Thursday, November 30, 2006

Something Different

It's been an interesting social experiment.

I've been growing a moustache for the last week and a half or so, and I've been intrigued to see the responses to the 'stache -- or, more accurately, the lack thereof. A moustache is not an extremely common form of facial hair for twenty-somethings in the world today -- and especially not in the Netherlands (where facial hair of any kind is quite rare). Furthermore, facial hair is also pretty unusual for me, as I almost always opt for the clean-shaven look... Yet oddly enough, the response to my moustache in the last week has been negligible. Almost non-existent.

I might have suspected that nobody even noticed -- except for the fact that those who know me better were immediately responsive to the moustache. Todd seemed concerned when he first noticed it last week, apparently fearing a flailing sense of fashion and mentioning the moustache like the way he would have politely muttered under his breath if I had left the fly of my pants open in public. Marco saw it on Sunday, and immediately started laughing and joking with me about it. Jason also noticed it immediately -- even though he only got to see it for about 30 seconds, on a low-resolution webcam image in a failed Skype conversation! So apparently, the moustache has been plenty noticeable. In addition to the comments from good friends, at times I've sensed that people are grinning at me extra wide, trying to catch a glimmer in my eye that would reveal if I was joking or not. But very few people have said anything about it...

Isn't that interesting? So be honest: if you've seen me in the last week or so, what were your thoughts about the moustache? Why did you or didn't you say something about it?

For the record... the moustache is gone now. I shaved it off this morning, just after taking the photographs above. I had just been taking advantage of the opportunity to grow out some facial hair in the absence of my wife (who is not a big fan of the prickles). The beard got too itchy, so I shaved it off. But since I was taking some vacation time this week and basically hanging out around home -- not feeling socially obligated to make a good impression on strangers out in the city -- I thought it would be fun to try hold onto the moustache for a bit longer. And, like I said, it's been an interesting social experiment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Beautiful Body

I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that my wife has been out of town, in America, for the last week or so... But I've recently caught myself admiring the beauty of another feminine body. Not in an erotic way, mind you -- on the contrary, my admiration for such a beautiful body is completely honorable, I assure you. But I would be lying if I said that such beauty has gone unnoticed.

I'm just awe-struck sometimes by the way that the Body of Christ (also referred to as the Bride of Christ, or the Church) works.

Today, my mother-in-law and father-in-law are moving. Almost three decades' collection of mementos, appliances, furniture, and other miscellaneous stuff are being packed up, loaded onto a U-Haul, and delivered to a new domicile (which is actually a very old farmhouse that's been in the family for generations, but which has required a massive renovation effort to host the new tenants)... As you might anticipate, the project requires lots of heavy lifting, lots of cleaning, lots of physical and emotional energy over a sustained period of time... And it's all coming to a head today.

Yet here I sit -- typing at my computer in Amsterdam, an ocean away, while my children nap in their bedrooms. It's pathetic, really.

On such an occasion when family is supposed to rise to the occasion, when the call goes out for "all hands on deck," when a strapping young son-in-law (if I may so identify myself) could be extremely useful -- I am rendered useless, powerless, and ineffective -- constrained by our son's school schedule and the thousands of dollars that would be required to transport all of us back to Ohio to help out. Days like today are some of the hardest to be following God's call to live and lead a church in the Netherlands. Days like today honestly make me wonder if I'm doing the right thing, living with my family in a foreign land -- even if it may be "for the sake of the Gospel"...

In spite of the situation, though, I find contentment and hope in the fact that I'm part of a big, beautiful Body that's able to extend past the conventional constraints of time and space. My hands may be tied today, figuratively speaking, "holding down the fort" in Amsterdam -- but my membership in the Body of Christ allows me to have hands that are available, able, and active to help my extended family in this time of need. Even as I'm typing here in Amsterdam, ten strong, young, able-bodied believers should be driving the roads from Bowling Green to the home of my parents-in-law in order to offer the helping hands that are so desperately needed today. Old friends from our previous community of faith, h2o, have responded to the "nerve impulses" sent through the Body of Christ and are enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to be my family's hands and feet in Ohio today. Today will actually be their second trip to help! And if past experience is any gauge of what will happen today (which I'm quite confident it will be), the help offered by these young men and women is that of no ordinary "volunteer work force," or even the work of well-paid hired hands -- oh no, our brothers and sisters from Bowling Green will apply themselves like true family. Like the Family of God. The Body of Christ.

