04 December 2014
02 December 2014
How can I, after all, be homesick when there is so much here that I am thankful for? So much here that I love? I have a job I love, where I get to care for and love others, show and receive hospitality, listen and ponder, think and pray, write much and challenge others. I am developing friendships and community. Matthijs is settling in to life here and, despite the challenges of determining what's next for him, continues to view this all as a delightful adventure.
So how can I be homesick?!?
I did expect to miss my friends and the community in Amsterdam. I miss the rhythm of life there and the goodness (and ease) of attending of daily prayer. I miss the blessedness of how living in community made it easy to catch up with and show my concern for others. I miss knowing where to pick up everyhing (and having most things in house) and being able to bike or walk pretty much everywhere I needed to go (whatever the time of year).
Somehow I hadn't realized how hard it would be to miss the normalities of life there and to have them replaced with learning new normalities here. What I thus miss most, and I remember this feeling from my first years in the Netherlands, is knowing what to expect and what normal life can and does look like. Sometimes life here feels so different, from living situation to job situation to social situations, and it would be nice not to feel so caught off balance by it all.
To some degree, my being out of sorts with all the changes is okay. It's being honest about how hard it is to upheave one's life and try to re-root somewhere else. On the other hand, writing my desires and feelings down makes it obvious that what I want is unrealistic and, to some degree, even sin. It's like I'm asking for there not to be change, and if there is change, to make it easy to handle. Life's not like that. I also don't believe that a life without difficulties and change is what the Christian life ought to look like (even as it feels hard and uncomfortable and thus part of me is whining that I don't want to, thank you very much!). Following Christ means opening oneself up to the Spirit's whispers (or shouts!) about how we live our lives. It means spending time outside of Christian circles, so that we might truly love and care for those who do not God. At the same time, it means not buying into cultural values that are foreign to the gospel: materialism, consumerism, along with entitlement and a lack of true concern for others, especially those different than us. Such a life - in the world, but not of the world, as it's sometimes called in Christian-ese - is a life of feeling off balance, of often being somewhat uncomfortable when surrounded by both Christians and non-Christians.
So perhaps what I have identified as homesickness is both a recognition of how hard transitioning can be, alongside of an unhealthy nostalgia for a life and feeling that never really existed. The first part will fade with time hopefully. And as for the second aspect? That I will just have to learn to live with gracefully, as there is no home here on earth that will every make that kind of homesickness go away.
28 November 2014
For those of us who like to buy things cheaply (this is often known here as being Dutch), the sales on Black Friday are appealing. However, the push to acquire more stuff seems to go against the spirit of being thankful and content - the focus of yesterday as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
The messages of consumerism and materialism feel more prevalent to me here in the United States. Perhaps I am more susceptible here, as I know the stores and products better. Perhaps it is because things really are cheaper (and thus a better deal). Perhaps it is the 1 inch thick pile of advertisements that come enclosed in our Sunday newspaper. Perhaps it is the fact that I have much less than I did six months ago, having given away much of my stuff and needing to get/buy more when I first came. Whatever the reason(s), the message seems to be that I need stuff, stuff and more stuff! And this is a lie.
How, though, do we as Christians help each other fight against the lies of consumerism and materialism? It's not like stuff is evil in itself. Much of it brings joy and good into our lives, and hospitality, giving, and resting/recuperating well are all made more challenging when there's a lack of material things. But how do we fight against the selfishness and entitlement that often accompany unchecked desires to accumulate more stuff? How do we even begin to ask each other how the accumulation of stuff is good?
I don't know the answers, but I am looking. And trying to listen. I appreciate the idea of Giving Tuesday: it's a very pointed reminder in the midst of being told to buy stuff for myself that it is also good and proper to give away. I do want to be a generous giver, but how do we balance that with saving responsibly, especially if we buy a house in the near future? I also want to learn to talk about money with others, and I want to learn better how to hold on to my own stuff loosely. There is something about recognizing that someone else could be more blessed by some of my stuff that helps me remember that I'm to hold losely to the gifts that God has given me.
14 November 2014
The boat on which he arrives is full of presents. As these presents are usually all wrapped (packed) up, they are called pakjes. The boat is thus sometimes called the pakjesboot (at least, by children).
As interesting as this Dutch trivia is, you might still be wondering what its relevance to my life really is. It's a little too relevant, to be honest.
The pakjesboot is the word Matthijs and I have been using to describe our shipment of stuff out of the Netherlands.
Just like Sinterklaas, our stuff should be arriving in the harbour sometime soon (perhaps even this weekend). The United States customs want to spend some time with it before it can be brought inland, and this country is a bit larger than the Netherlands, so it'll be a couple of weeks before we get it, even after it comes into harbour.
If all goes well, we should be getting our stuff around 5-6 December, the same day that most folks in the Netherlands will be celebrating Sinterklaas.
