30 December 2009

DCM: Missing the Message?

for those interested in the class i'm teaching in the next month, the following is the description:

150 08 DCM: Missing the Message? Sometimes the message presented isn't the one that's heard. At times this is because of how the message is presented; other times, a person's own thoughts and ideas get in the way of understanding. This can be seen, for instance, in discussions about faith: some Christians (mostly those who'd call themselves postmodern) would argue that how one lives is a lot more important than what one believes. Yet, the Reformed view seems to argue that what one believes is most important. Or does it? The class will look not only at the Reformed message (and how it is presented) but will also cover a number of other areas in which there is potential misunderstanding of the message, such as: education, media, sociology, languages, statistics, psychology, and technology. A variety of formal and informal assignments will be given, with an emphasis on dialogue and participation. The assignments and class sessions themselves will be looked at in terms of how a message can best be heard and remembered. Lastly, the “message” of this course will be given from the perspective of a member of a monastic community in Amsterdam's Red Light District, highlighting further what can affect how the message is given and heard. B. Heyink. 8:30 a.m. to noon.

and for those interested in the textbook (including potential students who can't yet contact me via my calvin address - bdh2 - due to my being unable to access it), we are reading:
- Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God's World (Eerdmans, 2002) -this is the standard text for DCM, and
- Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Zondervan, 2006).

25 December 2009

a blessed Christmas

what i love best about Christmas is the mystery of it - and the crazy miracle that is Christmas.

there is soemthing strange about the fact that we sing all these praises to a baby. after all, babies are generally only good at eating, sleeping, crying, pooping, and receiving love. and even then, they're not always all that good at these things! and here all our focus at Christmas is on a baby.

of course, the baby we praise is also the king - but that's also strange, if you stop to think about it. the king of kings becomes human and comes to earth as a helpless, crying little baby.

the baby who is also the king points to an amazing impossible miracle (and his birth and presence on earth are full of many more miracles). and in this miracle, we are given hope that more crazy impossible miracles can still happen today.

23 December 2009

having survived sinterklaas

a few weekends ago i got to be in charge of the Sinterklaas weekend. the verb used in that sentence is pretty intentional - i had to keep forcing myself to think of doing this not only as a chore but also as a privilege (see picture below of me trying to look happy).
more photos can be seen on the Oudezijds100 website

i didn't grow up with Sinterklaas. and i don't really know the tradition or songs. being enthusiastic about the whole Sinterklaas part was definitely pushing the limits of my capabilities. and yet, it was good. not great, but good. there were no disasters. there was good food. and Sinterklaas and two zwarte pieten even came. and on top of that, everybody got a relatively decent present, most of which had some kind of surprise or special wrapping and a poem [considering most of the group was even less familiar with Sinterklaas than me, this is quite impressive - an hour before we were to begin, i had to remind someone of who they were to buy a present for, the morning was spent making a lot of surprises and poems (thanks to the great group i had helping with the weekend), we sorted up a mix-up about a present bought for Sinterklaas himself - and made sure it got to the person who it actually was intended for, and we made sure there were extra presents (in case of disasters)]. i'm thankful for the efforts and enthusiasm of the rest of the weekend team - without them, it would have been much more work for me and a lot less enjoyable for everyone.

and what was nice was that afterwards, i wasn't even utterly exhausted. but having worked (fairly intensely) all weekend left me a bit off-kilter the next week. that that week was a bit more full of meetings and events didn't help, either! i've now regained balance again (writing this is evidence of that). it took a while for my perspective to come back - and to be able to see again that being part of the Sinterklaas celebration was the kind of chore that i find it a privilege to get to do. i'm not sure how much i'll choose to do it again - but now that i know what i'm doing, if i could get a couple of good helpers, i could probably be convinced to do it again (and maybe even next time look forward to it :))

21 December 2009

monday morning in the Kajuit

there are certain moments when i am reminded again of the delight of living in community. this morning, sitting in the Kajuit (our living room area), was one of those moments. (we had ended the chapel with "O Come, O Come Immanuel," which is one of my favourite songs - so I was bound to be in a good mood. the beautiful blue sky outside and the snow on the ground only made my mood better.)

and we sat around together, teasing each other and talking and relaxing. i got teased about missing church yesterday (and found out that i was considered always so conscientious). and i got to see pictures of the snow by the farm in Friesland (or at least we tried to look at them - hopefully they'll go on the website and then you can all see them). we made plans for Christmas dinner. and we teased the receptionist - simply because we could :) and we joked about one of the volunteers getting stuck in Utrecht yesterday and how successful and timely he'll be in his efforts to get back today.

and the atmosphere of the morning was a mixture between the comfortable feeling one has in hanging out with old friends plus the gezellig feeling of being at home (we even had the fireplace going - thanks to the efforts of the harrassed receptionist) plus the relaxed feel of 'christmas vacation.' and i felt blessed to get to be part of it.

20 December 2009

snow in the netherlands

it is snowing in the netherlands - there's at least 10 cm in most places - and the world has turned delightfully white. as a canadian i'm pretty enthusiastic about it (and i'm looking forward to introducing my cat to it in a little while). for pictures, see Sneeuw in Den Haag, monday afternoon snow, and flights cancelled.

but as a canadian, i'm also a bit annoyed that the public transportation system seems to have problems functioning with even this little bit of snow. on thursday evening, my dinner date got cancelled cause Matthijs was stuck in Utrecht - he waited there a couple hours because of the snow.

and today it took me 3 hours to get home from Den Haag (what normally takes about 1.5 hours). i was scheduled to help out with the vespers at church - i figured if i gave myself an extra hour time, it should be fine. but it wasn't - first, i got out the door a bit late. then i discovered the trams weren't running - nor was the light rail train. so i walked to the train station (a lovely walk, made more impressive by all the snow men i saw along the way, but it was not so ideal for getting anywhere on time). i got to the station just in time to catch a stop train to Leiden. then i stepped into a train to Amsterdam, only to find out shortly that it wasn't going. 15 minutes later, into a stop train to Schiphol. and at Schiphol, 20 more minutes waiting before i could get to Amsterdam. and in my talks with other passengers (messes like this tend to make people more open to talking to each other - at least i never normally feel inclined to talk to others), i discovered that in comparison my experience with the trains was actually pretty good! much to my disappointment, i not only didn't make it home to help with the service, i wasn't even in time to attend the service.

but even with the mess that the snow is making of public transportation (and it's even worse with flights at Schiphol!), i'm delighting in the snow. on friday night, i ended up on the front step of a beautiful old house surrounded by woods covered in snow (we had a meeting there about communities). and i've been happily throwing snowballs for a few days now. and today i even made a snow angel. so what do i really have to complain about?

17 December 2009

learning to see things differently

there are a number of thoughts and blog entries in my head, but they haven't made it up onto the blog yet. for now, i just want to share a story by Matt Beimers that is published in the december issue of The Banner. It talks about opening one's eyes to see things differently.

The story begins so:

"Let the Little Children Come...."

I think tonight I found some Magi.

It was 6:00, and for no particular reason I decided that we needed to drive around and look at Christmas lights.

Never mind that no one wanted to go—there’s nothing like being forced to look at Christmas lights to cheer you up.

In typical fashion, the kids got over their frustration quicker than I did. They began singing Christmas carols five minutes into the drive. Me? I decided that the cheerful singing only made me grumpier. Sure, “Silent Night” is great, but what about those lights?!

Thankfully for everyone, I could only keep up my Grinch impression for so long. Generally speaking, little children singing carols and reenacting “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will eventually break down any hard-hearted wall you put up. On the way home we headed to McDonald’s for some ice cream, and I somehow managed to confuse the drive-through person into giving us an extra sundae.

While I had already learned some lessons by this point about pride and stubbornness, my education was just beginning."

To continue reading, click on http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2398.

04 December 2009

so much for peacefully lying in bed in the morning....

this morning i got a phone call at 7.15 - a somewhat panicked request for the location of the zwarte piet suits. it was a bit early but i'd been awake for awhile already. as soon as i start waking up in the morning, the cat interprets my movements as an invitation to pounce on me. i try to ignore him.

but this morning, the cat's playful antics were interrupted by his growing curiosity (and panic) about what was happening on the landing in front of my door. i was doing my best to ignore it, as i was still trying to somewhat peacefully contemplate my day]. but yeah, after noise, an anxious cat, and a phone call, it was obvious ignoring things wasn't working so well.

the noise turned out to be my new neighbour, moving an old mattrass out of the room. the cat ran out to investigate, much to my new neighbour's dismay. since i was unaware of her plans to move in at this time (and 7 is a bit early to be banging around), i can't say that i was all that sympathetic to her anxiety over my cat. after all, my cat is afraid of everything that moves - especially anything that moves quickly or makes loud noise (since my neighbour has a small daughter who moves quickly and makes lots of noise, i imagine the cat will soon be scared of visiting their house).

so much for peacefully lying in bed in the morning... and i would be annoyed about it all, but it's just too odd not to roll my eyes and laugh about it.

