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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Going to the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens

Probably the biggest event in Hong Kong every year is the 3 day weekend extravaganza known as the Rugby Sevens.  The "Sevens" competition is a scaled down rugby game where each team has only seven men and a game consists of 2 seven minute halves.  24 teams from countries around the world participate and with each game being only 14 minutes long...its fast and furious.

My first Sevens was back in 1994 when I won 2 sets of tickets for the weekend.  A now defunct English Language newspaper (The Eastern Express) was offering a set of tickets for the person who could best write why they deserved them.  With the upcoming Handover of Hong Kong back to China from Britain on everyone's mind I wrote a political tale involving defense of an innocent lady, Rugby Sevens tickets, and then China's Head of Hong Kong Affairs, Lu Ping.  I was working for a Christian missionary organization back then and the manager sent me out on a errand for a computer thing-a-ma-jig.  As I left I said rather cocky for all in the office to hear, "Oh, and the Eastern Express will be phoning to let me know I won my Rugby Sevens tickets" (We didn't have cell phones back then).  From the computer store I called back to ask a question about my errand and the manager said, "Oh yeah, BTW, the Eastern Express did call after you left, and you did win Rugby Sevens tickets"

When I returned last year to live again in Hong Kong, I knew I wanted to take Gabriel to the Sevens but when it came around, he didn't seem that interested.  Because tickets are not cheap, I didn't want to spend the money unless he really wanted to go.  We ended up running into a friend on his way to the Sunday finals (he was skipping attendance does take a dip during the Sevens weekend) and I was able to talk Gabriel into tagging along with him.  Watching 8 hours of incredible nail biting Rugby that day surrounded by good friends, good conversation, beef pies and lots of cold...Coke Cola ;)  turned Gabriel into a rugby fan.

Now I don't think I could NOT take Gabriel to the Rugby Sevens every year!  Last night he was proudly wearing his South African Springboks jersey given to him by a good friend.  Although I think he spends far to much time trying to figure out how he's going to sneak into the South Stands.  The South Stands is at one end of the field where alcohol can be consumed in the seats and you have to be over 18 to sit.  Its the most rowdy place where people are dressed up in costumes and enjoying their beer WAY to much! :)

The Sevens have become so popular that it is now becoming an Olympic sport.  Thats one of the reasons I like it so much.  Over a weekend you get to see nations from around the world play in what could almost be called a mini-World Cup. Bill McLaren, in his autobiography Talking of Rugby writes at length about his Hong Kong Sevens experiences:

"I remember a big South Sea islander saying that, in his view, the Hong Kong sevens were really the Olympic games of Rugby Union. Certainly, the Hong Kong event encapsulates all the really good things that the game has to offer–splendid organisation, wonderful sporting spirit, universal camaraderie, admirable field behaviour, the most enjoyable crowd participation, the chance for emergent rugby nations to lock horns with the mighty men of New ZealandAustraliaFijiWalesScotland and the Barbarians. There is, too, scintillating running and handling which is what the game is supposed to be all about."

Anyhow, its great to be living back in Hong Kong and able to enjoy such an International event every year!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Return of the Gweilo

I lived in Hong Kong in the years leading up to July 1, 1997 when the territory was returned to China from Great Britain.  During those days it was common to see gweilos (a vaguely pejorative term given to Caucasians meaning at worst "foreign devil" and at best "pale ghost") holding political office alongside Chinese counterparts.  During that time members of the Legislative Council (Hong Kong's version of parliament) were just as apt to have a last name like MacGreggor as they were to be a Lee or a Chan

With resumption of sovereignty by China in 1997, any smattering of diversity, at least in the politcal arena, disappeared almost overnight.  The International flavor of Hong Kong was still visable in other city sectors however.  Business, religious, and  entertainment sectors to name but a few, still mixed the majority Chinese population with many other ethnic minority Hong Kongers to create a vibrant cosmopolitan fabric.  But in the political sector, save a few civil service positions, the ethnicity became quite homogenous.  (I recently saw a "gweilo" police officer and was surprised to be told there were still a few around)

Recently though a couple items hit the news here in Hong Kong that raised a few eyebrows. The first was that in an election last September, Paul Zimmerman, became the first non-Chinese elected to political office as a District Councillor when he was voted in by 60% of the Pok Fu Lam residents.  Zimmerman, who admits his Cantonese is poor, still saw a large portion of the local Chinese population of that district tick a gweilo's name in the ballot box.

This is followed by a recent South China Morning Post article that details British born, but long time Hong Kong resident, Andrew Brown's trials since winning a village election by a single vote in 2003.  Seems Brown has had trouble with one of the long time ruling families to the point where he has not even been allowed into the village office he is supposed to work from.

But "foreigners" winning elections in post-Handover Hong Kong??  I can almost see the movie poster now:

                                           "Return of the Gweilo"
      starring Joaquin Phoenix as Paul Zimmerman and Hugh Grant as Andrew Brown. 

An Oscar contender for sure :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What's in a Name?

For a few years now (OK for a LOT of years) I have been a reader of Charisma Magazine. Its a monthly publication with articles and news covering the charismatic stream of Christianity.
As a "dancing in the aisles" charismatic myself, I've always enjoyed the coverage and insight they give on what God is doing with His church around the world.

In the early days author Jamie Buckingham would write a last page column that was always witty, humorous, insightful, and with a gentle swipe at some of the less than desirable attributes of pentecostal Christianity. As some one who considered himself witty, humorous, and insightful, I appreciated reading someone who showed me that speaking in tongues and having a brain were not mutually exclusive.

Anyhow, when Jaimie passed away the column was assumed by the magazine's founder, Stephen Strang whose Strang Communications has grown into a media empire featuring a host of Christian publications and resources. Stephen, along with fellow editor J. Lee Grady, continued to write passionate columns encouraging Christians as well as decrying some of the hypocrisy within our own movement. The irony (and often the focus of many a letter to the editor) was one of them would be blasting the excesses of certain ministers and ministries on one page with that very type of ministry being "blasted" having a full page ad on the opposing page highlighting the fact.

Anyhow...the point of this blog post.

In Mr. Strang's latest column he says that after 30 years, they will be changing the name of the whole company from Strang Communications to Charisma Media. Why?

Essentially to take his name out of it and keep the focus on God.

He mentions how in the last year he began to use the moniker "Steve" rather than "Stephen" when identifying himself. As a "Steve / Stephen" myself I was curious why. Basically in examining his own motivations he found a little pride in his use of "Stephen". Hence a switch to the less sophisticated sounding, "Steve".

Following this, he realized he had been hoping to leave a legacy with Strang Communications not unlike great Christian publishers like Thomas Nelson and Pat Zondervan. In his words though he says,
"Was I put on earth to serve God or build a legacy to myself?...I knew the answer."

Names are pretty important things...especially to God. The Bible is full of people giving names to other people, objects, places, and even themselves for very specific reasons. One of the rewards Christ promises is the giving of a name to us that only He and the person know...suggesting an intimacy of relationship with the Creator of all life that we desire within the very soul of our being.

That said, Stephen Strang has taken his name off the masthead of the empire that he founded. He did it because he knows what very few people walking on this Earth ever fully realize:

"Jesus must increase and we must decrease."

Kudos to Stephen Strang. He continues to show me hope in the leaders of the Christian Church in general, and the Charismatic Movement specifically. Of course, considering the post, kudos is probably not what he's looking for. :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

BYU Benches Star Player: "And so shines a good deed in a weary world"

There is a great scene in the movie Hoosiers where the small town high school basketball coach played by Gene Hackman benches one of his star players during a game because of an attitude problem.  As they begin to lose, the parents are screaming for him to get the kid back in the game.  Principals be damned, there is a game to be won!  Hackman doesn't buckle as there is a higher value he is trying to drive home to his team.

A real life Hoosiers moment hit the college basketball world this week when Bringham Young University benched its scoring star Brandon Davies for an honor code violation.  The violation?  He admitted pre-marital sexual relations with his girlfriend.

Of course now a chorus of ridicule is being heaped on the Mormon based university for it "puritanical" honor code that seems out of step with the times but what is encouraging is seeing a growing wave of support for this point of light in a weary world.

Even Jon Stewart on The Daily Show showed an admiration for the decision in its Tales of Principled Behavior section.  I include the video but with the disclaimer of a PG-13 rating. (The relevant section is in the second half of the clip)

Kudos to BYU for standing firm despite this action severely affecting their Division D Championship possibilities and kudos to Davies himself who has come to the games, sat on the bench, and supported his team.