26 November 2013

Sometimes Matthijs makes me laugh so hard

I think one of the most wonderful gifts of being married is growing better to understand each other's humour. Sometimes Matthijs says some things that just make me laugh so hard (or for several days). Here are a few examples:

After a potluck this past summer, Matthijs said that he knew exactly what food I had brought. I took it as a compliment, a sign of our knowing each other well and his appreciation of the food I make him. Actually he'd recognized it primarily by the cat hair in it.

When looking into things that he'd need to get a visa, Matthijs saw that he needed to show his birth certificate. "Birth certificate?!? I don't have one of those. We Dutch don't do that - we have proper administration here. Don't worry, though, I was born." (I must have been looking at him odd or he'd been spending too much going through websites of regulations).  

Last Sunday morning, we celebrated the anniversary (12.5 years) of a couple in the community. We've been running out of the liturgies at church in the last few weeks, so I mentioned to Matthijs that we should probably head out a bit earlier. Yet, when Matthijs was getting ready to leave 20 minutes before church started, I told him there was no way I was going to sit so long in that cold church. If he wanted to leave before quarter to, he was welcome to go ahead and save me a spot. He responded that it was so much more gezellig (pleasant) if I went with him. I, in turn, just looked at him funny. After all, I wasn't feeling all that wonderful and had spent much of the morning being grouchy and whiney - the exact opposite of gezellig thus. He simply responded by telling me that he would enjoy my company simply because of all the good gezellig moments we´d shared in the past. A compliment like that, so gracious and undeserving of my then current state of being, does a girl good. We left shortly thereafter, and only partly because our exchange had taken almost five minutes and I was now okay with leaving :)

Perhaps this post says more about my sense of humour than Matthijs's :). Yet, it's also my attempt to express how much I really appreciate how much joy and laughter we can bring each other and how I continue to be surprised and delighted by the person I married.

23 November 2013

A place to stay for the night

Sometimes a place to sleep for the night is the most basic and obvious need that people come to the community with. Sometimes it's also the hardest one to meet. We, as a community, do not provide temporary or crisis housing. It is not that there isn't a need, it is more that filling this need would be too hard for all of us. The stress and all the change - the uncertainty and unsafe feelings brought on by it - is too much for our small group, with its desire to have more of a family atmosphere, to handle.

But saying no to someone needy is hard, especially when it's the last of a whole string of 'no's that they have been hearing. Christine Pohl's book Making Room records a statement from, I believe, a Catholic worker about the necessity and difficulty of saying no. 'How can one, after all, deny hospitality to a guest and not show hospitality thus to this incarnation of Christ (cf. Matt 25)? Yet, would our hospitality to this new person cause us to be inshospitable to all the other incarnations of Christ who are already among us?' 

It is strange to think of hospitality as sometimes closing doors instead of opening them. It feels like hospitality is about accepting everyone we can and doing all we can. Yet, sometimes hospitality is more complicated than that - it is also about giving space and safety to others and then guarding and protecting it (also for ourselves). I think the book When helping hurts, a book I hope to read some day soon, also talks about how hospitality and help is often quite complicated.

Even if I believe that it is best sometimes to say no, to deny one person hospitality in order to be hospitable to another, it is still hard to do. I still remember the woman I had on the phone last summer. It was Friday night, she had children, she'd been set out of the house she'd been temporarily (illegally) subleasing, and she had nowhere to go. "How could I be so unkind as to deny her hospitality? How could I simply let her and her children sleep on the street?" And the answer is that I couldn't justify it, really. If she'd had a plan for where she'd go and who she'd talk to after the weekend, I would gladly have said we could have made it work for the weekend. But on Monday we closed down, and we were all pretty exhausted. Over the phone she was doing her best to manipulate me to help her and becoming angrier as I refused to offer the hospitality she was looking for and thought she deserved. It felt that it could not be good to be so ungracious; after all, we had empty rooms and people available, at least in the weekend, to welcome and help her. How could I be so unreasonable? Yet, I believed that a different kind of hospitality was better, that of being hospitable to those in the community who did not have the energy to minister to her as they had said yes to so many others this past year and were now trying to rest and recuperate. But for this woman, it was still a no. Even if it was better, it was not good.

People will say that extending hospitality is hard, but I had not entirely expected this kind of hard: the hard of saying no, of choosing one kind of hospitality over another.

