25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday amidst another tragedy in my neighbourhood

on a clear day you can see from my office window the planes coming in to Schiphol. today, like most days this month, it was damp, and the windows were covered with some sort of mist making it hard to see much of anything. i wasn't aware that traffic at Schiphol had stopped for a couple of hours. it was a news bulletin that brought to my attention that i had been sitting at my desk when a plane crashed within view of my window. and once again i was confronted with another tragedy close by.

today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of lent. today we remember that "we are dust (ashes) and to dust (ashes) we will return." it is disturbing to place the tragedies beside this remembering. i would like to picture "returning to dust" as me being old and longing finally to meet God - and tragedies would have nothing to do with that. but a world without tragedies is a picture of the glory and fullness of Easter, something that has not happened yet. and during lent, we remember that we are still waiting for the world to be made whole. no matter how hard we work or pray, we cannot cause tragedies to disappear. and in lent, we are given the space to remember and the means to mourn and rage the tragedies and messes that occur around us.

during lent, the community fasts from meat and dessert and stops talking during dinner. i am sharing in this not so much because i find it important to give these things up but because i want to participate in the world that is close by me. and i am choosing to spend more time with the prophetic book of Jeremiah and his sorrow over what was going on around him. i do not wish to give up something for lent but instead want to focus more on being aware of the world around me. and i pray that God will open my eyes. and my heart.

24 February 2009

Oudezijds 100 website update and the coming summer program

the Oudezijds 100 website is special for me - since it was through finding the website that i made the request to come live here. i'm sure God had a hand in my coming, too (after all, what person is crazy enough to move somewhere she's never been, based on a website and a few e-mails? okay, there were a couple of reassurances from people i'd bump into who'd at least heard of the community, but still...). and as it's been under (re)construction for awhile, i've been eagerly awaiting for the results.

and after a lot of tweaking, it was finally deemed fit to share with others. and so, if you go to http://www.oudezijds100.nl, you'll notice that there's a banner above with pictures rotating through, a column on the right side of the page outlining different elements of who we are, and a number of videos and pictures. If you click on Multimedia (on the left side), and then click on Video's, you can see and hear various aspects of life here. [The last two videos are in English, from a group that came to volunteer here the last couple of summers - I managed to get myself into the second one - eating herring :~)]. Another English (sub-titled) video can be found under Kruispost, and you'll be introduced to some of our doctors who volunteer and Ruud, a homeless guy who stops in here regularly. Clicking on Engliish in the left-hand column will give you a brief overview of the community.

And last, but not least, the website gives information about the summer program here:

"Summer in Amsterdam

The contrast can hardly be greater: in the middle of the summer busyness of the Amsterdam Red Light District the community is an oasis of peacefulness. During the coming summer Oudezijds 100 is organizing several different activities, in which people can experience this oasis and take part in the community life that has been here for 50 years.

Would you like to get to know the community and the city better - from the inside out? Then the summer program at Oudezijds 100 might be a good fit for you.

From July 20 to July 25 it is possible to participate in the Guest Week. Besides living in the community and helping the community members in the work of Oudezijds 100, participants also have time to discover Amsterdam.

From August 12 to August 20 we welcome again (this year for the third time ) a group from ACCESS218 from Jacksonville, Florida. During this same period some young people from Zwolle (members of the Plantagekerk will also come to help us. The work they will do together is organised in close cooperation with Present. These days will be busy and "gezellig". Whoever wants to can join in to help, or just drop by for a cup of coffee.

During the summer Oudezijds 100 is also organising other activities open to everyone. The daily prayers will continue and on Wednesdays the evening prayer will be in English. On certain days it is possible to join the community for the evening meal. There will also be pilgrimages through the city."

Further information can be found on the website.

23 February 2009

a prostitute has been killed

last thursday evening around midnight, Berti, a 19-year old hungarian woman, was killed. she worked at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 38 - just down the street from me.

according to the newspaper, Het Parool, the prominent theory is that she was killed by someone wanting her money. the police picked up a suspect on sunday but have not released any official theory. Berti was saving up so she could have a life together with her boyfriend in Hungary. she was generally liked by those who worked with her and also by those on the street. and she had a baby. but now she is dead.

it's been almost 5 years now since the last murder, and although that's a long time by many standards, it's not really all that long. and many of the woman working behind the windows are a bit more scared now. the question is whether it's really worth it.

and all of it makes me sad.

and i pray. i pray for protection for the women working, for those who have little to no choice and for those who apparently chosen this. and i pray for the women who see that the (potential) cost is really too high that they might have courage to start over with something new and that they might be helped well.

21 February 2009

brushes with teaching

i've been taking a break from teaching in the last while. and yet, in the last couple of weeks, the following are the different sorts of brushes with teaching that i've had:

- getting to teaching a 2.5 hour seminar introducing the Old Testament prophets to young adults doing ministry locally [it was really great to be able to share my fascination and wonder of the prophets with others].

- having a former student (from the Calvin Interim class last January) stop by to see the community while he was in Amsterdam. i could see on his face that he recognized how special this community here is.

- having a former student (from my time teaching English as a second language in Ukraine 8 years ago) send me an email about whether i'd be willing to correspond with him to help his english. after telling him that i would, i haven't heard anything further but i am honoured that he still had my email and was willing to ask me after all this time.

- being given a helper for many of the last weeks of my community reception duties. and although i sometimes i find it a bit of an interruption to my own (sometimes haphazard) way of doing things, i have also been thankful to be able to share what i do know - not only with reception tasks but also my understanding of the community and those who come in to visit us.

