Monday, October 27, 2014

Yu b'long Israel?

So now that I'm back at blogging, I thought I'd throw in a little reflection. Today in town I was asked if I was an Israelite or Jewish by two different strangers at different times. This is not the first time this has happened. I am currently sporting a beard, and for some reason many people have developed the idea that all Jewish men have big beards. Not too many white guys with big beards wander around Madang searching the corners of used clothes stores for books, so if you do see one, hey, maybe he's Jewish. I find several things about this experience fascinating.

When people ask this question, they are often excited. I once had a man literally sprint after me to ask me whether I was from Israel or not. The disappointment can sometimes be palpable when I admit I'm an American Christian. I'm not entirely sure why exactly the thought of meeting a Jewish person creates such excitement...but maybe I understand a little bit.

Is there an appeal to relating to the "God of the Old Testament"? I recently read some reflections from a German priest who had worked in the highlands of PNG during the 60's and 70's, back when most people in his area were not yet baptized (remember first contact with highlanders only began in the 1930's). He said that for his new Catholics their God was a "God of the Old Testament". Of course I feel uncomfortable whenever we speak this way. As many Church historians will point out to us, to speak of a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament as if there are two Gods and not one, leads us towards Marcionism. Marcion lived in the second century, and he really did believe that the "God of the Old Testament" was different and somehow evil.

This is distinct, though. While it may be a problem to speak of a different God in each Testament, we are not dealing with a rejection of the Old Testament. Antisemitism rooted in Christian symbols has been a real and common problem in our history. It is of course comforting to realize that this does not seem to be an issue here. Is it also a "problem" to have a sort of unbalanced Israelophilism? If it is unbalanced, could it more easily flip into antagonism?  Of course many Papua New Guineans may make no distinction between being Jewish, being "from Israel" and living a life like that described in the Bible. I would expect that many are not aware that the Temple has not actually been functioning for near 2,000 years. Here in PNG, some people who write letters to the newspaper are very excited about signing some sort of "covenant" that PNG could or has signed with the modern state of Israel.

Could this be seen as  a replacement for the covenant sealed in Christ's blood? As a Christian, the concern comes in if people are attracted to the idea of there being a chosen people who God gave laws to, but are only tangentially interested in Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel's hopes. Then something is being believed that is neither quite Christianity nor Judaism.

Another memory from several months ago came back to me today. Again I was in town and I saw a more advanced preaching operation set up in an open space. A microphone and loudspeaker were set up. The preacher had his obligatory black slacks, white shirt, and tie, together with Bible in hand. But behind him people had set up a large hand-painted poster of some sort that showed Levites with the Ark of the Covenant. It was the sort of illustration I associate with my experience of Sunday School as a first grader or so. The preacher was mainly talking about birds of paradise, though. He was speaking passionately, but his usage of Scripture was incredibly loose. He mentioned some "blue throne" in Scripture(I believe referring to a sapphire throne in Ezekiel 10), and then went on to talk about a blue bird of paradise, which somehow represented a specific region of Papua New Guinea. Specific characteristics of this bird correlated to God's plan for this particular region.

His message was receiving more applause than I had ever heard other street preachers receive. Why? At the time I remember thinking that perhaps there is a desire to be Jewish, because we all desperately want to have our own place mentioned in the Bible. How nice it would be to have the place names of our own villages and lakes mentioned in the inspired Scriptures? Americans are certainly guilty of this. Whether we think America is the light shining on the hill, the whore of Babylon, or the promised land many people are convinced that America must somehow have a clear place in the book.

I don't have a clear thesis for this post. Those are just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head today.

Monday, October 20, 2014

And There It Goes

So even though I already claimed that finally having regular internet access led to a paradoxical decrease in blogging, it is also true that having no to minimal internet access over the past few months had the same result. Some time in July our internet system installed at the school stopped working. We were eventually told that it was our job to extend our antenna tower by three meters so that it could work again. This has still not happened. But in mid August I went up to the highlands. When I returned, my laptop refused to start and it has persisted in that refusal. I am now borrowing a usb modem that is usable on a desktop in our office.

"Detoxing" from the internet has its advantages. I have found ways to check email and figure out travel plans...and have also inevitably realized how little "essential" business I actually need the internet for. 

And now I'm facing a home stretch. Three weeks to the end of the school year here. Four weeks until I leave PNG. I feel a bit more ready to go than I had expected to be. While in many ways I actually feel quite comfortable and at home here, it is also true that I feel ready to go "home" (which now appears to be a Hawaiian island that I've never really been to before). I have lived with the small strains of living cross-culturally here far more than I did in expat dominated Ukarumpa. I'm ready for some debriefing. More than that I'm ready to see family. And it wouldn't hurt to eat some Mexican food. 

For the next couple weeks, though, my life will be dominated by purple pieces of paper smeared with white. The paper is purple because a frugal rector of St Fidelis bought a massive container of assorted paper at a rock bottom price some time in the last millennium. We are still using this paper, but as you can imagine the thin, purple paper wasn't the first to get used. Our students are also enthusiastic about correction fluid. In typical PNG fashion, white out pens are passed, shared, and borrowed with incredible frequency. I've even given up trying to stop the practice during tests. The fact that the paper is not white doesn't seem to deter anyone. In short, I will be giving and grading tests and papers. Most of them will be purple with irregularly placed spots of white spread across them. I will try my best to revel in it and enjoy it. Who knows when I may have such an opportunity again!