From silence, to photos, and slowly back to words again

When Bishop Dave invited/challenged me to not rely too heavily upon verbal reflection during my sabbatical (because it is something with which I am well versed) but to engage the rhythms of the experiences with all my senses, that sounded like a healthy challenge. As it turned out, leaving the words behind has hardly been a challenge at all. So often, I was not able to find any words for the flood of images that filled my senses. For example, on Friday, March 31st, when I went to visit a prominent Taoist temple in Hualien, Taiwan during the week I was on my own there, I expected I might find a number of people praying towards statues of various gods. I had already seen this in other temples. But as I turned the last corner to approach the entrance of this temple, I was immediately confronted with fireworks right there on the street, as if they had waited for my arrival to start the some major event! When the bright flashes, loud explosions and thick smoke subsided, I heard the drums and saw the procession of people carrying ritual objects I did not recognize. They wore costumes suggesting they were dragons or gods.

“What in the world is this?! What on earth is going on here?! What does it mean?” I finally thought I was beginning to understand a bit about Taiwanese folk religion and what people were doing in the temples. Now, once again, I had no answers, no words of explanation, only wonderings, confusion, and noticings. Of course, as I was standing on the side of the street watching (and then recording the brief video above), I almost got hit by one car and then two motorcycles (yet again) because I still didn’t understand the unwritten rules and rhythms of traffic patterns there. Such unexpected encounters were a daily occurrence during my travels. I know many of you who have traveled to cultures different from your own will be able to relate to this.

During my final week of sabbatical this past week, I had  the opportunity to go on a retreat for some quiet reflection to slow down and begin to let it all sink in. For most of that retreat time I had no cell phone access and no internet. I had the gift of time to begin to sit with and unpack all that I am so grateful to have been able to experience in these past three months of sabbatical and week of vacation. I had already begun to prayerfully look ahead to the lectionary Bible passages on those Sundays when I will be preaching from now through the end of August (May 15 & 29, June 12, July 10 & 31, August 14 & 21). As I looked at those texts, I could quickly identify one (if not three or five) possible stories from my sabbatical travels that could play a helpful role in each of those sermons.

With the gift of time, the words are slowly returning. Finding words for some of those experiences in those sermons should be a way to hold myself accountable to continuing to both integrate and share more of what I experienced in those weeks. I am hopeful that this and some other presentations and drum circles I will offer might offer the St. Andrew Lutheran, Portland Taiwan Lutheran and EcoFaith Recovery communities the opportunity to not only learn how the sabbatical affected me but to garner any wisdom the people and places I encountered might have to offer to us here in Portland and Beaverton. If you can’t be present for those sermons or presentations, you can trust I will post the reflections from each of those offerings here on this blog. I look forward to sharing more about the witness of indigenous peoples I was blessed to meet (including the Tao people of Orchid Island, Bunnun and Siraya people of Taiwan and the Hani rice terrace farmers of Yunnan China), the witness of the prophetic Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, my traveling companions, the many languages of Taiwan, welcoming the foreigner (me), and probably some embarrassing moments along the way, while still leaving space for whatever specific Gospel message may arise in response to the events of that particular week.

My first opportunity will be on Sunday, May 15th when the St. Andrew Lutheran, Beaverton and Portland Taiwan Lutheran congregations will share a single joint worship service at 10:00 a.m. A healthy draft of that sermon came to me during the retreat, and the illustrations that day will focus more heavily upon what I learned about Pentecost as a result of visiting Taiwan with members of the Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church.

One of the things that

Visiting a tea plantation run by aboriginal Taiwanese at Alishan Mountain with Pastor Joe's brother, Pastor Joe, and Janet
Visiting a tea plantation run by aboriginal Taiwanese at Alishan Mountain with Pastor Joe’s brother, Pastor Joe, and Janet

I simply have not had enough opportunity to write about is the incredible experience of traveling in Taiwan for a week with Pastor Joe Chang and his brother. Pastor Joe serves as the pastor of the Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church. This trip to Taiwan never would have taken place were it not for him. In advance of the Pentecost celebration, here are a few of my favorite photos of the time Janet and I spent with Pastor Joe, his brother, and some of his dear friends. We shall see how many of these photos, among others, I am able to work into the slide show to accompany the sermon for May 15th!

The home of Pastor Joe's Grandparents (and where Pastor Joe spent two years growing up as a child)
The home of Pastor Joe’s Grandparents (and where Pastor Joe spent two years growing up as a child)

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of “Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please copy

A selfie take as we sat in the crowd preparing to watch an educational/cultural performance

SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!

 

 

 

 

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Visiting the National Museum of Taiwan History where over 100 pieces of Pastor Joe's collection of aboriginal Taiwanese artifacts are housed
Visiting the National Museum of Taiwan History where over 100 pieces of Pastor Joe’s collection of aboriginal Taiwanese artifacts are housed
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Following an incredible lunch with Pastor Joe, Cherry Chi, and the parents of Kai and Chiayi Chang, among others
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The church Pastor Joe attended for 15 years before moving to the United States and becoming a pastor

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One of Pastor Joe's best friends and the conductor of the Tainan youth orchestra that Pastor Joe helped him start many years ago
One of Pastor Joe’s best friends and the conductor of the Tainan youth orchestra that Pastor Joe helped him start many years ago
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Kai Chang’s parents host us for lunch

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Finding Jesus: Taiwan, Then and Now (Guest Blog Post by Janet Parker)

Robyn recently wrote a blog post about what it was like to return to Taiwan with me for my first visit back in over thirty years. She shared what it was like for her to see how excited I was to reconnect with that place and many of those people. I so enjoyed seeing myself and my experience of reconnecting with such a beloved place and beloved people through her eyes!  At her request, I will share a few of the reasons that experience in Taiwan made such a big impact on me.

