Monthly Archives: November 2020

Living with ZOOM

The crisis caused by the Corona pandemic would look very differently if we didn’t have the means of communication that over the last twenty years or so have become part of our lives. We can now communicate effortlessly, and almost free of charge, with family, friends and business contacts, near us and on the other side of the world. Messenger, Facetime, What’sApp and other computer programs not only allow us to hear the people we talk with, but also to see them.
Programs such as Skype, Teams, and especially ZOOM are at present continuously used by educational institutions to teach on-line. Team discussions, large and small meetings, and even congresses and musical events are held on-line, sometimes in a very creative way. And then there are the church services, most of which cannot take place physically, but are streamed on-line for millions of people worldwide.

Last week was a real ZOOM week for me. I started last Saturday evening with a Zoom presentation of 2 hours to the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School in Loma Linda (10.30 California time and 19.30 Dutch time). On Monday morning at 6.30 (my time) the editor of the Signs of the Times magazine contacted me from Australia via Zoom to interview me for their weekly podcast. From Monday to Friday I was connected with Friedensau University in Germany via Zoom for a few hours every day to give lectures to a group of students. On Tuesday evening I participated in a Zoom meeting with Andrews University and a group of students taking an MA course in leadership, with which I am involved. On Saturday morning, the local Adventist church in Friedensau showed the sermon I had sent them earlier in the week on Youtube, after I recorded it at home. And then in the evening there was another interactive Zoom connection with California. The current week looks more or less the same.

It is fantastic that we have this technology, which is so easy to use that even a completely a-technical individual like me can handle it. But I miss the direct contact with people. And somehow leading and participating in Zoom events requires a lot of extra energy. According to experts, this is mainly because this way of talking to a screen and having on-line contact misses an important component, namely the eye contact with your conversation partners. That seems to cause some confusion in our brain and that is why a few hours on Zoom can really wear us out.
But nevertheless, one could say that the Zoom technology came just in time. It was only about eight years ago that this computer platform was launched and now, in this Corona era, it is impossible to imagine life without it!

By the way, it doesn’t look like technological progress will stop at this point. A few days ago I saw an item on television about the Facebook plans to make Virtual Reality (VR) part of the Facebook possibilities. While currently the special goggles, which you need to have a VR experience, still cost a few thousand euros, Facebook will soon release one that will “only” cost a few hundred euros. With the large-scale introduction of that technique, on-line teaching, meetings, and all kinds of other on-line activities, can take on a whole new dimension. It will allow us to realistically participate in what we see and hear, and play an active role that activity. But already now many experts are warning us about the price we may have to pay for this “progress”. The organizations that offer these services are constantly trying to find out more about us, about what we are doing, where we are, what we are interested in, etc. Because that information can be sold it is worth a lot of money. The question that is becoming more and more urgent is whether we really want to go along with this development, or whether we had better stay away from it. No doubt, there will be a lot of discussion about that.

But, in the meantime, we are truly grateful for what digital technology makes possible for us in this Corona era.

NBV21 A new translation of the Bible in Dutch

Mid October next year there will be a new Dutch translation of the Bible. It is a revision of the translation of 2004. It has been worked on for years by a group of experts and no less than 12,000 changes will be made. In many cases it concerns just a comma, or the word order in a sentence. In a number of cases, words that have gradually become old-fashioned are replaced by more contemporary synonyms. In the meantime, the knowledge of the original languages has not stood still either, which is why in a number of cases translation choices are now being made that differ from what was deemed best some twenty years ago.

One may wonder whether it is wise or necessary to produce yet another new version of the Bible. Many readers have hardly become familiar with the 2004 translation. Others have only recently discovered the Bible in Ordinary Language. And now there is yet another new Dutch translation! This version will be called the NBV21, because it is the intention that we will be able to use it for the best part of this twenty-first century.

The most controversial aspect of the new translation is already beginning to emerge. This concerns the reintroduction of capital letters for the personal pronouns referring to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (the so-called “reverential capitals”) and keeping the term LORD as a reference to God’s name. Many would have preferred something like The One, as is the case in the so-called Naardense Bible. Moreover, this new translation reignites the discussion about whether we should use “He” and “his” when talking about God. After all, this continues to reinforce the traditional patriarchal image of God! And God is not a man, or what?

Here we encounter an insoluble problem. No, God is not a man. But God is also not a woman. Both man and woman were, according to the Genesis story, “made in the image of God”. Does that perhaps mean that God has both feminine and masculine traits? Most of us feel that we are on the wrong track with that kind of speculation. When Jesus became incarnated he chose to become a male human being. But is he still a male being in his glorified state, after his resurrection and ascension? And what about the Holy Spirit. Some church fathers thought of God’s Spirit in feminine rather than in masculine terms.

The Bible usually speaks of God in masculine terms, but not always. In the book of Job it is said of God that He gave birth to the world and in the words of the prophet Isaiah God is pictures as a mother (Isaiah 66:13). Jesus compares his Father in Luke 15 with a woman looking for a hidden coin. And in Matthew 23:37 Jesus uses for himself the female metaphor of a chicken protecting her chicks.

The problem of the indications of gender in connection with God illustrate clearly that our limited human language always falls short when we want to say something about the Almighty. Perhaps it is difficult to break with the long tradition of speaking about God with male words and images. But when we say “he” (with or without a capital letter) or “his,” we should immediately correct that in our minds and remind ourselves that we are doing God a grave injustice, because “he” is not a “he”. This dilemma concerns our entire theological vocabulary. We are searching for words that should express something that can never be adequately put in human terms. And the same goes for the doctrines we construct with our human language. As soon as we have forged a beautiful formula, we must take a big step back and realize that our linguistic representation of the Inexpressible always remains “work in progress”. It remains a groping in the dark. For God is greater than our language can grasp. That was the challenge for all the biblical authors, and it remains the challenge for every Bible translator and for us, whatever translations of the Bible we use..

Elections

I am posting this blog at the time when the presidential election in the United States is still undecided. The President has already claimed victory, but the counting of the votes is far from complete and it looks like Joe Biden has a very good chance of becoming the 46th president of America. However, there probably will be a long legal battle and I don’t want to wait with posting this week’s blog until I know whether it is Biden or Trump. Anyone who has regularly read my blogs knows that my sympathy is certainly not on the side of the current president. But I try not to say too much about this to my American friends, because given the extreme political polarization in the U.S., friendships can easily suffer lasting damage when discussions become too intense.

As a European, I look at the American election system with a very critical eye. I dislike the fact that a presidential candidate has to collect huge sums of money in order take part in the presidential race. But above all, the system of the electoral college, which ultimately elects the president, even though the popular vote may differ from what the electoral college will decide, is, in my opinion (and that of most of my compatriots), rather antiquated and not very democratic. I continue to follow the news on CNN and other national and international channels closely, so that I will not miss an important aspect of the election circus and in the meantime, I keep hoping that there will be a new resident in the White House.

In the meantime the date of the Dutch parliamentary elections is steadily approaching. In this Corona-era the American system has inspired the Dutch government to spread the voting over three days (15-17 March) and make it easier for older people to vote by mail. Most political parties have now written their draft program and have established their list of candidates. I haven’t made my choice yet, but I certainly intend to let my Christian principles be the deciding factor, and this will probably lead me to vote for a Christian party or for one of the left-wing parties. I will no doubt return to this in a later blog.

The Dutch system is not perfect. It would, in my opinion, diminish the fragmentation of the political landscape if parties would have to pass a significant threshold (maybe two or three seats) in order to enter parliament. What’s more, someone who has been elected on the ticket of a particular party should not be allowed to turn his/her back on that party halfway through the parliamentary term and start his or her own one-person toko. Unfortunately, I still see few initiatives in that direction. And the way in which the Senate is elected should perhaps also be looked at, but discussions about this have been going on for decades. All in all, I am quite happy that in the Netherlands we have a multi-party system that usually requires a number of parties to form a majority government, and that, as a result, extreme shifts to the right or to the left are avoided. In any case, we are facing exciting months now that all parties are preparing for the election.

There is yet another election coming up, namely that of the worldwide Adventist Church. The big question that occupies the minds of many church members is whether 70-year-old Ted Wilson, after ten years at the helm, will be re-elected for a new presidential term. Because the system of governance of the Adventist denomination in many ways reflects the American political system, the president has disproportionate power in both cases. In American politics at one point a law was passed to prohibit the president to run for a third term. It would be good if such a rule would also apply within the church, to guarantee a regular refreshment at the highest level. In this Corona-time it is even more difficult than at other times to make predictions. Will Wilson be president for another five-year term? Are there other good candidates who can profile themselves sufficiently, and will be sufficiently known around the world, to qualify? Could the fact that there has been no international travel for some time , and that there are far fewer other personal contacts between leaders worldwide, have a significant impact?

In the past, the Church has always taken the position that there should be no politics in the Church. It would, however, be naive to think that there are no political maneuvers in connection with church elections. It remains a good thing to avoid political actions as much as possible. But isn’t there a way to ensure that—perhaps through the social media—the delegates will get more information about capable women and men who can play a part in the administrative and spiritual leadership of the church, before they meet in May for the General Conference session? I think that is certainly worth considering.