November 2011



I love drama. I think with a little effort and encouragement I could have been an actor. Of course every teacher has to be a little bit of a ham to stand up in front of a class of strangers and seek to teach them things they don’t really want to know. But in English I get to do that as part of the curriculum. In ENG3U we have just finished a study of Macbeth, so we got to act out a scene. Well, at least the kids did. I get my fix by helping with the blocking. I divide the class into groups of four or five at the beginning of the unit so that everyone will have a speaking part when we get to the end.

It has been my experience that Asians love their drama. From Chinese opera to the melodramas on the telly, Asia is awash in a sea of colourful costumes and public performances. My English class is no exception. Students that struggle to write essays or keep up with their journals come alive when they have the opportunity to memorize some lines and act out a little sword play. Macbeth is famously cinematic with its wicked witches, severed heads, malevolent queen and bloodless ghost, and the students have a lot of fun choreographing the violence.

This year I particularly liked Fuad as the Porter, a bright young man who has almost certainly never seen the bottom of a bottle of scotch, yet did an incredible job playing the drunken wit as if to the bottle born. Another excellent performance was enacted by Zaity who was the gracious hostess one moment, and the demanding and demeaning queen the next. I could go on, but you get the picture. Nearly everybody had their lines, and some of them were word perfect.


That was yesterday. Today we got back down to business reviewing the entire semester in preparation for Friday’s exam, although we did manage to have a few laughs along the way. For some reason this has been a difficult term for me. I think the joy of my daughter’s wedding was a tough thing to come down from, and I have struggled to find my regular sure footing and balance. But despite my deficiencies as a teacher, my students seemed to have learned and grown right in front of my eyes, and I am very proud of all they have accomplished this term.

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That fact that we have a car now allows us a bit more freedom to explore the wonders of our adopted country. This was a long weekend and although Steve still has a lot to do to wrap up the semester, we were able to get away for an overnight excursion to the Cameron Highlands. We stayed at Bala’s Chalet which is one of the oldest colonial buildings in the Highlands. Built during the pre-war era it has been preserved in its original structure. It originally opened as a boarding school in 1934 for European expatriate children and its owner and headmistress, Miss Griffith Jones O.B.E. passed on her love for nature by preserving the school’s surroundings in its natural habitat.

It’s present owner, a local gentleman, bought the property after the school closed down and turned it into a guesthouse and has carefully preserved the original Tudor concept. The peace and tranquillity combined with the natural surroundings in the cool Cameron Highlands climate make it a great place to escape for a weekend. The rooms are maintained in the style of the original decor and furnishings so are very quaint.

Although the hotel was quite full, the chalets are built at various levels up the side of the hill and there are multiple little nooks and crannies, balconies and little gardens to sit quietly in. Following a lovely Indian dinner, which the hotel is famous for, we had the conservatory to ourselves for the entire evening. Our friends, Peter and Joan are wonderful travel companions and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together.

The view from our window was breathtaking and it was a marvel just to explore the gardens and the amazing flowers that grow everywhere, including on the tile roofs. Although we were only there one night, we came away feeling very refreshed and ready to face the challenges of the month ahead.

Driving in Malaysia is not for the faint hearted. Practically everybody in Kuala Lumpur has a car, so very few people walk, cycle or ride public transport. The expats who work here always get incredulous stares when we suggest a stroll to the nearest mall, or offer to walk home after an evening with friends. As a consequence the roads are absolutely packed. Combine that with a road system that looks like a cross between a plate of spaghetti and the race circuit at LeMans and you have a driving nightmare. Even the locals here will admit that drivers in KL are notoriously aggressive.

Cars don’t drive in lanes towards a common destination; they hurtle towards each other, changing lanes and directions seemingly on a whim, with no forethought that there might be other traffic in the lane they have just decide to move into. And the speed! I am a fairly fast driver, as my many tickets and family anecdotes will attest, but to travel at 170 klics through heavy traffic is not fast driving, it is recklessness!

I was chatting to a colleague who rented a car to take some visitors to the east coast for the weekend, asking him how he liked seeing the highlands of Malaysia, and if he enjoyed the drive. “Not at all,” he replied, “we were scared out of our minds.” He recounted a horrific accident they had seen on the way; several cars completely demolished and little chance that anyone survived. He noted that the road was completely free and dry for miles in both directions, yet somehow these drivers had managed to hit each and several others. We shared ideas on the causes of this cultural phenomenon.

