Monday, July 6, 2015

The Best Thing About Gay “Marriage” (And How Christians Helped Make It Possible)

As we continue to recover from Obergefell and prepare for the horrors yet to come, let us once again remind ourselves that the move to bring the state into the issue of marriage was to prevent “miscegenation,” interracial marriage. Whether it is a good idea for a white person to marry a black person (or vice versa) is a separate question – I would expect that there are millions of black women who are better off for not having married me – but again, given the lack of evidence that any of the family of faith in the Bible (except Joseph, possibly Daniel, and Esther, all rather enigmatic figures) involved state functionaries in their weddings, it would appear that God’s people can marry quite nicely without blessings from those who wield the sword.

Christians seem to have been silent when the state arrogated to itself the right to legitimate marriage. To the degree that we are to defend what is sacred, that was dereliction of duty. Once the state is allowed to define marriage, marriage will become whatever the politically powerful say it is. Since Jesus never promises political power to his followers, even a porcupine of little brain can infer that the definition of marriage will eventually be turned against us.

This is a time for acknowledging, even if it’s too late to change anything now, the plank in our own eye so we can warn our grandchildren to warn their grandchildren that if they ever have the chance to put their hands on the levers of power, not to take the shortcut of granting the state sovereignty over the family.

Moving on, as Ma Ingalls used to say, “There’s no great loss without some small gain.”

In this case, the small gain is that now I have a response for the statist who insists on referring to chaos (even that brought about by the state) as “anarchy.” (I realize that this “gain” and four quarters will get me anything I want at the Dollar Store only where there is no sales tax.) I can now say, “If you want to know how I feel when you refer to chaos as anarchy, just think how you feel when you hear ‘gay marriage.’”

Somehow I don’t expect to be able to use that on anyone until we’re sitting in the same prison cell awaiting “enhanced interrogation,” and by then we’ll have other things on our minds.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How's It Working for You Now?

The Supreme Court has just found that homosexuals have a constitutional right to marriage. Whether you think queers can or should marry is now irrelevant: you will be paying Social Security benefits to the beneficiaries of queer marriages. Congratulations!
Frankly, I don’t care who you live with or under what circumstances. If you want to have a hands-off relationship with a roommate of the opposite sex, or you want to have a hands-on relationship with one or more members of the opposite or the same sex, or with a non-human, I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me. It’s none of my business.
The Bible tells us what kinds of relationships God approves of and what he doesn’t, and if you want me to tell you what the Bible says, I’m happy to tell you. If you invite me to visit you in your home or place of business, I’ll consider it on a case-by-case basis. Same for if I want to invite you.
But I have no right to dictate the terms for your household, and I would appreciate you extending me the same courtesy. Except now, of course, courtesy of the Social Security system, if you were queer, you couldn’t extend me the courtesy of not caring what you do if you wanted to. Uncle Sam taxes, and Uncle Sam distributes, and whether I like someone’s arrangement or not, I pay for it.
Thanks heaps, conservative Christians. I would like to get the state out of the marriage business altogether. No state married Abram and Sarai, or Isaac and Rebekah, or Jacob and Leah and Rachel, or David and his dozen or so wives, so I would assume that marriage precedes the state and therefore the state has nothing to say about marriage.
But you put Romans 13 over even marriage, and here you are now, subsidizing queer marriage. How my view of things could have worse results than this I can’t imagine.
“Yes,” you say, “but if we can just get the right people in positions of power, we’ll fix this mess.” To which I say, you’ve been trying hard for thirty-five years to get the right people in power. How’s it working for you?
Now that queer marriage is the official policy of the United States government, are you still going to fly Uncle Sam’s flag in your sanctuary? I suppose that by some sort of postmodern feat of transubstantiation (and 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 Trinitarian theology) you can say that that flag really represents Christian family values, but anyone who thinks 2 + 2 = 4 is going to reply that what it officially stands for now is queer marriage.

If Uncle Sam is God, serve him and pledge allegiance to his flag. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Outsourced: Putting Hinduism’s Best Foot Forward

