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Hawaiian Vacation: Theological Perspective
Well, I was away from July 27, 2010 to August 8, 2010 on a vacation to Hawaii for my 20th wedding anniversary. Although it was a vacation, I'm constantly looking for how life relates to theology and theology relates to life. So, while sharing a little about the vacation, I'd also like to share some interesting theological perspectives about Hawai'i.
First, let me say it was a blessing to be able to go to such a beautiful place with my wife. We renewed our wedding vows on Ko'Olina Beach in Oahu. In part the vows stated, "Here during the 20 year celebration of our marriage, we rededicate ourselves. Our first dedication was before a preacher and friends and strangers but now it is fitting that our rededication be just between ourselves as one body with as witnesses only the ones who have created us (my wife's mother was there) and the ones we have created (our daughter was also there)".
I thank God for my wife and for my family and for this opportunity to rededicate our lives together.
We had been planning this family vacation for over 6 months. It was not going to be just an anniversary vacation, but as a close family; me, my wife, our daughter, and even my mother-in-law went on this vacation. My daughter also turned 17 while on the vacation. We stayed in a hotel on Waikiki Beach for the first 4 days. The water was crystal clear and the breeze kept us cool even as the sun shone every day.
On this, the first of 4 islands we'd visit we toured Diamond Head crater, 760 foot steep walk to the rim.
We also took a 3.5 mile trek through a rainforest to the summit of Pu'u Konahuanui of the Ko'olau Range. This was an exciting adventure through bamboo (not native to Hawai'i), and along scenic ridges. What is note worthy is the lack of noise. I mean, not even the noise of birds, insects (besides a few crickets), or frogs. Hawai'i being sheltered from the rest of the world, is not abundant in creature-life. The largest mammal is the wild boar, which is not native.
The North Shore beaches on Oahu were very much worth the drive. They call this area of beaches the "seven mile miracle" because it is seven miles of white sand beaches. From what I understand, in the winter this area sports some of the best surfing in the world.
Lastly, we took a day to tour the Polynesian Cultural Center. This is definitely a must see. We gained so much insight, not just of Hawai'i but of Polynesian cultures in general such as; Tahitians, Samoans, Figian, Tongan and more. The day ended with a very nice Luau dinner, complete with purple taro rolls.
After our 4-day mini vacation on Oahu, we boarded the Norwegian cruise ship; Pride of America for a 7-day cruise to 3 other islands. As we sailed out of Waikiki's port, our first stop was Maui. The island has the nickname as "the best" of the islands. It was nice but I didn't particularly think it was the best. While on Maui we toured the semi-active volcano Haleakala which we peaked at 10,023 feet at the rim. Sulphur smells like either rotten eggs or a decaying animal but the views were awesome!
We also toured the Iao Valley to see the "Iao Needle". Lastly, while on Maui we went to the historic town of Lahaina, which is home to Hawaii's largest Banyan tree (also not native to Hawai'i). Fans of the TV series LOST might recall the multi-rooted Banyan trees that were often in the back drop where the characters would hide.
Our next stop was to the "big island" which is the one actually called Hawai'i. Hawai'i the island is actually the youngest of the islands and is the one with the most active volcano. We ported two days at Hawai'i, first at the port of Hilo on the eastern side. While in Hilo we visited the Volcanoes National Park, where unfortunately we were unable to directly view lava flows. We did however see and walk up to steam vents, where rain water had seeped into the hot ground and also toured a lava tube. This tube, or tunnel is named the "Thurston Lava Tube" but as a trivia side note, most Hawaiians call it Nahuku and are indignant that the landmark is named after the Thurston family since Lorrin Thurston was instrumental in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. Repeated appeals by Thurston for the United States to annex Hawai'i failed until 1898 but Hawai'i would not officially become a state until 1959.
As we sailed at night to the west side of the island, we were treated to a night scene of lava flows as they emptied into the ocean. The horizon glowed red and we could clearly see silhouettes of palm trees in the path of the flows.
For our next day on the big island, the ship sailed to the western side and ported in Kona. We had to "tender" ashore that day, as the port was not deep/big enough to accommodate the ship. This means we had to board the ship's shuttle boats to go to and from shore. Kona is famous for its coffee. While on Kona, my daughter and I went parasailing. Parasailing is where a speedboat tows you behind it while you sit perched in the sky 800 feet above like a human-kite. I was a bit apprehensive since I can't swim, but hey it's a once in a life time experience. My daughter absolutely loved it! The boat captain even dipped us in the ocean a few times. I would certainly suggest anyone giving parasailing a try if you ever get the chance.