He suggested that it was a function of their culture and religion. The screws are turned pretty tight in this Muslim country with not much room for individual expression or freedom. All Malays are Muslim by legal fiat on the day of their birth and the only practical way to leave their faith is to leave the country. Their faith allows them few diversions or escapes, so he saw their excessive and erratic behavior on the road as a kind of “acting out” that their religion does not allow through alcohol, dance or nightclubbing. Another teacher thought they used their faith as a kind of ‘magic talisman’ to keep them from personal injury, and so felt immune to consequences as long as their karma was intact. He also suggested that the recent acquisition of wealth in a country that was not used to being able to afford a car might have something to do with it. Western countries that have had motor vehicles for a hundred years treat them as less of a novelty and more of a responsibility.

Another colleague suggested that it was the frustration of having to drive on such congested streets all the time that led drivers to go flat out the moment they saw a bare stretch of road. Another colleague thought it was the lack of driver education in a country where a 500 ringgit bribe could get you a driving license with no questions asked. Still another thought it had to do with a sense of community responsibility. In a culture where family is sacrosanct, those outside the family have little value. He thought this might translate into homicidal behavior behind the wheel.

This last one does not explain why parents are often seen hurtling down the road at breakneck speeds with their child standing in their lap with their tiny hands on the steering wheel. Perhaps it has to do with the inability to predict outcomes, something I see all the time. A man will stop his car on the side of the road and leave the traffic side door wide open. City planners will build three levels of flyover rather than plan out in advance how to manage the traffic at that intersection. Renovations are being conducted on our condo using the “trial and error” method. In a culture that has stressed rote learning and memorization from infancy, the cognitive skills involved in predicting outcomes of current behaviours are simply not taught or practiced. The fact that this shows up in their driving is not surprising. However, all of this cognitive speculation is of no avail if you are caught in a pack of semi-homicidal drivers all careening down the highway under the influence of their own personal demons without a thought for the consequences. Then it is simply terrifying!

Located about 45 minutes drive north of Siem Reap, Rohal is home for about 250 families who are mostly dependent on the rice harvests for their living. TWR has been broadcasting into this area for a number of years and has many regular listeners of Happy Children’s Garden, It’s Yours, Women of Hope, Stories from the Potter, The Word Today and Through the Bible.

When finances are available, the TWR Cambodia team attempts to make monthly visits to the commune to have fellowship with the listeners and teach some practical health and moral values lessons. Today, I was able to join them and to meet with a lovely group of people. We travelled with Tie Henge, a young Pastor’s son who leads this cell group church of very dedicated Christians. This little church has a village Pastor who is learning to lead the work.

While the TWR ladies taught a lesson on family planning to the adults, Kimsong lead the youth in a discussion on critical thinking. He used a lesson that Steve developed, using the hand to demonstrate the steps necessary to ensure they make the best life decisions. The little kids were only too happy to do an impromptu concert of the songs that they love to sing. With the lessons done and some noodles to munch on, an elderly gentleman got out his “tror sao”, a traditional sort of two stringed violin. A lady brought out a hymn book for some time of singing and chatting and laughter, all favourite pass times for Cambodians.

It was all very much like a regular cell group back home except for the incredible challenges these people live with every day. The village is very poor, cows and chickens roam between the groups sitting on the ground, the only source of water is a contaminated pond, the children are not in school because there is no teacher available and health care is totally absent.

It is still difficult for me to understand how so many people are able to rejoice in God’s goodness and express such faith and gratitude in His provision, in the face of the reality of their everyday struggles. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, a challenge to my own attitude and the people that we are looking to serve through our project in Cambodia and it is a joy to have met them.

 

The beauty of the surroundings of Batu in East Java, Indonesia, where I have been this last week, was matched only by the sweet and gracious Indonesians that I met there.  It was such a privilege to attend the South East Asia Leadership (SEAL) meetings at which the leadership for this region was officially transferred into the capable hands of Freddy, my new ‘boss’ who has led an amazing TWR team in Indonesia for many years.  Andrew, will spend the next few months looking at the work in South Asia to establish a plan for his leadership of that region.

I always enjoy the opportunity to hear each of the country leaders present the work that their individual teams have accomplished over the past year.  These are very small teams with limited resources who face obstacles of poverty, communication, limitations in transportation and health systems, geographical barriers and religious and government restrictions; yet the extent of their outreach is awesome.  It is certainly not for financial gain or personal glory that they labour so hard in such difficult conditions, but the recognition of lives changed forever which is the fuel that keeps them going in spite of all the challenges.

The hotel where we stayed was perched on the side of a mountain overlooking lovely scenery and the temperature was refreshingly cool after the steamy heat of Malaysia.  It is the rainy season in this part of the world, so we drove up the mountain in a torrential downpour against a river of water flowing down the road carrying with it all sorts of debris.  Due to the rain and fog we were unable to see any scenery the first night but I awoke at five the following morning to bright sunshine and a gorgeous view of the clouds drifting in front of the mountain.

With two full days of meetings we had no opportunity to explore the area but saw enough to know we need to go back and learn much more about Indonesia.  On the way back to the airport in Surabaya, we did get a quick tour of the city and a trip over to Madura Island to check out the batik market.  The Javanese food is spicy and delicious and I ate way more than my fair share this week.

The discussions were rewarding and engaging, and there is practically no end to the work that lies ahead. But we did have some time for leisure and even wrapped up the conference with a rousing table tennis tournament. After losing badly to some very serious contenders, I learned that table tennis is taken very seriously in these parts. But the comraderie and competetion also helped to build morale and team spirit among colleagues who don’t often get to meet and encourage one another. I look forward to working with both Freddy and Andrew as they begin their new roles and I undertake new challenges for the coming year. I promise I will keep you posted.

I have said it before and I will say it again that one of the most precious gifts that God has given to the Carter family was delivered twenty five years ago today when my brother Randy, married Sylvia.

Congratulations on this milestone in your lives, your hard work and persistance and commitment to God, each other and your family that has kept you on this path even through the rough times. Thank you both so much for your support and encouragement to us over the years and especially while we have been overseas.

We look forward to seeing what God has in store for you both and for Jesse, Jenelle and Jeremy in the years ahead.

Clarity in thought and expression is such a rarity that one is inclined to be astonished when it is encountered. Unfortunately there are so few classes of people among whom it can be found. Atheists are notoriously obsessed with the painfully obvious, so what they write is either boring or obnoxious; Hindus and Moslems are obsessed with exalted expressions of the obscure and obtuse, so many words and so little of any value; Catholics are obsessed with endless speculations of the symbolically arcane: fascinating but often beside the point. Which is why if you want clarity you need to seek out the ruthlessly logical writings of Dietrich Bonheoffer or C.S. Lewis. However, a notable and worthy exception is C.K. Chesterton, the delightfully acerbic Catholic writer and contemporary of H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and G.B. Shaw, all of whom he skewers on the end of his pointed and germane wit for their fatuous philosophical meanderings through the issues of early twentieth century thought. One of those issues was Eugenics, which all three of these three famous Fabians espoused as the saving principle of modernity.

Eugenics was the wayward child of Social Darwinism, and enthusiasts like Wells, Russell and Shaw proposed that by genetic engineering humanity would be perfected. Under their guidance Britain was well on the way to formalizing these principles through the force of law – such as the ‘feeble-minded law,’ known officially as the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, drafted in part by then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, “In order to realize the opportunities for racial betterment, and to secure the social and moral improvement which will inevitably ensue.” In the United States in Buck v. Bell, (274 U.S. 200, 1927), the United States Supreme Court upheld a statute instituting compulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the mentally retarded, “for the protection and health of the state.”

One of the first acts of the new German Reich in 1933 was to pass a Eugenic Sterilisation Law, ordering doctors to sterilise anyone suspected of suffering from hereditary diseases. “We want to prevent the poisoning of the entire bloodstream of the race” to quote Goering’s legal assistant. By 1939 some 250,000 ‘degenerates’ had been forcibly sterilised, over half of whom were diagnosed as ‘feebleminded.’ The Nazi regime took what it regarded as the logical next step in 1939, when it decreed euthanasia for all severely disabled or mentally ill people in German asylums. Any Jew in these asylums automatically qualified, irrespective of degree of handicap, and about 70,000 people were murdered. Essayist Russell Sparkes notes that, “it can thus be said, without exaggeration, that eugenics was one policy which paved the way for the ‘Final Solution’ of European Jewry.” Chesterton labelled the ‘progressive’ eugenists of his day ‘anarchists,’ and thought that they were dangerously deluded and that following them would lead to a dangerously unstable world. It turns out that Chesterton was absolutely right, but 60 million people had to die before the world realized how right he was.

