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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.