Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Introducing Ethan George Hackman

Just wanted to pause on Beyond The Pale to welcome my new son, Ethan George Hackman. into the world.  Ethan was born 2 days before Christmas on December 23rd at Queen Mary Hospital at 4:13 AM; which means he's been in the world for 26 hours. (OK, it took me a few days to finish this post)

Although I always wanted to have more children, it wasn't happening and you start reaching the age where you begin to accept the fact that you are blessed to have the son you have and to live with that reality.  Then, the summer before last we were back in the States visiting our home church in Boulder Colorado and during a time of prayer a prophetic friend in the church said she felt God wanted to give us another child.  We thought, "Cool".  I mean at the ages of 43 and 38 we weren't exactly Abraham and Sarah, but if it was going to happen, it probably needed to happen soon.

In May this year shortly after our move to Hong Kong, Tammy called me and asked if I could get off work early and meet her at Disneyland.  (We live fairly close to Hong Kong Disneyland and have season passes so the request was not THAT unusual)  We met at the souvenir shop on Main Street and she handed me a stuffed "Pluto" plushie  and said, "Congratulations".  I honestly had no idea what she meant until I saw her eyes water up and nod.  Yep, she found out that morning and wanted to tell me at Disneyland. (How cool is that?)

Fast forward to night before last.  We were watching the Disney movie Enchanted and as usual, I slipped out early to fall asleep.  I had just started to nod off when Tammy came in saying her water had broke.  We grabbed our things, called a cab, and arrived at  the hospital about midnight.  At 1:15 AM with Gabriel sleepily installed in the waiting room I entered the labor room with my doctor's garb on and my "Husband" badge displayed on my chest.

When I entered the room, Tammy was already in a lot of pain.  We had requested an epidural but they needed to get the blood type thing sorted yada yada she ended up doing the whole birth on gas and a shot (which didn't seem to help that much).  Put it this way, I knew childbirth was painful...but it's hard to watch your wife in such agony, and be able to do so little except coach and encourage.

We had not decided on a name having bantered a few around for the last few months.  I was tending toward "Ethan" which is of Hebrew origin meaning "firmness".  Tammy and Gabriel were looking at the name "George" a lot wanting something more traditional and not the latest "fad" name.  Anyhow, at one point when when Tammy was in heavy pain and the mid-wife was encouraging her, she asked what the baby's name was.   I looked at Tammy a little and muttered to the nurse, "Um, we haven't really decided on a name."

At that moment Tammy nearly stood up in the saddle in mid contraction to declare, "HIS NAME IS ETHAN!"

I looked over at the nurse, "His name is Ethan..."

The baby came a few minutes later to immense joy.  Funny story though...after greeting little Ethan into the world, the nurses rushed him off to be tagged and examined.  About 10 minutes later the nurse returned with "Ethan".  He looked...different.  "Excuse me" I asked.  "This baby has a pink this our child."  The nurse looked at the tags and in horror realized her mistake as she scooted out the door.

I guess all us white people just look alike :)

Before I wrap up...I have to mention our Christmas Eve in the hospital.  Tammy SO didn't want to be in the hospital over Christmas...but things happen.  So Gabriel and I stopped at City Super (market) and got their take away prepared Christmas dinner which for some reason included lasagna and Teriyaki chicken wings along side the Virginia ham (Hong Kong diversity) and brought it up to Tammy's room along with a couple Christmas decorations.  We sat together as a family and watched "Its a Wonderful Life" on a laptop enjoying each other and our newest member.

It truly is a Wonderful Life!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Shopping with Obama and the Republicans

Its Christmas time and President Obama and the Republicans have been out shopping just for you.  Using China President Hu Jiantao's Platinum MasterCard they have bought a mountain of presents for the American people I know you're just going to love!

You got to hand it to the Republicans, when they come into power, they know how to deal. The new plan they worked out with President Obama and the Democrats will balloon the American budget deficit by a whopping ...wait for it... 1 TRILLION Dollars!

Funny then how both parties had agreed in principal to address the deficit crisis.  The Democrats of course, want to do it by raising taxes, targeted predominately at "the rich."  The Republicans in turn want the deficit to be curbed through budget cuts aimed at social entitlements.