At the age of 21, imageduring the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I was sent to Taiwan as a Youth in Mission through the Presbyterian Church.  I was matched up with a Clinical Pastoral Education program for pre-ministerial students in a Presbyterian hospital.  I had barely heard of Taiwan at that point, so it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but off I went.  By the end of the summer, though, my attitude toward Taiwan had completely transformed.

In fact, as I returned for my senior year of college, I immediately began plotting my return to Taiwan.  Eventually, I convinced the Presbyterian mission board to send me back to Taiwan for a year of teaching English at Tainan Theological College after I graduated.  You might wonder what was so compelling about the experience of the church in Taiwan that a 21 year old felt called to go back for an entire year?

The first thing that inspired me in Taiwan was my experience of the Christian church as a truly global body, the body of Christ. I wasn’t prepared for the incredible warmth and hospitality of the Taiwanese people, especially the Taiwanese Christians.  Despite our many cultural differences, I discovered that I had brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, people who treated me like part of their family, just because we shared the same faith. It was these new friends that helped me get through the bad case of culture shock that awaited me. If you want to experience real culture shock, go to a country where the written language doesn’t even use a recognizable alphabet, so good luck finding the bathroom or the name of your train stop.  Go to a country where getting food into your mouth relatively successfully depends on your ability to put two sticks together and coordinate them well enough to eat meat off the bone and whole fish, head and tail included.

But what most inspired me about Taiwanimage was the faithfulness of the Presbyterian Church there to the way of Jesus.  When Taiwan was under martial law, and those who were standing up for democracy and human rights were being imprisoned and even killed, Taiwanese Presbyterians were risking everything to speak out, side with the people, and stand with the victims of state terror. The head of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan even served time as a political prisoner there, along with many other pastors and lay leaders.

Their costly and courageous witness to the way of Jesus Christ sustained my young faith in God, and inspired deeper commitment to the church.  imageBecause through the radical solidarity of the Taiwanese Christians with their own suffering people, I encountered a church that mattered, a church that was relevant, a church filled with the spiritual power of a living Christ.  I went back because I wanted more of that.

I believe there is a spiritual hunger in our society that is not getting met by the cafeteria spirituality that is on offer in so many places. There are lots of groups and self-help books out there that can offer us effective techniques for calming our minds, relieving stress, and even leading us into ecstatic states of consciousness, but at its best, the Christian Church doesn’t offer a technique, it offers a relationship.  That’s what Jesus himself was all about—building relationships, connecting us to the love of God and showing us how to love one another.

While we were in Taiwan, imagewe saw inspiring examples of how the church there is building relationships with the people.  We visited a home and school for children with disabilities supported by 11 churches. Later, we went to a factory founded by a graduate of that school that employs people with disabilities, allowing them to live self-sufficient and purposeful lives.  We saw churches offering after school programs for poor children with no place to go during the day, and a school for dropouts so that they could finish their education. In the churches of Taiwan, I saw the body of Christ poured out for the world God loves.  Their example inspired my 21 year old self to dedicate my life to ministry.  What a joy it was to see, 30 years later, that these Taiwanese Christians are still loving the people, standing in solidarity with the suffering, and inspiring young people to embrace lives of service.

 

Where we were when we were 21 years old

There are those years that seem to run together in our minds. We hold the same job, live in the same place, engage in many of the same weekly activities. In such times, life is a rhythm of gentle waves lapping at the shore rather predictably. When we look back on those times, we really cannot remember if a particular event happened in 2011… or was it 2013.

Then there are those tumultuous years that we really never forget. Ahhhh, yes, 2007, we say! And there are those years we connect with a particular age in our lives. The rhythm was somehow different or particularly formative at that age. imageI have heard that things that happen at the ages of 8 – 10 can be particularly formative on our personality. (You elementary educators out there would know better than I do.) And for many of us, age 21 and 22 are often quite memorable and formative upon how the rest of our adult lives develop. Such was the case for my beloved Janet. She was 21 years of age when she moved to Taiwan to teach English for a year as a volunteer in mission with the Presbyterian Church.

Now that I am back home in Oregon I am spending time reflecting upon all that transpired in nearly 6 weeks of travel through China and Taiwan that simply could not be integrated at the pace most of us travel these days. So, since my sleep schedule is stuck back imageon Taiwan time, I thought I would use this wakeful late night hour to share a short blog post and a few photos about the experience of visiting Tainan Seminary with Janet.

Isn’t it interesting how when we return to the places that were so formative in the lives of those people who we care about, it is as if their earlier selves seem to light up again? When returning to Tainan, Taiwan with Janet and Pastor Joe, I felt like there were many moments in which I was glimpsing an earlier and even younger version of each of them. When we got to the Tainan Theological College and Seminary campus, Janet could not wait to show us the apartment where she had lived. It overlooked a playground for preschoolers (or was it kindergarteners). She could never sleep in too late in the morning as the children were always on their way out to the playground as early as possible. Her face beamed as she showed imageus her apartment door and which window corresponded to different rooms in the apartment. Don’t we all do that (or at least want to do that) when returning to the places we have loved and which have shaped who we are?

