Three Weeks in One Afternoon

April 16 Easter

As special as I remember it to have been when I was a kid, and as special as I learned it was SUPPOSED to be as a theological student, Easter is still something of a disappointment to me in Taiwan. The Taiwanese church we attend does put on more music, better than usual music, for Easter. The recorder group to which I belong played both the prelude and the postlude, but they were rather simple Western hymn tunes so that we wouldn’t make too many mistakes. Other than the music, though, it was still generally just another Sunday at church. I think the problem must be in me. I guess that I want fireworks or something.

April 16 Easter Banquet

After the English worship service on Easter Sunday afternoon the Tainan International Community Church hosted a banquet at the restaurant around the corner. We pretty much filled three tables (10 people per table) and ate for almost 2 hours. Even though we’d ordered up the “cheapest” set menu that the place offered (around US$200 per table), the food was still very good and the service wonderful.  Cost being what it was, we won’t repeat it again soon, but will keep it in mind for sometime again before the end of 2017, and once again before I retire in 2018.

April 19 Assignments Roll In

Sometime in March I received a “please respond postcard” from the Taiwan Church Press, where I was and editor from 2000 through 2004. The Press has its fund-raising Sunday in July, and was looking for people willing to go out and ask for money (in the guise of preaching a sermon). I agreed to go any time in July EXCEPT for the 9th, on which day I’m already committed to go to a church in Taipei for something else. Starting in the middle of April the requests began to roll in: June 18, July 16, July 30 and at last, July 9, but that will be at the place I was originally going to, and the “asking for money” part will just be grafted onto it. The press is particularly happy about that one, because it means they won’t have to pay for my travel.

April 20 Visit from Afar

Since Char and I started as Reformed Church missionaries in 1982 we’ve had 7 or 8 different supervisors. Some have basically limited their role to checking up that we are actually doing good work and not suffering. A couple of others occasionally told us what work they want us to be doing, and consequently caused some suffering. On December 31 our most recent supervisor retired. He was replaced by a Korean woman who lives in New Jersey. She visited us on April 20th and was very encouraging. Since she will only be our boss until we retire next year, we expect no big changes, and look forward to competent and helpful guidance in the last year of our employment with the Reformed Church.

April 21 Creation Set

Sometimes when you can’t get started on the work you HAVE to do, you turn to something entirely unnecessary just to create momentum. Because I like to do art projects, my workspace, which is supposed to be an office, looks more like a supply closet. There’s a stack of unused picture frames along one wall, some more leaning against another, and there WAS a set of 4 former cabinet doors (complete with glass) against a third wall. On the 21st I turned them into a work depicting God’s creation of the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all things. All it took was taking the “star spangled” cloth off of the office door to represent the heavens and the flower spangled cloth from the top of the desk (complete with spilled coffee stain) to be the earth. A piece of dotted blue print fabric from a box became the sea and something with leopards on it stands in for “all things”. I stapled, glued and taped cloth to the back of the cabinet doors, added hanging wires and took the resulting mess over to the classroom building where it now hangs on the walls between rooms 4 and 5. The entire project, including little “artist labels” took about 90 minutes. It got me moving for the more important projects that I had been avoiding.

April 22  Faculty on Saturday

Faculty members at Tainan Theological College meet once a term for a marathon session sharing the articles or books we’re currently researching and writing. (Key thought, NOBODY is writing a book.) We usually do this on a Thursday evening in October and another in April.  This spring the Thursday evenings all got taken by other things, so we had to spend a Saturday morning. It’s good that we all live on campus! About 20 people gathered in a room where 5 papers were presented. Even for that few, we used 3 hours.

My own contribution was a short piece on diagnosing ecclesial dysfunction, which I saw as more a “disorder” than a “disease”.  Because I came to it by way of things like Avian Flu and the Autism spectrum, people generally thought of it as “cute” and not at all scholarly. They’re probably right.

April 23  Give Us a Hand

Hands were all over the place at Tainan International Community Church, where I preach in English every Sunday afternoon. The assigned Gospel lesson was St. Thomas demanding that he be able to touch Jesus’ hands with his fingers and put his hand into Jesus’ side before he would believe in the resurrection. Picking up on the “hands” thing (Jesus’ nail-scarred ones, Thomas’ seeking ones and our useful ones) I used hands on all of the power point slides and all over the bulletin. People probably got tired of them, but I feel that when you’ve got a good theme, you should hit ‘em with it over and over. By the way, we noticed that in the story as related in the fourth Gospel, Thomas never touched anything. He saw and believed.

April 25  Library Commission (or is that, Permission)

The library at Tainan Theological College was built in the mid-60s. It’s 3 stories high and has a closed central staircase. There’s a grand blank wall in that staircase that stretches up two stories. It is just crying out for something to hang on it. Surveying the boxes of cloth in my office and considering bags of same in one of the chapel storerooms, I came up with an “artistic concept.”

The director of library services and I are simpatico, so I went to him with a design in hand. After I showed him where I’d like to hang the thing and assured him that I wouldn’t fall down and break my neck while doing it, he approved the idea.  Now I just have to carve out the time, wash and iron the cloth, sew it together, and make sure everything is straight.  All but the last of those seem fairly easy, but straight is my weak point.