29 November 2009

my boyfriend sang for the queen today

i think i'm more of the subtle type, dropping hints and waiting for people to ask questions or catch on. but sometimes, it's nice also to be a bit over-dramatic - and just say something that you expect will raise a few eyebrows. and since the title of this blog entry is technically true, it seemed a lovely eyebrow-raising blog title.

and so you ask, how is it that he (Matthijs - for the non-dutch folks, you say it Ma-tie-us [emphasis on the tie]) sang for the queen? well, he sings in a choir that sings cantates in the Klooster Kerk in Den Haag. and the queen was in attendance [apparently she goes there more often - Matthijs had mentioned that it was a bit of a chique church; i just don't think it fully dawned on me how chique it was until he pointed out to me the queen's presence in the little side room drinking coffee with the choir and others involved with the service]. i have to admit, i'm a bit in awe of royalty and big names and so on [i think growing up in rural canada might explain a bit of that], so it made rather an impression on me.

but since the title was intended less to be a springboard for my musings about royalty and more for letting others know about Matthijs' presence in my life, i'll say a bit more about that. we've been dating awhile now (this is purposely vague - we talked today about how long we've been dating and not surprisingly, we both had different ideas/answers. as a side note, i've noticed a tendency [albeit unscientifically verified] that many couples have different stories about how and when they started dating (which also makes it an interesting question to ask)).
we met at an old testament conference the summer before last. we bumped into each other this past summer during the ordination service of a member of the community here. we were surprised to see each other in such a different context (he was there for choir and i because of the community), and we started talking. i gave him my email because he said he was interested in the community. and we mailed. and so on.

it's been good. yet, at the same it's been a bit odd: the whole dating thing took me by surprise, as i was expecting to be spending a lot of time this year working on my dissertation, an old thesis, and figuring out how i fit in the community - and there were enough questions and uncertainties and effort involved in those things without also adding dating alongside! and it's odd, because we're both a bit older and both have our own lives already - so how do we get to know each other with all of our different history and different plans and ideas - and also when we both now live in somewhat different worlds?
so i don't react to the whole situation like a giggly teenager who blushes when you ask her about the boy she likes. in fact, for the longest time, if you asked me about it, i would have smiled but also would have appeared less enthusiastic and more confused by it all (probably because i was puzzled - and still am a bit).

i've since gotten over a bit of my surprise about Matthijs' presence in my life - and have been generally enjoying dating him, and i'm thankful that i've also been stretched and challenged through this. but even as much as i'm glad about this whole situation, it's still new enough and i'm shy enough, that i'm not sure how much more i'll talk about it here. but i did at least want to give at least a glimpse of this part of my life.

23 November 2009

about faith and believing in the impossible (further reflections on OT stories)

we're still reading through the book of Kings in the morning chapels. we read through 2 Kings 4:8-37 quite awhile ago, but parts of the story have still stuck with me. and since it has to do with the impossibility of a barren woman becoming pregnant, wondering about Sara's laughter and the birth of Isaac has drawn my attention back to this story in Kings.

the story begins with Elisha receiving hospitality from a wealthy woman from Shunem (as a side note, neither her nor her husband is ever named in the story). Elisha wants to pay back her gracious hospitality, so her offers her better standing or help with the king. She says that she's quite happy, thanks. Elisha does not accept her answer although he doesn't seem to have much clue about what the woman might really want. and so he asks his servant for help - he gives the obvious answer: that the woman's husband is old and she has no son.

so Elijah calls the woman and promises her a son. up to this point in the story, Elisha has come across as being a bit clueless concerning women and motherhood, so i'm not exactly sure how he might have told her - or what reaction he might have been expecting. but the woman's reaction was clear. her immediate response was negative -
"No, my lord!""Please, man of God, don't mislead your servant!" (TNIV - v 16).

after her words of disbelief and denial, the next thing we read is that she conceived and bore a son, just like Elisha had said. i'm not sure whether you would say that God didn't listen to her - it seems more like He did listen; He just listened to the words she wasn't able to say - and the hope that she wasn't able to have.

and the story continues. the child grew up. one day the boy contracts heat stroke and dies in his mother's lap. his mother laid him in the prophet's room and left in a rush to see the prophet, all the while claiming that everything was just fine. when she met Elisha's servant, she still claimed that things were fine. but when Elisha saw her, he saw that she was very upset. and her words to Elisha were: "did i even ask you for a son? didn't i tell you not to mislead me?!!"

Elisha tries to send his servant to heal the boy but the woman refused to leave Elisha. for me, it's as if she was saying, 'you promised me the impossible once and i would not believe then - but now that you've gotten me into all this, i expect you to do everything you can, even the impossible.

so Elisha went to the child. the servant could not heal the boy. but Elisha went in to the dead boy, prayed, laid down on the boy, the boy grew warm, Elisha walked around a bit, laid down on the boy again, and the boy sneezed 7 times and opened his eyes. Elisha called for the mother and gave her her son back. the woman bowed down to Elisha and accepted the gift of her son.

and it's a fascinating story. and when i hear it, i wonder at the woman's faith - how she had such a hard time believing Elisha's promise of a son - as if she'd given up hope for ever having a son and couldn't believe that this impossibility could really happen. and then i wonder at her faith in going to Elisha when her son died - and how she attached herself to him, as if to say that he had to finish what he started - that if she was promised the impossible before, she now expects the impossible to happen again.

and i wonder about how my own faith relates - about how i sometimes stop expecting or hoping for things, so as to protect myself from experiencing the pain of being disappointed (again). and i also wish i had more of that blatant 'in your face' kind of faith that the woman shows at the end of the story - the whole "this was Your idea, God. You got me into this mess, God, so I am expecting You to do something about it." not that i don't expect to have to do something myself, but i'd still like more of that crazy faith and expectation.

21 November 2009

the 'rest of the story' concerning my house and apartment

when i think about things that go wrong in the community, i sometimes look at my house and think, hmm, something went wrong here. now that the new-ness has worn off, it's become more obvious to me that there's a lot of things that need fixing - and probably should have been fixed up a long time ago. and as much as i'm glad for the apartment, when i look at it honestly, i'm a bit embarassed by how shabby it is.

when i'm honest (and sometimes that's hard), i realize that part of that's my own fault. i could have put more time and effort into fixing up the place before moving in - the community provides paint and other resources, so long as i'm willing to do the work. but as soon as i knew i could move, i wanted to be there as soon as possible - and since i'm not exactly all that good at practical things, i wasn't really up for the amount of energy and time i would need to invest to learn how to do it decently (and most of my 'normal' helpers with moving/fixing network live in Canada - a bit too far to commute). so i moved in after some good cleaning and having a housemate paint a bit, and i did my best not to look too closely.

but now that i've been here awhile, i've seen more. and i've realized that i'm not the first person in this apartment who's not so good with practical things. and i'm not the only one who's tried not to look too closely. there's insulation sprayed into cracks but never fully cleaned up, the hot water tap wasn't working when i moved in, holes that have never been filled (papers filling some of those holes), a board and a cubby-hole that substitute for my kitchen cupboards (because i have none), a functional but shabby bathroom/shower, walls that are bubbling and cracking (my linen cupboard hides one and i'm hoping my cat either stops jumping against the other crack/dent or stays light enough not to make a difference), a ladder that's cracked enough not to be entirely safe, and so on. i feel like i'm moving in after people who chose not to make much initiative in the house - and that my house has been allowed to be neglected (after all, i have the only kitchen in the community which (still) has no cupboards whereas others are getting kitchen renovations).

but a bit of perspective helps a lot. when i put in a request for things, things get fixed up. my hot water works now. i know how to re-start the heating system. duct-tape has rendered my ladder safe - and there's a pending request for a new one (although it's probably good that i still have the old one since my cat uses it as his scratching pole).

and i discovered recently that all the big requests for fixing have been put on hold. the plans to renovate the bathroom have been in the works for awhile already but it just doesn't make sense to do it now. in about a year, the foundation of the house needs to be fixed up - the poles need to be replaced. so the plans to fix up the bathroom and installing kitchen cupboards will have to wait until that's done - and the house has re-adjusted. and hearing that news helped push away the nagging idea that my house/apartment has been neglected.

and i realize that if and where my house does bother me, i have an excuse for the big problems. and as for the little problems, i'm recognizing that i can still do something about them. i can still pick up a paintbrush or find some caulking or scrape away some of the remainders of the insulation. if i am planning on staying in the netherlands and the community, these are probably some helpful skills for me to learn.

