Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One War Ended 72 Years Ago; Is Another War about to Start?

It was 72 years ago today (on Aug. 15, 1945) that the Japanese Emperor made the announcement that brought World War II to an end. Two years ago (see this link) I wrote about that (and a few other matters) in an article titled “The Significance of August 15.” But now the looming question is this: is another war in East Asia about to begin?
The President’s Frightening Statement
Just a week ago (on Aug. 8) DJT publicly declared that if North Korea makes any more threats to the United States, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
And then as if once wasn’t enough, he reiterated, “He [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
The next day, NoKo (as some people are now calling North Korea) announced that (non-nuclear) missiles may be fired to within 18 to 25 miles from Guam by this week (mid-August).
Then on Aug. 10 DJT told reporters, “If anything, maybe that statement [about "fire and fury"] wasn’t tough enough."
Frightening words from the head of the nation with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal!
The President’s fear-provoking statement was made two days after Hiroshima Day and the day before Nagasaki Day, the somber days on which the death and destruction caused by the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 is remembered.
So what does DJT possibly mean by threatening “fire and fury . . . the likes of which this world has never seen before”?
Even before DJT’s Aug. 8 statement, the Aug. 5-11 issue of The Economist had this provocative image on its cover: 
The Religious Support for War
On August 8, the same day DJT made his inflammatory statement, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, made this supportive statement to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
Jeffress said (in part): “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”
This prominent pastor went on to assert, “When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”
 (Click here for the full statement Jeffress made to CBN’s “The Brody File.”)
It can be safely assumed that a large percentage of the evangelical Christians who voted for DJT agree with Jeffress—although, thankfully, some do not (for example, see here).
The Religious Opposition to War
In stark contrast, the World Council of Churches (WCC; see the third paragraph of this 8/9 statement) along with many other moderate/liberal church groups and individual Christians came out in strong opposition to the President’s statement.
While Jeffress based his support of DJT’s bellicosity on Romans 13, the WCC (in another statement) stressed Romans 14:10: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Then two days ago Fox News published “North Korea nuclear acceleration prompts church intervention,” an article largely about the Catholic Church's opposition to war with North Korea.
Individual Christian leaders have also made strong statements in opposition to the Jeffress’s reckless rhetoric. Here is just one example, an Aug. 8 tweet by UCC minister and university chaplain Chuck Currie:
You promote a dangerous theology of war that goes against Prince of Peace who preached just peace. I see nothing Christian in your remarks.
Truly, on this commemorative day marking the end of WWII, let us staunchly oppose war and war talk, actively pursuing what makes for peace.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Weird Experience

Yesterday, August 9, was the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. I remember well being in Nagasaki and at the ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of that tragic event. That was just five days after I—and June and our two younger children—had been through a weird experience.
The Return Home to Japan
Our family’s third missionary furlough was in 1981-82. When we left Missouri to return to our home in Japan on July 17, we said goodbye to our two grown children and made the trip back to Fukuoka City with our daughter Karen (12) and son Ken (10).
Before having time to get settled back into our mission residence, we left for the annual meeting of the Japan Baptist Mission at the retreat center south of Mt. Fuji. We got back home on August 2 and were still trying to get our house back in order in the days following.
On August 4, I had a telephone call from a former student whom I knew fairly well. He had audited one of my classes at the seminary and had even been in our home for a Christmas party for students.
M.-san called because he wanted to come by for a visit. Even though we were not ready for visitors, he was rather insistent and I reluctantly agreed for him to come that evening.  
The Stabbing
When M.-san arrived, he was carrying a bag and a baseball bat. After just a few minutes, I realized that he was clearly mentally “off.” I soon told him I needed to end the visit and said I would drive him to the nearby train station so he could go home. Then I intended to contact his mother and urge her to get her son medical help.
M.-san then asked me to pray for him—as he had done the last time I had seen him. Just before we had left for the States in 1981, I happened to meet M.-san walking across the campus at Seinan Gakuin University, and he asked me to pray for him—which I did then and there.
This time, because of his mental state—and because of the baseball bat!—I prayed with my eyes open, focused on him.
After the prayer I went back to the bedroom to get some socks. When I came back, he was standing by the front door, but he didn’t have his bag or bat with him. I looked back and saw his bag in the room where we had talked. When I turned back toward him, he struck me on the chin with a long knife.
I quickly grabbed his wrist and took the knife from him—and he began to apologize repeatedly. I had felt little pain but the floor was sprinkled with blood, so I told M.-san to leave because I had to go to the emergency room. I didn’t know how badly I had been injured.
As it turned out, the knife blow, which had doubtlessly been intended for my throat, had glanced off the bottom of my chin and cut me there and on the top of my chest. A few stitches was all that was needed. June credited my beard with saving my life, as it largely concealed his target.  
The Aftermath
The next day, M.-san’s mother came to our home with a huge bouquet of flowers and apologized profusely for what her son had done. We felt so sorry for her.
Then on Aug. 7, as previously planned, we left for a short trip to Nagasaki, staying with missionary friends there. We went to the memorial ceremony on the morning of Aug. 9, mourning with the large crowd gathered in sadness because of the death and devastation caused by the atomic bombing of that city on that date in 1945.
In the meantime, M.-san had been found by the police and taken into custody. He was later incarcerated in a mental prison facility—and died there (probably at his own hand) the following year.
My experience is only one example of a huge problem: not being able to detect and to treat mental illness before weird, or truly tragic, events occur.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Once Again: Were the A-Bombs Necessary?

Largely because of the response received to my May article about Harry Truman (see here), I decided to consider once again the question repeatedly raised since the first atomic bombs were dropped: were they necessary for ending the war with Japan?
The Majority Opinion
Undoubtedly, most USAmericans since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, have firmly believed that they were justified.
Moreover, most people in the U.S. seem to think that the bombs were not only necessary but that they also were “good” because of the lives saved.
Thinking Friend Tom Lamkin in North Carolina wrote: “A member of one of my churches had a father on the troop ships on the way to Japan for the invasion when the bombs were dropped. They were called back when news came Japan had surrendered. That was one family glad to see the bombs fall.”
Similarly, local Thinking Friend Joe Barbour said, “I dislike war but we live in a world where anything goes it seems. So as I think of the loss of life that those bombings of the Japanese at home experienced, they saved far more lives than were lost. It had to be a hard decision but [Truman] made it and ended a terrible war.”
These views are in agreement with what ethicist Joseph Fletcher propounds in his book Situation Ethics (1966). He writes about the “agapeic calculus,” which seeks “the greatest amount of neighbor welfare for the largest number of neighbors possible.” (p. 95).
While it is only a “test case” with no solution explicitly given, Fletcher ends his book with a brief summary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—with the suggestion, I think, that the agapeic calculus means that the dropping of the atomic bombs should be considered right or “good.”
While making no reference to Fletcher, historian Michael Bess agrees with what I call the majority opinion. Chapter Ten in Bess’s excellent book Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (2006) is “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb.”
Bess asserts that “it is a fair conclusion that the bomb’s use probably saved an enormous number of lives—far more Japanese than Allied” (pp. 230-1). 
An Opposing View
One of many places where an opposing view can be found is in the television mini-series “The Untold History of the United States” (2012) and the accompanying book by that title written by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.
The fourth chapter of Stone & Kuznick’s book is titled “The Bomb: The Tragedy of a Small Man.” They are probably much too critical of Truman, but they may be right in their clear implication that the bombs were most likely not necessary—especially if better decisions had been made earlier.
For example, in all probability the bombs would not have been necessary if Truman had taken Herbert Hoover’s advice. In Chapter 76 of Freedom Betrayed, the 2011 book that contains Hoover’s writings about WWII and afterward, Hoover tells how in May 1945 he advised Truman to drop the demand for unconditional surrender and to assure Japan that the Emperor could remain as the spiritual head of the nation.
If Truman had taken Hoover’s suggestion soon thereafter, Japan would most likely have surrendered much before August 6, 1945.
What about Now?
The historical events of 1945 cannot be changed, of course. But we humans should be able to learn from history.
One essential thing that we need to learn the most is that there is always a better alternative than war—and certainly there is always a better alternative than using nuclear weapons.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Congratulations, Liberia!

The Republic of Liberia has just celebrated its 170th Independence Day, having become an independent nation on July 26, 1847.
The Early History of Liberia
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was established in 1816. Its purpose was to support the migration of freed slaves to the continent of Africa. There were abolitionists as well as plantation owners and other slaveholders who participated in the ACS and supported its goals.
The ACS was successful in the formation of the colony of Liberia in 1820-21 on the west coast of Africa. A settlement established in 1822 was two years later named Monrovia, after President Monroe. That settlement grew to become the largest city and the capital of the country.
From its beginning as an independent nation until 1980, the presidency of Liberia was held by Americo-Liberians, those who had formerly lived in the United States and the descendants of such people.
The first president of Liberia was Joseph Jenkins who had emigrated from Virginia to the young colony in 1829.  
Liberia's Coat of Arms
William Tolbert, Jr., of Liberia
In 1965, June and I had the opportunity to attend the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) World Congress, which met in Miami Beach, Florida. Among the other outstanding Baptist leaders we heard, and met, that week, was William R. Tolbert, Jr., the Vice-President of Liberia.
We were happy when Tolbert, who was also an ordained minister, was elected as the new BWA president – the first African to be elected to this position in that worldwide alliance of Baptists that was constituted in 1905.
Liberian President William Tubman died after 27 years in office, so in 1971, the year after his five-year term as president of the BWA ended, Tolbert became the new president of Liberia.
Because of economic problems, which among other things led to violent demonstrations known as the rice riots, Samuel Doe led a coup in 1980, murdering President Tolbert (and others) and seizing control of the country.
Tolbert continues to be highly respected in Liberia, though. New Liberian currency was issued in 2016, and Tolbert’s picture is still on the $100 bill.
Recent History of Liberia
The years from 1980 to 2003 was a dark period in the history of Liberia. Doe, who led the coup d’état was elected president in 1985, one year after his regime allowed return of political parties.
But then there was civil war in the country from 1989 to 2003. According to BBC, up to 250,000 were killed, while thousands more were mutilated and raped, often by armies of drugged child soldiers led by ruthless warlords.
Two years after the civil war ended, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the 24th president of Liberia in 2005. She was the first woman to be elected as the head of state of an African country. Her second six-year term will soon end, so elections for a new president will take place in October. 
While certainly not without lingering problems, conditions in Liberia seem to have improved greatly under President Sirleaf (b. 1938), who was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Joseph Boakai, who is a deacon in a Baptist church, is the current Vice-President. He is one of several candidates in this fall’s presidential election.
Especially since Liberia was established by ethnic Africans who had lived in the U.S., many of us USAmericans join in congratulating Liberia for its 170 years of independence and in praying for an increasingly prosperous and peaceful future.
Liberian-born Helene Cooper, who is now a Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, is the author of Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2017), a sparkling biography of Liberian President Sirleaf.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Tribute to My Father

It was ten years ago (July 26, 2007) when my father died at the age of 92 years, four months, and five days.
Hollis Clark Seat was born in Worth County, Missouri, on March 21, 1915. His Seat ancestors had lived in the same county since 1844, and he lived his whole life there except for a few years in the early 1940s. He was the fourth, and last, child of George and Laura (Neiger) Seat.
Hollis Clark Seat (1990)
Hollis entered the world as a small, sickly child. A neighbor woman remarked to his mother, “Laura, I don’t think you’re gonna to be able to raise this baby.” But he survived and had a normal childhood, graduating from high school in 1933. Then in 1935 he married his H.S. sweetheart, Helen (Cousins).
The year of 1937 was a terrible year for Hollis & Helen: he cut off the end of a finger at the lumberyard where he worked, and he also had to have an appendectomy. But worst of all, not only did they lose their five-day-old baby, Hollis’s mother died the same day.
But the young couple persevered. They bought a house (for $100!)  and fixed it up. I was born there in August 1938. After working as head of a small-town Kansas lumberyard then at the Sunflower Ordnance Works in the early 1940s, they bought a farm back in Worth County in 1945. They lived and worked there until he died. 
There were many things I admired about my father. Let me list a few.
My father (HCS) was an honest man. From him I learned what it means to be a person of integrity. I never had to worry about, or question, him saying one thing and doing something else. As the old saying goes, his word was his bond.
HCS was a gentleman. I never had to be embarrassed by what he might say or do in public. He was never one to run down other people. It was clear that there were some people who did and said things he did not agree with, but he did not badmouth them or say hateful things about them—in public or in private.
HCS was a learner. He never went a day to college, but he was a lifelong learner—especially from reading the Bible and materials in preparation for the Sunday School classes he taught through the years. He also learned through travel: he and my mother made three trips to Japan and had traveled to all 50 states by the 1980s.
HCS was a good conversationalist. He likely never read How to Win Friends and Influence People, but he intuitively knew things that Dale Carnegie included in his bestselling book. Maybe that is a trait of rural northwest Missourians: Carnegie was born in Nodaway County, which borders Worth County on the west. I have often said that I admired how my father could talk with anyone about anything. That is partly because he knew how to listen and had a genuine interest in what other people were saying.
HSC was a dedicated churchman. He was a good and industrious farmer, but attending church services and serving Christ was of highest importance to him. Attending church and serving in and through the church always seemed to be a joy to him, never a burden or just an obligation.
Perhaps not many will be interested in this article about a northwest Missouri farmer who had no claim to fame. But I am happy to share these inadequate words about him and my appreciation for him.
Thank you, Lord, for my father!
For those few of you who might be interested in reading some of my father’s short (ten-page) autobiography, here is the link to it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to Win Friends and Influence People (or Not)

The story of Dale Carnegie is a remarkable one, and while I have no idea how many friends he had, I do know that he has influenced millions of people. His book How to Win Friends and Influence People was on the Library of Congress’s 2012 list of 88 “Books that Shaped America.”
Who was Dale Carnegie?
James and Amanda (Harbison) Carnagey were a poor farm couple who lived near Maryville, Missouri, when their second son was born in November 1888. They named their new baby Dale.
Several years after the family moved to near Warrensburg, Mo., Dale rode horseback daily to take classes at the State Teachers College (now University of Central Missouri). There he excelled in public speaking.
Leaving college without graduating, Carnegie first tried to make a living as a salesman. He later went to New York City where he became a success by conducting public speaking classes.
In 1916, after he had acquired an office in Carnegie Hall, he changed the spelling of the family name to Carnegie, perhaps to achieve some acclamation by association to Andrew Carnegie, although he was not related to him.
His book How to Win Friends and Influence People was published in 1936. It became the #1 non-fiction bestselling book in 1937—and was #6 the following year.
Carnegie died in November 1955 and is buried in Belton, Missouri.
Reading How to Win Friends
Although I hadn’t previously even set foot on campus, I arrived at, and enrolled in, Southwest Baptist College (now University) in Bolivar, Mo., the first week of September 1955.
The first few days of matriculation and whatever else we had to do were quite boring; I didn’t know a single person there except for the guy I met when I picked him up in the neighboring county the day we drove south across Missouri to get to Bolivar.
Sometime during that summer, I had heard about Carnegie’s book, so on one of those days waiting for classes to start, I went over to the library with the intention of checking it out.
The librarian and some student helpers were working on the card catalog files, so I was unable to look up the book. So I asked one of the guys working there if he could help me find Carnegie’s book.
I still remember my embarrassment when he called out in a loud voice to the others working around him, “Hey, here’s a freshman who wants to check out the book How to Win Friends and Influence People!
Well, I don’t remember getting the book then or when I read it for the first time. But I have re-read some of it this month and have found Carnegie’s main principles to be good and useful. (For a brief summary, click here.) 
How to Lose Friends and Influence People (the Wrong Way)
In contrast to Carnegie, it seems that DJT is quite adept in knowing how to lose friends and influence people the wrong way. One wonders how long this can go on.
In a tweet on July 1, he referred to “crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika.” That was only two days after being chastised by even Republican Senators for the tweet in which he criticized “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe,” adding that he refused to allow her to come to Mar-a-Lago because “she was bleeding badly from a face-lift”(which was not true, it seems.)
The first “principle” in Carnegie’s book is, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Maybe DJT needs a dose of Dale to improve his daily tweets.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Survival of the Fattest?

To a greater or lesser degree, most of you know something about the traditional Japanese sport known in the Western world as sumo wrestling. It is sometimes jokingly said that sumo is the sport which features the survival of the fattest.
Introduction to Sumo
Our family of four arrived in Japan on September 1, 1966, and lived for the first two years in Tokyo. Sometime during our second week there, I went to Akihabara, the well-known shopping center for household electronic goods, and bought a small black and white television set.
