26 December 2012

A Christmas Prayer

Last Christmas Eve, in the midst of my grief and the preparations to go home to family, I was able to attend the Christmas Eve service of the local Anglican Church (Christ Church). The blessing given as we were leaving was one that has stuck with me, and I pass it on here as my Christmas wish for others:

"May the joy of the angels,
the eagerness of the shepherds,
the perseverance of the wise men,
the obedience of Joseph and Mary,
and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always."

taken from a website from the Church of England.

17 December 2012

My Calvin Seminary Th.M. thesis - more than 5 years late

During my visit to family and SBL in November, I also made a very important stop in Grand Rapids. I was finally able to defend my thesis for the Master of Theology degree.The defense went well, and I only have to make a few corrections before submitting it to the Calvin College librarian. I'm hoping/planning on having it done within a few weeks, so I can finally finish this project that is already five years late!

When I started this blog almost 7 years ago, I was taking classes for my Master of Theology Degree (and incidentally finishing up the last of my Master of Divinity classes). I did much of the research for my Th.M thesis in the summer of 2006, while I was also trying to get ready to move to Amsterdam. Not surprisingly, I didn't get it done, and I continued doing research while working for my M.A. degree here at the Vrije Universiteit. At the same time that I began writing my Th.M. thesis, I was also beginning to write my M.A. thesis. Lent of 2007, however, was dedicated solely to my Th.M. thesis. The entries on my blog for March of that year are coloured by that. A few days after Easter, I handed in the final version of the thesis only to find out a week or so later that my thesis had not been accepted. It was too short (at 75 pages double-spaced) and inadequately defended. However, I needed to work on finishing the M.A. thesis so it got postponed to another time. The MA thesis took longer than expected, and I signed up for an extra class in teaching, and so it would be the summer of 2008 before I looked at it again. And then there was my work on the database at the VU and not being sure of how to sort through the problems I couldn't defend well in 2006, and progress was haphazard when and if it occurred.

However, this past summer was the end of my final extension for handing it in - and I spent quite a bit of time this past winter and spring quietly working on it with the goal of finishing off what I'd started. Time and more research had also helped me sort out some of the things I was uncertain of earlier. At the end of July, I handed in the corrected thesis, a product I was much happier with than what I'd originally wrote, even as I'm not entirely sure what I should do with it (besides making the required corrections and handing it in). The thesis itself ended up being about 150 pages. Even though it's double-spaced, it's closer to dissertation length than master's thesis length. Having spent so much extra time on it, it is not surprising that it is much longer - I did, after all, want to show that the extra time was worth it (although fewer words and done earlier was more ideal)!

The best part of having finished the thesis is the sense of joy and satisfaction in finishing a project that felt like it would never have an end, a feeling I often have with my Ph.D. dissertation. Furthermore, since I could finish this mini-dissertation after all the work and delays, why should I doubt that I can finish the full dissertation, which I've done even more and better research on?

15 December 2012

Advent in the darkest time of the year

Here in the Netherlands, it doesn't get light until about 8 in the morning, and it gets dark before 5 in the evening. The Christmas lights and the Advent star make the evenings somewhat lighter - reminding us that the darkness is not all encompassing. Yet, it is still sometimes hard to get out of bed in the morning and gratefully greet a new day amidst a world that feels too cold and too dark.

It is also dark because of the time of the year. Last year my mother's sickness coloured all of Advent. Her passing right before Christmas only confirmed my longing for a world where there was more light - a world of healing and health. This year, the tragedy at the school in Connecticut has irrevocably coloured Advent. The darkness of sickness, brokennes, sin and evil, and death have come crashing into our remembering and longing for Jesus' birth.

It is in the midst of all the darkness that we as Christians long most for Jesus' coming. Not only his coming as a baby which marked the light at the begin of the tunnele (the coming of the kingdom on the earth), but also his return when there will be no more pain and sadness and death. As Christians, we have this hope in the midst of all the darkness. As the first chapter of the book of John says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (NIV, emphasis mine, via biblegateway.com)

10 December 2012

"Should I write you down as homeless or as a tourist?"

This evening I covered the receptionist duties at Kruispost, where volunteers provide non-emergency health care to people here who have no health insurance. Within Amsterdam, this is probably the most well-known aspect of the community of Oudezijds 100. Within the community itself, however, this is one of the most unknown aspects of the whole community, as the volunteers for the Kruispost come generally from different circles outside of the community.

A wide range of nationalities visit the Kruispost, and they come for many different reasons. Most are uninsured and many are in Amsterdam illegally. We ask names, birthdates, addresses, and country of origin. We don't ask how they've come to be here, how long they've been here, or how long they hope to stay; choosing instead to allow them to remain somewhat safely anonymous. We simply ask how we can help and ask for a donation to help cover the costs of overhead (the receptionists and doctors are all volunteers).

We don't generally turn anyone away, as long as they are not agressive or violent. We do, however, give people a hard time if they are insured (shouldn't they be finding and visiting their own family doctor and have it be paid through their insurance?). Or if they don't live in Amsterdam. Technically, everyone - even those who are uninsured and/or illegal - has the right to medical help (see paspoortamsterdam.nl.). The problem is that many doctors and/or hospitals still refuse help because of the nuisance of the paperwork. And so people come to us because they know we will help them, even though technically we're supposed to be only for those in Amsterdam.

And thus the question: "should I write you down as homeless or as a tourist?" to confirm that people are part of the Amsterdam region. This evening it was directed at a man around my age who'd neglected to give an address. Tourist seemed a popular option this evening - and this visitor also seemed happy with this choice and gave a European country to confirm. Unfortunately, when the doctor spoke to him in the language of that country, the visitor didn't understand him. Turns out that the European country was simply one of the many stops along the journey. To claim to be a tourist was highly optimistic - but better than the options I hadn't given him, like refugee or illegal. Instead, the choice of tourist spoke of a hope for a better, normaler life. Thankfully the Kruispost helps people be able to receive normal every day medical care and thus is hopefully part of allowing people to have more of that normal, better life.

The Vluchtkerk and everything happening there is hopefully also part of the journey of allowing people to be welcome here.

06 December 2012

The view from my window today

The following was the view from my window at 8.45 this morning: the Oude Kerk covered in snow.

I'm not the only who enjoys this view, as you can see by these pictures below (from a few days ago at the same time):

The extra cat is the neighbour kitten. He comes and hangs out with my cat while his owners - the girls downstairs - are at school.

01 December 2012

Homemaking and learning from the Bible

Rachel Evans's book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, has been receiving a lot of criticism (see Peter Enns' review). I haven't read it yet, but when I get a chance to do so I hope to pick it up. I am fascinated by the books that people are reading, especially what's making news in Christian circles. More so, striving to follow the Bible faithfully - even so literally that it becomes absurd at times - necessarily affects one's understanding of God, the Bible and humans. And I look forward to hearing more of the insights that she discovered in the year.

A short excerpt of her book about homemaking can be found online: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/11/holy-homemaking-a-response-fro.html. Since being married, I've spent more time thinking about cleaning and have delighted in doing more cooking and more opportunities to extend hospitality. I thus really appreciated Evans's thoughts that she posted about homemaking, especially her own growing appreciation of serving God mindfully in the household chores. 

29 November 2012

Church or the academy?

During a conversation at SBL, a former professor of mine mentioned that we, as Reformed scholars, would eventually have to choose between serving the church or the academy. By that, I assume he means that one cannot please both academia and the church at the same time – whatever we write, one side will be frustrated or disappointed by the choices we make. However, I’m not sure I want to choose between church or the academy, although perhaps I have already unwittingly made my choice.

My choice to skip part of the sessions on Sunday morning to attend church in the neighbourhood illustrates my preference before church above academy. My time living in intentional community has only reaffirmed my desire to not allow my faith to be only something for my head. So I have definitely chosen church.

At the same time, I’m not interested in church that isn’t interested in listening to biblical scholarship. To ignore what’s happening in biblical scholarship is denying my Reformed heritage (this is despite the fact that, as a friend at this conference put it, there are a lot of people focused on a lot of obscure little details that I’m not at all interested in). How can we believe that God rains down good on both the wicked and righteous and then assume that other Christians (and non-Christians) are incapable of having good insights into linguistics, the biblical text, theology and culture?!? And since as a Reformed Christian I believe in God’s sovereignty and capability of working amongst all people in all things, how can I not use the gifts God’s given me to participate in developing that knowledge further? And then sharing that knowledge with the wider body of Christ (the church).

I, being typical of the generation in which I belong, want both. This conference has reminded me that I’m not the only one, which is pretty exciting. Now just to figure out how best to do that well (and finish my dissertation :) )

 Part of this has been cross-posted at brendasbiblioblog.wordpress.com.

28 November 2012

Free food everywhere I go

A friend of mine (Derek B) once accused me of being able to find free food wherever I went. At that time, I thought he was taking things way out of proportion. However, after being in Chicago for 4 days, I'd managed to find free food twice. So perhaps he had a point (the fact that I'm now once again picking up an entire garbage-bag worth of free bread every week only confirms his suspicions).

Ironically enough, none of the food in Chicago (besides a coffee I could have picked up at the women's lounge) was at the SBL conference. It wasn't until Sunday evening that I discovered how many receptions are held at the conference - and how easy/normal it was to crash/attend them - oh! My cheap dutch self bemoans missing out on some free food there!

So where did I find all the free food? At churches. The first was at a church downtown where there were leftovers from a Lutheran women's group that had met that day. There was tons of fruit, which was great for tiding me over until my late dinner. And the second was Thanksgiving dinner provided for and served by members and donors of the church.

As I'm currently not in a financial situation where I could ever claim that I need free food, it set me to thinking about the why and how of receiving food. This time, money had little to do with it. First, it would be a shame to let the leftovers go to waste, especially when we were all hungry. And, secondly, it would have been an insult for me not to accept the hospitality of the church's Thanksgiving meal (and it was good!). It helps me continue to ponder how food is a gift - both what I receive/take and what I can give.

27 November 2012

Advent begins on 27 november

Officially advent begins this coming Sunday - four Sundays before Christmas. But for me, advent begins today - because today is my Mom's birthday. Last year I was in Canada for Advent, visiting family. My mom's illness overshadowed that whole visit - and so my most recent memories of Advent and Christmas are filled with my mom becoming weaker and weaker and eventually passing away. Today, being her birthday, seems an appropriate time to enter into that season again - especially as it was on her birthday last year that we, her family, were finally starting to realize that something was very, very wrong.

As a way to honour Advent, I'm choosing to read the book, Letters to myself on Dying. The author, Mirth Vos, makes me think of my mother. She was a strong Christian from the CRC tradition, happily married with children (and grandchildren, too, I believe), looking forward to retiring and spending more time with her husband and everyone else. Except she was dying of cancer and wouldn't get to watch those she loved grow older. This book are her questions and thoughts and her coming to terms with dying. I expect my mother, if she had known she was dying, would have said a lot of the same things - and so I read this book to remember my mom's love of life and her struggle with having it end, as well as her love for God and for us.

As I wait for Christmas this year, I do it remembering the pain of loss and death. But I also do it in anticipation of the new life and hope that Christmas brings. Christ's coming takes away all pain and death! And Christ's having come to earth at Christmas means that even today there is new life and new hope - something I have already seen this past year as my family has gotten closer and discovered new sides of ourselves (for example, I don't think either my father or I have ever been so involved with babies before - they're a bit more exciting than we had both previously thought :))

26 November 2012

Sunday morning at the Society of Biblical Literature Confference

I've arrived back in Amsterdam and am starting to re-adjust to normal life, which hopefully means catching up not only posting on my dissertation but also blogging some of the events of the last few weeks.. 

The SBL conference was held from Saturday to Tuesday with sessions occurring all day on Sunday. Sunday morning church is a non-negotiable for me, so I had to figure out ahead of time what I'd be doing. The conference's church service at 7.30 a.m. was too early for me to make it, and so I googled and found an Episcopalian/Anglican church closeby, which seemed like the church where I'd feel most comfortable and able to meet God (I've become a bit too liturgical to fully appreciate Baptist or Pentecostal churches). I found the times of the services and got the exact address.

I'm not all that familiar with big cities in the United States, but apparently the conference centre (McCormick Place) is in a bit of a black ghetto. I asked the woman behind the information desk which exit I should use to get to 125 26th Street, and the first thing she asked me was why I wanted to go there!

I was early and bumped into a number of other visitors when I walked in (they were all black, which made me a bit nervous). We were directed to the church hall for the service, and we sat down together and I soon started to feel at home. Turned out that instead of the liturgical service I had expected, the liturgy was a sermon on Thanksgiving and our shared meal (communion) was Thanksgiving dinner. Slightly disappointing, but as the reason I go to church on Sunday morning is to be more able to meet God, I was hoping that I'd still bump into him in this strange setting.

And I did! I found myself in the midst of people striving to do church: to love one's neighbours and do justice. About a quarter of the attendees looked like they didn't have a regular home - they reminded me of the guys who come in to drink coffee at the community. And sitting at my table was someone named DJ - who'd been helped by the church when he was (unfairly) imprisoned (he was re-charged after the charges had been dropped!) for participating in the Nato-5 demonstrations. You can read more of his story online, including how the church reached out to help him: Nato protestor from LA charged and ordered to house arrest.

In the midst of a conference that seemed to focus a lot on my head, it was delightful to spend some time being reminded that my serving God faithfully has also a lot to do with my heart. My time living in the community in Amsterdam has only reaffirmed my desire to not allow my faith to be centered only in my head.

19 November 2012

a serendipitous moment

This afternoon during the SBL conference, I was walking along and saw a scholar I admired (Fischer) ahead of me. I hoped I'd catch up with him to speak to him, but wasn't sure exactly how to do that in a non-pushy way (even though I did truly want to express to him my appreciation for how he expresses himself so intelligently and very humbly at the same time, a combination unfortunately lacking in too many scholars). So when I saw him looking at maps not knowing where he was going, my offer to help became a natural way of starting a conversation.

I did get to express my appreciation of how he does scholarship (I'd like to be more like him when I grow up, to be honest) and he responded with words of faith, clearly linking his love for God with how he studies the biblical text. And then, being the gracious person he is, he asked about my work. And he offered me a slightly older article of his that he was carrying around. The article was on the Psalms - presented at the conference wher I first met Matthijs and whom I married two years ago today. I thanked him and expressed my appreciation for his unexpected anniversary gift.

