WHY I AM NOT A MISSIONARY

 

            My grandfather, Samuel Kellogg (1839-1899), was a missionary in India from 1864 to 1899 when he died in a bicycle accident.  Our family has a 20 page letter from Samuel Kellogg sent home when he arrived in Ceylon.  He studied the Hindi language and wrote “Kellogg’s Hindi Grammar”, intellectual pioneering.  Compare with “Gray’s Anatomy” still of that name after many revisions by new authors.

            My father was a Presbyterian minister, George Arthur Frantz (1888-1991).  He was the son of a miller in rural western Pennsylvania with an 8th grade education until he attended Grove City College where he met my mother, Amy Kellogg.  Grove City College caters to promising students with inadequate academic preparation.

            I was brought up with a procession of foreign missionaries visiting stateside parishes on their sabbatical home leave (1 year of every 7 years).  As the youngest of 4, I listened to many conversations that initially were over my head, but I asked many searching questions.  The commitment of these visitors to service to mankind was impressive as was their knowledge of the problems of the underdeveloped world.  This begins to show why I have great respect and gratitude for the quality of my childhood.  I will allude to this again later.

            As a late preschooler, I had a sudden insight which I knew “wouldn’t play in Peoria” (a conservative city where new movies were test marketed), so I kept my mouth shut about this until modern times.  The insight was the disconnect between the concept of a just and merciful God and the compulsion to go out into all the world to preach the gospel so the heathen wouldn’t go to hell.  It was obvious to me that a just and merciful God would not send the heathen to hell merely because of my laziness.  I did retain my respect for resourceful people committed to their ideals.

            Last year, I found out from my sisters, 4 and 5 years my senior and therefore in on more early family lore than I, that my mother was one of two women graduates of Hartford Theological Seminary when there was no thought of ever ordaining women, but she took the whole course anyway at the urging of her (much) older brother.  He thought, with her personal background, this training would maker her highly qualified for a job as director of religious education for a big city church.  With my father’s concern about his own deficient early education and fear of mispronouncing or misusing a word, there were many dinner conversations about fine points of vocabulary and its appropriate usage.  I am sure I practiced using these words that rubbed off on me as any kid would to the point of occasionally having to explain myself to my grade school teachers.  All of this came together when I wondered how I got by with taking up serious writing at age 77 having taken all math and science in college (I wrote only 1 term paper in Freshman English).  The answer is that my childhood was a preternatural, a veritably transcendental, Head Start program.

            I attended Haverford College from 1940-1943, where the grand old man of Quakerism, Rufus Jones, was still teaching as emeritus professor of philosophy.  Haverford College was founded in 1833 by Quakers to provide an excellent education without too many doctrinal or worldly temptations.  Most, if not all, private colleges were founded by religious groups for similar reasons.  The perceived doctrinal temptations differed from group to group.  A hundred years or so of selecting the best available faculty generally results in the sectarian roots becoming vestigial.  For example, Harvard was founded by dyed-in-the-wool Puritans founded.  Unlike the rest of the sectarian colleges, the Quaker schools have retained their sectarian roots probably because the Quakers have evolved to be less and less sectarian.  The example of faculty members taking their sabbaticals doing foreign service for the American Friends Service Committee showed me how to do missionary work--go somewhere that needs help and quietly do what needs doing without tooting your own horn on trying to make the locals over in your image.  The most effective “standard brand” missionaries do quite a bit of this, but their conviction of access to universal truth gets in the way more often than with the Quakers who eschew hubris.

            Education blunts sectarianism over time even for the “heathen”.  I learned this from my counterpart physicians in Afghanistan.  Counterpart is Peace Corps jargon for your local colleagues overseas, and Afghanistan is 98% Moslem.  A serendipitous example of the power of education occurred to our family on a short visit to India.  We had gone from Delhi to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal by taxicab because the price for 5 of us was about equal to train fare.  We took the cab driver to a south Indian restaurant for lunch at our insistence because we had never had South Indian food and wanted to try it.  It is very spicy and Coca-Cola makes it worse.  It turned out that the cab driver was from Simla in north India and had never eaten south Indian food either.  On the way back to Delhi, he said, “If you are so interested in new experiences, please come to a wedding in our family this evening.  I will pick you up in 40 minutes and you will be my guests.”  The bridegroom was brought blindfolded on horseback.  The food was so good you could scarcely tell it was vegetarian.  They took us to the pantry where the younger Hindus were having cocktails.  They didn’t stay long because they were helping the older Hindus to pretend that they didn’t know what was going on.  In the pantry we found that educated young Hindus have a remarkably similar world view to our own, and quite similar to educated Afghans also.  Back in Wisconsin, I was telling a colleague from India about the cocktail party that we attended in India.  He was very emphatic that they have no cocktail parties in India until I explained the details.  His response, “you really get around.”

I have explained why I am not a missionary.  Now, very briefly, I can explain why I am not a Quaker even though I have supported the American Friends Service Committee ever since college days because they do such imaginative things.  They even offered me a job in 1971 helping with a medical installation in Vietnam where the primary mission was fitting artificial limbs for civilian casualties.  This installation suffered no damage from either of the combatants.  We are the proud possessors of a registered letter from a federal judge containing an apology from the FBI for having us under surveillance as subversives because of our Quaker association and the Quaker opposition to the Vietnam War.  Did the FBI miss the point that Quakers have always been opposed to all wars?  When the Quakers found out about the surveillance, apparently they went to court to clear the record of their supporters.  However, I am not a Quaker because the silent meeting and lack of music doesn’t wear well over time.  Haverford no longer requires weekly meeting attendance for all students.  In my case, one silent meeting equaled morning and evening Sunday services plus Thursday evening mid-week church of my childhood as a trial to be endured.

            In summary, I consider myself someone of rather average intelligence with unique and varied opportunities from an early age. These opportunities stumbled over each other to make me what I have become.  Writing for the past three years has made me much more aware of my origins and gratefully so.  On the other hand, if my curriculum had required endless term papers, my mastery of math and science would have suffered and I wouldn’t have as much to write about in old age.  And I would probably never have been able to do fiction anyway except for brief  “shaggy dog stories”.

 

John A. Frantz, MD

January 22, 2003

 

 

Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside yourself.

                                                                                                Saint Augustine

 

An apostolate is a group of clerics assembled for a specific purpose. A posse is a group of citizens assembled for a specific purpose. A sheriff’s posse on the frontier was typical.  Does this make an  apostolate into a posse of apostles?