Hi, my name is Doug.
I write little essays about faith and life.
I also laugh at my own jokes and correct other people's grammar.
I'm far from perfect.
This is my blog.

Not going to church anymore

Here’s my Holland Sentinel column for June:

I don’t go to church much anymore, and haven’t attended regularly since 1980, when I stopped being a church member altogether.

I have mostly good memories of going to church, with my parents and my sisters, but for most of my adult life I have worked on Sundays.

So, over the years, when I was on vacation, I would wake up on a Sunday morning and think about going to church. This habit is deeply ingrained. But going to church these days sure seems to be a lot harder than it used to be. Also, not many people are doing it anymore. The statistics clearly show a downward trend—with young adults leading the way. Once it was just the liberal mainline churches who wondered about all the empty pews, but now even the evangelical Protestant ones are facing the same problem, a surprise given all of the comfortable seating in newer churches.

For one thing, going to church means getting up and getting out of the house on a day off, when I could simply read the paper and do the Sunday crossword puzzle. I had thought seriously about hiking one of western Michigan’s many scenic trails this morning with my brand-new hiking boots, which I’m really excited about, but instead I showered and got dressed. I even shaved. I was prepared to tell anyone who asked that I sometimes feel closer to God on the trail than in a church. But no one even asks the question anymore.

Next, there was deciding what to wear.

Really, what do people wear to church these days? I used to wear a coat and tie, which for years was my Sunday uniform, but I haven’t gone to church in such a long time that I didn’t know if anyone wore suits anymore. In the end I opted for shorts, because it was going to be a hot day, and I didn’t want to be uncomfortable, but almost immediately I felt uncomfortable anyway, even though most of the other men, even the ones my age, were also wearing shorts.

My mom and dad used to say that I should dress for church the way I would dress to go to the White House and meet the president. Now that I can make my own clothing choices, I find myself—maybe unconsciously—still trying to please them. And still failing.

Singing was also much harder than I expected. I love to sing, but I should point out that loving to sing is different from singing well. It would be more accurate to say that I love to sing when no one, except maybe God and my granddaughter, can hear me. They think I’m terrific.

I knew the first song—“Be Thou My Vision”—and started to sing it enthusiastically, as though for God’s and my granddaughter’s enjoyment, only to discover that no one around me was singing. Not a single person. No one’s lips were moving. For a couple of stanzas I tried to create some musical excitement around me, but finally gave up when a couple of people turned around to find out what the “American Idol” contestant looked like.

And then there was the message.

Now, I know a little about the degree of difficulty involved in public speaking, because I used to do a fair amount of it, so I was willing to give a lot of bonus points for sincerity and effort and conviction. But not even a lot of sincerity and effort and conviction can make listening to a sermon bearable for 25 minutes. It seemed like 30, but I was trying not to look at my watch.

I thought about leaving during the last song, but I noticed that a large group near me was already doing that, making quite a commotion, I must say, as they stood up to leave. Maybe they were late for their brunch reservations. Restaurants around here are always crowded on Sunday at noon. Instead, I decided—heroically I thought—to stay all the way through to the end.

Will I be going to church next Sunday? Yes, I think so. I have a whole new level of respect for those who do it, especially those who do it regularly. Maybe I can learn something from them.

Photo: Early morning, somewhere in northern Spain, way back in March.

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Dachau and the Result of Hatred, Racism and Bigotry

Here’s my May column for the Holland Sentinel:

Before leaving Europe and moving back to the United States, my wife and I had in mind one last tourist destination. We had visited all of the cathedrals, museums and battle fields it was humanly possible to see during the four years we lived in Switzerland, but there was still something more I felt I needed to see—namely, the concentration camp at Dachau.

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My Camino de Santiago

Here’s my April column for the Holland Sentinel:

A spiritual pilgrimage, so the thinking goes, consists of both an outward journey and an inward journey.

Last week I returned from my first Camino de Santiago, a spiritual pilgrimage dating back to the 11th century. I walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port (on the French side of the Pyrenees) to Santiago de Compostela (a university town in northwest Spain with a famous cathedral), a distance of 500 miles, which I walked in 29 days.

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Reflections on the “Dead Beat”

Here’s my March column for the Holland Sentinel, which could use an overhaul of its obituary page:

My name has appeared in dozens, maybe hundreds, of obituaries over the years, usually in the last paragraph.

After the date, time and location of the memorial service, my name would be given as the pastor who would be officiating. I think this is the reason I started reading obituaries. Not to make sure my name had been spelled correctly, but because the obituaries would often be revealing.

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A triumph of hope over experience

The lastest from the Holland Sentinel’s community columnist:

Oscar Wilde famously wrote that second marriages are “a triumph of hope over experience.” I feel the same way about exercise.

Sometimes I’m not sure why I bother.

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Called To Be a Loser

Here’s the latest from the Holland Sentinel‘s community columnist:

Several years ago I was invited to give the baccalaureate address at the Presbyterian-related school, Hanover College, in southern Indiana.

As far as I knew, the school’s main claim to fame, other than having me as a speaker, was having Woody Harrelson as a student. He received his degree in English and theatre in 1983, more than 20 years before I set foot on campus.

I titled my address “Called To Be a Loser” and sent that information, along with a publicity photo, to the college president a few weeks before graduation weekend. Within a few days, the president telephoned with concern in his voice, though I couldn’t quite figure out why. Finally, he said, “That’s quite a title you chose for your address.”

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My Annual Christmas Letter

Christmas 2018

Dear family and friends,

On January 28 I preached what will probably be my last sermon at the Eglise réformée française in Zürich, Switzerland, where the International Protestant Church offers Sunday morning worship and where we shared space with a French-speaking congregation.

I retired that day after nearly 40 years of ministry. Continue Reading →

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Crazy Poor Dutch People

 

Here’s the latest from the Holland Sentinel‘s “community columnist”:

I wanted to call my new book “Crazy Poor Dutch People Who Immigrated to the U.S. and Became Rich, Republican and (Ironically) Anti-immigration,” but my publisher thought that title was too long and unnecessarily provocative. Plus, the allusion to “Crazy Rich Asians” is already dated.

Instead, I went with “The Truth About Who We Are,” which is not nearly as clever. It is available from the publisher and will soon be available through Amazon. Continue Reading →

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It’s good to be home

(Note: I started a new and lucrative career this month as a “community columnist” for the Holland Sentinel, the local newspaper. My first column is below. Look for my florid prose on the editorial page on the first Friday of every month. For those who’ve read excerpts on the blog from my new book, I’m happy to report that The Truth About Who We Are: Letter to My Grandchildren will be out next month from Wipf & Stock, a fine publisher based in Eugene, Oregon. I’ve seen the page proofs, and it looks great! Lots of photos and a Brouwer family tree dating to the 1700s, or about as far back as I have looked so far.) Continue Reading →

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James A. Brouwer and the Electric Car

Here’s another chapter – and most likely the last one you will see here – from my new book, now titled The Truth About Who We Are: A Letter to My Grandchildren.

To this point I’ve written mostly about ancestors who came to the United States and, against tall odds, not only survived, but thrived, making me proud to be descended from them. That was meant to be an inspiring story for you, as it has been for me. But the story is more complicated than that, as you must have recognized by this point. 

The separatist spirit that brought Dutch immigrants to the United States was sincere enough, but it could also be stubborn, rigid, and intolerant. Continue Reading →

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