Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Light of the World

I heard a story last week that has been relentlessly haunting my mind with images.

I see a picture of a toddler boy meeting a woman behind bars, his innocence shielding him from the harsh reality that his birth mother has been sentenced for life.

I see a woman forced into household servitude in a foreign land, and in a desperate attempt for freedom, lit a fire that claimed two lives. She believed according to local superstition, that a fire in the house would compel the head of the household to send her back home. Yet in an ironic, cruel twist of fate, her frantic gasp for air suffocated any hope of her return.

I see the dark prison, an institution of society’s justice system, meting out justice to a woman who has never known justice herself.

It’s the Advent season, a time we remember how God incarnated Himself in a tiny baby into our broken world. He did not come so we can arm ourselves with weapons of judgment. He dared those who have not sinned to cast the first stone at an adulterous woman. To his executors he blessed with forgiveness. He came, instead, to bring deliverance for the poor, for the orphaned, for the widowed, for the condemned. His message is one of light in the darkness. He came to tear down the walls we erect to keep the murderers safely out of the sight of our comfortable lives. He came to shatter the moral categories we develop to separate the sinners from the righteous. He brings with Him a new radical vision for all to embrace. In that vision,

I see the toddler boy adopted into a loving family. I see redemption.

I see full forgiveness of God extended to all, even those who have committed capital offense. I see grace.

I see justice for the poor, so no girls are sent away by their families in order to survive. I see deliverance.

I see beauty for ashes; comfort for mourning; mercy for judgment.

Jesus has come, and in his life, death, and resurrection, he’s brought forth His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Today, may hope flood our hearts and spill over into the darkest corners of the world, perhaps into a prison holding a broken woman, mother, and daughter of God.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Let's get to know each other

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 did’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?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Called to Love

I knew when I encountered the word "locutionary" in the latest theology book I'm reading I had bitten off more than I can chew. Contrary to what Kathy Laytham says, I am really not very smart. I learned very late in life how to think for myself. In that respect, my daughter is way ahead of me as she seems to know everything about the world at the age of 8. But there is something so alluring about reading intelligent articulation of faith, theology, and culture. At Wheaton, I spent hours sitting in the dining hall with friends unpacking theology and its significance. With the explosion of the blogging enterprise, I am now afforded the opportunity to engage for hours on end with theology professors, authors, and pastors via the world wide web. I simultaneously scorn and crave controversies that go viral online. Rob Bell's accused heresy fed my addictions temporarily. For my next fix I look to Mark Driscoll - he never fails to deliver. Sometimes I will attempt to squeeze in one more blog post from Mason Slater before I feed my children. It is that bad. I am reminded of Monica opening wedding presents without Chandler (OMG, am I REALLY referencing Friends, how last decade am I?), "Joey, I'm out of control!"

Turns out your online life eventually bleeds into your offline life. If you read enough blog posts "pushing back" at another blog post, you learn to push back in real life. I've struggled with this problem for quite a while. In seminary we were taught to think critically about our faith. For one of our finals we had to criticize the theology in Veggie Tales. What in the world? Who does that? It's Veggie Tales, Saturday morning fun, Sunday morning values! I wrote, "Veggie Tales does a great job of teaching children Christian ethics" and I got a C. So it's really no surprise that by the time I came out the other end of the theological training system, I can no longer listen to a sermon, go through a Bible Study, or even watch a darn Christian cartoon without ripping it to shreds. Uh, I mean, critically evaluate the presuppositions and rearrange the epistemological framework of the underlying assumptions attributing to the consequent praxis. If you didn't understand that last sentence, yeah neither did I. And the only reason I even knew those words was because I was forced to use them in my education and I was obsessed with beating my husband with my grades. (That is really sad, I know.)

My main problem is that I can't seem to undo the damage. I can't unlearn what I have learned. Also, did I mention it is addicting? Do you know how satisfying it feels to actually look up the word "locutionary", learn what it means as applied to biblical hermeneutics, understand it, and explain it to your husband to show off your intellectual prowess? (In case anyone is curious, he's not normally as impressed as I'd like him to be.)

I actually intended this post to be a serious one about conjoining theology and ethics but it's late at night and slight delirium is leading me to derail from my original purpose. The point is, in case anyone is still reading this post, the allure of theological musings can sometimes mar one's character, which results in some serious irony as the study of a Good and Loving God should lead one to love more fully, not think more critically. I don't remember a word from my undergraduate commencement message (probably because my future in-laws were there and I was more concerned about impressing them) but I still remember the sermon Dr. Richard Mouw spoke at our graduation from Fuller. He said Christian education is about the head - thinking critically, the heart - loving, and the hand - doing the work of God. Then he said the most important of the three is the heart. (note he says it much more eloquently than my paraphrase here, that is why he is the president of an academic institution and I'm just rambling in cyberspace with questionable use of parenthesis.)

I went to seminary because I love God and I wanted to serve people. Thanks Dr. Mouw for reminding us all that living a rational and robust faith means loving with abandon. As much as I believe in thoughtful engagement with culture and not divorcing our intellect from our faith, I hope they contribute instead of detract from our character as followers of Christ. That our theological debates lead us to greater humility, generous charity, and sacrificial love.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Home to home and back again

There are no surprises. Even the youngest member of our family, five year old Hayden, has a well-worn passport. International travel is no novelty to us. We know there will be lines for customs, procedures of security check, and how to occupy our time for hours and hours of airplane travel. We land in LAX and I wait for that sensation of culture shock, though anticipated is no less jarring. Our five sense are flooded with sights and sounds we are not used to, but yet are not unfamiliar with. I whisper to Jason, "I hope the kids don't make comments about seeing black people", nervous about the unfiltered words coming from my little ones who live in a monocultural society. At the same time I mentally run through my own behavior and whether they are appropriate for this context, telling myself to go ahead and banter with the store clerk because that's what people do here. I watch my husband and wonder if he feels as foreign as I do in this place. I marvel at the children's reactions to being back in America, so filled with delight and yet tentative. By day 3, I had crossed the line from merely being a thoughtful traveler to crazy over-analytical wife who was overwhelming her husband with theories of why people behave the way they do here and what is the Christian meaning behind the behavior and how it affects our family's history and future. It's the career hazard of being a cross cultural Christian worker. I abandon the theoretical exercises (or at least stop spouting them out loud) and simply enjoy the good times to be had with friends, old and new, and family.

We had a too-brief stay in LA and was reminded of how much we loved living there. Then off to Colorado to reunite our children with their doting grandparents whose gracious hospitality allowed us to not have to lift a finger for anything. Mountains were enjoyed, Colorado blue sky appreciated, and even a sighting of Saturn through the telescope at Grandparent's cabin was scored. Credit cards were maxed out and two years worth of shopping were caught up.

The glass half empty approach to our family's unique cultural experiences would be to struggle to find where home is. Indeed, at the moments when the modern invention of jet plane lands us in a a different land within a matter of hours, it takes a while to find our balance amidst the sudden shift in culture. But quickly we discover our home among people, those who are connected to us through a smorgasbord of life experiences, those who remain faithful in our relationship despite geographical distance. It turns out home is not just where the bed you are used to is at, but amongst friends and family connected to you via strands of love and loyalty, shared experiences and commitment, common vision and faith.

As we've gone from home to home and back again, I can't help but wonder if there is a home for us somewhere we've yet to discover.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Missionary to Entrepreneur

I knew when I titled this blog "Journey of Beginnings", it was appropriate for our lives. We are again embarking on a new adventure of starting a new business selling girl's clothing to families in Taiwan. Having majored in Bible for undergrad and armed with an MA in Theology from seminary, the minor detail that gets shuffled away in my life is the fact that I got 40 credit hours of business classes in college. That's right, I was a double major. Always felt the need to cram more than one project in my life. Thus the ulcer. But that's for a different post.

There was this guy in our class at Wheaton College who always had a bright smile on his face and his love for Jesus was so vibrant and alive that we gave him the nickname Jesus Josh. Jesus Josh carried a Bible wherever he went, encouraged others with Bible verses, thrived in Student Missionary Projects, and was the poster boy for World Christian Fellowship. Well, I wanted to be Jesus Cindy, and having roomed with an amazing godly girl from China and dated a guy with a love for China, I decided being an "M" in China was my path. A path which was subsequently fiercely pursued and blazed in my twenties. My time in China and being outside the Wheaton bubble deconstructed some of the glorified ideals that were imprinted in my young mind through those mountaintop worship experiences at WCF (though my generation will always lament the fact we barely missed the revival). Namely, becoming a missionary was the epitome of the Christian experience.

Turns out being a missionary just makes you really socially awkward and odd. At least in our experience. What do you do for a living? Um, we, uh, hang out with people? How do you make a living? Um, uh, family and friends, uh, give money in return for newsletters. You're how old and you're still in language school? We, uh, see language learning as part of identifying with your culture.

As we thought about how to be relevant in China, we slowly came to the realization we will fight an uphill battle impacting the mainstream culture as long as we're on the fringe. Our theology also continued to take shape as we pondered whether evangelism was the epitome of being faithful. Were we doomed to live this socially awkward, fringe behavior missionary lifestyle, if we truly wanted to be faithful to the Good news of Jesus? And from there our perspective of the gospel expanded to the model of bringing in the Kingdom of God. Is it possible that teachers, doctors, lawyers, migrant workers, vendors, non profit workers, businessman, and those in political office can be JUST as faithful in their role in the Kingdom of God as the almighty missionaries?

I think most people would agree the answer to the above question is a resounding yes, but there are not resources and literature to help equip this group of Christians. We've learned to be Christians on Sundays but not on Mondays through Saturdays. I hope our new adventure on being entrepreneurs will be a time of exploration in how to be faithful business people who see their vocation as an endeavor to participate in the Kingdom of God.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way saying there is no place for missionaries, pastors, and full time ministry workers. They are my heroes for doing what they do and I was honored to have been a part of that community. What I am trying to debunk is the myth one must be a part of that community in order to be a faithful Christian.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My awkward relationship with America

Despite my near-flawless American accent, my intimate knowledge of American history/government/culture, my 3/4 of family who are American, I am not an American. I was born and raised in Taiwan, aside from a brief 3 year stint in Australia at the ages of 10-12. My parents chose to place me in an International school with American teachers, students, curriculum which landed me in a community located on the outskirts of a city in Taiwan for most of my formative years. After graduating from an American college prep high school, I naturally went on to an American college and graduate school. So you can say that I didn't choose America, but that America was chosen for me.