As much as it's been a tad bit annoying to wait this long, it does have a bright side: As I haven't seen any of this stuff since the beginning of August, it will feel like I'm getting 6 cubic meters of presents for Sinterklaas.this year. And I already know that I'll like it :)
12 November 2014
Not being able to find the charger happens more often than one might expect. It's not that our new place is huge, even if it is almost twice the size of our place in Amsterdam. There's also not that much stuff in it yet, so it's fairly easy to go searching through everything. The problem, however, is that we still don't entirely have a place for everything in the house and tasks and work times fluctuate quite a bit.
The other week Matthijs managed to lose his charger for several days. I'd noticed that he had confiscated and moved my charger, and I asked him where his was. He wasn't sure - he figured he must have left it at my work.
After several days of his still not finding it, he complained about its absence and how he couldn't figure out where in the world he could have put it. Only then, after noticing his searching for several days, did it occur to me. I had, several days earlier, cleaned off the counter and placed his charger in what is, in my head, the equivalent of the drawer we had in Amsterdam for this sort of thing. It was probably not my best moment, even though Matthijs did appreciate I had FINALLY thought about it and told him about it.
01 November 2014
I am beginning to realize that campus ministry is a lot about being open to unexpected moments and opportunities to minister. It seems a bit strange to consider that watching, waiting, reading, and reacting are fundamental to the job description. Such a description feels too far removed from the busy activity and problem-solving mindset that permeates so much of this culture, including church culture.
It's not that things can't be busy or there's a lack of things to do - answering email being a part of that! It's simply recognizing that this calling means looking for how God might be working, caring for those around me, and doing my best to share the hope, joy and peace of God whenever and wherever I can.
Today a group of Christians are coming to Michigan State, arguing that the world was created in 6 days. Their communication thus far has been alienating and offensive to the scientists at MSU. As a fellow Christian, I am bothered by this and frustrated by how this group has limited and misrepresented the gospel.
At the same time, in the midst of this negative event, there has also been good. Because of what's happening, I have been able to connect with some of the grad students affected by this, providing encouragement for the good work they do and supporting them in their concerns. And today I get to go to campus as a pastor, representing the gospel, a gospel full of hope and joy, wisdom and grace. I pray that I might have the words and non-words to do that well.
19 October 2014
The following pictures I took while I was walking through MSU give a glimpse of some of the beauty of this season.
02 October 2014
For me it's been hard at times. I'm super glad he's here, but i find it hard to figure out a healthy balance for work, especially since I didn't have to have balance when he wasn't here (No one used to care if I worked at 9 am or 9 pm or every moment in between). And i don't know how to sort out how our relationship will get affected by my being the one going to work now. What does that mean for household chores and expectations? And how do I ask and expect stuff from Matthijs in a way that's realistic, recognizing it's rather hard adjusting to a new country? And what does the role of a pastor's husband even look like?!? Perhaps it might help if I knew what the role of pastor looked like....
So that's the less fun part of the adventure.
The real fun has been had in the adventures Matthijs and I have undertaken together. Even my normal life is more of a fun adventure because Matthijs is here!
Yesterday was the big trip to the Secretary of State. For those unfamiliar with Michigan, this is where you get a driver's license. Without studying, Matthijs managed to pass the test and get his learning permit, which means he can practice driving with anyone who's had a license for awhile. We went driving together tonight. It went well: i.e., the car stayed on the road, no thing/one got hit, I didn't get stressed out in the passenger seat, Matthijs seemed fairly relaxed, and our relationship is doing fine, as far as I can tell. Matthijs practicing driving is definitely going to be the great adventure of this month....
Matthijs also agreed to join me in playing broomball with church and campus edge folks. Running around after a large plastic ball with a fake broom, in sneakers on ice, isn't my immediate idea of fun, but Matthijs said he would if I would, so....
It was actually lots of fun, minus the sore back/ behind for 4 days.
And what else? We've had people over already, despite not having enough furniture (because hospitality is about welcoming people and not first about having our act together). And we've been exploring our new neighborhood.
Stay tuned for more adventures.
And hopefully some pictures. Not because the adventures are so photo worthy, but because I get to experience fall here again, and the colours are even more beautiful than I remember.
20 September 2014
Most of the time I truly love what I do. I get to share the good news: how loving God and following Him can be such an amazing blessing, not necessarily an easy one, but one full of joy and hope and fellowship. I also get to ask how one's academic discipline affects one's faith and vice versa. Or, as the person I was talking to this morning phrased it: we shouldn't have to park our academic selves at the door when we participate in church nor should we have to leave our faith at the entrance when we live our academic professional lives.
To give a concrete idea of what happens with the ministry, I often post stories and thoughts from our Bible studies on the website of Campus Edge Fellowship. This semester we're talking about the book of Amos in one study and sex, intimacy, singleness and relationships in the other. Your prayers for us, as well as your wisdom on these topics are appreciated!
18 September 2014
The following gives some pictures of the house so that you have some idea of what it looks like, at least until you can (hopefully) come visit in person. Half of the kitchen is missing (it was messy), as is the quite large (but dirty/dusty) basement. Furthermore, most of the living room is missing, as it's missing furniture. We'll be getting some eventually, but if you're more than welcome to help us with that, if you'd like :)
|kitchen - theblue is a bit overwhelming|
|kitchen (2) - thanks to Bette and Diego for the table!|
|the covered front porch - opening immediately into the living room|
|The only shelving at the moment - in the future, it will hold the games and knick knacks, but now it's a book storage space.|
|bedroom - there's actually more than 10 inches between the bed and our clothes in this one!|
|Bedroom - the closet will be much more full when Matthijs and his stuff arrives|
|Bedroom - note the cat window and a lovely dresser from Bonnie and Jim|
|Front bedroom, aka Matthijs study and/or the spare room. Thanks to Blythe and Pete for the lovely orange curtains! (and the other ones that you've seen previously)|
And since we have all these lovely pictures, I thought I'd also include an extra one : Jerry meeting a squirel in front of the neighbour's house.
02 September 2014
27 August 2014
Acts 20:35 notes that it is better to give than receive, but I wonder how much receiving helps us know how to give? This past week I was reminded of how much being given a gracious, undeserving gift makes it easier to be giving in return. I think it's because even as much as I do want to be generous, it feels somewhat foolish to be too giving - because how will I know if I don't need something? It is only when I'm given more than I need, I realize how foolish I am for worrying!
Last week I received, with the help of a friend (Thanks Sarah!), the entire contents of a kitchen for our North American house. For free. Simply because a graduate student was leaving the country and wanted to pass it on to someone else. And I was astounded and delighted and felt very blessed. To share in my joy, I took pictures of the delightful and carefully wrapped gifts.
As I look at these gifts and anticipate filling my new kitchen with them, I cannot help but hope that I might pass on this generousity to others, as that seems the best way of saying thank-you for this generous gift from Mia/Maria. Generousity is also a way of expressing my trust that God will take care of my needs. And lastly, as Matthijs has been informing me (seeing as he's now in charge of dispersing our stuff in Amsterdam), it's simply a lot of fun to be able to help others out by giving away our stuff to them.
12 August 2014
Simply being in Lansing makes the transition feel easier, if only because it is easier to acknowledge the empty place in my heart that used to be filled by my life in Amsterdam. I was glad for my time this last while in Amsterdam - I got to be with Matthijs, the community, and friends, and I could enjoy life in a European city. Yet, at the same time, I was trying to deal with the empty place left by leaving, an emptiness that I was not anticipating so much as I had already begun to know. And the sadness of leaving crossed paths with my desire to build up a new life in Lansing, and there was not enough room for both to co-exist well. So in the midst of processing and grieving the changes (or trying to avoid doing either), I feel like I did not always function well nor did I always know how to acknowledge to others how much I would miss that life surrounded by so many I cared about. It is not that I worry that I will lose touch with those I care about, it is more that I am saddened that I can no longer delight in/with and appreciate those folks with the same ease and regularity as I used to.
01 August 2014
"Lansing’s Church of the Resurrection this fall will take over space on East Grand River Avenue occupied by a women’s health clinic that provides abortions."
Reading the local paper is a great way to become acquainted with a new place, and it's a good way to discover more about the culture of a place. I'd walked by the office of the health clinic, named WomanCare, and it did not occur to me that this was a place that offered abortions until I saw the Catholic Church picketing that corner for quite awhile. It is surprising to me that such a name could be given to an abortion clinic - Woman Care. I assumed, when I first saw the name, that the clinic specialized in psychological and emotional help focused on women, possibly including health care issues, such as pregnancy, parenthood, fertility, and female-dominated cancers. It also occurred to me that the clinic might focus on women from certain religious groups where care from male health workers would be considered inappropriate. That the name 'WomanCare' would be given to a place that specialized in abortions seemed to be a euphemism at best; it was an insult to those who believe that abortion destroys life and harms women, and it neglected caring for a vast amount of the needs within the female population.
It is strange to me to realize again that abortion is such an issue within the Catholic and Evangelical communities of the United States. It is not that abortion is ignored here in the Netherlands. For one thing, the doctors in the community's crisis center are specifically not allowed to prescribe any kind of abortion-like medicine (and this is to a high needs population: one that is generally not insured, is generally undocumented, and for whom having a child could be a great burden). Secondly, the Christian political parties have a strong stance against abortion, but it does not come up that often within the churches or even in the party's political news. It is different here,and I do not know how that is good or bad. Seeing it through the eyes of others -reading the newspaper in my city and hearing the small victory of the local Catholic church in removing an abortion clinic from their neighbourhood - reminds me that there is still much to ponder about how one can best live out one's faith in the public sphere.
17 July 2014
"Too long my soul has made its home with those who lift the sword. I am for peace, but when I speak, they make for war."
Lift up your Hearts, 283I wasn't expecting these words - they are not part of most songs I sing - and it was mildly disconcerting. Normal life, irrelevant of all the information we hear on the news, feels very far from war.
And yet, the words seemed appropriate when I thought of the tensions in Ukraine and the escalating violence in the Middle East. I am part of a world that accepts war and conflict and corruption more easily than the hard work of peace.
