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.

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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.

Chinese Tourist of the Year

This summer, during our family’s first visit to North America in three years, we shared the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria with a literal bus-load of Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourist in Canada

I’m giving this guy from Yunan, who was really nice and took pictures for us, the Chinese Tourist of the Year award for coordinating his Canada hat and Canada shirt with the Canada flag. Full points for Canada enthusiasm! Just warms my frozen Canadian heart…

Chinese “birth tourism” & “passport babies” in Canada

As white, native English speakers, we were ethnic and linguistic minorities in the birthing unit of our local Canadian hospital for both of our daughters’ births (they’re 2 3/4 years and 7 days old). My daughters and I are covered under Canada’s socialized health care system, but Jessica isn’t because she’s American; she’s on international health insurance. Similar to a growing number of people in Canadian maternity wards, she was a foreigner giving birth in Canada.

Jessica’s foreign status means a $6000 deposit from us before the hospital deals with the insurance company and personal visits from Accounts Receivable agents hours after the child is born. Literally right as I was meeting my parents and daughter at the reception desk when they were coming to see the new baby for the first time, an agent showed up for a 20-minute lecture/interrogation, asking us the kind of questions you get when going through customs: When did you arrive in Canada? How long do you plan to be here? Where is your permanent residency? Etc. She was friendly and reasonable and I had no problem with her (don’t shoot the messenger, right?). But I was already annoyed at the idea of a $6000 deposit (which I negotiated down to $3000 and eventually $1000), and in my mind I was thinking: You know we’re insured. How is any of the rest of this your business? She even photocopied Jessica’s passport, even though Canadian border agents don’t usually stamp American visitors’ passports. I get them being all on top of securing Jessica’s insurance info, but what’s her status in Canada have to do with it?

It turns out that there are different prices for foreigners and non-covered residents. But I may have discovered another part of the answer in the high school staff room this morning, where the Vancouver Sun was open to this story (online version behind a pay-wall):

Apparently they’re on the lookout for “passport babies” and “birth tourists”:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is poised to crack down on so-called “passport babies” or “birth tourism” – the practice of travelling to Canada to give birth so that child can have Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian action comes an investigation by a Hong Kong newspaper found that bogus “consultants” are teaching Chinese women how to hide their pregnancies and how to apply for Canadian visitor or student visas.
[…]
The government will introduce changes to the citizenship laws in the next year, Malcolm said.
[…]
“By definition the hospitals don’t ask. You know, when the birth certificate is issued no one is asking what was the immigration status of their parents. So, there is no statistical register of this,” Kenney said.

(Well, they do now! At least, they asked us. Anyway, back to the article…)

Canada and the U.S. are the only two countries in the developed world that have an automatic inheritance of citizenship if you’re born on their soil, Kenney said.
[…]
“And maybe our citizenship laws are rooted in a time when people couldn’t fly over here, fly in and out so quickly, so easily. I think maybe there’s a need to modernize our approach.”

I wish I’d thought to ask the lady straight-up about Chinese birth tourism. Maybe if we have a #3 I’ll remember to inquire about China-related issues with the hospital staff, but somehow I doubt it… :)

See also: ‘Birth tourists’ believed to be using Canada’s citizenship laws as back door into the West
Some Related Stuff (Chinese in Canada, Reverse Culture Stress, Pregnancy, Babies):

Asian ‘gendercide’ in Canada — our local paper opens an explosive can of worms

Gendercide usually refers to how people are killing so many female babies that it skews your society’s gender ratio. Most of the “missing daughters” are killed before they’re born when the family discovers the baby’s female gender via ultrasound and chooses to abort her, though some (who knows how many) are still killed after they’re born (in China and Canada). Where I’m from in greater Vancouver, Canada, an area with high percentages of Indian, Korean, Chinese and Southeast Asian immigrants, ‘gendercide’ is so prevalent that our particular local ultrasound clinic flat-out refuses to tell people the gender of their baby. We asked one doctor about that restriction during a prenatal checkup, and she told us bluntly it was because they were finding too many ethnic minority babies in ditches.*

When we temporarily returned from China in 2009 to have our first child in my hometown of Surrey, B.C., I was a little shocked to discover signs like the one above in our local clinic. We’d just left the land of the One Child Policy, where it’s illegal for ultrasound techs to reveal the baby’s gender because sex-selective abortion is so prevalent, and arrived in abortion-law-less Canada. How could they get away with withholding personal medical information? Surely that’s a blatant violation of rights — women’s reproductive rights, no less. Our ultrasound tech, himself an immigrant from Pakistan, provided the answer when he said, with a nod at the signs taped to the walls of our examination room: “That rule is not for you,” before telling us he was 70% sure our baby was a girl.

Reporting on sex-selective abortion in North America steps on the multiculturalism social issue landmine because it necessarily involves very bad press for immigrant communities, and in Canada multiculturalism is sacred. (For the record, we both have M.A.’s in Intercultural Studies; we like the multicultural environment here.) But it also picks at the festering scab of the strangled abortion debate by putting the pro-abortion ‘rights’ cause (an even bigger sacred cow than multiculturalism) in a rather awkward position. In Canada we’ve been bullied for decades to believe that women have the unquestionable right to kill their unborn children for any and no reason, period — there are no abortion laws in Canada, that’s the establishment’s position. But along comes sex-selective abortion, and suddenly women — or ethnic minority women, at least — no longer have the divine right to do what they like to their gendered tissue blob (or distinct human being that isn’t a person, or innocent person whose rights are overridden by those of the would-be mother, or female not-a-baby, depending on which pro-abortion rhetoric you favour), at least not if the reasons involve her gender. The voices that have preached for decades that no one can tell women what to do with their own bodies are now doing just that: telling women what they can and can’t do with their suddenly-significant tissue blobs, and for what reasons.

The earlier reports I read about ‘gendercide’ in greater Vancouver seemed to downplay the fact that this is mostly an immigrant phenomenon. But the first installment in a new series in our local community paper (‘I am someone’s daughter’ from the Surrey Leader) shows no such fear:

But while their data shows dramatically fewer second-generation (as opposed to first generation) immigrants choose to have multiple children to achieve a boy, the researchers did not observe such a sharp decline between the generations when it comes to sex selection.

“It could be argued that unlike a preference for high fertility, a preference for sons and a (relative) lack of aversion to sex selective abortion is not costly to maintain in the West,” says the research paper.

For those who work closely with Surrey and Delta’s immigrant community, the fact women continue to get rid of unwanted girls is no surprise.

They barely mention China, instead focusing on the larger Indo-Canadian community while also mentioning east Asians, though it’s a given that this phenomenon exists in the local Chinese population as well.

(Interestingly enough, the main opinion piece in the other local community paper was all about how unfortunate it is that the Indo-Canadian community often gets bad press, because a few bad apples don’t reflect the community as a whole, with no reference to gender-based abortion choices. I have no beef with that article, but it was curious that it appeared on the same day as the other.)

For more about Asian gendercide in Canada or gendercide in China, see:

P.S. — Apologists for abortion ‘rights’ are welcome to comment, if you’re willing to own your statements by answering my challenges to them (I promise not to yell).

*P.P.S. — I don’t understand our doctor’s explanation that the ultrasound restrictions are because too many babies were being abandoned. Wouldn’t allowing sex-selective abortion result in less abandoned babies? I can imagine situations where her statement makes sense, and anyway I get her general point, so maybe she just misspoke.

Eaves-dropping on Beijingers in Vancouver

Last Friday I started teaching a month-long EFL “Winter Camp” program for nine Beijingers aged 8-13 who arrived the night before. We have English class in the mornings and field trips in the afternoons. They’re all staying with Canadian families and it’s a shocking cultural adventure for them. Almost everything is different. It’s rare to get a group this “fresh”, and I plan to have fun with it.

We’re using a classroom in a posh local private school that is pretty impressive even by Canadian standards, so the facilities and grounds are really nice; they were awed by the interactive white board, for example. But they were also excited just to walk down the hall to the bathroom, armed with their cameras, taking photos of everything from the vending machines to the high school classes in session with their doors open. I’ve taught this kind of EFL gig before, and sometimes the kids have already traveled so much that being in a developed Western country isn’t so special, but not these kids. They’re apparently doing this kind of thing for the first time. I felt like a celebrity in the classroom with all the cameras aimed at me.

I’ve decided to keep the fact that I can speak basic Mandarin a secret from them for as long as I can, so I can listen in on their conversations as much as I can. Between my limited Mandarin, my teaching responsibilities, and the fact that four excited 12-year-old girls babbling away at once is hard to decipher in any language, I don’t get to tune in to their conversations near enough to satisfy my curiosity, never mind pausing to scribble down notes of what I hear. But it’s still funny what I do catch.

Friday morning was their first morning in Canada after their first night and breakfast with a Canadian family. Before class started they were animatedly telling one another about how BIG everything in their homestays’ house is, even the bookshelves. Then they were talking about what they were fed for breakfast and what was packed in their lunches, how it was either gross or they didn’t know what it was. It was funny in its own right, but extra funny to hear the “foreigner” experience in reverse. We’ll see what the next month brings!

Other experiences of teaching Chinese students in Vancouver:

You can browse all of our ESL/EFL teaching post here.

Chinese “evil cult” propaganda in our Canadian mailbox

As soon as I saw this in our mailbox today, it reminded me of something I’d read in the news a couple years ago. A certain religious group in China, famous for being brutally persecuted by the gov’t in the late 90’s, was apparently squandering Western public sympathy by selling tickets to Chinese cultural stage performances that contained explicit (but unadvertised) political and spiritual messages. This was making some Euro-Americans feel deceived. People felt ripped off that they’d come for a family show and got explicit politicking and proselytizing.

I didn’t know if this was them or not. My suspicious were heightened when I read the vague but very spiritual introduction section and this statement:

A performance like Shen Yun can no longer be found in China today because many of China’s best artistic traditions have been lost in recent decades.

The last page confirmed my guess. Turns out the performance advertised in the pamphlet (not mailed but hand-delivered to our door by an elderly Chinese man) is put on by the “evil cult” at the top of the Chinese government’s hit list — one of the largest, most viciously persecuted Chinese religious groups in the last fifteen years. There were propaganda posters in our neighbourhood in Tianjin denouncing them (see here for images and translations), and you have to walk past their demonstration to get into the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. To avoid tempting China’s net nanny I won’t write their name here, but here’s a picture:

I don’t blame them for presenting their religion and protest message through art and entertainment like they do. We Westerners are, after all, well-accustomed to ideological propaganda in our entertainment; that — and money — is what our entertainment is all about. But it takes a little more nuance and subtly to do this effectively to a Western audience, as evidenced by the negative reactions they’ve provoked (here’s an example). Who knows, maybe this go around they’ve tailored their message a little better.

Anyway, it’s interesting to find yet another example of China popping up in the daily life of Canadians. For more about this particular “evil cult”, see:

P.S. – “Shén​ Yùn” refers to charm or grace in art and poetry. Literally it is “God/spirit/divine” (神) + “beautiful sound/charm/appeal” (韵). Here are some different dictionary entries.

Racism in Vancouver, Canada and my ESL student’s experience

It started with an unengaged substitute teacher, escalated with white kids throwing unprovoked juice boxes and insults at the Chinese kids, peaked with a fistfight between one of my Chinese tutoring students and two local black kids, and ended (hopefully) with a two-day suspension from school. My student ended up with a long, nasty scratch across his shoulder and chest.

I get that cafeteria scuffles will happen, and that race is only one factor among many and perhaps not even the main one. But the local students were swearing at the ESL kids in Chinese — they’ve been around Chinese classmates enough to pick up the swear words. It’s his first semester in Canada, but it’s not the first time he’s been randomly accosted for being Chinese. Getting cursed at in your own language by passing locals seems to me to be a little bit worse than having random Chinese people yell “老外!” at you.

Since we’re back in Vancouver, Canada for a few months I’ve picked up some ESL tutoring students. This one, like many, came to Vancouver to finish high school because his parents knew he wouldn’t do well on the 高考, the Chinese college entrance exam. He’s in a grade 11 ESL program at a local public school, with generally poor English, and it’s interesting to hear him relate his fight at school yesterday from a second-language, only partially-understood perspective (for example, he knows he was being taunted and challenged but doesn’t know exactly what they said to him, aside from the Chinese swear words). But it also makes me rethink about the experiences of Chinese students in Canadian schools. I don’t want to imagine what kind of impression he and his mom are getting.

I assume that my white majority perspective, growing up and being educated in a multicultural environment, maybe gives me a rosier-than-reality view of the current Asian Canadian racial experience in Vancouver. I’m not accusing Vancouverites of being exceptionally racist; although I think we’re generally much less civilized than we think we are, it was just one schoolyard scuffle, and I didn’t notice any racism when I was a white student among a large minority of Indians and Asians. But incidents like that of my student yesterday start me wondering if perhaps some of the sunshine and rainbows of our multicultural utopia shine a little less brightly for the immigrants and international students than they do for us in the white majority.

More about Asian Canadian and ESL student experiences:

About racism in China: