27 March 2008

so i'm thinking of joining a monastery (and other articles on monasticism)

the following is taken from Catapult magazine's issue entitled "Engaging Monasticism"

Joining a monastery was not exactly on my “what I want to do when I grow up” list. It was not even a possibility in my mind, nor in the minds of anyone around me. Reformed folks don't join monasteries. We get married and have lots of kids and work hard at our jobs (preferably jobs that use our unique gifts) so we can make a difference in the world. Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but joining a monastery seems to be antithetical to what most people understand to be the calling of a Reformed Christian.

Yet, my thoughts on joining a monastery do somewhat fit in with (Reformed) Christianity as I've grown to know it and love it more. The church I went to while I was in seminary instilled in me a love for liturgy, following the Christian year closely and having Lord's Supper every week. During college, I was encouraged and challenged to pray with and for others daily; my desire to pray with others has only grown since then. Growing up, my parents instilled in me a desire not to live a selfish life but instead to make space in my life for others and share what I have. I have been encouraged by the church to live out my faith in all of what I say and do--and share it with people who have not yet heard. I've discovered that living in a Christian community provides an amazing and challenging way to combine all of these things.

Even as much as joining the community of Oudezijds 100 provides amazing possibilities, there is still something distinctly odd about it. The community in Amsterdam is a bit different than what one expects when one hears the word “monastery.” There are still expectations of obedience, chastity and poverty, but these are modified so that members are held accountable in the community, they can still get married and have children, and they can still have regular jobs (in fact they'd like me to have one–it helps pay the bills). And as far as engaging with the world, the community's in the middle of the Red Light District and we interact with our neighborhood both in and outside of our doors. Sometimes it feels like we're a little too engaged with the world!

As I already participate in this community, I am encouraged to explore how my gifts might fit with the gifts and needs in the community. I've been given structure to pray daily for the world, the church and the communities of which I am a part. I live with people whom I would never even have met before becoming part of the community—which is, as you might expect, sometimes a bit more of an adventure than I'd like! Through our prayers and laughter and shared meals and events, we pray that we may be a light and that we might share hope. And my wanting to be part of that seems to be a good desire that God has placed on my heart.

Even with all of the wonderful possibilities involved in joining the community, I'm not sure yet whether I will fully join the community. It's not just that Sister Brenda (or Zuster Brenda, as they say in Dutch) has a bit of an odd ring to it. More so, like many of my generation, I'm not entirely sure what's next in my life. I know I'd like to teach the Old Testament and serve God, but where and how much are pretty large deciding factors. There are many people and communities in my life whom I love and who would be affected by my decision to join a monastery. As much as the thought of joining the community in Amsterdam fills me with joy, I know that joy would disappear without a sense that this is the place that God would have me best serve Him among the communities of which I am part. As I keep seriously considering this crazy notion of joining a monastery, I pray that no matter where I end up, all that I've learned from the community in Amsterdam about living wholly for God will continue to grow and be nourished.

For a range of other articles on the topic of Engaging Monasticism, see the Catapult website. I'd especially recommend the article by my friend, Deb Leiter, who describes her experience at St. Gregory's Abbey - a monastery her and i often visit.

24 March 2008

Foto's from my life

Although I have a good camera, I have a tendency not to take pictures. I'm not sure if that tendency will ever completely change :) Nonetheless, I have managed to take a number of pictures from life in North America these past couple of months (including and especially pictures of my family). And I thought i'd share them with you. Below is a glimpse of a couple of pictures:

To see more pictures, then go to facebook.

23 March 2008

remembering (anamnesis)

last week sunday i heard chanted the story of Jesus' betrayal and death (taken from the gospel of Matthew). the chanting ended at the tomb being sealed. somehow i had forgotten that this was part of the Palm Sunday service - which surprised me since it is my favourite part. by hearing the gospel story chanted, i hear it new.

on Good Friday, i attended a Tenebrae service. we had a number of readings from the gospels that re-told Jesus' betrayal, sentencing, and death. after each reading, we'd blow out a candle (and turn the lights down a bit more). we'd also sing a song of response, which were songs i knew and loved. by the end, the church was nearly dark and we left in silence, remembering Jesus' death.

and today (Easter), we celebrated that the story does not end with Jesus' death and the sealing of the tomb. Christ is risen!!! during Easter service today, we watched a short part of the dvd of the Gospel of John. Thomas says that unless he touches Jesus' hands and sides, he cannot believe that Jesus is alive. And i had always heard the words of Thomas as bad, as being filled with doubt and unbelief. But today, hearing Thomas's declaration that he cannot believe, I saw something beautiful in his words: their honest acknowledgment of the crazy impossibility of Jesus rising from the dead. We, who have heard the story so often, can easily forget how astonishing it is. We forget the anguish of the death, the helplessness on the Saturday, and how disturbing the empty tomb must have been. and i see the gospel anew in Thomas's response to Jesus of delighted astonishment and complete and utter devotion when he sees that the impossible (and more than he ever hoped for) is true (and that not only has Jesus risen but he is inviting Thomas to touch his wounds).

and through all these services, celebrating in different ways with different people each time, i remembered Jesus' death and resurrection. i was brought back to the words of the Bible, and i heard and saw the words of the gospel anew. and the wonder of Easter fills my heart with joy!!

08 March 2008

so how's teaching been?

teaching at the Seminary has been going well. i feel like i generally have enough time to prepare, am not behind on my grading (though not super fast either), and things are going well in the classroom. classes have been fairly well organized, i have been able to bring up issues of relevance and answer students' questions, and student participation has been really good. i've been disappointed a bit by a class here and there, but i think that's only because i'm trying to put too much into too little time. but that's not that the class isn't good - perhaps the classes with too much info have a bit of a hectic and disorganized feel to them, but that doesn't imply that it isn't good. the problem is that i want great all the time, so i get disappointed. it helps me to laugh at how unrealistic i am being - and remember the good moments.

and so i will give some of the good moments of the week.
- we discussed how the text might make a difference in people's lives during the Jeremiah class. Jeremiah tends to be a bit of a depressing book (a lot of it is made up of Jeremiah talking or showing how deserving of punishment the people of Judah are). The hope, joy, and peace found in the book are mainly the promise of God's presence, which doesn't exactly compare to the super joy and happiness and blessing that much of western culture (and even some forms of Christianity!) argues that we deserve. and yet when people are suffering and life is difficult, the kind of hope, peace, and joy found in Jeremiah are more honest and more comforting.
- we spent time wondering how we can talk about the creation story in a way that makes sense to people, is sensitive to the culture of when it was first heard (which had a different understanding of the universe (a lot more focused on the role of the supernatural) and the people focused more on the purpose of things than the actual material things themselves), and takes the pressure off a need to debate creation vs. evolution. if you look at the stuff repeated in Gen 1 (God's name is repeated 32 times in 31 verses - and is usually followed by an action verb. God's actions are followed by the phrases "it was so, and it was good") and the stuff that is different from the normal pattern (humans being very good, the evening and morning not repeated on the seventh day - which points us to something very important happening then), then you start to get the focus of the creation account.
- a student came up to me after class to talk about a friend of his who is living with them and has been struggling with things that some people i've been living with this past year have been struggling with. and i was able to give him a couple of suggestions of what to do, but more so to listen and encourage him. and i could see how thankful he was to have somebody who understood how overwhelming just loving people can be.

and in all these things, i could see that i've been able to use what i've been learning in the past number of years to be a blessing to others. for which i am deeply thankful - and even if i only do that imperfectly at times, it is still very good.