A China-themed Lord’s Supper talk

Every second summer we visit family and friends in the U.S. and Canada, since Jessica’s from New Hampshire and I’m from B.C. This summer churches in both countries asked me to do the Sunday morning Communion talk, which means talking for a few minutes to prepare everyone to take the Lord’s Supper, which is, in those kinds of churches, a weekly ceremony where everyone very solemnly gets a cracker crumb and a sip of grape juice to commemorate Jesus’ death and silently think about its significance for a moment or two (symbolically, it’s sharing a meal together, hence the token “bread” and “wine”, in imitation of Jesus’ final meal with His closest followers before He was crucified).

While the form of this particular church heritage’s Lord’s Supper ceremony could be much improved (back in grad school we did it as part of a real meal with real food, sitting around an actual dinner table at someone’s apartment), someone who knows their Bible and theology would still be able to explain the powerful meanings and community implications that this ceremony is supposed to communicate.

Anyway, of course I made my talk China-themed, though different for each church since they’re both very different. The American church is mostly (but not entirely) white, middle and upper-middle class with a high level of education (closely connected to a local Christian university and it’s graduate school of theology). The Canadian church is in the middle of the most ethnically diverse region in all of Canada, so they have a large number of first-generation immigrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe in addition to a born-and-raised-Canadian legacy crowd of fifth and sixth-generation immigrants.

Each church is also going through different things, so I emphasized different things to each church. At one church I said very little about the form/style of the ceremony but emphasized its social status division-demolishing meaning; in the other church I talked more about cultural differences. Below, I’ve mashed both talks together so it’s a bit of a mess, aiming for too many targets at once, but there it is.

~

When you live immersed in a culture that’s very different from the one you grew up in, like my family does in China, it gives you lots of opportunities to notice how our own culture from North America affects not only our understanding of the Gospel, but also our experience of life together in the Kingdom of God.

Take sharing a meal together, for example (since that’s what we’re about to do, at least symbolically). If there’s one thing the Chinese know how to do well, it’s eat together. When you’re invited to a meal in China, everyone sits around a round table, facing each other, looking across more food than the guests can possibly finish. And you literally eat and drink together; you don’t scoop food on to your plate with a serving spoon and then eat off your own plate. There are no serving spoons and you don’t get your own plate. You and everyone else each take each bite with chopsticks directly from the serving dishes. Foreigners in China (like us and the other North Americans and Europeans that we know) usually call this “eating family-style”.

And it’s not just the food: even though you get your own cup, you won’t fill it yourself; someone else will make sure it doesn’t stay empty. And before each sip from your cup you’ll first catch someone’s eye across the table, raise your glasses toward one another, and then drink together. Or you’ll first clink glasses with everyone before all drinking together. But you never drink on your own.
chinese_banquet_toast
It’s all intended to communicate acceptance, respect, and togetherness. When you literally share the same bowl of food and acknowledge one another with every single sip, you’re saying that we’re in the same group; you’re one of us and I’m one of you (or at the very least, we could be). You’re honouring each other. It’s a reinforcement and celebration of that circle of relationships, of that community.

And so here we are, on the other side of the world, symbolically sharing a meal that also expresses a kind of togetherness – but this is a togetherness that only Jesus’ death and resurrection can make possible: where the honour we all receive as guests at Christ’s table, as adopted siblings in His family, and as fellow subjects in His Kingdom, transcends and makes obsolete the artificial status divisions of race, nationality, economic class, and gender. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – we all sit equally at this table.

Now, the meal we’re about to share doesn’t look much like a Chinese meal. Maybe one day it could. But for now at least, this church does things according to the culture and traditions of the fourth, fifth and sixth-generation immigrants to Canada – white, native English speakers. We are lovers of efficiency and convenience, and we’re highly individualistic and private. That’s why we have our little cracker crumbs, single-sip cups, and individual moments of introspection where we see the back of one another’s heads instead of each other’s faces. It’s almost like someone in the 19th century asked, “How efficient and individualistic can we make this meal while still technically ‘eating together’?”

