Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tips of the Slung

Every public speaker dreads them, but from time to time most make them anyway. I am referring to what are often called slips of the tongue. Or as Rev. William Archibald Spooner might say, tips of the slung.
William A. Spooner (1844-1930)
Spooner, who died August 29, 1930, was an Englishman whose name is given to the linguistic gaffes now known as spoonerisms. Born in London, Spooner became an Anglican priest and a scholar. During a 60-year association with Oxford University, he lectured in history, philosophy, and theology.
I have long enjoyed Spooner’s humorous statements and have often intentionally, and sometimes unintentionally, made similar ones. As I head toward the bathroom, sometimes I will say to June, “I’m going to shake a tower now.” Some time ago when I was eating a tasty dish that June had prepared, I said, “These puffed steppers sure are good!” (As you recognize, those are spoonerisms for take a shower and stuffed peppers).
Back in 1995, the Reader’s Digest published an article titled, “Reverend Spooner’s Tips of the Slung.” (The title of this posting as well as some of spoonerisms below have been taken from that article).
Spooner would have trouble speaking correctly when agitated by his students, it seems. He reportedly reprimanded one student for “fighting a liar” (lighting a fire) on campus. He complained to another, “You hissed my mystery lecture” (missed my history lecture), and said in disgust to yet another, “You have tasted two worms” (wasted two terms).
Spooner was also excited when Queen Victoria visited Oxford. He proposed a toast to “our queer old Dean” (dear old Queen).
Some of the goofs were made in Chapel: “Our Lord is a shoving leopard” (loving shepherd), he once intoned. Then officiating at a wedding, he prompted a hesitant bridegroom, “Son, it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride” (customary to kiss the bride).
And at the church he regularly attended, he said to someone sitting in the pew where he usually sat, “I believe you’re occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?”
Well, politicians may rarely utter spoonerisms, but they do make “tips of the slung” from time to time. On August 11 we were surprised to hear Mitt Romney introduce Paul Ryan as “the next President of the United States.” Although he quickly caught the mistake himself, in 2008 then-candidate Obama similarly introduced Joe Biden as the next President.
We shouldn’t make a big deal out of verbal gaffes, though. Most have no significance at all. Rather, we should be concerned about the clear and deliberate statements that politicians make.
On August 19, Rep. Todd Akin who is seeking election as a U.S. Senator from Missouri, made a statement about “legitimate rape.” This has been referred to as a “misstatement” and a “gaffe.” Perhaps it was, to a certain extent. But it seems clear that his opposition to abortion is absolute. Again in 2011, he and Vice-President nominee Ryan, among many others (all Republicans), were co-sponsors of “Sanctity of Human Life Act” (H.R.212), which declares that human life begins with fertilization, “at which time every human has all legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” No exception is made for rape or incest.
During these next two months of intense political campaigning, let’s laugh off the spoonerisms or other verbal goofs the candidates may make. But let’s give serious attention to what they say intentionally about important issues of the day (including, but certainly not limited to, abortion)—and then vote accordingly.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Top 10 Movies

Back in the 1970s I heard my friend and colleague Bob Culpepper talk about his list of “top 10” movies. (Bob passed away earlier this month, and I made an “extra” blog posting about him here.)
After hearing about Bob’s list, and the movies on it, I soon made my own list and have revised it from time to time through the years. I mainly selected movies that had had the most emotional (spiritual) impact on me or that had caused me to think repeatedly about significant matters.
Thus, my list is completely subjective and has nothing to do with any “objective” evaluation of the best movies in terms of splendid acting or brilliant direction. And the list is chronological. That is important not only because it indicates that there is no ranking of the “top 10” but also because the impact those movies had on me is related to when I first saw them.
For example, I still remember how impressed I was with the ending of “The Robe” when I first saw it in the 1950s, but if I were to see it now for the first time, it likely would not make my list.
So, for whatever it’s worth, here is the current list of my “top 10” movies:
“The Robe” (1953)
“Sound of Music” (1965)
“Sand Pebbles” (1966)
“Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)
“Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1973)
“Gandhi” (1982)
“Amadeus” (1984)
“The Mission” (1986)
“Romero” (1989)
“Immortal Beloved” (1994)
I reviewed, but did not change, the above list again this month after watching “The Mission” for the fourth or fifth time. It is a powerful movie that is based on historical events in South America in the 1750s. And even though my evaluation is not based on the acting, I thought the acting was superb.
On the two days after seeing “The Mission” this month, June and I listened to all of director Roland  Joffé’s commentary, and we were sort of “blown away” by it. The movie was made with indigenous people, and scenes were shot thousands of miles apart: some in Columbia and some in Argentina.
It is the story itself, however, that is so impressive—and depressing. The movie depicts the historical struggle between the Spanish Jesuit missionaries and the “reductions” (communes) that they founded in South America in conflict with Portuguese slavers who wanted to destroy the Christian communes in order to advance their slave trade.
“The Mission” deals with the question of how to resist evil: passively or with the sword. That is the focal point of the movie, which is based on a real battle (in February 1756). Of course, what really happened is far different than what the movie depicts—as is quickly seen from even a cursory reading of William F. Jaenike’s Black Robes in Paraguay (2007).
Partly because of the events on which “The Mission” is based, the Society of Jesus was dissolved by the pope in 1773. Accordingly, the subtitle of Jaenike’s book is The Success of the Guarani Missions Hastened the Abolition of the Jesuits. (They were reinstated in 1814, though.)
When I first saw “The Mission,” and again this month, I was deeply impressed by the Jesuit missionaries, especially Father Gabriel. I like(d) the way he related to the Guarani people and how he refused to use violence against violence. (Little did I know back in 1986 that I would be teaching in a Jesuit University during my retirement years!)
“The Mission” is a great movie—as are the other ten on my top 10 list. At least, that is the view from this Seat.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Who’s Interested in the Farm Bill?

Even though many people may not be particularly interested in the Farm Bill pending in the U.S. Congress, it is a very important matter that deserves the attention of all citizens.
Robert Gronski, the policy coordinator for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, explains: “The Farm Bill has a profound impact on farming and nutrition. Three key things the multi-faced bill provides are: a safety net for farmers, incentives for conservation practices, and food assistance for low-income families” (Sojournersmagazine, August 2012).
I didn’t realize until I read Gronski’s article that “nearly 80 percent of the bill’s roughly $100 billion a year in spending goes to the food-assistance category, most notably to food stamps—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], which now helps feed 46 million people in the U.S.
Some Congresspersons, though, want to cut the funding of the farm bill, especially the amount earmarked for SNAP. Why was I not surprised to hear that?
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has refused to pass the bill, although the Senate passed it back in June. Earlier this month, soon after Representative Paul Ryan was named as Romney’s choice for the Vice-President nomination, the President was in Iowa, and he chided Rep. Ryan for failing to vote for the farm bill.
On the Friday after the primary election, Claire McCaskill, U.S. Senator from Missouri, and U.S. Representative Todd Akin, who is seeking her Senate seat in November, met in Jefferson City where they both spoke to the Missouri Farm Bureau. When Rep. Akin was asked by a farmer why he has opposed the farm bill, which he also did not vote for in 2002 or 2007, he explained that the majority of the spending in the legislation goes to food stamps and other entitlement programs.
The current farm bill ends on September 30, and the House will likely not approve a new one before then. Many Representatives, such as Rep. Akin and especially those affiliated with the Tea Party, insist on substantial cuts to SNAP, even though that would deprive many people of necessary nutrition.
As do most conservative Republicans, Rep. Akins, who is a seminary graduate and an active churchman, says that it is up to individuals and churches to help the poor, not the government. But I wonder, would it even be possible for individuals and churches to do all that is necessary for all those in need?
For example, consider my home county, Worth County, Missouri, with a population of 2,150. (Yes, it’s a very small county.) There are now about 350 people in the county living below the poverty line. I assume that most of those get help from SNAP (food stamps). If the farm bill is not passed, or drastically cut as most Republicans seem to wish, will the churches of Worth County and other people of good will have the means to step in and provide assistance to those who need it?
Probably not.
Since it is such an important piece of legislation, affecting so many farmers and especially low-income people all across the nation, shouldn’t those of us who live in this country contact our Representatives and urge them to for vote the Farm Bill?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Does Intercessory Prayer Work?

