You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2005.

For those who may not be aware, our team publishes a weekly report called the Tabligbo Times.  You can read the latest edition of Times online by clicking here  , or you can subscribe to the HTML or plain text versions by going here.  You can unsubscribe at any time.  If you read the HTML or online versions, you’ll often see pictures.  Just to give you a taste, I’ll include our family’s entry for this week, but I invite you to read the whole newsletter, as each contributor always has a unique perspective to share.

We enjoyed hosting the team for a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday evening.  Living here in Togo, we are constantly reminded of how much we have to be thankful for.  The main entertainment at the party was watching a video of Murphy and Marty’s encounter with gorillas in Rwanda.

 

The other highlight of the week has been the annual Watchi women’s meeting.  Maureen spent Friday night in the village with the other women on the team.  On Saturday, they all participated in a skit.  The official count was 124 women and over 100 children who participated in the weekend.

 

Jeremy became the latest victim on the team to succumb to chicken pox, and he really got a good case of it.  He ran a high fever and had to miss three days of school.  We are thankful that he is feeling much better.  Both the boys are looking forward to sports camp next week.  We plan to head up to Kara on Monday for another Thanksgiving meal, and then three days of sports camp for the kids.

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Yesterday on NPR there was a presentation about the 15th 1st Annual Ig Nobel prizes.  These prizes are awarded for far-fetched yet genuine research projects and other “contributions” to human knowledge.  At the awards ceremony, the prizes are presented by genuine Nobel prize laureates.  These awards are reported at www.improbable.com . You can see a complete list of past winners by clicking here.  Here are some of my favorites.

From 2005
LITERATURE: The Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters — General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others — each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.

PEACE: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University, in the U.K., for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."   REFERENCE: "Orthopteran DCMD Neuron: A Reevaluation of Responses to Moving Objects.

ECONOMICS: Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.

CHEMISTRY: Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?  REFERENCE: "Will Humans Swim Faster or Slower in Syrup?" (The Answer May Astound You)

BIOLOGY: Australian researchers,  Benjamin Smith,  Craig Williams, Michael Tyler, Brian Williams, and  Yoji Hayasaka for painstakingly smelling and cataloging the peculiar odors produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed.
REFERENCE: "A Survey of Frog Odorous Secretions, Their Possible Functions and Phylogenetic Significance," and "Chemical and Olfactory Characterization of Odorous Compounds and Their Precursors in the Parotoid Gland Secretion of the Green Tree Frog, Litoria caerulea."

2004
MEDICINE:  Steven Stack of Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA and James Gundlach of Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA, for their published report "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide."  PUBLISHED IN: Social Forces, vol. 71, no. 1, September 1992, pp. 211-8.

BIOLOGY:  Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University [Canada], Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus [Denmark], and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden’s National Board of Fisheries, for showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting.  REFERENCE: "Sounds Produced by Herring (Clupea harengus) Bubble Release," and "Pacific and Atlantic Herring Produce Burst Pulse Sounds."

2002
INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH:  Karl Kruszelnicki of The University of Sydney, for performing a comprehensive survey of human belly button lint — who gets it, when, what color, and how much.

2001
ECONOMICS:  Joel Slemrod, of the University of Michigan Business School, and Wojciech Kopczuk, of University of British Columbia [and who has since moved to Columbia University], for their conclusion that people find a way to postpone their deaths if that that would qualify them for a lower rate on the inheritance tax. REFERENCE:"Dying to Save Taxes: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns on the Death Elasticity."

LITERATURE:  John Richards of Boston, England, founder of The Apostrophe Protection Society, for his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences between plural and possessive.

PUBLIC HEALTH:  Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India, for their probing medical discovery that nose picking is a common activity among adolescents. [REFERENCE: "A Preliminary Survey of Rhinotillexomania in an Adolescent Sample," Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, vol. 62, no. 6, June 2001, pp. 426-31.]

I could go on.  Apparently these awards have since 1991.  Who pays for this stuff?

