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Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas! Thoughts on Jesus' Genealogy

One of the portions of Scripture I look over at least once every year--and sometimes at Christmas--is the genealogy of Jesus Christ given in Matthew 1:1-17.  Since I tend to prefer the King James Version more as I get older, it's a passage that is full of "begats", so I'm sure people will wonder why I value it so much.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I believe the nativity narratives of Matthew 2 and Luke 2 are glorious, whether read in English, Greek, Chinese, or French, to list my own reading languages. As for the Prologue to the Gospel of John, which is often read on Christmas, I can only bow before the majesty of its message, that God Himself took on our flesh and dwelt among us. But the genealogy of Christ given in Matthew is a strong reminder of how Jesus is not only truly God and truly man in one person, but how fully he identified with our humanity.  "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:11). Indeed, the opening chapter of Matthew gives us the message of the whole Bible on a single page.

What sort of brethren does our Lord confess?

Jesus Christ has a history as do all other men. By placing Jesus in the context of a long family history, the Gospel shows us Jesus as a real, flesh-and-blood human being living among other men and taking his place among them.  Yes, I confess the Virgin Birth as showing how Christ offers a new beginning for our human race, but I think that Matthew's purpose in his first chapter is to stress that Jesus comes with a family and a history.  There is a clear time-and-place context into which he comes.  He is not merely a myth of some distant dreamtime or a fictitious "everyman".  He has called another man his father, and that father Joseph had others whom he called father.  He has a mother named Mary who is a wife.

And, as a man, Jesus is as unique as any other; indeed, more so.  He bears his name, and had we lived in the Judaea and Galilee of the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate, and asked for one Jesus son of Joseph son of Jacob son of Matthan, people might have turned us around in the road, pointed to one of the neighbors, and told us, "that's him."

By no means is the confession of Jesus' humanity a sin or the preserve of the scornful or the scoffer.  The ancient creeds that tell us he was truly and fully man as well as truly and fully God based themselves not on late corruption, but on the testimony of the Gospels.  So, in this season of the year, let us be thankful for the King of glory who took on and knew our very human woe.

Jesus Christ identifies with his own Jewish people. People are historical, cultural, and social animals.  Indeed, when Aristotle spoke of man as a "political animal", he meant that man is a creature who finds his place as part of a defined community--the city, or polis, of ancient Greek thought. 

The Bible says the same of Jesus by placing him squarely in the stream of Jewish history.  Matthew's genealogy not only lists the illustrious names of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that of the kings David and Solomon, but also points out how Jesus' family history was marked by the rise of the patriarchal family, the growth of the Israelite kingdom, and even the great chastisement of the Babylonian captivity.

And this should cause us to pause and consider.  How often are the great narratives of political movements, nations, companies, and families no more than the dreary recounting of how great the publicist's clients are; how splendid their triumphs; how worthy they are on their own achievements to rule over and direct us lesser mortals. How much our modern stories reinforce our cynical view that history is written by winners in order to justify themselves.

Yet the Biblical history with which Jesus identifies is one that is written by losers, who admit their own failing.

Often, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, in which awareness of Islam in all of its ugly triumphalism became more widespread, the foes of the Gospel were quick to point out that the Books of Moses and Joshua called for the wholesale extermination of the Canaanites and record the divine wrath against the whole cities of Sodom and Gommorah.  But these critics too often missed the fine print.  The Torah warns the Israelites that if they fell into the same abominations practiced by the nations in the land of Canaan, they, too, would meet a similar fate.  The historical books of the Old Testament record for us not the pleasant tale of conquest, but the cautionary tale of a heedless nation that periodically ignored the divine warnings, and so came to exile by the rivers of Babylon. The books of the prophets, while full of hope in the future Messiah, are at the same time divine indictments of an unbelieving people.  Yet by God's grace that failure of the Hebrew kingdoms was the backdrop for the late coming of the Messiah, which Matthew announces.

If you are an ambitious student of the Scriptures--which I pray that all may become, read the Gospel of Matthew after a reading through of the entire Old Testament, especially the Torah, historical books, and prophets.  The life of Jesus which Matthew presents is that of the Messiah recapitulating in his own individual life the life of the nation, from an infancy in Egypt (perhaps he there learned the Greek of teeming Alexandria, the language in which the New Testament was written?) to an exile on the eastern side of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, perhaps on the same spot over which the prophet Ezekiel observed the Shekinah glory departing some centuries earlier, to an atoning death fulfilling all those of the Levitical cult, to a resurrection presaging that promised in Psalm 16, Daniel 12, and Ezekiel 36.

But before we pass from this Israelite history to other lessons given by Jesus' genealogy, let us pause to consider some of the people listed.

Jesus Christ, although sinless, identifies with sinners. Our Lord belongs to the tribe of Judah, begun in an illicit coitus between the patriarch and his daughter-in-law Judah.  Of most of the kings in the genealogy, the Bible gives a negative judgment of how they led their people in sin. We see a refutation of the proud doctrine of salvation by race rather than grace in the Gentiles Rahab and Ruth; showing how indeed the house of Abraham was starting to be a blessing to the nations (cf. Gen. 12:1-3) even before the final, great blessing God brings in the Messiah.  Yet one of these women who contributed to our Lord's heritage was, the Bible tells us, the harlot Rehab. 

So, if Jesus Christ is not ashamed to list such people as his kin, let us learn a humility in dealing with others, and let us not think better of ourselves.

We are rightly concerned with the decay of the American family and the widespread "immoral revolution" sweeping our land.  Yet some of the people whom Jesus took as his kinsmen were themselves caught up in very similar failures and sins.  These, however, were embraced by the Word of God to be forgiven and remade.

Yes, our Lord rebuked sin.  Even before he became man and dwelt among us, he rebuked sin through the Law and the Prophets.  But his coming was not to merely judge sin--and if thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, who could stand? (Psalm 130)--but also to work atonement, through which sinners might be reconciled to God.  And this is the great work which Christ calls us to continue.  I hear from many the complaint that we Christians are often sanctimonious and judgmental.  Perhaps it has some justice.  We should remind our hearers that the point of having a church and continuing the witness is so that more fallen and sinful people might, through Jesus Christ, be reconciled to God.

So, in this season, let us humbly accept the gift of salvation which God has given us in Jesus Christ, and Confess him before men.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Paean to the Good Life 矶法伯伯变为土包子

This morning, my daughter-in-law treated us all to baozi, a steamed bun stuffed with pork and vegetables.  She has done this before, and while a think her former baozi were excellent, the ones she made were better.

