Three Weeks of Independence in Taiwan

29 June: It ain’t “My Kaohsiung” any more.

Early in June I was invited to give a short sermon during opening worship for the international “I Love Taiwan” camp run by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan for youth from around the world. The event happens annually, but this is the first time I’ve been invited.

Saying “Yes” to the invitation was made easier because the camp’s first few days were at a conference center in Kaohsiung, where we’d lived for 25 years. I knew the location and felt confident of getting there without trouble. I even looked at it on Google maps ahead of time and jotted down some directions. But I mis-read too much of what was presented, including what I thought was an estimated travel time of  45 minutes. (It was really something like an hour and 20.) Leaving home late, I proceeded to miss the freeway off ramp and had to circle back. I missed more turns before finally getting to the correct road. When I looked for the place to be on the left, it turned out to be on the right.

I got there only 10 minutes before my part in the program was to begin (I’d been asked to be 45 minutes early). Other than the staff, nobody else knew how poorly I had performed. I hope the sermon was what they needed.


2 July: “Not For Use With Children”

When planning to preach, I look first to the lectionary and choose one Old Testament and one New Testament suggestion that I find there. I was NOT entertained to find Abraham offering his son as a human sacrifice in the Old Testament lesson, and Jesus telling how he came to set parents against children in the Gospel. But instead of running to and preaching a comfy psalm or propositional truth from the epistles, I bit the bullet. The sermon is posted somewhere on the blog page, if you care to see what came out of the thing It’s titled “Not for Use with Children.”


4 July: “Happy National Day”

The Chinese Nationalist Party of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek ruled China from 1911 to 1949, and Taiwan from 1945 to 2016. One of its policies was to insert the word “Nation” (the first word in the party’s Chinese name) into as many commonly used phrases as possible. Elementary schools became “Citizen (national people) Small Schools”. Middle schools became “Citizen (national people) Middle Schools”. Chinese characters became “National Words”. The anniversary of the rebellion that began the revolution which put the emperors out of office and the “National Party” into power is “National Celebration Day”. Young people in “citizen small” and “citizen middle” schools were taught that America’s “National Celebration Day” is July 4.  Accordingly, a couple of guys my age sent me “Happy National Day” greetings on the 4th. It brought about interesting discussions. I thanked each for the good wishes, but pointed out that though the USA has national holidays marking Martin Luther King, Presidents Washington and Lincoln, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans’ Day, that there is no “National Celebration Day” in America. Members of the Chinese Nationalist Party can call holidays here whatever they want, but shouldn’t re-name and re-construe the meanings of the holidays of other peoples and nations.


6 July: Evaluation

The theology faculty met at 9AM on July 6th to go over the academic performance of all students who had been on probation last semester. It also looked at the grades of any deemed “in danger of” being put onto probation or being dismissed before the new school year begins on August 1st. Almost everyone is doing all right. One student has to re-take a course, another needs a little encouragement, but anyone who was previously on probation is now free from restriction. At 10AM the faculty of two other departments joined the meeting and reported on their students.  Nobody was expelled for poor grades.

Another discussion ensued. The head counselor spoke about a ministerial student whose ex-girlfriend (not a student) had contacted her about his conduct. Though his behavior had not been formally reported to the president’s office for action, it has apparently become well known to students and others through social media posts. Nothing will show in his record that can be cited, but he has been asked to take a year off to reflect on his ministerial calling and vocation. This is not a formal suspension, but may turn out to be good for the church.


9 July: Ego Feeding

From the time I left the door to the time I got back, 7 hours had elapsed. I’d been to Taipei where I delivered a sermon and presided at Holy Communion. All told, I was “up front” for about 30 minutes. It wasn’t as if the church, which worships in English, couldn’t have found someone else to stand in for their pastor, but it WAS all about me having said “yes” to a request made months ago.  I enjoy preaching, I enjoy presiding at sacraments, I get good feelings from it, but I am wondering whether it’s for the adrenalin rush or not. If you’re interested, you can find the video here:  It was a good trip and visit to good people, but too much investment for the adrenalin payback. I’ve one more Sunday trip for this purpose, in October. But maybe not next year any more.


9 July: Church Elsewhere

Tainan International Community Church meets in a multi-purpose room at Dongning Presbyterian Church. It’s the right place, because to put 15-20 people in a sanctuary that seats 250 would really look bad, and it would make fellowship difficult.  On the 9th a different group was using that room for a meal, so we had to shift to a classroom next door. No big deal…. We had been told the previous Monday.

Setting up for worship entailed fetching hymnals & bibles, and rearranging tables and chairs so it wouldn’t feel like we were at a lecture. It required using a different computer and projector system than usual. Then afterwards everything had to be put back as it had been before we started. It being summer, there were only a dozen of us in attendance anyway.

