Tag Archives: Heritage

The Pain of Separation

I have forsaken my house,
    I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my heart
    into the hands of her enemies.
Jeremiah 12:7 (NRSVCE)

I’m assuming that for many living in the melting pot of America, the concept of a heritage and a people may not be as strong as it once was. My father moved our family away from his home when I was young and I grew up removed from the Dutch heritage in which he was raised. As an adult, I doubled-down and returned to my roots, moving to a town that is rabid about its Dutch heritage. I have an appreciation for what it means to embrace and celebrate the people and the culture that are your genetic roots.

In my Dutch heritage there is a word that you’ll still hear old-timers pull out once in a while: afscheiding, It means to “separate.” When an individual or group left the fold they became tagged “afscheiden.” I get the sense that in most circles it was once the Dutch version of a scarlet letter.

In the previous chapter we learned that Jeremiah had so incensed the people of his hometown with his prophecy that a price had been put on his head. There was a plot to kill him. How appropriate then, to read in today’s chapter, that the weeping prophet is feeling like an afscheiden. God has called Jeremiah to declare the destruction of his unrepentant people over and over and over again. Now his own people have turned against him. He feels separated, ostracized, and alienated. Jeremiah loves his people, his culture, and his heritage and yet his prophecy is all about Judah’s fall and destruction. There is a war raging inside him. Following God meant separation from his heritage.

Along this life journey I have walked alongside many people who have had to battle the deep internal struggle of parting ways with the faith and/or culture of their family and heritage. Every culture and heritage has it’s strengths and corollary struggles. A time comes when for the spiritual health of an individual or family there must come separation from a church, a family system, or a community. It is tremendously difficult for some to risk social and relational stigma and fallout. Jeremiah is feeling that. Following God feels like a betrayal of his family, people, and heritage.

This morning in the quiet I’m saying a “thank you” for all the great things that my family system, heritage, and culture have afforded me. I am also making a renewed commitment to follow wherever God calls me, wherever I’m supposed to be, even if I’m branded an afscheiden.

Afscheiden

Therefore,
“Come out from them

    and be separate,
says the Lord.

Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”
2 Corinthians 6:17 (NIV)

I have lived much of my life  in and around communities with strong Dutch heritage. The Dutch communities in Iowa were settled, for the most part, by tight-knit groups of Dutch believers who came to America for religious freedom. Over 150 years later most of these communities maintain a strong connection to their heritage. It’s fascinating to experience life here and, over time, observe how we function and interact.

On one hand I have an insider’s understanding, receiving my paternal DNA from a father with Dutch genes who came from this heritage. On the other hand, mine is an outsider’s perspective as I grew up in a city away from these Dutch communities and only experienced them when visiting my grandparents. It is as an adult have I found myself living within them.

There is a Dutch word, afscheiden, which you still hear on occasion in conversation. It means “to separate.” I have come to observe that it is a thread in the fabric of our community in multiple ways. Our ancestors were those who separated from their home to come to America. Within the community there are strong religious subgroups who have historically separated themselves within the community based on adherence to certain church doctrines and religious practices. Visitors to our communities often comment on the large number of churches. It is, in part, due to our habit of separating whenever there is disagreement.

Afscheiden in our communities typically has strong religious connotation to it. One group of Christians claims to have a better (usually more strictly conservative) hold on God’s truth, so they separate and disassociate themselves from their wayward, liberal brethren. The scriptural defense they use comes from today’s chapter in which Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah (pasted at the top of this post).

I always think a little historical context is in order.

Competing religions in the prophet Isaiah’s day were often centered around fertility and nature. There was a wide variety of communal sexual activity cloaked as religious practice and even the human sacrifice of babies and children to please the gods. It was nasty stuff. In Paul’s day, the Greek and Roman temples in cities like Corinth continued to be religious prostitution rackets that propagated a lot of typically unhealthy practices. For both Isaiah and Paul, the call to separate was less about religious dogma and more about foundational moral code.

Along life’s journey I’ve observed that legalistic religion loves afscheiden. Black and white appears on the surface to be much simpler than struggling with gray. For certain groups life must be strictly categorized in terms of clean and unclean, acceptable and unacceptable, good and bad, godly and evil so that I always know what to do, think, say, and who I can associate with. After a while, however, you have all these small, insular groups who have afscheidened themselves to death.

This morning I’m looking back on my own journey and the ways that the concept of “come out and be separate” have affected my life, my choices, my relationships, and my actions. I made the observation to Wendy the other day that Christians like to be prescriptive with our religion, prescribing the things you must do to be a follower of Jesus (and if you don’t toe the line we afscheiden ourselves from you!). Jesus, however, was more descriptive about the Kingdom of God. He always said, “the kingdom of God is like…” and then would describe it.

I’m realizing that I prefer a description to reach for rather than a prescription to swallow.

 

 

We Need More Festivals

Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.
Leviticus 23:44 (NRSV)

For going on nearly a century, our small Iowa town has held a Tulip Festival every May. Everything stops for three days as residents pour their time and energy into the tens of thousands of visitors who descend on our community. Make no mistake, the festival is all about promotion and commerce. It’s the major fundraiser of the year for most of our community organizations. Nevertheless, I think everyone in our town would agree that the festival is much more than that. It celebrates our history, our heritage, and it promotes a strong sense of community and a spirit of service within it.

Festival is just a fun word. From the Latin word for “feast,” the root word is defined as “cheerful and jovially celebratory.” Who doesn’t want that? That’s one of the reasons Wendy and I wanted to get married on New Year’s Eve. What a great evening to celebrate our lives and love through time.

I find it interesting that God would program into His people’s calendar a series of “festivals.” At the top of the list is the weekly day of Sabbath or rest. The weekly day of rest was supposed to be a festival, but over time the religious people turned it into its own version of burdensome religious toil. Jesus got more grief from religious leaders about breaking Sabbath rules than anything else He said or did. The uptight religious people had perverted a festival of rest into a weekly religious burden. That was never its intention and Jesus knew it.

I can’t say that the institutional church and Jesus’ followers have done much better with our weekly day of worship which was moved from the Jewish sabbath on Saturday to the day of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday. Each Sunday is supposed to be a festival of resurrection, but I wouldn’t describe the weekly mood in many churches as “festive.”

I knew a family who decided to try and instill this understanding of Sunday being a festival of Jesus’ resurrection in their young children. They began early in the week looking in anticipation of Sunday as a special day of celebration. Every Saturday night (the eve of Resurrection Day) they had a special family meal that the children helped plan during the week. Guests were invited to join them. They decorated with bright colors and had special desserts. There was a large brass chandelier fixture in their dining room with long swooping arms. At the end of the weekly Resurrection Eve dinner all of the meal participants would stand with a party popper, point it at the chandelier and pull their popper so that the colorful streamers would hit the chandelier and get caught on the arms. There the streamers would stay so that each week day the children would see the colorful remnant of their weekly feast and look forward to the next.

The family celebrated getting to worship on Sunday and celebrate the Resurrection. They planned special moments together on Sunday as well. Believe me. The day I was a guest in their home, the children couldn’t wait for their weekly Saturday night and Sunday festival.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that we don’t do more to make personal festivals a way to mark special days, seasons, heritage, and history that is meaningful to us and our loved ones. Festivals are fun as well as meaningful. Who doesn’t love a nice feast in which to be cheerful and jovially celebratory? Let’s plan a little festival and invite our loved ones.

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Featured image by metku via Flickr

Complacency

When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land….
Deuteronomy 4:25 (NRSV)

It has been fascinating for me to live in a small town. Growing up in the city, I never had much of a sense of community heritage and generational patterns, but you see these things more clearly in a small town. Families stick closer together. Lives are more intertwined. Businesses and farms are generational. Faith is part of the fabric of both family and community. Traditions bind generations.

I have also observed that there is a subtle sense of complacency that sets in across generations, especially as it relates to faith. Rather than being the personal, intimate relationship Jesus talked about and called us to it seems to me that, for some, faith slowly becomes just another communal tradition. Go through the motions. Keep up the tradition. It’s simply what we do; It’s what we have always done.

The older I get the more I realize that it takes effort not to experience complacency in our spiritual journey. Moses warned the people about it in today’s chapter as they prepared to enter the promised land.  Along the way the patterns become habits, habits become traditions, and traditions are mindlessly acted out as they have always been done for generations. But, there’s no real investment of heart or mind in it. It’s Life-less. And then, bad things can happen.

This week I’m taking up the task of thinking about the things I continually do from work to faith to recreation and relationships. I want to be aware of areas in which complacency is setting in and try to understand how it affects me and those around me. Perhaps there are some changes I need to make to consciously re-engage my heart and mind.

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TBT: The VW Clan

Vander Well Family Picnic

Speaking of Dutch heritage, for Throwback Thursday let me show you this rare gem of the clan hanging with their homeys on the farm in northwest Iowa circa 1938. The white-haired gentleman under the tree is, I believe, Walter Vander Well Sr. born Wouter van der Wel in Piershil near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He came to the states as a young man by himself. The gentleman just to the right with the stylin’ white shoes and the baby on his lap is my grandfather, Herman Vander Well. The baby is my father, Dean. The other kid standing on the right of the photograph is my Uncle Bud.

My grandpa always had a penchant for ice cream and would often have a bowl before bed. I have to imagine that the fact that they’re all eating ice cream cones in this picture means they’d just made it for the occasion.

Tulip Time Photos (& More!)

Wendy and I are enjoying a much needed rest after three very full days of Pella Tulip Time. We have played Pella, Iowa’s founders in three different stage productions and were asked by the Pella Historical Society to get in costume and portray the couple for the annual festival. We rode in a carriage in each of the six parades, had our picture taken countless times and made appearances at the Pella Historical Village and Scholte House Museum.

It was fun to talk to people about the Scholtes and the history of Pella, and to answer many questions about Pella and our costumes. Women, in particular, were enthralled with Wendy’s period costume and little girls made Wendy feel like  Disney princess. During one of the parades a little girl pointed at Wendy and shouted, “LOOK! It’s the PRETTY LADY!” Wendy even had a young man of about five blow her a kiss.

The heavy dress with all the layers of period underthings did make for a lot of heat for Wendy. Fortunately, the days were very temperate with highs in the 70s. The worst part was her tall lace boots which made her feet very uncomfortable throughout the day despite all of her attempts to cushion the consequences.

My folks came on Thursday and brought Madison who had flown into Des Moines the day before. We had fun meeting friends in between parades at the Pella Opera House where we enjoyed the air conditioning, the padded seats, and the refreshments. Madison stayed with us Thursday night and then headed back to Colorado on Friday night as she was on call over the weekend.

Our friend, Megan Atkins, was on the Tulip Court this year. Megan’s dad passed away back in 2010 and Megan has honored me over the years by asking me to be honorary dad when school or other events called for father/daughter activities. I was so happy to get to escort her on Friday and again on Saturday with her mom, Cyndi, at the official coronation ceremony on the square.

We are already thinking about next year, though we are thankful that we have another 362 days to rest up!

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

IMG_7948

P is for Pella, Iowa my hometown for the past decade. It is an amazing, beautiful, quaint, community and I never planned nor imagined myself living here. I have come to fully appreciate all that is special and absolutely unique about it, even those things that drive you absolutely nuts.

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The Events Which Define Us

ExodusWhen Israel came out of Egypt,
    Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.
Psalm 114:1-2 (NIV)

There are sometimes life events which, for good or for ill, help define who we are and give us a sense of identity. I’ve seen it happen in families, in which a young child dies or a parent commits suicide and the family system shifts to ceaselessly revolve around that tragic event. I’ve seen it happen with sports teams, in which a team like the Boston Red Sox live under the “curse of the Babe” for almost a century, and my beloved Cubs continue to languish under the curse of the Billy Goat and tragedy of the Bartman ball. I’ve seen it happen in cities like my hometown of Des Moines, when the great flood of 1993 created a new sense of community out of a sudden lack of fresh water. I believe that Americans are only beginning to understand how the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have changed and defined us.

For the people of Israel, the defining event was the Exodus when God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. The story is retold and referenced countless times in the Old Testament by the historians, prophets, and poets. Thousands of years later, it continues to be retold and celebrated by millions of people around the world each Passover.

Today’s psalm is one of many lyric references to this defining event. It was likely written after the time of Solomon when the kingdom was split in two. Notice the reference to both Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) in the verse above. The song writer uses this common heritage to remind the people of both nations that despite their present political differences, the Exodus unites them in a common bond.

Today, I’m thinking about the events which helped forge my identity and gave definition to the person I have been, am now, and am becoming. What family events, even those from previous generations, affected my family system which influenced that person I became? What happened in my hometown, in my country, or the larger ethnic group from which I came that has impacted me personally and culturally? What would happen if I understood them with greater clarity? Which are worth celebrating? Which should I let pass away?

“Coffee Time” with God

coffee and tee
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 55

Morning, noon, and night
    I cry out in my distress,
    and the Lord hears my voice.
Psalm 55:17 (NLT)

“Coffee time” is a long held tradition in the Dutch culture which is my heritage. When I was a kid, I thought it was just something that my Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well did when I visited them at their home in Le Mars, Iowa. About 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and then again in the mid-afternoon about 3:00, Grandpa and Grandma V would stop whatever it was they were doing and sit down at the kitchen table for a cup of coffee or tea.

Years later, I spent three years living in a very small rural town that was largely of Dutch heritage. I quickly learned that at 9:00 a.m. and again about 3:00 p.m. the local coffee shop was packed for “coffee time.” Local residents, businessmen, and farmers congregated for a cup of coffee and a serving of current events or local gossip. I came to love the routine break in the day. I looked forward to it.

A few years ago, I first read about “praying the hours.” It’s an ancient practice that I believe was largely lost in the protest that made many of us Protest-ants. Also known as “fixed hour prayer,” the concept is pretty simple. At set times of the day, you stop whatever you are doing and have a conversation with God.

The practice of fixed hour prayer actually has its roots in Christianity’s Judaic roots. As you read through the book of Acts and the stories of the beginning of the early church you’ll find hints of the apostles’ dedication to praying at specific hours of the day, often going to the temple to do so. You also find references throughout David’s lyrics, like the verse I pulled from today’s chapter, of his praying at specific times throughout the day.

After studying a bit of the history of the practice (click here for a great article about it if you’re curious), I’ve spent the past few years trying to incorporate what I like to think of as “coffee time with God” into my daily routine. While I’m far from perfect in my discipline, I’ve found it to be an enjoyable practice. I purposefully take a break from whatever I am doing at specific hours of the day to have a brief conversation with God. It provides much needed breaks to my day. It keeps me connected relationally with God throughout the day instead of the sense of leaving God behind after my morning quiet time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have coffee time scheduled with a Friend.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 8

Purim street scene in Jerusalem
Purim street scene in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day chosen for this event throughout all the provinces of King Xerxes was March 7 of the next year. Esther 8:12 (NLT)

Each May, the community where I live (Pella, Iowa) has a large festival to honor the Dutch heritage of the town’s founders. Our community of 10,000 will have upwards of 100,000 guests descend upon us to feast, enjoy one of the many parades, see people dressed in traditional Dutch costumes and (if nature cooperates) to enjoy the half-million tulips blooming around town.

When I was small, Memorial Day was a time when I would accompany my Grandma Golly to the cemetery to plant flowers on the graves of family members and to remember them. When our girls were small, my mother took them to the same cemetery to plant flowers on those same graves along with the grave of my grandmother who had stood there with me.

As a lover of history, I like feasts, festivals and commemorations like our annual Tulip Time or the simple act of placing flowers on family graves on Memorial Day. I think it’s great when peoples, families or communities celebrate their heritage or keep a significant historical event alive for subsequent generations.

For those not familiar with the Jewish culture, you may not know that the story of deliverance we’ve been reading in Esther is celebrated each year with a holiday called Purim. The festival’s date is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, so the date moves on our calendar each year and lands in February or March. In 2013 Purim will be celebrated from sunset February 23 to nightfall on February 24.

The celebration is rooted in four obligations:

  1. Public reading of the story of Esther
  2. Sending gifts of food to friends
  3. Giving charity to the poor
  4. Eating a festive meal

In an age when change happens so rapidly and culture is pressing forward at a break-neck speed, I often wonder if it will become increasingly difficult for future generations to appreciate the past. I personally believe that it is more important than ever for parents and grandparents to instill in children and grandchildren an honor and appreciation for heritage, history and key events of the past that provide a strong foundation in times when both the present and the future seem shaky and uncertain.