Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Travelers Diary

The only thing really making today feel different is that in going to the airport, I wasn't alone. I have gone in and out the Qingdao airport so many times during my time in China, its completely old hat by now; but this time I went in a van accompanied by the whole micMAC team-- and that was special. I asked Meng Xiang Yu if he had ever been to the airport before. He said, “No,” and I smiled a little bit at the irony.

I am so used to the Qingdao airport, I hardly even flinched when the gate for my flight was changed form 7 to 4... and then back to 7. For a moment I had flash backs to coming to china, when my flights got so out of whack I arrived two days later than I was supposed to—but then I remembered “This is China” and gate changes are just a habitual part of the standard flying process.

Asian airlines are so nice. I am Korean Air for my flights up till Atlanta. There was a nice computer panel on the seat in front of me where you can listen to music or watch movies. I decided to save my ipod battery for the long flight, and put on the “recent release” playlist from American music. Is this really what is on the radio now? I haven't missed that at all. If I was a bit tired of the hackneyed beats, meaningless lyrics posing as meaningful poetry, and the standard “rap guy for the verses, pop guy for the catchy chorus!” formula before I left, I am even more so now. Good thing I found some real music on there too, like John Mayer, Regina Spektor and Muse.

Coming to the Seoul Airport feels like coming home. I remember the first time I came here, wide eyed with an overwhelming sense of being out of place. Now I have spent so much time in the Korean airport that I know all the nooks and crannies, including the locations of Quiznos, Starbucks, free showers, and even a prayer room. I have spent over 50 hours here in the past year, and though I have nick named it “Hotel Korea” as a result, tonight I will not be staying. I am going home.

Up, theres my boarding call.

Its now 9:23 pm, and I have 87% on my computer battery. That means maybe 3 hours of battery left.

Would it be cliché to say that the time flew by? Seriously, with that personal tv thing, flying is no problem. Midnight in Paris, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, X Men, Thor-- easy peasy. I guess I am just really good at watching TV. I stayed up the whole flight too, so that should help with jet lag. The guy next to me slept almost the whole time, incredibly.

This is weird I haven't had to listen to inane small talk for a whole year now. I understand what people are saying!

I have been in America like 20mins and I have a credit card in the mail. I mean to be fair I didn't know they were selling something when I came over, but hey you get a free flight just for signing up and can count any flights from the past week on your miles. Also, you get a free teddy bear!

As I fly to the Orlando airport at 8:00 AM, the Florida sun, so different in feel from the sun in China, mingles lazily with the thick white clouds—producing myriads of rainbows in the refracted light. I look down and see water and green and finely squared rows of houses everywhere. I didn't realize I missed Florida till I saw it again.

I am happy to be home.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Spiritual Spiral

One of the most helpful things I ever learned was regarding the shape of Christian spirituality. The author I was reading (Thomas Keating) made the comment that we often spend lots of time learning about all these spiritual things we should be doing to be formed like Christ, but we don't spend very much time thinking about the form or shape of christian spirituality in general. I think he is absolutely correct. We spend tons of time figuring out all the little things we should do on the Journey, but hardly any time figuring out what the Journey actually looks like.

Most of us approach Spirituality, the journey of sanctification, as if it is linear. You are travelling across an open plane, getting from point A to point B, and since the fastest way to get anywhere is a straight line, we think our Spirituality should be a straight line. Which means we shouldn't ever visit ground we have already visited, or zig zag along the way. That is all wasted motion, it is all wasted effort that means we are following Christ wrong.

Put another way, we approach following Jesus as if it is like school. In school you take a class, you pass that class, and then you move on. You take Geometry, you pass geometry (if you are smart!), and then you don't take geometry again. Oh, you might take another math that somehow relies on geometric principles, but it is not the same class. It is harder, more advanced, more complex. And if you do end up taking geometry again, going over the same lesson about proofs another time... well that means maybe math isn't your thing. If you take geometry ANOTHER time after that, again going over that tricky lesson on proofs... well maybe you aren't the sharpest tool in the shed (or perhaps really lazy?).

That is all well and good for geometry. But we mustn't think of Christian Spirituality that way. If you think that on the path of following Jesus you take classes "Loving Others 101", "Faith in Jesus", and "Loving God and Not the World" and then after taking them move on to higher more advanced subjects... you are in for a rough surprise. You will get discouraged as each time you think you "learn the lesson about faith" somehow or other you find later on that you are right back in the same situation, learning the same lesson all over again. Once or twice in the remedial course and you can hype yourself up and convince yourself you wont be back.. but after your twelfth time learning the lesson "God is greater than you" or "Love God and Others, not yourself", well it is hard not be down on yourself or think of giving up. "Will I ever learn ANYTHING?! I thought I already learned this!"

But all of that is unnecessary. Following after Jesus isn't like walking across an open plain or taking secondary courses. Following Jesus is like climbing a mountain. When you cross a plain, you walk straight and thats pretty much it. When you climb a mountain you go up and down and side to side, and all of that is moving you forward. When you climb a mountain there are switchbacks-- you move back and forth between the same exact points, moving upward. Though in one sense you are on the same part of the mountain you have been on before, in another sense you are not: you are higher up. And how do you move further up the mountain? By returning to the very same spot on the mountain, just a little higher up.

Christian Spirituality isn't linear. It is a spiral. In a line you move forward by never coming back to the same ground. In a spiral you move forward by covering the same ground over and over again, just a little higher up each time. I think this is how God shapes us.

And doesn't this make sense after all? We have all found ourselves back "relearning" a lesson we have already learnt before. This isn't because we are stupid or spiritually stubborn or that we didn't learn the lesson the first time. It is that the last time we learned the lesson we weren't mature enough to learn all of it. We weren't sanctified enough to learn any more than we did, and we probably weren't even able for God to reveal more about our depravity to us. Each and every time we revisit the same ground and learn the "same" lesson, we see it from the slightly higher position of our growing maturity. What does this mean?

You never get past the basics of Christianity. You will never leave behind the lessons of faith and hope and love. They are what holds everything together. You never get past the gospel. It is something you never stop learning, in a thousand different ways at a million different times all along the path toward He who is the Head, the Lord over all, Christ.

~J.L. Smith

Culture and Love

This may sound crazy, but I think I am just now experiencing the cultural stress people often talk about and lump in with “culture shock”. Oh I have had my fair share of adjustments, getting used to new language and new rules regarding staring, spitting, sitting, eating, cleanliness, bathrooms, whistling (yes, whistling),
green hats, and a plethora of other things. But I am a pretty mellow guy, even keeled you might say. Aside from the initial feeling of being an alien (a feeling I realized I was carrying with me, not a feeling the people or land were projecting at me), things have been pretty easy culturally. Things like crowded buses or lines that aren't lines but a contest to see who can shove to the front-- overall these haven't really stressed me.

But recently I have entered a new cultural context. Maybe context isn't the best word. Perhaps level? I any case I have now been here long enough and our office staff is large enough that I find myself having chinese friendships, real and palpable. And I don't just mean that I have chinese friends. I have had those for a while. What is new is that the ratio of chinese to foreigner has shifted among the general staff so that I am the clear minority, and things tend to run, relationally speaking, in a chinese way.

Which is quite exciting! But also frustrating. I don't know if you all know this or not, but I will let you in on a secret: I am not chinese! I don't know all the tiny little social protocols and rules and expectations that go into friendships here. I have these big general ideas about how they are different, but no idea how those really work out in practice.

For instance, paying for meals. In America, when out with friends, this is relatively easy. Everyone pays for their own thing. You either get separate checks or everyone puts in money. Every once in a while someone will pay for you, just to be nice. But its not like you owe them anything.

China is completely different. Everything is based on relational capital and doing things for other people, and those people being indebted to you. It is a system called guanxi. So when you go out to eat, everyone paying for themselves is pretty much out of the question. One person pays. They don't collect money. They pay. Basically what happens is that there is a knock down drag out verbal fight (indirectly) for who gets to pay-- not with everyone trying to avoid paying, but with everyone trying to out give the others. I have to fight to pay for anything EVER.

And the same idea applies to anything else. I have to scrap and fight and pound my head against this cultural wall in order to do anything for my Chinese friends. It is this weird dynamic where I know that I am culturally expected to do things for them and I also know that Christ wants me to be as loving toward these people as possible-- but they won't accept my love! And it is completely 100% frustrating.

It is hard enough to love people from my own culture, where I know the rules and expectations. But learning to love across cultures is a whole new thing, learned slowly through a thousand mistakes. May God give me grace as I learn to really love the Chinese way.

~J.L. Smith

Community and Love

So lets talk some more about my failures.

It is a hard thing to move to a new culture. I think everybody kind of knows that, to some degree or other. Some know it from experience, and everybody else knows because the people that know from experience proclaim it with wide eyes and won't let the others forget it.

There is a whole gaggle of reasons why moving cross-culturally is difficult, but I think it ultimately boils down to this: it is loss of community. All the customs and language and food and “common sense” that are foreign to you are roadblocks to community.

It was hard moving here basically straight from college, where I had the deepest and widest Christian community I have ever had, to a whole new community where nothing comes easy. Granted there is a foreign community here as well, but starting from scratch anywhere isn't necessarily fun. And it takes time.

Like many things in my time here, my community has grown over time, initially slowly but picking up speed the longer I have been here. I was warmly welcomed here by the Joneses and Whitneys and my first months here would have been much much harder without them (I am forever in their debt, and to me, they are my china family), but after a couple weeks I craved to know more people, particularly those at a similar stage of life. I scrounged for community, looking for relationships everywhere, accepting any invitations to anything—and after a while I found it. I found friends, I found people to worship God with, I found people to show God to, and I found pretty much everything I needed to be satisfied.

Which is pretty much the problem. I have spent waaaay too much time thinking about myself. As I said in my last post, I think real love is based upon focusing on others and not yourself. You can do a whole lot of things that look like love, and in some ways imitate it, but in reality its not agape love. It is ego centric self serving love. Though I have spent much of my time here thinking, “How can I build community? How can I encourage community?” I haven't been seeking to love others for the sake of loving God. I have been seeking to love others for the sake of loving myself. I want community because it was a way to fill the void, a way to find closeness and intimacy and support and love. Instead of relying on the ocean of God's love, I idolized community instead.

And community that is built through idolatry is never stable. You don't actually end up forming a loving community, at least not a whole one. When loving others is an expression of your selfishness, you end up with fragmented unhealthy community. When loving others is an expression of Christ's love working itself out of you, when it is based upon God's love for you and your love for Him, when at the center of it all is the complete self-denial found in the love of Christ-- then the Church really can be whole and healthy and united. May God give me grace as I learn what it means to really love.

~J.L. Smith

Ministry and Love

Have you ever done something with the best of intentions.. but then done it all wrong? Like those times in school where there was a big homework assignment you had to complete---like, say, answering discussion questions 3-8 with a three page response per question---and you dutifully went about answering all the questions, meticulously crafting your answers for the best possible grade, only to find out you had answered questions from the wrong unit or book or whatever? And as a result, you got a big fat F? No matter how hard you work on those questions, not matter how right your answers-- they are answers to all the wrong questions.

I feel like I have been answering all the wrong questions.

For those with eyes to see, there is an infinite amount of work to do in bringing the kingdom. The task of the Church to be salt and light works its way out in a thousand myriad ways, intersecting with cultures and languages and churches and peoples and politics and social justice and war and peace and love and hate and all the problems and hopes of humanity. And though our task can be so large as to be overwhelming, we know that we cannot do anything less than be the Church; we know we can do nothing less than enact God's kingdom.

And so the question I have been asking myself (and the question I feel many of us ask ourselves) is this: what can I do to change the world? What can I do to bring the kingdom? What can I do to contribute to the vocation of the Church?

There is so much right about this question. It sounds so good. Its intentions are pure and honest and heartfelt. But just as tiny miniscule adjustments in the aim of an archer can produce massive differences when the arrow reaches the target, so too these questions, though flawed in a seemingly small way, produce differences in the final outworking of our life and ministry that are huge and noticeable and, to put it bluntly, off the mark. I know. It has happened to me.

I have found that the question, “what can I do to change the world?” sounds like it is about other people, but really just ends up being all about me. The intention is good, but the focus is wrong. I end up living missionally, ostensibly, for myself. I need to be right. I need to be holy. I need to be doing Christianity “correctly”. I, I, I! Me, me, me! I need the world to be changed, for communities to be impacted, for others' lives to be changed-- for myself. For my own justification. For my own satisfaction and sense of accomplishment and, ultimately, self worth.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is loving God, and right behind it is loving people. And I think the core of what it means to be loving is this: to live for the sake of something other than yourself. Our task is to be the embodiment of God's love in the world, and so to bring the kingdom and change the world. But we can't embody God's love by first focusing on ourselves. We can only embody God's love by loving God. Real ministry only happens where we deny ourselves, die to ourselves, sacrifice ourselves to God so that he can rule us, guide us, love us, sanctify us. The question isn't, “How can I change the world?” but “How can I join God in changing the world?” “How can I give myself up to God?” “How can I let God use me?”

In short, it is not about what I must do, but about what I must become.

Not too long ago I was praying, asking God, “What am I doing here? I have been striving and trying and working and thinking and doing, but I see nothing! Where is the fruit?! I thought the harvest was ripe? I know you are doing things here God, but I don't see it! Show me!” And as soon as I got up from praying I was invited to an unexpected place, met an unexpected man, and was witness to God's providence at work as that man was led from belief in God to belief in Christ. It was as if God was saying, “Yes, I am at work here. I am moving here. And this is the only avenue for real change: through me. Won't you join me?”

I will never be the embodiment of God's love to the world by focusing on myself. I will never change the world by trying to change the world myself. Its like trying to swim across the Sahara or run across the Pacific: the goal might be good, but the method is all wrong. The only method for lasting change in the world is love, pure and real, first for God and then for others. May God give me grace as I learn what it means to really love.

~J.L. Smith

Thursday, August 25, 2011


God has grown me in all sorts of ways. Perhaps one of the ways he has shaped me most is through life plans, leadings, and questions about the future.

He has shaped me by telling me things I didn't want to hear, and leading me to do things I didn't want to do. I remember a time when I thought God telling me to go to China was the most disgruntling thing he could have said—but through that he taught me to relinquish my hold on my life plans.

He has shaped me by forcing me to trust him in his plans for me. I remember learning humility through trusting that since God had told me to go to China, he would provide the means.

He has shaped me by shoving real life and his actual plans against the stubborn framework of my own imaginary expectations. He has continually taught me that I am joining him in HIS work in the world-- he isn't joining mine.

And now he is shaping me once again. I can tell because usually when I am uncomfortable—he is changing me somehow. I wrote sometime ago about how God was leading me to seminary. I still feel that way. I feel the pull to go to seminary, and soon. So as of right now I will be going to seminary in the Fall of 2012. Awesome! Great! That really feels God led. I love it when God tells me the next step!

Except this isn't the next step. After high school the “next step” was college. After college the “next step” was China. After my internship here in China the next step is.... something that fills up time from October to July. And then its time for seminary. You see I don't know the next step. I know the step after the next step.

Which is new for me. God has made me humble myself to hear the next step. He has made me trust him to come through when I knew the plan. But he has never ignored the next step and told me all about the next next step!

Its like God is saying, “So, do you really trust me? What if I don't tell you what is going to happen next? Will you trust that I will still come through even when you don't know the plan? How far does your faith go?”

I could end up coming back to China for another six months. I could end up in Florida. I could end up in Illinois. I don't know. And you know what? I am pretty ok with that.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of things unseen.”-- Hebrews 11:1

~J. L. Smith

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I decided this summer to pray everyday for God to crucify my "self" and vivify himself in me. I learned so much from doing a focused period of one kind of prayer earlier in the year that I thought it was worth doing again.

I was right. It totally was. Its funny though. I expected to learn something both times I committed myself to a long period of prayer, but both times I learned something completely different from what I thought I would.

Honestly, this time around I really thought I was going to learn what it felt like to be radically transformed. I thought perhaps a long period of intensive prayer would push me over the edge into new territory of life with God. If I am completely honest with myself, I thought maybe it would be a magic bullet for leap in my own sanctification.

Instead, God taught me that the whole idea of a magic bullet for sanctification was a pretty stupid idea.

Somewhere in the middle of the summer thing began to get really hard for me spiritually. I was constantly under attack. I was spiritually exhausted. I was lethargic and unmotivated. I was sick of fighting temptation, sick of trying to be holy, sick of pressing on and on and on for what felt like an interminable amount of time. So naturally I started complaining to God.

"Why are you making me go through this?"
"Why does this have to be this way?"
"Why can't I just be done?"
"I am so tired. Can't you just make all of this go away?"

And then the Holy Spirit smacked me over the head. And God said, "You have been praying these past months, everyday, for me to crucify you... and you expected the road to that death of self to be any easier than the one my Son walked? Of course the way is hard. Of course the way is trying. The way of the cross if full of suffering and hardship and persecution and death. What did you expect?"

And suddenly everything over this past year and half snapped into clarity. This has been my struggle. This has been Satan's attack on me. It has been on my endurance. Sure that trying and testing may come through various different means, but the goal was all the same: to whittle away my endurance. To make me give up.

For the past year and half God has been trying to teach me that following after him is not easy. That sanctification is not easy. That I need to acquiesce not only to the death of self, but also to the way that death will come about. I have to march knowingly to my own death, knowing that to say those words means more than to simply spout some Christian metaphor for sanctification. I have to march to my own death knowing that it will not be easy or instant, but will be long and grueling and trying and exhausting. I have to agree, not only to let God change me, but also to the way he will change me: this rocky, whirling, twisting, turning, suffering, fiery, refining, trying, awesome, joyful, painful, tiring, full, empty, broken, hopeful thing we call LIFE.

~J.L. Smith


"Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."
--James 3:1

This verse has always haunted me. I have no idea what it means, except this: If you are going to teach about the Word then you had better take it seriously. Like really seriously.

I have always admired the Jews. Both ancient and modern. Their discipline of study just amazes me. They would not only memorize most, if not all, of the Old Testament, but would also memorize huge tracts of the rabbinic commentaries on those passages. Amazing. I look at them and think that of all the things they may have gotten wrong they got this right: the Word is central--and they took that seriously.

I came to the realization the other day that our faith is one based primarily on texts. Oh sure there is a whole grand spectrum of Christianity that cannot be simply encompassed in "text" but if you throw out the Word you are on the path of heresy.

I also came to the realization that I consider myself someone who is called to teach the Word. And if that is true, I really need to start taking it seriously. Why do I let myself get away with having just a cursory knowledge of the Word? Why am I ok with being only a little engaged with the history of interpreting it? How can I settle for being merely "knowledgeable" about Scripture? If I am to teach, I cannot be content with passing along "truth" that I "heard from someone, sometime". Thats not going to cut it. James tells me so.

I must be absurdly, ridiculously, outlandishly familiar with the Word. I must be stewed in it, steeped in it, nourished and grown and swimming in it if I am to take all this seriously. I used to gawp at hearing about the way the Jews would study for hours and hours and hours to the exclusion of most everything else, and wonder how they could do it. But now I think I get it.

I really just don't have time for other things. I only have time to master one thing, and I choose the Word. I will never be a concert pianist. I will never be able to watch all the T.V. I want to. I will never be a master cook or engineer or architect. I don't have time. I have one singular thing upon which to focus: the Word. And in seeking to master it, maybe, just maybe I will find myself mastered by the Master along the way.

~J.L. Smith

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jeremy and Tab's BIG China Adventure: Day One

Recently my sister came to visit me! We did some travelling and also took lots of video footage. I will be posting the videos as I edit them. Here is the first!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Regarding Naked Running

No, its not what you think.

Unless what you think is that I recently started running again and went for a run along the ocean without a shirt on (but emphatically WITH shorts). Then its exactly what you think.

I have been running for years now. Track and Cross country in high school had me running nearly every day, always without a shirt. Because if you didn't run without a shirt that meant you were a rookie. And I didn't want to be no rookie. Plus, its Florida and it was stinkin hot. So after four years of being trained to run without a shirt, I really can't stand to run any other way.

So when I went running the other day in Qingdao, naturally the shirt was off. Now, I have lived in China for a while at this point. So I have kind of developed a sense for when I am acting culturally normal-- and when I am not. For instance, throwing your own trash away at Starbucks or a fast food place. Not normal. People look at you askance. The staff is kind of surprised. One time I even had a Chinese lady stop me in the middle of clearing away someone else's trash from a table so that I could sit there. She said I really should get the staff to do that.

Anyways, so as I was running, I began to feel a disturbance in the force. People were staring. Sometimes craning their head to get a better look. This is not all that uncommon in China. Staring isn't rude in the least, and often times Chinese who haven't seen foreigners before will give you a pretty good look down, unabashedly. But, the people I was running by all lived in a part of town covered with foreigners. I knew it wasn't the common "He is a foreigner" stare. This was a "He is a foreigner doing something strange" stare.

But what could it be?

At first I thought it might be the actual running. Maybe they don't run here. They do Tai Chi instead?

Nope, I remember seeing joggers before (always with overly expensive workout clothes).

Then I thought it might be that I was running without a shirt. Maybe people always wear shirts here.

Nope, my first week here I saw men in speedos playing volleyball on the beach (then immediately tried to forget that I had). Plus, as I was running I ran right by a group of guys without their shirts on.

Aha! Maybe, they don't wear shirts sometimes, but ALWAYS wear them while jogging?

Nope, I saw an old man jogging with his dog and he definitely did not have a shirt on.

I was stumped. Why were they staring? What was weird?

Then I realized. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Its not that they could see my chest. Its that the could see my hairy chest. Yup chinese men have about the same amount of chest hair as an 11 year old boy. And my chest? Well, lets just say I don't use shampoo only on my head.

Now this could bother me. But I have decided its not going to. I am just going to view myself as official ambassador to China for extraneous hair. Maybe I'll start a trend. Maybe by the time I leave, there will be a whole flock of Chinese men applying Rogaine to their chests in an effort to grow some man locks.

~J. L. Smith

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Wind in My Sails

I love 1 Corinthians 15.

It is one of my favorite chapters in the bible. I mean how could a whole chapter on the resurrection NOT be one of your favorite chapters?? Paul is such a great rhetorician, I just love how his arguments swell into these grand visions of Christian Hope (ala Romans 8).

One of the things he talks about in this chapter is how right now we have soma psychikon (natural body) but when the resurrection happens we will have a soma pneumaikon (spiritual body). The interesting thing is that Paul does not mean that right now we have a normal body, and then later our body will be made out of "spirit" or something. He is not making a comment on what our bodies will be made out of, instead, he is making a comment about what drives or animates those bodies. How do I know that?

Well, because I read a book by N.T. Wright. He says its all in the adjectives. The kind of ending used here on these words always refers to animating force rather than substance. Its like the difference between asking, "Is this ship iron or wooden?" and asking "Is this ship steam or wind powered?" Paul isn't saying will be made out of spirit. He is saying that the Spirit will be what powers us, drives us, sets us in motion. Using the ship analogy, we aren't going to be ships made from spirit, but the Spirit is going to be the wind in our sails.

I love that idea, that picture. We all know we are supposed to be Holy Spirit led, but I have never thought about it quite this way before. That the Holy Spirit is to be the force that drives me. That the Spirit is to be what moves me and makes me act. That the Spirit is to be the wind in my sails.

May He be the wind in your sails as well.

~J.L. Smith


Dear Coffee,

I need to apologize. I haven't been very fair to you. I have been pretending we are just really good friends. I thought we could keep it casual. Not get emotionally involved.

But lets be honest. You are the only one for me coffee. And baby, I love you.

yours truly,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


No this post is not about a Forever Changed album.

If you don't get that joke, you are missing out. They were a great band.

Yup. WERE a great band. They disbanded. Broke up. Went on to other things. Apparently the lead singer made a deal with his wife that if they didn't hit it big by a certain time, he would give up the band, settle in one spot and do youth ministry with his family. Date came, things changed, they all moved on.

I hate finishing books. Especially series.

i love finishing books. Especially series.

Its kind of a love/hate thing.

I love it because it is the climax of a story and the final curves of the character arcs. You get to know the ending, finally, and see what happens to the people and places you have been following for weeks, months, even years (yes, Harry Potter I'm looking at you). I hate it because when you know the ending, it is just that-- the end. There is no more story. There is nothing else to read, know, discover. The ending is the End, and as many times as you read the book hoping that this time, this time there would be more, that it would keep going-- it always ends.

You have to move on.

Life is like that. With stories that begin and swell and climax and conclude. It has chapters that open and close and End. And once they are done you never get them back. As much as you want to go back to that time or that place or that story, you can't. You have to move on. You have to say goodbye.

I have been thinking about this in relation to my time here in China. Its not time for me to leave yet. But with people I know leaving, and my original contract beginning to wind down, I realize that one day this chapter of my life is going to conclude. It is going to conclude. I don't like that. But its unavoidable. Stories have chapters, and how can you ever live the next chapter if you are stuck in the one before?

So heres the rest of this chapter. May the end be as good as the beginning.

~J.L Smith

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dragon Boat

You might be wondering why I have a sudden plethora of blog posts as of late. The answer?

Dragon Boat Festival

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are a holiday here in China called Duanwo Jie, or Dragon Boat Festival. It celebrates a famous man from Chinese legend who was basically a Daniel character falsely accused of sedition against the king and was banished because of it. According to legend he was so full of integrity he drowned himself rather than join those who plotted against Chinese society.

So down south they have dragon boat races in his honor.

Flight told me they also traditionally eat these. Inside the wraps are sticky rice with either fruit (like a date), bean paste, or sometimes meat. Flight likes the meat ones the best, but we had the date ones in office. They weren't bad.

In other news, I finally have a Chinese name. Last Friday I went out to eat with two of my Chinese coworkers from the office. Only one spoke any English so most of the night consisted in fun multilingual conversation that went something like this:
One person: "Blah blah blah"
Second person: "What?"
Followed by lots of charades.

I asked Meng XiangYu if he had an English name and he said he didn't have one yet, but wanted one. Usually Chinese ask their foreign friends to name them, so I proffered several suggestions. After passing on Elliot and Gandalf, he settled on Brad. Naturally he asked me if I had a Chinese name, which I did not. Since Dragon boat was a topic of conversation I asked him he thought Long (Dragon) might be good name. He said it needed something after it. I pondered a bit and said, "How bout Long Zhou?"

He and Sunny both agreed it was a good name. So I have officially been Christened "Long Zhou" or "Dragon Boat". I like it for several reasons:

1) I was born in 1988, so I am a Dragon according to the Chinese Zodiac.
2) I like dragons.
3) It is easy to pronounce/ remember.
4) It is associated with a festival about a cool legendary character.
5) It reminds me of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (book, not the movie)

~Long Zhou

Friendship (Part 2)

What makes a good friendship? What makes someone your best friend? What makes someone your friend for life?

