Friday, August 15, 2014

“The Eighth Wonder of the World”

Today is the 100th anniversary of the official opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914. Today is also my birthday, and I am celebrating it in Panama.
I arrived in Panama City late Wednesday and spent an enjoyable day yesterday in this vibrant city.
Today I will see some of the Canal, “one of the supreme human achievements of all time” (David McCullough) and “a miracle of engineering and industrial technology” (Julie Greene).
It has been lauded with many other superlatives; a 1998 TV movie was titled “Panama Canal: The Eighth Wonder of the World.” (Several other things have also been called the “eighth wonder.”)

Building a waterway across Central America, joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, was a dream of some for hundreds of years. The first major attempt was by the French in the 1880s. But they failed miserably.
Then, President Theodore Roosevelt tackled the enormous task of achieving that goal. It was a daunting challenge. First, the rights to begin the project had to be obtained.
When negotiations with Columbia, of which Panama was a part, failed, the U.S. helped Panama gain independence in 1903. In November of that year, the Panama Canal Zone was formed as a U.S. territory.
The following year, the U.S. began digging the canal. Ten years later they completed that gigantic task—but at great cost.
The financial cost was quite low by current standards: only $375 million. (Of course, that would be around $10 billion today.) The greatest cost, however, was in human lives.
Including the tragic efforts of the French, the project cost around 500 lives a mile to build the 50-mile waterway.
Two of the best books about that costly project are The Path Between the Seas (1977) by David McCullough and The Canal Builders (2009) by Julie Greene.
Last week June and I watched the PBS “American Experience” movie “Panama Canal” (2011). That excellent film and much other related information can be found online here.
Julie Greene (b. 1956), a history professor at the University of Maryland, links the construction of the Canal to the efforts of the U.S. to extend the concept of manifest destiny beyond the national borders.
Greene also links the Canal to the extension of the USAmerican “empire” that began with the Spanish-American War in 1898. That “empire” was extended with the formation of the 10-mile wide Panama Canal Zone (PCZ) in 1903
Construction of the “Big Ditch” was another clear indication of American exceptionalism. Accordingly, there was considerable opposition by conservatives, and especially by the John Birch Society, when President Carter began talking about turning over the Canal to Panama.
Carter, however, signed the treaties in 1977 that terminated the PCZ on Oct. 1, 1979. (That is one of several reasons Carter lost the 1980 presidential election.) The Canal was fully turned over to Panama on the first day of 2000.
According to history professor Laura Kalman, “To the New Right nothing illustrated Carter’s ‘softness’ more than his willingness to ‘surrender’ the Panama Canal” (Right Star Rising, p. 265).
But the Canal continues to operate for the benefit of the U.S. and for all the major maritime nations. And now ambitious enlargement construction is going on. Its completion is scheduled for next year.
Also called the “Third Set of Locks Project,” this ambition expansion project being done entirely by the Republic of Panama is intended to double the capacity of the Canal.
How exciting to be here today on my birthday, joining in the celebration of the 100th birthday of “the eighth wonder of the world”!

Later on 8/15

This morning I enjoyed seeing ships going through the second lock on the way north from the Pacific Ocean. Here is a picture of a large ship just starting through the lock. In the top middle of the building you can see the centennial logo that I used with this article.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

This is Moore Better

In its heyday, the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was an outstanding organization, and its annual meetings were excellent. During my last several years as a Southern Baptist, I was “proud” to be so largely because of the CLC.
The CLC was founded in 1913, and from 1960 to 1987 it was admirably led by Foy Valentine (1923-2006), for whom I had great respect and appreciation.
The situation changed greatly in 1988: the CLC became the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC. And Richard Land, who was selected as the first head of the reshaped Commission, fit in well with the new fundamentalist-leaning posture of the SBC, .
Under Land, the forward-looking, tradition-challenging CLC became a conservative, reactionary accomplice of the Religious Right.
In June 2013, Russell Moore became the new president of the ERLC, and while he was not as combative as Land, there was considerable continuity with right-wing concerns and support of theological and political conservatism.
Russell Moore (b. 1971)
Recently, though, I began to like Moore better. I was impressed with what he said about the current immigration crisis and how he is showing solidarity with the persecuted Christians in Iraq.
In his blog called “Moore to the Point,” he wrote about “Immigration and the Gospel” on June 17 and “The Road to Jericho and the Border Crisis” on July 13. I recommend both of those articles.
Then, the headline in a July 23 article in the conservative Christian Post declares, “Illegal Immigrant Children Are 'Created in the Image of God,' Issue Is Not Just Political, Says Russell Moore After Touring Texas Facilities.”
I wish Baptists such as Rep. Louie Gohmert would read and heed Moore’s ideas about the children seeking help on our southern border. Gohmert, the U.S. Representative from the First District of Texas, is a Southern Baptist deacon and Sunday School teacher.
In a July 11 speech on the House floor, Gohmert called on Congress to act in order to stop the current invasion by illegal immigrants. He also criticized the President’s request for Congress to provide $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the current crisis.
Gohmert then went on to say that “the State of Texas would appear to have the right to use whatever means, whether it is troops, even using ships of war, even exacting a tax on interstate commerce . . . in order to pay to stop the invasion.”
Moore’s position is much better, much more suitable for a follower of Jesus.
In another area I have recently been impressed with Russell Moore and the ERLC. As you know, there has been extensive persecution of Christians (and others) in north central Iraq. (I mention this in my 6/25 blog article.)
Christians have been marked as targets with the Arabic letter for N, standing for Nazarene. Last Moore and his staff began using that letter on the ERLC logo (see the image on the right) in solidarity with the Iraqi Christians. I was impressed by that.
All this doesn’t mean that I agree with Moore on everything. Statements I have seen just this past week make me realize that he holds and forwards ethical positions that seem questionable to me. I am also leery of the upcoming ERLC conference in October.
But just because we disagree with someone over some issues, we should affirm them where there is agreement. And especially with regard to the current immigration crisis, Moore’s position is much better than that of many other Southern Baptist, and other, conservatives.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sadako and the Thousand Cranes

