27 December 2016

Un-sentimentalizing Christmas

My favourite Christmas song is Joy to the World: it celebrates how Christ's coming brings in his Kingdom. It speaks of power and might and justice - all very unsentimental things. 

However, there's something about the cute Christmas pageants with kids, meditations about how baby Jesus is our present, songs about the cute little baby (who doesn't cry) in a manger, and so on that tends towards making Christmas seem sentimental. This can then distract from the wonder of how Christ's coming - both his first and second coming - changes everything.

On Christmas Eve, having had too much exposure to Christmas sentimentality, when Matthijs asked for text suggestions for what to read before bed, I asked for Revelation 12. This text talks about the birth and coming of the one who would reign with justice and truth.

It had been awhile since I'd heard Revelation 12, and I only remembered it vaguely. It started out well: "a woman clothed with the sun," pregnant and about to give birth. But it gets both scary and violent fairly quickly, as a dragon appears: "The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born." But, she, nonetheless, "gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days." (Rev 12:1-6). And then war broke out, the dragon pursued the woman, the woman escaped when "the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus." (Rev 12:16-17).

My reaction after reading the text was, well, that was definitely un-sentimental. And a bit more overwhelming for Christmas than I'd realized. I think next year, I'll just suggest reading John 1.  

24 December 2016

Advent in America

Advent - the time of waiting for Christ's coming - is almost over. With the coming of Christmas, we transition from longing for God's kingdom to come and heal the brokenness in the world to celebrating how Christ's first coming has already brought about God's kingdom of justice and truth and peace. 

Except it feels like the state of Advent - longing for God to right the brokenness in this world - has become permanent. The imminent installation of Donald Trump contributes somewhat to that feeling. I sometimes joke that it's hard to determine which person he's appointed is more ill-suited for the position (e.g., Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary, with her history of working for the Heritage Foundation, the leading advocacy voice to end federal funding for biking, walking and transit, or Betsy De Vos, to be in charge of education, despite the fact that neither she nor her family has spent much time in the public school systems, and there are others who are probably worse!). Yet, I think Trump is primarily a symptom of a system that is not working well: distrust of the media, people disillusioned by the system, people fearful not just of foreigners but also of neighbours. People struggling simply to survive, and so the focus becomes on looking out for ourselves, instead of others. This is reflected even in many Christian communities, where the focus is often on my personal relationship with Jesus (or taking care of our people). Jesus' birth is so much larger than Christ coming into the world to save me - Christ came to save the world (cf. John 3:16). The kingdom brought on by Christ's coming is one of truth and justice and hope for all people, not just me and my people. 

Celebrating Christmas - believing that God is already at work here in the midst of the brokenness - the situation in Syria, the refugees in my own land, broken relationships, a lack of truth, distrust of others, and more - this celebrating is an act of defiance. Despite what my heart might feel and my eyes might see, I choose to believe that God's kingdom has come. As I do that, I am more able to see glimpses of God working in and through those around me. And also to be challenged to be part of working for God's kingdom on earth.

01 November 2016

Jesus and Marrieds

This afternoon, Amy-Jill Levine asked her audience which married couples Jesus had talked to. Her audience was filled with scholars, pastors and folks who generally know their Bible. We were generally stumped, even though she did give us the clue that there was only one couple, maybe two. Someone came up with the maybe fairly quick: it's the two folks on the road to Emmaus - Cleopas and his companion, who could have been his wife but it's not clear. But the only clear example of a married couple eluded us: the answer is Jairus and his wife.

I am intrigued by the significant lack of examples of married couples in the gospel. It seems to be almost the opposite of - or at least in discord with - the Christian subculture I am part of that seems rather slightly obsessed with (heterosexual) marriage. It puts Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7 about how good it is to be single into new perspective.

As Amy-Jill Levin pointed out later in the afternoon, marriage and fertility is, for better or worse, more of an Old Testament thing. The miracle that God is constantly doing in the Old Testament is blessing the infertile woman with a child. The last barren woman in the Bible to bear a child is Elizabeth, mother of John, cousin of Jesus. Jesus, instead of blessing people with children, seems to want people to become children. As a strange example of this, Mark notes (also in Mark 5) that Jesus does not heal the woman who is bleeding but instead "dries her up." Levine talks about how she is completely dried up and can no longer bear children - a far different experience from a woman who is healed so that she can bear children.

