Friday, March 24, 2017

Let These Bowls You Over

What is this?

If I had the hubris of a post-Modern artist, I could claim it as a sculpture that weds two pieces of conventional artisanal functionality from two disparate cultures.

But I'm not an artist, and these are merely two bowls, with one set upside-down atop another.  On the top is an upside-down Paul Revere pewter bowl reproduction by the Stieff Company of Baltimore, Maryland.  And below it is a Hmong ceremonial pedestal bowl.

Both belong to my Mom, and have been about her house for years.  The Revere bowl was a wedding present from a wealthy family in Nyack, New York, who used to employ Mom as a nanny during her college years.  The Hmong bowl was a gift from the leaders of a Hmong refugee congregation, given to each elder at the church my family used to attend here in Arlington, Texas, back around 1980.

It is believed that the Hmong culture can be traced as far back as 2,000 BC in China, although it long ago was forced southward, into Laos, Burma, Vietnam, and Thailand.  A number of Hmong people were part of the Laotian resistance who assisted the United States military during the bitter war in Vietnam, and were subject to persecution after Hanoi fell to the Communists, after the United States pulled out of the conflict.  Thousands of Hmong (spelled the same whether singular or plural) and Laotians were granted emergency visas to flee Vietnam for America, and they resettled in Minnesota and Wisconsin (where the winters were a shock in every way), California, and even here in Arlington, which has one of the largest concentrations of Vietnamese immigrants in the country.

Hmong from Laos who had been converted to Christianity back in their native country wanted a place here in Arlington where they could worship in their language, and our small church was a member of the same denomination that had missionaries who had ministered to them back in Laos.  The elder board at our church welcomed the Hmong with open arms, not just as allies in war, but also brothers and sisters in faith, and to show their appreciation, the Hmong gave each of the elders one of these intricately-detailed ceremonial cups as a gesture of gratitude.

I'm not sure what material these Hmong cups are made of, but it's almost certainly tin, or perhaps aluminum.  They're decorated by hand with etchings and impressions hammered into the soft metal with special tools.  The overall design is of lotus leaves, which while usually a Buddhist symbol of divinity, are also widely understood in Thai and Laotian cultures to represent purity.

When it comes to the Revere bowl, on the other hand, there's a lot less divinity involved, although its purity may rest in the eye of the beholder.  Paul Revere, of course, was that celebrated American patriot who was a silversmith by trade.  Back in 1768, when those British tea taxes were roiling the Colonies, Revere was commissioned by a drinking society in Massachusetts to craft a rum punch bowl in honor of opponents to the British tea tax.  And for his commission, Revere used as inspiration for his design a style of Chinese commemorative bowls that were being made of porcelain for export to Britain and the Colonies at the time.

And we thought the "Made in China" stuff was a recent phenomenon!

At any rate, those Chinese bowls - remember, the Hmong are originally from China - were already apparently popular in the New World, meaning Colonists readily understood the significance of Revere's model.  And since Revere's bowl signified a special resistance to England's draconian taxes, his rum punch bowl quickly assumed a symbolic cultural status.  Indeed, by the time my parents got married, and received this replica as a gift, the Revere bowl had become well-established in traditional Americana, and remains so to this day.  Even if most modern brides probably don't receive them as wedding presents (although the famed Tiffany studio still makes a Revere reproduction in silver).

All this to say that, while I studied these two bowls in my parents' house, I came to realize how identical they were, even though the Revere bowl is relatively unadorned.  The sides of both bowls have the same slope, and the height of their cup shapes are almost the same.  On a whim, I decided to place the Revere bowl on top of the Hmong bowl, because it looked like their circumferences were the same.  And indeed, they are!

Maybe that's not cool to you, but it was to me.  How ironic that two bowls representing significance within two completely different cultures end up having almost the same exact shape, size, and proportions!

For the record, you'll note that the Hmong bowl is actually two bowls bolted together at their pedestals.  The smaller bowl is the same shape, just in a smaller size.  So technically, I could unbolt them and have two bowls.  Which, maybe, some Hmong families do.

And, although maybe it's hard to tell, the square base under the Hmong bowl is actually a square of granite from Deer Isle, Maine, and is intended to keep the bowl's metal from scratching the wood table.

Okay, so none of this is Earth-shattering news.  It's not controversial or kinky.  But doesn't it kinda make our world just a little bit smaller, realizing that no matter how different our various cultures may be, we share more than we may realize?

Not because ceremonial or commemorative bowls are the way to achieve world peace.  But they can be the same shape of things that used to be, from the opposite sides of our planet, and our history.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Man-Card Must Be Defective

And some people wonder why I'm still not married.

Today is supposed to be "International Women's Day," a time to recognize the significant contributions females make to every aspect of life as we know it on this planet.

Oddly enough, I haven't heard when "International Men's Day" is officially, but I've been told that we domineering chauvinists get to celebrate it every other day of the year.  After all, ostensibly, we control everything - especially women, according to feminists.

So if that was indeed the case, and that women still have to fight tooth and nail for a modicum of the recognition and respect they deserve for all of their innate merits, is dropping a token event into our calendar the best way to encourage us brutes to cut women some slack?  Are men who don't value women going to be swayed by being cajoled into a superficial acknowledgement of the value of women in society?  

To feminists, the lack of civil rights for women in many Muslim-majority countries represents ample justification for a day like today.  Yet we're here in North America.  Meanwhile, how tolerant are most people in Muslim-majority countries regarding the equality of women?  How many Muslim women advocate for their own rights?  Or how many Muslim women participate in the perpetuation of age-old standards of male domination because of their religious upbringing?

Indeed, on this "International Women's Day," consider the plight of foreign nannies in Arab countries who consider not just their male employers, but also the wives of their male employers, as capable of heinous offenses.  On that score, apparently, Muslim women might be considered equal to Muslim men.  When it comes to nannies, employed by many prosperous families across the Persian Gulf, some Muslim women "can be extremely jealous of young, innocent foreign women suddenly appearing in their house," explains a person who runs a safe house in the Arabian Peninsula for nannies fleeing abusive employers.

And speaking of women in the workplace, particularly in the West, the false narrative of unequal pay for equal work continues to find an audience.  Actually, it didn't used to be a false narrative; several decades ago, men were routinely paid higher wages than women for the same exact job.  Yet today, many studies skew their results to include comparable (not exact) jobs between men and women, which distorts what men and women actually earn.  While it remains true that women tend to hold fewer higher-paying jobs than men, it is hard to find a study that actually pinpoints instances when men are paid a higher wage for the same exact job a woman does, with all else (experience, education, etc.) being equal.

This past election cycle, America saw a women get the closest any woman ever has before to the presidency.  And some people considered it a huge blow to feminism when Hillary Clinton ultimately lost the electoral college to Donald Trump, just another WASP male.  Yet in all seriousness, if having a woman in the White House is the ultimate shattering of the proverbial glass ceiling, how many feminists would be happy with somebody the likes of Hillary being the woman to do it?  She's played off of her womanizing husband her entire political career, which is hardly the paradigm of legitimate feminist accomplishment advanced by so many liberals.

Not that Hillary isn't an accomplished woman, or that gender discrimination doesn't exist in the workplace, or that many men no longer hold chauvinistic attitudes towards women.  It's just that men usually don't rise to levels of prominence without the influence of women on their behalf.  And, as Hillary's life proves, many women benefit from the influence of at least one man in their ambitious lives.  So really, isn't it unhelpful to pit the sexes against each other with superficial platitudes?  Besides, it's not like all women are virtuous, just like all men aren't virtuous.  Not all men eagerly seek the suppression of women, and not all women live under patriarchal oppression.

Of course, I'm an evil man writing this, a ruthless demeaner of women and a privileged exerciser of so many powers over women I'm not even aware of them all.

