Wednesday, October 26, 2005


One of the unique things about the human race is storytelling... It's something instinctive. Olivia, my toddler, already knows how to find a book, carry it to the red armchair in the living room, and claw at my lap until I lift her up to sit and read together for awhile. Elliot, at the age of three-and-a-half, has already developed the art of storytelling for himself -- singing self-composed songs, inventing self-conceived stories -- yet he continues to crave the stories of others as well. Morning, afternoon, and evening, it's common to hear, "Daddy, tell me a story!" And of course he's not satisfied with the hundreds of books on the shelves -- no, he wants to hear fresh stories, instantaneous stories, interactive stories featuring his circle of acquaintance. Not Pulitzer-prizewinner material, mind you -- just everyday adventures, like the other night at bedtime when Elliot asked me to "Tell the story about Elliot watching a video and eating a snack"... Children (at least my children) seem to just instinctively love stories. And well, I love stories, too...

As a church, Zolder50 has been enjoying a series called "Four Stories" -- a metaphor for our lives, our community, our faith. Four friends from our community sharing their real-life stories of what God is doing in the world today -- celebrating the spiritual community that God has developed through the church meeting on the fourth story of an old canal-side house in central Amsterdam -- drawing our inspiration and power from the original four gospels that share a four-fold perspective into the story of Jesus... And I am overwhelmed and invigorated by the succession of stories. Absolutely, there is power in storytelling.

This is something to remember -- a rope to grasp as we heave ourselves out of the pit of literalism, legalism, and lectures that so often dominates and defines our existence as Christians in 21st Century Western culture. It occurs to me that we typically relegate church stories to placement among rigid, highly practical classifications: an illustration of Biblical principles, or simple contextualization of theology... But I mourn the fact that we often fail to esteem stories for their self-evident meaning and value. Our stories are not just Bible illustrations, but in a sense the actual story of God's working in the 21st Century! They're not just contextualization of theology, but essentially the study of God itself!

Storytelling is a mission. Jesus was the ultimate storyteller -- a living and breathing antithesis of stodgy literalism, legalism, and lectures. And when the Holy Spirit filled Jesus' followers with His power and life, they understood the experience as God's fulfillment of his promises for young men to be awakened to new visions, for old men to be caught up in brilliant dreams, and for all God's servants to use whatever means necessary to identify and renounce societal evils in proclamation of the rule of God! Our calling is to live as visionaries, dreamers, and powerful voices in our culture -- and this seems much more in line with a life of storytelling (and by this, I include poetry, novels, short-stories, blogging, pod-casting, songwriting, painting, sculpting, photography, and a thousand other forms of art) rather than a life of literalism, legalism, and lectures.

Like my son, we need to hear stories that include us and explain our existence. We need to create fresh stories, instantaneous stories, interactive stories featuring our circles of acquaintance. They don't have to have a spoken moral to the fable (although it's probably there). There doesn't have to be a four-point outline. They don't even have to be especially well-polished or refined... But we cannot escape or ignore the art of storytelling.

Friday, October 21, 2005

live from the Damrak

I remember the early days of my relationship with Amsterdam. I remember sketchy impressions drawn from countless books, articles, and conversations about the city. I remember packing bags and anxiously awaiting a two-week exploratory trip across the Atlantic to personally discover Amsterdam and inquire if it might be a place God was leading us to start a new church, a new home. And to this day, I remember reading the first e-mail -- written from "an internet cafe on the Damrak" -- by the first member of our team to land on that distant shore, in preparation for the larger group's arrival.

It was so exotic, so adventurous, so tremulous to imagine my friend Steve sitting in an "internet cafe" (who'd ever heard of such a thing?!?) surrounded by strangely-accented Dutchmen, sending out his instantaneous report from the heart of urban Amsterdam -- presumably waving off the smoky marijuana haze and shielding his eyes from the beckoning prostitutes as he typed his electronic epistle to the "reinforcements" who would be arriving in just a few short days. I remember trembling from the excitement and fear of the new Old World.

Oddly enough, I compose this post from an internet cafe on the Damrak, as I count down the minutes before catching a train from Centraal Station on a routine trip to a regular meeting in a different part of the city. And I realize how mundane this experience actually is -- how annoying, in fact, because it simply signifies that my computer is still in the shop and I must seek alternative means to keep up periodic access to e-mail, blogging, and other means of connection to 21st Century society.

Ah, the ironic twists of perception, live from an internet cafe on the Damrak...