Sadako Sasaki was born in January 1943 in Hiroshima, Japan. But 1943 was not a good time to be born in Japan, and Hiroshima was not a good place to be born.
Sixty-nine years ago tomorrow, on August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Although Sadako lived not far from the center of the explosion, she was not visibly injured.
Just before her 12th birthday, though, she began to have symptoms indicating that something was wrong. It turned out that she had leukemia, or “atomic bomb disease” as it was often referred to in Japan then.
Most of you know about the Japanese art of paper folding, which the Japanese call origami. In the late 1700s, one of the first books on origami published in Japan was titled “How to Fold 1,000 Cranes.”
The crane has long been used in Asian cultures as a symbol for good health and longevity. According to Japanese tradition, anyone with the patience and commitment to fold 1,000 paper cranes will be granted their most desired wish.
After Sadako came down with leukemia, her good friend Chizuko came to her hospital room with a piece of gold-colored paper and scissors.
Reminding Sadako of the legend of the thousand cranes, Chizuko folded the first of what she hoped would become a string of 1,000 paper cranes that would lead to Sadako’s healing.
According to Eleanor Coerr’s popular book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” (1977), at the time of her death on Oct. 25, 1955, only 644 paper cranes had been finished. The lack of paper is one reason more had not been folded.
Her classmates folded 356 more cranes, making 1,000 that were placed with her in her casket.
Sadako’s friends also dreamed of building a monument to her and for all the children who were killed by the atomic bomb.
Their dream became a reality when in 1958 a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in Hiroshima Peace Park. These words are engraved on the base of that statue:
          This is our cry, this is our prayer; peace in the world.
Every year hundreds of thousands of paper cranes are placed around Sakako’s memorial statue on August 6, which is widely observed in Japan as Peace Day.

Sadako wrote on the wings of one of her paper cranes, “I write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.”
In the library at the church where June and I are members, there is a painting of a paper crane with those words cited at the bottom. This year people at our church also are folding 1,000 paper cranes and will send them to Hiroshima to be placed by Sadako’s statue in the Peace Park.
Even though Sadako’s wish to get well didn’t come true, her story has become known around the world.
This evening in Santa Barbara, Calif., the Nuclear Age Peace Age Foundation will host the 20th annual Sadako Peace Day with poetry, music, and reflections commemorating the story of Sadako. Their slogan this year is a good one: Reflecting on the past to assure a more peaceful future.
In 2002, Naomi Takeuchi, a Japanese-American woman, founded a business consulting organization she named 1000 Cranes. One page on its attractive website tells “The 1000 Cranes Legend.”
That page concludes by saying that Sadako’s story “stands as an inspiration to all, and a testament to the continued power of the paper crane as a compelling symbol for hope, love, honor, and peace.”
And so it does.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reflections on Ten Years of “Retirement”

Ten years ago tomorrow, July 31, 2004, was a hard day for June and me. That is the day we ended our nearly 38 years of living in Japan as missionaries.
When we left that day from Fukuoka Airport, we were exhausted physically. It’s hard to get everything done when you are in your mid-60s and have to leave somewhere that has been your home for more than half your life.
It was a difficult time emotionally, as we were leaving friends and colleagues, many perhaps we would never see again. It was hard to say good-bye to close friends and co-workers from church, school, the neighborhood, and the larger community.
It was also a hard time because of the many decisions that lay ahead. Even though we knew where we were going to live for the first year back, we had to decide where to locate permanently. Theoretically, we could have chosen anywhere.
We have been very happy with our choice to live in Liberty, Mo., but it has been a challenge to become homeowners for the first time at our age.
It has been very nice having less pressure and more time with and proximity to family. But I enjoyed what I was doing in Japan so much I was not particularly happy to leave and to be retired.
I am happy, though, that I have been able to maintain some continuity with what I enjoyed doing so much. In considering only my “public” activities, I feel especially happy because of the following:
(1) Making four trips back to Japan (in 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2013). When we left Japan in 2004, I expected to go back, but didn’t think it would be possible to go back so often. Now I am looking forward to one more trip back—in 2016 at the time of the centennial celebration of the founding of Seinan Gakuin where I taught for 36 years.
(2) Writing and publishing two books. Although I was disappointed at not being able to find a publisher, it was still gratifying to use my own logo and the name 4-L Publications to release Fed Up with Fundamentalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Fundamentalism in 2007 and Limits of Liberalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism in 2010.
(3) Teaching theology classes. For many weeks each year since the fall of 2006, the most enjoyable activity of the week has been conducting the course titled Christianity II: Development in a three-hour time slot each week in the fall and spring semesters at Rockhurst University. I look forward to starting next month what will, sadly, likely be my last year to teach.
(4) Writing and posting these blog articles. This has been a particularly enjoyable and fulfilling activity during the past five years. My first dated blog posting was on July 17, 2009, and I have averaged six articles a month in the five full years since then. I much appreciate all who have read some or many of those articles and especially those who have made comments from time to time.
In reflecting on the past ten years, I am very grateful for good health and for the opportunities I have had to teach, to write, and to travel. And I am thankful for my many Thinking Friends with whom I can communicate regularly.