31 October 2008

language mix-ups

anyone learning a language will admit that they have language mix-ups. when i was learning hungarian, i was forever forgetting prepositions (they go after the word instead of before it). now with dutch, the mix-ups are a bit different - and a lot of them have to do with the fact that english and dutch are quite similar at times. sometimes i miss it, because english and dutch is interchanged in my head and around me so much i don't notice the problems, but sometimes somebody catches it.

i have a problem with certain vowels, mostly the "o"s and "u"s. and i tend to add whichever vowel seems to fit with the picture of the word i have in my head. in dutch just like in english, a cats (kat) can also be called "puss" (pronounced like the (french) cat in "Puss in boots"). the problem is that in dutch they don't spell it the french way, they spell it the dutch way. so when i sent a picture of the poes and labelled it pus, the dutch reader would be a bit nervous about opening the picture. because the label on the picture wasn't referring to a cat, but instead referred to that nasty yellow substance that comes out of pimples..

although dutch and english are fairly similar, words that sound the same don't always mean the same thing. the dutch word for nylons is panties. and in dutch, it's perfectly acceptable to talk about not biking with "panties" - after all nylons never seem to stretch in the right way and tend to break - leggings work much better. but as an english-speaking friend of mine pointed out, talking about biking without panties (in english) is not exactly something one would want to do!

the other day as i was sitting in a faculty division meeting at work, the person in charge kept talking "sexy" this and "sexy" that. i figured at first it was an inside joke. but i saw no one else smiling, so then i figured it was an acronym where no one had thought about how it sounded in english. about five minutes later, i realized that what i'd been hearing as "sexy" was actually sectie (which is really pronounced the same as sexy). and we were actually talking about the section or division. a pity actually, it would have been much more lovely to talk about how sexy biblical studies really are.

30 October 2008

hunting for castles

i enjoy getting to explore what's around me. and Kristin's visit was a great opportunity to do more of that with someone who would delight in it as much as I. our last adventure was hunting for castles. i'd done some googling and talking with others and had a fairly decent idea of where we could find castle ruins but we had no idea what to expect.

we began our adventure with visiting the St. Bavo church in Haarlem, something Kristin had always wanted to do. and the church was as beautiful as we both hoped, both peaceful and majestic.

then off to hunting for castles! first, bike rental: the bikes were courtesy of OV-fiets, a coupon i'd received when i bought my train discount card. next, finding Castle Ter Kleef with only a couple of street names, a vague sense of direction, and random maps along the way. when we found Ter Kleef, the first thing we bumped into were the cows: random plastic structures of cows, the sort of thing that was begging for pictures. and then off to the ruins and garden. the ruins were definitely ruins, so that you knew that something large and brick was there (with water around it) but you'd have no idea of what it really looked like. the garden was lovely, with an indoor greenhouse in the back, flowers still in bloom, and little gnomes telling you different things you should do along the way.

and then to the Brederode castle. this is in Sandport-Zuid, so we got to bike close to the dunes and past majestic houses in order to get there. the ruins were fairly significant - the castle has been an official country monument for almost 150 years. and so we got to walk up stairs and look in old rooms, read about the history of the castle and admire the strange art displayed inside.

and then home. on the way back, we walked by Febo, so Kristin got to try one last really dutch experience: buying food "out of the wall." she let me taste it, and it was much better than i expected!

See Facebook for the rest of the pictures.

