31 July 2008

naming the homeless

when i moved to the community two years ago, "the homeless" became a regular part of my life. we have a drop-in area where anyone can come in and have coffee/tea with us. and people getting their life back together (often needing a place to live) can live with us. and so, i have gotten to know people who are and have been homeless. and as my dutch gets better and as i pay closer attention to what is happening around me, i am learning more than just people's names.

in many ways, i cannot imagine becoming homeless. i have been blessed with many people in a number of different countries who care about me and i am part of the family of God, who i expect to take care of me wherever i am. and yet, most of those i know who are homeless now also never imagined becoming homeless. but something happened. and something else. and then, homeless. sometimes it is choices that are made: poor use of money, drugs, alienating themselves from people around them, criminal actions, poor relationships, violence, etc. sometimes it is things over which there is much less control: war, language difficulties, being a foreigner, mental illness, other's decisions, escaping an unsafe relationship, etc.

and there are as many different personalities and reactions among those who are homeless as there are reasons for being homeless. some are friendly, polite and quiet. others are angry, fighting, and use other people. most of the homeless who come in for coffee are men, somewhere around 40. perhaps it is the men who feel safest sleeping in the parks, perhaps the women will look for shelter and help in other ways, perhaps this is the age when the choices catch up to you.

there is no simple response to being homeless or those who are homeless. some of those who come through our doors will stay homeless for years. some try to get through it in whatever way possible. some avoid others, as much as possible. others share their stories - and give advice of where to sleep and how to start over. and we offer a cup of coffee or tea. sometimes we listen - and sometimes we do not know how to or choose not to. sometimes we can offer help, and sometimes we suggest somewhere else to look. we can tell you where someone can give you immediate, temporary help: food and shelter. and for those willing, we offer a pattern of life, help to start over again, and a place to call home - even if we do it imperfectly. it is hard to open one's home and one's heart to different people; learning not only names but finding out who people really are.

28 July 2008

my blog as a word cloud (2)

a couple of months after i began this blog, i created a word cloud of my blog. i looked again to see what my blog would look like as a word cloud - and see how the changes in my life over the past couple of years have been reflected in what i talk about most on the blog.

The following is the word cloud now:

and this is the word cloud from previously (4 march 2006):

and the changes in my life since then are reflected somewhat. i still talk about the big things happening in my life - although these have changed: previously, it was seminary and papers - and now it is jeremiah, biking and Amsterdam. and in both teaching is the same. and i still talk a lot about work and time - guess they're pretty important things for me, eh? and as far as other important things, i'm glad that still talk a lot about God and people and love and faith (although now it is focused more on christianity, church, and the crc).

and it's good to see them beside each other - to see again what is (still) important to me. and to be thankful to see some of the changes (especially things like biking and Amsterdam and Jeremiah being more part of life - things which all bring me joy). and to be thankful for things that have not changed.

27 July 2008

sunday afternoon bike ride

in honour of the warm weather we've been having in Amsterdam (warm enough that it's actually humid and there have been thunderstorms), i went for that long bike ride north of Amsterdam along the lake that i've been meaning to make for a long, long time. the ride along the lake meant that i could get a bit wet when i started to get too warm. and i was only somewhat lost for a very short time (i'm a bit directionally challenged - and don't do so well if the maps aren't super detailed). but i figured out the sign and routing system for biking, which makes me glad - and will make it more likely that i bike longer distances again in the future.

today, it was about 40 km (25 miles) total, i think. and i'm only a little bit sore - but mostly from the bit of sun i got on my neck and back - i finally got a little bit of a suntan, which my mother would appreciate - although since i generally avoid sun, i'm not sure how enthusiastic i am about it. and the weather was beautiful. but no pictures - i forgot my camera, unfortunately. hopefully next time i'll bring it and i can show how peaceful and spacious things look like outside of Amsterdam.

the following is the approximate route i took, courtesy of google maps (you might have to move the map a bit to get to the Netherlands/ Amsterdam first in order to actually see the route. and click on the points to see the comments):

View Larger Map

24 July 2008

A paraphrase of Psalm 133

I received a paraphrase of Psalm 133 in an email list list yesterday that I found delightful. So I thought I'd share it (after already sharing it in chapel last night).