It's beautiful. I'm telling you: the only way that we're able to be active in "missionary" work -- serving the greater Body of Christ in Amsterdam -- is through the other members of the Body that allow us to cover our bases in America, that allow us to be financially supported in our ministry, that allow us to receive the spiritual protection that we so desperately need through prayer, that allow us to feel loved and supported on both sides of the ocean (let's not forget that we have a beautiful surrogate family on this side of the ocean as well!). The Body of Christ is a beautiful thing. Don't you agree?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Puzzle

We got this puzzle on Koninginnedag (the end of April) this year. Second-hand, of course, from the vrijmarkt (think of it like a city-wide yard sale). I don't really remember how much we paid for the puzzle -- not very much, I'm sure -- but it seemed like a nice little find. A 1000-piecer, with a painted image of the Dam, in central Amsterdam, as it would have been in the 1600s. For whatever reason, puzzles of Amsterdam are not very common...

I sorted through the puzzle pieces for a little while a few months ago -- you know, putting the edge pieces in one pile and the sky pieces in a different pile and so on and so forth... But really, the puzzle just sat on a shelf for half a year. That is, until my parents came to town (in the second week of November). Since my Mom likes to put together puzzles, and since a puzzle can be a good down-time diversion that offers an alternative to television and allows for casual conversation, we set up a card table in the living room and started working on the puzzle in earnest. Well... maybe not "in earnest." Maybe just a little bit here and there. But still, by the time my parents left (two weeks ago, now), we had basically passed the "point of no return" as we couldn't bear to simply scrap the work that had already been done (perhaps 10-15 percent of the total puzzle). So we kept the card table up in our living room and kept chipping away at the puzzle from time to time.

Marci pieced together all of the people on the plein... I built the paleis, in the left foreground of the picture... Over time, the picture slowly started to take shape. The chaos was ordered. The jaggedy surface was smoothed out. The holes were filled in. The confusing pieces (a person that actually turned out to be part of the building, or such) slipped into place, often in unexpected ways. The piles of pressed cardboard pieces became a piece of art.

By the time Marci left, a week ago, pretty much everything had been assembled except for the sky (it's always the sky, isn't it?). Unfortunately, a full quarter of the puzzle (if not a third of the puzzle) is composed of drab whitish-grayish-bluish sky (very true to the real skies of Amsterdam)... But I didn't want to give up on the puzzle. I didn't want the card table to stay up in my living room for another month, but I wasn't going to let a stupid puzzle beat me! So I kept chipping away at it. In between tending to the needs of the kids, or while I would be trying to think in the midst of my writing project, I would systematically work through pieces of the sky -- painstakingly bringing everything together. It was only this morning that I started to feel that the end was near.

But now I can say that I've done it! I finished the puzzle today... or at least I mostly finished the puzzle today.

The truth is that I came up one piece short. Our masterpiece is actually only 99.9% completed, and we will never be able to say that we completely conquered the puzzle. For being a second-hand puzzle, bought on Koninginnedag, for the price we paid for it, verification of 999 out of 1000 pieces actually isn't so bad... But the lack of completion still bothers me.

And if you've every worked on a puzzle yourself, I'm sure you know what I mean.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Me and the Munchkins

I love my children. And I feel like I'm getting to know them better this week. Marci has gone out of town for eleven days, as she's helping her parents move out of the home in which she grew up -- thus I am running the household on my own for the time being. And although it can be quite a heavy load to keep the house clean, maintain a regular routine, prepare healthy food for three of us, and provide emotional and spiritual leadership for two young children (full-time "stay-at-home" Moms deserve so much respect!), I've actually been enjoying the time with me and the "munchkins." It's like I've been getting to see sides of them that I've never fully noticed before...