My introduction to baozi came when I taught in Taiwan way back in the late 1970's.  A small shop stood outside the place where I entered the campus, and every morning it sold baozi--either pork, cabbage, or a mixture. Now, a lot of Americans, especially those from urban areas, know the char siu bao, a Cantonese delight made with honey-glazed, red-colored roast pork made in the char siu (叉烧)style.  However, the more "homestyle" pork baozi I encountered in Zhongli, Taiwan (台湾中坜)captured my taste buds. Char siu bao are a good snack every so often, but the sweetness is just a little too much for me, and jaunts to the Chinatowns of New York and Washington have warned me that I can often get more sauce than meat (I had that unhappy experience in Guangzhou itself, too). But if you find a place that makes the more ordinary baozi, and get the right mix of pork, scallion, garlic, and ginger, and two such delicacies make just about the best breakfast ever, at least for my money. 

写给读中文的朋友的故事 A little joke for Chinese readers:


矶法伯伯原来是美国华府郊外地区的人,也是犹太,挪威,苏格兰血统的白种人也。据我所了解,我娶台湾太太之前, 我家没什么华夏传统。‘可是台湾的肉包把我变为中国乡下佬。这是怎么能够可能的事呢?

我第一次在台湾中坜市私立中原大学(那时候,还是私立中原技术学院)教书与帮助校牧室,小渊阁必有一家小店。那店买早餐,包括油条,豆酱,烧饼,与包子,都是台湾学生与老师们所爱的食物。我第一次去,我买两个肉包。那点调和的猪肉,大蒜, 茺,与别的东西完全和与我所喜欢的味道。两个肉包或一个肉包一个菜包就会让我很满足。因此,我平常的早餐就是两个包子。 可是,两个包子,英文怎么讲?Two Baozi.(土包子)。 后来,我的两个华人室友就开始喊我“土包子”。

For English readers:

The upshot of the story is a kind of bad pun which even now brings groans to my long-suffering wife and adult sons.  When I lived in Taiwan, I foundd that two baozi (steamed buns stuffed with cabbage and/or pork) made an excellent, excellent breakfast, which even now brings back a sigh of longing. Well, the English "two baozi" sounds like the Chinese word for "hick" or "country bumpkin" (tu baozi--土包子).  In those high and far off days of youth, my two roommates at the time, both ethnic Hua (one American, the other Taiwanese) started to jocularly call me "the Hick", or "tu baozi" over my preferred breakfast.

Random Thoughts

The blog No Pasaran reports that Gerard Depardieu, America's favorite Frenchman, is now moving to Belgium rather than remain in his home country and face the 75% taxes that the new socialist government is imposing on his income bracket. Apparently, even the better-off, non-PIG members of the European Union are also facing up to the possibility of a tight squeeze in order to meet the obligations they've passed over the years.  Greece, it appears, is not only the prototype of Western civilization, but also of its economic collapse.


Apparently Newt Gingrich is calling on the Republicans to "evolve" over same-sex marriage.  Perhaps he is just sadly facing what appears to be "inevitable" in our republic.  However, Uncle Cephas isn't "evolving".  Even if I didn't have the Bible telling me that homosexuality in either men or women is only a corrupt fruit of idolatry, I cannot believe that a man who enjoys getting the moral equivalent of a prostate examination is healthy, and cannot believe that one who enjoys doing it to someone else is not just a little bit cruel.


The blog Jihad Watch reports that Syrian rebel factions are out to impose Sharia on the country.  Also, many suspect that the late Amb. Stevens' appointment with a Turkish diplomat in Benghazi was about getting arms to these same Syrian rebels.  However, I suspect that this will probably not upset the advocates of homosexual rights and women's liberation in America, since their real enemies are first, last, and always traditional Christian culture; and in their Kampf, Islam is an ally.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Missing the End of the World

Well, 11:11 A.M. 12/21/12 has come and gone; I showed a film and offered ten easy points to my students who showed up on the last day before Winter Break, and missed the end of the world.  Well, I'm being facetious.  I've always taken Jesus' admonition about the future events being known only to God the Father quite seriously, so I suppose I had very good reasons for figuring that the day would go like any other.

However, maybe our political world will be in for a shakeup now that The Most Brilliant POTUS Ever has decided to kick the can of ballooning national debt and unfunded entitlements down the road to another generation.  We're probably going over the fiscal cliff as I write. Maybe we will be seeing the end of Politics as Usual in Washington

While driving in to work today, I heard the local news station interviewing a professor of economics from the U of Maryland.  The learned gentleman said that if we are going to cover the commitments our wise, virtuous, and humane leaders have made [adjectives mine], all of us--rich, poor, and middle class-- will have to accept at least a 40% rise in taxes.  Uncle Cephas thinks he understands that the good professor was underscoring the seriousness of America's fiscal mess; but as a teacher, he doubts that there are many other people in America who can see that, too.

Uncle Cephas also observes that given the President's media cheering section, nobody will be reminded of the O's "no middle class tax hike" promises or his passing another major entitlement in the midst of a deep economic crisis, and when our modest little recovery gets derailed, it will all be the fault of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Our partisan politics will then get uglier and uglier.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Puritan Observes Advent

Before the holiday season is over, Uncle Cephas wishes to expound a few thoughts on the tradition.

I hope this will be a time when the Spirit of God works on millions of Americans and sojourners in their midst to bring forth a spirit of repentance and renewal of saving faith.

For much of my Christian life, I chose to ignore the Church Year, and much of it I will continue to ignore.  I have long thought the Puritan emphasis on a kind of worship that will not go beyond what can clearly be found in Scripture a wise one.  This regulative principle, as it is called, holds that the method God has ordained for His own worship is spelled out in Scripture, and reflects a view of authority--whether in the family, church, or state--as a kind of stewardship rather than mastery.  Hence the Westminster divines, in their Larger Catechism (designed for the training of the more mature) spill more ink on the sins of superiors than on the sins of inferiors in their exposition of the Fifth Commandment; hence their political theory wrought an idea of political compact, rule of law, consent of the governed, and right of rebellion in extreme cases a generation and more before John Locke.

But I have come to see certain observances, especially those connected with the life of Jesus Christ, as adiaphoric rather than wrong.  Clearly, God commands us to remember those events of the Gospel, and if some focus on the Incarnation in midwinter and on the Passion and Resurrection in the Springtime, let charity assume that these other Christians still remember such things for the rest of the year--especially since the use of Sunday as a day of rest and worship rather than the original Seventh Day recalls the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As long as the consciences of other Christians are not to be bound by such observances or exploited for gain, I rest content.

In this, I have been helped by Heinrich Bullinger, who expressed such a view in the Second Helvetic Confession--a document from which modern Reformed folk might proft, along with the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity.  The Swiss Reformer wrote a little before the Vestments Controversy and other issues hit England; and well before James VI and I's infatuation with the powers ceded to the crown by the English church had turned his head (with disastrous consequences for his son Charles).

Further, our Lord Himself was willing to observe a holiday not established in Scripture, but which nonetheless served as a reminder that God had not abandoned nor forgotten His people, and remained their defender--Chanukah.

John 10:22-23 found Jesus in the Temple during this wintertime festival commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over the Hellenistic and paganizing Seleucid oppressor.  It was on that occasion, when the site of atonement, cleansing, and divine presence was reclaimed, cleansed, and re-dedicated, that Jesus presented himself as the way by which his sheep approach the Father, and himself as the atonement through which they approach.

So, in this time of year, when the festivities are not going to be ruinous to my house and during which I have no intention of abusing food and drink (concerns which influenced the Parliament men in their banning the celebration during the Commonwealth times), I pray that the Gospel will reach many people who might not even give Christ a second thought any other time of the year. I myself have already used the time to quickly review Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel, Matthew, and Luke.

Were I to become active again as an elder, I would not demand that anyone observe these times, for I remain adamant that such would go far beyond the limits which God has set for the church.  Yet I have found a new comfort during this season in thinking about the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promises through the prophets. And I hope the gifts given this time of year will lead others to focus on God's great gift of the Messiah.

Connecticut Shootings

Today, the school where I teach held its minute of silence for the murdered schoolchildren and staff in Connecticut.  I must confess that on Friday, I wept and prayed all the way home.

Yet, as usual, the Left cannot let a good crisis go to waste.  The cries for gun control are fast and furious, and probably something will be introduced in either the House, Senate, or both toute de suite.  Yet much as a I deplore the killings, feel concern for the safety of the students where I teach, and recognize the vulnerability of schools, I cannot join this hue and cry.

First of all, further restrictions on firearms ownership are not going to work.  Connecticut and New Jersey, the two states where Adam Lanza had most recently lived, have some of the most stringent gun controls in the land. I have also lived in foreign countries with even more stringent controls than any in the USA.  However, these nonetheless experienced shootouts between law enforcement and criminals in which the latter were as well armed as any modern military.  Long ago, Nixon got it right when he said that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have them.

Second, I cannot join what is a purely political call for controls.  The Obama administration, through its bungled fast and furious gun-walking operation, failed to prove a flow of weapons from the USA to the Mexican drug cartels, and ended up getting US agents killed along with at least hundreds of Mexicans.  Hence, the lofty tones from the White House promising support for a bill to be introduced in the Senate sound hollow.

Third, too many laws being made do little save inconvenience the law-abiding.  I see it as moot when someone asks "why should a civilian own assault weapons".  Why not?  A moral, religious, and self-controlled people owning assault weapons will probably also take precautions in their storage and display. The typical hunting rifle is probably a better weapon to use in a sniper's attack on a politician, law enforcement officer, or distant human victim.  Yet the bulk of these are dangerous only to non-living targets or deer in season.

Fourth, I am disgusted by cynical politicians and callous media types exploiting the griefs of the families of Newtown. The Obama administration's minions have famously said that they will not let a good crisis go to waste, so forgive me if I am tempted to doubt the public displays of mourning.

Last of all, I see the random mass shootings that have disturbed our land as an issue far deeper than the availability of weapons.  We have, as a culture, exorcised God and His Anointed (Psalm 2) from our national life in the name of freedom, and we are dismayed that the wrath, cruelty, violence, and hatreds that fear of God long kept in check have bubbled to the surface.  All that matters to us today is our fifteen minutes of fame, and there are those for whom it may be had in a horrible act of murder and self immolation. Perhaps the lost soul of Adam Lanza derives some solace in the pits of Hell that it went out with the proverbial bang.

Yes, I mourn with the people of Connecticut. But I refuse to join the political hue and cry.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Random Thoughts on the Fiscal Cliff

This is a post about evil capitalists, swindling America's young, and the looming fiscal cliff. People better at memorizing and crunching numbers than Uncle Cephas have warned us right and left of the dire consequences of going over the Fiscal Cliff, and I have no reason to doubt that such pundits know what they're talaking about.  However, Uncle Cephas sees a silver lining in this cloud.

Yes, I will get hurt if we go over the fiscal cliff.  Already, slightly less than half of the few thousands I take in from freelance translating get chiseled at by differing levels of national, state, and local government, since with the "self-employed" translator's hat on my head, I'm supposedly an evil, blood-sucking, capitalist parasite leeching off the blood of society's poor unfortunates. As a professional swindler of the young--oops, high school social studies teacher--I'm already in a tax bracket that's too high to be missed.

But, just maybe, this event will give the American people an important lesson: that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Every year that I have taught local, state, and national government, I give a simple mini-lesson that sometimes succeeds in making at least a few teens serious about owning their educations.  I ask the class if they've ever been told that they're getting a free education.  About half of the hands in the room will go up.  I then tell these teens that they've been lied to, for their educations are being paid for by all the property owners in the county, including their own parents (if they're homeowners), landlords (if the kids are renters), the people who own the stores where they like to hang out, etc.

Perhaps the lesson learned will be the wrong one.  There's a good likelihood that the Communists and their ilk will get a new lease on life by blaming the rich and calling for that class (everyone in a tax bracket higher than mine) to be "eaten".  And we'll probably have riots of those resentful over seeing their entitlements cut.

But I'm praying (and I am a believer) that God will be merciful and Americans will stop and consider that when the government gives, it also takes.  I pray that the country will wake up and realize that if society's poor unfortunates are to be supported out of public funds, the rest of society needs to produce in order to be open-handed to those in need.  And, perhaps, some will wake up to realize that maybe it would be better for those who actually know individual poor people in question take up responsibility for providing help, rather than expecting a distant bureaucrat to have the answers.

Maybe we're too far gone.  Maybe what will happen to the USA after hitting the fiscal cliff will be God recognizing that he now owes an apology to Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, Babylon, and the corrupt kings of ancient Israel and Judah.  But, just maybe, the USA will realize that it needs to heed the hard lesson it is getting.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Model of Interethnic Harmony: Dogmeat Among the Yao

Ages ago, Uncle Cephas once had the honor of serving in Uncle Sam's "striped pants brigade"--even if the only stripes he had on his pants were on the boxers underneath the dress trousers.  This service to his country led me to the city of Guangzhou, the vibrant hub of the Ling Nan region of China, which consists of the provinces of Guangdong and Hainan, plus the Guangxi Zhuang Auntonomous Region.

While some of my recollections are safely tucked away with various levels of classification in the archives of the State Department, returning to the teaching profession and encountering some of the attitudes prevalent among my colleagues, including those who write the curricula with which I must sometimes swindle my charges and their families, I've decided to dust off memory and re-tell some of my experiences, only stripped of information which might harm others.

Since I teach ESOL,among other things, I have sat through certification seminars on various aspects of linguistics and language policies.  In the latter, I have heard the People's Republic of China praised as a model of accommodation of ethnic and linguistic minorities.  After all, 56 diffferent people groups are recognized as official national minorities, and the development of their languages and cultures are supposedly encouraged.  However, the real story is that, as with every other society, much of what is done in and by the Chinese Communist government is actually for ease of administration rather than to accommodate and care for segments of the population. 

For example, are the Lakkja of Guangxi really Yao, when the languages usually classed as Yao are of the Hmong-Mien family (constituting the Mien part of the group), when Lakkia turns out to be Thai-Kadai?  Apparently, the Lakkja were, in ages past, subject to Yao chieftains, hence they belong to the Yao "nationality".  But, shouldn't a revolutionary socialist regime pay scant regard to tribal or "feudal" (after all, China's historical narrative had to be battered into conformity with what Marx said had to be the case) ties forged in a benighted past?  Or, why are Manzhou and Xibe classed as separate peoples, when their languages are mostly mutually intelligible (at least, the half-dozen or so surviing speakers of Manzhou are reported to be able to follow speakers of Xibe)?
I can understand why mutually unintelligible languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Minnan, Wu, Mindong, and Hakka are called "dialects", when they vary as much as French and Rumanian, since their speakers are all from the ancient Hua-Xia ethnoc and culture, a little bit like Western Europe never letting go of the imperial Roman identity, and reducing French, Galician, Italian, and Castillian to "dialects" of something they would insist on calling "Latin".

But I've digressed too far, when my real purpose is to set the record strait on China and its minorities.

Occasionally, junior officers would be called on to carry briefcases, take notes, and write up cables on the journeys of their superiors to meet with the Chinese movers and shakers of the consular district.  One such trip was to an autonomous county inhabited by the Yao, a "colorful" highland people whom I had encountered before among the hill tribes of Thailand's Golden Triangle and among refugees from Communist Laos. Come to think of it, thanks to many of them having fought on the wrong side of the long Lao Civil War (like their distant Hmong cousins), there are now Yao living in the USA, too.

The first sight of the Yao was along one of the roads leading into the Autonomous County.  Three heavily burdened Yao--two women and one man--shuffled along under enormous loads of firewood carried on tumplines.  They were short, brown, very weathebeaten-looking and clad in traditional homespun, including the dirty red turban and sash of the man.  This was in marked contrast to the Yao of northern Thailand, who, in their jeans and t-shirts, couldn't be picked out from any other ethnos frequenting the Chiengmai night market, unless one was with a linguist who could eavesdrop on snatches of their conversation. While one might praise the Yao of upland Ling Nan for their "authenticity", conversations with various persons soon revealed that the real reason for their maintenance of traditional garb was that a child's simple store-bought dress might put a Yao peasant family back several months' earnings.  Hence, the traditional homespun remained in fashion.

But, there was another angle.  In northern Thailand, I had discovered that classical Chinese was a sort of liturgical language to the local Yao, whose religion was actually a mix of Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism not too different from that of the various Han groups of Ling Nan such as the Cantonese and Hakka.  Hence, I was able to read a booklet about the ancestral deity Pan Hu, a talking dog.  The occasional piece of anthropological literature I'd seen also made mention of a cult of a dog ancestor.

Well, in the Autonomous County, I hit it off well with the Han deputy magistrate (the magistrate, or xian zhang [县长] was a Yao, but didn't seem to say much).  After all, I had a smattering of Hakka dialect from my years in Taoyuan and Hsinchu counties in Taiwan as well as Putonghua, and the deputy magistrate happened to be Hakka.  I asked the deputy magistrate whether the local Yao observed the dog ancestor cult.  Apparently, something went amiss in either transmission or reception, and, in reply, I received a lecture how in the dark days before Liberation, the Han had despised the Yao, wrote the Hanzi for the Yao with the dog radical, but with the glorious advent of the People's Republic, that had all changed, all were equal,and the Yao ethnonym was now written with the human radical. 

Passing a row of newish, albeit Spartan, rural housing, the deputy magistrate conspiratorially whispered that the Yao peasants still lived with their livestock.  "Very backwards! 好落后吧"  However, I maintained my diplomatic presence of mind and refrained from observing that the Hanzi for "home" or "family" in Chinese--Jia 家--represents a pig under a roof.  Perhaps it was that I had already uttered one gaffe, and did not wish to add another; perhaps it was because I didn't have the heart to go on and explain as well how many white Americans claimed descent from what my mother called "pig-in-the-parlor Irish".

Well, things generally went well.  My senior colleague was fairly certain he'd name the deputy magistrate as someone to go on an exchange visit to the States. There was an official banquet back at the Xian government offices.  It featured a lot of free-flowing mao tai, braised palm civet, and a number of other delicacies.  But, we had hit it off so well with the deputy magistrate that he insisted on treating us to the sort of hospitality he liked; an informal late night snack at a local place run by a bunch of other Hakka-speaking Han folk in the area.

My senior colleague, who was manfully fighting back the effects of an already sufficient dose of mao tai, turned vaguely green as we approached the open eatery.  On a slab of concrete, a woman squatted over the freshly killed corpse of a smallish dog, busily removing the hair from its skin.  The Hanzi on the shop clearly indicated that the specialty of the house was dog braised with turnip; and the deputy magistrate, our congenial host, praised the dish to the skies. In fact, it was an excellent dish.  While Uncle Cephas prefers beef, pork, or mutton braised with turnips, the dog meat tasted a bit like something between pork and mutton, although a little more intense than either.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm an animal lover.  I raised cats when I was a boy, and I've always liked dogs, albeit as long as they were somebody else's responsibility.  But, one of the "things" about diplomatic life is that you don't insult your hosts by shouting "eeeeeuw" like an eight-year-old girl at a well-intentioned dinner. And it just so happens that for almost all of the Han groups of southernmost China--Cantonese, Hakka, Teochiu, Hoklo, Hokkien, whatever--whether on the Mainland, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, dog is a delicacy.

And it was during the repast, with the mao tai flowing freely, that Uncle Cephas inadvertently got his answer to the status of the dog ancestor cult among the Yao of Ling Nan.

The deputy magistrate's driver and security chief were both local Yao.  While the Hua-Xia and Western cultures exchanged jokes and toasts, these two men sat motionless and silent, their hands at their sides, their heads bowed, and their down-turned lips looking as if--in the words of Mrs. Cephas' Hakka-speaking Taiwanese folk--three catties of pork were suspended from them.  I honestly and truly felt bad that I was enjoying myself when these two hard-working men, whom I, by my very presence in their bailiwick, had kept from going home to their families, were probably feeling as if I were urinating on their ancestral graves. Indeed, I felt bad about the sadness of my fellow human beings (even though I am an Evangelical Christian, and the Yao driver and security man were clearly "heathens") throughout the following day all throughout the drive back to the Consulate.

So, I suppose, even among dialectical materialist Communist Party members, the cult of the dog ancestor remains alive and well among the Yao of Ling Nan.  And  I guess that the Party's manuals for cadre among national minorities do not explain how to show proper respect to traditional, "pre-scientific" beliefs.

I wonder.  Do the Yao think that the modern Communist's totem animal is the ape?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thoughts on Multiculturalism

I confess to mixed feelings about the term "multiculturalist".  Yes, I've used it as a term of abuse.  Too often, it seems to describe only the self-hatred of Western liberalism, and an excuse for the intellectually lazy to cry "racist" at any who would criticize those whom the political Left wishes to claim as clients.  This seems especially true since 9/11, when anyone who dares to find anything wrong with Islam, even if drawn from the Qur'an and Hadith themselves, would suddenly find himself decried as illiberal and chauvinist.

Yet I would like to call myself a multiculturalist.  My second language is Chinese, which I read as well as speak, and I even make a few extra dollars translating documents from that language to my native English. I've even learned some Classical Chinese (古文,文言文), and have read some of the Confucian Classics, Lao Zi, and Tang poetry. I love the fine arts of China, and respect the long continuity of its culture. I served as US vice consul in Guangzhou, in Mainland China, for two years; and while I am not means pro-Communist and have little sympathy for the alien smugglers operating out of the Fuzhou area, this experience did nothing to damage my interest in China and its culture.  While teaching English in Taiwanese colleges, I met my wife and started my family. Had I the right kind of job there, I could probably live very comfortably in crowded Taiwan.

I've also gotten my feet wet in Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia, thanks to two years of diplomatic service in Bangkok, Thailand.  I still retain a little spoken Thai (but, alas, have forgotten how to read), and wish that country well.

Add to this, I have explored the roots of my own Western Christian tradition through studying ancient Hebrew and Greek in order to read the Scriptures in the original tongues. Hence, my interests beyond the confines of the white American culture of the 20th and 21st centuries are wide temporally as well as spatially.

Perhaps I believe and dare to hope that a meeting of at least some of the world's cultures is possible; even if it remains necessary to maintain a critical stance towards others.

This began during my first stint teaching in Taiwan.  I was young, a theology student in the American Midwest, and a Chinese friend arranged for me to work a year in a technical college that was soon to be transformed into a university.  Not only did I get to know the students to whom I taught English (and also evangelized to the extent acceptable under the guidelines of Taiwan's ministry of education), but also got to know faculty members and people in the wider community, too.

One professor whom I met through the faculty's Christian fellowship group was a Chinese nationalist in both large- and small-n senses of the term.  He loved his country deeply--and saw it as embracing the unredeemed, Communist-ruled Mainland as well as the rump of Sun Yat-sen's Republic of China on Taiwan and its associated islands. I'm sure that today he probably votes pan-Blue in every election. He had gotten his doctorate in the States, a country he generally liked and respected, but had always planned to return to his homeland to contribute to the building of its technological capabilities.  He was quite proud of China's long traditions, the glories of its language, its ancient proto-scientific technological breakthroughs from engineering to papermaking to gunpowder to the invention of the compass, and its enduring character. He was also a card-carrying member of the Guomindang.

Yet, having studied Chinese history in the West,I wondered how he squared his Chinese nationalism with his Evangelical brand of Christianity.  After all, I had been taught about a "deep-seated xenophobia" among the Chinese (it was still, after all, the 1970's), and this was used to explain the political and diplomatic stance of Communist China.  Precedents for this attitude had been found in the Boxer Rebellion and the Ming overthrow of the Mongols, after which foreign contacts were limited to a few carefully selected coastal enclaves.  And, on the streets of the Hakka-speaking town where the college was located, I had heard the Christian faith spoken of as "Fung-mo Gao" (红毛教), or "Redhair Religion" (for the record, Uncle Cephas has never been a redhead).

The Professor smiled and laughed gently and bemusedly at my shallowness and ignorance.  He went on to explain to me that neither Sun Yat-sen nor Chiang Kai-shek (who had not been dead for very long at the time) found no contradiction between Chinese nationalism and the Gospel, so why should anyone else?  He then went on to note that the first introduction of Christianity into China (along with Judaism, Islam, Manichaeanism, certain schools of Buddhism, and the like) had occurred during the glorious Tang dynasty, when China was a great trading and immigrant-receiving power; certainly the greatest organized state of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.  I gulped.  He had a point, for the story of the Tang had been part of my Sinological education, too.  I was not only living in a meeting of East and West in the late 1970's, but being reminded that there had been precedents for similar meetings of civilizations, and not necessarily in the contexts of lord-client, empire-colony, or center-periphery. 

Years later, after having served as US vice consul in Guangzhou, and having gotten my Ph.D. as a non-traditional grad student at a Midwestern university with a large international population, I discovered that while there remain serious issues in America's relationship with China, the USA is not necessarily the land that the Chinese love to hate; and perhaps American attitudes towards China can, for better or worse, embrace both an admiring Sinophilia (not necessarily a bad thing) as well as "Yellow peril" racism.

And, indeed, perhaps after 30 years of marriage to a Taiwanese lady, I've become a little bit Sinicized myself, much as I remain grateful to all that I have received from a Western heritage whose roots I trace back to Sinai, 'Eretz Yisroel, and Mesopotamia, as well as to the lands between the Mediterranean and North Seas.

Yet as a political conservative, I can't help but note the growing hostility between the lands of Islam on the one hand and the West on the other. I've made a reading acquaintance with the likes of Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, and Peder Jensen, who formerly blogged as Fjordman (and, unlike Anders Breivik,another of Jensen's readers, I have no intention of shooting anyone, thank you; nor have I noted either blogger advocating violence). Further, I have come to read Daniel Pipes' site regularly.

Yet, in the cases of Spencer and Jensen, I note two men who have devoted much study to the Middle East and of the Arabic language.  Jensen apparently studied at the American University in Cairo and worked for the Norwegian foreign ministry on the West Bank.  Yet both men have become chroniclers of estrangement between the West and Islam, and open critics of both Islamic religion and culture.  While I would like to suppose that Daniel Pipes' high hopes for moderate Islam are better-founded; I can't help the nagging feeling that the observations of Spencer and Jensen are more incisive. Clearly, in Jensen's case, a close acquaintance with Arabic-speaking Islam has not led to any fond hopes for a meeting of cultures.

Perhaps my encounter with Chinese nationalism ran up against a nostalgia for a period in which China was both open to the "other" and powerful; perhaps Jensen ran into the deep-seated humiliation of a culture whose core texts teach a naked supremacism (one of the things with which my own dipping into the English translations of the Qur'an and Hadith have left me) that cannot respect the unbelieving "other".

So, apparently, there are cultures and cultures. 

This is a thought I plan to revisit more in the future.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Interesting Article on Obama's Syrian Friends.

For those interested in the fate of minorities in Syria as the Muslim Brotherhood-led rebellion gains steam, see the following:

It seems that Obama's America is placing itself squarely on the side of those who would persecute religious minorities and make the Middle East safe for the wonderful, progressive, and democratic forces who brought us 9/11. Sarcasm off.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now that America has Shot Itself in the Foot (Again)...

A guy named Obama said, "Queer,
From Egypt and Libya I hear
'Obama, Obama,
We all are Osama!'
I thought there was nothing to fear!"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marriage Equality, the Sexual Revolution, and Uncle Cephas

Now that I'm being bombarded by Facebook messages urging me to support Maryland's Question on homosexual marriage, I've decided to speak out.

Uncle Cephas will not stand for normalizing homosexual marriage for three reasons; two secular, one religious.

The religious one's easy.  The Old Testament found homosexuality an abomination worthy of the death penalty (Leviticus 20:13), while the New Testament calls it one of the corrupt fruits of idolatry (Romans 1:26-27).  I know there are many high-minded, "progressive" Christians out there who believe we should be as solicitous for the feelings of practicing homosexuals as we are for those of everyone else (including the chronically bad tempered? violent? thieving?), but between them and the Scriptures, the Scriptures win.

The secular ones are twofold: one is immediate, the other concerns the future.

Regarding the future, we won't know if I'm right or wrong until after I'm dead.  But I suspect that after a generation of young men grows up after being raised by two "daddies" ("fathers" doesn't seem appropriate), a lot of the younger lawyers now arguing so passionately for "marriage equality", adoption by homosexuals, and the like will sympathetically take the class action cases of unhappy young men  and sail off into comfortable retirement after suing the pants off of every institution that made their future clients' tales of growing up buggered an unhappy reality. And, of course, the courts will be clogged with such cases.

But the more immediate reason I oppose the LGBT agenda is one that can't be talked about in mixed company, so I request the ladies to skip a few paragraphs.

Having reached the age when the Doc wants to look at my prostate now and again, I simply can't believe that someone who likes getting the moral equivalent of a rectal exam is healthy; and I can't help believing that whoever gets his kicks giving it isn't more than just a little bit cruel.

Frankly, the whole sexual revolution should've soured long ago.  Back in the Silly 'Sixties and Sillier 'Seventies, we were all assured that utter openness and freedom about sexual matters would prevent marriage breakup, make out children healthier and happier, and be generally good for society and even for the fishes in the sea (well, maybe not them).  However, a generation later, our marriages are failing at a higher rate, and even MSNBC reports that one in four teenaged girls has an STD. We have growing underclasses of all demographics growing up fatherless, and all the social pathologies that follow such a phenomenon.

Now, I doubt that what I say will be taken seriously by very many.  Most modern Americans, in their hearts of hearts, doubt that there will be a real judgment for them after they die, and believe that you only go around once in life and have to grad for all the gusto you can.  Hence, what earlier generations called irresponsibility or even sin will be eagerly pursued until we either go extinct, or have a Reconstructionist or Islamic revolution forcing better behavior.

Unless, of course, God decides to be merciful.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Some Favorites

 The Thanksgiving Season always gets me thinking about good hymns.

1. Nun danket alle Gott
Mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,
Der große Dinge tut
An uns und allen Enden,
Der uns von Mutterleib
Und Kindesbeinen an
Unzählig viel zu gut
Bis hier her hat getan. 

2. Der ewig reiche Gott
Woll uns bei unsrem Leben
Ein immer fröhlich Herz
Und edlen Frieden geben,
Und uns in seiner Gnad,
Erhalten fort und fort
Und uns aus aller Not
Erlösen hier und dort.

3. Lob, Ehr und Preis sei Gott,
Dem Vater und dem Sohne
Und dem, der beiden gleich
Im höchsten Himmelsthrone,
Dem einig höchsten Gott,
Als er anfänglich war
Und ist und bleiben wird
Jetzt und immerdar.

1. Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mother's arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

2. O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever-joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us,
And keep us in his grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

3. All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

M. Rinkart, 1586-1649 - trans. C. Winkworth, 1827-1878

Here’s a good one for the Thanksgiving season.

Martin Rinkart was a Lutheran pastor from Saxony.  During the 
Thirty Years’ War, his village suffered the depredations of both
 the Imperial and  Swedish armies—and this in the days when armies
 lived by pillaging.  Worse, the plague visited the town, and carried 
off more than half the population,  including Rinkart’s wife and several
of his numerous children.  Prior to these disasters, Rinkart had a 
 reputation for helping the poor and sick in 
his community.

Johann Sebastian Bach played around with the original tune—as he
did with so many other tunes used by the Lutheran churches in the 
German lands (there was no Germany then; only a welter of statelets
called the Holy Roman Empire).

Catherine Winkworth was a 19th century English translator of the older
German hymnody.

This hymn has always left a deep impression on me, due to the fact that
even when I live a blessed life, I tend to be a complainer.  Yet then I think
of poor Brother Rinkart having a rough life during an exceptionally rough 
time in history, yet somehow he managed to make beautiful music unto
the Lord.

Here’s another Thanksgiving favorite that might have been sung by the 
Plymouth colonists themselves.  It’s the 100th Psalm in metrical version. 
The Puritans, after all, and most Reformed churches,originally  limited their
hymnody to metrical versions of the Psalms and other Scriptural material 
(such as the Lord's Prayer, Song of Zachariah, and Magnificat). Some of 
you may know the tune as a Doxology.

1. All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him, and rejoice.

2. The Lord, ye know, is God indeed,
Without our aid he did us make;
We are his folk, he doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth us take.

3. O enter then his gates with praise,
Approach with joy his courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless his name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

4. For why? the Lord our God is good:
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Boy Scout Scandal

[Disclaimer: Uncle Cephas has never been a boy scout, nor has he had any connection to the Boy Scouts of America]

So, it now appears that a court in Oregon ordered files unsealed, and, lo and behold, the Boy Scouts of America stands revealed as having dropped a lot of scoutmasters for molesting kids. The pundits are self-righteously gloating over how the wholesome image of the BSA is now tarnished beyond repair.  And, of course, in the background is smirking about how the BSA have long been unwilling to let wonderful, caring homosexual men take charge of scout troops.  What typical bourgeois hypocrisy!

However, to Uncle Cephas, this list of abusers who were disallowed from serving as scoutmasters makes the BSA's unwillingness to accept known and open homosexuals all the more understandable.  Sure, they aren't perfect at keeping a danger to their clients out, but the BSA seems aware of possible dangers to their charges, and are making an honest attempt at keeping possible predators away from the vulnerable young.

As a teacher, Uncle Cephas is well aware of the sexual temptations that might be presented to someone with authority over children and youth, and knows of colleagues who've fallen afoul of laws against pederasty.  Further, Uncle Cephas approves of such disciplinary action, if only because he is a Christian who believes that the place for sex is monogamous, heterosexual marriage. 

But, let's now call for a bit of honesty about pedophelia scandals.

Are we willing to call it a problem, rather than a chance for self-styled "progressives" to hurl charges of hypocrisy at traditionalist institutions that they don't like?

Will our loud advocates of the LGBT lifestyles please explain something:  are you truly sincere in your protestations that you also oppose pedophilia?  For decades, you have been telling us that the exploration of various forms of sexuality is a beautiful thing; indeed the most fundamental element of your identity.  Can you long resist presenting pedophilia as a legitimate means of initiating the young?