(Warning: Spoiler)
Todd Anderson, the typical monocultural American, comes to India to show the ignorant natives how it’s done – “this” in this case being how to run the call center to which the call center he has been running in Seattle is being outsourced. Attributing their inability to deliver a quality product on time to their ignorance, he tells them that they need to learn about America if they are to do the job right.
Soon he finds the shoe on the other foot and is told by one of his trainees, Asha – who, no surprise, turns out to be the romantic interest – that his success depends rather on his ability to learn about India. Bewildered by local customs and frustrated at his inability to get his trainees on track, he has a chance meeting with an American resident expatriate, who tells him that he can either choose to let India stand for “I’ll Never Do It Again” or learn to enjoy it as it is. He accepts the challenge and makes the change, symbolized by his self-baptism by immersion in the local bathing spot on the Day of Holi. (“Holy what?” he asks. “Just Holi. Change of seasons. Celebration of color,” comes the reply.)
Todd’s enlightenment includes a truly poignant scene in which the poor man to whom he has almost anonymously been giving alms invites him to his house for dinner. They wend their way through poverty unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t seen it firsthand (I suspect what I saw was heavily sanitized) to a hole in the wall where the family sits outdoors around a cloth and waits for the matriarch to dole out a small helping of rice, watery who-knows-what sauce, and some kind of pancake. Todd, of course, is given the lion’s share, which, now that he has learned not to eat with his left hand, we are to understand he eats in a way that compliments, rather than insults, his hosts.
Todd eventually comes close enough to mastering India that the call center exceeds performance standards and he gets to screw Asha. Yessir, learning India isn’t easy, but the rewards are fantastic.
Unfortunately for Todd, the rose has thorns.
The theme of deception is introduced early by Todd himself as he teaches his trainees to imitate American accents and to tell the callers that they are in Chicago. It is Asha who tells him,
“When I was hired to do this job, I was told I would be selling products to a customer on the telephone. I did not know we would have to be deceptive.”
“A lot of Americans are upset about outsourcing.”
“But sir, most of the products they are buying are made in China.”
“Uh, OK, … we’ll continue this tomorrow.”
His boss also encourages him to lie to the Indians, which he refuses to do, only to find that his boss has been lying to him: the operation in India is to be shut down and the work outsourced to China.
The Indians become adept at American accents, but not enough to fool some Americans. In an especially adept bit of diplomacy, Asha parries the anger of an American who had lost his job to outsourcing by offering him the same product made by Americans. The American is soundly defeated when she informs him that the American-made product costs significantly more than the Chinese product sold through the Indian call center.
Did such a product really exist? We do not know, and what we know of Asha at that point would lead us to believe not.
Earlier in the movie, after a bit of deception on the part of a stranger, Todd and Asha find themselves in the Kama Sutra Suite of a hotel in another city. Though it is cast as an answer to a prayer offered to Kali, the goddess of destruction, nature takes its course, and Todd finds himself the happy boyfriend of a girl whose beauty only he fully knows.
After they return to work, however, he finds out that not only can he not tell anyone about their tryst or show her any public affection, but also she has been engaged to be married. She goes on to explain that premarital affairs are not uncommon. How she expects her husband to think he is first in line with her when that marriage is consummated isn’t dealt with, but if premarital affairs are indeed common, the men who snack on others’ fiancées must be willing to take what they deal out.
Asha lies again in the final scene to arrange a farewell tryst before Todd’s return to Seattle, and we are led to believe in the epilogue that she has gotten out of the engagement and made her way back into Todd’s life.
Whether the film was intended to be a course in cross-cultural sensitivity or not, it does a such a good job of teaching it that at least one university has used it as part of a course on the subject. As I’ve said already, one of the big themes is that Americans have a lot to learn from India; India, Indus (the river), and Hindu are all derived from the same linguistic root. Outsourced seems to regard the overlap as pretty much total.
Americans have no corner on either truth or truthfulness, as the movie points out. Neither, for that matter, does the Quill Pig, nor does his alter ego. Humans are by nature liars, and to be otherwise requires a concerted effort over a lifetime. But it is striking to see deception praised as a virtue as it is in Outsourced.
The evangelical author Don Richardson made a name for himself in the 1970s with Peace Child, a book about a tribe of New Guineans who had also made deception into an art form: they considered earning the trust of an enemy and then betraying and killing him the crowning achievement of a lifetime. I would suggest that the reason Richardson records no efforts of self-betterment that involved more than a handful or two of people (e.g., building houses or canoes, etc.) is that no one could trust anyone else: foreign policy, in this case the deception of enemies, became domestic policy, relationships with less-favored members of one’s own clansmen.
We see the same thing in the US: the foreign policy of breaking down doors to find insurgents in Baghdad came home to Watertown, Massachussets, after the Boston Marathon bombing and is repeated over a hundred times per day throughout the US. To the degree that those SWAT raids are truly needed, I have to ask what it is that makes so many people “proud to be an American.” Needing storm troopers with jackboots and machine guns to keep us in line is something to be proud of?
Is the future of America the past of the Sawi?
But I digress.
Outsourced makes India and thus Hinduism warm and fuzzy, like Asha. Oh, she may have lied to win Todd, but that was all in good fun. To ask how he’s supposed to keep trusting her years later when the sheen has worn off their relationship is to be a stick in the mud.
I think the reality is more like Johnny Cash and June Carter sang in the 1960s:
We got married in a fever
Hotter than a pepper sprout
We’ve been talking ’bout Jackson
Ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson,
I’m gonna mess around …
So what will keep a lying mess-around from lying and messing around after the fire goes out?
Well, I had a good friend awhile back who had a tool shop that he allowed anyone to come and use anytime. On one wall was a birdhouse façade with a door that took up most of the façade. On the door was written “Rules and Regulations.” When you opened the door you saw an artist’s rendition of Jesus.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Anecdote, Hearsay, and Innuendo about Vaccines

Let me state up front that I’m no biochemist or pharmacologist, so I really can’t judge the arguments for and against vaccination on the scientific merits. I don’t have the tools to evaluate the arguments of either side, so I have to take both sides at their word.

The question then is what to do when the sides disagree about the facts, and that problem surfaces right away. The pro-vaxx side says the science is settled: vaccinations save lives. The anti-vax side says no, the science isn’t settled, and there is good reason to believe that whether they save lives or not, they bombard the body with harmful substances that can inflict permanent debilitation.

I give the first point to the anti-vaxx side and call as my witness a pro-vaxx doctor. In personal discussions I had with him in the 1990s, he volunteered on at least two different occasions that as he had recently been thumbing through a medical textbook from the 1950s, he had realized that “everything” (I’m sure this was hyperbole) they were telling doctors to do then was considered malpractice by the 1990s.

That is, those who in the 1950s considered themselves alone fit to practice medicine (i.e., dispense medicines and perform invasive surgeries) and determine who was fit to practice medicine were instructing their acolytes to engage in practices that within forty years were found to be harmful.

Fast forward to just a few years ago when “settled science” told us there was nothing to fear from mercury in vaccinations. Well, now vaccinations don’t contain mercury. Did the change come just because of public opposition, or did the medical establishment decide mercury was harmful after all? Or were they just not taking any chances?

Just a few years ago the government agencies who are urging vaccinations today were telling us that meat and butter and other fats were bad, low-fat diets and grains and oils from corn and canola were good. Now the same people are telling us that meat and fats are OK and low-fat diets make us fat.

“Oh, but now we’ve got it right.” Uh, no. If the boy calls wolf twice, you don’t give him a third chance. You find a new shepherd.

I have a hard time believing that people who can afford organic snack food and grass-fed meat and new cars every couple of years are interested in protecting and promoting the lives of the most vulnerable in our society when their paycheck comes from an outfit that subsidizes corn production in this country, the result of which is (all together now) obesity from high fructose corn syrup, car engines ruined and energy wasted by ethanol, food animals sickened in feedlots, and corn farmers in Mexico put out of business.

I don’t know that there’s a connection, but I find it interesting that Bill Gates and Ted Turner have stated publicly that they think the human population of the world needs to be reduced. Guess which side of the vaccination issue they’re on. If there is indeed a connection between vaccinations and autism in extreme cases, is there no reason to believe that the normal reaction to a vaccination is to become more passive? Bill and Ted and National Geographic and the AMA and the rest of the pro-vaxx crowd has in common the belief that the world is best governed by an elite that knows “what’s best for everyone,” individual rights, whether to withhold vaccinations or to prefer self-defense to calling the cops, be damned. Do they want my grandchildren vaccinated so they will grow up to think for themselves and challenge their New World Order? Or are they hoping to increase the population of docile drones who will carry out their dictates?

Would Henry Kissinger be caught dead being called an anti-vaxxer? Methinks not. But it was Kissinger who was the genius behind at least the last few years of the Vietnam war, when thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died needlessly. But he is still around the halls of government, still equally at home with the Bushes and the Clintons, and they all together treat the Vietnam War as some sort of holy crusade (and never mention the outcome) and beat the drum for endless war in the Mideast today, collateral damage and all. If they treat Vietnamese and Muslim lives with such contempt, what is supposed to make me think they don’t regard my life and those of my grandchildren with contempt as well?

Last but not least, there’s the anti-family, anti-freedom, anti-everything-good War on Drugs. Two nights ago yet another male treated at length to psychotropic drugs by the medical establishment went berserk and gunned nine people to death, joining the Columbine killers, the Aurora killer, and the Sandy Hook killer, plus some I’ve forgotten, in the parade of men whose brains were probably messed up and certainly not helped by legal drugs. It is, I hear, not uncommon for school guidance counselors to give parents the choice of either giving their kids drugs that will “help them behave properly” or having them expelled from school and possibly handed over to the Child Protective Services. The road from there is predictable: the body builds up resistance to the drugs, the dosage is increased, and eventually there is a paradoxical reaction that makes the headlines.

So while we have many psychotropic drug mass murders, I have yet to hear of a marijuana or even an LSD mass murder. (Marijuana dealers shooting each other doesn’t count, and if “collateral damage” is as morally defensible as “those who know what’s best for everyone” say it is, neither do innocents caught in the crossfire.) We know there’s a connection between at least some legal drugs (oh, did I mention alcohol?) and harm to innocents, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that connects at least some illegal drugs to mayhem. Yet which side of the marijuana prohibition issue are the pro-vaxxers on?

I know, this is all anecdote, hearsay, and innuendo. But when those who live every day with autism are convinced that vaccines are the culprit and they urge people to do their own research and think for themselves, while those who do not live with the consequences and who have shown measurable contempt for innocent life are telling us to trust them and not step out of line or else, “Better safe than sorry” seems to guide me away from vaccinations.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Anarchy versus Chaos in One Lesson Even a Conservative Evangelical Should Be Able to Understand

I have tried to explain the difference between anarchy and chaos at length in an earlier post . What follows here is a supplement.
There is much talk these days of the very real danger faced by today by Christian caterers and photographers who refuse the business of gay couples on the occasion of their “marriages.” I have even heard this situation described as anarchy.
However, when government forces one group of people to force another group of people to interact with a group of people they prefer not to interact with, that is not anarchy (the government is by definition the archon). Rather, it is chaos: the lives and property of innocent people are subject to violence.
End of lesson. The rest is discussion and application.
To those who would claim that without archy (whether monarchy, oligarchy, or plutarchy, or some variation of republic or democracy) we would not have such social goods as roads and schools, I would like to pose a question: What “social good” would you say counterbalances having your taxes pay for a police and court system that cripples your brethren or even forces them out of business because they refuse to participate in the “marriage” of strangers?
I don’t want to pick on gays here, so let me ask what “social good” counterbalances our tax system that subsidizes the obesity epidemic by subsidizing high fructose corn syrup, that wastes energy by subsidizing ethanol, that promotes cruelty to animals by subsidizing feedlots, and that bankrupts poor farmers in Mexico by subsidizing their competition. Or what “social good” the welfare system performs that counterbalances the damage done to the black family that three hundred years of slavery and a century of Jim Crow laws did not achieve. Or the wars that have spread mayhem from from Libya to Pakistan with, so far, the lasting accomplishment of precisely none of the originally stated military mission.
What social good in Soviet Russia counterbalanced the murder of Christians and Kulaks? What social good in Mao’s China counterbalances the murders of the Cultural Revolution? What social good in Nazi Germany counterbalances the Holocaust and the imperialist aggression? What social good in the Islamic State counterbalances the murder and expropriation of the Christians there?
More importantly, what scriptural principle do you use to get there? To the degree that archy is God’s way of doing things, I question his goodness.
Those who say, “It doesn’t matter how any given archic system works, God instituted archy, and that’s that,” I would like to ask when in scriptural history God instituted it. Matthew 22:21 (“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”), Romans 13, and 1 Peter 3 assume archy; they don’t establish it . God instituted the family in Genesis 1, and he instituted public corporate worship at the exodus ( e.g., Exod 20:22-26 ). Show me the chapter and verse where he establishes archy.
I would say he established archy in 1 Samuel 8, and he did so to promote the chaos of the different forms of slavery listed there, not to establish order or “social goods.” Can you top that?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cameroominations: The Good News