What happened though was that in mental abyss that we like to call party politics, somehow we ended up with lower taxes renewed and spending increased.  The thinking being, "Hey, why tighten the belt and make hard choices when our Chinese friends seem more than happy to keep lending us money."

A trillion here, a trillion there, sooner or later it starts becoming real dinero.

The deficit troubles really began to hit hard when President Bush decided to engage in two wars AND cut taxes. That made as much sense as saying to my wife, "Hey Hon, let's remodel the kitchen, buy a new car, and take a vacation overseas, oh, and by the way, I've decided to go to part time at work."

Then, rather than asking the American people to stand with the soldiers fighting overseas by making sacrifices at home, the narrative from the White House was "this doesn't have to affect you much at all. Don't make sacrifices and whatever you do, keep shopping."  This just reenforced into our national psyche that important things have no cost associated to them whatsoever

The downside of a democracy with a very large credit rating is that you can use that credit rating to keep showering presents on the electorate to keep them happy.  Its like these celebrities who you find out are broke, but still live a high lifestyle for sometime.  Their perceived wealth gives them the ability to live beyond their means for much longer than the average guy.  Thats America right now.  Its living a lifestyle in really can't afford and we now need politicians that can make some of the hard choices.

Either that, or we can end up like Greece where the hard choices were forced on them against their will.

Great Britain has done it though.  Finding themselves in an even higher deficit than the U.S by percentage of G.D.P.  they have instituted an austerity program program where they are cutting 25% almost across the board over the next five years.  The people there are generally supportive of it as they see, and can appreciate, the dire consequences for them if they don't begin acting now.

Obama can't seem to make the hard choices though because he has to get himself reelected in 2012...and so the Christmas presents keep coming out...

...even though they're all Made in China!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Movies

Its that holiday time of year again! After a long day's work I enjoy nothing more than turning on the Christmas tree lights and kicking back on the couch with a glass of egg nog (OK, most likey a glass of Red) to watch a Christmas movie with the family.

I admit it; he Hackmans really are suckers for for just about any Christmas movie.
Heck, even a bad Lifetime Original channel movie with a Christmas theme will end up getting watched at our house. You know, the kind where the divorced single mother struggling to raise a couple kids suddenly has Santa Claus move in next door. After a film full of Mom trying to convince the kids there is no such thing as Santa Claus, ends up believing herself after receiving a little dose of Christmas spirit...yep, you know what I mean.

Anyhow, there are a number of classics that we really enjoy and will make for any entertaining Christmas night with you and your family.

In no particular order:

A Miracle on 34th Street:

The classic 1947 starring Maureen O'Hara and a 9 year old Natalie Wood proves once and for all; there really is a Santa Claus.  People forget this movie was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award back in the day and it still holds up 60 years later.  (But don't watch the colorized version)

Jingle All the Way:

Purists will mock me for including this one but  Arnold Schwarzenegger racing around the city on Christmas Eve to get his son a Turbo Man kills me every time.  With Phil Hartman as the lecherous neighbor and Robert Conrad as the pursuing cop the movie has become a Hackman Holiday Classic.


Will Ferrell as the human adopted by Santa's elves but journeys to New York to find his real father has become hands down the most watched Christmas movie at the Hackman house.  Tammy could watch this movie 400 times and laugh at Ferrell's character "Buddy" as if it were the very first time.

The Santa Claus:

The Disney movie where Tim Allen becomes Santa Claus after the old Santa dies falling off his roof is heartwarming, funny, and everything a good Christmas movie should be.  The sequels (both of them) are nearly as good as the first.

An American Christmas Carol:

This 1979 made for TV movie transports the familiar Charles Dickens story to Depression era America with Henry Winkler playing the Scrooge character.  I remember first watching this with my family as a young boy back when Henry Winkler was riding the fame wave as "The Fonz".  It is a wonderful version of the Christmas classic.

and finally last, but not least...

It's a Wonderful Life

The Jimmy Stewart & Donna Reed Christmas favorite shows us the value of human life, the importance of realtionships, and most importantly, how an angel gets his wings.  No Christmas season is complete without at least one viewing...

