|Hirao Baptist Church, Fukuoka City, Japan|
Monday, May 20, 2013
Yesterday, May 19, was a day of celebration for Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians. It was Pentecost Sunday, a day commemorating the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of Jesus on the traditional Jewish festival day known as Pentecost.
The events on Pentecost roughly 50 days after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought about what is sometimes called the birthday of the Christian Church. Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching in a local church, talking some about its birth.
The Hirao Baptist Church was started by missionaries Bob and Kay Culpepper in the 1950s. The church’s first meeting place was in the upstairs of the missionary residence where June and I, and our two older children, moved in 1968 after the Culpeppers had moved to another part of the city.
Then in its own building, Hirao became our church home from 1968 until 1980, when we helped start the Fukuoka International Church under the sponsorship of Hirao Church. It was a real joy to have the privilege of preaching there again yesterday—in the fine new facilities built several years ago at the same location as their first building.
My text was 1 Corinthians 14:1-5a and my emphasis was upon “prophesying.” 1 Cor. 14:1 says, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (NRSV). In Eugene Peterson’s delightful Bible paraphrase known as “The Message,” this verse reads, “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim [God’s] truth.”
One of the main points of my message was that the thrust of that first Christian Pentecost was not the speaking in “tongues.” Rather, it was speaking/proclaiming God’s message. That is what needs to be emphasized now. And speaking/proclaiming God’s message is something that can and should be done by all Christian believers, not just by those who are pastors or missionaries.
Moreover, proclaiming God’s message is something that needs to be done by deeds as well as by words. Of course, for some groups, such as the Quakers and maybe many Mennonites, perhaps the emphasis needs to be on proclaiming God’s message by words as well as by deeds. (Long ago I heard of someone who said to a Quaker, “Why don’t you preach what you practice!”)
But who speaks for God? There are so many different voices all claiming to be speaking for God, how can we tell true “prophets” from false ones? This is no new problem. But it is still a problem, and it is a big problem.
The words of 1 Corinthians 14:3 are helpful here: “. . . the one who proclaims God’s message speaks to people and gives them help, encouragement, and comfort” (TEV). This is not the only guideline for discerning who speaks for God, but it is an important one.
Those who truly speak for God, proclaiming God’s truth, are those who speak words and do deeds that help, encourage, and comfort others—especially those who are hurting: the physically and spiritually needy, the exploited and discriminated against, and (among others) the victims of violence and the ravages of warfare.
Next month I will have the opportunity to speak at the dedication service of a new church building in Cambodia. Please pray that I may truly speak for God to people of that troubled country who have been hurting for such a long time and desperately need God’s word of help, encouragement, and comfort.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Perhaps Dr. Seuss’s most noteworthy book is “Horton Hears a Who!” (1954). It begins,
On the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool,In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,He was splashing…enjoying the jungle’s great joys…When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.
Many of you have read this book to your children or grandchildren, and perhaps some of you have watched the delightful 2008 movie version with them. But do you know that this and other Dr. Seuss books are the subject of theological and philosophical considerations?
In 2004, James W. Kemp, a retired Methodist pastor, published a book titled “The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss.” And Jacob M. Held, a philosophy professor at the University of Central Arkansas, is the editor of “Dr. Seuss and Philosophy,” a 260-page book published in 2011.
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-91) published 46 children’s books, and children across the country, as well as their parents and grandparents, have very much enjoyed the rhyming, rhythm, and rhetoric of those books as well as the illustrations, drawn by the author. And even though subtle, there is an important moral teaching in most of his books.
Sometimes the moral is misunderstood. The line "A person’s a person, no matter how small!!" from “Horton Hears a Who!” has been used as a slogan by the anti-abortion movement in the U.S.
While Geisel preferred to let his work speak for itself, he did occasionally speak out to protect his characters from exploitation. In 1986 when that line from “Horton” was first used by the pro-life movement, he demanded a retraction and received one.
Actually, “Horton Hears a Who!” is said to be an allegory for the Hiroshima bombing and the American post-war occupation of Japan, and it was dedicated to a Japanese friend.
Seuss wrote “Horton” after visiting Japan in 1953 and admitted that Who-ville was partially modeled on the country, which had just emerged from U.S. occupation at the time. The book’s dedication, “For My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura,” refers to a professor he met on that trip.
One of the philosophy professors, though, suggests a different underlying message in “Horton.” He says that “we must remember that Dr. Seuss published this story in 1954, in the midst of the civil rights movement.” That was when many Americans “remained ‘blind’ to the plight of African Americans” (“Dr. Seuss and Philosophy,” p. 130).
And some of the authors of the same book use “Horton” to explain the moral ideas of Immanuel Kant, one of the most difficult-to-understand German philosophers.
For example, the co-authors of the ninth chapter write, “Horton is promoting the view that all people matter. All people possess an inherent, inviolable value beyond any price or measure; all people possess dignity. Kant couldn’t have said it better” (p. 107).
“Horton Hears a Who!” is the seventh chapter in Kemp’s delightful book. He relates the theme of that Seuss story, “a person is a person, no matter how small,” to Psalm 24:1-2. Kemp contends that
we must, like Horton, hear the cries of other people, no matter how small or insignificant they may be in the world’s eyes. If anything, Scripture instructs us to take special care of those people—especially widows, orphans, and prisoners—who are downtrodden and have been marginalized from the spheres of influence in our society (p. 49).
And that is something worth considering on this fifteenth of May, even if you are not in the Jungle of Nool!
Friday, May 10, 2013
Last month June and I had Japanese house-guests, and as they had visited us before (three years ago), we wanted to find some different places to take them. So we made a day trip to Topeka.
One main reason for going to Topeka was to see the tulips. That city is well known for its “Tulip Time” every year in April. Because of the cool spring many of the tulips were not in full bloom, but we still enjoyed the beauty of those that were blooming, as well as the daffodils, at the 2.5 acre Botanical Garden in Old Prairie Town at the Ward-Meade Historic Site.
Then we visited the state Capitol building, which is so impressive that June and I wondered why we had not gone there before, since it is so close to Kansas City. We enjoyed the old-fashioned (employee-operated) “cage elevator,” and when we stepped off on the second floor we were face to face with the huge John S. Curry mural depicting the wild-eyed abolitionist John Brown.
Later, although we did not have time to go through it, we drove by the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, which is in the old Monroe School, where Linda Brown and other African-American children had to attend because they could not go to white schools. That segregation was challenged by Oliver Brown, Linda’s father, and 12 other plaintiffs.
I did go inside briefly, and picked up a leaflet titled “From Brown to Brown: Topeka’s Civil Rights Story.”
In 1856, John Brown (1800-59) commanded forces in battles at Black Jack and at Osawatomie against the Border Ruffians, the pro-slavery activists from Missouri who crossed the state border into Kansas Territory to force the acceptance of slavery there. And the leaflet explains that “Brown’s involvement in Bleeding Kansas set the spark that ignited the Civil War that freed millions of enslaved human beings.”
Then on May 17, 1954, in ruling on the case known as “Brown v. Board of Education” the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, racial segregation of public schools was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Even though that historic Supreme Court decision was made the month I finished my junior year in high school, I don’t have any memories of it from that time. Separate but equal schools was not an issue where I grew up in north Missouri, for there were no African-American school-age children in the county.
But it made quite a difference in Liberty, where June and I were students at William Jewell College from 1957 to 1959. June was an elementary education major, and she did her practice teaching in the recently-integrated Garrison School, which was founded as a school for African-Americans in 1877.
Garrison School, however, had only provided education for its students through the 10th grade, and the “separate but equal” laws barred them from attending Liberty’s white high school. For their last two years of high school, Garrison students had to ride buses into Kansas City to attend the all black Lincoln High School. Finally, as a result of the Supreme Court decision in May 1954, the Liberty School District began to integrate its African American students.The “Brown v. Board of Education” ruling was truly a momentous one, moving this nation toward educating its children more equally.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Islamophobia is defined as “prejudice against, hatred towards, or irrational fear of Muslims.” Especially since 9/11/01 there has been a sizeable percentage of U.S. citizens who have displayed varying levels of such fear. And the tragic bombings in Boston last month intensified Islamophobia in some people and perhaps provoked it in others.
Just three days after the Boston bombings, I heard a discussion between Michael Savage and his guest Walid Shoebat. Savage (b. 1942) has been the conservative talk radio host for “The Savage Nation” since 1999. He has also authored a number of books, including “Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder” (2005).
Savage has been charged with being an Islamophobe for years, and since 2009 he has been barred from entering the United Kingdom for allegedly “seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred.” So it was not surprising he would have such a cordial interview with Shoebat.
