To rob God

‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.’

Probably one of the most provocative quotes ever, spoken by the madman in Nietszche’s ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’. There’s something strangely sad about the idea. To an atheist it may sound a bit like ‘Santaclaus is dead’. To believers the confusion depends on how you define God. If you believe that divinity can be found in every person or in nature, it may sound pretty logical, if your God is defined beyond earthly dimensions and time, it is a contradiction in terms. An Everlasting Being simply cannot not exist, let alone be killed.

With this story Nietzsche is trying to say that God doesn’t fit in modern man’s science and rationality anymore. The basis for morals has gone and with that the meaning of religion as a whole. It’s nihilistic. I don’t agree with Nietzsche, I think God is much more than what we can fit in our minds. I don’t believe that we can kill Him either. But Nietzsche’s findings do remind me of something:

We can rob God.

There’s a verse in the Bible, Malachi 3:8, Where God says that He is robbed because the priests are not giving their tithes to the temple and not offering their best meat. Most of the times this passage is explained that the priests were not giving to God what was rightfully His and were therefor robbing Him. You can imagine that it is a nice one to use when you want people to give more money to the church. And it happens.

But there’s a completely different angle to it that is mostly overseen. You see, in those days, tithing and offerings to the temple were all an essential part of a system in which the most vulnerable and poorest of the society were supported. If the priests didn’t do their job well, strangers, widows and orphans were the first ones to suffer. Loving others, taking care of people in need and serving God have always gone hand in hand. There isn’t a book in the Bible in which some prophet, disciple or Jesus, doesn’t get really mad about disconnecting the three. Because religion without heart for God and other people robs God from His reputation.

Now fastforward and think of all the sexual abuse that has taken place in Catholic boarding schools. Little boys had to confess their sins after being raped or beaten by a priest. God’s name was used as a motive for violence and manipulation. It must have robbed God of these kids’ trust and most probably killed their faith in Him as well.

Jesus said: ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did unto Me.’ What state must He be in?

 

Fokke and Sukke rather not think about it. 'What if God really DOES exist?'

 

Ground Zero

The quarter looks like any other quarter in Warsaw that was built after WWII. Monotonous, straight streets and ugly concrete buildings. If you didn’t know, you would never have guessed that there is hardly any other place on the entire globe where so many people have suffered and so much injustice has been done. The Warsaw ghetto, three square miles that served as the last stop before the gas chambers of Treblinka to 400.000 Polish Jews.

When I lived in Warsaw about 13 years ago, I would walk through the quarter and try to think of what had happened there. It was actually impossible to grasp. Never could I leave the place without goosebumps and tears in my eyes.

I guess it’s about the same kind of experience people have when they pass Ground Zero in New York. Even if you haven’t lost a loved one on that horrible day, being at the place is a reminder of how cruel mankind can be and that it’s the innocent that suffer from absurd radical thoughts.

Remembering can make you sad and scared, but also thankful for the freedom that we enjoy in the here and now. The fact that we can be who we are, believe what we want and live without fear in a society that values each individual equally.

This is what I thought of while wondering about all the upheaval around the intended construction of Islam cultural centre near Ground Zero. Could you compare that with for example, establishing a German Cultural Center in the middle of the Warsaw Ghetto? And would that be wrong?

My first reaction would be yes. Simply because of the trauma. For a long time after my son had almost drowned and I had seen him floating face down in a pool, I would already get a panic attack if I saw a doll floating face down, or a child swimming under water. If you’ve ever gone through a traumatic experience, you’ll know that any link to the terrible event will bring forth some of the same horror that you lived through before. So perhaps because muslim extremists were responsible for the attack, an Islamic cultural center around the corner might trigger all the hurt and fears that a lot of Americans still suffer from.

Since it were the Germans who carried out their mass destruction plan, any reminder of them would only add to the immense silent pain that is still going around the Warsaw Ghetto.

But when I chew a bit more on the matter, I come to a different conclusion. First of all, it is important to realize that reactions to trauma are often not rational and even very dysfunctional. Coming back to my child’s drowning: If I had let my fear of water rule, my kids would never have even tiptoed in a paddling pool again, let alone swim and therefor run a great risk of drowning later on in life. I had to set my fear aside, I couldn’t blame the water for almost killing my son. It was my negligence that did it.

The Nazis weren’t only guilty of almost eliminating Europe’s entire Jewish population. What is often forgotten is that they also stole their nationalities. Ever since the Nazis started their anti-semitism campaigns, the Jews were not regarded as Dutch, German, French or Polish anymore, they were simply Jews. Not allowed to live in their own countries and be part of their own culture. Even after the war this continued. Most of the the Jews who returned from concentration camps were not welcome in their own country anymore.

So it is important to realize that the Jews who lived in Germany before Hitler were just as much part of the German culture as the Nazis were. With that in mind, pure rationally seen, a German Centre should not have to be a stumble block in the Warsaw Ghetto. Not the German culture, but the Nazis, abusing their culture, killed the Jews.

And you could say the same about the Islamic Cultural centre. This centre is built and run by American people. They are part of the rich American culture that has the freedom of religion, the freedom to express beliefs and opinions and the freedom to get together and exercise faith. It is wrong to isolate these Americans and exclude them from the rights they have, simply because they are Muslims. Not the Muslims, but extremists, abusing their faith are responsible for 9/11.

I’m not drawing any conclusions about whether the center should be built or not. Nor do I want propose the building of a German Centre in Warsaw! Neither do I want to compare the attack on the World Trade Center with the Holocaust. It’s all very complicated and there are no straight forward answers to all these issues. I just think that we have to be very careful with our responses. Because before we know it, we’re thinking and acting exactly the same as the ones who inflicted all the pain to start with.

Bugs and all

This morning while I was having my coffee and slowly waking up, all of a sudden I felt something moving in the back of my throat! I had swallowed a fly. Those big, black ones that used to buzz around the house when my father had manured the garden with fresh cow pooh and the next door kids would tell us that our house smelled like a pig stall. It was a pretty gross experience, but it did remind me of a radio programme that I had listened to a few weeks ago. Some insect farmers had launched a few snacks that were made from insects: The bug nuggets and bug balls.

Not all insects are edible, and I’m sure the fat fly that I tried this morning is one of them. In a lot of other countries in the world, grasshoppers, ants and meal worms are concidered as delicacies though. And that is a good thing. Our flying or crawling friends are full of proteins and other healthy stuff and to breed them and get them ready for consumption is much, much more environmental friendly than getting a piece of cow, pig or chicken on our plate.

On the radio programme most of the people who tasted the snacks were pretty enthousiastic about them. A few excited vegetarians were thrilled to have found a good substitute for the gross tofu they had been chewing on for years.

So am I going to eat insects as well? I think I should, with all my blogging and preaching about the environment and all. To be honest, the thought of eating these creepy creatures doesn’t appeal to me at all! But I will give it a try, and if it doesn’t work an other one. I also thought that it might help if people in other Western countries would start eating them and turn it into a culinairy hit. And thinking about it, I concluded that the country to begin should be France.

The French are trend setters and really like organic stuff. They already made pretty nasty sounding food find their way to the menu cards of the world’s best restaurants, like snails, fois gras and frog butts. And last, but not least, as I discovered later in the day: You can get them here already!

Albeit in the pet shop!

Superwoman

I met Louise during my first week in Skopje. She was a teacher at the school where my children went to. We soon found out that we were destined to meet each other. We discovered that we have mutual friends and have lived in the same places. My father grew up where she did. Our children have the same age, we share our faith and interests. For the past 5 years she has always been around, no matter the distance. I think I’m one of the most fortunate people in the world to have her as a friend.

You see, Louise is not just a normal person. She has lived under the most basic circumstances somewhere in a village in the Himalayean, without electricity or running water for 3 years, then moved to an Albanian village to live there for an other 5 years. She can tell you amazing stories of her travels and life and is the most no nonsense, but nevertheless passionate person I know.

A few weeks ago, Louise, I and the children went on a little holiday in Sauerland, Germany. We had spent our day at a little lake, talking, laughing and playing with the kids and made our evening plans. Louise would do some groceries, cook a meal, bring it to the lake and we’d eat it there, afterwards go home, get the kids in bed and eat some delicious raspberry cake. In the whole wide world there are no better raspberry cakes to be found than in Germany. They are divine.

And so it happened. All went according to plan, wasn’t it that 8 year-old Kristel stepped on a wooden deck and had 4 huge splinters in her feet. That night, we had to get them out. Kristel put her feet in a bucket of water with detergent soap for about 15 minutes, then lay on her stomach and Louise and I skillfully pulled them out with a needle and tweezers. It really hurt, but Kristel was very brave and only cried a little. As a reward we decided to share our cake with her. With pain in our hearts we cut it up in three and gave her a piece.

I think Kristel had only taken one bite when we heard a ‘Plop’. She had dropped the cake in the bucket of by then muddy water and detergent soap. With a great shock I realized that now I would have to share even more of my cake and there would be hardly anything left! But believe it or not, almost faster than the eye could see, Louise fished it out, ran to the kitchen, rinsed it off, put it on a plate and ate it.

‘It’s still crispy on the inside and I don’t taste any detergent at all’, she said. Kristel and I looked at her with big eyes of amazement and then burst into laughter. Louise didn’t get a stomach ache, drop dead on the spot or something like that. No, she enjoyed the cake just as much as we did and was as fit as a fiddle the remaining part of our wonderful holiday.

You see, she’s not even an unusual person, she’s a bit of a superwoman!