It is wonderful to be here: I've had lots of chance of thinking about new things and getting new energy to work more on biblical scholarship, for which I'm thankful. But it is strange to celebrate my anniversary so far away from my husband. This serendipitous moment might it slightly less strange and reminded me once again of how much delight I have in being married to Matthijs.

17 November 2012

Finding my place in Chicago (at SBL)

I spent the afternoon attending a seminar on theological interpretation of the Bible. I'd love to do more to help further good biblical interpretation that takes seriously both the confessional nature of the Bible and current critical/academic scholarship on the Bible. Attending this seminar and hearing what others are doing is hopefully a step towards doing more of that.

Before I walked into the Seminar I saw a notice that there was a Taizé service in the church at 6 that evening. Perfect timing, I thought – something to do between the afternoon service and my late dinner plans. And perhaps it would be a nice change from the very intellectually focused afternoon.

It was a strange contrast between the two. The seminar was attended by about a hundred people, almost entirely composed of fairly well-to-do white males. The Taizé seminar was about 10 people, mostly females of which at least one was homeless. The seminar was well organized; the service somewhat haphazard. Yet, the singing in the Taizé service, despite the seminar being full of theologians and pastors, felt significantly better. Furthermore, I was robustly welcomed and thanked for my presence at the service; people were appreciative of me at the seminar, but I wonder how much of that was related to the potential diversity I represented?

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I felt more immediately at home in the Taizé service than I did in the biblical seminar. Life in Amsterdam has obviously changed me – living in a Christian community and hanging out with homeless people regularly probably does have an effect on a person. Yet, I also long to feel at home and have a voice in doing theological interpretation well: theological interpretation that has consequences for both the homeless and the ones who might be accused of being too impressed by their own thinking.

08 November 2012

On Vacation

Once again I'm in Canada visiting family and friends. This is the official baby visit - I had 4 new babies to meet! Thankfully everything has been going well with them, and it's been delightful to meet all these little people. And Matthijs and I have gotten to see some different places: Toronto downtown, Owen Sound, St. Jacob's markets (today), so that's also been really fun.

Vacation hasn't been so great for the dissertation, though (nor was getting ready for leaving all that great for it), as you can see by the lack of updates on it. However, the end of this trip will hopefully change that, as I'll be going to the Society of Biblical Literature Conference in Chicago. I'm mostly looking forward to that (the thousands of people part is the part I'm not looking forward to), especially as I get to meet others interested in linguistics and the Hebrew language!

26 October 2012

Losing a cell phone, losing perspective

I recently wrote an article for the catapult magazine issue on "first world problems." I've included parts of it here:

"As I write this, I’ve misplaced my cell phone. Again. And I’m super annoyed about it even though I know it’s ridiculous to be in a bad mood on account of a stupid phone and my absent-mindedness. It’s even more ridiculous because I’m fairly certain it’s not entirely lost, just inaccessible. But it still doesn’t change my being annoyed.

My annoyance is disproportionate to the consequences of it actually being lost... but recognizing that it’s silly to be annoyed about a cell phone doesn’t make my feeling go away. I don’t know how to worry about the big things — having enough food to eat, being able to get an education, personal safety, religious freedom, and so on — as these are all things I have always been able to take for granted. Instead, I am overwhelmed about my inability to do much to help those in places where such worries are constant and real. For me, the pressures and worries are different: productivity, availability, self-image and usefulness are just some of the things that have become a central focus of life. A lost phone, simple problem that it might be, can be seen as part of that bigger picture. Being frustrated with myself or sensing that my loss lets others down are real feelings, regardless of whether this actually reflects reality, and these feelings ought to be recognized and honored...."

The rest of the article can be found at http://www.catapultmagazine.com/first-world-problems/article/losing-a-cell-phone-losing-perspective. I also recommend follwing the links to the other articles. Shawn talks about inner-cities and hospitality in other cultures, both topics I find important. And Deb is an old friend of mine - her article also discusses the challenge of first world assumptions and expresses well the real difficulties of privilege.

update: another article that expresses well the challenges of first world problems is: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/11/the-problem-with-firstworldpro.html 

23 October 2012

Progress on my dissertation

I have been working on my dissertation for a number of years now. It's been more than 4 years since I began analyzing the book of Ezekiel and thus slightly more than 3 years since I changed my dissertation topic to the structure of various chapters in Ezekiel. There has certainly been progress since I began, but it feels like it's going so very slow.

Not being done after 3 years of official work on a dissertation is normal. However, I started the dissertation project when I moved to the Netherlands - and that was 6 years ago. Although a lot has happened since then (language learning, writing two master's theses, teaching, working off and on to make ends meet, some publications, getting married, my mom passing away, moving (4? times), involvement in community), 6 years is a long time. And people rightly ask: so when are you going to be done? (I also wonder when I'm ever going to be done). 

I honestly don't know when I'm going to get done, and I've given up on setting a tentative date - as that gave more stress than motivation. When people ask, I've decided to say how far I am - and describe how long the process takes even when you've got a good draft (lots of checks by various people and editing happen before it gets approved - and only after several sets of approvals can there be a date set for the dissertation defense).

I also like being able to say how far I am - because then I can actually see and feel that I have made progress on this seemingly neverending project of mine. And I've included the progress goal on the side of my blog so that I can update it (at least once weekly!) so that I can share with others the changes/movement- and, most importantly, delight in the fact that there has been progress.

The final goal is about 200 well-written pages (with approval of my supervisor and co-supervisor). 150 pages, of which 30 are well-written and 50 decent, is definitely progress towards meeting that goal.

15 October 2012

The organ in the Oude Kerk (old church)

This past weekend, I had the privilege of actually playing the organ in the Oude Kerk (Old Church). Well, playing might be exaggerating, even if I did manage to touch almost every single note on the organ. And my hitting all those keys didn't actually sound all that great, so what exactly was I doing?!?

I was helping tune the organ. While the professional organ tuner is working, somebody has to hit the keys on the organ so he can adjust the pipes to tune it. I was given a sheet with notes that reflected the order of the pipes. To give you some idea of the order, you start in the bass line at g and descend down to d# to b to a and then ascend to c# (an octave below middle c) to f to a; in the treble line you begin with a high a (almost two octaves above middle c) and descend to f to c# to a to f to c# (on middle c) and so on.

I would hold each note until I was told to go the next one. The pipes for the lowest row on the organ are actually behind the organ bench, so I got to see the tuning there while it was happening. These pipes have a small metal pipe/stick at the top, which can be adjusted higher or lower thus changing the sound. So as I would play the note, the person tuning the organ would tap or pull on the metal piece and the sound of the note would change. It was fascinating to watch and be a part of.

Helping tune a pipe organ is just another one of those random experiences of life here in Amsterdam that I don't think I could ever have imagined doing. These last few years of living here have brought lots of fascinating experiences into my life, though, so I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised, eh?

14 October 2012

Some effects of being comfortable with another

This past week, I read an article in the local newspaper (Het Parool) about research done on how emotions are interpreted from somebody whose face is completely covered except for the eyes. People were asked to look at images of women whose faces were covered by a headscarf + veil and women whose faces were fully covered by a scarf and hat. Despite the fact that the same amount of face/eyes could be seen with the two different types of head coverings, fear and anger - negative emotions - were identified most frequently with those with the very traditional Islamic headcoverings. This suggests that people's discomfort with this type of head covering very much influences how they perceive others.