Friday, October 14, 2005

@braham lincoln

How did Abraham Lincoln ever get anyting done without a computer? I remember stories of how he read books by the light of a kerosene lamp, how he spent hours chopping wood for the fire, how he meticulously kept up correspondance through hand-written letters, how he campaigned from the Mississippi to the Atlantic from the back of a steam-powered locomotive... And somehow, in the midst of so many labor-intensive, time-consuming activities, he managed to become one of the most learned men on the frontier, rise to the ranks of President of the United States of America, fight to lead the country during a time when the States of America were decidedly not United, prepare great speeches, strategize decisive battles, raise a family, and discuss the nuances of his facial hair patterns with a little girl (or so the story goes). I simply cannot comprehend how all of this could be balanced by one man in one lifetime before the days of internet, facsimilie, mobile telephony, and all the "necessities" of 21st Century society.

For crying out loud -- I don't know how I managed to hold it all together in those dark days of the 20th Century -- just 10 years ago or so -- when I didn't have an e-mail account, an answering machine, or a PDA... Was my life that much simpler then? Could I have possibly managed a productive existence in those days? I'm amazed to think that I've lived on both sides of the border between "then" and "now" -- the 20th Century and the 21st Century, the before and after of the "Digital Revolution"... And I wonder how ol' Abe Lincoln would survive such a transition.

Truth be told, I've been struggling to manage without my personal computer for about a week now. A defective backlight on the monitor of my laptop has left us without our "lifeline" to the digital world for what could be weeks... And I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm having difficulties without this connection. The superfluous has become central. Paper has been replaced by monitor; handshakes by keystrokes. The freedom of the Digital Revolution has become the captivity of the Information Age. I find it scary how many parallels can be drawn to the progression of popular notions regarding the Industrial Revolution from Lincoln's 19th Century...

Oddly enough, I've enjoyed (or at least benefited from) the step back in time -- launching a Lincolnesque attempt at life, love, and labor -- at least in the short-term. I've been responding to e-mails with phone calls (now that's "old school"!) and sitting down for more face-to-face meetings. I've been catching up on some reading, even throwing back my literary tastes to reabsorb "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (which I'm really enjoying). I've been playing more with my children and taking walks through the neighborhood. And I even took time yesterday evening to light an old kerosene lamp and read a book of Mother Goose's nursery rhymes to Elliot in the flickering darkness of our dining room. Somehow I'm making it work (although I must confess that the mobile telephone has never left my pocket and I've kept up regular trips to the office to check e-mail). Maybe an analog existence is not entirely impossible. Maybe the Information Age brings along its own set of distractions and meticulous tasks to slow down life and offer little net gain in available hours of the week. Maybe electronic communication actually is just an accessory to real life. Maybe I'm not so enslaved after all.

I could hardly wait to get into the office one of these days and electronicize my thoughts to share with the digital world in the form of my blog. Here's to you, @be...

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Yo-Yo's Slow Upward Climb...

For those who might be curious (follow up from my last post)... We've rescheduled Olivia's surgery for 1 December 2005. We were offered an appointment for early November that conflicted with long-established travel plans, so the date has been set for about seven weeks out.

We're feeling pretty good about the situation. We firmly believe in the power of prayer, so any such help in "preparation" for this surgery would be appreciated.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The 48-Hour Yo-Yo

I'm growing dizzy from the changes in altitude. Down - up - down - up. My heart flutters. My intellect waffles. My spirit groans. It's been a crazy ride on the 48-hour yo-yo of our lives.

For almost a year now, we've been steadily (though slowly) pursuing treatment for our daughter's hemangioma -- a benign tumor that's been increasingly swelling and bulging from her forehead since she was born. Medical photographs, MRI, EEG, consultations upon consultations... Conversations with other parents of children with vascular birthmarks, doctors from the GG&GD, our own family doctor, a general surgeon, a neurologist, an anesthesiologist, a radiologist, a plastic surgeon... It's been a long and winding road, seeking the best for our little girl.

And on Tuesday afternoon, we were informed that arrival at our destination was imminent.

The plastic surgeon proved to be the final piece of the consultation puzzle. When she said to go ahead and have Olivia put on the list for surgery, we were stunned. And elated. Our elation escalated to euphoria when we consulted with the reception staff. As we ticked off the items on their checklist -- yes... yes... it should be there in her file... yes... actually, she just met with the anesthesiologist about six weeks ago -- one of the receptionists brightened and said that they had just received word of an opening in the schedule for Thursday! Just two days away! And to our utter amazement -- beyond our most optimistic expectations -- we left the hospital with an appointment for surgery in less than 48 hours. Indeed, we felt that we had experienced the touch of God Himself. A miraculous intervention. An incomparable restoration of hope. And we were shooting skywards toward the hand of the man with the string on his finger...

The next afternoon, however, we peaked and plummeted. Reviewing pre-operative instructions with the hospital staff, we received the devestating news that Olivia's operation would have to be postponed. Her routine vaccination at the beginning of the week conflicted with the surgical policy mandating at least one week between vaccination and operation. And none of our questions or persistence could change things. It was just -- no... no, that doesn't matter... no... there's nothing else we can do... no, it's impossible to say when she might be able to get back on the schedule -- "Call on Monday, and you'll find out then." We felt the sting of betrayal. A thousand broken pieces, scattered on the ground. Devestation and dashing of hope. And oh, it hurts when you're at the bottom of the line and the wrist snaps again.

So this morning dawned as just another day on the long and winding road to nowhere. We are stalled out, perhaps somewhere between up and down. We are neither elated nor despondant. We don't know what will happen next. We don't know why we must remain spinning in this nauseating cycle of highs and lows. We don't know when the journey will be over. But we look forward to eventually coming up again -- hopefully to be caught and allowed to rest in the hand, in the pocket, or on the shelf for awhile. And in the meantime, we'll fight for faith and hope. What else can we do? The yo-yo doesn't have much say in the matter.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Amsterdam is virtually synonymous with its Red Light District -- a section of the city center popularized by its institutional prostitution and regulated "soft drug" industry. Tourists flock to the ancient streets in the vicinity of the Oude Kerk, essentially "window shopping" among the sex cinemas and brothels -- each such establishment marked by red lights hung outside the main entrance. The smell of marijuana is heavy in the air outside of the smoking "coffee shops," and eager wanderers devour the sights and smells of this infamous district in this infamous city. To the locals, this corner of the city is known as de Wallen ("the Walls") -- so dubbed because of the major canals and streets running through the district with names like the Nieuwzijds Voorburgwal and the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Such names originated in pure practicality, referring to the embankments along the side of the earliest canals dug out around the original dam, diverting the flow of the Amstel River. Yet de Wallen have taken on a figurative meaning as well, representing the city's notorious vices: walls of idolatry, walls of segregation, walls of separation between sinful society and righteous society.

Amsterdam's identity is wrapped up in de Wallen. For better or worse, the city is celebrated and despised for its moral relativism, sexual libertarianism, and tolerance for any and every whim of the almighty individual. The rest of the world grins devilishly or offers a scolding "tsk, tsk" feeling better about their own society's restraint from the Walls of Amsterdam's evils.

Yet de Wallen are not merely an Amsterdam phenomenon, or a purely Dutch vice. Case in point: New Amsterdam. Founded in the New World at the mouth of the Hudson River, upon a stretch of land known as Manhattan, the settlement quickly developed into a major center of commerce. Eventually the British gained control from the Dutch -- renaming the city New York -- and still later, the Americans won independence to make New York their own. But the city retained many artifacts from its Dutch roots -- Haarlem became Harlem, Breukelen became Brooklyn, Stateneiland became Staten Island... and the name for Nieuw Amsterdam's section of the city known as de Wallen eventually became Wall Street.

Ironically, like the implicit connection between Old Amsterdam and its Red Light District, New York is practically synonymous with its Wall Street -- a section of the city center popularized by its ruthless capitalism and industrial oligarchy. Tourists and tycoons flock to the skyscrapers in the vicinity of the New York City Stock Exchange, essentially driving the world's market economy. The air is heavy with cellular telephone signals and the whir of corporate machinery, and eager wanderers devour the power and prestige of this infamous district in this infamous city. More than an artifact of early Dutch colonialism, the name Wall Street has taken on a figurative meaning as well, representing the city's more subtle vices: walls of idolatry, walls of segregation, walls of separation between greed and righteousness.

New York's identity is wrapped up in Wall Street. For better or worse, the city is celebrated and despised for its cunning negotiations, high-powered business transactions, and reckless abandon in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. The rest of the world grins devilishly or offers a scolding "tsk, tsk" feeling better about their own society's restraint from the Walls of America's evils.

Indeed, the Walls crowd us on every side. Amsterdam, New York, Beijing, Sao Paolo, Johannesberg, Melbourne... No matter the society, no matter the practical outworkings, we are suffocating behind the Walls of wickedness and moral decay.