When I got home, we turned the new TV on to NHK, Japan's national public broadcasting channel (similar to BBC in Great Britain). It was late afternoon and the September sumo tournament was being telecast.
Having never seen sumo before, we were surprised, and fascinated, by what we saw. In just a few days we learned more about sumo from our fellow language school students and have been sumo fans ever since.
The Basics of Sumo
The rules of sumo are quite simple. Two rikishi (sumo wrestlers) face off with each other in the middle of a ring that is about 15 feet in diameter. When the bout starts, each tries to push the other out of the ring or to throw him down in the ring.
Sumo is not at all like Western-style wrestling, and there are no weight divisions. Naturally, those who are heaviest have an advantage—thus the tag “survival of the fattest”—although skillful movement and technique can be used well by the smaller rikishi.
“Smaller,” though, is a relative term. There are few rikishi who weigh less than 300 pounds.
There are six tournaments a year, each lasting 15 days. The one with the best won/lost record wins the championship. The minimal goal of each rikishi is achieving kachikoshi, more wins than losses during the tourney, making promotion likely.
The American Rikishi
Shortly before we arrived in Japan, Jesse Kuhaulua, a young Hawaiian rikishi had become the first American in the top sumo division. We enjoyed rooting for him during our first years as sumo fans.
On July 19, 1972, we returned to Japan after our first year of furlough in the States. We soon were happily informed by some of our missionary colleagues that Jesse had, amazingly, won the championship in the tournament that ended on July 16.
Jesse competed under the sumo name Takamiyama, and his victory was met with considerable consternation in Japan. This was the first time a “foreigner” had won the championship in the traditional Japanese sport. But it would not be the last.
Following Takamiyama were Konishiki, Akebono, and Musashimaru. Those three ended up winning 3, 11, and 12 championships, respectively.
Konishiki holds the record for being the heaviest rikishi ever: at his peak he weighed over 630 pounds. Akebono was the tallest (at 6 feet 8 inches) and second heaviest (at over 550 pounds).
Konishiki (1991)
Even though I had seen them repeatedly on television, when I first met Konishiki and, later, Akebono, I was overwhelmed at the former’s massiveness and the latter’s height and size. 
The Mongolian Rikishi
In recent years, the sumo world in Japan has been dominated by wrestlers from Mongolia. Three of the current yokozuna (grand champions) are Mongolian, and Hakuhō, one of the three, has become one of the most successful rikishi of all times—even though he weighs a “mere” 340 pounds. 
Much to the relief of most Japanese, in January of this year Kisenosato, a Japanese rikishi, was promoted to yokozuna—for the first time since 1998. Weighing almost 390 pounds, it remains to be seen how long he will survive with the lighter, and more skillful, Mongolian yokozuna.
At the suggestion of my son (thanks, Keith!), I am adding this link to a two-minute YouTube video explaining sumo and showing some actual action in the ring.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What about Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

There will be decidedly different reactions to the main topic of this article. Some readers no doubt think that the Christian doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is of utmost importance. Others, however, think that such a doctrine is wrongheaded and should be opposed. So, which side is right?
The Emphasis on PSA
The emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) has been prominent in Protestant theology for nearly 500 years now. That theory of the atonement, however, has come under more and more scrutiny in recent decades
Some Protestants even reject the idea of PSA. Wm. Paul Young, about whom I wrote in my June 25 blog article (see here), is just one such person.
Because of the growing opposition to the idea of PSA, last month the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming “the truthfulness, efficacy, and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
That strong emphasis on PSA probably expresses the position of the majority of conservative evangelical Christians.
But other Christians disagree.
Questioning PSA
In addition to Young’s contention that the core element of PSA might be thought of as a “lie” believed about God, there are contemporary theologians who seriously question the PSA on biblical and theological grounds.
Of many who might be cited, let me mention only two Mennonite theologians: J. Denny Weaver and Ted Grimsrud. Weaver (b. 1941) is now Professor Emeritus of Religion at Bluffington University. He is the author of two important books about the atonement: The Nonviolent Atonement (2nd ed., 2011) and, secondarily, The Nonviolent God (2013).
Grimsrud (b. 1954) served as a professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite University until his early retirement in 2016. He is the author of Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness (2013).
