"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pondering Purpose

Plenty of excitement around here, as daily life continues to satisfy. The longer I’m around and the more exposure I get as one of the foreign teachers, the more people want my time. It has the potential to be draining, and I’m learning my own boundaries/rules about when to say “no” here—but it’s exciting too.

Students wanting me to come to their club meeting, wanting to help me order food, wanting a picture with me, wanting to practice their English, wanting guitar lessons, wanting me to make their party “cooler” by showing up. People I’ve never met saying “Hi Matt,” usually met from me by a “Heeeeyyyyy…” Not surprisingly, more people know my name than vice versa. I guess I do kind of stand out here. I’m really the only person that walks around outside in flip-flops.

I love the rhythm I’ve begun to develop in recent weeks. Despite the initial necessary adjustments to my expectations of “normal life” upon arriving in China, I’ve begun to settle in—as least as much as is possible in a world so different from my own. I recognize it is essential for my own happiness but also sense of purpose for me to always be taking in, always reflecting, and always giving back.

I believe I have found that “harmony” in recent weeks. My intellect has been engaged by literature on everything from the relationship between faith and politics to recent Pauline scholarship to the soul journey of a “saint” ("Godric," Buechner). But I have also found such reading to be relevant to day-to-day life here in China, and have tried to maintain a continual pursuit of praxis—to connect my ideas and theology with real life and real people.

As I regularly consider how to contextualize my beliefs into relevant words and actions in this particular time and place, I truly hope others are catching glimpses of Christ through me, whether through my honest revelation of the beliefs that shape my life, or through my actions—perhaps the true test of whether or not my beliefs actually mean anything to me.

New relationships continue to emerge. I think of Thomas, who sensed my heaviness the other day and gently and sincerely, with his limited English, probed for an explanation while showing his compassion through being extra touchy and, uh, “lean-y” while walking (just trust me, it worked for him). I think of my first-year students who continue to flatter me with their enthusiasm, not only making teaching fun but opening the door for mutual affirmation as I seek to offer praise, validation, and respect back to them in various ways, both in and out of class.

I think of Jesse and Eric, friends with whom I’ve shared numerous meals, basketball games, and discussions which often (language permitting) venture into the deeper things of life, such as religion. I think of Andrew, Alex, and Mark, another emerging circle of friends, who invited me to my first true Chinese college party tonight (think tea and karaoke, not liquor).

I think of Tommy, who answers far too many questions with yes (“How are you doing Tommy?” “Yes.” “No, Tommy, I asked, ‘how are you doing?’” “Yeah.” And so on.), but with whom rapport is growing, as are mutual favors (I recently played my guitar and gave a speech at an event he hosted, while he bought me an Americano this morning).

Considering how to relevantly articulate my faith is exciting; but in a setting where effective verbal communication is difficult, I probably more often consider whether or not my belief in Love is actually demonstrated in day-to-day interactions. I think of all people as children of God; does my patience, warmth, attentiveness, verbal praise, or willingness to adjust my plans for others’ sakes all reflect this? Sometimes. :)

I also love discovery and becoming familiar with new ways of thinking and “being.” I’ve been challenged to recognize the limitations of my own worldview and to live with a “confident but humble” epistemology that permits me to treasure my own beliefs and way of life but to be open-minded, appreciative of and challenged by the thinking and lifestyle of those here. I often find myself challenging my students along a similar vein; it seems we are all at risk of slipping into this kind of egocentrism.

I hope while in China to maintain this balanced view of myself as student/teacher: ready to receive new insight about all facets of life, while not shying away from teaching, contributing, challenging, even—forgive the potential overstatement—liberating. May God be glorified through my life. At least as much as is possible.


Tibbslove said...

Matt, your post is splendid and I am very pleased to hear how much you are learning about yourself and the Chinese culture. Your loving and tender heart will be a blessing to all you encounter. Please know, you are continually in my prayers.
Much love,

Barb said...

You are amazing!
Your insights are inspiring.