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 :(