She also tracked down the particular classroom where she had taught English to seminary and college students. And we joined the seminary community once again for worship in the chapel. Isn’t it fun how it is not only our minds that hold the memories. It is as if the places hold the memories, too, because until we get back to those places, smell those smells, feel imagewhat it is like to sit in those desk chairs again, we actually don’t remember certain things. I have always thought that memories resided in my mind, but what if some of those memories are actually held in some complex relationship between body/mind and place.

While in Taiwan, we were also blessed to get to meet up with a number of people who Janet was friends with during that year in Taiwan. Some of them she had seen again in the United States, but it had by now been decades since she had seen any of them. In seeing them again, it wasn’t only Janet whose 21 year old shown through, but the younger, exuberant versions of some of these dear
Taiwanese friends that also emerged.

Even when our imagehair may have turned gray and wrinkles come to our faces, dear old friends still have the capacity to pull out of us the energy and rhythms of our youth. Yes, we see that they are older now. Yes we know we are, too. But we can also see through all of that to a younger, sometimes less complicated version of who each other was and perhaps in some way still is.

Having returned back home now, I am thankful to have a couple weeks to begin to let the rush of languages and peoples and places and new experiences wash over me and settle down within me. I am grateful to begin to consider how those experiences will play out their rhythms in my life.  Too often I and so many otimageher people of my culture rush from one thing to the next to the next without allowing time to let the last experience settle within us or give ourselves time to prepare well for the experiences to come. With the faithful support of a Sabbatical Planning Team and many other good friends and colleagues who looked over my sabbatical proposal and offered advice, I was encouraged to buffer the rich experiences I would be having with the time to prepare before each experience and reflect and imageevaluate afterwards. I am so thankful for their wisdom because such time has been essential.  And it feels crucial right now. In fact, it has convinced me even more deeply of the wisdom of EcoFaith Recovery’s Practices for Awakening Leadership which call individuals and communities to intentionally practice rhythms of “Preparation –> Action –> Reflection –> Evaluation –> Sabbath.”

I am so deeply grateful to have been gifted with this space of time to engage in all five of these movements alone, with family, and with sisters and brothers of the Taiwan Church. I am soaking in this final window of time to unpack, reorganize, reflect, engage in spiritual practices of centering prayer and drumming, read, write, and readjust to this time zone.image

Speaking of rhythms, it is time for me to help this confused little body try to start remembering how to sleep and wake on Pacific Time again.  Good night… I hope.

 

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of image“Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. Although I will not be reading those emails immediately while I focus upon that still small voice of God arising from within my spiritual practices and through my travels, I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please imagecopy SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!

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Knowing You Better By Getting To Know The Places That Have Shaped You

imageWhen I spent a month living at Holden Village, an ecumenical retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state twenty years ago, a fellow volunteer named Nathan told me how much he loved the mountains. He said the mountains lifted his soul to the sky. I thought of the many dreamers and visionaries I had met at Holden, and his words resonated with me. Then Nathan added that he also loved the Midwestern plains because those flat lands grounded his soul, pulling him back down to earth. I thought about the pragmatic, down to earth folks I have known from those places, and this also seemed true to me.

Traveling through Taiwan with two peopleimage who  I care about very much has given me much deeper insight into how the rhythms of this Pacific island have formed and shaped each of them in a myriad of ways.

Janet and Joe are two of the people in my life who thoroughly delight in beauty, and this country that has been so formative in each of their lives is an incredibly beautiful place. Is it possible that Joe’s lifelong formation in Taiwan and the enormous impact Janet’s year of teaching English in Taiwan had upon her at the age of twenty-one is one of the reasons why?

One of the things that strikes both visitors and those born and raised in Taiwan is the stunning beautyimage of this place. I am not sure I have ever thought of beauty in terms of its rhythms before, but while spending nearly a month here, I have participated in a gentle rhythm of moving in and out of some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I was mesmerized by the narrow depth of the canyon walls at Taroko Gorge, immersed in a sense of deep peace at Alishan Mountain, and left speechless upon seeing Lanyu (Orchid Island) appearing out the window of my plane. It was when floatingimage above the coral reef around Lanyu and being captivated by the beauty of the coral and diverse fish that I suddenly remembered a sermon given by my colleague, Pastor Mark Brocker at St  Andrew Lutheran Church. He may have been quoting somebody else or perhaps his own soon-to-be-released book when he urged our congregation to remember that just as we need our daily dose of so many things to be physically and spiritually healthy, so too we need a daily dose of beauty. Floating there on the oceanimage gazing down upon one of the best preserved coral reefs in Asia, I suddenly remembered this part of Mark’s sermon. More importantly, I grasped the truth of it, not only intellectually but also with heart, body, and soul. The experience has felt all the more sacred to me upon hearing Janet read an article to me from this morning’s Washington Post reporting that scientists have been devastated to discover that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached since 2014.

It was a gift to share a week of my month
imageIn Taiwan with Pastor Joe and two weeks with Janet and watch the ways they each lit up in response to various aspects of Taiwan’s beauty. At various points I saw that childlike delight overcome them and their inner seven-year old awaken. We need to preserve such childlike delight as much as we need to preserve beauty if we are to have the courage and resilience to respond faithfully and creatively to the challenges of our times. I confess that seeing that spirit arising in each of them filled me with as much joy as my own direct experience of Taiwan’s beauty.

[to be continued]

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of “Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. Although I will not be reading those emails immediately while I focus upon that still small voice of God arising from within my spiritual practices and through my travels, I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please copy SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!

 

 

The recurring rhythm of Taiwanese hospitality

Among the most enjoyable things about my first-time visit to Taiwan has been the opportunity to share special dinners with the Taiwan-based extended families of Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church members (PTLC).  I was already overwhelmed when members of four different households within their congregation indicated they would be returning to Taiwan to visit their homeland when I did. What I did not realize is that each and every one of them would also end up welcoming me to share dinner with their extended families.

These relational, culinary experiences have been one of the high points of my travels, even more precious to me when members of my own family have been with me to enjoy the experience and help me figure out the rhythms of cultural etiquette.  (For example, where do you put the chopsticks when you need to set them down? Do you use the moist towelette that is at your place setting before beginning the meal or is it intended for use afterwards? Is it really okay to raise the little bowl with the noodles in it to my face since I can’t figure out how to get these really long noodles on to my chopsticks and into my mouth? Which parts of the food they just set in front of me are supposed to be eaten and which parts left on the plate?)

Sharing the first of those experiences imagewith my mother was a gift. Julia Ku and her family were such kind and generous hosts in taking us out to our first real Taiwanese dinner.  Mom was gone by the time I got to enjoy the lovely luncheon with Cherry and her aunt and uncle and the first dinner with Kai Cheng and his family. With Janet’s arrival in Taiwan, I was excited to again have a family member to share in experiences of local culture.

The day after Janet arrived, we headed from Taitung in the east to Kaohsiung in the south to meet up with Kai Chang’s family once again. (Kai had already flown back to the United States but his Taiwan-based parents were insistent upon hosting us again.) Unbeknownst to us, the parents of Kai’s wife, Chiayi, would also be there to join us. In addition, we would be meeting up with Pastor Joe Chang and his younger brother who would be taking over from Cherry as our guide and driver for this next leg of this great Taiwan adventure.

Since few people in southern and eastern Taiwan speak English, imagethere had been a lot of pressure on Cherry as a volunteer translator and guide. She continued translating for me even on the day she was sick from food she had eaten the night before! I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to go back and forth thinking and translating between two different languages for at least 12 hours a day for almost a week, but Cherry did it so graciously, even when she was sick!

So on this final day of her time with me/us I was teasing Cherry that she would soon be image“off the clock” and that I was hoping she wouldn’t have translation nightmares during the week to come. Not long after I began teasing her, a tourist van ran into the back side of our rental car at one of Taiwan’s ubiquitous 7/11 stores where we had stopped to use the restroom.image After hitting our car the tourist van continued merrily along without stopping. Janet and I quickly memorized the license plate number while Cherry jumped out of the car and took off running down the road after the van. The driver finally stopped and said he hadn’t realized he had hit us. Because we were in a rental car and needed a police report, the whole process delayed us by two full hours as we waited along with a bunch of Chinese tourists whose tour van was now going nowhere. First a police officer needed to show up, then he interviewed both drivers, then measured everything, then wrote a report,image and then took us all back to the police station for signatures and to print out a report Cherry could take back to the car rental company. This was a far cry from the first similarly mild car accident I was in on this trip. While touring rural China last month, a local couple in an SUV hit our tour van in Lijang. Our driver and the husband of the other vehicle parked right there in a the middle of a very busy street. imageThe Other driver proposed giving our driver 300 – 400 yuan ($46 to $62). He accepted. I am not clear if the money changed hands then and there or if they were going to wait for the bill, but in less than 10 minutes we were on our way again. Mom and I shook our heads, convinced that would have been $1500 to $2000 of body work in the United States and most certainly handled by the insurance companies.

As a result of this Taiwan accident,image we were significantly late to meet up with Pastor Joe and to share in an incredible family luncheon with Kai’s family and some members of their church. Cherry assured us that everybody from Kai’s family would still be there waiting for us when we arrived. They would have started eating but saved food for us. “It’s Taiwanese culture,” she said. 
Just as Cherry predictedimage a very large table full of family and church members greeted us warmly at the restaurant. Nobody had left. With our arrival, delicious plates of food began rolling out from the kitchen which had stayed open late for lunch for us.

Yesterday Pastor Joe took us to meet his uncle, a former boxing and rugby champion in Taiwan at the highly successful aluminum factory he now runs with his son and daughter. We toured the factory and then Joe’s uncle took us out for lunch along with Joe’s brother,image sister-in-law and nephew who had driven up from Kaohsiung to join us. The Japanese restaurant Joe’s uncle took us to was one of the nicest in all of Tainan. Many toasts of appreciation were shared. Joe’s nephew translated for all of us. Among them was one toast I offered to Joe’s familyimage in thanksgiving for his ministry among us and one Joe’s uncle made to St. Andrew Lutheran Church for showing such generous hospitality to his nephew and the Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church.

As if all of that were not enough, we showed up to the Chimei museum in Tainan today to find we would be treated to lunch by Cherry’s uncle who works as a consultant at the museum. After sharing lunch and viewing the main collection he took us back to view the private collection. We proceeded past a guard and into a vault where we got to view a beautiful cello made in the year 1566 and hundreds of multi million dollar violins made by the best violin makers of the past few hundred of years. The most elite violinists are able to provide insurance coverage and check these violins out to play on special occasions. Unbelievable.