It deserves further contemplation.

22 September 2016

On becoming a pastor

After discovering my bike had a flat tire, I decided to take the bus in to work today and spare myself the frustration of driving home during rush hour. The bus trip home was itself rather eventful, as the front bumper of someone's car ended up scratching half the side of the bus. Everyone on the bus had to get off and take the next bus. In the process of transferring buses and getting squished into the next bus, I ended up having a conversation with a pre-teen girl who sat beside me.

At one point in time, the girl asked me what I did for work. I told her I was a pastor. Her immediate response was to ask how old I was! I'm not sure if that was because she wasn't sure if I was old enough to be a pastor or if she was wondering why a pastor, who must be an adult and has an adult job, would be taking the bus.

While the conversation itself was delightful - she was young enough to be completely un-self-conscious about the questions she asked and comments she made - it was how I felt when I told her I was a pastor that struck me.

I often feel a bit awkward letting others know that I'm a pastor. I feel like I have to explain that I work with graduate students, so what I do is a bit different. And I don't look like their standard image of a pastor. Or I feel like I have to work harder to show that I'm normal - whether that normal be that I actually like the academic world or that I don't want to stuff religion down their throat.

Yet, today I said it with joy. Joy, because I expected it would surprise her, but in a positive way. And joy because it's been a good month of being a pastor - full of good conversations and glimpses of people's faith journeys. And joy because I'm learning to be okay with not being what people of expect of me - including in being a pastor.

26 July 2016

Guest post: Matthijs's new visa

The following is Matthijs's story about getting his student visa. 
About a month ago, I was sitting in the U.S. consulate in Brussels, Belgium, waiting for my visa interview. Up to a point, sitting in the room (cheerless as it was) was an improvement since for the first fifteen minutes at the consulate, I had been standing out in the rain. For dramatic embellishment I could tell you that it was pouring, but thankfully, that's not true. There was just a minor drizzle to match my mood. If theoretically I was relieved to be at the consulate - a consulate, after all - and have my visa appointment, I didn't particularly connect to that feeling.

Applying for a new U.S. visa is an experience I am glad to share, though, with Americans who may not be aware what face its country is presenting to the rest of the world, and possibly with non-U.S. nationals who will commiserate.

By way of introduction: friends of ours and of Campus Edge may remember that back in 2014 it took Brenda six months before she received her work visa. Even though as a Canadian and as a soon-to-be Campus Pastor she's completely harmless – at least for the purposes of Homeland Security – it still took her six months, plus a lot of administrative effort and ad-hoc decision making (in which country to be when, and how and when we might see each other) and a fair bit of money in fees. But from then on she held the status of R-1, which in the alphabet of U.S. visas means a religious worker. Our next move for its renewal is planned for this fall. So this story is to be continued at a later point.

Brenda's visa got me in to the U.S. as well, as her husband. Our first appointment at the U.S. Consulate we had together. That was in Amsterdam, fortunately, much more convenient than Brussels although equally cheerless. So I had my own visa stamp in my passport, classifying me as an R-2. That means that I was the dependent of a religious worker, implying that I couldn't work and get paid for it, and that if somehow Brenda lost her position I'd get kicked out of the country with her. The old visa stamp is still there in my passport but it now has a large black stamp on it saying CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Getting this stamp is more or less the first thing that happened at my interview, since you can't have two U.S. visas that are valid simultaneously.

Fair enough. But what that stamp also meant is that from that point on I wasn't allowed to go home any more. Apart from the fact that I didn't get my passport back with the new visa immediately – U.S. consulates need to sit on people's documents for a week or so before they are sent back – as an international student the earliest you can get into the U.S. is a month before your program starts. In my case that meant that 21 July was the first date I was allowed to travel into the U.S. (Hence the exile in Canada). So the one question I was not really looking forward to when we got to the U.S.-Canada border at Port Huron was, "where do you live?". The obvious answer is Lansing, Michigan, where all our stuff is and our cat, but from a previous altercation between Brenda and a notoriously unhelpful border guard I kind of knew that U.S. border guards live in a different legal reality. People who have not yet been admitted to the U.S. cannot possibly live there. So that answer would not get me to Lansing. In the end I simply said I'd been living in the Netherlands, even though I spent only a week there this trip. After another hour of border formalities we were finally through and my forced vacation had come to an end.

The wait in the Consulate was three hours for a two-minute interview and some formalities, like finger-printing. Why it had to be Brussels and not Amsterdam is for another time. Just one thing. In the room where we sat and waited were three enormous pictures of Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden. Now all three are decent, hard-working men, no matter if you agree with them or not, but imagine having Donald Trump and his cronies hanging there on the wall in like three-feet-long picture frames. I'd have run away screaming. Wouldn't you?

24 July 2016

Ottawa trip (Matthijs' temporary exile in Canada)

In front of parliament
Matthijs's adventure in getting his student visa ended up with us spending a week together in Canada. I'd describe it as a combination of our normal vacation (where we explore a city) and what my visits to Canada looked like when I lived in the Netherlands (trying to visit as many friends + family as possible).

This was the itinerary: lunch at my father's house - get hair done at my sister's - pick up Matthijs at Toronto airport - visit Judith and Stephen - Ottawa - visit Dave and Crystle (go sailing!) - visit my sister again - visit my brother - visit friends in Strathroy - drive home. A little full, thus. But Matthijs came on Saturday and couldn't (re)enter the US until Thursday, so there was lots of time (and quite a few folks who we hadn't seen enough of lately).

Locks on the Rideau Canal
Our vacation got off to a bit of a rocky start, as my picking up Matthijs at the airport didn't go so well (driving, especially at airports, stresses me out - and my phone doesn't work in Canada, making good communication more complicated). While we were both looking forward to seeing the other, we nonetheless both managed to annoy and be annoyed with the other before we even met. Thankfully, Judith and Stephen were great hosts, and we resolved things fully when we got to Ottawa.
The view from the Peace Tower

Ottawa is a beautiful city, and I'm deeply thankful to see (finally!) the capital city of my country. I have to admit, though, that I found myself uncomfortable at times with how strong the nationalism was at times (sorry, but Canada also has a complicated, messy history). The closest I came to nationalism was when I was reading about the strong Canadian women who'd made a difference in the world.

It was a lovely trip, but it's also lovely to be home again.

I forced Matthijs to stand in the middle of this because I thought it was a great modern art display (it's meant to be symbolic of how many people see modern art to be as accessible as a can of soup would be to pigeons)

Happy to be together!

14 July 2016

Sometimes pastoring is making home-made pizza...

On the last study of the regular school year, I made home-made pizza for dinner. And no one showed up. It was exam time, so it wasn't completely unexpected, but there's still something a bit disconcerting about taking the time and energy to prepare a study and food only to have no one enjoy it at that time.

And yet, it was also a reminder that pastoring doesn't always look like I think it should. While God can use me to bless others through leading a study, at certain times, the best pastoring comes simply through making home-made pizza, storing it in plastic containers in the fridge, and sending out an email for everyone to come, take, and eat. Please come when you can and nourish yourself with good food during exam week - and, as for me, I get to leave early and delight in a concert where 2 of my students were playing.  

Leanne Friesen recently wrote a blog about how pastoring doesn't always look like we expect it should. The following is a mixture of my own list, followed by some of her examples of what pastoring sometimes looks like:
- Sometimes pastoring is making pizza and not leading Bible study;- Sometimes pastoring is attending concerts. 
- Sometimes pastoring is typing someone else's essay when I think I should be using my great Hebrew knowledge;
- Sometimes pastoring is emailing. And more emailing. And more emailing.
- Sometimes pastoring is crying and hoping for others, because grad school is hard on people
- Sometimes pastoring is being honest. Even and especially to myself.
"Sometimes pastoring is preparing for a board meeting and taking lots of notes.
Sometimes pastoring is preparing for a hard conversation and praying lots of prayers.
Sometimes pastoring is photocopying handouts.
Sometimes pastoring is the heartbreak of seeing someone walk away from faith.
Sometimes pastoring is balancing a budget.
Sometimes pastoring is giving someone a ride. 
Sometimes pastoring is walking through the aisles of your church pews or chairs and picking up garbage left from the week before." 

She has lots more, so I encourage you to check out her post.

10 July 2016

The joy found in beginning a new school (year)

Matthijs recently received a letter telling him all about "Math Camp." It's a week-long event, highly recommended for political science folks (and designed by someone in poli-sci!) to allow them to enter the year confident about their ability to handle the math component of their program.

Matthjs, being ever gracious, shared the letter with me. I'm a bit of a math geek, so I'm pretty certain I'd thoroughly enjoy going to math camp for a week! I imagine I'll still enjoy it through getting to experience it second-hand, through Matthijs.

