27 June 2008

searching for a "prins op het witte paard"

"Prins op het witte paard" literally translates as "prince on the white horse." it's the dutch equivalent of "knight in shining armour." i understand it as someone who comes and rescues me. that such a man does not exist (see the movies, Shrek and Enchanted) does not change the fact that i would still like to be swept up into the arms of a "prins op het witte paard" and be rescued from the difficulties and challenges that i often find myself in. it would be nice, too, if he were dutch - as dutch culture, habits, and the language are often areas where i could use some rescuing.

of course i do recognize that my need for rescuing is a bit my own fault. by living in community and in a foreign country (and choosing to be somewhat responsible) i am putting myself in situations where i'm going to face difficulties. so since i don't seem to be leaving the community or this country too quickly, perhaps it is not rescuing that i desire so much as someone simply to be there to help me with the challenges here. it'd be nice to talk about nothing and everything. to have somebody around to laugh at/with me (like over the fact that i've filled in paperwork [in dutch] to start a job next week for which i still have no idea how much i'm to be paid), to encourage me when i'm down, to tell me when i'm being foolish, and sometimes to join me in being foolish. to be there in the morning to wake up next to for the rest of my life. to tell me i'm not crazy to believe that sex really is for marriage while most unmarried people around me including Christians accept sex before/outside of marriage as a normal part of life. and also to rescue me on occasion like when i have a flat tire on my bike or figuring out how to handle my accidental scratching of someone's scooter.

so that's what i'd like. and i've put my request in to God (and am blogging it so that you can commiserate with me, give suggestions and/or applications for my request, and laugh at my foolishness). most of the time i recognize that God continues to provide for me, providing not a mythical knight in shining armour but real live people who love me and care for me. i have great friends both here and back in N. America who listen. who tell me i'm not crazy. who tell me i did the right thing with the accident - and that we can pray that the consequences aren't so bad, but worrying won't help any. and there are even times when i am rescued: a good friend fixed my back tire yesterday and my supervisor found me a part-time job so that it's financially feasible for me to stay here.

so it's fairly obvious that God is helping me with the challenges of life. that doesn't take away some of my desires, especially the desire at certain times to be rescued. but i'm learning, too, to notice that God even listens to that desire - after all, there is something to be said about listening to classical music on a chilly evening in a park and having the gentleman sitting next to you graciously offer you his sweater because you're cold...

26 June 2008

update on the relationship between the PKN and CRC

For those of you who read dutch, de Trouw has written a short article about the breaking of the CRC with the PKN. As noted by the reactions, it's not the best of articles as it doesn't exactly get the nuances of the conversation.

20 June 2008

a tenuous relationship that provides a metaphor for my life

The CRC has decided neither to be in ecclesiastical fellowship with the PKN nor simply to be "distant cousins" who pretend not to be related. Instead, it has established a tenuous relationship that neither fully embraces some of what has been happening in the PKN but still desires a closeness. The official report can be seen courtesy of CRC Synod News.

As the discussion got more and more complicated and my angst grew, it became obvious that my angst was about more than the relationship of the CRC has with the PKN. after all, i know my help in the church here would be appreciated (and it's not as if i have any desire to be an elder or preach :)). and as part of a Christian community here, i have the opportunity to live out my faith, dialogue with other Christians, and participate in ministry. i am participating in ministry here. so why does/did the discussion and question cause so much angst?

the angst makes sense when i see the relationship between my church back "home" in North America with my new "home" in Amsterdam as a metaphor for the tension i have in holding on to where i came from (the people and church that have shaped me) and embracing life fully here (in a different environment with different possibilities and confronted with different issues). i don't think my theology has changed in my being here, although how i live it out has. and that is good, even if it takes time to learn and causes tension in the process. As Neal Plantinga says, “The church today is so much more diverse in old and new ways that no single recipe can possibly feed everybody. The [person] who attempts to force a ministry style into an alien context will only frustrate, baffle or amuse God’s people. ... Wise [servants] will exclaim one part of the gospel, and whisper another.” Taken from CRC 2008 Synod News # 18

The disrupting reality and pervasiveness of the brokenness of the world around me – both in- and out-side of the community in which i live - challenges one's understanding of God and the gospel. There is no place here for a warm fuzzy "Sunday school" version of God that cannot speak to the complications of prostitution and the supernatural and judgment and deception. Instead the picture of God necessary here is that of the Almighty Holy God who changes water to wine, requires obedience, challenges assumptions, heals diseases and and weeps over sin.

And as for living out the gospel? there are so many questions i have: how do you show an Almighty God to people who have been hurt by Christians who have shown more judgment than grace? how do you talk about God's will to people who have been told all their lives that whatever they want is good – and how do you claim a totality to the gospel when this is culturally insensitive and offensive? And how do you share a gospel with both word and actions, especially when your words and beliefs can get in the way of the gospel being heard?

there is no simple answer. i take comfort in knowing that God is powerful enough to work the impossible amidst people and places and situations that are so broken that only a miracle can change anything. and i share the gospel as well as i can, trying to love God and others with my whole heart. this is a love of both truth and grace - love that embraces but also does not pretend that what is apart from God is really good. as i struggle with participating fully here, amidst the tension of what i have learned here and from before, at times being too gracious and other times seen as offensive, i trust that God knows my desires and hears my prayers. And that through me, and at times despite me, the gospel will be heard.

18 June 2008

a CRC Synodical decision that has very practical implications on my life now

i have been a professing member of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) for 15 years now. For most of the time, due to work and studying and financial aid, i have rarely attended the church that holds my membership. i have continued to participate in the CRC through teaching, doing mission work, being on committees, helping with worship, and so on. and i have stayed somewhat connected to my "home church" through my parents' connection to it - and i feel loved and welcomed by the church every time i return to it.

but i am tired of holding my church membership from a distance and attending a church where i am not expected to be held accountable. and i am hoping that a discussion at the CRC Synod will allow this to change without me being asked to give up the denomination i grew up in and still love dearly. this week at Synod, they are discussing whether the CRC will once again be in ecclesiastical fellowship with the PKN (Protestant Church Netherlands - the church formed from what used to be the Reformed Church in the Netherlands). and if it passes, i can hopefully move my church membership to Amsterdam.

the CRC has questions about the theology of the PKN, about how they interpret Scripture and of their stance towards homosexuality. i have questions about it, too [although i am not immediately confronted with these issues since i do not fully understand dutch], as i still hold strongly to the theology i have grown to love in the CRC. and yet i still choose to attend a PKN church. i attend it because it holds onto Reformed theology, it is my neighbourhood church, and because they hold the word of God highly. and most of all, because it is place where i can meet God in worship. i would like to be able to participate more fully in the life of the church - and dialogue with the questions. and by so doing, i hope that "i might be part of a Reformed witness in the the secular environment and part of spiritual renewal within my church." [as adapted from Synod 2008 Committee 7 - Report 7C-Majority].

The discussion on Wednesday, 19 June was long and complicated. No decision has yet been made. To hear more of the questions involved and the process, you can read it on the blog, Returning Church. To read a commentary on it in a dutch newspaper, visit this article in the Trouw. As noted by the reactions, it's not the best of articles as it doesn't exactly get the nuances of the conversation.

15 June 2008

my odd life

i'm realizing more and more i have an odd life. it's not that i have a lot of particularly exciting or abnormal things in my life, the problem is that i often do normal things in abnormal ways. i realized this already back in Grand Rapids but it's become more obvious as i return to life in Amsterdam.

almost everybody bikes in Amsterdam. and you bike in whatever clothes you happen to be wearing for the day, so seeing a woman biking in a skirt is pretty normal. biking to school in Grand Rapids (especially since everything is so far away) is fairly unusual. the fact that i think i should be able to do it in a skirt definitely raised a few eyebrows.

most people work. i taught for awhile (and study lots and do other random things). my father drives truck. back home, sometimes i catch a ride with him to visit people (it's cheaper and i have wonderful chats with my father). since i still had to hand in grades last time i went with him, i took my exams with me in the truck. i assume most graduate level work doesn't get graded in the front seat of a transport truck :)

it's perfectly normal to eat breakfast. it's not so normal to eat breakfast with 15 other people. a typical number here in Amsterdam. we won't even get into the silence we have during evening meals during lent.

