21 February 2014

Seeing that the changes are good

Much has changed in my life these last few weeks (and not just the transition in weather). That has taken time and energy to process, which explains some of my absence on this blog. Being in a new place, finding new rhythms and simply figuring out how best to be myself and use my gifts in a new place can be hard. It has also been confusing to know how best to be a blessing to the campus ministry here in Lansing while also honouring the government's regulations about work and visas.

Yet, at the same time, it has felt very much that God has been letting me know that this place and my fit with this ministry is good. With all the challenges involved in moving across an ocean, leaving behind the life I've loved in Amsterdam, along with the complications of work visas, I feel extra blessed for experiencing a sense of 'this is good' from God. Matthijs and I have both been thankful that I've been able to delight so much in the minstry here and see how God aready has been working.

If you'd like to read more about the ministry here and what I've been seeing thus far, you can read (some of) my thoughts on the Campus Edge blog. Just follow the link: http://campusedgemsu.wordpress.com/ !

19 February 2014

It's pretty, God, but...

Driving to church on Sunday, I informed God that I was tired of the snow already. Once again the roads had several inches of snow on them, and I had to drive on them.

Typical of most conversations I have with God, this one did not entirely end in my favour. He was, at least, gracious enough not to point that I had been 'suffering' from the snow for only 3 weeks, whereas most people have been dealing with it for 3 months! And they have done so without my mobility, youth and/or their father's big old 4-wheel drive pickup truck (that's pretty great in the snow). 

Instead, a gentle voice said another truth: how beautiful the snow was. There's nothing quite like seeing all the trees covered with several inches of snow - and that describes my whole drive on Sunday morning. So I thanked God for the beauty. I did mention that it's easier to appreciate it when it it isn't constant, but I'm sure He's more than aware of that detail. I imagine I'm not the only one who's shouting up prayers of thanks for the warm sun and bit of melting we're getting today :)

18 February 2014

Prayers related to driving

A few weeks ago, I got to be at the mission presentation of friends of mine, Anthony and Sara, as they were preparing to return to Uganda. It was a delight to see them again after all this time and to hear, in person, about their hopes and desires for their time serving God in Uganda. I've enjoyed keeping up with them via their blog (http://anthsara.blogspot.nl/), so little of what they said was a surprise; yet, one thing did strike me.

When someone asked if they had any special prayer requests, they highlighted 'safety when it comes to driving and being driven.' Anthony pointed out that in Uganda, like in North America, driving is one of the most dangerous things one can do, as accidents cause many deaths and injuries. The words have stayed with me, more so after learning that on the very same day he said this, Christian Reformed retirees in Florida were tragically experiencing the sad truth of his words. The Banner, the Christian Reformed magazine tells the story: Florida vacation turns to nightmare. Your prayers are requested for all those injured or mourning loved ones. 

I ask also prayers of awareness and protection for all those who drive here. In my return to North America, I step into a vehicle almost every day, and I, too, seem to have forgotten the potential danger involved. Driving is simply what one does here. I'd rather not, but there does not really seem to be much choice. I would like to choose to do it better, more aware of how much I need God and prayer in this every day, normal, activity. I would like to live more with a thankfulness for the safety which I have experienced and a prayerfulness and watchfulness regarding the potential danger my presence to the road can cause to others, especially those not in vehicles.

17 February 2014

And out came this calf!

Exodus 32 tells the story of the golden calf.

When Moses takes so long to come down from Mt Sinai (where he'd gone to get the law and meet with God), the people come to Aaron, asking that he make gods for them since they don't know what has become of this Moses. Aaron requests their gold, takes it, forms a mold and casts an image of a calf, which the people declare to be their (new) gods. Aaron then builds an altar before it and proclaims the next day to be a festival to the LORD. Moses returns to their revel, warned of what was happening by the LORD's anger against the people. (For those interested in deep theological discussions: Before Moses returns, the Moses implores the LORD not to destroy the people of Israel, and the text itself raises the difficult but fascinating question of whether and how the LORD can change his mind).

