Saturday, January 31, 2015

Why We're Going Where English is a Second (or third or fourth) Language

If you wanted to know what the Bible had to say about multiple languages and all you had to go on was the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible, you'd probably think the multitude of languages in the world is a very bad thing. If you want a refresher on the story found in the first nine verses of Genesis 11 (Genesis, which means beginnings, is the first book of the Bible), here's a summary: There was a time when only one language was spoken on earth. But a group of people decided to build a great tower to the heavens. God wasn't pleased with this plan, and He decided to stop it. So He "confused their language" so they couldn't work together. And they spread throughout the earth.

One could easily take from that story the idea that the multiple languages on earth are a punishment from God. Therefore one would assume that if God is going to redeem the earth, part of that plan would be to bring everyone back to one language. Surely, the New Heaven and New Earth would be a place a little like Star Trek: The Original Series, wherein everywhere Captain Kirk went in the universe, English was spoken by every species.

But Babel isn't God's last word on language. To begin with, note that the Bible itself isn't a one language book. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, but sections of Daniel and Ezra were written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek with a few Aramaic quotes. So God choose not to use just one language for His book.

In Acts 2: 4, Luke records the first miracle of the new Church; "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues at the Spirit enabled them." The disciples went out and shared the Gospel in the very languages of the foreigners visiting Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. God could have performed a very different miracle. He could have enabled the foreign visitors to understand the language of the disciples.

So perhaps the tale of Babel isn't just a story of punishment. As the writer of the book of Hebrews explained, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."*

Discipline for sin was a part of the story of Babel, but that wasn't all God had in mind. As one reads the story of Scripture, one sees that God didn't just mean to punish with those languages. It caused people to spread throughout the earth, which was a good thing. But that isn't all that He had in mind. It seems He really likes all those languages.

That's why it's called the "gift" of tongues. In Scripture we see God's Spirit giving both conventional and "heavenly" languages. The multitude of languages is a part of the wonder and good of His creation, and the creation to come. In Revelation 9:7, the last book of the Bible, John writes of heaven, "'I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne.'"

Mindy and I decided we'd rather not wait for heaven to worship with those other languages. So for the month of February, we'll be going to churches where languages other than English are used for worship. Because we disagree with the title of that old Warren Beatty movie. This month, anyway, heaven can't wait.

*Hebrews 12:11 (all Bible references in this post are from the New International Version, but there are a lot of different English language translations of the Bible. Check out to take a look at some of them.)

- Dean

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Action Preachers 4: Pastors on the Poseidon!

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

I loved this movie as a kid. I thought it was pretty great. I watched it yesterday and it's still pretty great. It's just when I saw it as a kid I thought it was actually, you know, good; "camp" and "kitsch" most likely to be used to describe the film these days.  But "entertaining" certainly still applies. The scene where the dining hall is turned upside down when the ship is hit by a tidal wave is still pretty amazing and I can't see CGI improving it. I still can't decide whether the dire circumstances used to disrobe the beautiful women in the cast are amusing or appalling. And I'm pretty sure Nonnie's brother in the band that sings the Oscar winning "There's Got to be a Morning After" is the first screen appearance of Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap.  

But, as per usual here, I'm not writing about the film, but the clergy in the film. In "The Poseidon Adventure" there are two. One of them seems like a pretty decent pastor. The other, judging him by his theology, is one of the worst pastors in screen history (and I'm including the cinematic clergy serial murderers with that).

Before disaster strikes the good ship SS Poseidon, we see two clergymen in conversation. Arthur O'Connell plays Chaplain John, an old priest concerned about the young rebel, Reverend Scott (played by Gene Hackman). Reverend Scott hasn't quite been defrocked for his heretical views, but he is being shipped by his superiors to Africa. Whatever denomination he belongs to, they should probably reconsider their policy of sending heretics to the mission field.

We hear a sermon Reverend Scott delivers to his fellow passengers on the ship. In the sermon, the Reverend assures his listeners that God doesn't really care about them. He is concerned about the big picture, getting humanity to some great place beyond our comprehension. The individual is only important as a link from the past to this glorious future. (I'm sure most dictators and sociopaths are quite comfortable with this viewpoint.)

Prayer is a waste of time according to the good Reverend because God expects us to fight for ourselves. Scott talks about his childhood in the slums when you had to fight to feed yourself and keep warm and couldn't waste time on your knees. He is a man of action, which is why he fits in this category. When disaster strikes the ship, the Reverend Scott takes it upon himself to lead any passengers who will follow him to safety of the ship's hull (you see, due to the tidal wave, down is up and up is down).  He doesn't want to waste time with the weak folks who don't have the will or constitution to attempt an escape.

But Chaplain John does take time for the sick and injured. He stays behind with the weak to comfort and care for them. He dies caring for them, just as Jesus called His people to do. I'd certainly consider going to Chaplain John's church.

Though the Reverend Scott disparages prayer, he does talk to God eventually in the film. He blames God for his troubles, yelling at Him, "I don't expect you to do anything for me, but you don't have to fight against me!" He calls his companions who die on the journey through the ship "sacrifices" that God demands. He seems wholly unaware of God's sacrifice of His Son. But in the end, Scott sacrifices himself, so he's not all bad.

I wouldn't go, though, to any church he pastored.  
-- Dean

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Ferndale

 In Acts 1:8 we read Jesus' command to his disciples to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth." I guess you could say the one of those ends is Ferndale, CA. This month, Mindy and I have gone to the furthest north, south and east churches we could find in California. But this week, it wasn't just the furthest west church in California but the furthest west in the contiguous United States.

The pastor greeted us (as he was greeting everyone) on the front steps of the church, and told us he was excited about the morning because there would be a baptism with a great family. Mindy and I hold to believer's baptism, wherein the person being dipped or dunked or in some way made wet knows what they're doing. We had services of dedication for our children rather than baptisms. But there is no denying infant baptisms are fun (and usually boost the morning attendance a bit,).

We had heard good things about the church the night before, after eating at Ferndale Pie Company. Mindy asked the man behind the counter for directions to the church. He told us it was a place his family went to at times, and that his parents always went to the pastor's other church in Fortuna. The pastor, Paul Demant, leads the 9:00 am service in Ferndale and then goes to the 11:00 am service in Fortuna. He also said to stick around for the hearty lunch after church.

The pianist was having fun with the prelude, riffing on hymns and choruses, keeping things lively. As we walked up to the church and again before the service began, we heard the bell in the church tower chime. It chimed again after the first songs; according to the bulletin, this was to let the community know that we were at worship.

The baptism was fun, of course, 'cause babies are cute. It was interesting that the congregation was asked to support the child and her family with a responsive reading using the Apostles' Creed.
The Scripture readings were fishy, in a good way, taken from Jonah 3 and Mark 1. Both were calls to God's people to proclaim his news: Jonah after being thrown up from the sea to the Ninevites and Jesus' call to His new disciples to be fishers of men. This was the topic for the children's sermon, and each child was given a stuffed animal (fish or whale) to remember the Scriptures. I can support this kind of bribery.

The sermon was based on those two texts, a call to evangelism. But the pastor seemed a bit overly concerned about people hating the very idea of evangelism, implying that if people knew the topic they would have skipped church. He assured the congregation that they weren't called to go door to door. He did encourage the congregation to consider two simple forms of outreach. He made available tins for people to fill with cookies to give neighbors. And he encouraged people to invite others to their monthly country/western service.

I appreciated the concrete suggestions, but I think he gave fear of evangelism a bit too much credence. Not everyone needs to be Billy Graham, but there are times all of us can share what God is doing in our lives with those. We can let people know we'll pray for them when they're in trouble. Jesus let His followers know they might face the cross; it's okay for us to let people know they might be called to share their faith. But again, his two suggestions weren't a bad start.

The service continued with communion and then, after the closing hymn, announcements. There were a number of activities offered - men's and women's Bible studies, Bingo, quilting and a Super Bowl party in the fellowship hall. And the guy at the pie shop wasn't wrong about the lunch spread offered after church.

Inviting others to this church wouldn't be an embarrassing thing.

Service length:              1 hour
Sermon length:              18 minutes
Visitor treatment:                      The pastor greeted us before church, and a good many people asked us to the meal after church (at which people were quite friendly).
Our rough count:                       71 people
Probable usher's count:             80 people
Snacks:                                    The potluck brunch mentioned above included chicken, mac & cheese, franks and beans sausage and biscuits, sandwich makings, dessert and more (including coffee upon entering the room). Happy eating.

Songs: "Keep Your Lure in the Water"
            "You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore"
             "Here in this Place"
             "Children of the Heavenly Father"
             "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say"
             "Softly and Tenderly"
             "Onward Christian Soldiers"
Miles to church this week:         196

Total California miles so far: 3,531
-- Dean

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ten Far West California Travel Observations

1. The whole city of Ferndale received Historical Markership for its Victorian houses. Sadly, an abundance of shops and houses were vacant or for sale.

2. We enjoyed our walk in the Ferndale Cemetery, viewing grave stones from the century before last. There was, though, this awkward Ebenezer Scrooge moment.

3. Ferndale has not one, but two, stores with Blacksmith Art (though both with the same ownership.) It was good to see an anvil outside of a Loony Toons cartoon.

 4. The Ivanhoe Hotel claims to be the furthest west hotel in the "continental United States." I hope the plaque was made before Alaska became a state, because since then, the correct phrase should be "the contiguous United States".

5. When I was a kid, we went camping at Standish Hickey State Park, part of the rotation with Henry Cowell and Donner Lake State Parks. But Standish Hickey was certainly the strangest name of the three.

6. Tiny Houses are all the rage these days, but this One Log House predates that rage (quite a coincidence that they built this next to a gift shop).

7. The Drive-Thru Tree is also located next to a gift shop. Our theory is that gift shops that are not located next to such peculiar objects do not survive. (Tourist traps continue to appeal to our inner 6-year-old.)

8. The Ferndale Pie Company does sell, to no one's surprise, pies. But they also made the genius move of selling pie crust scraps topped with cinnamon sugar. And the folks who run it are really nice.

9. There's something about the front desk of an inn being inside a general store that adds a Green Acres/Petticoat Junction feel to a place.(And if you long for that kind of thing, the store and motel seem to be for sale: Francis Creek Inn ) Mindy was not surprised to find a Pixley Street in Ferndale. 

10. This photo is either of a hippie in Willits with a cat resting on top of his backpack or a Sasquatch (Big Foot). From this photo, it's really difficult to tell which of the two it could be.
-- Dean and Mindy

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Action Preachers Double Feature! 5 Card Stud and Sweetwater

If you have any desire to see either of these Westerns, be aware that by necessity this review has huge spoilers. So read no further if you wish to be surprised by the plot twists of these films.

To start with, both of the church pastors in these films commit multiple homicides. Certainly for most people that fact alone would dissuade them from attending either church. But the fact that these pastors are homicidal is but one factor of many to be learned about these churches. We'll examine the church in "Sweetwater" first.

The film opens with "Prophet" Josiah (Jason Isaacs) finding a couple of trespassers on his land in territorial New Mexico. The two starving men have killed a couple of the pastor's sheep. The clergyman knifes one man and has his underling gun down the other. Now aside from the murder, which we already mentioned is a bad thing, this incident shows a lack of concern in the church for the alien, the poor, and the hungry. That's not biblical.

January Jones, of "Mad Men" fame, known for her beauty and superb acting (well, one of those) plays a former prostitute trying to make a new start as a wife and farmer. Josiah kills her husband and rapes her. Again, aside from the murder, the "prophet" is not being faithful to his three wives or the prostitutes he frequents. Again, this misogyny is not biblical.

We hear Josiah berate Mexicans and Blacks as a curse on the White Race; nope, not biblical.

When Jones and Marshall Ed Harris attack Josiah's church, Josiah uses his congregation members as shields to protect himself. The shepherd is supposed to be willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Again, not biblical behavior.

Finally, the film does give an example of Josiah's preaching. He doesn't use Scripture, but rather prophecies he received from an angel (Angel Frank or Marvin or Bob or something). I do believe he was a false prophet. And they don't seem to have much of a music program.

This is not a church I'd want to go to.

It takes longer for the audience and especially the characters in "5 Card Stud" to figure out that the Rev. Jonathan Rudd (Robert Mitchum) is a killer. Until that happens, he's not doing too bad of a job planting the church.

When the Reverend comes into town, he walks into a saloon and fires a couple of bullets from his Colt .45 into the floor. He invites everyone to come the next Sunday to the church, "God's House." (The sign in front of the church reads, "God's House - Caretaker: Rev. Rudd")  One of the men in the bar says, "You don't want me in your church. I'm the meanest, orneriest S.O.B. you ever come across." Rudd responds, "Jesus found room for Judas at the table, so I think we can make room for you in a pew."

The next Sunday, the church is full. This firearms-in-a-bar technique of marketing probably needs further investigation. The reverend's preaching is of the hellfire variety, but since the condemnation is of a lynching committed quite recently, the harsh tone is more than justified.

Throughout the film the preacher shows a certain proficiency with Scripture. (Though his interpretation of "'Vengeance is mine,' says the Lord" is certainly lacking) The hymn singing in the church is spirited.

The reverend also has a nice way of dealing with stereotypes of ministers. When someone asks what a minister is doing with a gun, he responds, "When a man dons the cloth, he doesn't stop being a man."

There are a lot of things about the Rev. Rudd I very much like. I would certainly consider going to his church, if he wasn't a murderer -- which I'm afraid really is a deal breaker.

("5 Card Stud" is rated PG for violence and came out in 1968, "Sweetwater" is rated R for violence, language, nudity and sexual situations and came out in 2013.)
-- Dean

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Big River Baptist Church, Big River

If you drive twelve hours to go to a worship service, you don't want to be late. It's especially frustrating when you were really there in time; you just didn't know it was time. This last weekend we were going to the furthest east church we could find, and that was part of the reason we were late.

When I thought about "east" in Scripture, my first thought was Genesis 4:16, "So Cain left the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden." Steinbeck used that verse to name a novel, of course. It makes one think of "East" as being away from paradise and away from God. Some travelers in the Mojave Desert of the eastern edge of California might have thought that was appropriate, but it's not the case when one reaches Big River -- not an incorporated city, but a beautiful resort spot on the Colorado River.

Anyway, again, the Big River Baptist Church being east is really why we were late for church. During the week, Mindy called the church and left a message asking about the worship time. And the pastor of the church kindly returned her call and let her know that Sunday School started at 9:00 am and the worship service started at 10:00 am.

We spent Saturday night in Needles, about an hour away from Big River, because the only motel in Big River was closed for renovations. We enjoyed the drive through the desert and arrived to see people pulling up to the church at 9:00 am (we assumed for Sunday School, and were happy and impressed that so many were in attendance). We decided to walk around the town and look at the river before church. We should have gotten a clue from a sign for a community event that posted the time of the event with the words "Arizona Time" in parentheses.

We went back to the church at quarter to ten and heard music inside. "Oh, they sing during Sunday School," I thought. But we went down to the sanctuary and looked inside. The pastor was approaching the pulpit to preach. We snuck into the back row of the reasonably full sanctuary, and it became obvious to us it was the worship service, not Sunday School, especially when the man next to Mindy offered us his bulletin.

After the service, we learned that even though the church is in California, it goes by Arizona time (which, in the winter, is one hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time). The Colorado River, which is the border, is almost within sight of the church, and driving to the bridge which crosses the state line takes about five minutes. The 10:00 am starting time was 9:00 am California time.

According to the bulletin, we missed opening prayer, the welcome, announcements, two hymns, prayer time and the tithes and offerings. Since that all took 45 minutes, my guess is (partly based on the many requests listed on the back of the bulletin) they spend a good deal of time in prayer.

Since we were there for the sermon, I'll talk about that, though. The title was "Ashamed of the Gospel" with Romans 1: 16 & 17 as the opening text. The pastor argued that being hesitant to share the Gospel is equivalent to being ashamed of the Gospel. He said we must present the true Gospel, not one of the false Gospels floating around these days. He mentioned the false Gospels of Religion, Materialism and Liberalism. (Talking about the Gospel of Liberalism, he described it as the Gospel of "I'm okay; you're okay, so God must love me. But He doesn't - God hates us as we are. Our sin turns His stomach." I think I understand what he was getting at, but that's not how I'd phrase it.)

He presented the true Gospel as being through faith in Christ's death on the cross. And the sermon ended with an altar call, either to trust in Christ or commit to the church. We sang the first verse of "Trust and Obey" during the call, but no one came forward.

We had a very nice time talking with the pastor and his wife after the service. After discussing Pacific Standard vs. Mountain Standard Time, we discussed the demographics of the congregation. Many of those who attend during this season are "snow birds" (retirees who come down for the warm climate during the winter.) A different crowd populates the area for river recreation during the summer, and attendance usually suffers, often dropping by half (but the pastor said it is getting better).

The pastor and his wife said they'd like us to visit again. That is one tough thing about this current gig we've undertaken. Whenever we're invited to return, we know it won't happen for a couple of years -- though we would like to be there for a whole service.

Service length:                          1 hour 30 minutes
Sermon length:                          35 minutes
Visitor treatment:                      We were greeted warmly after the service, but we, of course, don't know how guests might be treated during the service because we missed much of it.
Our rough count:                       45
Probable ushers' count:             50 
Snacks:                                      None that we knew of
Songs:                                        "Our God Reigns" (choir)
                                                   "Send the Light"
                                                   "Sweet, Sweet Spirit"
                                                   "He Touched Me" (solo)
                                                   "Trust and Obey" 
                                                   "The Bond of Love"
Miles from home to church:          690
Total California miles in 2015:   3137   

-- Dean

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ten East Travel Observations

1) I think it's swell and understandable that the State of California rest stops have a separate depository for cigarettes and cigars (safety's sake with the fire and such if these were deposited in trash containers) but why does it need a lock? Is there a risk of thievery?

2) Ate in Bakersfield at Salty's BBQ (can't imagine they used consultants to get a name that would appeal to the health conscious). Just as the honkytonk in "The Blues Brothers" had both kinds of music (country and western), Salty's has the best of both worlds - smokin' and grillin'.

3) Our daughter has quite the fondness for trains, exclaiming "Amtrak, Amtrak" when they pass (you may think our nonexistent four year old son would do this, but Jill is in college). She would have had plenty of opportunities for excitement as we headed into the high desert country, seeing plenty of trains, stationary and chugging along.
4) In Barstow, you can see one of the original Harvey Houses (the 19th century fast food oasis for the locomotive set, and landmark for fans of a certain Judy Garland musical western Judy Garland "The Harvey Girls" ). There you'll find a Railroad Museum and a Route 66 Museum (either one could both double for Ramshackle Museums).

5) For cheap travelers, have we got exciting news for you! Motel 6 now has a high speed Wi-Fi option! (It's extra, of course, but then so is the slower Wi-Fi option)

6) In Needles, we asked about the front desk clerk about the Wagon Wheel restaurant because we're suckers for anything involving wagon wheels. She told us it wasn't exactly a "refined" dining experience, more Southern country cooking. Yes, we ate there. Bonus: the place is located on Route 66.

7) Those of you who are fans of the comic strip Peanuts will be happy to hear there is a dog park in Needles named in honor of Snoopy's skinny, mangy brother.

8) Kind of cool to see the netting covering this bee transport truck. I suppose crashing into a hazardous waste truck would be worse, but this is one of those vehicles you want to give a lot of space on the highway. We wondered if the bee that attached itself to our car between Needles and Big River had escaped from here.

9) Driving along in the desert, we began to notice a number of bridges over washes (areas subject to flash flooding) with a great variety of names. Here are names of the washes bridged between Barstow and Needles: Iron, Ogata, Astrid, Hawes, Turtle, Ambose, Marble, Willow Springs, Macdonald, Haller, Hoff, Rojo, Neprud, Mustang, Clipper Valley, Fortress, Providence Mountains, Blind Hollow, Halfway Hills, Black Canyon, Newton, Southfork Piute, McGinley, Crestview, Woods, Homer, Watson, Fox, Lemming, Buzzard, but our favorite was the Chuckwalla Wash Bridge. (Wash bridges are not to be confused with the ditch bridges such as Ardis, Tank Tower and Arbol.)

10) Driving through the high desert, every turn is likely to present mountains or a rock formation presented in light and color with fierce, gob-smacking beauty. To our friends who believe that all nature is a product of random chance, as is our perception of it...well...let's say we just don't see it that way.

-- Dean and Mindy