20 October 2008

on holiday/vacation with Kristin

i'm on semi-holiday for the week. Kristin, a great friend (she did let me live with her for 4 months this year!), is visiting. i'm still in the community and doing a few random chores but i've rearranged my work schedule and minimized other things. and her visit definitely has the feeling of a holiday - for i get to ask "so, what should we do today?" and it's been lovely just having random adventures and exploring places with her.

thus far, we've gone bike riding north of the IJ, amidst the dikes and water and farmland. we've eaten at a Surinamese Chinese restaurant. we've gone shopping (more for me) and to see the biological/organic/trendy market. we've seen the inside of the Noorderkerk and the organ of the English Reformed Church. we've spent some time with the community here, and watched the movie, "Alles is Liefde" (Everything is Love). we've gone to the wedding of a colleague of mine. we've drank coffee and wine. we've talked about bodily functions (which either means we're really comfortable with each other or we think like we're in junior high). we've visited the beach (Zandvoort aan Zee) and ate fish. we've walked a lot and surreptitiously checked out what the inside of houses look like (so many people here conveniently leave windows open and lights on and looking inside is not frowned upon, although the person inside is just as likely to be looking out at you as you are at them!) and we've giggled and talked and laughed. and most of all, we've had the joy of being ourselves and enjoyed exploring the world around me here.

the following are some pictures:
eating kibbeling at the beach

the strange fake stumps that exist under Amsterdam Sloterdijk station

the view of the lake north of Durgerdam

at the centre of Ransdorp

more pictures can be seen via Facebook. [these were updated again on 30 October].

and the route of our bike ride (a decent total of 17.25 miles (or 27.5 km) - made more impressive since it was rather windy!)

View Larger Map

15 October 2008

on thanksgiving and poverty

this past monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada. and with everything that's been happening in the world with finances/money and the economy, thanksgiving this year can be a bit bittersweet. it is not that people are not thankful or have nothing to be thankful for. but it is a thanksgiving that for many people is mixed with the word, "despite." i think of my family - i am thankful we all have enough to live on - but it is despite the sadness over my mom having lost her job recently and the difficulty involved in finding something new where she can find joy and satisfaction in what she does - and this is following in the shadow of my brother-in-law who also had a difficult year with losing a job and finding something to give joy and satisfaction. and we are not the only families suffering with job loss, and even more are wondering about the economy and uncertain about the future - and whether there will be enough to live on.

and yet, the economic crisis in the world still feels a bit surreal to me. perhaps it is because my life has continued as it always has or perhaps it is because i have no property or possessions and very little money that can be lost. and poverty isn't something i can really fathom. for most of my life, i've been living under the Canadian standard of "the poverty line." although it's been frustrating and challenging at times, there was always food and shelter and companionship and joy and a sense of purpose - and i so i never felt really poor. and i'm not sure if i can be really poor. i have the riches of passports to 2 different [first world] countries and decades of education. and i am part of strong communities who i expect to share my struggles with - and help out others as much as i can.

and as being part of the world church, i am called to share my riches with others [one way i can do that is that my church's world relief organization, CRWRC]. and with people being uncertain about finances, it is even more of a time for those of us who choose not to put our trust in finances and economy but in God to give money away, even foolishly, instead of cautiously saving it up against an uncertain future. and perhaps it is time again to think about the foolishness of some of our thinking about money. the words of Bono recently touch on that: "It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases." taken from the American Prospects Blog.

This blog entry was written as a way of participating in

12 October 2008

what i believe

as a member of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), i subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity, which is a complicated way of saying that what i believe about the Bible and Christianity is given in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. i will acknowledge that a lot of people see the words of the Canons of Dort as excluding people from faith instead of words of reassurance for people fearful over their own faith and fearful over those who do not seem to have the right faith. and i would say that question 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism can't be understand (or agreed to) without understanding it in the context of the time it was written. and reading the Belgic Confession can be about as exciting as reading other people's grocery lists. nonetheless, if you asked me what i believed, i would very much confirm the words written in the three forms of unity. and when it came to details not dealt with in these documents, i would show you relevant texts in the Bible, talk about principles of love and grace and holiness and truth and who God is and so on, and i would definitely consider what the CRC had said about it.

it's not that i always agree with the official positions or thoughts of the CRC, nor am i always happy with how things are in the local churches or the church at large. and yet, it is the church (denomination) i am a part of, the church that has helped me to know and love God, who has taught me how to read the Bible and be fed by it, and who has helped me grow intellectually in what it means to believe. and even as much as i have learned and can learn, i am no more perfect than my church, and it is wise for me not to assume that i am capable of knowing the absolute correct biblical understanding of an issue. and so i choose to agree with the position(s) of those that i trust and whom i have seen have tried to be faithful in listening to God and reading His Word. perhaps it is foolish for me to hold onto beliefs/positions that i have not spent hours and months [intellectually] contemplating, but i see it as more foolish to spend days and months (and years) arguing over confusing and difficult positions. i'd rather spend the time living out my faith according to that which is obviously commanded of us in the Bible.

and in that last statement, you can see that as much as i place myself alongside the beliefs of the CRC, the expression of what i believe and what i stress, fits in with the faith of the emergent church, as described in this article on emergent faith found in Christianity Today (online). but as the emerging faith is more of a way of doing things than statements of doctrine, i have no problem pointing out that i find intellectually and biblically problematic some of the emergent church's ways of doing faith along with certain things that are believed and emphasized.

you could describe the beliefs of the CRC as providing the meat and potatoes of what i believe and the emerging faith as being more the flavour or display of the food. but what i believe becomes problematic - and that's not simply because i know a lot of people who are vegetarians or who like their meat and potatoes with no flavour. what/how i believe sometimes comes into conflict - the CRC is not all that impressed with the flakiness of the emergent church flavour and the emergent church would consider the CRC too rational and ungracious.

and then when we add culture, what i believe becomes even more problematic. in a place where everything is tolerated, the strict guidelines of the CRC do not seem tolerant - or able to speak to a world that is different. and my willingness to trust the contemplation of others and not put the effort into determining the right answer for myself is considered immature in a culture where everyone has formulated an opinion on everything (and appears to enjoy arguing over it).

to give an example, take the question of homosexuality. the CRC argues that homosexual actions are sin. the culture here would consider that position intolerant and offensive. the emergent church is much more accepting of homosexual practice, arguing that churches' lack of grace has hindered the gospel. the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) has accepted homosexuality to the extent that their official position (intentionally?) reflects no tension that homosexual actions can be sin.

so what do i do? what do i believe? i choose to take the position of the CRC - that homosexual actions are sin. but even as much as i believe that this position affirms God's desire for the best for His people, i am not going to emphasize that as such a position would be considered ungracious and unloving. and emphasizing homosexual action as a sin would create confusion by going against the emphasis of the local church here, who, even if imperfect, is trying to share the gospel in a way that it can be heard and understood. the gospel and my beliefs do not have to be "watered down" to be shared, but i also believe that it is appropriate to focus a lot more on the things in the Bible that are mentioned thousands of time - about the church being one and about loving and showing grace - and allowing God to come to people where they are now so that God can work in them to change what needs changing so that all of us are more like Him and are more the people He designed us to be.

09 October 2008

other perspectives on life here

i thought i'd share excerpts from the blogs of two guys that are part of the community - because i appreciated reading them and feel that they bring perspective to my own experience here. Tom has just moved here from Florida in order to volunteer here this year. And Marco has been living in the community for a year and works regularly at a Christian youth hostel in the neighbourhood.

The following is Tom's commentary on the place that the Dutch language has in his life. He captures some of the reasons why my struggles with dutch take up so much of my energy and time.

"Going Dutch

I have come to Amsterdam to learn Dutch.

I didn't realize at first that this was why I am in Amsterdam. I thought I was coming to Amsterdam to broaden my horizens, live in a beautiful city, experience a new culture, spend some time volunteering, etc. I figured that maybe I'd pick up some Dutch on the side, as I went.

English, you know. They all speak it! And how useful is Dutch going to be to someone, really?

Within the first day after arrival it became clear to me that it would be, at minimum, extremely helpful to at least be able to read Dutch. By the second day, getting a basic knowledge of the spoken language seemed imperative. By the third day, sitting down to breakfast, lunch and dinner at a table full of people joyously chattering away in Dutch, it was clear that mastering the language was my ONLY priority if I wanted to retain my sanity."