Our last island would be the island of Kauai, perhaps the oldest of the Hawaiian islands. But before we arrived we had to make the night-long journey. This is where I'd like to talk about the experience on the ship. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) made the cruise an experience to remember. My wife and I had a stateroom with a private balcony so we were able to sit out at nights and listen to ocean waves crash or view the mountain backdrops as we sailed around the islands. My daughter and mother-in-law shared an inside stateroom, which is just as well since my mother-in-law feared becoming seasick. With the safety of being on a ship, my daughter was able to participate in the ship's teen program where NCL has a meeting area for teens. She quickly made friends with several other teens and was able to have the run of the ship until her scheduled time to return to the room. With this she was able to enjoy the onboard basketball court, the game room, and of course the pools and hot tubs. She loved it!!!
The food was inclusive in the cruise. NCL unlike other cruise lines has a "freestyle" concept, which means instead of having scheduled times to eat you could eat almost whenever and wherever on the ship you wanted. We even took brunch by the pool and on some open decks a few times. The food was great, especially at the buffet.
Then there were the onboard shows. We especially liked the comedy of Second City. The improv skits were hilarious. There was also the magic shows of Fred Becker and even he added a bit of comedy to his shows.
Back to Kauai. This island is less populated and has a policy of not allowing any buildings taller than the tallest palm tree, so it is more of the "old Hawai'i" experience and perhaps my favorite island of the ones we visited. While on Kauai, we rented a car and drove the route to Waimea Canyon considered the "Grand Canyon" of Hawai'i. The views were amazing, especially the multi-colored valley and cliffs and the real cool waterfall amid rolling red-dirt hills we walked up to. Next we traveled north on the island to the Opaekaa Falls which were nice but since Hawai'i is currently experiencing a drought were smaller than usual. We ended our time on Kauai with a few hours at Wailua Beach which was cool because the waves were huge and the beach was almost vacant.
Upon leaving the ship the next day, we spent a last few hours back on Waikiki Beach where my daughter and a few friends she made on the ship tried out surfing. I don't think she was able to stand on the board but a few seconds but boy did she ever love it. It almost made us late getting to the airport ;-)
The 9 hour flight from Honolulu to Chicago to Indianapolis wasn't too bad. Everyone else in my group managed to sleep on the plane but I never can so I bought an onboard turkey sandwich and relaxed watching the onboard movie.
Vacations are fun, but being back in the comfort of home is great! Now it is back to reality and back to work. Maybe another adventure in another 20 years eh?
Now, for those interested in the theological connection of my vacaction, please continue reading. First, as a conservative Christan who believes God created the planet earth, I always grapple with the claims of tour guides; be it in Hawai'i or when I have visited landmarks such as Mammoth Cave Kentucky when the guide relates the supposed formation of the landmark. They typically will explain theories that include billions of years. For Hawai'i it is explained that there is a "hot spot" within the Pacific Tectonic Plate that has been creating the volcanic islands of Hawai'i; creating each new island as it passes over the hot spot. This is why the northwestern most islands (such as Kauai) are considered the oldest and have no active volcanoes while the southeastern islands (such as big-island Hawai'i) are considered the newest and still contain active volcanoes. This certainly makes sense but how do I reconcile this with my concept of a fairly young earth creation by God? I guess our theology doesn't require young earth creation to be accurate or it is possible that while science may have the process correct, it is possible the time frames are inaccurate. Either way, while interesting to ponder, this doesn't affect my overall faith.
The next interesting theological connection during my trip to Hawai'i comes as we visited the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). As I noted, the PCC does an excellent job of preserving and relating the various history and aspects of general Polynesian society. But what visitors to the PCC may not know is that it is ran by the Mormon Church (also called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- see here). In fact, we were told 70-85% of the employees at the PCC are Brigham Young University Hawaii students. This poses a few questions. First, I wonder how most Hawaiians feel about a cult being a major representative and preserver of their culture? I mean, as I said earlier, the PCC does a very good job at relating the Polynesian culture.
As a Christian, especially as a Christian involved in "counter-cult" activities how am I to reconcile this? I obviously don't want to support Mormonism or encourage others to support it or its efforts. Just because cults may do a good job at humanitarian efforts (be it feeding the poor or preserving culture) does it mean we give the cult a pass on the fact it is a cult? For those objecting to my use of the term cult, keep in mind cults like the Waco Texas cult or the Jim Jones cult. What if those cults would have obtained some sort of established acceptability within society? Would we have winked at what the cults were really about?
Further, I find it odd that the Mormons even want to assist in preserving Polynesian culture. Why? I mean, you'd think Mormons, as a pseudo-Christian group would want to attempt to displace the pagan cultures, not preserve and perpetuate them. There were clearly some veiled Mormon references at the PCC. For instance, as part of the tour, people could take a "temple tour" which as our guide explained it to a couple who obviously didn't know anything about Mormonism, the guide told them it was "a tour of another sacred place". This seemed to leave the couple thinking there was some connection to the Polynesian culture aspect. Also, during the after dinner show, called HA - THE BREATH OF LIFE, there was a reference to the "pearl of great price" which although is a Christian reference taken from Mt 13:44-46, this phrase is associated with Mormonism from the 1851 Mormon book by the same name (source). Anyhow, I found this entire aspect strange.
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