Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Eight is Great

Marci and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary this week, in the beautiful settings of Mackinac Island. It was a great get-away for the two of us. Luxurious, in fact... Grandparents took care of the children; we were able to take our time and really connect over two days of travel and recreation; and we soaked up the peace and quiet of a great vacation spot. Mackinac Island is located on the straits of Mackinac -- at the intersection of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the two peninsulas of the State of Michigan. Three-quarters of the island are covered by state park wilderness area, and motorized vehicles are totally prohibited from the island. The weather was beautiful, and we simply soaked up the sunshine and silence of the island...

It was a wonderful celebration of a wonderful anniversary marking the beginning of a wonderful marriage with a wonderful woman.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Deep Roots

I’m a wanderer. Of course, I’ve been living as an expatriate -- straddling Dutch culture and American culture -- for the last three-and-a-half years. But even before that, I never had the chance to develop deep roots in any particular geographic location. Three years in Amsterdam preceded by seven years in Bowling Green (Ohio), preceded by eight years in Shelby (Ohio), preceded by eight years in Lancaster (Wisconsin), preceded by shorter stints in Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Colorado... Relatively speaking, my whole life has been somewhat nomadic.

My parents, before me, were also wanderers -- which naturally explains my childhood wandering. And their parents, before them, were the sons and daughters of immigrants from northern Europe. For generations, my family has learned to survive and thrive with a shallow (easily transferable) root system.

And I don’t necessarily consider this to be a bad thing. In an increasingly global society, travelers have distinct advantages. Furthermore, as a disciple of Christ, there’s a role for people who are willing to wander, like the Son of Man, with “no place to lay his head.”

But there’s definitely something appealing about deep roots, as well. Marci’s family, for instance, has maintained a homestead in the fertile farmlands Richland County, Ohio, since the turn of the 19th Century. Marci’s distant relatives are listed in local history books that call back to the time “when the land was wild, and the men were even wilder” and the region “was infested by Indians, wolves, and deer in abundance” (the quotes are pulled from a family copy of “The History of Richland County, Ohio: 1807 – 1880” authored by A.A. Graham in the year 1880). The family is currently in the process of some pretty drastic renovation of the old farmhouse, to ensure its establishment well into the 21st Century. But the work is motivated by a sense of history and heritage -- a realization that our children represent the eighth generation to stake their claim on that soil.

Eight generations.

That’s amazing to me! It’s such a different sense of establishment from my life that counts eight years as its longest stretch of semi-permanence in any particular locale. Such familiarity and connection to a place are understandably powerful and special.

I used to feel cynical and arrogant towards “local yokels” who were emotionally tied down to one place -- such that they had never even ventured to travel beyond the borders of Ohio. However, I’m starting to understand a bit more completely, and as I understand I feel less critical. I see my mother-in-law laboring to restore her childhood home, and I hear my wife recall stories from her time on “Grandpa and Grandma’s farm,” and I see my son pumping water from the old pump to help water the garden... and it all makes sense to be in a new way. Deep roots can be stabilizing. Deep roots can be comforting. Deep roots can be empowering.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


One thing I've recently noticed about American culture is how it seems so easily susceptible to obsession. Maybe it's gotten worse in the last couple of years, since I've been in Amsterdam... Or maybe I'm just seeing it with new eyes (i.e. I've been the one doing the changing, not America). Whatever the case, I've been consistently astonished over the last week by the sense of hype and hysteria with which America embraces the story of the moment.

When we first landed in the country last weekend, it seemed that there was no end to conversation about "The DaVinci Code." Talk radio, television advertisements, merchandise, magazine headlines, books, reports of ticket sales -- even Sunday morning sermons! Total obsession, I'm telling you...