In particular, I got to know my daughter a little bit better earlier this week, as we pedalled through the streets of Amsterdam on my bicycle. Early on Thursday morning, I had told Olivia that we'd get to go on a bicycle ride together later in the morning (while Elliot was in school), so I could drop off some documents at the church office. Thus, after having Olivia finish her breakfast, put on her shoes, and use the potty, we prepared to leave for our "bicycle ride" -- at which point Olivia resolutely informed me, with the candor and clarity of a true two-year-old, "Not bakfiets. Bicycle ride." As opposed to riding in the plastic-domed comfort of our three-wheeled "mini-van of bicycles," Olivia made it clear that she wanted to get out her helmet and the single children's seat that can be affixed to the front handlebars of my brown Batavus bicycle -- for a faster ride, with the wind in her face, and in close proximity to her Daddy who was powering the bicycle just behind her.

As we started picking up speed on the ride, Olivia gleefully sang, "Wheeeeeee!" Then, for the rest of the ride, she was like a microphoned tour guide on a bus tour through the city of Amsterdam. She pointed out every dog that we passed on the way, and barked "Arf! Arf!" to solicit their interaction with us. She pointed to the boats on the Amstel River, as we pedaled over the Hoge Sluis, and she laughed freely when I affirmed her by saying "Good eyes." She pointed to trams along the way, but she called them "trains" and made heartfelt sound effects -- "Choo-choo" -- to make her point. Occasionally, as we rode along in the brisk November air, Olivia would say, "Oooo. I chilly." So I would place my gloved hand on her shoulder or her arm and rub some warmth back into her a bit -- to which she would faithfully respond with a touch of her mittened hand on my hand and coo, "Thank you, Daddy." It was so much fun to be seeing the city with my daughter in such a way...

Olivia was a true lady as we completed our errand and continued on the return trip back toward home in Amsterdam Oost. Crossing the Amstel on the return trip, she saw another boat out on the water and gleefully shouted "Look! Look! A boat!" And when I failed to compliment her on her observation (as I had done on the first pass over the river), she complimented herself: "Good eyes!" As we turned onto the home stretch and pedaled into a fierce wind, I put my right arm around Olivia's midsection to shield her from the cold and encourage her that we were "almost there." And when Olivia again affectionately responded with resting her arms on mine and sweetly singing "Thank you, Daddy," I had to consciously resist the urge to throw my other arm around her as well in a full embrace (otherwise, we might have ended up in a nasty "Look Ma - no hands" bicycle accident). In any event, it seemed like the "bicycle ride" together that day cemented something in my relationship with Olivia...

With Elliot, too, I feel like I've gained further insight into his character this week. And -- just as with Olivia -- I like what I've been seeing.

My son -- like the rest of school-aged Dutch society -- is totally obsessed with Sinterklaas (a Dutch holiday, with many similarities to the American Christmas holiday, celebrated on the 5th of December) these days. In the last day or two, in fact, Elliot has taken to wearing his red Sinterklaas hat (a tall bishop's hat emblazoned with a golden cross) and carrying a basket full of pepernoten (dime-sized gingerbread cookies) whenever we go out in public. Essentially, he's campaigning for the job of Sinterklaas. If he manages to make eye contact with anyone (and often even when he does not) -- in the grocery store, at the coffee house, on the sidewalk -- he cheerily greets the stranger with a question: "Wil jij een pepernoot" (Would you like a pepernoot?). Of course, it's kind of embarrassing and awkward -- but it's also kind of cute and definitely well-intentioned...

Of course, most urbanites (and particularly Amsterdammers) are unaccustomed to eye contact, conversation, or interaction of any kind with strangers -- thus unfortunately, Elliot's (or should I say Sinterklaas's) solicitations have typically been falling on deaf ears. But to his credit, my boy is indomitable; and you've just got to admire him for his cheerful persistence. I've explained people's lack of responsiveness to his invitations by suggesting that people simply "tune out" when they're out in public with so much noise and so many people around. Thus, when someone doesn't listen to Elliot's incantation of "Wil jij een pepernoot?" or when he is refused his kind offer, he just looks at me with a look of innocent incredulity and graciously shrugs: "He tuned me out." And if, by chance, someone accepts his offer and thanks him for a tasty pepernoot, he beams with joy and satisfaction, doing a little dance, and singing to me: "She didn't tune me out!" It's such a beautiful image of innocence and kind-heartedness that should make any parent proud... At least, I know it does for me.

