Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Milestone of an Anniversary

•••••••••••• A milestone in anniversaries •••••••••••••

Anniversaries come and go, life goes on from year to year, month to month, day to day, but when you get as old as we are, you note every moment as a special gift from God.

Such was the date last week, July 28 to be exact, when at six in the evening Dr. Joseph McClain, Bible professor at Howard Payne University, said all the right words that united Jody and I as one. It was under the steps of the First Methodist Church, Fisk at Austin, Brownwood, Texas. Under the steps because the church had a tiny chapel hidden away there.

I have no idea how long ago the church moved from that wonderful spot to the suburbs, Nor who razed the building (my guess it was probably Herman Bennett’s company).

The wedding went fast. Mother and dad and sister were there as well as Jody’s mother and sister. Ann Self (a year later to become Mrs. Richard D. Baker) and life-long friend John Robnett (still an active dentist in Dallas and a son and family and grandson still in Brownwood. --- I don’t hear from John but once a decade, so may or may not have facts straight regarding his offspring.)

These 60 years have found us celebrating the event many places. We celebrated in the usual Texas places, like Rio Frio and Pecan Bayou as well as some larger streams: Brazos, Trinity, and the Concho. Add to that the dried-up San Pedro River in Arizona.

The tenth anniversary was in central Taiwan at Sun Moon Lake, where the missionaries held a conference of all Protestant groups. That was the real beginning of appreciating the faith and practices of people from England, Denmark, Finland, Canada, India and even Minnesota.

Sun Moon Lake, a beautiful merging of two lakes, one like a full moon and one a half moon, was the place we met many interesting people: Former U.S. military chaplain, Oz Quick, who hit the beaches of Iwo Jima during WWII, also imprisoned by the Japanese in Hong Kong; Josephine Ward and Ola Lea spent time under house arrest in Japan’s invasion of China. Pearl Johnson interrogated by PLA in Qingdao, China; Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision; Major Ian Thomas, outstanding Bible teacher; Dr. Berg, whose husband was killed by the Chinese communists, just for being different.

In Hong Kong we had tea on the roof of the YMCA when it was the tallest building around, overlooking the Kowloon Railway Station, the harbor and a seven-minute Star Ferry ride away, the island of Hong Kong.

Hearing the teen-age son of George and Beth Wilson playing the piano in the historic Peninsula Hotel lobby at teatime will always be special for us. That young kid, Dale Wilson, is now Dr. Dale Wilson (Yale and Columbia) music professor and composer at Connecticut College.

(It was not our anniversary, but at the Peninsula we visited with Steve McQueen. He was in Hong Kong making the film “Sand Pebbles.”)

But the most memorable of all the places where we observed July 28, was in 1985, worshipping with the people of the newly-re-opened St. Paul’s Church in Nanjing, China. It had been an Anglican church before the Cultural Revolution. A part of the post-denominational era; churches sprouting up all over the land. (Post denominational means they no longer carry foreign names like Baptist, Anglican, Methodist or Presbyterian. They are only Christian churches retaining the best of each former missionary founded churches. A good example for the rest of the world.)

Anniversary number 60 was a simple Mexican lunch, just the two of us and our memories of so many friends, places and good times. Jody is a SAINT, to put up with me this long. Don't send gifts, just an e-mail will be find.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mountains Hold Dreams

The Challenge of Mountains exceeds our dreams

Mountains are there to be climbed. Beyond the amazing scenery, there are cross cultural experiences and challenges awaiting the daring among us.

The first time I took an interest in mountain climbing was after reading the 1953 book, “Seven Years in Tibet,” the experiences of noted Austrian mountain climber and skier, Heinrich Harrer.

Heinrich Harrer could have titled his book “From Hitler to the Dalai Lama.” In 1933, he enlisted with Hitler’s storm troopers, and ended up in Tibet tutoring the Dalai Lama. In his memoir he made no mention of his Nazi ties. When the movie version, starring Brad Pitt, came out in 1997, he admitted his Nazi membership was “an ideological error.”

Before Hitler began World War II, Harrer was on a German expedition to climb Nanga Parbat, 26,000 foot peak in what is now Pakistan. The area was under British military control. The British colonial forces immediately arrested the Germans. They were detained in a prison camp.

It was five years before he and companion escaped. The war was all but over and they slipped away from the camp, deciding to make their way to Tibet. The next months were the most grueling of all Harrer’s climbing experiences. In Richard Graves English translation of Harrer’s book, the two men posed as Indians, dyed their beards black and stained their skin to look more the part. Without papers or money, and only sporadic help from villagers, they staggered into the forbidden city of Lhasa, ragged, starved and blistered. Their “hike” took 21 months.

