We've boldly biked down the streets of Chiang Mai alongside a madcap fleet of tuk-tuks, sam-lors (the three-wheel bikes), red song-tows (the "two-bench" trucky-taxi guys), mini-buses, cars, lorries, bicycles, the occasional fancy-pants government vehicle, and the ever-chortling, enthusiastic armada of scooters. And sometimes you see four people stacked on one single scooter.
And our president was elected whilst we drove deep into the forests of southeastern Thailand--where nobody really seemed to care about a up-to-the-minute electoral college count.
And the fireworks screamed and pounded the night sky into the early dawn hours.
And everybody, I mean everybody, we've talked to in Christian circles here--from a Japanese missionary couple working in the remotest northern region of rural Cambodia to a Brazilian pastor serving in Rio de Janerio--has mentioned HILLSONG worship music. It's become comical actually. No other group whatsoever has been mentioned, neither Integrity nor Vineyard nor Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin, let alone Indelible Grace or any other "high church" hymn-makers or that guy we used to hear about a lot in the early nineties, that Graham Kendrick guy. And definitely not John Michael Talbot. Or anybody from any other country of the world. It's like they've got their own multi-national machine going on down under. They've created some solid work along the way, "Shout to the Lord" as a golden-oldy and "Mighty to Save" as newer vintage.
But what worries me is not simply the emotivist/experientialist theology that underlies a good deal of their songwriting. What worries me is that for all their global influence they represent such a tiny fraction of the "sound" (theologically and musically) of the worldwide Body of Christ. Is it their fault they're so popular? I don't know that that's a helpful question. It may be the wonders of market forces at work. It may be no more than evangelical ecclesiology at its best and worst. I imagine Charles Wesley's hymnody at the dawn of evangelicalism in the 18th century produced plenty of strong feelings (in both senses). What's to do? I don't know. But it sure has been a curious discovery. Stay tuned.
In any case, we've seen plenty of beautiful art here in Thailand and thought we'd share some highlights. Needless to say, our imaginations are expanding daily. So is our love for the global church as it seeks to be faithful to the gospel in their respective places.
Here then is a kind of top-twelve art moments in Thailand. Let me begin with one of the most important images. (I believe if you click on the pics they'll become larger.)
1. The Toilet. You gotta know your options.
2. The Tokyo Airport.
We felt like we were inside a sci-fi set design as we walked the length of this corridor from terminal to terminal.
3. The Art of Exotic Flowers.
We visited a botanical garden full of orchids. They were gorgeous.
4. Thai dancing.
A group of believers danced for the opening of WEA: the Mission Commission's consultation. I confess all I saw was weird movements and vividly colored garments. I saw none of the symbolic meaning. If I have anything to do with another large gathering of foreigners watching an indigenous dance form, I'm going to recommend that they arrange for somebody to give a ten minute explanation of what's actually happening. That way we'll not be left with our vague and irregular appreciations of the formal aspect of the dance. Instead we'll be able to enter more deeply--maybe even challenged by--its cultural or even counter-cultural meaning.
It's what we'll call the excremental gift of elephants to writers and artists.
[Phaedra speaking here]: Elephants eat a very fiberous diet! The result is a "product" that is ripe for paper making. The dung is collected and then washed 4 times in this big cement sink. After it dries the dung begins the long process of being boiled, bleached, beaten, washed again, dyed and then dried on screens to make big sheet of paper. If I had not been standing right next to a large pile of poo I never would have guessed it was poo-poo paper. And it's not even a bit sinky. In fact it smells kind of nice. :)
Phaedra threating the gurgling, simmering elephant poo with a very small rake.
Me giving full approval to the dried poo that was once very wet.
Me smiling very big with a final product: elephant poo paper. It's crisp!
6. Speaking of Elephants: elephants have feelings too.
Ever heard of the elephant who painted a tree? Or a stem of flowers? Or in the manner of abstract expressionists? Well, we saw the wonder with our own eyes. However do they train them?
We were thoroughly impressed with the investment that the Bangkok airport has made in art. Everywhere we walked we saw art.
Our "Missions and Arts" group, the small but feisty eight of us, had a fantastic time envisioning a renaissance of the arts through the global missions community. So much is already happening; we're just finding out about it. We'll share more details in the next missive, but for now our group wants to plan specific initiatives for Urbana 2009, the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, 2010, and the next Missions Consultation, likely 2012.
9. Sapphire mines: all day, every day, the same, same, same thing.
It makes you think when you go next to buy your gems.
10. The Silk Factory.
After watching the process I have a slogan to recommend: "Worms will save the world." It's amazing how much beauty can be procured and re-styled from a grubby little worm.
In the silver pot: the boiling cocoons. In the basket: the cocoons. In the blue bowl: the dead moths. In that thingimabob at the right of the pic: the silk thread being threaded.
11. The Art of Maxican Food
We visited a Thai restaurant that boasted an international menu: Aussie, German, American, etc. And they had Maxican food. It cracked us up. We think they were appealing to all the lonely gringos desperate for food from "home." We think these lonely gringos are suckers. Look closely (or click on the pic) to see specific menu items. I think my favorite is Qusadialas. It's like Mayan mafia food.
12. The Art of Lying Down with the Lion, er, 7 month tigers.
... who at one point thought my shoe was a toy and chomped down on my big toe. I said, "Yeooooooooowwwwwww!" And the trainer said, "Bad tiger, bad tiger," in Thai.