On the run-up to 2022 (or 2565 as it’s more commonly called here) there is an almost painful longing for things to RETURN TO NORMAL. That view of the year to come is an illusion.
Things are never going to be what they were. There is no going back.
The troubles that inspire our longing are, in fact, both instruments and impediments to inevitable change in the way things are done, in the circumstances that now pertain, and in the tools and skills we will be needing.
This pandemic is the latest health crisis to sweep the world. New ones will come. Each one taught valuable coping and survival lessons as they rose and diminished. We can now see no end to the Corona Virus, COVID-19. But going on will mean doing things differently from now on. We will not be going back to social gatherings in the same way we used to take for granted. School will not be taught in the same way. Religious services are going to have to be done differently. We now are beginning to realize that nothing commercial, academic, religious or political can be entirely done at a distance, using technology; but from now on nothing will be done fully without it, not even religious services. But I expect religions to be among the most reluctant to face reality.
That is the short of it. Our own generation of young people is going to innovate.
As for the longer range, my predictions are of two types, dire and hopeful. I stand by my predictions, even though I am unlikely to be around to be accountable for the outcomes.
1. The South China Sea is the most likely flash-point for an outbreak of World War III.
2. The world’s sixth extinction event has now passed the point where it could be reversed.
3. Artificial intelligence will develop a capacity for innovation and independence.
1. World religions will play a key role in the recovery from the collapse of post-modernism.
2. Authoritarian nationalism inevitably develops the causes of its own demise.
3. Interplanetary colonization will be impractical although outposts may be set up as tenuously as they were in Antarctica in the 20th century.
Finally, the main lesson I learned from the year 2021 now happily ending, is that we cannot avoid danger but there are vaccines for some of them. Blessings, friends and fellow travelers as we hasten into hope lest we lapse into despair.
For Mona the mad rush up to Christmas had been a living hell. Nothing she had planned had come out right. Not the trip back home for Thanksgiving, nor the early shopping for gifts for her sister’s twins. The water heater had to be replaced, and that took the whole Christmas Club savings account, as well as a big chunk of her bonus pay check. Plus, the economy had kept people out of the store in droves. But the worst was that every organization under the sun was having a party, and she had to go to them all or suffer the consequences which were too horrible to contemplate.
So when Mona managed to sink into a pew at the Christmas Eve service it was not the big early service she had wanted to attend with all the choirs and candles. She hadn’t been able to get finished with things until almost ten, so she struggled in to the midnight service. And, for that service, she was early. She had read the paper wrong and got to the church a half hour before anyone else.
The room was silent except for a little traffic noise and the sound of the December wind. The lights were dim. Only the light on the cross and a great lighted Christmas star drew her attention. For long minutes Mona absorbed the silence and the lights shining in the darkness. Bit by bit Mona softened from the inside out. She really needed to hear God say something comforting, but instead she saw light from a cross and a star shining in the darkness. When she took the light into her heart it was what she needed.
HOW I DO CHRISTMAS AS THE ONLY CHRISTIAN AROUND HERE
First, the setting: Pramote and I live in Ban Den village about an hour from the center of Chiang Mai. Ban Den is a community of about 500 people of whom 499 are Buddhist including Pramote. There are no Christians in Pramote’s family either. We are active in village life.
How we do Christmas is never the same twice.
We decorate. Our collection of Christmas lights, trees, and articles has grown. Our house is viewed by all who pass. After 15 years our pretty decorations are expected. Pramote loves doing this in time for his birthday on December 12. The lights stay up until New Year’s Day. This is a “gift” of lights and color for our neighbors and relatives.
Children are special. Christmas is on Saturday this year, so we will have all the village children stop by for hot dogs and ice cream. Last year we passed out bags of goodies to children on their way to school. A few years ago we conducted an annual Christmas Party for the children in our village school – but the school closed.
Party time. Two years ago we had a day-long open house with noodles and treats for children at noon, lunch for 20 priests and novices, and then a buffet supper for friends, relatives, and neighbors. Before supper we had an informal Christmas worship service for those interested. I dressed up as a type of Father Christmas (see the picture attached to this account). This year, due to COVID, we are having four smaller affairs, two on Pramote’s birthday, and two on Christmas Day.
How I do Christmas has varied from year to year. On Christmas morning Pramote and I look forward to opening a box from daughter Julie now living with her family back in the USA; we do this in view of each other via the Internet. As for the village, somehow we do something nice for all the children around here, we have a party for all the family members who can come, and we let the village know it’s Christmas. Christmas has gained attention over the years. It’s easier than it used to be to say “It’s Christmas” and have people smile. When you’re the only Christian for miles around it’s best not to become attached to one way of celebrating.
THOUGHTS ON THAILAND’S NATIONAL DAY AND FATHER’S DAY
December 5 is both the Thai National Day as well as Father’s Day. These designations were made by the Thai government during the time Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda was prime minister. December 5 is the birthday anniversary of HM King Bumiphol, Rama IX. It is customary in Thailand to celebrate the birthdays of reigning monarchs, but Prem wanted to honor the King as “Father of the Nation” on his birthday, and HM Queen Sirikit as “Mother of the Nation” on her birthday, August 12. So, even after the coronation of King Rama X, December 5 stays on the calendar as Father’s Day, and on the UN Calendar as the Thai National Day (noticed mainly in Thai embassies abroad).
Two kings of the present Chakri dynasty in Thailand have been awarded the title Maha Raj during their lifetimes, HM King Chulalongkorn, the Great and HM King Bumiphol, the Great. As it happens, both died in the month of October and both are commemorated on those dates which are national holidays, October 23 and October 13, respectively.
They have much in common, which (I believe) is why they are venerated more “greatly” than other monarchs in modern Thai history.
1. They preserved the nation from threats. King Chulalongkorn maneuvered skillfully to prevent the Thai heartland from being colonized by either the British or the French. King Bumiphol is given credit for coalescing ethnic groups and convincing communist insurgents to become fully integrated with the rest of the country.
2. They developed affinity with people throughout the land by visiting, listening, and responding to concerns and needs for development. This is not the modus operandi for most kings here or elsewhere.
3. They both saw that (at least in their own times) agriculture was the nation’s greatest sustainable economic asset. King Chulalongkorn engineered a plan to turn land ownership over to the people living on the land and deriving livelihood from it, and he more than doubled land available for farming. King Bumiphol devoted his professional attention to royal projects that focused on crop diversification and water management. [The picture accompanying this essay is of HM King Bumiphol with American Baptist Agricultural Missionary Dick Mann in one of their several visits.] It is remembered that during his 70 years on the throne he averaged one new Royal Project per week.
These three accomplishments were in a complex context that included political and cultural factors and controversies, and they both did much more. Over the past 9 years I have posted several blogs on these topics and there is no need to repeat those comments. For those who are interested here are some links:
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.