most people eat bread - and get it from the store on a regular basis. my bread, however, comes from a large garbage bag in a bin downstairs - where it's picked up from a bakery (day-old bread) by somebody on a bike (i'll take my turn again this summer).

watching football with 25 people of (at least) half a dozen different nationalities is relatively normal. that i could do it in my kitchen area with a whole range of ages while crazy people (most likely british tourists) jumped into the canal outside of the window is relatively unusual.

and spending the evening playing games is fairly normal family activity, although certainly not everybody plays sjoelbak (although i did grow up playing it like a good dutch kid). and few people do so, with people staring at them through the windows and yelling, "sjoelbak!". and i figure it's fairly unusual to get to play sjoelbak with an 80-something year-old nun.

i think the following line of the prayer i heard today in church captures my feelings well:
"en wij bidden voor Amsterdam, deze prachtige stad met alle de rare mensen..." (and we pray for Amsterdam, this beautiful city with all these weird people...."

i can't imagine anywhere else i'd rather live and pray for.

12 June 2008

more than 24 hours later...

about 26.5 hours after leaving my parents' house, i arrived home in Amsterdam. that's not even including the fact that i didn't leave my house until 17 hours after I was fully packed and ready to go (my mom's prompting for me to check my flight status before leaving produced the surprising discovery that my flight had been cancelled - and i had been bumped to a flight to Washington the next day, although i was still scheduled to fly out of Washington that day! a rather long conversation to a united representative resulted in my still being on a horribly early flight on Tuesday morning but with me getting some free airmiles and reconciling myself to the situation).

i think i'd like to avoid such a crazy long journey in the future but there are two very positive things to say about my trip (besides the joy i have in being back in Amsterdam - as much as it was wonderful to visit friends and family and get to teach, it was more than time to come back home):
1) 26 hours of travelling, including sleeping (or not sleeping) in all manner of places and situations helps a lot with jetlag. by the time i got to Amsterdam, i might have been exhausted but my body no longer had any idea what time it should be and was quite happy to adjust to Amsterdam time.
2) i enjoyed being a tourist in Washington, DC. since i had a 9 hour layover, it was the perfect opportunity to see a great city: the metro is good and the museums and zoo are free [to see pictures, check out facebook]. i might actually try to get another crazy layover there again, just so i can go back :)

08 June 2008

evangelism and the Christian Reformed Church

The Christian Reformed Church is not known for being good at evangelism. When the church grows, it is rarely adults from outside the church but is almost always due to new babies being added to the numbers (which means that we should probably be a bit suspicious of teenagers who want to "evangelize" and help the church grow :))

But the Christian Reformed Church does have a couple of solid programs which provide the structure and opportunity to reach out to people outside of churches. One of those programs is called Coffee Break, which is a Bible Study geared towards women. It used to be mainly for women who were not working and would be offered once a week in the morning (and childcare was usually provided). But as more women work and lifestyles and so on have changed, churches (and the Coffee Break program itself) have changed concerning how and when to offer this Bible Study.

My mom has been in charge of one of these Bible Studies for awhile now - and it's been delightful to hear how things have been going. and it's obvious that it's a good Bible Study - it's a place where people are encouraged to talk and show how it matters to them but they also want to look closely at the biblical text itself and wonder what it really does say (i know this because my mom sent me a question awhile ago about how the following two verses can fit together: Exodus 33:20 says "[God] said, 'you cannot see my face for no one may see me and live.'" and Job 42:5 says "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.")

and on top of it being a good Bible Study, it is exciting to hear that people outside of the church are coming. and today, the entire Coffee Break group at my parents' church is celebrating (along with the whole church) that one of the woman in Coffee Break is doing Profession of Faith this morning (and thus officially joining the church). And this is a cause for thanksgiving and prayer that God would continue to work in the lives of these women, and in the Coffee Break program itself.

