30 January 2008

returning home

it's starting to feel normal to be home again.
- the jetlag has mostly worn off (except for it taking a bit longer for me to fall asleep);
- the grading is almost finished; and thus i will be able to live more fully in this world (and also in dutch) instead of feeling half-stuck with my time and energy back in the class in America;
- i've started making plans and meetings with people;
- i've started doing some of my old chores (although it's been nice to take a bit of a break this week) - and agreed to do help with other chores;
- i've caught up with quite a number of people, although i still don't really know the new people that moved in while i was gone - so i'm hoping to spend quite a bit of time later this week just sitting around with coffee;
- i've had energy to think about how i'm going to make enough money to live on for the next year (or two or three) - and it's been kind of delightful to realize that i might have a couple of possibilities. having left and come back also makes me realize how much i want to continue to call Amsterdam home for awhile longer;
- i've joined in a number of chapel services (and this morning we stamped along whenever we heard the name Haman in Esther - i know it has to do with the Jewish feast of Purim, but i'm not entirely sure exactly why);
- the number of adventures has been pretty minimal (i can only think of one at the moment - picking up a couch off the street and carrying it home through the Red Light District). i'm not sure if that's because the odd adventures of life here are becoming so normal again that i'm forgetting them or because i've been hiding in my room so much that i've been missing out on one of my favourite parts of life here.... but i expect that'll change soon.

27 January 2008

the best teaching moments

before i go back to grading tomorrow, i wanted to remember some of my favourite teaching moments. it was really good to teach again - and to remember again the feeling that being in front of a classroom is where i belong. but i must also acknowledge that this time of teaching was tempered with a bit of disappointment. we talked about community, especially related to "new monasticism" and broken places, along with the Reformed faith - and although the students knew little to nothing about "new monasticism," the concepts of community and the Reformed faith (or just Christianity) are both things that they had heard so much about already that it was hard to get them excited about it. and i had not recognized enough ahead of time that some things are hard to get passionate about if you simply accept it as a good thing and/or do not experience them - and community is a bit like that. and i was not as prepared with stories, questions, and/or challenges to help them experience it more fully. the class lacked structure somewhat, as i did not want to stifle any of their thoughts and/or voices but it me awhile to realize that they did not exactly see this as a freedom to relate what they were learning to their own experiences and/or questions. i was a bit surprised by the class - and did not know how to adapt quick enough to their expectations and reactions. and i was behind enough in the grading to miss things that i could have caught earlier. things improved as i started seeing more things but it still felt a bit like things didn't quite all fit together - and perhaps i will do it again, but it will be structured differently (the emphasis will be less on community and more on reaching out to the broken places of the world, with intentional community being one way of reaching out).

but despite my disappointment that i did not structure the class in a way that was best for learning, there were still a lot of great moments:

- i chose to begin the class using the same Bible text that was read in chapel here in Oudezijds 100 and then pray according to the pattern here: first, to give thanks, and then to intercede for the world, the church and Israel, and for the communities of which we are part. it was good to be connected to one of the most important tasks of the community here - praying together.

- almost every day a certain student thanked me for the class at the end of each day, irrelevant of how good the class period was. and i appreciated his thankfulness for the effort i put into class, and i was daily reminded of the privilege i had in sharing what i knew with the class - and encouraging them with what they knew.

- i got to see something special about each of the students - and so they moved from being names and faces on a piece of paper to being complicated and unique, full of questions and challenges and opinions along with hopes and dreams.

- the book we read, Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution, challenged a lot of people, even those who found him hard to hear because his experience and opinions were so different from the ones they had known all their lives. Shane advocates being more reckless in living out our faith, which are words that many people (myself included) growing up where Christianity is ordinary (and somewhat safe) need to hear.

- some of my students asked if they could take me out for lunch - just so they could hear more about my life and experiences - and i was honoured by their appreciation of me and my experiences.

- while the students were discussing questions in their small groups, one group got so into what they were discussing that a couple of students in other groups asked if they could join them (it was about whether working in a casino could be considered an appropriate job for a Christian). as we talked about it later in class, it became a bit clearer how and why they could disagree on something that seemed so obvious to some of them. and it made my heart glad to know that some of them continued to discuss this outside of class time.

- throughout the class and at the end, quite a number of them remarked that they had learnt to see things a bit differently, that they had been challenged and/or glad to have taken the class. and as that was my hope for them and the class, it makes me thankful.

