30 November 2008

and that fire hazard is once again hanging in the chapel

"ooehh, fire hazard" is how i greeted the first sign of advent that i saw. an advent wreath, with candles and pine branches, is hanging in the chapel. the evidence of my forgetfulness in blowing out the candles last advent is branded in a black circle on the floor of the chapel. and in the teasing i once again received about not being given responsibility to look after the candles and a reminder again that God has been watching over us, advent began for me.

and advent continued as i sang in church with the choir today. as i took my place with the choir, i struggled with whether i should be there or whether i shouldn't have chosen to be present at the baptism of a child born in the community. and in this struggle and the sense that things aren't quite how they're supposed to be, i felt a bit of advent.

and advent came as we sang "o come, o come Emmanuel." even though it's my favourite advent song, i had no joy in singing it today in church. it was too much something - too loud, too perky, too fast? it missed the feeling of longing, the feeling of sadness that something is missing - and choosing despite that to rejoice and hope. for that is advent: an acknowledgement that things are not as they should be. and it is a looking forward to Christ's coming(s): the first coming which brought hope and a bit of God's kingdom to earth and the second coming when God's kingdom will be fully here.

and colouring advent for me this year, is my anticipation of going (home?) to Canada this Christmas. as i anticipate my trip, i am reminded of how much i miss family and friends. and yet, i also know that as i stay with different people, delighting in visiting them and celebrating Christmas, i will also carry a bit of advent longing with me - for as much as i rejoice, i will also not feel completely home - and will miss the Christmas celebration here in Amsterdam, just as i miss celebrating with my family when i am here.

26 November 2008

a classic work moment

i work for/by/in the Werkgroep Informatica. if you google that, you'll find an [extremely] outdated and non-user friendly website that's also not very informative. as such, we could definitely use a revision. in a meeting of the werkgroep discussed it further - seeing as our computer systems guy (the werkgroep has its own computer guy! nice, eh?) is fairly busy coding and what-not for the syntax program(s), it didn't seem the best idea for him to have to work on the website. so, i get to look at it a bit more - as i have some computer knowledge and work much better if i have several projects (thus far, i've only had one project - the syntax of Ezekiel - and the novelty has started to wear off, especially after staring too long at the last chapters of Ezekiel and crashing the syntax program almost daily).

having done some basic research on the website, and the information related to the werkgroep on the internet, i bumped into another website related to the werkgroep. it's very simple but with more helpful information, including a form for accessing our database and a more recent bibliography (including a helpful analysis of the linguistics system of the syntax program by the computer guy). this was more what the werkgroep website should look like! but nowhere did it appear that the first website and the second website were at all connected, which raised a lot of questions.

the mystery of the sorry state of the website and the lack of links to and from the much better second website was solved at lunch the other day. we were talking about the state of the werkgroep website with the computer guy, and he seemed a bit puzzled. according to him, we don't have a website - it stopped being udpated and was taken off aeons ago (an exaggeration i'm sure, but i missed the exact date). we disagreed - after all, when you google us, you do find something that looks like us and is pretty official! turns out that what you find is a copy of our original website that's on the Vrije Universiteit's site - that obviously has not been anyone's official responsibility for awhile. the mystery of the sorry state of the website solved, the discussion continued further about how a website could be helpful and how it could also be a nuisance.

and i wonder how long this sorry website will remain online. i guess i could consider it part of my new responsibility to do something about it - although seeing as how difficult it is to find things that should be on the VU website, i'm not sure how easy it will be to remove something that shouldn't be....

24 November 2008

don't you have a man for that?

"don't you have a man for that?" was the question i was asked while i was fixing a hole in my bike tire the other day. umm, no. no husband, no boyfriend. to make the woman asking feel better, i did say that i knew i could always call one of the guys from the community if i couldn't get the outer tire back on. i figured a discussion on why i'd need a man to do it was probably not helpful [and would have been a bit premature if i hadn't managed to get the outer tire on myself].

sure, it'd be nice to have a man around who'd fix my bike tires for me (recognizing of course that just being a man does not make one qualifed or capable of fixing bike tires). nonetheless, being able to fix a flat tire myself is something i'd still want to be able to do (it's kind of like how in college i decided i ought to be able to change the oil in my car [i can, although i have no desire to do it again]). and i will honestly admit that i try to work on my bike at the same time i know other very helpful individuals in the community will be around to help (rescue) me, if needed.

22 November 2008

odd weather

although there is much in my head that i could talk about, i'll begin with the weather. the weather is, after all, a favourite topic of conversation here. the weather tends to change a lot - and very quickly. for several months of the year, packing an umbrella is a wise thing to do, even if it's sunny when you leave the house. and i tend not to bike when it's raining, because if i don't have to be at work at a certain time - and can wait an hour or two, it will have most likely stopped raining.

but even though the weather here is usually somewhat odd, the last two days have been exceptionally odd. i think it's snowing now. but it's also been sunny. and raining. and hailing. and the wind is 30 km/hour (20 mph). and yesterday, the wind was even stronger! i biked yesterday, and although the buildings around me mostly blocked out the wind and i managed to stay dry for both trips to and from the University, it wasn't the most pleasant of trips. hail, even for five minutes, is not something i have any desire to experience again - biking into it is rather painful.

we'll see if the snow comes back again or decides to remain at all, but for now here is a picture of the amount of snow we usually get in Amsterdam:
as you can see, you have to search for the evidence of snow. there's some white in the large plant pot :)

10 November 2008

being colour positive

in Catapult's magazine issue on racism and cultural differences, i wrote the following article about dealing with the differences between cultures.