The following is the NRSV's version of Psalm 133:

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.

[posted with help from Oremus Bible Browser]

The following is a paraphrase that fits a bit more with our experience today:

How wonderful it is to live
in harmony with all people:
like stepping out of the bath,
your whole body fresh and vibrant;
like the morning dew, glistening
on the tiniest blade of grass.
It is God's infinite blessing,
a taste of eternal life.

Stephen Mitchell, from A Book of Psalms: Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew

Taken from *culture is not optional's e-mail list "daily asterisk" - 23 July 2008.

21 July 2008

finding a voice

i remember a story about a child who grew up in a country with one language, parents who spoke another, a nanny who spoke yet another, and both grandparents speaking still other languages. long past the expected time for a child to speak, he still hadn't said anything. when he finally spoke, he used all the languages, as if it took him the extra several years to find his voice just to sort out which language to use when.

and i feel a lot like that - like i'm still trying to find my voice in the midst of all the languages around me. i'm not sure if being good at one aspect of languages (the written part) and being fairly self-aware has helped or hindered me, but the bombardment of different languages, cultures, assumptions, and everything else related of the last 9 years feel like they haven't been quite sorted out yet. i recognize it's been a bit much: i have had hundreds of people who've known my name, people who've been caring and/or in need of care; and people who've been searching and helped me with my own searching. there have been 6 new languages, my residing in 3 different countries (none of which i'd grown up in), about a dozen different jobs and/or schooling, having lived with people from several dozen different cultures - with major experiences and cultures rarely colliding except inside me, with my often being the only one present of a certain culture. and with each new culture i live amongst (and hopefully grow from), "my" culture has grown to be as change-able and unique as my accent. but for someone who still struggles with an unhealthy desire to make others happy, it is hard feeling that my culture - and what it is that fundamentally makes up who i am - so often doesn't quite fit (i.e. is in dissonance) with the world around me. and i wonder if i even understand enough of what is going around me to be heard; whether i have anything to say that actually does relate to what is happening or that it is even worthwhile.

i keep hoping that one day i will just wake up speaking all of the languages perfectly and knowing how everything fits together (like the likely mythical story above). i doubt that will happen - nor is it necessarily good. if i stop being aware of the tension in the many cultures around me, if i start believing that i have everything all figured out, if i stop trying to participate fully, then i have lost part of my voice. and even if i find all the mistakes inherent in my finding my full voice [being like a child learning a language], even if i find this struggle to be exhausting and disheartening, i pray that i have the courage to continue - so that i might speak words worth hearing and listen well to all the voices around me.

17 July 2008

no, i really am not interested...

like most people, i used to be annoyed with telemarketers. however, i did recognize that my Christianity affected how i dealt with this annoyance, and so the person calling ought to be treated with respect and grace. even as i still try to make it very clear that i really am not interested - in fact, i ewant to show them i don't have any need for it - or i have something even better. i've managed to bump into something else in Amsterdam that creates in me that same general annoyed feeling of "aargh, what part of 'i'm not interested' do you not seem to understand?!?"

where i come from, you wave at everybody else who drives by irrelevant of whether you know them (it's a small-town thing). but if you're in a big city, you ignore everyone. this is partially so as not to attract any unwanted attention and inconvenience yourself and/or potentially put yourself in danger. in Amsterdam, i have to adapt away from ignoring everyone, as it's not like i have to worry too much about personal safety (i live with tons of people - and a number of the homeless folk around either know me or at least know the place i live), and i want to be part of reaching out to our neighbourhood (which includes having strangers come into our house for coffee daily). so i'm much more friendly to the people around me, even being willing to look people in the eyes, smile, and even say hello (if i know them), although i still generally ignore (and even disdain) tourists. and i like having the freedom to laugh and wave at the guys cleaning the streets who admire how i look in a skirt and boots. however, every so often i bump into one of those "aargh" moments.