Friday, October 5, 2012

America's Most Brilliant President

So, the local media in my deep indigo part of the USA are saying that Romney won Debate Number One.

I'm not surprised.  I recall the debates between McCain and Obama in 2008, during which the media anointed the O as "brilliant".  But the portion I saw had McCain trotting out facts, figures, and arguments, while Obama merely said "hope...change...hope...change..." like some kind of wind-up toy.  it was then and there that I decided that this President is a media-generated image, possibly even a hologram, but definitely not the "most brilliant president ever" that he's been touted to be.

Given the subservience of the MSM, and its unwillingness to probe during in age in which it seems that the ONLY secret American can keep is its "most brilliant president's" academic record, I foresee another four years of the O (Groooooaaaaaan!).  I foresee the economy gaining, but only because Rejep Erdogan's neo-Ottomanist ambitions and our misadministration's (hat tip to Diplomad 2.0) unwise support of the Syrian rebels will probably suck us into a general Sunni v. Shi'ah conflagration in the Middle East--and hence we'll get a strong wartime economy growing while the government again goes deeper into debt.

However, we do have a great God who is most wise and gracious.  But I fear that it won't be this generation seeing how in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Worth Reading

Here's a retired foreign policy pro assessing the administration's recent spokesperson on Libyan and other blow-ups:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Our Government Responds

Having just watched the evening news re the blowup in the Middle East, I've decided I need to vent. This administration's responses to petty provocations to the Muslim world first by a backwoods preacher and now by some disgruntled Coptic immigrants (in the film _Innocence of Muslims_) leave me deeply disturbed.

It took this administration until Thursday before it mentioned Americans' First Amendment right to express themselves,
no matter how crudely. Why wasn't this tack taken in the Terry Jones kerfuffle? Why did this administration choose to blow such an obscure person into such prominence over the burning of a Qur'an? For Pete's sake, are they suggesting that we Christians now have the right to be "understood" if we burn down a few TV and movie studios over the nightly insults we get from the entertainment industry? I dare hope not!

Hillary Clinton should've clearly told the Muslim world that the same First Amendment that protects an Imam's right to call the Jews "relatives of apes and pigs" (it's there in Sura 2:65 or thereabouts and repeated again in Sura 7)--surely offensive to many of us, Jewish or not--Bill Maher's right to say downright nasty things about his Catholic upbringing (and I am not a RC), also protects Terry Jones' right to burn a Qur'an (which, BTW, is an act of which I do not approve) and a bunch of Copts' right to let out their true feelings about the majority religion of their Old Country when they're safe here in the USA. Mrs Clinton also ought to tell the Islamic world--where Christian girls are often kidnapped and raped in Egypt; Christian and Hindu girls meet the same treatment in Pakistan; where the 5% of the Bangladeshi population that is non-Muslim female experiences 98% of the rapes (and not from their own men)--that if it wants the respect of the rest of us, it really needs to clean up its own act vis-a-vis its religious minorities.

The prominence which both the administration and the MSM give to the justly obscure propagators of these supposed "insults" to Islam further suggests that, for supposed reasons of "the greater good" that our media and political elite would really like the First Amendment to go away. The tinny quality of Mrs. Clinton's Thursday remarks versus the strident tones attacking the film _Innocence of Muslims_ immediately after the assassination of Ambassador Stevens (may God grant his family comfort in this time of mourning) makes me sweat that perhaps we will see a large assault on the First Amendment at home.
Now, I will admit that I believe that the timing of the attacks is how Qaida and its affiliates are telling the world that they are still there.  Hence, I accept that these attacks are a warning that terrorism's war on us is not going to wind down--much as we would like to wind down our end of the matter.  I would also hate to see the American public respond to Islamic provocations in the manner chosen by the Islamic street.  But the response to this kind of trouble is not to suddenly become so solicitous of Muslim sensitivities that we become their Dhimmi.

Our elite has shown itself adept at dropping the ball on a possible teaching moment. Let's hope it isn't the harbinger of something truly sinister on the home front.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Take Care in Praying

Not only should we be careful about what we pray for--lest we get it--but also about how we pray for it. 

Recently, people have been spreading a poster urging us to pray for President Obama, with the citation Psalm 109:8 under it.

While I would like to see Mr. Obama removed from office in November, I am just a bit queasy about using Psalm 109:8 as the text.

Psalm 109:8b--"Let another man take his place"--conflated with Psalm 69:25 is a text that Simon Peter specifically applied to Judas Iscariot:

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said...Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was to guide them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling down headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out, And it was known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms,
Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take.
Wherefore of these men which have companies with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias...And they gave forth their lots: and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15-26).

While I count myself with those who would really like to see Obama's days in office lessened and someone else in the Oval Office, I'm yet another one who might feel just a little bit queasy about applying Psalm 109:8 to Obama. Since the whole of Psalm 109:8 (not the portion of the verse which Peter conflated with another) says "Let his days be few and another take his place", some might take it as a call for--God forbid--assassination or something other than our usual, Constitutional means of removing a President. Further, Psalm 109 is an imprecatory Psalm full of curses against those who speak against the Lord's Anointed (David, and his much greater descendant Jesus) with a lying tongue. It's pretty strong stuff, and while I accept that there are those who deserve all the curses it lists, I'd like to think that Mr. Obama is not quite in that category. This may be why there are a lot of folks who feel queasy about such a slogan.
Further, I also accept the charge Paul lays on us in I Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for all men, especially those in authority ("that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives"). My prayer is always for their receiving wisdom to govern properly and that they may enjoy the grace of repentance unto life (what the old Scots Presbyterian divines called conversion).

And, since I mentioned the old Scots divines, I say a hearty "Amen" to their acceptance of Augustine's Just War Theory and even their teaching that rebellion against lawless governments is acceptable. However, peace accompanied with justice and liberty is always better.

This being said, I'm guessing that the folks at People's Cube and elsewhere pushing "Pray for Obama, Ps. 109:8", mean it in the sense that they want him beaten this November and out come January 20.  If so, I'm fine with it.  But, for the reasons given above, I wonder if there might not be a better verse somewhere else.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some fun with History

A few rhymes on the history of political thought:

Said old Thomas Hobbes with a snort,
"All human lives of the sort
Quite unfettered by kings
Are miserable things,
Being nasty, brutish, and short."

In days of old,
when knight were bold,
And most trade was by barter,
The English barons forced King John
To sign the Magna Carta

Niccolo said it is right
For princes to lie, cheat and fight.
But this sneaky slob
Couldn't hold down his job,
Which was why he was forced to go write!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Need Your Help With a Project on James and the Family of Jesus

As most who have read this blog know, Uncle Cephas is a Christian who is interested in the history of Christianity and comparative religion. I have recently been reading some studies of early Christianity of both scholarly and popular nature, and this has given rise to a project: I'd like to know how reference to the Apostle James as the "brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19) impacted other people, especially those who might have received a more thorough Christian education when young.   

