Thursday, January 27, 2011

Declaring the Glory of God.

Lately I have been thinking about the verse from Psalm 19 that says “the heavens declare the glory of God”. How can that be true? What does that mean? It is easy to just say “Oh creation is beautiful and therefore when we look at it, we can see that there is a God, a Good God” But this, I think, misses the point. It makes it too subjective. What if humanity did not exist? Would the creation still be declaring? It seems like by our criteria, they would not. Because by declaring, we usually mean that the heavens are declaring to us to the glory of God. But I don't think that is what the heaven's are doing at all. I think they are magnifying the name, honor, power and majesty of God. Not to us. But to God. We are simply happy observers of this endless praise.

And that I think has enormous implications. Fundamentally, it means that things bring glory to God, that they bring worship and declaration of praise and honor, when they exist as they were made to exist. Worship is not an activity, per se. Worship is being what God made you to be. Rightful existence is what glorifies God. This means that working well is glorifying to God. It means that having a family is glorifying to God. It means that fulfilling the cultural commission is glorifying to God: art, music, architecture, farming, building, growing, learning, loving, laughing, eating—all of these declare the glory of God. Humanity existing as it was made to exist, loving as it was made to love, living as it was made to live: this is worship. The Gospel, the Kingdom, these are about restoring creation and ourselves to a rightful existence with God, so that God may be glorified.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Right Kind of Christian?

I went with Jerry to Qingdao University some time ago. It was just a great experience all around. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to experience Jerry in his element—public speaking. He was a splendid communicator, using imagery, kinetics, and volunteers to get his point across. But as splendid as the speaker was, the audience was even greater in my eyes. You have never met such an earnest and open and reactive audience! Jerry's opening joke: “Hello class!” “Hello” “Oh, your english is so good!” Completely killed. I mean completely. An uproarious amount of laughter broke out for several minutes. Jerry told me that University students were some of his favorite people on earth, and I can see why. Not because they made him feel good, but because they have this air of purity and earnestness and beauty about them. Their smiles and their eyes lack the world weary cynicism that haunts American youth--and the Chinese adult for that matter.

Jerry was speaking as a favor to Jeff, the english teacher for the class (international business). Jeff was a very interesting individual. The kind of odd, slightly off kilter, extremely sociable person whom you meet in odd corners of the earth in odd jobs, always looking for someone to be a friend and be a receiver for their endless stream of ADD remarks and stories--all overflowing from their essentially good heart. We went to lunch with him after class. We talked about all sorts of things, but for a while we turned toward Christianity and Christians in China. Jeff had a clear distaste for Christians, at least a certain kind. Missionaries. His perspective was very interesting.

1) He disliked Christians because they rejected him. To him, he main image for a missionary was a family who saw him across the way and immediately turned to cover their kids from him. Sure they eventually talked to him, but in that one motion they wounded him deeply and defined Christians as excluders. People who see others as dirty.

2) He is suspicious of missionaries because they come and teach English... and then invite special students to their house? They pick out those “interested” in their religion and give them special attention? How is that not a conflict of interest? Are these students even doing this out of real interest in Christianity or are they scared for their grade? It all seems very shady.

3) Christians are those who are only interested in you if you want to join their club. If you aren't interested then you are dirty and rejected.

4) They are lying to the government. Kind of ironic for people so focused on Truth, capital "T". He didn't say this outright, but its implied in everything else he said.

Exclusive. Un-loving. Suspicious. Hurtful. This is how at least one non-believer sees missionaries.

That is interesting in and of itself, but what he said about me (and Jerry by extension) is even more interesting. I talked about how it is shame that people turn a faith about loving other people into something used to exclude and hurt other people. Once he found out that I was a Christian too, he said “See, you are the kind of Christian that needs to be in China”

That feels awesome on the surface of it. Yay! What a compliment! But then again, what does he mean by that? A non-missionary Christian? A non-proselytizing Christian? A nominal Christian? Or a Christian who gets it? I don't know. But with a grain of salt, I will take it. It is worthwhile to know that in some very small part, I might help impact this man's view of what Christianity is and hopefully who Christ is.

~J.L. Smith

Friday, January 21, 2011

3 Months in, 9 months out.

Well I am approaching 3 months spent in China! I can't really believe I have been here that long. But at the same time, it feels like I have been here longer. Time is funny like that I suppose. In the moment, in the rush, it flows past you without you really noticing, and pages fly off the calendar at break neck speed. But if you stop and reflect and remember over your time, it seems ages long and wide and heavy have been crammed into spaces too small for them: days feel like weeks, weeks feel like months, and months feel like years on the scales of remembered experience.

Now that I have finished my series of blogs on my first week in China, I will be catching up all up on some of what has been happening over the past couple months. And naturally, my musings both spiritual and otherwise on life in China so far.

Check back soon!

~J.L. Smith

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day Seven

This was my first Sunday Morning in China. You know, not the "Sunday Morning" as in a particular time of day and position of the sun, but the "Sunday Morning" as in the designated time with other believers in some sort of structured setting. If you didn't already know, there are quite a few government regulations concerning religion and Christianity. It is a very complicated situation that I don't pretend to understand, but what it comes down to is that there is an international church that meets right next to where I live. It is an "international" church because according to government regulations they have to check passports at the door to make sure only foreigners attend. It is close and Jerry and JD go there,so I went and checked it out.

Overall, it was a really cool experience. The worship was led in a pretty familiar contemporary style, but the band was a mix of Americans and Filipinos. The sermon was delivered by a gentleman from Africa (Kenyan I believe). The attendees were American, German, English, Filipino, African, Asian--- ok, from pretty much everywhere! The whole service was in English, since that is everyone's common language.

This was my first ever real experience with moving and not really knowing anyone at a new church. It really makes me regret not spending more time welcoming new people at church. It wouldn't be till weeks later that I would make any real friends at church.

The Whitneys have some Chinese friends who invited them over for dinner that evening, and I tagged along with them. We were there from 2:30-8:00. That is quite a long time, especially for a first visit! I think it went well. It was, of course, awkward. I mean that situation would be awkward in America, on my home turf: visiting the home of someone I haven't met yet, staying there a long time, only knowing the people I came with for a week. Ya, awkward. But add in the culture and language factors, and I think just about everyone was just trying to stay afloat.

One of my goals while in China is to learn how to make some Chinese dishes, so I jumped right in with the cooking. We were preparing a traditional Chinese New Year dish: Jiaozi. Basically it dumplings filled with meat and vegetables, which you boil and then dip in soy sauce. I "helped" make the dough, prepare the garlic, roll out the dough into small circles, and pack the circles with filling. I say "helped" because I did most of those things wrong. I never could get the dough into proper dumpling circles for packing. Mine always had holes in them or were the lopsided shape of Australia. The Wangs, however, had no trouble. They could make perfect circles in all of five seconds. My packing skills weren't great either. Jiaozi dumplings are supposed to have almost no extraneous dough. Like this:

I couldn't quite get my dumpling edges to be that small (I blame my big hands), so there were large flaps of dough protruding from the top of mine. Every time I made one and submitted it to the Wangs for approval, they would kind of laugh. I finally asked them what was so funny, and they said that my jiaozi looked like pig ears! Everyone had a good laugh at that.

Most awkward cultural moment? When they offered left-overs to take home. What do I do here? Is it polite to take them? Or to refuse? Or to refuse and then take them? In the end I just did what an American would do, and hoped it wasn't too offensive.

Its funny, but I really liked the Wangs. Even though I couldn't really understand them. How does that work? I mean they certainly communicated their wonderful character to me, even with my lack of Mandarin and their rocky English. Maybe there is more to communication than language after all. Maybe it is who you are that communicates the most to others. An encouraging thought for a man swimming in a language and a culture not his own.

~J.L. Smith

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day Six

Today I went for my first solo bike ride. I chose to go along the coast, to the West. I hit the Olympic sailing center, May Four Square, beaches, and scenic parks and sights all along the way. Honestly I could write an insanely long entry about all that I saw on the bike ride... but I will do you all a favor and post a link to pictures instead! You can see the whole bike ride here:

As I was on an inward excursion I stopped my bike and checked the map—not because I was lost, but because I just wanted to check the intersection I was at against the map to see how far I had gone. As I was looking at the huge outstretched map, a kind stranger asked if I needed help. I waved him off, since he didn't initially understand I didn't need help when I said “I'm good”, but the act just struck me. How often would that happen in the U.S. ? Especially in a big city? How often would a stranger see an obvious foreigner, wonder if they needed help, and then offer that help in the foreigner's language? Not very often. How often would Christians offer to help? Do we have that kind of hospitality?

I think during this ride is when I have been the most aware of my foreign-ness. For someone who makes it his habit to be rather invisible, I can't help but notice the way that so many eyes rake across me and check me out. I stick out like a sore thumb, and thats all there is to it. It is an incredible burden. I am an ambassador here. An ambassador for America, but more importantly an ambassador for Christ. They assume I am Christian, and so my every move can impact their perception of Christ for good or ill. All the more reason for me to learn the culture better, so that I might represent him well in a land not my own.