one day on my way home from church, i saw some guy looking at me. i looked back, he continued to look, i ignored him as much as possible. the thought i was trying to convey to him was "please do not talk to me - i have no desire to tell you i'm not interested in whatever you're offering in any way that is gracious." he missed my not-so-subtle non-verbal clues and talked to me. he told me i looked very beautiful (i said, thanks). he asked if he could walk with me for awhile (i said, okay). he asked me where i lived (i told him). asked my name (i told him and asked for his). he told me again how beautiful i looked and that's why he couldn't help stare at me earlier. and he told me that he wanted to get to know me better and wouldn't i go out for a drink with him (me: no, thanks). maybe we could make an appointment for another time (i told him i had a boyfriend who would not like that). and he left.

and i was generally annoyed with the situation. partly because i could have done a better job of explaining why i wasn't interested other than having a potentially jealous boyfriend. partly because i could have actually offered the hospitality of a cup of coffee to him (at my house) and introduced him to a different world (but i was too irritated with his not understanding my lack of interest to feel very gracious). and partly because i find it frustrating that just because i live in the Red Light District, that if i'm walking alone dressed up, respond in a generally polite manner, and am told i'm beautiful, that some male i've never met before finds it appropriate to indicate that he wants to have some kind of a relationship with me.

that guy got less grace than ideal (although he actually listened fairly well to my "not interested" response). but i was angry with him because he was the second strange male that week. and the first one had really missed it. i had done better - i had actually invited him inside for a coffee, but he couldn't believe that i would offer only coffee and a talk - and when he finally realized that's all i was offering, he wasn't interested in the real relationship i could have offered him. and as much as i find being solicited by strangers annoying, i find it even more annoying that they would be so surprised or disinterested when i might offer them something better than they are trying to offer me.

16 July 2008

Foto's from my life - Amsterdam summer 2008

As I've realized that I have been long overdue in posting pictures of my life in Amsterdam, i finally took some photos. The following are a few of the photos:

a football (soccer) game while the Netherlands was still winning :)

my street - the swans in the middle of a busy canal in the Red Light District still surprise me, even though i've seen that this is normal here.

bikes along the Amstel river - my bike is the same as the green one - except in classic black.

. A couple of friends and I at Rembrandt's 402nd birthday party/breakfast :)

The rest can be accessed via Facebook :)

14 July 2008

sex and violence in the Bible

after teaching a class on the Old Testament narrative books, one of the things that sticks out (again) is how much sex and violence is in the Bible.

I've touched briefly on the question of exactly what happened when Ruth came to Boaz on the threshing floor and lay at his feet in a previous post, back during the time when I wrote a paper on how the book of Ruth shows how Torah is lived out. The Bible is not clear about what happened there nor does one have to assume that Ruth did anything inappropriate, although the fact that Ruth left early before anyone could see her should make the reader aware that her presence on the threshing floor would have been suspicious and questionable. But although acknowledging that some people think that Ruth did a lot more than politely discuss marriage with Boaz on the threshing floor might be quite a topic of discussion in a Seminary class, it's hardly the most difficult topic to look at when discussing the Old testament.

There are so many passages in the Old Testament narrative books that include violence and things difficult to understand. One of problematic part (to many) is Israel's total annihilation of so many other peoples. Some people get around the problem by saying that Israel didn't actually destroy the people in Canaan (or along the way) but just absorbed them into Israel - in this way, it seems a lot more gracious and loving. Judges 1-2 seems to indicate that Israel actually didn't totally destroy the people living in the land, like the book of Joshua seems to indicate. Yet, if you look a bit closer, you'll read that the other people being still in the land (whose survival and presence is an appropriate sign of grace and mercy) is actually a problem - a sign of Israel's disobedience and a source of much problems in the future. So, even if practically Israel didn't destroy the people there, the fact remains that there's not really a way to read the text where you come up with anything other than that the ideal that God had for the Israelites was to destroy completely all those living in the land. And that makes most people uncomfortable.

There are explanations for this destruction. Some would say that the people were destroyed in order to help Israel - so that they would not be tempted to worship false gods. Or would not be tempted to have revenge against Israel. Others might say that anything other than a total destruction would have shown God to be weak in a culture where power and strength spoke the loudest and our culture has changed so we don't understand the cultural norms today. Yet, these explanations seem to argue that God needed to accomodate Himself to the culture of the day and they don't seem to leave much room for a gracious and compassionate God, which the OT does indicate that God is (Ex 34.5-6). So there is a tension, and there is something about the command towards annihilation that should make most of us uncomfortable. Even if we can give somewhat reasonable explanations for why this might have been, they don't completely deny the tension and uncomfortable questions that the text ought to raise. There is no perfect explanation nor do I believe there can be, although an honest look at the text and discovering the tension in it is good to do. The tension reminds us that God doesn't quite fit the picture we have of Him, He does not always work in ways that we understand, and we do not always have adequate explanations for why things are or were. And thus, some of these obscure and confusing events speak to us today, in the midst of things we do not understand and in the midst of violence and despair and messiness that even if God does not condone, He does not do (as much as) what we often would like to work in and against what is not the way it should be.

13 July 2008

cleaning up - posting new "older" posts

there have been some posts that have been sitting in my draft file for awhile: things i've thought about but just didn't quite edit it to a state that was publishable. some of those thoughts are still worth publishing, so as i clean up those posts, there'll probably be a few more extra entries here - and you'll be reading some new "older" posts (fortunately, as blogger can post-date publishing, there should be some delay between the postings).

12 July 2008

starting work

i've just begun working part-time at the Vrije Universiteit. i'm taking over a grant position that should last for a little more than a year. i'm hoping that if things go well (they seem to be now) that there will be the possibility of finding further funding for me to continue - a good possibility since my supervisor is quite good at finding grant money. what i do officially is work on a database that is looking closely at the Old Testament. my task is to work on the book of Ezekiel, identifying the grammatical function of different parts of the sentence, analyzing clauses and creating structural outlines. if you've been to Calvin Seminary and/or taken Hebrew classes, then what i've just said should sound at least vaguely familiar. and if you own the Bible software, Libronix (formerly Logos), then you might have noticed that there's a little footnote sometimes indicating that the morphology information comes from Vrije Universiteit's Werkgroep Informatica, and that's who i've just joined. and if you didn't study Hebrew or go to Seminary, my description of what i do makes limited sense. so i can describe it as my looking at the Hebrew grammar and how the words are put together to understand better how the words go into sentences and paragraphs. it's not that i'm translating the Bible, what i'm doing is understanding the grammar better (which is needed since the grammar in the whole Bible is not all from the same time period nor all for the same kind of literature - and we still don't know much about the grammar in the (latter) prophetic books) - and that should help people understand the text better, so that pastors and translators can (eventually) access the work that i'm doing and make the obscure-ness of the book of Ezekiel be a bit more understandable. hopefully i'll share insights and questions from the book of Ezekiel as i go along.

but what's it been like? odd. and that's not because i could describe the practical aspect of my work as sitting in front of a computer screen most of the time, looking at letters that make absolutely no sense (some strange transliteration of hebrew), pressing yes a lot and punching in a couple of letters and numbers and making pretty diagrams. i've managed to confuse the computer so often that "fatal error" messages are normal. and thus, i've learned to back up my work in several different ways (and to do so frequently). i think the computer has something against me - this was seen already on the first day, as it refused to accept my change of password - after quite a bit of work, i can now log in but am still using the random password that i received the first day. on the bright side, at least my computer keyboard is clean - my supervisor cleaned it for me the first day :) (the previous user used to smoke a lot).

