30 September 2013

Human trafficking and prostitution (2)

A recent article in Trouw also raised questions about the unhealthy link between human trafficking and prostitution. It highlights that many countries have struggled with understanding best how to deal with these challenges. At the same time, it points out how the current situation in the Netherlands is problematic, partly because of the link made to human trafficking and moralizing how bad prostitution is. One of the difficulties is the lack of empowerment the women receive: a prostitute is often seen as a victim and has little ability to take control of her situation. On top of that, those owning the windows and brothels and so forth have too much power, making them more susceptible to exploitation and potentially taking advantage of or harming the women (as the recent situation in Utrecht illustrates).

26 September 2013

Human Trafficking, the Red Light District, Christians and me

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion in the Netherlands about human trafficking as being intimately connected with prostitution, including and especially in places like the Red Light District. For example, the political party I support, ChristenUnie, just participated in hosting a joint conference called, Een andere kijk op Prostitutie, (an other way of looking at prostitution).

I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure of what to make of the discussion, which even I find to be a strange reaction. I am, after all, against human trafficking. What Christian, or non-Christian for that matter, isn't against human trafficking?!? I have read numerous stories and news articles verifying both how real and how horrible trafficking is for those who are victims. I also believe that there are women in the Red Light District who have been pressured against their will to prostitute themselves, which I find deeply troubling, even more so as these are my physical neighbours. Furthermore, I'm against prostitution. As a Christian, I don't believe that prostitution is part of God's good intentions for sex, relationships, or how human beings ought to be treated.

So why is it that I feel so uncomfortable with the discussions about human trafficking and its link to prostitution?

Because it feels a bit like we're focusing on the wrong thing. It's not that human trafficking isn't horrible and evil, it's just there's so much more pain, evil, sadness, messiness and wrong involved in prostitution that has little to do with human trafficking. We have been, through talking about trafficking and not prostitution, avoiding asking difficult questions and having difficult conversations.

The best analogy I can think of is how Pope Francis has been in the news about how he isn't so hard-nosed about abortion or homosexuality. It's not that he isn't against abortion, it's just that in a world where there is so much messiness and sin, the message of abortion isn't what the world needs to hear. And when I think of those working in prostitution, I wonder if the focus on human trafficking hasn't been distracting us from the real message, that of proclaiming love and grace and human worth.

20 September 2013

Dissertation progress

I am deeply thankful that work on my dissertation has been progressing! My hope to hand some things in before the end of October seems to be attainable. I've completed several sections in chapter 3 that only need some revision before I can hand them in to my supervisor, and I've begun work on revisions in Chapter 1 so that I can hand that in to my second supervisor. That's not to say that Chapter 3 doesn't still have a lot of work that needs to be done on the other chapters in it. I'll be handing in something on Ezek 19, 23, 10, and 5, but I still need to do a lot of work on the section on chapters 3, 18 and 33, as well as chapters 36 and 1, of which I have no immediate "answers" for the problems and quite a bit of literature still to cover for ch.1.

There is thus much still left to be done, but as I have a much clearer idea of what that still is and how to go about doing it, this is a sign of (significant) progress. Focusing so much on it in August has helped give me momentum. It takes less effort to get into writing and revising every day, and it happens every day. Even though my primary task in life at the moment is writing this dissertation, it felt like there was often a lot of other things that would take over much of my time: from household things, to mails, to community things, to editing stuff, to who knows what. On top of that, there wasn't a sense of urgency and so I would also happily distract myself with numerous useless things throughout the day. Although the distracting myself part hasn't entirely gone away, it has been at least pushed back by my sense of duty and even joy in writing and working on the dissertation.

Sometimes it'd be nice to feel like I could just work on it ALL THE TIME until it gets done. Eat, drink and sleep questions of cohesion in the book of Ezekiel. It would then at least be done and sooner! Yet, trying to devote all my time to my dissertation isn't sustainable on a long term basis, at least not unless I choose actively to temporarily give up other important things in my life: community, volunteering with Salvation Army, supporting Matthijs more through running the household. And I'm not willing to do that. But choosing to devote so much time and energy to it for awhile has also been a blessing - the push I needed to move towards the finish. The hope is that at the end of December I'll have a good first draft by my supervisors....

I'll try to keep the update on the side of this blog regularly updated, so you can be updated (and pray along with me) about its progress. And since it feels like it's going well, you can now finally ask again how the dissertation is going without worrying about whether this is actually a painful question :) I am truly thankful for all the interest and the support I receive.

16 September 2013

Biblical characters as neither fully good or bad

One of the things that continutes to fascinate me about many of the Old Testament narratives is how often something unexpected happens (at least, as unexpected as things can be if you've read the Bible numerous times). 2 Chronicles 22-24, the story of king Joash, is one such example. 

The story begins with Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, becoming king of Judah. He was an evil king, listening to bad counselors, including his mother Athaliah. After only reigning a year, his downfall was ordained. He was killed by Jehu since he was of house of Ahaz. Ahaziah was buried on account of his being "the grandson of Jehoshaphat, who sought the Lord with all his heart.” (22:9) There was no obvious successor to the throne and so Athaliah, Ahaziah's mother, took over. She subsequently attempted to kill her son's entire family: she "set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah." (22:10). However, Jehoshabeath, the king’s sister, managed to rescue her nephew Joash. She and her husband - priest Jehoiada - hid him while Athaliah reigned over the land. Seven years later, Jehoiada "took courage" (23:1) and helped organize a revolt of which the Levites played a significant role. Joash was crowned king and anointed. Athaliah was ruthlessly put to death. Jehoiada then "made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord’s people."(23:16). The house of Baal was desecrate, and its priests killed. Because of this, "all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword." (23:23). Furthermore, "Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of the priest Jehoiada." (24:2). 
Up to this point, the story seems like a classical variation on the themes of God punishing evil and bringing good to those whom he loves (i.e., his followers, including the house of David). Except for the excessive blood and guts part, it seems to be an ideal 'Sunday School' story. After all, it is full of morals - and both Joash and the priest Jehoiada - seem like ideal examples. Except that this is not the end of the story, and both the king and the priest hardly remain examples to follow. Jehoiada is the first to disappoint us. 

Joash decided early on his reign to restore the house of LORD, and commanded the priests and Levites to go "out to the cities of Judah and gather money from all Israel to repair the house of your God, year by year; and see that you act quickly.” (24:5). However, nothing quick happened (2 Kings 12 reports that nothing had happened by the 23rd year of Joash's reign). So Joash reprimanded Jehoiada for not getting the Levites to act quickly. Joash himself then gave the command that everyone should "bring in for the Lord the tax that Moses the servant of God laid on Israel in the wilderness." (24:9). 

The response to that command indicates the seriousness of what Jehoiada had allowed to happen. Money came in abundance. In fact, "All the leaders and all the people rejoiced and brought their tax and dropped it into the chest until it was full." (24:10). And so the temple was repaired. Yet, even as much as Jehoiada had been neglectful in following the LORD, his sins were nothing compared to those of Joash. 

"They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols." (24:19). The LORD sent prophets, but they would not listen - not even to Zechariah son of Jehoiada. In fact, "by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord." (24:21) Thus Joash killed his cousin, the son of those who had shown kindness to him by rescuing him from certain death and placing him on the throne. Joash eventually suffered defeat at the hands of a much smaller army because God acted on behalf or the Aramties. Having been left severely wounded by the battle, Joash's servants then killed him on his bed (because of the death of Jehoiada's son). They buried him in Jerusalem but not in the tombs of the kings.

It is a sad story, and one that I find a bit unnerving. It seems disconcerting that this child saved from certain death would turn against the LORD who had saved him and with whom he made a covenant - and then also against the family of his protectors and saviours. It is a story that seems unfit for Sunday School lessons. At the same time, it is the story of our ancestors in faith and rejecting God is hardly something that only Joash has chosen to do.

06 September 2013

Angels watching over us

Yesterday evening, fire trucks stood outside the main house of the community. Smoke and a stench was coming out of a crawlhole from the old chapel to the courtyard. The heat seemed to have melted something, but thankfully it was quickly noticed and the firemen came to check it out.

Such an annoucement seems almost too dull to make, let alone something for which we should be extra thankful. After all, is this not simply the fire brigade doing what they are good at? Something which the children of the community can be impressed by, but nothing that was really all that serious?

Except it was a hot summer. A hot summer in which many afternoons passed when very few people were in the house, and long evenings in which no one was really near the courtyard, let alone spending enough time there to recognize a smell as something other than the afterglow of someone's barbecue. So why and how is it that during all the crazy heat of this past summer that the melting only happened now when the house was full and able to notice that something was wrong? I don't know. Grace, I would answer most simply. God's angels continue to watch over us, for which we are all thankful.