Essay

Ten Incredibly Profound Thoughts

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The bane of the internet is that no one ever has a thought she doesn’t share. Your bane today is ten of mine. Maybe one or two will give you pause to ponder, or put a momentary smile on your face.

  1. Our church yard has been especially beautiful this summer—languid shade trees, lush grass, lots of flowers in bloom. Many people work hard and find joy in making it so. A wise friend once said, “The state of a church yard is an indication of their doctrine of creation.” Discuss among yourselves.
  2. A few weeks ago, I did a funeral for a stout old Dutchman with an eighth-grade education. In the front row sat his grandson, with his beautiful Caribbean island mother next to him. He was missing the first day of orientation at an Ivy League college for the funeral. We all can find plenty of things that need fixing about the United States, but when I see an instance like this, I am hopeful.
  3. On vacation in Seattle, that mecca for “young nones” and happy pagans, I’ll confess I skipped worship on Sunday. Walking our friends’ dog past a neighborhood church at about 10 AM, a nicely dressed older gentleman stood outside, obviously on greeter-duty. We nodded at each other. I felt his desire to connect with me, to express warmth and welcome. I empathized with him as he wondered how to convey all that to this shorts-and-sandals-wearing, dog-walking person (me). For an instant I thought of stopping and explaining myself. “I’m a minister on vacation. A brother in Christ! Grace and peace to you!” I walked on.
  4. We often hear warnings that with the “new media” we have all withdrawn into “lifestyle enclaves,” where we converse with those like us, and receive news only from sources of our favorite flavor. Probably this isn’t good. But after Robin Williams’s death, it took a while for me to hear how cruel and unkind some Christians and others were being. I was glad for my little enclave and that I hadn’t encountered any of that. Mark Driscoll news, too—just not in my bubble. I’m good with that.
  5. I am trying to write more “comments” and use less “likes” on friends’ Facebook posts. Ironically enough, I read on Facebook that comments make it more difficult for their algorithms to peek into my soul and pigeonhole me. If I say that comments seem more “incarnational” than likes, am I reaching too far to make this theological?
  6. I was heartened by the recent outpouring of concern for the Christians in Iraq. Glad for signs of Christian solidarity across borders, even if it sometimes produces rather naïve demands that “We must do something!” But am I wrong to say that concern for Christians in Iraq is often more a reflection of partisan American politics than deep concern for the Iraqis? Back when it was W’s war, about the only voice I heard of concern for Christians in Iraq came, oddly enough, from Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip. Now that it is Obama’s problem, the right is suddenly more concerned. And why do I think that if Iraqi Christians were actually given refuge in my little town, I would soon hear, “They’re really only ‘cultural’ Christians. We must convert them to our ‘true faith.’”
  7. Around our church building there are two matching, well-made wooden benches. We have one by an entrance and the other in a cloak room. They’re a place to catch your breath, to take off your boots, or to wait for a friend. I recently discovered they were originally intended to be alongside the Communion Table in our chancel—perhaps actually to be used during the Lord’s Supper, so those communing would be seated, or maybe more symbolic accoutrements. All you symbologists out there, what does it tell us that they ended up in an entrance and cloakroom? I’m not looking for a scolding here. Might it be practical hospitality?
  8. Every few years we have a conversation in my congregation about whether we should have a little note in our church bulletin that says something like, “May the prelude call us to a time of silent prayer and quiet preparation before worship.” It feels like what we’re really communicating is “Shut up and listen to the music!” Doesn’t feel welcoming to me. Feels stuffy, and my congregation probably feels stuffy enough already. Agree or disagree?
  9. Does anyone else find the use of the word “Homeland” to describe the USA, just jarring, freaky, and disconcerting? For example, “What implications might the spread of ISIS have for our safety here in the homeland?” For me it has an eerie echo of the Nazi’s das Vaterland. Even more, it clashes with another echo in my head. “They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
  10. “All this talk of ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’ in the church today—I think most of it just an expression of overly competitive and ambitious males.” These words recently slipped out of a female ministerial colleague. Alright then, tell us how you really feel!

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

5 Comments

  • David Vandervelde says:

    Very much enjoyed. Thanks.

  • Laura says:

    #8: agree. (And I feel I'm qualified to say that as someone who has done church music in the past — sorry, musicians, but you're not the point.)

  • Angela says:

    Re #8. I grew up in a culture of silence before the service while the organist played. It was meant to be a time of reflection. It's taken awhile but I like the noisy greetings and visiting that happens before church. A lot of people don't even sit down till the worship band starts playing. It says something about community and welcome. Instead I've learned that my time at home and drive to church is a great time to prepare my heart. Granted I don't have kids.

  • Carol Westphal says:

    Re #8 Oh please don't discard the invitation to silent reflection before worship! It's so necessary, it seems to me, to create space within ourselves–and around ourselves–to truly encounter the One we worship. Time for chatter before entering the sanctuary and after worship during a coffee hour.

  • Kris says:

    Is not music to be listened to? It is an aural art and ministry. This blog post and the responses have been helpful…and yet discouraging.

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