Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Here is the thing I wrote about the readings a couple of weeks ago about the rich, young ruler and how his failure was not in keeping his wealth, or even that he didn't follow Jesus, but that he failed to engage.

What I didn't say is that while this reading is from Mark, and the stories are a little different in all the synoptics, in Luke the story comes just after the story of the tax collector and the pharisee. The Pharisee was a regular at temple, he was one of the leaders. If he were here today he might be a bishop, or at least a priest. He certainly knew his way around the prayer book. Like the rich, young ruler, he would have done everything properly and in good order, knelt at the right times, and stood at the right times. Oh, he seems like one of us, doesn't he? Yet, despite having done everything correctly, he was not justified.

Like the rich, young ruler they both went up to the temple, to Jesus, to the religious authority figure... it can be anything... and they both walked away. Only one was justified, though.

Who was justified? The tax collector! The sinner! It is doubtful that the tax collector, an employee of the oppressor, would have shown up at temple very often. Even in this story he has the good sense to remain in the background, but he is the one who was justified/healed/engaged.

Is there something about going to the temple, going to Jesus, going somewhere... and then coming away? What happens in between? Why are some healed and some are not?  Some are justified and some are not?  Engagement. That's what. Who engages?

When we go to God maybe in prayer, or the daily hopes and ejacualtions that make up daily life, and we just blather, or complain, or dance with the monkey mind within, then it seems like nothing happens. But, single-minded engagement seems to get the divine attention.

As I tell my students, "One of my requirements is that you are awake when I walk into the room." I imagine a deity would expect at least as much.
I am not really a coffee drinker, but my neighbor -- Mr. Tang -- likes to have a cup with me, and he takes such obvious delight in making it up with sugar and cream that it is really more like a cafe crem than real coffee. He likes confirming that he is pronouncing coffee the American way and who better to confirm such a thing than yours truly?  So it is that several times a week, in the wee hours of the morning, Mr. Tang and I stand on his patio/aquarium room and have a cup of joe. We use a combination of English and Mandarin, though he occasionally slips into a dialect of Shanghainese that would drive the Lord Jesus himself right round the bend. We talk about our scooters. He has two really big ones. I once gave him one of my LED lights which he is quite proud of and he usually turns it on to show me that it's still working. Mr. Tang and I love our LEDs, we both have them on our bikes. We both have twinkle lights in our homes, and we both have aquariums... we really are birds of a feather. But every time, just after I drink the coffee I get a sharp headache. What could be going on with that? I think he uses bottled water, the sugar looks alright, the creme is in those sealed cups like they have... I can't figure it out. I take two Pirin Tablets and feel better, so no big deal. It's worth it, frankly... I just love Mr. Tang. But, a little disconcerting.

I tried to tell Mr. Tang the bad news that I have to move, but neither of us really has the vocabulary for that. I found out yesterday. At least I THINK I have to move. I've been unable to contact the property owners -- they call themselves "landlords" even though there is no land involved and they are not my lords. This is sort of a point that I make when I am making points, if you know what I mean. -- Anyway, my housekeeper had been trying to tell me something for two days, but she only speaks that maddening Shanghainese dialect and I couldn't understand a word of it. So I went to a Chinese man at my school, and he called her up for me, but he had trouble understanding her too, but he thinks that the property owners want the flat back. And so I will have to move out of this lovely lane and probably into a building somewhere. Now that I have a scooter I can get from one neighborhood to another a lot faster than when I had to strap on my walking shoes and march through the city to get where I was going. But moving is a hassle, it's the middle of the semester, and I really think the property owners should just tell me instead of making me guess.

In other news, I have painted each fingernail a different color for the weekend, because if you are fortunate enough to have ten different colors then you should use them. I realize that this would get me labeled an eccentric in the USA, which is just another reason not to live there. I'd just wear it as a badge of honor anyway, and I know how that irritates some people. I had them all done up in business suit grey on Thursday, and it was a perfect match for my suit. I usually try to keep it down to two or three colors... but it's the weekend!

Saturday, October 10, 2015


This is a picture of my front door.

I have an extra key taped to the back of that Chinese thing. Actually, it's a key to the laundry room, and I have a spare key to the house in the laundry room. It's a system.

I do not know what the writing on the Chinese thing says, but it's pretty. Most of the people in my lane have something on their door. It could be something like this, or one of the minions.

That ivy plant is too big, and it's in the way. I like it, though, and tripping over it doesn't bother me too much.

One time the people down the lane took my ivy plant and put it with their other plants. When I came home one of my neighbors told me what had happened and we went down there and got my plant back. Nobody has moved it since then. My neighbors take care of me.

























This is the lane where I live.

Those bars on the far right are over my bathroom window. It is the only window in my flat, though I have a nice screen that I can pull over the front door too. Still, it doesn't allow for much ventilation.  It is unknown how much the neighbors can see into my bathroom. One learns not to care. As you can see, we live in close quarters here.

