18 October 2018

Good news or bad news, part two: Believe Me

 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images; source.  
"Believe me, folks, we're building the wall, believe me, believe me, we're building the wall."
"I love women. Believe me, I love women. I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me."
"I am the least, the least racist person that you've ever met, believe me."
"The world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out, okay? That's what I do. I fix things. We're going to straighten it out, believe me."
"So let me state this right up front: [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended -- like you've never seen before. Believe me."
Donald Trump's repetition of this phrase, "believe me," led historian John Fea to adopt it as the title of his recent book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. The puzzle that faced the self-identified evangelical author: why did so many white evangelical Americans believe Trump, to the point of voting for him as president? ... And all this in a field of candidates that had at least three other choices that adhered far more closely to the culture of politicized white evangelicalism -- Carson, Rubio, and Cruz.

Theoretically, evangelical faith rests on the proposition that the gospel of Jesus Christ is very literally good news. Its promises may not involve a change of political leadership, but they are concrete: healing, liberation, reconciliation and eternal fellowship with God. Of course, for "news" to be "good," there must be something "bad" in the prevailing context, and Jesus indeed arrived in a time and place of bad news: imperial occupation, marginalization of women and of all non-Romans, economic distress, capricious justice, not to individual cases of illness, conflict, and so on. Jesus and his rapidly-expanding community of disciples found room for everyone who received him. In succeeding generations, Christian reform movements (including Quakers) who sought to MCGA -- Make Christianity Great Again -- referred back to that founding generation chronicled in the biblical book of Acts.

The "Playbook of the Christian Right" as described and documented by John Fea is different. Its motivations are three factors that are arguably all non-biblical:
  • fear as an attention-getter and mobilizer
  • nostalgia as definition and reassurance for the chosen tribe
  • power as the best way to relieve fear and secure the tribe.
(These elaborations on the three factors are mine, but I believe they're faithful to Fea's analysis.)

Fea follows the thread of fear throughout white evangelical Christian history in the USA from the colonial era onward. Fear of the enslaved race, fear of the immigrant, of Rome, of the communist, the homosexual, all perform the necessary role of alarming the audience, of scaring the money and the votes out of that audience. As Fea shows, there's nothing new about this playbook.

Fear is a fraudulent motivator; it requires narrowing the audience's concern to itself, excluding anyone who can possibly be described in unsympathetic terms -- the indispensable THREAT. That narrowing function is enhanced by another historical con game -- nostalgia for a golden age when nobody messed with the USA and its middle-class paradise. Making America great again assumes that there was that earlier condition of American greatness that must be restored.

This assertion is at the center of Trump's emotional appeal; everything else is just details to be asserted or ignored almost according to whim -- the Wall, Dow Jones, tariffs, crime, Vladimir Putin, North Korea, and so on.
Nostalgia is ... a powerful political tool. A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America was great stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women. In the end, the practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it focuses entirely on our own experience of the past and not the experience of others.
This nostalgic con game is based at least in part on a mythology that John Fea has dealt with in his previous work: that the USA is a Christian nation whose downhill path coincides with Supreme Court decisions on separation of church and state, and on abortion. Fea examines one stream of this Christian nationalism: Baptist preacher and prime Trump fan Robert Jeffress and his "America is a Christian nation" sermon, and the role played by David Barton in supplying the talking points for Jeffress and other proponents of politicized nostalgia. The audience for this appeal ignores the structural sin that marginalized (arguably) the majority of people in structural sin and oppression, while guarding the privileges of those on top, during any "golden age" you might propose.

The Christian nationalist message also automatically excludes the millions whose lives were improved by other developments at the same time as the Supreme Court decisions -- notably those affected by the Civil Rights movement. It takes no account of the environmental movement, the increasing awareness of domestic violence, advances in police accountability, reductions in crime rates, and other positive trends.

According to the Christian Right's playbook, the solution to these dangers and the path to national restoration is having the right people in power. John Fea provides a fascinating gallery of Court Evangelicals who personify the overlap between Christian celebrityhood and membership in Donald Trump's circle of influence. He describes the three groups from whom those celebrities come: the Christian Right as we've come to know it over the years (Jerry Falwell, Jr., Richard Land, James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, for example); the "prosperity gospel" movement (Paula White, Mark Burns); and the Independent Network Charismatic community (Lance Wallnau, Cindy Jacobs).

What can a Christian historian offer us as we work out a vision of discipleship in the Trump era of slashing indifference to stewardship and social justice? With unsurprising cautions about the limitations of the past as a source of lessons for the future, Fea suggests the following themes:

Hope, not fear. Here Fea starts out with a quotation from Christopher Lasch:
Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.
For Fea, the Civil Rights movement is a signal demonstration of the power of hope among those who had every right to feel hopeless, who were operating from the margins, but who persisted. Hope is the element that keeps us engaged with the future.

Humility, not power. In part, this involves a practice of presence rather than domination, of community rather than individualism. Fea links this perspective with the Civil Rights movement's nonviolent orientation:
The civil rights movement never spoke the language of hate or resentment. In fact, its Christian leaders saw that all human beings were made in the image of God and sinners in need of God's redemptive love. Many in the movement practiced what theologial Reinhold Niebuhr described as "the spiritual discipline against resentment."
History, not nostalgia. Rather than inventing an ideal history to motivate a narrow audience, Fea asks us to look at actual history. Again, the Civil Rights movement provides a crucial example: those seeking justice had to look at the historical record with utter realism. However, embedded in that history and enshrined in its documentation were the ideals to which the civil rights leaders were demanding accountability. History records the undeniable aspirations and promises that we work to make real: we're all created equal, with certain inalienable rights; we're entitled to due process and to the equal protection of the law.

Fea's book is very helpful on diagnosis, but his prescriptions are general, modest, and few. It's up to us to use and expand the tools he provides. For example ...

For our conversations with other Christians, especially those who are captives of Christian nationalism, Fea provides a standing imperative: stick with truth. It's perfectly consistent with an ethical and loving approach to conflict to be persistently grounded in truth: the Gospel doesn't indulge in fear, it challenges fear. Nostalgic myths need to be countered with the actual record of history, good and bad. Those facts include the many ways power corrupts even the faithful.

For our own behavior in the intense conflict of these days, truth is also our only reliable guide. This may mean that we can't provide our secular allies with the kind of rhetorical overkill that "solidarity" seems to demand. As a brief case study, take this article by Jen Butler, "Is Democracy Done? The Road After Kavanaugh." I generally agree with both the direction and the urgency of Butler's call for a "loud, public, theological voice" to counter the anti-democratic forces she identifies. But this kind of rhetoric is not truthful:

... [C]onservatives who have been chomping at the bit to undermine minority rights and let corporate greed run amok. "Chomping at the bit" and "corporate greed run amok" is political trash-talking. Nobody wants anything to "run amok."

Today our elected leaders have made gods of greed. Every decision they are making benefits the top .1% of the wealthy rather than the majority. Every decision? Even the recent bipartisan agreement to aid opioid-addicted sufferers? It is possible to make a devastating analysis without resorting to exaggeration or attribution of motive.

Note that I don't criticize strong rhetoric as such. When Butler goes on to say,
Today, our elected leaders worship false gods to amass their personal and party power. They look the other way for their own political gain while our president praises tyrants, and white supremacists, locks children in cages, mocks sexual abuse survivors, and exploits his office to enrich his own family at great cost to global peace and security.
... I question "worship false gods" (maybe it would be better to say, "appear to worship false gods"), but everything else seems true. All I'm saying is, I resent it when politicians of all kinds attribute evil motives to their opponents rather than sticking to actual facts. When our faithfulness to truth weakens in favor of incendiary rhetoric, however decent our motives, we begin using the same playbook that got us into this mess in the first place.

Another contribution from John Fea: How the American Bible Society became evangelical. When I was at Friends United Meeting, I enjoyed participating in American Bible Society's meetings and their online programs. It had the most inclusive range of denominations and confessions of any ecumenical organization I knew. I saw it as an example of "functional ecumenism" (along with Christian Peacemaker Teams, World Peace Tax Fund, etc.) in favorable contrast to "conciliar ecumenism." I guess the litmus test mentality crept in here, too.

Related: Good news or bad news?
Hell, holiness, and Jerusalem.
Sowing in tears, part two: Red Hens, resistance, and love.

Mike Farley on God’s love for us, which, temporary and powerless as we are, somehow reaches us through this spiritual hyperlink that is the cross....

Jonathan Petersen interviews Bryan Loritts on white evangelicalism and racial bias.

Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta asks authorities to investigate threats against a reporter. (More of Novaya's reporters have been killed than reporters of any other single Russian media outlet.)

Navalny vs Zolotov? Probably not.

From Joan Baez to Taylor Swift: How musicians found a political voice.

Won't you hurry 'round the bend?

Indian Blue Live at the Dew Drop from Louisiana Northshore on Vimeo.

11 October 2018

Kobe: the quest continues

Staffers of Kitano district tourism office and Yuto Masumoto of Osaka University help me find my grandparents' home.
"We think that's where they lived, but it looks like that place is now a parking lot."
Continued from Stuttgart shorts; Slow boat to Japan; Deutsche Schule shorts.

A couple of months ago, when I found the notice in the U.S. soldiers' newspaper Stars and Stripes, offering the property of "P. Schmitz" for lease and giving its location, I thought I'd finally found a crucial clue to the location of my grandparents' home in Kobe, Japan. It made sense: I knew that my grandparents, Paul and Emma Schmitz, and my mother had been deported to Germany on an American ship in 1948; and my mother had always told me that their property was confiscated for American military use. The newspaper announcement appeared in May 1949. When we went off to Japan last month, I took the Stars and Stripes information with me, assuming it referred to their home.

Eight days ago, we went to Kobe to visit the current incarnation of my mother's school. Three days later -- last Saturday -- we went back to Kobe for most of the day, in search of my grandparents' home. With us we had a valuable co-researcher, Osaka University student Yuto Masumoto, who is studying Russian and who had offered to help us in our quest. Yuto was a godsend, helping us find the places and people we needed, and serving as an interpreter. In return, we gave him some Russian coaching and promised to stay in touch and send additional language resources. Our time with him was a great delight.

Many of the grander houses owned by Kobe's prominent foreign residents were in the Kitano district, so that district's tourist information office was our first stop. Two of the office's staff members took the Stars and Stripes information I brought and referenced it to their huge books of maps. Their conclusion: the address I gave them was a summer house up in the hills, not the family's city home. Did I have any other information that would help them find that city home?

Once again I leafed through the fresh information I had just received -- the stack of papers that Takayuki Yokota-Murakami's German-language colleague, Ayano Nakamura, had prepared for our visit. There was one sheet I'd been avoiding looking at too closely, simply because of its title, but it turned out to have the missing details:

A slice of the document I'd been avoiding.
There in the "last address recorded" column for party member # 3444593 was a street corner just ten minutes' walk away from where we were. "We think that's where they lived," the kind staffer told me, making a circle on the map, "but it looks like that place is now a parking lot."

That Nazi party list had other nuggets of information for me. At long last I had a birthplace and birthdate for my grandfather, which I hope will help me find out more about his life and his ancestors. But here's the item that really pulled me up short: if the records are accurate, he was a party member from the early years of the Hitler regime -- starting April 1, 1934. In my growing-up years I'd vaguely heard that he had joined the Nazi party, and also heard an explanation for his membership -- that it was obligatory for a member of the small business community among the Germans in Japan (and that my grandmother Emma refused to join). However, I'd never had such a direct confrontation with the cold facts of his Nazi membership.

Emma and Paul (and me) in Oslo.
My memories of Paul Schmitz are uniformly positive. Among other things, he is the one who gave me a copy of William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the first serious book I ever read about Hitler and the Second World War. Still, I now have a few questions I wish I'd known to ask.

I also wonder what the conversations were like between him and my father's parents. I know they met; I have a photo of my German grandparents at my Norwegian grandparents' home in Oslo. Did my father's father talk about his service in the Norwegian resistance army, reporting to London on the movements of German ships, and helping smuggle people across the Swedish border? There are just some gaps that documents by themselves won't fill in.

Those were a few of my thoughts as we walked to the parking lot indicated on our map. I stood among the expensive cars and thought to myself, "This might be the neighborhood where my mom grew up." None of the buildings in the neighborhood looked as if they'd been built before World War Two. After all, what that war didn't destroy could have been leveled by the 1995 earthquake. I was going to have to be satisfied with walking the narrow streets of my mother's childhood ... and I was.

There once was a home here ....
View from the parking lot.
Weathercock House guide showing us a chart of the old foreign residences. A prominent German businessman
and his family lived here; we felt sure that my grandparents would have been part of the social life in this house.
We say goodbye to Yuto Masumoto at Kobe's Sannomiya Station.

Choose your George Soros: is he a rich Jewish investor (choose a well-worn anti-semitic meme) or a favorite atheist straw man (insert favorite anti-Zionist meme)?

The ecumenical patriarch grants independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. RFE/RL's comparatively even-handed coverage; various Russian-language voices.

Oscar Romero is to be canonized this Sunday. Also: setting the record straight on how Oscar Romero's faith was transformed.

How the Goblin is redefining the solar system.

Frida Berrigan thinks about cheetahs, and the inheritance of children.

One of the commenters: "This is the most original rendition of The Sky Is Crying that I've ever heard." I agree.

04 October 2018

Deutsche Schule shorts

Not my mother's Kobe

Not my mother's Osaka

German school today
German school in my mother's time

First annual report with my
mother's name.

Student 21. Erika Schmitz.

This post is coming to you from the bullet train taking us from Osaka to Hiroshima, Japan. (See Slow boat to Japan for background.) Just a few words today about our trip two days ago to my mother's school in Kobe.

The school that my mother attended, the German School in Kobe, has changed a lot. Today's Deutsche Schule Kobe International has an English-language track as well as a German track, and pupils finish sixth grade with three languages -- Japanese, German, and English. In my mother's time, the school was located in the hills overlooking Kobe, and now it is on the Rokko island in a new eco-friendly building.

We met with the new principal, Frank Pitzner, who presented us with a book commemorating the school's first century (1909-2009). I've not had a chance to review it in detail, but I noticed that the book seems to deal with the Nazi period directly, rather than downplaying that aspect of its history as some other institutions (as Frank Pitzner observed) tend to do.

We talked about many other things, including the school's adoption of the International Baccalaureate program back in 2006. (I have memories of the same process at the Ramallah Friends Schools.) We enjoyed our brief tour of the facilities, and I especially enjoyed feeling the energy of the children streaming all around us on their way to after-school activities or to their waiting parents. We looked at some of the school's historical artifacts and photos.

None of that really equalled the simple experience of seeing my mother's name on the school rolls. It's among the very few actual points of data that I've ever seen about the German side of my family before 1948. Somehow her childhood -- her whole life before I came along, actually -- became a lot more real to me.

We had originally planned to visit Hiroshima before these days in Kobe and Osaka, but Typhoon Trami got in the way of our plans. Instead of heading for Hiroshima immediately after getting off the ship in Yokohama, we stayed in that port city for two days until the typhoon had passed and the trains had been able to return to normal service. Our own exposure to the typhoon was limited to about three hours of strong winds and lashing rains, which we observed from the windows of our ninth-floor hotel room. We were in no doubts about the solidity of our hotel, but it was interesting to feel it sway in the wind. Other parts of Japan were more severely affected, and three people lost their lives.

Everywhere we went in Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe, street crews were cleaning up downed trees and broken branches. However, unlike our experiences on the U.S. east coast, the typhoon roared through its land path quickly, with sunny skies the very next day.

I'll return with a more typical format next week. We're twenty minutes away from Hiroshima.

[Update: Another typhoon is heading to Japan and is expected to disrupt transport in and out of Hiroshima tomorrow. I'm adding this update on the train back to Osaka.]

Next chapter: Kobe -- the quest continues.

27 September 2018

Being perfect, part three

Red Brick Warehouses, Hakodate, Japan. (Slow boat to Japan.)
(Part one.)
(Part two.)

As we woke up this morning off the coast of Honshu, the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee hearing with Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanough was in full swing. I sampled the coverage (to the extent allowed by our slow Internet connection) but soon felt so repelled by the proceedings that I decided, for the sake of resisting despair if nothing else, to continue my meditations on being perfect.

Perfection and community.

Orthodox Church of the Resurrection,
In last week's post, both the Protestant and the Eastern Orthodox writers seemed to agree that ideal disciples are centered in God -- their acts (the Protestant emphasis) and their identity (the Orthodox emphasis) are completely God-oriented. How is this possible? In a demanding and competitive world, where our family's welfare may seem to depend on choosing the lesser of many evils, how can we afford mystical union with the Divine? How can every decision be an act of worship?

Alone, I will never be able to know perfectly whether my choices (for myself and in relation to others) are God-centered. I need a community with others who are struggling with the same questions, some of whom have more experience than I do,  and who make it safe to share successes, uncertainties, and failures.

Christian communities vary spectacularly on their commitment to honesty, peer equality, and safety in this task. Here's a positive example: My very first church, Ottawa Friends Meeting in Canadian Yearly Meeting, was not perfect, but I detected no authoritarianism. Those who had "weight" in the community seemed to my young and skeptical eyes (I grew up in an anti-religious family) to have earned their reputations through the community's cumulative observations rather than church politics. The appointment process for church offices seemed transparent. As a raw newcomer who became a member with what for Quakers passes for blinding speed (about eight months after my first visit), I was encouraged to go further in service to the meeting and in personal growth. And all this at a time when I was dealing with a string of personal and family crises.

Other relatives were, in those same years, involved in an authoritarian Christian cult whose leadership reserved the right to regulate members' lives and personal relationships, to the point of licensing or prohibiting romances. At one point, everyone's right to call themselves Christians was cancelled and each person had to "earn" the designation back again.

Three and a half centuries ago, when the Friends movement was still young, the established church's monopoly of power depended in part on the priestly function of forgiving sins and restoring sinners. Early Friends' defense of "perfection" as a real possibility for each believer was not necessarily a glib assertion that we're automatically perfect, or that it's a guaranteed outcome for some ideal path. It was, instead, a declaration that God's power, when yielded to, can deliver us from sin without the intervention of licensed church authorities. A trustworthy community helps us learn (together!) how to yield to God, rather than demanding that we yield to its own special appointees.

Perfection and submission.

Is there necessarily a contradiction between centering (or "losing") our identities in God, and cherishing the unique identities we actually have? -- our talents, gifts, memories, habits, blind spots, desires and dislikes, our overall sense of continuity? How do we both have and surrender our very selves?

In fact, how do we have the capacity to surrender ourselves if we don't even have a "self" to surrender? The Catholic church reminds those involved with formation in religious communities,
... that to give oneself in obedience, it is first necessary to be conscious of one's existence. Candidates need to leave the anonymity of the technical world, to know themselves as they are, and to be known as persons, to be esteemed and loved....
If I advise you to submit when you have already been robbed of your full selfhood, there is absolutely nothing godly about what I'm doing to you. So much religious literature seems to presume the freedom and privilege to explore self-surrender abstractly, without considering our individual starting points, traumas, addictions, and blind spots. That's why it's so important that we have a safe community of peers who are free to listen, receive and give confessions, and counsel each other based on honesty, not status.

In that trustworthy place, we might be able to begin confessing our joys and uncertainties about our own selves in all our variety. One example: as we grapple with what Jesus meant by his paradoxical invitation to "repent and believe the Good News," men and women may have different priorities in defining repentance. I am guessing that "repentance" for those accustomed to being in control doesn't look the same as "repentance" for those recovering from the social expectation that they must be passive or deferential. No formulaic or coercive demand to REPENT! can possibly honor the full Christian invitation.

Perfection and prayer.

My own halting progress toward cutting the power of sin is linked to my practice of prayer ... and languishes when I neglect that practice. With the caution that my practice might not suit even one other person on this planet, I tend to resort to these disciplines:
  • Short prayers. When confronted by temptation, for example, I tend to pray, "I want to dwell in You." When I'm angry with someone, I try praying for that person. (To be honest, with some public figures I pray for a happy and early retirement.)
  • Remembering to "regard" the world with the same quality of attention I regard Jesus. This isn't easy, especially in times of conflict. When I fail, I don't waste time in recriminations, but try to return to that perspective.
  • A related discipline: using my eyes as "blessing projectors." (This is an idea I got from the late Bill Vaswig, if I remember correctly.) I'm less likely to use my eyes for gratification or judgment if I'm praying blessings on the people I see.
One other thing: I have stopped being embarrassed about my own optimism and idealism -- that part of my self-understanding I'm really reluctant to surrender -- but instead I try to remain committed to hearing the testimony in other people's pessimism or cynicism.

I want to repeat something that I said in my "short prayers" post: When I write about prayer, I don't want you to be fooled. I'm absolutely no more pious or spiritually accomplished than anyone else you're likely to run into in the Christian life. I have my strong moments and my weak moments. I write not to show off but because I find it helpful to learn how others pray, and would like to return the favor. It would be wonderful to hear your reflections on being real while growing in our capacity to dwell in God.

Back to Washington, DC, for a moment. Is there any man in this room that wouldn't be subjected to such an allegation? How are we men coping with the implications of this question?

Donald Trump has declared himself against globalism. Larry Elliott considers whether Trump might have a valid point.

Jayson Casper considers the dilemmas of discerning when advocacy for persecuted Christians can do more harm than good.

With sad memories of Northwest Yearly Meeting, here are two articles on a major Mennonite denomination and its struggles over sexual identities: aligning along the sexuality axis; and GetReligion's subsequent commentary, attempting to find peace on LGBTQ issues.

20 September 2018

Being perfect, part two

Unimak Pass, yesterday morning. (Slow boat to Japan.)
(Part one.)
(Part three.)

Few themes of Quaker discipleship fascinate me as much as perfection. It's a theme I can never get my head around except in the context of a conversation. In part one, I imagined a conversation within the pages of the Bible, with contributions from Jesus and Paul. Today I'm looking at two recent blog posts.

Number one. In their article, "The Myth of Missionary Neutrality," Jeff Christopherson and Matt Rogers argue that many if not most Christians live in an illegitimate "neutral" zone between missionary heroism on the one hand, and opposition to God on the other. They challenge us with a big IF:
But if, as I’d submit, all of life is sacred and every activity, down to the most mundane, is done as an act of worship unto the Lord, then everything we do either propels God’s mission forward and fosters universal praise of his greatness or hinders the embodiment of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Number two. In his article, "The Meaning of the Cross," Nicholas Sooy argues that Christian nonviolence is rooted in self-negation. Citing Gerontissa Gavrielia, the Greek Orthodox nun, scientist, and nurse, he says,
Gavrielia comments that we completely identify with the Divine Other, and “with every other.” This means that we must also be absorbed in love for every fellow human. Before our neighbor we must also abandon ourselves so that we do not exist anymore. We must become nothing but love, having nothing of the self, but only love for the other.
These two articles seem to come from very different Christian cultures -- American evangelical Protestant (Christianity Today) and Eastern Orthodox. It is probably a bit glib to associate the verbs act and propel in the first article with the Protestant culture, and Sooy's recurring emphasis on relationships and being to Eastern Orthodoxy, but I'm doing it anyway. (Argue with me.) What's more interesting to me is these authors' essential agreement on what qualities characterize the life of a disciple ... and, by extension, when lived fully, constitute perfection.

What do I do with a vision of perfection that involves "everything we do" and requires "abandon[ing] ourselves so that we do not exist anymore"?

The first thing that hits me is the huge gap between this vision and my actual life.  Will these and other descriptions of ideal discipleship serve as causes of despair and disillusionment, or as magnets that attract me through the beautiful prospect of a closer relationship with Jesus and other disciples who wrestle with the same questions? I'm eager to explore this second, non-shaming way of dealing with the gap.

The second thing is the creative value of these different descriptions. I don't see the evangelical and the Eastern Orthodox descriptions (and those coming from other sources as well) as competing for some theological Pulitzer Prize. Instead I see them as making access to the community of learners wider, more available to diverse mentalities. So much of Protestant doctrine seems to me to be transactional, and so much Orthodox thinking seems to be mystical, but I'm convinced that these approaches need each other to avoid succumbing to their own internal versions of legalism and elitism. Today's post is a tiny experiment in promoting this exchange.

Related posts:

Thoughts on innocence.
Games, sports, comedies...

Maybe this article also contributes to a positive discussion of perfection -- it's an affectionate account of the relationship between the Vineyard movement and Quakers.

The Russian Supreme Court takes a step toward defending freedom of speech online.

Hal and Nancy Thomas float over the fields.

Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager ...

13 September 2018

Slow boat to Japan

The year 1905 was a fateful year for Japan, Russia, China, and Korea. In the swirl of mutual suspicions, imperial ambitions, and outright bloody combat -- with Great Britain, France, and Germany pressing their own interests on the geopolitical chessboard -- two young Germans decided to make Japan their new homeland.

Emma and Paul (and me) in Stuttgart
What drew Paul and Emma Schmitz, my mother's parents, to Japan? What vision of the future were they pursuing? I also have some very practical questions: Did they go to Japan as a couple, or did they meet there? Did they go to Japan directly from Germany? What were their ports of embarkation and arrival? Later, how did they earn a living? When they were deported to Germany in 1948 (by order of the American occupation forces), I imagine their departure was bittersweet, but in all my conversations with them in my childhood and teenage years, I never thought to ask about any of these questions.

My father's family tree in Norway is voluminously documented online, but I've searched in vain online for clues about my mother and her parents. With our retirement, we have at long last an opportunity to fill in some of the blanks. Judy and I decided to travel to Japan the same way my grandparents went there -- by sea.

Routine transoceanic transportation by ship was the norm in the years before airlines took over that task. It remained the norm for my parents in my own growing-up years: I immigrated to the USA on a ship, and and my next four transatlantic round trips were on ships as well. But now, to go by ship from North American to Japan usually requires the leisure and money to book a cabin on a freighter or a luxury Asian cruise. But, periodically, ships make the crossing simply to transfer from one seasonal market to another, and the cost can be surprisingly low. That's what our ship will be doing as it leaves Canada Place in Vancouver tomorrow and heads west ... ending its service on the Alaskan cruise market, and crossing the Pacific for two weeks to begin a season of Asian cruises.

We don't arrive at our destination -- Yokohama -- until September 30. The voyage includes eight uninterrupted days of ocean travel between Sitka and its first Japanese port, during which I hope to do a lot of background reading. One book I've loaded onto my tablet is Akira Kudo's Japanese-German Business Relations: Co-operation and Rivalry in the Interwar Period -- precisely the period I'm interested in with respect to my grandparents.

Thanks to Japanese Friend Takayuki Yokota-Murakami, with whom I served during my first term on Friends House Moscow's board, I have some clues that I never would have been able to find on my own. He and a colleague at Osaka University, Ayano Nakamura, have found out that Paul had a machine import firm based in Osaka. They also found a student record at Kobe's German school confirming that my mother was enrolled there. The school still exists ... and so I'm hoping to include that place among my visits. My Osaka University colleagues may even have found the location of my grandparents' home in Kobe.

With that information, I found one more intriguing little clue. I remember my mother telling me that the U.S. military deported them in order to confiscate their house. In an issue of the Pacific theater edition of Stars and Stripes, May 1949, in the "for lease" announcements section, there's a reference to a house labeled "P. Schmitz" with a Kobe location.

It's possible that I'll miss a deadline or two on this blog during these weeks. I'll check in when I can.

October 4:  Deutsche Schule shorts.

Conversation in a Vancouver souvenir shop:
Store clerk: "Where are you from?"

Johan: "Portland, Oregon."

Clerk: "Oh, you're Americans. Have you read the book yet?"

Johan: "What book? ... Oh, that one."

Clerk: "Read it. It's a gamechanger!"

A Russian-Japanese peace pact this year?

On the youngest Russian protesters: Tatyana Schukina is scared that children talk like that.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine has been filling an undisputed need for nearly 70 years. What would possess a U.S. administration to cut 100% of the USA's support? (OK, I really had hoped to have a post completely free of U.S. politics, but, given my own ties to the region, I couldn't pass this story by.)

Publication of Andrea Sears's missionary attrition study is in progress.

Brazilians grieve the loss of their National Museum ... and consider innovative ways of restoring its place in their lives.

Big Mama Thornton in Eugene, Oregon, 1971, filmed by the crew of television's Gunsmoke. (Full Gunsmoke Blues documentary film is here.)