Saturday, November 03, 2007


Ozlem and I were in Amsterdam months ago. Now, before your mind gets to racing about all the debauchery in which we were engaged, let me assure you–we didn’t do anything more immoral than usual.
At one, rather memorable, meeting a couple who travelled through Amsterdam on their way to a mission trip to India they quipped, “Yeah, we got off the plane in Amsterdam–you could just smell the sin.”
I was confused, since my city, just some months before my schnoz was incredibly active desperately in search of the “smell of sin” and... I couldn’t detect it.

Admittedly, I was probably absent the day they taught the “good Christians” what, exactly, sin smelled like. I imagine it smells a little like a Kerusso T-shirt–fresh from the sweatshop, but I can’t be sure...

What we found, instead, was a city of wonderful people, like I use to hang around with...

Probably some of the kindest people in Europe...he he he...
To be fair, Ozlem told me that 'the wholesale lack of a language barrier probably helped'.

Still, we were on the hunt for sin in Amsterdam–surely and we missed some orgies and the like.
Every time we encountered a new person, we expected to see some sign of Satan–you know, maybe in a moment of indiscretion they’d slip out their forked tongues, or reveal that they actually had two sets of eyelids or gills or something.

Imagine our shock when on a worshipful Sunday morning canal boat tour we cruised past a church that was–gasp–just getting out of service. Imagine that, a church, filled not only with grandmotherly types, but young families too...! Quietly sipping their coffee (an after church ritual) and chatting–pausing only momentarily to kindly wave to friends passing by on their Sunday morning boat ride through the canals.
Sure, a prostitute in the red light district asked Ozlem and I if we’d like to “do it”, but when we politely replied, “maybe next time” she just sort of let us go on our way...ha...

In Turkey, we like to think of Amsterdammers and their ilk as the embodiment of Beelzebub. We speculate that any Christian who supports liberal Marijuana laws can’t really have God living in their heart. No people who make a space for, and–again, gasp–protect and care for their prostitutes could have God living side by side with them.

This is not all to say that all Amsterdammers go to heaven and all Turks are going to hell...))

Far from it. There, like here, there is a pressing need for the love of God to touch people. We all have a need to be transformed.

That’s the tricky bit. Here in Turkey we tend to surmise that transformation moves us in the direction of wealth–what with streets paved with gold and all. Yet, I’m not so sure wealth is the direction of God’s transformation. But we Dutch seem, knowingly or not, to be on to something with regard to being transformed by God’s grace.

While here in Turkey, we are working 60 hours a week in search of something approaching upward mobility, may just be moving us backward. In the meanwhile, we are just sitting and eating dinner with friends and sharing a bottle of raki isn’t such a bad thing., or not?

But in short, we Dutch, understood the meaning of rest. That rest isn’t so much something to be done passively–so that we can store up our energy to head back into the grind. We understood that rest is something to be done actively…riding your rowboat down the canals, sharing a dinner with friends, and generally stopping to smell the roses.

So, I guess we went to Amsterdam in search of the smell of sin. What we found, however, wasn’t sin–at least not in any more abundance than we find here. We found the smell of delight, the smell of patience, indeed, we found out what the roses smell like. And that, my friends, is not a smell we likely to forget...


William Hermansen Lien said...

That's a great article Hans!
Do you miss Amsterdam?
Greetings from there..))

Jess said...

Very eloquent, Hans. I enjoyed this post very much.

I have great memories of Amsterdam and its people. They struck me as particularly... humane.

Hans said...

altough i never want to live there anymore, its indeed a humane place, thanks jess