Sakae Kubo


I am a moderate user of the social media. Until now I have no Twitter account. I am familiar with LinkedIn; my current network stands at just under 500 connections. In addition, I have a Facebook account, but I am not a very active user. Regularly I find in my mailbox announcements that my ‘friends’ have done or have written something, and from time to time I take a bit of time to read some of this.

Earlier this week I saw a few lines written by Sakae Kubo, who is a lot more active on Facebook than I am. From time to time he shares some deep insights, which are well worth noting somewhere. Sometimes he cites others with statements worth pondering.

Recently I saw this quotation about ‘eternity’ on Kubo’s Facebook page. It originated with a certain Henrik Van Loon (a Dutch-American historian and journalist who was born in 1882 in Rotterdam):

“High up in the North in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.”

I must admit that reading such a statement tends to make me rather jealous. I will never be able to find such marvelous words.

One of Kubo’s most recent notes informed his readers that one of his colleagues had come to collect a quantity of books. Kubo lives in Southern California and has donated a portion of his library to La Sierra University (also in Southern California).  I quote:

Doug Clark with his wife came by from La Sierra University and HMS Richards Divinity School to pick up my books which I had donated to them. I hope the books serve a useful purpose. I had already given a small portion of my library to Newbold College and our school in Thailand. It’s a strange feeling to see my shelves empty, somewhat like being naked. It’s part of my downsizing project. Now I’m working on my files. It’s hard to dump things you’ve collected your whole life but that’s what one has to do.”

Kubo was one of my favorite professors when, in 1965-66, I studied for my Masters at the theological seminary of Andrews University. Since then I have only seen him a few times. He came to see me once or twice during the short time I worked in Friesland as a pastor. At that time he was in charge of the theology section of the university library at Andrews and had come to Franeker to buy books from a well known theological antiquariate.

Kubo is now 86 years old. He is, as far as I can tell from his Facebook presence and from the articles that I see from time to time from his hand, still reasonably active. When I asked him about three years ago to contribute an article for the Festschrif for Jan Paulsen, he immediately responded positively and submitted a very worthwhile chapter.

I have always enjoyed reading his books. Some would say that he is a liberal theologian. I would rather call him ‘progressive-constructive’. Through the years he has certainly experienced that it does not always help one’s career if one is not afraid to say what one thinks. When he was my teacher, he opened my eyes for a way of reading the Bible that differed significantly from what I had been taught before. Through him I discovered that each book of the Bible has its own history, its own Sitz im Leben, and often its own theology. And he helped me (and doubtless many others) to realize that not every question needs an immediate answer.

And so, it appears that Kubo is currently giving away his books and clearing his archives. Realistic as he is, he knows that he does not have all that many years left. And it is good to ensure that things are in order.

I am afraid, I am still buying books rather than getting rid of them. But then, I am not yet 86. Nonetheless, once again Sakae Kubo has given me food for thought.


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Wolf and Lamb


A few weeks ago the newspapers reported about a 63-year-old woman who had received an implant in her retina and, as a result, had regained her sight. A chip had been attached to her retina and she had received glasses with an in-built camera. The treatment costed about 100,000 euros. It was not covered by the insurance, and therefore is not available for everyone with the same eye condition. But I can imagine that one would be willing to go heavily in debt if it would mean regaining one’s sight.

Last weekend I was at a family party. A relative told me that a cousin of ours had recently undergone surgery, that brought back much of his hearing capacity. There is a considerable amount of deafness on my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother was deaf and we had a hard time communicating with her. She spoke with a raspy voice (that she could not hear herself), but was very good in lip reading. Some of her sisters were deaf and so was one of her daughters. This woman (a now deceased aunt of mine) had a son who could hear, until after his adolescence he gradually became deaf. And now, after a period of some decades, he can suddenly hear again! According to what I was told, he hardly believes his ears, as he gets accustomed to all kinds of sounds that were hitherto unknown to him.

