About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


New England Saving Machine?

    When you visit Lyman House in Hilo, Hawaii, a mid XIX century missionary residence turned museum, most likely you will be proudly shown one preeminent mission instrument. There it lies, just as it was shipped and delivered from the missionary hotbed of New England, you can behold one of the early specimens of the Singer sewing machine. Don’t laugh, this was a serious spiritual business! Judging from the activities of early Congregational missionaries, they heard twofold indivisible high callings: A) to save the souls of depraved pagans (this is their language, not mine!), and B) to cover the naked bodies of Sandwich Islanders (Hawaiians) with the proper Victorian attire. This is not just a funny anecdote of mixing bigot faith with cultural prejudice. Unfortunately, in its time it had sinister consequences.
    During this “divinely” sanctioned endeavor of naked-bodies-clothed and souls-saved-from-hell, the local population declined by about 80% due to epidemics, exploitation, and famine. When the American missionaries arrived there were more than 200,000 Hawaiians. In six decades, when missionary children (yes, they were predominantly direct descendants) misappropriated the islands for the American empire (
overthrow of constitutional monarchy in 1893 and then military occupation in 1898), there were only 40,000 locals left! Can you imagine the magnitude of this national tragedy! And it hardly registered in missionary reports and dispatches!
    For several years it has been my anthropological hobby to study the history of Hawaiian religion (the original one as well as this transition to Christianity). After reading about it and studying it on the ground, I still do not know whether the missionaries were more, Christian bigots, cultural chauvinists or agents of an ascending empire (under cover of religion). Most likely all of it inseparably combined. Thankfully, around the time of Albert Schweitzer, Europeans first, later Americans, started to change mission gears. Finally, the main American denominations in the last decades of the 20th century, especially after the civil rights movement, went through thorough soul-searching, repentance, and rethinking of their mission endeavor. The changes in course and ethos were epochal. The international mission which is being sponsored by the mainline American denominations is not any longer what it used to be (and unfortunately still is with some evangelical zealots).
    Come this Sunday to meet Dr. Martha Sommers, a physician missionary in Malawi whose mission our church supports. Come to see and hear how completely different and more aligned with Jesus’ spirit the mission work is done these days! It is a mission without religious prejudice, without sewing needles, without Singer machines but with X-rays machines (as antiquated as they might be), syringes and donated medicines and most importantly real compassion. Direction is right, material challenges persist. Learning from our missionaries, supporting their work, we can make a real difference in life and health of entire communities and literally save lives. 

Lyman house in Hilo, HI, in autumn 2012

A bronze plaque commemorating the builders.
ABCFM stands for "American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions"
it is still active mission arm of the UCC.

 And by the way, the Lymans made fortunes in sugar plantations and careers in US military - for instance Hilo airport is named after Brigadier General Albert Lyman.

 And yet another by the way: These days tourists from all over the world frolic in Hawaiian beaches, resorts and even streets just as scantily clad as the original native Hawaiians who were labeled "perverted pagans" by those zealous missionaries. Those Victorian garbs which the poor XIX century Polynesian converts were forced to wear, might have worked in London, perhaps in Boston, but such cloths are utterly perverted idea for islands under the Tropic of Cancer. :-D

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