Preaching in Oude kerk Amsterdam, Christmas eve 2007

Oude Kerk Amsterdam

As a complete surprise I found myself at the night ceremony in the Oude Kerk (old church) of Amsterdam this year. I do not belong to that community, but it is a very interesting church and it is next to my house. I decided to reconcile a little bit and try to step into this church and see if their Christmas celebration would stimulate me.

It is lovely to hear a choir sing songs, that I know from my childhood. But it was also a realization that I do not think as most people are saying out loud here. I have problems with the preaches in the mosques of Amsterdam, but the preacher in this christian church also had some disturbing words to say.

He told about this story of the parents of a Dutch soldier that got killed in Uruzgan. Also Afghan children got killed. What happened after that, is that the mother and father of the Dutch soldier sent a video message to the parents of the Afghan children, to say they were sorry. The reaction of these fathers (where were the mothers of these children) got taped and broadcasted in Holland. The preacher was happy about this. And he added to my disgust, that every soldier’s life that gets lost will always be in vain.

It made me feel sick. What about all those Americans and Canadians etc. that died for the liberty of Europe? Was that in vain? I do not think so. The reason our soldiers are in Afghanistan is to make sure that next time we tape a video in that country, we will see fathers AND mothers talking about their families and emotions. The fact that we do not see the mothers is the reason this soldier was killed.

This christmas made me feel weird, as if the world was upside down. And people do not realize anymore how fragile our modern world is. This column (in Dutch) should have been the preach that evening. Amen.

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5 Responses to “Preaching in Oude kerk Amsterdam, Christmas eve 2007”

  1. Eddy Reefhuis Says:

    I am the preacher you are talking about.
    I didn’t mean what you heard. I didn’t say that as well. But you heard it – so I wasn’t as clear as I thought I was.
    My point is, you cannot justify anybody’s death by a good cause or a good reason. Of course I am more than lucky the Nazi’s lost the war. And I am well aware of the important role of the soldiers, those who died as well as the survivors. But I still think it is a bad thing, so many people, soldiers and civilians, died in that war. Therefore it is in my opinion very important, to prevent war. Sometimes you cannot. But in ethics war is always seen as ‘ultima ratio’. It is the last thing even to think about.
    In my sermon I strongly advised against seeing parallels to easily between the Christmas story and that of the parents of the killed soldier. I think the same is true between WWII and Afghanistan.
    About the column you linked to: the only hero of Christmas is this helpless child, who as a preacher told us, to love our enemies. How to do that in a war is a good question. I don’t know the answer, but it makes well aware, waging war is even more difficult. And to my big surprise, these parents seemed to have an idea, how to do something else. That is what I told at Christmas. Maybe not clear enough to you, but definitely appropriate.

  2. virginbrain Says:

    Thank you for reacting Mr Reefhuis. Looking back on what I wrote, I must say that I did enjoy the singing a lot that evening. That joy did not come through completely in my piece.

    I am very glad and somewhat surprised how this monologue now has turned into some sort of dialog. This is something I never expected.

    Of course, I do understand that nobody likes war. But I am afraid it is part of human nature to have wars, as we have different points of view and some have an enormous hunger for power and know how to manipulate followers to reach their goals. You will find online, and in printed books, that more than once religion has been reason for starting wars. How awkward.

    My main point of irritation is that it is quite cruel to say that sometimes a life is not lost in vain. You can protect somebody else. Sometimes you protect something else. I can tell you, from having lived in the States for a while, soldiers/people there really believe that they can spread democracy and justice throughout the world. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for that. This is an attitude that is hard to understand, especially for Dutch people. This pure believe, almost naive, is something we cannot relate to. Even if we send soldiers to help construct new democracies, we are more worried that somebody might get killed, than how many lives might be saved by this action.

    I understand it is a totally different way of looking at things. But as long as you will not see the mothers of killed Afghan children on camera for this TV clip, there is a lot to fight for. We should not tolerate that women are being suppressed anywhere in the world.

  3. Eddy Reefhuis Says:

    Thirty years ago I did some talking to people who participated in the armed resistance during WWII against the Nazi-occupation here in the Netherlands. To my great surprise they told me, fear was an important teacher to them, whereas heroes mostly were mortal, to themselves and to their friends.
    Twenty years ago I got the same lesson of members of SWAPO, the liberation movement in Namibia. While they all knew very well, sometimes you cannot avoid armed resistance and have to accept people die (for exactly the reasons you mention – saving other lives, immediately or in future), the main lesson was: be careful, especially with violence – it is mortal and it is very infective (anger, revenge etc. – sometimes even the power in it is like a drug).
    So it isn’t just innocence or lack of experience with violence, or an abstract ethical position I am defending. My opinion is well grounded on wide experience, though not my own

    And for American soldiers spreading democracy: they most certainly helped restoring democracy in Europe. But tell me one other example where they did so and I will tell you a number of examples they did the opposite.

    I fully agree we shouldn’t tolerate suppression of women anywhere in the world. But I never heard of liberation of women by an army – well, you know the stories of armies and women, I guess.

    I also fully agree it is cruel to say a life is lost in vain. I don’t believe that. We even have a line in the Bible saying: “none of us lives to himself, nobody dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14, 7,8). I find it a touching line, saying much more than I can comprehend – quite often I quote it at a burial. It prohibits me to judge. Therefore I said: don’t say somebody’s death is right, for no reason whatsoever. But you heard: all death is wrong. Then it is a judgement, and that is unacceptable, I agree.

  4. Carmen Fetner Says:

    Hey could I reference some of the insight here in this entry if I provide a link back to your site?

  5. richard Says:

    Of course you can. that is what the internet is for 😉

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