As I read the news about the flight - from Schiphol - shot down in Ukrainian airspace, I feel anxious. There is a sadness for those who have died, while I also feel sad that I have not cared more about the many Ukrainian (or Russian) victims of the conflict. I lived in Ukraine once, and although it was the Western Hungarian-speaking part, I know first-hand some of the poverty and corruption and messiness of that land. The salaries at the high school I taught at were impossible to live on, and even then there'd be months without pay. My high school students had little hope of a good future in that land, recognizing how difficult it was to go against the power of the maffia or the corruption of most political and government forces.
In the midst of these difficulties - difficulties that have not improved significantly in the fifteen years since I first went there - it is not surprising that the complicated relationship to Russia has only gotten messier. It should come as no surprise that the corruption also present in Russia, along with the desire to control and dominate the lands that used to belong to it, is causing much suffering. Yet, it still feels unexpected: it feels so distant from normal life. Furthermore, my experience of life in Ukraine was that, despite all the corruption and potential dangers, normal life meant that one, amidst some complaining, simply learned to adjust. How else could one survive?
Unfortunately, normal life includes living in a corrupted world, a world that is far too often for war. The shooting down of a passenger plane could be seen as an act of war, and conversations will be happening about how to respond. Pray for those making those decisions and those hurt by all the conflict thus far. Pray also for those willing to do the hard work of reconciliation and peace, both in Ukraine and the Middle East.
13 July 2014
And so when someone quips that this sharing in people's lives and burdens is all part of the job, my answer is yes, no, and kind of. Because it is to some degree what we pastors do and so, yes, it is part of the job. At the same time, being invited into someone's life and encouraging him/her in to faithfully serve God (and enjoy Him!), this is much more than a job: it is a precious a gift and an honour. Even if this gets to be more part of my normal life in the coming time, I hope I never lose the wonder of being allowed to walk alongside and pastor others.
11 July 2014
When he left Den Haag, he texted me to let me know which train he was on. I texted back to let him know that I was ready to go.
When his train arrived, I got in at the end and started looking for Matthijs. I couldn't find him in my half of the train, so I figured I'd find him when we got out at the next station. But when I got out of the train, the platform was full, and I still couldn't see him. So I eventually went down into the station proper, assuming that he'd had similar problems finding me amidst all the people and had also gone downstairs. Still no sign of him.
"Where are you?" was the text message we both sent each other. "At the station, waiting for you" was the answer we both gave.
It took me awhile to figure out what the problem was. At the airport, Matthijs had gotten off the train to meet me. He didn't see me (I had entered the train further down), and, since he didn't want to leave me behind, he didn't get back on the train. My phone was on silent so I hadn't noticed that his text had arrived before I even got to the next station. We had both assumed what the other was doing, so it took a short conversation before Matthijs figured out what had happened and hopped on the next train to meet me.
The irony is that this is not the first time we have made plans to meet up and managed to miss each other. Thankfully we both have cell phones, which has definitely been a great help with communication! At the same time, it seems apparent that clear communication is apparently a learned skill: even after several years of being married, it's the kind of skill that one can never practice too often.
09 July 2014
Yet, I still talk about people. People fascinate me - I so very much love to understand how everything fits together, along with how people react and function. I also care about others and want to know how it is with them; talking about them helps me to put the pieces together of what I have seen and heard, so that I might know if they are truly doing well. In other words, I believe that, done wisely, talking about others can be good. I am thankful that I am not the only one who believes that:
"Like the desert tales that monks have used for centuries as a basis for a theology and a way of life, the tales of small-town gossip are often morally instructive, illustrating the ways ordinary people survive the worst that happens to them; or, conversely, the ways in which self-pity, anger, and despair can overwhelm and destroy them. Gossip is theology translated into experience. In it we hear great stories of conversion, like the drunk who turns his or her life around, as well as stories of failure. We can see that pride really does go before a fall, and that hope is essential. We watch closely those who retire, or who lose a spouse, lest they lose interest in living. When we gossip we are also praying, not only for them, but for ourselves."As I continue to understand better about how talking about others is part of my pastoral role - both as an encouragement to others as well as part of listening for pastoral concerns - it is helpful to remember that every sentence I say about another ought to be also a prayer.
(From Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A spiritual Geography (2001) page 76 (according to Google books). Taken from http://dailyasterisk.com/ April 17, 2014)
02 July 2014
Two people stuck in limbo are not an ideal combination. I feel like I've been constantly fluctuating between feeling hurt by or irritated with Matthijs (or he with me) to apologizing to him or appreciating him for all he does and his patience with me. I would be annoyed to live with me at this point, so I sometimes wonder how he manages to do it! Even as I know that marriage involves hard work at times, I'm starting to feel a bit resentful of the stress this adventure has been putting on our relationship. I am thankful to see how our relationship has been able to withhold the strain placed on it through the distance and stress, but I recognize how much God's grace has played a role in that. As much as God's grace is unending, it seems foolhardy not to try to do whatever we can to bring more joy and peace into our relationship. Ideally, we'd get rid of the stress and distance as soon as possible, but until that can happen, it seems wisest, during the stressful times, to try to be extra gracious with each other, learn better to be silent and listen and think extra before speaking, and even to spend less time with each other (especially when I'm irritable).
I'm hoping and praying that the some of the stress on our relationship will fade away now that we've finally (after 6 months of waiting!) received our visas to live in Lansing. And we're going away this weekend, getting to spend time together delighting in the beauty of Europe, which always makes us happy. At the same time, although I wouldn't want to go through these last 6 months again, I'm thankful for what the experience has taught me about stress and relationships. I hope that Matthijs and I can share what we've learned with others.
29 June 2014
Questions like these have been asked by many (most recently in my hearing during a study time with some grad students). They deserve answers. A recent article in the The Banner, "The Scandal of the Old Testament God" does a really good job of looking at the difficulties, and it deserves to be read.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to the difficulty of the violence in the Old Testament, as Benckhuysen acknowledges in the article. At the same time that this reality (and the violence itself) makes me uncomfortable, I would also argue that I find a completely comforting and simple to understand God also problematic.
24 June 2014
Today I am flying, and it is going well. A friend/student picked me up and put me in a good mood with his cheerfulness and niceness. The bus left and arrived on time. My first flight also arrived on time. The next flight looks to be on time. There's been internet and outlets in both airports!
The best part, however, has been the sense that this is extra free time. I am flying, so I am busy. No one is expecting me to do anything, and so I can email (or not). I can read whatever books I'd like (and thanks to my housemate, I got a chance to explore NT Wright's Revelation for Everyone - his explanation of chapter 12 was really good!). And while I was biking(!) I got to read more of 'Who's got time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation'. In the Philadelphia terminal, there are exercise bikes and rocking chairs, and I couldn't resist trying them out.
As I was biking, it was fun to watch the people go by and to see their expressions as they saw people biking along the pathway. It was a very tangible way to be reminded of the world around me, especially as my simple actions could not only bring me joy but also bring a smile to others. Such a reminder to pay attention is one that I can never hear enough of. Perhaps I'll have to check out the rocking chairs next :)
17 June 2014
And so instead I will give you some glimpses of life here.
I have been thankful to be able to visit with much of my family this past month and see good friends. I have my uncle Dick (and my dad) to thank for this - my aunt and uncle sold me their old car for very little - and it's very good on gas! - and my father took care of getting it on the road for me.
Matthijs and I have been trying to organize a move to the United States. A normal move is a lot of work, but this one just feels worse. After all, we're trying to find a place to live in a new place, figure out how to get what we want and need across an ocean, as well as deal with the challenges of visas and adjusting to a new country.
I think the moving to a new country has been the most challenging and stressful part of my life lately. That, and my dissertation - and this in spite of the fact that when I work on it, it has gone very well, and I've gotten great feedback and support from both my supervisors! My difficulties in making time to work on it disappoints me, while at the same time I'm trying not to be too hard on myself. I think I underestimated how challenging the move here would be and how much being away from Matthijs creates disorder in my life.
Thankfully, the disorder and stress are only a (small) part of my life. A better description of me is that, despite missing Matthijs and feeling somewhat off-kilter, I am full of joy in what I've been able to do and thankfulness for how God is working in and around me.
05 June 2014
So I was a bit surprised a few weeks ago when I bought salad dressing herbs only to discover that the salad dressing wasn't anywhere near empty. Apparently my system of remembering wasn't working that well. It is only when I returned to Lansing that I realized that my memory wasn't the problem. The salad dressing is almost empty here: both in my house as well as in the fridge at work. The problem is less my memoy and more the challenge of having three different kitchens in my head, and my brain can't entirely unsort them from each other.
All the information runs together and makes my normal way of doing things more difficult - this seems like a fairly adequate metaphor for my whole life in this inbetween time. On the bright side, though (and this is pushing the metaphor a bit far), just like the contents of my three kitchens provide much more interesting food to eat than my previous single kitchen, the changes and this move bring with them the spice of new challenges and experiences.
30 May 2014
This morning I had the joy of attending an Ascension Day service with the Chrisitan Reformed Campus Ministers Association, and there they also had an ascension day image displaying only Jesus' feet (something like this). It is perhaps not surprising that I felt very much at home amongst these people :)
May you have a good Ascension Day and a good time of waiting and anticipation for the next (strange and wonderful) event in the Christian calendar: Pentecost.
20 May 2014
I have lived most of the last 7 years in a neighbourhood that is known for prostitution. In my neighbourhood, I know drug dealers personally and have been regularly asked if I want to buy drugs. Human trafficking is present amongst my neighbours, as is money laundering, gambling, scamming, and so on. Bad things do happen to those who are part of this world, but people are not shot. The last time I truly noticed a gun here was when we were living in Den Haag, and the police understood my neighbour as threatening to set himself on fire.
