31 January 2013

A prayer for the women working in the windows

I pray that you are well. As part of that, I want you to know God and His love. And I also hope that you will stop with prostitution: it harms you emotionally and physically and messes with your heart and soul.

But those things are a lot to ask. It is not that I doubt that God is capable of doing all that, it is simply that I have come to know how messy prostitution is. And I know that there are many possible things that can stand in the way of you leaving this work and/or knowing God better. And so I pray for those things:

I pray for the deadbeat father of your child - that he might be convicted to support you and your child financially.
I pray for those who treat you like nothing more than a tourist attraction - that they might realize that even animals in the zoo receive more respect than they are giving out.
I pray for those moments when you feel like you're barely surviving - that a kind smile or a laugh might remind you of your worth.
I pray for the strange and crazy ideas about sex you've learned and that society teaches us - that we'd all challenge the crazy idea that men need sex, but also that we would all learn that sex really is a good and beautiful gift from God and not something that can be bartered for 40 euros (or even less!).
I pray for your families - that whatever neglect, abuse and/or scorn that you've received from them might be healed and that you might be loved simply for being you.
I pray for those who benefit financially from your work - that your lazy children or partner (or parents!) might be convicted not to use you for your money (and to get their own job) or that they might be criminally charged for pimping and/or trafficking you.
But I also pray for those situations where it is your work that is keeping the family alive and well - that your sacrifice might be honoured, but also that your family might become more creative and more able in making ends meet so they can encourage you to stop and invite you to come home again.
I pray for the circumstances (of the land) you've come from - that wars might cease, that there might be jobs and less poverty, and that there would be less corruption and abuse so that prostitution in Amsterdam no longer appears as a better option.
I pray for those who own and rent out the windows you work in - that they might treat you with respect and give you what you're legally entitled to. And that the government would force them to do so, in the hopes that it also becomes financially less attractive for those involved criminally.
I pray for those who wish to save you - not that a bit of saving for you or your neighbour wouldn't be necessarily a good thing (who, after all, couldn't use some saving?) but that they might actually listen to you and see you as the indivudual you are and not merely as a victim or as a mission.
I pray that you make enough money to make ends meet - and yet I also pray that window prostitution pays poorly, in the hopes that you ask if it isn't time to start thinking seriously about other work.

And I give thanks for all the times when I get to see things going well
- when I see you helped with health or financial stuff,
- when we can make you laugh and bring a bit of joy to your day,
 - when you have found a workplace where you are treated well and can feel at home
- when we feel like we can provide you with social support that you might be missing,
- when you assure me that you are looking after yourself and standing up for yourself - not necessarily because I am convinced you are doing it as well as possible - but you recognize the importance of it,- when you open the door to us and let someone enter into your world for a little while (and even are willing to share your food with us),
- when you have the courage to ask for help
- when you go through the complicated process of stopping - with all its phone calls and regulations and paperwork. And then you share that with us, so we can encourage you and rejoice with you.

And I pray for so much more, but the prayer is long and complicated enough - like the world around me - and it is enough simply to pray. And so I pray for these women, my neighbours, and I pray that it might go well with them.

29 January 2013

Reading the Bible knowing more than the characters in the text

Back in high school English class, we talked about how in some novels the reader actually knew more than the characters in the story. Reading the Bible again, it surprises me how that's also true of the Bible. To some degree, it shouldn't surprise me. After all, I have the whole Bible, and so I know how the story ends. I know that the Jews enter the promised land, that they eventually go into exile, and that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the fulfilment of so many of the promises of the Old Testament. Yet, there are moments when I am surprised by things that seem obvious to me but that the text indicates as coming later. Here are a few examples that I read in the last week.

1. Sarah's laughter (Gen 18). Why did she laugh and why is there so much emphasis put on that? It's not like Abraham also didn't laugh at the ridiculousness of the idea (Gen 17). The question that came to me this time was why Sarah laughed: did Abraham not tell her or not believe it himself?!? Whatever the reason, the laughter does turn to joy (Gen 21:6). How could it not after such an amazing miracle?

2. Esau's wives. The end of Genesis 26 mentions that Esua marries two local women, and that these were a source of grief to both Isaac and Rebekah. This is surprising because Esau is Isaac's favourite, so it is strange to hear that his favourite could still grieve him. More interesting, however, is Esau's next wife mentioned in Gen 28:9. She is a distant relative whom Esau married because he then realized how much his foreign wives displeased his father. How did Esau not know that? We, the reader, were well aware of it (especially as that was part of the reason why Jacob was sent away).

3. Healing on the Sabbath. In Luke 14, Jesus asks whether he should heal on the Sabbath. No one answers, and Jesus does it anyways. As a reader, you might think that they didn't know the answer (even though you as a reader do know the answer). However, close reading reveals something else. In the previous chapter (!), Jesus had just healed somebody on the Sabbath. The answer was obvious - to both those in the text and us as readers. It's most likely not ignorance but something else that is answering here.

19 January 2013

Sharing Christian norms - across church traditions and cultures

A little while ago I was talking with one of the volunteers at Oudezijds 100 about the Bible and church. I knew he was Catholic, and I'd mentioned the Catholic church during the evening prayers. There'd been a bit of an uproar here in the Netherlands about the Pope's stand against homosexual marraige, and I wondered if the Catholic Church in Poland had also been receiving a lot of criticism. No.

I'd just had a great discussion about old-fashioned norms in villages (and if that was also true in Canada), so my conversation with the volunteer quickly shifted from the relative non-isue of homosexuality to other cultural and church norms. Expectations about getting married came up, but also church norms (even the church catechism).

Near the end of the conversation, he mentioned how he was surprised that some of the Christians in the Netherlands he knew did not find it necessary to go to church on Sunday morning. My agreement with him was so enthusiastic that he thought at first that I was joking. But I wasn't - in fact, it's one of those things that has always puzzled and somewhat distressed me. Until now, I have never met any other Christian in this area who has questioned it (disclaimer: Christians from more conservative backgrounds would likely also consider Sunday church attendance a norm, however, they would also likely find the Red Light District a problematic place to live). And so imagine my surprise when this Polish Catholic - whom many would consider to be very different from me in terms of culture and church tradition - is the first one I've heard question this! Furthermore, his questioning reaffirmed for me that, despite what here is often the norm, being a Christian means going to church on Sundays (and how wonderful is it to have Christians from other cultures and traditions to remind us of what we sometimes are no longer sure about).

13 January 2013

The mystery of the Eucharist and marriage

How I, a good Reformed girl, ended up marrying a Catholic is sometimes a mystery to many (including to me). Living in a different land - the Netherlands - where Christian faith, both Protestant and Catholic, is different from where I grew up - is part of the answer. Another part of the answer is that Matthijs takes his faith very seriously, something I love about him. We also agree a lot on how to read the Bible, how sin affects the world, and respecting church tradition worldwide - such agreement is sometimes lacking between me and some of the Protestants here in the Netherlands.
On account of us both being strongly committed to our own church traditions, we, out of respect for these traditions, do not take communion/Eucharist in each other's churches. This not being able to share together one of the more fundamental elements of Catholic faith is something that really disappoints Matthijs. It is, unfortunately, a disappointment that we both must live with as it can not be easily resolved.

At the same time, a story from Lauren Winner's book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (2012) brings a new perspective on our trying out our faith as a married couple belonging to two different church traditions.
I include here the version re-told by Ruth on her blog entry about the unity of church: 
"Winner tells the story of being the chalice bearer during the Eucharist at a small Episcopal church. Towards the end of the line, an elderly couple came and knelt at the rail.  Each one of them took a wafer from the priest. When she came to them with the cup, the wife dipped her wafer in and ate it.  Then the husband dipped his wafer in. But he didn’t eat the wafer. He handed 'the Body and Blood to his wife' and she ate it for him. 
After the service, the priest told Winner that this man had been suffering from a wasting disease for 12 years, leaving him unable to digest most food. But that wasn’t what Winner saw.  She only knew 'the couple’s hands and mouths, and that I am seeing one flesh. I have read about this, heard sermons about a man and a woman becoming one flesh; and here at the altar, I see that perhaps this is the way I come to know such intimacy myself: as part of the body of Christ, this body that numbers among its cells and sinews an octogenarian husband and wife who are Communion' (38-39).

The connection made here between the Eucharist and becoming one flesh in marriage has made me wonder more about sharing communion with each other. In some mysterious way, I participate in Matthijs's receiving the Eucharist and he is part of my partaking in the Lord's Supper. The mystery of it only brings me closer to the mystery of the Eucharist and of a man and woman becoming one flesh.

11 January 2013

Joining the world of Twitter (and other social media)

I blog (as you're obviously aware if you're reading this). I have facebook - where I periodically place photos, status updates, and links to this blog. And I've finally joined twitter, but do I really need it? After all, I even have the academic version of Facebook (no, not linkedin, but academia.edu - recommended, by the way, for all of those who occasionally read scholarly articles, irrelevant of what field you're in).

And twitter, what is twitter? In 140 characters or less (the number of characters includes spaces, although links are shortened), you try to write something informative or interesting. Ideally, you also include a #tagline, so that people searching for the topic might come across it (e.g., #twitterisdumb or, closer to home, #oudezijds100). And then you post it, and it becomes in theory public to everyone, although really only your followers will likely read it (and even then not necessarily). If you crosspost to Facebook, the average person increases their readership (since most people I know have many more friends on Facebook than followers on twitter - although, like twitter, not all friends read all your posts).

I think my problem is that I'm not entirely sure what the point of twitter is. It sometimes feels like it's a popularity contest (and I try to avoid those ever since failing miserably at it in high school).Or a contest to be the wittiest. But I've realized that unless you're koninginBeatrix (fictive) or posting Calvin & Hobbes quotes, (both of which I recommend following) you're probably not going to win, unless you're famous (and by definition already popular).

I've now been doing this twitter thing for a few months, and I'm still not sure of it. I do like the chance to "tweet" in Dutch - and it has allowed me to connect (if one can call tweeting someone connecting?!? it's much less personal than writing a mail and even less personal than writing on someone's Facebook wall) with others concerned with prostitution issues. So it's not entirely a loss. However, it doesn't entirely fit me now, so I'll gladly spend my energy on other social media (the usefulness of which can be questioned on another day).

But as I did find a good article about how how pastors/churches can use twitter, I'll pass that on here:"10 tweets to impact your church." The best part of social media, after all, is being able to pass things on and share :)

10 January 2013

Temporarily at home in a new country gives new opportunities

I've now lived in four different countries and moved umpteen times. I've learned that with every large move, there are new chances. The threshold is immediately lowered with regard to trying out that something you've been thinking about for awhile. This is even more true when the move is only temporary, like studying, volunteering or short-term missionary work. And the more different your new home is from where you were, the more chance you have also of discovering and showing different parts of who you are.

A somewhat recent article about ex-pats and a couple of conversations with two volunteers (one volunteering here and the other from here volunteering in Hungary) reminded me again of the opportunity presented by going some place new. My own life has also been an example of this: being part of tons of different activities while I was at University while I had done little extra at high school, my move to Amsterdam being the perfect opportunity to look for a Christian community as new monasticism had been something I'd grown fascinated with, my move to a new apartment a few years ago being the perfect time to get a cat, and so on. 

The NRC Handelsblad from 6 October (I know I'm a bit late in publishing this!) had an interesting article about we can learn from expats. Although I found the appreciation given at the beginning of the article to having a commitmentless life to be a bit depressing, I did really appreciate the focus on how a new life in a new city brings new opportunities. To quote: "a new city challenges you to dramatically change your life" [een vreemde stad daagt je uit je leven dramatisch om te gooien], and then further, "living in a foreign land challenges you have to an attitude that is more open and more interested in getting something out of life:" [een houding die je dwingt om opener te zijn en meer uit het leven te halen]."  

It almost makes me long to start something new again, on account of all the new challenges and opportunities it brings. I do believer, however, that there is at least a much of a challenge in learning to be fully oneself in the situation one currently is in.

09 January 2013

Happy birthday to me!

This blog is now 7 years old! When I started this adventure, it was on a whim that I'd had as I was beginning a new year and planning for a new adventure (life in the Netherlands). I hadn't expected that I'd enjoy it so much or that it'd last so long. But it has been a joy to do and I'm thankful that I started it. It has been good to have the opportunity to write informally, but also to practice expressing my experiences/thoughts in a way that is both positive and honest.

