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.