19 November 2009

looking for the 'rest of the story'

one of the realities of living in a community (especially a large one) is that it's impossible to keep up with all the details of the community, whether it be the people or events or the physical space.

sometimes that's nice - after all, no one needs to know how messy my house can get and sometimes it's nice to know that i can still hide a few big secrets (like having a boyfriend) from the nosiest of my neighbours.

but sometimes, people and things can fall through the cracks. people can be sick or not doing well and no one notices. someone's birthday comes and no one seems to know or care. and in situations like that, it's hard not to feel neglected or frustrated. and it's hard not to make conclusions about how unconcerned and selfish others are. and it's hard to remember that there's almost always more to the story - like the fact i'm also selfish and i'm not the only struggling with things. the longer i live in community, the more i recognize the need to remember and look for the rest of the story. it's just sometimes hard to look beyond the easy answers, even as much as i'm learning that it's definitely worth the effort.

13 November 2009

why does everyone always remember that it is Sara who laughed?

i've always wondered why it is that everyone remembers that Sara (and not Abraham) laughed when she heard that she would bear a child. and even more so, why it is often seen as bad that she laughed. at least, that's what i expect a lot of people think - perhaps i have it wrong. it is what i often thought/remembered until awhile ago.

in Gen 18, Abraham gets some special visitors (Melchizedek and company) - and they tell them that within a year Sara, his wife, will have a son. Sara overheard them and laughed. when they asked her if she laughed, she lied about it (perhaps the lying was the bad part of the story - but i can imagine that lying was a lot more polite and hospitable to her guest than admitting that she laughed, which implied that she doubted not only the validity of the message and its source but might have even wondered if her guest was 'right in the head.')

prior to this story Abraham and Sara had tried to help God along with the promise of descendents - and Abraham bore a child by Hagar, Sara's maidservant (and those who know the story know that this was a bit of a disaster). but God promised again and again that Abraham would have children. and in Gen 17, the chapter before the one in which Sarah laughts, Abraham is told that Sarah would bear him a son. and Abraham laughs. and says, long live Ishmael (i.e. the son I already have). and God corrects him and says, no, Sarah will have a son, within a year. and the story ends with a list of blessings and promises and then Abraham goes home. the next thing we read in the story is the visitors to Abraham, the promise again of a son to Sarah and Abraham, and Sarah's laughter.

and it makes me wonder. did Abraham not tell Sarah about his talk with God and the promise? did Abraham not believe it himself (and did he believe it after it'd been confirmed by the messengers)? and why was Abraham not ashamed after he laughed but Sarah was? does it make a difference that Abraham already had one son and Sarah had none? how much pain had Sarah's childlessness already cost her? and did her laughter cover up her inability to dare hope anymore - she'd already spent years hoping and had nothing except Hagar and that son?

and it makes me wonder. perhaps some day i'll dig up some commentaries to see what they have to say, but for now it's enough just to look closely at the story and wonder. and i wonder what we miss when we only remember part of the story - or forget to see enough of the story that we stop wondering about the laughter - and why it is they named their child, Isaac, after laughter.

06 November 2009

on being a postulant

thus far, it feels kind of normal - in the sense that this is good now. i still have to think about making sure that i have my apron on/with when i go to the main house, that i put the cross on in the morning, and that i introduce myself as zr brenda (and write it that way). and i have a suspicion that,since i'm working so hard on the apron and zuster thing, i'll end up wearing my apron or introducing myself as zr brenda somewhere odd outside the house (i'm getting better with social awkwardwardness, so i'm sure it'll turn out alright :)). but even with this "making sure i remember" feeling, it feels kind of normal - i can even say that i am actually growing in appreciation for the apron - it's less ugly when it fits and the pouch is very convenient. i'll probably still complain about it but that's also normal :)

and when i talk about it feeling normal and good, it makes me think of two things that made last friday's service special for me. the first was the feeling of being welcomed - and that i could see and feel that others were generally delighted with me that i was making this step.

and the second has to do with being called zuster. as much as it feels kind of normal, i have to admit that i still have to smile when certain people call me zuster brenda. and others smile, too, when they say it (and we all smiled and even chuckled about it last friday). i feel like we're all sharing in this wonderful joke - that somehow i, who doesn't like to be the centre of attention and has never been somebody who was big on titles and acting important and so on, is now given this title of zuster - and it's good.

Photos from last friday can be seen on the website, along with a write-up (in dutch).

02 November 2009

making conversation

in the last few days i've been talking a lot - and to a lot of different people, many of whom i don't really know all that well. i'm not so used to that. and except for a few glitches, it's gone rather well.

moving to the community in Amsterdam has both helped and hindered my ability to make conversation. language has probably been the biggest hinderance. nothing quite hurts a conversation so much as not being to understand the other person. and well, if you often don't understand, you can get used to not listening so much or even trying to make conversation. and, when you finally do understand, you can talk all the time and never listen! so in some ways, it's felt like my ability to talk and listen well hasn't definitely decreased. and every so often i stop and think, "oh yeah, so how do i make conversation again?"

and yet, at the other time, living in community has taught me how to make better conversation. i've learned a wider range of questions to begin short conversations, and i've recognized that finding common interest or experiences helps move the conversation along. and i'm learning how to rescue conversations that are going downhill (the weather's almost always a good safe topic). and living with a wide range of people helps make me be aware of what could potentially lead to a problematic conversation.

but even with all this that i've learned, i still have conversations that make me shake my head. this morning i had one of those. as i was walking into the main house this morning, a former inhabitant walked in around me as i was picking up the newspaper. so i stopped her and asked her (in english) if she had an appointment to come in. she told me she spoke dutch. so i said sorry and then asked her again in dutch. she told me that she didn't like it when i touched her to stop her from going further. i said sorry (again) and then asked her if she had an appointment. she said she came to pick up her old stuff. and i said, but who do you have an appointment with. her lack of answer made it clear to me that she had no appointment, so i asked her to wait elsewhere while i found someone to help her. br Luc came upon this point and insisted that she leave since it was time for chapel and there was no reception available to help her - she could join us in chapel or wait until after it. i was glad for his rescuing (and i wished that i'd realized i could have justifiably insist that she leave).

and the conversation made me think, especially about what i could have done differently. looking back, i can see that this former inhabitant actually did a great job of manipulating the conversation towards getting what she wanted. several times she put me on the defensive, insinuating that i had done something wrong by stopping her unauthorized entry into the house. and she used a number of tactics to avoid answering the question about the appointment which would clearly have shown that she had no right to have walked in. and i wonder, should i have not simply ignored her complaints and/or gone into attacking mode myself? and perhaps that might have worked (and i think i'll have to try that tactic some other time), but i still don't know how effective it would have been. her avoidance of my question by trying to move to a different topic/issue makes me doubtful about whether it could ever have been a decent conversation. even if it's not always so easy to know what to say or how to say it, a conversation does, at the very minimum, require that both participants actually try to listen to the other.

28 October 2009

further thoughts on becoming a postulant

this friday is the celebration wherein i am to become zuster brenda. and i use the word celebration deliberately because i expect it to be a time of joy and celebration despite the fact that i've questioned more than a few times lately whether i am crazy to be making this step.

i think the questioning comes from my realization of the potential weightiness in the step i am making. on friday, i am to become a postulant - and i will answer why i would like to make this step, but i will not be actually making any sort of (permanent) commitment. so in that sense, i am promising to participate in the community in the next year, but there is freedom to leave if we discern that it is best to do so. and yet, even knowing that i have this freedom, i'm also aware of the potential weightiness of this step - that this is the first step i can take towards becoming a full member of the communiteit Spe Gaudentes. and that could mean a commitment to the community for the rest of my life, a commitment that i expect would bring much fulfillment and joy but also can bring a lot of challenges, painful self-reflection, sadness, and struggles.

and if i think about the challenges and struggles and sadness that are potentially part of joining the community, the potential weightiness of this first step is a bit overwhelming. and this past sunday i had a few of those overwhelming moments - and i couldn't help but ask God, 'can i run away now, God? (before it gets [more] difficult, that is..)

and although i didn't quite ask for (and receive!) the sign of a four-leaf clover like a friend of mine asked for when wondering about a significant decision in her own life, God did address my question in a way that i could hear and understand.

