily be misinterpreted or abused to cause hurt in others of a different culture. Yet, pretending that everything in every culture is good prevents positive interactions between different cultures, for it suppresses some of the culture and our world loses some of the wonderful flavor found in the different cultures.

[1]. To provide a bit of a balance from the statistics related to African American culture, I should note that Weston’s blog also mentioned that despite the high poverty level among African-Americans, African Americans are not the largest cultural group on welfare. Knowing a bit about the immigration questions of those who are Spanish speaking (and who generally avoid welfare), and recognizing the high value put on achievement and avoiding shame in most Asian cultures, it seems that this statistic about welfare should raise some questions about entitlement and laziness in “white” culture.
[2]. As an example in my own culture, as much as I appreciate the honesty of the directness in Dutch culture, I also recognize that this directness (i.e. bluntness) often can be used in a hurtful way-and in certain situations this directness can fail to show the grace and gentleness that God asks of Christians.

04 November 2008

renewing my promise to be a companion

this past weekend, the community renewed our promises to participate in the life and work of Oudezijds 100. the brothers and sisters renewed their vows to live and serve here, and those who participate as deelgenoten (those who give time, prayer, and/or money in helping the community) were also asked to affirm their commitment to the work of the community. and i affirmed my commitment to everything it meant to be a companion (tochtgenoot) for the coming year. this year we held the service in Friesland, with a celebration at the farm [see Tom's blog for pictures of the farm].

so what exactly does affirming my commitment to being a tochtgenoot mean? one of the main aspects of being a companion is exploring the role that community, especially Oudezijds 100, has in one's life now - and what place it could have in the future. for each companion, the desire to be a companion, one's place in and connection to Oudezijds 100, and the journey of being a companion are a bit different - even this year is different for me than last. i felt that last year was a confirmation (again) that community, especially the kind that is filled with regular liturgy/prayer and and living out one's faith, is how i would like to live out my life. even being gone for months last year confirmed this desire - when seeing some different communities back in America, i kept thinking "but in Amsterdam, we...," and my heart longed for the community and rhythm of life here. and this year, the question is more of whether this community at Oudezijds 100 is where God really wants me to be, and whether i can be fully myself and use my gifts here well - in the midst of some language and cultural differences and a desire still to be part of a church on a different continent.

when asked after the service what exactly i had committed to, i responded that i had promised to share the responsibilities and difficulties in the community, but also that i got to share in the joys and celebrations. so one hand, it feels like people should be responding to my promise by saying, "blessings," and pray for what i've now gotten myself in to! and yet, it also calls for celebration - for i, along with others, have promised to honour and delight in each other and share our joys together. and so to celebrate, we had food and wine and live music after the service. and i made sure i danced to the music (mostly with small children because they seemed to enjoy it the most). and perhaps part of my joy also came in how i felt safe and encouraged to show my joy by dancing - something that i think i would have been too scared or embarrassed to do at an earlier date. and dancing seemed the perfect thing to do to express the joy and celebration that was part of this promise and this day.

31 October 2008

language mix-ups

anyone learning a language will admit that they have language mix-ups. when i was learning hungarian, i was forever forgetting prepositions (they go after the word instead of before it). now with dutch, the mix-ups are a bit different - and a lot of them have to do with the fact that english and dutch are quite similar at times. sometimes i miss it, because english and dutch is interchanged in my head and around me so much i don't notice the problems, but sometimes somebody catches it.

i have a problem with certain vowels, mostly the "o"s and "u"s. and i tend to add whichever vowel seems to fit with the picture of the word i have in my head. in dutch just like in english, a cats (kat) can also be called "puss" (pronounced like the (french) cat in "Puss in boots"). the problem is that in dutch they don't spell it the french way, they spell it the dutch way. so when i sent a picture of the poes and labelled it pus, the dutch reader would be a bit nervous about opening the picture. because the label on the picture wasn't referring to a cat, but instead referred to that nasty yellow substance that comes out of pimples..

although dutch and english are fairly similar, words that sound the same don't always mean the same thing. the dutch word for nylons is panties. and in dutch, it's perfectly acceptable to talk about not biking with "panties" - after all nylons never seem to stretch in the right way and tend to break - leggings work much better. but as an english-speaking friend of mine pointed out, talking about biking without panties (in english) is not exactly something one would want to do!

the other day as i was sitting in a faculty division meeting at work, the person in charge kept talking "sexy" this and "sexy" that. i figured at first it was an inside joke. but i saw no one else smiling, so then i figured it was an acronym where no one had thought about how it sounded in english. about five minutes later, i realized that what i'd been hearing as "sexy" was actually sectie (which is really pronounced the same as sexy). and we were actually talking about the section or division. a pity actually, it would have been much more lovely to talk about how sexy biblical studies really are.

30 October 2008

hunting for castles

i enjoy getting to explore what's around me. and Kristin's visit was a great opportunity to do more of that with someone who would delight in it as much as I. our last adventure was hunting for castles. i'd done some googling and talking with others and had a fairly decent idea of where we could find castle ruins but we had no idea what to expect.

we began our adventure with visiting the St. Bavo church in Haarlem, something Kristin had always wanted to do. and the church was as beautiful as we both hoped, both peaceful and majestic.

then off to hunting for castles! first, bike rental: the bikes were courtesy of OV-fiets, a coupon i'd received when i bought my train discount card. next, finding Castle Ter Kleef with only a couple of street names, a vague sense of direction, and random maps along the way. when we found Ter Kleef, the first thing we bumped into were the cows: random plastic structures of cows, the sort of thing that was begging for pictures. and then off to the ruins and garden. the ruins were definitely ruins, so that you knew that something large and brick was there (with water around it) but you'd have no idea of what it really looked like. the garden was lovely, with an indoor greenhouse in the back, flowers still in bloom, and little gnomes telling you different things you should do along the way.

and then to the Brederode castle. this is in Sandport-Zuid, so we got to bike close to the dunes and past majestic houses in order to get there. the ruins were fairly significant - the castle has been an official country monument for almost 150 years. and so we got to walk up stairs and look in old rooms, read about the history of the castle and admire the strange art displayed inside.

and then home. on the way back, we walked by Febo, so Kristin got to try one last really dutch experience: buying food "out of the wall." she let me taste it, and it was much better than i expected!

See Facebook for the rest of the pictures.