Our modern form of Communion emphasizes each individual person’s individual relationship with God more than our relationship with God, or with one another as God’s people together. That’s why, even though we’re sitting next to each other, we typically close our eyes and ignore each other so we can have our personal moment of prayer and reflection. You can maybe imagine how from a certain angle that looks a bit odd: everyone coming together and then trying to do the most important thing alone. But that’s our modern culture and tradition. You can take it or leave it.

The New Testament churches, however, did this ceremony much more like a real meal. They were served by the host family of whatever home they were meeting in, with real bread and real wine. We can safely assume this just based on what we know about the 1st century world in general, but we can also see this reflected in the specific problems that the first churches faced that were related to the Lord’s Supper (it’s hard to overeat on cracker crumbs, for example, and it’s even harder to get drunk on grape juice. Can you imagine? Getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper? Maybe that’s why we changed it to grape juice… So we got rid of the alcohol but kept the shot glasses…?). But it helps to remember that they weren’t only somberly memorializing Christ’s death; they were also celebrating His resurrection and the new life together that they shared because of it.

Those New Testament churches didn’t have church buildings or pews or special round silver trays with little shot glasses. The shared homes and dinner tables and food and wine. But still, regardless of what form or style we choose, whether 1st century or modern, when we share our cracker crumbs and sips of grape juice we’re remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and we’re also proclaiming that Jesus’ triumph over death has given us hope and new life with Him, and new life with each other together under His authority in His Kingdom.

When we do this ceremony together, however we do it, we’re saying that we’re part of the same big family, eating at Jesus’ dinner table together, and that the spiritual family bond we share, the allegiance to Christ that binds us together, takes priority over all other identities and allegiances.

At this family dinner table sixth-generation immigrants honour the first-generation immigrants as equal members; senior managers and nannies take from the same bowl; university professors acknowledge cafeteria workers before they drink – all of us humbled and all of us honoured together under Christ.

So as we share the Lord’s Supper together, remembering how Christ’s body was broken and His blood was shed for us, and celebrating His resurrection and the new life together in His Kingdom under Him that His resurrection makes possible, let’s also use the image of a Chinese meal to consider what Jesus’ sacrifice and Jesus’ triumph mean for us together.

And since I’m playing the “host” today, we’ll imitate an ancient New Testament church by having my “household” serve the “meal”.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus, who makes it possible for us to receive the honour of sitting at Your table. Please teach us to realize in fact around our actual dinner tables the kind of community that we symbolically proclaim this morning. Amen.

Taiwanese_Last_Supper
When Jesus ate with chopsticks. (Click for source.)

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*Just to clear up potential confusion: This description of drinking at Chinese meals applies to the main beverage, which is alcoholic – usually beer, baijiu, and/or wine. Each person will also get a cup for tea or hot water as a secondary beverage that you can drink casually on your own. But the alcohol is the main drink, as it’s the one with the social significance.

Don’t touch my flowers! (or else…!!!)

Literally right around the corner from our door:

no_picking_my_flowers
Plucking flowers is plucking your lifespan*. Please watch yourself!!!
折花如折寿 请你好自为之!!!

折寿 (“snap life”) is a phrase meaning to have one’s life shortened, usually by indulging in excesses.

Signs like this pop up every once in a while. I even have some myself! For example:

Psalm 23 in Chinese

好牧人Two of the most spiritually formative parts of the Bible are Matthew 6:9-13 (the Lord’s Prayer) and Psalm 23. And sometimes memorizing and meditating in a second language helps you pay attention to what you’re saying. So here’s Psalm 23 (Chinese New Version/新译本/CNV) with pinyin and English (mouseover or tap), and a downloadable 汉子/pÄ«nyÄ«n cheat sheet (PDF).

诗篇23篇
[1] 耶和华是我的牧人,我必不会缺乏。
[2] 他使我躺卧在青草地上,
领我到安静的水边。
[3] 他使我的灵魂苏醒;
为了自己的名,他引导我走义路。
[4] 我虽然行过死荫的山谷,也不怕遭受伤害,
因为你与我同在;
你的杖你的竿都安慰我。
[5] 在我敌人面前,你为我摆设筵席;
你用油膏了我的头,
使我的杯满溢。
[6] 我一生的日子,必有恩惠慈爱紧随着我;
我也要住在耶和华殿中,直到永远。

You can also read it alongside two other Chinese translations at Biblegateway.com (for phone Bible reading in China, I prefer the 精读圣经 app).

P.S. – I did the same thing with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

Happy Red October, comrades!

It’s that special time of year again.

vpn-issues-in-china

If you’re wondering why your VPN is acting worse than usual, ask your Chinese friends about the 十九大。 Or see the links below (if you can, ha!).

How we end up living better every time we return to China

Maybe it sounds a little weird to think of making the most of a transition back to China. The goodbyes, 36+ hours of travel door-to-door, jet lag, and downward re-adjustment in comfort all make returning to your overseas home something to merely endure and survive, especially when young kids are involved. That’s still true for us. But we’ve also found there’s a great opportunity buried within each of our family’s sad and stressful biannual transitions back to the far side of the world.

Every second summer we spend two months visiting family and friends in Canada and the US (four states and one province). It’s great and we love it; lots of food and fun and camping and swimming with people we love and don’t get to see even close to near enough. But it’s not healthy in the sense that it’s a break from intentionally established daily routines that include sane sleep, eating, exercise, and relating. Plus, the leaving and the returning each have their own special stress.

Saying goodbye is one thing, but making your kids say goodbye to their grandparents at the international departures gate is just about the worst thing ever. It’s even worse than international travel with kids, which usually includes a long-haul flight followed by a layover followed by another flight that you barely make because your first flight was delayed (“Just hold it, OK?! Better wet pants on the plane than dry pants in the airport! Let’s move!”). Then there’s the step back down in convenience, cleanliness, and familiarity, plus all the stuff/dirt/bugs that has broken/accumulated/infested-and-died while you were away. We return to China physically and emotionally exhausted, out of shape, and relationally disoriented (for an extended period of time our kids haven’t had their usual amount of regular attention from us, and we haven’t had normal couple time, either).

It’s kind of funny: bracing for all that stress during our last two days with family in Canada is almost worse than actually going through it during the first week back in China. Sure, the first couple days of jet-lag and apartment cleaning/repair while trying to not take it out on your beyond-exhausted children aren’t awesome. But the level of discomfort I imagine each time never actually materializes, despite accurately predicting the general level of 麻烦 that awaits us. Each time, we slide back into our life here quicker and more smoothly than I expect us to.

And every return to China gives us an exciting opportunity that we plan for each time: the chance to intentionally alter our lifestyle for the better. Since our previously established routines and habits have been blown to smithereens by over two months of travel, it’s a prime chance to intentionally rearrange them as they start falling back into place, before they re-solidify. When your habits and routines have all been uprooted, it’s a chance to plant different ones.

Every time we come back to China, we end up living better than we had before. When we have about a week to go in North America we start thinking and talking about what we can improve, physically, psychologically, and relationally (I’d say “spiritually” but in my opinion it’s all spiritual one way or another), and keep adjusting it for the first few weeks we’re back.

Here’s some of the things we did this time, after returning to Qingdao a month ago on September 8:

