THE CASE OF GERRY DYCK
Gerald P Dyck was a missionary sent to Thailand by the United Presbyterian Church (USA) at the invitation of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) from 1967 to 1971. Gerry’s assignment was to assist in the Church Music Department of the Thailand Theological Seminary. It was the smallest department of the seminary, and one with the least opportunity to make an impact on the future of the Protestant enterprise in Thailand. In theory, the church music department was to train organists and choir directors for local churches. After a hundred years in Northern Thailand the mostly Presbyterian heritage churches had hardly any musicians who could play a piano and the best that could be said for choral music was that it was traditional hymns sung enthusiastically. Gerry’s job was to teach classes and give personal lessons. This had to be dispiriting with students of so little talent, but Gerry saw potential. It was the age of guitars. That was the future of church music, according to the Moderator of the CCT. Gerry saw a completely different possibility, indigenous music. The foundation for this was modest in the church. Missionaries in Lampang had developed a hand-full of hymns using Thai melodies which were the most popular hymns in the Thai Hymnal. But Thai instruments were not used to accompany the hymns. Gerry began with that. It was an incendiary move. Conservative backlash against using pagan music was instantaneous. A lesser person would have desisted and probably apologized. Gerry persisted, working with those who were not offended, finding local musicians here and there who agreed. The results, 50 years later, are that indigenous instruments providing music in church services of worship is no longer controversial. That is not to say that the church adopted Thai cultural forms, or that new hymns have been written with Thai melodies. They have not. On the other hand, the little Church Music Department became the basis for Payap University’s College of Music, one of the most successful departments in the university, and one that has vastly improved musical quality and appreciation nationally. This, ironically, has provided musicians for the church whereas recruiting them untrained and training them to be church musicians did not.
I take it from this, that one role an ex-pat missionary can have is experimenter. “Let’s just try it and see.” In this case the experiment ran against the grain of Christians seeking the maximum distance from local culture. The Christian sub-culture needs to be distinct. Gerry was constantly testing the water with new forms of music education based on Carl Orff and John Cage, while also writing cantatas not unlike ones by Bach and promoting annual performances of Messiah by Handel.
Meanwhile, Gerry used his abundant free time exploring ethnomusicology, a special field of cultural anthropology. This undertaking has been more fully described in another essay: www.kendobson.asia/blog/gerry-dyck. I would like to mention here, however, that Gerry had no mandate to do this work, which turned out to be his most enduring contribution. He was permitted to do this, and eventually given modest support to design a recording studio in the seminary building. But church officials ignored this massive work Gerry was doing almost on his own. To this day, in fact, the church has ignored what Thai cultural preservationists have called the greatest contribution any single individual has made to Northern Thai musical history. Gerry is called “the father-teacher” and borom-ajan (illustrious teacher) by Thai musicologists.
I submit that Gerry Dyck was a model for missionaries, but one not easy to follow. The contributions that many missionaries have brought have often, indeed have generally, been over and beyond the job they were sent here to Thailand to do. In Gerry’s case it was about investigation and preservation of a disappearing musical heritage. Previous missionaries contributed dictionaries, architectural and construction concepts, and cultural studies. Sometimes those were imagined as an evangelical entré, but, as with countless parish priests in England, the church-worker’s hobby sometimes was the more significant. The church and mission organizations often lose something extremely precious by imposing narrow borders on their work. The employee syndrome is less productive than it is assumed to be.
In Gerry’s case, 1970 was a tough year. The Presbyterian Church came to the end of its funds for sustained overseas work. A board representative came to Thailand with a hard choice for the CCT: cut 20% of the mission workforce, or 20% of the subsidies for other work. Gerry was not a favorite son and his work was not adding things of immediate value to church programs, so he and his family were cut along with several other missionaries. It took nearly 4 decades for his most important contribution to be recognized.
Gerry Dyck died Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at his home in Assonet, Massachusetts, USA. His daughter, Kirsten O’Dell, informed us of Gerry’s death with her and her sister Heidi and Gerry’s wife, Helga beside him as he passed away peacefully. He had been in Hospice care for a few days. A memorial service will be held in September.
Gerry will be remembered by those of us in Thailand for his two periods of missionary service here. From 1960 to 1963 he was sent by the Mennonite Central Committee to do “alternative service” (as a conscientious objector to military service) at the Sampantakit Farm, a rural development project of the Church of Christ in Thailand, north of Chiang Rai where he helped with the church and school and developed a deep interest in Northern Thai culture.
