Monday, March 26, 2012

Belgian diving?

Spring has arrived in Belgium and oh how glorious it is! We are so thankful for the sun and the smile that it brings to our faces. It makes it so much easier to get out and about when it is not raining or grey. And it has been good getting out and about.

We wanted to thank you again for your prayers and wonderful messages for Shirley during her recovery. She is doing great. It has now been 4 weeks since the operation and she is starting to get used to not doing some things. It is quite hard to be such an active woman and suddenly to have to let others do for you. Shirley has to think longer about which clothes to wear, for example, since she cannot pull a sweater over her head without some effort. Another reason for joy with the coming of warmer weather, fewer sweaters!

But this has meant that we have been learning more about working together in the kitchen, as mentioned previously. Mostly I am learning about how cooking works. Shirley sits at the counter and instructs me on what I should do. She keeps telling me that I am supposed to taste my food while cooking it, but that would mean getting my fingers messy (and some of you who know me know what a struggle that might be). I do not think that I will be able to remember many of the recipes, but I guess that is how most people have learned to cook – by trying and doing again and again.

One of my favorites, however, is a simple lunch involving “white loaf”. Witloof is a vegetable. I am told that it is called “Belgian endive” in English. It can be bitter, but I like a good mixture of flavors, and I like simplicity. So this lunch appeals greatly to me: simply peal the leaves from the Belgian endive and arrange them on the plate; place a piece of sandwich ham in the center, topped with thin slices of brie and throw the whole thing in the microwave for about two to three minutes. Top it off with a honey-mustard dressing. “Klaar is Kees!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Taming of the Shrew

One of my favorite movies is “The Taming of the Shrew” with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a favorite on several levels. I always wondered how much of the fireworks on the screen actually came from the actors’ real-life relationship. One could easliy see them acting and reacting in exactly this way even while walking around Hollywood.

And I really enjoyed how they were able to make Shaekspeare sound like everyday, normal language. That is how I hear it as well, when I read it. But the kids in my class thought it was so difficult to understand. It is how so many people (especially these days) react to the King James Bible. But if you know what is being said, it’s all simply normal. That is what a good Shaespearian actor can do for the wonderful writing that is Shakespeare.

What I like the most in this piece, however, is the message. I would imagine that this play doesn’t get much air time in schools these days. It has always incited ambivalent reactions in its audiences. Perhaps people think that it is too demeaning of women. This is unfortunate, since the story is exactly the opposite of the woman-bashing some might at first glance see. And it presents a message we all need. I won’t tell you what it is about, if you have not read it or seen it (and if you watch a film, choose the one with Burton and Taylor). I challenge you to check the story out.

What I will mention is how much we can learn from Katherina and Petruchio (as well as the others, of course). Why do I fight so hard against some things that are said? Am I just rebelling to be rebellious? To show that I am in control? Who is the shrew? And what am I really looking for? Am I honest with myself and those around me? These are questions that are very pertinent in my spiritual life as well. I want to be able to trust, knowing that I can trust.

For those who are interested:
Cole Porter’s “Kiss me Kate” (a musical) and the film “10 Things I hate about You” (a modern version) are also adaptations of this play. (I have seen “Kiss me, Kate” but prefer the Burton/Taylor version for the language). 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The sound of music

What does a good band name sound like these days? There are animals (Fleet Foxes), names that begin with “the”, and just strange combinations (Noah and the Whale?). The pop groups (and for some “pop” is a nasty word) have names just as strange as the “indie” groups. So we run across things like Foo Fighters, Magnetic Fields, or a Tokyo Police Club as well as Arctic Monkeys, The Flaming Lips or The White Stripes. But to be honest, when I look at the groups I listened to when I was growing up – were they any different: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, Boston (or Chicago, or Orleans), Electric Light Orchestra, Led Zeppelin and many others. It’s hard to find a good name – one that stands out and hasn’t been taken already.
This Friday Karma Police will present their first CD at a special concert in the Muziekgieterij in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Quick translation: that is a local place (the Music Foundry) which supports young music talent. Karma Police is the three man band that Sean plays with. The CD has 10 original songs all written and arranged by Sean and played well by the band: Sean on guitar and vocals, Wouter on bass and vocals, and Cedric on drums and vocals.
I like hearing different kinds of music. Sean plays guitar – he taught himself and plays far better than I ever have (or will). It thrills me to see the creative talent he puts into these songs. But I think what I like the most is just hearing the guys practice. They come over to the house, head upstairs to the attic where they have the gear set up and play through their songs (or learn new ones). I like hearing the riffs, recognizing the songs I have come to know, hearing something new and wondering if it is a new song.
In May Karma Police will compete in a national band competition for bands with young members (14-19 years old) in Ghent, Belgium. They are excited about the possibilities, but mostly they are just enjoying still making music together. 
You can download their new song "Olive Tree" for free.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Let's get cookin'