Oh, and I almost forgot:

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, not technically a Christmas movie but a holiday favorite of mine none the less.  Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is a magical feast and is in my personal top 10 movies of all time.  I'll watch it anytime...anywhere!  

Ok, that raps it up.  Now turn off those Lifetime Original Christmas movies and spend some time with the family watching  the Hackman Christmas classics!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize puts China "On Tilt"

In the 1998 film Rounders Matt Damon narrates the subtleties of No Limit Texas Hold-up poker:

A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked, go on tilt...
and lose his mind along with every single chip in front of him.

In poker parlance to "go on tilt" means to so frustrate a player to point where they are not playing rationally. The other players enjoy a great advantage because the flummoxed player keeps throwing good money after bad rather than mentally acknowledging they lost a big hand, cool down, and play the next hand fresh. A guy going "on tilt" can be fun to watch...provided you're not the guy.

That Matt Damon Rounders line has been ringing in my ears as I've watched the proceedings surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize award given to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo this week. The Nobel Committee's naming of Liu for the prestigious award has managed to put the Middle Kingdom into full on "tilt" mode.

China's normally restrained and carefully calculated "soft" diplomacy was thrown out the window in favor of earlier, and more proven, ways of dealing with dissent. Both Norway, and countries that sent representatives to the ceremony were threatened with future punitive actions, Chinese nationals were not allowed to travel to Oslo for the occasion, and Chinese dignitaries labeled the award to Liu "obscene" and a "political farce". In China words like "Liu" and "Nobel Peace" were censored preventing texts and Internet searches from yielding results and news broadcasting the award ceremony were blacked out.

Ironically, if China had simply ignored or down played the award, most people, both inside and outside of China, would have remained ignorant of Liu Xiaobo's existence.

So why has China lashed out so vocally and let itself "go on tilt"?

Part of the reason can be explained in that China is a "face" driven society. Most westerners see "face" as the need to give someone respect but having lived over here for many years I'm beginning to see it as a much deeper trait. It really is part of the soul of the country. The Nobel Prize, although publicly ridiculed now by Chinese leaders, is really held in high regard for the prestige it confers. And in China, prestige is paramount. The country has been trying for years to get some of its "approved" writers awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to no avail. Thus the awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, whom the government has labeled a criminal, stung pretty bad.

China has in turn accused the whole event of being politically motivated. And you know what?

...they're probably right.

The Nobel Committee is far from being a neutral and unbiased body. Did they intend to provoke China? Of course they did and you know why?

Because they could.

Being a "face" based society makes China more susceptible to "going on tilt" as it feels compelled to respond to diplomatic slights that most Western nations can simply ignore. Hence, anytime a Western nation wants to "tilt" China, they mearly need to increase ties with Taiwan,  have the Dali Lama 'round for a Bar-B-Q, or you know, give the Nobel Peace prize to a dissident. There is no reciprocal action that China can have on the West that can provoke it. The West is not "face" based and can fall back on a yawn.

China is sitting at the big boys diplomatic poker table now but its at a distinct disadvantage. It's sincere desire to be respected in the world's eyes exposes it to pressure points that can be poked at by the other players ad infinitum.

Matt Damon goes on to say in Rounders:

Some people, pros even, won't play No-Limit.
They can't handle the swings.
China is seated at the "no-Limit" table;  it better learn to handle the swings fast because a China "on tilt" won't be fun for anyone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Goodbye to my friend Jackie

Yesterday a friend of mine passed away.  Typically in this blog I've noted the passing of famous celebrities... but not today.  Jackie Bruce may have not been a celebrity, but to me and my family, she'll always be a star.

I met Jackie in October 2005 when I got a call from her asking if I would come in for an interview for Barnes & Noble.  They were looking for seasonal help and although I wasn't looking for a seasonal job, the holiday's were coming up, and I needed  money.

We sat in her office chatting and I knew almost instantly...I liked Jackie Bruce.  She was warm, funny and engaging and I began to see myself working at Barnes & Noble....and then she told me how much I would start at.  "We typically start our seasonal help out at $6.75 and hour." she muttered.

I froze!...I don't get out of bed for $6.75 an hour.  $6.75 an hour would be cool in say...1982, but in 2005 with a family?  I nearly (politely)  ended the interview there not to waste any of our time but the fact is I enjoyed talking with Jackie so much...I couldn't do it.  The interview ended with the usual "We'll call you" but in my mind, I was thinking "Its too bad I won't be working here."

Then 2 days later Jackie called.   I almost didn't want to answer as I didn't want to tell her "no".  But she said, "Steve, I'm not calling to offer you a job for the position you interviewed for. "

"Huh" I thought.

She went on, "Our Community Relations Manager just resigned and after our talk the other day I thought you would be great for the job."

And that's how I started working for Jackie Bruce. Three weeks later I was heading down to Jackie's home where she was hosting a Christmas party for the managerial team when my phone rang. It was another company I had interviewed with a couple months prior. They were offering me a position and a pay package that was much more than I would be making at Barnes & Noble. I got that sinking feeling inside thinking that I had just come on to this team...leaving them suddenly would be a real kick in the gut. I told them I would call them with a response the next day.

At the party I got to know Jackie's husband Rick and my son Gabriel got to be friends with their son Jack who had his bedroom decked out like Batman's lair. (Gabriel was sold) A couple co-worker's, Ben & Matt, lent me the DVDs of the TV series Firefly with the enthusiasm only we geeks could understand. As I watched the interplay of the evening I realized Jackie was the Queen and her management team didn't just work for her...they loved her and she loved them. This wasn't an obligatory work function, these folk wanted to be together and Jackie was the glue. Its then I realized I would enjoy living in a world orbiting Jackie Bruce. I called that other company the next day and declined their offer. (Incidentally, that company went out of business in 2008 during the recession...God does order our steps).

Over the next two years I got to spend a lot of time with Jackie. What I loved about her is that she could be crazy fun with a slightly perverse sense of humor and yet at the same time, be so grounded. She was one of the most secure, grounded people I have ever met. She was madly in love with her husband Rick and completely devoted to her children. At work, she was a sea of calm. I never saw her flustered or lash out at anyone. When the bigwigs from corporate would come by, she was unfazed. That's probably why they decided to promote her to a bigwig at corporate and move her to New York!

And she was kind and thoughtful.  When I developed cancer in 2007 she encouraged me at every step of the journey.  Returning  from the doctor with the prognosis that everything was going to be good she got teary eyed she was so happy.  Soon after my surgery she was visiting Tammy and I in my hospital room.  There I was, emaciated with tubes coming out my neck. She held my hand and let me know I was in everyone's thoughts and prayers.  That was Jackie Bruce!

People come in and out of your life and as much as you'd like to stay in touch, it's not always possible. With Jackie, I knew we would always keep in touch. Tammy and I planned on visiting her and Rick in New York. When I learned yesterday of her passing I looked up the last messaging we had on Facebook which is still archived. It read:

Jacqueline Bruce to Steve Hackman
You two look great. We would love to come to China for a visit. How long do you think you will be living over there?

Steve Hackman to Jacqueline Bruce
Hey Jackie!!! I'm not kidding when I say I was just thinking of you and were hoping you would get on Facebook so we could stay in touch. China has been GREAT!! Check out Hope New York is treating you well. Say hi to Rick

I know one day I'll see Jackie again in a better place. While at Barnes & Noble I became a sort of default "chaplain" at the store and Jackie I would often talk of God and her Christian faith. She once confessed to me that after she hired me she told the management team at their next meeting, "He is a bit religious..." :)

I'll miss Jackie Bruce. I have spent the last 24 hours remembering 101 good times I had with her and my old friends at Barnes & Noble. The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows midnight launch party, freezing to death in the nosebleed seats at a Rockies game, Christmas parties, summer parties, drinks at the Purple in Jackie's world was FUN!

I have never stopped praying for the Bruce's over this last year and now I pray for Rick and the children. I pray God's grace for them at this tragic time.

I wish I could be with some of the gang from Barnes & Noble right now so we could swap stories and laugh because that's what Jackie would have wanted. Baring that, I stopped off after work at an Italian restaurant on the beach near my home. I ordered a glass of red wine, (the drink of choice for Jackie Bruce), stared out at the sea, and thought of my old friend.

Good bye Jackie, you'll be missed.