Newletter June 2023 Observations, musings, opinions, and a bit of news
From a bit of a distance Jesus compellingly called his first disciples to follow Him. How do I articulate that calling in a way that the modern man understands that heeding that call is effectively a decision to embark on a journey to discover what and who He is.
He claims to be the way, the truth, and the life. What does that mean and why should I bother? The life that He models, and that the follower gradually internalises, will be subject to the question of relevance and meaning. Not once, but again and again as we go through the different stages of life.
The mystery of the Faith cannot be reduced to accepting of Jesus as personal savior. This reduction does not do justice to the grand mystery of it.
In May we spent a few days in France with all the children and almost all the grandchildren. A fun time together in a large house in the countryside. We are especially grateful for the healthy relationships with the children and grandchildren. It is never to be taken for granted. In my many encounters with so many people in so many countries, I too often hear dramatic stories of estrangement between family members. Unfortunately, hard heads and hearts are rampant.
We don't know who infected whom, but upon returning home Martha, Moniek and Viktoria turned out to have Covid. Martha and Viktoria in particular were quite sick for a few days.
YES! A new ship sails: the Doulos Hope.
The ship will mainly be deployed in Asia and, due to its smaller size (compared to the Logos Hope) of 85.5 x 14 meters and with a navigable depth of 3.8 meters the Doulos Hope will focus on calling at ports along the major rivers, such as the Mekong. It is currently possible to join as a volunteer for a shorter period of time (1-3 months). Do you have a pair of hands that seems to function alright, time and opportunity? Just do it!
Recently I endured almost the entire sales pitch of a product presenter.
Initially, I could relate to the story about the importance of good communication. However, my wide-open eavesdropper shut down when the presenter suggested that the ten-week training would bring out the best version of yourself. Related ideas and encouragements such as staying close to yourself, doing your thing, and doing what you were made to do push people towards narcissism and expressive individualism; the person to be worshiped is me. I must be celebrated. Cursed are those who stand in the way of me exercising my right to express myself as I want and feel.
When only a few people lived on earth, there was no church, no Bible, and no theologians or other pundits telling others how man should relate to God and the other. Options to serve, worship or "work for" God were somewhat limited. Doing what He commanded man to do was pretty much it: tilling the soil and keeping an eye on the garden. The word used for tilling the soil is also translated as worship. That makes one think (it does this one). In other words, digging in the dirt is a more authentic act of worship than raising them in the air.
The drama of humankind is that this tilling of the soil and being guardians of the garden has turned into exhausting and exploiting it for man's own gain.
Is there still hope for the earth? Call me pessimistic, but if people do not change fundamentally and radically stop prioritizing their own well-being and the rat race for always more and bigger, there is little hope. The Gospel not only has something to say about the nature and destiny of man, but also about the earth. The hope that the Bible teaches is not just for man but also applies to the puffing and groaning earth.
After six years, Martha is graduating from the Nieuwe Academie Utrecht. The graduating students will exhibit their work for a few days at the end of June (22/25).
It is/was still a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to display Martha's immense work. It is rather large. Just have a look at the picture of Martha standing in front of one of her rather oversized works. That gives a nice impression of the size and proportions. In the spirit of art, I used an AI program to convert some keywords into (unique) images used in this letter.
Work - Culture - Identity - Worship - Mission. What is the connection between those words and concepts? What on earth are we talking about? Assumptions about what these terms represent run so deep into the mind of the believer that one easily and quickly falls into the trap of "of course knowing what they stand for." The "Engage" conference in Toronto was meant to revisit those concepts and provide context beyond the superficial usage and meaning.
For instance: work. I ask you what kind of work you do and you will immediately think of those activities for which you get paid. Are all unpaid activities not work? That depends on which definition you use. When I study and think through the initial mandate/order God gave to man; to cultivate the earth, it is about so much more: all activities that contribute to the survival, development, and well-being of myself and others. That leads to the question of whether what I do a) can be linked to that first, essential commission, or b) come to the conclusion that I have a so-called "bullshit job" (ref: David Graeber): activities that do not actually contribute anything to the idea of cultivation and the creative process of ongoing creation. If such a (mini) conference is something for your church, house group, or whatever club: email me.
Over the past few months, I have re-read and studied Apostle Paul's letter to the Roman Christians. It has been a fairly refreshing exercise.
I usually write down my reflections on what I study. That helps me to retain some of what I learn. A lot fades away rather quickly, though. At one point I did get tired of Paul. He reduces a rather complex matter from various angles to the essence and keeps repeating it. Sometimes said it out loud: “Yes, Paul, you already said that. Please move on." However, (church) history teaches us that this repetition and the almost mantra-like conclusion did not have the desired effect: unity among the believers. Paul says to the various existing factions among the Roman believers: "Boys, God has always wanted to include everyone, and that can only be done through faith." Or, as Robert Farrar Capon put it: “Trust Jesus, then. After that theologise all you want. Just don't lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink."
Well, that's it for now. I wonder what works better for you. The traditional PDF newsletter or this particular format. Suggestions? let me know.
We carry on. With Hope and Enthusiasm.
A word or two as a response to this update is always appreciated.
Jan en Martha den Ouden
3042 CX Rotterdam
Tel: 010-5115979 of 06-427.427.05