06 June 2008

what i'd really like to do with all my books

i love books. there are jokes about women shopping too much or having too many clothes – such jokes always made me roll my eyes – shopping is something i tolerate about once every six months (and generally only with someone whose taste i like and who enjoys shopping). but get me into a bookstore, especially a discount one, and... let's just say i've come to realize that i ought not to enter into a bookstore if i'm not able to spend at least $20 on books.

i like reading books. and i've read more than half of the books i own (at least parts of them). and i like having them there on my shelves to pull out when i want to make a point and/or want to lend them out to somebody i know would really appreciate this author or that book. the problem is that with moving around a lot (and a lot of time with only a couple of suitcases with me), my books tend not to come along. my book collection in Amsterdam is increasing with each flight, but there are still a significant number of books just sitting in boxes in my parents' closet. and they're doing what books often due, but ought not to: just taking up space.

so i pulled them out and have started the process of cataloguing them. and in that process have been asking what to do with all these books. some of have come out to my shelf in my room, so my mom can reference them as she's leading her Coffee Break Bible study (so these are commentary and Bible background books, some Bible studies, and some apologetics books). some are going with me back to Amsterdam (mostly Biblical stuff), and the rest were doomed to return to boxes until i get an office some day :)

and then, i visited friends of mine who have started a community in Hamilton. they have a library. and then i realized that what i'd really like to do with my books is to let them live there for awhile – or a long time perhaps. it would give me great joy to share them. i'd really like for my books is that they get to be on shelves (in some kind of community) where lots of different people will pull them off to look at them, make them a bit more worn, enjoy them, and be challenged by them. and that is bigger than i think i was able to imagine when i got many of them, reminding me again that God is full of surprises :)

04 June 2008

ending on a messy note

during my final year of university, i was a participant on the university's disciplinary committee. it wasn't entirely my choice, but as it hardly ever met, i never thought it would be a problem. turns out, in my last month of school, the discipline committee met three times. we kicked a student or two out of student housing and actually expelled a student from school. and i sat through too many conversations where accusations happened, where we tried to determine to what extent the parties were guilty, whether punishment fit the actions, and where the accused felt injustly treated. i even ended up being yelled at and accused (injustly). it was ugly and messy, and it coloured my leaving the school. what had been a great experience (i loved university!) had become something i couldn't wait to have done with.

fortunately, i spent the summer working as a research assistant in the math department for a great prof. i earned good money, was encouraged to do research well, learned of the value (and my joy) in working together and sharing ideas with other people, and there's an article published from the work done that summer. i also discovered that i wasn't interested in doing math as much as i was in doing ministry stuff, which was also a blessing – and something i was encouraged to look at closely by my supervisor (whom i still try to visit every once in awhile).

and time, of course, has helped fade the memories of the messiness of my last month at university.

i'm hoping for the same with my memories and feelings towards teaching this past six months. that once the grading has finished, i've hung out with friends and family awhile, i've returned to Amsterdam, and time has passed some of the messiness will fade.

the amount of grading i've done, the absence from the community in Amsterdam, and a number of other experiences in teaching have left me feeling like the ending is messy. i have even wondered about whether i really should be teaching and whether i really fit into the CRC. in the past six months, i have prepared hours upon hours of class time, i have graded thousands of kilobytes of material (much of it goes through my computer), i have dealt with and reported cheating to the academic dean, i have discovered that i have changed enough in Amsterdam that i am now coming from a different cultural perspective (and how hard that is to deal with), i have pushed students to hand in enough work (and of a certain quality) so that they can get a decent grade or at least pass (a difficulty with half-completed work), i have dealt with demands from students, including for accomodation i did not need to give (and then was given demands on it), i have discovered that students are often more interested in information and the right answers than in questioning and being challenged; yet, i have also discovered many students don't listen and are unaware of this being a significant problem. and all of that together can overwhelm the joy i have in looking at the biblical text and the gracious words of thanks i received from a number of different sources.

i have discovered that no matter how hard i try or what i do, that it will never be good enough. and perhaps that is what is hard – and maybe i should just stop caring :) but in not caring or by being overwhelmed by everything, i cannot challenge or give my best to others, something i feel called to – and hope to do :) and so i'm going back to my ordinary life; and back to research – with a reminder that no matter how hard i try, i can't be good enough (and i, too, need grace just as i ought to show grace).

but there is still good work on Jeremiah that i have to read. and a thesis on Jeremiah's prophetic task that i've never finished (and now have more material for). and i have memories of students who tried hard, who really wanted to learn, and who expressed their appreciation well. memories of students who still are fascinated by what they learned in class. i'm hoping that the messiness fades in the midst of these better memories. and as i do my best to form the endings that remind me of the joy involved in sharing God's word.