In honour of the birthday, I'm posting a word cloud of the blog.
For earlier versions of my blog in wordcloud (2006 and 2008), see my blog entry from 28 July 2008. A quick comparison shows that I still talk a lot about community, church, Amsterdam, God, the Bible, the Red Light District, and hope. But changed is the focus on the dissertation and Ezekiel, and Jeremiah has completely faded from the picture (he has since been replaced by "cat" who has been named after him). Another delightful change is that Jesus has made it into the top words.

And of great significance (and duly recorded on the blog): Matthijs has also been added to the picture!

08 January 2013

Planning to read the whole Bible this year

The beginning of the new year, despite my annoyance with how cliché New Year's resolutions are, seems like a good time to begin fulfilling my desire to read through the whole Bible again. I've read it through in the past and have continued to read/hear parts of the Bible regularly, but it has been a long time since I've been systematic about it. I feel thus like I've been losing some of my Bible knowledge, which from the perspective of being a Christian is sad. Furthermore, as a Biblical scholar and one who wants to do biblical theology well, it's actually a significant hinderance. Thus it feels like it's time to pick up my English Bible and start spending more time with it.

But how? Once upon a time I had a New Living Translation Two-Year Bible, and that worked well. I really appreciated that each day had a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. But I have since misplaced it (I remember lending it out?), and I also wonder if I don't prefer the slightly more haphazard reading plan style from my earlier years (start at the beginning, read a few chapters most days and stop when I'm finished). The current plan is a mixture of both. I did some googling and found an outline of a classic Bible reading plan, which starts in Genesis and Luke 5 with a Psalm or Proverb along side of that. I've put bookmarks/papers in three parts of my Bible. Written on the bookmarks is how much I should have read by day 7, 14, 21, 28 so that I can finish in a year. Every day I try to read at least one chapter and some days more, and I can choose from NT, OT and/or Psalms.

Already I've noticed that I've appreciated reading it. If you'd asked me whether Luke had a version of the beautitudes, I would have probably have said yes - but I hadn't realized how different they were (e.g., Luke 6:21 - "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh."). Even more different is the present of woes/curses following the blessings. 
I'd also forgotten the story of Abram rescuing Lot and helping out the king of Sodom, as found in Gen 14. Abram is such a familiar figure that I was surprised that I was capable of forgetting parts of his story. I had remembered the visit of the high priest Melchizidek but had forgotten in which context it occurred, not entirely surprisingly as his presence in this story does seem a bit random. 

Hopefully I'll post more things that surprise me as I continue to read and fall in love more with the Bible.

06 January 2013

The end of an era

As I was last year in Canada over Christmas and New Year's, at home with family and coping with the death of my mother, one would expect that this greatly overshadowed my holidays this year. And it did, although not entirely as might be expected. Advent was indeed a time of remembering and sadness. It was a time for longing for an end to sickness and death, including the pain that many of us have felt on account of the death of my mother.

At the same time, the arrival of Christmas was a time of thankfulness for me. Christmas is a feast of joy and hope - and a celebration that Christ has come and is coming again and the world will be new, which means no more suffering and death! At the same time, I was also thankful that this was no longer the first Christmas without her. It was strange, but we - especially my family back in Canada - have made it through a year of holidays without her, and it her absence has become much less overwhelming.

As the New Year came, I was thankful that this year was not accompanied by having part of my world/life be turned upside down. After several years of being away, I also got to spend New Years back in the midst of the crazy fireworks of Amsterdam - after getting to end the year with a service in chapel. I've also had time and energy to think and hope for next year, but also reflect on this past year. With a year having past since my mother's death, it feels like the end of an era. We still miss her. Her presence in the family, her love for us, her being there for each of us and doing her best to bring us together - these things are all gone. But we are getting used to them, and I expect this year to be less hard, especially for my father.

At the same time, when I look back I am thankful for the good I have seen this year. We have been family for each other. We have all gotten to know my father better and be surprised by what we are capable of, especially my dad. I am also thankful that my has made it through this very hard year - something last year he'd hoped for and had a hard time imagining how it could be good. And yet, seeing how much Dad is involved in his relationship with his grandchildren and many others - in the church and with family - I cannot help but see that this year, in its own strange way, has also been at times good, for which I am thankful.