Anticipation has been growing. The excitement is almost palpable.

Yes, it is true. Back despite absolutely no popular demand, for the fourth time, here is my most recent collection of profundities, oddities, trivialities, and observations. This year, eight of them. So friends and folks, here are the crazy eights.

Belly-up to the buffet and see what looks tasty.

1.) About three years ago, I culled my library by about 70 percent, with the best of what I was off-loading going to schools in the developing world through the fine work of the Theological Book Network. All I have left are books I use or are just too dear to part with. Increasingly I notice my study (and I still try to call it my “study” not an “office”) looks like it belongs to an elementary school teacher, or perhaps an activities director at a summer camp. Chalk. Beach balls. Poster board. Dog bowls. Goofy knick-knacks. Sometimes I am troubled by this. What is it telling me? Then I try to smile and tell myself it is all good.

2.) When I moved to Iowa, I assumed biking would be easy. Flat, flat, flat. I discovered instead that Iowa is often windy, covered with rolling hills, and long, gradual inclines. When I am riding down an ever-so-small slope with an imperceptible tailwind, I can be quite impressed with myself. Who was the oldest person ever to win the Tour de France, I ask myself (Belgian Firmin Lambot, age 36, in 1922). Then I turn around to head for home and have to grind up that slight grade into the light headwind. I am undone. This is the way I think about my own white privilege. I’ve pedaled hard, no doubt. But I never appreciated the incline and breeze in my favor. Not until I’m going in the other direction.

3.) Netflix Notes: (Why do I suspect this may bring the most feedback?) I enjoyed Stranger Things’ third season. It was a fun adventure, gift-wrapped in nostalgia. However, it lacked the intriguing backstories and the depth of family-of-origin issues found in the first two seasons. Meanwhile, When They See Us, the docu-drama about the Central Park 5 and the “wilding” incident in 1989, was deeply distressing. At times I found it so intense I could only watch half an episode in a sitting. Much has been written about the female prosecutors, who in their zeal for a high-profile rape conviction, railroaded the young men of color from Harlem. St. Benedict tells us there is both good zeal and bad zeal. I don’t know. Looking at our world, I sometimes wonder if zeal only brings hubris, mania, mistakes, and pain

4.) Different translations of the Bible are cultural markers. The translation people prefer can tell you a lot about them and their faith. Go into a church sanctuary, look at the Bible in use and it will reveal quite a bit about the congregation. We use the New Revised Standard Version–NRSV. It sends the right signals about our congregational culture, moderate-leaning-mainline, educated. I’ve always been an NRSV guy. It was released when I was young. I knew some of the translators. I trust the scholars who recommended it as the best there was. That’s all a while back now. I’m still a loyalist but increasingly I find the NRSV feeling starchy and pedantic. And it was never known for doing an especially good job on the poetic, lyrical nature of scripture. It’s growing long in the tooth. It is about as aged as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was when the NRSV was introduced. I heard once there is talk of an updated version. The National Council of Churches was behind the NRSV but I can’t imagine they have the oomph to pull off a new translation these days. Are there other options? What translations would people suggest for worship? Observations, experiences, wisdom to share?

5.) Sometimes it’s not so great to be edjamucated. Most readers of The Twelve know the order of the four Gospels in the New Testament–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Many of you also know that it is commonly believed that Mark was the first written Gospel. Then Matthew and Luke riffed off that. In my head, that makes me think of Mark as “first.” This leads to the problem. I can’t tell you how many times when looking for a passage in my Bible, I’ve mistakenly looked for Mark before Matthew or I’ve been in Mark and then paged backward to find Matthew. Embarrassing professional problem.

6.) I hear lots of chatter and anecdotes about Christians being terrible tippers at restaurants. I’m told it is common knowledge that wait staffs despise the Sunday after-church crowd for their stingy ways. My sister was a waitress so I was trained in the importance of tipping. I remember how steamed she was when a customer left a tract entitled “The Best Tip I Can Give You Is Accept Jesus as Your Savior” but no money. I understand that Christians might be frugal. Nothing wrong with that. But where does generosity come into play? What about our “public witness.” Seems Christians would want to be known as compassionate and concerned people. Come on, Christians, let’s up our tipping game.