20 October 2008

on holiday/vacation with Kristin

i'm on semi-holiday for the week. Kristin, a great friend (she did let me live with her for 4 months this year!), is visiting. i'm still in the community and doing a few random chores but i've rearranged my work schedule and minimized other things. and her visit definitely has the feeling of a holiday - for i get to ask "so, what should we do today?" and it's been lovely just having random adventures and exploring places with her.

thus far, we've gone bike riding north of the IJ, amidst the dikes and water and farmland. we've eaten at a Surinamese Chinese restaurant. we've gone shopping (more for me) and to see the biological/organic/trendy market. we've seen the inside of the Noorderkerk and the organ of the English Reformed Church. we've spent some time with the community here, and watched the movie, "Alles is Liefde" (Everything is Love). we've gone to the wedding of a colleague of mine. we've drank coffee and wine. we've talked about bodily functions (which either means we're really comfortable with each other or we think like we're in junior high). we've visited the beach (Zandvoort aan Zee) and ate fish. we've walked a lot and surreptitiously checked out what the inside of houses look like (so many people here conveniently leave windows open and lights on and looking inside is not frowned upon, although the person inside is just as likely to be looking out at you as you are at them!) and we've giggled and talked and laughed. and most of all, we've had the joy of being ourselves and enjoyed exploring the world around me here.

the following are some pictures:
eating kibbeling at the beach

the strange fake stumps that exist under Amsterdam Sloterdijk station

the view of the lake north of Durgerdam

at the centre of Ransdorp

more pictures can be seen via Facebook. [these were updated again on 30 October].

and the route of our bike ride (a decent total of 17.25 miles (or 27.5 km) - made more impressive since it was rather windy!)

View Larger Map

15 October 2008

on thanksgiving and poverty

this past monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada. and with everything that's been happening in the world with finances/money and the economy, thanksgiving this year can be a bit bittersweet. it is not that people are not thankful or have nothing to be thankful for. but it is a thanksgiving that for many people is mixed with the word, "despite." i think of my family - i am thankful we all have enough to live on - but it is despite the sadness over my mom having lost her job recently and the difficulty involved in finding something new where she can find joy and satisfaction in what she does - and this is following in the shadow of my brother-in-law who also had a difficult year with losing a job and finding something to give joy and satisfaction. and we are not the only families suffering with job loss, and even more are wondering about the economy and uncertain about the future - and whether there will be enough to live on.

and yet, the economic crisis in the world still feels a bit surreal to me. perhaps it is because my life has continued as it always has or perhaps it is because i have no property or possessions and very little money that can be lost. and poverty isn't something i can really fathom. for most of my life, i've been living under the Canadian standard of "the poverty line." although it's been frustrating and challenging at times, there was always food and shelter and companionship and joy and a sense of purpose - and i so i never felt really poor. and i'm not sure if i can be really poor. i have the riches of passports to 2 different [first world] countries and decades of education. and i am part of strong communities who i expect to share my struggles with - and help out others as much as i can.

and as being part of the world church, i am called to share my riches with others [one way i can do that is that my church's world relief organization, CRWRC]. and with people being uncertain about finances, it is even more of a time for those of us who choose not to put our trust in finances and economy but in God to give money away, even foolishly, instead of cautiously saving it up against an uncertain future. and perhaps it is time again to think about the foolishness of some of our thinking about money. the words of Bono recently touch on that: "It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases." taken from the American Prospects Blog.

This blog entry was written as a way of participating in

12 October 2008

what i believe

as a member of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), i subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity, which is a complicated way of saying that what i believe about the Bible and Christianity is given in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. i will acknowledge that a lot of people see the words of the Canons of Dort as excluding people from faith instead of words of reassurance for people fearful over their own faith and fearful over those who do not seem to have the right faith. and i would say that question 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism can't be understand (or agreed to) without understanding it in the context of the time it was written. and reading the Belgic Confession can be about as exciting as reading other people's grocery lists. nonetheless, if you asked me what i believed, i would very much confirm the words written in the three forms of unity. and when it came to details not dealt with in these documents, i would show you relevant texts in the Bible, talk about principles of love and grace and holiness and truth and who God is and so on, and i would definitely consider what the CRC had said about it.

it's not that i always agree with the official positions or thoughts of the CRC, nor am i always happy with how things are in the local churches or the church at large. and yet, it is the church (denomination) i am a part of, the church that has helped me to know and love God, who has taught me how to read the Bible and be fed by it, and who has helped me grow intellectually in what it means to believe. and even as much as i have learned and can learn, i am no more perfect than my church, and it is wise for me not to assume that i am capable of knowing the absolute correct biblical understanding of an issue. and so i choose to agree with the position(s) of those that i trust and whom i have seen have tried to be faithful in listening to God and reading His Word. perhaps it is foolish for me to hold onto beliefs/positions that i have not spent hours and months [intellectually] contemplating, but i see it as more foolish to spend days and months (and years) arguing over confusing and difficult positions. i'd rather spend the time living out my faith according to that which is obviously commanded of us in the Bible.

and in that last statement, you can see that as much as i place myself alongside the beliefs of the CRC, the expression of what i believe and what i stress, fits in with the faith of the emergent church, as described in this article on emergent faith found in Christianity Today (online). but as the emerging faith is more of a way of doing things than statements of doctrine, i have no problem pointing out that i find intellectually and biblically problematic some of the emergent church's ways of doing faith along with certain things that are believed and emphasized.

you could describe the beliefs of the CRC as providing the meat and potatoes of what i believe and the emerging faith as being more the flavour or display of the food. but what i believe becomes problematic - and that's not simply because i know a lot of people who are vegetarians or who like their meat and potatoes with no flavour. what/how i believe sometimes comes into conflict - the CRC is not all that impressed with the flakiness of the emergent church flavour and the emergent church would consider the CRC too rational and ungracious.

and then when we add culture, what i believe becomes even more problematic. in a place where everything is tolerated, the strict guidelines of the CRC do not seem tolerant - or able to speak to a world that is different. and my willingness to trust the contemplation of others and not put the effort into determining the right answer for myself is considered immature in a culture where everyone has formulated an opinion on everything (and appears to enjoy arguing over it).

to give an example, take the question of homosexuality. the CRC argues that homosexual actions are sin. the culture here would consider that position intolerant and offensive. the emergent church is much more accepting of homosexual practice, arguing that churches' lack of grace has hindered the gospel. the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) has accepted homosexuality to the extent that their official position (intentionally?) reflects no tension that homosexual actions can be sin.

so what do i do? what do i believe? i choose to take the position of the CRC - that homosexual actions are sin. but even as much as i believe that this position affirms God's desire for the best for His people, i am not going to emphasize that as such a position would be considered ungracious and unloving. and emphasizing homosexual action as a sin would create confusion by going against the emphasis of the local church here, who, even if imperfect, is trying to share the gospel in a way that it can be heard and understood. the gospel and my beliefs do not have to be "watered down" to be shared, but i also believe that it is appropriate to focus a lot more on the things in the Bible that are mentioned thousands of time - about the church being one and about loving and showing grace - and allowing God to come to people where they are now so that God can work in them to change what needs changing so that all of us are more like Him and are more the people He designed us to be.

