The Two Sides of Christian Virtues

“Keep it in the middle of the road, Honey
Let’s keep it in the middle of the road.
Neither left or right right down that center we go.”

-“Keep it in the Middle of the Road” (Exile)

Two short stories:

  1.  Back in 2005 (I believe) we were returning from a medical mission trip to Baguionas, Kapangan… a remote village in the Cordillera Mountain range of Luzon. No electricity, and the village is effectively cut off from the rest of the world during rainy season. But it was dry season so we were returning home in a jeepney (Philippine public transportation— smaller than a bus, larger than a taxi). We were packed into this vehicle. On top of the vehicles were piles of brooms being transported to Baguio City for sale. On top of the brooms were more passengers holding on the best they can, making this a potentially unstable vehicle. It was a rough dirt road with lots of bumps and holes along the way. The vehicle lurched from side to side. Looking to the right side of the vehicle I saw a long potential tumble down a steep slope. I was praying that the driver was competent and careful and that the jeepney was not too top-heavy. At first I wished the driver would drive more to the left of the road until I realized that the other side was just as risky. This single-lane dirt road was built on a narrow ridge, with danger on both sides.
  2. A couple decades before this, I worked at a summer camp in the United States (Bethany Baptist Camp). I enjoyed working there. It was fun and fulfilling. I was there for five summers. I still remember our first orientation there— preparing us to be counselors and staff. Our director used this illustration to make a point.  “Suppose you were driving along a mountain road with a steep cliff on one side. Where would you want to drive? Close to the edge of the cliff or as far from it as you can be?” The correct answer was to be far from the cliff edge (I am pretty sure). The point was that in life, you don’t try to live on the edge of moral behavior. Don’t see how close you can get to sinning. Rather, live a life far from that edge.

The second story has a moral attached to it, but the first one could work in terms of a moral as well. But the moral would be considerably different. The moral would be that one should stay in the middle, that there are dangers in the extremes. The second story suggests that there is danger only on one side, the more extreme one is in the opposite direction, the safer one would be.

But which one is correct?

I believe the first story is correct because in morals/ethics/virtues, one can err in either direction.

Consider the diagram below. I first came across this diagram on the FB page of David Lee (thanks David).


This image comes from the paper, “Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in a Proposed Virtues Framework” by James Lanctot and Justin Irving. This suggests that virtues exist in the middle between vices or immoral behavior.I think it is a good list. The article shows the development of this. They took several lists and distilled them now. For example, they removed “Independence” from one of the lists, which I believe was a wise thing, since I am pretty sure that independence is a vice, not a virtue.

Another place where this is discussed is in “The Mind of Christ” by T.W. Hunt and Claude. A similar chart can be made from this book. The text gives a lot more information than this chart.

virtures 2.jpg

Ultimately, the idea of extreme virtue or morality is flawed. Godly living is a balance. Additionally, it is a balance at all levels. As Pope Gregory the Great noted over 1400 years ago, the display of an outstanding virtue may simply be hiding a vice.

Keep it in the middle of the road.




From Baguio to Baguionas and Back, Part 2

I rode in Darwin’s SUV, which was built to handle some of the worst roads in the CAR. We arrived in Baguionas around 8AM. The jeepneys crossed the river, while we in the SUV parked on one side and took the suspended footbridge across. There is no Christian witness there. Most of the people are Spiritists. The people speak Kankanei, and a little Ilokano. Tagalog and English (the national languages of the Philippines) have little use there. The Kankanei are 100,000+ strong scarttered throughout the CAR.

After a breakfast with our host family, we began setting up at the elementary school. We had Dr. Rene, Dra. Evita, and Dr. Paul for medical/surgical, and Dra. Myla, Dra. Sandra, and Dra. Jennifer for dentistry. Additionally, we had nurses to take blood pressure and dispense medications, counselors to share the gospel in Kankanei, Ilokano, and Tagalog, and several others for crowd control. Then there was me. I was the supposed to be the team leader. Brother JR (a Filipino-American missionary and usual leader) was still in California. This was my first shot as leader. Happily, Pastor Jun and brother Roy did much to ensure things did not spiral out of control. On the first day, I felt more like a team follower than leader.

We started around 10AM, with one patient waiting– NOT a successful start. But slowly others trickled in, pausing a few meters from the school grounds for several minutes before proceeding. They would register and have their blood pressure checked. Then they had the gospel shared with them in the language of their choice. We shared some Kankanei Bibles and songbooks. Next, they went to the dentists for check-up or tooth extractions, the surgeon for cyst removal or circumcision, or the medical doctors for other concerns. Finally, they went to the pharmacy for free medicines and vitamins.

