This past week began with a most interesting event. On Sunday afternoon I entered a place that until now was for me terra incognita: the Balie, a building for cultural events in the center of Amsterdam, near the well-known Leidseplein. At the other side of the street a number of television trucks were lined up that clearly were to report on something important. I had no illusion that they had come to film the occasion in which I was about to participate, but that their massive presence had something to do with the festivities around the MTV awards.
In the Balie an activity was to take place that was sponsored by a foundation for literary activities in Amsterdam and the publishing firm van Nijgh & Ditmar. It focused on the publication of a new book by Arnon Grunberg, who was to lead out in a panel discussion. The public had come in considerable numbers and paid 10 euros to be able to hear four experts discuss the topic of Apocalypse with Grunberg. The author was seated on the stage, with to his right a historian and an astrologist, and to his left a psychiatrist and myself as a theologian.
The topic of Apocalypse was inspired by the title of the newly appeared collection of short stories by Arnon Grunberg, who has become one of the Netherlands’ most popular authors. For about an hour and a half he skillfully led the discussion about various aspects of apocalyptic thinking. It became a lively discussion and Grunberg made sure that we would all be able to fully participate. I hope the organizers were not disappointed over my contribution. If they had hoped that I would ‘enrich’ the discussion with some strange details of bizarre endtime expectations (for which Adventists have been known in the past) they should have invited someone else. However, I believe, I was able to present a balanced picture of how (Adventist) Christians look towards the future, with hope rather than fear as their main sentiment. When I accepted the invitation I did not know what to expect, but as I left the hall, with a bag with Grunberg books under my arm, I had a positive feeling. Part of the 150 euros that I received for my participation was well spent on a meal with my wife and daughter, not far from the Leidseplein. (I certainly cannot be blamed for the fact that consumer spending in the Netherlands remains too low to create a speedy recovery of our economy.)
An extra bonus of this afternoon was meeting Rob Schouten again after many years. This author, poet and literary critic, who also since many years, twice a week, writes a column for the Christian daily Trouw, was born in an Adventist family. His father, who died years ago, was a pastor in the Adventist Church. Many of his poems and other publications show that Schouten has never completely detached himself from his Adventist origin. He told me that last month he was interviewed on TV by Jacobine Geel, on her weekly religious program. A few days ago I made sure to find this program and to watch it belatedly.
It was fascinating to hear Rob Schouten talk about the disappearance of his faith and about the church of his childhood. He sounded quite traumatized, but in no way malicious or frustrated. He speaks with a certain degree of tenderness about his Adventist upbringing. I cannot help but thinking: What a pity that ‘we’ could not retain such a gifted person in our ranks. (But than, we have seldom been successful in making artists feel at home in the Adventist Church. I could suggest a few reasons for this deplorable fact.)
Like Schouten, I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. I recognize many of his experiences, but it has not given me the same kind of trauma. In any case, the church that suffocated Schouten is not the church I remember from my childhood years. That certainly is true for the Adventist Church of 2013. In the meantime I look forward to the appearance of the new novel that he is presently writing. He mentioned that once again his Adventist experience will feature quite extensively in this new book. I can’t wait to find out.