31 January 2014

Thankfulness and arriving amidst prayers

I arrived in Lansing this week. So much is new. Matthijs is far away in Amsterdam. My work visa hasn't come in yet, so even coming into the country was a point of concer. Would they let me be here to volunteer while I prepare for this ministry? And now that they have let me in, how do I be here well? Not working but still ministering to those who are part of the campus ministry here.

If I list everything like that, it sounds overwhelming. There have been moments when it has felt overwhelming. Yet, those moments have been few and far between.

More often I have felt thankful and blessed.
- thankful for all those who are so enthusiastic about my being here;
- thankful that Matthijs is just a skype phone call away; talking to him helps give me courage and everything just seems so much better;
- thankful that it hasn't been too complicated to settle into life in Lansing - my time in Grand Rapids helped a lot with knowing how things work (and hopefully that will be a blessing to Matthijs, too, when he comes);
- thankful for the place that I have found to live - it's a new adventure in community! The people here are gracious and friendly, and I'm looking forward to walking alongside them for awhile. And like all good communities it has a cat :) The cat has adopted me, making me feel more at home.
- thankful for all those who have been praying for me - both here and in Amsterdam. People who didn't even know me have been diligently praying about my visa and coming. And many more are praying for my transition into life here and the challenge of being so far away from Matthijs and Amsterdam, for which I am thankful;
- thankful that I'm beginning to get a sense of what I'm to do here for now: fall in love with these people and this place and this church and the ministry. Encourage the work that those here are already doing, and walk alongside watching, praying, and wondering about what's next for all of us.

I'm glad that the beginning of my time here has been filled with so much thankfulness.

30 January 2014

So, how was your trip?

I like the fact that I get to see those I love so often and that I'm home in many different places, but flying is not my favourite. And the last flying day was probably the worst I've ever had.

The morning of my flight I couldn’t manage to pack my bags properly, which is normally not a problem. However, this time I just had too much stuff and couldn't figure out what was most important. At the airport, we eventually got it down to under the required 23 kilos. It turned out that the check-out desk scale considered it to be even less, so Matthijs sneakily put an extra half kilo of cheese into the luggage when the check-in lady at the counter wasn’t looking.

But after Matthijs left, I was not feeling in any kind of mood to fly, despite the coffee and hot chocolate we'd had time to have together. I don’t particularly like flying, but my mood was significantly worse than unusual. It was like an anticipatory bad mood, even though it was also a day filled with grace.

The worst part of the day is that I missed my second flight. And not because my plane was late arriving, but because I had no idea what the gate was. I spent an hour trying to get the gate number, only getting as far as the terminal before it was supposed to leave. I was standing in security for the second time when they paged me. Missing a flight is one of my nightmares, which obviously didn't help matters. I don’t know, on the basis of the info I then had – and the fact that it was a shared Star Alliance flight – if I could have done it differently. But that doesn't change the sinking feeling I had when I realized that my flight was leaving without me - and I had had more than enough time to make it. .

Thankfully, though, I got a new flight quickly. At no cost, even. My panic and distress at missing my flight seemed almost inappropriate in light of the calm and helpfulness of those who rebooked me and the sheer simplicity of it. 

You would think that was the end of the story, but my second flight got delayed several hours and my checked baggage got left in Newark. Yet, because I'd had so much to pack, I'd had more than enough clothes in my carry-on. And not having the extra baggage made it simple to take the bus the next day when the roads were nastier than my sister wanted to drive on. And despite the crazy stormy weather on the day I flew in, it was a friend living close-by in Hamilton who picked me up, and she was up for the drive through the blowing snow, which wasn't as bad as it could have been.

So yes, it was a lousy trip. At the same time, I had much to be thankful for. Not simply the delivered suitcase within 2 days, but even more so the safe tavel and the wonderful family and friends who came to meet me at the airport in Woodstock in the midst of the crazy winter weather we've had on this side of the ocean.

17 January 2014

The beginning of the chaos

Life has finally once again settled into its usual rhythms after the Christmas holidays, for which I am grateful. However, it is overshadowed by the fact these rhythms are now only temporary.

Christmas was only the beginning of the chaos. The familiar patterns of life, when Matthijs and I will even be capable of keeping these rhythms, will look much different in the next 6 months as we go through the process of moving to Michigan and I become campus pastor for Campus Edge Fellowship (a CRC ministry to MSU grad students).

