Welcome to the discussion!

As the articles below indicate, for a number of years I have being trying to understand the changing concept and practice of mission.

My search has moved progressively from ‘Is there still a need for mission?’ to ‘What should the new focus for mission be?’ and finally to ‘Where can we find examples for this new direction?’

Some progress has been made but the effort to get this far has brought up a wider question. Why are so few people doing the practical reflection and research that is necessary to bring mission out of its present decline?

Theologians produce books on the academic aspects of mission but those actively engaged in cross-cultural mission are not writing about the real-life issues that face them. In this age of dramatic changes most businesses and NGOs are plowing resources into research for their next step so why are Christian missionaries, especially Catholics, not doing so?

I’m sure there are many answers to this complex question but by naming them, one by one, we may get a better idea of where the problem lies and what can de done about it.

Have you any ideas to share on this topic?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The New Look Confucius

The Book, The Movie, The Institutes, the Challenge

Should you  read >Confucius from the Heart=, by the Chinese broadcaster Yu Dan? It has been read by over ten million Chinese looking for some balance and direction in their new consumerist world  and by thousands of curious non-Chinese wondering what elements from the past continue to influence Chinese. It also had the strong backing of the Chinese government who hoped it would help stabilize society.  
Don=t be put off by the foreign reviewers and local critics who have panned it as light-weight  >Chicken Soup for the (Confucian) Soul=. It is an attempt to re-write Confucianism in an easily digestible way for people today. In doing so it may have omitted some of the key elements of Confucian thought but in does give insights into the Confucian ideal of how an individual should think and act.  
According to the author, we need to return to what is basic and constant for guidance in a world where beliefs and values seem to always changing. Confucius accepted that it was to be found in Heaven which guides mankind and the universe from within. AThe Heavens never speak a word, yet the four seasons come round again and again, and all of nature increases and multiplies around us. Do the heavens need to speak as well?@ What we are looking for is not in books but in our hearts where Heaven has planted it.
The book is divided into six chapters: The Way of Heaven and Earth, The Way of Heart and Soul, The Way of the World, The Way of Friendship, The Way of Ambition and The Way of Being. They all focus on the ideal person (junzi) who is known for their patience, integrity and consideration of others. Junzi quickly recognize their own shortcomings and are always ready to learn from others. They do not do to anyone what they would not want done to themselves. They choose their friends carefully as they know the influence that good and bad friends can have. They have no ambition except to develop their personality. They are cautious and deliberate. They would never rush across a pedestrian crossing before the light turned green.
This could give the impression that the Confucian >cultivated person= is dull, fatalistic and unconcerned about social issues.  However, what distinguished Confucians from their contemporary Taoists was their conviction that a person=s character could be developed only by participating actively in the affairs of their family, community and country. In practice, the first qualification for an official in China was to be an example of Confucian thought and behavior. 
Yu Dan=s >Confucius of the Heart=, however, is careful not to wander into the fields of politics or government. The author does not go any further than examining personal attitudes and the role of  benevolence. That is all  her government supporters would want.
She barely mentions to the distinctive Confucian virtues of Duty and Ritual.
            >Duty= meant personal responsibilities within the Five Relationships: ruler and ruled, parents and children, husband and wife, between siblings  and between friends. The responsibility worked both ways: for example, the ruler had responsibilities toward the ruled and the ruled towards the ruler. Later, when >duty= evolved along patriarchal and feudalistic lines it gave Confucianism a bad name, and are the reason why the majority of younger Chinese have a negative impression of Confucius.

Yu Dan prudently avoids the unpopular concept of >dutiful= but by doing so she presents an unbalanced view of Confucianism. If the duties of the Five Relationships are carried out in a spirit of mutual respect, as Confucius intended them to be, they can be a very practical and positive way of practicing benevolence. However, getting a modern audience to appreciate this attitude would not be an easy task.    
Similarly, in an age when informality has become a virtue, the idea that ritual is a powerful tool in forming attitudes might not be popular. Confucian >ritual= included  not only the rites in temples to Heaven, local gods or ancestors but the formal words and gestures made on a daily basis in living out the Five Relationships. Some of this etiquette is authentically portrayed in the movie 2010 blockbuster movie, >Confucius= (cf below). While the movie is open to criticism on a number of levels, at least it was made in China by Chinese to whom the traditional rituals are still familiar.
Confucius saw the value of ceremony, both on public and family occasions, as a way of instilling in young people the proper habits of showing the respect due to others because of their family relationship or social role. Again, such formality is not likely to appeal to modern ideas of social behavior.
What then is the value of the book? It does try to show some basic Confucian concepts, such as the junzi ideal, benevolence and reciprocity, in a positive light and encourages people to develop their inner attitudes as much as their outer image. It uses pithy stories from Chinese traditions as well as from Buddhism, Christianity and Indian, Japanese and English literature to illustrate its message. The variety of these sources indicate that the message tends to be of a universal nature rather that distinctively Confucian.
Indirectly the book indicates how much China has changed and how unlikely it is to retain elements from its past, no matter how valuable they might be, if they clash with newly emerged values and needs

The Movie

Confucius No Match for Blue Aliens

The above was the headline in a Hong Kong newspaper after the release of the 2010 block-buster movie, Confucius
It refers to the fact that the government-encouraged film, Confucius, had taken in only four million euro in its first three days while the Hollywood sensation Avatar, with its blue skinned aliens, had pulled in eleven million in its first three days in China. Shortly afterwards, the authorities cut Avatar=s run short with the excuse that they wanted more time for locally produced films. To many looked like an effort by the government to get more people to watch Confucius by removing alternatives.
Confucius cost 15 million euro to make and was intended to capture the interest of the younger generation. As a result it included a number of battle scenes and a romantic interest in the form of one of the more popular actresses, Zhou Xun. The role of Confucius was played by the Hong Kong-born, international star Chow Yun-fat.

The movie was intended to be part of the 2009 celebrations of the 50th anniversary of modern China and the 2,560 birthday of Confucius but production problems caused it to miss the deadline.
Most of China=s film stars, as well as famous names from Hong Kong and Taiwan, were given minor roles. The movie itself had a highly respected director and a large budget. Its purpose was to increase interest in the traditional values that Confucius represented but  the younger generation found it boring and their elders saw it as a betrayal of history.
Despite the efforts of the film to portray him as such, Confucius was neither a skillful general nor an astute politician. Nor is there any evidence that he had any romantic interest such as the lady acted by Zhou Xun.
While Chow Yun-fat displayed the patience, courtesy and unassuming aspects that one would expect from Confucius, he had little to do or say that cast light on the teachings of the sage. The most authentic aspects were the court setting and the etiquette beloved by Confucius. It also portrayed his fate as an under-appreciated, exiled scholar but such a story-line is rarely appreciated by movie goers who just want to be be entertained. 

3. The Institutes

Confucius: Assistant to the Chinese God of Wealth or Tutor for Chinese Souls?

In June, 2004 the first >Confucius Institute= was given a trial run in Tashkent. By November, 2009 there were 282 in 88 countries and the Chinese government says there will be 500 worldwide by 2010 and 1000 by 2020.
The charter of the institutes explains, AConfucius is a famous thinker, educator and philosopher in China. His doctrine has a very important influence throughout the world. To name this institute after him shows the longevity of the Chinese language and culture. It also embodies the development trend of the integration of Chinese language and culture in the new century.@ (cf >The Confucian Revival=, CR October, 2006).
The model for the institute was said to be the international centers of the Goethe Institute, the British Council and Alliance Francaise which have both cultural and language programs. While the Confucius version has largely focused on language classes it is regarded in some countries  as a potential propaganda vehicle.
Others see it as a money making operation. It draws on mainland universities for teachers, and as they are always interested in international programs that make money,  Asia Times Online stated, AConfucianism has become an assistant to the Chinese God of Wealth (and a representative of Chinese diplomacy) and not a tutor for Chinese souls.@
According to the London Confucius Institute website, Ait is a non-profit-making organization that aims to promote Chinese language learning and teaching and the understanding of Chinese culture in the UK. It also endeavors to facilitate research in these areas as well as cultural and educational exchange between the UK and China.@
As look at it list of the courses it offers show ten language-related course one with the title, >Confucianism and Chinese Society Today=. The institute also organizes social activities on traditional festivals and courses on traditional medicine, Chinese dance and opera, taichi and the tea ceremony.

There is not much to indicate that the institutes are trying to spread the teaching of Confucius. Rather they seem to be using the favorable symbol of Confucius to give a positive note to their cultural and language promotion activities.

