28 November 2014

Stuff, Stuff, and More Stuff

Today is Black Friday in the United States. Most stores have significant sales that are worth taking advantage of, especially if you're interested in making large purchases. Furthermore, many people have the day off because of Thanksgiving (yesterday), so they have time to go shopping, including potentially waiting in line for the best, and thus limited, deals.

For those of us who like to buy things cheaply (this is often known here as being Dutch), the sales on Black Friday are appealing. However, the push to acquire more stuff seems to go against the spirit of being thankful and content - the focus of yesterday as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

The messages of consumerism and materialism feel more prevalent to me here in the United States. Perhaps I am more susceptible here, as I know the stores and products better. Perhaps it is because things really are cheaper (and thus a better deal). Perhaps it is the 1 inch thick pile of advertisements that come enclosed in our Sunday newspaper. Perhaps it is the fact that I have much less than I did six months ago, having given away much of my stuff and needing to get/buy more when I first came. Whatever the reason(s), the message seems to be that I need stuff, stuff and more stuff! And this is a lie.

How, though, do we as Christians help each other fight against the lies of consumerism and materialism? It's not like stuff is evil in itself. Much of it brings joy and good into our lives, and hospitality, giving, and resting/recuperating well are all made more challenging when there's a lack of material things. But how do we fight against the selfishness and entitlement that often accompany unchecked desires to accumulate more stuff? How do we even begin to ask each other how the accumulation of stuff is good?

I don't know the answers, but I am looking. And trying to listen. I appreciate the idea of Giving Tuesday: it's a very pointed reminder in the midst of being told to buy stuff for myself that it is also good and proper to give away. I do want to be a generous giver, but how do we balance that with saving responsibly, especially if we buy a house in the near future? I also want to learn to talk about money with others, and I want to learn better how to hold on to my own stuff loosely. There is something about recognizing that someone else could be more blessed by some of my stuff that helps me remember that I'm to hold losely to the gifts that God has given me.

14 November 2014

The pakjes boat

In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) comes on a steamboat (from Spain). If I remember correctly, he should be arriving in a harbour in the Netherlands this weekend.

The boat on which he arrives is full of presents. As these presents are usually all wrapped (packed) up, they are called pakjes. The boat is thus sometimes called the pakjesboot (at least, by children)

As interesting as this Dutch trivia is, you might still be wondering what its relevance to my life really is. It's a little too relevant, to be honest.

The pakjesboot is the word Matthijs and I have been using to describe our shipment of stuff out of the Netherlands.

Just like Sinterklaas, our stuff should be arriving in the harbour sometime soon (perhaps even this weekend). The United States customs want to spend some time with it before it can be brought inland, and this country is a bit larger than the Netherlands, so it'll be a couple of weeks before we get it, even after it comes into harbour.

If all goes well, we should be getting our stuff around 5-6 December, the same day that most folks in the Netherlands will be celebrating Sinterklaas.

As much as it's been a tad bit annoying to wait this long, it does have a bright side: As I haven't seen any of this stuff since the beginning of August, it will feel like I'm getting 6 cubic meters of presents for Sinterklaas.this year. And I already know that I'll like it :)

12 November 2014

That woman you gave me

My new phone uses the same size/kind of charger as Matthijs's phone does. That means we can just borrow each other's charger if one has forgotten it at home or can't find it.

Not being able to find the charger happens more often than one might expect. It's not that our new place is huge, even if it is almost twice the size of our place in Amsterdam. There's also not that much stuff in it yet, so it's fairly easy to go searching through everything. The problem, however, is that we still don't entirely have a place for everything in the house and tasks and work times fluctuate quite a bit.

The other week Matthijs managed to lose his charger for several days. I'd noticed that he had confiscated and moved my charger, and I asked him where his was. He wasn't sure - he figured he must have left it at my work.

After several days of his still not finding it, he complained about its absence and how he couldn't figure out where in the world he could have put it. Only then, after noticing his searching for several days, did it occur to me. I had, several days earlier, cleaned off the counter and placed his charger in what is, in my head, the equivalent of the drawer we had in Amsterdam for this sort of thing. It was probably not my best moment, even though Matthijs did appreciate I had FINALLY thought about it and told him about it.

01 November 2014

Prayer and wisdom

I am beginning to realize that campus ministry is a lot about being open to unexpected moments and opportunities to minister. It seems a bit strange to consider that watching, waiting, reading, and reacting are fundamental to the job description. Such a description feels too far removed from the busy activity and problem-solving mindset that permeates so much of this culture, including church culture.

It's not that things can't be busy or there's a lack of things to do - answering email being a part of that! It's simply recognizing that this calling means looking for how God might be working,  caring for those around me, and doing my best to share the hope, joy and peace of God whenever and wherever I can.

Today a group of Christians are coming to Michigan State, arguing that the world was created in 6 days. Their communication thus far has been alienating and offensive to the scientists at MSU. As a fellow Christian, I am bothered by this and frustrated by how this group has limited and misrepresented the gospel.

At the same time, in the midst of this negative event, there has also been good. Because of what's happening, I have been able to connect with some of the grad students affected by this, providing encouragement for the good work they do and supporting them in their concerns. And today I get to go to campus as a pastor, representing the gospel, a gospel full of hope and joy, wisdom and grace. I pray that I might have the words and non-words to do that well.