From 1967 to 1971 Gerry, by that time married to Edy with twins Ilse and Heidi (Kirsten was born here at McCormick Hospital), returned to Chiang Mai sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, to teach at the Thailand Theological Seminary in the Department of Church Music. During those 5 years Gerry became deeply involved in investigating all aspects of Northern Thai music. He produced hundreds of tape recordings of music played by all sorts of instruments along with photographic records of how the instruments were made. These were archived in Los Angeles and eventually digitized. This trove of information has been pivotal in the preservation of these aspects of Northern Thai culture. The pin pia was rescued from near extinction, for example. His work in the Church Music Department with that of his colleagues, especially Mrs. Carolyn Kingshill, formed the basis for what is now the College of Music of Payap University.
“Students denied right to dress according to gender identity; petition National Human Rights Commission” thundered a headline on an LGBT news website from the July 17, 2019 edition of Prachatai English. The article attracted the attention of all of us who are concerned about SOGI rights, but it grabbed me even more because the students are in the university where I have worked for decades.
In summary the article reported that the students from the Faculty of Pharmacy of Payap University have been helped by Sirisak Chaited a prominent LGBT activist (who graduated from Payap University) to appeal a decision by the deans of Payap which denied the petition of each of the students to wear clothing indicating a different sex from the one on their national identity cards and university documents. The reason given is that “presenting as transgender is not appropriate in their discipline.” The article then notes that previous cases like this have been brought to the National Human Rights Commission and resolved when NHRC representatives visited the universities. Sirisak, the article said, hopes for a similar outcome, namely a change in university policy. The news article then mentions that this sort of discrimination is widespread in faculties of education and health sciences.
I have background as an administrator of universities in Thailand, and I have sat in discussions about this very issue of uniforms. I would like to suggest that it is not entirely in the university’s hands. In fact, a large number of matters are no longer entirely up to academic instructors and university administrations.
Universities have to be concerned about what happens to graduates. If they are going to be hired to be nurses or teachers, lawyers or engineers, physicians or diplomats the first thing after graduation is that they have to pass professional examinations. Prior to that, professional associations certify the education they have received, including clinical practice and the like. For those associations, appearance and capability both count toward the sort of pride and professionalism the associations aspire to maintain. As stipulated by those associations, universities require a variety of uniforms for students in classrooms, in labs, as beginners on site for practice, and as advanced practitioners. Those costumes are gender-specific although that changes over time (both male and female surgical nurses now wear the same garb, for example). Uniforms presumably conform to professional standards. But gender only matters for certain categories of students. All music students would dress according to plan for a concert, but a trans student could decide between a tuxedo or a long black dress. A student nurse does not have that freedom. That’s where the Human Rights Commission comes in.
As commencement time approaches the issue comes up again. For students in all departments the commencement ceremony is a major event. Two factors impact whether trans students can wear clothing of their choice. If a member of the Thai Royal Family is presiding at the commencement the stakes are higher. When a member of royalty hands over the diploma as the student’s name is announced it implies a royal validation of the person and the person's achievement. Even when someone else is presenting the diplomas, the list of graduates for every academic degree is approved by the Office of the Higher Education Commission (OHEC) of the Ministry of Education, and the name on the diploma must be exactly the same as on the list approved. Those lists still say "Nai" "Nang" and "Nang Sao" (Mr., Mrs., and Miss). In fact, the name must be exactly the same on all documents, and must be the same as on the student’s National Identity Card.
I have attended commencements, however, where the title prefixes were dropped, and only the given name and surname were announced (e.g. the picture above). In those cases the students decided whether to wear skirts or trousers. Perhaps Payap will do that, too. Our percentage of transgender and ambiguous students is substantial.
What needs to happen is for OHEC to drop the use of gender indicators and just use personal names on their lists and diplomas. It would be made much easier, as Sirisak said, if the government were to make it clear that gender rights are extended to all citizens as government policy and national law. No university wants to have its graduates invalidated by some government agent because of a technicality. An official policy would clarify this and help everybody feel safer. It remains to be seen whether the newly formed Thai Parliament will address this issue.
It has before it the related issue of same-sex civil partnerships.
This is not all about letting students express themselves. The issue is about understanding that identifying one’s gender is a matter of discernment of what’s real and not merely a matter of choosing items of clothing. At root this is an issue of human rights and how Thailand will dare to be inclusive. External regulations, whether by institutions, associations, or political entities, are always matters of choice between letting individuals decide or deciding for them.
[Note regarding the picture above: Maa graduated from her university wearing female attire, as she had throughout her bachelor’s degree program. Through high school this had not been possible. She considers college as her transition into authenticity.]
ESSAY 2 ON SOCIAL ORDER
The “American Revolution” was fought over John Locke’s concept of the social contract that exists between the governor and the governed. Thomas Jefferson enunciated this most famously in the American Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Locke and then Rousseau argued that people assent to be governed, that is to relinquish a certain amount of freedom in order to secure particular benefits, among which is an orderly society in which people can achieve their aspiration to the best of their ability and circumstances. It is the right of people to choose their form of government, these Enlightenment-era philosophers argued. They opposed the current concept that “Kings rule by Divine Right.” That is, that kings are appointed to their role by God.
In non-European courts something akin to Divine Right was incorporated into the foundational concept. In Thailand, for example, there is a subtle but important lineage traced back through history to the mythic origins of the universe. The King is a minor divinity as of his coronation.
Locke and Jefferson argued that there is nothing divine or natural about one form of government over another, and they can be replaced by the will of the people. It was the will of the people of the thirteen British Colonies to replace monarchical government with that of a federation of democratic republics (although the extent of federation was yet another difficult matter to be ironed out).
His Majesty the King, Rama IX, reiterated (in one case specifically to educate his family) that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy in which the King is under the law along with everyone else. One of the less-prominently mentioned changes that have come following the ascendency of King Rama X is to revise the constitution and functions of the King to be unassailable, no longer theoretically reigning at the will of the people, but in response to the need for firm institutions.
One basic contentious issue is whether people can legitimately choose to have a totalitarian form of government wherein personal freedoms are largely eliminated. That is the extreme on the right, so to speak. Those who would argue that such a form cannot be legitimate contend that it is both illusory in its self-justification and inevitably catastrophic in its outcome. On the other hand, such a form arises when a sufficiently large percentage of a population encourages or at least allows it to happen. The need for this group to suppress opposition through intimidation and force is considered expedient by those who support the totalitarian regime, and is considered proof of the illegitimacy of the regime by those who oppose it. Opponents think they take the high ground by pointing out that when personal freedoms are eliminated, the right to express opinions and agitate for a new social contract are among the rights that are lost. That automatically cancels the social contract.
To be blunt, there is no contract when only one party is consulted. If a point comes where the voice of any party to the contract is silenced, the contract is null and void.
Many of us have noticed that we are still engaged in what Lincoln called a great civil war testing whether the USA or any nation can survive that was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. The form of battle has evolved from armed slaughter to civil protests and from issues of physical enslavement to matters of equal access to the benefits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But full achievement of lofty hopes is still beyond reach. In fact, we are still trying to establish how to carry on the battle. Are votes so totally manipulated as to be an impossible way for the people to reassert their voice? From time to time the results from elections and legislation are so frustrating that mass demonstrations are resorted to, and when those also fail armed violence is the next step.
The list of countries where these cycles of peace and violence are repeated includes almost every country in existence. The dynamic seems to be movement from decentralized social order into more rigid and centralized order, presumably in response to some threat. As central authority grows more powerful, balancing forces are weakened or delegitimized. Eventually “the people” decide to re-describe “who we are” and re-draw the political borders and how to defend them. All of this is assumed in the prevailing social contract.
An individual’s emotional preference does not essentially count, nor does one’s active protest dissolve the contract. But the collective will of the people to be governed counts for everything in a democracy (of whatever type), although not at all in an oligarchy (whether monarchical, militaristic, or economic). In Jefferson’s time in colonial America, at the time of the Thai Democracy Revolution against the monarchy in 1932, at the time of the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917, and throughout the Freedom Movement of India against Great Britain, to name but 4, the issue has always been the right of the people to re-describe themselves and to choose how to limit their absolute freedom in order to secure a necessary amount of order.
Blessed are you when your government is not too big and not too little, but just right.
[The first essay in this series was published on June 5 entitled “Social Bond”. The next essay in about a month will be on “Social Ethics” and how society uses moral order to control people.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.