The idea of how one's comfort with another affects perception was a fascinating thought, and one that deserved pondering. And more than simply pondering whether or not I felt comfortable with women fully veiled (although I do wonder whether my being female, like those who are veiled, makes me feel more comfortable in the presence of such a female).

Strangely enough, the next time being comfortable with one another came up was during a discussion of ecumenicalism. Someone mentoned a sense of discomfort with a British journalist who had come to learn more about the community here - there was a sense of distrust and even feelings of having been manipulated. Havng met the journalist myself, I was somewhat surprised, as I had had none of that reaction. But I had forgotten that I am a native English speaker and would thus be immediately somewhat comfortable with the way a Brit communicates.

As we continued the discussion on ecumenicalism, it became obvious to me that a certain level of comfort with another person's Christian tradition was helpful for being able to appreciate elements in it. Otherwise, a person will become defensive and focus on defending his/her own practices, beliefs, and traditions. Living together in community, as we do here, helps develop that sense of comfort with each other - church traditions gain faces: people with whom I live and work and pray. And as a I learn to be surprised by and appreciative of another as individual, I have come to recognize that I can also be challenged and encouraged by his/her faith and (church) tradition.

04 October 2012

World Animal Day (Dierendag)

October 4 is officially "World Animal Day." I was completely unaware of this day before I moved to the Netherlands, but I've since adapted to the fact that dierendag (animal day) is celebrated far and wide. It usually involves giving your pet an extra treat, but letting it be blessed by a priest is also a possibility (I did actually see pictures of this recently on Facebook). If I'm not mistaken, the origins of the day are actually Christian, since today is the official day of remembrance for Saint Francis, who supposedly preached to the birds (and was a great lover and respecter of animals).

So, in honour of dierendag, here are a few recent pictures of Jerry.

We're still working on the distinction between my plants and Jerry's plant, as you can see.

02 October 2012

Searching for healthy perspectives on marriage and family

Awhile ago, it seemed like I was bumping into articles about marriage and family all over (i.e., in my feedreader and articles 'shared' via Facebook). 

Last spring, I wrote about how I generally disagree with the theory that the first year of marriage has to be hard.Over on Her.meneutics, there's a good article that echoes my thoughts about how every stage of marriage can and is good, even while it's healthy not to romanticize the challenge of learning how to love someone well. I especially appreciated the title: Just you wait - the idea that those "in the know" (people who have been married for awhile) should warn you only about the challenges of marriage without also sharing the wonders of it.

A good balance to the frustration of making marriage too hard is the problem of making marriage and family too much of an ideal. Taking pastoral counselling courses at Seminary had prepared me for the fact that marriage would have its challenges - and so when I got married that made me more able to deal with the hard things and more able to delight in the great things. Yet, nothing has really helped me handle how many Christians make family and marriage to be a type of unspoken ultimate goal for every Christian women. Two articles that I read address this really well: http://loturner.com/get-married-this-year-and-other-lies/ and http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/28/worshiping-at-the-altar-of-family/.

Finding a good perspective on marriage and family, despite all the good Christians who are married, can often be hard. As the articles point out, there just seems to be so many ways that those of us who are married fall into the trap of thinking that we know what's best - either for other marrieds or non-marrieds :(

30 September 2012

Why you really need to wash your fruit

I've been taught that you should wash your fruit (and vegetables) before eating them. This is partially to get rid of germs but more so to get rid of any of the gunk (chemicals and pesticides and so on) that's used to protect the apples from insects.

The other day I discovered still another reason for washing the fruit before eating it: the fact that the stem is lovely to chew on (at least, according to the four-legged-creature that lives with us).


I think, besides washing the fruit, we'll also be keeping apples in the fridge from now on.

29 September 2012

Talking to the women behind the windows

Another volunteer from the Vrouwenpastoraat (women's pastoral care) of the Salvation Army recently wrote a short article about talking to the women behind the windows. I really appreciate how she captures the desire we have to honour and respect these women and show God's love for them.

For those of you who read Dutch, I encourage you to go to the PKN Amstelveen website and read her article about Ouwehoeren over God.

The following is an English translation:
"Shooting the breeze about God"

How do you share with another the liberating message of the Bible? If there was an obvious answer to this, all the Protestant churches in Amstelveen Buitenveldert would have already applied it. Yet, one thing is certain: you can only share the gospel with someone after you've managed to come in contact with him or her. Sometimes that comes in unexpected ways, as I experienced about a year ago.

Three times a month I do volunteer work for the Salvation Army, bringing coffee and tea to the window prostitutes in the red light district in Amsterdam. Normally we go out in pairs with our baskets (as Major Bosshardt did years ago), and we try to have some kind of contact with every prostitute on our route. Often it is no more than eye contact, but even that can mean a lot. Through changes in facial expression or posture you can see what it means for them to be seen not as merchandise or an attraction, but as a fellow human being.

Every once in awhile, I have walked the route alone. On one of those nights I came inside a prostitute's window, and she asked me, completely out of the blue, "What would God think of me, that I am doing this?" It was so unexpected that, knowing she was Hispanic, I asked, just to be sure: "Dios? '. "Si Dios." Those two seconds respite gave me the chance to offer a quick prayer: God 'elp, what do I say?" Because what answer can you give to this question from a woman who is the grandma of a little boy less than a year old and who financially supports the family of her unemployed son in Spain throught what she earns by selling her body? "God knows you.", I heard myself say. Nothing more, but it was enough. She tasted the words and repeated them as if they needed careful chewing: God knows me. Slowly she began to nod her head and the tension from her body fell away. It was apparently a word of liberation.Her situation had not changed. She still had to earn money through meeting the desires of a variety of men. Her son was still unemployed. But God knew her in her situation with her past and the choices that she had made, and it made a world of difference. That evening I cycled home with gratitude because God had used me to pass on part of his liberating message.

18 September 2012

Sick :(

Matthijs is sick. He had 2 wisdom teeth pulled last week and is not doing well. The first day or two went fine (we even put a piano together the day after he got them pulled!), but then his face started to swell even more and he just feels lousy. He's been taking pain medication, ibuprofen to lower/stop fever, and sleeping extra - but it's not helping enough. Blech.

Neither Matthijs or I are sick very often. We're not very good at it, to be honest (Matthijs can verify how much I complained and whined when I had a broken foot last year!). I can see how Matthijs is frustrated that he's not better yet, but also how he's restless because he wants to be doing more and have more interest in the world around him. But he can't do anything more to make himself better than what he's already now doing, which is also frustrating. Maybe later today or tomorrow, we'll call the hospital again, but until then it's just a matter of waiting.

And I can't make him better. I can be patient, take care of more chores, make dumb jokes about him looking like a chipmunk (although laughing is sometimes painful, so too much humour is also not a good thing), be around more often (or less if that's also better), and so on. But I still wish I could do more, and I can only imagine that those dealing with much more serious illnesses must feel that desire even more strongly.

I do take comfort, though, in the realization that even though being sick is lousy, it is made slightly less lousy by having others around who care about you (friends, family and the community). And honestly, it's really nice to be married when you're sick. Although it's even nicer when you're not sick :)

11 September 2012

Start week

And the new season has once again begun at Oudezijds 100. This is now the sixth time that I've experienced this, and I've come to the conclusion that start week is not my favourite time of the year.