i had been thinking about what answer to give when asked why i want to become a postulant and wasn't sure what to say besides that joining the community allows me to live out my faith in a practical manner. although this is true, it's not exactly inspiring - nor does it fully cover my desires as a Christian which is not just to glorify God but also to enjoy Him forever (question and answer 1 from the Westminster shorter catechism). and so i remembered my joy in being a part of the community, of feeling at home here, and even in the midst of difficulties with language and differences, the goodness in being expected and challenged to be fully myself. and in that remembering, i started to catch a glimpse of the 'enjoying God' part that i see as part of the community. and when the texts of both of sunday's services focused on wedding feasts, i was reminded again of the joy of celebrations in and with God. and when on sunday morning, i bumped into a book about the christian vocation written by the Dominican monk, Timothy Radcliffe, it seemed the obvious thing to pick up and read - and i was reminded again of my longing to serve God fully and completely with all of who i am - and how life in community provides the challenges and opportunities to do that. this was only reinforced by my re-discovering on sunday evening the blog of Sister Edith, whose writing reminds me again of the desire to serve God fully.

and in all this, i felt God gently reminding me that deep down i don't really want to run away - instead i do want to make this step, even as crazy and weighty as it sometimes might feel. and i am looking forward to receiving the outward signs of this step: the being called zuster brenda, the apron that reminds me of the practical nature of living out my faith, and the cross of the community. the cross especially makes me think of the celebration and gift and enjoyment of God that is to be found in this next step.

25 October 2009

teaching again

i am scheduled to teach during interim at Calvin College this coming january. it will be the third time i'm teaching DCM. the class is an introduction to the Reformed faith alongside a topic of my choice. i have chosen the topic of hermeneutics: looking at how we interpret the message and more specifically how the presentation of the message and how our backgrounds, personalities, and situations all affect our understanding of the message. i'll draw on my own experiences and thinking and cover a variety of aspects - like teaching and learning, sociology, biblical stuff and faith, cross-culture experiences, technology, statistics, marketing, and so on. i'm also drawing on the previous topics i've done - 1) postmodernism - as it focuses so much on the presentation of the message and how truth is different for each of us - and 2) community - as this is one of the most significant aspects of my life now - and i've discovered that this is one of things one has to experience to understand, so i'm looking forward to challenging the class with how one can present and understand the "message" of community. that, and the book related i've found related to community (Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution) makes a good secondary class textbook.

i've picked up the required text again and started jotting down more ideas of what to do in the text - and i am on the lookout for ideas amongst the things i now read. and i've been generally enjoying that, although since i bumped into some of the difficulties of teaching last time i was around Calvin (especially with how i felt that there were problems in the presentation and understanding of the message i had wanted the students to learn), i'm a bit more nervous and cautious towards teaching again. [this cautious part can be seen in that, although i've known for a couple of months that i'd be teaching, i'm only now mentioning it here.

and yet i was reminded again that as much as i'm feeling a bit cautious about all of this, i am very much looking forward to teaching. while my sister was visiting we talked about the class and we talked a bit about how marketing presents a certain message (she has a degree in marketing and works in marketing for RIM, the blackberry company - she's definitely my expert when it comes to this). and when we'd been talking a bit, she asked me if i realized that i was talking really loud all of a sudden. i hadn't realized it - and felt rather surprised and embarassed. but then she said, it just means that you must be really excited about this. and i thought, yeah, she's right. deep down i am really excited about teaching again - and even if i can't be certain that a certain class will be great or that the message will be understood well, i really do love teaching - and i am really looking forward to bouncing around ideas with students and challenging them and trying out new ways of teaching.

15 October 2009

concern for the environment

today is blog action day. thousands are participating in raising awareness, and it seemed good to join in. the focus this year is on climate change.

and even though i want to participate, i haven't much new or brilliant to say on it. the climate has been changing - and whatever you might consider the cause of the change (or how much you might be annoyed by the politics and fear tactics that are part of discussions on climate change), it is still scientifically verifiable that some of the actions we do now are not good for the environment and are harming some of nature's controls over the climate. and this results not only in places becoming warmer but, more significantly, in strange weather at strange times - temperature or storms or rain or lack thereof. and i strongly believe, as a Christian, that the world is a gift to us from God and that we should do what we can to take care of the world as best as we can - and since these strange climate changes in the past years have shown to have a lot of negative effects on many different parts of the world, especially places where there's a lot of poverty, it is also our Christian duty to the poor and suffering to be concerned about climate change. so, i think we should all do what we can to conserve energy, to take care of clean water, re-use products and so on. i know i don't always do all i can, but i do desire to do my best, recognizing that my choices have consequences for others.

if you'd like to read more about environment and ecology, i'll point you to the blog of Crystle, a friend of mine and my old university chemistry lab partner.

12 October 2009

thanksgiving with family

this year will be the first in awhile since i've celebrated Canadian thanksgiving. and even then, i'm not sure how much i'll be celebrating. at the least i'll be celebrating (and am very thankful for) the visit of my sister, Janice, and her husband. it's the first time they've been to Europe - and it's been neat to have them here - and to share in their excitement of seeing this world here - both the old dutch stuff they recognize from home and the new odd stuff (like my neighbourhood). and it's been fun just to catch up and show my life here. and to benefit from my brother-in-law's expertise. i'm not the most 'handy' person, and he recognized that pretty quick - so he's wonderfully changed the light bulb that you could only reach by climbing on the beams, and he made it so that my table no longer wobbles (yay - it was starting to get rather unstable). and if i can get him a crowbar, we'll make it so that there's no longer these odd gaps in my floor from the linoleum.

so what are the plans for thanksgiving? well, going to chapel and hanging around at the community for coffee. then maybe a trip with the brother-in-law to the hardware store :) and a trip with my sister to the grocery store to stock up further on dutch specialties and to see if we can find some kind of turkey meat. then a market, and a canal trip, and then they go on the heineken tour, and then thanksgiving dinner. we'll see what random concoction we come up with this time - we've thus far had smoked horsemeat and liverworst and gouda cheese and i've made nasi and stamppot for them already (it's my first time ever making stamppot by myself, which i find kind of ironic). but whatever supper ends up being, it'll be good just to be with them - and to be thankful for each other and that they get to be here and that they get to develop a picture my life here and enjoy the good things here.

10 October 2009

a prayer for complicated blessings...

i read the following blessing prayer on a blog about the monastic life that i regularly look at. it surprised me a bit, as it feels a bit like it is a prayer for hardships as opposed to blessings. but when i looked closer, i realized it only sounded strange because somewhere in my head/heart, i still have this silly idea that blessing should be associated with easy or simple. blessing is about goodness, not about simpleness or easy-ness. and what could be more good than a prayer that i be blessed to be more myself and more concerned for others?

The following is the blessing, with thanks to the author of Monastic Musings:

"A four-fold Franciscan blessing:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

 May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word Who is our Brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore."

I think the blessing of foolishness is the one I want most. I deeply desire to be crazy enough to hope, pray, and work for the seemingly impossible.

07 October 2009

a different sort of image in my neighbourhood

when going through the Red Light District, one is confronted with a lot of different images. it's bad enough that i try to remember to tell any visitors that they might not want to look around them as curiously as usual when they're walking through my neighbourhood - as they might be confronted more nudity and images related to sex than they're want to see. in some ways, i've kind of gotten used to it due to over-exposure, although as i've been walking along the Achterburgwal more in the last while, i must admit that if one also adds hordes of gawking tourists, it definitely makes for an unpleasant walk through my neighbourhood.

and that's why it's nice to see an unexpected image every once in awhile. i've bumped into the following image along my walk home:

and what's unique about the image is not simply that the woman is fully and tastefully clothed - the message in the poster says something different than the dominant message of the Red Light District. the image here challenges how we see people. in the Red Light District, women are often seen as only sex objects. and this photo challenges this idea, for the captions asks: "would you still look at me [that way], if I was HIV-positive?" it is part of the stop AIDS campaign - and to minimize the spread of AIDS and not minimize the people who have HIV.

and i appreciate the poster (and where it is placed) because i see it confronting people with some of the problems in seeing women as sex objects and it confronts people with the fact that those who have AIDS have a face - and often an unexpected one.

