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