That's not to say that I'm not happy to see the people coming back from vacation. Even better, the house is once again full of life, especially the chapel and Kajuit (our common living room). And new people have arrived, including the 2 in-house university-age full-time volunteers who help with tons of big and little things around the house. And I like most of the activities that we do, including the upcoming Community weekend.

But.... it's a bit of a shock to the system. Too much too soon. The lazy feeling of summer, the openness of everyone's agendas, the comraderie of being one of the few who have come to the chapel, the Kajuit and/or dinner have instantly disappeared. And they've been replaced: Not by something bad, just something different. I need some time to adjust.

Perhaps next year I'll do better in planning a distraction for that week (or start on my community to-do list a bit earlier!) And the shock and adjustment will be a bit less.

At the same time, I am thankful that we do, to some degree, have a week built in for adjusting to being back together and working out schedules and planning. That makes the adjustment a bit easier. However, I'm more thankful that the first week is over and that I've once again remembered the wonder I have of being part of such a fascinating, albeit busy, community.

03 September 2012

Prayer and Coincidences

Reading Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and talking about prayer within the community have had me once again thinking more about prayer: mostly how I'd like to pray more and with more faith.

Prayer is, for most of us, somewhat unknown territory. This is despite the fact that to be a Christian means that you pray. It's simply that most of us aren't entirely certain what happens when we pray: how does it fit with God's will? can/does God change? what effect does it actually have?

And I don't know the answers to those questions. I pray simply because the Bible says we should pray. And that's enough for me - that and I don't know how not to talk to God about everything that's going on in my life (and it's a lot more pleasant than talking to myself!).

And I also know that prayer changes things. There's a reason that when I lose things, within five minutes of searching I'll have prayed. And usually just after I'll have prayed, I find it again - which makes it easier to believe in the effectiveness of prayer.

And this weekend, I saw the effectiveness of praying for lost things again: even when the lost thing was not mine, and it was lost because someone else had moved it. On Saturday morning, my neighbour asked me if I knew anything about her bike - she was heading out with the kids and it wasn't downstairs and the door was open. Everything thus pointed to it having been stolen. I had no idea what to do - so I prayed that it had only been borrowed and that it would once again be found. Shortly after lunch, my neighbour called me - she was walking to the train station and on the other side of the road, she had seen and found her bike: could I come and guard it while she went home to pick up her extra bike key? Yes!!

Coincidence? maybe. But I have been reminded again that these kind of crazy coincidences tend to happen more often when we pray. And that's inspiration enough to want to pray more.

23 August 2012

Returning to the familiar, even if it isn't best.

In thinking and reading about prostitution in the last while, I've been wondering about those who stay in and/or return to prostitution when it seems like leaving would be better.

I will admit to being biased about prostitution: from a Christian perspective, it's not how God intended sex and relationships to be (adultery, though, is worse - see Proverbs 6:26 and Klaas Spronk's article about Rahab). Besides this, I think it's very demanding work - both physically and emotionally. It's also a job where one receives limited respect, there's more competition than friendships with colleagues, it is not necessarily well-paid (especially if there's pressure to hand over one's earnings), and it can be quite dangerous. It is, in my opinion, not the ideal job for anyone. At the same time, because of how hard it is, I admire the women who I meet who seem to do their job well and remain relatively emotionally healthy. Yet, because of how hard it is, I admit to finding it somewhat difficult to understand why everyone is not trying to leave and take advantage of the programs offered by Scarlet Cord and Frits Rouvoet's Blood'n'fire.

There are two situations that I especially don't understand.
- The first, and simplest, reagrds those that barely make enough money to pay for the rent of the windows. As many of the window working behind the windows will tell you, business has been bad - the crisis has hit the middle class and that is who most of their customers are. My question then is, why aren't these women more obviously looking for another way to eke out a living - with perhaps not less hours, but at least less stressful and difficult hours?
- The second are those who have been victims of human trafficking (and/or pimps and loverboys). After they have been rescued (or at least separated) from the one who was forcing them to work in prostitution (or at least took all their earnings), they often return to working in prostitution (for themselves now, though). One example of this is one of the Fokkens twins who was pushed into prostitution by her boyfriend and then continued (with her twin sister) later on her own.

Perhaps the answer is simply that what we know is often the easiest - it is easier to return to what is familiar, even if it's not necessarily best. It is obviously complicated, and other thoughts are welcome on this. It is also something that saddens me, especially the second situation that I named above.

18 August 2012

Recommended reading over prostitution: Achter het raam by Patricia Perquin

Of all the books I've read, probably the most accessible and realistic book that I've read thus far is that of Patricia Perquin (Achter het raam - currently available only in Dutch). Several of the more academic studies that I've read, especially those incorporating the words of prostitutes and clients, probably provide more accurate accounts that lack the necessary flourishing of a novel and the bias of a story written by one person. Other books also capture better the problems of human trafficking (recommended is De Fatale Fuik) or loverboys/pimps. Nonetheless, if you were only to read one book about prostitution and the Red Light District, I'd recommend this one (supplementing it by reading the newspaper and/or watching news programmes).

This book comes after a series of articles in Het Parool written by Patricia, someone who claimed to work several years as a prostitute in the Red Light District. It's thus written from an insider's perspective. Based on my conversations with the women working and what I've read about prostitution, it seems to provide a fairly balanced picture. Not all prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, nor under the influence of loverboys or pimps. Neither is the work solely glamorous, as one might conclude from the recent book, Ouwehoeren. Instead, for many women, prostitution is something in between or, perhaps, another category completely.

The book does a good job in raising good questions and it especially gives a good picture of how emotionally difficult the work can be - from a lack of respect given to those working behind the windows to the complicated relationships with the other women to the demands on her person. It details a bit of the actual work that she does but she doesn't let that overwhelm the book - partly because she doesn't sensationalize it. And she raises questions about what might not be good about how we respond to the work she does: how helpful are the umpteen organisations offering help? how easy is it to leave the work? should the work not be more regulated (i.e., should someone who can speak neither English nor Dutch be allowed to work in the Red Light District? What receipts can actually be claimed for taxes? Should there be a maximum hours per week that someone can work in prostitution and how do you regulate that?). I know a number of others who have now read the book, and I look forward to talking more about it and the questions it raises.

Because Patricia remains anonymous and because her words correspond well with the 1012 project to clean up the Wallen, this leads to suspicious about how true her story really is. The fact that she never mentions the annoyance of tourists, one of the most common complaints of all the women, also raises questions about her story. One fascinating reaction to her book is found on the blog, "the experiences of a prostitute." (before you click on the link, you should be warned that the author writes in Dutch and sometimes uses crass language). The writer of the blog, another person claiming to be a prostitute also writing anonymously, is rather sceptical of Patricia and negative about what she has written. Yet, she also has some things to say about prostitution that I think ought to be heard. The following is a translation of a few sentences middle in the blog entry linked to above:

"Prostitutes are often depicted as murder victims in crime shows and books. Not surprising, as many people consider prostitutes not to be real people. We are seen as inferior, and people who want to harm others find it easier to do that to prostitutes. That is a problem and a danger.... We are not actually outlaws, but we are more vulnerable because many people believe that we are. And thus we must learn to stand up for ourselves..."

this blog entry has been cross-posted on the blog: the Kronemeijers' recent reading

17 August 2012

Bike ride to Zandvoort

Before heading out on our long weekend away, I took a day off to go biking with a friend. I've always wanted to bike to Zandvoort, a village on the North Sea about 35 km away from Amsterdam, so that's what we did.