That day, we treated 160 people. Close to 75% prayed to receive Christ into their hearts. Filipinos are very friendly and agreeable as a group, and can agree to things that they don’t really accept. However, it would be a mistake to downplay the momentous nature of this day. Jesus told us to preach the good news to all peoples. It took Christians almost 2000 years to obey in reaching this community. Many of the decisions made were serious and even the polite responses are still open doors for further outreach.

After an evening swim in the river, we joined people from the settlement who were invited over to our host family’s house for a film-showing. Between 150 to 250 people arrived around sunset. Darwin Bayani works for Vernacular Video Ministries, which produces and shows evangelistic movies in local languages. He set up his generator and equipment, while we sat in a dry rice paddy to watch movies on a sheet hung on the side of the house. The first movie was titled (in Kankanei) “The Answer”. It was built around a theme near to the hearts of the Kankenei– a family that left the mountains to go to the lowlands, where they became assimilated into the culture and vices of the lowlanders. The story did have a happy ending, of course, and a good evangelistic message. Pastor Samuel, gave a short testimony and call to receive Christ. Many more responded. After this, they were invited to have some dinner. Few did this since they wanted to watch another movie. VVM has produced 6 movies in Kankanei so far, and has produced many other movies in other languages in the CAR. In semi-remote places like Baguionas and others accessible only by long mountain foot trails, movie showing is immensely popular and effective.

From Baguio to Baguionas and Back, Part 1

From Baguio to Baguionas and Back

A Virginia Baptist in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines

By Bob Munson

(This was written in 2005… 10 years ago. Reminds me of how little I knew back then,… but still a good read.)

The rickety old jeepney drove along a deeply rutted dirt road, working along the side of a mountain. Every jolt caused the vehicle to give off disquieting popping and cracking sounds and sway disturbingly. I was packed in like a proverbial sardine with 18 others (and some chickens). Further, an unknown number were on the back fender, on top with all of the luggage and medical supplies, and on the front hood. When the cliff was on my side, I felt panic when the jeepney lurched toward it. When the cliff was on the other side, I felt somehow safer when the jeepney lurched that way. It occurred to me that that did not make sense since, either way, we would tumble hundreds of feet to our deaths. I sensed there was a good spiritual truth in it, but I could not settle my mind to think it through. I kept wondering if the driver had computed the change in the center of gravity of the vehicle due to the big load on top. To add to the concern, I was the team leader– I was responsible for everyone being there.

baguionasCelia, myself, and our three children left Virginia in 2004, supported from Spring Hill Baptist of Ruckersville, to study at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio, and involve ourselves in outreach mission work. Soon we were involved in medical evangelistic missions. Celia, myself, and our 10-year-old son Joel, have done several trips, but this one I was by myself. This trip was a joint effort of Spring Hill and two Philippine churches: Calvary Baptist, Baguio City, and Blessed Hope Christian, Cavite. We left Baguio around 4AM. Baguio is THE city in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). With over a quarter of a million residents living at 1-mile elevation, it has several universities and hospitals. Most in Baguio speaks English, along with Ilokano and Tagalog. And it has the surest sign of prosperity in the Philippines—an SM Mall.

Baguionas is maybe 30 miles away “as the crow flies”, 3 hours away (minimum) in driving, and a lifetime away in style and pace. It is tucked into a mountain valley that is ALMOST inaccessible. During rainy season, it can only be reached on foot (and helicopter?). A few dozen families live as subsistence farmers and broommakers in simple houses, without electricity, surrounded by terraced rice paddies. There is a small school with lodging for the teachers (commuting is not an option). There is one “sari-sari” store. Food and lodging can be had from individual families.

We left in a bus and two cars toward Naguilian. The road twists and turns as it descends 1 mile in elevation. I had to ask to stop when my motion sickness pill failed to do its job. Naguilian is a provincial town. The open market provides a place for people in the surrounding region to buy and sell. Adjacent to the open market are the videokes (video karaoke bars) for people to spend their money. Most of the team transferred to two jeepneys. Jeepneys (somewhere between a bus and taxi) are everywhere in the Philippines. The back is enclosed with two long benches. They are amazingly versatile and many are ornately decorated beautifying the Philippine landscape. However, our jeepneys were not pretty. These were the Baguionas jeepneys– beat-up survivors, with high wheel clearance, four-wheel drive, and an engine with gearing to go wherever roads run.

<Continued in Part 2>