7.) The daughter of a friend recently graduated from college and moved to a small-ish Midwestern town for her very first “real job.” She wants to go to church, to be part of a church. She’s looking for a church. Like many (most?) millennials she’s quite progressive. Questions about a place for LGBTQ persons in the church aren’t even a question for her. It’s a yawn. It’s stuff old people argue about. But so far she hasn’t found a church that shares her attitudes in her town of 10,000. Her father said with more than a little annoyance, “The church may complain about millennials abandoning church, but it looks to me like the church has no one to blame but itself!”

8.) Our early morning men’s group can be all over the board. Sometimes fantastic. Sometimes less so. When we met right before the Fourth of July, I read them the beginnings of both the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. One guy (granted, a retired philosophy prof) noted the difference in presuppositions and tone. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wants to present fixed and eternal truths, which may have been only recently uncovered, but nonetheless are timeless. In contrast, Lincoln at Gettysburg talks more about being led into an uncertain future, an experiment, a fragile hope of discovering a better way. I was blown away by this observation. There are, I think, similarities in the way people do theology. I lean Lincoln’s way.

If you just can’t get enough of this sort of stuff, you can read the earlier iterations–Ten Incredibly Profound Thoughts, Profundities, Fun Facts, and Trivia, as well as (Lucky) Thirteen More Profundities.

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.

6 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I’m with you and Lincoln. I use the NRSV for any number of reasons, but I’ve never liked it nor been impressed by it. I use it because right now there’s nothing better. Blecch on English translations of the Bible. And years ago I departed from the supposed scholarly consensus that Mark was first. No way Jose. The reasons that Mark was first are trumped up (hah) and backwards. Read Mark as second, as knowing Matthew, and it takes on new freshness. Dispense with Q, liberate yourself. The gospels are presented in the order they were written. There’s my holy three for the morning.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    There are some restaurant formats that don’t allow tipping, and I love them. I think restaurants should manage and pay their own staff. That said, I love your encouragement on tipping. I could tell several stories about tipping making a real difference in the lives of servers. But even beyond that, I think for me it is now the most everyday way for me to practice being generous.

  • Johannes Sociologicus says:

    On #2: one of my favorites on privilege is John Scalzi’s “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” (https://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/). Scalzi, himself a straight white male, writes, “I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word ‘privilege,’ to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word ‘privilege’ is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with ‘privilege,’ they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.”

    On #6: Seriously people, the person you are “trying to teach a lesson” with a low tip is learning a different lesson: you are kind of a jerk (or maybe just clueless about how the whole pay-for-waitstaff economic model works).” Minimum wage for tipped workers in Iowa is $4.35. Consider 20% a necessary part of the cost of the meal (rather than optional) and it makes things far easier.

    On #7: Truth. This demographic may not be huge, but if the church turns its back on progressive young believers, the percentage of religious “nones” will continue to grow.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    1. I have begun culling my personal library. So far, of the thousands of books, I have given away two. I admire your conviction and courage. 2. Many in my church my age and older have purchased electric assisted bikes for the uphill slogs. Just sayin’ 3. What is Netflix? 4. You were young when the NRSV came out? Do you know how old that makes me feel? 5. “Matthew, Mark Luke John,/ Blest be the bed I lay upon” 6. I always tip thirty percent or above. The two best ways to support a local economy are local restaurants (and generous tips for wait staff) and subscribing to local newspapers BTW – from my daughter’s brief stint as a waitress I learned to put my trash, etc. on my plate when I am done eating. It saves the wait staff one step and they are grateful. 7. Thanks for not dumping on millennials. I am related to a fair number and I love and respect them. I also note a tug at them from the church 8. I love the observation.
    By the way, the place I work in the church basement IS a study, not an office, and every pastor’s work space should be a study.

  • AMS says:

    Great article, Steve. Thanks so much.
    During the 60’s I was a waitress at a small restaurant which serviced Hope College men, since at that time, meals were only available on campus for the women. Of course I didn’t expect tips from the college students, but the best was when a neighboring Christian businessman would very occasionally put a penny at the bottom of his water glass!
    Please keep the crazy coming!

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    No one tips in the Netherlands because servers are paid a decent wage (and get decent benefits). Why are US servers paid so little? How is it still legal? Christians should support a $15 minimum wage for all workers, Medicare for All, etc. Why should a worker have to depend on my generosity?

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