27 March 2007


By Asia Baltzley

Smells were coming from the Middelburg Square. Strong smells. Good smells. They seeped out of the food stalls and mixed together in the air becoming one huge delicious smell. I breathed in deeply, sucking in all the goodness of it. It smelled heavenly.
I skipped after my mom, avoiding the menacing cracks in the cobblestone path below. Ever since my friends from school had told me that if you stepped on a crack you would break your mom’s back, I was extra careful where I stepped. I looked up to see the towering stone abbey, dark and mysterious with cruel looking stone gargoyles watching my every move from the roof.
“Asia!” I heard my mom call to me. I turned my head to see that my family was several steps ahead. This was pretty normal for me, but all the same I didn’t want to get lost, especially with the abbey looming over the Square like a dark shadow.
We walked up to a stand where someone was selling what looked like small waffles coated with syrup. The Dutch family we were staying with had told us about these “stroop wafels”. Their explanation had made my mouth water. Dad went up to the stand and, using the little Dutch he knew, managed to buy one for me, and one for my little sister, Maia, who had pretty blonde hair and big brown eyes, with a hint of green, most likely from our dad. My own hair was in between blonde and brown, and I had the pure dark chocolate eyes of my mother.
The stroop wafel’s golden syrup oozed down my hand, sticking like tree sap to my skin, tempting me to lick it off. I took a bite. It was sweet. Very sweet. And sticky. The rich syrup stuck to my teeth as I chewed. I ate it slowly, savouring every bite.

We explored Middelburg all day, hiking through the labyrinth of cobblestone streets until our feet grew sore and Maia started to complain. We stopped at a small ice cream store to lift our spirits and take a break from walking. There was no place to sit, as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the town was full of tourists and locals alike. So we continued along, ice creams already melting in our hands, to squeeze as much fun out of the day as we could.
I was almost done with my ice cream when we finally found an empty bench. My feet sighed with relief when I took a seat on my dad’s lap.
I looked around the quiet street. It was peaceful here, much more peaceful than my home back in Kyrgyzstan, where the roads lacked rules and drivers drove recklessly.
This is where I want to live when I grow up, I thought to myself.

That night I dreamt of stroop wafels and green apple ice cream.

17 March 2007

Two on Lenin

From Shade to Shade
Inspired by Nabokov, Short Stories, pg. 45

From shade to shade
The shrubs are sneaking toward the square

Elongated and blandly uniform
To the swiftly passing cars they look like they are standing still
Motionless as the severe summer afternoon sun

Personally I know better
I drank my coffee and watched them
Halfway through my second cup they had reached the blue awning
overhanging the exchange shop stairs

I’m not the only one who has shown an interest
The heavy maples bordering the square press together leaning to get a glimpse
The poplar wavers on tiptoes peeking over the full-headed maples

In the midst of the square Lenin himself has ascended the monument
He stands alarmed
Yet confident and overdressed


Lenin Descends

In the midst of a breakdown
The poplars stand exposed
Shedding tears of red, yellow and brown
The callous south wind rudely blusters their autumnal shame
Yet undetectably they lean
They listen
Change is in the air

Clouding the metallic sky
The crows clamor toward the square
The inhospitable south wind
drives them down from juniper spotted mountain slopes of gray and green
Swirling, cawing
They light
They listen
Change is in the air

(We pity the park trees each time we pass)
Intending to arouse envy
Assembled willows and maples overextend their renovation celebration
Faded balloon structures
Blinking, enormous sparklers
Trees twisted up in Christmas lights
Like day-old French fries, the stale party decorations ---
Tasteless and nauseating

Their affair is crashed by the intruding south wind
They quiet
They listen
Change is in the air

Formerly so confident and
Ironically, for fall, suitably dressed Lenin has descended the podium
A proud man
He remains stoic
Relegated down wind
Replaced by a tunduk wielding angel

October 2003

Leaves Dry

What is the sound of her sweeping?

Leaves dry as an Egyptian desert rattled by invisible wind
an ancient Russian woman scrapes her giant witch’s broom around like a magic wand

Light as ash the leaves swirl and toss until
against their will
she surrounds them

Conquered they huddle
Her oversized dust pan lifts and stuffs them into the old pram
now pregnant with leaves
Swollen, it overhangs it wheels

As the conquered are subdued and gathered
Their compatriots swirl beneath her feet
Though she torments them with broom and dust pan, they continue to come at her
She dominates, but never triumphs

What is the sound of her sweeping?

It is sunrise awakening a new day
The beating of rugs
The milkman's call
Voices echoing in the courtyard

A fall day in Central Asia
Only the morning is fresh
By nightfall
Overcome by the smoke of leaves burning
We shut the windows to keep it out

October 2003

The work of pastors is . . .

“The work of pastors and other leaders is this: bringing a people together around texts (their own stories, biblical stories, the stories of the church’s context) so the congregation can become more available to the narrative of God’s reign. Every church needs continual conversion; a helpful way to understand conversion is to see it as adopting a different narrative. We are given life narratives by society (such as hard work or careerism, generosity or materialism), by our families (maybe loyalty and love, maybe dysfunction and disintegration), and by our cultures (including values we embody concerning language, place, neighbours and wisdom). We are also formed by the stories of our local setting (the narratives of fortune or misfortune, of conflicts or coalitions). We “in-habit” these stories – literally forming habits, practices, and ways of perceiving the world.

Every church needs continual conversion; a helpful way to understand conversion is to see it as adopting a different narrative.

Alongside these narratives (societal, cultural, local, personal), Christian adopt (and are adopted into) the Jesus story as transmitted in numerous traditions, embodied in congregations, and quicken by the Holy Spirit. But – as was already true during the writing of the New Testament—the congregational narratives get separated from the gospel. Those who lead churches must then help a people rediscover the stories that most likely indicate God’s presence and actions. When a church assumes stories without retelling and reentering them, there is little energy to power congregational life and there are no resources for raising a new generation or welcoming neighbours. When cultural or societal stories overshadow stories of God’s initiatives and a church’s narratives of faithfulness and fruitfulness, identity is at risk and priorities skewed. When a church becomes encumbered with practices and programs that have been separated from their meanings, then narratives must be reclaimed and futures must be reimagined so that congregational life can be reshaped.”
-- Mark Lau Branson, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change, pg. 54-55.

Random Thoughts from "The Search to Belong"

Should church leaders be “Group Environmentalists” or “Group Programmers?”

What organizations choose to measure is important. It is always interesting to hear a pastor’s response to the question, “So how are things going at the church?” Most often their answer circles aimlessly then returns to the same place for an answer (usually preceded by a qualification). It goes something like, “I know that it’s not everything, but giving and attendance have been up the last few weeks.” Church leaders know that they should measure, and hence, define success, by something other than only giving and attendance, but they are at a loss to know what or how. How do you measure things like spontaneity, community and belonging?

Not only is it true that it is dangerous to be without clear aims -- “to aim at nothing is to hit it with amazing accuracy,” but, as well, when we measure the wrong things, those things can take on an importance they do not deserve.

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When there is a favourable environment people make spontaneous choices regarding to whom they want to belong. They don’t need it done for them. They don’t need strong leadership, vision and values statements, or programmed structures.

Churches can help people find the type of connections that they are looking for in their lives by striving to create healthy environments in which people naturally connect. If they would concentrate upon facilitating the environment instead of the result (such as, people experiencing community), we might see healthy, spontaneous community emerge.

“Group Environmentalists” practice restraint when it comes to controlling the results. They are primarily concerned with creating a healthy climate for spontaneity to occur. They develop simple environmental parameters and then sit back to see what happens.

“Group Programmers,” on the other hand, take control.

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Four Spaces of Belonging Defined

"A congregation is healthy when it promotes significant belonging in all four spaces and helps people grow in each space. Assembly line processing through the spaces is not healthy.”

Public Space
Public belonging occurs when people connect through an outside influence, fans of a sports team for example. These relationships carry great significance in our lives.

Social Space
Social belonging occurs when we share “snapshots” of what it would be like to be in personal space with us. Social belonging is important because (1) it provides the space for neighbour-like relationships, and (2) it provides a safe space for selecting people with whom we would like to develop deeper relationships.

Personal Space

Through personal belonging, we share private (not “naked”) experiences, feelings and thoughts. “Close friends” inhabit this space.

Intimate Space
In intimate belonging, we share “naked” experiences, feelings and thoughts. We have very few relationships that are intimate.

“These four relational spaces are not a process for growing healthy connections. Healthy community comes when we hold harmony among the spaces. Likewise, a congregation is healthy when it promotes significant belonging in all four spaces and helps people grow in each space. Assembly line processing through the spaces is not healthy.” Pg. 107

A more extensive summary can be found at http://noguarantees.blogspot.com/2004/11/search-to-belong.html

The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. Joseph R. Myers (Zondervan, 2003)

06 March 2007

the greatest danger

"The great danger facing all of us is not that we shall make an absolute failure of life ... but that we may fail to perceive life's greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God -- and be content to have it so -- that someday we may wake up and find that always we have been busy with the husks and trappings of life and have really missed life itself." -- Phillips Brooks (1835-93)