I've posted some photos from the trip at http://gallery.me.com/vandeusent
Check back later for more.
I've posted some photos from the trip at http://gallery.me.com/vandeusent
Check back later for more.
It would not be too broad a generalization to say that all of us on this cross-cultural experience have been exceedingly impressed with the generosity and hospitality of the Chinese people. We've been treated very well by our hosts in our accommodations, food, drink, transportation, communication and even free medical treatment.
Here in Luzhou, as we have made better connections with our hosts we've been introduced to rituals of thanks and appreciation that as you'll see in an upcoming video can start as early as kindergarten. Our American hosts have treated us very well too. We've sampled Sichuan cooking in rural settings and four-star hotels. Despite our eccentric food preferences (gluten-free, vegetarian, not-spicy-please, dairy-free, shellfish allergy, etc.), we will miss these gourmet meals.
The kindness shown to us characterizes the ministry of the Protestant church in Luzhou. For the past two days, we have visited with members and leaders of the largest Protestant congregation in this small town of one million people. Besides offering lively worship services with dance, multiple choirs, and passionate preaching, this congregation has spear-headed a variety of social services, including a medical clinic, kindergarten, senior care center, and federation for those with disabilities. The medical clinical integrates traditional Chinese and modern Western medicine.
After descending Mount Emei on Friday, we returned for one night to a downtown shopping area in Chengdu which has a pedestrian mall that is similar in feeling to Times Square in New York. Saturday afternoon our tour bus took us to Pastor Liao's hometown of Luzhou on the bank of the Yangtze River, where we will attend a church service this morning. Well-tended farms as well as some tea plantations stretch on both sides of the highway from Chengdu to Luzhou, many of them terraced on the sloping hillsides.
The video below contains excerpts from an hour-long conversation at the Buddhist research institute we visited a couple of days ago in the town of Emei. Dr. Peter Shen translated English and Mandarin to facilitate dialogue among Buddhist monks, Chinese and North American students, and United States professors.
The Buddhist monks with whom we met are celibate. One of them raised the topic of celibacy in the Christian priesthood as it relates historically to the Reformation, to which Dr. Theresa Latini replied. They were also curious about the impact of Buddhism in the West, a question outlined here by Dr. Ed Yee.
Friday, we journey up Mt. Emei, one of the four most sacred mountains in China. We travel by bus, foot, and cable car to reach the peak, an altitude 10,000 feet. Monkeys there have learned to swipe water and soda bottles from unsuspecting hikers. Ask Jeanette.
At that height, we are above the fog that envelops lower elevations, so it is sunny perhaps for the first time in several days. Other mountain peaks poke out of what they call the Sea of Clouds. At the top there's a humongous/ginormous golden Buddhist statue, elephant statues, incense burning cauldrons, temples and other large buildings. The scale of the structures echo the magnitude of the beauty of the nature surrounding them.
We headed south and a bit west of Chengdu Thursday morning, a several-hour bus ride to foggy Mt. Emei, one of the most revered places in China. A massive Buddhist research institute dominates the town of Emei. We were warmly greeted by monks who gave us a tour of the ornate and majestic temples spread throughout the grounds of the Institute.
Over an unending pot of tea, we engaged in a lively and mutually illuminating conversation with three monks about the curriculum of the institute, its training of Buddhist priests, and basic ideas in both Buddhism and Christianity. Normally, photography is not permitted inside the Buddhist temples. However, after our conversation, our hosts invited our faculty, staff and students to witness, photograph and record a fifteen-minute Buddhist ritual of prayer and meditation.
Tonight is our last night in Chengdu before traveling on to China’s Emei Shan, Mountain Emei. Today (Wednesday, Jan 14) at Sichuan University, Professor Cyn provided an orientation to various points of Taoist belief. After lunch we had the opportunity to visit a Taoist Temple and engage in conversation with a monk of that belief system.
As I think about the last few days I am amazed at the complexity of language and how much mere words come into play in this cross-cultural experience. As an English-speaking American coming to China, the most obvious thought about language might be the fact that I am not fluent in Chinese. “Hello” “Thank you” “You’re Welcome” and “Happy New Year” are about all I can manage. Thankfully, in this experience we have met with persons who are able to communicate in English or have had a translator, but the complexity of words goes beyond the language one is speaking. We have had several instances in which we, as students have posed questions to professors and the question does not translate, the idea is not in the vocabulary of the English language or the other way around, that idea is not represented by a word in Chinese.
For example, a fellow student posed a question about “worship” on Mt Emei for the Buddhist religion. As Professor Ye translated the question for the lecturer, he needed to pause and ask “What do you mean by worship?” The concept of worship for a Buddhist and a Christian may not only contain different rituals and intentions but may be viewed with an entirely different attitude. This is part of our discovery as we continue our experience, we may not be able to find answers to our questions or completely understand what is being said, simply because both persons in a dialogue are speaking English.
The complexity of language goes much farther than whether the word is in English or Chinese, there are nuances, attitudes, mindsets, and history behind these words and the places we have seen. As I continue on this experience, my curiosity is sparked, whether or not these concepts can be translated in their fullness. Although I may not entirely understand what is worship to Buddhist or Taoist, I am grateful the opportunity to try and gain what understanding I can with words. And when words will not suffice, I am grateful to to take in what I can of what words cannot describe.
We’re in the Sichuan Province now. Today (Monday) we heard lectures from a government official and a university professor regarding Christianity in China. I think I’ve accidentally managed to hydroplane on theological/social/cultural thinking. This was a good thing, as far as boat metaphors are concerned. But the pace was a bit overwhelming. My pencil couldn’t keep up. Our session of discussion ended far before my questions were not only asked but even completely formulated.
Seeing as this seminary-led journey has the intention to generate some theological thought/questions stemming off of this cross-cultural experience, I thought I might share some thoughts and questions of mine that this day as brought up.
We heard from one of our lecturers today that the vast majority of Christian believers in China are either elderly, rural, impoverished, or all of the above. We also heard that many of the University students and scholars who study Christianity are not in fact Christian themselves. This brings to mind a potential parallel in American culture, whereby it seems that with more education and success comes less perceived need for religion and religious expression. I am curious whether or how this plays out in Chinese culture particularly with respect to young people, and very rapidly growing urban centers.
This question I did get a chance to ask. Among a flood of insightful, helpful, confusing, challenging, and clarifying responses, one stood out. It went right to the part of my brain where a flag waves that reads “Will need more time to fully process.” The response that stood out was “The Gospel is for the poor and marginalized. That’s just a fact.”
What struck me squarely is that while I agree with this statement, I don’t think I have said or potentially even would say it like that. Coming from a country with the largest middle class in the world, the cultural frame by which I understand and have learned the Gospel is that “the Gospel is for everyone.” What’s the big difference? Well I guess it is subtle, but in the response coming from this Chinese Cultural perspective, I hear, we’ve got a clear starting point: the poor and marginalized.
All in all, something has clicked today. I have moved past thinking that I should be looking for the right answers to this and other questions. I realize that I might just be approaching the questions with my own “either/or” context and the answer might be “both/and”... and then some. I’ve realized that the journey here is not to find the answers, but to find the questions, let them lead you to more questions and then toss them around in a dialogue in this rich intercultural and interfaith setting whereby we might all learn a bit more about ourselves, others, and the sheer breadth of what the Gospel not only can do, but is doing in the world. To borrow a phrase from the McDonald's store window (selling, yes, red bean pie on their desert menu) “I’m Lovin’ It”.
MDiv Third Year
Zhongnan Theological Seminary
Professor Latini visited Zhongnan Theological Seminary in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Zhongnan Seminary is a four-year school with approximately 120 students. Upon graduation, students serve as pastors throughout six Chinese provinces: Hubei, Henan, Hunan, Guanxi, Guandong, and Hainan.
Zhongnan Seminary shares building space with the Hubei Christian Council, the regional governing body of the Protestant Church in China. Most administrators and faculty members serve at the nearby Thanksgiving Church. With over 1000 members and four Sunday Services, Thanksgiving Church is one of the largest in Wuhan.
Together the church and seminary also offer a year-long training program for lay ministers serving churches throughout the provinces mentioned above. Forty-two lay ministers recently graduated from this program.
Professor Latini also visited with professors and administrators at Wuhan University, one of the largest and most prestigious universities in China. It is equivalent to one of the “Big Ten” schools in the U.S. Wuhan University is composed of 5 colleges. The College of Philosophy includes departments in Ethics, Aesthetics, Cultural Psychology, Chinese and Western Philosophies, and Christianity and World Religions.