A Week of Wonders

An Index in Formation  (March 6)

    Since I started taking responsibility to lead worship at the Tainan International Community Church on Christmas day, one of my struggles has been music.  In past years when I’d occasionally “take a service” there I often met with either an incompetent accompanist or none at all. In recent years I’ve learned more about computer files of hymn tunes, played on various instruments, which a church can use. I’ve gone for them big time.  But they have their limitations. Though many hymns have been around for a long time, there is also a lot of music in the hymnal we use hat’s still under copyright.  In those cases I’ve learned to find sing-along videos on YouTube and strip the audio files from them for use in church. My reasoning is that if it’s permissible to use and sing along with the video, just using the audio is kind of like doing the same thing without the pictures.

    Two weeks ago a young Indonesian woman volunteered to play the piano, admitting that she can’t read music in staff notation. However, she does well with “numerical notation”  (read about it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbered_musical_notation ).  Tainan International Community Church uses “The Chalice Hymnal”, published by the Disciples of Christ denomination in America in 1995.  It does NOT include numerical notation.  I asked a musicologist friend where I could find hymns set out in that system, and he told me to look in hymnbooks compiled for Mandarin Chinese churches. I hit a treasure trove!

    This week I began creating an index.  It’s in five columns, one each for the hymn #, title, tune name, location in numerical notation, and, if all else fails, a .url for the tune’s audio file.  I got a collection of modern and old Mandarin Chinese hymnals and song books, and am finding about 60% of the songs from the Chalice Hymnal somewhere in them.  Once I’ve made it all the way to the end of the “Chalice”, I’ll go to the college library and dig in other sources.  If the thing works out as I hope, the possibilities of singing to real music by a real musician increase exponentially, and we’ll stop being quite so  “experimental” of a church.


I Don’t Fly  (March 7)

    Seniors at Tainan Theological College studying to become protestant ministers are required to preach a sermon to the community during worship on a Wednesday afternoon. A couple weeks before their turn comes up they preach it to their classmates and a few faculty members on a Tuesday (we’re all on a rota).  I had not looked at my calendar carefully enough last week, so showed up when I didn’t need to and listened to a student. The moderator of the session asked me for comments, even though I didn’t “have” to say anything.  

    The woman who practiced on us was speaking from Amos, and her assigned scripture reading included the phrase “Let justice flow like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”  That’s a dynamite text. Martin Luther King Jr. used it in his “I Have a Dream “ speech. Sadly, she spent most of her time telling us about the historical setting of the prophet’s time and the situation in which the verse is set. Eventually she got into relatively modern times, but still didn’t get past about 1960.  

    When the microphone was passed to me, I asked people to think about the fighter planes that Taiwan’s Air Force uses. Some are American, others from France, and others a locally built craft known as the IDF (Indigenous Defense Fighter). When that plane came into use in the late 1980s a public rollout was held at an air force base where they were built. But the one rolled out for a demonstration flight only taxied to one end of the runway, then right back to the hangar. Something was wrong so takeoff was aborted.  “IDF” came to stand for “I Don’t Fly”.  I told the entire crowd that though sermons often “taxi along” a bit, they really need to fly.  I hope the image was a good one for all of these preachers-in-training.  I hope even more for the young woman who will be in the pulpit on an upcoming Wednesday that her rewritten sermon might soar!


“Those videos were very practical!”  (March 8)

   Only one of the classes that I offered to students at Tainan Theological College this semester attracted enough students to open. That doesn’t mean I don’t find things to do around here (translation, research, writing and being responsible for an English language church make sure that I earn my pay), but it does mean that the time I spend with people in the classroom is more memorable because there’s so little of it.

   The class that opened is “Sermon structuring and Platform Skills”.  The skills part has occupied us for the past couple of weeks. Ahead of class, students watch videos on public speaking skills, like control of voice, posture, use of gestures, and such. This past week there were things on how to stand, where to stand, how to hold your hands, and how to position yourself when you’re on camera.  The first thing I heard when I went into the classroom was one student saying, “Those were sure practical videos this week.” We deal with is things people never really considered before, some of which can seem rather “un-religious” to them. The assumption that a sermon with good content is all that is needed is false. If you can’t present it well, you have wasted your time preparing it.

    Next week we’ll look at dialog preaching.  I checked some sermon books out from the library, passed them out and assigned students to find a partner, choose two sermons (one for each) divide each one into a dialog, and present them.  What teaching am I doing?  Not much. Just offering people an experience in doing and hearing some things that they’ve never before experienced.


An Old Friend Resurfaces (March 8)

    I’ve been teaching one particular student for a couple of years now, and never realized that his father is a former colleague from the 80s & 90s.  I owe the Dad a great debt. Rev. Chia was on the committee that supervised the Campus Ministries center that Char and I helped start in the 80s. Early on in that work I was sent to the church where he was pastor to give a sermon about campus ministry and ask for donations. I was so full of myself that I tried an “experimental approach” and it fell flat. When I finished, Rev. Chia scraped up the pieces and made a pitch for funding. He never invited me back to preach there. I don’t blame him.

    In the mid 90s he took a call to a church in a different part of Taiwan and we lost contact. On March 8 he showed up to hear his son (my student) preach his graduation sermon. It was a wonderful reunion, made even more meaningful because besides being his son’s teacher, I was the advisor for the sermon AND moderated the evaluation session later on.


How to Embarrass Your Offspring (March 8)

    I moderated the evaluation sermon for a student’s graduation sermon on March 8th. He’d done a passable job, and there was no danger of his not passing. The service that he wrote and the very professional way he carried it off speak very well for him. With that kind of presence, even someone who begins as a “so-so” preacher has half the battle won.

   His father, a minister elsewhere in Taiwan, showed up for the event, and stayed for the evaluation session. At one point when I was asking if anyone had anything to say, he raised his hand, so I called on him.  The son, sitting beside me, immediately got tense.  It wasn’t so bad. His father had good things to say, but “too many” good things. When he began advising all of the other students on how they should proceed and telling stories, my student kept gesturing to his Dad to stop. Eventually he asked ME to stop him. I eventually called time, because “Dad” had taken too many of the limited minutes available to faculty and classmates (of which he is neither).  It makes me wonder whether or not I should go to my own son’s PhD defense when that comes ‘round.


You Taught Me Something  (March 9)

    Part of doing a senior sermon at Tainan Theological College is conducting worship from beginning to end, and designing everything that goes into it. This includes the bulletin cover and the chapel decoration.  There are times when a poor sermon tricked out with elaborate designs makes evaluators wonder whether the student put the eggs into the wrong basket.

    When the guy I was advising last week stopped by for a last minute check, I asked about his plans for decor. He mentioned using a lot of cloth.  I offered him the use of the iron and ironing board that I keep in my office for textile art projects. On Wednesday morning he stopped by to borrow things.

    The next day he returned them and thanked me Besides ironing the cloth he put on the pulpit, he had done his shirt! He had never previously ironed anything, always leaving that job to his mother.  I told him to inform her of what he’d done and where he’d learned it. I added that, should he marry in the future, he should tell his bride. After all, I want credit.


Beware of Trolls  (March 10)

    Appropo of my responsibilities with the Tainan International Community Church, I finally got a facebook account and began making connections here in the city. I joined an international student group at the local university and a  announcement  group for foreigners in town. From time to time I respond to someone’s request for an electric drill or a suggestion on where to go to lease a car or something like that.  Aside from a church-related group, I hadn’t put myself in front of the community yet until March 10th,

    I was VERY careful.. About 10 years ago, in connection with the English language Community Church in Kaohsiung, I over-enthusiastically advertised an upcoming event with the promise, “you will be blessed!”  I was taken down by a couple of very anti-church folks. At about the same time I watched a group in Tainan in which a woman doing an English ministry at a local Pentecostal church was ridiculed and taken apart online by some very unfriendly people. At one point things got so mean that I spoke up to bring the trolls to heel.

   So it was with great trepidation that I hit “post” on an invitation for this coming Sunday. It reads as follows:  For anyone who may be feeling “just a little bit churchy” we offer “just a little bit of church” in English on Sunday afternoons from 4:30 to 5:30 at Dongning Road, Lane 120 (Corner of Chang Rong Road) # 12. About 20 folks, lots of Indonesians, lots of Taiwanese, a handful of Americans. If we don’t start exactly on time, we definitely end on time. Might just be worth the risk once in a while.



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