29 March 2014

Really? Don't we have better things to get excited about?

For those of you outside of the United States you might have been oblivious to the World Vision controversy this week. A brief synopsis: World Vision said they were willing to employ gays in committed relationships, a huge uproar came from the evangelical community (with appropriate countervoices), and World Vision changed its views.

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

Women (and children) Suffering (II)

A Catholic church near my house has been participating in 40 days for life during Lent. Each day people from the church stand at the corner - a main intersection - displaying signs against abortion and for life/birth. They have been using our porch as a storage place, so each day I am confronted with their cause. It is a cause that seems foreign to me, separate from my Amsterdam life, even if the doctors in the community's medical crisis center were counselled to send those seeking abortion to the social workers in the hopes of finding a way to save the unborn child.

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

26 March 2014

Women suffering (I)

This is one of the things that I think the church should be getting excited about and praying about.

Being female makes it more obvious for me to be concerned about women's rights. Having visited prostitutes these past few years has only increased that concern: so many of the women have stories of how they've been judged, condemned, and mistreated. How can we, as a church, be okay with this happening, even if we believe that prostitution is not good? How greater should our concern not be since the judgements, mistreatment and condemnation usually started long before the women entered into prostitution?

The following article presents what the covers of women's magazines might look like if they focused on "women who are invisible to society": http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/03/08/we-heart-fake-magazine-covers-that-expose-real-inequality/ 
It is worth a look simply to put into perspective the usual concerns of women's magazines: they seem so trivial when applied to women who are child brides, sex workers, or slaves.

25 March 2014

Hermeneutical difficulties with a 6-day (young) creation

From a hermeneutic perspective, I don't entirely get why Christians would need to believe in a 6-day creation with the world being only 10,000 years old. I mean, why can't one take the Bible seriously while also believing that God used the evolution process to bring the creation into being? Genesis 1 emphasizes, through using God's name 32 times in 30 verses, often followed by an action verb, that God did it. As for the how, that's less clear: a truly literal interpretation is problematic. After all, how many people believe the world is flat, an obvious literal conclusion of there being waters belows and above, just one of the challenges you're faced with in order to take it literally?

The Bible talks a lot about us being created, but that doesn't require a world creation in 6 days  10,000 years ago. Psalm 139 talks about us being formed in our mother's womb. We don't usually talk about God physically shaping a baby in a womb (like putting a hand out or something), and we know about a lot of the scicence of procreation. At the same time, understanding the science behind it does not make God any less active in the wonder of a birth of a child or in our being fearfully and wonderfully made. So why can't we apply that to creation? Why can't we, knowing more the science of how the world was brought into being, see God as being less active in the process of the world coming to being?

I wanted to articulate some of the things about creation that I've been thinking about lately, as it's important for me to have them more clear in my own head because of the ministry I'm going into (ministry to grad students at a research university heavily focused on science). Yet, I still hold to the question of my last post: don't we as Christians have more important things to get excited about? Perhaps it's also time that I start sharing more about things I think we should get excited about.

23 March 2014


The last 7 years in Amsterdam, I have been blissfully ignorant of any discussions on creation vs. evolution.
What I did see online once in awhile gave me the impression that it had become less of a debate and that it had become more acceptable within the broader church to believe that God formed the world via evolution. Even an article in The Banner, the journal of the Christian Reformed Church, which brought up a significant amount of controversy, seemed problematic to me not because of its advocacy for evolution but because of the poor theology presented in it.

I've been in the United States for about 2 months now, and I have discovered - thanks in part to the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate - that my original impression was wrong, which disappoints me. The debate on creation vs. evolution is still causing much havoc here. Don't we as Christians have more important things to get excited about? Like injustice, poverty, trafficking, hypocrisy, and even sin in general.

And somehow I feel like I'm being drawn into the debate, even though I don't really care (or know) enough about the issue to have a significant opinion either way, to be honest. But there looks like there will be a creationist event here in Lansing this fall, where the message is Christians have to believe that the world was created in 6 days. From a hermenetical perspective, I find that problematic. But more importantly, I find it pastorally problematic.

A friend told me that if she had been confronted with the choice between evolution and Christianity - if when she was studying biology as an undergrad, she felt that she as a Christian had to believe that the world was formed through creation as the creationists advocate (and thus must reject evolution), she would have turned away from the church. She loved biology - a discovery of God's world - that much.

Even if one believes that evolution is problematic from a faith perspective, I believe it is more important to allow people space to figure that out with God than being turned away from the church because we think we have the right answers.

19 March 2014

Are we really going to drink that?

Last Sunday I got to sit in church with my sister and her family. I also got to celebrate Communion (again). To my surprise, we had the Communion part of the church service before the sermon and my oldest niece was still in church. As she's fairly young (6) and her parents attend a non-denominational church, I assumed she hadn't experienced Lord's Supper very often, if at all. So I explained a little bit about how we share bread and wine together just like Jesus did during his last meal with his disciples before He died. And that it reminds us of Jesus's body and his blood which he gave for us on the cross.

At a certain moment, the pastor took up the cup of grape juice and poured it out into another cup, saying something like: "This is my blood poured out for you for the remission of sins."

My niece, who was paying attention to what was going on asked immediately: "Are we really going to drink that?"

I explained that it wasn't actually real blood: it was grape juice. I believe it's more than just grape juice, but it looks like grape juice and tastes like grape juice, so we'll leave the big theological discussions for when she's older. Just to prove it to her, I let her taste a bit of it when I received my own little cup of it, feeling glad to be part of a tradition that has been asking the question of how children can be more part of the Lord's Supper. My niece, after all, had shown me that even 6 year-olds want to understand and participate.

