Friday, September 29, 2006

And in the End

You may be strangely comforted to know that the Zolder was nothing but a corpse when we left it.

I mean no disrespect in saying this. On the contrary, I've come to a place of great respect for what the Zolder has meant to all of us. It was the home -- the womb, even -- that gave birth to an eternal part of us. And as I took my final stroll through the echoing caverns of the Zolder -- before descending those stairs one last time, before closing the door behind me and handing in my key -- I marvelled at the Zolder's beauty and cleanliness. Indeed, we left her with dignity and care. She was pristine and proper and magnificent...

But she was empty. Lifeless. Soulless.

I know that it's a bit macabre, but the best parallel that I've been able to draw is that of a body in a casket. Immaculately dressed, lying in a beautifully padded box in a room filled with flowers and brass fixtures -- the features of the face, the folded hands, the contours of the body are immediately recognizeable. Others may even be whispering how good she looks, how natural, how restful... But it doesn't seem real. More like wax than flesh. More like sculpture than person. And I think -- in spite of its intangibility and invisibility -- this is because of the exodus of the soul. Theologians can debate it, scientists can attempt to empiricize it, morticians can endeavor to mask it -- but I think we can all see it and understand it on an instinctive level: a body without a soul is not a person. It's just a body. A corpse.

And so it was with the Zolder.

I suppose it's sad to talk about the Zolder in this way. Sad and disturbing and maybe even a bit cruel. But that's not really the way I see it. Actually, I'm glad that the Zolder was nothing but a corpse when we left it.

That means we're taking all of the parts that were living along with us.

Our laughter, our songs of praise, our comraderie, our gezelligheid, our love for each other and for God -- it turns out that these elements of our church's soul are remarkably travelable. Even beyond the beautiful works of art and the sentimental keepsakes of the Zolder that were moved out and packed away in a temporary storage facility -- the life and essence of our community are transcendent. I saw it on the sidewalk in front of the building as we moved out on Wednesday. I saw it in the Cafe Zouk that evening, with a foursome from our home group huddled around a table in conversation. And I look forward to seeing it -- much more of it -- in the future.

The last song of the Beatles -- those troubadors of the 2oth Century -- closed with the conclusion: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." And while the true spiritual depths of this dictum may be flawed (or at least incomplete), I can say that the Zolder made little love of its own accord. Rather, everything that the Zolder came to be was the result of God working through His people in Amsterdam. And as such, the Zolder has nothing of its own to take or claim. But we, the people of "Zolder50" -- following our pillar of cloud by day and fire by night -- walk away with the blood of life coursing through our veins and the very Spirit of God filling our souls, leaving the casket behind.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Moving Out

Moving out of the Zolder went much more smoothly than expected. We managed to finish ahead of schedule, no one was seriously injured, and the whole experience seemed to be a beautiful exercise in dependence on God and each other. I thought I'd share some of the images from the past couple of days (and let the pictures speak the thousands of words that they are supposed to do)...

This is what the Zolder looked like during the packing process: piles of boxes and furniture and people having a good time together between hours of hard work.

We had a great moving crew, with some truly providential help from a moving company called Stuart From England that serves as an employer to a couple of the guys from our church.

We moved out all the bulkiest and heaviest items by way of the window, with the rope-and-pulley system hung from the gable that epitomizes Dutch architecture.

Only the manliest of men could serve as rope handlers!

Since all of our furniture was down at street level by the middle of the day, we had our lunch break right out in front of the building!

Zolder50 is now officially moved out of The Zolder. I guess we should call ourselves "Exile50" now... until God leads us to our next home.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stirring the Juices of Sentimentality

I hope that nobody thinks I'm a monster for so openly sharing my (somewhat challenging)emotions surrounding our church's departure from The Zolder. It's a complicated situation, with many different angles to consider (and I write, in part, because it helps me to process). At any rate, we're basically packed up now -- much further ahead of schedule than what we anticipated -- and we're ready for the big moving day tomorrow. And as I was packing up boxes today, I started to think more about the beautiful things, the fun things, the powerful things about the Zolder that I will miss... as will many others, I'm sure. Then after getting home from working at the Zolder and relaxing by checking some blogs, I noticed a beautiful tribute by Todd that further stirred some more juices of sentimentality. Thus, I offer the following yang to the yin of last Saturday's post -- my list of things that I will miss about the Zolder:

  • The photogenic light of the "Orange Room." I've mentioned it previously on this blog, but there was just something about photographs taken in the orange-reflected hues of the Zolder Lounge that seemed to make anything and anyone appear instantly and effortlessly vintage, classic, poignant. In our last weekend in the Zolder, we watched a slide-show of compiled Zolder images from the last four years, and I was struck by the naturally photogenic quality of images captured in that room. I don't know exactly what it was -- but these images will likely remain embedded in my mind forever...
  • The view of the Bosboom Toussaintstraat from the northwest corner of the Zolder. This is the view that I wrote about a year-and-a-half ago, and that I reposted a week-and-a-half ago to start off this series about leaving the Zolder. I used to love to sit in this window during our church's monthly Soul Gatherings, and every time I sat there I was reminded of God's call on my life. This will also be the window through which many of our church's belongings will be hoisted out and down to streetlevel tomorrow, by way of a rope and pulley hung from the gable...
  • The passing canal tour-boats. I often took it for granted that our ministry location was in such a scenic part of Amsterdam that it warranted a spot on many of the canal tours that wound their way through the city center; we truly had a beautiful location overlooking the Singelgracht. I still hope that our next place will be someplace scenic and beautiful in its own way (we stand a good shot at this, as we're pretty seriously committed to staying in the city center) -- but of course, it will never be the same as the Zolder...
  • The beautiful oak flooring. Unfortunately, we will not be able to take the wood floors with us, as we had originally been hoping (there's kind of a long story behind this). But the floors in the Zolder were no ordinary floors. They were paid for with a king's ransom, laid by volunteers from our original church planting team, oiled to glistening perfection by yours truly -- and they did a great job of emanating a sense of earthy warmth and gezelligheid that became the hallmark for our church community...
  • Being a stone's throw away from Cafe Toussaint. Fortunately, ending our lease on the Zolder does not preclude us from visiting the Cafe Toussaint, on the Bosboom Toussaintstraat -- but it will be sad to no longer have this lovely cafe just a couple hundred meters from our ministry space. Yes, beautiful brown cafes are a dime a dozen in central Amsterdam, but this one was something special to us...
  • Serving as a roadside inn for world travelers. The Zolder (and its associated apartments) served as temporary home for a wide spectrum of different people: homeless Amsterdammers, itinerant Canadians, businessmen from the United States, a vast horde of Ukrainian Christians, and other assorted characters. Although the lodging thing brought its own set of complications, it was cool that we could so practically offer Christian hospitality to such a wide range of people passing through our city...
  • Lost tourists, asking for directions by the bicycle rack. Actually, who am I kidding? This will probably happen anywhere in Amsterdam, regardless of the bicycle rack in question. But there always seemed to be a steady stream of confused travelers studying a map beside the bicycle rack at the corner of the Leidsekade and the Koekjesbrug, and I enjoyed pretending to be a resident tour guide...
  • Exquisitely carved handrails. The wooden, twisting, curlicued handrails in stairways of the Zolder were a work of art, possibly dating back more than 100 years. Thousands of hands have held those rails on the epic trek up the 55 stairs from street level to the Zolder...
  • The fireplace mosaic. We had three special mosaics in the Zolder, which were all specially designed and implemented by visiting mission teams from American churches; two of them (the sunburst from the cafe's bar and the four images of Christ guarding the top of the stairs) we're going to try and take with us to retro-fit into a new surrounding -- but unfortunately, we can't take the fireplace one with us...
  • Leidsekade, number 50. Our church owes its name (and a significant portion of its identity) to the attic (zolder) space located at Leidsekade 50. And even though we chose to identify ourselves by the number 50 for symbolic reasons as well as practical reasons, it still won't be quite as logical (or easy to explain) to invite people to visit "Kelder50" at the Herengracht 88 (or whatever name and address that we will end up with)...
  • Using the Rijksmuseum as a timepiece. I really did come to enjoy my commute from my home in Amsterdam Oost to the ministry facilities on the Leidsekade -- and in particular, I loved to pass by the magnificent Rijksmuseum. I would always glance at the clock on the museum's southeast tower to make sure that I would make it on-time to whatever meeting or event I might be headed toward. If I had five minutes or more left according to the Rijksmuseum's clock, I would arrive in plenty of time. If I had three or four minutes, I needed to pedal pretty hard in order to get there on-time. And if I had less than three minutes, I was going to be late! How cool is it that I could use a world-famous monument in such a practical way...
  • A live-in relationship with Gread & Partners. It was great to share an office with our good friends from Gread & Partners financial controllers; Theo, Steef, and Jurren were always available for advice or for gezellige conversation. We really had a special relationship with those guys that we're definitely going to miss (although we'll certainly still get to see them in other contexts such as church activities)...
  • Creative use of space. There's no way of getting around it -- the Zolder was a very unique building with a certain built-in architectural intrigue that cannot be easily replicated. The set-up of the old building forced us to be creative in our ministry activities; ideas such as "freestyle teaching" and "worship in the round" were basically inventions borne out of necessity -- but they've become a special part of our unique church culture. Hopefully, we'll be able to carry on this creativity regardless of our specific setting, but there was definitely something special about the Zolder itself...
  • Memorable nights of passionate worship. Of course, we plan on continuing with regular episodes of intense worship in whatever location(s) we may occupy in the future, but there's something to be said for the fact that many of my most memorable worship experiences to date have taken place in the Zolder...

So there you have it! Quite evidently, the Zolder has been a gift from God. Even so, in generating this list I was actually (pleasantly) surprised by the number of items that I thought of but which decided to omit because of the fact that we should more or less be able to recreate the same situations in any other environments which we eventually occupy! Things like deep conversations and dynamic prayer times and parties are actually quite transferable and non-geographically-specific. Even some of the items that I put in the list above may be easily re-created in other environments. Regardless, we will always remember the Zolder.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Coming of Age

It occurs to me that I've been somewhat cynical and negative in my reflections upon our church's departure from The Zolder... I've talked about my rash and foolish behavior in the earliest days of working to renovate the Zolder... I've talked about our church's stupidity and naivete in its slow realization of imminent danger by fire... I've listed a (rather extensive) collection of reasons that I will not miss the Zolder... And yet, I haven't waxed eloquent about the Zolder's many virtues, and I really haven't written much in the way of the typical overly sentimental tributes that one might expect.

Honestly, I don't pretend to completely understand why this is. I certainly didn't set out to observe my reminiscence in this way. My emotions surrounding the Zolder -- though certainly complicated and occasionally confused -- include a much greater proportion of positive feelings than what the last few posts would seem to indicate...

Still... I guess my feelings about the Zolder are very much in keeping with any environment that represents a coming-of-age experience. It seems like I've seen it in the movies dozens of times (though I'm having difficulty recalling specific scenes from specific titles right now). But surely, you must know what I mean. The protagonist returns to his childhood home with a sense of anger and indignation from past injustices -- but also with a profound realization that the person he has become was largely forged as a direct result of experiences in that place. And even when there is a sort of wistfulness that recalls those days long bygone, there is a deeper sense of conviction that one would never wish to return to that same scenario given the greater sense of understanding that has been borne out of the intervening years...

The fact of the matter is that my years in the Zolder have been some of the most difficult years of my life. Learning to adapt to a new culture... surviving a succession of crises in church planting... saying countless good-byes to dear friends... stepping up into unsolicited leadership responsibilties... living in fear of failure (financially, legally, missionally)... getting trampled in unfamiliar roles as pastor, supervisor, coach... It all happened here, in the Zolder. I don't know if I've never felt more stressed, more inadequate, more powerless -- than I have in the Zolder. And yet, I treasure these experiences in the Zolder from the past four years. I don't know if I would wish for the same set of experiences again, nor can I say with confidence that I would have embraced the challenge had I known what it would be -- but I'm a better person for having lived through the last four years in the Zolder. I've seen God work in amazing ways -- most notably in my own life! And through our time in the Zolder, I've been refined in such a way that would have never happened in a laboratory or an academic institution, to be a better pastor, a better supervisor, a better coach, a better friend, a better husband, a better father... a better person.

Truly, such realities are to be celebrated and savored like fine wine.

However, because anger and pain tend to be processed before acceptance and wistful sentimentality -- I find myself currently unable to brew up syruppy love songs to the Zolder. Not that these ballads do not deserve to be written! And I enjoy hearing the stories of people who have had more time to process (it's so curious how the people who think most fondly of the Zolder and Amsterdam always seem to be those who have moved away!) -- as well as the reflections of those who have been blessed with a more innocuous experience of the Zolder, through the contexts of varying stages-of-life and levels of exposure to unpleasantries surrounding the building. But I cannot and will not force myself to artificially manufacture golden clouds of nostalgia. Instead, I will nod soberly and knowingly while embracing the fact that the Zolder is the place where I came of age.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Welterusten, Zolder

I like the way this picture turned out. The amber glow of a crowded attic, against the backdrop of twilight in the heart of Amsterdam... It seems like an appropriate image to accompany this, the last Sunday evening worship gathering in the history of our church's occupation of the Zolder. Our final song, "Blessed Be the Name" -- a perennial "Zolder anthem" -- was a fitting farewell to the space that has housed our ministry for the first four years of its existence:

"You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, 'Lord, blessed be Your name..."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Good Riddance

I thought it might be useful to write down a bunch of the things that I will not miss, after we've moved from The Zolder. Perhaps it will come across as a bit of an exercise in "sour grapes" -- but I think it can be helpful to remember some of the not-so-good things about a place from which we'll actually be grateful to get away. Here's a few of the things that came to my mind:
  • 55 steps from street level to the main meeting space. The exercise was good, and the attic space was gezellig -- but it's not always so gezellig to arrive for worship out of breath and sweating mildly...
  • The broken buzzer. This is compounded by the 55 steps from street level to the main meeting space. Sometimes, a meeting among four people could end up meaning four different trips up and down the stairs to let everyone in...
  • Electrical overload. I'd be curious to hear from someone like Arienne or Michael, who would have more personal experience from having served as gastvrouw/gastheer throughout the years, but it seems that blown fuses were a weekly (if not more frequent) occurence in the kitchen of the Zolder...
  • The idle dishwasher. Go figure: we had a perfectly functioning dishwashing machine in the kitchen, and we had hundreds of used cups and mugs to be washed within the space of a few hours on Sunday afternoons and evenings -- but we almost never combined the two, because the use of the dishwasher would cause an unpleasant splurge of black sludge in the sink of the apartment two floors down...
  • Baking in the summers. Fortunately, Amsterdam has a very moderate climate with only a handful of days out of the year where the temperature climbs higher than 30 Celcius (85 Farenheit), but when those days would come, and when they would happen to fall on a Sunday, we would bake in the Zolder...
  • Pigeons cooing. On the end of the Zolder furthest from the Coat Room, it always felt like you were right in the middle of a pigeon colony; the sounds were amusing at first but increasingly annoying the longer you sat there...
  • Pots and pans scattered throughout the Zolder to catch the water that dripped through the ceiling. This was a testament to less-than-vigilent landlords; we tried to get the owners to invest in some new roofing for over four years -- without any success. Instead, we tried strategically-placed pots and pans behind couches and drum-sets; even so, we ended up with some pretty ugly water damage...
  • Frustrated staff members. Obviously, the demands for maintenance and marketing our rental units had to be met by someone -- and this ended up being certain members of our staff team (especially Lee and Patricia, in the early years). I'm sure they considered quitting their jobs on more than one occasion because of the stresses associated with the building. To be honest, the thought crossed my own mind a couple of times as well...
  • Frustrated tenants. Part of the stress for Lee and Patricia came from the stress of tenants who had some random appliance stop working or such. Oh, how nice it will be to be finished with sub-leasing...
  • Frustrated neighbors. We learned to get along with our neighbors pretty well, but we always had issues with bicycle parking and noise (especially on hot days, when we'd try to keep the windows open). The cops were called on us a couple of times, and we had to pay out an insurance claim for some dents on a car (which may have been caused by the bicycles of people from our church). But it will be good to leave with our good name as neighbors more or less intact...
  • Requests for lodging from everybody and their brother. Did I mention that it will be nice to be finished with sub-leasing? What were we thinking in trying to establish an apartment rental business at the same time as a church!?!?
  • Financial crises. Of course, this is the main reason that we're finally succeeding in loosing ourselves from the chains of the Zolder. More than once, it seemed we were down to our last euro -- only to see God come through for us again and again! Still, it only seems like good stewardship to move on to a situation that should be more financially viable for the long-term...
Ah, yes... it's funny to realize how easily and how quickly I can come up with such a list! I'm sure there are many other things like this (which are only amusing to enumerate because of the long list of counterweighted benefits that we've enjoyed throughout the last four years)... So in what ways will you secretly rejoice when we're finally departed from the ministry facilities on the Leidsekade?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

To Olivia, on the occasion of her 2nd birthday

Dear Olivia,

Happy Birthday, my sweet little girl. Can you believe it?!?! You're two years old! A big girl who can feed herself and take care of baby dolls and put on her own boots to play outside and use the potty and sing beautiful songs of her own invention. You are a truly unique person, and there's no one in the world like you, Olivia. I'm so happy to have you as a part of my life.

It's funny that the first week of your third year of life should happen to coincide with the last week of our church's occupation of "The Zolder" (which has been taking a lot of Daddy's time and attention over the last bit of time). This coincidence is actually kind of appropriate, I think.

I was in the Zolder, believe it or not, when I first heard that you were on your way into the world, back on the 21st of September, 2004. I was taking part in an early-morning men's group in the Zolder lounge, and your mother called to say that it was happening! Your birth was imminent! So I rushed home with my head in the clouds, and I remember crossing the Amstel River with a distinct cognizance of the fact that my life was about to change dramatically over the next couple of hours. We didn't have to wait too long for you to grace us with your presence. It turned out that we had just enough time to call the midwife, get someone to pick up your brother, and turn our bedroom into a maternity ward (which was not our original plan!) -- and then you were there. A real live little girl! When I think about that morning, I still feel awed and excited...

You were dedicated in the Zolder, about a month after your birth. Me and Mommy stood in the middle of the room and told the church that we wanted to raise you to be a woman for God. We explained that we named you Olivia because you were our "olive branch" -- our little sign of hope and new life that came after the Great Flood that threatened to destroy the earth. And indeed, you've brought much hope and life and renewal into our home during the past two years. You've taught me what it means to be passionate. You've thrilled my soul with your exhuberant grin and your eyes that flash with excitement when fun is in the air. Even thinking about it now, as I type these words, I cannot help but smile at the image of your smile...

And I guess what makes me realize the propriety of the juxtaposition of your second birthday and the church's relocation is the way that you remind me of hope and life and the expectation of good things to come. Of course, the Zolder is all that you've ever known as a church home (you're not alone in this). Departure from the Zolder means the destruction of everything familiar and established. And yet, truthfully, you'll never really remember the Zolder except as blurred old photographs (thanks to the quirky way that the brains of two-year-olds work)... But I'm hopeful to think that you'll move on so easily and spend the rest of your life bringing hope and the life of God's creation to other places and other people.

And really, a father could hope for nothing more for his daughter. And I have an inexplicable confidence that this is exactly what you'll be doing for the rest of your life. I can't wait to watch and see... I love you, Olivia.



Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Flaming Deathtrap that Never Was

If I remember the story correctly, Steve and Marcel got it at the fleamarket on the Waterlooplein -- the crowning glory of the newly renovated Zolder. It stood about a meter-and-a-half tall and perhaps a meter in diameter. Gothic yet gezellig, it seemed to fit well with the feel of the new ministry space. And, if that wasn't enough, it was functional.

Our earliest church meetings were by candlelight, actually -- so this giant candelabra was more than mere ambient light. We set it smack-dab in the middle of the Zolder, across from the main staircase, with five fat candles casting their light up and about, into the dark recesses of the triangular ceiling. It was "European" (which, to Americans trying to plant a church in Europe, is synonymous to the word "cool"). It was beautiful. It was charming.

It was stupid.

Honestly, I don't know what we were thinking. We put a sprawling candelabra with the collective equivalent of about a liter of liquid-hot wax and five open flames directly in the middle of a room with exposed freshly-varnished wooden rafters, a freshly-oiled wooden floor, and lots of nice, new wooden furniture. Furthermore, in choosing to place it across from the main staircase, we confined the candelabra to the narrowest section of the Zolder that also happened to be the primary emergency exit! And if these factors weren't folly enough, I remember that the flooring in that section of the Zolder used to be especially springy -- such that anyone heavier than 10 kilograms could set the candelabra to swaying by simply tip-toeing within three meters of the thing! And we kept using the old candelabra as our attendance swelled toward 100 people... What the heck were we thinking?!?!

Ah, the folly of inexperience and idealism... It's funny to look back on those days now and remember some of our mistakes -- the things that we did to try and be "European" and "relevant." We've come a long way since the days of the flaming deathtrap that never was.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Work Days

I've forged an inferiority complex from the fact that I cannot count myself among the original sacred slave-laborers who spent hundreds of thousands of man-hours in shaping the Leidsekade and Marnixstraat facilities from trash-heaps into treasured homes. And as a rule, I've tried not to talk too much about my own experiences in "working to renovate the Zolder" since such a suggestion has occasionally been thrown back in my face with the air of an old emancipated field negro laughing at the complaints of his Dust-bowl grandchildren who had "no idea what it was really like back then..." But as I've shouldered my own crosses and bourn my own burdens over the past few years, I've become emboldened to talk about the old days -- when the Zolder was just a crummy old attic, when times were hard, when we worked by the sweat of our brow to literally build the ministry in Amsterdam. And so now, dear friends, I tell my tale to you...

