Wednesday, November 24, 2004

All Emo, all the time

I have really bad eyesight. My right eye is 1300/20 and my left eye is about 1100/20.

That means that things like glasses and contacts are important to me.

I also have, if the dermatologist can be believed, really dry skin from spending too much time under the Texas sun without sunscreen when I was younger, less wise and better looking. To keep my face from cracking open and looking like I have leprosy I use a lot of skin lotion. That means that I maintain a minimum of hair on my face and normally have my head shaved.

Because of the dry skin I tend to shave only every other day. That means I commonly look a bit scruffy even with a Van Dyke beard to soften the scruffiness.

I generally wear a hat. Most commonly what is sometimes called a "gimmie cap" which is like a baseball cap. My favorite is a tan one that advertises the University of New Orleans Privateers. I need the cap because it helps with glare and to keep my head from getting sunburned because of my shaved head.

These two conditions (dry skin and bad eyes) and one sartorial proclivity (wearing of caps) of my being came together recently in an odd way when I purchased a new pair of glasses. I am now, according to my teen-aged daughter who certainly ought to know about these things, a radical fashion plate; an advertisement for the latest and hippest non-saggy panted male fashion. I am, it seems, quite by accident I might add, "Emo."

Emo is a cross between punk and nerd. If you don't understand how you get the word "Emo" by crossing punk and nerd join the club. However, the glasses I bought have rectangular lenses and are a plastic frame. I like plastic frames because if you have a high prescription the lenses stay in better and they are more comfortable. I like rectangular lenses because they seem to cover my field of vision better. Besides, if I put a pair of wire frame glasses down on the table they disappear. If I drop plastic framed glasses I can find them because they are bigger and I can see them on the floor.

None of these reasons for buying these glasses sound to me to be even remotely punky or nerdy but, there you are. I guess I have become punky and nerdy by accident. Which is strange because I thought both of those lifestyle were the result of life premeditated choices rather than accidential living. I've been wrong before.

Until next time,

Fai Mao

The Emo Blogger

Friday, November 19, 2004

Exodus 2:23 - 25

Originally a devotion for teachers at the school where I work.

This is one of my favorite passages in the Old Testament. This may seem strange at first but I see a lot in this passage. I find the concepts of prayer, and GodÂ’s response to my prayer to be so clearly detailed that I found this passage to be one I can meditate on for weeks. In this meditation I am going to talk about my prayers of sinfulness, my prayers of genuine need and GodÂ’s response to my prayers. I am also going to think about GodÂ’s response to nations and the effect our prayers have upon nations as well as individuals in those nations.

“The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.” Exodus 2:23

The first thing that is noticeable here is that there is the universal appeal for justice from oppression in this passage. I am not a slave but I do groan about my everyday life. Sometimes I have a good reason for this like when my feet hurt because of torn ligaments or when I am late for work because of traffic at 6:15am in morning. How often am I oppressed by pain or circumstances beyond my control? Other times, however; I grumble and complain because I am a sinful human who way down deep thinks the world should recognize my genius and not require anything else of me than to live in wealth and luxury.

This may in fact be closer to the truth about the Hebrews situation. Historians tell us that the people who built the cities and monuments of ancient Egypt were better fed, better-housed and received better health care than the population at large. While it may very well be true that the Egyptian master’s abused the Hebrew’s it is also true that most ancient civilizations routinely abused ALL of their citizens. A group of foreign nationals living in an ancient empire would have been particularly attractive target. Anyway, I am not sure that the vast majority of ancient people’s were not really slaves. I am not sure that the word “freedom” had very much meaning in the ancient world. Even the episode involving the midwives and killing the male babies is not so extreme by ancient standards. In fact, if judged by the Assyrians or the Hittites the Egyptians were behaving in a positively enlightened manner.

All of this is beside the point. It is clear that the Ancient Egyptians perverted the sense of justice inherent in all humans; as such their state was corrupt. The issue is not whether the Israelites were better or worse off than their contemporaries in Ancient Egypt. The issue is that the Israelites felt abandoned, betrayed, set upon and perceived that God was their only hope for deliverance.

Would it have been better if the Israelites had realized this earlier? Yes! Should they have been constantly petitioning God throughout the 400 years they were in Egypt? You bet! Did they? We do not know if they prayed for deliverance before this time or not. Apparently they did not. But is not this how we often behave? Am I not guilty of waiting until I have tied my life in a knot so tight that only God can untie it before I ask God for help?

How much groaning could I forgo if I simply placed my everyday in GodÂ’s hands? What is really great here is not that the Israelites are better or worse than I am but that God never tires waiting for me to cry out to him. When I finally come to God He is never to busy, miffed, angry, far away, tired or weak to help. Oh, that I would cry out to God more often in earnest faith. Not just when I am in trouble. It is a measure of my innate sinfulness that I find it hard to trust in God during the good or easy times.

“God heard their groaning and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and God was concerned about them.” Exodus 2: 24 - 25

There are four phrases here that really stand out.
1. “God heard” What a comfort that God hears! I do not read Hebrew but it is apparent here that the word used in this passage means that in hearing God was more than simply being aware of a noise somewhere as I am aware of the barking dog down the street. It seems that the way the word is used it means that God really listened to the prayers of the Israelites. He took time to find out what they had to say. He did not simply become aware that the Israelites were praying. God paid attention to them.

How wonderful that God pays attention to us. How wonderful that God is interested in what we have to say. How wonderful, in whatever way, that God hears us. That he wants to hear from us. The obvious question then is do I want to hear from Him? Do I want God to really listen to what I have to say? What do my prayers sound like in GodÂ’ ears? Am I comfortable with my prayers in either quality or quantity?

2. “God remembered” How wonderful that God remembers us. He remembers his promises to us. He remembers what he promised to do for us. More than that God remembers the prayers our parents, grandparents and even great, great, great grand parents made for us. In this case we have no evidence that the prayers of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob for their children were meant to be carried so many generations into the future God applied those prayers here more than four hundred years later. God remembered the faith and prayers of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past for their children and applied those prayers to their captive descendants, twenty- five generations later, the Israelites.

A better way to phrase this might be to say that God never forgets either His promises to us or, just as importantly, the prayers of previous generations of faithful saints on our behalf. This fact should give us quite a pause. God never forgets our prayers! He remembers what we ask for and we can see that he will protect, rescue and be concerned about the children of our childrenÂ’s children and even their children. We can know that God will remember our prayers and not make them wasted breath. This is true even if we never live to see those prayers answered. How far into the future will God carry our prayers and how many generations will our prayers today redeem? How will God answer my prayers for my nation today in the future?

3. “God looked” God gives us His attention. He not only listened he looked. He saw, observed watched. God looks at us! He looks at us both as a corporate or national sense and as individuals. More than that, God looked not only at the Israelites but also at the Egyptians!

Nations are important to God. Look at the Old Testament prophets. How much of what they said was directed at nations, peoples and kingdoms rather than individuals? God was/is evidently interested in the welfare of not only ancient Israel but also every nation. Our culture, our civilization, our national identities are important to God. The Israelites were being abused as a nation by the authority and under color of the nation in which they lived. An oppressive and authoritarian government was systematically destroying the Israelites cultural identity and denying them the right to live peacefully in the land that had been legally given to them. God was concerned about these things, both the destruction of Israel and illegal action of the nation. God took action to not only save the Israelites but to chastise the Egyptians and reminded both nations that He is the final king and judge on Earth!

If God was concerned about these things at that time it is safe to say that He still is today. Too often we forget that our government, our culture, our national identity is something given to us by God to institute His law on Earth. This is not an insignificant thing. When nations or peoples refuse to enforce the laws of God even at even the most basic level then God has, or so the Bible tells us, judged them and replaced them. It may be that God is patient. It may be that He does not want to judge. It is true that there are limits beyond which His patience and limits cannot be stretched.

Leaders who do not maintain honest, just and responsible administrations sit under the wrath of God. I do not find it a simple coincidence that the two basic areas that God demonstrated His power against the Egyptians were their religion (The plagues) and their military (drowned in the Red Sea) Egypt was a Theocracy. Pharaoh was worshiped as a god. The state supported an official religion. Each of the plagues was directed against a specific Egyptian god and the drowning of the army was no different. The drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea was the final condemnation of not only a false religion but also of a corrupt government that had failed to up hold justice and fairness and law.

God looked at the Pharaoh and measured him by his own standard, found him wanting and refused to let him cross the sea as a righteous man as Egyptian religions said he must do after death. If you know anything about ancient Egyptian religion you see what happened here. Pharaoh was shown to be a false god. He did not meet even the requirements for salvation prescribed by even his own false religion. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea because God found them righteous. Pharaoh drowned because of his sin. Hallelujah! Is it not wonderful that while more patient than we God will judge the unrighteous nations and individuals of Earth! God demands that we live righteous lives and that our governments uphold his laws. When nations do not up hold the justice of God on Earth we have the right to petition God for justice and God will, in His time give us justice! Amen!

4. “God was concerned” Obviously, I have dealt with this at length already. God was and is concerned about many aspects of our life. However, I believe that sometimes we need to restate the obvious. God is concerned about us. He was concerned enough to send Moses. He was concerned enough to part the Red Sea. He was concerned enough to destroy the Egyptian army and expose the Egyptian religion as fraudulent. He was concerned enough to provide the Israelites with water, manna, and quail. He was concerned about the situation on Earth and did something about it. Because God is concerned I do not have to be! Years ago I heard a sermon by a man named Buddy Cave. He was the pastor of a small church that my family attended. He made a statement that I have remembered all these years. In a sermon on prayer he said: “If you are concerned about something it is big enough to give it to God in Prayer. God is concerned with all our needs. And, if you are concerned about then God is concerned about it. And, if God is concerned about then you don’t need to be concerned about it. Because if God is concerned about your problems you have all the help you need.” Amen! How wonderful to know that God is concerned with my needs. What comfort is found in knowing that God is concerned that I live in a nation that executes justice on Earth! What a tremendous thing to realize that the concern of God means that God will take action on those concerns.

What a great passage.

Until Next Time
Your Biblical Interpreting blogger

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mission Trips, Who Needs them? Not my child

I must admit that one of my favorite things to do is to make controversial statements that really get people mad. I must also admit that I especially like to do this when I feel I am right about something and wish to really show people how wrong they are. I also admit that I sometimes have to eat my words. I will also admit to never having been accused of having a great deal of subtlety or tact. I have, or so it seems a rather broad streak of the Curmudgeon in me. In fact, I sort of like being a curmudgeon and sincerely believe that the Church needs more curmudgeons. Since I know of no official job description for the office of Church Curmudgeon I am going to, in this instance, take up the mantle and proclaim myself an official curmudgeon. Do not misunderstand, the Church does not need people who are a curmudgeon about everything but rather people that are willing to point out areas within our Christian lives, both private and corporate that need improving. These people may need to take rather unpopular or strange stands to help bring about reform, repentance or rededication in the Church and in individuals. Also, as befits a true curmudgeon, I believe I am right, completely and totally right and that most other people are wrong. Therefore, if I sound like I am riding a bit of a spiritual high horse, well I am, it comes with the job of curmudgeon. As an official curmudgeon I am going to ask what I hope will be relevant, revealing and spiritually convicting rhetorical questions about something that has been bothering me for quite a long time. But because I am operating in my capacity as a Curmudgeon, I am not going to waste words being overly nice in a misguided attempt to not offend anybody. I am not going to beat around the bush either. I am going to attempt to hit you verbally between the eyes as hard as I can with as heavy an object as I can find. I am going to state my case as forcefully and bluntly as possible and not worry whether anyone agrees. I want everyone who is considering engaging in this sin to hear a clear call to repentance

But, before I give you my cause and what I, as a curmudgeon think, should be done about it I feel that I should enlighten you as to my qualifications for being a curmudgeon on this topic. I am a US citizen that lives abroad. My wife is not an American and I live in Asia because it is her home. I doubt very much if I will ever live in the US again. While I work for a Christian organization, I did not come to Hong Kong to be employed by that organization, I came here to live where my wife is comfortable thereby fulfilling the Biblical injunction that a husband is to "leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife". I am not a missionary and never have been. However, because I live in a city (Hong Kong) with a large missionary population and work for a Christian organization I know a lot of missionaries. Thus, by default I have become an observer of my own land, my own culture and my own religion from a distance and through the eyes of one who has intimate knowledge both his own and another culture. What all of this means is that I am something of a voluntary "Phillip Knowland": a man without a country. Actually, that is not true. In many ways, I am an ex-American; I am simply now a person who lives in Hong Kong, a non-Chinese Hong Konger. But in any case, I feel that I am in a unique position to observe attitudes and practices that many North American and European Christians demonstrate while engaging in "Mission Trips" or "short-term" missions in Hong Kong and that I believe are not only hurtful to the eventual evangelization of China but also sinful. I also assume that because these things are done here that they are done through out the world. (Though it is possible that all the incompetent short-term missionaries come here.) I believe this so strongly that I think it would be better for many "lay Missionaries" to stay at home. That leads me to a question that any self-respecting curmudgeon must ask himself, "Who needs mission trips?"