04 October 2009

i pray. that's just what i do

during my time at a monastery last spring, i spent some time reflecting on what i had accomplished in the past year. and i remember being disappointed - disappointed that i hadn't done much. and then, during one of the many times of prayer, i all of a sudden came to the realization that 'i pray.' and that in God's eyes it was good that i prayed and that i could pray so much.

and i am reminded regularly that 'i pray.' i continue to be amazed that going to daily prayer has become a normal part of my life. and that every day i am reminded to bring those in my life before God. whether they be those i worry about or those i love or simply those whose lives have bumped into mine. for if you walk into my life, then i pray for you. sometimes longer. sometimes shorter. sometimes i forget and sometimes i have questions and worries. and i do my best to bring before God the prayer requests others have shared with me. and i pray for me a lot - pray for wisdom and insight and love and grace, especially in relationships. and most of all i just talk to God about everything on my heart, expecting to hear him.

and so i pray. it's now become a normal part of who i am and what i do. in fact, i feel a bit lost when i can't just walk into the chapel and sing and be welcomed into the silence and the expectation of coming to meet with God. i have discovered ways to work around not being (able to be) in chapel but after too long without the daily prayer times, i feel like i'm missing a part of who i am.

01 October 2009

living in the 'not yet'

the kingdom of God being here on earth already but at the same time not yet present was emphasized to me a lot while i was in college (university). it's a concept that captures the paradox that God has already come to earth and He is present now working in the world but at the same time there's a lot of things wrong in the world now and we are still waiting for Christ to come again. at certain times during the year, the liturgical calendar focuses more on the messiness of the kingdom that is not yet come (like during advent and lent) and other times the focus is more on the kingdom that is already here (like during Christmas and Easter). other times, things around us make us more attuned to either the already part or the not yet part of the kingdom. and in the last few weeks, the community has been made aware of the messiness of the not yet - that things are wrong (mis).

in the chapel we've been reading from 1 Kings (we try to read through the Bible in chapel every 9 years or so). to say that what we've been reading is not really spiritually uplifting is putting it mildly. although reading Jeremiah wasn't necessarily better with all of the warnings and accusations, at least it was poetry and the average person might be able to recognize a message therein for oneself. yet, for the past three weeks, the majority of the morning readings in the chapel have been the following: "so-and-so became king. he was horrible, following in the sins of Jeroboam, doing this and this and this (if he's really horrible, he is told that if he (or his family) dies in the city his body will be eaten by dogs). the rest of what happened during his reign can be found in this or this book (which can't be found). then, so-and-so became king." it's depressing - and at times even disturbing. and what kind of message does one get from there? well, it appears that following in the sins of Jeroboam could be quite detrimental to one's health, so I'd stay away from doing that if i were you. the most hopeful element in the story is that if these messed-up kings could be part of God's work, one realizes that God is capable of working in and through even the most messed up people today. and even that isn't all that hopeful. we are thankfully getting to the Elijah and Elisha stories now, which still chronicle the messiness of the kings and the people of Israel but at least we get to see God working in his prophets. but thus far the book of Kings has highlighted a lot more of the "not yet" nature of God's kingdom.

another area where the messiness of living in the 'not yet' can be seen is when things go wrong in the house. br Luc captures well this sense of wrongness (mis) in a write-up that he does for a church magazine. the following is a rough translation:
"Last week we had to forcefully remove someone from the house. Thankfully that doesn't happen often. The decision that this man could no longer stay occurred in the appropriate way - the pressure that we applied was weighed and well considered. In the end, the police were called in. That was unfortunate: this wasn't really productive for the man asking for help and as for us, we had no desire to make any charges against him. It felt like one huge failure. I am well aware that not every person who comes here for help will result in a happy ending of eventually getting their own place. Sometimes it just doesn't work out the first time and the person should find another form of help that can help them achieve their desired goals. In those situations, the decision to stop giving help is something that you can have peace about. After all, it opens the door to another means with better chances. This time, however, it was not an open door, but a dead-end street which would lead only to problems. In a piece like this, you'd expect a nice sentence here about how hope is still part of the situation or something like that. But you won't read that here; I have no idea how this can turn out well - the force used only made the situation worse. I know and believe that in the end things shall be different. Until that time, though, it sometimes goes horribly wrong."

and even as much as it is good not to forget that we do live in an already time - we can and do have hope found in knowing that God is working and the kingdom is also already here - it is also good to remember that sometimes it doesn't feel much like things are going well or that God is working or even that we can hope for more. and then it is helpful to recognize the wrongness for what it is - the not yet that we live in still.

30 September 2009

pictures and videos of the gemeenschap weekend are posted online

pictures and videos related to the gemeenschap weekend are now posted on the Oudezijds 100 website. For those of you not so familiar with dutch, you can click here for the pictures and here for the videos.
[i managed to get into a couple of the pictures, although i'm not sure about the videos - i haven't watched them yet].

29 September 2009

not quite like anything else (reflections after a Gemeenschapweekend)

i've lived here for three years now, long enough for things to become somewhat normal. but every once in awhile, it occurs to me that the community i live in is a bit strange. this becomes more noticeable when we all do something together, like this past weekend when we had the Startweekend (Gemeenschapweekend - community weekend).

it takes quite a number of lists and planning to organize food, lodging, transportation, and fun for 65 people. but somehow it all comes together, everyone is fed, everyone gets transported around (and in a special child seat when necessary), everyone has a place to sleep warmly and opportunity to shower, and everyone can play. sure, there's the usual complaining that there's nothing fun to do. and there's the odd (anti-social) glitch, like a woman using up all the hot water before breakfast with her half-hour shower (in the men's bathroom, of all places). but it comes together: and we laugh, we eat well, we learn to take an extra blanket to bed the second night, we enjoy the time away despite the busy-ness of many things to do and lots of people, we tease each other, and we discover more who the others in the community are. and no one is surprised that it is good - the organizers do their best, and others help out as they can. i'm pretty sure God's hand was there in the goodness somewhere. (although the dutch might not quite say it quite that way :))

and so we made stuff out of clay and had a competition and watched a parade of tractors and told stories and walked and went to church and did chores and prayed. and i got glimpses of the gracious self-giving of many who willingly helped out quietly in so many ways. and i was delighted by the musical talents of some. and even though i was a bit dubious about the 'emmaus walk', (the idea was that just as Jesus came as a stranger and participated in the conversation of the 2 disciples along the Emmaus road, perhaps God would be part of our conversations), i did get a sense that God had been part of our walk - and that He had surprised us by coming alongside to delight in our discussing. i tried to see us as others might see us - and couldn't help but see that our group of 60, made up of at least 5 different cultures with 20 children moving in between all of us, must have stuck out quite a bit - and i enjoyed the idea that people might wonder about us and this different sort of a family that we represent. and i heard a number of conversations of faith and a striving to understand God and each other and our relationships better. and i got to hang out with little kids and play with clay. and i was delighted by the curiosity and genuine interest i saw in learning more about this community. and i witnessed the type of relationships that grew over years of being around for each other - and the easy laughter and comraderie that spoke of years of caring and being cared for. and i fell a bit more 'in love' with this strange group that i consider family.

and as i caught glimpses of the others there, i was once again amazed that i get to share in other's lives in this way.

18 September 2009

external vs internal motivation

as i've mentioned more often, i like feeling productive. because of that, my internal motivation to do things is pretty high. the problem is that i get distracted - a lot (living in community helps provide lots of productive distractions, too). i'm almost always doing something - it's just not necessarily the best thing to do. (like blogging on a friday afternoon - but then i question what really is best: is my taking a break to blog and sort through my thoughts before working further on Ezekiel just an excuse not to work or is it a good way to re-group so that i can work better? i don't know.)

and much of the time, i'm not unhappy with how i get things done or not done. it usually works out okay - my house is cleaner when other things need doing - and my academic stuff gets more attention when i'm tired of people, and so on. but there is one area that i'm not so thrilled about - the dissertation/phd thing. it's starting to get to be time to be further on my dissertation. my desire to be moving closer to done is a relatively decent internal motivation. but with all the potential distractions i can find, some external motivation doesn't hurt.

so i figured i'd sign up to present my proposal next friday at the phd. seminar. there's nothing quite like a good solid deadline, a need for a paper presetnation, and a lot of questioning ph.d. students to provide external motivation to put something solid together. and hopefully this can tweak the work i've been doing on the first two chapters, which is pretty rough still.

and after the seminar, you can ask me how it's going with the dissertation. i might look annoyed with you (especially if i've been disappointed with how much i've done on it) but it will provide me further motivation. and if i look too annoyed, you can always remind me that i did ask for it.

11 September 2009

Miriam, the older sister

last sunday, as part of the "start sunday" at church, we listened to brief monologues based on biblical characters connected to "the Promised Land." one of those who spoke was Miriam, who complained a lot. i know the stories about Miriam from the Bible, but I don't think I'd ever quite seen what it might have been like to be the older sister of Moses.

Miriam, as the big sister, helped Moses become who he was. she played a part in the princess finding him and having him being semi-raised by his own mom. she was probably well aware of Moses' rash behaviour in killing an Egyptian and was most likely exasperated that he'd lost the opportunity to work within the royalty to make changes that would be beneficial to the Israelites (being older and a woman, she probably could have found a much less violent and rash solution to the problem:)). and seeing as foreigners hadn't exactly been gracious to the Israelites, she probably wasn't too thrilled with his wife, either. and then there's Moses' speaking problem and his crazy idea of being called by God and the grumbling of the Israelites and... if you think about it that way, it's a bit easier to see how Miriam might have often been exasperated by Moses - and that she, as the big sister who watched over him when he was little, might have complained somewhat at his incompetency and might have even wanted to step in and fix things when her brother was fumbling about.

it is interesting to picture the big sister and wonder. it makes me see Miriam as more of a real person, and in doing that the Bible seems more real - and more relevant to my life. and as i see Miriam more as the big sister, it makes me wonder about how good i am at allowing others to make their own mistakes and use their own gifts. and it helps remember that, now matter how much i might want to, i can't play the big sister and try and step in and rescue others. and more so, as much as i might think of myself, i'm hardly the best at many things. and as i picture the big sister and am reminded not to think too much of myself, i'm also reminded not to think too little of myself (or others). Moses was certainly centre stage - but Miriam, as the big sister, did play a pretty significant part in the Israelites leaving Egypt. as Micah 4:6 puts it: the LORD sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before the people. and there's something comforting in being able to see again how God uses imperfect people as part of his plan/work.

with thanks to the Oude Kerk and the organizers of the 'startzondag' programme for having me think about these things.

08 September 2009

adventures with Kristin (again)

since Kristin came to visit (again!), i once again had someone with whom to share in some random adventures (as well as having an excuse to do so). even though it was a bit rainy during her visit, we had a lot of fun exploring different places and laughing together a lot. the following are some of our adventures, with some pictures:

- the uitmarkt: the opening of the Amsterdam cultural season, which offers a ton of free music and events all close to my house. some things, like the large orchestra performance, we enjoyed tremendously. others, like the strange electronics + accordion show, were less enjoyable. and as delightful as it was to see Mary Poppins fly through the sky, the rehearsal did get a bit long after awhile - one can only hear the supercalafragilistic song so many times....

- taking the 'fast flying ferry' to Velsen-Zuid and then biking to the sea. since it poured while we were at the sea, the best part there was our break for coffee and apple pie. on the way back, we biked back through the (Zuid) Kennemerduinen, which is a lovely bike ride. Kristin and i also worked on our skills at taking pictures while biking - not so many turned out well but we did laugh a lot while trying.

- biking along the Amstel towards Ouderkerk. due to the weather, this was not quite as good as hoped (although i finally did get to explore one of the little walking areas along the route). on the bright side, we did get home in time to eat the best fries in the neighbourhood. and Kristin fell in love with dutch (indonesian?) saté sauce.

- Leiden, Den Haag and Scheveningen. first, we stopped in Leiden to visit a windmill museum. next stop was Den Haag, where we biked around quite a bit, saw a couple of the more famous buildings, and visited the military base. it was a crazy windy day, and on the way to Scheveningen, we managed to get blown off our bikes. what made it funnier was that Kristin managed to fall off only seconds after i did. i had slowed down and felt the wind pushing me towards the road. but as my bike was too tall for me, i couldn't really stop without falling. yet, as i swerved closer and closer to the road, i figured i might as well just abandon ship. although my shoe ended up a metre away, i did land on my feet. when i had recovered, i saw Kristin also standing over a fallen bike - apparently the wind had caught her, too. i can only imagine what a funny sight we must have been! i know it made us laugh for a long time. after that, we stopped biking for a bit - and decided to let the wind push us around on the pier at Scheveningen instead.

overall, it was a delightful visit - full of many good conversations, a few random adventures, and lots of laughter!

more pictures can be seen at my profile on Facebook.
with thanks to Kristin who took most of the pictures above.

04 September 2009

just another dish-washing conversation

sometimes i have the oddest conversations during dishes. i end up laughing a lot - although i laugh a lot anyways, so perhaps it has more to do with me than dishes, but anyways...

tonight i got asked if i was planning on staying in the community. "well," i said, "at the end of october i'll become a zuster (sister) so...."
and her response was shocked: "what? become a zuster without a broeder (brother)?"
and i told her that it was possible, and i don't even have to become a nun (which is good because i'd be a very unpleasant nun).
she sort of believed me, i think....

i guess i could have also mentioned that i wouldn't be adverse to finding a guy - and my soon becoming a zuster hardly means that i'm doomed to be single the rest of my life. it does make dating slightly more complicated - if it were to develop into anything significant, he'd have to be okay with joining this crazy family i live with and everything it entails. but that's not completely impossible - it's just complicated. and i'm sort of used to complicated and odd, so i'm not currently too worried about there being no broeder to go with my zuster.

31 August 2009

meet jerry, the new man in my life.

he's playful. he likes computers. he cleans up after himself. he sleeps without moving too much. he has a cute bum. he doesn't talk too much. and he's generally happy to see me when i come home. what more could a woman want?

the following are some pictures:

i've had him for a little more than a week now - and we're pretty happy with each other. well, sometimes he drives me crazy with his squeaking for attention and climbing over everything (and his clawing things/people) - and sometimes he's convinced i don't give him enough attention - but otherwise we get along pretty well. and he's getting better with guests, even the 3-year-old kind.

and as for his name, he's not named after Jerry from the tv show Tom and Jerry, but he's named after the prophet Jeremiah (as a sort of compensation for my anticipated neglect of Jeremiah in the coming year or so..). and it's also a wordplay on the hungarian word for come here, which is gyere. so i usually call him gyeri (djai- ree).

29 August 2009

skipping in the red light district

the other night we had a going away party for two couples who'd been part of the community for a number of years. they'd all done a lot for the community and each had added their own flavour to the community - and they will be missed. yet at the same time we are happy for them - happy for their new houses, which include a garden and a place for children to roam around more freely, and excited about the new opportunities each will have to do ministry in other ways and in a new place. so we shared good food and good conversation - and since the couples leaving were both rather athletic and enjoyed a good challenge, some random activity was also in order.

after checking that it wasn't too busy on the street, br Luc pulled out the heavy-duty rope that is used for hoisting furniture and such through the windows when moving. and after asking for a few strong men to turn the rope, we all moved outside. and once we'd claimed enough of the road for ourselves, different people took turns skipping. and it became one of those moments to record and remember. there are pictures somewhere, which hopefully i'll post.

it was good to say good-bye well - and it was fun also to have the tourists bump into something they'd never expect in this area of town.

25 August 2009

on being puzzled... mostly on account of strange men.

since moving to the Red Light District, i've had some odd conversations with men on the streets, where my intention is to be gracious and polite while also making it clear that i'm not interested in starting anything with someone who hits on me on the street. see a blog entry from last summer for previous thoughts on this.

and it happened again that i got hit on - the other night walking home some strange man asked me if he could buy me a drink while he was waiting for friends. i politely said, no, i wasn't interested - i curtly answered a couple of other questions but then i walked further and unlocked my door to go home. as i was walking in, he told me that i could bring him to church - i think i told him that he could do that himself - if i'd been a little less tired or less annoyed with his inability to catch on to my complete lack of interest in him, i'd have told him that he'd be much more attractive if he was actually capable of going to church on his own. or maybe i'd have waved to our chapel and suggested he visit it sometime. the last thing i heard as i closed the door was that he'd stand outside my door waiting for me six days a week. i must say that suggesting you want to stalk someone isn't exactly what i'd call the most effective come-on line. that i didn't at all believe what he said makes the line also less effective - but this also means that i didn't worry about bumping into him again (now several days later i still haven't seen him again).*

i am puzzled about how someone can think that approaching some stranger on the street with all these odd come-on lines would result in the establishing of any kind of relationship or positive contact. but what puzzles me even more is that i now have these sort of random conversations outside of the Red Light District. what is wrong with the world?!?

for example,
- in Paris while i was out walking some older man was convinced that i wanted to have a cup of coffee with him - despite the fact that i didn't understand him and i don't speak french. i eventually turned around and walked the other way.
- while biking over a bridge north of Amsterdam some random guy biked on my side of the bike line - and asked something along the lines of whether i wanted to start something with him right then right there... i said no, looked at him increduously, and biked around him.
- and in Grand Rapids, some random male walked up to me and a couple of friends and asked if we wanted to know what made a guy happy (or what a guy was thinking). i clearly said no. he told us anyways - fortunately it wasn't at all dirty (like i had expected) but his continued monologue to us while we waited for the light to turn was definitely irritating. we finally ended up jaywalking.

i think i'd be cynical about males in general if it weren't for the fact that i do actually get to have normal conversations with well-adjusted males on a fairly regular basis. (mostly thanks to the community:))

* for the benefit of my mother and all others who might be worried about my personal safety, i just want you to know that i always stay in areas where there are lots of people, i never invite strangers into my own house (the drop-in centre of the community doesn't count), and the only creepy times to walk alone in my neighbourhood are generally between 5.30 and 7.00 in the morning (and then i'm home, usually still in bed). and as much as i choose to be polite while talking to random strangers, i do it only so far as the strangers are willing to respect me: they need to be willing to listen to what i say and they must stay out of my personal space. and i will slam doors in people's faces – i've done it before.

