Monday, May 14, 2007


the last time we went to amsterdam was just about a week ago, when i was responsible for giving the talk at my church. we left early this time so that we would have a chance to walk around the city before the service.

we ended up at de waag, the oldest building in amsterdam which was used at one point in history as a way to protect the city and also to weigh the merchants who were entering amsterdam. it's now a cool restaurant, and we both had croissants and tea. (sorry it's a bad picture of me. it was misty that morning and i was really squinting. i guess they can't all be fabulous though, huh?)

then we had to walk through the red light district in order to get to the dam square, where we had a picnic while looking at the royal palace. it was really weird to walk through the red light district on a sunday morning -- such irreverance! ouch! people wearing costumes, dressed up as monks or nuns, smoking pot and drinking beer first thing sunday morning -- and it wasn't even noon! and prostitutes in windows, almost naked, waving us in on our way to CHURCH! wow! what a strange, ironic experience!
right before we made it into the church, we walked a little ways down the canal just to see what was there. and we saw a plaque on the side of a house saying "here lived john adams, first american ambassador to the netherlands." isn't that amazing? and i was quoting john adams in my talk that day! how cool!

so, on this sunday, i was in charge of the "sermon" at the netherlands unitarian universalist fellowship. NUUF meets on the first sunday of every month at a beautiful old church on the kaisersgracht (king's canal) in amsterdam.

i have been attending a unitarian universalist church for the past several years -- first in boulder and now out here in holland. it is a small congregation of about 15 to 20 people on any given sunday and is about half dutch and half "other" (our president is canadian though i think most "others" are american). the services are in english.

NUUF has been an amazing community for me out here this past year. i first attended in november and felt immediately at home amongst a group of people i had never met. i have continued to attend for most of this year and try not to miss a service since we only meet once a month. so far my favorite service was one dallis presented on what we believe vs. what we say. we were able to break out into a really lovely, organic debate at the end of the talk, still as a part of the service, which was something that my church in boulder was never really (i felt) able to master because of our size as a congregation. i think it's much easier to have a debate and still keep it in the sacred space when the group is small like ours at NUUF -- at UUCB it tends to be still too preachy, one-sided, and uncomfortable for visitors, something that the whole "responses from the gathered people" was meant to avoid.

my talk was about faith. specifically, i've been struck with this idea of faith and uncertainty. it all happened around my 28th birthday, when i was afraid of my "saturn returns" and all the changes that was going to mean for my life. and my life was just fine thank you. i didn't want any changes, but i knew they were coming. and this uncertainty in my heart was really uncomfortable. that's when i either read something or heard something or saw something that stuck in my mind: wherever there is uncertainty, there is room for faith. and i thought to myself, why don't we as UUs talk about faith? why do we always talk about reason? is there room for both in our religion? if so, what would that look like? and that was my talk.
i think it was received well. mostly i say that because at the end, when we broke out into that beautiful organic discussion again, there were some people who were adamantly opposed to using the word "faith" in our identity as UUs (or at least, in their identity as a UU), whereas other people were all for it and felt that it was a nice way to reclaim something that they felt had been claimed by the religious right, of which they did not feel a part. i'm not sure i agree with either side, but it fostered some really good discussion, and some people really felt fired up at the end either for or against what it was i was arguing. and that's what a good UU service should be all about i think.

after the service most of us went to a bar on the rembrandtplein nearby the church and hung out for about an hour or so. the one positive of all this was that i got a chance to meet linda and her amazing children, who are all from seattle. she's a really lovely woman and i felt i could talk to her for hours if we had the time. but also i was sad because the whole point of the outing (for me) was that i wanted to grab a beer so that i could talk to my friend, valerie, who i only get to see on the sundays that i make it out to amsterdam. valerie is changing jobs and is soooo sad to leave her current employment, and i wanted to talk all about it, but as it was starting to rain outside we ended up all sitting inside and in the rush to grab a seat she and i ended up at different tables. sad. also, i ended up being disappointed because the conversation turned hurtful towards different groups of people: mormons, jehovah's witnesses, republicans, christians, and that made me sad too. but what upset me the most was that i did not have the courage to speak up and call people out on their hurtful language which was so obviously unUU. i'm really ashamed of myself, and i am going to consciously work harder at speaking truth and standing up, even if it means being unpopular or misunderstood. it was really inappropriate some of the things coming out of their mouths, but even more inappropriate of me not to say anything. staying silent in a hurtful conversation is bad, but what's worse is recognizing an injustice and not having the courage to break your silence.
but anyway, i think it was a good day all in all, and i'll be going back in june because i told wopke and saskia that i would sing a solo for the service. plus, it's a good excuse to get my butt to amsterdam. and i am grateful for my church and am excited about the friendships i have made out there, and i want to keep that going.


teresa said...

one thing i appreciate about you -- both of you -- is that you almost always act out of a place of kindness. even if you disagree with an individual or group, you both tend to listen carefully. adam looks for their thoughts and motivations. amber looks for their heart and motivations. i'm glad that you are considering how you might be able to broaden the minds/hearts of your new friends.

SubtleKnife said...

Hi Amber, it's MJ here, we met that day. It was a great experience. I can't believe time went so fast it's been almost a month already. And only now did I finally get round to looking at your pictures!

I think I understand what you mean when you say there was hurtful language, but to me it seemed to be mostly directed at intolerances by those groups themselves. And, as the saying goes, if there's one thing I cannot tolerate, it's intolerance.

An example: There were some comments on a blog I frequent about the reactions of some (gay) people on the death of Jerry Falwell. I didn't like many of those responses, but I did feel Falwell opened the door himself when he promoted hatred towards them.

It's funny that you were at the Waag that morning, that's so close to where I was staying, I may have walked right by you and neither of us would have realised. You have to cross that square to get almost anywhere from Kevin's.

See you on Sunday,


PS. Keizersgracht is actually Emperor's Canal, keizer in Dutch or Kaiser in German, or even Czar in Russian, are all derived from Caesar and mean emperor. I don't know why the church is called "kaiserskerk" rather than "keizerskerk", I should look into its history some time. (I never understood the 'progression' from the center of Amsterdam outwards: Gentlemen's Canal, Emperor's Canal, Prince's Canal.)
==thus ends this lecture==