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 :(