My faith was also delivered to me via the American version of the gospel. Having grown up reading Chinese folk stories of 18 levels of hell, I was happy to accept this free ticket into heaven with a simple belief in Jesus Christ. I learned to speak Christian-ese, pray, and worship in the American language, as well as grow deeper in understanding of the gospel. And I thrived in that faith community. Some aspects of my spiritual journey at this stage of my life I treasure - learning to love, serve, and forgive my peers as we grew together in such a unique tight-knit community. Other aspects I resent in hindsight - being shown a graphic video of aborted babies and indoctrinated to side with a politically charged issue. I will forever be thankful for the sacrifices my teachers and mentors made to uproot their families to come to Taiwan in order to share their faith with me and others like myself.

I went on to attend a conservative Christian college and then leaned a bit to the left and did seminary at Fuller. I read about the history of Christianity in America, how our theology is shaped by American culture, and how we might be salt and light as Americans in America and beyond. The irony is not lost on me. If you have followed my blog at all, you know my struggles of cultural identity given my complex background. As a non-American Christian, I live and breathe a gospel wrapped up with red, white, and blue.

In the last election I rallied for my favorite presidential candidate more passionately than my "real" American husband. I use his name and state to sign up for petitions all over the country fighting for the issues I believe Christians ought to stand up for. When America makes blunders in the world, I'm the first to point my finger at her even though I have absolutely no right to, given the fact that I even gave up my green card last year.

A few sundays ago, the pastor preached a sermon about how wealthy we are in comparison to the global poor. He used a statistic citing how unevenly the wealth is weighted in America. After the service, a Taiwanese young guy came charging up to my white husband and accused, "how can you Americans hoard so much wealth?" To whom Jason coolly answered, "the sermon was not directed towards Americans but yourself and how you can better be a steward of your wealth" which effectively turned his pointed finger around. This incident made me evaluate how often I do the same thing? Point my finger at America? Shouldn't I be thinking about my own country (Republic?) and how we can be faithful ourselves?

The reality is I am not equipped. I did not go through more than a decade of education to critically think about how to live my faith in the Chinese context. As much as I am saddened by this fact, it is a fact nonetheless. The other reality is America, despite some people's opinions, is still the most powerful country in our world today, and thus positioned to have the most influence in the lives of each global citizen. And as the American icon Spiderman says, "with great power comes great responsibility." Therefore, if I am called to obey one of the most central commandments in Scripture "Love your neighbor", I am compelled to call upon the leader of our world today to help us all do just that. The country that birthed the missionaries who gave me the gospel of Jesus Christ, must be the example to me of how to live out that gospel most faithfully.

So I will continue to send out petitions, even if it means pretending to be my husband. Because when I read stories about how women are being mass raped in Congo because America doesn't impose tight enough regulations on the source of minerals used in the technology that runs our world, it is to America I turn. Please, use your power and leadership, on behalf of the millions whose voices go unheard.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Judgment Day - May 21, 2011

I posted this picture of a sign in our city on facebook. Approrpiately, facebook friends commented: wierd, fail, and other snide remarks. Many of my facebook friends have been around the Christian block long enough to know this isn't the first doomsday prediction and sadly won't be the last, and are quick to dismiss it as another ridiculous display of public idiocy by the latest group of crazies. But for the sake of my local friends here in Taiwan who may be new believers, here are my ideas of why we should choose to ignore these claims.

These kinds of organizations aim to stoke the fires of fear in people. Placing a specific date on Judgment Day, claiming to have derived it from the Word of God, are all tactics to threaten you to repentance. But our God is Love, and Perfect Love drives out fear, not induce it! Our gospel is that of grace and compassion, and invites with a sweet gentle Call. Genuine repentance never comes from fear, but through coming face to face with the unfathomable depths of God's love shown through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, and those who follow Him.

Judgment Day is not the focal point of the cosmic timeline. As Christians, our main event happened 2000 years ago when Jesus walked out of that tomb. Most of the teachings in Scripture concerning the "End of the World" were addressed to believers living under intense persecution, to whom it surely felt like they were living in the End Times, and those Scriptures were calling them to remain faithful to the life and mission and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to usher in the New Kingdom, one characterized by justice, compassion, and hope.

So, to my fellow followers of Christ, let's log out of (yes I went on the website too and spent waaaay too much time reading through it), let's not plan to loiter around the sign on May 22nd to witness their folly revealed, because we've got far too many important tasks to attend to - loving our neighbors, speaking out for those who can't, praying for Egypt, living faithfully in our families, communities, and the world.

Your Kingdom Come.