as far as working at the University, that in itself has had its own glitches. i was asked if i was interested in the grant position already in February. ideally i would have started in March - but i was going to America for 3.5 months so we'd start when i got back. yet, the position, for which i was the only candidate put forward, was not even confirmed until sometime in May! and then when i came in June, it turns out that all of the communication for the transferral of the grant to me was not yet finished. and i had to fill out some paperwork. so i couldn't start until 1 July. and i still got a phone call on my first day of work saying that i didn't actually start work that day! (although i'd been there for a couple of hours already). i ignored the phone call since my supervisor leaves for vacation soon and i would prefer a few weeks having him around while i started instead of being left on my own for 4 weeks almost immediately! there's a bit of flexibility in my hours and how i get paid, so it will work out. at least i have now officially been appointed, as of thursday. maybe i should finally check to see about any kind of dress code - i've been wearing jeans this whole past week :)

and the last odd part is that most of the communication i have in the job is in Dutch. it works pretty well, as i catch most of what's going on most of the time. and my supervisor joked that the percent i do miss can't be all that important, anyways. but i did miss a lot of what was happening in the meeting last Friday - although i understood enough of the dutch to realize that the dutch wasn't so much a problem as that i had no idea what they were referring to - they had these lovely matrixes and codes and i was completely lost. i assume it will get better.

and i assume the adventure of the job will also keep getting better :) after two weeks, it's starting to feel a bit better - at least i'm getting better at fixing my own computer errors..

11 July 2008

an evening of classical music?

on thursday evenings in the summer, the Vondelpark Openluchttheater has various classical artists. Last night i went with a couple of friends - and we heard a harpist followed by a string quarter. but it was hardly what i would call your typical classical music. after all, the harpist played jazz and the string quartet played a number of pop songs, including the Police's "Roxanne" and the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." the harpist explained to us the history of a harp (although also acknowledged that we weren't there just to have a chat with her) and showed us the pedals. and then played a song a second time, so we could watch her play the pedals (impressive - although she had to do it in flats instead of her heeled boots). and the string quartet, with its very non-traditional string quartet music and its informal introductions was very down to earth. they even managed to convince the announcer to join them for one last song after he took the microphone over (they had already played two "last" songs already). but the announcer without much convincing, had no problem joining them and sang along to the song, Amsterdam (by Jacques Brel, I believe).

the whole experience felt typical for my life here (although i'm not sure if it's typical Dutch or typical Amsterdam). or just typical of my life :)

08 July 2008

the "disaster" from which i currently need rescuing

common sense is not my strong point. i thank my family (both their love and periodic mocking of me) for most of the common sense that i do now possess. so when i saw that my bike lock key was breaking (torn), common sense said i should throw it out immediately (since it had been bending for awhile) and find my spare key. i figured it would be fine for just one more day...

and so on friday beside the grocery store, as i was attempting to unlock my bike, my key broke in the lock. so i walked home. and then walked back again with a screwdriver, paperclips, superglue, the replacement key, and WD-40 (it exists here) with the hope that i could get the piece of lock out. no success. i moved it away from the grocery store (it was locked only to itself thankfully and not to the bike rack) to a more residential area with the assumption that it'd blend in more and no one would be tempted to steal it.

and thus began the search for something to cut the chain of my lock. no success thus far, although i did find a friend to help out. and he managed to pick it up and bring it back to the basement here, for which i am thankful although i'm not entirely sure how i feel about how easy it appears to be for him to have carried off my bike without any sort of key for it or any paperwork for it...(and no one asked anything about it!)

update: as of tuesday night, the lock was cut off and i could once again have my bike back, for which i am thankful.

04 July 2008

further thoughts on love

The following fits with what i have said and quoted about love and affection before. The excerpt is taken from the July 4, 2008 (written by Rev. Peter Hoytema) reading of the Back to God Ministries International's Today booklet:

"Loving the lovable is easy. But how can we show real love to someone who mistreats us or is difficult to get along with?

Perhaps Samuel Johnson's insight on the difference between kindness and fondness can help. He once said, "kindness is within our power; fondness is not." That was his way of saying that we all have it in us to be kind to people, even if we are not fond of them. We don't have to wait until we like people before we can be kind to them.

When we discover the truth in that bit of wisdom, we are often surprised by another discovery: kindness can lead to fondness. ...As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, we shouldn't waste time worrying about whether we love our neighbors or not. We should simply act as if we did."

The original (longer version) can be seen at http://www.btgh.net/today.php. You need to click on 4 July on the calendar at the right side of the page.