April 25  Drawing Lots and Choosing Sections

Students in the ministerial training course at Tainan Theological College have to preach to the community before they graduate. On April 25th, those who plan to finish their training in June of 2018 met to draw their sequence lots for the upcoming academic year. These determine who has to be ready in September, and who will have the leisure to wait until June. Because the professor who usually oversees the process will be on sabbatical next year, I’ve been put in charge of assigning the scripture texts. My instructions are to stick with the liturgical seasons. But I decided to give the students a little choice, too. After they had drawn their place in the sequence, they were allowed to choose from one of four options for their week: Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel or Psalm. When the academic office finishes the coming year’s calendar and the worship committee finishes claiming certain weeks for special stuff, the remaining 27 Wednesday afternoons will be parceled out, according to the sequence that the students drew, and I’ll assign the texts according to the portion of scripture they chose: 7 Gospel Lessons, 7 New testament lessons, 7 Old Testament lessons and 6 Psalms. Generally this assignment of texts is met with groans. At least next year the student will know that they had a little bit of a hand in what they got stuck with.

April 26  Chapel Decoration (I)

Late last year I took some of big pieces of cloth from a chapel closet, sewed them together into long strips and then doubled them over and sewed again to form long banners that I hung across the chapel ceiling. After being up there for 2 weeks they had to come down because someone had rented the chapel for a wedding, and the cloth on high didn’t match the decoration scheme.

But those banners haven’t gone to waste. Students now use them like bunting when decorating the chancel for community worship. One guy even used one that I had sewed together from random bits of print and solid fabrics and gave a theological explanation of how the particular combination fit with his sermon!

April 28  Entrance Examination

Twice every year Tainan Theological College conducts entrance exams. The April session is more limited (16 students came). I gave the English exam to 6 of them who are seeking entrance to the ministerial training course (the other 10 want to get MA degrees, that don’t require an English entrance exam). Since hitting on a particular “formula” for how to do the exams 3 years ago, I’ve pretty much stayed with the pattern, testing memorization, translation, comprehension and scanning. But basically I’m testing whether or not people prepare. I’ve learned that they’d rather do  memorization than translation or comprehension part. As a certain president finishes his tweets…. Sad.

April 30 Psalm 116 and Response

What is religion about anyway? Some years back I learned that the “lig” in the word is the same root as the “lig” in ligament, making “religion” something intended to link us to something else. But to what? Belonging to any particular religion has the potential of linking us to other people with the same religion. But what about linking us to the divine?  Using verses from Psalm 116 I explored this with the folks at Tainan International Community Church on April 30th. For the writer of that poem, the link was not about “meeting divine requirements” or “trading something for salvation.” It was about “Response to something that had already been accomplished.” Along the way, the plot of a 1922 novella by F. Scott Fitzgerald got worked into things. I’ve gotta get more concrete this coming Sunday.

May 2  Pre-evaluation

Students preparing to preach to the community of Tainan Theological College for graduation have first to preach whatever they’ve prepared to a few teachers and their senior class classmates. The teachers rotate through the duty, and I’m on about every other Tuesday afternoon at 1:30. I hate it because it cuts my nap short. On May 2 a guy whom I really like was on the spot. He did well enough. He has a good presence in the pulpit, good voice control, and a limited but developing ability at gestures and body language. Like many a beginning preacher, he wants to say too many different things to fit conveniently into one sermon, but the seeds of a capable minister are there.

May 4  Butterflies

In my quest to get chapel decoration at Tainan Theological College off the floor and “up where folks can see it” I’ve decorated the ceiling. Only one student followed up and did that himself. Some weeks ago I put hooks high into the window frames on either side of the hall. Last week I strung heavy duty fishing line between the hooks about 9 feet above the floor. But the chapel is almost 40 feet wide, so the fishing line sags if anything heavy is hung from it, making it unsuitable for banners.

So I thought, “butterflies”. I found some lightweight butterfly-themed and feather decorations at an art supply store and strung them up there. They don’t look particularly good, but the point is to get people thinking of how they could do it better than the white guy with crazy ideas. We’ll see if anything comes of that between now and the end of the semester, or between now and when I’m told to “cut that stuff down.”

May 5  Portfolio Assignment

Among my students there’s one senior, who gets to bug out of class two weeks before his classmates. With that in mind I’ve already put together the assignment for which final grades in “Pulpit Skills and Creative Preaching Design” will be given. Students will have to turn in a portfolio containing 4 written and two video projects. The written ones include a sermon re-edited for dialog preaching, and detailed outlines of 1st person; back to front; and music sermons. For video, they’ll have to revisit and resubmit things that they made for church websites at the midterm and create, preach and record children’s sermon using some kind of a prop. Everything will be submitted through “the cloud” because they need to learn how to do that and  I hate dealing with paper. Getting the final assignment a month ahead of time doesn’t mean that they can begin skipping class, it just means they can begin putting things together.

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