Wednesday, September 24, 2008


English Bible Study. Let's just say I was skeptical. Skeptical because I am not sure I'm qualified to lead a Bible study, and skeptical because, well, it just didn't sound appealing. That is, until last night. Last night was the official kick-off of the English Bible Study at the newest Episcopal Campus Ministry, the combined Episcopal/Anglican College Fellowship (Taipei).

In preparation for leading this study, I was given a wonderful resource by Catherine Lee, a long-term missionary to Taiwan from the Church of England. In her years in Taiwan she has used the LifeBuilder Bible Studies in groups ranging from youth to veteran diocesan clergy. These Bible studies are wonderfully compiled, some around particular topics such as "Women of the Old Testament" and others around books of the Bible. Check out Scripture Union UK if you are interested in ordering or using any of these studies.

Anyway, I decided to use the Bible study titled "Introducing Jesus." I chose this study because of my desire to seek the middle road. Having no idea who would attend, I wanted to choose something that would introduce the central figure of Christianity while not boring the folks who are already Christians and know more about this stuff than I do. The first study in the book is titled "the Unexpected Jesus." As promised, it had some unexpected results. . .

We begin with Mark 2:1-12. In my Chinese-English NIV translation, this is titled "Jesus heals a paralytic." In this story, Jesus is preaching in a crowded room. In order to get an audience with Jesus, the friends of a paralyzed man dig a whole through the roof(!) and lower the paralyzed man down in the middle of the crowd. Of course, Jesus notices and "seeing their faith" tells the man "son, your sins are forgiven."

At this point, the author of the Bible study points out that 2000 years ago in Jewish culture, disabilities and calamities were directly linked with a person's sins. I asked what people thought about this way of thought, and it turns out most people in the "traditional religions" of Taiwan also hold this way of thinking. The beliefs in karma and ancestor worship are quite strong. Many holidays and ceremonies are devoted to praying to and offering gifts to ones ancestors so they will be in turn cared for by their descendants. If a person does not honor their ancestors or sins, they will be punished by not being cared for in their old age and in the afterlife.

All of the students at the Bible study adamantly rejected this way of thinking. But it made me think. . . karmic thinking certainly is not limited to Taiwan. Just think of all the Christian spirituality, self-help, American dream writing that is devoted to living a righteous life in order to be rewarded by riches, popularity, fame, "happiness." Isn't it tempting to think that if we are just a little bit "better" that things will turn around, we won't get sick, our investments will be safe, we wouldn't be paralyzed (physically or emotionally)?

But then Jesus continues, "which is easier, to 'say your sins are forgiven', or to say 'stand up and take your mat and walk'? So that you may now the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins - he said to the paralytic - 'I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.'"

Unexpected! Remember, Jesus had already forgiven the man's sins. Jesus turns our karmic thinking upside down. The removal of sins did not remove the paralysis. The healing was done so that others might believe. Isn't this radical?

What Jesus is offering is not just physical healing, but the complete restoration of relationship with God through forgiveness of sins.

The Bible study began with this question: Think of a time you have been offended by someone. What needed to happen for the relationship to be reconciled?

Our group came to the conclusion that forgiveness by the offended was necessary for true reconciliation. This does not change the fact that the offense was done, or even wipe away the consequences of the offense. But through forgiveness, the relationship can be made whole.

All in all, this was an extremely humbling conclusion. And a great motivator. Consider me a slightly less skeptical skeptic. This English Bible study thing doesn't seem so bad after all. . .

In Christ's Love,


p.s. for all of you cuteness lovers out there, the featured pictures this week are from the Good Shepherd Kindergarten where Elizabeth is working each Monday. We have also included a picture of our first attempt at Chinese calligraphy! It reads up and down. My name is on the left and Elizabeth's name is on the right. Please be kind in your appraisal, doing calligraphy is like learning to write in cursive with your weak hand.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Church and Hospitality

In our last email we asked for words/phrases/experiences/ideas about "THE CHURCH." We have received some wonderful emails from many people expressing a wide range of ideas. These emails have been wonderful to read and think about.