A lot of people will be praying for me today. Maybe not as many as 10 or 25 years ago, but still a lot. For, you see, today is my birthday.
It has been a long-standing practice in the Southern Baptist Convention for churches and especially for individual members to pray for missionaries. And even though we retired from the International Mission Board in 2004, we are still listed on the prayer calendars—in Open Windows, the daily devotional guide booklet, in Missions Mosaic (formerly Royal Service), the monthly journal for members of Woman’s Mission Union (although now retired missionaries are just listed as a group, not by name).
“Missouri Prayerways,” a Baptist publication, has this listing for today: “Give thanks today for the continuing service of Leroy Seat, Retired, Southeast Asia, and that he may realize the joy of seeing growth in those who have believed during his ministry.” I didn’t like it when the prayer calendars started listed areas rather than individual countries for the missionaries; I was a missionary to Japan, not southeast Asia. But I do like their prayer request for today.
June and I were appointed as missionaries to Japan in 1966, so we have been the recipients of intercessory prayer from faithful, mission-minded Southern Baptists for more than 45 years now. And I certainly appreciate all of the prayers offered up on our behalf through the years. But, unfortunately, I don’t have any testimony of “miraculous,” or even extraordinary things, that have happened on our birthdays or immediately after them.
So I raise this question, Does intercessory prayer “work”? The answer, of course, depends on what we mean by “work.” If intercessory prayer means that we change God through our prayers and cause things to happen in the world or in other people’s lives that would otherwise not happen, then, no, intercessory prayer probably doesn’t work.
Intercessory prayer does cause the one who prays to gain awareness of and concern for the object of those prayers. And that is certainly a good thing. So certainly intercessory prayer “works” for the one praying; there are subjective benefits. And that is no small matter.
But this is the main question I am raising: does it have any objective benefits for the person or matter being prayed for? Maybe not.
The theological question, you see, is this: why would the all-loving God change things or do things differently, or better, because of prayer—and even be more likely to do so if there were a lot of prayers or a lot of people praying?
Jesus spoke disparagingly about those who think that they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7). Didn’t he likely think the same thing about those who believe that God will give special consideration to the words of many people?

Let me be clear: I am not writing against intercessory prayer. But I do question whether such prayer “works” objectively. Nevertheless, I am sincerely grateful for all the prayers on my behalf today!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

In Memory of Bob Culpepper

Robert Harrell Culpepper passed away on August 10 in Richmond, Virginia, where he had lived for the last several years. “Bob” (b. 1924) was a Baptist missionary to Japan and a seminary professor. And he was one of my most respected sempai (older colleagues) and friends in Japan.
Bob and his wife Kay, who passed away in 2007, went as missionaries to Japan in 1950 and served there for 30 years. After language school, Bob taught at what became, and is now, the Department of Theology, Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka City.
When we moved to Fukuoka in 1968, we moved to the missionary residence which was built for the Culpeppers. They started what became the Hirao Baptist Church in the upstairs of that house, and Hirao was our church home in Fukuoka for 12 years.
When Bob and Kay left Japan in 1980, I moved from the Department of Literature, where I had taught Christian Studies for the previous twelve years, to take his place in the theology department, which also is the only nationwide seminary of the Japan Baptist Convention.
The two missionaries in Japan with whom I had the most fruitful theological dialogue were Bob and Calvin Parker (1926-2010), about whom I wrote on this blog on 12/20/10.
Bob was more conservative, theologically and politically, than I, and we had some spirited discussions. But, as far as I know, there was never any animosity between us or failure on either of our parts to fully respect the other’s position.
In spite of the heavy demands of being a seminary professor and a church planter (he began the Nagazumi Baptist Church after Hirao), he also was the author of Interpreting the Atonement (1966), Evaluating the Charismatic Movement (1977), and God’s Calling (1981), his missionary autobiography.
As Bob was one of my mentors and friends, along with many other of his former colleagues, numerous students both in Japan and in the U.S., and many former church members, I am deeply saddened by his passing. June and I also extend our deep condolence to Bob’s daughter Cathy and her family.
Along with the sadness, though, is a feeling of gratitude for the meritorious life and service of Dr. Robert Culpepper, a brilliant scholar, a dedicated missionary, and a passionate churchman and seminary professor.