Which, of course, might be somehow plausible if I was married, or an employer, or a father, or even a co-worker...

But as it is, if we men are supposed to be so superior, and considering my own status in life, I must be wielding my man-card all wrong.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Briarwood Vice: Mall Cops Dorky No More

Forget Miami, or Chicago, or Detroit.

There's a huge crime problem going on in Birmingham, Alabama.  And no, it's not the entire city of Birmingham that's going to hell-in-a-handbasket.  It's one of the city's largest churches.

Briarwood Presbyterian apparently has become so exasperated with their criminal element that they're petitioning the state for the right to create their own police department.

It's vindication time for much-maligned mall cops everywhere.

Briarwood is a large, wealthy, and mostly white congregation affiliated with a conservative Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America.  In addition to its church activities, they sponsor a Christian school and a seminary, all of which, according to church officials, combine to host approximately 30,000 events annually on church properties in two counties.

Ostensibly, the church figures that running its own police department would improve safety, although it's unclear how much crime has taken place at the church that has overwhelmed the resources of Birmingham's conventional police department.  It's also unclear how Briarwood would save any money by sponsoring its own police department, since health insurance alone for peace officers likely is far more expensive than it is for pastors, or rent-a-cops. 

Even more unclear is how large their proposed police force is going to be.  One report says they're only talking about employing one full-time cop.

That ought to have the criminal element quaking in their boots.

Meanwhile, questions abound regarding a drug bust on the Briarwood campus back in 2015, and whether parents of kids involved in that incident are pushing for ways to cover up such juvenile indiscretions.  Church officials say they'll play judge and jury regarding the oversight of their proposed police department's activities, and will only need outside help if they ever determine somebody they catch needs to be locked up.

After all, it would look pretty bad for a church to have its own jail.

Of course, it would also look pretty bad if a church and its police department had a convenient arrangement to cover up any allegations of child abuse, or other sexual abuse on campus.  It's not like churches don't already have a problem with pedophilia, and who would report to whom if, say, a youth volunteer was accused of a felony?  And that youth volunteer was a heavy tither to the church?  Yes, in a civil police department, quid-pro-quo exists, but not as readily as it would in a clubby church setting.

The funny thing - or maybe it's not so funny - is that the Bible says nothing about churches running their own police departments.  Actually, the Bible indicates that churches are supposed to be where the criminal element can go to find healing from their brokenness.  And actually, even though all sins aren't crimes, at least according to our penal codes here in the United States, all sins make us criminals in God's eyes.  Which is why we need a Savior, Who is His Son.

So let's suppose a member at Briarwood has committed a sin and broken the penal code - will that member be able to go and repent of that sin to a Briarwood pastor and enjoy professional confidentiality of pastoral privilege?  Or will the pastor have to summon Briarwood's staff cop and bust the congregant then and there?  Technically, according to the Bible, anybody who breaks a law is subject to the ruling authorities regarding any punishment, so maybe having a church police department will help congregants tow the line when it comes to 'fessing up when they park in a handicapped spot at church.

Briarwood tries to argue that they're no different than a college or school district that runs its own police force.  But yeah, there is a difference.  For one thing, many colleges that have a police force also have some sort of criminal justice degree program, graduation from which their student cops are being trained.  And school districts generally try to keep their kids separate from bad influences in the surrounding community, which includes the often altruistic objective of creating some sort of buffer between hardened criminality and adolescent delinquency.

The church should be separate from the world in terms of the actions of its people, yet in terms of its witness, what good is a church if its members spend so much time there that they're not demonstrating their faith while interacting with the world around them?  Perhaps Briarwood's quest for its own police department isn't as much indicative of its importance in the broader Birmingham community as it is its detachment from it.

As far as anybody knows, if Alabama's governor agrees, Briarwood would be the first organized church in modern times to have its own police department.  Yet "the Sheriff of Briarwood" somehow has a strangely familiar ring to it, doesn't it?

Even if nobody is robbin' the hood.