Taking a leaf from Chesterton, I would have to say that what is happening on Wall Street today is unfettered anarchy, and its notions are likewise dangerously deluded. I don’t mean what is happening on the street itself. On the contrary, I find the actions of the protesters perfectly rational. They have no meaningful employment and are blamed for being unemployed; they have no resources, yet pay a burden in taxes which is quite disproportionate to their income; they have no hope or future and are protesting against those whom they feel, with some justification, have stolen it from them. Nor are they anarchists who oppose them with batons and tear gas. The police are merely carrying out the orders given to them by those who pay their wages. If they did not do so they would lose their jobs, or at least their chances for promotion. Their behaviour is perfectly rational as well. There are undoubtedly some bullies among the police. You cannot have a form of employment that includes the lawful right to carry guns and physically manhandle criminals without attracting those who enjoy that kind of license to abuse others. But they cannot be called anarchists, since they operate within a certain framework that permits a tolerable amount of abuse.

No, the anarchists are those who inhabit the offices on Wall Street: the bankers and investors who wear Armani suits and drive luxurious vehicles. They are the true anarchists. Why so? Because they fit the definition. An anarchist is one who has no clear notion of what he is doing, has no goal or agenda other than simply to destroy what exists. He does not oppose any specific thing or group, he opposes everything and everybody. He is not a rebel, since a rebel wants to overthrow the existing order and establish a new order based on new principles. The anarchist wants to overthrown all order and establish nothing in its place. Within that absence of structure and authority the anarchist deludes himself into thinking that he will be totally free to act according to his own selfish desires with no one to hold him accountable for anything that he does. He is Chaos incarnate.

That is who we find in the offices of Wall Street. That is what defines the Koch brothers, who will raise and spend nearly a billion dollars to defeat Obama and the Democrats in the coming American election. They and their ilk are not seeking to defend the American principles of entrepreneurship. They are not seeking to redefine regulations regarding the expansion of capitalism. They want all of that swept away. They want a world where there are no limits on their accumulation of wealth; they want to remove all fiscal restraints, including reasonable taxation, which paves the roads their Mercedes and Beemers drive; they want to remove all fiscal regulations, which prevent the systematic abuse of financial instruments; they want to remove the restraint of government in its entirety, or at least bring it to a grinding, immovable halt thereby destroying the social contract and even the foundations of American society itself. By so doing they will destroy the very goose which has laid for them a trillion golden eggs with their corporate logos stamped all over them. At which point they will depart with their billions to more favourable climes to destroy another country in their wake. They are destructive, dangerous economic anarchists, and there is no end to their delusional greed.

All of this I in a measure understand. In my youth I spent four dissolute years probing the seedy underbelly of Western society, and never saw the bottom of self-indulgent, anarchistic evil. It does not surprise me to find it on Wall Street or Main Street. It is the calling card of the Enemy of Mankind, the very stench of his sulphurous armpit (Decency forbids me to say worse). What surprises me; what alarms and dismays me is the number of Christians who ought to know their scripture better than they do aligning themselves with the destructive insanity that motivates Wall Street and its toxic greed. Have you not read the scripture that says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 19:24). Have you not read “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withers the grass…so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways” (James 1:9-11); or that “whatsoever my eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour, and this was the portion of my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecc. 1:10-11).

For those that will dispute with me on textual interpretation, I do not defend these verses, though they speak plainly enough to me. So consider instead the narrative of Christ: how as Creator of the universe He came to earth as a lowly, impoverished baby, helpless and despised; how at His death he owned nothing but His tunic; how He gave the riches of heaven away for free for those who asked; who identified with the prostitutes, Galileans, fishermen and tax collectors of His time. If Christ walked the streets of New York today it would be as the hands and feet of compassion and charity to those who live on the street, asking only that they be given a chance to earn a decent living for their families. He would not be drinking champagne with the residents of the banks and investment houses; He would be driving them, like the money-changers of old, out of the temple. How is it possible for you to have missed this fundamental point of scripture and side with such anarchist agents of destruction?

Forgive me if I have overstepped the bounds of decorum here, for I do not wish to offend those whom I love. Perhaps I have steeped my reason for too long in the intoxicating waters of Chesterton and Lewis. I do not have their insight and wisdom, nor the fearless tenor of their prose. But mark my words; for although I am no prophet I have studied and seen much in my sixty plus years. If those anarchists who inhabit the towers of Wall Street cannot be reigned in, America will not survive the devastation that their destruction of the economy will bring. The Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties will seem as a summer holiday in the ruin of America they intend. Have nothing to do with their evil deeds. Rather condemn them as ungodly anarchists seeking nothing but their own selfish, satanic greed, and do not worship the Golden Calf they exalt as their god.

For an opposing view, kindly see http://jonandnic.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/occupy-your-job/