I realize that saying that mission trips for high school students and short term missions by adult lay Missionaries do more harm than good is tantamount to saying that our children should spend their time playing broom hockey with the devil. However, I have had to put up with uppity mission trip kids and arrogant, holier-than-thou lay missionaries for years. The least you can do is to hear me out before you excommunicate me.

Why, I ask with rhetorical drama, do people go on short-term missions? What do our kids really do on mission trips? Well, in the past few years the school I work for has had a group of lay missionaries fly all the way from the US to build wooden shelves for my library. I've also seen a group of college freshmen arrive to spend five weeks doing unspecified "ministry" work in seven different Asian countries. I see other people that come to Hong Kong to supposedly evangelize school kids by "teaching" conversational English for two weeks. (I've never met anybody converted by this sort-term activity.) I've met people that come here with a suitcase full of Bibles that they are planning to smuggle across the border into the non-SAR portion of China. One of these had bought the Bibles in Taiwan, which uses a different set of Chinese characters, and are effectively a foreign language to the average person in China. (In addition to the fact that it is illegal to distribute anything printed in Taiwan in the PRC but Bibles can bought at any book store in the PRC!!!) Other short-term missionaries I have met wanted to "fellowship" with the "pure" Christians of the underground church in China. For the most part, what I see is a group of people coming here to, in my opinion, embellish their spiritual ego by going home after three weeks and saying "Oh, isn't God so good! What a blessing to go help those poor unfortunate heathen who can't speak good English, wear funny clothes and eat food that would turn a normal person's stomach." You may think that I am exaggerating a bit (I do not) but even if I am the point is still valid. Given the very real cultural and economic differences that exist between the US and all third world countries it is IMPOSSIBLE or at least very, very, very hard for non-trained personnel to go to a foreign country and to do any kind of meaningful evangelistic work in three weeks. Pardon me for sounding crass and unspiritual but it appears to me that some people have adventure vacations by bungee jumping off the side of volcanoes or bridges others go white-water rafting; still others do eco-touring in the jungles of South America; Christians do mission trips.

Now, to be fair, I have also seen professionals come here and train local Christians how to produce radio or television programs and conduct needed training for local pastors and do many other things to aid in the spread of the Gospel in China. However, I believe that these are the exceptions that prove the rule. I also have a great deal of respect for most of the professional missionaries that I have met here many of whom are my friends. But, there needs to be a clear line drawn between a professional missionary or a professional doing a professional activity and a fumbling, untrained, culturally insensitive do-gooder.

Let me use an example of what I mean from another field. If someone became concerned about the level of health care being provided by the local hospital they might go and volunteer in their local hospital. They could visit children as a candy striper, perhaps work in the laundry or kitchen, and maybe clean the floors or bathrooms. But, would the hospital put them in the emergency room as a physician's assistant? Would they be able to volunteer as a surgeon? My guess is not unless they had the requisite training. Would it make any difference if they were volunteering in a Christian hospital? No. Would you, as a patient want an untrained medical worker administering medication to you? Would it make any difference if they were really sincere and felt a strong calling from God to be a short-term health-care worker and had diligently saved $1000.00 to come to work there?

Well, what is more important, a person's body or a person's soul? Why then do we allow untrained people to go into short-term missions? Especially when often times, as missionaries have told me, short-term workers end up hindering the furtherance of the evangelization process in that mission field? One has told me that the only type of short-term missionary she needs in her family is someone to come and do her laundry and clean her house so she and her husband would have more time to actually perform their duties as missionaries. Any takers on that one?

Let me get personal; a group of short-term missionaries came this past summer and built shelving for the library at the school where I am a librarian. They were good people. I have no problem with them as people. I am not questioning their salvation, theology or personal lives. However, I would like to question their calling as short-term missionaries. Here is why. This was a team of about five people. They each probably raised a little over US$1000.00 dollars to pay for their flight in and out of Hong Kong. They stayed in the apartment of a teacher for three weeks. During that time they really did do a lot of maintenance around our buildings. We were and should have been grateful. However, suppose, just for the sake of argument, they had each taken that US$1000.00+ and donated it to the school. We could have hired a handyman for nearly 12 months at an above average rate of pay in Hong Kong. Which would have done more for the school? Just as importantly which would have done more to lift the lives of at least one Hong Kong family out of poverty? Also, would the fact that each of these people had contributed $1000.00 to the school keep them from being able to do needed carpentry work for the needy in their community? No. As a curmudgeon, I must ask: would they have furthered the advancement of God's kingdom more by staying home and sending the school money? I think so, I really do.

