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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Catching Up On My 2011 Reading (Pt XIII): Ruokanen and Huang, “Christianity and Chinese Culture”

Eds Miikka Ruokanen and Paulos Huang, Christianity and Chinese Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2010)

I left my heart in China. I’ve also left pieces of it in Prague, Santiago, and Hong Kong.

And since I mention it, Hong Kong is not China. Taiwan is also not China. I have students from Hong Kong and Taiwan in my classes, and they’ve made it abundantly clear that they are not Chinese and that their respective lands do not belong to China but are independent. Though I’m not sure the Chinese would agree with them.

Having spent ten months there, a hunger for deeper understanding of and respect for the Chinese people, history, culture, and religions was instilled and has been maintained over the past couple of years. As has my desire to learn to read and speak Chinese beyond just ordering a few dishes. After all, we’ll all be speaking Chinese in a few decades, right? J

I actually got sidetracked and haven’t yet finished this book, but I enjoyed what I read. The book has a nice format, each chapter an essay paired with another writer’s response to the essay, typically with at least slightly contrasting opinions between the two.

Most of the writers are eager to highlight the potential in the very-much growing Chinese Christian church, especially encouraging a more "Chinese Christianity" rather than just a “Christianity in China”, you might say. In other words: contextualize the Christian experience in a way that recognizes the ways many facets of traditional Chinese philosophies, religions, and values can create a kind of Christianity that is still very much Christian yet unique because of its interaction and blending with various aspects of Chinese culture.

I’m not sure if that would eventually mean the bread and wine of Eucharist are replaced by Baijiu and dumplings, but…(it’s okay, I can make that joke…I mean, suggestion…it’s not sacrilegious nor culturally insensitive, because, um…I love God and love China and have Chinese friends.)

One regret of my experience in China is how little contact I had with the Church while there. Most of my non-work time was spent investing in the lives of students, and I definitely wouldn’t take that away. But it might have been nice to have been a part of a faith community while there; hopefully this is an opportunity I’ll get in the future should a return to China, at least for a short time, be possible.

What most jumps out at me in the book are those insights related to ethical/moral formation across religious lines. Some good quotes (all of the essay writers are Chinese):

“…Confucian scholars and Christian theologians could continue fruitful dialogue and cooperation in two fields. First, they could reflect together on the metaphysical foundation of ethics. It seems evident that a purely atheistic ethics or purely humanistic ethics does not work out well. A moral system needs a suprahuman validation in order to be workable. Second, there is the continual practical task of understanding and expressing rationally the concrete contents of the universal natural moral law common to the human race. This is vitally important for the peace and the development of each nation and of the whole world.” (21)

The value of interfaith dialogue, for me at least, is more than just “oh, now I understand your beliefs and traditions…I don’t hate you anymore and will refrain from violent words and actions toward you and your kind.” It’s also about each party saying “show me how to ‘be good’ and ‘live well’ in the best way you know how, so I can be better myself.”

(“Tian” means “heaven”): “I suggest that inner moral cultivation rather than religion is what is shared in common across cumulative traditions. Tian/God/more-in-life-than-meets-the-eye is enabling human persons to be like and to cooperate with Tian/God/more-in-life-than-meets-the-eye in providing peaceful, harmonious, abundant life here in the world. Different revelations disclose provisions from Tian/God/more-in-life-than-meets-the-eye. Although not the same, these provisions are not in competition with each other. Possibly, one may receive and benefit from more than one provision as one practices inner moral cultivation.” (49)

I appreciate the ethical sentiment here, but maybe more so the trio of names used for God—a nice reminder not only that we’re not necessarily engaging with different “Gods” but also that God is more than just a larger, more powerful version of ourselves, but something/somebody much more transcendent and incomprehensible and likely more and different than our suppositions, as strongly as we Christians may feel that God has been made accessible and tangible and obvious in Jesus (which to an extent I really do believe).

Another way to say that might be: I’m not sure that just because we feel we “get” Jesus that we “get” God in quite the same way.

While I can’t go back to China at the moment, I get to experience a little bit of it here and now. In addition to having some Chinese students in my classes (and some from Taiwan and Hong Kong, who are of course not Chinese, but I’m ignorant and don’t know any better, and gosh they seem like they have a lot in common, no offense students J), I’ve also signed up to represent our English school in Olympia’s "Dragon Boat Festival" in April, along with four other teachers and about twenty students. Time to get in rowing shape!

The team has at least one Chinese student, but I think most are from elsewhere, especially Latin American countries. A little taste of China, at least…in addition to my Panda Express lunch today. Which tastes exactly like authentic Chinese food, of course. J

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