We started in the Westerpark and headed out towards Haarlem, following the paths that seemed to be as close as possible to nature. Halfway to Haarlem, we came to Halfweg, which actually means "half-way." The following is a picture of a church (since no trip for me is complete without checking out the local churches :))

The next stop was Spaarndam. Looking back on the trip, I tink it was Spaarndam that was the most interesting. The town itself has a picturesque feel to it, as you can sense by this picture.
But also delightful was the bike ride from Spaarndam towards to Haarlem, as there's an old fort along the way.

Haarlem is also a wonderful city to visit, but this time we just biked through and did our best not to get lost. By the time we knew we had the cut-off to Zandvoort and we were heading in the right direction, we had practically bumped into Overveen. In the train, Overveen is the "almost there" stop - the one right before Zandvoort. I've walked from Overveen train station to the sea before, so I knew it couldn't be much longer still.

Except I forgot that dunes are hilly. Not surprising, since the Netherlands is notoriously flat. Flat, except for the dunes (which we biked up and down) and also Berg en Dal, where we had to walk up a significantly steep incline for 15 minutes in order to get to our hotel during our vacation.

The following gives an idea of the dunes. These were taken in different directions from the lookout point.

It was thus actually a rather disappointing lookout place, although it was a good place to stop and drink some more water. We couldn't have asked for more perfect weather, although a bit cloudier would have been good, too.

We celebrated our arrival in Zandvoort with one last steep incline on the bike and then having apple pie with cappucino and taking a walk by the sea.

Follow this link (the same as the one on Facebook) to see the map of our trip: http://soc.li/2vAZctb 

15 August 2012

Reading about prostitution

In the hope of understanding my neighbours and this neighbourhood better, I have read quite a lot related to human trafficking and prostitution. Through what I've posted previously on this blog that might have already been obvious, but it seemed good to acknowledge that. 

It seems appropriate then to share what I've learned with others, partly because knowledge is for sharing and partly because putting what I've read down in words helps me process things. And processing is necessary, as the topic of prostitution can often be overwhelming. What is most overwhelming is how complicated it is and, other than my (Christian) belief that prostitution is not part of God's ideal world, very little else is straightforward or clear when it comes to prostitution here in the Red Light District. But it can not be ignored, and I hope that my thoughts might be a way for me to show respect and care to the women working here

The blog entries with regard to prostitution and/or the Red Light District will be labelled with "prostitution" and/or "de wallen." Click on the link(s) to see more of what they are. More books about prostitution, primarily studies written in English that I read a number of years ago, can be found on brendahey2.blogspot.com under the label "prostitution lit."

13 August 2012

A Prostitute does her work with pleasure?!?

It's been almost a year now since I started volunteering again with the Salvation Army's vrouwenpastoraat (pastoral care to women). It's something I am thankful I can do, as the women are my neighbours, and I want to be able to reach out to them and show them love and respect - an attitude too often lacking amongst many of the tourists and visitors to the Red Light District.

Joan van't Hof, who has a lead role in the work of the women's pastoral care, recently posted a short article on wij about this. For those of you who read dutch, I encourage you to follow the link. But for those of you who only speak English, the following is the translation:

A Prostitute does her work with pleasure

My initial reaction to this statement was: If that were true, then the Vrouwenpastoraat (Women's pastoral care) of the Salvation Army would hardly need to exist. How did it start? After the Second World War 'Major' Bosshardt began caring for this special group: care that grew into an extensive social and spiritual work that has now become the Goodwill Centre Amsterdam and where more than a thousand people work. Since January 2007, I have been able to participate in the work as a volunteer.

Ever since it began, the Salvation Army has been active in visiting the prostitutes that work in the Red Light District. The visits were initially limited to once per week. Now there are more than twenty volunteers who ensure that visits are made three times per week to the prostitutes working in the Red Light District. In addition, on Thursday those working in the area of the Spui and Singel are visited. We also provide Dutch language lessons so that it is easier to find a job in the Netherlands, as well as making it easier to communicate with Dutch people.

Every week we reach out to three to four hundred prostitutes. The contact itself is very diverse. It ranges from a short raising of a hand to sometimes a conversation of an hour or more. On account of our regular presence and the lack of conditions for how we approach "our" girls, we have built up trust with many, if not most, of those whom we visit. If we are asked to talk about our beliefs and matters of faith, we gladly share more about that. On our own, we do not bring up this topic, recognizing that many are believers.

Sometimes the Red Light District is populated by hordes of tourists and spectators, who march through the alleys shouting, banging on the windows, and calling out to the women (for example, "Hey, grandma," when they see a prostitute who is "already" thirty years old). Or there are couples walking hand in hand through the alleys, kissing each other in front of a window, and staring disapprovingly at the prostitutes. In the last while, a girl next to our building has occasionally donned a kind of police uniform, in the hope of attracting (certain) men. Last Thursday, there stood a group of people before her window laughing together at her. Such an attitude disgusts me: no respect for the women who, without exception, always respond to us with respect and love.

During our visits, family situations often comes up. The women talk about their (grand) children and favourite nephew/niece. And the sun breaks through completely whenever we ask whether they might have photos. With barely concealed pride, the little children and other relatives are always shown. At such moments, we recognize our common humanity. A fellow human being who is no different than us. The only difference is where and how one's life began. Coming to know the latter can cause your heart to break when you realize how many of the girls have been forced into this profession. The force can be a lack of another means of livelihood and therefore, often at wit's end, "choosing" to work here in the prostitution, or the force can be having been recruited by a human trafficker and made to do thise work under the most horrible of threats (not infrequently followed through). No, this type of work is not something you do because it is respected or because the work is so enjoyable.

article re-posted with permission from the author.

12 August 2012

House guest

Normally when we have house guests, my cat disappears. He's only just now starting not to hide and he'll actually let visitors touch/pet him. However, rarely does he sit in his usual place - in the middle of the room divider (where we've now made a place available for our "living art").

But the last few weeks, we've had a house guest and Jerry's been quite social. Fortunately, our guest has actually been that of our neighbours downstairs - several weeks is a bit long for even the best of guests. However, as our guest fits through the "cat door," he can visit whenever he can escape into the hallway (and thus frequently). Except for his nasty habit of going directly to the food dish whenever he comes in (he's on a diet so considers himself always underfed) and his shedding orange hair everywhere, he's been a great guest - and wonderful entertainment for Jerry. Hopefully, my downstairs neighbour will get a kitten soon and Jerry can always have a friend in house.

As the photos indicate they get along just like brothers :)

11 August 2012

A visit to the second-hand bookstore (guest post by Matthijs)

One of the great things about living in central Amsterdam is the proximity of numerous good bookstores. My favourite is the huge second-hand bookstore “de Slegte”, which often lives up to its name – ‘the bad’, presumably the founder’s name – by costing me money. The other day, though, it brought some other surprises besides only books: I ran, separately, into two men I’d studied Theology with in the 1990s. One, a priest for at least ten years, I met in the Theology section, treasuring a volume by Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar about Origen of Alexandria (3rd century). The other would probably not even want to go near the Theology section, since he broke off his studies after far too many years of it, threw himself into the gay scene and became a Buddhist. Although we had been close friends, we both had gone separate ways and had lost touch for a long time. 

I was very happy to meet my friend and we’ll be sure to get together in the future. It’s amazing how easily one picks up a familiar tone in conversation with an old friend. Nevertheless, I also found out how separate our trajectories were when he asked about my marriage. Was I married to a man or to a woman?

[Editorial note – at this moment my delightful wife inserted herself between myself and the computer and glanced with a critical eye over the creative process, while beguiling me with her feminine charms, as Calvin’s friend Hobbes once eloquently put it.] 

They were strange meetings, one after the other. Two old friends, two very different trajectories, with myself in the middle. I have never seriously considered either the Catholic priesthood or a homosexual lifestyle. Obviously, when I was single the priesthood was always a possible life choice, with some attractions, practical and spiritual. Conversely, the gay life never had any appeal to me (Brenda and I usually flee the city during the Gay Pride festival), but I suppose I could theoretically have become ‘secular’ as so many people have.

I used to feel a bit sad to be excluded from more or less developed career and/or lifestyle paths, be they in the Church or elsewhere. Even now, as a married couple, our lifestyle and convictions are still uncommon. But it is clear that this life is where I belong – and, thankfully, it still allows for visits to second-hand bookstores and unexpected encounters. Under the guidance of God whose designs we cannot see, but only feel along the way, step by step.

09 August 2012

Home again - back in the middle of all the craziness

My best quote from our trip was probably said after we got home. We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal Station at around five in the evening on Sunday. It was busy - full of tourists and visitors - people arriving and searching where they would go, people rushing to catch trains, and everybody in between. What a difference from the peaceful bike ride through the  polder that we'd just had a couple of hours before!

We came home, ate supper, tried out our new boardgame (an extension to Ticket-to-Ride), and finally went to bed. At no time did the noise from outside of the window really disappear. Lying in bed, we joked about the contrast between our home on an Amsterdam canal and the quietness of the hotel we'd just visited in the countryside. Acch, home again amidst all the crazies. But, as I pointed out, at least they're our crazies.

After all, we're in the middle of our neighbours: whether it be the people in this house that we know, the new neighbours next door, the women that I visit who work behind the windows, or the homeless who stop by for coffee. And even if I groan when I think of tourists in general, it's good to be home again amidst neighbours and people we care about, no matter how crazy they might be!

08 August 2012

the multi-functionality of a partner

Last week, Matthijs and I headed out on vacation for a few days (a visit to a friend in Munster, an exhibition in Dusseldorf, rest and relaxation in Nijmegen [Berg en Dal]). It was lovely - we saw a lot, got to walk and bike around tons, and generally enjoyed spending time with each other - and perhaps there will even be photos here (or on Facebook) in the near future.

Matthijs wins for having the best line of the vacation. As I was placing my tickets in his shirt pocket, he made a wry comment about how multi-functional partners can be. And I agreed with him completely (and for the rest of the trip continued to place tickets in his pocket). Considering how much Matthijs and I delight in each other's company in so many different ways, the concept of multi-functional captures that ideal well. However, "pack-horse" is probably not a function I should emphasize too much, otherwise I'll have to carry more of the luggage on our next trip!

22 July 2012

Seeing the biblical text anew

This week the International Society of Biblical Literature is happening here in Amsterdam, and I am surrounded by biblical scholars and interacting with the biblical text. And it is delightful - not simply because I know some really great biblical scholars, but also because I love being given the opportunity to see the text anew.

One example for seeing the text anew is the example of a Jewish photographer who took pictures of people today and connected them to the biblical story. Ruth and Noami are depicted as picking up the vegetables discarded from a market - picking up the garbage left behind on market day. The speaker (Athalya Brenner) raised the possibility that many of us have a rather overromanticized view of Ruth gleaning the fields - and this picking up garbage challenges that.

A link to the photos themselves, can be found here: http://www.adines.com/content/wexner_center_for_the_arts_brochure.htm

Or what about the spies in Joshua 2 who stay overnight at a prostitute? Someone asked me tonight why they stayed there. I found it a strange question - and then, I thought, wait a minute, I live in the Red Light District - what is the only reason I know that men sleep over by a prostitute!?! So how does one reconcile that with the biblical text (and why did that connection never occur to me before)? The Bible never suggests anything happens with Rahab, but it also doesn't deny anything either.

Simply reading well and asking questions raises new dimensions in the text. It's amazing to be able to work on a text where one can continue to learn so much about it and see new things even after years of study!

12 July 2012

So why is the house messier when Matthijs is gone?!?

Last week when Matthijs was gone the house was more often messier than normal - and messier longer than normal. It was something that somewhat puzzled me.

It's not that Matthijs is a messy person - he's not, for which I am thankful. But he does tend to leave things lying around (different things than me), and he's been so busy lately that helping with cleaning up around the house has been something I've done more often than him. So when he is around, I notice that several times a day, I clean up around the house.

So considering there's one less person in the house to leave things lying around, how can the house become messier? Do I simply become messier when Matthijs is gone?!?

I think that the answer is yes, I do become messier. Or I pick up less. If cleaning is about love and hospitality, then when I'm alone and not planning on having guests, I don't mind my own messiness. It doesn't matter to me so much if I leave the dishes for 2 days or I leave my shoes lying around or the newspapers all over the table. After all, I know that they won't be in any one's way.

I clean enough up at least every other day, but otherwise, it's a small disaster area without Matthijs here (so stay away!). Certainly, I take care of the cat and clean his box (we're both happier when it's clean!), and food gets put away so that it doesn't go bad, but the hospitality I show myself is less that of a clean house and more to allow me to clean up later and continue now with life. When there's someone else around, it doesn't feel fair to assume I know what won't annoy them, so I feel that things ought to be neater, and sooner. That seems the best way to show love and hospitality; yet, not complaining about or being annoyed with messiness and disorder could also be a way to show love and hospitality, so my messiness of the past week gives me something to think about as I strive for cleanliness and order.

10 July 2012

Cleaning: an act of love and hospitality

Cleaning tends to be known as women's work. Men are often considered to be messy creatures: they tend to make mess, they don't see the mess that's present, and they don't help with cleaning it up. Stating things that way makes for interesting conversations, as women's work seems to put women down and nowadays, especially here in the Netherlands, men often do quite a bit to help out at home.

I had once such conversation here in the community not so long ago. What fascinated me wasn't the normal sexism related to cleaning and cleanliness, but the fact that few people value cleaning. We all want things to be clean, but cleaning itself is considered an annoying chore that somebody has to do. Such a dismissal of cleaning seemed wrong.

Like most people, I get annoyed with how much time cleaning takes; yet, I take joy in being able to create order where there once wasn't order. There's something delightful in the fact that within so short a time a large pile of dishes can be put back away, almost all the cat hair can be vaccuumed away, and most everything can be picked up and returned to its place. When sometimes it feels like that what I do has no significant, obvious results (what is 1 page of writing or some editing when the project takes 4 years!?!), being able to do something physical and make the world around me more ordered and welcoming gives a small sense of accomplishment and feels good. And when at times my life feels horribly disordered, being able to create order in the space around me makes me more peaceful and hopeful about the rest of the disorder.

Cleaning is also a small way of being able to show love and hospitality to those who share the space with me. Matthijs is the one who benefits the most from this, and when he's gone long days then I end up doing most of the cleaning, cooking, and organizing. For me, it is a simple way of showing love and care. Yet, it also expands outside of that: a clean house makes it easier to invite others in to share the space or to share a meal - not because I have the expectation that houses should be super clean before people get invited in, but I do believe that a living space should help you be able to live better - having to always move things to sit down or see dirty dishes or trip over shoes or hunt for lost things seems to hinder that, both for me and for any potential visitors. Of course, everyone has different things that annoy them - so I guess it's good that, even if I do clean most of the house, Matthijs still makes sure everything gets dusted!

07 July 2012


Over the years, I've discovered that the value given to being busy annoys me. It's not that I'm never busy, and I have always more than enough things that I can and ought to do! It's simply that there seems to be an assumption that being busy (or always doing something) is good. As a Christian I question this, partially because of my belief that Sunday is God's good gift to us to stop and rest (i.e., an invitation and command not to be busy) and partially because busy all the time often leaves little time for reflection, prayer and attention to others - all things which Christians are called to do.

In the last week, I have read and heard more about the messiness of busy. Hence these short reflections of mine. I wonder if I have more to say, but I think I'd like to spend more time being productive and not busy before I do that. Instead, I will leave you with the reflections I've seen this week and do some reflecting of my own as I cook dinner.

Taken from the * culture is not optional daily asterisk (27 June)
"From the moment we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night, we race from place to place and from one obligation to the next.... When we submit to this sort of schedule we are consenting to cultural patterns long in the making, patterns that have become so ingrained that we accept them as normal and thus beyond question or critique. But is it normal to think that our pace of life should be one that leads to exhaustion, hypertension, anxiety, boredom, and despair?" Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath

Tim Kreider's article, "The 'Busy' Trap" has been linked to many times this past week: not surprising, as it is insightful and funny (notice his description of how really busy do feel). It's also something that I generally agree with - after all, as Christians, we are both to glorify God and enjoy him, which is a call to a healthy balance of activity and rest. The following is a short introduction.
"If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence....

05 July 2012

Jerry, my knight in shining armor.

Very early this morning, I was woken up by a mosquito. My arms were itchy, and there was this stupid buzzing around my head.

So I got up and put some water on my arms. Then I crawled back in bed and covered myself as much I could with the sheet. At least I wouldn't get bitten anymore. But it was too warm, and the buzzing wouldn't go away. And I couldn't seem to hit and kill the mosquito. I obviously wasn't awake enough to think of turning the light on so I could actually see it first. Instead, I was just lying there awake being semi-miserable.

And along came Jerry - back from his nightly jaunt through the apartment building. He came to check if I was still in bed, and he discovered the mosquito. A wonderful tasty, buzzing, easy-to-find mosquito. Whack. Instead of tormenting me, the mosquito was now running for its life. Jerry had entertainment, and I could fall asleep thinking about how great cats are...

03 July 2012

Normal is all about how you define it

This morning during coffee time after chapel, a visitor asked me what a regular day for me looked like. My answer: "I don't know - kind of normal, I guess."

     Well, this is normal:
Breakfast was in bed (Matthijs happens to be on vacation in Poland with this father, so eating in bed with my pyjamas has become pretty normal this week). After working a bit, I changed the liturgical colours in the chapel - from green to red - since today we honoured the apostle Thomas. I also dug through the icons looking for one of Thomas (and despite having no idea what I was looking for, I did find one - see for yourself what a Thomas icon might look like). Then coffee and tea and random conversations.

After that, I went home to work on some Jeremiah stuff and correspondence. I also spent some time reading a book related to prostitution and trafficking. I also did some cooking - most notably, leek soup that can be stored in the freezer for a rainy day. Eventually I went to the VU University to work there (and I found out that a friend back in Canada had had her baby!)

At 6, I picked up bread for the community: 2 garbage bags full of pretty hefty bread. One garbage bag (and a few loaves) could be stuffed into the duffel bag I had with me - and the rest fit into a large plastic reusable bag that could hang on the handle bars. The duffel bag I put over my shoulders, and if I arranged myself properly, it would sit on the bike carrier on the back of the bike. As long as I stayed sitting up right and didn't turn, it wouldn't fall off. Thankfully no crazy tourist jumped out in front of me, and I had no problem getting home without falling over.

Later in the evening, I volunteerd with the Women's pastoral care team of the Salvation Army. We bring coffee and tea to the women working in prostitution in the neighbourhood and offer a listening ear and conversation to the women. The visits brought a couple of good talks, much appreciation expressed for what we do, and some laughs to make the evening a bit more pleasant. And afterwards, there was time for a short talk with others in the team to help us with the weightiness of what we do - not so much because the talks are difficult but more on account of the brokenness and pain that is often connected with prostitution.

Walking home - through the Red Light District and the all the tourists, of course - I carried 2 packs of rice noodles in one hand and melting chocolate mousse cake (on a tissue) in the other. And I thought to myself - okay, so how did THIS become normal? Perhaps it wasn't normal so much as it simply wasn't strange for me - little of what happened today occurred for the first time. It just goes to show that normal has a lot to do with how you define it.

24 June 2012

Adventure in Muiden

Last Saturday (16 june), Matthijs and I had made plans to explore some place together. A bike ride seemed like a lovely way to do that - so we headed out to Muiden to see what we would bump into.

First stop was the "islands" along the IJ-river - simply because the architecture is fascinating there. Then further alongst the river, past Ijburg - just past Ijburg we bumped into this delightful round building. 

After that it was through a nature area: peaceful, green, and filled with sheep. The unfortunate part was that the sheep had decided that the ugly asphalt bike path running through their are was ideal for a toilet. Not so pleasant for the bike tires :(

And then Muiden itself - a small village along the IJ river - at the beginning of its history it was larger and more important than Amsterdam. All that remains now is a castle and a small village.

Nonetheless, it is also the proud owner of a turning bridge. The following are my attempts at pictures:

As we were exploring Muiden, we bumped into the Muiden Protestant Church (PKN). Upon walking in, we were welcomed by one of the volunteers. As we walked around, he told us some of the history of the church, pointing out some of the unique features - the faces at the edge of the ceiling, a special opening in the wall so that people outside could participate/hear the Mass service, and the oldest church stone in the Netherlands. He also shared with us a bit of the history of the church itself - pointing out that the new Catholic Church was built beside this church. With the city hall now between/beside the two, it makes weddings pretty convenient! By the time we were in the church a half hour, I realized that I'd bumped into the adventure I'd been looking for - I just hadn't expected it to come through the hospitality of a church member willing to share with us so much about his church - both the building and the church congregation. (below are a few pictures of the Muiden Church)


The day continued with a quick glance at the castle, fresh fried fish, and biking further to Weesp. In Weesp, we also visited the Protestant Church, which is unique in its own way. Then, we headed back home - both tired but content.

The following is our bike ride, with some of the highlights pinmarked.
The top/north route along the river is our trip to Muiden and south through Weesp is the trip back.
View 16 june - Bike ride to Muiden and Weesp in a larger map