I have also seen a drama group perform for our students. They were performing a skit that used breakfast cereal. This missionary drama team changed the breakfast cereal to rice because they did not think that students in a school that uses an American Curriculum where most of the students, though Chinese, were born in the US would know what Corn Flakes were. Yeah, my daughter rides home on a water buffalo and we just pretend it is a bus. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying that it is not worthwhile for college students to want to be missionaries. I am saying you can't do the seven-countries-in-five-weeks thing. You also cannot perform meaningful missionary activity when you do not understand the culture you are ministering to. This kind of trip is not in my opinion a missionary activity it is a sanctified vacation. I am sure that the participants go home with good memories and a warm fuzzy feeling of having ministered to the lost. The question is why do we have to travel 12 time zones away to do that? Is there no place near their home where Christian service is needed? If you want to travel and see far-way places then do so. Yes, behave like a Christian just do not try to sanctify your vacation as something holy.

Whatever happened to the idea of the great commission? You know "But you shall receive power --- Ability, efficiency and might---- when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the ends ---- the very bounds---- of the earth." Act 1:8 (Amplified version)

Each of us has our Jerusalem. Are we witnesses there? It appears to me that Christians are more concerned about the lost at the “ends of the Earth�, than they are about the lost at the “ends of the street�. Could it be that it is easier to come to Hong Kong where nobody knows you and to witness to people that do not know what great hypocrites we are? Yes, it is and I believe that this is why Jesus told us to start at home first. We need to become bold witnesses to those closest to us because they see us for what we are and thus we are forced examine our lives so that our entire body becomes a witness. How much sin would we expunge from our life if we took seriously the idea of evangelizing our neighbors through our lifestyle? How many more evangelistic words could we speak if our personal lives did not betray our hypocrisy?

Oh, I know another why we don't send our kids away for two years to third world countries; it might make our kids late for college and that might keep them from getting a good job. Or, they might actually decide to live a consistent Christian life. How horrible to forgo our sanctified vacations and end up really serving the poor and lost by doing the will of God effectively. What would happen next? Do you suppose our children might ask us about our tithing? I could go on about the fact that what the Church in the third world really needs is not more short-term missionaries but rather more of the outrageous amount of wealth that American Christians WASTE each year. For example: I have been told that American women spend more on cosmetics each year than the combined Gross National Product of all the countries on the continent of Africa minus South Africa each year combined. Suppose our wives, mothers and daughters bought a few fewer paint rollers and a little less paint and suppose that money went to feed the poor? Suppose our husbands, fathers and sons bought a few less golf clubs, fishing rods and SUV’s? Suppose that money was spent on building houses for the homeless? Suppose Christians really believed that every time we feed the hungry, clothed the naked, and housed the destitute we were doing the same for Christ? Would our concept of what a short-term missionary is change as well? You bet it would.

But we have strayed. This is not a gripe about materialism in the church as worthwhile as that topic might be, but about the useless nature of mission trips. So, more to the point, suppose the youth in your church didn't do a mission trip this summer? Instead of a mission trip suppose they worked full-time at the local grocery store, fast food outlet and gave 75% of the income they earned to a charity or better yet to full-time professional missionaries. Suppose when their non-Christian friends asked them "What happened to all the money you earned this summer? Like where is your new car, man? Why don't you have a really cool new pair of over engineered, outrageously expensive, fashionably ugly, make your feet look like you just arrived from another planet populated by color-blind space aliens, running shoes to show off?" What if our children were able to answer: "I fed the hungry, clothed the naked and gave comfort to the poor and contributed to the evangelism of the lost. I did this because Jesus commands us to love those less fortunate than me. Because you know, there are some thing's more important than being able to have new car or wearing the latest sneakers." What a powerful witness! Somehow I think most of us would rather have Christianized adventure vacation. It is easier to stoke our spirituality than to really sacrifice for the gospel. I also think that it is easier to ask Christian acquaintances for cash for a mission trip than to work all summer and give the earnings to charity. Not to mention a mission trip is more glamorous.

Suppose instead of flying to Hong Kong to paint and do carpentry work for my school, the short-term team had driven across town and painted the house of an elderly couple. Suppose they had spent time repairing a church in the poor section of their hometown? Suppose instead of flying to nine-countries in five weeks the drama team donated money to buy textbooks for a seminary in Thailand? Which is going to have a greater impact for the gospel? I believe that people, unless they are professional missionaries, should start evangelizing from their "Jerusalem" which is their family, their neighborhood, their town, and their nation.

The roar of anger from many of those reading this has already reached me. “But, but, but, I went on a mission trip and God worked in my life and I learned so much and came to know God’s will for my life and saw so much and it was soooooo helpful to my spiritual life, how can you say it was sinful?� I can say it because, Biblically speaking, your personal spiritual growth is not the point of missions. Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Peter, Phillip and any of the other apostles who were the first missionaries did not engage in missions to become better Christians. They engaged in missions to further the cause of Christ. This is not to say that missionaries do not gain spiritually from the work they do. Just that Christians are supposed to grow spiritually whether they are missionaries or not. If you are not growing spiritually a mission trip probably will not help even if you feel better for doing it. Missionaries are not more spiritual than other Christians or if they are it is only because they are more obedient to the will of God. If you need to go on a mission trip to enhance your spirituality then perhaps you need to look at why your normal spiritual life is so dry.

Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that we should send fewer missionaries. In fact, I'm saying just the opposite, but the missionaries we send should be adequately trained and have knowledge of their cultural deficiencies. If you do not think you will have problems adjusting and ministering to people in another culture then think again. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of previous generations when western missionaries, as Jean Fritz talks about in her Newberry Award winning book "Homesick" spent time teaching Chinese women American manners.

How different from how the early church that sent out its first missionaries, Paul and Barnabas. Not only were they both mature Christians but Paul was trained as a Rabbi. Even John Mark was called to be a long-term missionary! He was supposed to be there for the whole trip and not go home early. The fact that he did not do this caused a great deal of contention between the early missionaries. Paul, Barnabas, Luke and the others were qualified professionals. Granted Peter and John and that bunch started out as untrained working class mono-cultural smucks but they received three-years of intense, personal discipleship training from God, face to face!

To be quite blunt, even the cults know how it is important for missionaries to be able to develop an understanding of the culture in which they work. That is one reason why the Mormons send their youth out for TWO YEARS. (I know this because I asked a Mormon.) What an absolute crying shame it is that cultic groups like the Mormons are better at sending short-term missionaries who are better able to develop cultural sensitivity than orthodox Christians! Is it really any wonder that Mormons often times seem to get better results? Maybe the reason that cults appear to do a better job of evangelism is not “the power of Satan working in opposition to the Gospel� but that the cults take the time needed to understand the cultures they are working in. Who should have a higher level of respect for cultures cults or Christians? Christians! Who acts like they do cults or Christians? Cults!

If we want our children to be short-term missionaries' maybe we should enroll them in a two-year program. Alternately we could spend more time evangelizing Mormons and then let them develop our missionary training programs. After all, most Mormons are Americans, so most North American Christians should have a pretty good handle on the culture that Mormons live in. Excuse me I forgot, American Christians listen only to “Gospel Radio, Christian music, watch only Christian TV programs and don’t generally mix with non-Christians maybe North American Christians really do not understand the culture where they live. But, again I digress and that is another area where the curmudgeon in me may speak up later.

So, in the end I still have to ask "Mission Trips, who needs them?" Well my answer, as a curmudgeon, is that if we continue to send out untrained, immature Christians with limited cultural understanding of the places they are visiting, do not allow them to stay long enough to gain the skills and knowledge they need to minister to the local population and have them do jobs that could be done more thoroughly by giving the cost of the airfare to groups already in this area then maybe nobody. Well at least nobody that I have met.

But, not to despair! If you think that God is calling you into a short-term mission then I suggest you answer the following questions that constitute the: Official Curmudgeon’s Practical Guide to Mission Trip Readiness Quiz.

1. Are you being asked to come by a person or group already in that location because you have special skills of a professional, technical, educational or theological nature that they need temporary help with? Yes = 50 No = 0
2. Are you engaged in local missionary activity in your local community?
Yes = 1 No = -100
3. Do you speak the local language of where you are going, or do you speak the language of the person or group you will be working for?
(If you answered no to question #1 omit the “group you will be working for part of this question).
Yes = 5 No = -50
4. Can you name at least five things about the culture you are going to that are different from yours, which are not widely known?
Yes = 5 No = -5
5. You do not think that people who wash their hair less than once a day or who take less than 6 to 10 baths or showers a week are “gross, filthy, dirty or smell bad�?
Yes = 5 No = -5
6. Have you ever had close personal contact for a period of months with a person from the culture you are going to?
Yes = 1 No = 0
7. Can you name at least three major differences between the most common religion in the area you are going to and Christianity? (They do not believe in Jesus does not count.)
Yes = 5 No = 0
8. Are you comfortable with radically different table manner than those in your family? (For example, would share a meal with people who ate off banana leaves and used their fingers as both serving spoons eating utensils?)
Yes = 1 No = 0
9. Are you willing to do laundry or clean house or other mundane or boring things that let full time missionaries do their jobs better?
Yes = 1 No = 0
10. Have you ever used an outdoor toilet that had been used by many other people (A chemical toilet or “Port-a-potty does not count, think Out-house.)
Yes = 1 No = 0
11. Would you use an out door toilet if it smelled really bad?
Yes = 2 No = 0
12. You are not squeamish when confronted with bad smells or when viewing dead animals are you?
Yes = 5 No = -5
10 Do you understand why each of the questions above might be relevant to short-term missions in many places?
Yes = 3 No = - 50

If you scored 20 or more on these questions you are probably ready to be a short-term missionary in at least one other culture. If not stay home.

Leaving America

Let me start out by saying that I am an ex-American. While still a citizen of the US I have not lived in the US for years. My wife is Chinese and her family is here. My child was not born here but grew up here and is not really comfortable in the rural US settings that I remember. Thus I am caught between the love of my native culture with the rhythm and pace of the small Texas town and the frenetic crowdedness of Hong Kong. I have thought long and hard about renouncing my US citizenship. But, changing your citizenship is, in many ways, like getting married. You are in the new country for "better or worse until death do you part." Indeed, it strikes me that it is easier too change your spouse than to change your nationality the difference being that to renounce your citizenship you don't need a lawyer.

That is why when I read article after article in paper after paper about people in the US who want leave the US because George Bush is the president for four more years I simply have to smirk. I don't know who will read this blog. But if you are one of the people who are considering this then let me as an American ex-patriot give you some advice. Stay where you are. It isn't better somewhere else. I know I've been there; I've done that. While my reasons for renouncing my US citizenship were, I think better thought out and based upon sounder logic than simply being frustrated that my party had lost an election it was still a mistake and it is a mistake that if you make it. You cannot call it back. Here are some reasons why

In some of the articles I've read people said they were tired of dealing with all the �Christians� and the context of the sentence clearly implied that they thought Christians were evil people. I'm not going to challenge their assumption. Not because I necessarily believe they are right but because I can say that unless they go someplace like Northern Europe, if there, it doesn't get any better. I am also assuming that if they think Christians are bad they will also think that the Buddhist here in Hong Kong who phonyhoney money to the gods of the underworld so that they can have a good life the next time around are also rather depraved. Indeed, the good-land Buddhism as practiced here with it's evil spirits and thousands of gods to bribe so that your stay in purgatory between incarnations is shorter makes the Southern Baptist look good. The whole idea of Chinese Buddhism is, as it is practiced by the locals, not necessarily as it is presented in English guides to religion, is that not only do you suffer less in the next life but you suffer less with more mo. but one of the ways you get a better life in the next incarnation is to BRIBE the gods of the underworld.

Hong Kong is most devoutly and overtly religious place I think I have ever seen not only the Buddhist but the Christians here are quite bold and try hard to evangelize. Christianity is growing at a rapid pace and Buddhism is trying to hold its own. And don't think the Buddhist here are not evangelistic. They are. Where else? South America? Get real they are 98% Roman Catholic and Catholic dogma is an official part of the state. Furthermore, they are not the nearly lapsed Catholics that are politically liberal that you find in the US. They take their faith SERIOUSLY. So these people in the paper want to run from a place where only about one third of the population attends a religious service once a week to a place where 90% plus of the population does? I am sorry. That is idiotic.

Other articles I read have mentioned people wanting to go to nations like Canada or New Zealand, that they the distraught voter feels would be more suitable with their politics. Really? What happens to the Canadian economy if three-million people or a million or �½ a million suddenly show up looking to live there? Prices go up and wages go down that's what. It is just that simple. The governments know this and they will not allow so many people to immigrate that they wreck their economy and overload their social systems. That means all the disgruntled liberal voters are going to have to spread themselves around. That means they need to think harder about where to go. That means they need to think non-English speaking.

When you think of non-English speaking countries they need to think about their children. If you were to go to a non-English speaking place are you willing to home school them like a fundamentalist Christian? I doubt very seriously that they will have bilingual English track in the local schools. Even if they do, (some schools in Hong Kong have such a program) you are not going to like the schools. Could your child do five hours of memorization work every night? I don't think so. That means private schools. Can you afford that? Doesn't that mean your kids will go to school with the children of the international corporation managers who are in that nation raping the resourcdestroyingstoying the environment for the benefit of the capitalist pig developed world? Does that bother ywould woould me if I were you. Especially since you'd probably have to work for one of those companies.

Or in the case of Hong Kong we come back to religion. The best private school in Hong Kong is one that was founded by Lutherans missionaries. I know some of the teachers there. Indeed, I know the direcpersonnelersonel. Nice lady. She attends a church with a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate Pastor. Yeah, fundamentalist in Hong Kong. Indeed, ECC it is quite probably the largest Protestant church in Hong Kong.

The Private schools here that use English fall into three categories: expensive, very expensive and cost more than Harvard. Can you afford to pay USD $30,000 a year for a private school in Hong Kong? If so you could probably find one near where you are that would be as good and less Christian. If you go with the less expensive international schools you get names like International Christian School, United Christian College, Christian Alliance International School and St. Paul's Convent School. Do you as a liberal see anything you don't like in those names? If I were leaving the US because there were too many Christians I would.

Are you a proponent of Gun control? May I suggest you don't go to any place in Asia. Yes Hong Kong has a very strict gun control law but the triads (local gangsters) still have some. I know first hand from shopping in Southern Thailand that you can purchase a used AK-47 for about USD $25.00 in the street markets. (I was only willing to pay USD $20.00 and the guy wouldn't go below USD $25.00) Try doing that in L.A.

Hong Kong and Japan are very safe but most places in Asia are not. Central and South America are worse. If you are concerned about your safety don't go there.

Racial prejudices are a world wide problem. Generally, it is worse anywhere else but the US. I mean that. If you have never lived outside the US you haven't seen prejudice

You want to see women oppressed try the middle East and Asia.

Pedophilia anyone? Go to Bangkok Yeah, 12 year-old girls and boprostitutestitutes there. Does that bother you? It should unless you're one of the people abusing those children.

A last reason not to go overseas is quite simply you will get trapped there. It happens all the time, and it happens in two ways. First, if you get that good job, and make a lot of money will you want to go back in four years to a job that makes �½ as much? Even if you have to live in a small apartment, in fear for your life aintoleranttollerant and abusive society? I didn't think so. Conversely, I know of a man in Wuhan which is a city in China. He went there 10 years ago to teach English on a two year contract. He has four children. He does not make enough money to fly back for vacations in the US. He can't really save that much because he doesn't make much. He can feed his kids and actually has a pretty good life in China but he can't leave because his standard of living wodramaticallyamaticlly. He and his family are trapped in China. Does that sound appealing?

What if an apartment that was 500 to 600 square feet cost you USD $3000.00 a month and each of your kid's school tuition was USD $1800.00 a month. What if for USD $110,000.00 a year you could barely afford an automobile? On top of all that, you would still have to fill out US tax forms every year. Doesn't sound so great anymore does it.

What about air pollution. How may days did the pollution index where you live hit 85? In most Asian cities and many South American cities that is an everyday event.

Remember the grass always looks greener but is because you are looking through your gesaltl gesault. Youlenseses lenses are tinted green by politic, envy or both.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Why Me?

I do not know if an online diary, which is effectively what a blog is is something that I should do.

It seems that many people seem to think that they have something to say and really don't. That makes me wonder if others feel that way about what I would have to say. It also seems to me that many people seem to think that they are somewhat smarter than most other people. I bet if you took a survey and were able to get honest answers that close to 70% percent of people would think they are in the top 2% when it comes to brain power. That means that most people think they are smarter than me and it is cinch they are better looking than me too.

Well, I'm not sure that I have anything to say. I know I'm not the smartest guy around. In fact, I'm pretty average in a lot of ways and I guess in a way, that is why I feel that I should blog. I get tired of reading blow-hards and third rate thinkers of all stripes who are laboring under the misconception that they have an original idea. I guess that is my motivating force for this effort. I don't believe that I am that original but I am, I believe pretty good at exposing the faulty thinking of others. It is what I do for a living. One of the funniest lines in the movie "Gallaxy Quest" was when Tim Allen told the Alien thug "It doesn't take a good actor to recognise a bad one." Well, it doesn't take a good philosopher to recognise a bad one either.

If you read this blog and enjoy it great. If you read it and it makes you think about something in your life in a new way, even better. If you read it and don't like or agree with what I have to say it doesn't bother me. So, don't let it bother you. If I make you angry, save the hate mail. It isn't worth your time to write or my time to read.

Fai Mao