It is thus disconcerting to read last week in the Lansing news that, only a few miles from my 'new' house, someone was shot, and several schools in East Lansing were closed for hours while a gunman was loose in the neighbourhood: http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/viewart/20140513/NEWS01/305130013/Frandor-Rite-Aid-closed-indefinitely-after-homicide
I do not understand. Why aren't Christians in the United States more in an uproar about all these lives being taken on account of gun-related violence?
19 May 2014
The usual questions focus on the differences and parallels between the groups are. There is also usually a question of why I've decided (or felt called) to such a huge change. The irony is that campus ministry is less of a strange change for me than one might expect. After all, I love academics, like doing ministry, am highly educated, am familiar with the North American university sitting, and have aloways enjoyed reading about millenials and culture on the internet. Campus ministry feels like a good fit for who I am and the gifts and passions I have.
Ministry to prostitutes, on the other hand, is a different story. I moved to this neighbourhood because I sensed that God had led me to be part of this intentional community, which was reaching out to its neighbourhood. It wasn't until I actually arrived in Amsterdam that I knew for sure that my new neighbourhood was the Red Light District. I feel called to minister to prostitutes because I feel that God calls all of us to minister where we are and to reach out to the neighbours we have. It just so happens that my neighbours here are somewhat unusual.
In thinking more about the question of what I'm taking with me from one ministry context to another, I recognize the importance of authenticity, which is closely related to a ministry of presence.
The other day when I was talking to a prostitute, she asked me about my own sex life. To the degree that I could be honest and respectful of my husband's privacy, I answered her. Only afterwards did it occur to me how strange this interaction was. Ten years ago, before starting this ministry, I would never have been comfortable with this kind of question nor giving any kind of answer to it! But the strange intimacy of the prostitute's work - her being half-naked and her work being to create intimacy - has helped me become more comfortable with how intimacy and honesty can play a role in reaching out to another. Futhermore, the question reminded me of how I have learned how important authenticity is to ministry. I cannot hide behind an ideal, whether that be a picture I have of myself or how I ought to minister. I have to be entirely myself, otherwise neither I nor the good news will be accepted or heard.
09 May 2014
I am back in Amsterdam. That is good. I love being with Matthijs, and I love this place and those here.
But it is hard to be so far away from Lansing and those I am growing to care about. It is hard to be so far away from the ministry there.
I am still in Amsterdam, longer than I had expected. This makes things a bit more chaotic as it requires an extra shift: how do I resume normal life here when normal has been changing? And most of those changes happen to be on the other side of an ocean. Furthermore, one of the biggest changes has not yet happened: my visa approving my working in America. Even though there is no reason that we can imagine for the ministry and me not being approved, the current lack of visa complicates things. It means Matthijs cannot stop his job, I cannot get paid nor do the work fully, I cannot get approved for a mortgage to buy a house in Lansing, and it places a greater burden on those involved in the ministry in Lansing.
I do not like the waiting and uncertainty. I want to and need to make plans, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to plan well. It's driving me crazy, distracting me from living my life. And yet, there is a gentle voice that is reminding me that the chaos is also my life. And the chaos is helping me turn to God and open my eyes to how God can work in and through me.
07 May 2014
26 I prayed to the Lord and said, “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.” (NIV).
Reading the text this time, both of Moses' arguments jumped out at me.
The first - remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - struck me almost as strange. Although Israel had been rebellious and disobedient, their forefathers were not exactly what one would call ideal in their response to God. Reading the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob one cannot help but be struck by how not good the patriarchs were (e.g., their complicated relations with their wives and poor fathering, their frequent deceit). It seems to me that Moses had little ability to claim any rights on the basis of their goodness.
The second - for the sake of your name - spoke to me differently. I've been thinking a lot about the negative ways in which the (American) church has been represented by the media. God is often presented as being judgmental and strange, and He is seen as being particularly ungracious to gays. Moses' words - You, O LORD, would not want the other nations (i.e., non-believers) to think poorly of You - seem like words we have forgotten today. How can we as Christians speak about God so often in ways that are misunderstood by non-believers and/or allows them to profane who He is?
As a side note, I noticed when looking at Moses' exact words that I had placed words in his mouth when originally reading the text. This is not entirely surprising, as one's understanding of Scripture is (and ought to be) influenced by the rest of Scripture. The idea of 'for the sake of his name' is actually found elsewhere in the biblical text, for example in Ezekiel 20:9 - 9 But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites.
05 May 2014
This is basically what Israel hears in Deuteronomy 9.
"4After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
7 Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. . .
22 You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah. 23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you." (NIV)
In a culture and age when being affirmed has become so important, these words come across as startling. They are words of grace but expressed in a way that is uncomfotable. It is a reminder that God's way of doing things does not always fit with what we expect or what we consider good
04 May 2014
To provide a bit of background, we used the following biblical texts over the four days:
- the lame man lowered down into the house where Jesus was preaching;
- the woman caught in adultery (John 8);
- Jesus cleaning out the temple (John 2);
- the parable of the prodigal son (also with the older son);
- the disciples being sent out 2 by 2 (Luke 10);
- Moses and the burning bush.