These times of increased parental responsibility and rearrangement of standard schedules can certainly be challenging on a number of different levels (I'm sure I could write an equally amusing post on some of the trials of the last week)... But such times as these can also be so rewarding. So I'm looking forward to the week ahead -- striving to look past the sibling rivalries, screaming tantrums, and messy clean-ups... and seeking to soak up the opportunities to warm chilly little arms and encourage generous hearts... enjoying a more intimate connection with my children.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Have you been wondering about what's going on with the new ministry facility on the Herengracht? I know I sure have...

It's been a few weeks since I last posted about our church's new home in the heart of Amsterdam's grachtengordel. And even though there's been a continued process of renovation (some plaster work, reconstruction of some wider doorways, installation of some technical fire safety measures) -- and even though I've got the inside track on all the up-to-the-minute information -- I have to admit that I myself am somewhat uncertain about what's going on with the Herengracht 88.

To put it succinctly, the Herengracht 88 has become a bit of a quagmire.

It is neither rational nor relevant to disclose the particulars of the situation -- suffice to say that we've run into challenges on just about every front: with the building owner, with the contractors, with the city officials, with members of our own team, with our own consciences... At times, I'm content to let the process run its course -- as I know it should. But at other times, I worry that we've gotten ourselves into a land war in Asia. As with about a thousand other instances throughout the last four years of establishing a church in the heart of Amsterdam, we've found ourselves in way over our heads, just a bunch of hacks trying to figure things out as we go. And yet -- and yet... God always seems to always find a way to take care of us.

I've been told that virtually all such building/renovation projects always seem to take longer than expected, require more money than expected, and run into more problems than expected... So if that's the case, then this project is right on track! Still, I would hope that we could soon see a resolution to the renovation process, so we can move into the space and be done with it. Of course, I'll do my best to keep you updated... And if you could, please pray with us for God's intervention in the situation.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

November Day

It's an absolutely November day in Amsterdam. Skies the color of concrete, gusting wind and driving rain, temperatures hovering just above the freezing point... What leaves have managed to hang onto the trees so far are today being unceremoniously dismembered and dumped into the gutters. Dawn and dusk blend together with a sickly gray light, as temporary as time... Indeed this is as November as it gets.

Nevertheless, children must still be brought to school. Groceries must still be bought. Meetings must still be had. Life must go on as it does in May or September. It's just that... It's just that everything seems to take on the palor of November. Do you know what I mean?

November should be an adjective -- a word to represent everything cold, gray, damp, and dark... And in that case, this day is not just November. No, it's Novembest.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


The image quality was, at best, choppy and vague -- like some kind of Monet stadiumscape (and at worst an indistinguishable blur of scarlet and maize that occasionally blacked out entirely). The audio quality was muffled and mumbled, as if listening an early-20th-Century phonograph recording of a turkey farm. We had to stay up until 1:30 in the morning to absorb the entirety of the broadcast, even though our wake-up time and breakfast schedule could not be mitigated...

But it was so worth it. In fact, it may have been the finest experience of "The Game" that I've ever had.

Back where I come from, the weekend in which the Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Michigan Wolverines play their annual football game against each other is a very significant weekend. It's much more than "just a football game." It's a cultural event. Similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona or the experience of Queen's Day in Amsterdam. Personal lives and community events are scheduled around the kick-off time of the OSU-Michigan game. I remember a friend who encountered relatively severe relational difficulties with her father when it was discovered that her wedding day (for crying out loud!) happened to have been scheduled to coincide with the day of the OSU-Michigan game (by the way, I seem to remember that they worked it out by coordinating the pause between the wedding ceremony and the reception to coincide with game time -- and several of the wedding guests even complimented her for her "prudence" in allowing them an opportunity to watch the game as well!)... Suffice to say -- that Saturday in November is an important day for people where I come from: parties, foods, traditions, superstitions -- the works.

Nevertheless, the day means virtually nothing for Europeans. Or for most Americans living in Europe, for that matter.