Despite all the doom and gloom I tossed out in the first half of this post, there are good things about Cameroon that I hope portend good things for the future of the church there.
First, of course, the people are made in the image of God, the same as everywhere else. They are no less rebels against God than I or anyone else, but they are no worse either. God has promised to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory, and Jesus has promised to build and equip his church to storm the gates of hell. While it seems like the church in Cameroon is hundreds of miles wide and half an inch deep, the same can be said of the church in the US (actually it’s wider), and of all of us as individuals at some time or another.
While in Cameroon we heard four guest preachers at four different churches. At none of these churches did we hear in so many words the plain gospel, that Jesus died to do what only he could do, to save hopeless sinners from the just punishment of their rebellion, reconcile them to God, and give them eternal life. While this is a serious omission, and 0-for-4 is a good indication that the message doesn’t get preached enough, what was preached in all cases seemed to be a sincere and informed attempt to apply Scriptural wisdom to people’s lives where they were. I should also add that the gospel was an important component of the commencement address given at the graduation ceremony at the Baptist seminary at Kumba, so it has not been left behind.
It is easy to concentrate on how we are to apply the gospel and forget to “know nothing but Christ and him crucified” – I have done it myself – but the good news is that as these preachers call their flocks to the obedience that is supposed to open the floodgates to blessings and miracles, they at least seem to have their noses in Scripture enough that they should be in a place where God can remind them why obedience is important, which will lead them back to who it is they must obey, including what he has done for them first.

***
After I’d been in Bekondo a couple of weeks, I realized I had not seen anyone smoke tobacco in the village, nor had I seen a police uniform. Because so many of the signs announce “Government Pre-School” or “Government Clinic” or government this or that, I didn’t think to wonder about the police, but no, the nearest police station was – I don’t know where, maybe a couple of dozen kilometers (and close to an hour’s drive) away in Kumba. Thievery is not unknown: many of those wealthy enough to afford cinder block houses had metal bars on their windows, and people saved money for large investments and rainy days by buying cinder blocks (to save up for houses) or giving gifts to incur obligation (as insurance). But people know their neighbors, for good or for ill, and they look out for each other.
In fact, we visited the studio of a well-known evangelist and musician in Kumba and were surprised to see – well, see if you can see what surprised us. Here’s some of his recording kit.

Not exactly ready to record Justin Bieber or Beyoncé, but not replaceable with pocket change either.
Now check out the entry to his studio. It’s the former “Cafe Resto” on the left.

Do you see the front door? “Door” is more like it. It’s just a cloth. There’s nothing solid to put a key to.
I asked him how he kept his kit from walking off when he was home or traveling. His reply was that the folks at the Common Wealth Institute of Natural Medicine (whoever they are now) would keep the wrong people out of his studio. Also, the area between his studio and the main road is a large bus and taxi park (lot), and any larceny would have many witnesses. So he wasn't worried. "Uniform? We don't need no stinkin' uniform!"
Another hopeful sign is that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive among great and small.
Kids in the US open lemonade stands. In Cameroon, they smoke snails and sell them out of buckets to whoever is going past.


No "real" gas station nearby? No problem. Open your own. Gas, diesel, kerosene, you name it.

it would seem that few hoops separate an aspiring motorcycle taxi driver from starting his business. There is, says my host, "a whole wing of the hospital dedicated to motorcycle taxi injuries," but the roads are full of them. For some reason, they all need gas when the rain comes, but don't anymore once the rain stops.

Nor do aspiring restauranteurs face high bureaucratic hurdles. (The small customer base weeds out lesser contenders.)


This last picture needs some explanation. I live in Pennsylvania, where the powers that be are afraid that all hell will break loose if beer, let alone wine or distilled spirits, is sold in grocery stores. (Actually, they’ve been bought off by crony capitalists and labor unions, but that doesn’t sound as noble.) In the Club 116 grocery store in Kumba, someone whose arms are a bit longer than mine could literally touch a new whiskey bottle full of whiskey and a previously used whiskey bottle full of peanuts roasted in palm oil by a home-based entrepreneur at the same time. Twice I have walked into the convenience store attached to a gas station and found a group of people standing at a counter in the middle of the store enjoying beer bought from that store’s refrigerator. (Beer in Cameroon is, I understand, twice as potent as it is in the US, and the bottles are twice the size of bottles in the US, so it isn't as though the stuff is harmless.)
Is drunkenness a problem in some places? Absolutely. Alcohol is de rigeur at many social engagements, and many hard-working cocoa farmers relax after a long, hot day with more palm wine and moonshine than would be healthy. I’ve even seen a guy in Bekondo staggering around before “the third hour.” But most people seem able to avoid both drunkenness and tobacco. The common sense needed to survive in the village is a strong antidote to the baby bird mentality that accompanies the nationalization of life.

***
If life is like a journey, driving in Cameroon is a much better analogy for it than driving in the US is. In the US, we assume everything will be smooth, with all procedures and hazards well marked. (Except for speed traps, of which I saw or heard of none while I was in Cameroon.) By contrast, in Cameroon, the assumption is ruts, traffic going every direction at once, and unmarked hazards.