More than one of the emails started in the same place I did: "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and see all of the people. . ."
The replies grew beautiful, broad, and encompassing a wide range of "church." Our collective ideas of church include watching grandchildren serve as acolytes, remembering our grandparent's church we grew up in, the church incarnated among the incarcerated during Kairos weekends, the church sharing knowledge, laughter, pain, prayers during 7am Eucharist, sunrise services on the high school football field, the church that hurts too much to talk about, the church as a trust fall, and the church as what's left when the church burns down.

My own (current) image of church is built around two words: hospitality and honesty. For me, easily the most mind-blowing church moment in the past two years was when the Wednesday morning crew read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. And all of a sudden everyone was talking about the true sin of these cities was their inhospitable treatment of their guests. What!?! Is hospitality really that big of a deal? I mean, at Boston University (my first alma mater), there was a school for "Hospitality Administration" which as far as most people knew, taught people how to bartend for $40,000 a year. How could hospitality be so important?

Fast forward two years to Taiwan. . . hospitality is the beginning of evangelism. In fact, it might even be the key to evangelism. If Jesus' life is about nothing else, it is about the fact that he came to make possible/tangible/by grace the reconciliation of the world to God. Because in the end, God's unfailing, unchanging, burning desire is to welcome all of us home.

Of course, this all sounds peachy-keen until it is tested and put into practice. Welcoming the stranger, living alongside the unknown, disliked, despised has always been hard. Look at The Church. The Church in Taiwan is split into so many parts/factions/histories that the Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Baptists all have different words for God. There have always been examples of the The Church not being hospitable, rejecting the poor, disabled, colored, women, gays, gentile, jew, slave. So why do we hold onto the church?

Many blogs, websites, and books have been written about a new church. . . some people call it the emerging church, some people simply attempt to leave "the church" behind and go it alone, using "spiritual" as a descriptor. My favorite of these examples is Geez Magazine, a wonderful ad-free Canadian magazine that prides itself in taking on issues of faith and bringing them to the "over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable." This magazine is truly hospitable, it welcomes contributions from all over map of ideology, theology, and sometimes just pure oddity. I also admire it's valiant attempt at reaching those on the margins of "the church."

But I just can't help think that using my image of the church being hospitable and all of your contributions, maybe some re-thinking of The Church is in order. Maybe, hopefully, a third way will present itself. Instead of fighting the same old fights of conservative v. liberal or instead of throwing out the whole CHURCH, perhaps we can return to the message of of the church as the congregation, or the people (the Body) of Christ. When we truly embrace the idea of the church being the two or three gathered in the name of Christ, we can begin to re-think the church from relationship with Christ to relationship with our friends, and even to relationship through Christ with our enemies.

Now this is where my second image comes in: honesty. Let's get real. I'm an idealist, I dream big, I'm young, I'm naive, and I have a bit too much time to think about this stuff. . .

The world is old, nothing is new, we've been fighting over this forever, the church is broken. Yes it is. And that is honest. I struggle with hospitality. I struggle with it with all my might. I want nothing more right now than my prayer room back in order, the guest to leave, and for things to be "normal."

That is honesty. But it also isn't the end. We have the church, which at this point for me involves a steadfast group of family and friends at home, my wife, and a couple of people I barely know in Taiwan. And the truly wonderful thing is, when I remember to love God and love my neighbor, thereby being hospitable, we are able to be honest and open and create a wonderful re-thought image of The Church.

Maybe more people need to hear a deeper version of The Church than "here is the steeple." Would we be so quick to renounce the Church and head into the wilds of being spiritual, or out-churched, or God-forbid "unchurchable" if we truly believed and acted as if The Church is founded upon love, a love that inspires hospitality? And what if in our hospitality and welcoming we also welcome honesty, which promotes healthy growth, self-reflection? Just maybe, The Church (you and me, your grandma, my future grandkids, our houseguests) will someday by able to muster up our courage, step out into faith, and cross the welcome mat into our eternal home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Great Shakes!

At the Everyone Everywhere Mission Conference we attended in June in preparation for being missionaries, we received one piece of advice over and over: be flexible, don't have many expectations, they won't be met.

This advice is well and good, but we still left for Taiwan with two secret goals: to experience an earthquake and a typhoon. This might seem strange to those of you who have been through these things before, but we're from Colorado. Nothing dramatic happens out there! Of course, we didn't want anything too scary, no lost lives or anything. Just something to shake us up.

Yesterday at 3:43pm one of our goals was fulfilled!!! About 75 miles ESE of Taipei, there was a 5.3 magnitude earthquake. According to the USGS, this magnitude of earthquake is enough to cause significant damage and really shake things up. Thank God we were pretty far away. We were on the fourth floor of the Cathedral's education building when we felt the building "rolling." It only lasted about 5 seconds, but immediately we looked at each other with amazement that we had survived our first earthquake. The map here shows the location of the earthquake. If you would like more info, or perhaps are curious about the recent earthquakes in Utah, Southern Missouri, and Colorado(!) I highly recommend this link:

In other news, last Sunday was the kick-off of the Teenage Fellowship (Youth Group) at the Cathedral. Elizabeth had about 37 activities planned, just in case. Somehow, out of the 37 possible activities, we ended up playing "the knot game." I guess this is part of an universal language. . .

The Teenage Fellowship promises to be a great time! There are some great kids who come, including a couple of pairs of siblings (who love each other very much), the Dean's daughter, and two piano prodigies. Amazingly, they look and act

a lot like middle school students. Elizabeth is starting into a unit on worship next week, beginning with the basics of order of service and liturgy.

Elizabeth also began working at the Good Shepherd kindergarten on Monday! In Taiwan, kindergarten means 3, 4, and 5 year olds. The 3 year olds spent the whole time crying because this is their second week away from their parents. Next week Elizabeth is going to introduce "Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes." It should be a great follow up to "Silly Willy" which introduced important concepts such as feet, hands, head, hat, gloves, and shoes. This kindergarten stuff is deep.

Finally, we had an interesting Chinese lesson this week. We are being tutored twice a week by the Dean of the cathedral who is generously offering us his time and Chinese expertise. Yesterday Seth asked about how to say Church and Episcopal Church. This is the explanation that followed:
The Chinese characters for "Episcopal Church" look like this: 教 and it is pronounced: sheng gong jiao. The best part is, the direct Mandarin to English translation is "Holy Catholic Church." The middle character also means "public" or "universal." It is seen on many signs like "public park" or "public restroom." In a series of strange events, the Roman Catholic Church in Taiwan is known as something like "Christian God Church." As told by Rev. Lin, this is because the Roman Catholics, during the early stages of missionary work in Taiwan, translated the word "God" differently than the protestant churches. Therefore, the Roman Catholic church is known by it's translation of the word "God." If you think it is weird when people separately refer to "Christians" and "Catholics" in the US, it actually makes sense here. According to Rev. Lin, the average Taiwanese person, unfamiliar with Christianity, sees that the Roman Catholics and Protestants have different words for God, meaning they must be different religions. Of course, many years have passed since the original translations, and both churches now use the same translation for God. But the Episcopal church still holds onto the title "Holy Catholic Church" because, well, "it says so in the creed." Sounds good to me.

Finally, we get to see some pretty interesting examples of culture clash. We took this picture walking by the National Opera House last week. The steps of the opera house are popular for various community groups to practice dancing, tai chi, martial arts, etc. On this particular day there was a group of older people doing tai chi (on the left) and a group of teenagers practicing a hip-hop routine (on the right). The slow and methodical movements of the tai chi group were in stark contrast to the MTV influenced hip-hop group. And as far as we could tell, they didn't seem to be bothering each other.

May God bless you richly this week.


Elizabeth and Seth

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Choosing Life

"I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)

This is the core of the matter. I just didn't think it would pop up so early in the year.

Henri Nouwen writes that we often choose death instead of life in our many daily encounters, decisions, and trials. Nouwen says choosing life "requires an immense inner discipline. It requires a great attentiveness to the death-forces within us and a great commitment to let the forces of life come to dominate our thoughts and feelings." In our Canterbury theological reflection group, I think we would pause at this point and ask for images. What images or pieces of tradition or experience would you offer in response to this thought?

One image/experience comes immediately to mind, but takes a bit of explanation. When I was growing up, my siblings and I diligently followed the "Adventures in Odyssey" radio show. This radio show is produced by Focus on the Family and is a great medium for learning moral lessons, Bible stories, and just plain fun radio drama. My image is from one episode of the show where a girl is struggling with the phrase "count it all joy" found in James 1:2. She doesn't understand how she can "spin" her struggles at school, arguments with her parents, and trouble with friends into happiness. I think this is the problem. Many times, we assume that choosing life or counting it joy will bring a feeling of happiness. Instead, we are asked to look for a fulfillment that isn’t immediate. In choosing life, we might in fact be denying brief feelings of happiness for the more virtuous and ultimately more joyous path of justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
In an ongoing project to read "serious theology" in preparation for seminary, I am reading Karl Barth's "God Here and Now." Barth frames the dilemma of choosing life as the "decision of faith." We make a choice, a transition to faith. In this decision of faith, we decide between life in the Word (Jesus Christ) and death in the world. And when we make the decision of choosing life, we are letting Jesus "be for us what we are not and cannot be for ourselves: our truth, our goodness, our righteousness, our salvation."

I would like to apply the idea of choosing life to my experiences this week in Taiwan. First of all, choosing life is something that begins within. It is also something that is very difficult. Shane Claiborne, one of the founders of the Simple Way community and author of "The Irresistible Revolution" talks in his book about their rule for opening the door to their community: only open the door if you are able to do small things with great love.

After spending most of the first few weeks establishing a routine for daily prayer, finding places to eat, etc. we were approached with a new challenge of “doing small things with great love.” For an introvert and private person, one of my least favorite ways to choose life is by allowing my sacred routines and privacy be disrupted. But as is the case many times, choosing life and following Jesus is not always the easiest or happiest thing. . .

Many of you might know Nick Ford from his time at St. Aidan’s. We actually only met him once before leaving for Taiwan. Nick has lived in China for the past year, teaching English at a university. When we met Nick at St. Aidan’s he was planning to move to Taiwan for the foreseeable future. There were only two major roadblocks, no place to live and no job. So even five weeks ago I could hear God presenting a decision, do I choose life and welcome the stranger or do I choose death (and security, comfort, all good feeling things) and knowingly deny someone in need.

Fortunately, I can report that we chose to invite Nick to stay with us at our apartment for a while until he finds a place to stay and a job. And as small things done with great love, we were greatly rewarded. We spent the past weekend with Nick, exploring more of Taipei, taking great pictures, and learning more about his experiences in China. We were able to invite him to St. John’s Cathedral and even introduce him to the Dean of the cathedral and the Bishop who has passed on his resume to contacts around Taiwan.

I know for many people this reaction to provide hospitality would be second nature. For me, hospitality is something to work at. By working at hospitality, I mean repeatedly praying and searching my heart for ways in which I am called to choose life by welcoming the stranger into my home, my consciousness, and my prayers. And I pray that I may choose life by drawing from the strength of my decision of faith. I rely on Jesus to be the source of my hospitality, kindness, love, and welcoming.

This might be the end of this post, but certainly isn’t the end of this thought. . . if you have experiences or thoughts you would like to share, please comment or email me.