WHO WILL LEAD TRUMP’S MOVEMENT NEXT?
It is an axiom that the inevitable problem for charismatic leadership is a crisis of succession. I suggest that Donald Trump became a charismatic leader of a movement of diverse parts which came to include the majority of the Republican Party.
It seems, in the immediate aftermath of his historic second impeachment, as support crumbles and he fumbles his way into political exile, that “the movement” is essentially leaderless. The GOP cannot pretend (and does not want to pretend) to be leading the white nationalist groups that Trump coalesced. The GOP itself will retreat a few steps and regroup under someone.
Meanwhile, in addition to a basic division between “right and left”, “red and blue”, “progressives and conservatives”, “the movement” is fragmenting. Evangelical Christians are pulling away from Trump, sensing they made a mistake, hard as that is to admit. Big businesses are lining up to disengage their “brands” from Trump’s. Republican Party leaders are just waiting for Inauguration Day to get over-with to move on. The Proud Boys aren’t going to be able to hail Trump anymore.
Great blocs of Trump loyalists back home are taking deep breaths and coming to terms with life without Trump. Oh, there are still a lot of supporters who hope for a miracle, something to save the movement and Trump himself. They refuse to admit the riot was an insurrection and that anyone in “the movement” had anything to do with it. Trump is taking that line. But their ranks are thinning as they get used to the new reality.
Even those who made it back home from the Capitol are mostly explaining how they saw nothing riotous, no breaking glass and murdering a policeman. Finding they need distance from all that is not the outcome from their trip to Washington they expected.
Continuing the campaign to Make America Great Again is going to be harder. It’s not going to be easy to repeat their “walk to the Capitol … and show strength.” The police are not going to be as cooperative as they have been. There are thousands of troops in battle readiness to oppose the plans for keeping the campaign alive by another march on Inauguration Day or even protests in “all 50 state capitals”.
The movement is leaderless. Not all movements brought to their peak by a charismatic leader recover from a crisis of succession.
[The picture of Trump leaving the White House on January 12 is from a “Breaking News” article by Joe Walsh in Forbes.]
Spiritual transformation is now an emerging necessity for those whose operative spirituality includes American Civil Religion. Events of the last few weeks and those still going on provide the conditions for transformation.
According to Kenneth I Pargament, spiritual transformation is “primarily … a fundamental change in the place of the sacred or the character of the sacred as an object of significance in life….” Spiritual transformation emerges from and responds to “internal or external trauma and transition.”
I expect no argument to the notion that this is a time in America of trauma and transition. But we need to consider what the “sacred” is in American Civil Religion.
In any discourse, the sacred is that which defines what is good and indispensable as well as that which empowers those essentials in human experience. The sacred is manifested in events. The sacred is symbolized in monumental structures so its ideals may be retained and renewed in celebrations. The sacred impels response. It inspires movement toward that which is good, i.e. that of the sacred which can be accomplished.
There are several levels of sacred things with a sacred unifier uppermost. They are, by definition, superior to mundane things such as politics, health, economics, and safety. Sacred things give those mundane things direction and clarity and maximize their potentiality.
Democracy is a strong candidate for being called American Civil Religion’s unifying sacred, its most sacred concept and ideal. Arguably, it is democracy that provides the necessary condition for politics, health, economics, and security to be optimized. Those mundane abstractions are fabricated as government operations, medical functions, banks and commerce, human development institutions, and safety-net programs. Those undertakings are at their best when they are developed with democracy as an organizing principle.
Over time, however, symbols emerge which stand for the sacred. Often these symbols expand to such an extent that the unifying sacred is unimaginable without them. The symbols then are sacred, too. Religion is about meaning. American Civil Religion functions to designate how America’s symbols are to be understood and venerated. American Civil Religion tells Americans what the American flag stands for; patriotic organizations are influential priests in this. American Civil Religion tells what civic monuments mean. It tells us what the Capitol means, which is more than offices and chambers inside an impressive building. American Civil Religion tells us what level of reverence should be paid to the Capitol and what actions desecrate it.
On January 6, when the mob invaded the US Capitol building they did more than break down doors and windows and loot offices; they desecrated the citadel and prime symbol of American Democracy. They did a number of things that contributed to the desecration, including interrupting a joint session of the US Congress, replacing US flags with Trump flags, erecting a scaffold with a noose to threaten the President Elect with death, as well as recitals (chants and gestures) that voiced opposition to the operation of democracy as it has been described in the US Constitution and procedures for more than two centuries.
This violent action, the well-laid plans that preceded it, the speeches that incited the riot, and the mayhem and bloodshed that resulted, have dismayed and shocked most Americans (and people around the world who respected the USA).
Americans have interpreted the events and assigned blame in contrasting ways. The desecration of the Capitol, combined with the actions of the President, has been described as insurrection. This description must be correct insofar as the attempt was to change the outcome of the election and the smooth transition of power. Even as the invasion of the building was going on blame was being shifted away from the pro-Trump patriots to Antifa (Anti-Fascist) conspirators posing as Trump supporters to slander peaceful protestors to the stolen election who love Trump and would never break the law.
Americans who have developed a high regard for American Civil Religion have been traumatized by this attack on the most important monument to its most sacred concept. The insurrection failed on January 6, but the attempt was an attack on democracy even though it is argued that democracy was already being undermined by all sorts of things; neo-liberalism and white supremacy are two that have been mentioned frequently. No matter whether one considers the actions of January 6 as a despicable insurrection or bold and desperate patriotic action that unfortunately failed, the event and the way it developed was traumatic.
Trauma is the result of an impact that threatens ones sustained physical or mental functioning. That is also true when the matter is in the religious domain. In that the trauma on January 6 was about an important symbol that was considered essential, adjustment one’s dedication and loyalty are going to be necessary. Many Americans were traumatized by what took place. This shook the confidence of some of those who placed trust in President Trump to stay in office and preserve America. It shook others to see how dysfunctional the government of the nation’s capital became when an insurrection occurred. It shook some to realize how deep and dangerous the divisions of opinion are about what makes America great and what the consequences of this division might be.
No matter if one is convinced that without Trump America will be destroyed for America is a way of life we won’t have without him, or if one is certain that America is as great as its protections for the most vulnerable and without social engineering America will be a failure, this election and transition have been traumatic. Trauma is one of the triggers for spiritual transformation.
It’s been less than a week since the attempted insurrection and there is a dark cloud looming over the inauguration of the next President and Vice President next week. Evidence about what happened on January 6 is being reported hour by hour. It’s too early to say how things will shift, but loyalties and devotions have been impacted. It’s been a transformational moment for American Civil Religion, the proprietor of America’s National Narrative.
[Previous blogs about American Civil Religion include: www.kendobson.asia/blog/american-civil-religion.
Reference: Pargament, Kenneth I. 2001. The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice. New York: The Guilford Press.]
BOOK REVIEW: FEET ON THE MOUNTAIN
Dick has provided a valuable resource for those who already are or will be interested in what happened between 1950 and 2000 to bring ethnic minority groups into full participation in Thailand’s national development and then citizenship. Feet on the Mountain is a memoir, not an autobiography or history, but it has elements of both of those. Dick tells what he became involved with, and in that way augments narrations from an eye-witness perspective about a number of controversial topics. They include Air America’s method of operation, how the King and Queen of Thailand went about their work, the success of the crop substitution program to replace opium production with other cash crops – especially coffee and fruit, the Thai “War on Drugs,” and the impact of modernization through road construction and Thai-ization through education. At the same time Dick preserves the names of key Karen pastors and village leaders who might not make it into other accounts.
In the process of writing missionary memoirs one tendency, which Dick certainly avoids, is to minimalize the role of non-Christian agents. Official government accounts also tend to downplay Christian contributions to national processes. Dick gives full credit to those with and for whom he worked. His main employer was the mission boards of the American Baptist Churches USA (aka “Northern Baptists”). Dick and Marlene were missionaries. Then for 20 years out of 55 in Thailand, Dick was seconded to the United Nations. This brought him into government, international, and Thai Royal circles in a unique way. I know of no other post-World War II missionary couple with such extensive royal connections.
For those of us concerned about historical data, Dick provides a trove of statistics and descriptions. He talks about the Center for the Uplift of Hill Tribes; Baw Gaow, Babaekee, Musakee, and Mae Sariang; agricultural mission work; and the troubled transition from isolation to inclusion for the people of the hill villages. His impelling description of the Thai Tribal Narcotics Detoxification and Rehabilitation Project (and the Center) is first-hand and important.
It is impressive how literal Dick’s “feet on the mountain” were. A substantial amount of his 450 pages is taken with descriptions of his many days-long hikes with Boy Scouts, with missionaries, with a prince, with Karen Christians, and one memorable time by himself (not counting the forest demon who tried to kill him).
Consequential to all these tales is the conclusion that missionaries will not be hiking through the mountains of North Thailand like that anymore because all those places are now accessible by roads. Dick’s generation of missionaries produced children who continue in service in Thailand. But this next generation’s stories might better be called “Wheels on the Mountains.”
[Richard S. Mann. Feet on the Mountain. Pittsburgh: Dorrance, 2020. Forward by Denis D Gray, former chief of bureau, Associated Press. 450 pages including pictures and charts. List price $30. Dorrance is a publishing service (formerly called a vanity press).]
Boy was I wrong!
A year ago (in my blog on January 3) I made predictions as follows:
1. I join Noam Chomsky in predicting that Donald Trump will win a second term as President of the United States.
2. In Thailand projects will multiply to normalize the reign of the new King.
3. The Church of Christ in Thailand will face humiliation and governmental scrutiny.
4. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive nationalism in India will either backfire as ethnic-religious minorities unite to oppose infringement of their civil rights and status, or international opposition will materialize as the specter of massive militant Hinduism again looms over South Asia.
The biggest mistake I made, along with almost every pundit on earth, was to ignore the year’s greatest disaster, the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember actually thinking I should include it, but my blog was getting long.
Obviously, the second big mistake was to give in to my fear that Trump would pull off a second term as Democrats sputter and splinter, as we usually do. It was Trump’s incompetent handling of the epidemic that did him in.
My other mistakes were more subtle.
In Thailand projects have multiplied to normalize the reign of the current King. He has moved back to the country, and a wide-ranging campaign to rally recognition of his standing is underway. What we missed came completely out of the blue when the young generation defied history and began demanding constitutional reforms that include new fair elections and royal submission to constitutional law. That protest movement was the Thai political story of the year.
As for the Church of Christ in Thailand, I was mostly wrong. Government scrutiny has continued, but it has not interrupted the functioning of the CCT. The officials continue to run things and to function.
In India neither of the things happened that I said would occur. Ethnic minorities did not rise up and international opposition to Modi’s aggressive nationalism came neither from international Islamic forces nor from China.
It could be that future historians will refer to 2020 as the year of a massive change in the way people do things, including the way they communicate and create communities. That would be a paradigm shift.
Anyway, I think I know what I was doing wrong with my predictions, and I have fixed it. I was using the wrong type of prognostication device. It is not swirling clouds inside a crystal orb I should have been looking for, but bright reflections with the truth spectrum neatly illuminated. I have an improved crystal ball. And it has told me all I need to know about 2021.
It has said, “Take it one day at a time.”
Sixty years ago, in the town of Arenzville, Illinois, off in the corner of Cass County, at 7:30 on Christmas Eve the bell was rung in the steeple of the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Sometime in the afternoon one of the men has stoked the fat furnace in the basement. The one-room church was warm. Amber light glowing on the snow from the windows invited the whole town to come, but there were only a few of us.
It was perhaps to be the last Christmas for the church on the corner of the public park in Arenzville. For years the Presbyterians had been struggling with diminished numbers and rising costs. Now they were facing the fact that either the building itself had to be rebuilt or the Presbyterian enterprise had to be abandoned. It was a tremendous struggle that had gone on all year. At a meeting of the congregation in November the hearts of the members were spilled out. Lydia came over from her house across the street where she had lived as a member of the church and town for eighty years. Standing up in the meeting she had declared, “If you close this church, I will come here and pray on the porch by myself.” But as we listened to the bell right there in the steeple at the back of the room and felt the floor shaking, we knew the end was inevitable. The tilting bell tower made the whole church look as if it were leaning over the street.
Yet, in the middle of our grim effort to have one last Christmas, three little girls and Joey, all starched and polished, materialized on the platform. As Rena Kruse banged out a rendition of “Away in a Manger” on the tinny upright piano they sang, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus, lay down His sweet head.”
I sat on the side of the podium, strangely detached and caught myself watching the four children in front of me, and I knew that it had happened again. The magical mystery of Christmas had transpired. The veils had parted for a moment as we sat there and watched four children remind us what Christmas was all about. For one moment, the children, the song about Jesus, the brass bell, the leaning church, the town, and the whole wonder of Christmas were an eternal unity, Christmas one more time.
[The picture accompanying this reminiscence is of the church bell, preserved by the village on the spot the church used to be.]
I signed onto Facebook more than a decade ago in order to keep in touch with relatives who live far away, on the other side of the world in our case. Up to that point I was happy enough with letter-writing but I was losing contact with the younger generation. They were not all spending time on Facebook, but some were. For several years Facebook improved our connectivity and seemed valuable as a means to remember important days, and to respond to unfolding events.
Over time, Facebook evolved. It became complicated. First came ads. Long before social media there was mass media. TV had been free to us because of program sponsorship. Radio had worked that way. The Lone Ranger came thanks to Cheerios. Kraft and Hallmark brought quality entertainment into our living rooms so we did not always have to get into the car and go anywhere. In some cases, the ads became the main attraction, as during the Super Bowl. Our generation tolerated ads.
After the ads multiplied on Facebook, sources became murky. We lost track of the origins or provenance of things showing up on our timelines. TV again inured us to blurred facts which had always been certain if they came with assurances by Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, or Huntley and Brinkley. Propaganda was clearly labeled. We had been lied to, but if that was exposed the liars were punished one way or another. We counted on a firm line between truth and fiction.
Then news became entertainment. Cable TV, as I remember it, brought increasing options for news addicts. To break the monotony of constant recycles of the same clips, but to keep the pretense that the programs were about current events, they interviewed involved people, and then they developed their own celebrity experts. Inevitably, the news and views channels slid into selected points of view. There were “Christian TV” programs which became full-time channels alongside sports, reality TV, and on-line auction channels. We got used to this the idea that “it’s their channel and they’ll say what they want to say.”
Then came Facebook. Facebook replaced Google-mail which had pretty well replaced airmail (beginning to be called snail-mail). After a few years something happened. Sometime between our initial signing onto Facebook and today, our contract changed. What we wanted was connection with people we know. Facebook expanded our list of contacts and our definition of “friends” as we found connections with people we used to know way back when. They are now people we no longer know and they have interests and opinions that generally surprise and sometimes shock us. They are into groups and are voicing opinions on our timelines that gets calculated by algorithms. So we are fed more of the same, whether it began with what we like or what somebody we hardly know likes.
Say we don’t like it. It, that stuff whatever it is, aggravates us. Our mood is altered and we grow impatient. So we might speak “frankly” and then discover a meme that’s even cleverer. It delivers a satisfying slap. We post it. We’re on a roll. We didn’t intend to be, and it’s not like us to be feeling angry toward people we hardly know and their friends we never knew and don’t even want to know. We aren’t as likeable as we want to be.
Social media turned each of us into our own editor and producer. Our audience was limited, to be sure. But we were in charge of our Internet domain. We could tell people what we would permit and compose whatever we wanted.
Now we’re at a new threshold. We still post what comes to mind, but our minds are being bent. We didn’t intend to be angry so much of the time, and it’s not like us to be feeling angry toward people we hardly know and their friends we never knew and don’t even want to know. We aren’t as likeable as we want to be. Our minds are being invaded. What we “know” is being manipulated.
The line between information and opinion has been destroyed.
Facebook has evolved from a social networking website into the world’s biggest information platform. Facebook and WeChat are now challenging Fox, CNN and Xinhua as the largest purveyors of information and with everybody at the controls there’s nobody in charge of quality or veracity. This gives advantage to those with motives and technical skill to bend our minds, and they are taking advantage of it.
If you doubt your mind is being targeted ask yourself, “Am I angry when I don’t want to be?” “Am I suspicious of people I don’t even know?” “Do I know that what I fervently believe is true?”
WHAT A HEADACHE HOLIDAY PLANNERS ARE HAVING
December 5 was Father’s Day in Thailand, established during the premiership of General Prem Tinsluanonda on the birthday of HM King Bhumibol who was being recognized as “Father of the Country”. The day was listed as Thailand’s national day on the United Nations calendar, and Thai embassies around the world were accustomed to have celebrations attended by the countries’ leaders.
December 5 is widely mentioned as Father’s Day, and a night-time celebration in Bangkok featured the late King. Because December 5 fell on Saturday, Monday was on all calendars as the “make-up” holiday with government offices closed, but after Covid-19 disrupted all the normal April and May holidays, the government announced that Thursday December 10 (Constitution Day) would be a full-fledged holiday, and Friday December 11 would be a holiday, as well, in place of the birthday commemoration on December 5. That would make December 10 to 13 a 4-day weekend and would encourage travel to aid the suffering tourism sector. But the King conducted traditional ceremonies and the government went ahead with a big ceremony, concert, and fireworks and drone display at Sanam Luang outside the Grand Palace on December 5. For the past couple of years attention has been shifting, at the instigation of the Palace and government, to memorialize HM King Bhumibol the Great on October 13, the date of his death, as is traditional, along with his Grandfather, HM King Chulalongkorn the Great on October 23.
Around here, after dark on the fifth, our nearest neighbor was the only one celebrating. He shot off 8 or 10 loud firecrackers terrifying our cats and arousing neighbors. I went to suggest he hold off, but he said it was a tradition he was upholding. I pointed out he was the only one doing so and he declared his veneration of the king who gave him a place to live. I think his conspicuous consumption of alcohol had a lot to do with his reasoning.
What I conclude, as an observer, is that the late King has 3 holidays this year. It is not yet time to pare-back public adulation. But this year I have not been able to find any mention of Thailand’s National Day on Thailand’s official websites. The government may have gone ahead with embassy events, pretending Thailand has a National Day although with the late-King gone the day is no longer as noteworthy as the day Great Britain troops the colors to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday in June (her real birthday anniversary is in April). Other nations have declared their independence days as their national days.
As for Constitution Day, coming on Thursday, December 10, we will wait and see what happens. Thailand has had 20 constitutions and charters since the revolution in 1932, and the current constitution is the subject of nationwide protests going on for nearly 6 months mostly by student groups. The protestors object to the way the constitution was imposed by a military dominated parliament, ratified by a contrived referendum, and then unilaterally amended by the King to his benefit. Those groups are very likely to try to make this year’s Constitution Day a matter of ridicule. (The idea that constitutional democracy still exists is what is being lampooned in the cartoon above of the Democracy Monument blasting off and going far, far away.) However, the government has been taking an increasingly ominous hard line against the protests and the days of big protests for constitutional change are being seriously challenged.
It’s been a difficult year to plan holidays. Still, I’m pretty sure Christmas will still be on December 25.
What do Donald Trump, King Rama X of Thailand, and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain appear to need? I would call it celebrity recognition. But the reasons they would try to defend that status are complicated.
First, consider what is involved in being a celebrity.
“Celebrity-ness” is measured by two factors: recognition and reputation. Being a celebrity is also defined by time and population.
RECOGNITION If a person is a celebrity these days, fame is the key factor. The measure of one’s celebrity status is from zero (no one knows who you are) to universal (almost everyone recognizes you). Even so, one’s celebrity status is contained within a given population and period of time. A future heir to the throne of Great Britain is automatically guaranteed of greater recognition than his distant cousin the heir to the throne of Luxembourg. The golf winner of the Master’s green jacket is going to be more famous than the winner of the trophy for a Dublin Snooker championship. Territory matters and so does the size of one’s fandom.
REPUTATION Sports and entertainment stars are celebrities who outshine others in the same fields. There are also celebrities in other fields including politics, military, religion, and (for lack of a better term) adventure. Examples: politics – Gandhi; military – Ike; religion – Mother Theresa of Calcutta; adventure – John Glenn, astronaut. We like our heroes to have accomplished great and noble things while overcoming formidable odds. Although we prefer “good” celebrities, reputation is measured on a scale between famous and infamous. Jesse James is about as famous as Mark Twain, but they tend to be on opposite ends of the reputation scale.
Celebrities stand on a slippery stage. How they get there in the first place probably has to do with talent, luck, support, or birthright. How they move from the shadows into the spotlight does, too. But fame is a fickle friend.
Recognition can rise and fall. Ozymandias was once (according to Shelley) the most famous, powerful, and feared man in the world but by 1818 all that was left was just a shattered statue sunk in the desert. Adolf Hitler remains the most reviled person in history, on most lists, although he too will disappear in time. His rise and fall along with the Third Reich he created is the most studied mystery of the last 200 years.
Loss of standing as a celebrity can be troublesome. It is pretty agonizing, one would imagine, going from adulation to denunciation. A celebrity can even lose a job that way, as Johnny Depp seems to have done. It is worse when the collapse is the loss of public respect as well as interruption of ability to perform, as happened to Tiger Wood (due to revelations about his personal life and physical conditions that prevented him for several years from being able to play golf well). Tiger has apparently recovered a measure of his prowess. Recovery for Oscar Wilde came too late to save his life, although he died with his talent undiminished. Van Gogh also died too young to know he was going to be acclaimed his century’s greatest artist. A great many painters are far more famous dead than they were alive. In fact, dying drives up the value of their work.
Recently I have been considering the esteem of several well-known persons, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth II, and the King of Thailand in particular. From news accounts, I have deduced that something is important to them in addition to their official status and duties.
As Donald Trump reluctantly relinquishes the office of President of the United States, analysts are scrambling to name the reason he is behaving in a way no previous president has done after losing an election. The media have noticed how HM QE II’s relationships with members of her family and her government have depended on some obscure factors. As HM Maha Vajiralongkorn has returned to apparently take up residence in Thailand, the palace has been aggressively renewing his public persona.
Let me suggest it is valuable (for various reasons) for these otherwise famous and powerful people to be celebrities as well. It is assaults on this aspect of their status that have impelled responses. Even when elections are not a factor, kings and queens last longer if their recognition and reputation remains stellar. Republican movements are only a generation away, perhaps less. But royalty are concerned for oncoming generations in their families as well. They are better off if their place in public esteem is high and positive. It may be difficult to get accurate information, but this need does explain quite a bit.
We decorate, but why?
Pramote is keen to decorate for Christmas. Every year we put some money and a lot of time into it. He was excited to get a box on Thanksgiving from daughter Julie in the USA that has some new decorations. We are the only household to decorate for Christmas in the six villages we have anything to do with. The easy answer as to why there is no other decoration going on around here is that Christmas is not a “thing” where we live.
There are other occasions for decoration here in Northern Thailand. Many houses are lighted and gateways festooned for Loy Kratong. Weddings call for flowers.
So, as we pull the sacks and boxes of Christmas decorations out of storage and get ready to see which still work without smoking, I wonder why it’s EXCITING, because that’s why Pramote is doing this.
Why do people decorate? Where does the “kick” come from? Here’s my initial list of reasons:
1. Decorations change conditions. They break the routine, add novelty, and alter the mood. The decorations kick us out of the mundane and into an environment that’s super. This has not been a good year for most of us. Marie said she put up her Christmas tree last week because she needed Christmas NOW. I see you nodding.
2. Decorations are reminders. The mall has a faux Christmas tree almost 3 stories tall. It must have thousands of lights – cost a mint. Why? Buy! It’s a commercial reminder of what this season is about according to the mall. But the reminders are not all about putting out money. Old ornaments remind us of Christmases past. Just going through the process of stringing up the decorations can do that, too. Sometimes decorating is about the heart-tug.
3. Decorations are declarations. Actually they are not mainly tribal, although they pretend to declare “we are part of this culture that has Christmas.” Even more, they declare individuality and independence. A Christmas display proclaims, “This is one acceptable thing I can do just because I want to do it.” Why else would some people go to such effort when so many of their tribe do not? These days almost everything ELSE we do that’s outside the box is socially unacceptable.
4. Decorations are attractive. People go to see decorations. The reason behind the reason people like us decorate is the satisfaction of drawing attention. It’s the reason writers write, young people Tik-Tok, needy politicians Twitter, and we count the number of “likes” we get on Facebook. Decorations attract attention that is gratifying. We need to be appreciated.
5. Decorations express value. These are tough times. Not everybody can show off with an ostentatious display of available funds. New Christmas decorations would be near the top of the list of things to scratch if need be. Not having decorations says something about our priorities and situation. So, sensitive people might cut back on decorations this year, even if they have the means. Community displays, on the other hand, might be worth the effort in order to signify, “We think you might enjoy some color and fantasy in times like this.”
Have I missed anything?
Nalong rose from the dead, they say. Everyone agrees he was certainly dead on November 2. He was not breathing and his heart stopped for a long time. The village ambulance would take too long so a neighbor drove him to the hospital where they failed to resuscitate him and sent him to the regional medical center while applying CPR.
Against all odds he recovered.
So, the family did the next thing to offset such an inauspicious event. They conducted a sub jata ceremony to counterbalance the effects that seem to have accumulated. Who knows what malign power tried to destroy Nalong’s life – or maybe did what it intended to do by nearly scaring him to death? Who knows what benign powers are available to reorient influences? People in our village are not especially fastidious about theology. A sub jata ceremony is one of a set of ceremonies that one does when pernicious strangeness has emerged. When in doubt call a chapter of priests to chant about the certainty that life is fraught and undependable but it is important to reassert stability, durability, and immutability.
All the elders in the village went. When people die around here it’s usually permanent.
Notes about the pictures:
1. Ken and Nalong – for the record.
2. Tying strings while sitting under a tripod loaded with traditional necessities for an abundant life is the heart of the ceremony. The tripod represents an axial tree where we reside between the elemental earth and the spiritual heaven. The benefits of the service are symbolically carried through the strings that attach the affected family to the Lord Buddha, and to the chapter of priests chanting. This transforms the circumstances by altering the powers involved.
3. An auspicious number of priests is an odd number, in this case five. I was assured that the stanzas chanted for 29 minutes are a standard set for this type of ceremony. The service started at 9.29 a.m. That could have been coincidental, but it was auspicious.
4. Mae Pawn, Narong’s wife, carried pots of silver and gold back into the heart of the house at the end of the service. The family’s economic prosperity was re-established.
I have posted essays about sub jata ceremonies associated with house blessings, life threatening circumstances, and birthdays. Here are links to these blogs: www.kendobson.asia/blog/subjata and www.kendobson.asia/blog/subjata-2018
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.