I used to think that the phrase, “I didn’t even notice that she was black,” was a compliment. When I hear some variation of this phrase now, it makes me cringe. The colours of our skin very much relate to the cultures that form who we are. If I don’t notice another’s cultural uniqueness, either I’m lousy at being aware of other cultures or one of us has lost a distinctive expression of our own culture.

Yet, since culture and skin colour have often been the cause of much discrimination and pain, it’s hard to talk about cultural differences in a way that is both honest about difficulties within cultures, while still honouring and respecting those who are different from ourselves. This difficulty came up again while reading the September and October blog entries in Gruntled Center, written by William Weston.

In his blog, he relays some statistics that focus on African American culture and comments on it. He notes that the number of single mothers with non-supporting men in their life is significantly higher statistically for African Americans than any other group in Ameria. As well, the number of men who participate in behavior that could (easily) lead to children but are unwilling to take responsibility for the children is much higher among African Americans. He indicates that there is something disturbing about this, and not only because poverty and well-being of children has a lot to do with whether parents are married. And he starts asking why.

I’m not sure what to make of these statistics, and I know I’m much less qualified to try than Weston is as a professor of sociology. I’m anxious about moving from verifiable statistics to discussing values and practices that seem to have become part of a culture-and then moving to questioning what really is good. Yet, if I don’t ask about what might be good and better, am I hiding from my responsibility as a Christian?

I believe that different cultures and skin colours and languages are truly gifts from God that we should notice and delight in. And I believe that each culture has aspects that fit better with following God’s commands for us and certain aspects that seem to move away from God’s intentions for humans. In this way, certain things are better, in terms of how they fit with God’s intentions, about/in/from each culture. As Christians, we have the responsibility to acknowledge this, while still trying to be wise concerning all of the discrimination and hate between cultures and all of the sensitivity and pain related to discussing cultures and differences. [1] It helps significantly to recognize that none of us lives in a vaccuum. Even as we all have our own cultures, these cultures shape each other and affect the values of other cultures. As I raise concerns about other cultures, I need to pay attention to how my culture has negatively affected other cultures. And as I attempt to examine other cultures more closely, I ought to be noticing how my own culture has values that fail to fit with God’s intentions. [2] And I have so much to learn from these others who are different from me.

I am still nervous about questioning values in culture-and about raising statistics and questions that can so easily be misinterpreted or abused to cause hurt in others of a different culture. Yet, pretending that everything in every culture is good prevents positive interactions between different cultures, for it suppresses some of the culture and our world loses some of the wonderful flavor found in the different cultures.

[1]. To provide a bit of a balance from the statistics related to African American culture, I should note that Weston’s blog also mentioned that despite the high poverty level among African-Americans, African Americans are not the largest cultural group on welfare. Knowing a bit about the immigration questions of those who are Spanish speaking (and who generally avoid welfare), and recognizing the high value put on achievement and avoiding shame in most Asian cultures, it seems that this statistic about welfare should raise some questions about entitlement and laziness in “white” culture.
[2]. As an example in my own culture, as much as I appreciate the honesty of the directness in Dutch culture, I also recognize that this directness (i.e. bluntness) often can be used in a hurtful way-and in certain situations this directness can fail to show the grace and gentleness that God asks of Christians.

04 November 2008

renewing my promise to be a companion

this past weekend, the community renewed our promises to participate in the life and work of Oudezijds 100. the brothers and sisters renewed their vows to live and serve here, and those who participate as deelgenoten (those who give time, prayer, and/or money in helping the community) were also asked to affirm their commitment to the work of the community. and i affirmed my commitment to everything it meant to be a companion (tochtgenoot) for the coming year. this year we held the service in Friesland, with a celebration at the farm [see Tom's blog for pictures of the farm].

so what exactly does affirming my commitment to being a tochtgenoot mean? one of the main aspects of being a companion is exploring the role that community, especially Oudezijds 100, has in one's life now - and what place it could have in the future. for each companion, the desire to be a companion, one's place in and connection to Oudezijds 100, and the journey of being a companion are a bit different - even this year is different for me than last. i felt that last year was a confirmation (again) that community, especially the kind that is filled with regular liturgy/prayer and and living out one's faith, is how i would like to live out my life. even being gone for months last year confirmed this desire - when seeing some different communities back in America, i kept thinking "but in Amsterdam, we...," and my heart longed for the community and rhythm of life here. and this year, the question is more of whether this community at Oudezijds 100 is where God really wants me to be, and whether i can be fully myself and use my gifts here well - in the midst of some language and cultural differences and a desire still to be part of a church on a different continent.

when asked after the service what exactly i had committed to, i responded that i had promised to share the responsibilities and difficulties in the community, but also that i got to share in the joys and celebrations. so one hand, it feels like people should be responding to my promise by saying, "blessings," and pray for what i've now gotten myself in to! and yet, it also calls for celebration - for i, along with others, have promised to honour and delight in each other and share our joys together. and so to celebrate, we had food and wine and live music after the service. and i made sure i danced to the music (mostly with small children because they seemed to enjoy it the most). and perhaps part of my joy also came in how i felt safe and encouraged to show my joy by dancing - something that i think i would have been too scared or embarrassed to do at an earlier date. and dancing seemed the perfect thing to do to express the joy and celebration that was part of this promise and this day.