  • Healthier eating: Mostly thanks to recommendations from my health-coach sister (not the product-pushing American-style health coach; the holistic, integrative kind), we tweaked our family’s diet, again.
  • Enhanced workout routine: I soaked up all the advice and info I could from my brother who’s a black belt in multiple martial arts and does judo and jujitsu training, and friends who do hardcore circuit training and strength training, and now my workout routine is more effective and time-saving.
  • Smarter family routines: Sometimes there really are engineering solutions to behaviour problems. Turns out you can avoid some common points of conflict just by adjusting meal/washing/clean up routines and staying on top of them. We talked it over from the vantage point of being outside our life here, and managed to identify and eliminate a couple of the kids’ daily opportunities for whining and noncompliance.
  • Smarter Chinese study routine: One way to get out of a study rut is to not study for two months. The last routine got me through the HSK5, but it didn’t feel good. I’m not going back to what I was doing, and instead have started a simple, doable, but more effective study routine that targets my weaker language areas and begins preparing me for the HSK6.
  • Long-neglected home repairs: For a very brief period of time after leaving the cleanliness and convenience of Canada, my tolerance levels are lower, and that means stuff gets fixed (gotta strike while the iron is hot, you know?), like the water barrier on our bathroom floor that keeps the shower water in the shower, the smoke fan in the kitchen, and the exhaust fan in the bathroom. I also thoroughly cleaned the DIY air purifiers, vacuumed, mopped and dusted the whole apartment and cleaned all the mold that had grown over the summer. And replaced all the dead houseplants with better ones. This would never happen in Month 2.
  • Healthier personal practices: I had personal practices before — what people usually call ‘spiritual’ practices — and those continue. But now I’ve also begun other ones. These are the kinds of things that intentionally set the direction and shape you’re going to grow in — the kind of person you’re going to become. Time will tell how far I’m able to grow into them. (Step 1 in becoming legit spiritual is Get Enough Sleep. We have an infant. I’m working on it…). But being captivated by a liberating, positive, all-encompassing vision is unlike anything else, even when Kid #3 is making you tired. (I’m happy to share details. Spoiler: Jesus.)

The end result is: our life is on a slightly better trajectory now than it was before we left for the summer. And it was the same deal after we returned from the summer two years ago. It makes us excited for where the next few semester will take us.

When the Communist government wants the People to have faith

Like English, the Chinese word for “faith” or “belief” (信仰) doesn’t necessarily have spiritual,religious, or metaphysical meaning. I most often encounter this word in two ways. First, from random men like taxi drivers and people on the bus who give a thumbs up and say, “Religious belief is good!” in response to finding out what I think about certain things. They almost always don’t have any ä¿¡ä»° themselves, but nonetheless have the general impression that believing in some religion – whatever religion – is a good thing.

The second way I often see this word is on the propaganda posters like the one above, which increasingly saturate public spaces from sidewalk vendors’ booths to hospital waiting rooms:

社会主义核心价值观
Socialism Core Values
人民有信仰,国家才有力量。
When the People have belief, then the nation has strength.

The Core Values get laid out in three categories: *国家 Nation, **社会 Society, ***公民 Citizens:

*富强、民主、文明、和谐
Prosperity, Democracy, Civilizedness, Harmony;
**自由、平等、公正、法治
Freedom, Equality, Justice, Rule by law;
***爱国、敬业、诚信、友善.
Patriotism, Dedication to one’s work, Integrity, Friendliness.

Although using ä¿¡ä»° this was might not be an explicitly religious reference, it does seem that the government sees its package of traditional Chinese culture, ethics (most emphasized: filial piety) and patriotism as direct competition for the spot formal or informal religions/ideologies/worldviews (including “Western values”) would occupy in the hearts and lives of the People.

In a similar but more eye-popping line of posters, the Chinese literally reads: “[Insert Core Value here] is a belief.” To read more about how the government uses “belief/faith” you can click that link, and also see Joann Pittman’s, In Democracy We Trust..

Songs about Qingdao! 青岛小嫚 by MC沙洲 & 爱青岛 by The Qingdao Allstars

Somehow we discovered MC沙洲, a local Qingdao hip-hop artist who has songs like 美丽青岛, IN青岛, 青岛MC, 青岛的夏天 and 青岛小嫚, all of which feature a heavy dose of Qingdaonese。

He also has a cameo in 爱青岛 by The Qingdao Allstars, in which a bunch of foreigners sing about Qingdao in English, Chinese and Qingdaonese (so I guess we’ll call that Qinglish?). Videos and lyrics for 青岛小嫚 and 爱青岛 below. Favourite lyric:

You’re my clam, I’m your hot pepper
Stir-fried together then it’s Qingdao flavour

你是我的蛤蜊 我是你的辣椒
放在一块儿炒才是青岛的味道

《青岛小嫚》
她是个青岛小嫚 动不动就生气 不愿意了甩了脸就走人
我站在原地还不知道怎么回事 手上拿着半个冰棍儿往下滴水
今天天气不错 该出去约会 我的青岛小嫚不弱 她是个辣妹
她最喜欢吃的就是路边小吃 最喜欢干的事儿就是没事找事儿
但是我不冲她发火 她比个男的有劲儿 还老穿个小裙子化装淑女
有的时候她也会温柔似水 那说明她饿了想让我喂她吃食 Oh
La la la la la la (Oh)
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la 我的青岛小嫚
打个啵 (Mua)
La la la la la la (Oh)
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la 我的青岛小嫚
一块儿唱 一块儿唱
La la la la la la (Oh)
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la 我的青岛小嫚
一块儿唱
La la la la la la (Oh)
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la 我的青岛小嫚
她买个破拖鞋要逛到晚上九点半 还老嫌我走路慢 她一个一个看
去游乐园玩那些奇怪东西 转呐转 转的我都头晕 她还不算完
有好好座不坐她让我买个摇篮 每天吃那么多饭也不怕坐断
白天上班的时候装的那么能干 下班回家就往床上钻 也不做饭
怎么那么懒 怎么她妈也不管 怎么她就成了我的心肝 我的陪伴
见不着我想她 见着我又烦 本来有个好灵感都让她搅乱

不唱我爱台妹我唱我爱青岛小嫚 爱她漂亮的大长腿和她说话口音
不化妆就出门 不愿意就打人 说她是个女屌丝她还那么恣儿
我唱歌那么好 她就跑调 去洗海澡她游我就狗刨
一个汉堡我吃饱她还得要 想去哪都问我我不认识道
你是我的蛤蜊 我是你的辣椒 放在一块儿炒才是青岛的味道
爱这里就要爱这里嫚 爱就要爱我的青岛小嫚

《爱青岛》
Everybody singing together
What do we say?
青岛啤酒好喝
咱们干杯
哈啤酒
吃蛤蜊
爱青岛
我们一起玩

come on every one
lets drink some fun
party all night
cheering the morning sun
spring skipping alright
waiting for the summer
fell back to sleep
cuz the winter is a bummer
ya need to be reminded
that your city is beautiful?
walk slow, watch her sunsets grow
lighting up the clouds like a rubies glow
drink your fill don’t spill your drink doh

请你开你的口
举起酒杯
先听李清say
Go with the flow
时间飞
废话甭说任何的时候
醉月如梭

像水流,no不是,像啤酒
哥们儿和朋友
饮一杯酒
不知不觉时间就被偷
喝多了
喝high了
看这个小妹儿穿得那么fly的
哦surprise了
中美关系好起来啦
希望青啤的新产品是苹果cider(赛达?)
小哥小心不要喝得那么快嘛

Everybody singing together
What do we say?
青岛啤酒好喝
咱们干杯
哈啤酒
吃蛤蜊
爱青岛
我们一起玩

我们来自青岛
我们热爱青岛
我们从来不在大街上尿尿
这是蛤蜊的调 这是小村庄的调
用我四方的口音唱个吆吆切可闹
我从来没去过 new york
我就去过胜利桥
跟我伙计们子吃个烧烤
我们看上去很屌 其实很表 哈大了酒就回家睡觉

我第一次到青岛(was love at first sight)
这个地方这么好
有山有海
(She be my cup of tea, I mean…)
它就是我的菜
还有青岛的扎啤就是我的最爱

外国的老巴子
听我嘻哈说一下
我想教你们
一点青岛话
牡蛎是海蛎子
蛤蜊是gala
烤肉是烤you
还有喝是哈

有蓝天碧海 红瓦和绿树
有喝的有吃的还有看的cool
你白恶银了你快白叨叨了
没见过老外说青岛话
太搞笑了

(I’m almost all out, but I got a couple more words-
They’re only for the cool kids, and not for the nerds)
叫哥们小哥,叫姐们小嫚
(And) 过来是个来 (let’s drink a BERR)

Everybody singing together
What do we say?
青岛啤酒好喝
咱们干杯
哈啤酒
吃蛤蜊
爱青岛
我们一起玩

Everybody singing together
What do we say?
青岛啤酒好喝
咱们干杯
哈啤酒
吃蛤蜊
爱青岛
我们一起玩