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.

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.

After the holidays lots of people resolve to lose weight, get fit, and feel better. At the gym yesterday I was surprised by how many people around me were sweating, breathing hard, and not appearing to enjoy themselves very much. The place was full.

Last summer, when I joined and signed a membership contract more intimidating than any mortgage I’ve ever signed, there were very few people around. I never had to wait for a treadmill, stair climber, or rowing machine.

On a hot afternoon in July I counted exactly one other person in the gym, and in addition to gray hair we both had the self-assured look of men our age, a look that says, “You know, with only two, maybe three, days of training I could have my 18–year–old body back again.”

Sadly, I haven’t had my 18–year–old body since the day I turned 19.

In spite of my best efforts—heroic efforts, actually—I have been on a steady and unforgiving physical decline. But I stay with it. I have run several marathons, climbed a few mountains in Switzerland, and pedaled my bike around most of Idaho. At the moment I am getting ready for a 500–mile trek across northern Spain, known as the Camino de Santiago. If you see someone in the next couple of weeks trudging through your neighborhood with a fully–loaded backpack, please don’t call the police. That will mostly likely be me getting ready for my next challenge.

And yet, I am not getting any stronger—or younger.

With all of my hard work over the years (and expensive gym memberships), I’m not sure what I have to show for it. I’ve lost an inch in height and gained a full shoe size to what were already large feet. Please don’t ask me about my weight. And anyone brave enough to look at my bare feet would have to turn away in disgust. My five–year–old granddaughter recently pointed to something on my face and asked what it was. I had to introduce her to the term “skin tag.” I’m a wreck.

The person who cuts my hair told me last week that I “have nice hair … for a man my age.” I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t. “You should have seen my hair when I was in college,” I wanted to tell her. “There was so much more of it.” And there was. An unbelievably full head of hair, grown to shoulder length with the most glorious waves. Today I keep my hair short, which befits a man my age.

And yet, here I am, still trying, still giving it my best effort. I suppose I have my father to thank in part. He set a good example. He exercised throughout his life. He played racquetball every noon hour until he was 70, often—to his delight—against much younger men. But one day he suspected that his much younger opponent was giving him points. And it was then that he quit playing racquetball, though he continued to exercise.

Until his late 80s he would walk daily around the neighborhood, and if there was snow on the sidewalks, he walked laps in the living room. I’m glad to say that I inherited his determination, which has mostly been a good thing.

People who walk the Camino de Santiago, which is what I plan to do in March, are often asked, “Why are you doing this?” And I have been told by others who have made the same pilgrimage (it began centuries ago as a religious thing) to be prepared for the question. Why am I doing this? What am I hoping to achieve? If there is a goal, what in heaven’s name is it?

To be honest, I don’t know the answers. I’m certainly not trying to recapture the way I once looked, though losing a few pounds wouldn’t be a bad outcome. What I feel at this point in my life is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for the work I was able to do for nearly 40 years. I’m grateful for the family who put up with me all those years. And I’m grateful for the good health that allowed me to do that work, plus those adventures I mentioned.

The truth is, I will walk the Camino because I can. I get up early on Saturday mornings and fill my backpack with 20 lbs. of stuff and then walk over to the state park because, well, I can, because God gave me these legs. I am amazed every time I think about them.

I walk, and I keep walking, because I am grateful for what I have been given.

Photo: If you see this man walking through your neighborhood, don’t be alarmed. He’s mostly harmless.

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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.”

Continue Reading →
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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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My Only Comfort in Life

(Here’s another random chapter from my new book, Letter to My Grandchildren: Brief Essays on Identity.)

When I was in third grade I started to attend weekly catechism classes at my church, something I would do until I graduated from high school. At the time I thought children all over the world did pretty much the same thing.

In catechism classes we memorized the 129 questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism, a doctrinal statement published in 1653, in a city called Heidelberg, in what is now Germany. It’s a lovely medieval city. I have been there, and I hope you are able to visit someday as well. Continue Reading →

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My name is Brouwer

(Here’s another random chapter from my new book, Letter to My Grandchildren: Brief Essays on Identity.)

Where I grew up there was nothing at all unusual about the name Brouwer. Nearly everyone I knew – neighbors, classmates, teachers, even my pastor and dentist – had a distinctively Dutch last name, and so no one was ever puzzled by my name or had to ask me how to spell or pronounce it. Continue Reading →

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Those Embarrassing Names

 

(For a few months now I have been reading about and researching my ancestors, the women and men who came before me and passed down to me my name, my ethnic identity, my DNA, and of course my faith. Here’s a sample chapter from the new book which I’m – tentatively – calling “Letter to My Grandchildren.”)

Many of the people I knew when I was growing up had odd-sounding names. Not distinguished sounding at all, like I wanted them to be. The names were slightly embarrassing, I thought, as though in a previous life I had grown up with much better people, maybe in a much higher social class.

There wasn’t a Henry David Thoreau in the bunch. Or a Harriet Beecher Stowe. Those names and a lot of others like them always sounded remarkable to me, like you’d want to know them and read their books and be like them. Continue Reading →

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Turns out I’m not Dutch after all

Here’s the latest on the search for my identity: I’m British! No kidding. Take a look.

To bring you up to speed, I bought one of those DNA testing kits, spit in a glass tube, and sent the package off for testing. I declined the medical results, as I mentioned in a previous post, and I also decided that I didn’t need to know about “surprise relatives,” thinking that the ones I know are surprising enough.

But the results were – how should I put this? – still surprising. Continue Reading →

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