Cathedral

The lady at the town hall tells the children to sign a form within the given space. Excited Aaron, Julian, Eva and Michelle write down their names as tidy as possible. I know it’s ridiculous, but I’m so proud of them. My kids, an identity of their own, all printed and signed on a card. ‘Can we get money with it as well?’ Julian wants to know. ‘No, we just need it when we go to an other country or if you want to vote and when somebody else asks for it’ I explain.

Next to me, a guy in his eighties hands over a very old picture of a woman. ‘It’s an old one, but there’s no way that I could get her to go to the photographer now. I would like to get an identity card for my wife, but she’s in a home and unable to come by herself’ ‘Well’ the lady behind the counter says, then we’ll just come and visit her. She has to sign these papers and affirm that you have filled them in for her and confirm her identity to us. The man gets a bit nervous and explains: ‘You see, that’s the problem, she suffers from Alzheimer’s and is very confused. We’ve been married for 61 years and she doesn’t even know who I am anymore.’ I couldn’t decide on if he sounded sad or a angry. Maybe both.

A professor in Biology, specialized in love matters, once said that what stands in long-term relationships after all the chemical, hormonal excitement has gone, which takes about three years btw, is a cathedral of memories. Designed and built together.

I wonder what this man’s cathedral looks like. Can he marvel at the beauty of all these years spent together, the fun they had, how they worked themselves through tough times? Did the familiarity of their bodies together become more exciting, no matter they were growing old? Or perhaps he always thought that the good years were still to come. Once she could stop being so grumpy, or finally shut up and listen to him instead. How many nights did he stare at the ceiling, wishing for somebody else’s touch? I don’t know, I didn’t ask. And even if he told me, I would never understand what his building looked like. And neither will the friendly looking lady on the picture who helped building it herself.

The man made an appointment. ‘I’ve visited my wife every day for the past 5 years, but about a month ago I decided to not come on Thursdays and Mondays anymore. It’s just too hard.’ When did he give up hope on getting a glimpse of recollection? The possibility to ask for forgiveness or teach her her final lesson?

How lonely he must feel. Getting a card for a forgotten identity that he used to be such a part of.

I leave the town hall pretty sad and impressed. Time to go home and build a bit more on my own cathedral. Gerco and I are doing a great job. Making sure that it will stand. Whether I’ll be around to remember it or not.

New blog

I have moved my blog to leonieslife.squarespace.com

Hope to see you there!

Turism

Luanda 2010

‘Mind your step’, the sweet airport voice resounds through my head when I enter the elevator. You never know where it has stopped. This time one step up. Just before the doors close a man jumps in. ‘Boa Tarde’, I say. A big mouth with beautiful white teeth smiles back at me.

‘Such a beautiful day today!’ He draws a freshly ironed handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the little sweatdrops off his nose. ‘I have to go to the sixth floor, because I’m the Minister of Turism and we have a very important meeting today’. Not entirely confident I press the golden button number six. Ordinals in Portuguese can be pretty tricky.

‘We’re going to build hotels! Next year there will be an eclips in Angola and this is the opportunity to attract tourists!’ ‘Gosh, that sounds interesting’, I say. ‘Absolutely!’ Full of enthusiasm he tells me about all the country’s highlights. The impressive nature, beautiful beaches, the elephants that were flown in to inhabit the empty nature reserves, the lovely people and the delicious food. ‘As soon as we have beaten UNITA, Angola is going to be Africa’s most popular holiday destination, mark my words!’

But my toughts wonder off. Personally I have never travelled more than 100 kilometres outside  the city. Too dangerous. I think about yesterday’s cockroach rain. After an enormous leak in the bathroom we had taken out the ceiling. ‘Yes, your neighbour upstairs splashes too much water when he is taking a bath’, the plumber had said. How on earth could he have known that?

My daily walk on the Marginal. I look at the far gone beauty of a city that was called ‘Paris of Africa’ only 25 years ago. The unimaginable smells of garbage, sweat and rotten fish sticks in my nostrils. There is Florencia, who has displayed her single-shoe-merchandise on the pavement. Business is thriving. Only has one leg herself, she stepped on a mine. We talk about her children and I kiss the little baby who is bundled on her back. Two little feet sticking out in the front.

The guy in the elevator babbles on. I have to say, it is a beautiful country. Last Saturday we saw sea turtles swimming and fish flying. We drank avocado milkshakes and something cowy in a little cafe on the beach, spectating a beautiful sunset. In Angola there is always dance and laughter. Ebola viruses, hunger, injustice or not.

The elevator comes to a halt. About half a meter above us the doors slide open. For a minister his size, he climbs out of the elevator quite skillfully. ‘Bye!’ He turns around, gets on his knees and asks: ‘Actually, are you a tourist?’

‘No, fortunately not!’ I shout at him while the doors are closing. ‘I live here!’

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