Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Mission Fest 2013--what is the mission?

Truth be told, I couldn't get through The Poisonwood Bible. I know to some, that admission its own kind of sacrilege, but the portrait of that madman missionary and woebegone family just struck me as playing to the most misshapen stereotypes of evangelical missionaries one can imagine. I'm too much a traditionalist, too much a conservative to believe that some a war-dinged monomaniac named Nathan Price would actually drag his family into another world, an African world, against their wills only to satisfy his mad pursuit of religious meaning and minister, insanely, to the heathens.  I wouldn't buy it. Do such people exist? I'm sure they do. But I don't care to glory in their insane excesses.

I owe Barbara Kingsolver another read, I'm sure, and I have no idea what eventually happens in that famous novel of hers, but I pushed three-quarters of the way through and just quit, exhausted from simply rolling my eyes, the same way (but for different reasons) my wife and I got tired of Tony Soprano after a half-dozen seasons. Enough.

As this blog will admit, I loved--absolutely loved--The Good Earth, the Pearl S. Buck classic which doesn't feature missionary work, but was written by a missionary's daughter who almost single-handedly led to a split in the Presbyterian church for her work as a novelist, for stories like The Good Earth.

And I loved--absolutely loved--Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, despite the fact that white missionaries seem to destroy a functioning culture in Africa with their God-talk and cultural chauvinism.  It's the kind of book that, once read, simply won't depart your worldview.

I loved--absolutely loved--Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light, a marvelous novel about missionaries who are anything but the caricature James Michener carved into the American psyche with his block-buster Hawaii. City of Tranquil Light a beautiful book about beautiful people, something few of us care to read, I guess.

I've read three novels by a missionary named Casey Kuipers and even read them several times (Deep Snow, Chant of the Night, and Roaring Waters).  They're not great literature, but I loved them because they reveal a man who came to understand that a missionary had to be a servant, that a teacher had to be a student of the kids he served, that an white guy had to change, had to learn about silence and reverence from the Native people he himself had come to bring to glory.  I've read those novels more than once because I'd like to try to understand what made Kuipers, born and reared right down the road, become the man, the servant, he came to be.

I've read memoirs by early 19th century missionaries to the Dakota in Minnesota--John Williamson, Stephen R. Riggs, and Bishop Henry Whipple--in an effort to understand what pushed them into mission work and what they thought about the horrors that surrounded what became known as the 1862 Dakota War, the opening round of the Great Sioux Wars. Each played a central role.

Protestant mission for the last two centuries is itself a great story, so telling about faith and the way we believers play it out, a story that features the agony and ecstasy of what we continually redefine as ministry.

An old Zuni missionary, a woman came to love the people she served, told me that her first years as a teacher in the Zuni school made her deeply disallusioned because once upon a time she had fully expected that all she'd have to do is say the word Jesus, and the heathens around us would drop to their knees.

They didn't.

The mandate is obvious:  "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel."

But how? 

There's the rub.

And that question underlines the presentations and the discussions at tomorrow's Mission Fest 2013, Orange City, Iowa, Unity Christian High, a celebration of 125 years of CRC missions and an exploration of where we might go and how we might do what we've tried so hard to do just down the road.  

It begins at 9, ends at 3. We think the day will both educate and inspire.


Anonymous said...

In a church I used to go to. We had the same sign above the sanctuary doors as we left the services each Sunday.

Dutchoven said...

JCS, will you be publishing/or making available your presentation regarding Casey Kuipers that is part of the 125 Mission Fest celebrations this year? I've noticed you have given this presentation a couple of times already, but for those of us that are not close proximity to the events your work regarding Kuipers life & transformation is intriguing.

J. C. Schaap said...

Dutchoven, Yes, I hope. I haven't written a thing, only presented the info; but I do plan to do some kind of major essay and publish it, if someone will have it. Thanks for asking. jcs

Anonymous said...

"I'm too much a traditionalist, too much a conservative"

JCS, you may be a traditionalist, but a conservative you are not!

JoMae said...

I regularly read you posts and am struck by how they resonate with my experience as a born and bred CRC woman who started life in a Sioux Center parsonage 75 years ago. In many ways I've left, but physically am still in the denomination. Those roots are so deep! And your writing reminds me of that. I know I'm not alone in appreciating how your voice gives expression to the thoughts of so many.

I had a similar reaction to the Poisonwood Bible. I thought some of the scenes were exaggerated or impossible feats of nature and the ineptness of a missionary so lacking respect for and out of tune with the culture he entered was an extremely harsh and offensive caricature. Today, reminded of the attitudes of our own early missions and schools for Native American Indians, I'm not so sure!

At the time I first read PB I was in a community writing group where others were praising it. Wondering what I was missing, I kept my opinions to myself and went to Amazon to read some reviews. What especially intrigued me were those written by people who had lived in Africa and described similar experiences to those I had discounted. Reading these comments made me realize that Kingsolver does careful research and had not just made all this stuff up out of thin air.

So I reread it and this time grew to admire the writing and love the novel. That was several years ago when it first came out. Then, a few weeks back it was offered on kindle for $2.99 so I added it to my collection with plans to read it once again. Reminded by your comments, I'll soon get to it! Who knows what my reaction will be this time.

Thanks for your work,
JoMae Spoelhof

Anonymous said...

I'm too much a traditionalist" ...

I would be concerned if I identified myself as a traditionalist...

Christ was criticized heavily by the Pharisees for not "keeping the tradition of the elders". I do not think he viewed himself as a traditionalist!

Anonymous said...

Re the 4th comment above:
Though I've never met Mr. Schaap, from his writings on this blog I would say he may be quite liberal politically speaking, but is theologically conservative, which is what matters most.
And may I add, I've really enjoyed these last posts on Mission Fest-2013. It got me thinking...

Rietje Kim said...

You could try The Bean Trees for another Kingsolver; I liked that one.

Anonymous said...

Oxymoron: A "liberal politically speaking" and a "theological conservative".


Anonymous said...

Oxymoron: A "liberal politically speaking" and a "theological conservative".