The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Friday, December 02, 2005

This week in SD; why I do this pastoring thing; angelfish eulogy; medieval Jewish postmodernism in Iraq

Eastern South Dakota is still in the process of emerging from a crisis. It began on Sunday with freezing drizzle, followed by high winds and snow in the night. About 11:00 AM Monday the power went out, and at first I thought it might be for 3-4 hours (it's happened before in storms), but instead, we went through the entire night and next day without electricity. Soon on Tuesday it became clear that the crisis was regionwide, with over 50,000 without power for that first night (7% of the entire population of our sparsely-populated state). Just as we were settling in for a second dark, cold night of sleeping with eight blankets and our winter coats on, the lights came on again at about 5:35 PM Tuesday. Praise the LORD, and thanks to the hardworking linesmen! We were among the fortunate first 1/5 to get power back. Some localities still are waiting, even very nearby. It's doubtful that we will have worship at the Country Church this Sunday, as they probably won't be reelectrified until next week. Transportation, communication, even the US Mail have been disrupted this week. Big holes in our infrastructure's safety net have been exposed. South Dakotans as a whole are resilient and able to handle a crisis like this, and there have been few casualties, but we've learned how much we take our power, heat, water, etc. for granted.

The other day a 17-year-old girl was tragically killed in an auto accident due to slippery conditions, and I was called into the school yesterday to be available for any grief counseling needs. I ended up visiting with three close friends of the deceased. I mostly just listened to their stories and prayed with them, not feeling like a very sharp theologian. But it reminded me of why I do this pastoring stuff. It has to do with being useful to God. I got into it in a messy sort of way, feeling like I was going to seminary to satisfy the expectations of other people besides myself. I really would have rather been an academic, soaking in a lifetime spent in the college environment, and/or else a sort of rebel disestablishment Christian hippie like Francis Schaeffer. Instead I did the "establishment thing" and became a pastor. I bristle inside whenever I hear someone speaking of pastoral ministry as an "aspiration" or "career", because my experience is that the pastoral call hunted down and killed my life aspirations, rather than fulfilling them. "Pastor Michael" conceals "The Real Michael" from people's field of vision in a way that sometimes makes me feel lonely and misunderstood even when surrounded by people who love and appreciate me. (Not that I'm not willing to claim the honorific side of being a pastor when it makes me a kind of Bigwig - I'm sadly not immune to that temptation) Furthermore, my attempts to leave it behind and flee to Tarshish proved fruitless. I think I know how Jonah felt.

But, you know what, I've made my peace with it. At a personal low point a few years back, while taking a break from pastoral ministry, I found myself useful to God in a grand way when I was asked to preside at my sister's wedding. One thing led to another, and I found myself back in a pulpit again. Thousands of churches need spiritual leadership, and I can't help them all, but by God's grace I'm helping two churches get taken care of. It's funny how well things go considering my shortcomings, but it's all part of God's big joke on the devil, who thought he was so wise and strong (I Corinthians 1:25-31). A teenager at the Country church made a "Reserved for pastor" parking sign in wood shop class - no pastor there was ever honored in that way before. I received an authentic handmade Dakota star quilt from someone in the Town Church because I had baptized her grandson who later died as an infant. As I was leaving my first church in Texas, an older man told me I was the one who "got him on the straight and narrow." It doesn't get better than that.

Back to the crisis in South Dakota. I'm glad that tragedies were few, though it doesn't seem like "few" for the family and friends of the young lady who died. Pray for them. Pray for us.

We had a minor bit of sadness in our home, as our angelfish and two of my corydoras catfish succombed to the severe dip in water temperature. I still have 13 fish who are doing fine (the goldfish are coldwater fish anyway with an unheated tank, and the danios, though "tropicals", were pretty active even when their tank dipped below 50F). I sure feel bad about the angelfish, though. From now on I'll be prepared with a plan to keep the tropical tank from dipping too low - I'd had him for three years, and all indications were that he would live a few more years. Angelfish are among the most intelligent of all fish, and he knew us personally in a way that's beyond most fish, a true "pet." This isn't a picture of "Angey" as my wife called him (hard g as in "Angus"), but he looked much like this:

Goodbye, Angey and friends, we miss you, and we're so sorry. We didn't mean for you to suffer. "A righteous man hath regard for the life of his beast" Proverbs 12:10

Fascinating lecture in my "Medieval Judaism" video last night. Dr. Sherwin was introducing the class to Saadya Gaon (892-942), the first great medieval Jewish philosopher, who was responding to these four schools of thought current in the medieval Islamic world (he lived in what's now Iraq), and which were influencing the thoughts of Jewish people:

1. Materialists: essentially the same as later "empiricists"
2. Relativists: no knowledge of objective truth
3. Eclecticists: if we have no knowledge of objective truth, we therefore suspend judgment and have "no opinion"
4. Agnosticists: we're not able to ask the question "what is truth" because there is no truth

To me options 2,3, and 4, and especially the Eclecticists, seem rather reminiscent of "Postmodernism". As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "there is nothing new under the sun." Dr. Sherwin commented that part of what he was trying to illustrate was that "the Middle Ages are not simply then but now", and the class chuckled when he said, "Like the old saying goes, the future is not what it used to be." it seems to me that "Postmodernism" is essentially what Francis Schaeffer was talking about 40 years ago with the "Line of Despair", but that's for another post.

Putting this all in one big post might not have been the brightest. Feel free to read any of my posts in installments, or, as Lemony Snicket might say, feel free to ignore my blog completely and go walk your dog instead. In fact, it looks like our dog wants a walk right now.


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3:35 PM  
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