Reading Matthijs' letter about math camp, made me feel the joy I always had as I anticipated the beginning of a new school year/program. The joy was always more concrete with such a letter because I could begin to picture all of the things I'd get to learn and do. I loved the joy and hope those letters brought with them about everything that'd happen and all that we were going to study.

I had forgotten that feeling, so I'm looking forward to Matthijs going back to school and my getting to experience some of these joys vicariously through him.

23 June 2016

That's your story to tell

Matthijs and I had a delightful visit with a couple last week. I knew them from my time in Grand Rapids and appreciate how they, too, are a mix of cultures, love community and love God.

While we were talking, every so often they'd stop and say "oh, that's your story" or "no, that's my story, let me tell it." It was striking, and I loved it.

I loved it because it highlighted how each of them was unique and each had their own individual stories to tell. Even the things that they'd experienced as a couple, if she had initiated the situation, then it was her story to tell, even if he also experienced it. By actively recognizing that something was the other person's story, they made space for the other person to be part of the conversation and to have a voice. The whole experience made me appreciate each of them better, as well as to appreciate how this little phrase "that's your story to tell" was an outworking of the hospitality they had towards each other.

The experience also motivates me to use that phrase more often. I like talking, love telling stories, and sometimes like being the center of attention. This sometimes comes at the cost of being hospitable. It'd be good for my ego and for my practicing of hospitality, not only to Matthijs, but also to others, if I could at times stop and realize that, no, this is not my story to tell: it's your/his story. And I should not only refrain from telling it, but instead should encourage you/him to tell it.

20 June 2016

My dad, the rescuer

On Saturday, we spent the day in Chatham with my family to celebrate Father's day. In the evening, Matthijs flew out of Windsor airport. Just as I was leaving for the car, Matthijs came running out. As he was going through security, he'd discovered that he didn't have his computer with him. Perhaps it was still in the car? Otherwise, he most likely left it at my father's house.

A call to my father confirmed that, indeed, he'd left the computer at my dad's house after he'd rescued it from our very hot car. It was comforting to know exactly where it was, but frustrating to realize that he'd have to figure out how to make do without a computer in the next while.

Nonetheless, one part of the conversation with my father stood out to me. When he realized we'd left the computer, he was ready to drop everything and immediately drive the hour to the airport to bring it to us. Matthijs' plane was leaving in less than an hour, so there wasn't time, but I was reminded again of how my father shows his love to us through his willingness to rescue us.

Over the years, that rescuing has often involved cars (and not even mine). I drove an old car for quite awhile, and it got to the point that if I ever called my father's cell phone, which happened about every 6 months, he'd ask what was wrong with the car. Thankfully, my current car, which my dad also helped me buy, is a bit more reliable (thanks also to my aunt and uncle for selling it to me!).

My family is not really all that vocal about how we love each other. We don't even hug each other that much. So sometimes it's hard to recognize how we love each other. Yet, the willingness to help each other out and be there for each other - something my dad has been doing for all of us for years - tells me he loves me in a way that even the most flowery of words couldn't.

18 June 2016

Two Prayers for Orlando

In response to the shootings in Orland, I came across several prayers in response to what happened in Orlando. I'd like to share two that I appreciated here.

The first is from the Christian Reformed Church's Office of Social Justice.
God of comfort, we lift our prayers to you.

We lift prayers for the families, friends, and partners of the victims, for all of those who are grieving.

For the questions which have no answers, we pray.
For those who wring their hands, bring dishes of food, struggle to express their condolences, we pray.
For pastors who plan funerals and stand at hospital beds, we pray.
For those who are estranged from a loved one because of sexual orientation, and who today feel grief and loneliness, we pray.
For those all over the U.S. who feel fresh grief because someone they love was also killed by a gun, we pray.
We lift prayers for the LGBTQ+ community.
Protect them from harm.
Heal them from trauma.
Lead them to places of hospitality and safety.
We lift prayers for the Muslim community.
Shield them from fallout.
Call Christians to reach out in mutuality and solidarity.
May the stories of the many Muslims who have responded in love, help, and hospitality be told often, and publicly.
We lift prayers for lawmakers.
Give them wisdom as they craft their public statements, which have an impact on real people’s lives.
Give them wisdom as they consider policy implications, which will always make some furious and others gratified.
Give them wisdom as they accept donations to their campaigns, as they align with interests, as they reach across the aisle and compromise.
Work through politics to build your kingdom, Lord.
We lift prayers for your church, which includes each one of us. May your church speak the words of Christ -- of healing, hope, repentance, and good news.
We are a people who believe in resurrection. As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in times such as these, may we see and be signs of kingdom hope. We long for the day when death will be no more.