But by Tuesday, all talk had already shifted to "American Idol." Blah, blah, blah, Taylor Hicks... Yadda, yadda, yadda, Paula Abdul... Blah, blah, blah... The machinery just kept cranking and cranking and cranking. I must confess that I was even convinced to tune in for the season finale (although, in all fairness, this had more to do with my sister-in-law than with my own viewing preferences). No matter -- the point is that America found its new obsession for Tuesday and Wednesday in the season finale of "American Idol" (and I also happen to know that the end of the television season for "Lost" and "24" were also equally obsessed over by their respective constituencies). Seriously, we're talking about a national obsessive compulsive disorder...

Then today, I got to visit my old high school (middelbare school), and I was able to observe another longstanding obsession that had previously averted my gaze (or at least, I should say, it had not been so painfully honest before). Now, it's difficult to locate the epicenter of this obsession, as I'm not sure if it's an America thing or a Shelby thing -- but I was amazed (and somewhat embarrassed) by the place of honor consumed by high school athletics. At this end-of-the-year awards ceremony (in which my little brother was involved), giving out scholarships and grants for prospective college students, probably half of the rewards were connected to "outstanding student-athletes." And, conspicuously, about the first five or ten awards of the morning were handed out to the school's heroes of the fields and courts. Academic achievement seemed to be a mere footnote. And as I wandered out into the school cafeteria (to divert the attention of my antsy children), I was struck by the sports-obsession at Shelby Senior High School. Well -- to be fair -- there were several rows of 8 x 10 photographs taken of the honor students from each senior class going back several decades (group shots, featuring 20 to 30 students in each photograph)... But these academic honors seemed puny in comparison to the sports honors. Dozens of student-athletes were featured in poster-sized individual portraits -- in addition to group photographs of championship-winning sports teams and a trophy case full of the glories of Shelby's athletic history. And in this I realized that there was a clear priority being communicated by the sports-obsessed community of Shelby. Not necessarily bad -- but so much different from the priorities of other parts of the world. And in any event, it's another clear example of American obsession...

Maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe I'm reading into things too much. Maybe I'm just jealous that my image appeared in the honor students photograph, about the size of a thumbprint, while Barbie Metzger got a poster-sized glamor shot on the wall of fame. Maybe I'm just envious of having missed the cultural trends of the last year... Or maybe America is just obsessed.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thank God I'm a Country Boy

When I talk to Europeans about my place of origin, I must confess that I’m somewhat timid and apologetic. “I come from Ohio -- in the Midwestern region of America.” Typically, I must respond to the corresponding blank stare with an attempt at clarification: “About halfway between New York City and Chicago, in the boring farmlands of middle America...”

I say this because Ohio has no globally-recognized landmarks such as the Empire State Building or the Grand Canyon. Its international reputation is somewhat bland, if in fact internationally-reputed at all. I mean, let’s be honest: my home state does not have the most breathtaking natural scenery or the most cosmopolitan cities.

Nevertheless, I appreciate Ohio’s simple beauty. As I view the area with new eyes this month, I am struck by the classic character of the land and its people. I’ve been taking photographs like a tourist, and in the process I realize that I’m proud to be an Ohioan.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Easy Like Sunday Morning (and Afternoon)

I’d forgotten the sound of silence, after living in central Amsterdam for so long, but I was serendipitously reminded of its glory by the pre-dawn hush of Bowling Green. In the apartment of old friends, I rolled over on my make-shift bed, sighed contently, and went back to sleep. It felt great to be back in America on this Sunday morning.

We had a relaxed breakfast -- no pressing responsibilities for the day ahead and plenty of golden memories to laugh about -- then we slowly prepared to wander downtown for a gathering of the saints in the pub above Easystreet. A late morning worship gathering in this downtown Bowling Green institution provided a glad reunion with my old h2o church family, and I was encouraged for the opportunity to share some stories from Amsterdam. Even though three-quarters of the people in the room were unfamiliar, the atmosphere was as comfortable and easy as my college days. A homecoming.

