Tuesday, October 31, 2006


"Attentie! Attentie! De Chemocar rijdt door uw straat..."

The sound of the loudspeaker sets me on edge. It doesn't matter that it's announcing the presence of friendly orange-vested municipal workers trolling through the neighborhood for chemical waste products. It doesn't matter that the announcement is delivered in the voice of a Dutch female telephone operator. It doesn't matter that each repetition of the announcement is preceded by a funky Middle-eastern melody, like some kind of ice cream truck in Damascus...

The sound of the loudspeaker sets me on edge because it's mounted to the top of a slow-moving truck, moving through my neighborhood, announcing its propaganda in a foreign (albeit recognizeable) language.

I know this sounds crazy -- but every time the Chemocar drives through our neighborhood (maybe once every three months or so), I think of the Holocaust. Maybe it's because I'm a foreigner myself... Or maybe it's because I live in a neighborhood that was highly populated (and depopulated) by Jews during the time of the Second World War... Or maybe it's because I'm developing a nasty case of paranoid schizophrenia... But whatever the reason, it seems that I can't help but feel like a Jew in hiding whenever the Chemocar comes around. My natural impulse is to freeze, to breathlessly listen to the endlessly recycled message blared through the loudspeakers, and above all else to keep the curtains closed.

I can't imagine what it actually would have felt like to have been a Jew in Amsterdam during the 1940s. I can't imagine what it would have been like to hear those words and those policies -- amplified for the neighborhood to hear -- against me and my people. The Verzetsmuseum, just a five minute bicycle ride from my house, is a good start to understanding that period of human history. The Anne Frank huis, on the Prinsengracht, is interesting and instructive. The Corrie Ten Boom huis, in Haarlem, offers a unique perspective.

But the Chemocar helps me to imagine it a little more fully. And I don't think that's such a bad thing -- as long as my overactive imagination doesn't get me hauled off in a straightjacket, into the back of a padded truck...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

21 Nets

I'm proud of my family: my wife, my children -- and 150 of our spiritual relatives from our church family here in Amsterdam. Together, we raised €163.37 (EUR) -- which translates to $208.23 (USD) -- which translates to approximately 21 mosquito-proof bednets for children in sub-Saharan Africa.

That's pretty sweet.

The idea started with Marci. She heard about an initiative to fight the spread of malaria in Africa through an organization called Millenium Promise. Basically, for a $10 donation, you can ensure the distribution of one malaria prevention kit including a specially treated bednet that has been proven to limit the spread of the mosquito-borne disease among children in Africa (one of the most susceptible populations). And since our church has been recently striving to get more involved with meeting some of the massive physical and material needs in Africa -- and since we want to strive for the same as a family -- and since our children have an basic understanding of the problems associated with mosquitoes and bednets (because their fair skin and overactive immune systems give them fits with Amsterdam mosquitoes in late summer and early autumn each year) -- the Millenium Promise malaria prevention program seemed like a good way to connect our kids' hearts with the needs in Africa.

It turned out we were right. More right, in fact, than we expected. Elliot especially latched onto the idea of doing chores around the house to earn coins here and there, to add up to mosquito nets for kids in Africa. Over the last couple of months, he's nickled and dimed his way toward the purchase of two malaria prevention kits (€16). And still that wasn't enough. He wanted to help get more mosquito nets for the kids in Africa. We had to start getting creative in our thinking of how kindergartners could earn some money... And that's where we came up with the idea of a good ol' fashioned American-style bake sale.

Over the week of their fall vacation, Elliot and his friends from church -- Tobias, Caden, Amelie, and Shay, in particular -- worked together with their mothers (and, let's be honest: it's the mothers who really made it all happen!) to bake cookies. And brownies. And more cookies. And more brownies. And then we brought them to our church worship gathering at De Poort, so we could offer them afterwards in exchange for a donation toward the Millenium Promise malaria prevention program.

We thought it could be a neat way to connect our children's ministry with our heart to minister to the needs of the less fortunate in Africa with the general population of our church family... But honestly, we had no idea that it would be nearly as successful as it ended up being. We never made an exact count of how many baked goods we had to sell, but it was probably a couple hundred or so. In any event, we easily averaged between €0.50 and €1.00 per item -- and to come out with a total "profit" of over €160 was beyond our most optimistic expectations in a church full of students, the unemployed, and the underemployed (especially considering that we also solicited a very generous offering for the costs of renovation in our new church facility earlier in the afternoon). It was very encouraging for Elliot to know that we're going to be able to get 21 bednets for children in Africa.

It was encouraging for me, too.

Instead of the normal "Halloween" season of greed and gluttony (these words are too strong -- and I don't intend them as a judgment of children who participate in the American ritual of trick-or-treating -- but I think you know what I'm getting at), our kids got to dress up so Superman and The American Football Star could serve treats to the rest of the church, in exchange for the opportunity to treat dozens of children in Africa with an improved opportunity for health and well-being.

I'll say it again: That's pretty sweet.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Encouragement to Exercise

I sent in my ballot today -- filled in with a number two pencil and sealed up in a manilla envelope for my absentee participation in the great American democracy.

Some might call me a patriot... Some might call me a starry-eyed idealistic fool... But I just say I'm doing my job. Playing my part. Exercising my right -- for whatever it's worth.

I'll be the first to admit that I have my doubts. I've kept no secrets about my lack of faith in the effectiveness of political activism; the governments of the world still bother me with their self-assured smiles in the face of their inherrent inability to fix the real problems of humanity. The relative poverty of viable candidates frustrates me, as I often feel forced to choose between the lesser of two-hundred-thousand evils. Like most other people from this nation of 300 million, I frequently doubt the effectiveness of my singular vote (there are even some rumors floating around that absentee ballots are not necessarily counted in certain states). I'm as critical, cynical, and disillusioned as the next guy.

However, I feel compelled to participate in the democractic process anyway -- because I am a citizen and because I am a Christian.

I'll be short -- because no one likes to read long drawn-out political and/or theological diatribes (least of all me) -- but my citizenship compels me to vote because participation in a representative government is an incredible privilege that has not been afforded to the vast majority of the people to have lived (and to currently be living) on this planet. And even though I have my fair share of criticism for the government, I feel that I would essentially lose the moral right to criticize a representative system in which I choose not to (at least attempt to) elect my representation... Furthermore, as a follower of Christ, it seems quite clear that I am called to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength -- essentially my whole self. And although it's far from easy to find the most Christ-centered political position (especially in a limited two-party system such as the USA's), I feel that I must try to follow God and my conscience in all matters of life -- be it, spending my money, or watching the television, or eating responsibly, or interacting with my neighbors... or voting.

I guess my thinking on these things has become a bit more crystalized as a result of living abroad. I've come to realize that whoever may get elected back in America (even he or she with whom I am generally ideologically opposed) stands to become my closest ally, as an official of the government that authorizes my passport -- so this helps to assuage some of the cynicism. Also, living here in Amsterdam, I have the good fortune of escaping a lot of the distasteful mud-slinging campaign advertisements and mind-numbingly circular debates in the news... Whatever the reasons may be, I feel more strongly than ever that voting is a right that should be exercised whenever possible.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Progress Report

Have you ever been consumed by a particular person, or problem, or project? This one thing -- whatever it is -- becomes the primary subject of your conversations, your correspondance, your daily activities, your dreams... your blog... Do you know what I'm talking about? Surely, everyone has experienced such a phenomenon!

At least I know that I have.

Especially lately, as much as I'd like to be able to say that I've been consumed by a passionate love for God, or for my wife, or for my children... The truth of the matter is that I've been more or less consumed by our church's recent process of relocation over these past several weeks. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Or perhaps simply a necessary evil? I don't know... In some ways, it's kind of fun and exciting. But in other ways, it produces awkwardness and anxiety and arguments -- to the point where I find myself simply looking forward to the end.

The end, however, is still a ways off in the distance. For better or for worse, we're basically just getting started. I'm encouraged, at any rate, with how well and how quickly things seem to be progressing. As you'll see from the pictures below, the renovations on the Herengracht 88 are moving right along...

They started in on the children's ministry space today (which was formerly a locker room). It's hard to get a decent picture that shows the whole space, but at least you can see more of the space now that they've got a wall out of the way! I'm impressed with how quickly they're working...

Above, you can see a picture of the kitchen. We probably won't make too many changes to this space for the time being, as it should be adequate for all of our current needs...

I think the space pictured above really takes a bit of imagination. Functionally, we're hoping that this space can fill some of the same roles as the old "orange room" of the Zolder. They still need to yank out some of the risers that were used by the yoga/meditation center, and a new coat of paint will definitely be needed to reduce some of the ocean effect. But I think there's some potential...

Comparing the picture above with the picture from last Thursday of the same space, you can see how things have opened up nicely. I'm still hoping that we'll be able to get rid of the salmon color on the pillars and the flourescent bank lights on the ceilings, but we're off to a good start.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Door is Opened

Olivia and I went to pick up the keys for our new church home this morning. Also while there, we also received our official copy of the signed contract...

It's really happening. A new level of reality set in while touring the place with the owner and the contractor this morning. And a new level of excitement took possession of my heart...

So I thought I would go on with sharing some of the excitement with you (the readers of this humble blog). I realize that perhaps this is boring and meaningless for many of you, but I feel compelled to share some images and information because of my recollection of the fall of 2002 -- when I was stuck in Ohio toiling to raise financial support to join the staff team in Amsterdam, while others were establishing themselves in Amsterdam, relentlessly remodeling the Zolder... and consequently living in their own world (apart from mine). I remember the hunger to see just a low resolution picture of the building's exterior. I remember the desperation to receive a simple e-mail to share the news of how things were going. And I remember feeling stuck on the outside of something that had a very personal and intimate meaning for my own life.

Thus, for those who may resonate with these feelings (and for those who choose to read on even if not in resonance with my earlier experiences), please allow me to open the door for you and show you around a little bit...

I counted today: it's actually five steps from street level down to the arched double-doorway that serves as the entryway to the cellar (Kelder50?). Plus one more step from the doorway down to the landing. This entryway area has a bit of the feel of urban grit and passage to a secret space -- which is actually kind of cool, although we're going to have to figure out how to keep it welcoming as well... In the picture below, Olivia is modelling the entryway.

One of the most distinctive features of the new space is its extended corridor from the Herengracht, passing beneath the majority of the building, leading to the actual rooms that will house our ministry center (Corridor50?). Just like the spiraling staircase that led to the old Zolder, this long corridor (probably 10-15 meters) is a unique space that has its own charm. Although I'm not going to be a part of the official design team (I defer to the experts in all matters of aesthetics and practicality), I could see this space being an art gallery or some other kind of artistic expression of hospitality to people who come to visit our church...

After passing through the corridor (which is shared with other tenants from the upper levels of the building), there's another doorway that marks the official threshhold of our ministry space. Inside the door, the hallway is continued for another 5 to 10 meters, with access to a couple of rooms off to the right (not pictured) that will probably be used for office space and children's ministry facilities (again, I defer to the design team in all matters of aesthetics and practicality!). After rising a few steps, the room opens up dramatically into what will become the primary meeting space of our church community. There's a kitchen on the left as you come in (not pictured), then beyond the kitchen there is a space for a cafe/lounge area (not pictured), and beyond the cafe/lounge area, you can see the main room.

We're going to be removing a few of the existing walls in the main area, to allow for an expanded meeting space. The wall pictured above will be totally removed (and actually, I was glad to get a picture of it when I did -- because demolition was just about to begin!), and another wall (the one with windows in the picture below) will be reduced to a half-wall. It's kind of hard to envision what it will look like when it's all finished -- especially if you haven't been able to walk around inside and get a feel for it yourself -- but I think it will be a nice open space with plenty of places for people to sit and gather together.

You'll notice in all these pictures that there are actually no windows in the entire space; all of the natural light, in fact, is let in by way of skylights. It's kind of an interesting effect. I'll be curious to see how it all works out in the end. And certainly, there is a lot to do between now and "the end." But at least you've seen the beginnings...

