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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Walking Home From Mongolia with Rob Lilwall

 Last Sat. afternoon Tammy, the boys and myself had the opportunity to walk with Rob Lilwall and his companion, Leon McCarron, on the final stage of their 5,000 kilometer walk from Mongolia, through the Gobi Desert and China, all the way to Rob's home in Hong Kong.  The reason for the walk, besides the adventure, was to raise money for the children's charity Viva.  The guys started back in November and after 6 months on foot made it to the border between China & Hong Kong on Friday evening.

Rob's journey made the front page
I first became acquainted with Rob last year when we arranged for him to come speak to the  students at the school where I work about his first big adventure where he cycled from Siberia to London.  The stories he shared with the school were inspiring to student and staff alike and so when he announced that he would be participating in a new adventure walking from Mongolia to Hong Kong for charity, we were excited to see how we could be involved. For that reason we have been doing  morning assembly updates, showing video, photos, and blog entries so the students could follow along on the journey.

Rob & Leon at the finish!
On Saturday Tammy and I joined about 60 other volunteers to walk with Rob & Leon on the final leg of the trip. The route would start in Discovery Bay, go over the mountain near the Trappist Monestery, and down into Mui Wo where the journey would end at the beach in Silvermine Bay.

I would not want to carry that pack!
In hindsight, we probably would NOT have brought 16 month old Ethan George.  Although the hike was only about 7 kilometers, hauling the baby with stroller and carry-all, on a hot humid Hong Kong day was pretty tough.

But, we wanted to do it as a family!

Anyhow, the big moment as we waited at the Discovery Bay pier to begin was wondering where Rob would be joining us.  He ended up arriving on a small "junk" (boat) and as the junk approached Rob suddenly jumped in the water and swam to the group to applause and cheers of "well done".  We could all only imagine what it would be like to have been walking for 6 months straight and now, to be joining friends and family for the final 7 kilometers.
With Rob and his wife Christine

We all journeyed together for about 2 hours until Rob & Leon, leading out front, reached the Silvermine beach.  They dove into the water together completing an astounding 5000 kilometer odyssey.

It was a family affair!
Afterwards we joined with everyone for a celebratory dinner and welcomed our friends home after a long, and fruitful, adventure.  For Tammy, myself, and the friends with us, we considered it a real privilege to participate in a small part of their grand journey .  Our family raised HK$ 1200 in donations for the walk but we felt like the blessed ones being able to join in on Rob & Leon's special day.


Friday, May 25, 2012

George Washington & Religious Tolerance

I'm a big fan of George Washington.  As a child growing up he was frequently referred to as "The father of our country" in school and now as an adult I see how he created an ethos during his presidency about what kind of country the United States should be that still resonates with us into the 21st century.

I mean, here was a guy that could have been "president for life" and enjoyed all the trappings of monarchy but instead set a precedent of "temporary" power by refusing to run for a third term and shunning many of the indulgent aspects of being the Head of State and Head of Government that he could have demanded.  Only the most secure of individuals voluntarily gives up power after they have achieved it...George Washington was just such a man!

And now a letter he had wrote in his own hand is about to go on public display and it highlights the religious tolerance he envisioned for the new land which still serves as a testimony to the nations of today.  The letter was written to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport Rhode Island and it sought to assure the Jewish population there that they had nothing to fear as they pursued their religion:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

That the United States and her citizens would "give bigotry no sanction" and "persecution no assistance".  As Nicholas Cage says in the movie National Treasure after reading a portion of the Declaration of Independence, "People don't talk like that anymore".

Washington closes the letter (which can be read in its entirety here) by saying:

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

"That everyone should sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there should be none to make him afraid".  As someone who gets to travel a bit, I see how most governments in the world still use fear to keep their citizens in line.  Keep them fearful and keep them insecure... Washington in 1790 proclaimed that citizens of the United States would not live in fear...that especially in their own lodging is where they could feel safe.

Most people living in the world today have no such guarantee from their government.

Nicholas Cage was right, people just don't talk like that anymore!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beijing Daily stung over Ambassador Locke's finances

Locke buys a coffee at Starbucks with daughter
"Careful what you ask for", the old saying goes, "you just may get it."
In Mainland China of late there has been a growing demand by the public for government officials to make public their finances and personal wealth.  This demand however is near anathema in a system renowned for its lack of transparency and opaqueness of accountability.

The Beijing Daily, in an attempt to deflect criticism, chose to show that United States officials would be no different. They did this by attempting to embarrass  U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke. 
But first a little context to this story.

Gary Locke is the first ethnically Chinese American to assume the post of ambassador to Beijing.  Since he took up the position last August his easy manner and "man of the people" demeanor has already won praise from the Chinese public as well as scorn from the Chinese government.  The humbleness of an official of his level carrying his own bags and using a coupon as he pays for his own coffee at Starbucks has served as a stark contrast to the airs of privilege and indulgence so often associated with officials in Mainland China.  Such contrast has served for fodder for the micro bloggers who make up the voice of the people in China nowadays...much to the chagrin of the Chinese government.