As my host while I was there likes to say, “driving in Cameroon is a conversation.” When you’re on a narrow, slick, muddy road and a motorcycle is approaching from the other direction and another is stopped near the right side of the road, you need to decide who is going to pass the stopped motorcycle first, or even if there is enough room between him (they are always driven by males) and the ditch on the left for you to pass at all. Do that almost every minute of every trip, and you get a lot of practice in negotiating, looking out for others, and taking responsibility for your own welfare, not necessarily in that order.
It’s possible to be a jerk in such an environment, but in a face-to-face culture in which “money in the bank” is in the form of obligations you have built up from others, the wise learn prudence.
It is this grassroots common sense, surrendered to Jesus and sanctified by the Word and the Spirit, that I think will build the church in Cameroon. I think and hope and pray that the result will look like Quill Pigism. We’ll see if God takes things that way.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cameroominations: First the Bad News

On our last workday in Cameroon I sat on the veranda of our house and looked at the woodsmoke over some of the houses in the distance, watched a rooster fly up on the fence and crow, and visually followed the men with insecticide pumps as they walked out to their farms. I felt like I was trying to fit the rest of my life’s worth of enjoyment into the few minutes I had before I went in for breakfast. (We were scheduled to leave before regular breakfast time the next day.)
All in all, I like Cameroon. Though few given a wide range of choices would choose to live here, the place is livable. I consider getting used to the dust and mud kind of like that first few seconds when you get in the water when you’re swimming. You get your coping mechanisms in place and get used to the new routine and then fill your mind with the good things.
This post will be in two parts, bad news first.
Let me begin with a story told me by one (of the eight billion current inhabitants of our planet) who would disagree with the conclusion I draw from it.
Unlike Papua New Guinea, which has no dry season, only drizzle and torrent, Cameroon has a definite dry season from about November to about the beginning of June. (Quantifiable predictions in Cameroon seem to include the notion of “give or take fifty percent.”) During the dry season, the regional (we would say provincial) governments grade the roads and clean the gutters so that once the rain starts, the water drains off the roads, into the gutters, and off to oblivion. Or at least that’s the idea. I don’t know if the work is done by tenured-for-life government employees or private contractors, but I’m guessing the latter.
In this particular case, the cocoa growers in a certain area were unable to get their cocoa to market because the road had been graded improperly. The road flooded in the rains, the mud became soft and gooey, and the trucks could not get through. So the growers did what any decent, self-respecting businesspeople would do: they found the means to clear the gutter and “dry” the road enough to make it usable themselves.
At which point they were sued by those “responsible” for fixing the road in the first place. We’re talking comparatively rich government employees (or contractors) hiring comparatively rich lawyers to take comparatively poor cocoa farmers to a court financed primarily by the comparatively rich. The farmers had the choice of either pooling months’, if not years’, wages to hire a lawyer who would enter the courtroom with the cards stacked against him, or simply to pay what was demanded. I don’t know how the suit turned out, but the lesson was clear (to me, anyway): government “services” exist primarily to benefit those who provide them, not those who supposedly receive them.
Is it any wonder that two billion people went to bed hungry last night and that tens of thousands will starve to death today?
Three people every second drop off into a Christless eternity. Many of those have no conception of commitment to Christ beyond fire insurance: Jesus is OK if you think you need him to keep you out of hell, but he’s irrelevant for everyday life. And, of course, most Africans do not believe in the white man’s conception of hell, so Jesus to them is completely irrelevant.
When it comes to helping people feed their families, does the church have nothing to say besides “Let’s try harder to put the right people in charge of the system of coercion?” The Christians in Nigeria tried that with Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, and the result was so wonderful that when he ran for re-election against a Muslim earlier this year, the Christians voted for the Muslim. That sure makes Jesus relevant!
This is not to say that all government employees follow the incentives to self-indulgence. The medical clinic in Big Bekondo is staffed by a nurse and a pharmacist who are both competent and dedicated. The Christian tertiary schools in Cameroon graduate competent men and women who consider it their calling from God to teach, heal, enforce the law, or whatever within the system to the glory of God. But to the degree that Jesus was right that few are those called to life and many are those who choose destruction, one would predict that the proportion of such workers is small.
Most people would say that the work done by the conscientious minority makes up for the parasitism of (what I would predict is) the majority. Further, they would say that because the poor need these services but cannot pay for them, it is only right that the bill be paid by the rich: in Cameroon’s case, rich merchants pay duties on imports from overseas.
I think the truth is most clearly communicated by a game I’ve played with the Cameroon flag.

Let’s start with the Wikipedia explanation of the symbolism:
The center stripe is thought to stand for unity: red is the colour of unity, and the star is referred to as "the star of unity". The yellow stands for the sun, and also the savannas in the northern part of the country, while the green is for the forests in the southern part of Cameroon.
The sun, the savannas, the forests – “O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain….” Makes your heart go pitter-pat, doesn’t it?
How about if we turn the flag on its side, green at the top, red and the star in the middle, and yellow at the bottom?

What would the symbolism be then?
I’d say the green represents the rich at the top of the society, the red in the middle represents the “public servants,” and the yellow represents the poor at the bottom. The star represents the interests of the poor, which are the province of the “public servants,” whose job it is to soak the rich, and whatever resources they don’t use for their own purposes trickle down to the poor. And, as mentioned, once one gets a government job, it is for life, after which is pension.
Jobs in the voluntary sector, bad: hard work, high risk, low pay. Jobs in the tax-supported sector, good: easy work, low risk, high pay. What’s not to like?
We see the same idea on the flag of the great state of Louisiana: “The flag of Louisiana consists of a heraldic charge called a ‘pelican in her piety,’ representing a mother pelican wounding her breast to feed her young from the blood.”

The government is a mother bird feeding her babies, ostensibly through her sacrifice. Not mentioned is the tendency of those in the “public servant” class to live at a higher economic level than those they supposedly serve. Nor does anyone consider the metaphor of adult citizens as baby birds an insult.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing I heard from a Cameroonian Christian was his frustration that his countrymen were baby birds looking for handouts from the government and always seeking outside funding for church projects.
The same gold on red “star of unity” features in such places where government functionaries “see that those least fortunate have access to what they need to live a good life” as the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam. The same idea in different colors is on the flags of Cuba and North Korea. And, of course, the stars of state-level unity on Old Glory have been kept boxed into one nation since 1865.

If the folk in these countries are suffering, it is certainly not because those at the top of the heap have been infected with Quill Pigism.
***
Part of the social structure here is the system of chiefs.
The position is a relic of the colonial days, when the colonial governments would use influential locals to accomplish colonial ends. Postcolonial “independent” governments continue to fund them, though the local system of “kingmakers” – I actually had a man introduce himself to me as “a kingmaker and cocoa farmer” – puts the power a bit more in local hands.
As would be expected, the chief’s palace is larger and has more amenities than his subjects’ houses, and he is expected to put on feasts, including wine in abundance, for his visitors. He is expected to have his finger on every important activity in his realm, helping to pay the bills and to bring in outside funding.
As part of the red band with the gold star, those (few?) chiefs with scruples do their best to better the lot of those who do not live as well as they; those without are simply parasites. Fortunately—or maybe not, depending on the motives of the kingmakers—they can be removed.
***
The first line of the national anthem is, “Cameroon, the cradle of our fathers.” Veneration of ancestors is a part of the African mentality simply incomprehensible by Westerners, so I assume I don’t understand it and so won’t try to explain it. I would like to mention, however, that I find the first line of the anthem ironic because most of those venerated ancestors would not have considered themselves cradled in Cameroon, which has always been an invention of the European colonists. They would have considered themselves primarily, if not exclusively, members of their clans; as transportation and communication improved, some of them may have considered themselves primarily members of their tribes. But few would have identified themselves by the administrative district imposed by the colonial powers.
Of course, now that youth attend school and get jobs all over the nation, clan and tribe are becoming less important. An Oroko man from Bekondo who marries a Fang girl from Yaoundé and settles in Douala will speak English or French at home with her and their children. Unless his parents speak English or French, they will be unable to communicate with his children, and unless he has some great desire for his children to learn Oroko customs, they will identify primarily with Cameroon and aspire to become part of the “public servant” class.
***
Let me end on a hopeful note. Though the amount of trash strewn about in the cities and road towns defies description, the same is not true in the villages. Cameroonians are no worse people than anyone else, and they prove it when they are treated like people and not baby birds. I'll show what I mean in the second part of this post.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Is It Time to Get Our Noses Dirty?

When it comes to worship style, I’m a pretty mainstream Presbyterian. The Sunday morning gathering to me means attire worthy of a business meeting or meal at which hundreds of dollars or more are at stake: if not always a suit and tie, at least slacks and a button-down shirt and the kind of shoes men usually shine. In short, “proper attire” means clothes I wouldn’t want to do hard work in. T-shirt? Cutoffs? Flip-flops? Soccer uniform? No way.
How far I’ve come from my all-time favorite Sunday morning gatherings in our village in Papua New Guinea. Folks would show up in their everyday working attire (grass skirts, bark capes, an occasional worn and unsanitary T-shirt), piglets, puppies, and snot-faced toddlers in arm or in tow. They would sit or lie on the ground, dozing, nursing infants, smoking, and chewing betel nut while I’d do my best to turn a series of pictures into a comprehensible story that would give them some idea of who this Jesus was I’d come to tell them about. Sunday was the day we presented the Word of God as part of everyday life, something designed to take home.
So was impressed by my Bible reading a while back with how many times the faithful of Bible times did things that one just wouldn’t do in any “business formal” context, especially Sunday morning in a Presbyterian church: “Clap your hands … shout … with joyful praise” (Ps 47:1); they “wept aloud” (Ezr 3:12), “dressed in sackcloth and sprinkled dust on their heads” (Neh 9:1), “cried” (Neh 9:28), and “called out” (Neh 10:5). Even Jesus would get strange looks in any church I’d feel comfortable in when “he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could deliver him out of death” (Heb 5:7).
Notice that we have no trouble with raised voices and funny attire at sporting events. We might think the event itself is not worth the effort some people go to to celebrate it – I mean, really, spending a hundred bucks or more on a costume for a fooball game? – but I for one can’t see being more critical than “I say get a life, but if the game is that important to you, go for it.”
What got me going on this post this time was reading one day that the people “bowed … with their faces to the ground” (Neh 8:6). This was not in our sanctuary with its spotless carpet. It was outdoors, in the dirt. Now I can see our village friends doing that – their standards of cleanliness were not even close to ours. But does God want that from us? People in Bible times did it, but I tend to put it in the “that was fine for them then, but not for us now” category, hoping those people would identify more with my old village friends’ standards of cleanliness than with ours. But then again, while “cleanliness is next to godliness” is heresy, it is an understandable inference from the Torah. What if people in Bible times would identify more with our standards of cleanliness than with those of our village friends? What if they felt as odd putting their noses in the dirt as we would?
Though when it comes to worship, “man looks on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart,” I often hear (and say) that what we do on the outside is an important part of the picture. And the next sentence is usually “If we’re having a formal meeting with the king of the universe, shouldn’t we dress up for it?” But maybe the opposite is also true: could being unwilling to get dirty to worship God be as disrespectful as being unwilling to dress business formal?
I wonder if dressing business formal for church isn’t a presumptive claim that what we are there to do is “business as usual” with God. Is that a valid assumption?
On September 11, 2001, people who worked in the lower-level offices of the World Trade Center showed up for business as usual and dressed accordingly. They didn’t realize that they were in trouble, that that day life would change dramatically for them. And on September 12, or whenever they next returned to work, they were likely dressed appropriately for moving furniture. (I’m assuming their next remunerative activities involved setting up new offices.)
We don’t have an equivalent of 9/11 to point to, but the church in the US is in trouble. We are shrinking in number and in influence over the culture. Half of our children abandon the faith in young adulthood. We commit sexual immorality, have abortions, and get divorced at the same rate as our unbelieving neighbors. Nations that fifteen years ago we were looking for creative ways to evangelize we have instead turned to rubble. We have provided no alternative to godless education, health, and peacekeeping systems. Need I say more?
Judgment is coming. God will not allow our godless society to go on with impunity. Nor will he fail to discipline a church that has become insipid at best.
Getting back to God looking at the heart, as important as corporate worship is, we know from Isaiah 58:5 that externals, even the most drastic, are useless without a heart change: “You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like a blade of grass in the wind. You dress in sackcloth and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD?”
How do we get that heart change?
No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned [beginning, methinks, with people who grow plants God planted in Eden – QP] and to stop oppressing those who work for you [by taxing them for things they don’t use or want – QP]. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Those are hard words, hard commands to do things that don’t come easily to us in our culture.
Maybe we can start small with other difficult but comparatively easy things. Like literally clapping our hands and dancing in church the way we do at football games and praying with our hands and eyes raised toward heaven. Like kneeling on our real knees and bowing with our faces to the ground, beginning with the sanctuary carpet and progressing to real dirt. Like literally washing each other’s feet on a regular basis.
(Take two minutes to consider the logistics of what Jesus did: how much water and how many rags would it take to wash twelve men’s dusty feet?)
These actions are humiliating, but maybe humiliation in the safe environment of corporate worship will make us willing to humble ourselves when it’s neither convenient nor safe.
A friend once told me of therapy he had to go through to get over a lost girlfriend. His therapist put an empty chair in the middle of the room and told him to say to that chair while the therapist listened everything he could think of that he would want to say to that old girlfriend if she were sitting in it. He said that that was the day he got closure: having the therapist hear his words had the same effect for him that having the old girlfriend hear them would have had, but he was able to say those words only because he was in a safe environment.
Maybe if we literally put our noses to dirt in corporate prayer we would be able to loosen our hold on our possessions and privacy, on “business as usual,” on national honor, and a few more of our idols. Maybe we could do a better job of building the kingdom of God. Maybe we could even forestall the coming judgment.

I must be on to something. My natural response is, “After you.” Better would be, “Let’s do it together.” Best would be, “I’ll go first.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

Down on Main Street II

Update of this earlier post.

It would seem that Molly Maguire's is now closed.

Thank you, Lansdale Borough Development Commission!

Secular State Church II

Part 1 is here.
Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) had an interesting story on May 13. Apparently the government of Egypt wanted to reach out to the families of the Christians beheaded by ISIS a few weeks ago, so they proposed to build a church in the home village of most of the victims and call it Church of the Martyrs.
The folks who hatched the plan were certainly well intentioned. Egypt is, don’t forget, a Muslim polity, and that Muslims would want to distance themselves from ISIS by giving tangible assistance to its victims is understandable and, in its way, commendable. But the result was not what the well-intentioned expected. Far from being met with flowers as benefactors, those who brought their good intentions to the village were met with hostility by the Muslims there and, it would seem, faint enthusiasm by the families of the victims.
Who could have imagined that Muslims would be unhappy that their tax money was being spent to build a Christian church in their village?
Fortunately, VOM heard about the situation and proposed that since clean drinking water was unobtainable in the village, they would buy water filters so both Christians and Muslims would be able to have clean water. The Muslim response was, it seems, “You gotta be kidding,” but once they realized that the offer was serious, even the tension that had existed before the government made its proposal was defused. The idea seemed to go over so well that VOM got to work putting filters in the villages of the other victims under the same terms, all paid for by voluntary contributions.
Our father Abraham learned firsthand the nature or worldly government when first the Pharaoh and then Abimelek abducted his wife instead of initiating wedding negotiations. He knew that he did not need, nor should he accept, help or reward from them in times of crisis; hence his brushoff of the king of Sodom after his rescue of Lot. We would do well to be his sons in that regard.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Prohibition to Persecution

