26th March Triply Churched
During March the faculty, some staff members and some students of Tainan Theological College visit local churches to ask for donations and support. This year I went out twice. On the 26th I was happy to be at a church in Tainan City, because immediately after worship I had to be at Dongning Presbyterian Church to lead the international small group. I’d made arrangements for a speaker and for someone else to take care of administration, but had to pop my head in and have lunch with people, too.
So, one church on one side of the city, then another closer to the center, followed, later in the afternoon, leading worship at the Tainan International Community Church. I was particularly tired the next day.
27th March A Fellow Californian on Campus
It was good that on the 27th I wasn’t asked to do much other than sit in lectures. David Vasquez-Levy, the president of the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkley, California, was on campus to talk about his particular field of study, immigration. He did great stuff with Bible stories applied to very current issues about refugees worldwide, and particularly in America. His comments were all the more powerful because he, himself, is an immigrant from Guatemala, who only moved north for graduate school many decades ago.
28th March Dinner Conversation
A banquet was held to thank Dr. Vasquez-Levy for his service to the college. Chinese banquets are at round tables, and there were 3 in the room. I was NOT at the head table, which is fine with me. Over the meal I conversed with our college chaplain, who told me about an independent church in Kaohsiung led by a dynamic pastor who has no theological training. The congregation has grown from 70 to 700 under his leadership. I asked what that church “does”, and the only answer that I heard was that it brings people in and trains them to bring more people in. Having recently read an article about “multi-level-marketing” companies and pyramid schemes, I inquired more deeply. Eventually we came to the place where there were no answers to the questions. This dynamic church doesn’t do any particular service to anyone outside its own membership, and eschews theological training for ministers. I told my colleague that I’d rather follow Jesus, who served for the physical and spiritual benefit of people whether they would join his little band of disciples or not.
30th March Spring Break Begins with Spinning Wheels
When the college goes on break, I often spend my time in the office. Char’s university runs on a slightly different schedule, and her work never ends anyway. I attempted to spend the first day of my spring break in the house, working with the computers there to get ready for church on Sunday. It turned out to be an exercise in spinning my wheels.
Tainan International Community Church doesn’t have a steady list of accompanists to play the piano with our singing, and since we sing 10 things every week (including a couple of song practices, 4 hymns and 4 responses), there’s a need for music. I have managed, so far, to find most of what we need in MP3 and MIDI files online. But the software on the computer at home is different from that in the office, and instead of walking across campus to use what I can do easily, I elected to stay at home and try harder. I learned a lesson. Smarter is better than harder
31st March Late Sermonizing
Pride comes before a fall, and a haughty spirit before destruction. The Old Testament lesson for April 2nd was Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones, a text I’ve preached from many times in English, Taiwanese (and my only ever sermon in Spanish). I left things till late in the week, figuring that I was familiar enough with what to do with the text. It resulted in some panicked and frantic writing on Friday morning & afternoon. I ended up more with the Gospel lesson, on Lazarus coming out of the tomb. I was still making adjustments as I preached the thing on Sunday afternoon. Then even more amendment was necessary before putting it online. I hope I’ve learned something from the experience. .
1st April 35th Anniversary
We’ve been married almost 37 years, but April Fool’s Day was the 35th anniversary of the day we began to learn Taiwanese in 1982. We felt like proper fools that day, and probably still sound like proper fools today.
3rd April Once Around the Lake
Char’s spring break began on Monday and extended through Wednesday. We made firm plans not to do any school work on Monday We motored to a nearby lake for a morning’s walk. It was pleasingly sunny with a cool breeze. Perfect way to spend our time, and mainly a level walk. The lake is a reservoir, originally constructed in 1846, then repaired in 1905 after an earthquake, and further improved over the decades. It was such an easy trip that we might well make it again some time. The “cricket museum” was especially amusing.
5th April Stand Back!
The young man who led the community of Tainan Theological College in worship on Wednesday afternoon showed himself to be not very experienced at writing or delivering a sermon. I think he knew that in advance, so he “put a lot of lipstick on that pig” in other ways. Worship began with a processional in which a couple of his friends carried in a cross and a Bible while a choir sang. Only after the singing was done and the items were in place did he approach the pulpit to speak to us. Then, in his enthusiasm, he shouted! But his mouth was too close to the microphone, and the sound was turned up too loud. We all jumped!
6th April Happy Jesus Presbyterian Church
I was scheduled to lead morning prayers on the 6th. Vauvani, the aboriginal woman who did the scripture readings and led the hymns, came to me a couple of weeks ahead to learn my plans. I gave her what she needed, then left space for myself. In the end, I used bits of what I’d done in church the previous Sunday with the story of Lazarus and bits of what I’d done in my “Platform Skills” class the day before. I put together a little skit of a pastor going to homes of inactive church members and calling them to repent of whatever kept them from attending church and come out. The church was named, “Happy Jesus Presbyterian”, but one could tell from the attitude of the pastor that there wasn’t much happiness there, and which side needed to do the repenting.
6th April Department Meeting
The theology department at Tainan Theological College meets twice a semester to deal with graduate student thesis issues and who is to teach what next term. I’ve proposed an elective course in preaching to children (a skill that is lacking in Taiwan) and another one in writing one’s own catechism (which I’ve taught before, and enjoyed). They are given such mundane titles by the department chair,(“children preaching” and “applied catechesis”) that I’ll have to “sex them up” in advertizing if I’m to attract any students in the fall.
7th April Diagnosing Ecclesial Dysfunction
Once every semester the entire faculty of Tainan Theological College gathers to share the research and writing we are doing. Last term I submitted an article on “The Joy of Theological Lex”, which was published in the college’s December issue of its journal. I’ve got another one based on Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath” paradigm submitted for the June issue. For weeks I’ve been toying with the idea of an article about inward-focused churches. I’ve seen various blogs about the topic and have read a few articles. On the 7th there was a note in my mailbox announcing this term’s meeting, which will be on a Saturday morning (What the ???). That got me moving. I outlined, researched, wrote and submitted the article to the registrar in an afternoon’s time. Felt so good that I even sent it to the journal. If it doesn’t make the June issue, then I’m 6 months ahead for next December!