Note the pics in the previous post. Today I finally hit the town, no longer under “house arrest.” I was able to go the bank, buy a phone, get groceries, and a gain better sense of the layout of Xiaogan. It’s fascinating to watch people stare in curiosity as we walk by. It’s rare in this city to see foreigners; Will and I definitely stand out. And they don’t seem to be mocking or judging when they stare…just sincere curiosity.
The slow pace of the past few days has been nice, and yielded some special, simple moments. There was the thunderstorm of a couple days ago, without a doubt the most spectacular thunderstorm I’ve witnessed. I see now that living in the NW U.S., I’ve not known a true thunderstorm. I watched what were nearly continual flashes of light accompanied by thunder. It was evident in those several hours how alive nature truly is—untamed, uninhibited, indifferent to the buzz of creatures roaming the planet, creatures often more concerned with nature’s utility than with its sheer glory and power and life.
Will and I had a rich discussion the other night, dialoguing about African tribal religions, faith and skepticism, theology, what practically loving our students might look like, among other matters. He and I are not so different, all things considered.
The love question will continue to be at the forefront of my mind. I feel like of all the many reasons I am here, demonstrating an otherworldly love for the people I meet is of primary importance. And the more I say that, or hear others say it—“we’re called to love” or “I just want to love them,” etc…I realize how flippantly I (and others) throw that around. I don't want to reduce love to be about simply my feelings toward people, nor to merely about sharing my notions of Truth. Nor do I want to let myself love people only in ways that are convenient for me.
I’m not sure a feeling of deep appreciation for someone counts as love, at least not the kind of love I’m called to. That kind of love involves the practical—adjusting my own plans for others’ sakes, respecting others souls through intentional listening and seeking understanding, going the extra mile, validating and affirming with verbal praise, making tangible sacrifices for others’ benefit, giving voice to the voiceless, including the traditionally excluded…to name a few. Love is often inconvenient.
And I also don’t think I best love someone by telling them what I believe—even though I believe in Love above all else. I think most people know better than to buy into an idea separated from practice; they want what works. In other words, I believe people will better know the Love that compels me if they experience it through me than if I have to explain it as a Truth that (theoretically) informs my life.
But that of course means I need to actually do at least a decent job of loving people…which takes effort, a willingness to fail at it and continue trying, growing daily in my ability to love in practical ways and in the character and spirit necessary to produce that kind of practical love. That’s hard work; but it’s also part of "the deal," I think. Anything less cheapens the grace I've received.
As the pictures indicate, I’ve made a few new friends. Ruth, at the dinner table, patiently spent much of dinner attempting to teach me proper form for holding chopsticks. I’ve got a long ways to go. And David Beckham (he likes soccer), in our “posed candid” photo, was amazing today. He is one of my students, and speaks English well enough to translate. He is so generous and kind, eager to help and eager to spend time with me. Yet this kindness his not unique, but reflects what seems to be the norm here at school—a general friendliness among people I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced on such a large scale. It’s really pretty beautiful.
My first class is tomorrow (Tuesday). I’m teaching an Oral English class for sophomores, and a computer class as well—actually teaching typing, word processing, etc., for students who’ve not used the English versions of these things. That should be interesting. The rest of my classes do not start until late September, when the freshman arrive (freshman spend the first few weeks of school doing military training)…so I have some time to ease in. I got to see my primary classroom today and also met some of the administration at the school.
Off to prep for tomorrow’s class and then play pool with some students! And maybe squeeze in a nap too. :)