Reality

This past week a major part of my time has been devoted to the reading of the final page proofs of the devotional book that I have written and that will appear around October 1 (in Dutch), with the title Een Kwestie van Kiezen (A Matter of Choice).  Today I hope to scrutinize the pages for the months of November and December.

This work was interrupted by a long, but productive, weekend in Belgium. On Saturday morning I preached to an audience of some one hundred people in the Francophone African Church in Brussels. They have found a place for their worship in a recently renovated building of a Protestant community, not far from the city center. The Adventist group that meets there consists to a large extent of folk who have come from Rwanda. My (French) sermon was, therefore, translated into Kinyarwanda. To my amazement, the French translation took about twice as much time as I needed. Nonetheless, I must assume that my translator gave a reasonably correct version of my sermon.

In addition to a few visits with a predominantly social character, and an important meeting on Monday, we took time for some touristic activities. My wife accompanied me during these days and for that reason we had decided to include a few private items in our program. So, we visited the Atomium and the Magritte museum.

For some time I had been planning to visit the Atomium. It is now 54 years ago, during the World Fair in 1958, that I first visited this impressive structure. Since then I had just looked at it from a distance. To have a coffee in the highest sphere in this fabulous structure, at a height of more than 100 meters, with a magnificent view over the city and its surroundings, was well worth the 8 euro entrance fee (including senior rebate).

So far neither my wife nor I had been to the Margritte museum, in spite of our reasonably frequent visits to the enormous, but rather pompous building of the Natural Museum of the Arts, where also the Magritte museum is housed. The museum is exclusively dedicated to the famous Belgian surrealistic artist, René Magritte (1898-1967).  Magritte exceeded our expectations, with regard to his enormous creativity, the multi-sidedness of his work and his workmanship as a painter.

There is one facet that has stayed with me since the weekend: the connection between the Atomium and the work of Magritte. Both offer a particular perspective on reality. The Atomium is a representation of a tiny piece of reality, that we cannot perceive without technical instruments. The iron structure that was erected in Brussels in 1958 consists of nine interconnected spheres, each with a diameter of 18 meters. They are at a distance of 29 meters from each other. Together they represent the crystal structure of an iron atom—but enlarged by a factor of 165 billion! The Atomium represents a small piece of reality, yet in a manner that leaves us with something that no longer is that reality.

Magritte treats reality in his very own way. He looks at it through the prism of his own imagination. As a surrealist he is in search of a subjective reality behind what he perceives at first sight. This imagination can add a dimension and give special meaning to what he sees. It is no longer a matter of exact representation, but about feelings, associations and ideas that are evoked.

Giving it some further thought, it would seem to me that a Christian may add something important to this. The ideas and associations that emerged in the  creative genius of Magritte were not inspired by a Christian view of reality. When one looks through the prism of faith at reality, one, first of all, realizes that ultimate Reality is known by God alone. We can only see in part, and we need all kinds of instruments to give structure and meaning to what we see. But, most of all, we need the sacred imagination of faith, a kind of spiritual, biblically informed, surrealistic perspective on Reality. Only then will this Reality open up some of its meaning to us. Or am I wrong?

 

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Comments and Smoutebollen

 

A ‘blogger’  must not only expect to receive comments from visitors to his blog, but should welcome them. I can assure you, I do. In the last two weeks I have received many more comments—mostly by e-mail—than I used to get. My last blog (‘Nykobing decides the future of the church’), in particular, caused many to react.

‘Was it really necessary,’ one reader wrote me, ‘to mention the name of this Danish church?’ Another reader in de US—an employee in the headquarters office of the church in Silver Spring, commented: Indeed, ‘the most important decisions don’t happen in Silver Spring. I so agree! It’s what happens in the individual congregations. Some regions are so on fire (Inter-America, South America, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean), while others are so close to death they don’t seem to be breathing (North America, Europe). It’s sad, so sad. You hit the nail on the head, and I appreciate it.’ A reader from Sweden told me he had forwarded the blog to the editor of the journal of the Adventist Church in his country, with the suggestion that they publish it . . .

Well, maybe I should say ‘sorry’ to the members of the Adventist congregation in Nykobing. I hope that, if they read the blog, they do understand that this was not an attack that was specifically targeting them, but that I only took it as an example of an, unfortunately, rather common state of affairs.

Making the blog bilingual resulted immediately in a substantial increase in the number of unique visitors and page views. But other adaptations in the presentation of the site did also not remain unnoticed, such as the plan to publish the text of articles that I wrote in past years. ‘Ministry Magazine’ notified me that I need to ask fort heir permission if I want to re-publish articles which I wrote for them, since they own the copyright. I have now asked for this permission (and received it). Soon these articles will be accessible via this site.