After the worship gathering, a group of us went downstairs to the Easystreet restaurant... I had heard from other American-Amsterdammers that a return to the conscientious customer service of America can feel overwhelming and annoying... But as for me, well, I ain’t buyin’ it. We felt like royalty in the customer service of Easystreet Café -- waited upon moments after sitting down, served good hot food quickly, pampered by the wait staff intuitively responding to the needs of our small children. When I searched the table for my glass of Dr. Pepper -- which had been only a third-full when I had last set it down -- I felt a surge of American patriotism well up within my chest, as my eyes discovered that my glass had been secretly filled, unsolicited, by our dutiful waitress. Purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain, and unlimited free refills on all my favorite carbonated beverages... Indeed, in that moment, I revered America the Beautiful.

After lunch, Marci’s parents were waiting to pick us up and drive us the hour and a half through the northern Ohio countryside to their farm in Crawford County. The sun shined warmly, the children napped peacefully, and the telephone poles flickered past in a comforting cadence that could hardly have been more idyllic -- until I noticed that it was just past two o’clock in the afternoon and thus time to adjust the radio dial to FM 91.3: National Public Radio, broadcasting the classic “Prairie Home Companion.” A perfect afternoon became even better. The moment was sublime.

I will be the first to confess that America has her faults (which have already been readily noticeable on this pilgrimage and which will likely serve as fodder for future reflections) -- but she also has her glories. And on an easy Sunday in May, I reveled in the glories of my Homeland.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Very Long Two-and-a-Half Hours

Transatlantic air travel with preschool children is like laying siege to an armed fortress. It must be done deliberately, fearlessly, and with a spirit of never-say-die endurance. The siege must be planned and prepared several days in advance -- and when the day of destiny arrives, it must be grasped and wrestled and arm-twisted until it says, “Uncle.”

Truth be told, it was brutal for our family to experience approximately ten hours of time passing as the hands of the clock swung from 11:20 in the morning to 13:50 in the afternoon... But the important thing is that it passed. And we made it. The fortress was breached. The battle was won. America was attained. And we’re anxious to see what will happen next...

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed. I'm ready to go... I wish I didn't have to say good-bye.

But I'm leaving on a jet plane today, headed for my "Homeland" of the United States of America. It's been a year and a half since my last time on American soil, and -- to be honest -- I feel anxious. Kind of excited and kind of nervous. Not exactly sure what to expect...

What if I don't like America any more? What if I've changed a lot in the last year and a half -- or if America has changed a lot in the last year and a half? Familiarity, family, friends, fun... These are my memories and mental constructs of American life, but can the reality match up to the idealized notion spawned by such an extended absence? It will be hard if I go back and find myself a foreigner in my own land.

But then -- what if I really like being back in America? What if it feels like a foot in an old, comfortable sneaker? What if I find myself wondering how I ever could have adapted to anything else? I've actually come to enjoy my life in Holland recently. It's also come to represent familiarity, family, friends, and fun... But can I bear it if I must start all over again, upon my return to Amsterdam? Readjustment, culture shock, homesickness? It will be hard if I return to a difficult life in Amsterdam after a month of idealism in America.

But these questions will be answered soon enough. And I have faith that God will use the process in my life, no matter how it goes.

Here we go.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Blogger's Conundrum

Isn't it ironic that the times when you have the most things to write about are also the times when you have the least time to sit at a computer and write?

I still have more things I want to write about Nijmegen (but in the meantime, you should check our home group's blog for a short summary of our experiences in the city and my five favorite photos from the weekend)... Our family is traveling to America soon -- which is bringing up a very interesting set of thoughts and emotions that would definitely be blogworthy... An old friend has been visiting Amsterdam, which has also brought up a lot of good blogworthy memories as well as new ideas and experiences... And, of course, my kids continue to grow up, my wife continues to amaze me, our church in Amsterdam continues to develop, and the city of Amsterdam continues to buzz with a million stories...

But I don't have any time to write about any of this right now [sigh]. Maybe soon...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Twaalf in Nijmegen

When Moses and the Israelites sought to explore the territories of Canaan, a group of twelve was chosen to spy the land...

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to travel from village to village and to proclaim the good news of God's Kingdom, again it was a group of twelve that was dedicated to the task...

When our home group went to visit Nijmegen, as a part of Zolder50's "Spies in the Land" project, once again it was a group of twelve people from Amsterdam and Bowling Green that spent the weekend scouting out possibilities for church planting in the region...

Crazy coincidence, huh?

Seriously, though, it was a great trip. I hope to post more thoughts in the days to come.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Destination: Nijmegen

Today, we leave for Nijmegen. And I'm excited.

Our home group is traveling together with five people from a church in America as "Spies in the Land (a reference to the expedition of twelve Israelite spies sent out by Moses to explore the Promised Land). This spring and summer, the five home groups of Zolder50 are visiting five different cities across the Netherlands: Rotterdam, Nijmegen, Maastricht, Utrecht, and Groningen. In each city, we're seeking interaction with as many Christians as we can find -- soliciting their input relating to the spiritual climate of their city -- and we're trying to pursue meaningful conversation with the average “person on the street,” asking non-believers for their opinions about God and church. The idea behind these visitations is that maybe someday, God might use these excursions to multiply churches like Zolder50 throughout the Netherlands.

So my home group gets to go to Nijmegen... Starting this evening... On the 19:47 train out of Amsterdam's Centraal Station.

Nijmegen (roughly pronounced “Ny-may-gen,” for those not-so-familiar with the Dutch language) is a city of 160,000 people in the eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Waal River. It has a very interesting history, going all the way back to the days of the Roman Empire -- and I'm especially interested in its history from the Second World War (and I somehow feel that I should also mention the fact that the 1980s rock band Van Halen originally hails from Nijmegen). But we're not going to Nijmegen is not to study its history...

Rather, we're going to Nijmegen take the spiritual temperature of the city, as it is today. And we want to avail ourselves to hearing from God in how he might use us to be a part of living out Jesus' Great Commission. We're not exactly sure what to expect for our time in Nijmegen, but we're excited to simply venture out in faith.

So please pray with us for this expedition. Pray that we’d meet the right people, ask the right questions, and listen with the right ears to hear what God might be telling us. Pray that we’d have eyes to see the true spiritual situation in Nijmegen and that our hearts would be burdened -- not with our own desires or ambitions -- but with God’s heart. Pray that we could encourage the Christians that are already there in Nijmegen and bring non-believers into an encounter with the living God...

Nijmegen, here we come!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

If Green was Red...

While riding my bicycle yesterday, for whatever reason, I found myself inventing a morbid and macabre way to celebrate the beautiful spring that has smiled down upon Amsterdam for the last couple of weeks. And since I haven't written anything meaningful for a couple of days, I figured I'd share these ponderings (disturbing as they may be) with you:

If Green was Red...
And if buds and blossoms were bombshells...
And if chattering songbirds were machine guns...
And if sunshine was napalm...
And if sunbathers were the dead and dying...
And if the scent of lilacs and wisteria was the odor of rotting flesh...
...Then Amsterdam would be an unmentionable war zone.
...An absolute blood bath.

Unfortunately, the forecasts call for an end to "hostilities" this weekend and a return to "peace" across northwest Europe. Oh well...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

in case you were wondering...

[Here is my translation of the post from yesterday, for the benefit of the English-speakers who visit this blog:]

Why do so few Dutch bloggers write in Dutch?

I know a lot of people from the Netherlands who enjoy blogging (just as much as I do). Various people with various perspectives... And I appreciate their way of thinking and writing that is certainly different than an American perspective. But for whatever reason, the vast majority of Dutch bloggers write (for the most part) in English... Why?

I can imagine that you might be able to reach a wider audience with English. You could probably get more little red dots on your ClusterMap with English (since it's become somewhat of a world language)... But by the same token, I can imagine that it's a good bit more difficult as well. And that you miss something (at least, I know that I have problems just trying to create a single post in my second language). Don't you think so?

Actually, I observe a unique cultural value in this phenomenon. Dutch people are very practical. And smart. And flexible (at least in some things)... And they're not proud (at least not when it comes to their language) -- like the French (just to give an easy example). Perhaps as a relatively small country stuck between big, power-hungry countries like Germany, France, and England, the Dutch have been forced to forge an identity from tolerance, cultural flexibility, and a practical attitude toward things such as language. And truthfully, I think this is admirable. But also a bit sad...

I wish that there were more good Dutch poems and songs. More good Dutch-language films and television programs... More Dutch blogs.

Thus, I ask: Why do so few Dutch bloggers write in Dutch? I'm curious.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Waarom schrijven zo weinig Nederlandse bloggers in 't Nederlands?

Ik ken veel mensen uit Nederland die het bloggen genieten (net zoveel als ik). Verschillende mensen met verschillende perspectieven... En ik waardeer hun manier van denken en schrijven dat zeker anders dan een Amerikaanse perspectief is. Maar de grote meerderheid van Nederlandse bloggers schrijven (voor het meeste) in 't Engels... Waarom?

Ik kan wel voorstellen dat je een grotere publiek met 't Engels kunnen bereiken. Je kunt misschien meer rode stipjes op je ClustrMap krijgen met 't Engels (omdat die een soort wereldtaal wordt)... Maar ik kan het ook voorstellen dat het een beetje moelijker is. En dat je iets mist (ten minste, ik weet dat ik problemen hebben gewoon om hier een post te maken in mijn tweede taal). Denken jullie het niet?

Eigenlijk, zie ik een unieke culturele waarde in deze fenomeen. Nederlanders zijn heel praktisch. En slim. En flexibel (ten minste in sommige dingen)... En ze zijn niet trots (ten minste met betrekking tot hun taal) -- zoals mensen uit Frankrijk (om een makkelijke voorbeeld te geven). Misschien als een kleine land tussen grote, kracht-hongerige landen zoals Duitsland, Frankrijk, en Engelland -- moesten Nederlanders een identiteit maken van tolerance, culturele flexibiliteit, en praktische houding aan dingen zoals taal. En eigenlijk, vind ik deze wel leuk. Maar ook soms een beetje verdrietig...

Ik wens dat er meer goede Nederlandse gedichten en liedjes zouden zijn. Meer goede Nederalandstalige filmen en televisieprogramma's... Meer Nederlandse blogs.

Dus vraag ik: Waarom schrijven zo weinig Nederlandse bloggers in 't Nederlands? Ik ben nieuwsgierig.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Dutch Treat

In the last three days, I've seen the Queen twice, had my hair tossed by the breeze of two seas, frolicked through vast fields of blooming flowers, and tripped in quicksand -- all within a 50 kilometer radius from my home... It's been a glorious holiday weekend.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Reality Check

A group from Zolder50 was invited to share a seminar at the Soul Survivor festival on Wednesday, on the topic of "Kerkstichten in een post-moderne tijd" ("Church planting in Post-modern Times"). Not that we're experts on the subject, by any means... But it was fun to share with other Christians from across the country and answer questions about our experiences in getting our church off the ground in Amsterdam over the last three and a half years.

The circumstances of the seminar were not so intimidating -- about 25 people under a canvas tent in the Overijssel countryside. I, however, was a bit nervous because I was going to try and share my portion of the seminar in 't Nederlands (in Dutch). Of course, after three years of learning and practicing the language, I've certainly developed a level of fluency that allows for effective interpersonal communication. But Dutch is still not my first language. And public speaking in one's second language feels quite different than personal conversation in one's second language... But after I introduced myself in Dutch, I asked the crowd for their opinion: "Willen jullie liever dat ik doorgaan in 't slechte Nederlands of in 't goede Engels met vertaling?" ("Would you prefer that I continue in bad Dutch or in good English with translation?"). And since the vote was fairly evenly split, I decided to press on in 't Nederlands (in Dutch).

As the seminar went on, I felt more and more confident with my language skills. I clearly understood the questions that were directed toward us. And (as far as I can tell) I was able to clearly articulate my answers. Afterwards, some Nederlanders even made a point to come up to me and say something to the effect of: "Je kunt het niet 'slechte Nederlands' langer noemen -- je spreekt echt goed Nederlands" ("You can't really describe yourself as speaking 'bad Dutch' anymore -- you really speak Dutch well")... So, I guess you could say that I was feeling pretty good about myself. I continued to converse with strangers and friends following the seminar -- practically glowing with confidence in my linguistic skills.

On the way back to Amsterdam from the conference, we stopped by a McDonald's for some dinner. And even though half of the McDonald's menu is basically English (i.e. even the native Dutch speakers order a "cheeseburger" and not some ridiculous transliteration like "broodje gehakt met kaas") -- I went ahead and ordered in 't Nederlands (in Dutch): "Quarter-pounder menu, zonder uien, alstublieft. Met Cola en twee pakjes ketchup erbij" ("Quarter-pounder value meal, without onions, please. With Cola and two packets of ketchup"). Still brimming with self-assurance in my language skills, following the adventures of the afternoon, I deftly managed the interaction with the cashier without any of the typical issues of having to ask for a question to be repeated or stupidly fumbling for my answers like a tourist... Heck -- for all the cashier could tell, I was just a regular old Johannes, no different from any of the other Nederlanders standing in line that evening.

The quarter-pounder would be a few minutes before it was ready, so I was given the rest of my order and instructed to take a seat in the dining area. Which I did -- expertly blending into the crowd like a native with my keen sense of European fashion and my linguistic prowess. I munched my french fries, sipped my cola, and chatted with my friends. And, well, I was feeling pretty good about myself and the bright, beautiful world that surrounded me.

I was so absorbed in my pride and satisfaction, that I failed to notice the McDonald's employee wandering through the dining area with my quarter-pounder in hand. Usually, I imagine they're just looking for a hungry person to make eye contact. But since I was caught up in my own world, she had to start calling out for someone to claim their burger:

"Man met een Engelse accent? Man met een Engelse accent?" ("Man with an English accent? Man with an English accent?"). All eyes in the room turned toward me, as I sheepishly raised my hand to claim my prize.

Uh, yeah... That would be me.

* * * * *

Hooghartigheid gaat vooraf aan ellende, hoogmoed komt voor de val (Spreuken 16:18).

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Monday, May 01, 2006

The King is Dead...

...Long Live the King!

My son has surpassed me. I'd better get used to it, because it's bound to keep happening on different levels for the rest of my life. But it's still humbling to see it happening at such an early stage in life. For the past two days, Elliot's blog has received more hits (almost double) than my blog. Of course, it helps that he was referenced and linked in a blog post by the Great Noel Heikinnen (which is like a golden ticket, in the world of blogging -- to have someone with such an established blog and such a loyal base of readers make a direct reference). But the circumstances of the sitaution are secondary.

The simple fact of the matter is that my son has surpassed me.

But why not? He's a great kid, with a great blog. His posts and (even better) his comments in response to others' comments bring such a fresh perspective that it's irresistible. And as it turns out, I'm happy and proud to have my son grow up (slowly), developing in his own unique ways, and becoming his own person. It seems to me that this is part of what it means to be a parent: creating space for your children to surprise and surpass you as they come into their own. It's going to happen anyway, so why fight it?

It won't be long before Elliot and Olivia are beating me in foot races, outplaying me in basketball games, remembering things that I can't recall, inventing new inventions, singing new songs, writing new stories. This is the way of life.

And I'm OK with that.