Ok, what’s the first thing comes into your head when you hear the word ‘Dogma’? It probably isn’t hot dogs, but in Utrecht there is the marvellous Dogma restaurant which serves the most wonderful and creative hot dogs imaginable.

My first visit to Dogma was to meet with Heine Siebrand to pick his brains about a little-known Dutch philosopher and pastor called Willem F Zuurdeeg. Heine, like the late Willem Zuurdeeg, is a Remonstrant pastor and philosopher. He graciously shared his knowledge of Zuurdeeg and was able to provide me with some unique insights and information which greatly aided my understanding of Zuurdeeg and his work. Maybe sometime I’ll share more about Zuurdeeg but in this post I want to introduce and say thanks to Heine.

Heine taught philosophy after completing his PhD on Baruch Spinosa, one of the most influential 17th Century philosophers and, while he had no real intention to ever become a pastor, found himself elected as the pastor of a congregation who decided they knew best and would not take no for an answer! As a consequence of the democratic dictat of these good people, Heine became a pastor in the Remonstrant Brotherhood. The Brotherhood finds it origins in the 17th Century as a consequence of a dispute over the theology of Calvinism within Dutch Protestantism. Given the close marriage of the church and the state in the 17th Century (never a good thing at any time), those who concurred with the views of Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius found themselves imprisoned or ostracised. As a consequence the Remonstrant Brotherhood emerged as a distinct community of believers.

Remonstrants are known as liberal in a strict sense, generally decrying strict formulations of belief they allow people of personal faith to write their own confession of faith when they become a member. As a consequence, it is often assumed that they have no real beliefs at all and are considered by some as irredeemable heretics – all too often the way to deal with those who won’t follow the conventional way of thinking. However, my encounter with Heine as well as reading and learning from Zuurdeeg has been a thoroughly enriching intellectual and spiritual experience and I’m grateful to both!

Thanks Heine.

PS – if you ever have reason to be in Utrecht, make your way to Dogma and sample the best of hot dogs. All the information you’ll need is here Come to think of it, Dogma’s a good reason to make it your business to visit Utrecht!

Learning to walk – again!

Learning to walk I’ve never not been able to get about. It’s one of the odd things about creaking hips – unless they reach the stage of ‘dire’ it’s usually possible to hobble about somehow or other.  I hadn’t reached the stage of ‘dire’ but nevertheless compensating for the increasingly creaking hip meant that I tended to lop about, earning the nickname ‘hop-a- long’ from my wonderfully insensitive Dutch pastor (I like Lance, I understand his method, I think Lance and I probably skipped the pastoral care lessons when at college). So, it’s down to my physio Klaas both to get the new hip properly mobilised and get me walking upright – and not like some hairy creature that dropped out of the nearest tree to forage on the jungle floor.

It’s an interesting experience having to practise doing something that used to be perfectly natural, something you never stop to think about until you can’t, like walking. And, among other things, it requires a lot of trust. Trusting that this chrome cobalt metal hip joint that’s been rammed down the inside of your leg bone will a) not dislocate or b) not shatter your leg bone into a million pieces, is the first psychological challenge. The second is to trust your physio. I often hear a voice in my head saying things like ‘It’s ok for you, big lad, you haven’t just had a hip replacement’, or ‘You want me to do that ten times three times over – you’re pulling my leg’. But, I have to hand it to him, Klaas clearly knows what he’s doing, even when he has me on the bench and it feels like he is literally pulling my leg. Anyway, I’m by no means the first person he has managed to get up and moving again.

As I leave behind the need for crutches and anticipate my first foray on public transport in the next few days, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have access to first class health care and resources. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to become increasingly debilitated without the prospect of relief or repair, as is the case for many. So, I reckon the very least I can do is make the most of the opportunity that’s been given to me, learn to walk again and then go do something useful!

My Naked Foot

 The experience of hip surgery has been an interesting and challenging experience. First, there’s the fact that I haven’t had a stay in hospital for any kind of surgery for over 55 years, when I had my tonsils removed. I don’t remember much about the tonsil episode other than standing at the window watching my parents and brother drive away after depositing me on the ward (parents weren’t welcome to hang around in those days) and the ice cream and jelly served post-operatively. Arriving on the ward of the hospital in Hoofddorp two weeks ago at 06:45 to be prepped for surgery at 08:00 was a very alien experience.

Second, the level of sophistication of the medical care here in the Netherlands and the fact that I only waited a few months for the op, stands in stark contrast to what I hear is the situation in Northern Ireland. Plenty of staff, large clutter-free corridors, QR coded wrist bands and everything happening exactly when you are told to expect it, meant that there was plenty at which to marvel.  Mind you, everyone is obliged to take out health insurance on top of income and social taxes, so the system is well funded.

Third, the challenge of coming to terms with a measure of disability, even though temporary, has been a salutary experience. It’s best typified by my naked right foot.  There are strict rules about the level of movement in the operated leg permitted during the first weeks of recovery, including never allowing the angle between your raised leg and the rest of your body to be less than 90 degrees. Break that rule and the hip is likely to dislocate and that would introduce a whole new world of pain and grief! Consequently, because I didn’t invest in one of those aids for putting on your socks, I’m entirely dependent on Dot dressing my naked right foot each morning. Most other things I can manage myself – but not that. On the day after the op I could walk with a zimmer frame or crutches and mobility has improved markedly since.  I can shower, dress, cook, make coffee, climb stairs – even if somewhat slower than usual – but I can’t put on my right sock.

My naked foot stares at me from the end of the bed, it mocks my inability to get anywhere near it. It dares me to try and calls me pathetic when I don’t. I believe I heard it threaten to go find another leg somewhere that would care for it better – but maybe that was the painkillers talking. As time goes on, it seems my naked foot is teaching me something about dependence, patience and humility.

I had been well briefed by the medical staff on what to expect post-operatively, but no one mentioned the challenge of the naked foot.

Hip hip hooray!

David making coffeeDavid’s got a new right hip. After only two nights in hospital, he came home a week ago and is making good progress. He has mastered the typically Dutch narrow, winding staircase in our house – always remembering the technique ‘Good leg up’; ‘Bad leg down’. For those who know about David’s passion for coffee, you can see in the photo that he has retaken control of the coffee machine – one hand is quite sufficient. In the past couple of days the rain has stopped and so David has started pounding the footpaths around us on his crutches, often receiving encouraging greetings and thumbs-up signals from our friendly neighbours as he passes. We have been overwhelmed by all the cards, emails, phone calls and text messages we have received, reminding us that so many of our family, work colleagues and friends are thinking of us and praying for David’s recovery. david-and-islay.jpg This weekend our daughter Cathy, along with her three-year-old daughter Isla, came to visit. Isla brought David a box of his favourite Tunnocks teacakes and announced, ‘These will make you all better’. We do hope so! Our sincere thanks to all of you who have sent good wishes. Tunnocks

Who needs a passport anyway?

passport photo cropped Turns out everyone does. Especially in Spain. Even David. However, getting carried away with the whole EU borderless travel idea, he left his behind in Nieuw Vennep when we set off for this year’s Monti Autumn Adventures. This was fine in France, where campsites readily accepted our ACSI Camping Card as proof of ID. But then we drove into Spain and things changed. We needed to produce our passports before being admitted to any campsite. Tricky! So, like ET, we phoned home and our good friends Mike and Helen rescued us by posting David’s passport to our other good friends Andrew and Ruth in Barcelona for us to collect. 20190923_092701 Meanwhile, back in Monti, we headed off across the Pyrenees, enjoying the amazing scenery and staying each night in an Aire along the route (free, unstaffed parking areas for motorhomes and campervans, which have services for filling and discharging water tanks and emptying chemical toilets, but no showers or toilets). We then stayed two nights with Andrew and Ruth outside Barcelona, reminiscing about primary school days in Dundonald and church activities at Windsor in the 1990s, shared our family and work news and probably thoroughly bored their polite and very patient sons Matthew and Reuben! Then David’s passport arrived and we continued on our way through Andorra and back into France for a week of glorious sunshine before entering Belgium for a cold, rainy reintroduction to life back in northern Europe. Happy days! The Lesson for Life in all this? Always carry your passport – especially if you are touring Spain or going to live in post-Brexit Northern Ireland!

Growing Old, Staying Young

Bess Tom and Mum April 14

Aunt Bessie, Uncle Tommy and Mum

Two weeks ago, Aunt Bessie died. She was my (Dorothy’s) last remaining aunt and was in her 99th year, outdoing my Mum who died two years ago, just before her 98th birthday. Those two girls were definitely at the front of the queue when longevity genes were given out! Aunt Bessie is survived by Uncle Tommy who, at 98+, still lives at home, cooks for himself, does his own food and clothes shopping (he’s a natty dresser who likes a nice shirt) and enjoys reading and watching the football. When I told him a couple of years ago that we hoped to go to Slovenia on holiday, he described without hesitation the countries we would need to drive through in our campervan from Amsterdam to get there. He is a mine of information on all sorts of topics and never seems to have to pause to try to remember someone’s name – yet I need to do that all the time! At the funeral meal we met up with cousins, friends and neighbours we had not seen for years and there was lots of reminiscing about childhood school holidays spent at Bessie and Tommy’s farm. They had no children of their own but gave so much time, love and care to us as nephews and nieces. Since the funeral I have been thinking about their long lives and great ages – Bessie, Tommy, Mum – and how they managed to keep young within themselves for so long. Their secret? As with most mysteries, the answer lies in a combination of factors. First, they were always interested in other people – us as children; later, our children and later still, our grandchildren. Even in her last few years of some confusion, Aunt Bessie smiled to see her nephew’s grandchildren come to visit and she loved to nurse the baby on her knee. Uncle Tommy still remembers all our birthdays and the names of our children and grandchildren. The second part of the secret, I believe, was their sense of contentment in life. They were not greedy people; they shared their homes, their time and their resources and enjoyed simple pleasures without constantly looking for more. Mum was always glad to see visitors and never scolded anyone for not coming often enough! The third part of the secret was their very real sense of humility before a greater power – their God – who had made them and given them all they had. Now that Mum and all our aunts have gone, my sisters and I have become the older generation – strange thought – and it is our turn to find the secret of growing old while staying young! As the prophet Isaiah says in the Bible:

They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with    wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

School’s Out!

It’s late July and school’s out. Here in the Netherlands, the school holidays are set by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Science. The three main holidays – Autumn (around Hallowe’en), Spring (around Easter) and Summer – are staggered in order to avoid excessively busy times on the roads, ports and airports. How do they manage this? Easy: the country is divided into three regions and each region has different (but overlapping) holiday dates. All the schools in each region have the same holidays. After two years, the schedule is swapped around, so you get a chance to have early, middle and late timings for your holidays. How sensible! This also means that the government does not allow parents to take their children out of school for holidays during term time, though exactly how that is policed I don’t know. At the Baptist House, where we work, most people are now on holiday. That’s turned out to be a good thing for them, as this week temperatures have been in the mid-30s and it is exceedingly hot in our flat-roofed offices. At home we manage to keep cool by closing all the windows, doors and curtains and by having a fan on at night. Our holiday times are generally off-season these days, so we are looking forward to September when it will be cooler and everyone else will be back at work! Meantime, Happy Heatwave!