29 June 2011

A bit surreal: trip to London and moving to Amsterdam

In a couple of weeks we'll be moving back to Amsterdam. We've signed the contract, paid the deposit and first month's rent, made arrangements for moving, and there are empty moving boxes waiting to be filled. Our hope/plan of moving back to Amsterdam is finally coming true!

But first, London: Matthijs and I are off to London for the Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting - where I get to present a paper before a room full of people where hopefully a number of Ezekiel experts will be present. Not surprisingly, much of this last month has been spent digging further into the book of Ezekiel, sorting through my past research and trying to get a more solid grasp on the terminology used in linguistics. That's been good - and I'm looking forward to getting to participate in this academic world, as well as getting to take a bit of a vacation with Matthijs in London.

And then when we come back, we'll be painting and packing and moving - all in a whirlwind. What now feels a bit surreal will certainly become all too real! Perhaps moving the cat to Amsterdam tomorrow (he'll spend the time with his future neighbours) will help - or perhaps the trip to London and the moving to Amsterdam will simply remain surreal until I show up at the conference in London or we wake up in our bed in Amsterdam.

28 June 2011

Weekend Services

If I had to summarize this past weekend, I'd say that it was a weekend full of services. I went to chapel 3 times, as well as attending an Anglican English Evensong, an Orthodox Compline service that was a Greek-Russian mix, a Catholic morning service, and a Protestant (PKN) evening vespers service. It was also obviously an ecumenical weekend of church services! An added dimension was the fact that I knew people participating in all of the services - Matthijs sang in the Evensong and Catholic morning service, a good friend helped lead the Orthodox service, and I could greet by name most of those who attended the vespers service.

Most of those committed to the community are Protestant, but that still leads to much diversity. Some are used to the Genevan psalms while others are used to praise songs and still others are most at home with chants from Taizé. Finding ways to be hospitable to others in worship - and help people to meet God - are often a challenge. Even when people all speak the same language (not always a guarantee - we had Spanish speaking guests in the community this weekend), each person's language of faith is hardly the same. As such, it is hardly obvious that there could be a common language to come before God - or even introduce people to God (as some of those living in the community wouldn't claim any relationship with Him). And yet, this weekend, surrounded by people in the community from so many different backgrounds, I got to see people come before God and meet Him in so many different ways.

I have to admit that it didn't surprise me at all that in each of these different places and different services, we were able to meet God. And it was good to see and experience God at work in the wider church.

24 June 2011

Praying for those surrounded by darkness

During the evening vespers at the Oude Kerk (Old Church), we often have a moment to remember others. During that time, we sing:

Wie door het duister zijn omringd noemen wij U in stilte.
Want voor U is het duister niet donker : de nacht licht op als de dag, het duister is helder als licht.

Translation (fairly literal):
Those who are surrounded by darkness - we bring them before You in silence.
Since for You the darkness is not dark: the night lights up (shines) as the day, the darkness is as clear as light.

text: Mirella Klomp
music: Christiaan Winter

As we sing the song, I am reminded of those who are suffering - often those who feel far away from the light of God. Last Sunday, my mind was turned especially to those suffering with emotional problems and how those problems seem to place people in the midst of darkness and despair. At times, the emotional difficulties threaten to extinguish hope and a sense of God's light in the midst of the darkness.

For those wanting to know more about emotional difficulties, as a way of gaining awareness or to direct prayers for those suffering, catapult magazine recently published an issue regarding mental illness. I also chose to write in this article: an article entitled Understanding emotional sickness.

21 June 2011

Image for the day

As I was walking along the Oudezijds Achterburgwal this morning, I bumped into an image that couldn't help but make me smile. One of the houses along the road is being renovated, and downstairs behind the large windows where prostitutes would generally sit, I noticed something slightly different. The construction workers were sitting there having a break and watching the world walk by.

It's too bad I didn't have a camera with me. I think the guys would have also seen the humour in the image they created.

20 June 2011

Life lessons for a cat

The other day, I heard my cat meowing its head off on the balcony. Often when we've been gone for awhile, it likes to go outside and meow. I joke that it's his way of expressing his dislike of being so long home alone. But as we'd been home most of the day, I figured this time it had to be something else - so I went out and checked. The cat from the neighbours downstairs was on their balcony - and Jerry was adamantly trying to have a conversation with him. The other cat, however, just stood there looking at him. And I couldn't help but feel bad for my cat - and I wondered how I could explain to Jerry that no matter how wonderful he is, sometimes others just won't be interested in being friends with him.

But the life lessons only continued! As I went upstairs yesterday and Jerry had greeted my home coming with enthusiastic meows, I heard a different meowing - and I realized that it came from the neighbour cat. And I thought to myself, "hmmm, when it suits you (i.e., you're bored or lonely), you're interested in talking but otherwise not." And how could I explain to Jerry that others might use him when it suits them?