Thanks for praying with us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Herengracht 88

Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce to you: the Herengracht 88.

I wanted to provide a few more pictures of the new home location for our church in Amsterdam... Particularly for those who can't drop by and see the place for themselves, I hope these photos will help to provide a little sense of connection with current developments in our church. It's pretty exciting stuff.

In the above picture, you can see the general setting of Herengracht 88 -- a beautiful canal-side location in central Amsterdam. The church space is located beneath the "Lieve" Belgian restaurant, in the brown building featured in the middle of the picture. Just next door to the Belgian restaurant (at the bottom of the gray building) is a pub called 't Arendsnest (The Eagle's Nest), and three doors in the other direction, at the corner (with the red awning), is a place called Cafe Baton. And in nice weather, the cafe uses the broad space in front of the canal (stretching for almost the entire length of the picture) as an outdoor terrace. So there should be no shortage of places for people from our community to hang out!

In the closer view above, the door to our facilities can be glimpsed directly behind the bicyclist, five steps down from the street (there's a red sign on the door, which you could also see in my close-up shot from yesterday). It's kind of funny that we'll be moving from an attic to a cellar! We've still got some work to do to figure out what we're going to call ourselves (since the name "Zolder50" means "Attic50")...

Herengracht 88 is located close to the intersection of the Herengracht and the Herenstraat. If you look on the map, you'll see that this is really an incredible location! We're only about 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) from the Dam (historic center of Amsterdam), and about 800 meters (half a mile) from Centraal Station. There are tons of unique shops and cafes and restaurants in the neighborhood...

We should be getting the keys and taking our first real look inside the place for the first time tomorrow (Thursday). I've actually been inside several times already -- and even once with a camera -- but we haven't really gotten to look around the place since the previous tenants have vacated the premises. I'll try to post more pictures and information and stories as I'm able. Please keep praying for our church during this period of transition!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Where is it?

If you want to find out the significance of the location pictured above, visit the News section of www.amsterdam50.nl.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pleading the Fourth

I've got a pair of holy pants. Not holey (full of holes) -- holy. They're gray and fuzzy and a bit baggy, which makes them incredibly comfortable (if not the most fashionable). I usually wear the holy pants on Saturday mornings, after I've slept in for a little while. They serve to keep me warm and comfortable as I lounge around the house, eat breakfast with my children... maybe enjoy a leisurely shave, if I feel like it. And other such holy activities.

At some point, the holy pants find their way back to the wardrobe, and I choose other attire to continue my day of holiness. I may enjoy a bicycle ride over to the bakery for some fresh sacred raisin bread. Or I may walk with my son to the Coffee Company to enjoy a Bambino Marz with a blueberry muffin. Later on, if the day allows, I may read a copy of the NRC Next while eating a holy lunch consisting of my own personal adaptation of Mr. Spot's philly cheesesteaks, with some Dr. Pepper... And napping, well, napping is almost a requisite element of my weekly day of holiness.

Perhaps these activities do not fit the traditional understanding of the word holiness. You may even think that I'm spouting heresy in the above paragraphs. However, I've come to believe that this is exactly what holiness means in the context of my life. These activities are holy because they are set apart. Called out. Separate. Protected. They remind me of the joys of life and the goodness of my Creator. These basic activities refresh me and renew me and bring a sense of balance back into my life, after a weary week of work. In short, they are sacred expressions of the Sabbath in my life in 21st Century Amsterdam.

Exodus 20:8-11 says to “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God... For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy." And even though I am not a legalist -- and I do not advocate pharasaical implementation of Sabbath practicalities -- I do believe that God created us with a need to rest. And as I've grown in my own experience and understanding of Sabbath rest, it becomes a more and more treasured part of my life -- and indeed, my Saturdays become holy days.

Should it be any other way?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Autumn in Amsterdam

Autumn in Amsterdam generally lacks the flair of the American Midwest. There are no sweatshirted stadium spectacles on frosty Friday nights or weekend afternoons. There are no corn-husked community festivals or grinning pumpkins. The leaves typically evolve from bright green to dull green to bright brown (maybe this could be called a dull yellow) to dark brown to dust -- a simple, unglamorous death and collapse into winter. Gray lifeless Dutch days in September and October can make me simultaneously wistful and resentful.

But when Amsterdam manages to muster up a crisp sun-choked afternoon in October, I find myself looking around with the eyes of a recovering amnesiac... And I feel awed and invigorated by the spirit of Autumn in Amsterdam.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What is it...

What is it that allows us to embrace change? Seriously -- don't you think it's incredible how we can somehow anticipate and even hope for transition, season after season? This, quite honestly, astonishes me...

What is it that makes us willing -- even anxious -- to leave something good for something different? I would never call myself a revolutionist, but I can observe the pattern in my own life; something in us always finds a way to override the fear and negative possibilities (and sometimes even probabilities) of the unknown. The world keeps turning and changing, with or without our consent -- and more often than not, "with."

What is it that greases the wheels of the passage of time, as the calendar rolls from month to month? How can I find myself satisfied by summer's departure -- even when I know some of the heartache that winter brings? How can I be exhilarated by the autumn -- by the colorful death of those tender green leaves? How can I even look past the autumn to the wonders of winter? I don't understand how it is possible, and yet I already find myself humming Christmas melodies and thinking warmly of the golden glow of a Amsterdam brownhouse with a steaming cup of warme chocolademelk, crested with slagroom.

What is it about candlelight that entrances us and captivates us? It romances us with its orange hues and swaying sensitivities. Children instinctively understand its appeal. My four-year-old son begs us every evening now, to turn off the electric lights and set the house aglow with candles, candles, candles -- the candles that make us forget that we would have still been playing outside at this time of day, just two months ago...

What is it about a fresh perspective on something old and familiar that creates an epiphany? A new season becomes a time for renewed hope. A tired fixture of the home becomes a classical work of art. And a heart settled becomes a heart aflight.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What is it?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Buckeye Pride

There was a big football game in Ohio yesterday: the Ohio State University Buckeyes (representing the biggest school in my home state, with a proud athletic tradition) against the Bowling Green State University Falcons (representing the more humble university from which I happened to graduate seven years ago). Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes won pretty easily. However, I found myself somewhat surprised by my reaction to the public humiliation of my alma mater.

I was glad that my Falcons lost. Or, to put it more accurately, I was glad that the Buckeyes won.

And in such a response to yesterday's game, I realize that I have come full-circle in my sense of identity and affiliation. Four years after my departure from Ohio -- and almost twenty years after initially moving to the state -- I can now proudly call myself a Buckeye. I know this may not mean much at first glance -- particularly not in the context of sports -- but I know that for me, it's a significant step.

You see, I moved to Ohio when I was ten years old. The state of Wisconsin had been my home for a vast portion (eight years) of my young life -- and when I moved to Ohio it was, well, a pretty big transition. I had to adjust to a lot of new people and new places. I had to break into new circles and find new ways of being part of the crowd, while simultaneously maintaining my fragile sense of pre-adolescent self. And while I'm sure that this process of assimilation took many different forms, it seemed that sports affiliations became one of the most obvious -- because that's what ten-year-old boys in America are into... because athletic competition draws such clear and colorful lines between different geographic regions.... and because Ohioans are especially obsessed with sports.

So somehow it delineated me and defined me to enthusiastically embrace the Twins and Vikings and Gophers (all teams from the northern Midwest) -- and to vehemently scorn the Indians and Browns and Buckeyes of Ohio. Every week -- particularly during football season -- I would delight in each win by my (northern Midwest) teams... and I would delight even more in each loss by the Ohio teams. Compounded, if the Vikings could beat the Browns, or if the Gophers could beat the Buckeyes -- I would be ecstatic, proudly wearing Minnesota team jerseys and T-shirts at school every day of the following week and claiming "bragging rights" over all of my devestated Ohioan friends. But conversely, if the Vikings somehow lost to the Browns, or if the Gophers ended up getting beaten by the Buckeyes -- I would be devestated, trying to find excuses not to go to school the following Monday, dreading the ridicule of friends exercising their "bragging rights" over me. Yes, it was juvenile. Yes, it was silly. Yes, it's kind of embarrassing to remember what a huge role sports played at that stage in my life.

But fortunately, I mellowed out through the second half of my teenage years. Over time, I downgraded my passionate hatred of Ohio sports teams to a moderate dislike, and eventually to a comfortable ambivalence. I would still favor my northern Midwest teams in head-to-head match-ups with Ohio teams -- but as long as they weren't directly opposed to each other, I could be OK with the success of the Browns, the Buckeyes, and the Indians. In the mid 1990s, I actually caught myself cheering for the Indians during the playoffs (not against the Twins, mind you, but still it was a big step forward). Still, cheering for the Ohio State University football team against my Bowling Green State University football team is a new phenomenon. I remember during my university days, I was baffled by my fellow students who were more than willing to forget about "being true to your school" and who would choose to support the big bad "enemy" instead...

But now, I get it.

Affinity for the Ohio State Buckeyes is a regional identity -- larger and more basic than the school from which one's diploma is obtained. It falls more in the same categories as dialect and regional cuisine and ancient family feuds. Pretty much everyone in Ohio has some kind of connection to the Ohio State University (for me, I can now claim a more intimate connection through my brother Alex, who is a freshman at OSU). Thus, particularly when OSU is at the top of the national rankings, the status of our state's football team is the affirmation of our worth to the rest of the country. Again, I know it sounds silly... but that seems to be the way that it works among Ohioans.

So perhaps you will chide me for jumping on a "bandwagon" (this was the ultimate insult among peers in my early adolescent years of sports obsession). But after a couple of decades in development, I figure it's about time... And living abroad, in the Netherlands -- where I can only describe Ohio as "a big state about half-way between New York and Chicago" -- I don't have the luxury of nuanced regional identity. I must embrace the realities encircling me. And I must say it: I'm proud to be a Buckeye.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Breadlines of Amsterdam

Breadlines used to indicate destitution and poverty. Bad times. Hardship. Soviet Russia or Depression-Era America... But today in Amsterdam, believe it or not, a breadline actually indicates affluence and prosperous consumerism.

On Saturday mornings, at the corner of the Ruyschstraat and the Wibautstraat -- not far from where I live -- a breadline outside of Hartog's Volkorenbakkerij (Hartog's Wholegrain Bakery) is a happy sight representing an attractive recreational activity bringing in the weekend with style. There's no grim-faced despondence or weary grumbling in the line that can wrap itself around the corner, with dozens of expectant Amsterdammers. In fact, locals smile and nod at each other as they wait their turn to step into the bustling golden alcove of fresh breads and baked goods, where customers gladly pay €2,65 for a single loaf of bread. And they do it day after day, week after week. It's something desirable, high-quality, and maybe even a bit fashionable.

Does anyone else see the irony in this?

Of course, I am a perpetuator of the system. I've become quite fond of the raisin bread from Hartog's Volkorenbakkerij. I like to go there on Saturday mornings -- with one, or both, of my kids. We stand in line with the happy masses and soak up the aroma of freshly milled grain and freshly baked bread (they mill all their own grains and bake all their own breads). The kids offer rushed "Dank u wel"s to the bakery workers for free cookie samples -- and when the bag of raisin bread is delivered to my waiting hands, it's almost always still warm to the touch. It's no wonder the establishment was named the best bakery in the Netherlands for 2005 (and apparently, it's among the top four nominated for this year again, with results to be announced at the end of this month).

It turns out that the crowds often know best. I hate to admit my susceptibility to groupthink -- but I don't know if I ever would have found Hartog's Volkorenbakkerij if it were not for the breadlines that piqued my curiosity. And there's a Turkish bakery on the Van Woustraat -- which serves the best döner kebab in the city -- that I discovered through the same set of circumstances. What can I say?

Sometimes, the breadlines are simply the best indication of a crowd-pleaser.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School Circus

Why is it that elementary schools so often include the Circus as an educational theme? It's a bit archaic, isn't it? And perhaps a bit impractical -- you know, it's not like intimate knowledge of the characters and activities of a circus serve any greater purpose to equip children for the rest of their lives... Perhaps the pedagogues of the world could better explain this to me (maybe there's something with the circus involvings a lot of role-playing and hands-on learning... or that there are a lot of songs about the circus... or that you can use the sights and sounds of the circus to teach more general concepts like shapes and colors). But c'mon -- the circus?

Then again, after visiting Elliot's class circus this afternoon, it occurs to me that nothing brightens one's spirits quite like a room full of four-year-olds and five-year-olds prancing proudly in circus procession.

Thus, it must be the nostalgia of educators and parents that keeps the class circus in circulation. I remember my own experience in the circus put on by the kindergarten class of Winskill Elementary in Lancaster, Wisconsin, circa 1982. I was the ringmaster. It seems that I was a naturally thespian youngster. With a wave of my hand and a swoop of my voice, I could summon magicians and tigers, acrobats and strong-men. What a thrill! The experience remains as one of the clearest, earliest memories of my life.

And it seems to me that Dutch schools must have been doing the exact same things as the Wisconsin schools were doing decades ago. The "grandstands" were filled with excited parents, and the teacher exhibited extraordinary enthusiasm that clearly rubbed off on the students. Everyone was grinning from ear to ear.

Especially my son, Elliot.

Elliot was given the honor to play the part of the clown -- colorful wig, face paint, costume, and all. And not just any clown: he was Clowntje Piet! He got to stand in front of the class and act out a song (sung by the rest of the class) about a poor clown who finds himself very sad because of his broken balloon, only to be revived by the hopes of a new balloon which he blows, and blows, and blows -- until it pops! It was classic. We clapped and cheered -- and cheered and clapped -- and the teacher even decided to go through the song a second time. And Elliot simply beamed from pride in a performance well-played.

Just like his father.

As the circus continued with plush bunny toys being pulled out of a magic hat and giggling lions jumping through hoops flaming with red and yellow crepe paper, I just kept smiling and thinking to myself: I'm glad that elementary schools so often include the Circus as an educational theme. Why ever would we hope for anything else?

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Sam came up to me this afternoon, about an hour before the start of our church's first worship gathering in De Poort, and he asked if we were planning to keep up the wooden cross in front of the room. He suggested that the blatant iconography might be a bit disconcerting to some in the church (as the Zolder50 culture has typically chosen for a less direct presentation of the cross, in an effort to make it more meaningful and less, well, decorative and cliche). But in this case, on this day, I disagreed. I told Sam that we should let the cross stand.

"I am not ashamed of the cross of Christ," I said... "Nor the flag of Mexico."

The maps and flags of the world -- spread along the circumference of the room -- seem to serve as a reminder of the dramatic geographic transplantation that our church has experienced within the last week. And not just a geographic change, but an aesthetic adjustment as well. The Kantina Room of De Poort is designed to be a multi-purpose room -- used by multiple groups for multiple purposes -- and as such, it is a bit of a departure from the natural, wood-hued gezelligheid of our church's former home on the Leidsekade. It's a fairly significant adjustment for us to sit in rows of chairs, with flourescent lighting overhead, and explicitly Christian wall hangings. Very onzolderig (I think I just made up a Dutch word).

But at least we had a place to gather!

As a church community, we managed to completely alter our weekly routine, move out of the Zolder, pull together the necessary personnel and parcels to put on a worship gathering... And over 150 people managed to find their way to our new location (which, in my opinion, seems to be a very promising start -- given the drastic changes in location and meeting schedule)! I'd be curious to hear what other people thought of the experience, but I felt like it was an encouraging start to the post-Zolder era of our church. It was so great to have a place to gather, protected from the threatening rainclouds (thanks to our friends from YWAM!). Todd did a great job using this week's teaching to remind us about the inherently nomadic nature of the people of God. And even though we had a couple of minor glitches in operations, things went remarkably smoothly.

We have very little to complain about. And quite contrary to feeling ashamed about our nomadic circumstances, we have every reason to feel nothing but thankful and thrilled.