What goes around comes around, and now it’s coming around. Christian florists, photographers, and caterers are being put out of business and fined because they refuse to do business with gay couples getting “married.”1 I’ve even heard rumors of homosexuals deliberately seeking out businesses that might refuse to serve them hoping that the businesses will refuse to serve them so that they can then sic the government anti–hate crime establishment on the businesses.
While this is indeed persecution of Christians by worldlings, God warns us twice to think carefully before we tear our clothes, fall on our faces, sprinkle dust on our heads, and bawl our eyes out at the turn of events (Jos 7:6-9). The first comes directly from Jesus:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:3-5)
Though Jesus is talking here about the sins of other believers, we would do well to apply it to our non-Christian neighbors as well.
The second comes from the apostle Peter: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15).
Taken together, these make it clear that we need to make sure that we have given the world no cause to persecute us before we bewail our misfortunes. I would suggest that this round of persecution is in large measure simply the guns we have turned on others now being turned on us. We Christians in the US have our own set of sins to repent of.
Let’s begin with alcohol prohibition. While the Bible makes it plain that God abhors intoxication in any form, nowhere does he allow me to dictate or even desire to know what my neighbor consumes in the privacy of his own home. This seems to be a case of “‘Vengeance is mine,’ saith the Lord, ‘I will repay’” and “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
Yet Christians violated their neighbors’ property rights en masse, most famously in Carrie Nation’s raids on saloons, but also by proxy through the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Not only did they violate property rights by closing down saloons and speakeasies, they also violated the right of people peaceably to assemble.
When Prohibition ended, it was not ended to restore the people’s rights to property and assembly; it was ended to take the wind out of the sails of the crime wave that had struck the country as a direct result of Prohibition. The right of the people to own property was specifically violated within months when the war on (some) drugs was launched, again with no protest by Christians. Christians are not even known for protesting Roosevelt’s confiscation of gold. How could they, at that point, have based their argument on God’s prohibition of theft when they had so gladly violated it themselves since Prohibition and were gung ho to violate it in the drug war?
I also never recall hearing of any Christian protests against labor unionization. This is not surprising, as there are doubtless more Christians who can aspire only to be employees than there are who aspire to be entrepreneurs; union jobs tend to pay more than non-union jobs, so a Christian is likely to consider a union job a Godsend. Yet the moral system on which labor unions rest holds that those who start businesses lose their right to hire whom they will and pay what they will whenever they become large enough for the employees to vote in a union. That is, when a company becomes large enough to be taken over by a union, the rights of the owner to his property and to free assembly disappear. Where is the Christian outcry against this?
Similarly, Social Security was the plundering of future generations to fund the retirement of those who voted in the New Deal. Because of the provision that allowed a man to designate a wife as beneficiary after he died but not a homosexual lover, it was also de facto plundering of homosexuals. While I hear much just condemnation of homosexuality, I never hear homosexuals’ rights to property defended.
By the 1960s, with Social Security and the war on drugs, public schools and transportation, and dozens of other violations of property established as legitimate in the minds of US citizens, the Civil Rights movement had no trouble pushing government to further expropriate the private property of businesses by forcing them to serve customers they would otherwise not have served. The reasoning was simple: just as municipal bus systems should not discriminate against black riders, private restaurants should not discriminate against black customers. The difference between a tax-funded bus system (funded coercively through taxes and ruled by political power) and a private restaurant (voluntary, peaceable assembly on private property) was ignored. And again, Christians – including yours truly at that point – went along with the crowd.
I should say here that property and assembly are innate human rights, but they are not positive rights. I don’t have any positive right to food, clothing, or shelter. Instead, I have the right to die and go to hell (Rom 3:23; 6:23). But if I am able to accumulate property through peaceable exchange with others, I have the right to keep that property because no one has the right to take it from me. In the same way, I have the right to peaceable assembly on my property only because no one has the right to take it away from me.
So foreign is the idea of property rights to US Christians that they couched their objection to the persecution when these bizarre cases first started coming down in terms of religious freedom. “You can’t make civil rights laws that force people to violate their religious freedoms.” Instead of couching the argument in terms of the common human right to property, they put themselves in a special class of people whose religion needed to be protected.
I suppose that could be defended as a strategic move: a culture that acknowledges no objective standard of right and wrong will likely not be impressed by an appeal to the innate rights to property and assembly. But it seems counterproductive to try to fight violations of innate rights that are spelled out in Scripture by formulating a new “right” that is not found in Scripture. After all, Jesus said, “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20), and the apostle Paul said, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12 ); to say we have the right not to have our religious freedom violated seems to have little basis in Scripture.
It seems to me that it would have been simpler – and I know of no Scripture that contradicts this – to say to the Prohibitionists “God nowhere gives me the right to snoop on people’s private lives. If drunks wreck others’ property or assault people on their own property, then that’s a separate issue we can deal with.” And unless one is going to lead off with calling for homosexuals to be executed (and thorough domestic spying to make sure no one can stay in the closet), what would be wrong with saying, “Who lives with whom under what circumstances is none of my concern”?
Would minding our own business have overcome the deep need homosexuals have to be accepted as completely normal? Probably not. But we would more likely have been able to let our gentleness be known to all (Phil 4:5) and as much as it lies with us live at peace with everyone (Rom 12:18) – thereby opening doors for the gospel, or at least not shutting them – if we had defended their property rights as well as ours by working to end plunder that especially affected them even as we refused to profit from their “marriage” ceremonies. As it is, of course, now that the powers that be, ordained of God, have determined that gay marriage is the law of the land, we are now subsidizing it with our Social Security taxes, being castigated for being intolerant, and being persecuted for not willingly being part of it.
The road out of this mess begins with acknowledging the image of God in all people – boozers, druggies, and queers as much as anyone – and defending the rights to life, property, reputation, and truth we all share. It is hard enough for the world to get its head around the idea that we who belong to Christ have been chosen from before the foundation of the world. If we truly believe that God’s election has nothing to do with our inherent goodness, we need to treat those yet uncalled as our equals, especially in ways that can be objectively measured.
1For the purposes of this essay, marriage (without scare quotes) will be restricted to arrangements found in the Bible: a husband, who must be male, and at least one wife, who must be female. I will acknowledge common modern usages of the word by putting them in scare quotes.

The Quill Pig Actually Does Something Useful

The Quill Pig and his wife will be going to Cameroon for three weeks tomorrow. You can follow their adventures on whitneysincameroon.wordpress.com. Don't forget to subscribe so you get the news as soon as it hits the cloud. For that matter, be sure to subscribe to this here blog. Page views are ever so encouraging!