Monthly Archives: January 2010

How is my teaching being changed through becoming a Theologian without Borders?

Last time we visited KKBBSC Geoff Pound (Theologians without Borders) asked me to reflect and write about how my teaching is being changed by being here, at a Bible School in a refugee camp. At the time for various reasons I did not really give much response (you can see what I did write here: How is my teaching changed by being here?) I now have a much more explicit example of how teaching a class on Wisdom and Worship literature of the Old Testament (which I did at Carey for the first time last semester) will change next time.

This year at KKBBSC I’ll be taking the classes Thra (Professor) Wah Do would have been teaching (I am told he is having a great time, on the fraternal visit to Karen living in Australia). One of his classes is Philosophy. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Philosopher, I am a Bible teacher. So how can I usefully in a few weeks teach the beginning of his class?

I can’t try to teach his material, I do not have his outline, nor do I have his experience. What I do is teach Bible, so I thought I could lay foundations he can build on by teaching about biblical resources for building a Christian Philosophy. Having just taught Wisdom, I immediately thought not only of the current interest in St Paul among Philosophers  (on which I am far from expert having so far only one fine ABC podcast to inform my thinking 😉 but of Ecclesiastes. That book brilliantly demolishes approaches to Philosophy or worldviews which fail to recognise that life “under the sun” is not all there is, or indeed even ultimately meaningful.

From there it is a small step to see in Job another limit on any Philosophy which can call itself Christian (or indeed Theistic). We must begin to philosophise recognising our radical ignorance and our need to take any further step only in the context of our relationship to the One who does understand, but whom we understand only partially….

So, assuming this teaching works out anywhere near what I expect my teaching of “Wisdom and Worship” will be deeply reshaped by questions of Philosophy and worldview which will give core and coherence to the revised course, and already in anticipation, my draft outline for Wisdom and Worship is being rewritten here in a refugee camp in the jungle! 


Borderlines, bribery and humanity

Sometimes borders are written on the landscape, though often like the Moei here (in the dry season) they are no barrier to enterprising farmers.

Sometimes borders are written on the landscape, though often like the Moei here (in the dry season) they are no barrier to enterprising farmers.

Borders are lines drawn on maps by Generals and diplomats. Usually in reality they are vague and porous when experienced on the ground. (See the middle of this post, or this older one Life on a porous border.) Yet without the “right” documents such imaginary lines become the margin between saftey

We have now seen hundreds of kilometres and many different aspects of life on the border. More and more these experiences cause me to reflect on the ethical issues around such borderline living, I’ll focus these on the question of bribery.

Bribery is wrong, such corruption is directly and indirectly responsible for much of the misery of the developing world, and especially this is true of the under-developing world. The giving and receiving of bribes is a great evil that we should all do everything we can to wipe out. It is the deadly mix of corruption and the attendant neglect of infrastructure and community development that together have placed the people of Congo and Burma among the poorest despite great wealth of natural resources in both countries.

But, when is a bribe not a bribe? And, if a gift IS a bribe, when is it ethically justifiable?

Smart city Songthaw in Thailand, and a Tuktuk transporting a wreath

Take the refugee camp leader who himself has full travel papers, living across the border under the protection of troops of another government. These soldiers are far from home, living among people of a different ethnicity from them. This leader has visited the nearest city (an hour away by local bus) and on return gives the soldiers on guard a present of some fresh fruit. Is this a bribe? Or is it rather two humans each dislocated reaching in friendship across ethnic and national divides? The leader (having papers) needs nothing himself from the guard. But most people in the camp lack such papers. If a family member in another camp or village is sick, or marrying… to get official permission to travel is difficult, takes a long time and may be impossible, apparently at the camp commandant’s whim. Travelling without documents risks apprehension at the guard post and return to Burma. This is a horribly dangerous outcome. The fruit may encourage the guard to be less vigilant in enforcing an inhumane (though administratively necessary) government policy.

You are in a Songthaw (ute with seats in the back that acts as local bus service) travelling down the border, at each check point two young men cower down and look inconspicuous, an older man jumps out from the privileged seat beside the driver and palms some cash to the soldier, no one’s papers are checked.

Transportation across the border in Myanmar (Burma governed by the Generals)

On another Songthaw journey a different young man has no papers, he is dragged off under detention, and will be returned to a town deep in Burma that is firmly under military control.

When is a bribe not a bribe, just a humane gesture? When is a bribe justifiable? Is it better to save one life, or to promote a more economically just and desirable system?

Akha bamboo cannon

This is the best shot of the ingenious cannon that I could get, apart from the explosive it seemed to be entirely made of bamboo:

Akha New Year

New Year in the Akha village was a lively affair, loads of city Akha arrived “home”, many people had prepared fireworks, songs, food and drink. The village hunters were to hold a competition, the first to shoot his gun after a cock crowed in 2010 would be the winner, some people seemed to cheat, shooting off their all night, though when people were asked how they would know who was really first they were told “Why the man who is first will say so!” Duh!

There was also a bamboo cannon, which was set up and tested the day before (see next post). And some of the foreigners had prepared themselves with Thai fire balloons, which we are told were launched in their thousands in Chiang Rai: