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Friday, October 7, 2011

Pay The Bear

Kathy and I got out of town for a couple of days last month with one of our sons, Rodney, and his friend, David. Our destination was two hours out of Seattle, in the mountains, where we pitched our tents in a campground by a lake.

Needing wood for our campfire, I noticed the campground was selling bundles for $5. But I recalled seeing a sign just off the main highway as we turned toward the lake, advertising firewood for an amount that was 20% less. Passing this location on our way back from a side-trip, we stopped to purchase firewood there.

As we pulled into an orderly establishment, we noticed a lot of wood carvings for sale, all out in the open, with no one around. I saw a large pile of wood, and drove toward it. Here we found a carved bear with a jar atop its head. The jar had “$4.00” written on it, and a sign at the bear’s feet read, Pay The Bear. No one was present to receive our money.

I helped myself to a bundle of wood, and "paid the bear." As I did, I noticed the jar was full of bills. I paid for my purchase with a smile of wonderment, and a heart of thanks for what some early settlers had brought with them across the Atlantic to this land: a foundation for the kind of moral integrity that allows such scenes to still occur in rural America.

I couldn't help but think of a similar experience of Vishal Mangalwadi, who Christianity Today calls, “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” In the opening chapter of his great book, Truth and TransformationDr. Mangalwadi tells of his first trip to Holland, where his host said to him, “Come, let’s go get some milk.” They walked to a nearby dairy farm and entered the milk room, where no one was present. Dr. Mangalwadi’s host filled his jug with milk, then took down a bowl full of cash from a windowsill, put twenty guilders into the bowl, took some change, put the bowl back, and started walking away.

“I was stunned,” Mangalwadi wrote. "Man," I said to him, “if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money.”

Then Mangalwadi posits: "Where did this morality come from? Why isn’t my society equally trustworthy?”

Next week: Mangalwadi's answer to his own provocative question.

Rodney (right) enjoys the campfire with David.

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