TV on Sunday morning

 

In spite of the flu shot, I was, like many hundreds of thousands of my fellow Dutchmen, attacked by by the virus of the current flu-strain. It took some determination to keep going. Last Saturday morning it was a bit dubious whether or not my audience would still be able to understand my guttural sounds towards the end of the sermon. Fortunately, intense coughing fits or periods of awkward frequent sneezing were delayed until after the service.

I am sure that, especially last Sunday, I did not radiate a lot of energy. It was the kind of day that was spend mostly hanging on the couch with quite a bit of television watching. I must admit that I regularly watch some religious television programs on Sunday morning. It is something I got used to during the periods that we lived in the US. On Sunday morning one religious show  follows the other on most American channels. A few are worth watching because of their content, but most of them are only worth watching because they give some insight in this strange world of shouting television pastors and all kinds of, often bizarre, religious fringe phenomena, that form a unique aspect of American ‘culture.’

My ongoing fascination for these programs on Sunday morning on Dutch tv is probably at least partly due to professional deformation. But some of these do have something to say. That is true for many of the interviews by Jacobine Geel and also for some of the conversations during de Wandeling. After this I often stay with this channel for some time for the program of religious singing: Nederland Zingt op Zondag. I agree with my wife that, as far as quality is concerned, it cannot begin to compare with the BBC program Songs of Praise. Yet, even the traditional psalm singing has something special. Whatever one might say about it, it is a specimen of Dutch Calvinistic culture that, I believe, should be recognized by the folks of the World Cultural Heritage. However, my special appreciation  goes to the program De Verwondering (the Wonderment) that is presented by Annemiek Schrijvers. With a restrained kind of devotion she talks with a well-know Dutch person in her small cottage in the woods, some 25 kilometers from Amsterdam. She knows how to touch her guest in such a way that he/she will bare his/her soul and will share his/her faith (or the absence thereof) with the viewer.

This past Sunday Annemiek talked with Jan Brokken. I only vaguely remembered him. Brokken is a journalist, but also a gifted author of travel stories and novels. Last week I happened to see the program in which Bert Keizer, an author and well-known doctor in a care centrum for the elderly, was the guest. And a few weeks ago I switched on the tv just when Annemiek started her interview with Jan Terlouw—the author of books for children and writer of thrillers for adults, as well as a respected liberal-democrat ex-politician. Remarkable enough. all three of these men grew up in a pastor’s home, but all three, apparently, were not able to find in the church what their parents had discovered. Many of my fellow-pastors will readily admit that they share in what must have been the experience of the parents of Brokken, Keizer, and Terlouw: It is certainly not a matter of course that children who grow up in a parsonage will retain their bond with the church.

However, what may be more special about these three interviews by Annemiek Schrijvers is that they were about people like me. Admittedly, these men are much better known and undoubtedly more talented. But all three of them are, like myself, past seventy, but are nonetheless very active in society. They are erudite people, but, in particular, people who have been important to other people and have become mature in their thinking through their experiences. And, they certainly are very spiritual people. In short, this is a trio with whom I happily (rightly or wrongly) identify myself, and who might in this phase of my life serve as role models for me. I secretly hope that, here and there,  there are men and women who see something in me that inspires then and that, maybe, I can serve for some as a role model—even though I do not expect to be invited for a conversation on Sunday morning in the cottage of Annemiek.

[PS:  While I wrote this short piece I experienced no major coughing fit. Maybe the flu has passed its worst and life will be a little more pleasant again in a few days time.]

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Urker fishermen

Before I started the activities that I had planned for this day, I decided to first visit one of the local hairdressers. Although in my case my hair does not present much of a challenge, I have to give it my regular attention. While I was waiting for a few moments—enjoying my coffee that is always immediately offered—I considered how this place would provide a very suitable place for a hostage situation. It would be very easy for a recently returned jihadist or a confused inhabitant of Zeewolde, to enter with a genuine or fake gun, and to threaten the three hairdressers and the four customers, for instance in exchange for a fully paid vacation in some luxurious resort somewhere in the world!

Of course, there can be dangerous situations anywhere. Yesterday I travelled with the TGV, and later the Thallys (comfortable fast trains) through France. All over the world you have to pass strict security checks before you can enter a plane, but no one checks whether you have a suspicious parcel with you or have a gun under your jacket before you enter such a fast train. And I never see any obvious security measures before I drive my car onto a ferry. Who knows what might be hidden in all the trunks of the cars that are tightly packed together on the car deck?

Of course, it is impossible to make our world totally safe. Someone might get the idea to take a congregation in a full church hostage  on Saturday morning, or might even start shooting the people at random because of some serious grudge against the church or the pastor. It may be possible to protect buildings or big events, when there is an imminent danger. For instance, synagogues may need surveillance for some time. Even some Adventist institutions need constant protection, sometimes even by armed guards. But complete safety is not possible.

Well, even at home, something may happen to us, when we are careless, and as soon as we leave our home or go on a journey, there are plenty of dangers. You can never be sure that nothing will happen to you, and at the end of the day there is always reason to be thankful that you got home safe and sound, and got safely through the day. For those who believe in God there will always be a reason to say ‘Thank You’ to the Lord at the end of each day.

This past week a few fishermen from the fishing village of Urk drowned in the Channel near Dover. The regional TV-station (TV Flevoland) of course, paid more attention to this than the national media. I found one detail of the news broadcast quite remarkable. The commentator told the viewers that  Urker fishermen always pay a short visit to their closest relatives on Sunday evening before they take to the sea early Monday morning. For you never know . . .

There is something to this: to be aware that you never know what will happen to you. To say goodbye, before taking to the sea the next day! Maybe here is a lesson that we can learn from the Urker fishermen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Van Eijk and his remnant

 

Our traditionally christian Kingdom of the Netherlands is quickly becoming non-christian. A recent survey, carried out by the Dutch Protestant University in Amsterdam, found that, for the first time in history, more Dutchmen say they do not believe in God than there are those who are convinced that God indeed exists. Yes, there is a large segment in the middle of those who simply don’t know and of those who may believe in a vague ‘something,’ but it becomes ever clearer that faith in God is no longer self-evident for the majority of the Dutch people. And thus the churches are becoming more and more empty and the support for the institutional church is gradually drying up.

The annual national fundraising campaign for a number of denominations once again shows a further erosion of the importance many people attach to their church. The amount that the churches have raised is, once again, a few percent lower than the year before. This year the members of the participating churches gave a total of around 230 million euros. And, once more, the results show that on the average Protestants give substantially more than Catholics. A Dutch Catholic family gives on average gives 80 euro’s per year, while a Dutch Protestant family gives an annual donation of around 200 euros.

Protestant denominations, as for instance the United Protestant Church of the Netherlands, fear its membership and church attendance will further diminish. But we hear even more pessimistic sounds from the Catholic Church. The archbishop of Utrecht (the highest Catholic leader in the Netherlands), monsignor van Eijk, recently stated that he believes that by 2020 only some twenty of the current three hundred parishes will still exist. This dramatic development, in his estimation, results from a sharp decrease in vocations, a change in giving patterns and a rampant spiritual superficiality. The archbishop was heavily criticized. He is accused by many of himself being a major part of the problem. It appears that he does not mind so much that the church is getting smaller. He prefers to have a small church of faithful (and, in particular, very orthodox and obedient) believers over a larger church with people who want to think for themselves and want, in a number of areas, to follow their own interpretations of the rules for faith and conduct that originate in Rome. One might say that the archbishop has a view of the church that is based on the idea of a ‘remnant,’ that is left when the chaff has been separated from the wheat. Many, however, feel this is a totally wrong approach. They believe the church must be a place that offers a spiritual home for as many people as possible, where the gospel of our Lord is handed on in such ways that it will be understood by contemporary people—old and, especially, young. It seems that the archbishop is either unable or unwilling to grasp this

Unfortunately, the archbishop is not the only church leader who is stuck in this kind of thinking. There are parallels between him and leaders I could point to in my own (Adventist) church. Also ‘with us’ the question is pressing: Do we want to intentionally contribute to a situation in which only a small group of ‘true’ believers remains, or will we do all we can to translate the gospel in such ways that it will not just provide direction, but will also offer space and freedom. For me the choice is clear. I will go for the latter option.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

About Belgium, and Rome, etc.

[Morning January 19, 2015] I am back behind my desk in Zeewolde. I always try to write my weekly blog on Thursday or Friday, but I did not get to it at the end of last week. My wife and I went to Belgium for the weekend. We stayed with friends with whom we always have more than enough topics for long talks. On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of preaching in the Adventist church in the Lange Lozannastraat in Antwerp. On Sunday I participated in Brussels in a day of study and discussion about the role of women in the church. The Belgian church leaders had invited two speakers: Dr. Jan Barna (a professor from Newbold College in England) and myself. I was given the morning program. My assignment was to speak about the historical background of the issue of women’s ordination, while Barna would focus in the afternoon on the biblical-theological aspects.

With a power point presentation I tried to chart the historical background of the topic of the ordination of women in the Adventist Church. I addressed questions such as: How could this issue develop into such a huge problem? What are the most recent developments, and where do we go from here?

Our day in Brussels was a clear demonstration of what we see in many different places worldwide in the Adventist Church. There are different camps and each has dug itself in in their trenches. From time to time someone briefly raises his head from his dugout and fires a shot at the enemy (I use this word intentionally, as there is indeed a war going on), and then each group withdraws to its position. The two camps hardly listen to each other and do not seem to really weigh the arguments of those with whom they disagree.

In his presentation Jan Barna emphasized, in particular, that those who defend and those who oppose the ordination of female pastors each have their own ways of dealing with the Bible. For those who oppose it the Bible is abundantly clear: a woman does not have the same authority as a man. The other party is convinced that one must translate the principles of the biblical message in such a way that they be can applied to our present situation. And if one does this, it is abundantly clear: just as slavery and polygamy are things of the past, so is the inequality between male and female.

In Belgium the situation may be a little more sensitive than it is (in general, though, not everywhere) in the Netherlands. The ethnic and cultural composition of the Adventist Church in Belgium is much more complicated than in the Netherlands and the fact that Belgium has been saturated with Catholic culture no doubt also has to do with it. Nonetheless, it was a good day yesterday and some people even told me, at the end of the day, that they may have to rethink a few of their convictions.

Now, on Monday morning I will need to concentrate on a few other things. Tomorrow is the deadline for an article that I have promised to write. That must, therefore, be the first item on my program. Then I will have to spend time on the preparations of a trip to Rome for a group of seniors that is scheduled for April 30 to May 7. My colleague Hans Ponte was to be the tour leader, but his departure to a new job in Curacao has made that impossible for him. With some initial hesitation I have agreed to assume this assignment. I must admit that I am beginning to look forward to it. And most of the preparatory work has been done, and it is therefore not very complicated and demanding. (By the way: there are still a few places available. For more info, mail to  admseniorenreis@yahoo.com).

Later in the week we will attend a concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. We have been given tickets by the guest conductor who this week conducts a number of concerts in Amsterdam. It is the Swedish maestro Herbert Blomstedt who all his life has been (and is) an active member of the Adventist Church.

And then there are enough other things that will make the coming week into a rather ‘full’ week. We will have no reason to complain that life is boring.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Je suis Charlie

 

I remember a conversation I had years ago with dr. B.B. Beach. We were both active in promoting and defending religious liberty. Bert Beach was the director of this department for the global Adventist Church, while I was his counterpart in a part of Europe and some other areas of the world. We talked about Scientology. At the time I was rather amazed that Beach was getting involved in defending the rights of this movement in a particular country (I forgot where it was.) I suggested that it might not give positive PR for an Adventist organization to openly defend the rights of  the scientologists. I will never forget his reply.He reminded me: ‘It is not difficult to support people whom you agree with to a major extent and whom you sympathize with. But if you are a genuine champion of freedom of conscience and religion you must also fight for the religious rights of people you do not like and people you totally disagree with.

His words came back to me  last Wednesday when the media were full with the coverage of the murder of the staff of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo and of some policemen. Of course, I fully agree with all people who believe that a free press is an essential element in a democracy, and that there can never be a valid reason to kill people who disagree with your faith or culture.

On the other hand, such a horrific event as the attack in Paris may not be a reason to put all Muslims in a negative light and to organize anti-Muslim actions. I must admit I see quite a few elements in Islam that I do not like. But I remember the words of my mentor and friend Beach: ‘You can only claim to be a true supporter of religious liberty if you also defend the freedom of those people who have a viewpoint that differs drastically from  your own.’

The staff of a magazine as Charlie Hebdo must be able to publish what they want without having to fear for their lives. However, I do not appreciate the fact that journalists ridicule the faith of other people. As a Christian I am annoyed when people ridicule my faith and the Founder of my faith. Therefore, I do not like many of the anti-Muslim cartoons in Charlie Hebdo. I do not find them funny. Likewise, I definitely dislike it when Christian people ridicule other Christian groups, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic. Criticism is all right—and others may also criticize  my religious choices. But there must always be respect for the other person, and this may also be demanded from non-Muslims who do not appreciate Islam or Mohammed.

Unfortunately, an event like the attack of last Wednesday further escalates the tensions between the various population segments—in a country like France with a large Islamic community, but also in the Netherlands. The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be punished. But the only long term solution is mutual respect, also when standpoints about religious beliefs and practices diverge widely. For one thing is certain: A lack of respect inevitably leads to increased violence.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment