Letters to the Editors

MAY 2007

Pilgrimage or religious tourism

Dear Editors,

I recall many years ago, when I was his student minister, hearing Howard Hageman preach a sermon on being a pilgrim. Up to that time in my life, I had never considered it. Howard told the congregation we were all pilgrims. His point was that the pilgrim is a sojourner. Was our citizenship as the church primarily in the world, or was it in heaven? The sermon urged us to be pilgrims in our living; living and serving in this world, but belonging to another, the Kingdom of God. “For our commonwealth is in heaven.” The kind of pilgrimage Brett Webb-Mitchell describes in his article in the February, 2007 issue of Perspectives sounds more like tourism than pilgrimage.

The modern pilgrim wears padded boots and relaxes in Birkenstocks? Why does a pilgrim need trendy footwear and “sporty sunglasses” ? I think the author was talking about religious tourism, not a pilgrimage.

Perspectives wants to be a “Journal of Reformed Thought,” but Mr. Webb- Mitchell quotes monks who say, “The Christ you seek you will not find unless you bring him with you,” and Benedict who says “…each person becomes the self-constituting, good, holy, responsible person God intended him or her to be.” These notions of Christ not being present unless we bring him along and that we are gradually improving ourselves are lacking in any kind of dependency upon God and seem to indicate that we make ourselves holy. It just takes some focus and discipline and isolated community. That’s the sure road to holiness, according to the article. Reformed thought it is not.

Mr. Webb-Mitchell finds it necessary to fly around the world to exotic locales to be a pilgrim. Does the single mother of two, harried and caring for little ones, have the opportunity to be a pilgrim? Can a minimum-wage worker, who will not be paid if he skips work, who cannot afford a week-long retreat in the company of other holy people, be a pilgrim?

Can a person be a pilgrim in the factory, the boisterous hallway in a public high school, at a contentious consistory meeting? Or is it necessary to get away from it all to Great Britain, or the desert Southwest or Central America? Can I be a pilgrim without the trendy sunglasses and Birkenstocks, or do I need them to show that I really am cool, even though I am a Christian contemplative type?

Jesus didn’t leave his own tiny country for his ministry. Paul traveled far and wide, but found himself serving in the crowded market-place or the town arena or other place of public assembly. His only contemplative moments were when he was in prison–but even there he spent his time witnessing to unbelieving guards and fellow prisoners.

A fellow pilgrim, sans Birkenstocks,
Fred Mueller
Hillsborough Reformed Church
Hillsborough, NJ

Fathering Reconsidered

Dear Editors,

In the February issue of Perspectives there is an “Inside Out” by David Schelhaas on “Mother and Father.” I read the piece over and over, trying hard to discover a way of reading it that would not yield the conclusion that Schelhaas, a teacher of English, overlooked an important dictionary meaning of the verb “to father.” And I also wanted to be convinced that the two sentences lifted out in bold by Perspectives did not rob me of what has become so unfathomably precious to me, the fathering of my dying daughter. I failed in both cases. I had to accept that author and journal both had a single and blunt message:

To mother is “to nurture”; to father is “to sire.” Ah, what language can teach about gender.

Every dictionary I consulted assured me that I was not mistaken in thinking that when I keep vigil by my daughter’s bed side for 120 hours without a break, I am fathering her. When I feed her because she can no longer move her hands, I father her. When in the middle of the night I change her bed, bathe her, and dress her in a clean nightgown, I father her. When the pain makes her cry out and I say “I love you,” I father her.

These days, when I father my daughter, it does not have the meaning it had 40 years ago. These days my fathering her has nothing to do with helping her come into being on the road of life. These days my fathering her is borne by the hope that she may know that God is with her in her suffering. These days my fathering her in tears tells her that my heart will break when she is no more and that my soul can sing because she has entered into God’s love.

I hope Schelhaas and Perspectives can forgive me for this intimate response to their good intentions. In the end, however, I agree that, on a careful reading, “fathering” can teach us much about gender.

Hendrik Hart
Mount Albert, Ontario

Shortly after Mr. Hart wrote us, his daughter died. We extend our sympathies to the Hart family. –The Editors