To read the article surrounding the prayer, follow this link.

The prayer/sermon written by Brian Walsh, campus minister at the University of Toronto, contrasts sharply. It takes the words of Habakkuk and seems to our times, with sometimes jarring results:
All of creation suffers from our violence,
all of creation joins the chorus of grief,
and all of creation bears witness against this violence.
Woe to you who heap up what is not your own.
Woe to you who heap up the bodies of LGBTQ folks,
sisters and brothers,
mothers and fathers,
lovers and friends.
Woe to you who get evil gain for your house,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!
Woe to you who erect walls of division,
walls of self-protection,
walls of injustice.
Woe to you who build a town by bloodshed
and found a city on iniquity.
The blood of the LGBTQ community,
the blood of young black men in Toronto,
the blood of our Indigenous neighbours.
Woe to you who make your neighbours drink the draft of your rage,
who pour out wrath until it leaves your victims naked and bloodied.
Woe to you who have turned your back on love,
and live out of a fear and hatred
that will inevitably rebound on you.
Woe to you who are seduced by idolatry.
Woe to you who make the gun into a sacrament,
and whose hands are smeared with the blood of your victims.
Woe, cries out the God of life.
Woe, echoes all of creation.
Woe, we shout or whisper or just moan, through our tears.
Habakkuk gives us the space for such grief.
Habakkuk gives us permission for such hurt and anger.
Habakkuk calls forth such lament.
Habakkuk authorizes such declarations of woe.
But Habakkuk does not leave us there.
Or better to say, God does not leave Habakkuk there.
Say it clear, say it loud,
there is still a vision for an appointed time.
There is still a word of truth that breaks through the deceit,
there is still a word of hope that breaks through the despair,
there is still a path of life in the midst of death.
Those who embrace a path of righteousnessin the face of violence,
those who choose a path of justice
in the face of injustice,
are those who choose
faithfulness over infidelity,
truthfulness over deceit,
love over hate,
the God of life over the idols of death.
To be faithful, sisters and brothers,
faithful to those who have been lost,
faithful to their memory,
faithful to our own pain,
faithful to a vision of life restored,
faithful to justice,
faithful to Jesus whose blood also cries out,
faithful to a resurrection hope,
we must go on standing, because we are not our own,
we must go on singing, even though it all looks grim,
and in our city of ruins,
in Orlando, Toronto, and all other cities of bloodshed,
we must sing in hope and in defiance,
we must sing for the dead, come on rise up, come on rise up!
 To read the rest of this Old Testament prayer/ sermon, follow this link.

18 May 2016

The end of the semester (with photos)

The spring semester has ended, for which I am thankful. It was full, and I feel like I'm still recovering. I don't have the right words yet to talk about the semester (even writing my year-end report was a challenge!). So instead, I'll simply post some pictures of the last few weeks.

Pentecost Sunday was so cold that the cat was snuggling under the blankets.

Poster from the Dennos art museum (Guerilla Girls exhibition). The comment about art schools being harems struck me. The ratios are a little too similar in theology and ministry settings.

Sleeping Bear dunes

Matthijs is fascinated with mushrooms, so I often get random pictures of mushrooms on my phone.
Spring on MSU's campus

Matthijs' birthday!

08 April 2016

Another view of the red light district

Having lived in the Red Light District for a number of years, I thought I'd pass on this blog which talks about what it's like to work in the Red Light District: Behind the Red Light District.

As a disclaimer, the woman writing it is rather frustrated with some of the propaganda related to cleaning up the Red Light District. Although I disagree with her often enough, I do think she has a lot of valid points and thus deserves to be heard. I especially agree that the whole 1012 project has not resulted in better businesses in the neighbourhood, although I would argue that the fashion/design place at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 93 was actually doing quite well (or at least it was when I lived next door).

06 April 2016

Free Online Hebrew Bible Resource!

