August 08, 2014

Friday in the wild: August 8, 2014

In this week's edition of Friday in the Wild, our focus is on the ongoing ebola outbreak in Africa&mdash: particularly, the response to Ann Coulter's column this week, titled "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'," in which she writes, in part:

Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals. . . .

If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

Coulter's argument is a utilitarian one: the right thing to do is the one that maximizes the good done to the greatest number of people. Dr. Brantly's time and effort (and Samaritan's Purse's dollars) are, supposedly, better spent on home soil where they will bring a better return on investment. But Christian missions are not founded on a utilitarian worldview, but on a Christian one: the glory of God and his Son, Jesus Christ, through obedience to his great commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19)—not just movie moguls in the United States. Coulter's column is not only utilitarian and cynical, but it smacks of xenophobia as well.

Two blog articles this week underscored Ann Couter's erroneous thinking. The first came from Al Moher, who juxtaposes her column with another, superior one by Nicholas Kristof, but points out that in the end both fall short of a biblical understanding of missions:

Well the real annoyance here, indeed outrage, is not over the service of these two missionary doctors. It is over this kind of column that flies in the very face of everything Christ taught his disciples. The logic of the Christian church and of Christian missions has nothing to do with American nationalism. Some parts of Ann Coulter’s article where she speaks especially of Africa come very close to racism, but she certainly falls directly into nationalism when she says that American Christians need to "serve their own country." . . .

American evangelical Christians did not come up with the Great Commission because we were frustrated with losses in the culture war. American Christians are not "slinking off" to foreign countries in order to escape the United States; they are going in obedience to the command of Christ. True gospel missionaries—those faithful to the command of Jesus Christ—are not driven by "narcissism" to use Ann Coulter's word, they are indeed heroic. More than heroic, they are simply faithful.

[Read Are Christian Missionaries Narcissistic Idiots?]

Collin Garbarino at First Things adds his own take on Coulter's arguments:

Coulter is only right if speaking from the human perspective. She talks about wisdom and foolishness, but she doesn't seem to understand that God has his own definition of these terms. A long time ago, another missionary once wrote some words that Coulter might want to consider [Garbarino quotes 1 Corinthians 1:20-31.]. . . .

God uses weakness in order to show his own power, and in spite of his habit of using the lowly, he's still managed to turn the world upside down. When people start thinking that they need the clout of a "Hollywood power-broker" to do God’s work, they’ve abandoned the gospel. If we attempt to convert the mighty so that we can use their resources, we're telling the world that God’s power is insufficient. Does God need the rich and powerful to change the world? May it never be. God is sufficient in himself to do all he sets out to do.

[Read The Foolishness of an Ebola Doctor]

Changing topics: Although I'm no art maven, I do always seem to enjoy a good post about the meaning of art, and so I appreciated Tony Reinke's appraisal of van Gogh's "Still Life with Bible":

The symbolic painting features two books. The large book in the background is the Bible of van Gogh's pastor-father. The Bible is opened to Isaiah 53. The yellow book in the foreground is a French novel by naturalist Émile Zola. The book is titled La Joie de Vivre, or in English, The Joy of Life (1884).

So why did van Gogh put these two books together?

Getting into his mind is no easy task, but here are a few possibilities.

[Read The Van Gogh that Breaks My Heart]

Finally, just for fun, I discovered a new podcast this week: 99% Invisible. It's a short, weekly radio program about design and architecture, the product of an Oakland-based architecture firm in conjunction with public radio. Their episode on duplitecture—communities in China based around detailed knock-offs of European architecture initially caught my attention last week. The most interesting one I've heard (so far) is about the political influence of the CD longbox for REM's Out of Time. (Remember longboxes? I bought my first CD player in 1993, and the first four discs I bought that same day were Leonard Bernstein's 1989 recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, King's X's Faith Hope Love, Jimmy Buffett's Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, and Temple of the Dog. All of them came in a longbox or a blister pack, but I never bought another disc that did. The industry abandoned them soon afterward, because they were wasteful, or so I always believed: the podcast suggests a different motive.) If you are interested in the way human beings interact with the world, 99% Invisible is worth a listen. Check it out.

Until next time, as always: Share and enjoy!