09 October 2008

other perspectives on life here

i thought i'd share excerpts from the blogs of two guys that are part of the community - because i appreciated reading them and feel that they bring perspective to my own experience here. Tom has just moved here from Florida in order to volunteer here this year. And Marco has been living in the community for a year and works regularly at a Christian youth hostel in the neighbourhood.

The following is Tom's commentary on the place that the Dutch language has in his life. He captures some of the reasons why my struggles with dutch take up so much of my energy and time.

"Going Dutch

I have come to Amsterdam to learn Dutch.

I didn't realize at first that this was why I am in Amsterdam. I thought I was coming to Amsterdam to broaden my horizens, live in a beautiful city, experience a new culture, spend some time volunteering, etc. I figured that maybe I'd pick up some Dutch on the side, as I went.

English, you know. They all speak it! And how useful is Dutch going to be to someone, really?

Within the first day after arrival it became clear to me that it would be, at minimum, extremely helpful to at least be able to read Dutch. By the second day, getting a basic knowledge of the spoken language seemed imperative. By the third day, sitting down to breakfast, lunch and dinner at a table full of people joyously chattering away in Dutch, it was clear that mastering the language was my ONLY priority if I wanted to retain my sanity."

The rest of the entry can be found at his blog Chinese Apples.

Marco reflects on what it's been like now living in the Red Light District for a year. The following is his summary:

"But to be honest, I don't even mind the neighborhood that much. Yes, I consider it ugly, and yes, drunken tourists are one of the most annoying things in the world for me. But as far as the whole "aren't you living in a den of temptation" thing goes, it's really not that bad. I'm not tempted to try cocaine or to hook up with a prostitute, and if I were, I think I might be in greater danger of falling if I lived in some suburb, where I could come downtown "incognito" and no one would ever know. Being a resident of the neighborhood means that if I walk into a nightclub tonight, all my neighbors will know by tomorrow."

The full reflections can be found at his blog, Songs of a Soupman.

02 October 2008

receiving my master's diploma from the Vrije Universiteit

on monday, i received my Master of Arts from the Vrije Universiteit. it was a bit anti-climactic since this master's degree is merely a step towards my goal/hope of getting a Ph.D., a step that i had already unofficially completed/taken last december! [A blog entry from 13 dec gives both the step and a summary of my thesis].

the delay between my completing the work and getting my diploma was due to some incomplete paperwork, the lack of familiarity at the University with this new degree (it was formerly a doctorandus), my being in America for most of january-june, and how summer (holiday) in the Netherlands makes it difficult to make arrangements for anything. thus, in August i could have picked it up in person - or just wait another month to receive it as part of a ceremony. i figured it couldn't hurt to wait.

back in North America, graduation consists generally of: a large event with a speaker (of interest to everyone), some sort of liturgical event (singing, poetry and/or a biblical passage), some praise for the graduating students (plus a student speaking on behalf of all the graduates), the (dozens of) students being called forward one-by-one (quickly) to shake hands and receive their diploma. and when we're finished, we stand around and drink juice or tea and eat cookies and cakes and fruit and so on.

Master's degree ceremonies in the Netherlands are different. a few words of explanation for the event are given and some praise to the students or certain programs, but the majority of it is about the accomplishment of each student. each student is invited forward, has a few words said about them (that are provided by their supervisor), is asked to say a few words about their master's thesis, shows their (previous) diploma that qualified them for entrance into this program, is possibly asked other questions, and then has to sign their diploma before receiving it. although i remain puzzled about the need or desire to show your previous diploma (this might be biased slightly by the fact that my previous master's diploma is still sitting in a closet in my parents' house in Canada - i couldn't arrange to get it when i was only told 3 days before the ceremony that i needed it), there is something wonderfully personal about this. the audience gets a stronger sense of the work that each student did in completing their diploma.

but, when there are a lot of students, each student is limited in what he/she can say. irrelevant of how interesting the different theses are, in 2 sentences you cannot say much - and hearing 2 thesis sentences 24 times just gets long and dull. and with so many students over a wide range of programs (religious studies, cross-cultural readings, systematic theology, theological education, islamic studies, biblical studies), it's less likely that the students know each other - or are known by the faculty. and the person handing out the diplomas and conversing with the students up front had a lot easier time showing enthusiasm about and asking good questions of students that she knew than those she didn't. and for those students who were part of a larger group/program or a program that was unusual or new, more was said. i was part of a small program and unknown, and felt generally ignored (although i did get a couple of looks for whispering during the ceremony - it was partially to help with translation and partially to be more able to enjoy the event). but, nonetheless, i was thankful to be there. every experience is good to have once (but i've told friends that there's no way i'm going to their ceremony if there's more than 10 people i don't know receiving their diploma). otherwise, i'll just come to the celebration after the ceremony - for in Europe, they serve wine and beer after the ceremony :)

and tonight i celebrate my new master's degree with the community and friends. it's a "tussen feestje" - an in-between party - celebrating that i've come this far (and recognizing that i've been able to do something that most people would love to do but never will) - and looking forward to my hopefully getting a Ph.D. some day.

30 September 2008

a messy comparison

place the following story beside the Red Light District, beside the women in the windows.

there were two women, sisters. in the place they grew up, when they were young, they were promiscuous - they were caressed and fondled. Oholah was the oldest and Oholibah her sister. and they married, having sons and daughters.

But Oholah cheated on her husband - longing after her lovers: doctors and lawyers, nobility, handsome young men, drivers of expensive, face cars. She bestowed favours upon them, these choicest of men; and she gave herself over to their addictions and followed the lifestyle of all those whom she lusted. She did not give up her promiscuous ways from where she used to live; for in her youth men had lain with her and fondled her bosom and poured out their lust upon her. And she was brought into the hands of her lovers, for whom she lusted. They uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and they killed her. She was judged, and she became infamous among women.