And then I realized that life lessons for a cat are different than those for people. Jerry's a cat. He just likes meowing. What does he really care if he gets an answer to his meows? The only reason Jerry's even interested in the neighbour cat is as a potential distraction/toy. He just wants food and attention and a good place to sleep and he's happy. And he'll probably meow to tell you that :)

18 June 2011

A dove comes to church

During the vespers service last Pentecost Sunday, a pigeon flew down into the middle of the 'high church' area where we were sitting. And I couldn't help but smile - since in Dutch the word for pigeon and dove is the same word: duif. You have white ones and gray ones. The gray ones (pigeons) are the annoying birds that the tourists feed. The white ones are the gentle, beautiful birds that we associate with the Holy Spirit.

So what do I make of the fact that a gray dove (a pigeon) came to church? Simply said, it somehow got in and was happily enjoying the leftovers of Communion during the service. But the mere fact that it was Pentecost Sunday made the link between this pigeon and the Spirit simple to make. And I was delighted to be reminded that the Spirit would come down amongst us, albeit not always in the most expected forms.

And alongside of the reminder of the winsomeness of the Spirit, it was also a reminder of the steadfastness of the Spirit: like the pigeon that presented a challenge to those who tried after the service to shoo it out, the Spirit is also [thankfully] not so easily gotten rid of - even when arriving unannounced and not in the way we expect.

10 June 2011

Another perspective on my time in Canada

Matthijs summarized well what it was like for me to be gone in Canada: strange. There's certainly extra freedom involved when the other is gone, but after six months of marriage the most dominant feeling is one of absence. It is strange that what was once so normal is now everything but normal.

But Matthijs says it better, so I'll let you read it from him:
- for those of you who read dutch, I'll link you to the post: Lessons Learned: Alleen en weer samen.
- for those of you who don't read dutch, I'll give you a cleaned up version of the 'google translate' for the post:

"Alone and together again

Brenda is back!
The past two and half weeks, I was largely alone, i.e., no Brenda at home (only Jerry). A strange feeling. May 19th was our six-month wedding anniversary, and that was exactly the day when Brenda flew to Canada.
Now, I realize what a difference being married has made. Two years ago, Brenda was not even on the horizon, and so being alone was still standard. So this was what once was normal. Very strange! Especially the first weekend I felt quite out of balance.

Yet it was a full and interesting week. Some of the activities were:
- Arranging my study archive. You encounter everything: old papers, etc. It was strange to discover how little I understood until far into my study of systematic theology. For example, I was already in the fifth year before it became clear to me just how strongly Reformed certain assumptions of mine were. This related particularly to the idea that theological statements can come also from the tradition and not only from the Bible.
- Meeting of the VAK administration. The VAK is the alumni association of the KTU, my old theological college. I sit on the board, which is also an excuse to see two fellow students more regularly. Especially valuable was the drink in the café where we complained about the things that theologians always do. There was now more time - no pressure to go home. A recurring theme was how the church is full of wonderful ideals but when it comes down to it so few are made true. There ism, of course, still much more to say: the country is rife with unreliable institutions, but with the church it is always extra sad.
- Seeing Simon's new flat (again). It is a beautiful apartment, a huge improvement for him, and the move to it was a good family activity. Nice also to see our wedding picture hanging up there.
- Going on the road with Crystle, one of Brenda's best friends, who was just this week in the Netherlands for a sailboat race - good to have the opportunity to know each other better, because those opportunities are few.

All in all a rich, full week, despite some flaws.
But the most important lessons learned this week is yet how good it is to see Brenda again after 12 days."
and note from Brenda: I agree with him completely!!!! It was for me also a rich, full week for which I'm very thankful (it was also delightful to see our wedding picture hanging up at my brother's place!!). Yet, coming home again was probably the best part.

07 June 2011

Encouragement to blog

Blogging is one of the 'good things' in my life. I generally enjoy the writing, and all the responses I've had to my writing have been really encouraging. It's still a somewhat astonishing to me that so many people would be interested in reading about my life and my thoughts.

Seeing how good blogging has been for me, it's no surprise then that I'd want to encourage others to blog. And seeing as Matthijs is the one I spend most of my time with, it's no surprise that he's received a lot of encouragement in that direction these past six months :) And how could I not encourage him? I think he's got lots of great thoughts in his head that I think are worth sharing (as do others - he has already written some opinion pieces for the newspaper!). The act of writing a blog, with the challenge of its concise format and the need to make it comprehensible to a more general audience, can be a good means of sorting through one's thoughts.

Certainly blogging isn't for everyone, and finding one's 'voice' in blogging can take quite awhile. Thus, the less pressure at the beginning the better: I know I should be low-key about it. Yet, I can't help but be excited about Matthijs's finding another means to express his thoughts and participate in the world around him.

And I have to admit that my encouraging Matthijs is slightly out of self-interest. I know that my writing allows me to show others a side of myself that isn't always so obvious. And as I have some clue of the ideas bouncing on in Matthijs's head, I'll not only encourage every opportunity he has to practice expressing them well, I'll also gladly look forward to reading/hearing more about them. I imagine it'll lead to even more delightful dinner time conversations here :)

04 June 2011

Ascension Day

I find Ascension Day a bit of a strange holiday for a number of reasons.

The first reason has to do with what to do on the day. Here in the Netherlands, people get the Thursday (and sometimes the Friday) off work. Back in North America, the most I'd nomally do to celebrate the day was go to a combined church service. In the past couple of years I've gone on a pilgrimage with the community. But now I've just returned from Canada, am not entirely into the dutch rhythm of things, and I'm only joining the community's pilgrimage for one day. So what do I do? Do I treat the day as an extra day to get work done or as an extra day of rest? I still don't know and am hoping to reflect more on this (although maybe next year I'll be again on pilgrimage or visiting again - and the question will be answered for me!)

The second has to do with what is actually celebrated on Ascension Day. It seems strange to celebrate Jesus' leaving earth. I can't help but picture the disciples confusedly staring into the sky after Jesus left. They'd been through so much - the crazy, overwhelming week in Jerusalem with all the tension when Jesus was finally captured, tried, crucified and buried. Then two days of shock. And then Jesus rose again! Their whole world was turned upside down (several times). So when Jesus says to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Spirit, I can't imagine they really understood what he meant. The book of Acts notes that they once again asked if Jesus was finally going to bring about the Kingdom now. It doesn't sound like they really grasped what was going on: Jesus really wasn't going to be among them anymore and their world would be turned upside down again and again in the coming years.

It seems strange to celebrate Jesus' absence and the disciples' confusion - although seeing the disciples' confusion is somewhat comforting (After all, if they spent 3 years with Jesus and saw all this happening and still were confused, it's not all that surprising that I get confused about Christianity sometimes!!!). And so perhaps it's better to think about Ascension Day not in terms of the disciples who were left confusedly waiting, but instead about Jesus' returning home to glory. I tend to forget this part of the story, as the book of Acts doesn't tell what happened when Jesus returned to heaven after triumphantly conquering death and saving humankind. In this way, the Nicene Creed captures it better:
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
Jesus' leaving on Ascension Day reminds me that the story of the church and Christianity isn't simply about those of us in the church. We are, after all, the ones perpetually standing around confused. Instead, it's about the kingdom coming - it began with Jesus' first coming to earth, continued with his death and resurrection, and then with his Ascension. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost furthers the Kingdom that will be brought into fullness when Christ returns again to judge the living and the dead.

03 June 2011

Adventures with Crystle: Exploring Delft and Rotterdam

During my recent trip to Canada, I couldn't visit with Crystle because she was at a sailing competition at the same time (in the Netherlands, ironically). Fortunately for me she decided to stay a couple of extra days so I could see her when I got back. Once I'd had a good night's sleep, we decided to have an adventure exploring: we chose Delft and Rotterdam.

My original thoughts were to take the train to Delft, walk around, take the train to Rotterdam, rent bikes and bike around, and then return on the train. Crystle suggested we bike to Delft, which seemed like a lovely idea, so we did. When we got there, we followed a walking tour of the city. And then we biked to Rotterdam since we were already halfway. Biking to Rotterdam has been on my list of wishes for awhile, so it's great to have done that (and with Crystle!).

And like most exploring trips, it was full of adventure. We left with maps, a city walking tour book, and general ideas - and we'd see what we'd find.
And what did we find?
- a visit to Delft's Old Church and New Church,
- spring rolls and fried fish from vendors,
- a coloured cow in the middle of a square,
- a view of the parade of flags and cubed houses,
- bread, grapes and beer from a supermarket (with the beer being opened with a key chain - it works but I don't recommend it!),
- a trip through the bike tunnel under the Maas river (also on my list of things to do)
- and sore bums and legs from biking 41 km, each of us sharing time on the fold-up bike.

A couple of pictures and our route are here below:

In the garden of the Prinsenhof
The entrance/exit of the bike tunnel under the Maas River

View 1 june bike ride - Den Haag to Delft to Rotterdam in a larger map

02 June 2011

Home and back again

The blog silence has been due to my travelling. I just made my semi-annual visit to friends and family in Canada. It was wonderful to see everyone (especially my nieces!), but it's also been wonderful to come home again. I'd gone without Matthijs, and I'd missed him.

I might have more to say and/or pictures to show, but simply sharing my thankfulness in both having made the trip and coming back home to Matthijs is enough for me now.