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.
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
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. 
THINGS I ADMIRED ABOUT MY FATHER
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.
A WORD OF APPRECIATION
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

Harambee

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?