Magdalena per e-reader

 

I would never have predicted that I would one day buy an e-reader, since I always was a firm believer that nothing exceeds the pleasure of holding a paper-book in your hands. But, I have surrendered, and it would appear that I may even like it—especially when traveling by train or plane, or even for a few lost moments at home, or on the balcony. Already over a year ago I received a coupon with a value of 100 Euros—to be spent with the German amazon—in appreciation of a few lectures during a Bible study weekend of Adventist believers in the Darmstadt area. This enabled me to buy through amazon.de an e-reader—to be precise a Kindle-paperwhite, for just under 120 minus 10o Euro, including a leather case. It thus required a minimal investment to enter the guild of e-reading people.

I quickly downloaded a few e-books. One of these is the newest book by Maarten ‘t Hart, entitled Magdalena—a book about his mother. But, as we often find with this well-known Dutch author, is is to a large extent about himself and provides a little further insight in his rather complex personality. There never was a truly loving relationship between Maarten and his mother. But Maarten is simply not well endowed with relational skills, although he did get on somewhat better with his father, who died some decades ago. His books tell us nothing (as far as I know) about the relationship with his wife Hanneke. However, I assume that she must not have been amused when her husband Maarten went through a period of cross-dressing  and for some time went by the name Maartje (the female form of his real name). We read in several of his books that Maarten related poorly to several people in his neighborhood, especially when they had decided to join a Pentecostal church, or, even much worse, became Seventh-day Adventists. From his early years on Maarten greatly disliked the Reformed church in which he grew up, and those who belonged to this church. And I have personally experienced what this gifted story teller, (with his abundant fantasy) thought about my (in his eyes utterly ridiculous) religious views. This is clear from his books Dienstreizen van een Thuisblijver (2011), in which he needs several pages to criticize me (pp. 202-208). He even refers in these page to me as the ‘pope’ of Dutch Adventism. I have not even received this ‘honor’ from my Adventist fellow-believers.

Back to Magdalena. The chapter about his discussion with his mother on the subject of Noah’s ark is not just extremely amusing, but also provides considerable food for thought—in spite of the excessive exaggerations and many dubious details. When Maarten ‘t Hart writes about religion and faith, he is not only hopelessly cynical but he also demonstrates an extensive knowledge of the Bible and often puts some arguments forward that are not easily dismissed (certainly not by his mother). This is also the case in his calculations regarding Noah’s ark. The Bible indicates that this ship was large enough for all animals, ‘after their kind’.—one pair of ‘unclean’ animals and seven pairs of all ‘clean’ animals. According to Maarten (besides being an accomplished author also a respected biologist) the world is the habitat of roughly two million ‘kinds’, and therefore several millions of animals must have entered the ark. But apart from mind-boggling fact: How did these animal make their way to the ark? Some kinds of snails are only found in Scandinavia. They travel at most about five meters a day, which means that the journey must have taken them quite a few years. But there the further complication that they must have died while en route. And how about feeding all these animals during the sea voyage? And how did Noah make sure the animals did not devore each other? And then, just think of all the manure. Etc. etc.

A very amusing chapter. For those whose believe in a world-wide flood and take into account that the pre-flood world must in many ways have been different from the post-flood world, some of the problems Maarten ‘t Hart mentions can be solved. Nonetheless, Maarten helps his readers (myself among them) to look at some of the Bible stories in a different light from what many were used to in the Sunday school or children’s Sabbath school. The story of the flood—that can be found in most ancient cultures in some form or another—is a great story with abiding significance. But Genesis 7 is hardly an eyewitness report of how things exactly happened. It would be good if Maarten would not just make mince-meat of the details of the story but also see its abiding significance.

Well, in a few days time my wife and I will leave for our annual vacation in Sweden. This year the stack of books that we will take along is less high than usual, for the e-reader will accompany me. But I hope to also  enjoy the paper edition of  the (700-plus pages) third volume of Hans Küng’s autobiography!

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Health

 

Like most people I hope to live a happy, long and healthy life. As a believer I pray for this privilege.  Admittedly, I do not exactly understand how this kind of prayer works—for it is a fact of life that for many believers life may just as unexpectedly take a nasty turn as it may for non-believers. Of course, I do realize that, with regard to health, I must also do something myself. For that reason I take, as often as possible, an hour-long walk in the morning. I do not smoke, and do not consume any alcohol and drink only very few soda’s. And I seriously limit my visits to the ‘golden arch’, and to similar institutions. I thank God I am still in reasonably good health and still dispose of a fair amount of energy. Unfortunately, I am just  not very successful in shedding a few excess kilo’s.

I faithfully take the medication my doctors have prescribed in order to keep my blood pressure and my sugar at the right levels. But, I just heard a few days ago on the news that medicines may have an undesirable effect if you reach a certain age, and you may want to accept the risks that result from fewer pills, since these very medicines may cause other serious problems in elderly people which may shorten their lives.  Well, what can I say? (And another bit of news—but not so relevant for me: women are on average less healthy than men, in spite of the fact that they live longer. One of the reasons for this, it was reported,  is that most medicines have been tested only on men and not on women and may simply be less effective for women.)

