17 July 2014

I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war

As I was playing through songs from the CRC's new hymnbook, I found myself singing (to a haunting melody) these words:
"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, 283
I 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

It's all part of the job, right?

A friend of mine quipped to a pastor, after a particularly hard week, that this - weddings, sickness, deaths and the ensuing pastoral visits - was all part of the job, right?

Yes. no. Kind of.

To begin with, it feels strange for me to talk about what's part of the pastor's job. It has, after all, never been my job. Even transitioning into my role as campus pastor, it didn't feel like I was becoming a pastor. In my head, I was going to encourage and mentor students, plus help them with the challenges of doing academics and faith well. Alongside of that, I wanted to speak to the church, university and world around me about what I saw in the inersection of faith and academics. In other words, I wanted to do my job well, but I wasn't really anticipating being a pastor nor did I necessarily see the 'pastor' thing as being a necessary part of the job.

Somehow the people I serve didn't quite get that memo. Nor did they have the same expectations! And so I've been slowly becoming a pastor, and I have been surprised by how well God has prepared me for that and thankful that this seems good, even if it wasn't the road I expected to travel.

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

Communication is a learned skill

Last week, I had an errand that put me in the neighbourhood of Matthijs's route home. It thus made sense to make plans to meet up so we could head home together.

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

Gossiping for Good?

I talk about people. However, talking about others seems like gossip, and I have been taught that gossiping is bad (2 Cor 12:20; Prov 20:19). Gossip, after all, is a sign of idleness, usually contains ill will towards another, and is a cause of division. Christians ought thus not to participate in any of that.

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."
     (From Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A spiritual Geography (2001) page 76 (according to Google books). Taken from http://dailyasterisk.com/ April 17, 2014)
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.

02 July 2014

Sorry. Thanks. Sorry. Thanks.

While preparing for a move to and life in another land is hard, it has been the NOT preparing that has been the hardest. My life feels in limbo: stuck somewhere between Lansing, where I have been looking for a place to live and trying to figure out my calling as a campus minister, and Amsterdam, where I feel most at home (this is the first and only place up until now that I have chosen to be home) and where Matthijs is. Matthijs's life is also stuck in limbo, as it was not wise for him to quit or make definitive plans for next year until all the paperwork became definite.

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.