13 November 2013

Advice on talking to strange men in the Red Light District

Last night while I was walking home around dinner time, some man on a bike stopped and started talking to me. I was tired and hungry, and my first thought was 'Really? Do we really have to have this conversation now?' Because even if it's been awhile since I've been randomly stopped on the street by a strange man, the conversations tend to proceed in a similar way.

The following is a rough idea of yesterday's conversation.
him: Hi. How are you?
me: Fine.
Can I ask you a question?
What's your name, by the way?
oh, let me introduce myself: I'm David. What was your name again?
I'm from Amsterdam. Where are you from?
I've been here for six years. How about you?
seven years.
I'm from Ghana, by the way.
I'm from Canada.
oh, but you speak very good Dutch.
Thanks. I live with Dutch people. And I married a Dutch man.
And you're still with him?
Okay. bye.

I don't really understand these conversations. And yesterday's conversation even less. I was more unfriendly than usual (sometimes I do smile at others - simply because I like seeing people smile back), and my clothing (blue jeans, old coat, glasses, sport shoes) indicated fairly clearly that I was not interested in attracting any male attention.

What I do know about these conversations is that the sooner I can mention I am happily married, the sooner the conversation will be over. I guess I could also just say at the beginning that I'm not interested, which I did sometimes do, but that seems less gracious. Besides, I kind of like the challenge of showing that one can be friendly without wanting something out of it.

Before I was married, the conversations could get a bit long, probably because the men didn't know how to respond to my offer to come in and have coffee. They had obviously shown interest in me and seemed like they wanted to know me better. Yet, they weren't expecting that kind of hospitality, and surely not having to come have coffee with me in the common room (shared by the 50 or so people I live with). So, the conversation would drag on while the poor man tried to understand what kind of hospitality I was actually offering and then try to come up with a reason why he suddenly had to leave....

08 November 2013

Praying for cars

Although I have been known to pray for cats, the title here is not a typo. And the prayer was slightly more complicated than the "please help me find a parking spot" type for which Christians are sometimes made fun of.

During our trip to Canada, I borrowed my father's car. Although most of the time I was using it to visit friends and family, I also had a couple of appointments and some errands to run. While Matthijs had run into a bookstore to pick up some books, I stayed in the car to pull something off my computer to print off. I was a bit stressed and  not so organised, so my communication skills were not working at their best. While Matthijs was happily browsing the unexpected section of superdiscounted books, thinking he had lots of time while I actually ran my errand, I was sitting in the car wondering why he didn't return faster so I could get on with the errand. Knowing myself and Matthijs as I do, it seemed wise to go meet/find him instead of getting more impatient in the car. We sorted out the miscommunication and returned to the vehicle ready to head off to the next stop.

Except the car wouldn't start. I couldn't get the key to turn.

This isn't the first time I'd borrowed the car, so I did remember my father having once mentioned something about what to do if this ever happened. But I had no idea what it was. And so I sat there trying not to panic and trying to figure out how to start the car. I started praying pretty quick. We pulled out the car manual. We could find nothing. Calling my father was an option, but with international (dutch) cell phone rates at about 10 dollars a minute, and no idea where a payphone was, it was more of a last resort than the obvious thing to do.

Matthijs suggested I go into the bookstore to see if anyone could help me. I approached a gentleman my father's age and one of the cashiers. Neither was familiar with the problem. Nor did they have any idea how to help me. I returned to the car, still praying.

We'd now been trying to fix the problem for 15 minutes. The schedule for the day was a bit tight, and I was beginning to get a bit nervous about how it'd all work out. I was thus very much hoping that God would answer my "I'm beginning to get desperate" prayers sooner rather than later.

As I was sitting in the driver's seat feeling helpless, a young college student came up to the car. He had heard my question in the bookstore and thought perhaps he knew what to do. He had spent the summer working at a rental car place and was familiar with the situation where the key wouldn't turn. Some wiggling of the steering wheel and the key, and the car started. He explained that I'd probably jostled the steering wheel too often while it was off, and this had locked up the system. I, meanwhile, was doing my best not to burst out in hallelujahs and kiss the young man (Matthijs would have understood). Instead, I merely thanked him profusely. And I thanked God for answered prayer and the unexpected joy of once again getting to experience the kindness of strangers.

05 November 2013

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (2)

I was taught that parables often contain a surprise, which is often harder to recognize the more often that one hears something.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the meaning seems obvious: pray like the tax collector and not the Pharisee. But what if I neither the tax collector nor the Pharisee has it right? Or, even stranger, has it all wrong?

Last week, a preacher mentioned that both the Pharisee and tax collector had to learn from each other. I'm not sure exactly how the preacher continued that thought, but the idea of learning from each other set me to thinking. My thoughts turned quickly to wondering if there was something unexpected in the parable that I had been missing.

So I began with asking if the meaning wasn't quite so simple. Could perhaps the tax collector have it wrong?!? The humility and simplicity part seems obviously right. But what about his continuing to be a tax collector? What good does humility do if one continues to sin? Perhaps the Pharisee thus has something right: he recognizes sin and does not wish it for himself. Further, he does his best to practice a lifestyle that is designed to bring him closer to God. The judgement and pride are blatantly wrong, but the Pharisee should not be so easily written off. As many Christians (especially those without sensational conversion stories) can identify with the Pharisee, that is a hopeful thought.

03 November 2013

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The gospel reading last week was from Luke 18: the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus tells of how a Pharisee is praying in the temple, thanking God for how he is not like the sinners and naming all that he has done well. The tax collector, on the other hand, merely asks for God's grace on him as a sinner.

The meaning seems obvious: pray like the tax collector and not the Pharisee.

But who actually prays like the Pharisee? I doubt any of us have ever heard anyone publicly praying like that, although perhaps churches who are convinced they are the only true church might do this. At the same time, I know that I have looked down on others, thinking I am better than them. And then I "christianize" my pride by adding thankfulness to it! Being able to recognize that side of the Pharisee in myself is startlingly, but, I pray, also healthy.

And it's not like I list all the good I do. But sometimes I do have the sense that I should earn certain things. Perhaps my strongest memory of that is after I returned from teaching in Ukraine. I had spent 2 years of my life in the middle of nowhere, living with language and cultural difficulties, working crazy long weeks, receiving and being able to attain very few material extra's. They were wonderful years, and I am deeply thankful for having been able to dedicate so much energy to living out my Christian life and being a witness to others. At the same time, they were hard years, and I felt that, since I had given so much to God, I deserved some good things back. And what did I believe I deserved most? A husband. I was conveniently at a place where there were significant single males (seminary), so God didn't even need to work that hard. It took me almost six months to recognize how I'd sub-consciously made this deal with God and how, because of that, I was rather angry at Him.

And the tax-collector? How many of us simply say we're sorry, whether it be to God or others? It feels so much better to give an excuse, blame someone or something else, or to justify ourselves.

It surprised me, after spending some time dwelling on this parable, how much I had to learn from it. The obvious meaning of praying with humility is a lot less easy to do in reality, especially when I stop trying to list all the good I do and start realizing how imperfect I actually am.

02 November 2013

If you could dress up like your favourite saint...

Matthijs and I sometimes have odd conversations. The most recent was a result of my asking about who he'd want to dress up as if he could dress up as his favourite saint. The following is what came up as a result of that question:
- George (the one who killed the dragon to rescue the virgins) would be a good fit for me. Jerry, my cat, could play the dragon. He qualifies as a (small) terror, and we could successfully cage him. The only challenge is how much noise he might make in his cage.
- I would be okay with the wife of Luther. She seems like she was independant and opinionated enough for me to like her.
- Being opinionated also characterizes Luther well. Did you know there's a Luther insult generator: http://ergofabulous.org/luther/
- I think I'd also like Clare, who I recently read started both a female and a male monastery. 
- Matthijs is not entirely convinced I'd make a good Mother Theresa - most likely related to my over-appreciation of stubborn-ness in saints (thus perhaps Dorothy Day is a better fit?)
- what about Bonatius (sorry, Bonifatius), the saint who got killed by the (pagan) Frisians, after cutting down their sacred tree? (Matthijs was all for that one, although only after he corrected me on his exact name)?
- what about Theresa of Avila? of Saint Catharine?
- saints are actually kind of boring to dress up like. After all, they all kind of look the same (because of the monastic habits).
- would cross-dressing be okay if one was dressing up like a saint? Some of the best ones seem to be from the other gender.
- maybe I should blog this conversation....

And that just gives you a glimpse of another evening conversation at the Kronemeijers.