Friendship is so interesting to me. How it is formed, how it is maintained, how it grows. I am intrigued by it because I don't understand it, and don't think I ever will. How does friendship happen? It seems as if you can just be going along your merry way and then one day you wake up and find yourself good friends with someone you never even suspected. I know it has happened to me. It is delightful when it does.

The whole process of moving from acquaintances, to casual friends, to good friends, to best friends, to family interests me. You meet some people and quickly decide to be friends. You meet others and friendship just seems to happen. Some friends you only talk about one thing with. Some friends you can talk about anything. Some friends are great for a good time, but they aren't who go to in the bad. Some friends you live with but aren't really that close to, other friends live far away and you couldn't be closer. Some friends move away and your friendship just isn't the same. Some friends your relationship is thicker than blood.

People always talk as if "best friend" is the highest category of friendship, but I don't think that it is. Some people talk like friends that are considered "family" are the highest category of friends, but I don't think that true either. I have had many best friends and I have had many people I consider my brothers and sisters, but I think there is one form of friendship even deeper. Soul Friends.

No I don't mean we eat ribs and Popeyes chicken together. I mean friends whose relationship isn't just like the blood of family but whose heart's are bound to one another. Like David and Jonathan.

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that (A)the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and (B)Jonathan loved him as himself.
~1 Samuel 18:1

They are once in a life time friends. And as they say in Little Rascals, "You find a once in a life time friend, ONCE in a lifetime."

It is a wonderful thing to find such a friend. Complete transparency, mutual love, and kindred souls centered on Christ make for a relationship where you push each other, hold each other, grow each other, and sacrifice for each other.

Have you found your Jonathan?

~J.L. Smith

Friendship (Part 1)

I have been thinking a lot about friendship recently. Mostly I have been thinking what an incredible gift it is.

College was one of the best times of my life. I absolutely loved it. My years there had a hugely transformative effect on me. It wasn't because FCC is some academics powerhouse or super holy place, it was because of the people there. The people that mentored me, the people I mentored, and perhaps most importantly the friendships I formed. I began to discover how rich and deep and wonderful friendships with fellow believers can be. We laughed and learned and got mad at each other. We battled sin together and talked theology together and worshipped together. We ate together, shared together, lived together. My friends from college are some the people nearest and dearest to my heart.

Then we graduated.

I am a bit different than most people I know. I grew up in the same house, in the same town, going to the same church my whole life. I never lived anywhere besides South Daytona before I went to college, and since home was only an hour away it never really felt all that far. I have never had to say goodbye to my best friends before, knowing we would never be together in the same way again. It is heart wrenching.

China kind of threw all of that into overdrive. Not only was I leaving college behind, never to return, I moved across the world to a place where all my relationships were starting from scratch. The first while here was really hard. I told people I didn't have culture shock so much as moving shock. It wasn't weird food or foreign language that was getting to me, it was the complete shakedown of the etch and sketch of my relationships so that I was left basically with a blank board. All there was to do was simply start turning those knobs again and building things back.

It takes a lot of time to fill up an etch and sketch. I didn't really expect to make much progress.

Turns out, I was wrong. I have been incredibly blessed here in China with wonderful friends. Friends who make me think, who make laugh, and who make me grow. And the cycle of loss from college to now has made me appreciate what I have, right here in the midst of it. Community is a wonderful beautiful thing. No wonder the New Testament talks about it so much. Godly friendships are incredibly formative.

~J.L. Smith

Monday, May 30, 2011

The First Love

"The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent."

Revelation 2:1-5

Friday, May 27, 2011

China Me, Baby

This past week I had to go clear across town for a shopping/errand run with Flight for micMAC. You may not think that really sounds all that fun.

You'd be wrong.

It was fantastic. The whole morning was a cultural experience, unlike anything I have experienced in a while here. I met Flight at Tai Dong, the self-proclaimed “world famous walk street” known for its shopping, not because we needed to buy anything from Tai Dong but because the huge Walmart there is pretty much the only landmark that side of town to which I know how to find my way. First we went to a little area full of cramped market alleys packed to the brim with exploding colors and sounds and smells and lots and lots of things for sale. That's where Flight taught me how to say “Ni yao shenme, Tamen you shenme.” which literally translates to “You want what, They have what.” or more loosely: You want it, they got it. From a cursory glance at the aisle and aisles of junk, stuff and valuables-- I have to say thats about right.

Our next big stop was a place called Culture Street. This is a bit higher class of buying area, with shops full of carved wood, shaped stone, dyed scrolls, and old books. Flight needed to buy some blank scrolls for a training gig this weekend. I was afraid that if I accompanied her too closely the vendors might raise their bargaining prices on account of me being foreign (this has happened before). So while she visited the shops searching for the best price, I wandered outside and looked at a myriad of huge carved stones. There was literally a whole street lined with people selling massive hunks of rock. I even stumbled upon one tent that had a huge wooden buddha, standing a few feet taller than me, and what looked like a wooly mammoth shaped from a large old tree stump (also much taller than me). I wished I had brought my camera! Though, since I left the charger for my camera in Japan it probably would not have done me much good.

Computer City was up next. This was another “Ni yao shenme, Tamen you shenme” place, except this time with electronics. Multiple buildings filled with multiple floors of stuff and stuff and stuff and stuff. Its like if Best Buy and Circuit City and the Apple Store all had a baby, and then that baby grew up to be 9 feet tall and 400 pounds and full of Chinese people looking for a bargain. I could absolutely spend all day there.

Best of all was lunch. Flight took me to a little hole in the wall place not far from Computer City. You know its going to be good when nothing on the menu is in English. Thats when you have reached the bottom slice of China's restaurant industry, and that is where all the best food is. It is common for little noodle shops to be run by a family of Muslims (called Muslim Noodle Shops by foreigners.... original I know) and this one was no exception. They are well known for their exceptional noodles, and after tasting them I agree with the cultural consensus: they are in fact delicious. I ate till noodles were coming out my ears.

The whole morning served to remind me of one simple fact: I LIVE IN CHINA. Which is pretty cool. My side of town just isn't the same. I don't have awesome hole in the wall eateries or buildings full of stuff for sale. I have Western style food courts and malls and a movie theatre. My routine doesn't take me far afield in Qingdao. I have a bubble, and I like it that way. But days like that one remind that sometimes I just need to say “China me baby” and go on an adventure. I won't be here forever after all.

I want to experience more of what China has to offer before I leave.

But mostly, I want some more noodles.

~J.L. Smith

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Directions That Are REALLY Old Directions

I am going to Seminary.

No, not right now. They don't really have very many of those in China. I mean, I will in the future be going to seminary.

This may seem like old news to those who know me. Haven't I always said that going to seminary was something I saw myself doing at some point?

Yes. I did.

But ever since God shattered my life plan and I figured out that listening to God's leading on my life was, like, "important"-- I have held off from making any definite future plans. Its ok to have back up plans, things that are loosely held as fall backs unless God leads you differently. But real substantial actual Plans where You tell God Your Plan? I have learned to avoid those.

So though seminary was first a part of my self made Plan, and then later loosely held as a "back up plan", I now hold it as a God given leading. I don't just plan to go to seminary anymore. I feel led there. And probably for the first time in my life could I approach seminary correctly.

I used to want to go to seminary as a simple stepping stone to more education and a consequent job. I kind of don't care about that anymore. That is, really, not a good reason to devote several more years of my life to study. Neither should I go because it is comfortable. If I am honest, I wanted to go to seminary after undergrad because in the last analysis--it would be easy. Sure the work and study and stress are hard, but the general environment of higher Christian education? Completely, 100%, absolutely comfortable. I liked that. But it is also not a good reason.

What is a good reason? Questions.

For several months now I have been feeling a burgeoning sense of intellectual discomfort with my faith. I don't understand broadly or deeply enough. I have come to realize I probably never will. But in order to live a life of semper reformanda, a life of constant reformation, I must always be reforming and deepening my understanding of my faith. To live a life of constant sanctification is to live a life of constant questioning: questioning your motives, questioning your praxis, questioning if you are truly reflecting Christ, and questioning how it all fits together.

Seminary is a place of Questioners. And it is a place that teaches you, maybe not all the right answers, but how you might live a life of constant questioning, answering, and reform.

I don't know when my time in seminary will come yet. But I now know that, yes, God would have me go there.

~J.L. Smith

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Concerning My Christ-UNlikeness

I love Philippians 2.

It is one of my all time favorite passages of scripture. I talks about being imitators Christ, who made himself nothing and took on the very nature of a servant so that he might die for a sinful world. We should be self-less in the same way.

I have found that to be kind of hard. Big Surprise, I know.

It is my job as a Christian to proclaim the Kingdom. Christ is King, he died for the world, and we can be restored, redeemed and renewed because of him. That is pretty good news. I should need no other motive than the glorification of Christ and the fulfillment of my god-given calling. Unfortunately I find another motive at work in my heart.

I want to be big deal. I want to be a pretty cool Christian and do all the proper Christian things and give myself lots of brownie points for doing all the right things. Instead of humbling myself and only having concern for others, I kind of want to have concern for others because its the right thing to do! And if I do the right thing then I can pat myself on the back and give myself a gold star for being awesome. I get to exalt myself in my own eyes.

I am going to tell you a secret. You can't tell anyone.

I have never brought anyone to Christ. At least not directly. I have never had a conversation with someone where at the end they decided to believe in Jesus. I have never baptized anyone. Sure, maybe something I said or did made an impact on someone and later on it was a part of the reason they came to Christ. But I have never had the direct experience of leading someone into the faith.

Not that I haven't tried. I have done tons of preaching and teaching and conversing and praying and all that jazz. Its just never come together.

Recently I spent two months praying everyday for the nonbelievers I was regularly around. Everyday. For 56 days. I expected a lot to happen. I expected this to be my big moment, my golden opportunity. It was an intense spiritual fight, with lots of opposition, which convinced me all the more that I must be really on to something. The 56days ended a week ago. I still can't say I have led someone to Christ. That bothers me.

More importantly, it bothers me that it bothers me. I am disturbed at the fact that I trivialize all the good those days of prayer did and all the fruit it brought about in order to focus on how I can't add a spiritual badge to my chest. I am disturbed by the fact that at some deep core level I can pour myself into Kingdom work and the Kingdom life for.... myself. Glorifying Christ, on some level, isn't enough. I need a little glory too. I am not selfless. I have not made myself nothing. I have not taken the very nature of a servant.

Most disturbing of all: what if that is why I am ineffectual? What IF God chooses to draw people to himself only indirectly through me BECAUSE I am not humble enough? What if the pride of my faux humility is the very thing holding people back from entering the kingdom?

I have talked before about the weight of representing Christ. It is when I am convicted so acutely about my Christian life that I feel that weight most heavily.

Rom 7:24-25
"24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

~J.L. Smith

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Looney Bin

Some person or other once said that insanity is doing the same things over and over, and expecting different results.

I guess thats pretty good. But I would like to add my own variation. I think insanity is knowing what gives you life and joy and peace, but choosing the opposite anyways. That is insane. Just completely crazy.

And it describes me perfectly.

I know what is good for me. I know that God gives me life and joy and peace and renewal. I know that I am never more joyful than when I am seeking after God, spending time with him, drenching myself in Scripture, and living out my calling. I know that. And yet I choose not to do it. All the time.

That's insane.

I know that neglecting to pray or read or just generally follow the Spirit is bad for me. I know that to choose sin produces death in my mind and soul and life. I know that. And yet I choose death over life all the time.

That's insane.

What is even crazier? I already know all this. I have already had this observation before, I have already made this realization about my spiritual life. It isn't simply that I sometimes choose death over life blindly or ignorantly or what have you. It isn't as if I actually thought death were life, or that seeking other things besides God would bring me life. I know that isn't true, AND I know that I have a tendency to act crazily. But then I still choose the world over God, idols over Yahweh, and lies over truth.

That's insane.

I find it wryly amusing that I always come from times of great spiritual consistency or depth, which I am graced with through constant spiritual discipline in seeking after the Spirit, and then think that it will be a good idea to slack off of seeking Christ because "I feel tired" "I don't feel like reading tonight" "I am so busy" "Taking a break won't hurt, right?" I know all those things aren't good reasons. But I choose to believe them anyways sometimes, because, well, it just feels easier.

Its always easier to choose death over life. Which is backwards, and doesn't make sense. But I think its true. I mean we are full of corruption after all. Even as regenerated Spirit-filled believers we still have to deal with the flesh (Rom 6-8). I think the death/life cycle (or valley/mountain, desert/oasis) of spirituality is unavoidable.

Honestly, I don't ever expect to solve the death/life cycle of my spirituality. Not this side of Resurrection. Oh sure, as I grow and mature more and more the nature of the cycle will change, but I think I will always have the need to repent for choosing the world over Christ to some extent. Always.

To that extent I welcome my cycles of insanity. Its ok to be insane. We all are. I just need to be a repentant looney. The continuing cycle of choosing God and (to some extent or another) not choosing God when accompanied by a continuing ethic of repentance is how we grow. My cycles of insanity move me to repentance and return and even greater depth and love for a God who continually takes me back.

I guess its a good thing we serve an insanely loving God.

~J.L. Smith

Monday, April 25, 2011

That's a whole lot of naked... and other thoughts from Easter.

Easter really was the perfect end to my time in Japan. I went into this trip anticipating a time of refreshment, rest, and spiritual renewal. And, you know, if I saw some Japanese stuff while I was there—that'd be cool too. Easter day turned out to be the perfect capstone.

I went to the house church that the Kornegays and the rest of the crew from Team Expansion put on. It was a small congenial affair, with lots of kids, laughter, and honest worship of a living Lord. There were nine adults, including teenagers, two of which were Japanese. Yuko, a Christian for two years now, had brought her friend Hitomi (I think that is how you spell it) to church this week, making it her second time to ever go to a church.

I think I enjoyed this gathering on Easter more than I have any other in my life. Why? Not because the sermon was awesome (there wasn't one), not because the music was inspiring (it was quite simple), nor because I spent it with my family and did all the traditional things (I didn't). I enjoyed it for the simple fact that this Easter, I was privileged to sit and listen as a curious non-believer said “I don't quite understand-- can you explain what Easter is and why it matters?” Listening as Phil explained the simple message of the gospel, and as Yuko shared in Japanese what the cross and the empty tomb are all about was splendid. I couldn't even understand most of what they were saying. It didn't matter. I could see the earnestness in Yuko as she drew from her still growing knowledge of the faith to share how in Jesus there is Hope.

After church, we ate lunch and then went to a nearby park. Everyone had invited families and kids that they knew to come to the park for crafts and games and an Easter egg hunt. About 20 or so kids showed up, with their parents in tow. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful afternoon. As Yuko read the kids the story of Easter, the field was aglow with the smiling spring sun. Flowers and buds were popping out from ground and branch as little kids played and laughed and ran and hunted for that ever so precious candy. It was all incredibly simple. I think that's why it was so good.

At night Phil, Christian, Kayla, and I went to a Japanese bathhouse. It was something I wanted to do as both a last hurrah! of Japanese cultural experience, and as a last chance to fully and completely chill before traveling again. Though I guess “chill” is not exactly the right word since the bath house is full of saunas, spas, hot mineral baths, and warm air. For those of you who have never experienced a public bath, heres the basic rundown: you go to your respective side of the bath house (men's or women's), get a locker, strip down buck naked, put everything except a wash cloth in the locker, go to a big open line of faucets and shower heads, sit down with a whole bunch of other people (also naked), clean yourself up and scrub yourself down and rinse yourself off, and then go sit and simmer in a variety of bubbly hot pools with the other naked people. That's a whole lot of naked.

But once you get past the shy little school boy feeling, its pretty stinkin awesome. I could stay there for hours and hours. My favorite pool was the “half-bath” in which you can lie down in this marble enclosure that has hot water for about half your body. You can lie there and look at the stars (its on the roof). As I was there I thought about my day. I thought about my time in Japan. I thought about Easter.

And I thought how Rest is such a glorious thing. I don't use the world “glorious” superfluously. I think that the Resurrection is about bringing Rest, the real and life-giving kind, to this world. It is about God starting his great work of new creation, of which we are the forerunners. Easter is about God bringing his Kingdom--full of glory, light, and life—into the world, and rescuing it from war and violence and grief and agony and despair and conflict. Easter is about God saving us from the exhausting battle to be kings of our own lives and entering into the beautiful rest of his Reign.

All of that means so much more in Japan. My God, has there ever been a message the Japanese people needed more right now?

Yuko basically had a single conclusion to the meaning of Easter, as she explained it. Hope. That monumental simple and solitary thing that seems at times unattainable, but at others seems to burst upon you in waves of joy inexpressible, filling all the incomprehensibilities and chasms of this life with meaning beyond their ken. Easter is Hope. That truth means so much more coming from a Japanese believer. Particularly a Japanese believer explaining Christianity to a curious non-believer.

I think again of playing in the fields with the kids. It feels so poignant now, filled with meaning. After all that has happened in Japan, after the death and struggle and anguish, in the midst of a country still reeling and trying to recover from the inconceivable weight of extinguished humanity-- here we are in the field. Its a field full of light and lark and laughter. Little Japanese kids run and play and laugh and smile. There's life. Right here in the field, life as joyful and precious and full as humanity has ever had stands in the midst of a nation shattered by death.

That's Easter. Easter is the bright little field of life, joyful and triumphant as it stands amidst the pain and hurt of the world. Its triumphant not because one day we will all escape the world and leave it to its own, but because one day the Life I see here in this little field, and the Life that the Resurrection brings, will fill not just one field but all of them. No longer will we be struck at how a field of children in laughter can stand side by side with the devastation of Norther Japan. Life won't stand with death anymore. It will stand alone: beautiful and glorious.

~J.L. Smith

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Japan Park

There was this really cool architectural park not far from Phil and Kim's house. It had relocated buildings from all over Japan, mostly Tokyo, representing different eras of Japanese architecture. It was nestled inside a larger general park, with well manicured landscaping and fabulous trees.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some thoughts [1]

I basically spent all day today traveling. Taxi to airport. Airport to Airport. Terminal to terminal. Through customs and immigration and then customs and immigration all over again. Train to train, stop to stop, until finally I arrived here at Phil and Kim's house. It was a good day. I am so used to travelling now. Its cool. I don't have the inner worry about stuff like I used to. Korea doesn't feel weird or strange like when I first came to this side of the world. Neither does Japan, so far.

I had a lot of time to casually think today, which was good. My mind was able to just lie fallow.

I also had the chance to read through Matthew. It was amazing. I have been reading through the Bible, straight from Genesis, since I have been here, following the growth of the "Kingdom of God" theme all along the way. After all this time in the Old Testament, reading about the Kingdom, tracing its development, looking at its different facets, and letting the expectation build for when this Davidic King-Priest would come to redeem Israel, restore her from exile, institute true righteous rule, and bring all the world under the glory of God---Matthew reads like a peal of thunder. All my time in the Old Testament has been like sitting on a porch watching the clouds slowly begin to shift and form and darken, creeping into prophetic blobs on the horizon as the air begins the change and a sense of expectation trickles into every little tree branch, grass blade, and wind chime. Now as I read Matthew it is as if I can hear the CRACK as the lightning strikes blast from the sky and flashes of light fill the horizon. Thunder rich and deep ans startling and glorious rolls through the earth, and you know a thunderstorm has come.

>Jesus leaps off the page. He towers over history and stands in conscious fulfillment as the King who was to come. It as if I now speak Matthew's kingdom language, and all his artful twists and flourishes to show Jesus as the Kingdom prophet, priest and King strike me and hold me and make sense to me in ways they never did before. And I begin to feel some of the shock his Jewish readers must have felt when they read it: Messiah has come! Messiah gets crucified? Messiah is resurrected! Now, what?

This is exactly what I hoped would happen when I set off to read through the Bible cover to cover, and studying a key theme as I went: fresh perspective. I look forward to more in the coming days.