I know very little about medical maters, but I take many recent reports on medical discoveries with a grain of salt (although, of course, not with too much salt, as that may negatively impact on my blood pressure). Often the findings contradict other findings. Is it healthy to drink a few glasses of milk per day? How healthy is ‘healthy’ margarine? How much fruit should one ideally eat? And does (as was also reported last week) eating a daily dose of 20 grams of nuts prolong your life?  Is swimming a useful exercise? (My specialist in internal medicine told me that swimming is the least productive form of physical exercise!) How good or bad is a daily glass of wine, or regularly eating a piece of lean meat (besides the ecological aspects)? And, of course, there is the inevitable question: how many cups of coffee can one drink per day without any negative consequences?

Living consciously healthy has religious implications. As (christian) human beings we are responsible for how we treat our bodies. It also has social implications: how can we contribute to keeping healhcare affordable? Or, perhaps even more importantly: keeping healthy will add to having a pleasurable life, and it may postpone the moment that we become dependent on other people for care and other forms of assistance. But, when all is said and done: food must also remain a source of pleasure! The Lord has not without reason given us the sense of taste. And, finally, one of the most important aspects of a happy and healthy life is: finding meaning in our life and cherish our relationships.

And then, there is this fabulous thought in the Lamentations of Jeremiah (3:22,23) that should stop us a few moments every morning: ‘The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.’

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(Dutch Adventist) History

 

Last week (to be precise: on June 6) the Adventist Church in Leeuwarden concluded its celebration of the centennial of Adventism in Friesland. Chapeau for how the Frisian Adventists used this celebration to underline their presence in the city and the province. The media noted it on more than one occasion, and rightly so.

During last week’s reunion of current and former members of the Frisian Adventist Church special emphasis was on the history of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands, with particular attention to the pioneers of the first hour who played an important role in the Northern part of the country: the pastors Wibbens, Klingbeil and Schilstra. Pastor Henk van Rijn had been invited to give two presentations. We (for I had he privilege to also be invited for that day together with my wife) were able to enjoy the way in which van Rijn presents his programs. At such occasions he is a combination of an excellent entertainer and a good historian. It takes little effort to keep listening to him with fascination, and one goes away with a treasure of information.

Of course, in the context of this special day it was impossible to deal with the entire period of about 120 years of Dutch Adventist history in full detail. What follows in this blog is, therefore, not a criticism of the program of June 6, nor of van Rijn’s part in it. It simply serves as an incentive to make a few remarks about something I have often noticed (and that has at times disturbed me) when we hear the story of Dutch Adventism. Usually it is mainly about the ‘pioneers’, as e.g. the persons named above, and aJoseph Wintzen and his son-in-law F.J. Voorthuis. However, that is where the story usually stops. Even Voorthuis, in my view, frequently does not get the attention he deserves. In spite of his rather authoritarian leadership style (what he had in common with several of his predecessors and contemporaries), he was the person who has helped change the status of Dutch Adventism from a strange American sect into a ‘normal’ Dutch Protestant denomination. And, in my opinion, it is about time to also mention the name of K.C. van Oossanen a bit more often. To many of the younger generation and to many who have recently joined the church, he is totally unknown. Yet, he served the Dutch church for some two decades as leader and also had a major role in European Adventism. It may be too early to look with some objectivity at some of the leaders who came after him, but K.C. van Oossanen is among the leaders who deserve to be mentioned when Dutch Adventist history is discussed!

It should, however, be stressed that a survey of the personalities and initiatives of the leaders is not enough to get a balanced picture of how the church in the Netherlands has grown from a very small beginning to what it is today. For those leaders did not work in a void. They were supported by fellow-leaders and colleagues and other employees, who are, unfortunately, seldom mentioned. And there has always been an extensive network of men and women in local churches and at other levels who invested an enormous amount of energy and time in their church and played thereby an important part in its development.They must also have a prime place in the story of Dutch Adventism.

I hope that pastor Henk van Rijn (for he is no doubt the most appropriate person to do so) will decide, some time soon, to write that kind of a history of Dutch Adventism. I believe that, if we do not know where we have come from, we will find it difficult to perceive how far we have come, and perhaps also cannot develop a bold enough vision for the future direction for the church!

 

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Imagination

 

A few days ago my wife and I visited a unique exhibition of North-Korean paintings. (See my FB page). Such a visit is not complete without a short trip through the museum shop. While my wife was buying a book with pictures of all the paintings that are exhibited, I looked at a few dozen novels and travel stories that all had North Korea as their subject. On the back cover of one of these books I saw a short, but striking, statement: North-Korea is a country where imagination is prohibited.