Her sister Oholibah saw this, yet she was more corrupt than her sister in her lusting and in her promiscuity, which was worse than those of her sister. She longed after her lovers: doctors and lawyers, rich, drivers of expensive, fast cars, handsome young men all of them. And her husband knew of her adultery; she was like her sister. And yet, she carried her promiscuity further! She saw paintings of men, images of men in flashing suits and tuxedos, with dashing smiles and perfect hair, all of them looking like nobility and movie stars. When she saw them she lusted after them, and sent messengers to them. And they came to her into her bed, and they defiled her with their lust; and after she defiled herself with them, she turned from them in disgust. When she carried on her promiscuity so openly and flaunted her nakedness, her husband turned in disgust from her, as her sister had also been turned from. Yet she increased her promiscuity, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the prostitute in the land of her birth and lusted after her lovers there, who were like donkeys in their size, and stallions in their lust. Thus she longed for the lewdness of her youth, when her bosom was fondled and her breasts were caressed.

But her lovers arise against her - from all sides, doctors and lawyers, rich, drivers of expensive, fast cars, handsome young men all of them. And they judge her according to what she has done. They deal with her in fury, they strip her of her clothes and take away her fine jewels. She is delivered into the hands of those whom she hates, into the hands of those from whom she turned in disgust; and they shall deal with her in hatred, and take away all the fruit of her labour, and leave her naked and bare, and the nakedness of her whorings shall be exposed. She shall be scorned and derided, she shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow. These are the consequences of her lewdness and whorings, consequences and judgment that her husband agreed with.

And her husband said, "Ah, she is worn out with adulteries, but her lovers still carry on their sexual acts with her. They go in to her, as one goes in to a whore. They went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, wanton women. And the righteous shall declare them guilty of adultery because they are adulteresses. I will put an end to lewdness in the land, so that all women may take warning and not commit lewdness as you have done. You shall be repaid for your lewdness, and you shall bear the penalty for your sin."

The story above is an adaptation of Ezekiel 23 (a text I've worked on). Not included in the story above, is the switching in pronouns. About halfway through the above passage, the pronoun, "she" is most often referred to as "you." The story is told to the prophet, Ezekiel. Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

There is a lot of excitement around about doing cross-cultural reading of the Bible. Reading the story of God's people, the prostitute, beside the stories of prostitutes today can provide a way of seeing the biblical text above in a different light. And the text and the women in the windows can be seen in a new light when one reads Matthew 21.31b "Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.'" (NRSV)

But one also has to be careful in placing the biblical text beside culture. One cannot simply transpose the text's proclamation of deserved judgment onto all of the prostitutes who live in my neighbourhood - especially not when the words of unfaithfulness - words directed toward prostitutes - are directed towards you/me.

27 September 2008

on a different (lighter) note...

i read a lot - including blogs. besides being a great source of information and insight into different people's lives in different places, blogs can also be a great way of putting life into perspective (or just giving me a smile/laugh for the day). so i thought i'd share a couple of blogs that i always look forward to reading:

dutch word of the day - the explanation and sentences are an informative (and sometimes humourous) way to increase my knowledge of dutch language and culture.

Life at the Geertsema's - the author is someone i lived with in college and even then she had a knack for telling great stories. the stories she shares here of being a down-to-earth parent (of two girls) are both sweet and funny. the following is a glimpse:
"Big Tummy
One of Naomi's favourite things to play lately is "Big Tummy" - that is, one of us pretends to have a big tummy (be pregnant), and then rushes to the hospital, where the doctor pulls it out. I gave birth to several babies today, including one set of twins. (They weren't identical - one was a cat, and one was a bunny.) When she is the doctor, she pulls out the baby with such excitement, and then hands me the baby, and leans in to kiss me and say congratulations. Then she tells me if I've had a boy or a girl.
One day last week, I just couldn't resist asking a question.
"Congratulations, it's a girl," she said.
"How do you know?" I asked, curious as to what she might say.
"Silly Mom," she responded, "she's got braids."

Female Science Professor - she shares the good, the bad, the challenging, and the bizarre things that come into her life as a female science professor (with a science professor husband and a teenager). for some reason i feel like i can relate to her life, although maybe it's only because i appreciate her odd sense of humour and am thankful that somebody else has even more bizarre things happen to her than i do!

25 September 2008

praying for the women in the windows (4)

people sometimes ask about the nationalities of the prostitutes. the answer usually given is a variety of different nationalities, and not so many dutch women. the amount/concentration of different nationalities changes over time - certain countries like Columbia, Romania, and Poland are pretty high. in the 1990s, a large number were from Eastern and Central Europe. before that many were from Latin America. and before that Thailand and the Philippines.

and it's hard to know the numbers - and the official ones are bound to be faulty. beside the women who work illegally or are trafficked (and thus are not recorded), many women move around a lot - to different places and different kinds of prostitution. the types of prostitution in the Netherlands were:
Form Percentage
Women in the windows 20
Streetwalkers 5
Brothels and clubs 45
Escort services 15
Service at home 5
Other* 10
Total 100
* Hotels, bars, massage parlours etc.
(numbers from 2000 - taken from the 2005 report on Prostitution published by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FAQ on Prostitution, as found on their website).

but i also wonder how much it matters about the numbers or nationalities. numbers can skew things - or separate us from the situation. numbers do not give faces or stories. numbers cannot give a picture of how many of the women are free to choose a different life, irrelevant of nationality. numbers do not give how many speak dutch - nor how many women have been here (legally) for years, even becoming dutch citizens. nor do the numbers, even of foreign women, give an idea of how many women speak neither dutch nor english - and so, irrelevant of how much help they could claim from the government, it does not share how difficult it must be for the women to communicate - with the entire world outside of their window/house/club and with those who pay them. and the numbers cannot say how many of the women have friends - or know where to go or who to turn to when things are bad - or when they want to leave.

and information (numbers and statistics) can be a good way of separating ourselves from this world, but information can also provide a means of opening our ways to things we had not seen before. and that is why i have written these blog entries on prostitution: in the hopes that people may see another picture - and be able to do something, including and especially praying.

and in terms of the Red Light District here: although i would argue that legalization of prostitution is generally a more positive situation for the women involved in prostitution, i would argue that legalization also has problems - like a demand that encourages prostitution or of not asking what unhealthy attitudes are allowed to grow if prostitution is accepted as normal. And even as the government talks about cutting down on the criminal elements related to prostitution, there are still a lot of problems with trafficking and coercion, as noted by Shared Hope, which has a video and a document (entitled Demand, found as a pdf file on the website) on the Red Light District and trafficking.

this is all that i am writing about the Red Light District for now - if i read too much or think about the situation too much, i am overwhelmed and sad by all of it.

23 September 2008

praying for the women in the windows (3)

if you live here, it becomes possible after awhile to ignore the women in the windows. they can become just a part of the scenery - the scantily clothed women being ignored as much as the pornography or the hash museum or people inviting me in to watch a live show [all things i walk by several times a week]. but if you walk through the Red Light District bring coffee and tea to the women, you see things again.

there is my street, with the pornography from the theatres and shops and museums. and mixed in are tourists and houses and churches and bars and regular people who live here or are just passing through. and here, there are significant number of windows where fashion designers have leased windows that used to be used by prostitutes. the prostitutes on this street tend to be European and are more likely to be considered beautiful by model standards (although most are not excessively model-skinny). although some of them have regular customers, especially those who work days during the week, most of their customers are people they will never see again (e.g. tourists).

then there are the side streets which are still full of a mixture of things, but one bumps into more windows all put together and things are more crowded. one is confronted more closely with the women behind the windows - and those walking past looking and evaluating. the women are all kinds of nationalities (although often in clusters). and in these side-streets, one becomes more aware that "women" might not exactly be the best description - the technical gender of the person behind in the window can be a bit more questionable.

there are the windows around the Oude Kerk, which are mostly Spanish speaking women. they are mostly from central or South America. compared to the previous streets, they are often older and more well-rounded. these women here are the ones who most often accept the offers of tea/coffee and invite us in to chat. in this area, there is also a little entrance leading to several windows - and the only reason to enter is to see a prostitute. one woman showed us her mirror - so that she could see all those coming in - and be able to close her curtain quickly if she saw anyone she knew.

on the other side of the church are several short streets that are only windows. here we are rarely invited in to chat and our offers of coffee & tea are usually rejected. and it is here that i am confronted most with questions about how much choice/control the women behind the windows have - i wonder about trafficking or of a relationship with a guy (pimp or "loverboy"). one street is so skinny that you can touch the walls on both sides of the street at the same time. there is nowhere to look or anything to see besides the women or the ones coming to see them. last fall, i bumped into a group of teenage guys in the close, enclosed spaces harassing one of the women - and who else was there to notice or care? there is a heaviness and uncertainty in the air - it is in this area that one becomes even more aware of the spiritual forces connected to prostitution.

and for these women, who have faces and stories and a small room where safety is not guaranteed, i pray.

22 September 2008

sailing in Enkhuizen for the weekend

this past weekend i participated in a sailing competition because i could (i didn't have to do anything else for the weekend and i was graciously invited along by br Luc and zr Annemieke, despite my lack of sailing skills). and i had a lovely, relaxing weekend on a sailboat - and wandering through Enkhuizen.

there was pretty much no wind all weekend, which doesn't make for the most exciting sailing. br Luc spent part of the race lying on the side of the boat, and then i took over from him this difficult task of lying in the sun watching the other boats (people familiar with saying will realize as br Luc points out in his comment to this entry, that this was actually a strategic use of weight - and not just a chance to sunbathe :). it was quite relaxing for me, although relaxing is probably not the word one wants to use for a race :)

the "anchor ball" race starts off with the boat anchored, the sails down, and one person above deck (the others need to be below). despite my lack of sailing skills (although i try to listen well and be helpful, my limited knowledge of sailboats (and difficulty with non-visual instructions) makes it difficult for me to know what i'm supposed to do even when given normal instructions), i got to be the one on deck. my job was to hoist the sail (calculated to be the least difficult although time consuming). i got to practice first (with br. Luc shouting at me to go faster and the neighbouring boat laughing at us), and it went fine - except i could have been quicker at pulling the other sail (the front one - the genoa) so that we could move somewhat (and not bump into the boat beside us). trying to determine how to capture the tiny bit of wind gave the race some tension (but as that was completely out of my range of skills, i spent most of the race seated, pulling a rope now and then or leaning against the main sail).

despite the low action race - and the minimal sailing back to the boat's home harbour, it was a lovely weekend: sunny, a lovely city to visit, good food and delightful company. the following are some pictures:

a park i bumped into in Enkhuizen:

a dusk visiting the back end of the boat. he was very cute at the time, although i expect if he started dirtying the back of the boat, he'd lose his cuteness fast.

br Luc monitoring things as we approached the locks leaving Enkhuizen.

more pictures (provided by br Luc) can be found on the Anchorbal website, plus an extra one of us crossing the finish line (to earn our 15th place [out of 22 boats] finish).

19 September 2008

praying for the women in the windows (2)

as my offer of coffee and tea opens the windows of the women around me, i hear stories and learn names. some of the stories are sad and some are hopeful.

there is the woman from Italy who considers the work to be good - and she does make lots of money. but she seems callused and like a piece of her is missing. as she blatantly displays her body as something worthy of being sold, i wonder how healthy it can be. she seems so young and immature, not seeing that her great ability to disconnect from her work (and make good money) might be hurting her.

and i see the woman from Russia who chose to work with another women - because business was better then. and it seemed to be a good thing for both of them. but i do not see her partner anymore - and her face seems sadder and more closed. and i do not know if she will tease those of us who visit anymore - inviting us back, saying that business is always better when we come (a compliment i'm not sure how to take!).

and there is the woman who invited me in right before her window was being closed, excited to tell me that she was leaving this work. she was doing what most people say they'll do, but don't - because leaving is hard. but her window was closing, so she's choosing to do something in the line of hair and cosmetics. and she was so happy - and i was happy for her!

and then there is the woman who started going to an Alpha course (a program held by churches to teach more about the gospel). and her partner/man was happy for her because he saw that it brought her joy. and she told us about the weekend where they experienced the Holy Spirit - and how good it was. and i wondered - what happens now? how does she take the world that she knows - a world where she has steady customers who she seems to help - and reconcile it with the gospel that she is growing to know and love more?

and we try to treat them with respect, show we care about their lives, and reminding them they are precious (the woman from Salvation Army does that so well in telling the women that they are beautiful). and i pray for them. i pray for the situations they have come from and all the things that made it is possible for the women to be here. i pray that each of them might be able to have a different life from the windows; while still praying that they might receive grace and strength and protection and love already now. and i pray that i might be able to reach out and help in some way.

17 September 2008

praying for the women in the windows

the following is the first of a series of blog entires over the Red Light District and the women who stand behind the windows in that area.

living in the Red Light District means that the women in the windows are part of my life. when i walk home from church on sundays, i continue to be surprised by how many women are working already. when i sit at dinner and look out the window, i see the same woman scantily clothed trying to get the attention of the men passing by. and when i waited outside the apartment next door with supper, i wondered if that same woman noticed me - and wondered what she thought of me/us.

i do not know how exactly to respond to the women as i walk by. i get angry at the tourists who think it acceptable or fun to take pictures of the women - in blatant disregard of signs and indications by the women themselves. and i think: irrelevant of what you think of what she does and what type of person she is, does she not deserve to be treated with more dignity than as an object to mock and take pictures of? as much as i am saddened that the women are selling themselves, i want to respect and honour them as people made in God's image. and so i try to look them in the eye and smile. and to bring them coffee and tea (with the Salvation Army here - although i have temporarily stopped) - and ask if there's anything i can say or do.

and in bringing coffee and tea, i have been allowed to see a different world. although some of the women are indifferent to me or are scared to talk to me, still others have invited me in behind their window. and in doing so, i have learned names and stories. i do not always see the women again nor have i been able to talk again. the women move and work at different times, in different ways and different places. i am left only with names and stories and prayers.

i pray for beautiful Becky, who is making enough money to support her family back home. perhaps her family has an idea of what she does and perhaps they don't, but at least her younger siblings can have a decent life. and, of course, she doesn't like what she does! but she has friends here, which means that she has some control over her life - and being there. i never saw her again, even though her window was around the corner from me. and i do not know what has happened to her - but her story of leaving home to help out family in a situation/country that has little hope for a good future is not so different from many others here.

15 September 2008

Shrinking world

i'm deeply thankful for how much the internet allows me to keep in contact with people in many different places. and i still find it a bit unbelievable that i can visit other countries - or people can easily travel to me! and these things help me feel closer to those i care about (and keep connected to those strong communities) but these connections can also bring some challenges to community.

the following is an article i wrote about how the challenges and joys of community in a shrinking world.

"Shrinking world
by Brenda Heyink

Globalization, understood as the ability to have close contact and communication among different parts of the world, has become a common reality for most of us. Globalization both strengthens and challenges community, and it even affects our understanding of what community is.

Technology, especially the Internet, has made contact and information sharing possible in so many different ways and between many different places. As much as it is a blessing to keep in contact with those we love whom we’re away from, sometimes we can spend so much time and energy staying attached to the community(ies) that we’ve left that we do not participate in communities more related to the place where we currently are.

Nowadays, the world has become so much closer. We are able to hear what is going on in different countries—and even able to visit many places without too much difficulty. This access and knowledge can create a sense of solidarity and a realization of how our actions can and do affect others. But all of this access and information can lull us into a false sense of community. Depending on our news source, language abilities, cultural knowledge, and the access to technology (both our and others’ access), what might seem like a great world community is only a superficial connection at best.

As our ability to connect with more people increases, it seems that community could only increase. One would think that being exposed to so many differences would create more varied communities. But even as we’re exposed to more different people, we’re also exposed to more people like us. And we all have a tendency to gravitate toward those who think and act in ways that we understand and appreciate. Thus, we can find the gift of a niche, a place where we feel affirmed and comfortable, but we can also isolate ourselves from the challenge of interacting with those who are different. Community becomes a place that’s focused on “myself” instead of a place where space is made for others. Community can become stagnated when we stop letting what is around us—the changing events, people and situations—shape the little part of the world that we occupy.

Even figuring out what communities we are part of and to what extent is difficult—there are so many questions and options! How much information do I take in? How close can I be to my 200+ friends? The question comes down to how I can live in good relationship with others in the midst of a culture in which there is such freedom of movement and communication and choices—and how do I even begin to develop community there?

With the shifts in how we connect with others, the shape and form of community must also shift—and it is possible to lose a strong sense of what community is. Yet, becoming involved in the communities that are available to us today is something we as Christians ought to be doing: learning how not to superficial with those with whom we are in contact and showing love to those around us."

Taken from catapult* magazine, Let's Get Together, Vol 7, Nu. 16 (Sept 2008). Check out the rest of the issue for other great articles on community.

12 September 2008

some good thoughts on obedience and authourity

The following are some thoughts on obedience and authourity, which resonate well with life in community. They are taken from Edith Stob's blog:

"Obedience and Authority - Final Observations

The panel presentation at the close of the 2008 Monastic Institute asked four of the speakers to reflect on what they had heard and seen in the various talks, to share those reflections, and to add any final idea or word that needed to be said.

Tim Otto, of the Church of the Sojourners began by observing that people from San Francisco like to think they are countercultural, but the real alternative communities have always been the monastics.

He then noted that "obedience does not mean refusing to face into the necessary conflicts. Pacifism is not passive. We need to be the best fighters, the best arguers. Because we don't have the option of killing anyone, we have to be able to see an argument through to the end." He told of a community member, someone who struggles with an addiction, who complained when Tim did not confront him about his behavior, saying "Why aren't you arguing with me? I feel like you've given up on me."

The relationships in community that are the most valuable are often those that have been hardest fought. At the Church of the Sojourners, a person exploring their community who argues and asks questions is the one who is seriously grappling with what is happening. True community is generated when we care enough to disagree.

Deaconess Louise Williams noted that, no matter which person was speaking, three words came up repeatedly: Love, Trust, and Hope. One speaker termed obedience "the most effective way of loving" and another said that "listening is loving." Trust was talked about as trusting God, trusting the process, and trusting the authorities to guard and be obedient to both God and process. Hope (believing that what you see is not what you get) is the fruit of healthy authority and healthy obedience. The call to obedience is a promise that things can be different. That we can be different.

Sister Christine Vladimiroff noted that we barely had time to deal with the many ways and types of obedience that St. Benedict presents. She called attention, in particular, to the authority of the community. Many speakers talked about the abuse of power by superiors, but no one spoke about the situation in which the community proves recalcitrant, or factions form. What are the remedies? How does leadership deal with it? Similarly, we did not speak of grumbling and individuals who refuse the practice of the community. Groups may collude to reduce the power of the leader. Obedience is not a matter of carrying out an order. It is a way of giving ourselves fervor.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger spoke last. When he first became abbot, he said, he was glad that these brothers "meant business" and "were serious" - and how surprised he was at the tremendous impact that obedience had on people. "I realized I better get serious," he said, adding "I can count the number of times I got my way in those years - it was in having authority that I learned obedience."


Abbot John Eudes concluded by describing two dangers regarding obedience and authority, dangers visible in our monasteries and grounded in our common culture.