The rest of the entry can be found at his blog Chinese Apples.

Marco reflects on what it's been like now living in the Red Light District for a year. The following is his summary:

"But to be honest, I don't even mind the neighborhood that much. Yes, I consider it ugly, and yes, drunken tourists are one of the most annoying things in the world for me. But as far as the whole "aren't you living in a den of temptation" thing goes, it's really not that bad. I'm not tempted to try cocaine or to hook up with a prostitute, and if I were, I think I might be in greater danger of falling if I lived in some suburb, where I could come downtown "incognito" and no one would ever know. Being a resident of the neighborhood means that if I walk into a nightclub tonight, all my neighbors will know by tomorrow."

The full reflections can be found at his blog, Songs of a Soupman.

02 October 2008

receiving my master's diploma from the Vrije Universiteit

on monday, i received my Master of Arts from the Vrije Universiteit. it was a bit anti-climactic since this master's degree is merely a step towards my goal/hope of getting a Ph.D., a step that i had already unofficially completed/taken last december! [A blog entry from 13 dec gives both the step and a summary of my thesis].

the delay between my completing the work and getting my diploma was due to some incomplete paperwork, the lack of familiarity at the University with this new degree (it was formerly a doctorandus), my being in America for most of january-june, and how summer (holiday) in the Netherlands makes it difficult to make arrangements for anything. thus, in August i could have picked it up in person - or just wait another month to receive it as part of a ceremony. i figured it couldn't hurt to wait.

back in North America, graduation consists generally of: a large event with a speaker (of interest to everyone), some sort of liturgical event (singing, poetry and/or a biblical passage), some praise for the graduating students (plus a student speaking on behalf of all the graduates), the (dozens of) students being called forward one-by-one (quickly) to shake hands and receive their diploma. and when we're finished, we stand around and drink juice or tea and eat cookies and cakes and fruit and so on.

Master's degree ceremonies in the Netherlands are different. a few words of explanation for the event are given and some praise to the students or certain programs, but the majority of it is about the accomplishment of each student. each student is invited forward, has a few words said about them (that are provided by their supervisor), is asked to say a few words about their master's thesis, shows their (previous) diploma that qualified them for entrance into this program, is possibly asked other questions, and then has to sign their diploma before receiving it. although i remain puzzled about the need or desire to show your previous diploma (this might be biased slightly by the fact that my previous master's diploma is still sitting in a closet in my parents' house in Canada - i couldn't arrange to get it when i was only told 3 days before the ceremony that i needed it), there is something wonderfully personal about this. the audience gets a stronger sense of the work that each student did in completing their diploma.

but, when there are a lot of students, each student is limited in what he/she can say. irrelevant of how interesting the different theses are, in 2 sentences you cannot say much - and hearing 2 thesis sentences 24 times just gets long and dull. and with so many students over a wide range of programs (religious studies, cross-cultural readings, systematic theology, theological education, islamic studies, biblical studies), it's less likely that the students know each other - or are known by the faculty. and the person handing out the diplomas and conversing with the students up front had a lot easier time showing enthusiasm about and asking good questions of students that she knew than those she didn't. and for those students who were part of a larger group/program or a program that was unusual or new, more was said. i was part of a small program and unknown, and felt generally ignored (although i did get a couple of looks for whispering during the ceremony - it was partially to help with translation and partially to be more able to enjoy the event). but, nonetheless, i was thankful to be there. every experience is good to have once (but i've told friends that there's no way i'm going to their ceremony if there's more than 10 people i don't know receiving their diploma). otherwise, i'll just come to the celebration after the ceremony - for in Europe, they serve wine and beer after the ceremony :)

and tonight i celebrate my new master's degree with the community and friends. it's a "tussen feestje" - an in-between party - celebrating that i've come this far (and recognizing that i've been able to do something that most people would love to do but never will) - and looking forward to my hopefully getting a Ph.D. some day.