Therefore, it was especially meaningful to join with a handful of Ohioans (all church leaders in various parts of Europe) -- and even a couple of Michiganders -- to fight through technological issues together and enjoy a shared experience of this year's rendition of "The Game" (which turned out to be a classic). Locating an internet feed of the game on a laptop computer, routing its audio through a dilapidated computer speaker and projecting its video onto a white wall, we managed to experience to OSU-Michigan game for the first time in years. In a castle. On a lakeside. In the middle of the Austrian Alps. In the wee hours of the morning. In the company of Dutchmen and Ukrainians and Ohioans and Michiganders...

It doesn't get much more classic than that.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Austrian Adventure

[with apologies to "Gilligan's Island"]

Just sit right back, and you'll hear a tale -- a tale of, well, a rather uneventful trip. It started from the hamlet of Obermillstatt, upon this alpine trail...

The hikers were an enthusiastic bunch -- though perhaps not fully physically fit. There were eight of us in the group, all told, for a four-hour tour. That's right -- a four-hour tour...

The weather actually stayed quite pleasant (at least for November). We didn't quite manage to make it to the summit, but we didn't want to get lost. As dusk approached, we definitely didn't want to get lost...

So we managed to return (mostly) intact, to our castle on the lake. With Todd (an American Amsterdammer)...

And Michaël (a Dutch Amsterdammer)...

Samuel (a British Amsterdammer)...

Anthony (an American from Torino)...

Mark (from Orlando)...

Drew (from Detroit)...

Lee (an American Amsterdammer)...

And, of course, me.

Here in the Austrian Alps!

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Sound of Music

Austria is all that... and then some.

I never had any reason to doubt Maria von Trapp -- what with that innocent face and angelic voice -- still, visiting Austria for the first time, seeing it with my eyes and hearing it with my ears is an epiphany. The hills are indeed alive with the sound of music. The songs of the mountains, which have been sung for thousands of years, cause my heart to expand, inflate, elevate, and reach out in an experience of rediscovered life.

Hiking through the misty dawn around the majestic expanse of the Millstatersee seems to be exactly what my heart has needed. The fresh mountain air has awakened parts of me which I didn't even know were sleeping. These past couple of days, I've felt like a puppy -- panting, pulsing, pounding my talk against the floor -- hoping at every moment for another run through the Alpine trails.

Oh, to be in the mountains! I don't know why a boy from the flatlands of Ohio, living in the flatlands of Holland, should have such a built-in desire for the mountains...

But I do. And I thank God that I'm in Austria this week.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Learning to Pastor

Learning to pastor a church is like learning to speak Dutch: a practically infinite learning curve, regular feelings of inadequacy that gradually (though never fully) become displaced by a sense of confidence, and an unpredictably meandering path toward "completion" of the process...

And I guess that now I can say that I've "completed" both.

When I first started with Dutch, I just picked up a few phrases here and there. A "Colloquial Dutch" cassette tape/textbook package gave me the basics for pronunciation and such. Over time, as opportunities presented themselves, I just started practicing -- sometimes with a degree of effectiveness, and sometimes with embarrassing and/or laughable results. Slowly, slowly, I gained "fluency" in different aspects of the Dutch language: first it was "restaurant Dutch" -- then "tram Dutch" and "casual-greetings-with-a-stranger Dutch." Eventually, I was able to enroll in Dutch classes and gain more regular exposure to the language (personally, I think the greatest benefit of these classes was simply the opportunity for systematic exposure to a Dutch-speaking environment, more than the formal education process). Along the way, I discovered ways to express more complex thoughts in Dutch and communicate more effectively with Dutch-speakers. I found that my greatest strides in language acquisition came as I was able to build friendships in Dutch and experience both successes and failures within a loving and nurturing environment. So when I finally took the NT2 Staatsexamen 2 (Dutch as a Second Language National Exam Level 2), it was merely a formality when the results came back saying that I could officially speak Dutch. The slip of paper with my passing scores -- although valuable for authenticating my linguistic abilities for strangers -- did not essentially alter the universe... It just officially recognized what had already come to pass on the practical level.

In the same way, learning to pastor started very simply and casually. I learned how to lead small group Bible studies and simply serve within the context of a church community. Over time, I took more responsibility for other tasks and "shepherding" people's lives on the most basic level (organizing teams of volunteers, forming deep friendships incorporating accountability and learning together about God, handling "problem" issues that might come up in a small group setting)... I made lots of mistakes along the way but also learned how to allow God to work through me to produce good spiritual fruit. When other opportunities for leadership fell in my direction, I was able to trust God and see Him work in bigger and more varied ways in my life and in the lives of those around me. And with systematic exposure to pastoring opportunities, I was able to grow in my ability to pastor. Over the last year or two in Amsterdam, God's work in my life (and in the life of my good friend Todd) seemed to gain a wider recognition among the church here. So when it finally seemed right to lay hands on us and formally ordain us as pastors for Zolder50 (this past weekend), the ceremony simply served to officially recognize what had already come to pass on the practical level.

Even so, there is something meaningful about an ordination ceremony (my analogy paralleling this to the NT2 Staatsexamen 2 is a bit imperfect). The laying on of hands is a symbolic act, concretely representing something that happens on the spiritual level -- kind of like a baptism. And more than a formal ceremony, ordination is an impartation of blessing from one generation to the next. Thus, it was especially meaningful to have Daniel Goering (director of Great Commission Europe and founding pastor of the movement's first European congregation in Dortmund, Germany), Joe Dunn (director of Great Commission Europe, off-site pastor of Zolder50, and personal mentor for the last three years), and my father, Dave Asp (who also happened to be a pastor for the better part of two decades, as well as being my life-long mentor) lay hands on us and pray for us at the Zolder50 Soul Gathering this past Friday. It happened in the newly acquired (but still-unfinished) ministry facilities at the Herengracht 88 -- which seemed to be an appropriate setting for the new beginnings represented in the ordination ceremony itself.

No less meaningful was the follow-up recognition at our Sunday afternoon worship gathering in De Poort this past Sunday. All of the home group leaders and members of the board of trustees for the church gathered around me and Todd to pray for us and bless us in our roles as pastors for the church. Again, on the one level it was just a formality -- but on the other level, it was a very special, very meaningful symbol to demonstrate something truly deep and powerful in the life of our young church. And in the lives of two young men given the task of shepherding the flock in Amsterdam.

Todd and I are still very much learning and growing. Pastoring is like Dutch -- not our first language, not our most natural state of being. We've come a long way, and God has taught us lots over the last few years. Following the past weekend, we've got the "official" recognition of the role that we are playing. However, we still make mistakes, and we've still got lots to learn. Thanks to all of you who are praying for us. Please don't stop now.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Quite possibly the coolest picture I've ever taken of my children

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Oud, Ouders, en Oudsten

It's been a long week. A good week -- but a long week. Out-of-town guests (5 sets of people from 3 different continents totalling anywhere from 12 to 50, depending on how you count) along with the convergence of multiple projects have left me feeling badgered and bent like an old man. In the grand scheme of things, they're all good things -- and even refreshing in their own ways -- but altogether they can be rather wearying. In the last week, I've found myself looking forward to bedtime when the day is hardly even half-completed... Finally, I can relate to my grandparents who would always turn in by 8:30 in the evening. Either it's been an especially hectic week, or I'm getting older -- or both. C'est la vie.

Regrettably (though necessarily), blogging has taken a backburner during this period (thus my previous post). Nevertheless, the irony remains that the weeks in which I have the most to write about are the weeks in which I have the least time to write. Even so, I wanted to post a few pictures and share a few brief highlights of the past few days -- because it's been a very special week, in a lot of ways.

One of the most exciting events of this week has been the visit of my parents. Obviously, living on the far side of the ocean, we don't get too many opportunities for extended interaction (other than telephone conversations or chatting on-line) -- and prior to this week, my parents had never been able to make the trip to Amsterdam together (though my Mom was here a year ago, around the time of Olivia's surgery, and my Dad was here about a year before that, just after the time when Olivia was born). So it's just been a lot of fun having them around. We've had some really great times of conversation, and we've been able to enjoy some fun activities together as well. I've recently been reflecting on how special my parents are and how greatly they've blessed me throughout the course of my life. Thanks to their love and care (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), I've had a lot of chances in life that the vast majority of others in the world have not... And especially as I get older, I want to nurture my relationship with my Dad and Mom and bless them in my own way.