21 August 2009

feeling loved

i went to a funeral today, the funeral of the mother of a member of the community who also happens to be one of my house-mates. because it was quite a long trip and this is a strange time of year for vacations and work and moving and school beginning and so on, there were only three of us from the community who could go. but it was good to be able to be there for him, to share this moment with him, and to remind him that he was loved by the community.

yet even as much as it was good to be there, it was a long day/trip. and i came home tired and hungry, and since i really should have gone shopping awhile ago already, i knew i had to be pretty creative when it came to putting together something semi-enjoyable for dinner. but then it turned out that there were leftovers at the main house, and i was invited to come join zr albertine who'd also gone to the funeral. and it was broccoli soup and pasta with pesto and mushrooms. and they warmed it up for us and served us. and we got dessert, too. how could i not feel loved?

and then there was also the good conversations i had today - on the way to and from the funeral, during dinner, and after chapel. and there was the gift of a used microwave, which i carried across the canal and through the wallen without getting too many strange looks. and there was also the loaning of a cat carrier, so that tomorrow i can pick up my own cat, and my looking forward to the joy of a cat, especially since i know i'll get to share that joy with the little boy next door who's fascinated by cats and also with his mom who's not so impressed with how certain mice have decided to move in...

and on a day when i attempt to let another know that he is loved and cared for by the community, what i am struck by most is how much i am loved here. and i sometimes feel that i am not worthy of that love and do an inadequate job of sharing it with others. and maybe that's true and maybe it's not - but that's something to sort through another day. today i simply get to delight in the feeling of being loved - and also have joy in knowing that God also delights in his children feeling loved.

19 August 2009

more thoughts on the visiting Americans

on the Oudezijds 100 website, br Luc has posted pictures and written about the visiting Americans (who've now been joined for a few days by a dutch group out of Zwolle). i really like how br Luc has expressed how different cultures and faith traditions can be a blessing to each other - although he, being dutch, didn't exactly put it that way :).

for those of you who don't speak dutch, i'm including a translation of the text below.

"The end of the summer has once again brought us "the American situation." This term often has negative connotations, but that's not what I mean here. At Oudezijds 100 we get to know Americans in another way: as hard working, serious young adults, who make a lot of noise.

They come from Jacksonville, Florida; from the group ACCESS 218, a young adult group in the United Methodist Church. There are once again 12 of them and they are again helping out a lot with the different work projects in our house. They have come here expecting that the trip to Amsterdam will be “a life changing experience” and with the hope that “this trip is just the beginning of something great that God is doing for us, our community, and everyone we come into contact with”. This is language that I'd never use. It actually makes me a bit anxious: are these words not too much? These expectations cannot really be fulfilled through painting, fixing, and eating breakfast together, can they? My anxious thoughts expose something that I can learn from these Americans. For when my impressions of these things would come out as not much more than “het was wel leuk [it was rather nice],” they would say "God is present here." That is a way of believing that I, from time to time, rather miss. Now I certainly don't have to take over all of their ways, but at the same time it wouldn't hurt to have a bit of this "American situation." "

18 August 2009

on staying in amsterdam and joining the community

the following is the email i had sent out concerning my joining the community in amsterdam...


it'll be three years this september that i've been in Amsterdam - all ofthat time living in the Oudezijds 100 community and participating in many different ways. i've loved Amsterdam ever since i got my bike here (a typical omafiets - the type of bike that has no gears and brakes with your feet!). and i started falling in love with the community from the time that i felt accepted as part of this crazy family here, something that happened already my first weekend in Amsterdam. as i continue to make a life here and as i get to share more of my life here with others, my desire to stay here and put down roots and participate as fully as possible only grows. and i have a sense that God is saying, yeah, this desire is good. staying here is good.

and staying here for me means that i would get to stay a part of the Oudezijds 100 community. when i first heard about this community, i recognized it as being exactly the sort of place that i was looking for before i even knew exactly what i was looking for. and that sense has only grown as i've gotten to know it better. it is a place where i have felt at home and accepted for who i am (at least, most of the time :) ). it is a place with enough diverse aspects that there are a lot of different ways to use one's gifts and to be challenged by different types of people. and it's flexible enough that i'm encouraged and expected also to use my gifts outside of the community. it's a place where i can share in others' lives in a way that i'd never have the energy or opportunity to do alone. it's a place where i can pray a lot. and most of all it is a place where i can tangibly live out what i believe - "giving hands and feet to one's faith" is how we often put it.

as a way of following my desire to continue to be as much a part of the community as i can, i have asked to be a postulant. and the community has enthusiastically affirmed their desire to have me, which gives all of us joy :)

for me to ask to be postulant means that i am starting to see participating in the Oudezijds 100 community as being a calling that God has for me. i'm not exactly sure if it is, but i'm sure enough to say that i want to take steps to make my relationship with this community to be more permanent. and the first huge step is to become a postulant. and i am hoping to make/take the promise of the postulant officially at the end of October.

and as for what it means practically? well, many things in my life won't change - i'll still live in the same place, still work/study the prophets, still visit Canada/America a couple of times per year, still be very much Christian Reformed, and still be very much me. as for differences, there'll be some change in my responsibilities, and within the community i'll now have to wear a blue apron that is a symbol of our commitment to the community (although i find the aprons a bit ugly, i will admit they're convenient for staying clean and having a place to store own's stash of keys). but the biggest change for me, i think, isthat i'll receive the title of sister/zuster, as befitting someone who is joining a monastic community (for that is what Oudezijds 100 is, even if it shows this form in different ways than traditional monasteries).

i'm not sure if zuster brenda will ever stop sounding odd to me, even as i see it as also an honour - both that i get to be part of the Oudezijds 100 community - and that others affirm my desire to do this.

thanks for your prayers and questions and encouragement along my journey to get to where I am now. I'm glad that I get to share my hopes and joys in this new step in my life with all of you :)

blessings and peace, brenda

17 August 2009

a new season begins

with children returning to school on 17 August, summer is almost over at Oudezijds 100. things hadn't really stopped during the summer, it's more that everything kind of slowed down and the house was a lot quieter. but now the families on vacation are returning and things are starting up again. and the house is beginning to fill again with noise and excitement (part of the noise and enthusiasm comes from the Access218 group here from Florida who are helping us out by doing some large fix-it-up projects - see their blog for pictures and more news).

and the beginning of a new season brings new possibilities and surprises and changes. one of the biggest changes in the community is getting a new prior! and another big change in the community involves me - i am going further in becoming a part of the community by becoming a postulant. at the end of october, we will have our yearly ceremony for the affirmation of vows (Geloftebevestiging) - and after that i'll be known in the community is zuster brenda.

to share a bit more about my decision, i'll direct to you the article for Catapult that i wrote a year ago - about how i was thinking about joining a monastery. as well, the blog CRCconnect wrote a bit about my decision (citing the aforementioned Catapult article).

and tomorrow i'll hopefully share the email i had sent out explaining a bit further about why i am staying - and the wonder, along with trepidation, that i have with this new step.