Walid Shoebat (b. 1960) is a Palestinian American Christian who converted from Islam. He lectures on the dangers of Islamic radicalism and strongly supports the state of Israel. His new book is titled “The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America’s Final Warning” (2013). But he is just one of many vocal Islamophobes widely heard on the public media.
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) is a progressive media criticism organization founded in 1986 and based in New York City. Back in 2008 they published "Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Bigotry, Fear and Misinformation." Part of that paper included a listing of “the dirty dozen,” America’s leading Islamophobes. Savage is on that list, of course, as are fellow talk radio hosts Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, as well as Pat Robertson.
And then there is Brigitte Gabriel. I mention her because of recently receiving a YouTube video of her lecturing, sent to me by a boyhood friend (not that he particularly agreed with the video). Gabriel (b. 1964) is a Lebanese-American journalist, author, and activist who founded the American Congress For Truth—and a very persuasive speaker.
Back in 1997 the Runnymede Commission in Great Britain produced a consultation paper entitled “Islamophobia: Its Features and Dangers.” One main purpose of the publication of that report was to counter Islamophobic assumptions that Islam is a single monolithic system. That is the main problem with Islamophobia: it sees all Muslims as being the same, mainly as terrorists bent upon destroying the U.S.
We who know well the great diversity within Christianity should be able to understand there is the same sort of diversity among people who are Muslims or who have a Muslim background. Would all of us Christians want to be judged by the likes of Timothy McViegh, the Oklahoma bomber who was a confirmed Catholic Christian and who was deeply influenced by the Christian Identity movement? Or would we want to be identified with Rev. Fred Phelps and his hateful activities done as a “Christian” (Baptist) pastor?
Terrorism and hatred must be strongly opposed and denounced regardless of the religion or the ideology of those who perpetrate them. So groups of people, made up mostly of peaceful, law-abiding citizens should not be condemned because of the evil acts and attitudes of some within those larger groups.
Islamophobia should be opposed by all people of good will, for it fosters discrimination, exclusion, prejudice and violence toward many decent people. Rather than harboring fear and hatred toward a group of people, let’s embrace a worldview based on love, one that fosters understanding and acceptance of people with different religious and/or cultural viewpoints and one that engenders acts of kindness.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Tomorrow, the first day of May, is often called May Day and it has been observed as a special day in widely diverse ways. In addition, Mayday is an international radio-telephone signal word used as a distress call.
In the Northern Hemisphere, May Day is an ancient spring festival and is observed as such in some countries. Although it was a long time ago, I remember hearing about giving “May baskets” and dancing around a “Maypole” on May Day. These practices have now largely fallen into disuse.
But in 1967, the first full year I lived in Japan, I learned about a different type of May Day. Especially back then, May Day was celebrated in Japan and in many other countries as International Workers’ Day. Mainly in that connection, May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries.
Actually, though, the observance of May 1 as Workers’ Day has a long history in this country. In October 1884, a convention held by the American Federation of Labor (under its previous name) unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard.
As the chosen date approached, labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour workday. On Saturday, May 1, 1886, rallies were held throughout the nation. Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000 to half a million.
But the eight-hour day did not become a reality until 1938, when the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act made eight hours the legal day’s work throughout the nation. Extra pay (time and a half at least) had to be given to those who worked more than eight hours in a day.
Five years earlier, though, a remarkable woman began a movement mostly to help those who were living in poverty because of lack of work or because of low wages. That woman was Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Although she had lived a bohemian life for several years, in 1927 she became a Catholic and then increasingly sought to follow the teachings of Jesus. (I have written about her previously.)
On May 1, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, The Catholic Worker newspaper made its debut with a first issue of twenty-five hundred copies. Dorothy Day and a few others hawked the paper in Union Square for a penny a copy (still the price) to passersby.” (This is the opening paragraph on the Catholic Worker website.)
The Catholic Worker Movement (CWM) is rooted in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person. So in addition to the newspaper, the CWM has sought through the years to provide meals and lodging for needy people.
Today 213 Catholic Worker communities across the nation remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.
I have before me the March-April issue of “The Catholic Worker,” which is only published seven times a year now. It contains a review of the new (2012) book “Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day,” which I look forward to reading.
And just last week June and I enjoyed watching “Entertaining Angels,” the 1996 movie about the life and work of Day.
Please join me in giving thanks for the inspiring life of Dorothy Day and the widespread influence of “The Catholic Worker,” first published 80 years ago tomorrow, on May Day, 1933.