Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

on missionaries for faiths not my own

Today the work flowed like wine and I stomped the grapes of righteousness where the raisins of wrath are stored. Tomorrow I must work again, but worthy work which interests pulls in my power, soaks me in adrenalin, and restores me in time for perhaps a Dover sole for dinner.

After three small rolls of sushi and one nice cup of miso soup, we went to half-priced books. I have been bookless far too long, although "bookless" as used in this sentence means "reading practical books rather than novels". A very kind woman from my office gave a fifty dollar gift card to the local half-priced books chain, and our local outlet in McKinney always has really cool stock.I got a huge assortment of books, and tonight began to tackle a history of hip hop culture and a discourse on seven great pop song-writing teams during the Goffin/King era.

I liked the people in the shelves at this particular bookstore, because they were so different from me. They were hip-looking late 20somethings exulting in the joys of being missionaries to foreign lands. Two men and two women spoke as if they had all discovered they each carried the secret decoder ring. They spoke with erudite wonder at the chance to spread the gospel to poor people unaware of their theology. They had anecdotes of the ignorance of the unsaved. They had stories of personal call more convincing than the telephone. I must admit that when one lives in the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, I always think that one can do a lot of good work of the "when I was imprisoned, you visited me" gospel kind here at home. I suppose I am jaundiced by memories of the fellow I knew a bit in college, and never heard from him again, until I got a letter from him a few years after college, asking me to help subsidize his missionary work in China.
He loved me so much that he gave me the chance to subsidize his goals. I will say, though, that he probably would have sent me a thank you note had I sent him a five dollar bill.

Given a surge of my customary mixed feelings about people who exult about their call to do something religious and exotic, I found myself reigning myself in, using a self-affirmation suggested by an on-line friend. I have to remember that one of my primary religious values--tolerance--requires me to accept harmless practices by those whose views differ from mine.

It's a curious puzzle, though, this matter of the "call". I once visited a fledgling church, of a theology uncongenial to my own but filled with people I liked well enough. The church was a just trying to fly out of its nest and grow. It could have used energetic young people to join it, take jobs in the real world. support it financially, and attend its services assiduously. Yet, instead, it seemed beset by students from the local conservative theological seminary, who fancied that the very best thing this small congregation could do was to reach into its rather modest pockets and give these students funds to
go convert Uzbeks.

I do not know any Uzbeks. It sounds like a very rich and intriguing culture from my reading. Yet I do have the strong feeling that few Uzbeks are seeking conversion from their well-established major world religion, which rarely generates many converts, for reasons both good and bad. On the other hand, the little chruch was withering on the vine, for want of support.

I suppose I feel that it's all a bit like the old song--if you can't be converting the Uzbeks you love, why not love the ones you're with? Yet one woman, an attractive degreed accountant, figured that those around her should give her fiscal support overseas so that she could smuggle in Bibles rather than she give fiscal suppport to those who needed it where she was placed.

Prophets are indeed without honor in their own country, but non-prophets frequently dishonor the country in which they live.

The little church is gone now. No doubt Uzbek missions are funded elsewhere. I will let stand what I type here, even as I note my own needlessly judgmental self-righteousness, about an issue which is not my concern in a church to which I don't belong and in whose tenets I disbelieve. I do value freedom of expression, and the right of these folks to share their ideas. I disdain countries which bar this kind of religious freedom, whether it is the restrictions on proselytizing in some parts of Asia or the restrictions on scientology in European countries.

Somedays, though, I remember the story of the good Samaritan, and think that he would have fed helped a lot of AIDs children in Africa in the time it took for more "holy" people to "save" a single Uzbek. Still, if I myself did more, and thought and grumbled less, perhaps the world would be a brighter place. Heaven save me from any call that makes me look down on others, including missionaries, and may life propel me to find ways to help more than ways to disdain.

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