4. Other Recent Developments
**Confucian Holiday voted down in Hong Kong
In January 2010, Hong Kong legislators turned down a proposal to celebrate Confucius= birthday as a pubic holiday.
Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, wondered how the 2,000 yer old teacher could help solve modern social problems. AOthers are talking about the post-80s and you are talking about something founded before Christ,@ he stated.
One of the pro-Beijing parties had put forward the proposal, calling on the government to encourage Confucianism in order to revive moral values and strengthen family ties.
 Democratic Party chairman, Albert Ho, was worried the government would use Confucianism as a political tool. AI don=t want the combination of politics and religion, or to see Confucianism used to strengthen the rule of a class.@
Prior to the debate, Taoist, Islamic, Buddhist and Christian leaders had voiced support for the idea. A survey showed that 54.3 percent of the public backed the proposal while 59.3 percent agreed that promoting Confucianism could relieve social problems such as domestic violence and weak moral standards.
The clinching argument was that Hong Kong has a fixed number of 17 public holidays and  no one could agree on which of them to abolish in order to make way for Confucius Day. In 1999, Hong Kong made Buddha=s Birthday a public holiday, replacing the last of the colonial celebrations. 

**Gambling on Confucius?
The Chinese state lottery has decided to offer Confucius-themed tickets with colorful drawings of the philosopher and his proverbs. The tickets are aimed at educating the public about ancient Chinese culture and help people to live a Ahealthy, wholesome life.@
The program was launched in Qufu, Confucius= hometown, at the end of January, 2010.
However, critics on a popular website complained that gambling was against the spirit of Confucius. At the same time, the sage might appreciate the traditional practicality by which a government sponsored education campaign is combined with an unrelated program to raise funds. 

5.The Challenge: A Christian Reflection

In 1595, Matteo Ricci wrote to Acquaviva, the Jesuit General, about this conviction that Confucius was another Seneca and that his Four Books Aare good moral documents.@ In a short time Ricci himself became a noted Confucian scholar and his Confucius-like self-cultivation and moral integrity were what quicky attracted a circle of influential friends in a China that had previously rejected all foreigners as barbarians.

For Christians the goals and methods of Confucian self-cultivation have a familiar ring. They spell out practical steps of practicing love of neighbor in everyday life. Those who participate in life in East Asia soon experience a warmth, respect and consideration that they have not seen to the same degree even in the >Christian West=. Those interested in locating the source of this sensitivity to others, find it in the Confucian habit of showing consideration for others. This is what impressed Ricci and led him to praise Confucian morality or behavior.
          Another element of Confucianism that impresses Christians like Ricci is the attention given to Heaven as the source of morality and inspiration in life. The early Jesuit missionaries used the character for heaven in translating their concept of God and it is still used in countries like China and Korea.
The beauty of Confucian morality and it basis on a belief in Heaven could lead some to ask, AWhat has the Christian message got to add to it? Why not leave Confucians as they are and encourage them?@
However the Jesuits had quickly noted the limitations of using Heaven on its own as an equivalent for the Christian God. It is impersonal and remote. They modified it by using terms like >King of Heaven= or >Master of Heaven= and began to introduce a God who is closer and calls the individual.
There is also the danger that, in time,  a system like Confucianism that emphasizes conformity to outward practices can become mere flattery and show. Xu Guangqi, an eminent Confucian scholar and official who became a Catholic in 1600, explained the background for his conversion.
ABuddhism has been in China for 1800 years, and it is unable to correct the morals and hearts of the people, it words are specious. Talks about Zen are interpolated with ideas from Laozi and Zhunagzi=s doctrines, with no reality or propriety; the practitioners of Yoga use Taoist talismans with absurdity and no sense, and furthermore they intend to fight Buddha in the name of the Lord on High. And thus, all of them are contrary to the doctrines of ancient emperors, sages and virtuous men.
           ASo what shall we follow? What shall we do? It is necessary that men do good to the greatest extent, but then will the >learning for serving Heaven=, that has been transmitted by all the officials, truly assist the sovereign civilizing influence, influence the Confucian doctrine and rectify the Buddhist Law? Clearly discern the policy of prosperity and lasting peace, there is nothing beyond that.@
Xu recognized that the morality of Confucius had lost its power and that Buddhism and Taoism were unable to revive it. He turned  to Christianity in the hope that the >Lord of Heaven= would Asupplement Confucianism and replace Buddhism."   Hugh MacMahon  2/10/10      

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