Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, May 20, 2011


When he walked in that morning, the place full of people, he noticed immediately that two guards stood at the gate to the pulpit, two policemen to make sure he didn't get in it--the pulpit that is. So the story goes that he simply stepped into an aisle and stood on a front pew to deliver a sermon on Ephesians 2--"For by faith. . ." My guess is you know the text.

That afternoon the doors were nailed shut so no one could get in for the second service. Dominie Hendrik DeCock, undeterred, took to the horse barn, where those dozens who come to hear his sermon followed him over and listened to him hold forth on the first q and a of the Heidelburg Catechism, amid the livestock. The next week, when DeCock was hauled off to jail, Dominie Scholte, from down south, came to fill the same pulpit, which he could do it because the parishoners at Ulrum knew him to be orthodox. That same Dominie Scholte would, just 14 years later lead hundreds of Dutch immigrants to the plains of Iowa, to a place he chose to call Pella.

It was the afscheiding, the separation, a church split, the departure of those who considered themselves the true church in rural Holland, circa 1834. My own ancestors were among them--not there in Ulrum precisely, but among those who were convinced that the State Church had departed from orthodoxy, so convinced, in fact, that they left Holland after the American Civil War, when there was no truly orthodox church, they reasoned, on the island of Terschelling where they'd lived.

Today, we worshipped at the Ulrum church--not officially, but in a fashion that I think God almighty rather liked. We sang psalms--not hymns--and were accompanied on an organ that is itself hundreds of years old, in a church built originally in 14th century. That's no typo.

It's a part of me, what happened there back then, circa 1834; and in some way it's a part of the lives of almost everyone who was with us this afternoon. The afscheiding sent its adherents, like my great-grandfather, off to America, where by 1857, they founded the Christian Reformed Church, the church of which I am a member, the church into which I was born.

This morning, we'd earlier visited the stonehenge-like funeral monuments of the megalith builders, Holland's own very first agriculturalists, where we heard the story of the region's first human inhabitants, or at least what can be known of them.

They were, in portraiture, blonde-ish, which seemed markedly strange, given the fact that they looked for all the world like American Indians. These prehistoric people are also my ancestors, I suppose, but it was absolutely shocking for me to think of myself as aboriginal. I've been to lots of Native American museums, seen replica statues of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, as well as pictures of Cochise, Geronimo, and Quana Parker, tons more. In all those visits and visions, I've always been looking at them, not me. But there I stood, for the very first time in my life, staring at my own blond-haired indiginous ancestors in full Native regalia.

I couldn't help but smile, shoot, laugh--because I'd never, ever really considered that my own people went back that far--father to son, mother to daughter, etc. That I could be indiginous--absolutely shocking. Amazing.

But something in me probably was, once, just as I am the child of what happened in the Ulrum Church 175 years ago.

I suppose I'm something like those frescos in the church at Gronigen, an entire wall of them that were not seen for hundreds of years, then uncovered, almost as if by error, when the church was restored and the coats of paints put up over them by the righteous Calvinists was painstakingly wiped clean--well, sort of.

Look at them, slowly showing themselves again 500 years after the Reformation obliterated them for the sake of spiritual purity. They're still there. They're not gone. They're just defining themselves.

I like that. Somehow I like that. We are, after all, God's workmanship--we are what he does. We are, really, what he is--the product of his hand, created and endowed with some image of what he is.

There's the Ulrum part, the megalith builder part--there's the Puritan and the pagan, I suppose. It's all there somewhere in fragments. That was Day 3 in Holland, the place from which I came.
Just one.

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