All that to say, it's been great having my parents in town this week -- even if their visit does happen to coincide with the crazy crossroads of other people and projects in Amsterdam...

And my parents' visit is all the more sweet because it allowed them to participate in a significant spiritual event in my life: my official ordination as a pastor for Zolder50 (or whatever our church may eventually be called), together with Todd Watkins. This element of recognition is the result of a long process that God has been working in my life -- and perhaps sometime soon I'll be able to reflect and explain more of what this development has meant to me (more than just a quick blurb in a newsy blog post)... But to say the least, it was a special occasion.

Indeed it's been an interesting week. A very good week. But to tell you the truth, I should hope that it's a week that will not be repeated anytime soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Haiku of an Apologetic Blogger

In times of struggle,
In seasons of stress,
Why are the things that we love
The first things to go?

Friday, November 03, 2006


How much of our lives have been predetermined? To what extent are our lives ruled by an uncontrollable destiny -- an inescapable fate? Is it fair to think we were born a certain way or "born for" a certain purpose -- or should we place more emphasis on the role of our choices and/or the environment in which we've sought to define ourselves? Who's pulling the strings of our marionette show? How much is God involved in the day-to-day affairs of mankind, and how much of what we presume to be God's involvement is actually just the logical consequences of inborn laws of nature that work themselves out according to people's actions and reactions within the created order?

These questions have plagued mankind for ages. Sociologists theorize the impact of "nature" (the way we were made) versus "nurture" (the way we were raised). Theologians ponder the spectrum of Calvinism (predestined script for the universe and for each individual life) to Armenianism (freewill of humans dictating their destiny, with God choosing a laissez-faire approach). But the fact is that it's still a mystery. Both ends of the spectra may be correct -- or neither. We live with a paradox of choice and destiny. But what does this mean for our lives?

What about the person who "just so happens" to end up following the career path of his father before him, and his father's father before him? What about the person with "control issues" whose mother also had considerable "control issues" of her own -- or (perhaps more commonly) considerable "out-of-control issues" -- but who must still make individual choices as an adult and must live with the consequences of those sinful patterns in life? What about the person choosing to "come out of the closet" -- claiming to be inescapably and inherently homosexual, claiming to be born that way -- yet simultaneously fitting every pattern in the book to precipitate such lifestyle decisions (dysfunctional parental relationships, sexual abuse, a persistently depressive state of looking to belong, looking to be loved)? What about the married couple that falls into estrangement and adultery -- seemingly caught in a star-crossed pattern of love's reversal, but only after a classic progression of broken expectations, feeding into each other's pain, and subconsciously wounding each other in the very most sensitive areas -- and only to be repeated in ten-year cycles of love-marriage-estrangement-divorce-love-marriage-estrangement-divorce?

We don't want to be patterns, statistics, type-casted characters, unoriginal pawns in some great big choreographed show... But we also don't want to be alone, cosmic orphans, hung out to dry, ultimately responsible parties in a world that's completely out-of-control. Similarly, I can't buy into arguments and explanations of "it's all my parents' fault" or "God made me this way" or "it was just meant to be as such"... But I must equally reject blanket claims of "I'm the problem" or "I chose for this completely independently" or "If only I would have done this one thing, the situation would have been different"...

What an impossible conundrum! What a dilemma! What a mystery...

Oddly enough, such mysteries only strengthen my assurances of the supernatural. In the face of such impossibilities, I can more purely put my faith in God. And infinite God. A God of the impossible. A God whose ways are higher than my ways and whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts -- a God capable of understanding these things on a higher plane where the "irreconcilable" can somehow be reconciled. Somehow, I must have hope in this omnipotent omniscient God and His ability to right all wrongs in their appropriate time and place... But I must also accept responsibility as an agent of God's Kingdom, trusting the Holy Spirit to fill me and use me to supernaturally reverse the flow of natural events.

I guess when it comes down to it, there are no easy answers. Only faith (any point on these spectra requires a significant element of faith). And as for me, I choose to put my faith in the mystery.