At the end of next week, I fly out to Canada to visit with family.
In February I'll be in Michigan in order to prepare for my work with the campus ministry. And the ministry has its own rhythms, which I'll want to adjust to quickly. Yet, it'll be odd to go through the daily rhythms (and even re-learn them) without Matthijs around. I assume for Matthijs it will be the same.
In March, Matthijs hopes to come visit and discern better what he might do when we live there.
In April, I return to the Netherlands for Easter.
In May, I hope to be working in Michigan.
Then much of June and July back in the Netherlands in order to move, deal with the dissertation, and say good-byes to this place and these people.

I am excited to begin - waiting for such a change brings its own chaos with it. But I am not so much looking forward to the chaos of the unknown rhythms and structure awaiting both of us these coming months. I hope and pray that we will both find some kind of order and structure quickly. Thankfully, the support we have on both sides of the ocean has been a blessing with finding peace in the midst of this large change.

12 January 2014

Ephesians 4 and knowing the (real) truth

Ephesians 4:14 (NLT) states “Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.”

As we as a church often struggle with being deceived, this text resonated with me. The use of the word “then” indicates that there is a basis for this statement: what (then) is the secret to not being fickle or deceived?

Unity amongst Christians is the reason given in the text. Verses 2-3 state “be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.” Furthermore, those in the church are being equipped “until we come to such knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.” (v. 13)

This gives me something to think about. How does this text relate to how we often don’t work together with other Christians and/or have the tendency to think that our own church is (always) right and best? How good are such things when seen in light of Eph 4:14?

11 January 2014

The genealogy of Genesis 11: could Shem have met Abram, his grandson of 8 generations?

The dating of those in the genealogy of Genesis 11, including the possibility that greatgrandparents outlived their grandchildren’s children, intrigued me so much that I had to do the math. So I made a chart to find out exactly who would have outlived who. This chart is based on the assumption that no extra generations are skipped in the genealogy, which might have happened (e.g., Shem begetting (i.e., fathering) the father/ancestor of Arphaxad at 100 and not Arphaxad himself)). 

If we number the date of Arphaxad’s birth as 100, this is how the years work:
Shem begets Arphaxad (2 years after flood) + lives another 500 years
Shem dies in ‘600’
Arphaxad begets Shelah + lives another 403 years
Arphaxad dies in ‘538’
Shelah begets Eber + lives another 403 years
Shelah dies in ‘568’
Eber begets Peleg + lives another 430 years
Eber dies in ‘629’
Peleg begets Reu + lives another 209 years
Peleg dies in ‘438’
Reu begets Serug + lives another 207 years
Reu dies in ‘468’
Serug begets Nahor + lives another 200 years
Serug dies in ‘491’
Nahor begets Terah + lives another 119 years
Nahor dies in ‘439’
Terah becomes father of Abram; lives total of 205 years
Terah dies in ‘525’

On the basis of this calculation, Shem would still have been alive when Abram was born and when Nahor died. In fact, all of the first four generations outlive the next five. Only Eber outlives Shem, at least according to the numbers given. This gives a different impression (again) of Abram leaving his family – especially assuming others of the earlier generation also lived so long.

If we include Noah in the genealogy, he would have died in 448 (98 being the year that the flood ended, and he lived 350 more years after the flood). That means Peleg would have died before Noah did, despite Noah. What is more interesting is that Abram could have known Noah since Noah would still have been alive when he was born.

08 January 2014

Reading the whole Bible in a year (again).

I’m thankful to have kept with my plan last year to read through thewhole Bible in a year. This is not to say that I was always good at it: at times I found it a bit of a chore, and I got behind in my reading (I skipped over Ezekiel, reading it separately on my last vacation). Yet, I found it worthwhile and something that was important for me to do as a biblical scholar. Because of that I’ve decided to do it again this year (albeit with a different plan – not the “classic plan” but a “thematic plan.”)

I’ve also decided that working ahead is a good idea, so reading a number of chapters was the first project of our recent trip to Munich. All the thoughts and questions that come up as I read remind me again of why I believe it is good to read the Bible through.

These are some of the thoughts from the first few readings:
1. Ephesians 4: 14 (NLT) – “Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.”
The use of the word “then” indicates that there is a basis for this statement: what (then) is the secret to not being fickle or deceived? I’ll get back to this in a later blog entry (feel free to look up the text yourself).

2. Genesis 11-12
I’ve always seen Abram’s going to Canaan as such a huge step of faith – leaving his country, his relatives and his father’s house (Gen 12:1). Yet, Gen 11:31 indicates that Terah, Abram’s father, had already brought the family – himself, Abram, Sarai, and Lot – away from Ur with the plan to go to Canaan! They just stopped part way in Haran instead of going all the way. Abram received the call (to continue?) to go to Canaan after his father passed away.
On one hand, these details in Genesis 11 make Abram’s response to God’s call seem less significant. After all, what did he have to lose? However, perhaps there’s also something to appreciate about how things were set in place (through Abram’s father) so that Abram was more likely (and more open) to respond to God’s call.

3. The genealogy of Genesis 11. Like most people, I tend to skip over the genealogies as being one of the most boring aspects of reading the Bible today. However, two things struck me when reading this genealogy and looking at the ages.
1. God says (before the flood) in Gen 6:3 “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, they will live no more than 120 years. Nonetheless in the list of Shem (son of Noah) and his descendents, people live 400+ years.
2. If you look at the dates and do a quick calculation, you can come to the conclusion that, with everyone bearing children before they turn 40 while living 400 years in the first generation and only 200 years in the later generations, some of the older generations would then outlive the younger generations.

4. In Genesis 9, Noah curses Ham’s family, so why then is he the father of all the nations that become so powerful later on? The curse Noah puts on Ham’s family is: “A curse on the Canaanites! May they be the lowest of servants to the descendants of Shem and Japheth.” (Gen 9:25)
Ham becomes the father of the builders of the foundations of Babylonia and Nineveh. He is also ancestor of theCanaanites, Philistines, Jebusites, Amorites, Hivites, and ‘lots more unpleasant people’ (Matthijs’s words). None of the other sons had any ‘peoples,’ although obviously Shem becomes the great grandfather of Abram and the Israelites who later annihilate the Canaanites (see the book of Joshua). Japheth only becomes the ancestor of all the people mightily involved in the sea trade.
Thus all these people who cause many difficulties for the Israelites (and overpower them at times) in the future are descendants of Ham, which doesn't seem to make sense from the original curse. How is that then possible? 
Matthijs pointed out that animosity could be projected through one's ancestors – the greatest insult being that you are a descendent of Ham. (later on, also Moab, the people from Lot's daughters). 
Any other thoughts? 

In case you’re thinking about reading the Bible through in a year (or two), the following website gives some helpful resources: http://writingandliving.net/2013/12/31/links-new-year/

07 January 2014

Christmas is about the women

Although Christmas has passed for the Western world, many in the Eastern world are celebrating Christmas today and so it seems fitting to post my reflection on the Christmas celebration we had in the community.

During advent, the community focused in our spiritual formation evenings on the women found in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba. They are strong and fascinating women, each having done something out of the ordinary. In the gospel of Matthew, each is given a place amongst all the forefathers of Jesus, even though Bathsheba’s story is overshadowed by her being referred to as Uriah’s wife. The wonder of Christmas – that everything can be different – is reflected in these women. 
In the community, we sometimes get small glimpses of how everything can be different. After the Christmas dinner in the community (involving extensive amounts of cooking, eating ourselves silly and cleaning up the kitchen), a group of us sat around in the Kajuit (the communal living room). Within a short time, it dawned on me that here, too, Christmas was about the women. It was not simply that Christmas dinner is often prepared by women, including our dinner in the community this year. This itself felt fitting to me, as I have fond memories of the camraderie found in working with other women in preparing various feasts over the years. 

At first, the sense of Christmas being about the women was simply a reflection of how the women dominated the conversation. There were some men around, but their thoughts and words faded in the face of the three strong and fascinating women present. Each comes from far-away: french-speaking Africa, former Russian territory, and Islamic north Africa. Each remains a sort of stranger in Netherlands, even if she has been here for more than 10 years and despite how much she might participate in society. The strength they showed in leaving home and starting new, including having the courage to ask for help and allow themselves to change is something I admire. The way they joked and interacted with each other – sharing thoughts about how much make-up is good for teenage girls, telling stories about their past, and teasing each other about their actual ages – is for me a sign of how the world ought to be. These women – who had even managed to help me cook Christmas dinner together without driving me or each other crazy – in their being together symbolized for me the hope of Christmas: that when God is part of this world, unexpected things are made possible. And one of those possibilities is the laughter and joy of  delightful and unusual fellowship.