Friday, August 10, 2012

“War on Religion” Nonsense

“Be Not Afraid,” a TV ad paid for by the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee, was released yesterday (August 9). 
"President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith," the narrator says at the beginning of the 30-second ad. Superimposed on the picture is a reference to San Antonio Express-News, 02-01-2012.
The February 1 Express-News article, “Obama insurance decision declares war on religion,” ended with Michael Gerson’s e-mail address. But, inexplicably, the Romney ad does not mention that that piece was written by Gerson and published in the Washington Post on January 30. (Gerson's op-ed article was titled “Obama plays his Catholic allies for fools” and ends by asserting that “the war on religion is now formally declared.”)
In reply to the Romney ad, Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said the president “believes that, in 2012, women should have access to free contraception as part of their health insurance, and he has done so in a way that respects religious liberty. Churches are completely exempt and religiously affiliated organizations that object to providing the service will never have to pay for contraception” (from USA Today).
Opposition to the provisions of “Obamacare” that require employers to provide insurance including coverage of legal abortion, sterilization, and contraception has been loud and persistent.
However, providing insurance coverage for something doesn’t mean that people have to use that coverage. For example, just because my insurance policy covers appendectomies, that doesn’t mean I have to go out and have an appendectomy. It is the same with abortion, sterilization, and/or contraception.
Providing coverage doesn’t mean that people who don’t want to be sterilized have to have such a procedure. Of course not!
I am a strong supporter of religious liberty and a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state. But for the life of me, I can’t understand why being required to provide full insurance coverage to employees can be considered a violation of religious freedom or a war on religon.
If it is, does that mean that employers can withhold wages from their employees if they know that those employees are using their wages for immoral purposes? If people choose to use insurance in ways that violate the religious conscience of their employer who provides that insurance, isn’t it equally objectionable for people use their wages in ways that violate the consciences of those who paid them?
Suppose Mr. A is the owner of a company and he finds out that one of his fulltime employees, a married man, is regularly spending around 8% of his earnings on keeping a mistress. By doing that with his paycheck the employee is violating Mr. A’s religious conscience. After all, the Bible is pretty clear: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” So, shouldn’t Mr. A have the religious freedom to deduct 8% from the man’s pay each month?
I doubt that many people would agree that Mr. A should have the freedom to deduct his employee’s pay for that reason. So why should employers have the right to withhold insurance coverage because of “religious freedom”? And why should requiring them to provide insurance be called a war on religion?
Such employers say that people can, and should, pay for their own contraceptives, etc. But if employers require people to buy what they, the employers, should provide through insurance coverage, in effect isn’t that the same as withholding wages from them?
Talk about the President’s “war on religion” is, frankly, political nonsense.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Mormon War in Missouri

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as the Mormon Church, began in 1830 after Joseph Smith claimed to have received special revelations from God. The following year, many of his followers moved to Missouri and began to build up the City of Zion near Independence. In 1833, though, they were driven out of the Independence area and began to move north and northeast into Clay and Ray counties.
Adopting a proposal by Alexander Doniphan, in December 1836 the Missouri General Assembly divided Ray County into three separate counties. The middle part became Caldwell County, and it was to be a place for Mormons to live in peace. Most non-Mormons moved out, so the Mormons had almost the entire county for themselves.
In the fall of 1836 a large number of Mormons moved to the new county, and a town named Far West was founded as the county seat. By 1838 the new town reported a population of around 4,000, including such major figures of early Mormon history as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
The northern part of Ray County became Daviess County in 1836, and it was established for non-Mormons. But with the migration of large numbers of Mormons to Caldwell County, the Mormons began to expand northward.
Photo by June Seat, 6/30/12
In May 1838 Mormons laid out a town in Daviess County, a town that Smith named Adam-ondi-Ahman, proclaiming that it was the place to which Adam and Eve were banished after leaving the Garden of Eden (near Independence). He said it would be a gathering place on Judgment Day. Before the end of the summer, several hundred Mormons were living in the new settlement, which was just a few miles north of Gallatin, the county seat town which was founded in 1837.
The Gallatin Election Day Battle took place on August 6, 1838, when about 200 people attempted to forcibly prevent Mormons from voting in the newly created county’s first election. That skirmish is often cited as the opening event of the 1838 Mormon War. At that time, Mormons comprised about half of Daviess County’s population of around 2,000 and about one-third of the eligible voters.
The trouble started when William Peniston, a Whig candidate for the state legislature, sought to keep the Mormons from voting. He mounted a barrel and “denounced the Mormons as horse thieves, liars, counterfeiters, and dupes.” Soon a fight broke out resulting in several injuries, but no fatalities. The “war” that started that day continued until the first of November.

I have particular interest in the Mormon War in Gallatin and Daviess County for a number of reasons. My high school was in the same sports conference as Gallatin, and I have played basketball at the school there.
Also, part of the Seat family has lived in Daviess County. My grandfather George’s grandfather, Franklin Seat, migrated there with his parents and several siblings in 1842 before moving on a few years later to Worth County, where I was born. Earlier, in 1839, one of Franklin’s sisters married and moved to Daviess County, just the year after the Mormon War. Two other Seat girls married in Daviess County in the 1840s and lived the rest of their lives there.
The main reason I find the Mormon War of 1838 of considerable interest, though, is because Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for President, is a Mormon. Given the persecution of the Mormons in their early years and the fact that they were completely driven out of Missouri in 1839, it is remarkable that a practicing Mormon could possibly be elected President of the United States this year.