The communication department of the church in Britain reminded me that they have two video interviews with me in their archives and suggested that I might alert my readers to this. Well, for those who are curious, here are the links:

http://www.hopetv.org.uk/content/media-library/media-story/ml/in-conversation-series-4/reinder-bruinsma//12/ and http://www.hopetv.org.uk/content/media-library/media-story/ml/from-the-archive/bruinsma-book-review-1998/9/6/

I will ask my son how I can mention these links somewhat more visibly (and less cumbersome) on the site. And there may be some other, similar, interviews around. About two years ago I was interviewed by the Rumanian Adventist Church television channel (in English) for a program of about one hour. I suppose I could locate that somewhere.

But this must wait a little, for today I am back in Brussels. My vacation has come to an end, and yesterday evening I got in the car to drive to Brussels for a few days in my temporary job in Belgium. The trip took me a bit longer than expected. For about a month I had not used the small diesel car that the Belgian church has put at my disposal, and I had repeatedly filled the tank of my own car with Euro 95. That is what I did yesterday evening at about twenty miles from my home. The emergency service had to be called. It costs me an extra 100 Euro and two hours. But today I was able to forget this misery. I was told that there is at present a large fancy fair close to the Brussels South Station. One if the attractions is a stall with most delicious  Smoutebollen or Croustillons—a small variety of what the Dutch call oliebollen (a kind of doughnut hole, but more special than that). For sure, an unexpected treat during my first day back at work!

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Nykøbing decides the future of the church

The future of the church is not going to be decided in Silver Spring. In spite of the endless study commissions that must formulate an advice for the church’s governing bodies about such issues as the ordination of female pastors or the further tightening of the ‘fundamental belief’ about the six-day creation. In spite of the audacious (or what other adjective might I use?) plans to distribute millions of copies of The Great Controversy, and in spite of a new thrust to bring ‘the message’ to the big cities. In spite of all the meetings and initiatives, the millions of dollars and the media efforts, the future of the church is not going to be decided at the church’s headquarters in Silver Spring. No, the future of the church is decided in Nykøbing in Denmark. Let me explain.

Last Saturday my wife and I visited the Adventist Church in Nykøbing, some 100-kilometer south of Copenhagen. For several weeks, while on vacation, we had not been to an Adventist Church. So, we decide that on our way back from mid-Sweden to the Netherlands we would make a stop in Denmark to spend a leisurely Sabbath in this lovely country that so much resembles Holland, and go to church. A quick search on the internet provided us with the address of the Adventist Church in the town where we had booked a room for two nights in a modest three-star hotel.

We found the pleasant, modern church building, and we parked our car next to the seven or eight vehicles of fellow-worshippers. A few more ‘brothers and sisters’ arrived and at eleven o’clock on the dot the worship started. All together there were probably about thirty people—one girl was possibly around twenty, the rest was closer to my blessed age. There were some indications that ‘normally’ (i.e. outside vacation time) some children would be present, presumably with their parents. But when we were there, no child was anywhere in sight.

Our Danish is good enough to understand what was going on, to join in the congregational singing and to get the main thrust of the rather dull sermon that was preached by a pleasant man in mid-life—probably the elder of the church. We were greeted by several people in a very friendly manner, even though no one really tried to start a conversation with us when the service was over. A little lemonade in a plastic cup was available in the foyer, but to say that this was part of an exuberant social event would be stretching the truth considerably.

As we left the church and set out on our afternoon ride through the surrounding countryside, my wife and I happened to voice the same question: Why in the world would the people in Nykøbing want to join the Adventist Church in their town? What could possibly attract them there? What would, in particular, motivate young people to look for a spiritual home in this local Adventist Church? We could not think of an answer.

I may be doing great injustice to the Adventist church members of the Nykøbing church. Admittedly, we visited during the holiday season, when things tend to be slow. There may be more to this church than met our eyes. But, I rather doubt it. And after having visited many local congregations in many countries in Western-Europe (and in the US, for that matter), the question keeps coming up with ever greater urgency: Is there enough on offer in most Adventist churches to keep the people that are there, let alone to attract new people in any serious numbers.

I am a member of a 50-member church in the Netherlands (Harderwijk). On the average I attend once every six weeks, as I am usually out preaching myself. I enjoy coming there. I have come to know the people. There is a pleasant atmosphere. I feel welcome. But now, image that I came there, because I happened to spend a few days in the area. Or because I moved to this town and was looking for a church to join? Or because I popped in out of mere curiosity? Would I find enough to make me come back? To feel that what happens there is relevant to whom I am, to where I am in life, and to what I am looking for?

The future of the denomination does not primarily depend on the big issues that are currently debated in our headquarter offices. In final analysis, the future of the church—in particular in the West—depends on whether it succeeds in being relevant; whether its truth is ‘present truth’ for me, in my situation, and, in particular, for my younger contemporaries. That is why the future of the church depends on what happens in Nykøbing (and in Harderwijk and the thousands of other small and not so small local churches).

 

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The Games

The Netherlands had plenty of bad luck during the recent European Soccer Competition. Weeks before the show started, Dutch soccer fans already had a clear vision of bringing the cup home, or of, at least, playing in the finals. However, things went wrong from the very first match, when ‘we’ shamefully lost the game against Denmark. Well, I do not know much about soccer, but loosing against the Danish seems to be a real tragedy that you want to forget as soon as possible.

The Dutch participants in the Tour de France did not do much better. A certain Laurens ten Dam (of whom I had never heard before), passed the finish line in Paris with a miserable 28th place.

Last night, at long last, the Olympic Games in London have started. During the next few weeks more than ten thousand men and women will compete for 302 gold medals, and for just as many silver and bronze plaques. How many gold medals are the 178 Dutch participants going to win at the 18 events in which they compete? I understand that, if all goes well, we may expect to hear the Dutch national anthem about eight times. Well, we will see.

All around the world the expectations are high. China, the US and Russia will no doubt again top of the list of the countries with the highest number of medals. But every participating country has its hopes! An Afghan boy told me last week that his country will probably win the taewondo competition. After his explanation I now know that taewondo is an (originally Korean) kind of martial arts.

How important is it to win? Many of the athletes have unequivocally stated: ‘I am going for the gold!’ But the actual value in money of a gold medal is very limited, since there is only 6 gram of real gold in this much desired object—the rest is mostly silver. The winning is clearly a matter of personal or national honor. (It is easy for me to say that this would not be an important factor for me, since the chance that I would bring a gold medal home would be somewhere in the region of one in seven billion.)

But . . .  is, in fact, the privilege of being a participant not more important than to win? Is it really such a drama if someone else happens to be just slightly better than you are? And, let’s face it: winning does not always depend on whether you are in fact the very best. The other may just have had some bad luck. And you may loose, since you had a day on which you were not fully fit, or somehow could not fully concentrate. Is it not primary a matter of preparing as best as you can, and then simply of giving it your best?  It would seem to me that this applies to all ten thousand-plus athletes in London,  but also to all of us in the week that is about to begin.

For most of us life is one great, constant competition, in which we must try to be the best. Can we not, however, simply be content with the privilege of being able to participate, while so many can only be spectators? And then, can we be happy to simply do our level best? And can we not accept that at times we may not have our day, or that a colleague is just a bit better in some things than we are? Always going ‘for gold’ may often only lead to a lot of painful frustration.

 

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Wallenberg

If I would have to list the five most famous Swedes, no doubt Dag Hammersköld would be one of them. He served as the second secretary general of the NATO, and died in a suspicious plane cash in 1961. I also immediately think of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the world-wide IKEA furniture empire. Others who might be near the top of the list would include (collectively) the famous Abba-group, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who gave his name to a series of prestigious prizes, and perhaps film maker Ingmar Bergman. But I would certainly also include Raoul Wallenberg.

This week I discovered in a Swedish bookstore a new biography of this important Swede, that I could not resist buying (Bengt Jangfeldt: Raoul Wallenberg—en biografi; Publisher: Wahlström och Widstrand, 2012). In the last two daysI have already read a substantial part. Wallenberg was born one hundred years ago (August 4, 1912) in one of the richest Swedish families. It was the intention that he would be educated to get a leading role in the family baking business. But things turned out differently. At the beginning of the Second World War he entered the Swedish diplomatic service for a special ssignment in Hungary. He would receive immense fame because of his heroic role in saving many thousands of Jewish lives.  But when the Red Army, in January 1945, conquered Budapest, Wallenberg was arrested on suspicion of espionage. He died, most likely in 1947, in a prison in Moscow under circumstances that have remained unclear until today.

Wallenberg did not live beyond the age of about 35 years, but his short life had great significance. How did he so quickly attain to such a prestigious post, and could he become so influential? The first hundred pages or so of the book answer that question. He had a most privileged upbringing. He was able to travel extensively and could register for the best study programs that were available. In his holidays improving his skills in foreign languages was high on the agenda. His name opened doors for him everywhere and a single letter from a family friend was enough to provide him with an effective recommendation.

When reading such a biography, one cannot help but wonder how others would done if they had been born and raised into a similarly privileged home. Who knows what many of them might have achieved? Come to think of it: What possibilities might have opened for me, had I not been born into a simple, poor family in a small village in a rural area north of Amsterdam, but would have come into this world with a name that opens doors, with parents with good academic degrees, etc.?

It is better to quickly stop thinking along those lines. There are plenty of people whose cradle was also found in a prosperous suburb, but who do not profit from their privileged start in life. A few days ago I happened to see a sad example of this on a website where super rich kids tell about the ways in which they throw around their money and are engaged with things that radiate boredom on all sides.

Yet, there are also lots of examples of men and women who did not have a golden spoon in their mouth when they started life, but who—often against the stream—have succeeded in building a life of significance, for themselves and for others. I just hope that others might include me in that category.

 

 

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