Did the New Testament's mention of Jesus' brothers (plural--cf. Mark 3:31; Matthew 13:55-56) cause shock or doubt; or, when you first encountered such mention in your study of the Scriptures, did you find it merely one more fact about the Lord?

I'd be interested in your posting your answers to such questions in the comments section. Feel free to offer anecdotes about your earlier Christian education, and how you understood the meaning of Jesus' having brothers.

Thank you.

矶法伯伯需要你的帮忙。 大家都知道我是基督徒,并且,对宗教历史有很大的兴趣。最近,我读不少关于基督教早期历史的书,包括学者的文品与比较流行的文字。如此,我想自己做一件事情:我要知道有多少兄弟姐妹原来知道使徒雅各叫做“主的兄弟“(加拉太书 1:19),而且,想知道者的消息如何影响了别的信徒。


Monday, July 9, 2012

A Law of Nature

Uncle Cephas has just reached an infallible scientific conclusion:

Whenever a bird dumps on your car's windshield, it invariably lands right in the driver's line of sight.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thoughts on Early Americans and Royalty--Happy 4th

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has written a column entitled "Celebrating, Royal-free", which I recommend.

However, the article has led me to put down a few of my own thoughts as to how Americans came to be disenchanted with royalty, even though humanity's predilections for that form of government run very strong and deep. Indeed, even in our own times, leaders of states supposedly devoted to the egalitarian ideal have come very close to the imperial, if not the royal, style.

Having been schooled in the Reformed, or "Calvinist", kind of Christianity, many Americans knew their Old Testament.  The Tanakh is perhaps the best book in the world for instilling a healthy respect for the limits of royal competency.

As a young, 20th century American schooled in what the Psalmist called "the seat of the scornful" (Psalm 1), I "knew" early on that the God of the Old Testament was just an oriental despot writ large.  At least, that was something I knew until I actually read the Old Testament for myself in my late teens and early twenties.  What the Old Testament itself taught me about kingship was not what I had been led to expect.

Yes, the God of the Bible is a sovereign over the whole universe.  But he does not thereby teach that a human ruler of unfettered powers his living icon; and that long line of continental enlightenment and Marxist historiography that insists that royal absolutism of the Louis XIV variety is "the" Christian political ideal is flat out wrong--as even a cursory survey of the monarchomach literature of the 16th and 17th centuries (much of it by Calvin's disciples) would show. Indeed, Marx and Engels, who did so much to describe the "Christian" political posture as "abject", should have known a lot better, especially since they idolized people like Jan of Leyden and Thomas Munzer.

The argument held in early modern times over the powers of monarchs took the form of an extended debate on the character of Nimrod in the book of Genesis, Deuteronomy 17:14-20; and First Samuel 8.

Preaching a sovereign God, a host of Reformed writers from both the continent and the British Isles noted that the first king was Nimrod from the line of Ham, wgim on a strictly literal reading of Genesis 10 and 11, ruled when Shem, father of the line that led to Abraham, David, and Jesus Christ, was still alive (Locke says as much in his First Treatise of Government, and the observation is by no means original with him).  While the account of this first king in Assyria is terse, it is clear that the continental Reformed and their British Puritan brethren drew heavily from rabbinic sources such as the Midrash Rabbah, which portray Nimrod as ungodly and wicked.

Among Reformed authors, Knox, Buchanan, Althusius, Hotman, Beza, Goodman, Ponet, Rutherford, and Calvin himself note that Deuteronomy 17 limits royal power by law; for the Israelite monarch was expected to have a copy of the Torah by him and rule in its lilght.  Far from echoing "enlightenment" advocates of constitutionalism, these sons of the Swiss Reformation were among its pioneers; living a century or more before the first of the philosophes was old enough to read Locke.

Yet First Samuel 8 sparked more debate.  Royalists such as William Barclay and James VI and I noted that the Ius Regni (law or right of the king) would lead the king to take freely of his subjects' property, labor, and even children.  Against this, Samuel Rutherford, in his 1644 work Lex Rex, noted that the Hebrew mishpat hammelek was more accurately read "manner of a king".  He and numerous predecessors also pointedly called attention to the Almighty's remark to Samuel that the Israelites had not reject Samuel's judgeship in calling for a king, but had rejected God himself (I Sam, 8:7).

Certainly the royalists made their point in noting the Bible's high view of David's kingship, and how the author of Judges noted that "in those days, there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 21:25).  However, the monarchomach point was underscored further in the reading of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, in their portrayal of a monarchy that not only degenerates, but also, on numerous occasions, leads Israel and Judah into sin. Hence, again, Rutherford held that unlimited power was a burden too great for mortal shoulders, and that such power in one who might sin was "an accursed power".

Believing in the sinfulness of man since the fall of Adam, the Reformed and Puritan writers did not follow the lead of either the Chinese Legalists such as Han Fei Zi and Shang Yang (whom they probably never read) or Thomas Hobbes(whom quite a few of the Reformed monarchomachs predate) in positing the need for an unfettered leviathan ruler to keep such sinful ways in check.  Rather, they called for constitutional limits. These they found not only in Deuteronomy 17, but also in consensus and the  safety of numbers.  Noting that Samuel's anointing did not suffice to institute David's kingship, but also that it required making a covenant with the elders (II Sam. 5), Reformed thinkers found room for consent of the governed, and pioneered the concept of government as a compact.

Looking at these developments through Evangelical eyes, monarchy is the natural man's perennial political temptation--and disappointment.  The divine plan for the redeemed is liberty under law, compact, and checks and balances to prevent the sins of one from destroying the many. This should allow us to critically examine the claims of our politicians, whether they promise "progress" towards goals justified by a very tentative "science", or guidance from one "inspired" earthly charismatic.

Many today say that the idea of social contract is in trouble.  Of course it is.  As our culture progressively loses touch with its biblical roots, it looks more and more to earthly political saviors rather than to a heavenly one.  Americans like to believe in their own exceptionalism, and that the totalitarian horrors of the Old World cannot happen here.  Yet the adulation which political leaders receive may well warn us that if our political forefathers became disenchanted with royalty, we, their heirs, have developed an unhealthy yearning for a new Camelot or a "One" to lead us into a utopian future. Under the wrong conditions, this can easily lead to the totalitarian temptation--the desire for an Egyptian Pharaoh or Babylonian monarch translated into Modernese.

Hence a re-education project is in order.  Away with the modern mythologies that say materialistic philosophy liberates us, when after the 20th century, it is clear that it liberated us from the spirituality of the past only to put us under hamfisted tyrants who spilled more blood over the proper interpretation of Marx in a single century than "religionists" spilled over the proper interpretation of the Bible in fifteen. The enlightenment thinkers who gave us a republic may not have admitted it, but they stood on the shoulders of Puritan giants, who themselves stood on the rock of Holy Writ.