I just had to post this photo, which just came to me courtesy of Judy Miller, who is wearing many hats serving with the Baptist mission in West Africa. The car is a rather typical inter-city taxi in Benin, though there’s not usually this much live cargo. In case you can’t tell, those are live chickens tied to the top and side of the car. A goat or two on the top would not be unusual.

We’re sitting here sweating on Thanksgiving, and the temperature will probably go up considerably when our team crowds into our living/dining room this afternoon for our team meal.  I’m listening to NPR on my satellite radio as they talk about the unusually important football games today between the Falcons and the Lions and between the Broncos and the Cowboys.  Maureen is busy in the kitchen getting things ready for the big meal.  Jeremy is working on his school work, having missed three days of school this week due to chicken pox.  This morning I got together with the guys on the team to catch everyone up on what was happening in Togo while Marty and Murphy were in Rwanda, and we had a good time of Thanksgiving prayer together.

When I stop and imagine being with family in America, surrounded by love and acceptance, with people with whom I have so much history—I long for that.  And yet, I’m in no way miserable here.  Somehow, after 12 ½ years in West Africa, it feels normal that it should be 88°F in the shade on Thanksgiving.  (Someone put a thermometer in the sun yesterday and it hit 120°.)  I am with family—a family I would have never had if I had not come to live in Africa.  The friends that I’ll be with this afternoon are among the best friends, and people, in the world.  I’m the richest man in my neighborhood—certainly materially, and probably in most other ways as well.  (OK—Kids are a treasure and I don’t have as many as my polygamist neighbor; but then, I wasn’t threatening my 2nd wife with a machete a couple of days ago, either.)    And since I have a day off, I’ve actually written two blogs in one day.

God is good, and I am thankful.

You have no doubt heard of the dangers of the “McDonald-ization” of the world—the seemingly ubiquitous presence of the fast-food restaurant that has become a symbol of American culture.  A book that I’m reading by Don Carson points out that some people who are concerned about this phenomenon fail to notice that, almost wherever you go in the developed world, there are not only McDonalds (and KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, etc.), but there are also Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants, Italian restaurants, French restaurants, German restaurants, Thai restaurants, etc.  No one seems to be overly concerned about threatened cultural imperialism from these countries.

As one who lives in a country with very little American influence, I’m probably not in the best position to comment on the seriousness of this threat.  I do know that people here must not feel too threatened, because at this time of the year there are lots of cybercafés inviting people to come in to apply for the annual American visa lottery, and there seems to be no shortage of applicants.  And in this country, even in this region of West Africa, where there is not a single McDonalds (or KFC or Pizza Hut…), and where even the efforts to imitate these come across as cheap imitations, there is no shortage of Chinese restaurants.  And they are not cheap knock-offs—they are really very good.

This morning I read an article from the English version of the Chinese People’s Daily which announced a new military cooperation between China and Togo.  Not only are there Chinese restaurants here, but there are Chinese supermarkets, a Chinese “dollar store,” and the traditional markets are crowded with Chinese goods.  There are over a billion Chinese and they need to find a market for their goods.  This announcement makes me wonder whether the agenda goes beyond economics.  Maybe America isn’t the only imperial threat.

I’ve decided to jump on the Narnia bandwagon and borrowed the series from some teammates (only one volume missing) and started reading it to my boys today.  Most of it goes past Jon, but Jeremy, who is home with chicken pox, had me keep reading just one more chapter until finally we made it through over ninety pages.  (He finished up the last few himself when a visitor showed up.)

I never heard of C.S. Lewis growing up, only being introduced to him in college.  I think it was in 1983 when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—all in one day, as I recall.  I’m sorry to say that I’ve never gone back to complete the series, so this is as new and as fun for me as it is for Jeremy.

I thought the following passage had something to say about current political debates.  It was the torture issue that first came to mind, although I’m sure there are many other areas of application as well—whether in politics, in the church, in business, or in the home.