Gradually the two vagabonds are accepted. They begin an irrigation canal, build a fountain and introduce ice-skating. In time, Harrer became a tutor to the young Dala Lama, teaching him about Western customs and science. Tibet knew nothing of World War II, but were soon to be invaded by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) of the Communist Chinese.

There is a much more recent mountain climber whose story has been widely shared. Greg Mortenson has a mission to promote peace, one school at a time. He made a wrong turn coming down the K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in 1993. He was in the Karakoram mountains in an impoverished Pakistan village. A “wrong” turn that changed his life.

Son of missionaries to Africa, Mortenson was at home in the wild. The secluded village he stumbled upon was weeks away from civilization of any kind. His heart was moved upon learning there was no school for the children. He promised to return and build them a school.

With no money for such an undertaking, but knowing the importance of an education, he set out on his personal mission and found people world-wide saw the wisdom of his actions. He not only built a school there but over the next decade, built fifty-five schools, primarily for girls. More are now “a-building” all along the Pakistan-Afghanistan northeast border regions.

His story is well-known since he wrote about his challenge in “Three Cups of Tea.” He writes that in Pakistan and Afghanistan, “we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die.”

It is a way to peace in the dangerous Taliban homeland. Mortenson has proved that making friends and increasing learning is a much better way to peace than military expeditions.

There is more than beautiful scenery high up in the mountains of the world. There are challenges for a better world -- sharing the world with the Dala Lama or building one school at a time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Regarding the NYC proposed mosque

All religions subject to U.S. Constitution

Up north in New York City a Muslim Center has been approved for construction by local boards in lower Manhattan. They propose a 15-story community center which includes a prayer room, offices, meeting rooms, gym, swimming pool and a performing arts center.

The center is not at Ground Zero but two blocks away. It is not designed as a local mosque but to serve the wider community. It also is meant to improve interfaith relationships among people of every faith. In a nutshell it is promoting tolerance.

A hallmark of American culture is being a multicultural nation, welcoming people from everywhere (legally, of course). Another hallmark is even more amazing: America is a multi-religious society (but a few folks are not sure).

The last couple of years many have rallied their support for the U.S. Constitution. In their rallies they use bright, though weird signs, and declare they “want the Constitution back,” whatever that means.

Just to refresh our memories, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution still reads the same as in 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Regarding the religion clause, where are these protesters who love the Constitution and believe it should be observed so faithfully? Why are they now opposing the free exercise of religion? What is it in the single sentence of the First Amendment they do not understand? Why such hate for certain people simply because some of them are bad? Have they voided the Greatest Commandment: love thy neighbor?

Apparently those who oppose another’s faith, are insecure in their own faith. When brought to the test, can our faith really give us inner peace and victory in the trials of life?

Are these insecure believers picking and choosing from the U.S. Constitution just as is often done with the Bible?

The American Muslim leaders have denounced their radical fundamentalist majority and the slaughter of the innocents on 9/11. They are on record as welcoming anyone who loves peace to give toward the project.

To lump all Muslims in one sack is as foolish as putting all Catholics or Baptists in one pile. To say no to Islam because it is foreign-based is not consistent; so is the Roman Catholic Church, demonized here at first, but now it is a thriving church (like all others, not perfect).

I remember the hullabaloo when a Hindu Temple was built near Austin. It scared many a Christian at the time. If a Christian’s faith is so shaky to fear other religions, he or she best sign up for kindergarten-level Sunday school.

I have heard numbers of Baptists tell other parents, “Don’t send your kids to Baylor, they will lose their faith.” If a person’s faith is that weak, they best review their own spiritual walk. Before the Apostle Peter denied his Lord, he continued following Jesus, as the historian Luke wrote “But Peter was following at a distance” (Luke 22:54). Stay close, we are “No longer babes in Christ…” the Apostle Paul advised his followers.

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn't be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can't. I think it's fair to say if somebody was going, on that piece of property, build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too."

John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University (DC) sums up what I am trying to say: “Opposition to the Muslim Center goes against democratic principles, is Islamophobic.”


Jody Towery Watercolor

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Re-discovering Jody's Watercolors

Jody Towery, missionary to Taiwan, seated on the front row of this 1960 charter members of the Pingtung Baptist Church, later lived in Hong Kong and was a colleague on the China mainland (1956-1990) learned from masters of watercolor in all three places. Now that she can no longer paint it is time to show her early works. She did book covers of bamboo as well as scrolls and framed pieces of birds, mountains in the old Chinese style, and even some sketches of the Hong Kong harbor, when it was not as crowded as it is in the 21st century.

Her painting of this "bird in a quandary" has a question about something, like saying, "You talkin' to me?" or "Who said that?"

More to come as time allows the scanning of her work.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

China Update: churches & government


One of the most vivid pictures to come out of the China earthquake of 2008, was the wreckage of the ancient Mianzhu Christian Church’s worship center.

The Mianzhu Church, originally built by missionaries in the 19th century, has now been rebuilt and instead of the 100-150 worshipers before the earthquake, they now welcome 1,000 in worship on a regular basis.

My wife was in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in 1984 and visited numbers of churches. She found them to be among the friendliest anywhere. Those same caring Christians and inquirers of the faith came to the aid of the Christians in Mianzhu.

The congregation put up a huge temporary worship center and the government granted them land on which to build a church. After the earthquake, the Chinese assigned each province a part of Sichuan to rebuild.

According to Kathy Call, founder of China Connection, “within the next year, in place of the old demolished church, there will be two churches and two congregations – one in the temporary church building and one being constructed on Gospel Road.” Last Easter 49 new members were baptized to add to the 158 baptized in Mianzhu last Christmas.

Back in the mid-1980s, as congregations were beginning to re-open and build new churches, Nanjing (where we spent most of our time in China) had two huge churches left over from missionary days (pre-1950). The two, St. Paul’s and Mochou Road, and a few house groups were all the former capital of China had. Nanjing now numbers 30 Protestant Christian churches. The largest seats 5,000 worshipers. Same story unrolls in many major cities, including the ancient capital city of Hangzhou and commercial Shanghai.

The road to regroup for Roman Catholics has not been easy, primarily because of their allegiance to a foreign Pope. It took five years for Beijing and Rome to agree on a new Catholic bishop’s ordination (Paul Meng Qinglu of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia).

The members of the Diocese of Hohhot is over 65,000. At Meng’s ordination were 21 priests, with three priest officially recognized by Rome. Such progress may seem slow to us, but it is of the kind that lasts. Slowly the bai-xing (Chinese people) are seeing that Christianity is not a “foreign power” to fear or ignore. They are putting down Chinese roots in Chinese soil, a rarity in the past 150 years of missionary toil (1800-1950).

Just as our churches are American, China wants Chinese churches, as do people of every country.

When my wife and returned to the States after 31 years, there was a very observable phenomenon that has grown into fact in recent years. China is rising from the ashes (since 1980) and our beloved country titters on a steep incline the opposite direction.

For example: The July 8th Viewpoints section of the San Angelo Standard-Times, by Bruce McLaren, writes of a dream that our railway system reclaim their former usefulness and days of glory.

America once had a great railway system. But we torn up the tracks or left them to rust while the new China was blanketing their land with fast trains. The Beijing Review reported last spring that China has three railways of approximately 200 miles an hour and seven that run 125 miles an hour. Eight more rail lines are in the process to be finished by 2015. The train from Beijing to Lhasa is a marvel of engineering.

Both church and state are doing well in spite of a dictatorship and limited freedoms. It is time the USA quit chanting “We’re number One” and reclaim what once was. Bring back the jobs, factories and overseas military bases and stop trying to police the world.


Close Foreign Bases Save Economy



In 1776 a segment of the New World threw in its lot to become the United States of America. It signaled the beginning of the decline of history’s largest empire, the British Empire.

The phrase, ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’ was a proud saying for hundreds of years. The English fought the French, Dutch Spanish and indigenous peoples to hold on to foreign bases and colonies in places from Burma, Malaysia, and India, to Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe (Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia to the Brits).

The British also had strange and self-serving agreements with Egypt and the Middle East. Creating national boundaries where none belonged and still create pain from Amman to Pakistan. Their hold over others made England the commercial power it became. Among other Empire money-makers were to trade India opium to China for tea. (The Chinese demanded Queen Victoria stop this trade to no avail.) Empire builders are an arrogant branch of humanity.

When empires stretch thin they begin to wane. It happened to the Greeks, Persians, Assyrians, Romans and Egyptians in the misled belief they were “the greatest of all peoples.”

Today’s map of the world presents an empire that is following in the same blood-drenched trail. Though many deny it, others rather not think about it, the United States military has for years been expanding overseas bases at a whirlwind clip.

It is time to look at ourselves and consider if we want to continue along that road. In the economic crisis that just gets scarier by the hour, can America afford some 1,000 military bases overseas.

One Pentagon report counts only 865 base sites, without including Iraq (possibly 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting) and other secretive bases.

Why should we have bases in Europe? Can’t these democracies handle their own security? World War II has been over since 1945 and there are still 268 bases in Germany. At last count there were 124 in Japan, 87 in South Korea.

What does America’s national security have to do with a ski center in the Bavarian Alps and the 234 golf courses the Pentagon runs worldwide? With hungry and dying children in the third world, what kind of an image are we giving to the world? Does anyone care?

The NATO Watch Committee reports that America operates and/or controls between 700 and 800 military bases worldwide. Noam Chomsky gives about the same number in his books and lectures. In total there are 255,000-plus military personnel deployed abroad. Just imagine the annual rent money the U.S. military pays for the privilege of using their real estate. All in the name of “security.”

Another thought on expenses of the growing American Empire. (An empire that began with the Spanish-American War over a hundred years ago.) Why spend a dime on training Afghans to be soldiers when their Taliban cousins seem to fight fairly well without such training? Why continue teaching Central and South American military types at the special school in Georgia? After years of teaching Iraqis to fight for their country, little, if any progress, is evident.

The annual multi billion dollar cost of bases alone would make a huge dent in the U.S. sagging economy. I am encouraged that a senator last week began to question the wisdom of so many bases. Congress is so tied to the corporations that build war materials they look the other way. The Pentagon is snug in bed with them also. No need to be ignorant any longer, this information is in the public domain as well as in Annual Reports of the US Congress. If only they would read and get informed. Is it too much to ask congress and the White House to grow a backbone. America was sinking in a sea of red ink before the black gold began destroying everything in the Gulf of Mexico.

Empires (military or corporations) always suck the life out of themselves.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

From The Bleachers

With the Baseball All Star game just ahead it is time to do some serious reflections of my life in the bleachers.

While a student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox came through Fort Worth, on what was then called a barnstorming tour.

Back then, following spring training in Florida, major league baseball clubs headed into the new season by playing their farm teams or each other in exhibition games.

Barnstorming, like so many good things, is a distant memory; when football players played offense and defense; and basketball was artistic, not bombastic. So wander back with me to the time sports were fun, not dictated by agents, millionaire bench-warmers and back-up quarterbacks; and “look at me!” showoffs.

I may sound like an old grouch at a hot-stove league gathering, but I think baseball announcers should cease using the stupid term: “a walk-off home run.” It is merely a home run that won the game. The San Angelo Colts announcers have not used the term as far as I know. (We are fortunate to have such professional sports announcers.)

It was the spring of 1954 when we drove over to North Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field, home of the minor league Fort Worth Cats. The White Sox and Indians of the American League were playing an exhibition game.

Exhibition games as a rule are boring. Not this game. Seeing Bobby Feller on the mound “live” was well worth the high-priced fifty cent tickets. During his 18-year career “Rapid Robert” struck out over 2500 batters. The Indians Al Rosen, a favorite of mine at third base, had won the American League Most Valuable Player award a year earlier. Al, sometimes called the “Hebrew Hammer,” was four times an All Star.

Cleveland also had Larry Dobie in center field, the second black to make the major leagues. Which is proof that coming second in anything is soon forgotten. Jackie Robinson made the history books by being hired a few months ahead of Larry Doby. Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon along with veteran Bob Feller went on to the 1954 World Series (with 111wins), against the New York Giants, the National League champions. Wanted to write more about Virgil Trucks and the White Sox but found the piece too long for the papers.

The underdog Giants swept the Series in four games defeating the heavily favored Indians, who had won an American League record 111 games during the regular season. It was the Giants first championship since I was three years old (1933), a season I have no memory about.

It was the first World Series we saw on our black and white Admiral TV (remember those) in the parsonage of the First Baptist Church in Eustace, Texas. In the very first game we still remember “The Catch,” as it has been dubbed by sports writers ever since. That was the running catch made by Giants center fielder Willie Mays. With his back to the infield, Willie snared Vic Wertz’s long drive near the outfield wall.

I had been to LaGrave Field once earlier when the Cats were in the Dixie Series, a best-of-seven-games contest between the champions of the Texas League and the Southern Association. Not having the money for a ticket, us boys sat on the outfield fence and had a great view until a big fellow with a bigger stick spotted us.

The Dallas Rebels set an all-time Texas League attendance record of 53,578 for a baseball game in the Cotton Bowl in 1950. By 1960 the Dallas Eagles (they had many names and owners) and archrival Fort Worth Cats, were combined into one team as the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, later called the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in a revived and short-lived Texas League.

When the American League Washington Senators moved into the ballpark in Arlington, Texas minor league baseball went on hard times. The Spurs are now basketballers in San Antonio and a bunch of rowdy Cowboys cornered the market in the metroplex. That’s the view from the bleachers this week.

(First appeared in the Brownwood Bulletin and San Angelo Standard-Times, July 9, 2010)