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.