Of course, I cannot deny that some of the most arduous tasks were completed prior to my arrival in January of 2003. I wasn't there to clear out the diseased mattresses and used condoms that littered the apartments when we first took possession of the facilities. I never lifted a finger to carry the countless cords of oak flooring from street level, up 55 steps to the attic space. I didn't do much in the way of demolition and power-sanding to open up the shabby fourth-floor apartment into a post-modern cathedral. Nevertheless, when I came on-site -- not just to work, mind you, but to live -- the place was still far from polished.

The first night staying in apartment 51-2, we had no door to keep out the winter drafts (nor the potential thieves, for that matter). Our ten-month-old baby boy climbed up and down the wood-pile in our dining room for entertainment. Some of my earliest job assignments with the new ministry in Amsterdam were to oil the oak flooring of the Zolder and paint the walls of the hallways... And, even though I can't claim a full understanding of the trials of toiling on the building, I was not so late in my arrival as to miss out completely on the one phrase that elicited groans from all of the team members who had arrived before me: "work day."

Our first Saturday in Amsterdam, actually, was just such a work day. Everybody showed up in work clothes early in the morning, weary and haggard even before the day's physical labor... And I suppose I would have been, too, after a long succession of "work days" that actually would add up to "work weeks" or even "work months." But on that first Saturday in Amsterdam -- jet-lagged though I was -- it seems that I was the fiesty one that morning: a starry-eyed idealist, I guess, ready to take on the world, unafraid of anyone or anything... much less a painting project. I wanted to earn my stripes, to win my place of belonging on the team. So whether it was this sense of needing to muscle my way up the pecking order, or whether it was simply adrenaline and pent-up energy for the day ahead, I remember picking a "fight" with Todd that morning. He was one of the few team members with whom I had any real semblence of a relationship (we had met each other some five years previously, going through GCM's Staff Training program together), so I started playfully sparring with him... and then playful sparring led to more energetic swats at each other -- and before long, we were all-out wrestling and rolling around on the ground and laughing with each other. And although I must confess that I was a good bit heavier then (and even now that I've trimmed up a bit, I'm still probably a couple of weight classes higher than Todd) -- I am still proud of the fact that I became the first champion of the Zolder Wrestling Federation that day...

Later, as the work day went on, I also found myself locking horns with another young buck on the team named Sam. An articulate young Englishman, Sam was fun to talk with -- and we related to each other well, having both joined the primarily Colorado-based church planting team as outsiders who never took part in the initial team development in Fort Collins (and, in fact, we both arrived in Amsterdam the same week). However, while painting the navy blue hallway between the kitchen and the coat room, we found ourselves discussing the numerous merits of American civilization, and I ended up making the mistake of saying something to the effect of the Americans having needed to come over and bail England out, during the World Wars (by the way, I've since learned that this is a very calloused and shallow perspective that can be rather offensive to our colonial progenitors). Fortunately, the English are a very genteel people that do not resort immediately to fisticuffs -- and we were wise enough to eventually veer our conversation toward topics that were less tense -- thus, Sam and I are still friends to this day... But I shudder to think about the way that I burst onto the scene in Amsterdam that first work day.

Fortunately, I learned my place over time. And after a few more work days, spread throughout the following weeks (and months and years), I was equally weary and haggard -- and, I think I can say, invested in the project. As the "work days" became fewer and further between and as the building was transformed into a home for our ministry, I was able to see a different kind of work take shape: the work of transforming lives that has become the distinguishing characteristic of our community in the center of Amsterdam. And if the rest of our days as a church could be such spiritual "work days" we would be glad to let it be so -- with maybe just a few of the manual labor projects thrown in periodically to keep things interesting.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Others Remembering...

In the vein of remembering The Zolder in this, its final week of use as our church facility, I wanted to post some further recollections that have been posted by other friends who have passed through Amsterdam at one time or another.

Stef shared some of her memories of the Zolder, as viewed from a scattering of visits with various short-term missions teams: "I still remember the first time I saw the Zolder. It was a year and a half ago. My first missions trip to Amsterdam. We walked up the seemingly endless staircase, through the doorway, and into a space that had clearly been set apart for God and His work..." Click on the link to read more...

And then, I'd also recommend a visit to Bret's blog, to hear some of his recollections of the commute from his home in the Watergrafsmeer to the Zolder (which, incidentally, happens to be very similar to my own daily commute, as we used to live in kind of the same neighborhood -- before Bret moved back to Colorado). Also check out Bret's collection of images from Amsterdam on his Flickr account (which can be accessed from his blog). To this day, my memory of the city and the church have largely been framed by Bret's creative lens...

Thanks, Stef and Bret, for adding your memories to the mix...

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I was chatting with my Dad earlier today, and he asked me something that caught me off guard with its abrupt reality: "So, this is your second-to-last Sunday in the Zolder, isn't it?"

He was right.

Even though the reality has been staring me in the face for months and months -- even though the practical logistics of relocating our ministry have consumed countless hours of thought and action -- the departure has still snuck up on emotionally. And yet here it is. We're now in the final week of ministy in "The Zolder" ministry facilities on the Leidsekade. One last staff meeting. One last home group leaders meeting. One last Soul Gathering. One last Sunday of worship... And then, we say "tot ziens" to the Zolder.

Thank God "the church" is not confined to a building. Thank God our best days of ministry are still ahead of us. Thank God we've never been outside of His protection and provision. Thank God for perspective to see our church's relocation for what it really is -- a step toward bigger and better things, an arrangement of circumstances that will allow us to build for the future...

But I also have to thank God for all of the memories that will forever be attached to "The Zolder." And I hope to take some time in the coming days -- when I'm not packing boxes or meeting with city officials or real estate agents or lawyers -- to post some of my reminiscences of our church's first real home in Amsterdam: as a means of celebrating, as a means of grieving, as a means of releasing the past to make way for the future... If you have any memories that you'd like to add to the mix, I'd encourage you to post them as comments -- or as independent entries on your own web space (and if this is the case please let me know, so I can link to them!). With that said, I'll close this post with a revision of an old story (from the early days of this blog), that seems like an appropriate stance for remembering the Zolder in the coming days.

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(Photo by Marco Pauws - February 2005)

Zolder Venster
Originally posted 19 February 2005

I remember the first time that I really gazed out the attic window to the view of the Bosboom Toussaintstraat. The night was black and starless, but the string of amber streetlights offered a gentle glow to this quiet urban canyon. The tall, gabled houses framed the narrow street with a sense of diminuitive grandeur. A typical Amsterdam street, except for the absence of bends or crooks in the thouroughfare, allowing an unrestricted view of the entire Bosboom Toussaintstraat -- straight as an arrow pointing to the monolithic urban developments built on the fringes of the city long after its illustrious golden age.

The view offered an epiphany. A moment of realization and understanding. A quiet knowing of the fact that this was Amsterdam. The strange amber light, the 17th Century architecture, the traffic flowing with hatchbacks, scooters, and bicycles, the measured two-pitched song of an ambulance racing through the night... That first deliberate view out of the attic window provided a sense of genesis -- a threshhold to new beginnings in this city we chose for our own.

I've sat to gaze out of that attic window many times since my initial reflection upon the Bosboom Toussaintstraat. It seems to offer a timeless window on life in Amsterdam. Through all the people who have come and gone, through times of sorrow and joy, through sleet and sunshine, through silence or singing... the amber streetlights flicker to life every evening and illuminate the Bosboom Toussaintstraat, essentially unchanged from my first view of the Amsterdam nightscape. Every view is an opportunity to re-center, re-focus, and renew my perspective. I remember who God is. Who I am. How we came to find ourselves in Amsterdam in an attic space overlooking the canals and streets of the city centrum. Every gaze is a new beginning.

This evening, I look down upon the dancing waters of the Singelgracht beneath me. The amber reflections of the city streetlights are refracted and projected in a cycle of perpetual motion, as if I'm methodically running my fingers through piles of golden treasure. Above the canal, a woman on bicycle is sillhouetted against the streetlights as she struggles to surmout the incline of the Koekjesbrug. And beyond the bridge, on the other side of the busy Nassaukade, the Bosboom Toussaintstraat stretches out like a long, straight finger, pointing the way to tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Een Kloppende Hart

I realize that for some people, this may sound a bit twisted or masochistic -- especially for a boy from the heartland of rural America, brought up in the wholesome environment of sleepy little towns like Lancaster, Wisconsin and Shelby, Ohio... But I might as well say it:

I enjoy rush hour in the city.

Of course, I realize that rush hour in Amsterdam is a great deal different than rush hour in many other cities of the world. With a higher proportion of people riding bicycle or public transportation, rush hour in Amsterdam (at least in the city center, where I live) is considerably healthier, more ecological, and less gridlocked than the horror stories that I've heard about two-hours of creeping along the freeway with hundreds of thousands of other automobiles. But even when Amsterdam's intersections are jammed with impatient commuters honking their horns, even when I'm forced to slow my cycling pace because of the high volume on the bicycle paths, even when I get frustrated by the elements of rush hour that are niet-zo-leuk -- there's still a part of me that enjoys rush hour in the city.

There's something breathtaking, something beautiful, something fresh and living about the way that the city moves and breathes during its hours of greatest circulation. Have you ever seen some of the time-lapse video footage of places like New York's 34th Street at the beginning of the day, Chicago's Michigan Avenue at lunch-time, or the freeways of Los Angeles at sunset? It looks like the arteries and blood vessels of a living heart -- pumping its lifeblood throughout the body with every change of the traffic light. I wish I could find some similar time-lapse footage of Amsterdam's Frederiksplein at 8:55 in the morning, or of the Vrije Universiteit at 11:00 (the photos that I tried to take this morning, including the one above, fall short of capturing the true feeling of the urban circulatory system)... But even when I see these events in real-time, I am struck by the sheer volume of humanity. It inspires awe to observe the flow of people during rush hour.

When I am in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I admire the absolute stillness of a sunrise over the Appalachian Trail... When I am in Shelby, Ohio, I admire the easygoing banter of small-town acquaintances on a "bustling" Monday morning on Main Street... And when I am in Amsterdam, I admire the pulsing of the city's heart each morning and evening, as observed from the seat of my bicycle.

Should it be any other way?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where I was...

I was in my car -- my 1985 Chevrolet Chevette, "The Cherry Bomb." I think it was about the time that I was turning onto Conneaut Avenue, close to the Bowling Green City Park. Denny Schaffer and Trisha Courtney were talking about it rather casually on "The Breakfast Club" (one of the few programs with a signal that was strong enough to be picked up by the Cherry Bomb's primitive radio) -- as I was driving back from a "Breakfast Club" of my own on the campus of Bowling Green State University. Apparently, there had been some freak accident with an airplane colliding with one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York -- which was certainly an item of interest and more-than-viable fodder for banter on a morning talk show... But when I stepped out of the car, at the City Park, it didn't seem like too big a deal...

For the next hour or so, I strolled around the park together with Jeffrey -- a lively pre-law student with a penchant for animated conversation. It was a beautiful September morning -- sunny and warm, with just the beginnings of autumn's crispness in the air. So we walked and talked. Talked and walked. We prayed together for a couple of minutes, and then we climbed back into our cars -- he in his trim Honda and me in my Cherry Bomb -- to set out for the rest of the day. And when I turned the key in the ignition, reviving the radio as well as the engine, I was surprised to hear Denny Schaffer and Trisha Courtney still talking about the airplane crash in New York City. Their tone had become much more serious, and I was unsettled by the emerging gravity of the situation.

It took me about five minutes to drive down the length of Conneaut Avenue from the City Park to my house. But as soon as I got home, I turned on the television to see what was going on. And the television set didn't get much rest over the next three or four days.

Angry black smoke was pouring out of both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. And as they replayed (and replayed and replayed) footage of the crashes which started to be referred to as "attacks" instead of "accidents," as I heard more of the news about other plane crashes in Washington D.C. and in rural Pennsylvania, as I watched with millions of my countrymen as the towers crashed to the ground, it felt like life as we knew it had crashed too. The world suddenly became as black and as sinister as the smoke rising up from the New York skyline. Rumors circulated on the newscasts about planes headed for Cleveland, for Chicago -- for seemingly every major metropolitan center across the continent. Someone on one of the local stations suggested that the nuclear power plant just east of Toledo could be a target. It was hysteria. Paranoia. Panic. I called my brother Jay, in downtown Chicago -- fearful that he could be in a target zone. I called Marci, at work in the clinic in provincial Gibsonburg -- which seemed like less of a target zone (although you never could tell, in those panicked hours). And I was adhered to the television. They just kept recycling the same news over and over, but I couldn't not watch. It was my lifeline.

It's interesting to remember what it felt like that day. To remember where I was. What I was doing. What I was thinking. Obviously, I've gained much perspective in the days since that fateful day... and I recognize our misunderstandings, our irrationalities, our failings, our fears in the heat of that moment. But it's interesting to remember... and perhaps instructive.

So where were you five years ago -- on September 11, 2001 -- when you first got caught up in the chain of events surrounding the terrorist attacks in New York City?

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Ocean and the Styrofoam Cup

The ocean is filled with life, motion, color, power, and vast expanses of mysterious depths. And the styrofoam cup is filled with the remnants of yesterday's coffee -- cold, bitter, a slightly metallic aftertaste as but a memory...

The ocean is framed by rocky cliffs, wide beaches of powdered sand, glorious cities with gleaming skylines, and an infinite stretch of horizon hosting rosy dawns and amber sunsets. And the styrofoam cup is framed by dingy, dented, pressed-chemical-compound with brown stains and the indentations of anxious incisors...

And yet -- and yet... the ocean invites the styrofoam cup to submerse its tired corrugated form into the infinite, enchanted fathoms of living water. And if -- and when and as long and as often and as deep as -- the styrofoam cup dares to be immersed, a miracle of renewal is enacted.

The ancient, briny deep enters the shallow confines of the dilapidated space-age refuse. Not merely into but around, under, through, over, out, and in again. The substances and stains of the styrofoam cup are scoured and scuttled by the ebbs and flows of the salts, minerals, and microbes of the ocean water. Yesterday's coffee grounds, saliva, and bacteria are combined with the primordial depths until they are so diluted as to be indistinguishable from the hundreds of billions of molecules which hold their imprint from the dawn of time. The rolling tide reshapes the supple styrofoam into something clean, new, bright, and beautiful.

And when the styrofoam cup is lifted from the ocean, it is drenched and dripping. And filled to overflowing with infinity.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Call to Prayer

Every month, I send out a letter to all of the people who provide financial and spiritual support for our ministry in Amsterdam. And although I typically refrain from publishing these "prayer letters" in this space, I feel that this month's issue deserves an exception. Not that it's such a well-written letter or anything like that -- but because the issues outlined in the prayer letter need as much prayer support as possible. If you feel so led after reading the letter below, please join us in asking for God to show up in a big way over the coming month. Thanks.
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By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going… (Hebrews 11:8)

Greetings from Amsterdam! It’s a season of new beginnings. It’s the beginning of new seasons for the weather, sports, and television programming. It’s the beginning of new routines in family life and ministry life, following the summer. It’s the beginning of Elliot’s school year (our little boy is now a full-time elementary school student!). And, well, it’s the beginning of a new chapter in the history of our church in Amsterdam as well…

After four years of ministry in “De Zolder” (“The Attic”), we are saying good-bye to our beloved home overlooking the waters of the Singelgracht and entering a period of transition in the relocation for our ministry facilities. In many ways, this departure is an answer to many prayers and much practical effort to ensure the long-term viability of our ministry in central Amsterdam. Still, there is a certain amount of grieving that goes along with relocation, and we must look to God in faith for the future of our church.

Our four years in the Zolder have proved to be a critical period of formation and development as a church community. The renovation of ten rental units on the Leidsekade and Marnixstraat became our first major project as a seedling ministry—with just a couple dozen people from America, England, and the Netherlands. And through transforming the dirty and decrepit building into something beautiful and functional, we found a powerful metaphor for what was to become our mission in the city: transforming broken people through and into the beauty of Christ. As the renovations concluded, the restored attic (which we referred to by its Dutch name, “the Zolder”) hosted our first worship gatherings by candlelight—and in just a few months we had more than a hundred people joining us for food, fellowship, prayer, singing, and Bible study each Sunday evening. In addition to hosting worship gatherings, the Zolder became a place for wedding receptions and baby dedications and birthday celebrations and farewell parties. Consequently, as with any place so full of laughter and tears and rich memories, the Zolder has taken a special place in our hearts (not to mention in the name of our church!).

However, as much as the Zolder has been a great blessing for our church, we’ve also been hindered by the financial and practical responsibilities associated with the facilities. Our original eight-year lease was for an entire set of properties which were intended to provide not just a location for ministry activities but also rental properties that could be sub-leased to (ideally) cross-subsidize ministry costs. Yet in spite of the investment of significant resources in time, money, and energy, our rental agreement has been a significant financial burden—and we’ve had to fight to keep the ministry afloat as it ended up cross-subsidizing an apartment business that never fully materialized! For almost three years, we tried to negotiate with the building owners to adjust the terms of our contract to reflect fair market values and/or to release us from parts of the rental agreement. Thus, when we were finally given an opportunity for early termination of the lease this fall, we felt that it was the time to respond—in faith and in common sense.

Thus, we now find ourselves in a place of dependence upon God—seeking His will for the future of our church. First and foremost, we need to seek God for a new home. Although we’ve been working on things for several months and there are definitely some distinct possibilities for the future, we are still without a new church location. Regardless, we need to be out of the Zolder by September 30th. Therefore, we desperately need God to provide us with a new home: a place that is inviting, well-situated in the city center, affordable, and big enough for our growing community. We’re praying for favor with the building owners, with fire marshals, and with the city council as they consider our applications for occupation of a new space. And more than just a new place to meet—we desire for God to use our church’s relocation to bring His Kingdom to a new section of the city center. We want to be a blessing to our new neighbors. And specifically, as we enter this new chapter of our history, we’re asking God to use us to help bring many people into a meaningful relationship with God through Jesus.

We also need much prayer this month for the basic logistics of our relocation. Efficiently executing our departure from the Zolder, the transition (to temporary facilities, if necessary), and the renovation and arrival in our new home (wherever that may be) is a major operation. Of course, it’s going to take a lot of muscle to relocate all of our furniture, equipment, and such; but even more than that, it’s going to take a lot of brainpower and good organization to coordinate the move. In addition, we still have a few sub-leasers that need to move out—and because of the way our termination agreement is structured, we cannot leave anyone or anything on the premises beyond the last day of this month. So to say the least, there are a lot of loose ends that have to be tied up during the next few weeks—while simultaneously keeping up the general flow of ministry within our church!

Actually though, as much as the details of the move can make our heads spin, we’re excited for the ways that our ministry will benefit through this month of relocation and re-establishment. We see a great opportunity these days for deeper growth and commitment of existing church members—moving them from self-centered “consumers” to mission-minded “producers.” We believe that God will use our church’s relocation to develop deeper courage, faith, love, devotion, loyalty, unity, and vision for reaching the city. We’ve always sought to keep Jesus as the center of our church, and it seems that God could use our current circumstances to do just that! The present situation highlights the fact that our church is not defined by our meeting location or by our weekly order of events. Thus, in a sense, it seems that God could teach us more through this experience than through any kind of teaching series or Bible study or seminar.

Particularly in the month of September, we are encouraging the people in our church to commit to prayer, fasting, and seeking God’s will for the future of our ministry. Specifically, we are challenging the people in our church to fast every Monday, ending with corporate prayer on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 in the Zolder. And of course, the reason that I write all of this is to encourage you to also join with us in prayer! If everything gets pulled off smoothly, it will be nothing short of miraculous… But fortunately, we follow the God of miracles. Thank you for your invaluable partnership with us…

Monday, September 04, 2006

First Day of School

While all of his peers in America enjoyed the Labor Day holiday, Elliot had his first day of school in Amsterdam today (you can read more about it on his blog). To our surprise and delight, there was very little anxiety and actually quite a bit of excitement for a return to the classroom following summer vacation. Our little boy is growing up...

Saturday, September 02, 2006


I appreciate good satire. Suggestive but subtle, critical yet comedic -- well-written satire can scathe with a smile. It is a true art form.

If you want to understand more of what I'm talking about, I'd advise you to check out LarkNews. I often find myself laughing out loud as I read the monthly updates to the site, yet I'm simultaneously impacted by the profound observations contained within the stories. LarkNews is particularly engaging for those who have grown up in the context of North American Evangelical Christianity -- but even outside of this context (or perhaps especially for those outside of this context), the site offers some very insightful observations into the subcultures of Western Christianity (although I'm not sure how well satire and sarcasm translate across linguistic barriers; in fact, I'd actually be very curious to hear how a Nederlander experiences LarkNews).

For some specific recommendations, see Worship leader seeks church that appreciates 'good synthesizer' or 'Perfect' pastor found to be dead. The headlines alone are hilarious, but the stories are well worth the read. If you've got the time, you could also check out: Man's prophetic actions offer lifestyle of fun or Churches adopt mascots. And I've found myself regularly referring back to a particularly poignant article from March 2006 entitled Church franchise a hit, but hostile take-overs rattle congregations. The pictures and "quotes" are a truly authentic touch to make the stories extra entertaining.

I wish that I could write good satire. Whenever I try writing something along these lines, I end up sounding either not very nice or not very funny. But at least I can enjoy the satire of others...