29 May Someone Wants to be a Doctor
Soon after the current president of Tainan Theological College & Seminary stepped into his position in 2012 he hired a promising young woman with Master of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees to be a junior faculty member in the undergraduate division. The long-term plan was for her to take a Doctor of Theology degree and move into the graduate school. A year or two later he sent her to the Netherlands to get a research degree. She returned and started teaching undergraduates. Within two more years, the president sent her to Scotland, where she is now at Edinburgh University, working on a Doctor of Theology degree. This month she’s working to present a proposal for a dissertation. Still not confident in her English writing ability, she asked the president for help, and he has assigned the project to me.
The first file arrived for editing on a Friday afternoon late in May. It was 20 pages long… not bad until I realized that it was single-spaced. It took all day on the 29th, a day that was supposed to be a national holiday (but because Char never rests, I had nothing much else to do anyway.) Looking at what she was proposing to write for a doctoral dissertation, it didn’t really appear to be “enough” to me. But, then, I never wrote a doctoral dissertation. Thinking of what I had done to her original, I dreaded hearing back, and even more, dreaded having to do more.
3 June Payback Saturday
May 29 and 30 were national holidays, but only the 30th was officially so. Everybody had the 29th off, but had to go to work on Saturday, June 3rd to make up for it. Char taught her Monday classes on the 22nd, then not on the 29th, only to have to teach them almost back to back on the 3rd and on the 5th. Since theological students have weekend field education assignments, they didn’t have to make up missed Monday classes, but staff and faculty were to be in our offices. I spent the morning working on a giant wall hanging for the library and neatening up stuff for church the next day. The house got picked up & dusted, and the bathrooms got cleaned, but the floors didn’t get mopped.
4 June Substitute Sunday
I was originally scheduled to do simultaneous translation in church on the 11th, but the person scheduled for the 4th had to go out of town, so we were switched at the last minute. Turned out OK. It was Pentecost Sunday, and there were confirmations, a baptism and the Lord’s supper. Those have already been translated, so I mainly just followed along in the book, reading the service in English as it was spoken in Taiwanese.
5 June Delivery Day
The big wall hanging that I had finished the previous Saturday was checked and rolled up for delivery. The director of Library services was attending some theological lectures, so I left the 12 foot long pole wrapped in cloth in an inconspicuous spot in the church music room. I asked one library staff member to inform the director of the delivery and my need to talk about installation. We saw each other (visually) several times in the succeeding days, but as of June 12 not a word has been exchanged and the hanging isn’t yet hanging.
7 June Invitation to Love Taiwan
The phone rang and a young man from Taipei invited me to deliver a 20 minute sermon at the opening worship of the annual “I Love Taiwan” summer camp. This event, put on by the Presbyterian Church’s Youth Committee, will start on June 29th. It involves international youth from around the world coming here for two weeks of education and service alongside a like number of local high school and college students. I was thrilled to be invited. I asked what they wanted, and was told, “20 minutes”. That’s when the fun began. As a minister of Word and Sacrament, I like to preach something remotely biblical. He was surprised. He sees me as a missionary, and wants me to give a testimony of how and why I got involved in Taiwan, but that story is over 40 years old and doesn’t really thrill me anymore. When I characterized his request as a “testimony” he demurred, saying that it should indeed be a sermon, but include a testimony. I think he doesn’t know WHAT he wants. When I asked what language they wanted, he said English. OK, that’s easier for me. But there will be translation into Chinese too. I mentioned that it would cut into the 20 minutes allowed, making my content about 11 minutes long and the translator’s time the remaining 9. We’ll work it out.
Two days later I got a note from the translator, wanting to see, already, the sermon that I intend to give. I’ve written nothing yet (today is the 12th). I’m tempted to send something that is already 25 minutes long WITHOUT translation, then switching it out at the last minute for something more fitting. BUT, that would be unkind, so I shall not yield to that temptation. Whatever I do, I’ve gotta start thinking ahead.
7 June Snakey Decoration
A few weeks ago I stretched 6 transparent fishing lines across the nave of the chapel at Tainan Theological College. That afternoon I hung lightweight butterflies, birdies and feathers from a few of the lines. Some faculty don’t like what I did, some students do, and most people don’t care. Since nobody claims to have “authority” over the chapel, I’ve moved into the empty space and given myself permission.
On the 7th I moved the butterflies from the line at the front to one near the back. As I was doing that, I found a long pink balloon, kind of a spiral thing, sitting on a pew. Apparently it was left over after a wedding. I wound it around one of the lines at the middle of the chapel. It looked like a snake. I was mindful that the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church would preach that afternoon, so I shoved it all the way against one wall.
During worship later, every air conditioner and fan in the building was turned up on high. The breeze caused the balloon to began a migration towards the center of the room. It remained there for the next couple of days, slowly deflating. By the 12th it was back against a wall, looking like a tadpole or spermatozoid.
8 June Scratch & Sniff
I lead morning prayers at Tainan Theological College on the 8th. The assigned text was a Pentecost reading from John 20 in which Jesus breathed on his disciples, conveying the Holy Spirit to them. That made me wonder what it might have smelled like.
At a second-hand book store I purchased a 2 year old copy of Vogue Magazine to use as a prop. From the pulpit I pointed to perfume ads and mentioned that sometimes these have places for you to scratch in order to get a whiff of what is being advertized. From there I moved to the idea of “scratch and sniff” Bibles. These could give us chances to smell the breath of life in Genesis 2; the stench of death in Genesis 7; the smell of Saul in the cave in I Samuel 24; the smell of war in Job 39; and the smell of one’s lover in Song of Songs 4. Turning to my assigned text, I asked what smell should accompany the story of Jesus breathing on the disciples. Would it be Jesus himself, his breath, or the Holy Spirit? Leaving people to think about that, we sang a hymn and went out.
8 June Toe Day
Before heading out to Chang Jung Christian University for office hours on the 8th, Char phoned my office to ask that I meet her in the next-door hospital’s waiting room upon her return that afternoon. A toenail that had been injured over a year ago finally decided to come loose, and she wanted medical attention. She had already made an appointment to see a family practice doctor.
We met at 3:30 and she saw the doctor, who could do nothing for her. He made an appointment for her to see a plastic surgeon later that evening. We were back at 6PM and, after a short wait, Char had minor surgery in the office and got bandaged up. Because we’re covered by Taiwan’s National Health Insurance, the 2 doctor visits, office procedure and 3 days worth of medicine set us back only about US$12.The other supplies for wound care that we bought at a drug store amounted to another $5.
When we retire in 2018 and move to the USA, and have to get into the medical system there, it’s going to be a shock!
10 June Baptist Tour Group
As the semester draws closer to its end, it seems that more and more groups of people want to see the campus. Folks from Wu-Chang Baptist Church in Kaohsiung were here on Saturday. I escorted them around for about an hour. I always ask if they want to hear about buildings, history or stories, and usually I get asked for stories. There’s enough around here to tell, so an hour goes pretty quickly. Great people, too.
11 June Good News for One Indonesian
After worship at the Tainan International Community Church on the 11th we were sitting around eating snacks when one of the Indonesian women in the group, and engineer who had finished her master’s degree in January, mentioned that she had secured a job about 40 miles from here and will get to stay in Taiwan rather than returning to her home country. I’m really happy for her. Though she won’t be part of the Tainan Church any more, she will be able to continue here in this wonderful land.
12 June Doctor-Redux
The junior faculty member of Tainan Theological College who is writing her dissertation proposal in Scotland sent another file on Friday. This is the kind of stuff I DON’T do on weekends. Though it was only 10 pages long this time, it was still single-spaced. They required a lot of rewriting, consuming most of my morning. Though her language ability hasn’t improved, she’s getting better at making things look academic. Her plan involve 3 more years of work in the UK. I wish her the best, hoping that I’m out of here before the actual dissertation needs editing and rewriting.