30 January 2015

Churching in my neighbourhood

My ideal church is one I can walk to. Even as much as I find theology (and denomination) important and I deeply value the concern that the church has for those within the church and their neighbourhood, I want to find these two important aspects of being church within my local neighbourhood. As unrealistic as this might sound to those of us living in North America, I was blessed in being able to walk to church for the last 15 years of my life (five of those were in Grand Rapids).

Things have changed, and I now work beside the church I attend. Living beside work is not great for a healthy work/life balance, I prefer living in the neighbourhood of the students who participate in the ministry, and I really appreciate the bike ride to work during the snow-free time of year. It seemed obvious that our current neighbourhood was a good fit, and I'm growing to love it more all the time (after all, do you have a community center only 20 minutes walk away that offers cheap ballroom dance lessons?). At the same time, I miss churching in my own neighbourhood.

Fortunately, we live a block away from a Catholic church and several blocks away from an RCA church, a sister church to my denomination: the Christian Reformed Church. Churching in my neighbourhood is thus very do-able, and I can even do both churches on a Sunday morning :)

The other week, Matthijs and I thus churched in our neighbourhood. I was impressed by the sermon given by the priest. He dared bring up pornography in the sermon, pointing out the damage and pain it caused in so many relationships and how it was not limited to one gender or age group. He even acknowledged that this was an area that he himself had struggled with. After the service in the Catholic Church, we walked to the Reformed Church where we joined in a concert of prayer. We were warmed by the welcome we received, and it was a delight to see how so many people were encouraged to participate in the prayers and the whole service. I thus thoroughly delighted in churching in our own neighbourhood; and yet, I wouldn't want to do it always: it would mean missing out on catching up with those I love in my own church.

23 January 2015

The Challenge of Transitions

This past fall I wrote a devotional for Scholar's Compass about the challenge of transition. I used the challenges of beginning my position in campus ministry as a starting point. The following allows you to read more about how I experienced the challenge of the transition, as well as hopefully helping others who are struggling through their own transitions or other difficulties.

“And surely I am with you always.” – from Matthew 28:20
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? - Psalm 13:1

"If I had known the cost involved with starting my new job, I might have reconsidered. It’s not that I hadn’t expected it to be hard. We were, after all, moving across an ocean, and thus moving away from my husband’s family and many mutual friends. Furthermore, my husband and I were switching roles. He was quitting his job of 9 years, and I, in my new role as campus pastor, would become the one with the full-time job. I would be taking my incomplete dissertation with me, hoping to have time to finish up amidst the transition, while my husband would have the chance to explore whether he’d like to do more academic work or find work in a slightly different area. It was an amazing opportunity, despite the challenges, so how could we not be excited about it?

We’d made plans for me to start fairly quickly, at the beginning of second semester, as that seemed best for the ministry and allowed me to go ahead to get things ready for us moving there. However, we were blindsided by the more than 6 months that it took the US government to give me, a Canadian, a work visa. Thus, instead of being able to start my job early, I traveled across the ocean multiple times, praying each time that the border guards might show grace in allowing me to enter into the country as a volunteer at the job I had been hired, but was not yet allowed, to do. The uncertainty, stress of waiting, long absences from my husband, and the inability to settle into a place and make solid plans for months at a time made the move much harder than I had expected. It was easier to be in denial about the stress and challenges than to ask whether it was worth it.

Where was God in the midst of all this? Where was He in the midst of the chaos of my volunteering in my new position, instead of being paid, amidst the hardship and distance created through being an ocean away from my husband for a month or more at a time, through living in two homes but neither?...

As I look back on this past year with the hardships of the transition, it can pale in comparison to the hardships that I know others have gone through. Failures and disappointments, as well of lack of funding and support, are all too common in the world of academia. If one adds accidents, deaths, family difficulties, spiritual or mental crises, it is hard not to become overwhelmed. The Bible passage that speaks to this seems less Jesus’ promise that He will be with us, and more the Psalmist cry of how long, O Lord?"

I encourage you to go to the website to read the full devotional, especially as I've been really impressed with what others have written with this devotional.

04 January 2015

A new year

I am deeply thankful for the beginning of a new year. Despite much good happening in 2014, our transition from life in Amsterdam to life in Lansing was harder than I had expected. Last year was hard, and I am glad that it is over.

With the coming of a new year, it feels easier to hope and dream again instead of functioning out of survival mode, which happened a lot this past year. At the same time, it is possible that the growing hope within me has another cause. Perhaps, with each subsequent day of the Christmas season, the audacious hope we find in Christ's coming is being absorbed more and more into my soul. (I think I like this second explanation better, but I'm not sure if I'm trying to find a way to validate my, perhaps excessive, appreciation of the liturgical year!) Yet, whatever the true reason, I am thankful that hope has become more real.

Please join me in praying that others might also know a deep hope, especially those for whom 2014 brought deep sadness and pain, on account of illness, death, and/or spiritual and emotional struggles.

03 January 2015

Needing Advent

Happy 9th day of Christmas! Somehow this blog entry got stuck in publishing, so it's being posted here later than originally planned..

I have learned that Advent is a time to look forward to the coming of God's kingdom. As we remember Christ's coming to earth on the first Christmas, we also look forward to Christ's second coming.

Whereas lent is a time of looking inward at the personal sins that distance us from God, Advent is a time of looking outward at the world around us. Even though Christ's first coming ushered in the kingdom of God, the kingdom has not yet arrived, and the world is very much not how it should be.

I'm an idealist. This means not only that I myself want to be good and perfect, but I also desperately want the world to be the same. As the world is full of sin and evil, I can not help but be disappointed and saddened by so much in the world around me. It feels wrong to me that we, as a culture and church, tend to act so often as if everything is fine.

Advent, with its recognition of the brokenness of the world and its deep longing for Christ's coming to make all things new, feels like the most honest season to me. It is only through walking through Advent and being angry at the injustice in the world that I know how desperately we need the coming of Christ. It is only through lamenting the pain of death that I can honestly have joy and hope at Christmas. 

It is only through living through Advent that I can honestly sing the words of Joy to the World -"no more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow". The honesty and longing of Advent is what prepares me for the audacious hope of Christmas.