The following are some of the insights I received during the training:
- that the youngest son was not necessarily repentant
- that the older brother would have suffered from the rumours that came back about his brother
- that my interpretation of the text is not the only possible one
- that I find it difficult to watch when I believe people are using/interpreting the text and/or talking about God wrongly - this, I believe, is related to my desire to be both a teacher and pastor
- that Moses would have most likely been skeptical about the effectiveness of his being sent out by God
- that I would really like to heal others, so much so that I might miss what people themselves actually want;
- that it bothers me that people I have lost touch with people I have cared about and helped in the past (related to the work in the community, I imagine)
- that I have a strong sense of being sent out (thankfully as part of a pair), which is not surprising seeing as we're in the process of moving to America for me to become a pastor.
Incidentally, I also learned a number of new Flemish words. Being surrounded by Belgians speacking Flemish is probably not the most ideal way to get used to speaking Dutch again; at the same time, even if it was exhausting it was also very effective!
03 May 2014
Bibliodrama allows one to place oneself into the biblical story. By doing so, one can learn more about the biblical text and oneself. It can be a deeply emotional experience, as the combination of being yourself while taking on a specific role can often help reveal desires, fears and emotions that are not often expressed. It also brings the biblical story to life in the sense that the actions and characters become more real, especially as one listens to others interpret the biblical characters. Bibliodrama provides a way for the Word of God to work in and through us.
As far as I know, Bibliodrama developed in Germany as a variation on psychodrama. This stream of Bibliodrama tends toward being a several hour event where everyone (8-15 individuals) takes on a role (same/different) in a biblical story, is interviewed by the leader, and guided interactions occur between the 'players.' This can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, especially when the leader focuses on one individual and you feel like you're eavesdropping on someone else's therapy. The Belgian stream, however, has taken the more classic form of bibliodrama and developed variations on it. These shorter forms of Bibliodrama are more ideal for use by Bible teachers and as part of retreats or adult education classes and allow for short, but still insightful interactions with the biblical text. Matthijs and I were trained to lead a few of these shorter forms of Bibliodrama.
I tried a short variation of Bibliodrama in our chapel service on Holy Saturday. I wasn't expecting that it would be quite so full, which brought with it quite a bit of distraction, and I wasn't entirely willing to have the focus of the chapel be a Bibliodrama exercise instead of a meeting with God. So the exercise in Bibliodrama wasn't quite as effective as it might have been; at the same time, I hope and trust that people did gain deeper insight into dark day in the biblical story.
Matthijs and I took home a lot of notes and a textbook, so hopefully we will both have the chance to practice our training again in the near future.
01 May 2014
We biked north of Amsterdam through Broek in Waterland to the 'island' of Marken and then back through Monnickendam.
The following are a few pictures taken in Marken, mostly taken around the fire tower (the white horse) on the coast:
|Even on the coast of an island, one never escapes bike racks here in the Netherlands.|
|More picturesque bike racks|
|The garden area of the tower, often used for wedding pictures|
|Marken on King's Day (as can be confirmed by all the people dressed in orange at the left of the pictures)|
|A wooden shoe tree|
30 April 2014
Nonetheless, the following pictures give you an idea what my life has looked like in the last two weeks.
|The view from my window; trees starting to bloom and the neighbours who first set out their plants before sitting outside.|
|View from my window: the Oudekerk in spring|
|Sunday afternoon bike ride: windmill near the Westerpark|
|Castle with moat in Belgium: where we stayed for our bibliodrama class|
|Our access to the castle (meals were served in the basement so we had a good view of the moat)|
|The bridge to our own private forest|
|The gate of Hof Zevenbergen (which closes at 10, so you'd better be in or else get ready to do acrobatics or swim!)|
|2 weeks later - the trumpeter in the canal and more green on the trees. (And don't forget the neighbours with the plants!)|
22 April 2014
The joy of Easter is easier to experience when the world around me is proclaiming spring (Being so close to Matthijs also helps, of course). And the Netherlands, with its love affair with tulips, is proclaiming spring loud and clear.
Last Thursday evening, I got to take the train along the tulip fields (between Haarlem and Leiden). I was surprised and delighted again by how beautiful all those tulips swaying in the field are. It thus seems appropriate to honour Easter with pictures of the fields (ones I had taken several years ago).
13 April 2014
The only complaint I have is that it it is hard to concentrate on Christ's suffering this week, journeying towards Good Friday to finally be delighted and overjoyed by Easter. The problem is that it feels like Easter has already come. After all, I am home by Matthijs. I have seen loved ones I have missed. I biked through 3 parks in Amsterdam this afternoon and am spending a whole week with Matthijs focusing on the Bible - in a former castle (surrounded by a moat! and around that a forest to walk in). Everything is green because spring arrived here before I did. And I am adventuring with Matthijs, one of my most favourite things to do!
I am expecting this week to be holy; but like Lent, it will be different.
10 April 2014
The biggest challenge relates to how much we as Christians ought to be able to explain things (scientifically). Those advocating for evolution make it sound almost like one has to have a logical explanation for how things were formed. This makes it sound like it's not okay to claim that there is much we do not understand (i.e., mystery) in the formation of the world. Furthermore, some things in the Bible are not scientifically explainable: the biggest, most obvious one being the resurrection. The resurection of Christ is fundamental to Christian belief (1 Cor 15). There is no scientific explanation for Jesus being really dead and then rising again. The Bible thus seems to make the claim that some things cannot be explained and must simply be taken by faith.
I also don't know how understanding the world (and humans) as being formed through evolution explains how sin and death came into the world. Although I don't have an answer for this question, I find this a less difficult hermeneutical issue than the above, partly because I know that not all Chistian traditions hold to the same teachings with regard to original sin and because I believe some have already been addressing this question. (If you do have an explanation, please do let me know! update: one possible explanation can be found here: http://blog.calvinincommon.org/2014/06/27/the-fall-of-historical-adam-and-eve/)
When I said that I think Christians can't believe that the world had to be created in 6-days, I can see how that might be interpreted as me saying that I believe that the world had to be formed through evolution. Except that's not really what I believe.
I want to honour and respect the God-given gifts of the intelligent science folk around me who do believe that evolution is very much part of the process of how the world has been formed, especially as Christianity often gives those advocating for evolution the hardest time. At the same time, I also believe that all we can definitely say about the issue on the basis of the Bible is that God was very much involved in the world's formation. I believe that to claim to know exactly how the world came into being - or to say that those holding more to the creation side OR to the evolution side are obviously wrong or, worse yet, not even Christians - is a mockery to faith and makes our God too small.
07 April 2014
In years past, I have joined in on the community's meals, meatless meals eaten with 20+ people silently listening to music playing in the background.
This year, I have eaten alone more often than not. At the same time, I have eaten meat more often than I have in ages. And my attempt at fasting for a day ended late in the afternoon when I decided that I needed to accomplish a few things more than I needed to learn (more) about my difficulties with self-discipline.
In years past, I have attended the chapel services in the community multiple times a week - last year during lent even trying to attend daily. Each service spoke of Lent, whether through the reading or the songs or through the familiar purple curtains which were long my responsibility. And even in the days when my attention was elsewhere, the liturgy's lack of a praise song - present throughout the rest of the year - would gently remind me that this season was different.
This year I have church only on Sunday, in a church that I am not familiar with enough to know how this season of Lent has been different than other seasons. All I know is that it has taken me awhile to realize that I have been missing the familiar songs of Lent from my childhood. I have also become less diligent in attending local Catholic services and regret not doing 'daily prayer' more often.
The hardest part of Lent, though, has been Matthijs' absence. The day before Ash Wednesday marked the end of almost 40 days of not seeing him - an odd way to start Lent, which is known in Dutch as the 40-day time. Lent is a time of giving up, but how was I to enter a time of sobriety when I had been given back that which I had found hardest to give up in coming here? But the sobriety has returned, and the short 4 weeks of absence feel like another 40 days.
It feels like I have done a lousy job this year of using Lent to re-order my life by looking at my brokenness and sin more closely. Yet, God has graciously poked at me to expose my brokenness: how I have too often taken for granted those I love (both here and in Amsterdam), how often I don't open myself up to how God can work through me (I have much to learn about being a pastor!), and how desperately I need God's help in ordering my life (as a visit to monastery reaffirmed to me). Most importantly, this Lent has very much helped me to long for Easter: for being re-united with those I love and for being awed by the power and might of the resurrected Lord.
29 March 2014
Really? Don't we have better things to get excited about?
I don't believe that homosexual relationships are part of God's good order. However, I also believe that God can use people, irrelevant of their sexual preference. I also believe that promiscuity - whether it be homosexual or, even more common, heterosexual - is sin, and the consequences of it are often pain and difficulties. Nonetheless, despite believing these things I still think there's a lot better things that we as Christians ought to be getting excited about and, more importantly, being known for in the public eye.
I think the Canadian branch of World Vision responded to the situation well, so I will link that here: http://churches.worldvision.ca/our-christian-identity-responding-to-world-vision-us-hiring-policy-change/
28 March 2014
Yet, I am thankful that I have somehow become a part of this 40 days for life. I am thankful for those praying for the unborn children and for those struggling with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. And I want to join my prayers to theirs.
At the same time, my prayers include praying that women might have access to contraceptives in the hopes that less unwanted pregnancies (and abortions) will happen and less children will be born only to be subjected to neglect and pain. I am thankful to be part of a church who sees contraceptive as being a technological development that can be used to honour and glorify God, even as it also can be used in a way that ignore any claim God might have on one's life or sexuality.
I also mourn that too many children have been born into situations in which they become incredibly hurt and vulnerable to harm.
In light of that, I wanted to post a few links:
- Hobby Lobby's petition about not providing their workers with access to contraceptive drugs is a skewed understanding of Christianity. http://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/hobby-lobbys-high-horse
- Children in foster care, often children who have been born in less than ideal situations, have been shown to be very susceptible to trafficking: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/malika-saada-saar/stopping-the-foster-care-_b_4170483.html