Yes, there is already a lot of tinkering with our bodies and who knows what will become possible in the future? Especially for those over 70—a category to which I now belong—this is good news. The aging of the population may bring a lot of extra costs for society, but I think it would be sadder if we were obliged to die at a somewhat younger age, just to keep the national treasury in balance.

A Danish study, which was recently published in the leading medical journal The Lancet, has shown that the ninety-year-olds of today are physically considerably fitter and mentally more alert than those of just ten years ago. There is every reason to think that, if these findings are correct for Denmark, they would also apply to the Netherlands. It strengthens my hope that I have a good chance to be in a reasonably good physical and mental state twenty years from now. This hope was also fueled by the bestseller (as it may well be called) by dr. André Aleman, a professor in Groningen—about the brain of seniors (Het Senioren Brein). It should be read by the old as well as by the young.

This all fits well with what I read during the past week in an interesting book, that I happened to come across, entitled: Should We Live Forever? The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging, written by a (Christian) professor of ethics in the U.S. (Gilbert Meilaender). He discusses the obsession of western man with attempts to retard the aging process, as much as possible or preferably altogether. His comments are rather thought provoking.

Through our scientific progress we may still be able to reach wonderful things, but, Meilaender maintains, this can never provide a kind of life that would remain satisfactory if it continued forever. We wait and hope—at least that is the position of the Christian—for a different and better world. A world where no expensive devices are required so that people may see and no operations are necessary to give people their hearing back. Meilaender says he sees many developments that make him happy, but he has never yet seen the wolf and the lamb lying peacefully together. That will only happen when everything has become new. Our desire to have a longer life here should not obscure the hope for that new and perfect life that only God can give. It’s good to be occasionally reminded of this important fact.

[For a moment it seemed last week that the fulfillment of the dream of peaceful co-existence between the wolf and the lamb had come a bit closer, when it appeared that the wolf had made his comeback to our country. However, most likely, it is a false rumor.]


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How the glamor of travel disappears


It was at the end of my third year in secondary school that I first left the country.  Our class had organized a holiday week in the small German city of Tecklenburg in the Teutenburger forest—some fifty kilometers beyond the Dutch-German border. I had, in fact, had the privilege of making the preparations.  We went by train.  It was the very first time I could use my passport. The border police entered the train at the last station before the border and checked every passport carefully, stamping each one of them. We looked intently though the windows of the rather rickety train carriage, trying to discover any change in the scenery that would indicate that we had indeed crossed the border from Holland into Germany. Yes, in those days, borders between countries were very real.

And, indeed, there are still many real borders in the world, with serious officials distributing their stamps. Just a few days ago a tourist was arrested when he crossed the Norwegian-Russian border by daring just one step onto Russian soil. Even at Schiphol airport one may have to stand in line before being admitted to the Netherlands. But when passing by car from one EU country to one of the 27 other EU countries—the number of EU-members is now 28, since last week Croatia was admitted—one simply continues, often even without reducing one’s speed. During our last Sweden-trip, from which we returned last evening, my passport never left my briefcase. And thus travel in Europe has last one of its somewhat exciting aspects.

There is, however, something else that has caused travel to lose something of its glamor. Until a few years ago, checking your mail, upon your return after a few weeks’ absence, was a significant event. Usually, there was quite a pile, with inevitably some pleasant and less pleasant surprises. But little of that has remained.

Our neighbor next door always looks after our plants and our mailbox when we travel. Upon our return we find three neat stacks of mail on the table in our living room: newspapers, magazines and items in large envelopes, and letters. Gradually these piles have become less impressive. When coming home, yesterday, after an absence of some five weeks, it did not take us very long to evaluate the harvest of those five weeks.

