Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Lenten Discipline of Language Study

My Lenten discipline this year is another Cantonese course.

How's it going, you may ask?

Well, see those guys on bike in the picture?  Can you tell what kind of a road they are on?  Just after I snapped this picture, the guy in the back landed on his butt in the shrubbery.  I didn't have the moxy to take his picture then.

But that's how my Cantonese is progressing. 

One humiliation after another.

So in addition to my still new job as Coordinator of International Student Affairs and Mekong Mission Assistant Coordinator (that mouthful wonderfully depicts both the fascinating range and woefully wide disarray of tasks which I am still sorting out) I am also hauling my derriere over to the Tai Wai subway station, changing trains twice, fighting the rush hour hordes to get to my two hour intensive Cantonese class on Wednesday and Friday nights.

It's not called an intensive class, but for me it is.  Very.

I sit through two alternately agonizing and comical hours of attempting to get my mouth, my memory and my mind's eye to work together to string together a comprehensible sentence in Cantonese, while a dozen other students, mostly a couple of decades younger than I, look on in either deep sympathy or undepleted boredom (I can't always tell which).

I am that person I do not, ever, want to be.  The worst in the class.

Afterwards, I take the three train lines back to Tai Wai walk the 15 minutes back to our home, and lie awake for a couple of hours, unwanted fragments of Cantonese crowding my head.

Researching the meaning of Lenten disciplines, I found this quote:
 "A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace." (James Kushiner)

Each Wednesday and Friday night Cantonese class I am reminded how damned full of myself I really am. How much pride I take in my word choice, nuance, powers of communication, knowledge. Maybe, little by little, there is some important emptying going on with me this Lent.

So, today, as I was walking down the hill from the seminary, I had a two and a half minute conversation with our street cleaner.  In Cantonese.  And she seemed pleased to listen to me sputter out my responses.  I've been smiling ever since.

The guy on the bike in the picture? He fell, but he got up and rode on.

How is your Lenten discipline going?

"Let this same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus, who... emptied himself...  in human form, he humbled himself..."       Philippians 2:5-8

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ash Wednesday Walk

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4 “Show me, LORD, my life’s end
   and the number of my days;
   let me know how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
   the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
   even those who seem secure.
--Psalm 39

Sunday, February 19, 2012

...we do not lose heart...

 I've been a bit busy lately (see attached pictures for proof :) And no, I don't dress like this every day, but I feel like it's part of putting on my "armor."  Can you tell I'm really, really trying to make a point here? (all photos taken by LTS student Zo Hming. Thanks Zo Hming!)
-- Prison ministry last weekend. We are doing a baptism class and may be having an upcoming baptism. Here's a situation I never learned about in seminary: some of the guys who want to be baptized were already baptized once, but it "didn't mean anything" and... this seriously bothers a couple of them ... they do 
 not have a certificate.  So we'll be doing a baptism for some of them and an "affirmation of baptism" for some others.  And everyone will get certificates, although we'll try and make the point that it's what GOD does through water and the Word which matters, not who pours the water or how much water we use (no immersion baptisms allowed in prison) or the certificates, (or lack thereof!)

Recently read this quote in Christianity Today:

"For too long, we've called unbelievers to 'invite Jesus into your life.' Jesus doesn't want to be in your life. Your life's a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life."  -- Russell D. Moore

 I love that quote!  Because as a Christian, I hate the thought that anyone would think I would even THINK of asking someone to be more like me, or more like us Christians.  Yuck!  But to teach about becoming more fully human, like Jesus was fully human... that's interesting and exciting, and something worth talking about.
Last Sunday I preached at the Truth Church in Ma On Shan. Afterwards, I got to help give communion to three elderly women living in an "senior home".  Folks, these were the tiniest rooms I've ever seen, and furnishings were sparse, to say the least.  The food I saw being ladled out for lunch was, literally, gray.

But things were clean. And the three women were delighted to receive our company.  And they prayed the Lord's Prayer with gusto. (In Chinese of course!)  What a privilege!

Wednesday I preached in seminary chapel, which is always intimidating enough to remind me that I worry WAY too much about what others will think of me.

And Wednesday and Friday night I had my CANTONESE classes (yes, folks, I'm studying Chinese again, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  Why I put myself through this I do not know, but maybe, maybe when I told those three elderly women I was happy to meet them and I said it in their language, maybe that meant something to them.)

I hope so. 
"Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart." -- St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4:1

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Back from Burma

I'm back from beautiful Burma!  Also known as Myanmar, it was my first time visiting this exotic, gorgeous, and deeply troubled country.  But things are changing, and there's intense optimism in the air and lots of building and beautification projects going on in the streets.  The big question is whether it is all just a new facade, or real, true and positive changes which will empower the people of Myanmar to reclaim their rich heritage(s). The word heritage has to be plural in the Myanmar context because of the complicated, lovely, but wounded folds and layers of cultural, religious & lingual diversity in this country. There are at least eight major different cultures/nationalities in this land of about 50 million people, and sub-sets of dialects and cultures number into the hundreds. It's an incredible mosaic, and I was only in one city, Yangon, the former capital. Just a few of the hundreds of photos I took:
The view from my room, The Sweet Hotel

workers busy in the streets

I just can't help but smile at this guy

The incredible Shwedagon Paya... those are real people in the foreground... and real gold on the temple.  Is it sacrilegious to say it reminded me of a gold-foil wrapped giant chocolate kiss?

A magical, mystical experience, walking barefoot on the marble floors. The monks are dressed in reds and oranges, the nuns in passionate pink.
And now for the real treasures of Myanmar - the children..

the beauty of grace in old age...

A Burmese bug!

Lovers in the park...

Pastor Martin, at the Hope Education Center, a ministry of the Lutheran Church of Myanmar. Pastor Martin is hoping to raise funds for more permanent facilities for this education center, serving and empowering the children...

Children at Hope Education Center, shepherded by a dedicated young leader.

Eager to learn and grow and become.
  "Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love."  - 2 Peter 1:5-7