Moses was livid when he saw the calf and the dancing. The following is verses 21-24 as they appear in the NRSV: Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?’ And Aaron said, ‘Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. They said to me, “Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So I said to them, “Whoever has gold, take it off”; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’

Reading the text this time, it is the words "out came this calf" that struck me. They sound ridiculous - like Aaron is trying to claim that it was not his fault (does this remind anyone of Genesis 3?). The text certainly tells a different story, noting in the last verse of the chapter that "the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that Aaron made."

At the same time, the very ridiculous-ness of it made me want to see if perhaps it was not quite as obvious as I had first thought. Aaron does not appear to know how to deal with the people (elsewhere in the text it indictes that the people were running wild under Aaron's (lack of) leadership). When Moses is gone so long, and the people approach him, he is faced with a potential disaster/mutiny. Calling for gold was a potential solution or, at least a postponement of this. His creating a calf might not even be seen as blasphemous - he could have been creating a throne (i.e., dwelling place, like a tabernacle) for the LORD. It was not Aaron, but the people who claimed the calf as their god. Aaron even tried to turn the focus back to the true God, by declaring a feast to the LORD.

Reading the text closely, it becomes less strange that Aaron uses the words, 'out came this calf.' He was certainly involved in its creation, but there is much more to the story. The link to Genesis 3 thus seems helpful, especially the desire to shift blame. The text leaves room for evil and Satan to have played a role. The people's lack of trust and sin, as Aaron points out and the last verse of the text confirms, is certainly to blame. Yet, Aaron, despite whatever good intentions he might have had, is hardly as innocent as he tries to make himself sound. It is a bit disconcerting to see Aaron not as the sinful creator of the calf but as essentailly good, seeing as many of us Christians would see ourselves not as full of sin, like the people, but instead as being generally well-intentioned, like Aaron.

04 February 2014

Change affects perspective

A little more than a week into our long process of (eventually) moving to Lansing, I'm still struggling to figure out a schedule. The normal-ness of my life in Amsterdam - the morning prayers that I may or may not have gone to, the university a healthy bike ride away so that it was ideal to head out to at the end of the morning when/if I got bogged down, the presence of those I loved and knew long all around me - these have been replaced with a different normal, and a temporary one at that.

To some degree, such a huge change causes some loss in perspective. Every day tasks - simple things like where one buys or does this - can become overwhelming. It is the sheer amount of things that I have to make choices about - on simple things like grocery shopping - that compound to make me feel that life is absurdly complicated now. I am thankful that I have lived in the States before, as that has helped a lot with settling in and making choices, but I still feel like I spend an absurd amount of time in every store I go to since I read all the labels on everything.

In the midst of all the challenges of a new place and my growing realization of how hard this change can be, I am also overwhelmed with thankfulness. Especailly thankfulness for the blessings of home in Amsterdam. I miss the normalness of Matthijs being around and the small things he does, like setting the table for our breakfast every single day. Thankfully, we email back and forth a lot and can skype with each other. Yet, it has helped me realize anew how much I can start taking those I love for granted, so that it is only after I am absent that I recognize how great a blessing they are in my life.

But there is also a thankfulness for the communities of which I am part. I am thankful for the community back in Amsterdam who has taught me so much about hospitality and how to care for and reach out to others - and about how one can dream big about making a difference in the world around us. I hope to take some of the crazy dreaming to the small communities happening here in my neighbourhood in Lansing. But I am also deeply thankful for the church community here in Lansing, I have been accepted and been made to feel welcome to a degree that I associate more with an intentional (small) community than with a church family. It helps that I go to everything and am hoping to take on a leadership role, but it still surprises and delights me. I believe that this is how Christianity, community, and church ought to be.

In the midst of the struggles that come with all the changes, at the same time the change has opened my eyes up again to how blessed I have been and how much I am loved.