* Political Correctness can invade religious life. When it does, it shuts off conversations. We need to avoid the trap where political correctness prevents us from discussing particular issues or listening to some opinions. We need those discussions rather than just avoiding the issues. Lack of clarity in ecumenical dialog can lead to a wishy-washy communion that suppresses real differences; true dialog maintains the differences.
* Subjectivism is the result of upholding only one of two norms taught by John Henry Newman (this one was quoted by a speaker). A morality of conscience is important - that in any conflict of rules and conscience, we must follow conscience. The other norm emphasized by Newman (which we followed at great cost to himself) is that of having a true and properly formed conscience. To do that, one must know the scriptures, know the tradition, study patristics.

As monastics, we need to deal with the human tendency to "settle in" and stop wrestling with tough questions and tough issues.

Questions and comments from a variety of participants elicited some futher comments. Sr. Christine noted that "some monastics had a burst of generosity, then spend their lives taking it back. The monastery is not a place to nest, but to soar out into the sky. If we're not doing that, we're not living our vocation."

Deaconess Louise, commenting on safeguards and structures of authority, said "Misuse of authority can happen. It's not the structure that bring blessing - any structure can be corrupted."

Abbot John Eudes, asked if his training in psychiatry was useful, said that it was, but prayer moreso. "The way any human person is differs from how they seem themselves or from how others seem them. There are unseen depths of potential or distress; people live on many levels." In prayer and with the insight of psychiatry, he began to see the mystery of people who are displace - "and we are all displaced persons. We all need other people. We have to deal with our desire to be loved by other people all the time. Once you can deal with that, you can begin to bear fruit."

"Everyone has to deal with two issues.Love. Anger. If you do it well," he said, "you will begin to grow in love and bear the fruit of Our Lord Jesus."

Posted by Edith OSB on Thursday, July 03, 2008"

10 September 2008

community branching out from Amsterdam

one of the great things about community is being able to share it with others. and i feel like i've been able to do that quite a lot lately - sometimes just being a friendly face willing to help out to others visiting or moving to Amsterdam and sometimes sharing the crazy family i've found in Oudezijds 100. and in this way, my knowledge found in living here, my having found a home here, and the delight i've found in being part of a community are things i've been able to share - with friends from back home, relatives, and people from my home church.

an indirect part of that sharing has also been my delightful connection to the Kirkendall community in Hamilton, which was started with help from my friends, Dave and Crystle. Dave and Crystle mention in the article that their visit to an intentional community in Amsterdam (that's us!) really solidified their desire to begin the community. And as the community has taken shape, i've been allowed to hear and see what's been going on in since they've started - sharing my experience here, being excited about what they're doing there, and getting to know everybody better.

The Hamilton Spectator just published this past weekend an article on the Kirkendell group. Although I like many things about the article and the words therein, some of Emma's words are the ones I want to highlight: "we are trying to share our hope and just the joy of living together, in the downtown especially." The intention of the community here is similar: "Rejoicing in hope in the innercity of Amsterdam." These words fit with our calling as Christians - living out what we believe in the place where God has put (called) us.

03 September 2008

being socially conscious

we didn't have a lot of money while i was growing up. out of necessity, we learned to be cheap and be content with less. those skills have proven very helpful over the years in both minimizing my debt from school, in giving me the freedom to go many different places and serve God in so many different ways, and helped me be generally content whatever the circumstances.

but having learned the blessings of being cheap - and somewhat being forced into it by necessity - it's hard to un-learn the mindset that cheap is always good. certainly using limited resources in a responsible way is good - it's being responsible with what God has given me. and less is generally good (except when it comes to being hospitable) but cheap is not necessarily good. being cheap can sometimes be only looking our for what is good for me - and not for other people. sometimes being cheap means not giving to others as much as i can - or it means not participating in things that would bring joy to lots of people. and sometimes my paying less for something means that somebody else is not being paid as much as they should be.

i struggle with how to be responsible with the resources i do have and acting (e.g. buying & giving) in a way that shows care and love for the others around me. as my resources change, the questions change. now that i've paid off all of the necessary bills and have money left over, what then? to whom and how do i give? how much do i use to pay off my old student loan (and how quickly do i do that)? when do i start putting money aside/away for when i need to buy a new laptop? for retirement savings? in case something huge happens where i need money? how much do i spend on myself? how much do i spend on paying more for certain products - because of better quality and also products where money does really go in a good way to those who made it? (and how much time do i spend researching whether those who made it are actually getting the money and not most of it going to the marketers)?

i know i'm not the only one to struggle with this - and am thankful for that [see Crystle's entry about purchasing choices which i think is great - and perhaps answer some of my how to be responsible well questions :)]. but all these questions make me sometimes wish i was even poor-er and i didn't have those choices. or wish i could simply believe that my getting the best deal for myself is always good. but serving God with my whole life - and all my money (not just a small amount of it) is not quite that simple, eh?

01 September 2008

good for a smile [or another reason to be proud of the Netherlands :)]

The following newsbrief made me smile so I thought I'd share it. It is from GOOD magazine:

"Authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess. But if you give them a target, they can’t help but try to hit it. Similar designs have been implemented in urinals around the world, including mini soccer goals, bulls-eyes, and urine video games (seriously). Do they work? Since the bugs were etched into the airport urinals, spillage has decreased by 80 percent." [found via the blog, Gruntled Centre]

For those interested, toilet stickers can be found in Europe. I laughed so hard when I first heard about them - and have even given one (as a joke) to each of my brothers-in-law [perhaps the gift was really to my sisters, though :) although it was more when they have too many guys visiting].

29 August 2008

heaven-high hosanna

During the liturgy in preparation for Lord's Supper in the Oude Kerk, we sing "holy, holy... hosanna in the highest." The direct translation in dutch, is "heaven-high hosanna."

In church, the other day, I stood across from someone whose sang louder and harder when we came to the words "heaven-high hosanna." I thanked him after the service for singing in a way that reflected the words - and he told me that singing louder was his the best way he could raise hosanna to the heavens.

27 August 2008

biking in the Netherlands

i've been reading more blogs written from the Netherlands - often from people who've moved here like me. it's been good to hear/read other's experiences - especially when it feels like the blog entry has done a good job in capturing a bit of life here. when i see such a post, i'll try to post a link on my blog to it.

the following is one related to biking here: What is a Dutch Bike? as taken from Orange Journey.

24 August 2008

another sunday afternoon bike ride

in honour of my not having to do anything (it being Sunday :)), i went for a bike ride. i went through the islands on the Ij (because i was now familiar with them - and wanted to see more of it) and to Durgerdam (because i wanted to see the sea). and this time i remembered my camera.

More pictures are available, via Facebook. The last eight photos are actually all taken from the same place - just to give you an idea of the many different things that can be seen when looking in different directions.

The following is the map. Move it to Amsterdam, if you need to. Click on satellite, so that you can get a bit more of an overview of the land.

View Larger Map

Total distance covered: about 30 km (19 miles).

23 August 2008

an evening of Amsterdam culture (2)

after the canal tour, i attended a musical presentation hosted and shaped by a fairly famous (immigrant) dutch author. it, too, was unique.i knew little about the concert before arriving - other than that it was free and that it was part of the Grachtenfestival, which i had wanted to attend more events from.

when i walked into the presentation, somber, chanting music was playing in a language i didn't recognize. i found out shortly that it was from the Koran [a call to worship, i think]. such an introduction made me uncomfortable.

but as the event progressed, i became aware that the event had less to do with Islamic faith proper and more to do with some cultural elements. the author had created a new dutch translation of the Koran because it was part of his family heritage. i sense that we should be open to different cultural and religious elements but yet, tolerance and appreciation is as far as it should go. a respect for the beliefs and a willingness to commit to the beliefs therein were not emphasized - as shown by the translation seen as only a good thing without ever acknowledging the official Muslim teaching is that the Koran is untranslatable and must be read in the original language. and this made me uncomfortable on another level - as much as i do not believe that Muslim is the true faith, i do want to respect others' beliefs enough to take them seriously. one's beliefs are not simply a nice cultural experience. i believe religious beliefs ought to shape one's life, not simply add a nice flavour to it - a flavour that one can mix and match depending on one's mood and needs.

but despite the sense that there was underlying assumption in the presentation that i disagreed with, i generally enjoyed it. the presentation was shaped by a story of an immigrant coming to the Netherlands - and becoming a great writer. the author who told the story did a great job, showing a high competency in the dutch language but still speaking in a way that i could generally understand most of it. and the musicians were amazing. the music was a strange mixture of 20thcentury dissonant and non-rhythmic compositions beside more harmonic pieces with instruments that do not always play together. i found the former somewhat fascinating and the latter to be beautiful. and the talent the accordian players were absolutely phenomenal. being able to move both hands so quickly along the keys and buttons, while also holding onto a fairly weighty and unwieldly instrument takes obvious skill.

but then there was the belly dancer. whereas the musical performances had been quite brief, this dragged on. perhaps my lack of appreciation is due to a limited exposure to belly dancing (or an overexposure to the Red Light District), but i could not see in it the same level of artistic arrangement and talent as found in the other performances. and it took away from the story as a whole.

and the whole performance seemed to be very unique - and this seemed typical of Amsterdam. and at some times it can be naive or vain or excessive. but there is still a distinct flavour to this city and the people here - it will probably always puzzle me slightly and i won't quite fit (nor always appreciate it). but this strange and delightful city is the place i have chosen to call home - perhaps because i don't really fit anywhere and here not fitting is in theory a positive quality.

22 August 2008

an evening of Amsterdam culture (1)

Wednesday evening i attended a couple of events connected to the Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival): the first was a canalboat tour of the architecture connected to the islands on the Ij (the river separating north of the city and what is seen as Amsterdam proper).

despite my knowledge of architecture (especially names of architects) being somewhat limited to the level of "that's a fascinating building," the tour was fascinating. it was fascinating to go around and between the islands in the Ij river to see the unique things found therein and to hear how things are designed and why [a brief taste of the area can be found via the webiste, Amsterdam Docklands]. but the best parts are the things that can't be found on a website:
- the tour guide's shrug and look of "what were they thinking?" in response to some of the buildings [like to one very red building or the circle-shaped apartment building where the acoustics are a bit too good],
- the tree built inside a house (where the owner no longer lives),
- the questions of the where-abouts of the zoo's escaped pelican (and how long it'll remain free),
- the the artistically designed hotel rooms - where every room has its unique qualities. she recommended seeing one's room first - depending on who you're sharing the room with, it might be a bit awkward to have the location of the toilet right beside the bed...

the tour ended with our hearing about the chocolate factory/museum opening in Amsterdam within a couple of years. the person behind the factory had been looking for a place for awhile but nothing could be found [Amsterdam is rather packed]. and then he discovered an empty tunnel near Central Station that would fit perfectly. he checked with the municipality but they denied it existed. turns out the tunnel was built for the subway 20 years ago. the subway never came - and never will - and thus it was forgotten. the people i was with told me this was typical Amsterdam. [i would just call it typical bureaucracy :)] and hey, because somebody forgot about it, it'll now end up as a chocolate museum instead of a dark abyss for parking/losing your bike :)

i'm looking forward to going with my bike through the islands in order to explore the different buildings and look for all of the unique things packed into the limited space that makes up Amsterdam.

21 August 2008

being a freegan

i'm not a vegetarian, although i've thought about it, especially as i love vegetables (and a lot of non-vegetarians don't include that many vegetables with a meal). but my choosing not to be vegetarian has surprisingly little to do with the fact that my family would think me a bit crazy (my family had a pig farm and then a butcher shop and we all appreciate eating meat).

i do think that eating less meat is a more responsible use of the world's resources (feeding animals uses up a lot of fresh water and grains) and that the treatment of the animals and what is given them is somewhat problematic at times [see a somewhat recent Banner article for more on this]. but being a vegetarian is not always so practical. i eat with lots of other people, most of who are not vegetarian, so insisting on special treatment isn't something that seems the best use of the individual cook's times and resources - just to make myself feel better about how i'm being more gracious with resources to the whole world. and even when i eat on my own, i've recognized that it takes a lot of effort and cost to buy organic (biologische) products and make sure that i get the required nutrients into my body that are generally provided by meat. so although i don't eat that much meat and i'm moving towards buying more organic foods now that i have a semi-regular job, my becoming a vegetarian does not seem like the best way to use my energy and my limited resources (or the resources of the community of which i am a part).

and so instead, i'm choosing to be a "freegan". that means that i eat whatever's free. a friend of mine teased me that i have a tendency to live in places where receiving free food is normal. he's right. most people stop getting so much free food once they finish school :) i'm a huge fan of the sections of grocery stores where the no longer quite fresh food is being sold for large discounts. seeing leftovers thrown out bothers me (and so i eat the food that we can't serve at meals any longer). and when somebody donates food here, we do our best to use it and appreciate it. my choosing not to be a vegetarian is a bit of an ideal that i will consider again and again. but for now, being a freegan seems to be the solution that fits best for the resources and time i have now - and it's at least a small way to pay attention to how the resources of the world and those around me are used.