- leading Bible study here in the community. and it's been enjoyable just to spend some low-key time looking at the Bible and faith and how this relates to our lives.

- spending lots of time talking with someone in the midst of teacher's college. it's great to get to share the discovery of how best to share information and the joy of helping others learn new things.

these brushes with teaching help me to recognize i can't (and actually don't even want to) completely remove teaching from my life. it's part of what i love to do - the love of sharing what i know and being able to walk with others as they learn. and i am once again starting to dream about teaching on a more official basis.

18 February 2009

some people don't read

every week, the big stairwell in the house gets cleaned. and everyone who lives there takes a turn - this week it's my turn. and i've been paired with somebody who isn't usually (at least not in my memory) scheduled to clean them. in the process of making sure that this wasn't a scheduling glitch, i found out that the person cleaning with me is probably unaware that she is scheduled to clean this week - even though there's a schedule hanging up in the hall and she received a letter in her mailbox about it. see, she doesn't read.

when i heard that she doesn't read, i didn't understand. i know some people don't read books and perhaps some people can't be bothered to read their mail (especially when half of it is in a foreign language). but that wasn't the case here. she can't read. growing up she never learned how. and even after living in the Netherlands for a significant time now, she still hasn't learned. and i was flabbergasted. my world is so completely surrounded by words and writing and reading that i have a very difficult time imagining functioning without being able to read.

and others have walked through our doors at Oudezijds 100 who can't read. learning to sign their name is the closest they come to writing. when i put it in the context of the other challenges going on in their lives, it doesn't appear quite so strange - even as i believe it must be very difficult. and in the life of this woman who is to clean the stairwell with me, who i've known for more than a year and who has had quite a lot of challenges to overcome, i remain surprised about how she cannot read. i see that her life has reached a certain level of stability and that she seems to be functioning okay - and i cannot completely get my mind around how she can manage to live well without being able to read since so much of life is dependent on reading and writing. and as much as it puzzles me, i think it also makes me a bit sad.

and i recognize that i have so much to learn about people and life and seeing the world around me.

postscript: The Parool, a dutch newspaper, published an article today about a special dutch integration course for people who are illiterate.

11 February 2009

work and bureaucracy

through conversations with others, i've discovered that my experience with the university's bureaucracy is not that unusual. and my experience is basically that the bureaucracy isn't so efficient. already in the master's program, there were glitches with paperwork pretty regularly. and working has its own glitches.

six months after beginning my job, my name is finally on the office door - albeit followed by a degree i'm pretty sure that i don't have (or maybe that's the degree the university did actually give me and my diploma's wrong?).

and it's only after receiving an email about getting a mailbox number that i discovered that i'd previously had a cubbyhole in the main office for my mail (and found a Christmas present in it). i guess i should have checked earlier about the mail, but i figured without students, what did i really need a mailbox for? and two of the guys in my office have never had a cubbyhole or mailbox number, so why would i get one?

bureaucracy also happens to be the theme of the newest exhibition at the university. and thus, the following (taken from the Vrije Universiteit website) is what i first see when i walk into work each day:

the look on the woman's face always makes me smile. and even if i complain now and then over things being inefficient at the university, usually people are pretty helpful in answering questions - once you figure out the problem and find someone capable of answering the question :)

02 February 2009

another unexpected response

we continue to read the book of Luke in chapel. Luke 7 tells the story of how when Jesus was eating at a Pharisee's house, a woman came in and poured perfume on his feet. when i imagine this story, i see Jesus sitting amongst all these rich and important and holy people and somehow out of nowhere this woman comes up and starts pouring perfume over his feet. since weeping (and the snot and tears that go with) is messy and noisy, not a person in that room would have missed what was happening. and the Bible notes that there was rumbling going on in response to what was happening - ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ (Luke 7:39 NRSV) a different gospel notes how expensive the perfume was - one wonders what kind of sinner she was to be able to afford that kind of present.

and as the tension has built up, Jesus turns and says to the Pharisee who invited him in: "Simon, I have something to say to you." and Simon's response is "sure, please speak." i expect that, knowing the type of woman this was who was interrupting his important gathering and who was currently weeping messily over his honoured guest's feet, Simon thought Jesus was going to humiliate this woman. that Jesus would confirm his condemnation of this sinful woman, to get angry at her for making him unclean, and put everything back to how it was. but Jesus (once again) did not respond as might be expected.

first Jesus asks an unrelated question - a question of who would love a creditor a most? he who had had a debt of 1.5 months salary cancelled or he who had had a debt of 1.5 years salary cancelled? and Simon, probably puzzled at the question, gave the obvious answer - the one who'd received more grace.

and then Jesus turns and humiliates Simon. he points out that the woman had given him a great gift in washing his feet - and Simon hadn't even bothered with the common courtesy of having a servant come wash Jesus' feet. Simon hadn't given him any oil to refresh his head, whereas this woman had poured expensive oil on his feet. and this woman, who Jesus acknowledges had sinned greatly, has had her sins forgiven. and Jesus then turns to the woman and tells her that - that her sins are forgiven. and then again "your faith has saved you, go in peace." (Luke 7:50)

and the story turns our expectations upside down. it puts the sinner above the holy one. it puts the poor lowly woman above the rich important man. and it is obvious that Jesus cares for those who are oppressed. and that is one of the reasons i like this story. but i have to be careful not to like the story too much so that i miss the shocking, unexpected part of the text: that not only Jesus' words of grace to the woman apply to me - but also the words of challenge given to Simon.