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Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920

No one has ever called me a Kuyperian, and I’m okay with that. Then Kuyper scholar par excellence and RJ blogger, Jim Bratt, mentioned Kuyper’s driestarren (three stars). It was a sidebar of pithy observations, ironic notes, and telling jabs that appeared in De Standaard, Kuyper’s political paper. The pieces were separated by a three-asterisk pyramid, thus three stars.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may recall that every now and again I toss together a collection of trivia, oddities, and annoying observations. In honor of Father Abraham, here’s my latest edition. 

1. I was fascinated by this overlay of US politics and car brands. Everything else today is divided red versus blue. (Wrangler = red. Levis = blue.) Why not car brands? I didn’t see any huge surprises. I thought Volvo and Subaru might tilt further left. What accounts for Ram’s far-right leanings? Is it because Ram is now only a line of trucks? Many have observed that there’s definitely a connection between big-ass trucks and Trumpers. (Is the massive trailer hitch obligatory?) How would you imagine an overlay of North American churches and denominations with car brands? Is there an archetypal Reformed car? Do CRC and RCA people drive different brands? 

2. While last summer’s Christian Reformed Synod has received loads of attention, not much has been said about the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America. From what I gather, it was relatively placid, a few ugly and awkward moments notwithstanding. I’m curious how the large — and still ongoing — departure from the RCA has changed its character and makeup. I wonder if the senior staff and some of the key task forces might feel like they are now leading a group that did not hire them? Are they vestiges of an RCA that no longer exists? Might they be lame ducks of a sort? I don’t know. But apparently, thoughts that the new, smaller RCA will soon feel more like the United Church of Christ or even the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are exaggerations. 
Another observation about the current RCA exodus. I’ve been told that the most accurate predictor of who goes and who stays: Congregations with women and/or people of color on the Consistory board tend to stay. All white, male Consistories go.

3. I wonder if he’s onto something? I asked myself that after reading David French’s piece a while back. French (evangelical, libertarian, and New York Times pundit) observed that non-Trumpers typically note the vitriol and bitterness manifested at Trump rallies. What is overlooked, but certainly enjoyed by the attendees, is the levity and bonhomie among the crowd. French contends that until we see, understand, and possibly offer some sort of alternative to this mirth and cohesiveness, we will never be able to counter the alt-right.
His comments brought to mind the studies showing that so many of these people identify as “evangelicals,” even though they align with almost none of the traditional evangelical markers. Does Trumpism fill a void left by the decline of traditional religion? A place to gather with similar people, to hear some denunciation and tsk-tsking about the bad guys, but also find joy and energy and identity together. It’s like going to church.

Danish windmill
Elkhorn, Iowa

4. Iowa roadside attractions. Who doesn’t like an obscure tourist trap spot? A few summers ago we traveled to the German hausbarn in Manning, an authentic 1600s structure relocated from Schleswig-Holstein to Iowa. Next to the Danish windmill in Elkhorn because, of course, we didn’t get enough windmills in Dutch-Disneyland Pella. The Netherlands to Schleswig-Holstein and on to Denmark is less than 500 miles. Nonetheless, we differentiate three distinct people groups, Dutch, Germans — actually, Schleswigers, and Danes. Meanwhile, Africa is about 5000 miles north-to-south and home to 1.2 billion people. We’re content to label all of them Africans. 

5. In Seattle last summer, the gay pride flag was ubiquitous. Yes, of course, we were only about a month post-Pride and it is, after all, Seattle. It struck me, however, that the flag has come to be about much more than any single political issue or one month of the year. It is an expression of a wide movement, a cultural marker. It is reminiscent of the peace signs of the 1960s and 70s.

6. Looking back at my previous editions of trivia and annoying observations, I see that I usually have something about music — almost always related to Bob Dylan. (I recently made a pilgrimage to Hibbing, Minnesota, his boyhood home.) The bits I share here are hardly “news” or especially fresh, but they’ve been a recent gift to me. Ron Rienstra, worship and preaching professor at Western Seminary and spouse of RJ blogger, Debra, doesn’t want to be known as a hitmaker. Yet occasionally I inquire of him what he’s been listening to. In the past, he’s pointed me to Bi-Frost Arts and Tony Alonso.  Bi-Frost Arts is similar to The Porter’s Gate, although I think I actually prefer them. For an intro, give a listen to “We Are not Overcome” or “Rise Up.” As you listen, do you sometimes detect a hint of hard-edged Calvinism? But I can take it from them. Alonso is a theology professor and 2020 Emmy nominee, so obviously I’m late to the party. Here’s his “Caminemos con Jesús.”