The door knob on the far left is my laundry room. You can't actually go in there, but if you open the door there's a nice washer. Brand new, in fact. Only a few other people have machines and they are the type that have to be rolled out and connected each time you want to use them. It's no wonder they think I'm a movie star.

Also on the left you can see another door knob. That is where the old man lives. He is the patriarch of our lane. We all have to do what he says. He lets his pleasure and displeasure be known. One time I left my keys in the door lock all night. He expressed displeasure with me over that. He gives me advice which is not always helpful since he speaks Shanghainese, but it is nice to listen to him. One time I had squeaky hinges on my laundry room and he put oil on them. Now they don't squeak.

Next to him is where my other neighbor has a little patio. He keeps his fish aquariums out there, and he has plants, and strings of LED lights. It's a little paradise. He goes out there at night and smokes. He also parks his two massive scooters in there. I can't even imagine what those scooters must have cost him.

Between the old man's place and my neighbor's patio you see a sink and a counter. That is where the old man and his family brush their teeth, hack up phlegm, and prepare their meals. I know all this because it is just across from my bathroom window. Like I said, we live in close quarters.

The old man's son and daughter in law live just next door to me. They are nice enough, but I don't really know them.

Next door to them, though, is my real friend, the man with the patio and the massive bikes. He does all the cooking for the family, and that's pretty common in China. My ayie eats with them every evening. She lives next door on the other side. You can't see her house. I don't know why she eats with them. They might be related. I just don't know. It took me a long time to figure out that the old man was related to my next door neighbors. They have all lived here forever and they know who is kin to whom... Me? I don't know.

I just thought ya'll might like to see the neighborhood.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Both the pope and Kim Davis have said things which I completely agree with, and as Christians we really do have to try to find some ground for agreement.

First Kim Davis:  "I am just a County Clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him.”

I believe that's probably true. I think it's how she thinks of herself, and I imagine it's one of the ways that Jesus thinks of her.  You can be sincere, though, and still be sincerely wrong. That's a thing the Baptists used to say to me, and it's true. I do not doubt Kim Davis's sincerity for a minute. I embrace her as a sister in Christ and a fellow struggler.

I don't even have a problem with Kim Davis's theology. It's not my own, but I'm in no position to point my fingers at anyone and say that this one is right and this one is wrong. In many quarters there is no theology, so the fact that Kim Davis has a theology at all seems like good news to me. Go out, everybody, and get some theology. Find a quack, or a saint, or somebody who has said something about God and think about it for awhile. There are lots worse things you can spend your time thinking about than God.

For the Christian, and I assume for Kim Davis, life can't be compartmentalized into little boxes. What we do at work is intrinsically related to what we do in Church, at home, and in the rest of our lives. That is why people like me try to teach with love, my ayie cleans with joy, and people give their best selves to work when they are working. In this way, everything becomes an offering to God. I understand that Kim Davis can not reconcile her job requirements with her faith. (I don't agree with her, but I do understand.) And that is why she should quit her job.

Kim Davis would not be the first Christian to leave a job because it conflicted with her faith. The early church encouraged members not to work as gladiators or actors. Whether or not to serve in the military has always been in question, with many objecting to combat roles and taking on other roles (sometimes even more dangerous) instead. Holding political office has been a hot-topic too, as has being an inn keeper, making guns, being a merchant, and even banking. Most recently, David Brooks of the New York Times suggested that professional athletes who are Christians should quit. "The moral ethos of sport, " he said, is out of sync with "the moral ethos of Christianity" which requires humility. Some may disagree, it is acknowledged, though, that some jobs are not fit for Christian people.

At it's most basic level Christian vocation is to love God and to love others. That can take the form of healing them, preaching to them, selling them food, or helping them make money. It might even include entertaining them, the way actors, singers, and prostitu.... uh-oh. The lines are not clear. What a Christian can do is ask these questions: Am I loving God? Am I loving my neighbor? There may be more than one answer to the same question. In charity for one another we allow for that.

We also allow for religious workers to be accommodated. In the USA most workers can arrange to have significant religious holidays off, they are permitted to wear special clothing, or abstain from food or drink that is not allowed in their religion. Most people of one faith are willing to work for someone of a different faith, exchanging work holidays between religions. I've done that. I think most people have. I am glad my country requires workplace accommodations.

Here is what we don't allow:  We don't allow the religion of one person or group to disrupt the work. If the work is being a doctor, but your religion doesn't allow you to care for gay and lesbian patients, then you can't be a doctor. If you are a vet, but your religion doesn't allow you to care for dogs, then you can't be a vet. And, if you are a county clerk, but your religion doesn't allow you to issue marriage licenses, then you can't be a county clerk, because that is the work. Religion can not disrupt the work.

Kim Davis should either join that rather large group of other conscientious objectors who have quit their jobs, or she should be fired for not doing the work. That is what happens even when people love Jesus very, very much.

Now for the pope: Pope Francis said that conscientious objection is a human right of everyone, including government officials.

He is right. Conscientious objection is a right. It's in both Nuremberg and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rights do not come without cost, though. In The United States we have certain rights: Freedom of speech, the right to assemble, pursuit of happiness. These rights were not free, though, they were bought for us by the first United Staters. Many of them gave their very lives for the rights that United Staters enjoy today. 

Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, are perhaps the best known conscientious objectors, though Mennonites, the Amish, and Brethren are also war pacifists.* Joshua Pollard Blanchard is the first US conscientious objector that I know of. He was a Quaker who refused to serve in the war of 1812 and there was a trial about it, though I don't know the outcome. There was another early United Stater who refused to serve in the Union Army. He also refused to supply the army with goods from his business, and the business nearly went under for it. As the USA entered the world wars, Quakers began to have a harder time of it. Some went to prison for long terms for their refusal to serve. Between the wars the churches began to set up alternative service which allowed many to serve in non-war positions. Some of those positions, like smoke jumper, were very dangerous but they allowed conscientious objectors to be true to their conscious without being unfaithful to their country. 
Here's what never happened, at least in modern times:  Conscientious objectors never just continued on as before. Conscientious objectors to war make a sacrifice, they serve, or they pay, they may leave their country, or they go to prison, but they do not simply go on.

Kim Davis is trying to play it both ways. She wants to be a conscientious objector, as she has every right to be, AND she wants her life, and salary and benefit package, to go on as before. That is not being a conscientious objector, that's called running a scam. It's not at all the same thing. So, when the pope tells her to stay strong, he is basically telling her that it's OK, and that he approves of her overthrow of the rule of law and flouting the principles of conscientious objection. I am not sure that's what the pope intended to say, but that's what came through loud and clear.

I really suspect that we have not heard the last of Kim Davis and the pope. My suspicion is that the pope is more complex and nuanced as all that, and that Kim Davis is not. There is a lot which is not known, but quite enough that is.

When I think about the pope and the things he has said, I can't bring myself to believe that he really has it in for the homos, the trannies, or the women whom he just ignores. He has surely had gay friends -- probably no lesbians -- but gay priests, gay students, gay parishioners. He can't have remained completely unexposed to their lives. My suspicion is that he never wished them any harm, though I doubt that he understood their lives very well either.

What I see in the pope is an unwillingness to do anything to change a very misguided system. It may be that cowardice, or just the clerical love of the status quo are his biggest sins. I have sins too.

Either way, it's nice to know that I can agree with both of them.

+++++

We are on the cusp of ANOTHER stunning day here in ShangHai.

Yesterday I took moon cakes to my neighbors along with a note telling them my name and some things about where I from and about my family. Not they are all bringing me presents and saying Lin Da and Tax Is.

I have recently figured out why the Chinese go to such unbelievable contortions of the calendar when they have a holiday. It's balance. We have to maintain the balance in the society at all times. Thus, if you take off a Tuesday, there has to be another Tuesday before the close of the week so you can make it up otherwise the balance is all off. I shared this revelation with a Chinese friend who just said, "Yes, of course." Of course... all this time I have marveled at the crazy, crazy scheduling around the holidays. But then I was thinking of society in another context and balance and it hit me: The calendar has to stay in balance. See, it does make sense. Oh, these Chinese, they are a mystery and a bafflement. And occasionally I figure out something.

My ayie came this morning. She has recently moved in just a couple of houses from me and she took me down there this morning to show me her new apartment. She is proud of it, and it's a nice joint. I wonder how she affords it. There are secrets I do not know yet.

As for the lectionary, I find that I am more interest in Job than in the other readings. There are so many extra-canonical stories about him, and his wife too, including one I wrote a few years back. That's how great stories are:  They inspire other stories, people sit around talking about them, they have life in them.

OK. No real news. And I think we've all heard quite enough from me today anyway..



Thursday, October 1, 2015


Nothing says, "I'm ready for National Day" like a fresh chicken in the pot. I took this about a week ago between JingAn and Qufu Lu. I assume that these birds were destined to be part of today's National Day celebration.

The whole town was empty this afternoon. I rode my scooter for a little while, but then it felt like more rain was on the way so I got back home as quickly as I could. And it was cold.

Still ruminating on the readings for this week. We see Adam -- who was the first person, not the first man, really -- we see Adam needing a companion and then getting one. Then we see that relationships get broken. Jesus is not for that, but the fact that he's talking about it tells me that it's a reality. And then we see that we are still to welcome one another like little children. Children are not married which brings single people into the community of faith in a way that the pope seems incapable of.

And there is Job. Why, why did poor Job go through all that?  Answer? There is no answer. Can we live with that? I gotta say, I have a real hard time with it. I only live with it because sometimes I have to. I have never been happy about it, and I am only marginally faithful in the midst of it. So there might be something yet to learn from Job.

I have a few days off. I am just futzing around here and taking naps.