This year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, February 17 and ends on Saturday, April 4, the day before Easter. Lent is a traditional season of preparation, marked by intensified devotional reflection on the historical circumstances that led to the crucifixion of Jesus and the human condition that was resolved by his resurrection. These are deep mysteries which are not “answered” by study (as if to solve the mystery) but responded to with penance, piety and resolve. In some traditions fasting is undertaken to deepen the experience.
The Presbyterian Church is open-minded about Lent. Some congregations take this opportunity seriously but others doubt it is valid or helpful. Most congregations make some provision for observance by members who choose to do so. Lenten devotional materials are a popular contribution along with church-membership classes for those who are getting ready to join the church.
“Why do we have Lent?” one Presbyterian asked. “It has no basis in scripture.” She admitted that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry, but she thought that is scant justification for our current exercise.
Lent as we have it today cannot be accounted for without tracing its history.
Aside from the value of a season of devotion and attention to our spiritual development, “the reason for Lent” on the part of Protestant denominations is historical. Following John Calvin, Presbyterians were especially opposed to the superstitions they found embedded in Medieval Christian piety. The opposition came to a rather wild climax with the Puritan revolution led by Oliver Cromwell. All Presbyterianism was influenced by the move to simplify and purify worship. But the Puritan limitations neglected large areas of human nature. By the end of the 18th century a reaction against sterile intellectualism led to the emergence of Wesleyan Methodism, the Great Awakening revival movement, and a swing toward sentimentality (“I walked in the Garden Alone” etc.) of the Victorian Romantic Age. As that piety took over, a reaction against it began. The Oxford Movement started in the Episcopal Church in 1833, but spread into other traditions by the end of the 19th century. That movement sought to reclaim some of the rich heritage of the past, particularly in terms of worship and spirituality. Medieval hymns and chants were brought out in English, and so were the church seasons of Advent and Lent which precede Christmas and Easter.
During the first half of the 20th century the Presbyterian Church adopted historical and ecumenical ideals. Many (if not most) Presbyterian church buildings erected by the largest congregations between 1918 and 1929 were grandly neo-Gothic. The Presbyterian Church USA published The Hymnal (“the green hymnal”) in 1933, containing not only hymns of various eras but also liturgical choral responses and responsive readings – all meant to integrate the Presbyterian Church into the Church Universal and Apostolic.
By the mid-1960s the Presbyterian Church resolved to reclaim “reconciliation and community” which involved not only a new confession of faith included in a compilation of confessions, but a new hymnbook (“the red book”), folk songs accompanied by guitars, and churches in the round decorated with banners. Lent became a time of devotions and reflection, group study and fellowship, moving away from lofty chants and echoes from centuries gone by.
We predict that the Presbyterian Church is crossing an even newer threshold, hastened by the need to develop entirely new forms of worship and congregational life enabled by technology that is reconfiguring the world as we perceive it. Will Lent be a part of this new network connecting us to each other so we are rooted in history and nurtured into spiritual maturity? Probably Presbyterians will still be motivated for or against Lent by what else they are for or against. Some are “for” spiritual disciplines to refine faith. Others are “against” things that blur the divisions that keep us Presbyterian.
The Presbyterian Church, beginning with John Calvin, retains historical traditions to such an extent that you cannot tell by looking at the buildings whether a church is Presbyterian or some other Christian branch. What goes on inside is also diverse and wonderful.
“Why do we have Lent?” Because it is valuable.
Myanmar, also called Burma, has had a military take-over of the newly-elected military and civilian government. Early on Monday morning, February 1, local time, the titular head of state, world-famous Aung Sun Suu Kyi, was placed under house-arrest along with other key officials. Today was to be the first day for the new parliament to meet. A “state of emergency” has been declared for a year.
For those who are unfamiliar with Burmese politics, it is simplest to say that one military group after another has been ruling (and ruining) Burma since 1962. No matter whether elections were held or not, the military stayed in charge. Usually, after elections the results were annulled by the military one way or another. That happened again today.
It is too soon to tell what is really happening, but early reports are that it is getting increasingly difficult to do communication and banking. Mass media are off the air. Military are in evidence in the streets of the capital and Yangon. But there is no restriction of movement by people going to markets and places to eat. The BBC will tell us more.
It is also too soon to tell how this will impact the chasms that exist between ethnic groups in Burma. A state of intermittent civil war has been going on ever since the British departed after World War II. This coup is unlikely to bring a peaceful end to those battles and the refugees and internally-displaced-populations that have resulted. Throughout South East Asia the military are reluctant to be out of power.
Here in Chiang Mai we have friends who have family in Burma. Our university has students living there, taking on-line courses. Thousands of laborers from Burma are working in Thailand and there are many businesses affected. Actually, the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused a lot of trouble, now being added-to. We are concerned for them.
The fact that this coup replaces an elected government is symbolically significant. Burma cannot pretend to be democratic in any sense. The military has defied the constitution they themselves drafted and promised to obey as recently as last Saturday. That draws a little tangential attention to neighboring countries where democracy is a sham; it’s embarrassing but it will not facilitate a copy-cat coup around here. ASEAN could take some action to chide Myanmar for this coup, but it probably will not. Western nations such as Great Britain and the USA will issue statements and maybe cut off donations, but not more than that unless violence breaks out or human rights violations come to light.
This coup in Burma is not as clear a sign that democracy is being assailed hither and yon as was the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6, but this coup, unlike the one in the USA, was probably successful. That’s the most we can say for now.
Thailand is socially stratified.
At the top are the powerful elite, with royalty at the pinnacle. They are entitled by heredity and finances.
The next level is composed of those whose power and status are derived from accomplishments, including acquisition of control of corporations, land, or sections of the military. They automatically find positions to maximize their status.
A new level has expanded in the last ¾ of a century which is similar to the middle class in other countries. People in this class have limited political power, but they have apparent security and ability to leverage their situations to their advantage. The middle class in Thailand is divided into two ranks. The upper middle class are owners, executives, professionals, and local leaders. The lower middle class are salaried employees, securely self-employed, or bi-vocational (farming during certain seasons and also working for salaries or commissions part time, for example).
Less secure are those who are dependent on factors over which they have no control. That includes farmers whose situation depends on weather, variable crop prices, and ability to acquire additional products (such as fish or mushrooms). Day laborers in construction or factory workers and “piece workers” (such as those who are paid by the piece for sewing) are also on the brink of inadequacy. At the bottom of the social column are those totally dependent on others.
Four factors mitigate these social divisions: clan loyalty, special categories, government programs, and luck or self-destruction.
A large percentage of those who would be destitute are “taken-in” by relatives. Almost all primary families (parents and children) and extended families (2 or 3 generations living in proximity and sharing whatever is necessary) have one or more who have a salaried income. It is considered essential for adult children to provide a house for older parents. Most extended families have acquired debts, especially for vehicles or houses, which they are paying off, so their standard of living is raised somewhat precariously.
Clergy and military tend to be special categories, but they, too, are highly stratified. The strata have prescribed titles.
Government programs including nearly universal health care and education through twelfth grade also mitigate and alleviate some of the variables that used to trouble previous generations. Although government subsidies are small, elderly and disabled people receive direct assistance, as do infants to age 6.
Exceptions to the predictable functioning of society are infrequent but noticeable. Luck is given the credit for one’s winning the lottery or being wiped out by a flood. Getting into trouble through gambling or drug dealing, on the other hand, would be one’s own fault.
COVID-19 is now beginning to have an impact on Thai social structure. It’s just beginning to show up as more than a temporary anomaly which can be put up with in the short run. The pandemic is more than a catalyst and less than the cause of a realignment of social control.
As COVID-19 and its disruptions enter the second year the government is beginning to tremble. A second round of financial stimulus pay-outs is underway, without sufficient funds to do this. It’s with a shaky hand that the government is making these pay-outs and is on the way to issuing bonds to back them up. The country is enduring a major outbreak of COVID cases, with a few days of almost a thousand new cases a day. Up to now the government has prioritized protecting the country’s health by closing the borders, but it is a sign that this can’t go on much longer that everything is being relaxed even while the epidemic is spreading.
Something like a sixth of the population counts on domestic and international tourism and transportation to provide financial income. The ripples are spreading. By this time almost every economic area has turned downward, some of them sharply. Markets are impacted, some closed entirely, most only temporarily. Schools are operating “spasmodically” with classes online being really dysfunctional according to teachers trying to keep students engaged. I’m guessing that instead of 180 days in class, most grade school students were there not more than 100 days in the past year. The impact on people who provide lunches, drive school “busses” and serve as part-time teachers is collateral. When street and highway traffic is sharply reduced gas stations feel the effect immediately. Factories that employed workers in close proximity were closed a long time. Those employees often “went back home” to eat out of the family’s pot. All these things are short term effects.
At the same time something much longer-term is brewing.
The middle class is shifting and a gap between town and country is widening.
It’s been obvious for at least 4 decades that tourism cannot be sustained as a financial bedrock. The downturn we have now is never going to completely recover. Jobs are gone for which college students have prepared themselves. Young people with business degrees are scurrying around to find work as motorcycle delivery drivers and stock-boys in supermarkets. As many as one million jobs with salaries have disappeared. The generation that was expecting to escape hand-to-mouth hard manual labor is frightened.
Unlike laid-off factory workers, members of this aspiring middle class are not going to go back to remote villages and “put their hands to the plow” again. As long as they have transportation they will keep in touch with their extended families and make whatever reduced contribution they can to those who are counting on them. But their loathing of the barely-sufficient lifestyles that their grandparents thought was normal will not go away. What they will loathe in addition, is the economic system that is now working against them.
This disaffected group is a whole layer of society. When they seethe all the layers above them are bound to quiver. Nothing will ever be quite the same. We are not yet seeing a “new normal” but rather the disruption of the old normal.
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.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.