            “The last great battle,” said the Queen, “raged for three days here in Charn itself.  For three days I looked down upon it from this very spot.  I did not use my power till the last of my soldiers had fallen, and the accursed woman, my sister, at the head of her rebels was halfway up those great stairs that lead up from the city to the terrace.  Then I waited till we were so close tht we could see one another’s faces.  She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, ‘Victory.’ ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘Victory, but not yours.’  Then I spoke the Deplorable Word.  A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun.”
            “But the people?” gasped Digory.
            “What people, boy?” asked the Queen.
            “All the ordinary people,” said Polly, “who’d never done you any harm.  And the women, and the children, and the animals.”
            “Don’t you understand?”  said the Queen (still speaking to Digory).  “I was the Queen.  They were all
my people.  What else were they there for but to do my will?”
            “It was rather hard luck on them, all the same,” said he.
            “I had forgotten that you are only a common boy.  How should you understand reasons of State?  You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I.  The weight of the world is on our shoulders.  We must be freed from all rules.  Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”

From The Magicians’s Nephew.  Vol. 1 in The Chronicles of Narnia

“I think they got full of themselves,” Auburn linebacker Travis Williams said. “They won some games this year by the skin of their teeth. We were watching it all year and we were like, ‘Man, these guys keep escaping.’ We really wanted them to be undefeated coming into this game so we could really make them look bad.”

I’m sure some Alabama fans/players have attitudes that are just as bad, but come on! I’m trying to teach my kids to be good losers and good winners.

Click on title above to read the whole, sad story.

(If you haven’t read it already, scroll down and read the previous post.  This one will make a lot more sense.  Maybe.)

Of course, I want my son Jonathan to learn to read and write—and not just his name.  I want him to be able to read great works of literature and to be able to record his own thoughts in writing.  Part of what I want him to become is a literate person, because I believe that is what is best for him.  If he can still only write the first three letters of his name when he is eight years old, I’ll be worried.  Getting it right is important, but it comes in stages.

And what if he doesn’t learn to read and write?  What if he never gets it completely right?  Will he cease to be my son?  Will I cease to accept him?  Certainly not.  Getting things right and his relationship with me—they are both important, but they are separate issues, unless he stubbornly refuses to listen to me as his teacher.

To loosely quote my former theology professor, C. Leonard Allen — “Remember, guys.  (It was an all-male class.)  We’re not saved by theology.  Not even by good theology.”

That is not to say that theology—good theology—is unimportant.  But it is to say that I’m saved by the blood of Jesus, not by theological prowess, and certainly not by having all the right answers.  Just as there are many blessings that Jonathan will never experience or even understand if he remains illiterate, there are many spiritual blessings that I miss out on if I remain theologically or biblically ignorant. 

Christians who do not learn to think biblically are limited in their ability to bear a credible witness for Jesus, especially in a questioning world.  By “thinking biblically” I don’t just mean knowing the details, but having an integrated understanding of Scripture and, especially, the God who reveals himself through the story.  I mean thinking about what the will of God, which has been revealed in history, is for this day in which new, as well as old, questions are being asked.  No one who thinks biblically, however, always gets it right.  Scholars are constantly critiquing one another, and rightfully so.  It’s the dialogue that advances the pursuit of truth.  How much more should we slower thinkers be free to reflect, to share, to dialogue,  without fear of failing to get it right every time?

Maybe what’s most important is that the dialogue take on a vertical, as well as horizontal dimension—that truth be pursued prayerfully, as well as intellectually, trusting the Spirit to guide the intellect.  Maybe getting it right—really right—can only happen when I’m in close relationship with my Father,  sharing with Him as I learn, and always eager for Him to teach me more.

(It is somewhat ironic that I posted this once, deleted it, edited it, and posted it again.  I really want to get it right!)

My wife has been trying to teach our four year old son Jonathan to write his name. To make the task a little less intimidating, she has started with just the first three letters, Jon, since that’s what we often call him.

Today as I was working in the office, Jonathan came in to proudly show me that he had written his name, JON. “Look dad,” he called, rather pleased with himself. Then he read what he had written – “Jon” (pointing to the ‘J’) – “Na” (pointing to the ‘O’) – “Than” (pointing to the ‘N’).

I was, of course, very pleased with his efforts and congratulated him on doing such a good job.

I wonder how often I have been, and still am, just like that—thinking that I’ve got it all figured out, that I’ve got it right, when really I need to go back and learn the ABCs. And I think of how often my heavenly Father is infinitely merciful and patient with me, and even proud of me, because I’m his son and because being right isn’t always the most important thing, but my relationship with Him is.

It’s been a few days since I blogged and I don’t have anything big to share, but a number of smaller items have come to mind.

Last weekend our family drove over for a night at a beach hotel in Benin  (Our weekend includes Monday, the official missionary’s day off.)  We met Christine Crowson and her boys and the Vaughn family, who are missionaries to the Aja people in Benin.  The occasion was Tori Vaughn’s seventh birthday.  Being the Texans that they are, the Vaughns chose a Western theme, which was a lot of fun for all the kids.  The sun was blazing hot at the beach; almost too hot for me.  The pool did feel nice—that stretch of coastline isn’t safe for swimming in the ocean.  I’ve posted a few photos below, but you can see lots more of the Vaughns’ photos on Randy’s blog.

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As Promised

I finally finished that study on Acts that I mentioned a few posts ago. It’s called “The Three ‘Pentecosts’ and the Missionary Momentum of the Church in Acts.”   If anyone cares to look at the full twenty-three and a half page outline, it’s available as a PDF file (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is probably already on your computer) by clicking here.  You can then save a copy from your browser.

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Ministry from Mitford

I may as well go ahead and admit that, although I’m a guy, I read and enjoy the Mitford series by Jan Karon.  (I wouldn’t know that it’s not supposed to be a guy thing if some of my guy friends hadn’t laughed when they found out that I read the books.)  One of our teammates (a female, of course) recently lent us last year’s release, Shepherds Abiding, which I just finished.  I find the simple stories refreshing and at the same time revealing of the common human emotions that bind us.  In this book, one character waits anxiously to hear whether or not she is going to be able to buy the bookstore where she has been working.  The day that I read this part, I too was feeling a lot of anxiety.  In the book, the character recalls Father Tim’s words – “Don’t worry about anything, Hope, Father Tim had said, but in everything, by prayer, supplication, with thanksgiving … ‘… make your requests known to God,” she recited aloud, going quickly down the stairs, “and the peace that passes all understanding will fill your heart and mind through Christ Jesus” (p. 110).  A new thought?  No, but one that spoke to me deeply at the time.

My appreciation of the country humor betrays my Alabama roots.  I particularly enjoyed this exchange, which takes place in the local diner as Christmas approaches:

“Did I hear you’re givin’ your boy a rototiller?” Bob Hartley asked his boothmate.
”That’s right”
”He’s forty-two an’ working a steady job.  Why can’t he buy ‘is own rototiller?
”We like to be nice to Harry; he’ll choose our nursin’ home.”

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What Are the Questions?

I’ve seen that lots of my fellow bloggers link to Wade Hodge’s site, so I wander over occasionally and have a look.  I was intrigued by a series that he posted back in April of this year on “An Emerging Church of Christ,” which drew lots of response.  (The link is listed under his “Favorite Posts.”)  One of the most thought-provoking comments was signed by Scott Lybrand where he challenges us to make sure that we are offering answers to the questions people are asking.  You may or may not agree with Scott’s answers, but we have to face his questions.  He writes:

Part of my problem with this whole discussion is what I should do with a church that is still worried about instrumental/noninstrumental when I am worried about some of the following:
What do I say to my gay friends when they ask if they will be welcome at my church? I say they should be welcomed, my church does not.
What do I say to my female friends (both in church and out) when they ask why Churches of Christ continue to push women to the margins? When they ask why they cannot be ministers, though they are talented? Teachers, though they have incredible minds?
What do I say to my friends of color when they walk in the door and see a lily-white congregation?
What do I say to the poor and homeless when my congregation writes an enormous check each month to pay the mortgage?
What do I say to friends who are concerned about the environment when they see a church parking lot full of shiny new SUVs?

What are the questions that you hear people asking in American culture today?  I’m not looking for the answers—just the questions.