30 May 2014

Jesus' feet

In honour of Ascension Day, I am posting a picture of Jesus' feet (from a chapel in Oxford). Matthijs first told me about and showed me this window, and I have loved it ever since. The image of just Jesus' feet points to power and might - the ascension itself - but also the strange absurdity of the situation. Having heard the story so often, I think we forget how strange it must have been that Jesus just went up to heaven.

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

Moving to America: Guns?!?

As we prepare to move to America, I'm growing more aware of how much guns are a part of life there. I find this to be both strange and distressing.

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

From Prostitutes to Graduate Students

In my transition to becoming a campus minister for graduate students, people are often interested in my 'previous life.' When I mention living in a community in the Red Light District, people are usually fascinated by any kind of ministry to prostitutes and what I might have learned from them. Homeless people, for better or worse, are less sensational than prostitutes, even though I have also, in my time in the community, learned a lot from them.

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

The Middle of the Chaos

Having started the chaos in January, Matthijs and I are now in the middle of the process of moving to a new country and my starting a new job. I tell myself that it is not that bad: it is, after all, only for a few months more and we have already had the worst of it (the 2.5 months of being alone in Lansing with only a short visit from Matthijs). Yet, living in the middle of the chaos is still hard.

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

For the sake of God's name

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses recalls the pleas he made to God on behalf of the Israelites.

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 -  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

You are not special

'You are not special. In fact, you are just as bad, if not worse, than those around you. For instance, you did....'

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. 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. 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.
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. 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

Insights from participating in bibliodrama

As part of the training to lead Bibliodrama, we actively participated in a lot of Bibliodrama. In order to present a picture of the insights into the biblical text and oneself that this provides (as well as to keep a record for myself), I wanted to list some of them here.

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

Placing oneself into the biblical story: a reflection on bibliodrama

In the week leading up to Easter, Matthijs and I both participated in a class on leading Bibliodrama. Contrary to what might expect from the name, Bibliodrama is not about acting out biblical stories. Instead, it involves listening to a (biblical) story, then placing one into the role of one of the characters, potentially interacting with other characters and expressing oneself within one's role.

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

King's Day bike ride

In order the escape the noise, busy-ness and general chaos of King's Day in the centre of Amsterdam, Matthijs and I went out biking.

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
A map of our ride can be seen if you click on the following link: