Thursday, November 11, 2010


Spirit houses guard homes and business places in Cambodia from evil spirits. By standard definition, Cambodia is listed as a Buddhist nation; however, animism is a more appropriate listing. Disembodied spirits and dead relatives float in and out of daily life. Spirit houses keep them from haunting homes and marketplace transactions. To appease the spirits, residents deposit food and spices into the opening of the spirit habitats and hope for the best.

Religious practice there spills into daily business. Appeasement is a mode of survival. Beggars beg until appeased. Peddlers peddle until appeased. Voices of poverty cry until relief organizations come in and appease. Police randomly patrol the streets until appeased. Government officials horde and hide and occasionally build a park to appease.

The driving force behind an appeasement culture is fear: fear of spirits; fear of death; fear of hunger; fear of a night without Agkor beer.

I do the same thing. In the morning my children ask for candy; I say no. They ask again; I say no again. They ask again, afraid they may not get their sugar fix. I appease; I fear my children will drive me mad with their incessant pleas for candy, and I just want to pour myself a bowl of cereal.

Unfortunately, appeasement does not solve problems, it merely prolongs them. Appease one child selling bookmarks at a premium discount of one dollar (every item was one USD), and five others will come knocking. Appease two children begging for Skittles, and cavities and emotional meltdowns are around the corner. The peddler learns his tactic works; the child learns that her whining produces; the appeaser learns that giving in keeps people away. But no one learns healthy engagement.

Enough conversations with people about their view of God have convinced me that Christians embrace an appeasement theology. God is not happy with me. God will judge me harshly. God cannot forgive me, they surmise. Perhaps a little more church, a little more Bible, a little more prayer, a little more service, and I can avert His wrath.

But God does not need appeased. Jesus did that work. Rather than keeping God at a distance, we are to accept Him. "Receive the Holy Spirit," Jesus says (John 20:22). "Become the Spirit's house," Paul echos (1 Cor. 6:19). With His abiding presence, we can live fearlessly--engaging God and neighbor.

Cambodia Update 4 of 5

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