- i am looking forward to reading their final exam question about how what we talked about in class applies to a "broken place" connected to their own lives - i have heard already about their concerns for the nursing home system, adoption, education, or their own families. i am hoping that they are foolish enough and courageous enough to try to make things better (or as we talked about in class - redeem things by restoring shalom (i.e. restoring things to how they should be)), in whatever small ways they can, for a situation that is close to their heart.

16 January 2008

teaching again

so what's it been like teaching again? well, i don't remember it being so much work (especially all the grading!).... and i had forgotten how much energy is involved in standing in front of a classroom.

it has taken me some time to adjust to teaching again. first, i had to get over the nasty cold that clouded my head the first couple of days. and then there was time needed just to get settled. and last weekend i gave up all of my work so that i could go visit my family (which was lovely). and what has generally suffered is grading - which, much to my annoyance, i'm significantly behind on (of course, it does not help that i don't find grading the most enjoyable task :))

but besides the grading issue, i feel like with each day that i teach i become more aware again of my love for teaching. there is a kind of wonder and excitement involved in standing in front of a classroom encouraging people to share what they're thinking and learn more at the same time. and there's also wonder and excitement involved in trying to take all of what's going on in class - what the students are thinking and saying plus the stuff that they've been reading plus the extra information in my head - and put it all together to be something that students want to know more about and participate in. it's enjoyable to watch the changes that happen in the classroom - from the awkward-ness between all of us at the beginning to the freedom to ask more difficult questions and to see each of them become involved in sharing with their small group and (at least slightly) more comfortable sharing with the whole class. and when we spent some time talking about the messy topic of prostitution, there was a sense that they understood that prostitution wasn't quite as simple (or so easily dismissed as being evil/sinful) as they might have thought - and those involved in prostitution became less objects and more people. and today a couple of students expressed their appreciation of the class to me specifically, which always makes me feel honoured.

and i am honoured that i have been given the privilege of being able to share who i am with them and what i know with them. and i have hope that they have been learning more, even as i struggle to help them understand better what we're talking about. and i hope that in the class periods we have left that the students not only learn more information but are willing and able to be inspired to think about ways they can reach out to the broken places and be more fully the person who God has created them to be and is shaping them to be.

but in order for those hopes to become more reality, i need to get back to grading...

06 January 2008

the foolish wonder of Christmas

On Christmas Eve, we had a very nice sermon about Christmas and Christmas traditions and loving and so on. I expect the mediocre performance of the choir in which I sing might be influencing my perception, but I wasn't particularly impressed by the sermon. I really don't like "nice." There is no space in nice for the blood and poop of the stable, for crying and dancing with all your might, for the child that was considered a bastard and grew up to say a lot of very uncomfortable things. And most of all, nice does not leave enough room for the amazing wonder of God becoming human and his victory over death.

There is something foolish about believing that God became a baby: holy powerful God becoming a baby so that humans might be able to know God better. When I spend time wondering about it, I am astonished and amazed by God's love for us and desire that we might see Him (what we celebrate today on Epiphany). And I am given hope for things that appear to be impossible: reconciliation of relationships, people knowing God better, peace, and victory over death. And that, even if many would consider it foolish, is part of the wonder given in the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

03 January 2008

more transitions

two days ago i celebrated new year's eve amidst the crashing of fireworks in amsterdam. yesterday i spent the day travelling - begun with a walk through too much garbage and too many semi-awake tourists and ending with a sleepy and snowy drive from Detroit to Grand Rapids (thankfully i wasn't driving). today has been getting settled and making preparations. and tomorrow i start teaching. the shift in continents on new year's day has not helped my transition to a new year.

my body's adjustment to the time zone has been going well, although the cold i've been fighting for a week has not helped. most of the words coming out of my mouth are english, although i do speak to the cat in dutch (it has the same non-effect as my speaking to him in english). but transitioning is still taking awhile - not only to adjust to different time zones and language - but also to things like a dishwasher, using cars so much, television, eating with fewer people, miles, no cell phone, no bells on the quarter hour, and more that i've already forgotten.

and i will miss the crazy community that i'm part of (although a break from some of the craziness will hopefully allow me to be more academically productive for awhile and have more energy to appreciate and live amidst the craziness). i will miss the daily prayers. and i will miss the people there that i love. but (and i will recognize this better when i'm functioning slightly more), i'm excited about the adventure of teaching again and visiting the people and places that i love on this continent.