The lectionary had offered Jesus pointing out that some people liked neither himself nor his cousin, John, AND some love poetry from the Song of Solomon.  The sermon came out as “You Can’t Say That In Church” and concluded that whether people like it or not, “Touching, pleasing, and delighting are gifts of God.” It was kind of fun to preach, and given that most of the congregation are between 20 and 30 years old, may have hit a mark. You can find it in the blog:


11 July: Entrance Exam

In decades long past, Taiwan’s joint university entrance examination was given during the first few days of July. Results were announced within a week. Bible and theological colleges, not participants in the joint exam, then gave Christian students a chance late in July to test into THEIR entering classes. Though the joint university entrance exam is a thing of the past, and Tainan Theological College’s undergraduate program will completely disappear in 2018, the entrance exam here is STILL sometime after the first week of July. Apparently “God planned it so.”

A change in the application procedure for students hoping to become ministers in Taiwan’s Presbyterian Church cut the numbers of people eligible to take this year’s test. About 10 were examined last April and another 25 in July. (these numbers include graduate students in Church Music and Social Work). I was responsible for the English language placement exam. Students who read the sample questions and Reading Comprehension essay that had been posted on the school web site were prepared. Most of the others seemed either only to have paid attention to the 400 word vocabulary list or to have not prepared at all. A couple were surprised that there had been ANYTHING on the web. I don’t know how many have been accepted for the fall term, but learned on the 17th that I’ll be opening a remedial course for at least 3.


13 July: Nearly Front Row Seat.

Every summer a local organization runs a 2-week youth choir camp. Three professional directors meet with students for 10 days of training and rehearsal, then give several concerts. My ticket put me in row 2 of the Tainan Cultural Center’s concert hall. I was so close to the stage that I could hear sotto-voce comments from the directors. I saw three different styles, each of them filled with love that was manifest between the high school students and their directors. The first guy, Taiwanese, almost danced his direction. He was loose of limb and expressive with his hands. The second director, from Norway, was wonderfully playful in how he related to the choir. All of them were just having a good time together. The third guy, a Taiwanese who works in Singapore, seemed more mechanical, but you could see both the love and trust that went back and forth between himself, his accompanist, and his choir. In the future, when going to events like this, I’m going to want to be in the front again. No more cheap seats for me.


14 July: An Interestingly Named Street

Our daughter, Kate, sent me a scan of a Tainan municipal record from several decades back. It lists the names once given to the streets and lanes our neighborhood. One lane was interestingly denoted as, to put it gently, “Dog Excretia Lane” (it’s earthier in Taiwanese). I HAD to find it. It’s now a paved 1.5 meter-wide winding path behind buildings. I’d been there before, not aware of what I was walking on.  At its terminus I saw what looked like continuation across an avenue. Thither did I hasten.  A man coming out of that narrow space between buildings said that it went no further, and that, indeed at the place from which I had emerged it had once been known as “Dog Excretia Lane.” But on HIS side of the avenue it bore no such name. Apparently he had property values to consider!


16 July: Preaching to Children

Starting in September I’ll teach a course on preaching to children. It’s something not often or rarely well done in Taiwan. On the 16th I was preaching at a church for “Printed Evangelism Materials Fundraising Sunday” and was pleased to note that the order of service included a Children’s Sermon. Since the minister of the church is a friend of many years. He’s a creative man whom I really respect. But I was disappointed, because HE wasn’t the one doing the sermon. A friendly grandmother was in charge. She made about every mistake that I want to teach my future students NOT to make. She stood when speaking down at the kids, used a microphone when all the kids were within earshot, talked too much, had too many points, rambled, and basically told them all that God’s intent for them is that they all be obedient to their parents, teachers and pastor while behaving well. Then she prayed for too long.

For the class to come, I’m building lessons even now. I hope that when I see the final projects next January, they will bear witness to the existence of a well-trained cadre of future “Preachers-to-children” in this land.


16 July:  Cello Jazz

It’s my week for concerts. A quartet of piano, cello, bass and drums offered up a program “Neither Classical Nor Jazz” at a small concert hall (holds only about 250 people) near home on Sunday night. I almost didn’t go, because I had neither bought a ticket in advance nor figured that after preaching two church services I’d be as tired as I was. But when I discovered myself to be several thousands of steps short of my daily walking goal, out I went.

It was delightful! The players were all university students or recent graduates. The “not classical” music was contemporary, the “not jazz” music was re-arranged standards from the 20th century. The skill on display was amazing.  I hope that, at $6 per ticket, they made back what it cost them to rent the hall.


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