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.

19 August 2008

living with another reality

as i was talking about children's books awhile ago [my books of choice at the moment], a couple of friends were talking about horror books for children. one of them recounted how as a child he had read a certain book and was scared to look in mirrors for several days - living and sleeping in terror that the ghosts and other scary things he had read would appear in his normal life. but after awhile, things returned to normal, and he stopped expecting the terrors to appear.

but what if one day the terrors - images or ghosts or demons or whatever - did one day appear? crashing vividly and abruptly into your life and shaking up your whole concept of normal? what happens then?

and the answer is, that the event is called an experience of paranoia. and even if something like this never happens again, that it happened even once changes the reality you've always lived with. and schizophrenia is the clinical label given to those who have experienced such an event of paranoia. and that's all we really know about schizophrenia; some drugs can help prevent more paranoia, and a disproportionate number of people homeless (compared to the general population) have it. schizophrenia messes with your relationships and it messes with people's perceptions of you. and it messes with your own perceptions of your self and what you are capable of and how much you can push yourself. and no matter how hard you do anything and everything, there is no promise/guarantee that the terrors or voices or that which is not seen by anyone else will not one day return. and there is really no explanation for it. and thus, reality changes. one can live in denial, pretending that nothing is wrong/different and thus become out-of-sorts with the world and others. or one can courageously accept that reality has changed, learn how to live with the change, and be able to help others. either way, reality has changed.

and except for the movie, A Beautiful Mind, my life before moving here had no exposure to the change of reality brought on by something as vaguely defined and poorly understood as schizophrenia. i now have seen the change closer although i do not understand it any better. but what i do understand of the terror and restlessness and uncertainty and difficulties of this change can not help but cause me to weep. and like the psalmist, i ask why and am angry against it, even as i choose to trust God with reality - my own and that of others.

17 August 2008

more changes

zr. Seraphim joined the community here when life in her own monastic community became too rigorous for her to be able to participate actively. she chose to come here to join in the excitement and life here instead of moving to the quiet of a retirement/nursing home. she has helped with various tasks, has spent lots of time talking with people and bringing cheer to others and has participated actively in the decisions and spiritual life of the community.

but in the last year her desire to be an active participant in the community surrounded by much life and excitement has become more and more difficult. her body is growing old. walking is difficult, more so because of the uneven streets and haphazard traffic around us. caring for her own needs has become more and more challenging. being able to participate in conversations and decisions becomes more difficult as her hearing gets worse and she is not able to take in and process as much as she used to. we help out as we can: bringing meals, doing dishes, running errands, walking with her to and from her apartment (next door to the community), speaking louder and giving her space when things are overwhelming. but it has become too much for us to do well - and we can never give her the kind of help, attention, companionship, and even freedom that she would get in the retirement home. and so the move to the retirement home that she postponed twenty years ago is now upon her.

and as her body is betraying her and she is losing the ability to participate as she used to in the life around her - and to love and be loved by so many different people here, it causes her great sadness. it is hard not to focus on what is being lost without being able to see the good in what is next and what adventures and friendships might yet still be. so pray that the move that happens today goes well, that we might know how to encourage each other, and that we all might know best how to accept the changes and have courage to participate in life around us.

14 August 2008

changes in the house/community

the delegation of certain tasks in the community has been changing. a couple of the changes affect my life here quite a bit - like change in the leadership of the companions (tochtgenoten) and who is now responsible for the kitchen tasks. and when i first heard about the changes, i was a bit unsettled. how will this affect my life? and what does this mean for the responsibilities i've had in organizing the kitchen tasks? and how did i not get a say in all of these changes?

it took some time for me to process the angst i had over the changes [it helped a lot to recognize that the world did not revolve around me - what i had originally perceived as my being excluded from the changes was a misunderstanding - i had forgotten that the flexibility in the house can and should be for the good of the whole community and for the individuals involved]. two years ago, i had started taking responsibility in the kitchen because it was something i could do with limited dutch and also allowed me actively participate in the community. and then i continued last year because i was here for only part of the year and because there was a bit of a shortage of people that would generally take over some of the kitchen tasks. with the current change of responsibilities coming into the house, i was confronted (a bit uncomfortably) with questions of where i could fit best.

and the answer has nothing to do with the kitchen or taking administrative responsibilities. instead, it has to do with talking and listening. and drinking tea and coffee. i'll be most likely on the schedule for reception duties for a few hours a week. i'll lead a chapel service once every week or two. i'll help some with Bible studies. i'll get to put more time and energy into helping with the internal newspaper. and i'll still eat many meals with the community (and take my turn preparing breakfast - and i'll pick up bread as compensation to using some of it myself). but sharing meals will mean getting to build relationships without having to focus on whether things are going smoothly in the kitchen. and i will have more time for work and my own studies and learning dutch and stopping by just to chat.

so i've started becoming excited by the changes. i'm still a bit nervous still about the change in leadership of the companions. but since we companions spent the last year together we've developed certain opinions of what we'd prefer and like, and thus perhaps it is really the one taking over the leadership that should be the most nervous :)

13 August 2008

an influence on german biblical scholarship

The German army consists of approximately 17,000 people who are there because of conscription. As far as I know, there are several ways to avoid military service in Germany:
- being medically unfit to serve;
- having several siblings already serve in the army;
- having been significantly harmed by the german military in the past (generally Jews);
- on account of having been convicted a crime;
- being of too valuable a civil service (like firefighter, police);
- objecting to war on the basis of your conscience - and choosing instead to serve in some kind of civil help service for a year or so, or work in a developing country in some technical capacity for a couple of years; or
- studying theology.

The last one made me wonder. I agree that priests should not be forced to serve in the army. However, since studying theology is a valid option for avoiding the military (and probably one of the least dangerous, costly, and or difficult options for someone who cannot qualify for the first three), it makes me wonder what type of people have entered into the discussion of theology/Bible in Germany over the last fifty years. Germany has been a huge voice in biblical criticism/scholarship for many, many years. And it hasn't exactly been known for upholding the traditional Christian confessions or having a strong view of the inspiration of Scripture.

I have no proof that there is any connection between military conscription and German theology/biblical scholarship, at least not from a scientific perspective. But it bears consideration that when you have a possibly significant number of people entering into the discussion of the Bible who have studied it for a reason other than a love of God's Holy Word and a desire to share that with others - that the discussion would be pushed away from those things that the church is most concerned with.

11 August 2008

so what did you do for vacation?

when dutch people go on vacation (usually in the summer), it usually means doing something out of the ordinary, often travelling. asking what someone has done [or is going to do] for vacation has thus become a good question for me to ask to start/continue a conversation.

as i was sitting at dinner tonight, br. Luc asked this question to a woman i live with [who had been away for about 6 weeks and i had heard she and her daughter were staying at her mother's for the summer]. she mentioned that she had gone to Spain for a number of weeks. and then she said, "ik ben getrouwd." it was in dutch, so i assumed that i had misunderstood what she said. but then i saw the surprise on my neighbour's face and looked at the pleased look on br. Luc's face and realized that i had understood. she really had just said that she'd gotten married!

even after establishing that she hadn't just randomly found a guy on some beach in Spain to marry but instead had married the father of her daughter, it took awhile for the shock to wear off. as much as people do interesting things on their vacations, the descriptions of the vacations are nice for getting to know people and practice dutch but usually pale in comparison to the actual vacations themselves. but this time, it was different. never before has an answer to the question "so what did you do for vacation?" made me speechless.

09 August 2008

perspective is everything - especially with language [or my experience at a recent biblical conference]

i spent several days this week at a Conference in Leuven on the Psalms and their composition. the Psalms are not really my area of expertise, but i know them fairly well, they're OT poetry, and composition is one of the things i'm somewhat interested in so it almost fits. and it's about time i started going to Biblical Studies' conferences, Leuven is (relatively) close by, the conference is not too big or too long (120 people for 2.5 days) and a former colleague from Grand Rapids was there, so i thought it a good idea to come.

and i enjoyed visiting the town, eating good food and drinking beer, listening to people discuss academic things on the Psalms, and getting to know a variety of people from all over (including a lot from the Netherlands). i think the only complaint i have is that i don't speak german. certain of the main talks were read only in german. and the first 1.5 days, i was around a lot of conversations in german.

there is one good thing about my frustration with all the german. i really started to appreciate dutch more! although my dutch is not at the level to critique a seminar discussion, after an hour of hearing german, i was absolutely thrilled to be able to understand most of what was going on in the dutch seminar. and after the first day of sitting around mainly german people, i did my best to find non-Germans to sit by - and ended up mostly by dutch folk :) [although a bit accidentally at times - would you expect someone from Sweden to know dutch?!?]

but after the overexposure to german and despite being not able to always understand everything, i admit i really appreciated most of the dutch conversations i found myself in the middle of. i guess perspective is everything :) and maybe in 2 years, i'll not only be able to critique in dutch, but i'll know some of the dutch people better and be able at least to read german. even if i might still try avoid sitting by a group from germany during a meal...

07 August 2008

every Christian should want to be a universalist...

universalism is defined as: The doctrine or belief that all men will be saved, or made happy, in the future state [taken from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary]. and i think every Christian should want to be a universalist. if you love those around you and believe that Christianity is true, then you should want everyone else to know God the same way that you do. and if you read the Bible closely and understand truly how scandalous God's grace is – and how powerful and mighty He is – then, not only is it possible for God to save everyone, this seems to be what God's scandalous grace would be fit for. those who are so certain about people being apart from God make me nervous. they have missed out on grace and mercy. for if God truly loves all humankind and is truly sovereign and can be seen by everyone (through creation - general revelation is what my tradition calls it) – and the verse from 2 Peter 3:9 (God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance) is true, then universalism seems like the loving and appropriate choice. and i want that deeply with my whole heart...

and yet, if you read the Bible closely, universalism is not really taught or shown there. instead, there is a proclamation that Jesus is the way, truth, and life – and no one comes to the Father except through him. there is a declaration that people need saving and only God can do that. there is God's holiness, where people who are not (made) worthy cannot approach him. and there is justice for those who have done harm – a justice that honours and gives peace to those who have been hurt (sometimes horrendously) by those to whom justice/punishment is given, and as much as God is sovereign, He will not force himself upon those who do not want Him anywhere near. and there is grace and mercy in all of those things, although the grace and mercy is complicated and even at times painful.

and so as much as i want with my whole heart to be a universalist, when i read the Bible closely and listen to the wisdom of the church fathers who have come before me (and the wisdom of my tradition), i cannot simply choose to be a universalist. i cannot choose to be a universalist while also declaring that all of what is written in the Bible is true - and that Jesus really is the only way. as much as i want with all my heart that everyone (especially those i love) would know God fully both now and forever, i cannot say that they will. instead, i remember the God of the Old Testament who mourned for those who turned away from Him. and i throw myself (and those that i love) upon the justice and mercy of God that is good, even if it is not exactly as i want it to be.

05 August 2008

at least i can pray

some days and in some situations, the best i feel that i can and have done is pray.

i really want to serve God in all that i do - and how i spend my time. some days i do a great job of doing my work, of paying attention to those around me, and of resting in God doing something good to give me energy to participate more fully in the world around me. and some days, i do a lousy job of using my time and i feel like a disappointment. and in those days, i take greater comfort in knowing that even if i have felt that i have done little today, at least i could pray.

and sometimes in certain situations, i am overwhelmed at the impossibility of anything changing. there are so many complicated issues involved and so much brokenness. and my efforts to do something to help or change things are ignored or useless. and in those situations, i take comfort in knowing that at least i can pray.

there are different justifications and explanations for why we should pray. some say that prayer changes things because it changes the one praying. some believe that things won't happen unless we pray. some believe that prayer is our way of participating in the work that God's doing.

i know for certain that there is something subversive about prayer – when i pray, i speak to one i can not see nor whose existence i can prove without a shadow of a doubt. when i pray, i am acknowledging that neither i nor the world is how it ought to be – and i ask for it to be different. better. more holy, while also receiving grace for how i have not been part of the ought to be.

but without always knowing why i pray nor what effects my prayer has, i can still pray. i pray simply because God says pray. so when i join in prayer, i don't doubt that by raising my voice and bringing before God the ones that I love (and/or know i ought to love more) that i am being faithful – even if some days it feels like the rest of the time i have done a lousy job at being faithful. and that even when i am feeling absolutely helpless in a situation, at least i can pray. and sometimes the unlikely and even impossible happens.

01 August 2008

chapel - during vacation

during the summer, most dutch people go on vacation for several weeks - and often at the same time as a lot of other people. on a nation-wide scale, getting in contact with people over the summer and getting things done can be a bit complicated. as for the community, things continue as usual, mostly. those of us not currently on vacation do our best to make sure everything goes smoothly. certain aspects of life here are quieter - we eat together less, we have fewer open hours for the drop-in centre, and fewer people living in the house. yet, other things continue in the same rhythm, like chapel services.

but since all of the schedules are rearranged (several times) during the summer, there's not a lot of certainty over whether someone prepared for the service. nor are there always that many people there, or people who have spent years learning how best to respond to the unusual...

the other evening, while helping the older nun from the community come from her apartment to chapel services, we saw people still lighting the candles. shortly after the nun sat down, she started praying (much to the surprise of those in the room). while she was praying, a familiar homeless man came in very loudly, a bit unsteady, and rather restless. after a few minutes, he started to leave, taking with him a bag that someone else had left by the door! so the owner of the bag got up quickly and took it back from him. the homeless man returned, moved around a bit and mumbled some, and was shushed by the nun. then he left a second time, making a lot of noise by the door, apparently trying to take something else! the nun suggested we sing something out of the Taize books we had, and the person in charge went to check on things by the door. the whole incident took about 10 minutes, during which the nun prayed most of the time (praying for everyone and every situation under the sun, like that people would actually like going to work). after singing another song, the nun asked whether anyone had prepared for chapel but didn't hear/notice when the person who had prepared responded with a "ja." so she continued to lead.

i shared the above story with zr Annemieke, who is on vacation now :) she said she could completely picture it. and asked whether i was praying hard, being surprised, or laughing inside. probably all three. i've lived here long enough that i'm starting to realize anything is possible. and once i got past my annoyance at the homeless guy, i was praying about the restlessness that he brought with him. and since i was trying to turn my heart toward God, how could i not help at laugh at the oddness of his creatures and what happens here?

all things said, it was definitely memorable. but i'd rather not have too many memorable chapels - i'd think i'd rather have a lot of the ordinary ones. where the liturgy is always the same. where there is a lot of silence. where i can bring those i care about before God. and my soul, amidst the rest of the distractions of life, is quieted and reminded of God's presence.