Friday, October 31, 2008

What Do You Advertise?

After a two year furlough, I'm finally back to blogging. I must admit that it is primarily for my own personal interests, specifically fighting a horrible case of writer's block. Being a grad student requires a horrific amount of reading and equally as much writing. For me to be faced with the difficulty of finding the right words is unacceptable. For this reason, my goal is to regain my scribal proficiency and hopefully, in the process, share a little learning and experience from my meager adventures. Let's begin.

Everyone is in the marketing business. Everyone advertises. It is a global industry, not just championed by those with marketing degrees or MBAs. Take a look at your clothes. You're advertising something, whether it's a brand name, sports team, or even just a color. A stadium full of fans is one huge advertisement, marketing everything from the team they support, to its sponsors, to whatever colors the team happens to wear. The fans collectively shout in their silent voices, "we support ______! And you should too!" But marketing doesn't just stop at businesses and sports--no way. We go above and beyond to market our morals, our political views, our systems of belief, and even our worldview. If you don't believe me, take a drive down mainstreet, USA during election time. Candidates aren't just vying for support, they're being marketed by their supporters. Wars-yes, literal, violent, bloodshedding wars-have been fought over opposing marketing campaigns. Marketing can be a dangerous thing, and it comes with great potential as well as significant responsibilities.

Therefore, the question must be asked, what (or WHO) do you advertise? Personally, I find it hard to advertise anything I don't believe in. However, I think there are billions of people around the globe who are walking billboards and never realize it. They don't care what message they send. They don't care who or what they support. Or worse, they do care, and as a result, they support the most extreme, culturally, politically, and morally repulsive things they can find, just because they want to be seen.

Why do that? Why advertise the popular thing or the most polarizing thing? That seems, in my view, to be just asking for trouble. Instead, why not look for the most stable, absolutely true and sure thing, and advertise it? Advertise the dependable thing that you believe in. Why not let people see THAT as something you market? Put that on your tshirts and jelly bracelets. If I'm gonna have something written with Sharpie on my forehead, I want it to be on my terms, not what someone else tells me should be there.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who's The Strongest?

First, something light. I've been studying at night with some students who were asking about "swimming" the other day. We were talking about how important it was to learn about, and what it meant. I asked if there were any questions about it, and one girl spoke up and asked shyly, "How long do you have to stay underwater?" That was the first time I'd ever been asked that. One guy--who's been swimming before--quickly retorted, "Not three days!" (referring to A Really Good Man, whom we had just talked about). I thought it was really cute to say the least. Very innocent, and something that sounded like it should come out of the mouth of a four-year-old. I smiled, and I wanted to laugh (not at her), but refrained when I observed the concern and seriousness on her face. She really had no idea. Needless to say, it sparked something in my head. Even most kids at home don't ask that question (at least I'd never heard it or of it), and I suppose that's because we've all seen what happens. I have mixed emotions about it. In a way, it's really sad that is something that's never been witnessed. But, it definitely makes me feel good about why I'm here.

Okay, now the heavy. I've found myself having several conversations with different people over the past week or two about strength. I think there is a misunderstanding about how strong belief is. I've gotten the impression that several people, particularly people back in the states, consider my co-workers and me "strong" because we're here. I also get feedback from students here about being strong and knowing so much. To be honest, I don't see myself as being all that strong. I'm not trying to be modest, just honest. But all of these comments make me wonder, "Who IS a strong believer?" I think most often at home, we equate Book knowledge to faith. I think this is a serious mistake. Especially when I consider the believers of old, who didn't even have a real Book, but were taught be others. How was their belief made strong? Wouldn't that make their belief stronger? Honestly, someone may be strong, but it's not because of how much they know or have studied. I think it's more about living. When I look at Heb11, I don't see a lot of "smart" guys. Instead, I see a lot of people who lived life as it should be lived. Doing what NEEDS to be done, no questions asked. We would do well to remember that is more important than seeing who can quote the longest lines from the Book. The Book knowledge will take care of itself.

Do what NEEDS to be done, no questions asked.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lost Without Translation

This past week was the May holiday for most of China. Schools let out for the full week, and most places of work let out for at least 3-4 days. This is also one of the busiest travel times in all of China. I spent the week with my friend Brandon in Wuhan, visiting families, watching movies, and relaxing in a more accomadating, large city. This was really refreshing, and a good break before the last eight weeks of the term.

On Friday morning, I boarded a train for the six hour ride back to ShiYan, where I live. Most of the trip was uneventful, but I did notice that there were several children in my compartment, specifically 3 little girls about 4 or 5 years old. I had a sleeper berth, so I was able to spread out most of the trip. The last hour or so, I set at a table next to the window, which is also in the aisle where people walk.

I was sitting and reading a book (The Bourne Supremacy--much better than the movie), when I noticed that the girls kept watching me. Now, if you've ever been to China, you understand that this is not uncommon, people tend to stare, watch, and point--without regard or shame-- at any foreigner they encounter. However, this time it was different. I was wearing my hat, and a couple of the little girls were even bold enough to walk up to me and peak under the bill, just to get a better look at my face.

My first reaction was slightly annoyed, but polite as I smiled at them, which naturally startled them and they rushed back to protection of a parent or one of their friends. Eventually they worked up the courage to stand near me while playing their games (similar to patty-cake), and the even began to offer me parts of their snacks, some crackers and juice or water. I was surprised at this but kindly declined with my very poor and limited Chinese.

Nearing the end of the trip, they were to the point of singing the ABC song and some other songs in Chinese that they knew for my entertainment. Their timidness was completely gone. They were to the point of hanging on to me, feeling my arm hair (which doesn't exist in oriental ethnicity), and talking to Chinese of course.

It was somewhat humorous, yet sad at the same time, because they kept talking to me, even though I couldn't reply. They just couldn't seem to grasp that I didn't speak Chinese. One girl even had this dumbfounded expression like, "I know you hear what I'm saying, why won't you just speak like any other normal person I know!" I had abandoned my hopless Chinese by this point and was just replying in English that I didn't understand. I wanted very badly to be able to speak to those little girls, find out their names, play games with them, and give them more than a couple of words they understood and some goofy expressions. It was frustrating for me. They were still very kind and happily said "bye bye" to me (more times than is necessary, but very typical of any child making a game of it) as we exited the train and parted ways outside of the station.

This is a long story, but it made me think about something important. How often are we like those little children to our Father? We start off shy and curious about Him. We then become more comfortable with Him, but we have difficulty communicating, because we don't speak His language. He continually shows His kindness to us, but there is only so much He can do until we start speaking His language. And we, who don't understand Him in our finite knowledge, can't always understand why He doesn't "just speak like any other normal person." The reason is simple. His language isn't English, or even Chinese, it's love. Until we start speaking that, we'll never understand Him or what He wants to tell us and share with us.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dirty Laundry and Doorways

I was thinking about how much laundry I had to do the other day. It was a lot. And being in China, it's a little more inconvenient to do here, mainly because I don't have a dryer. It's really easy for me to just let it all build up, until it's overwhelming!(not to mention I don't have much left to wear) And on top of that, it's a never ending cycle. We always have dirty laundry, and we always will have dirty laundry. And then I started to think, "isn't that how our spiritual life is? We let our sin just 'pile up' in our minds, filling us with guilt and shame, until it's almost too much to bear." It's really sad when I think about it, especially when we have such an Awesome gift from our Father. In a way, He's our washing machine, and makes us cleaner than any clean on earth (I can happily say that without being disrespectful because even Paul uses this analogy at times). But our problem is that we keep our dirty laundry to ourselves, let it pile up, and overwhelm us. Grace is a powerful detergent, and we don't use it enough, or we save it until we have a "full load" that's unbearable. We ought not treat our sins like dirty clothes. Grace was too expensive (not that we bought it) and is too valuable not to use. He has given it to us for a reason. Not to abuse it, but to use it to our fullest spiritual advantage, so that we can get rid of that dirty laundry and start fresh!

I've had a lot of "dirty laundry" to get rid of recently. Now that I've reminded myself of this wonderful gift, I hope to be more effective in my life. I hope you can benefit from this reminder too.

With that said, I must admit how blessed I'm feeling. He has given me so much to be thankful for, and it seems like the blessings have more than doubled within the past week! I have so many positive things to look forward to, I'm almost overwhelmed by all the doors in front of me. I feel like I'm in a room full of doorways, all of which lead me to something so spectacular, more than I ever dreamed. I hope He continues to point me towards the best one, and that you are able to see your blessings and doorways clearly as well. EPH320. Nema!


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Not In Control

This has been a really strange weekend. Most of the foreigners here agreed that we all felt a little flat for some reason. Sunday in particular. However, we had a really good weekend. I got up early on Saturday and went with nine of my students to hike up a mountain and have a picnic. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be over by 1 or 2 p.m. I should know better than to make such presumptions in China. We actually hiked up to the top of the mountain for a great view! The weather was a little foggy when we started out, but by the time we were getting ready to come down from the summit, the sun had burned most of the haze off. It was neat to be away from the noise of the city and to sit looking over the silent buildings. I wondered if that was similar to some experiences that the Good Shepherd had around the hills of Jerusalem. We went back down the mountain halfway and stopped for our picnic next to a small mountain spring. We spent two hours cooking the food, but it was worth it, since all my students seem to be really good cooks! After lunch we finished our descent, and I didn't get back to school until 5 p.m.! It was definitely worth the time spent with my students, and I also learned of a really great spot very close to where I live!

I guess I realized this weekend that we can have things going really well in so many ways, and still not be completely happy within ourselves. He is the one who provides our happines, and without Him, it doesn't matter how smoothly things go. This simply adds to my thoughts as I think about my plans for the future. Going home, grad school, jobs, all of these things can go great, but won't be worth much if I don't acknowledge His control. I just have to let go.

I'm out of control, and I think I like it.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Putting On The Working Gloves

I have actually been pretty busy the past two weeks. One class of students is the same as last term, only now, I have them twice as often (two times a week). It is strange to see how much they have opened up to me this term already, especially considering how much space there was between us last term. I've already eaten lunch with a few, and last night, I was invited to "hot pot" dinner with 9 of the guys in the class. I was afraid they were going to get drunk, but to my surprise, after I told them my stance, there were very respectful, and only a few drank--but only in moderation. I felt that it was a minor victory. However, I did get to bond with them very much, and I'm sure it He helped me with this opportunity.

I'm very happy with my class schedule as of right now, but I knew it wouldn't remain like this for long. I got a phone call from the department "liason" asking me to prepare another syllabus for a sophomore level oral english class starting in about two weeks. I'm just hoping it doesn't interfere too much with my present schedule, since my free time seems more towards the weekends right now, ensuring me a few "travel" weekends.

Besides my classes, I feel I am spending more time with others than I did last term, another reason I'm busy. My students are just one example, and I'm finding myself with other people, foreign and chinese, more and more. I'm hoping to spend a little more time with a few of Darla's students, especially since they are interested in a friendship with me and a relationship with Him.

Work seems to have started off on the right foot in several ways this term, and I hope the momentum keeps up. On a side note, there is additional work going on in our building right now. A work crew has been gutting one of the bottom floor apartments and is turning it into more offices (I think). This being a concrete building, I can hear everything that goes on down there. Every hammer strike, saw cut, and roter grind. Those guys are very punctual as well, starting promptly at 7:30 a.m., even on the days I don't have class (I feel especially bad for Fletcher who lives on the second floor, just above the work). You gotta love the Chinese work ethic!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Grind

I'm back in Shi Yan. In some ways, the past month seemed like an eternity (a badly needed one, at that), and in other ways, it was a flash. I have thought about a lot of things, and have learned so much. In case you missed my Xanga blog, I've set some goals for myself this term which I hope will make things better. Life is good right now, and I plan to keep it that way. I'm determined more than ever to focus on the big picture, and to keep the small things from getting to me. I also want to be more encouraging. I feel like I'm coming out of an emotional trough, and I want to ride this wave to its crest as long as possible. I feel strong, like I have overcome a great foe, but I know I haven't done anything. I have to give that credit to my Lord.

My prayer life has changed. I pray more now, and I think its evolving, becoming more personal, almost stronger or deeper. It's exciting to me, like when you work out for a long time and finally begin to see some results. I know this is not where I need to stop though. I still have a lot of road before me. I mainly focus on this semester, but I also am having difficulty making decisions for the future. I have opportunity to be in a better situation as a teacher in china next year, with a better support system. I'm also thinking a lot about grad school, and finishing that off. Brandon has difficulty with his decision as well. I don't want to base my decision solely on his, but I feel a certain degree of committment to forming a team, so his decision will affect mine some. I'd also like to think about getting married--sounds strange, especially since I don't even have a girlfriend--but it seems like I'm getting closer to the ideal time for that to happen.

This trip has been a great reflection tool, and I've built some great relationships on the way. I pray I can take the momentum gained from this trip and carry it over to my semester. I feel like I'm really testing my faith as I go into the future, like I'm just walking into a tunnel of darkness. But I guess that's how most of life is anyway. "Commit you work to the Lord and your plans will be established."

I'm not worried about the future.

Grace and Peace,