The stack of newspapers consisted mainly of the local paper, since we usually try to remember to temporarily stop our subscription to the main paper, when we plan to be absent for more than a week or so. Neither did the pile of magazines amount to very much: Ministry magazine, and some monthly publications of organizations we belong to, and a few other items that one would hardly miss if they had not been delivered. Yes, I picked up the Spectrum journal, since I was curious (and perhaps vain) enough to check whether it contained the article I had written.

The third pile likewise was little impressive. I noted gratefully that this time there were no blue envelopes from the tax office, nor any envelopes from the office that deals with speeding fines. And hardly any invoices. Just a few banking matters and some information from our health insurance, to explain some extra charges I had to pay. But that was about it. Everything now comes to us via our computer. Why would someone write us a long letter, if you can send a short sms at any time, write a short mail message, raise us by Skype, or phone us for almost nothing? Most of our financial matters are processed digitally. The church (in the past always a main source of mail) only sends e-mails. Undoubtedly, things have become far more efficient than they were in the past. But, coming home after a trip, there are few surprises. And thereby, travel has lost one nice fringe benefits. In spite of the good cares of our next door neighbor.


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How many publishing houses should there be?


From the very beginning the publishing ministry has been a very important activity in the Adventist Church. Since a considerable part of my church career has been in the publishing branch, I am always alert to see and hear about new developments in this department of church work. And indeed, there are presently some interesting developments.

The leadership of the church has urged the two large denominational publishing houses in the USA to start negotiations about a possible merger in the near future. This concerns the Review and Herald Publishing Association, with an impressive history that goes back as far as 1850, and the Pacific Press Publishing Association, that was founded in 1872.  The first is in the East of the US, in Hagerstown, not far from Washington, DC., while the last is in Boise (Idaho), in the West of the country.

Both the Review and Herald and the Pacific Press are not just publishers, but also printing establishments. In the past such a combination of publishing and printing was rather common, in the SDA Church as well as ‘in the world’. Today, however, it is rather the exception than the rule that a publisher prints its own publications.  In the two major Adventist publishing establishments, however, a very major part of the employees is involved with the actual physical production: pre-printing, printing, binding, etc.  But here are two serious problems: there is a significant over-capacity and, due to financial restraints in recent years, the two houses have not invested enough in modern technology. These two issues are the primary reasons why a merger is deemed desirable. By fusing the two companies efficiency could be improved and the production capacity could be better harmonized with actual needs.

An interesting detail is that the one remaining company would no longer function directly under the auspices of the General Conference, but rather under the responsibility of the regional office for North America.

There will have to be a lot of meetings, and six different boards will have to give their approval, before a merger-process can actually take place. In the past a number of times a plan for such a merger has been advanced, but until now it had never been approved by all the boards. For there is one aspect that has nothing to do with considerations of business or technology, but is essential for many.

In the late nineteenth century Ellen White has clearly emphasized that there should be more than one publishing house in the United States. She indicated that centralizing all power in the hands of just a few men was highly undesirable. (See, e.g., her statement in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 171.) In the past the governing boards concluded that they should not go against the clear advice of Ellen White. One does not have to be a prophet to predict that this element will once again dominate in the discussion. Already in the past few days, since the announcement was made, many church members wonder how it is possible that this initiative for merger talks comes from top church leadership, among whom Ted Wilson has an important (or decisive) voice. Has he not pleaded, since being elected asthe church’s president, that the church ought to listen to the prophetic voice of Ellen White? And might her advice in this important matter now be disregarded?

This issue will no doubt, bring a lot of vociferous debate.  Must, however, advices of more than a century old still be considered relevant, even when the circumstances have radically changed? There will be different opinion on this matter.

But I hope another aspect will also receive adequate attention. How important is it that the printing of denominational publications takes place in a church owned printing establishment?  I have concluded long ago that it is often far more efficient to let be printing be done elsewhere. Most Adventist publishing entities in Europe have, over the past three decades, come to the some conclusion.

If the two American publishing houses would discontinue their printing business, a totally new picture would emerge. And in that case, one could wonder whether a merger would still make sense. Perhaps it would be better to have a number of (smaller) centers where publications are created from an Adventist perspective. Would that not be preferable above having one institution that decides what all Adventists should read and what ought to be presented to others in the name of the Adventist Church?

And then, there is something else that I hope will not be forgotten. I have often felt that much more could be done with regard to a world-wide promotion and marketing of the products of the two publishing houses that are now urged to merge. Yet, in the end, it seems to be much more important to ensure that our books and other publications have a maximum distribution, than to guarantee that they have been printed on Adventist presses!


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IPad and COL


[Friday, June 21) I am beginning to get the feeling that I am no longer completely in tune with our times.  Since very recently my wife enjoys the wonders of her iPad. I notice also how my granddaughter of five knows how to do all kinds of interesting things with her daddy’s iPad. And today I read on my laptop, on the web site of a Dutch newspaper, that a large school district in Los Angeles has decided in the next few years to provide all 640.000 students in their schools with an iPad.

I read that worldwide some ten million students no longer use any schoolbooks, but get all their information through their tablet-computer. In the Netherlands, this August, 11 elementary schools (referred to as ‘iPad-schools’) will start an experiment in trading traditional schoolbooks for an iPad. It occurred to me this morning that it may be about time for me to start thinking about more fully entering the digital era!

The next two weeks, however, my attention will continue to be focused on the renovation of my son’s house in Sweden. It gives considerable satisfaction to see some results emerging. But today I have a day off, just like all other working Swedes. For today we celebrate  Midsommarafton, the day before ‘midsommar’. Together with the grandchildren we will visit the festivities in nearby (40 km) Härnosand. There we will see how the midsommarstången will be erected, accompanied by folk dancers, fiddlers, etc.  I realize this is an old pagan tradition that has to do with the worship of the sun, but I will not worry too much about that aspect.

In the meantime I am working, at least two hours every day, on the re-translation into Dutch of Christ’s Object Lessons (usually abbreviated as COL), that Ellen White wrote around 1900. It is interesting to consider that she did not initiate this book writing project with the sole intention of providing some spiritual nurture for her fellow church members. She wanted to do something for a project that was very close to her heart. A few denominational schools had accumulated a heavy debt, and Mrs. White decided to do something about this problem. She decided to write a book and to donate the royalties for this debt-reduction project. She asked the denominational publishing house also to do its share and to produce the book for free. This proposal was accepted. Three hundred thousand copies were printed and were sold by colporteurs and other church members, with all proceeds going to the ‘good cause’.

I must conclude that, apparently, the church paid her authors more royalties in the days of Ellen White than today. In fact, proceeds from her books constituted a considerable source of income for her. Donating the royalties of this new book was, therefore, a substantial gesture. I also conclude that a century ago it was possible for an Adventist publishing house to make enough profit to enable it to print a major edition for free. In our days most Adventist publishing houses find it difficult to merely survive.

This Ellen White project gives some further food for thought. Is this book with its uplifting meditations about the parables of Christ the fruit of her prophetic gift? Or could this book also have been written by some other author, but was her involvement particularly desired because her name would help the project to succeed?

As far as the content is concerned: the book continues to provide spiritual nurture to many people. The fact that the book is clearly a product of one hundred year ago does not alter that fact. Neither does the fact that she used many different sources when writing this book, just as she did when she wrote The Desire of Ages. The list of books that she owned and consulted is publicly known. All this is no problem as long as one has a balanced and realistic view of what prophetic inspiration entails. And neither can we be too surprised by the proof-text method she employs when citing texts or parts of text from both the Old and the New Testament. This was very common in her days and often, unfortunately, it still is.

One might perhaps say that Christ’s Object Lessons is a rather human book. That may be one reason why it has maintained its popularity. Hopefully the Dutch retranslation will give the book a new boost among a Dutch audience.


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