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.