The visitor of the exhibition, and whoever takes a good look at life in North-Korea in some other way, will inevitably be impressed (or horrified) by the Orwellian situation in this country, where the state does the thinking for all its citizens and prescribes their entire pattern of life. Some time ago I read the fascinating book The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. I described my reading experience of this book that describes life in North-Korea in a blog that was posted on 11 April, 2012. Reading this book awakened in me a strong interest to learn more of this country and its strange dictatorial culture and its, almost religious, personality cult. Everything I read since then about North-Korea and all the images I have seen confirms the sad picture of a country in which imagination is forbidden

In most other places in the world imagination is, fortunately, not forbidden. And speaking about imagination I do not mean unbridled phantasy that has lost all ties with reality (‘what would I do if I won a million Euros?’) or the inclination towards self-aggrandizement (‘who do you think you are?’, but the ability to see opportunities and to look at things in new ways and give them a new color. Not only artists need imagination to express their feelings on canvas or in a musical score. We all must have a dose of imagination to give an extra dimension to things around us and to give our life increased depth.

In an essay that Dr. Laurence Turner (recently retired professor at Newbold College, UK) wrote a few years ago and that he entitled A Costly Lack of Literary Imagination, he emphasized that we also need the power of imagination as we read the Bible. Only if we dispose of a good portion of imagination can we make the Bible stories come truly alive. Likewise, in the church—at all levels—we need imagination to face the future, with its challenges and its promises, in a fruitful way. And, finally, I am aware of the fact that I must never suppress my own power of imagination. For without that my existence will be dry and superficial and I will miss all kinds of surprising opportunities.

Albert Einstein was no doubt right when he said that imagination is even more important than knowledge!

 

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Wir leben autos (cars are our life)

 

I have the impression that lately much of the advertising for new cars does not focus very much on their technical qualities, such as space, comfort, speed, extra’s, etc. More often we are told about the price and the fact that our trade-in will now catch a better price and that we will only need to pay 50 percent cash and then the rest (interest free) within three years. However, in many cases, the promised benefits remain rather vague. The suggestion often is that this special car adds another dimension to our life. It gives us joy, we become a more attractive person (for those of the other sex). In brief: we will enjoy life to a higher degree when we travel in this vehicle.

For many people their life story, indeed, is strongly interwoven with the cars they have owned during their life. I must admit that cars were never totally unimportant to me, and I have owned a quite a range of different makes and models. My first car was a Pontiac Tempest, which I bought during my study in the US in 1965. If I remember well, I paid about 275 dollar (but in 1965 the dollar had a somewhat higher value than it has today). Back in the Netherlands, I bought my first car in 1967 from a garage in Leeuwarden: a Renault Dauphine. I had to borrow 2,000 guilders (the full price of the car) from a local bank. After that there were various other Renault models, some Peugeots, a few Datsuns and Nissans and even a few Volkswagens and (believe it or not) a Lada (in Cameroon). The car I liked best was a Fiat Marea, with many extras such as automatic transmission and a sun roof. But that was in the UK, and when we moved back to the Netherlands, I had to sell it, since it had the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side. Since quite a few years I have now been driving Citroens. Occasionally there is the fleeting thought that maybe the time has come to look for another car, since my current Citroen C3 Picasso has now served me for 156.000 kilometers. But I have not yet come to the point that I eagerly visit car dealers and am thinking about some good arguments to convince my wife that the time has come to do some serious car-shopping. In brief: cars are important for me, but, fortunately, they do not determine the quality of my life.

The last few weeks the media have been dominated by the troubles of the FIFA and the controversial re-election of the 79-year old soccer-bobo, mr Blatter. It did not seem (at least not to me) prudent to re-elect this man, but the majority of those who were allowed to vote, rightly are wrongly, were of another opinion. It was amazing to see how tenaciously this man, even after having had the role of president for 16 years, wanted to hang on to his position.( Admittedly, now that I myself have  passed the 70-year threshold, I have a little more sympathy than I might have had in the past, for people of my age or older who still have some ambitions.) For many people, regrettably, their sense of well-being is so dependent on their job or status, that they are no longer able to relativize this, and fear their life will lose all meaning if they must give up their job and no longer enjoy their status. This is a phenomenon that we find in every organization—also in a denomination. Undoubtedly, we will see some examples of this next month, when the world wide Adventist Church will elect its new leaders for the next fives years.

For too many people (including christians) life largely coincides with their job or their possessions, or with other things they cannot easily give up. Yet, followers of Jesus Christ are expected to have another perspective on life. For the apostle Paul life for him was characterized as ‘living in Christ’. He wrote in Philippians 2 about the example that Christ gave us. Christ was prepared to give up his status for our sake. During the seminary classes in christology, which I attended in a distant past, the professor emphasized how Paul used a very specific Greek verb: harpazomai—it means: not hanging on to something whatever it takes. Christ was prepared not to desperately hang on to his heavenly privileges and status.  Following him means, at the very least, that we are also prepared to detach ourselves from material things and status. For most of us (and I do not exclude myself) this is not always easy. It is a project we might best refer to as ‘work in progress’.  But it should be something that characterizes our life as christians!

 

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