September 2008


When you have children, you sign a lifelong, non-verbal contract in flesh and blood. Being a father can be extremely rewarding, but don’t kid yourself, it is serious business, and it requires a serious commitment. This is part of what I have tried to keep in mind:

Do no harm. Don’t say or do anything that will damage someone else’s chance to have a happy life. You may feel inclined, even compelled to pursue a course of action, but if it means potential damage to someone else, you are wrong. It is not God’s will to hurt another, and if you think it is you are mistaken. You think your wife doesn’t care for or understand you? That’s tough; a divorce or an affair would cause damage to others. You’d like to go back to College or pursue a Master’s? Ask yourself how much damage that loss of income would do to your family. You want to take up golf or join a rock and roll band? Does that show your care for your family, or your disregard for them?

Keep your opinions to yourself. You buy plug protectors so your children won’t stick their fingers into electrical sockets. Do the same for your opinions. Expose your children to what is good, keep them away from what is harmful, and keep your own prejudices and opinions out of it. Give your children credit. They can make up their own mind about the world; they don’t need you to do it for them. Respect their intelligence and their judgment and perhaps someday they will teach you a thing or two.

Pam and I see nothing contradictory to our Christian values in having a glass of wine with our evening meal. But before we had children we made a decision to give that up until they left home as we did not want our actions to be misinterpreted by our children and prove to be a snare to them. Nor did I inflict my caustic views of America or what I see as a degenerate social structure on my children. That would have caused them damage. How could my eldest son have spent two productive years in the States and still be employed by an American company if I had poisoned his mind against America when he was young? That would have been cheap, and inexcusable.

Do no harm. Repeat that to yourself before you do or say anything. Children are malleable, so be careful. Don’t indulge yourself in your habits, choices or opinions to their harm. There’ll be plenty of time for self indulgence when they are grown. More thoughts tomorrow.

As a parent you are often confronted with the issue of what to tell your children, and when. McCain has been getting some mileage out of the electoral wasteland that comprises many pockets of the urban and rural poor by accusing Obama of wanting mandatory sex education for toddlers. True, but only to an extent. Obama would like to see kindergarten children warned about getting into cars with strangers. He doesn’t want the Kama Sutra on the curriculum.

 

At what age then do you offer the Kama Sutra? At what age do you discuss homosexuality, or AIDS? When do you talk about your own convictions regarding fidelity, thrift, God, temptation, failure, your dreams for the future, your follies of the past? How do you balance the roles you assume when you have children – of being a good father, a caring and considerate husband, a friend, a bread winner – with those that define who you are: a vocal critic of the privileged elite, an impassioned advocate for the underprivileged? How do you maintain the sense of who you really are when so many are depending on you to be who they need you to be?

 

I have a number of principles I live by that have helped me navigate these difficult waters. They don’t deal with specifics, except to illustrate some key points, and of course the devil is in the details, but they do cover the larger picture. I may be wrong, and even more likely I may be seen to be wrong, but I am not thoughtless, and perhaps what I have to say might be of some use to you as well. I have seven of them- the perfect number – and to avoid tedium I will post a couple each day. I welcome your feedback and perhaps you might be willing to share your thoughts on the subject in the comments.

 

I don’t get out much when I’m working. The weekends are usually spent marking – the bane of my profession, I am afraid. So it was nice to actually get away this weekend to the Cameron Highlands. We took a new friend, Glynnis from Australia with us as well.

This is one of the foremeost tea growing areas in South-East Asia, and the tea from this region is unlike any other. It is a full-bodied, black tea, but there is very little tannin in the brew, and as a consequence it is remarkably mild. You can drink a couple of pots of this stuff – as we did on a couple of occassions this weekend – and there is no after taste, no burn, no dryness on the tongue at all. It is an exceptional tea.

And we had the great fun of drinking it in exceptional circumstances, on a platform suspended 100 feet over the tea itself, looking at the slopes beyond in their neat terraced rows. The Highlands are famous for their vegetables as well, and it was strawberry season, so we bought some of those as well. The air was crisp and mild, in the best Canadian tradition, and the views were gorgeous. We picked out a couple of nice guest house spots for our return visit, because this site is worth going back to.

I remember clearly standing in the kitchen of Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany discussing that fine missionary school with the wife of one of my colleagues. Offhandedly, without any thought of contradiction, she referred to BFA as an American school. It was quite clear to her that the cause of Christ and the ideals of America were synonymous.

She is not alone. Many in North America think the same, and would go even further and say that capitalism and Christianity are, if not synonymous, at least compatible. But are they? The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about economic systems, but the examples it does give do not support capitalism. Joseph organized the entire country under state ownership and then redistributed the land; the first disciples sold all they had and held everything in common. Warren Buffet is not lining up at that door!

Going back to Max Weber’s classic analysis in the early part of the 20th century, sociologists have often given credit – or blame! – to Luther’s and Calvin’s interpretations on the dignity of work as the genesis for capitalism. But is the narcissistic individuality of consumer culture compatible with a faith that puts the needs of others before self and the will of God above all? And is the greedy, rapacious plunder of God’s creation for personal or national gain pleasing to the God who preached “take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself…but rather seek the kingdom of God”?

If freedom to choose has been so debased that it now means the choice between Pepsi and Coke, or abortion and euthanasia, and all are equal because all choices are valid in consumerism, and I’m simply a consumer with “rights,” where is there a place for morals or ethics? Individual need has become individual greed, and there is no foreseeable future for such a wilfully self-destructive and nihilistic culture.

See: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/WEBER/cover.html

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%206&version=31

 

Dystopias are a literary staple with a distinguished lineage. Orwell’s 1984 is obviously the cornerstone of the franchise, but its roots go back to Greek theatre, and sci-fi literature from Brave New World to Blade Runner is heavily dependent on such distempered visions. So much so that I have grown a little jaded with the whole genre. Too much of it is just bad horror shtick with a limp passing wave at social relevance.

Hence my long resistance to watching Fight Club. Too trendy, too much star power, it was bound to be a poser movie with no cred. Wrong. It is in fact very cleverly, even artfully done with some authentic performances from Pitt, Norton and Bonham-Carter. However what nailed it for me is not the psychological craftiness, but the philosophic resonances. This is Nietzsche in all his barren ennui displayed without sentimentality or excuse.

The truly clever reach of this piece though is how the central characters so compactly express the Nietzschean dilemma: the ubermensch, the overman or superman culture has indeed reached its zenith in a narcissistic consumer culture where artistic, creative individuality with its emphasis on individual choice over every other moral value is flaunted to the detriment of all the rest of humanity and its crumbling social connectedness, being opposed by an equally formidable and likewise nihilistic view of carnage and mayhem. That this amounts to collective schizophrenia is not news, but its embodiment in Tyler Durden is insightful and revealing, and well worth watching.

It is hard to think of such things in Malaysia, where the school term has been underway for two months (and will be over in three) but back in Ontario it is time to go back to school. I wish all of my former colleagues well as they hit the books and the classrooms.

I used to love the summer holidays, the lengthy lazy days, especially when we had young kids in the house. The summers are great for the beach and the cottage and lots of time to get projects underway. I think now that I prefer the shorter and more frequent breaks. We just got back from Laos and now it is only three weeks to our next week off.

Pam has a conference in Singapore the first week in October, so we are planning on using my next week of holidays to make final preparations. A week in Singapore isn’t such a bad deal under any circumstances, and it gives me a chance to be more directly involved in Pam’s ministry. Pam’s off this week to Cambodia on a ministry trip, so please keep her in your prayers.

 

 

CNN and MSNBC are our friends, right? Are you sure? CNN and MSNBC have an agenda, but I don’t think it’s friendly to you and me.  Take what is happening in Georgia right now as an example. What do you know of that situation? Russia is being a bully, right? Throwing their weight around, trying to re-establish their empire, becoming the enemy, threatening world peace, right?

How do you know that? CNN and MSNBC told you. They tell you in practically every article they produce. It is all about this family being evicted or that reporter being threatened or this agreement being broken or that bridge being blown up. By now you’ve got the picture. But do you? Turn off the tv and do a little investigative research on the internet and another view will emerge.

Do you remember Gorbachov? Reagan got all the credit for getting the Berlin wall torn down, but it was Gorbachov who did it. Remember peristroika, remember the openness in Russia to the West? What happened to that, where did it go? Why is the Cold War still being fought on Russia’s borders 20 years later, whose purpose does that serve?

War might very well be over in Iraq shortly. Then what happens to that awesome war machine, and all those who profit from it? What happens if a Dove gets in the White House, and reins in that military budget? Why are questions being raised anew about Obama’s military credentials if things heat up in the Caucasus’ republics and to whose advantage is it to make sure things there do heat up?  Are you sure that it is Russia causing trouble on its borders, or are others causing trouble for Russia? Who gets elected if trouble continues, and who are his masters? But the world is how we see it back in North America, right? Do you want to bet your future on it?

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