Both of these theologians reject the traditional doctrine of PSA, emphasizing that violent retribution, such as by Jesus’ crucifixion, was not necessary in order for humans to be saved from God’s wrath. Rather, because of God’s unfathomable love and mercy God has always been able to forgive sin and to restore sinners who seek forgiveness.
An Alternative to PSA
In 1967 when I was still in Japanese language school, I read Interpreting the Atonement, a new book by Dr. Robert H. Culpepper, my missionary sempai (older colleague).
After reading the book, I wrote two typewritten pages (which I still have) of reflections and questions. The main question I raised was about the necessity of penal substitutionary atonement, although I didn’t use those exact words.
Bob, as I came to know him, wrote a good and helpful book, but even then I was drawn primarily to the subjective, rather than an objective, view of the atonement.
An objective view of the atonement means that something had to be done, in history, in order for God to be able to forgive sinful humans. Sin had to be punished. The “something” done was the crucifixion of Christ, who became the substitute for sinful humankind.
The subjective view posits the need for repentance but sees no objective, historical event as necessary for God to be able to forgive sinful humans. God is seen as all-merciful, all-loving, and always ready to forgive repentant persons.
According to this latter view, the prodigal son’s father can be seen as depicting the true nature of God. Restoration with a wayward child is dependent only on that child's repentance and returning home. No violent sacrifice is necessary.
Reflect deeply on this point as you look at the following detail of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.”  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Yesterday the United States of America celebrated its 241st birthday. This article, though, is about the motto of a country that will celebrate its 54th independence day later this year. That country is Kenya, the east African nation whose motto is Harambee.
The Meaning of Harambee
Harambee is a Swahili word that basically means “all pull together.” It is a term/concept emphasized by Jomo Kenyatta, who became the first president of the Republic of Kenya. Harambee! is the title of a book of his 1963-64 speeches.
Kenyatta (1891-1978) declared in one of his June 1963 speeches, “I therefore give you the call: HARAMBEE! Let us all work hard together for our country, Kenya.”
Wikipedia says that harambee is "a Kenyan tradition of community self-help events, e.g. fundraising or development activities.” That article goes on to say that Kenyatta “adopted Harambee as a concept of pulling the country together to build a new nation. He encouraged communities to work together to raise funds for all sorts of local projects.” 
(Kenyan Coat of Arms)
The Use of Harambee
In addition to being widely used in Kenya—such as “Harambee Stars” for the nickname of the national football (soccer) team and as “Harambee for Kenya” for the name of an organization founded in 1998 to help street children—the name/term is also used some in the U.S.
For example, in the 1980s the name of historic Franklin Park (named after Benjamin Franklin) in Boston was changed to Harambee Park, and Harambee is now the name of a section in the city of Milwaukee. Also, in St. Louis there is a Harambee Youth Training program (see here).
The first time I remember hearing the word harambee was in connection with Freedom School at Rainbow Mennonite Church (RMC). Every summer since 2007 RMC has hosted a six-week, full-day summer enrichment program for 100 children in grades K-8.
This year the name has been changed to Rainbow Summer Program, but the daily program still begins with “Harambee,” a time of “cheers and chants.” On June 11 there was a Harambee time as part of the Sunday morning worship service at RMC.
Last year the Freedom School participants were only 11% African-American, but the 10% who were Caucasian, the 73% who were Hispanic, and the others heartily participated in the daily Harambee activities.
Everyone pulling together is a good emphasis regardless of race or ethnicity.
Problems with Harambee
Since harambee was originally a Kenyan term and concept, I recently read a JL book by Jim Corrigan titled just Kenya (2005). On pages 30-31 there are two long paragraphs about harambee.
Corrigan writes that rather than the government providing much in the way of social services, Kenyans mainly “rely on their families and a longstanding tradition known as harambee.”
In spite of President Kenyatta’s emphasis on harambee, though, there is considerable criticism of it. According to Corrigan, “The critics argue . . . that precious financial resources could be spent more efficiently if they were overseen at a national level, rather than through hundreds of individual, uncoordinated projects.”
Pulling together in the spirit of harambee is certainly commendable on the local level. But trying to take care of all the social/educational needs of an entire nation by means of harambee seems quite problematic.
Surely the needs of Kenyans could be taken care of better by national programs implemented for all citizens rather than through local harambee activities that vary from place to place depending on the presence and choices of the wealthy.
Isn’t this also true for the U.S.? Why shouldn’t it be possible for the needs of people in all states and communities to profit more from nationwide programs—such as for healthcare—rather than varying from state to state?

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Joy of Turning 80

As hard as it is to believe, my dear wife June celebrates her 80th birthday today. In that connection I thought about writing an article titled “Life Begins at 80”—but that seems to be pushing it.
Why Is It a Joy to Turn 80?
June Tinsley Seat (6/28/17)
When I mentioned this title to June, she was not overly impressed—and she reminded me that I was not there yet—which is true: she is 411 days older than I. Still, as fast as time passes I’ll be celebrating my 80th before long.
Why is it a joy? she asked. Even though it is somewhat of a cliché, I replied, Well, it is a joy compared with the only possible alternative.
It is certainly true that some people dearest to June didn’t even come close to celebrating their 80th birthday. Her own father died at the age of 47. June’s idolized maternal grandmother died in 1926 at the very young age of 41.
While June had other close relatives who lived to 80 and well beyond—her mother lived to 93—it is a blessing for her to turn 80 when so many others did not make it to that age. 
Things that Make for Joy
There are several factors that make June’s turning 80 a special joy, both to her and to me. Let me list a few.
1) She is in good health. That is mainly because, I think, that through the decades she has observed good health habits, such as keeping her weight down and exercising regularly.
2) She has maintained a very good relationship with her children and grandchildren through the years—and there are a lot of years! In June’s case she has been a mother for more than 208½ years and a grandmother for more than 136½ years (figured by adding how long she has been a mother and grandmother for each of her four children and seven grandchildren.)
3) She has kept her commitments and has bloomed where she was planted. One commitment was her marriage vows to me—and I appreciate her putting up with me for more than 721 months now. And in spite of struggles of the language and the challenge of rearing children overseas and of being separated from them when they returned to the U.S. for college, she has made the most of her 38 years in Japan and then for the last 13 years back here in the States.
All the above means that she has basically lived a life without regrets, and for any of us that is of utmost importance.
“Live your life so that at the end of it you’ll have no regrets” is a piece of advice that is sometimes given to young people. Whether anyone said those words to June or not—and she certainly is not at the end yet—that, I believe, is the way she has lived in the more than 62 years I have known her.
That is a large part of the joy she has now in turning 80.
What about You?
A few of my regular blog readers have already turned 80. Most haven’t.
So, to all of you who are about my age and will soon celebrate your 80th birthday like June does today, and especially to all of you who are younger—especially much younger—I encourage you to take care of your health, your relationships, and your commitments.
Most importantly, live your life so that when (or if) you turn 80 you’ll have the joy of celebrating that milestone with few regrets.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lies We Believe about God

Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995) by James W. Loewen is an interesting and important book. Following that lead, a few years ago I did some preliminary work on a book titled Lies My Preacher Told Me. It could have been a good book—but, alas, I didn’t get it written. Earlier this year, however, Wm. Paul Young has published a somewhat related book, Lies We Believe about God.
Young’s Theology
As most of you remember, Young is the author of the bestselling novel The Shack (2007), which I wrote about in a blog article posted on March 5. (There were more pageviews than usual on that post.)
Young also wrote the fantasy novel Eve (2015). (My May 5 article on that book got fewer pageviews than usual.)
This piece is about Young’s new book, which is not a novel but a theological reflection about God. In it, Young deals with 28 different “lies” that he thinks many people believe about God.
Young also wrote the Foreword for Richard Rohr’s new book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (2016). Among other things, Young graphically averred, 
Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one. It tends to be transactional and propositional rather than relational and mysterious. You don’t have to trust Person, or care for Person. It becomes an exercise in self-gratification that ultimately dehumanizes the self and the community of humanity in order to avoid the painful processes of humbling and trusting. Bad theology is not a victimless crime. It dehumanizes God and turns the wonder and the messy mystery of intimate relationship into a centerfold to be used and discarded.
Young thinks that many popular ideas about God are pornographic, in the way he just expressed. Those ideas express bad theology, for they are lies believed about God. So he sets out to state good/correct theological statements about God.
For the most part, I think Young did a commendable job. Naturally, there are some who disagree—and the more conservative/traditional a person is, the more they will likely disagree with Young’s theology.
Young’s Perceived Lies about God
In general, Young says that all ideas about God that depict God as in any way vengeful or vindictive are not true. All views about God that fail to embrace God’s grace, God’s unconditional love and acceptance of all people, are “lies” about God.
Further, all statements that exclude people from God’s embrace or locate them outside the reach of God’s forgiveness are also seen as lies.
“Every human being you meet, interact with, react and respond to, treat rudely or with kindness and mercy: every one is a child of God,” says Young (on p. 206).
Conservative Christians do not like Young’s emphases for two main reasons: they appear to be universalistic (everyone is forgiven/”saved”) and they deny the idea of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ.
According to Young, God does not need to be appeased. God’s wrath does not need to be assuaged. God’s righteousness does not need to be “satisfied.”
Is “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” a Lie about God?
The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was held earlier this month. As always, there were several resolutions deliberated and passed at that meeting. One was titled “On the Necessity of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.”
In a news article about that resolution, Bob Allen of Baptist News Global mentioned Young’s criticism of that penal substitutionary theory of atonement. As noted above, Young thinks it is one of the lies believed about God.
Is he right?
Let’s think more about that important issue soon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Loving Relationship

As many of you know, June and I married 60 years ago, in May 1957. But another young couple who were very much in love at that time couldn’t be legally married in Virginia where they lived, for they were of different races. The law against miscegenation was finally struck down 45 years ago this month.
Meet Richard and Mildred
Richard Loving (1933-75) and Mildred Jeter (1939-2008) grew up in Center Point, a small village in Caroline County on the eastern side of Virginia.
Richard was white and Mildred was of mixed race: African-American and American Indian. In Center Point the three prevalent racial/ethnic groups socialized freely, very different from the county and the state as a whole.
Their story is told in one of 2016’s top movies, the historical drama film “Loving.” Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian-born Irish actress, won an Oscar nomination for her sparkling performance as Mildred. June and I greatly enjoyed watching the movie in April, soon after it came out on DVD.
Then, earlier this year Loving vs. Virginia, a “documentary novel” by Patricia Hruby Powell, was published, primarily for high school students. I found it to be a delightful read. Powell’s story starts in the fall of 1952 and ends in the summer of 1967. Here is a picture of Richard and Mildred in 1967:
Richard and Mildred’s Marriage
Since they grew up in the same community, Richard and Mildred knew each other earlier, but their romantic relationship seems to have started in October 1955, about the same time June and I started dating. But they had to face issues we didn’t. For example, a couple of months later when they drove to a nearby town to see a movie, they had to go up to the dirty balcony, for that was the only place where “coloreds” were allowed.
By September 1956, when June and I were engaged, Mildred realizes she was pregnant—but marriage was not an option for them in Virginia. In January 1957 their baby was born—and Lola Loving, Richard’s mother, was the midwife who delivered her own grandchild. 
The next year the couple finally went to Washington, D.C., to be legally married there on June 2, 1958. (Marriage between blacks and whites had long been legal in D.C.; two years after his first wife died, Frederick Douglass legally married a white woman there in 1884.)
Richard and Mildred’s Troubles
Five weeks after their marriage, Richard and Mildred were staying with her parents. At 3 a.m. the Caroline County sheriff broke into the bedroom where they were sleeping and arrested them. This was the beginning of jail time, trials, and their “exile” to D.C.
In the summer of 1963, the summer when MLK, Jr., publically orated about his dream, Mildred Loving also had a dream. She deeply desired for her marriage to be legally recognized in Virginia, for she was tired of living in the city and dreamed of going back home to Center Point.
So, Mildred boldly wrote Bobby Kennedy, who was then the U.S. Attorney General. Kennedy’s office recommended that she contact the ACLU—which she did. Two young lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, took the Lovings’ case.
Even though they were still in their 20s, the lawyers took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in favor of the Lovings on June 12, 1967.

From the mid-1950s until his tragic death in a car accident caused by a drunken driver, Richard and Mildred seem to have had a very loving relationship (pun intended). And they paved the way for other people in love to be able to marry legally in spite of racial differences.