15 August 2009

trying to believe in miracles

i believe in a powerful God who can (and does) do miracles here and now. at least, i believe that in my head. my heart's not always so good at believing it – or living like i believe it. it's just so easy to be cynical when i know there are so many things that can go wrong - i know how selfish and slow to learn i am (and how much i mope when i don't get what i want) – and i know how much people move away from God and do what they want, making a lot of bad decisions.

as i've been thinking about certain people and certain situations and dwelling on the impossibility of it all, the question of whether i believe in miracles pops into my head. perhaps it's because i figure that only a miracle can fix the situation :) or perhaps it's God's gentle reminder not to give up hope - and to remember that God is making impossible things possible.

and when i have reminders of God working miracles, even incomplete ones, it helps me to hope more. and last week, one of those incomplete miracles walked through our door. a regular homeless visitor dropped in - because it's summer we weren't really open, but i knew her and figured she had to use the bathroom, so i let her in. but what she really wanted was a cup of tea - and people to share her news with.

she was just bursting to share her news. she was pregnant and thrilled about it. and she'd been clean from drugs for two weeks - since she'd heard she was pregnant. and she had a place to live and she was obviously nesting. and the four of us sitting there also drinking tea were a bit surprised by it all. surprised by how much she wanted to share her news. surprised by how present she was, since we almost always saw her high. and surprised by how thrilled she was.

and the moment she came in, bursting with pride and hope and joy, that was already a miracle. and i hope and pray for more of one - that she will stay clean - and that she'll be able to develop a good relationship with her little baby - and develop a better relationship with her older children (who we discovered her mother takes care of - another small miracle - that this women throughout her time of being hooked on drugs could still have some relationship with children while also having had someone to take good care of them).

i want to believe that miracles can happen - it's a way of fighting against the despair and the cynicism. it's a way of hoping and trusting in God. and i'm trying to keep my eyes open to the quiet miracles happening all around me and believe that God is present in making impossible things slowly possible.

10 August 2009

summer is for reading

ever since i can remember, i've tended to read a lot during the summer. mind you, most people would call how much i read during the year to be a lot, but when it's summer i read even more. and this summer it has been a mixture of different reading material.

sometimes it's children's books, like:
- Kikker is Kikker [Froggie is Froggie]
- Anders is niet minder goed [Different is not less good]
- Grote Dierenboek... [Large animal book]
As you can see, they're mostly in dutch. the incentive for reading them was my helping out with the children's program on retreat. i rather enjoyed getting to read the books - and they are best read aloud - which means i'll have to borrow someone's child for awhile to hang out with in the library :)

sometimes it's teen books, like:
- mysteries by Norah MacClintock (a Canadian writer, although i've been reading them in dutch)
- New Moon by Stephanie Meijer (the second book in the Twilight Series). I read the first book in dutch last summer and couldn't find the second one anywhere - and finally one of the teenage girls in the community lent me her english copy. this same person (who perhaps reads even more than i do in the summer!) gave me a list of potential books to read, so hopefully we'll get to that soon (although perhaps it'll wait until school starts and the shelves at the library are no longer half empty).

perhaps i'll pick up some adult fiction somewhere, but that has more to do with availability - and if it's in english, i can read fast enough that i'll put up with some of the mediocre parts.
- this summer it's been a book by Carol Smith and one by Katherinne Kerr, and also one by Kelley Armstrong (part of my paranormal fiction exploration), but i'd not sure if i'd really recommend any of them.
- the one recommendation i do have is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks - the characters were fairly well-formed (although their stories were a bit depressing). and most of all for myself, i found it fascinating to think more about the history of a book could shape one's understanding of it.

- and then just so i feel scholarly (and because i recognize that deep down i'm a bit of a nerd and really do love reading academic stuff), i've picked up (and read at least sections of the following):
- Interpretation and Incarnation by Peter Enns
- Ezekiel and his Book edited by J Lust
- The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel
- Prophecy and Hermeneutics by Christopher Seitz
- Reading the Latter Prophets by Edgar Conrad
- Narrative Structure and Discourse Constellations

and as a final tribute to the wonder of reading, i'll share the following link which discusses why people read.

06 August 2009

a trip to Paris

a short while ago, i went to paris with Karen, a friend of mine from Seminary. although i've travelled to quite a number of places, that's been a bit more accidental than on purpose. as much as i like exploring the world around me, i'm quite content to do that through books or to hang out in the woods/parks. i've travelled usually because someone else wanted to go and i went along - or there were people to visit and/or ministry kind of things to do. and well, this trip was a bit the same. Karen had wanted to see Paris since high school - and finally the opportunity presented itself - so off we went.

on the way, we stopped in Brussels and just generally wandered our way from the central train station to the south one (where we'd meet our connection). we bumped into and explored churches, went through a park with this lovely fountain, and checked out the palace. i think the best part was all of a sudden coming across the huge escarpment that divided one part of the city from another - what a wonderful view of the city!

and then Paris. we stayed in Montmartre area and every morning i walked
around for at least an hour. it was delightful to get a feel for at least a part of Paris - i think i got to walk up the hill to Sacre Coeur almost every day :)

the view from Sacre Coeur in the morning

we took the bus downtown a couple of the days (even managing to go by the Arc de Triomph because the Tour de France had blocked the bus's usual route!).

we checked out the Louvre (wonderful, and huge! we spent all day monday there).

on sunday we walked up the Eiffel Tower - after all the stairs I've gotten used to in Amsterdam, the stairs on the Tower hardly seemed all that bad.

the view of Montmartre from the Eiffel Tower

and then on Tuesday, we wandered around a bit closer to home, visiting the Montmartre Cemetary.

every day we enjoyed fresh baguette for breakfast and ate at a Montmartre area restaurant for dinner. it was good to enjoy Paris with Karen - and be along while she got to visit a place she'd always dreamed of visiting.

as much as it was lovely to go away, it was also good to come home again and return to the regular routine of life in community and working on my dissertation (my life has been rather out of routine lately with travelling and the retreat and visitors). and the cat i'd been looking after was also glad that i was home - or at least thrilled to have people around again, so she can be asked to be petted in the middle of the night and hang out in our suitcases :)

04 August 2009

cheating on my first love

i've known for years that I'd like to study and write more on the book of Jeremiah. i find the book of Jeremiah fascinating - a wonderful mixture of different poetry, and actions, and confessions, and oracles. the order of the book puzzles everyone. then the prophet himself is fascinating. and the theological message of repenting, but disaster is still coming, appears to be a paradox - and doesn't fit with any kind of happy feel good theology. i could spend aeons studying it. Jeremiah is the obvious book to focus in for my doctoral research.

at the same time, last year i was offered that temporary temporary position working on the database with the Werkgroep. it involved labelling of parts of speech and valancy, and also creating structural outlines (something i think only a few people find fascinating). someone had already done the book of Jeremiah, but Ezekiel had to be done - and so that was my project.

i've spent the last year with Ezekiel, feeling a bit like i was cheating on my first love. but the story gets worse!

although i still find the book and person of Jeremiah more fascinating (and wouldn't mind spending years and years working on it), the book of Ezekiel - in all its oddity - has grown on me. i still think that anyone who'd purposely study Ezekiel is slightly 'soft in the head' but the puzzle of how the pieces in each chapter fit together grammatically and rhetorically - has captured my imagination.

and i've thus chosen to change my dissertation project. that i was as far along with my own research in Jeremiah as i was in analyzing the data in Ezekiel makes it feasible - and since my head is more immersed in Ezekiel, this switch is also more practical. it is also becoming more obvious that i will still to get ask similar questions about how to understand the text in all its syntactical complexity - just now for the book of Ezekiel - and then later for Jeremiah. i'm excited about the shift and the possibilities, although making the transition this summer has thus far had negative consequences for my intended summer project of finally making those revisions on my Calvin Sem ThM thesis :(

18 July 2009

the day after

on monday i returned from a retreat with the core group of the community. the night before we'd talked about what we'd say if someone asked about the retreat. my response had been that i hope no one asked! at least not for a couple of days. i just wanted to spend some time resting or reading or thinking and being mostly alone - and after that, i'd be able to talk about it well.

and it's now a bit more than the day after. and i've read lots. i went biking for most of tuesday. i went to work on wednesday and thursday and thought all day. and i'm feeling a lot more like myself and a lot less like my exhausted day after self.

and i can now honestly say that the retreat was good. although i'd been along for a winter retreat with the community, i'd never been along for the longer summer retreat. and since it was new, and all in dutch, and i was partially responsible for the younger children's program, and there would be a lot of people around a lot of the time, i was a bit anxious about it all. but i not only survived, it was good. i had a lot of lovely talks with different people. i could follow almost all of what was going on around me. i got to hang out with children (and we got to read our very own letters from Paul and do fun stuff). i worked hard. i laughed. i saw and understood others better - and felt like others got to see me more. i felt accepted and was accepted as more a part of the community.

and thus, all in all, even if it was tiring, i can say that it was very good. and even if i'm not sure i'll ever be super excited for another such retreat, i think i might actually admit to looking forward to at least parts of it [like having it in Norway :)]