17 March 2014

Sharing one's faith while crossing the border

When I was teaching overseas as a missionary, I would sometimes be dropped off on one side of the border and be picked up on the other (it was easier to walk across than drive across). As no one knew exactly how long the crossing might take, I would sometimes end up waiting quite awhile by the guard house on the one side. This led to odd conversations.

I was 23 at the time, the guards were often around the same age. I was a foreigner and alone, I kind of spoke the local language, and I seemed willing enough to answer questions. So I'd get the usual questions of whether I was married and had children, received by some surprise that this hadn't happened yet and significant hints that one of them might be a good candidate. The questions got more interesting when they tried to understand why I was there. Why was I in this poor country, teaching in a school in the middle of nowhere? It was hard enough to explain in a foreign language that looking for a marriage partner wasn't my sole purpose in life; how was I supposed to explain that I felt called by God to help the Christians here who had so many different chances than I had had?

Fast forward 14 years. I am once again crossing a border - this time the American one - feeling called by God (and the church) to help the Christians here to be able to live out their faith well while also using their God-given intellectual abilities to their full capacity. How do I explain that I'm not coming here looking to take away work from any Americans, but instead want to help grads at an American school to be able to do their work well: to flourish, to honour God and enjoy his gifts, as well as helping those around them? In other words, how do I share my faith, especially when doing so means I might not be allowed to come in at this time?

Today I simply said I was coming to help grad students integrate their faith and their studies. I'd help with Bible studies and talk to them about things like science and faith. It led to a fascinating discussion about why Christians couldn't believe in evolution, how much truth is in the Bible (the border guard had grown up in the church), and about how we have free will. I tried to share what I believed, while also recognizing that it would not be wise to challenge or disagree with him. After 5-10 minutes he let me through, after doublechecking that all I'd basically be doing was talking, right? And yes, that is what I do: talk. Fortunately, I get to talk about the Word of God - the logos - and this Word is full of power, truth, and the unexpected. Words I can live by, thus.

12 March 2014

Stranger in church

This past Sunday I'd gone up for communion, received the bread, and then reached out for the cup - only to be denied it.

I had taken the bread and ate it, which meant that when I came to the cup, I had no bread left to dip in it, which was the appropriate means of receiving communion in this place. I had forgotten the customs here, reverting to those I had practiced for the last 7 years. When I reached out to drink from the cup, the person holding it was probably as startled as I was: he in seeing my hands reach out to take the cup and me in not receiving the cup. I moved away quickly, neither dipping or drinking, thinking that it did not matter so much.

Yet, somehow it did matter. Perhaps the fact that I needed to joke about it afterwards should have made me realize it sooner. It did not seem like it should matter, as it was my second time at communion that day. But perhaps the fact that I had chosen to participate in communion for a second time that morning, something I would normally never do, should have also clued me in to the fact that something more was going on.

During the first service's time of communion I had felt rushed, still chewing on the bread while I was supposed to be drinking the grape juice; the juice still in my mouth while I started focusing on the song we would sing to close. It felt so different from the communion I knew in Amsterdam, made up of passing the bread and cup to one's neighbour, speaking to each other that this is is Christ's body and this is the wine of the kingdom. It was even more different from the ceremony and devotion of the Catholic masses I have been attending periodically these last few weeks; masses that I have attended, but not been partaking of. A second chance to focus on the wonder of the Lord's Supper seemed to be a gift, a compensation  for the absence of a spiritual event that I used to be able to participate in at least once a week in Amsterdam.

But the spiritual event of communion took a different turn. I discovered that it was more important to do things with a proper order and to honour those worried about another's germs than it was to be hospitable to one who took the wrong actions in communion, even if I should have known better. The focal verse of the sermon - Exodus 23:9 "You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (NRSV) - took on a different meaning. The message I heard was not simply about how I need to learn to extend hospitality. It was also reminding me that I am still a stranger, even if I speak the language of this land and I do not remember Egypt.

03 March 2014

Once again, flying has not gone well

Matthijs was supposed to have arrived last night. But he only got as far as Washington. In one day he experienced closed train routes to the airport, a cancelled flight, delays, the 1.5 hour process of going through American customs + security, mechanical failures, having to exit a flight he'd boarded, being re-routed to another airplane, and eventually a desperate call for volunteers not to board. This sounds worse than my bad flying experience.

Matthijs handled all of it amazingly well. His habit of leaving early for the airport meant that even with the extra travel time required for the train trip he was still on time. Upon arriving he discovered that his flight was cancelled and he'd been put on a slightly later flight - which meant that he could attend the church service being held at the airport. Because this new flight was delayed somewhat, he just made it through customs and security to be at the gate on time for his connecting flight - something that probably wouldn't have been possible with the amount of time between his original flights. And he managed to sleep somewhat and read and generally keep positive, while I anxiously watched how his second flight was delayed again and again, waiting until it left before I got in the car to pick him up. Eventually, he volunteered to be the one to stay when the replacement plane turned out to be too small, getting a hold of me just when I had my shoes on to leave, having come to the conclusion that his flight wouldn't be cancelled and I'd had enough of waiting.

Matthijs spent the night in a nice hotel in Washington and is sleeping of his jetlag there while waiting for his next flight. I spent the rest of the evening watching the Oscars - thankful for friends who could cheer me up after the disappointment of Matthijs' delay. Neither option was ideal. However, Matthijs' willingness to be delayed has resulted in his receiving a significant amount of travel vouchers from United, which we will both enjoy - the only question now is how: travelling back and forth to Amsterdam? Or exploring this new country?