~J.L Smith

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Me, Myself, and Japan

I am going to Japan tomorrow. Its a trip I have been planning for a while now. Because my visa for China is quite ridiculous, I have to leave the country every 60 days. I don't have to be gone any particular length of time, or go anywhere special. I just have to leave, and come back. For my first two visa trips I went to Korea, slept in the airport and came directly back. This caused quite a bit of consternation among my travel-fiend international friends. I guess a bit of that is deserved, but the way I saw it 1) I was already spending money I shouldn't of had to spend in the first place, so why would I add to the cost? and 2) My whole reason for being on this side of the world is to be in CHINA. My life and ministry are here. So why waste time in Korea?

Yeah. I'm not practical or anything.

After my second time sleeping on the floor in Seoul however, I kind of didn't want to do that again. Fortuitously, my former youth minister and his family have been living in Japan for the past 10 years, and invited me to come visit them while I was in China. Despite the tsunami they still wanted me to come, so I bought the plan ticket a couple weeks ago and made it official.

Tomorrow I leave for Japan, and won't return till next Monday. That will equal out to a full four days in Japan with a wonderful host family. I can't wait.

One of my well traveled friends asked me what my plans were for my time in Japan. Large amounts of disbelief streamed from her face when I said, "I don't know." She couldn't believe I would go without an idea of what I want to do/see in Tokyo. To be honest I couldn't care less what I see there. Oh I am sure I will get fantastic recommendation from Phil and Kim about where to go and what to see. That will be cool I am sure. That isn't why I am excited to go.

I want to go to Japan, not to see wondrous sights and hear unfamiliar sounds and taste new things, not --even-- to go and lift rubble or join the fight against disaster. I want to go to Japan to Rest. I want to go to Japan to have a Sabbath. I want to go to Japan to be Renewed.

Because really, I just need a break.

I feel like I have been going nearly non-stop for a month now between the play and work and relationships and church-- I am as busy as I have ever been. On top of that, this is my sixth month in China. There is a lot to process. The past: what it has meant, what mistakes I have made, what successes I have had, where I have gone, what I have done, the relationships I have built. The culture: where do I fit, how I understand things, what I could do better. The future: where will I fit in micMAC over the next 1-5 years? How will these next six months go? Who will I build relationships with? How can I make a difference? What will God teach me? Where will he call me?

I need space. I need time to be still. I need prayer and scripture reading. I need to turn my brain off from the immediate and cultivate my soul.

I need to write and think and pray. And then I need to write and think and pray some more. I need to free up the creative energy I will need to be the kind of person I have to be over the next six months.

I am going to Japan tomorrow. And I can't wait.

~J.L. Smith

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Now you see it...

Lets play a game. Its called, "Now you see it, now you don't." For instance, I show you a picture of a magician holding a bunny and say "Now you see it"-- and then in the next picture the bunny is gone and I say "Now you don't."

Its fun I promise.


Now you see the rice ball....

Now you don't....

Now you see a faux hawk...

Now you don't!

Yes our dear friend the mohawk has gone the way of the dodo... at least for now. Did I mean to cut my hair this short? Did I mean to use one of the lowest setting on my beard trimmer to cut my hair? Did I start shaving the middle of my head and immediately realize things might have gone slightly awry?

The world may never know.

~J.L. Smith

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tell Me Tuesday: Double Feature!

Ok, lets be honest. We have all done it. We have all been there. We have all been "that guy" (or gal depending upon your respective gender). "That guy" that says something with the best of intentions... but then can't quite follow through on it.

Yup. I've been "that guy" for the past couple weeks. Here you all have been, sitting on the edges of your seats, biting your nails with anticipation, twitterpatedly awaiting my tell me tuesday blog to appear, only to be disappointed each day that went by without word of my culinary escapades (ok, that might be overstating it... but, hey, lets not burst my bubble). My bad.

In my defense, I have been insanely busy. Yeah, yeah, I know-- who isn't? But between play practice five to six times a week, plus work, plus relationships, plus church, plus [insert more stuff here]-- something had to give. Don't worry, once the play is done in the first week in May, I'll be back to having very little to do and lots of time for internet oriented shenanigans.

I am proud to say, though, that despite my lack of time (and often, motivation) to get the ball rolling, I have successfully completed the first two TMTs!

First up: Non-descript Jiaoze!

As you can see, the bag looks as non-descript as ever.

Welcome to my kitchen. This is where the magic happens people.
The waters-a-boiling and ready for jiaoze.

The Jiaoze being cooked. Usually jiaoze cooking does not look like this. The water is usually relatively clear. That was my first clue something had gone awry.

Most of my jiaoze exploded/ruptured while cooking. So instead of dumplings, I mostly have a puree of carbs and jiaoze filling all mixed together.

This is me saying, "Well, what can you do?/This is disappointing." with my face.

Non Descript Jiaoze puree in a bowl! I put soy sauce all over it, and just went to town. I figured it would pretty much would taste the same as if they didn't explode in my kitchen.

Now you see it...

Now you don't! It ended up tasting ok. I am still not sure what was in it, even with the contents on display. Some sorts of cabbage/lettuce and mushrooms and ... stuff. Can you tell I don't cook? It tasted "green" to me. Leafy even.

The Verdict:

Cooking: FAILish
I cooked them properly, they just had poor structural integrity. But they definitely looked nothing like jiaoze when it was all said and done.

Eating: WIN
I ate the whole bowl, and didn't have to resort to a back up peanut butter sandwich.

Likely hood I will buy it again: LOW.
There are much better, more meaty jiaozes to be had. I like vegetables, but not the green leafiness in this one.

Second: Black Sludge Balls

This is a slightly different package of Black Sludge Balls, but hey, they still look pretty sludgy to me. FYI the proper term for these is "glutinous rice balls". Sounds a little bit better than Black Sludge anyways.

Into the pot!
Incidentally, you cook most frozen things in China the same way: put it into boiling water and then wait for it to float! Nice and simple for a cooking idiot like me.

Hey look! They float!

They kinda look like eggs...

Ok, now they definitely look like eggs.

A couple of them kind of ruptured after the straining of the water, so there is a little bit of black sludge smeared around. I'm still not 100% sure whats inside. I think it is actually a kind of sweet bean paste.

Let's eat some Rice Balls!

You might never guess from the look of them, but these are actually very sweet. The outside is a very mushy/sticky rice concoction, with the inside being sweet.

The Verdict:
Cooking: WIN
Except for a few ruptured balls, everything went off without a hitch and took no more than 10-15mins.

Eating: Semi-Win
I ate enough to be full, but that turned out to be not very many. I ate only about half the plate. Turns out a few go a long way.

Likely-hood I will buy them again: Meh.
They were ok. I might buy them again to share with Sunny and Flight. I guess its possible I might get struck with a craving to eat them again. But that probably won't be soon.

One last piece of business: I am going to Japan next week! I will be in Tokyo for about five days. Expect pictures and perhaps a story or two when I return (or while I am there).

AND, if you have any ideas on things for me to do while in Tokyo, let me know! Sound off in the comments below and Tell Me how to see Tokyo!

~J.L. Smith