Tuesday, July 8, 2008

June 23: Mostly a Rant

Journal 4 June 23, 2008

Yesterday, I preached at First Church in Mai Sot (Thai Karen). They're without a pastor at the moment. He was asked to "go on retreat" for a while for moral impropriety, something that's unheard of among Karen churches, especially at the prestigious First Church. It has caused a split in the church and, since this doesn't happen often, I don't know what resources they have for facing the problem. Well, of course they have prayer, but certainly not the experience with conflict American churches have. Newton asked me to preach on Saturday evening because, of course, a preacher can preach any time, any where. And me without my books and resources. I didn't even have proper clothing, so Boo Po gave me (for keeps) a beautiful Karen shirt and skirt. I don't know what the interpreter said, so I don't know how the sermon came out. Karen Baptists are, possibly more reserved than American Anglo congregations if such a thing is possible. This morning, in the chapel service, Thra Simon asked me to bring the message tomorrow morning. I didn't realize I was going to have to work while I was here.

I was sitting on my verandah with cat in lap thinking of my upcoming message when I remembered the TIME magazine I brought with me. March 23 issue: 10 ideas that are changing the world. I threw it in the suitcase at the last minute thinking it might be useful in class, but once I arrived and read it in the midst of Mai La, I realized how ridiculous it is. These may be ideas that are changing our part of the world but two questions arise: should they? and how relevant are they for most of the world?

Idea #2 The end of customer service. And this is a good idea how? "With self serve technology, you"ll People here are scrambling to find a way to make a few baths. I look around at people living just a baby step above survival and that step is only because of international help. Most came here with only the baggage they could carry on their backs = if they weren't carrying the too young, too old, or too sick. And they aren't alone in the world. There are too many marginal people. If I had the internet right now, I might flood you with statistics, but numbers don't mean much. It's the faces that count, and they're all around us. Using a computer instead of talking to a human being not only reduces jobs, it increases frustration and the impersonalization of our culture. In a world crying out for community and connectedness, a culture that has been individualized to the point of fragmentation, we don't need less customer service; we need more.

The third idea that is changing the world is the "post-movie star era." Oh, come on! And we care why?

The fourth idea: reverse radicalism. Talk to disillusioned radicals to stop terrorism. Good idea, but great? And how is this such a radical idea? Why weren't we talking to them before. Why weren't we talking more to each other?

The fifth idea: Kitchen chemistry. Cooks are now looking at the chemical processes that change food. That too feels a bit irrelevant. At the moment, I'm not sure what I'm eating; I'm just glad to be eating. Food here is whatever they can grow, or scrounge, or have given to them, or can find cheap in the local market. I'm told the green stuff is morning glories and the soup for lunch was obviously fish head. A people's language reflect what's important. The word for rice, "mei", is also the word for "food" and "yes". They great each other not with "How are you," but with "Have you eaten." Just eating is an accomplishment Though I love to eat, I think we've become a bit obsessed by our food. We need to spend less time and energy on the "perfect meal" and more on making sure that everyone eats.

The sixth idea: geoengineering = using the same ingenuity that has gotten us into the global warming mess to fix it. Not to get us out – the writer contends that it's too late for that – but to find ways to ameliorate the situation. Not a bad idea, but potentially dangerous. We're too inclined to think that, if we can wash muddy clothes there's no reason not to step in the puddle. If we can put iron in the ocean to absorb carbon, it won't matter how big our carbon foot prints are.

The seventh idea: "synthetic authenticity." It doesn't matter how artificial something is, as long as we think it's "authentic." Again, as I look out on this crowded camp, that seems petty and narcissistic.

Idea eight: the new austerity. At last, something that makes sense. Actually live within your means and be grateful that you have means to live within. It's pretty pathetic that this is a "new" idea.

Idea nine: mandatory health. You can be fired for being out of shape or smoking or not taking care of yourself – which we should all be trying to do anyway.

Idea ten: judaizing Jesus. This is an interesting theological trend – though not entirely new since we talked about it when I was in seminary lo these many years ago - and affecting some Christians at the church level. This is an area of the world in which Christians are a very small percentage of the population, and the ones with which I live still have the perspective and practices of early 20th century missionaries. I would like to see them struggling with liberation theology. The younger leaders are on the brink of it, but they're being held back by the more traditional elders. The verb they're using is "fed up."

The first idea has the most relevance, so I've saved it for last: common wealth. "Our survival requires global solutions." We have to see beyond our borders if this world is to survive. There is no turning back on the global transportation and communications we've created. The men here are staying up all night to watch the Euro Cup; cell phones abound; the internet makes it possible for me to sit on my veranda and order books from Amazon while I check my bank statement and pay bills. These refugees can know what's going on in the world, and participate in the world, if they choose. This is very different from the refugee camp I worked in in 1981. There are few isolated corners of the world left. We need to work together as a world if we're going to continue to survive.

How about some other ideas that matter. I should get off of my soap box and into the pulpit but it's getting late and I'll save that for later. Sorry to rant, but I feel frustrated by this log jam of human beings. They can't go back or forward. It's no way to live a life or sustain a people.


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