I've been participating in the ETCBC (Eep Talstra Center for Bible and Computer) for a number of years now. If you've used any Hebrew text in Logos Bible software, you might know the ETCBC by its former name: WIVU (Werkgroep Informatica Vrije Universiteit). They are the ones responsible for the parsing of all of the Hebrew in the BHS. 

Thanks to grant funding, those resources are now available on the internet, free to whoever would like to use them. They are available as part of the Bible Online Learner. Once you have selected a text, you have access to parsing and translation of each word in the text, including the verbs! If you look on the left side of the screen (you can also use your mobile phone for this site - the display works really well!), you'll see a button that says "clause." The options "type" and "indentation" are quite helpful, and they also give a glimpse into the research that I've done (I've focused on indentation). The Shebanq website shows the actual research of the ETCBC group and allows for doing one's own searches on the text, although I haven't entirely figured out how to use this interface. 
As I figure this resource out, I'll hopefully post about what I find. 

04 April 2016

Learning from the studies I lead

One of the delights of leading studies for my work has been the things I've learned as we study a passage together. Often the model for studies, especially with a pastor present, is that he/she be the expert and everyone else then learns. This is a similar model to what we're used to in school: the teacher as lecturer, passing on information. Yet there are questions of how effective this "banking model of education" really is.

I like a different model, one in which we all approach the text and the study of it as a place where we all (including me) can be challenged and learn from each other. I come to the studies with the biblical knowledge I've learned, time spent learning more about the text we're looking at, and a list of questions to help guide the discussion. At the same time, I also need to bring curiosity and a spirit of intellectual inquiry to the discussion as well as model humility, recognizing that I, too, have much to learn and should be open to being convicted by the text. The challenge of this second model is that it asks a lot more from those participating, and at the end of the study it's less easy to list off all the things we know. At the same time, I believe that what we learn together communally is much more profound than what we would come up if I was expected to provide all the answers.

In the last few weeks, I have learned and been convicted by the following things:
- Most of us see the disciple Thomas negatively, calling him doubting Thomas, not realizing the ways in which he is both courageous and realistic. While the rest of the disciples were hiding after Jesus' death, Thomas was courageously risking his life by going out into the open. When Jesus goes to Jerusalem (John 11) to raise Lazarus from the dead, it was Thomas who was willing to join Jesus despite the potential risk of death, both for Jesus and the disciples. It deserves more pondering - what do I have still to learn from Thomas? Father Mark at St. John's Student Center reiterated these points in his sermon yesterday.
- In talking about Mark 9, we talked about how scary demons are and how uncomfortable most of us are with the thought of demons. Yet, we don't seem to have the same fear in relation to the spiritual forces that are working in our lives here and now. This seems like a pretty big disconnect. Why/how is it that I can be convicted of the need for prayer and fasting in relation to the spiritual forces found in the New Testament and yet I'm blind to and even lazy when it comes to confronting the sins in my life and potential spiritual forces leading me astray?

03 April 2016

A weather inspired april fool's joke

Although it's a day late, the weather today feels like an April fool's joke. It's April 2nd, the first day of spring was two weeks ago, the cat is shedding, and the first day of Easter was almost a week ago. It should thus be warm, sunny, and the beginning of biking season!

Instead, this was the view out my window at work late this afternoon:

On the bright side, it was quite pretty. There's nothing quite as beautiful as snow glistening on trees, especially when you know that it'll melt within a day or two (and biking will once again be enjoyable).

26 March 2016

Holy Saturday: Outlive one's love for God

The Good Friday hymn, "O Sacred Head now Wounded" ends with
"What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee."
The last line made me think of Holy Saturday, a day when there is space to dwell on the absence of God. Just as the first disciples who deeply felt the absence of death on the day after the crucifixion, not comprehending that the resurrection was coming, there are many today that do not know the presence of God.

Some of the absence comes from "outliving" (or outgrowing) one's love for God. Within campus ministry, one is confronted with the reality that many people grow up with this idea that God wants them to be happy and good (cf. moral therapeutic deism). When suffering happens, one's love for that sort of God often dwindles and fades. Or there are those who have grown up with very rigid understandings of who God is, often a God who seems most concerned with right rules and/or maintaining the status quo. When questions arise, one's love for that sort of God also often dwindles and fades. In a manner of speaking, these folks have outgrown/outlived their love for God.

Yet, as much as I am saddened by the idea of people turning away from pursuing a relationship with God, there is also hope. For as the warped pictures of God are put to death, there is room for resurrection: the Spirit moving within them to know God fully and the hope of a vibrant understanding of and relationship with God, in all of His fullness revealed in the Bible, a way of knowing God that can not be outgrown or outlived.

For further reflections on Holy Saturday, see my blog from 2015, 2013, and Tish Warren's reflections at "The Well."

24 February 2016

PhD Advice - Helpful and Unhelpful

One of the joys of doing a PhD and ministering to folks who are getting PhDs is learning to reflect on the experience. An important part of that is sharing the struggles and joys of the experience with others. Getting a PhD is hard; we all need the support. At the same time, I also believe it's very much worth it: getting to go to grad school and writing a dissertation is a privilege and a gift. But it's still hard and overwhelming and even leads to depression for many.

Getting a PhD is even more complicated for females, I think, even though there are quite a lot of us doing them! There's even a recent book written about this, which I'd recommend: Our dissertations, ourselves. Perhaps part of the challenge in being a female is the strange assumptions about females doing PhDs like 'you won't be able to get married' or 'don't you want to have children.' And yes, I have had both of those assumptions directed at me.

One of the challenges of getting a PhD is knowing how to do it. Many of those around us, including those who care about us, will want to try to give helpful advice. Asking a grad student how his or her thesis is coming is not always received well (see PhD comics). But what does one say? A lot of advice is more unhelpful than helpful: e.g.,  I know others who've finished faster than you, a good thesis is a done thesis, you won't get a job, and more: see Thesis Whisperer's article on Unhelpful PhD Advice.

YES! I, too, would like to have my dissertation finished now already. I know Matthijs would, too.

Do I worry about whether I'll finish? Not so much. Do I wonder about how I'll finish? More so. Most of the time the biggest challenge hasn't been in writing the dissertation but in figuring out what's preventing me from writing. Unfortunately, there's very little advice - even from those closest to me and my dissertation - that can help resolve that challenge, at least partly because I recognize that the reasons for not writing keep shifting.

19 February 2016

Practice what you teach

As part of my job I read a number of columnists from Inside Higher Ed. A recent article, "Am I a Bad Feminist Mom?" by Laura Tropp, struck me on account of its honesty in acknowledging how our ideals do not always translate into reality.

She starts by stating she believed she "would be the best feminist mom," as she is "an academic who studies feminism, motherhood, and families. [She] knows about the glass ceiling, the maternal wall, and the second shift. [She's] read the studies on girls and self-esteem." And yet, she acknowledges, "The other day, I called my daughter “bossy” and my husband reminded me that, according to Sheryl Sandberg, people shouldn’t use that word around girls anymore. It might teach them to be less assertive later in life."

She concludes by noting how hard it is to practice what she teaches:
"I can’t help but feel that I’m a better feminist teacher than I am a feminist mother. It’s must easier to avoid hypocrisy as a teacher than as a mom. I can talk about beauty myths without revealing whether or not I choose to adhere to them. I can discuss the burden of the second shift without students witnessing my own struggles with it." - Laura Tropp
Whatever our area of expertise, I think her words apply to all of us who teach or lead. It is one thing to teach what is good and another thing to actually practice that.

13 February 2016

Lent, in others' words

I have always appreciated the season of Lent, as the church services (songs and liturgy) fits better with the messiness of faith as I have experienced it. I bumped into several folks who have captured well the goodness and messiness related to Lent and faith, so I'm including those here.

writes about "Why Lent is Good for Bad Christians:"
"When we are desperate to be healthy and whole, yet know we don’t have the discipline to make it happen, sometimes we have to sign up for boot camp, for an intensive and structured routine that turns our good intentions into concrete action. Welcome to Lent."
"A way that we err in how we approach Lent: We confuse our metaphors and treat these 40 days like an actual physical boot camp, when in fact spiritual fitness is the whole point. We turn the church calendar into a liturgical Fitbit, a tool we can incorporate into our lives to help us realize our weight-loss, strength, or technology-use goals. . . It should be clear at this point that I think physical fitness is good, and that setting goals to achieve said fitness is important. I have personally abstained from alcohol during Lent for the past three years, and during that time I feel better and probably lose a bit of weight. But I abstain from alcohol because it’s part of church tradition, not because I lose weight. It should be clear that the point of Lent is not to get six-pack abs." Read the full article.

James K.A. Smith writes about An American Lent, lamenting how even giving up something at Lent is primarily about my individual (expression of) faith:
"In a more robustly communal practice of the faith, my self-denial is not up to me. The practices of fasting and feasting are not a matter of choice: they are part of the spiritual architecture of the church. It's not so much that I choose to abstain from meat; meat is not going to be served. There are communal commitments embedded in an environment that takes the emphasis off of my choice and will power and instead throws me into the formative power of the practice.  My participation in the formative disciplines of Lent isn't another chance for me to show something to God (or others).  It is an invitation to have my hungers retrained." Read the full post to see how this is typical for American Christianity.

Lastly, if you are still confused about what Lent (or Ash Wednesday) is, how Catholics celebrate it, and/or just simply like Lego, there's a one-minute video on youtube about Lent (using Lego)!

12 February 2016

Mixed Feelings about Paul and his writings

I briefly mentioned to someone that our study of Colossians at Campus Edge has made me appreciate the words of Paul much more. She was surprised that I'd had mixed feelings about him. I mentioned to her that many females do not appreciate Paul because of how he talks about women. Yet, that's not my issue with Paul: It's more that his descriptions of how people ought to live come across as arrogant and lacking any nuance. 

The text of Colossians has been wonderful to study. The text has been challenging and encouraging, full of numerous insights to think about and discuss.

At the same time, I just recently re-read the letters to Timothy and did a word study on submit (ὑποτάσσω (hypotassō)), so I haven't entirely lost my exasperation with Paul. But at least now the exasperation has expanded (and not just to include Peter). As I see the ways that the students do not know how or want to accept Paul's words because they have been greviously misused and misinterpreted, my anger has grown against those who have arrogantly claimed that they understand exactly what Paul's words mean in cultural contexts very different than that of Paul.

21 January 2016

A little perspective

Life feels a bit chaotic at the moment. A bit of perspective (along with a reminder of the strength and character of the women I met through the Vrouwenpastoraat) feels appropriate:
"In the High Middle Ages, the moral sensibilities of leading churchmen were different from those in our own time. For example, the canons of the Cathedral of Notre Dame decided to receive a donation towards the construction of the cathedral from the city’s prostitutes, but refused one from the city’s bankers. The women, they argued, had worked for their money. Perhaps this will cost me my reputation as a progressive, but in this instance, I prefer the moral analysis of the High Middle Ages to that of our own time."
 From Ross Douthat's Erasmus Lecture by Michael Sean Winters

With thanks to Matthijs who passed this quote on to me.

05 January 2016

12th day of Christmas: subversive Mary

Christmas tends to bring out the sentimental, as if people think only of Jesus as a "cute bundle of joy" instead of a) a mess human being that cries, needs diaper changes and needs to be fed at inconvenient hours and b) the King who has come to save the world.  

Mary tends also to be sentimentalized. A number of years ago, Scot McKnight wrote an article for Christianity Today about Mary that describes this: "Mary has become little more than a delicate piece in a Christmas crèche, whom we bring out without comment at Christmas and then wrap up gently until we see her again next Advent."

Instead of only seeing Mary as she is often depicted at Christmastime:
she "wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection."
McKnight invites us to see a different Mary - "the blessed Valorous Mary."
she "wears ordinary clothing and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him. She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it. Like other women of her time, she may have worn a robe and a veil, but I suspect her sleeves were rolled up and her veil askew more often than not."                               The Mary we Never Knew
I am growing to appreciate this second Mary. This Mary is the one who agreed to bear the Christ-child knowing that it might cost her everything - the security of a husband and a place within the Jewish community - and the one who spoke the subversive words of the Magnificat that envision her child coming to scatter the proud, bring down the mighty, and exalt the humble.

02 January 2016

Because reading the Bible changes you

For several years, I have been reading a wonderful blog - Gruntled Center - written by sociologist Beau Weston. It provides insights into religion and culture that consistently leave me pondering.

Weston recently pointed to a study from Christianity Today, which showed a link between reading the Bible and people's political views:
“Ask an evangelical who is politically conservative, has some college education, has an average level of income, is a biblical literalist, and does not read the Bible, and you’ll have only a 22 percent chance he or she will say reducing consumption is part of ethical living.
Ask the same person, only now they read the Bible, and you’ll have a 44 percent chance they’ll say so.” 
gruntled center
I find this a fascinating example of how reading the Bible changes the way one sees the world.