Hibbing High School, Hibbing Minnesota

7. Now in retirement, my social media is full of ideas for improvement. Two minutes to loosen up my shoulders. A one minute exercise to maintain my vision. Four minutes to quiet my soul. Five minutes to contact my senator about a crucial issue. A three-minute summary of the day’s important news. Six minutes to a more nourishing breakfast. A two minute plan to detox my liver. After I do all of these important things every day, I figure it should be about 2:30 in the afternoon. 

8. I also have a new address — composed solely of numbers. What a relief. Today’s world is overflowing with Azalea Pointe Boulevards, Olde Brigadier Drives, and Cedar Shadow Terraces. Has anyone studied how much these faux-sophisticate addresses drag down national productivity?

9. Recently on a walking tour of a historic cemetery, we learned that many cities and counties here in Iowa are named for heroes and battles of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Hardin, Guthrie, Ringgold. Cerro Gordo, Palo Alto, Buena Vista. Then, standing there with a bunch of history nerds, none of us could quite remember what the Mexican-American War was about. 

10. Both sides-ism. Why doesn’t the Reformed Journal give voice to “both sides”? It’s a question we receive more than little. Do people ever ask this of Fox News, Liberty University or the Wall Street Journal? Of course, we have a “perspective” (recall our former name?), a slant. Everyone does. It’s not our task to be a referee, a neutral player. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to be honest and gracious. But it isn’t our job to give equal time to everyone. There are all sorts of journals and plenty of websites if you want a different slant. 
A friend shared this inspiring story from a panel discussion about LGBTQ+ welcome and rights. At the close of the event, someone in the audience tried to make a conciliatory comment about welcoming everyone. A Queer person on the panel calmly replied, “Of course, I’m glad to welcome diverse voices into the conversation — as long as they recognize my right to be, to exist. If they can’t do that, then it really isn’t a welcoming or fair conversation.”  Preach!

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.


  • Ken Eriks says:

    Thank you for these delightful, challenging, enlightening, and thoughtful observations, Steve. I have one quibble: it is my understanding that David French self-identifies as Roman Catholic far more than “evangelical.” However, that may be incorrect.

  • Ann S says:

    Fascinating read. A wonderful way to start my day. Thanks.
    [Driestarren for #10]

  • Tony Vis says:

    Since Ken Eriks found something to quibble about, I should do likewise. I’m going to think about it until 2:30 and then take my retiree’s nap. Of course, after my nap there is a very good chance I’ll have forgotten what I found to quibble about. Oh well, it’s just a trivial matter, I suppose. Another day in the life of a guy in his mid’70’s. (That would be you, Ken!) 😃

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Napping has been my only successful idea for improvement since my retirement. Years ago Calvin Rynbrandt advised to take an afternoon nap as the best way to succeed at Central Reformed Church, and I wish I had followed his advice then like I am following it now. I do believe that Abraham Kuyper should have taken a daily nap. It would have helped him with the Dutch Railway Strike, and cleared his head against Presumptive Regeneration. If I can’t sleep this afternoon it will be because I’m trying to understand the Mexican War. Didn’t we want it so that our Army; officers could practice for the Civil War?

  • Richard Tiggelaar says:

    Your retirement suggestions are superb though some might want to add a few additional disciplines like Wordle, Connections, Crosswords, coffee, being walked daily by Sadie the dog, weeding, waiting for home repair people to arrive, etc. and make other adjustments. My stretching and exercising classes meet 2/3 times a week with a wide range of more experienced oldies. Throw in leftovers for lunch and 2:30 shows its pretty face pretty quickly.

  • Ken says:

    I’m reading this as 2:30 approaches. Guess that proves your point. Enjoy retirement!

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