I spent the evening of the summer solstice trying not to inhale! We arrived in Amsterdam in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel and each took a substantial nap to recover from…well, a train trip but more likely 9 days of being on the road.
Refreshed we walked toward the museum district to find someplace for dinner. Within the first half hour of our walk it was very clear to us that marijuana is legal and available in this liberally-minded city. So can you get stoned on the solstice by second-hand smoke?! I tried not to find out!
Though we haven’t made it down to the red light district in our short stay, we understand that prostitutes are for hire openly with nearby vans serving as love nests for those paying for their services. How convenient. One further observation by our fashion-conscious daughter is that the outfits of Amsterdam residents are much more interesting to her than those of Parisians. They push boundaries of style by mixing colors and patterns. Their choice of clothing is more unique and not as classic in taste as those walking the rues and boulevards of Paris. Interesting.
I`m not sure how I feel about the legalization of pot for recreational smoking. I know that habitual smoking of cannabis can chill people out so much that aspects to daily life slip by. Responsibilities and duties that come with adult life can be shirked when a daily escape is offered freely from smoking. I understand the medicinal value but am not sure of the effect legalization of recreational pot has on a society. In our own country, Colorado is serving as an experimental field. Time will tell.
I’m not sure that I even consider myself to be conservative or prudish. I recognize that legalizing forbidden fruits sometimes is the best way to deal with widespread, chronic violations of laws whose efficacy are questioned. I have no time to judge people for decisions they make but have certainly served in a pastoral capacity to those who have found themselves in difficult straits because of narcissistic indulgences, whatever they may be. I’m a strong proponent of moderation. But I also feel called to evaluate life around me through a spiritual lens. Is this behavior/lifestyle possibly going to drive a wedge between this person and God? Will it rob them of living into their God-given potential? As Christians we are called to enter into our world with Christ-like compassion, bringing the best out of people by the way that we love them. In our messy world, this is seldom easy or well-received!
Garrett and I toured the Nieuwe Kerk or New Church of Amsterdam this afternoon. The name is ironic because it is actually a very old church! We paid 11 euros apiece and were excited to see another beautiful worship space. The banners hanging on the outside of the building told us that there was an exhibition featured inside: the World Press Photo display. 160 award~winning press photos representing 22 countries are hung throughout the sanctuary space with explanatory notes. The images were compelling, disturbing, moving. It’s a good show.
But our surprise is that this highly regarded, must-see church in Amsterdam really no longer functions as a church. The pews were removed long before this exhibit came to town. There are no regular worship services in this exquisite space. One stained glass window has been modernized with a sort of Sponge-Bob-on-Cannabis ocean scene. Honestly!
The other stained glass windows that have designs cut into them depict people and circumstances that speak to the cultural and military history of this country. No prophets. No parables. No Jesus! I began to understand why some of the more “conservative” members of the Dutch Reformed Church emigrated to the United States looking for a rich spiritual life that was lacking in their homeland. In De Nieuwe Kerk of Amsterdam I see evidence that politics were made central to religious life and not Jesus. I understand why some folks would choose to go elsewhere, even at great risk to themselves and their families, to worship in a place-no matter how modest-where Jesus is the understood Host!
So as I’m hoofing it through crowds in this lovely city trying not to get stoned on second-hand smoke, I wonder if an absence of Christian values allows a culture more easily to slide toward self-satisfying behaviors? If so, at what point do people recognize the spiritual vacuum that leaves them without answers to life’s hardest questions? When and if they do, will they know to go to a church for holy food?
I know from my faith to watch for signs of hope in all circumstances. And I saw some! In our tour of the Jewish district today that ends at the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family, I heard stories of heroism of Dutch citizens who willingly risked their lives to save those of their Jewish compatriots. I learned that Vincent VanGogh’s love for the common person and the beauty of nature stemmed at least in part from his upbringing as a pastor’s kid. Though he was tormented in many ways in his short life, the visceral appeal of his works is because he found the soul to each subject and used paint and brush to let others into his rich worldview.
Finally, while walking along a bustling cobbled street lined with modern shops and coffeehouses, I saw a laminated sign on a wooden door that announced that this hole-in-the-wall was actually a church. And they have weekly worship services. In space much less grand than the interior of the New (very old!) Church, Jesus’ name is praised. That gives me hope for my new friends in lovely Amsterdam!