In addition, the recent escape of blind activist Chen Guangcheng to the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador's role in the affair has only made Beijing more irked with the charismatic Mr. Locke.
It's in this context that the government's mouthpiece, the Beijing Daily, demanded, "Gary Locke, please disclose your (financial) assets."  

But the plan backfired because lo and behold.. he did!

All U.S. public officials personal finances are available as a public record so the embassy issued a copy of  Ambassador Locke's financial disclosure  to the Beijing Daily.  In addition, many Chinese "netzians" found the financial statements of the Ambassador and notified the paper.

The article making the demand online was quickly deleted. (funny that)

People who have their hand in the till make the wrong assumption that everyone  has their hand in the till...only to be surprised when they don't.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The LOST finale episode redux

I recently re watched the finale episode of the T.V. series LOST.  It's been two years now since the show wrapped and I remember there was a real polarization between those that thought it it was a grand, and daring ending and those that felt "cheated" at having invested 6 seasons into a show that really did require a lot of emotional investment and then fail to answer what they considered key questions.

I am part of the first group obviously.  I loved the show then and now realize that it actually gets better with time.  Ok, spoiler alert, the rest of this post deals with the episode itself so if you don't want to know what happens...stop reading now.

The last episode has two different storylines being played out simultaneously.  The first storyline is dealing with the castaways final battle on the Island that has been their home for 6 seasons against the "Man in Black".  The second storyline is in modern L.A. and has the castaways in everyday lives connecting to each other and "remembering" their time on the Island.  The castaways are drawn to a church where the lead character Jack, meets his deceased father, Christian.  Its at the church that Jack "remembers" his time on the Island  and in an emotional scene discovers that he, like all of his friends, are dead.  Some, he learns, before him some long after him.

Jack and his father then move into the main church sanctuary and into a celebration of closest and dearest friends greeting and hugging one another.  It is at this point that the the story resonates with my heart as a Christian.  I am one of these people that long "to go home".  I want to be where God is and in this scene I felt just a glimpse of eternity. I love the joy of everyone's faces in the church scene.  After so much pain and misery they experienced in their lives and on "the Island", all of that is behind them now.  There is no more weeping.  As Jesus promises, "I will wipe away all of their tears."
As important as their time on the Island was, it really was just a small prologue to the journey they were preparing to begin...and with those they love.  As Jack begins to enter into the celebration the scene shuttles back and forth between the joy he is experiencing in heaven and his dying moments having sacrificed himself on the Island to save his friends.

Because he is now in eternity everything seems to be happening at the same time...which I think has been one of the best representations of eternity shown on TV.  The bible often alludes to our already being seated with God in heavenly places.  That I am both living out a life in a linear mortal timeline on earth yet at the same time I am celebrating in heaven.

The episode ends as Jack "dies" and at the same moment Jack's father Christian (yes, Christian Shepherd) opens the main doors of the church letting in a heavenly light.  For me, it was a highly emotional moment and puts everything into perspective.  One day I too shall die, but I know, I am already greeting family, friends, and my Lord in eternity.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

When Heaven Touches Earth: La Sagrada Familia

Sorry for the delay in posts but I just returned from 10 days in Spain.  What a beautiful country!  And more generally, what is it about Europe that is just so darn cool?  The food, the architecture, the history...sometimes its overwhelming.

Well, on my first day in Barcelona I got to visit the famed Antoni Gaudi designed cathedral La Sagrada Familia.  Let me say, I have been blessed to travel the world more than the average person and have had the opportunity to see some beautiful cathedrals but...

...this is the most beautiful church I have ever been in!

As our tour guide was explaining the history of the building outside its main entrance he replied to me, "Wait until you see the inside, its even more impressive than the outside."  And he was right.  When I entered the the vast place of worship I was suddenly overwhelmed.  A picture can not convey the moment.  My eyes misted up and I just stood there and absorbed it.

For lack of a better description the place felt...elven.

Those who are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and the subsequent movies will understand when I say I felt like I was in Rivendell or Lothlorien.  The elves in Tolkien's world are higher than men, the first born of God.  One commentator noted that they are best described as what mankind would look like had we not "fallen."  The elven feeling of the place was reinforced when the tour guide explained that the architect, Antoni Gaudi, designed to the large columns and pillars to resemble trees and branches.

Looking around La Sagrada Familia I kept thinking this place was designed by a person inspired by the Holy Spirit.  I asked the tour guide if Gaudi was a religious man?  He replied "Yes, this entire cathedral was designed by him to reveal the Glory of God!

He certainly succeeded.  I have recently posted a bit about Brian Zahnd's book Beauty Will Save the World describing how Christianity needs to dial up the focus of the beauty inherit in our faith.

 La Sagrada Familia is certainly an example of this.  It's in places like this that for one brief moment you feel like Heaven touches Earth!