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your prayers for Shirley. Her operation went well and she is recovering well at home. Probably the most frustrating thing for her is simply all the things she is not allowed to do: no reaching up, no bending down, no lifting of anything heavy (which I interpret for her to be anything). It is amazing how much of your normal daily life this impacts. And Shirley is a very active, very serving woman (as any of you who know her personally already know).
This means that she cannot have the dog, Snuffles, up in her lap in the morning, as she does almost every morning. She can’t put her own clothes on. When we go shopping she has to ask me to pick things up and put them in the wagon. And she can’t cook dinner - our refrigerator is low, which would mean bending down and lifting things out of the fridge. All of the cabinets are either high or low.
Perhaps that could have been a perk, but what it has meant is that I have to cook. Now, I have cooked before – I worked at Godfather’s pizza and Wendy’s, so I know how to throw some food together (sometimes literally). I was looking forward to learn some real cooking. But it has been a challenging week. Perhaps you know that a husband should not be the one to teach his wife how to drive. I believe some of the same dynamics come in to play when the husband is learning to cook. But we are surviving – and I am learning to cook.
This week Shirley will be allowed (she has 6 weeks of recovery) to do a little bit more. Tomorrow the stitches come out of her neck and she hopes to be a little bit more mobile. It is hard to be patient. She is chomping at the bit, ready to go. I am trying to be patient (mostly with myself) and starting to enjoy a lot of this cooking stuff. Pretty soon, together, we will really be cooking!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Automatic pilot

The Advanced Bible Study Series (ABSS) in Germany always sends me home with plenty of new thoughts and lessons on which to ruminate. Some of them even come from the teaching during the day, but often my most important challenges come from discussion in the afternoon during a walk in the snow, or from the activities during the day. This time a real chewy thought came from a basketball game.
Those who know me know that I love to play basketball in Gem√ľnden at ABSS. Yes, this study week is always held in February in the Taunus area of Germany. This is also one of the other reasons I love to go – to get my “snow fix”. In Belgium we don’t usually get much snow. Gem√ľnden does. So last year we played basketball on a court covered with about 5 inches of snow (imagine dribbling on that). This year the snow stayed away and we had a clear court.
It is always a challenge to find folks to play. Doyle Kee is always out there, and I am always ready to play, but finding others willing to test their bodies is usually a test in marketing skills. We play for fun, so those who don’t know how to play are always welcome. And that is where many of my lessons come from. Do I really play for fun? How fair do I play and when am I too competitive? Do I focus on what matters and on helping my teammates or on my own misgivings and failings? Sports are great for life lessons.
This year we had the pleasure of playing with someone who had only ever played rugby. I still remember the first time I learned about rugby (at our Bible camp in the Ardennes). I am from the United States, so I know a little bit about playing with a stange shaped ball. I tackled a guy running with the football and brought him down and was quite pleased with myself, until he simply got up and ran further, finally celebrating hysterically in the endzone. But I had tackled him! He was down! Ah, yes, but in rugby one does not stay down (oh – there’s a good lesson!). Which is why rugby players don’t just tackle you, they take you out! They don’t pull anything, but barrel on forward in order to stop any forward motion.
So, back to the basketball court in Germany, our new player (who has previously only played rugby), quite quickly understands that he must defend against the guy with the ball and keep him from reaching the basket. After a few rough exchanges and the explanation that basketball is a non-contact sport (in principle anyway) he tries to adapt his behaviour. But it is not easy to learn stopping on a dime, like basketball players do. It is especially hard when you have always been used to going full-steam ahead until the opponent stops!
By the third day things were working a bit better, but I was already churning through what might be an important lesson. Some attitudes and actions are highly and firmly ingrained into us from an early age. And the more we have “practiced” them, the more ingrained they become. Simply explaining to someone that things are to be done differently (changing the game rules) doesn’t change everything right away. The person might understand completely what they are to do, they simply can’t do it right away.
Am I then willing to be patient, even taking some rough hits, while my brother learns to adapt his behaviour? And then I thought about all the people who had been so patient with me (are so patient with me). Had I simply expected and taken for granted that they would be patient with me? Now there’s plenty to chew on. Thank you, those of you who have been patient, who are still putting up with me and who have taught me part of what is now starting to sink in. 

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Conflicting thoughts

It has been a while since I have written regularly here. Some of that has to do with what we all experience – ask someone how their week was and the answer will more than likely be something like: “Yeah, it was okay.” When asked more specifically about what happened in the week, we don’t feel like there was anything actually worth noting. It was just a normal week, with normal activities. And of course everyone forgets that for those who are interested in your life and living far away, your normal is quite interesting.

But there has also been a different dynamic. When things are not going well, we don’t necessarily want to talk about it. No one wants to say, “Well, my job is not going well and we’re struggling with some conflicts.” But as someone said (I don’t remember who) – "Conflict just means that we are learning to be peacemakers." It is ridiculous to think that we will never have any difficulties or conflict. How else would we grow?

Naturally, “conflict” doesn’t have to mean “war”. There are various degrees, levels or types of conflict. In Maastricht we have been working through several of those degrees in the past months. We are struggling through differences in teaching, some interpersonal struggles and simply trying to grow as a family of Christ. We truly are learning how to be peacemakers and not just peacekeepers. We haven’t been enjoying every minute – struggles is, well… a struggle – but we are growing: in faith, in grace, in patience and in love. As long as we keep trying to keep Jesus central in our struggle, we will come out just fine.