Retrospect and Prospect

Across four of my 39 years in Taiwan I served as an assistant to the president of Tainan Theological College.  I wasn’t the “assistant president.”  That little “to” in the job title was very significant. My duties were partly administrative, partly pastoral (regarding international students) and a lot of “sit in meetings.”

Dr. Huang, my boss, fancied himself to be a scholar, and since he had a “Doctor” in front of his name, he probably was one. I know for sure that he was an excellent administrator, but I edited enough of his writing in English and translated enough of his writing from Chinese, to see him as more of an ideologue than a scholar. A couple years before I went to work for him he had published an article “Retrospect and Prospect of Doing Contextual Theology in Taiwan” in a regional journal. While I was his assistant I often saw the themes of this article come out in later things he assigned me to edit or translate. They influenced the ways I subsequently came to think theologically. The need for “retrospect and prospect” operates in much of life. We look to both past and future all the time. Loss of either direction is catastrophic. Living without both, as many poor people are forced to do, is deadly. 

Chinese mythology includes the story of a successful single mother, whose son, Mencius, is often ranked just below Confucius as a sage philosopher. When Mencius was a boy, his mother was widowed. As the story goes, she moved three times. First because they lived near a cemetery, and her infant son was imitating the wails of the paid mourners he heard daily. When they resided near a marketplace, he came to imitate the calls of the merchants. Finally she moved near to a school. Her son came to recite the lessons that he heard chanted over the wall. As a grown man, Mencius became not an undertaker nor a marketer, but a scholar. He did not look at what had been lost, or to what would bring immediate profit, but toward what would endure. His mother gets the credit. 

I am no scholar. As I look at my past (retrospect), I seek to understand my present (context) and build out towards what I perceive on the horizon (prospect). 

David Alexander also looks both ways before crossing the street in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

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