Merry Christmas 2011! (“Is there anything worth believing in?”)

From John Lennox, author and Professor in Mathematics and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Oxford:

Is there anything worth believing in? Oh, ladies and gentlemen– I’m an old man. Let me speak to you directly.

In all my life studying different philosophies and ideas and mathematics for the sheer fun of it, I’ve never come across an idea that remotely touches this one:

“The Word became human, and dwelt among us.”

It’s not every world-class academic who could also make a good Santa. Merry Christmas!

The Posts of Christmas Past:

Christmas in general:

Christmas in China:

You can see all our Christmas stuff here.

(P.S. – That’s Merry Christmas 2011, not 2012. Ooohh… someone’s asleep at the switch!)

Cross-cultural living and the desire to be intimately known

Guest post! Cindy is one of the very few 100% fully bi-cultural people I’ve ever known. She originally wrote this in Facebook, and after reading it I asked to repost it here. I think it connects powerfully with everyone, especially those of us who live far from home, and most especially with Third-Culture Kids who aren’t really sure where ‘home’ is.

Let’s get to know each other

by Cindy
I had a conversation with my girlfriend about the hypothetical situation of whether we should remarry if our husbands died. I know my married girlfriends have had this conversation too, don’t deny it people. Her response was how hard it would be to have to get to know another person as intimately all over again.

Truly one of the greatest gifts in relationships is to be understood by another person. And trusting you will be accepted and loved in spite of the intimate knowledge. However, the process from acquaintance to intimacy takes time. It takes time to tell stories, to react to circumstances in life, to laugh and cry together, to argue and disagree, and then to make up. These experiences build layers of trust and loyalty and compose the patches of material that make up friendship. Through time we weave our lives together and enter together into the depth of relationship that allow us to be known by one another. And we are created to long for that depth. To be deeply known.

The trouble is, then we move. We pick up and move to another town. Or in my case, across the freakin’ ocean. I grew up in a small school where my friends were like my brothers and sisters. We were that small and that close. At graduation we scattered literally all over the world. Our new communities didn’t know our collective history and we had to start over from scratch with the storytelling and the laughing and crying and all that relationship building stuff. Then we’d move again. And start all over again. It’s no wonder people who are forced to move around a lot, like military families, have intimacy issues. It’s simply too exhausting.

Each time we enter a new community, that new place shapes us, molding us into someone different. When I left Wheaton, I was starting to question some of the conservative elements of my beliefs. Fuller helped introduce a broader spectrum of theology and how to incorporate doubt and criticism into a vibrant faith. In a sense, there was a Morrison Cindy, a Wheaton Cindy, a Fuller Cindy, a China Cindy, and a back-to-Taiwan Cindy. As time went on, the world changed and so did I. In the moving river of life, people who stepped in along the way journeyed with me downstream without the knowledge of who I was before I became who I am. Like a diamond, we can only reflect light off of one surface at a time even though we are made out of many facets.

The potential for misunderstanding is alarming. In our limited perspective, it’s too easy to make judgments regarding a person’s comments without a fuller understanding of their background. Wheaton Cindy would be appalled at some of the theological slants of back-to-Taiwan Cindy, and Chinese Cindy cannot hardly stand American Cindy most of the time. The complexities of our biological, cultural, mental, and spiritual identities is what fuels the psycho-therapy economy. And yet there exists inside of me the desire to be wholly known. The impossibility of somebody understanding the nuances of every past experience, every hat I wear, every idea and action and word I exhibit, doesn’t stop me from trying.

So I tell stories. I share my reaction when stuff happens. I laugh and cry. I argue and disagree. And I make up. Then I listen, not only to stories but to the stories behind the stories. I try not to jump to conclusions about people because I don’t know where they’ve been upstream. I look for the other faces of the diamond that make up each person I encounter because seeing only one side is not satisfying. I lean deep into the relationships around me to know and be known. It’s what I was created for.

I’m Cindy. It’s nice to meet you. Let’s get to know each other, shall we?

Happy Chinese New Year to you, too, Mr. taxi shifu!

Negative news about China circulates quickly and often and colours people’s perceptions of China and Chinese people, so when something great happens I want to share it.

Since Spring Festival is a Chinese family holiday, it’s not the ideal time to do much with your Chinese friends as most of them are busy. Because of that and the unbelievable amount of fireworks (and car alarms) that go on for several days, especially in Tianjin, many foreigners find ways to “escape” during Chinese New Year’s Eve. Our NGO and many others plan their annual conferences during this time. We know a Dutch family who’s gone to Thailand for Spring Festival this year, and they invited us to house-sit while they’re gone. They have an actual Western-style house (rare in China!) on the edge of the city where it’s quiet (even rarer!), and we were more than willing to take them up on their offer.

Four or five nights away with a toddler means we had to pack out a lot of stuff, and it being over Chinese New Year’s means we also had to pack out food (lots of stores will be closed), so we crammed a lot of stuff into a taxi, including a borrowed $600 camera (our old camera finally died, and we’d borrowed a friend’s extra camera while waiting for another friend to bring one we ordered to her American address while she was in the States seeing family). The driver had to pull out half our stuff and rearrange, so things were moved around and stuffed places.

When we arrived we unloaded everything into a pile, said thanks, and he drove off. Almost right away we realized the camera wasn’t there. I ran to the entrance of the housing complex hoping to catch him, but he was gone. We called our friend to tell her we’d lost her really expensive camera for no good reason, and that we’d replace it. We’re not usually so irresponsible, and we felt horrible about it; we were supposed to be kicking off the beginning of a relaxing, romantic vacation but it was like a cloud had dropped on us. Being out several hundred dollars didn’t add to the mood either.

Petty theft goes up before Spring Festival because people are spending lots of money and, so our local friends tell us, the legions of migrant workers who are preparing to make their torturous train ride home are more apt to make a little extra money by any means that presents itself. They also sometimes have to fight for their wages from bosses who try to cheat them; it’s not too uncommon to see the occasional protests by migrant workers outside a constructions site, for example, during the lead-up to Spring Festival. Anyway, this didn’t even really count as theft, and we had no illusions that we’d ever see that camera again.

The next day, just a few minutes ago, I heard a car pull up but assumed it was the neighbours (the house is actually a duplex). Lilia was upstairs not sleeping, and the doorbell rang. No way, I thought, and went to open the door. There was the driver(!), opening the trunk and explaining how he’d not seen it yesterday because it was stuffed in the back (taxi drivers usually have lots of their own stuff in the trunks). I thanked him profusely and gave him some money, and he said think of it as him 拜年-ing us. 拜年 means sending someone a New Year’s greeting or paying them a New Year’s visit, both of which are customary during Spring Festival. Chinese will send billions, literally, of New Year’s text messages as a means of 拜年-ing each other,and in the days following New Year’s Day they will go 拜年 relatives and friends by visiting their homes.

Anyway, we’re very thankful today for a kind-hearted, exceptionally honest Chinese taxi driver. Happy Chinese New Year to him, and everyone else, too!

Related Stuff:

Merry Chinese Christmas… text message style

It’s custom in China to send people wishes via text message on the biggest holidays, sort of like what Christmas cards used to be in North America. Here’s one I received on Christmas Day from a friend:

Joel! Merry Christmas to you and Jessica and Lilian! Including yours friends and your parents, brother sisters! Merry Christmas to every Americans and Canadians!

And, for the second day of Christmas, here’s a song of hope by Over the Rhine:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

See more about Christmas in China here:

Christmas Essentials for the Black Hole of China

That’s an image of the Facebook friend connections between cities. The more connections, the brighter and whiter the lines. (See an explanation of how they made it is here.) You’ll notice a few conspicuously dark areas: Brazil and Russia have more popular local social network competitors; Africa has less internet users. And then there’s China.

Christmas is the hardest time of the year to be on the other side of the world from family. Living in a FB black hole would only make it that much worse. We have a toddler, my one sister is pregnant and the other just got engaged, in addition to all the usual family fun that happens during Christmas. That’s a lot of family-ness to miss out on. Thankfully, there are ways to access Facebook (and everything else) in spite of China’s ‘harmonious’ internet. These last two weeks we’ve been burning a hole in the internets with all sharing family photos and videos back and forth. Skype, of course, is getting a good workout, too.

I have issues with FB, and if I could start again with it I would do things differently. After all, they are out to get you (they harvest and calculate your information and behaviour patterns to make you easier to manipulate for advertisers and, one day, governments. I only first started using it to stalk my sister’s then-boyfriend). But, I am thankful — very thankful — that it’s so easy to communicate between continents. We almost effortlessly and instantly share pictures, videos, and make video calls. It’s not as good as being together, of course, but we’re definitely grateful!

Merry Christmas 2010!

P.S. — And Merry Christmas from China, too:

P.P.S. — And Merry Christmas from my rock star soon-to-be-brother-in-law:

I pity the fú​!

The Chinese love fú​ (no, not that foo’). Of all the characters you see in China, fú​ (福) has got to be the most common. It’s everywhere, especially at Spring Festival. It can be understood as good fortune/luck/auspiciousness/blessing and is used in everything from the Chinese word for “happiness” (幸福) to “the Gospel” (福音) to “Blessed are the poor…” in Luke 6 (“…有福了。”).

Here’s a cheesy, hauntingly Dr. Suess-esque e-mail we got at work today (in Chinese) that expresses nicely how it feels to be literally surrounded by ​s everywhere you go:

Tiger comes, fú​ comes,* every household fú​,
Tiger brings blessings filled up with fú​.
Tiger year enjoy fú​ different kinds of fú​:
Big fú​, small fú​, everywhere fú​,
Gold fú​, silver fú​, fully-stored-up fú​!
Welcome fú​, greet fú​ every year fú​,
Guard fú​, implore fú​, every age fú​!
Wish you tiger year even more… happiness.

I thought that last line is kind of a downer. You really though it was going to end with “fú​”, didn’t you? It does in Chinese, but as part of the word for “happiness” (幸福).

We just got some of our our Spring Festival fú​ today when my parents arrived from Canada to see ustheir granddaughter (it’s their first time in China!), so the blog may be a little slow the next two weeks.

*(This older style grammar actually means ‘has arrived’ but doesn’t literally have past tense, sort of like “The Lord is come”… so I’m told.)

P.S. – For some reason it’s not letting me include the Chinese text… I’m using WordPress. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know! If I include the text, it removes all text (English and Chinese) from the post preview. Help!

Other stuff about celebrating Chinese New Year’s:

Merry Christmas Music 2009!

It’s time for the annual Christmas posts, but we’re a little handicapped this year without youtube, plus I don’t want to repeat, so no poems, cute TCKs, crucified Mickeymouses, or churches with Santa painted on them all year long.

Instead you get to hear some Christmas songs for grown-ups. It’s not the ultimate Christmas song selection (for that I’d need the Trans-Siberian Orchestra stuff we accidentally left in Canada), but we like it. All the songs are from Over The Rhine‘s 2007 Snow Angels album. OTR gets points from us for mixing real Christmas (i.e. love, forgiveness, hope, Jesus, etc.) with married-people’s business. I’ll let you figure out for yourself which songs are about which, or both. You can buy these and other OTR music here.

  • “Here It Is”

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • “All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue”

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)”

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • “Snowed In With You”

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • “White Horse”

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • “North Pole Man”

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

More Christmas posts on the way; we have a little Tianjin Christmas adventure planned for Christmas Eve.

Other Christmas and Christmas-in-China posts: