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Struggling for Values at Year-End


Blog Entry  2 about the impact of a November trip to Cambodia
By Carol Van Klompenburg* 

In October, a mentor challenged me to write out my values. Good idea! I thought. I should do that.

For a week I tried. I sat at my keyboard, but no words came. I went to my sun porch with pen and paper, and even there, nothing rose within me.

I put her challenge aside as I made a November trip to Cambodia, sponsored by World Renew. As a service arm of my denomination, World Renew has walked alongside Cambodians for 20 years.

During our two-week trip, I toured huts and palaces. I saw stores and temples. I met subsistence fishermen and farmers whose livelihoods are endangered due to the droughts and warming waters of climate change. I walked streets that were littered with plastic and paper and glass. I heard the stories of people who struggled for even a glimmer of hope, while one fourth of Cambodia’s population died under the Khmer Rouge. When that regime ended, other oppressive rulers followed.

When the trip is over, I return to my comfortable middle-class home. Confronting my full closets, I want to share the items I no longer use. I long to removed clutter from my counters. I want to shed any trashy ugliness that surrounds me.

I am only one small part of a massive globe, but surely, I can do something, however small. . . . I have had this reaction before, returning from countries in the two-thirds world. And then, with time, the feelings have faded.

I consider the options. Maybe I should try again to write that values statement. That might be more enduring than a knee-jerk coming home reaction.

I sit before a blank screen, and during the next half hour, the words for what I value rise within me. I value simplicity and order. But I also relish beauty.

It is a start, but somehow incomplete. I think of the World Renew work in Cambodia. Yes, like the staff I met there, I also value service.

I keystroke words, excitement rising. Careful, Carol, I caution myself. You know how you can create cosmic, eternal schemes that collapse under their own weight within a week.

I remember the Al Anon motto, “One day at a time.” Yes! That will help.

beauty-order-simplicity-no-watermarkWords flow from my fingers onto the screen. I choose a Calibri font, size 60, and arrange the words in a way that pleases me.

I click “print” and hang the printout below the lamp that lights my desk. Placed there, it will be a good reminder.

I reflect on it in the mornings as I sit at my desk, I find myself dissatisfied.

God is not on that page. But I can’t just add him to the list. He is more than that.

Shall I capitalize him and put him at the top? Better, but still not right. . .

My eyes wander as I ponder. My gaze stops at a soapstone carving made in Kenya. A few months ago, when the morning worship theme was “Our Triune God,” I used it for a children’s message.

I had been struggling for a concrete image of the Trinity for children, when I had remembered the carving: three abstract figures on a single base. They blended together so that I could not see where one ended and the other began. That’s an image that will work for children, I thought.

It did work—for me and for them. The message over, I gave them a picture of the carving and converted to a line drawing for them to color.

After the service, I carried the carving with me, and our pastor glanced at it as we shook hands at the exit.  He said, “Ah, yes, the Dance of the Trinity!”

Dance of the Trinity? This carving was intended to represent the Trinity?

Back home after worship, I Googled images for “Dance of the Trinity” and they appeared. They were not identical to mine, but they were there. My carving had a name! It was probably carved to represent the Trinity.

Then I Googled for words, using the same phrase. I learned that theologians in the early church used the word “perichoresis” for the Trinity—a word almost identical to a Greek dance of three persons weaving in a beautiful motion that goes faster and faster. Eventually they go so fast that their individual identities blur. They are part of a larger dance.

Now, several months later, as I struggle with my values statement, I pick up the carving and muse. Suddenly I know how to change my statement—not with words, but with an image. I take another photo of The Dance of the Trinity, convert it to a watermark, and place it behind the words.

Yes, I crave beauty, order, simplicity and service—one day at a time. And—wonder of wonders—my triune Lord is present in all the words, whirling among them, drawing me into his infinite and loving dance.

I hope that, having probed deeper in response to this cross-cultural trip, the resulting insight and motivation will remain with me for a longer time.



*Writer Carol Van Klompenburg blogs somewhat regularly at