Tonight Janet and I found ourselves in awe of the incredible generosity and warm welcome we have received from absolutely everybody we have met here. Such generosity of spirit seems to be a rhythm ingrained in the culture of Taiwan. We both agreed that some of our American cultures would be blessed to learn or reclaim such beautiful rhythms of hospitality. imageJanet said she imagines that her own practice of hospitality towards guests who visit us will change because of our experience of the graciousness of the hospitality of the Taiwanese people. I agree.

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of “Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. Although I will not be reading those emails immediately while I focus upon that still small voice of God arising from within my spiritual practices and through my travels, I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please copy SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!


 

Taiwanese Spirit Rising (a guest blog post by Janet Parker)

[Now that my spouse, Janet, has finally arrived, I am delighted that she accepted my invitation to write a guest blog post about our journey!  She started it last night and just finished it tonight, Monday. So glad to have her with me! Enjoy!]

It’s Sunday night in Tainan, the city where I lived thirty years ago during what seems like another life.  I’ve now been in Taiwan for five full days, and my joy increases each day as a long dormant part of myself comes back to life.  One of my biggest thrills is recovering my Taiwanese language abilities.  I greet every word that comes back to me, every phrase that I re-learn, as a long lost friend.  It’s truly hard to describe the joy I feel as my Taiwanese memory files open up and spill out word after word after word.

But to start at the beginning–After spending a day on my own doing some sightseeing in Taipei while Robyn and Cherry were on Lanyu island, I caught up with them in Taitung, the largest city in the Southeast part of the island.
image  Taitung, along with the rest of Taiwan’s east coast, is known for its large aboriginal Taiwanese population and its rugged, beautiful mountains and coastline.  I stepped off the train and was greeted with the warm hospitality of Kai Cheng’s Uncle Tin and Aunt Ming Hwee, and soon I was reunited with Robyn after a month apart when Robyn and Cherry’s return flight from Lanyu arrived.   We were so happy to see each other!

I was dying to learn more about the aboriginal Taiwanese culture and people because that was not an aspect of Taiwan that I had much exposure to when I taught English in Taiwan as a volunteer in mission at Tainan Theological College.  imageSo our next stop was the National Museum of Prehistory and the Beinan Cultural Park.  We learned about the flourishing Beinan culture which lived in the area between 2,000-5,0000 years ago.  Most astonishingly, we learned of a new theory now accepted by many scholars which holds that the Austronesian language family actually originated on Taiwan!  This major language family stretches from Hawai’i and Easter Island to the eastimage, to the Philippines  and through the islands of Southeast Asia and New Zealand all the way down to Madagascar off the coast of Africa!  All of the 14 aboriginal peoples in Taiwan today speak Austronesian languages as well.

In recent years, Taiwanese aboriginal peoples have been undergoing a cultural renaissance that is at least in some degree now supported by the larger imagesociety and Taiwanese government.  It’s just in time for these tribes, who are scrambling to recover precious cultural and linguistic knowledge from the elders while they are still alive.  It’s easy to understand why it’s important to the tribes to preserve their identity and traditions after centuries of attempts to assimilate them into the dominant Han Taiwanese culture. But in recent years, many in the larger Taiwanese society have found a reason to support their efforts.  I just learned that a number of studies have revealed that 60-85% of Taiwanese people have aboriginal DNA in addition to Han Chinese DNA.  More than a historical curiosity, this fact has geopolitical significance.

For the many Taiwanese who see their culture as distinct from mainland Chinese culture, and who oppose any future reunification with China, the science seems to be on their side.  While the Chinese government continues to insist that Taiwan is a renegade province of China, the Han Taiwanese who did not flee to Taiwan with Chiang Kai Shek after the Chinese communist revolution now have proof that they are a distinct ethnicity–a blend of Chinese and aboriginal peoples who have made their home together for centuries on  this beautiful island. In the words of a well-known Taiwanese folk saying, “There were mainland grandfathers but no mainland grandmothers.”

I find this all to be so poignant.  When I lived in Taiwan in the mid-80s, the island was still under martial law imposed by the KMT. Political dissent was punished with imprisonment, torture and execution. Schoolchildren that spoke Taiwanese rather than Mandarin Chinese were punished.

I knew that people who fought for human rights and democracy were being jailed, but I had no idea of the massive scale of the repression when I lived here. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), which I served, was at the forefront of the human rights and democracy  movement, and pastors were  being imprisoned while I was there. Tainan Theological College and Seminary, where I taught English was at the center of the struggle. Teachers were warned to be careful because KMT spies routinely infiltrated the student body.

To my 22 year old self, all of this seemed both scary and romantic–I was drawn to serve the PCT because their theological and political commitments seemed to me a Taiwanese equivalent of Latin American Liberation theology. But I didn’t fully grasp the scope of the terror and the tragedy.  This time around, after three decades of slow but steady democratization, I have filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge.  I have learned that the suffering and struggles of the Taiwanese people for sovereignty over their own lives has been like a red thread woven throughout a history dominated by control by one foreign power after another–Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, KMT-Chinese–described by the first Taiwanese born President, Lee Teng-hui, as the “Taiwanese Sadness.” But thirty years after my sojourn in Taiwan, this visit has demonstrated to me once again the incredible strength and resilience of the Taiwanese spirit. The Taiwanese never give up.  For the first time in history, voters in January freely elected both a President and a majority of the legislature from the Democratic Progressive Party, the political party which was illegal 30 years ago and the champion of Taiwanese identity, culture, human rights, and freedom.  Now there is more hope than ever that, one day, the “Taiwanese Sadness” will be a thing of the past: a memory to heal from, no longer a battle to fight in the present.

 

 

The beauty and the heartbreak of Lanyu (Orchid Island)

The plane to Lanyu (Orchid Island) onimage
Wednesday morning was delayed by two hours for mechanical reasons. That didn’t do much to reassure Cherry or me of the safety of the old 29 passenger plane. It’s only a 25 minute flight from Taidong, Taiwan to Lanyu island which is also part of Taiwan. But unbeknownst to us before boarding, that short amount of time is just long enough for the aisle of the plane to appear to fill up with smoke (which I now guess to have been condensation).  We later heard that when it rains outside the plane, people sometimes experience it raining inside the plane, as well. Fortunately any anxiety within us was soon offset by the stunning beauty of the island as it came into view on our approach.

Upon our arrival at the airport we were very warmlyimage welcomed by both the host of our bed and breakfast and Sinanmavivo, a local Tao woman and her eight year old son. Cherry had become friends with her two years ago when Cherry’s congregation, the Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church, first hosted the Taiwan aboriginal chorus on their month-long West coast tour. Sinanmavivo was part of the traveling chorus that year. This was Cherry’s first opportunity to visit her friend’s remarkable island just as it was mine.

The Tao people (formerly and incorrectly imagereferred to as the Yami) have lived on this 22-mile-around island for the past 800 years. They have been fisher-people and taro farmers, six villages, known for their distinctively carved red, brown and white boats. According to Sinanmavivo, her people have three seasons, spring, winter, and fly-fishing season. She also referred to the ocean as their playground and their lives as being their primary form of art.

During Taiwan’s 50 years of colonial rule under Japan which lasted from the end of the 19th century until 1945, for better or worse, the Japanese were intrigued with the Tao people and therefore kept Lanyu isolated and protected from outside contact. That policy continued for another 20 years when the KMT took power in Taiwan. In 1967 everything began to change for the Tao when the island was opened to outsiders. Tourists now pose both opportunity and threat to the island and the islanders. In addition, the Taiwan Power Companyimage has stored 98,000 barrels of low-level nuclear waste on the island since 1982, originally telling the Tao people that they were building a cannery and that it would provide jobs to Tao people. The promised removal of the nuclear waste has never occurred. The fish upon which the Tao people depend are now found with mutations at times and the island has the highest cancer rate in the country. Of course, the islanders did not benefit from the energy produced in making that waste as Sinanmavivo is only 42 years of age but grew up with no cars and no electricity on her island. This place which has some of the most unspoilt coral reef in all of Asia has also experienced tragic environmental degradation, the vast majority of which has not been caused by and did not benefit the Tao people.

I was recently telling Janet that I feel like every new place I have visited for a few days, and especially those places where indigenous peoples still live, has experientially felt like a month-long visit. Nowhere has that been more true than this island community of Taiwan as or the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces of southern Yunnan China. The experiences in these places is understandably proving to be the most culturally rich, the most complex, and the most energy- and time-consuming to integrate. These have also been places where beauty and heartbreak are wed together.

I am not entirely sure how, but I am imagealready convinced that my visit to this island of the Tao people will be a central part of any of the presentations/slideshows/reflections I offer upon my return to full-time ministry after May 10th. So for now, let me just share a few photos below of the amazing experience of being welcomed to Lanyu by Sinanmavivo and getting to experience some of the joy and heartbreak of her people’s island.

[p.s. When Cherry and I returned to Taidong from Lanyu my spouse, Janet, was there to greet us which was so delightful! Watch for a guest blog post fromJanet here within the next 24 hours or so!]

 

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  1. Continue reading The beauty and the heartbreak of Lanyu (Orchid Island)

In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds

 

imageCherry and I spent the morning yesterday (Tuesday) driving from Kenting National Park at the southern most tip of Taiwan to Taitung on the East Coast. There we were warmly greeted by Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church Member Kai Cheng’s “Uncle Tin and Aunt Ming Hwee (sp?)” We had shared dinner with them on Sunday evening with many other members of Kai’s extended family in Kaohsiung as they all prepared to celebrate “Ancestor Day” together in that home area of Kai’s family. Now back home in Taitung, Uncle Tin and Aunt Ming Hwee were ready to be hosts to their home town of the past few decades, Taitung.

Uncle Tin is retired from serving as Vice Presidentimage of a local church-founded hospital. Aunt Mwing Hee is a retired dietician. True to her vocation and Taiwanese hospitality, she offered us healthy snacks of fruit and vegetables and made sure our tea cups never ran dry. Although Christians only comprise 3.9 % of Taiwan’s population, imageit must be because of folks like these that so many reports indicate that Christians have had an influence disproportionate to their numbers. The faith was clearly deep in these two, and their support of their Presbyterian church’s commitment to the Taiwanese and indigenous peoples here was also evident. On one wall of their living room, Uncle Tin had used local leaves to create an outline of Taiwan with a cross inside. On the opposite wall he had used other leaves to create outlines of fish with a the Bible quote that Christ is the head of the household. He gave us a sea shell to sign so they could add it to the other shells and stones on the ledge by the window in thanksgiving for all of us who had visited them in their home.

I had already been told that Uncle Tin was the son
imageof the Reverend John Tin (as he translated his name in English). Rev. John Tin was rather famous in Taiwan, even more so among Presbyterians. I understood that he had been active for decades in the movement for civil rights and greater self-determination for the people of Taiwan and that he, like so many others, had taken great personal risks to engage this work during decades of martial law in Taiwan which followed the “228 incident.” Upon putting the English version of his name in an Internet search engine I learned that, Pastor Tin had been asked to serve as the preacher at the first public anniversary of the “228 incident” in 1987. That was the the fortieth anniversary of the events in which the Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang/KMT) troops of Chiang Kai Shek killed thousand of Taiwanese who were speaking out and taking action on behalf of the rights and self-determination of Taiwanese people.

By now, Rev. Tin was a 64 year old history professor. According to an article in UCANews.com, two days before he offered the sermon, news sources reported that “he was called by the garrison command, which tried to dissuade him from speaking. Reverend Tin called the 1947 incident the largest massacre in Taiwan´s history. The Kuomintang government´s failure to seek reconciliation, he said, indicates it is not interested in making amends. The government could have investigated the incident soon after it occurred, he said, or in 1950 when General Chen Yi, who ordered the massacre, was sentenced to death for trying to join the communist side. Reverend Tin said the government could seek reconciliation now as President Chiang Ching-kuo prepares to lift martial law.” Among many Taiwanese Pastor Tin is known for writing the hymn which many believe should be the National Anthem of Taiwan. Cherry told me that Taiwanese groups overseas often sing in solidarity with their country’s long term fight for recognition and independence.

With Cherry’s tireless help as translator, I asked Uncle Tin what had kept his father going in that struggle for so many decades. He said simply because it was his mission, his call. There had come an earlier point when Rev. Tin was studying at Chicago Theological Seminary and people in the United States urged him to stay in the U.S. because it would be too dangerous for him to go back to Taiwan. However, he insisted upon returning to his country. I told Uncle Tin that his father reminded me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had been at Union Theological Seminary in New York and had been similarly urged by friends to stay in the United States rather than returning to Nazi Germany and participating in the active resistance to Adolf Hitler. But Bonhoeffer felt called to return to his homeland and engage the struggle from there. He was ultimately put to death in a Nazi concentration camp. When I referenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Uncle Tin smiled and began humming a hymn that Bonhoeffer had written, “By Gracious Powers.” I doubt I will ever hear that hymn again without remembering this time in Taiwan and the witness of such people as these.

Fortunately Rev. John Tin did not die in such a tragic way as Bonhoeffer but only much later at an old age. He went on to teach many seminary students. During the rest of this day, we continued to meet former students of Rev. Tin. Most are now pastors whose faces light up as they remember their former teacher.

For his part, Uncle Tin has spent many many years buiding relationships with aboriginal people and their communities, so many of whose tribal homelands are based over here on the East Coast. I have still found it so fascinating that in spite of the fact that so few people are Christian in Taiwan, 65 – 70 % of aboriginal people here profess Christianity.  As a result of his work with and commitment to the Ami people, they had given Uncle Tin an Ami name in a special worship service/ceremony some years ago. He had hoped to take us to visit this community, but it was too far away and time would not permit.

Instead, the two of them took us to visit theimage Bunun tribe’s Cultural and Educational Foundation where he had served on the board of directors for a number of years. Bunun tribe member Pastor Pai Kwang Sheng was another one of those proud former students of Uncle Tin’s father. He spoke of his gratitude that 65 years ago, Christians had come to his people and shared their good news with his people and so many aboriginal people. I have heard this more than once now, and I confess that it still sounds so strange to my ears. To Native Americans in my country, Christianity so often colluded with the colonizing powers that conquered their lands and decimated their countries. Here, the conquering empire is typically defined as China, and Christianity was certainly not the primary religion the Chinese were bringing with them. For so many aboriginal people here, it was the followers of Jesus who so often stood with them against a host of oppressive forces. I am sure this is not the only perspective, but thus far, it has been a significant one, and it has given me more to think about than I have time to write about here.

Back to Pastor Pai. In 1984, he and imagehis wife (also a pastor though not aboriginal) and their family returned to his home village of Yanping to minister together with his people. According to the English language brochure they gave me, “He had a good understanding of the difficulties aboriginal people have in finding work, and believed that there was only one way to approach this challenge – renew the life of the community. For the first ten years he and his wife focused on education as a means of reaching out to his people. He conducted classes for the young people, imageand in addition, each year held study camps for older children where he was assisted by University students. For the first ten years he and his wife focused on education as a means of reaching out to his people. He conducted classes for the young people, and in addition, each year held study camps for older children where he was assisted by University students. In 1992 he also established a kindergarten for pre school children, the first of its kind among aboriginal Taiwanese tribes.”

After 10 years of helping his people build this educational foundation, Pastor Pai says he received a vision from God to build a Bunun village on land belonging to his father. With funding from foundations and individuals, imagethey have built a village theatre, hostel, restaurant, coffee shop, weaving shop, conference room, organic farm, micro-enterprises manufacturing farm products, a convenience store, a bamboo factory, riverside nature park, butterfly valley, Bunun mountains and ecology park, art gallery, uniting camps, home maintenance and meal services for the elderly, and more. If the list sounds unbelievable, let me assure you that visiting this space, talking to the pastors, and watching the children practice their tribe’s traditional songs and dances for an upcoming performance was equally unbelievable.

I asked Pastor Pai’s wifeimage (whose name I did not figure out how to type or pronounce and which was unfortunately not printed in the literature) what was it that kept them both going in their important but challenging vision over more than two decades. She spoke English well and interrupted me when I got to the phrase “your vision” and said, “It is God’s vision. We just get to participate in it.” Perhaps that was the answer. It also became clear that outside partnerships and internal leadership development of the community had also been particularly important.

Back in Taitung, after dinner at another imagebeloved Japanese restaurant of this delightful couple, and following a walk in a city park to enjoy hundreds of lanterns created as children’s art projects, I was full of images and reflections. I am sure Cherry was exhausted from translating all day long. What a gift! And so it was that we headed back to the bed and breakfast to get some quick sleep before Uncle Tin and Aunt Ming Hwee would pick us up for a healthy, locally grown breakfast buffet at the local hospital and a morning walk through Taitung’s “Forest Park” before heading off on our flight to LanYu (Orchid Island). My prayers also commenced for Pastor Joe Chang and my spouse Janet Parker who I knew were soon to begin their independent journeys to meet up with us in Taiwan later this week.

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of “Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. Although I will not be reading those emails immediately while I focus upon that still small voice of God arising from within my spiritual practices and through my travels, I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please copy SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!

Why I so often do not even know what to write

Rhythms, rhythms, rhythms. I continue to hear them, see them, reflect upon them, and play them each day of this sabbatical. There are things I have to remind myself to do (like exchange more money or organize receipts or hand wash some more laundry) but being present to the rhythms of life and the rhythms of God is not one of them.

The challenge of posting to a blog like this while I am traveling, as those of you who have traveled more than I have probably know well, is that travel to new places inevitably raises more questions in one’s mind than it answers. It has a disorienting quality to it that leaves a person less able to form comprehensive insights and conclusions. It gives one partial insights without a larger framework to which to connect them, until time for integration has passed. This usually only happens after one has been home again for a few months! At least this is the impact it has been having on me. Sabbatical Planning Team members, John Giddens, warned me about this before I left. Based upon his own travels in Asia, he imagined I would not be ready to even make presentations about this sabbatical or my travels for a while after getting back home. I could not begin to count the number of times I have heard his voice reminding me of this in my head.

Today was yet another day like that. There was simply more new information and experiences coming in than I had mental hooks to hang things on.

imageIn consultation with Pastor Joe Chang and Kai Cheng of the Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church, my bi-cultural traveling companion, Cherry Chi, had scheduled us to travel to Kenting today via Pingtung’s Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Culture Park. They all know I am interested in learning from indigenous peoples, among others, when there are appropriate opportunities to do so. They know I am interested in learning the history of places that goes back to its earliest inhabitants, not only the legacy of those who conquered the earliest inhabitants.

Indigenous people’s parks are a mixed bag worldwide. Depending upon who is making the money off of them or telling the story, they do not always represent the interests of the indigenous peoples themselves. Yet on the drive there, the tour book reminded us that “This highly regarded park is managed by the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the central government agency responsible for the welfare of Taiwan’s aboriginal population.” Still I am aware that visits from folks like us whether in their home villages or in museums or theme parks is so complicated for indigenous communities. It provides them with revenue which enhances their own desires to preserve their culture but can cause all kinds of changes and pressures in the process. I have come to my own best provisional conclusions about how best to learn about and from indigenous peoples after a number of years and countless hours of ethical research, conversation and reflection. But such conclusions still feel so very provisional and imperfect.

The Indigenous People’s Park Epilogue to an expansive museum exhibit of cultural artifacts and practices probably summarized the situation well. So I took a photo of it which I will include here:

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As we drove away from the park, one of the stories that Cherry believed to be important for me to understand about the history of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples was not depicted in the any of the displays we had time to visit. So at her suggestion I read about the “Wushe Incident” in the car as we left the museum/park. We have such stories in our own country. I believe it is important that we learn about them. But it is difficult to know what to do with them once we experience them. No wonder so many of us avoid such stories and their implications at times. Fortunately a Taiwanese filmmaker made a movie about this story called Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale. I haven’t seen it yet, but Cherry recommends it.

After the beauty and the heaviness of that midday experience, we continued on our drive to beautiful Kenting imageNational Park. The beauty is counterbalanced by over commercialization and traffic jams, so different from The way Cherry used to know it. Yet it wouldn’t be preserved as well as it is were it not for having been designated Taiwan’s first National Park. Kai Cheng’s father serves on the board of an amazing place here in Kenting National Park called the Kenting Youth Activity Center. imageAlthough built in the 1980’s, it looks much, much older than that. That is by design. It was built to look like a traditional Fujian village. The Fujian province is the part of China from which so many Taiwanese immigrants came (mostly male workers under contract with the Dutch) before intermarrying with plains aboriginal people. The language they brought with them became what is now Taiwanese.

It wasn’t only me but Cherry imagewho also learned a lot about how the people from China built extended family homes and communities because Kai’s father had not only arranged for us to be housed here at no cost but also to be fed dinner and receive a complimentary tour of the property and the beautiful coastlineimage comprised of volcanic rock pushed upwards by the collision of two underground plates. Cherry and I were both in awe of this place and so grateful Kai’s family had sent us here. I remember how after I traveled to the villages of Germany from which my ancestors immigrated I had a much better understanding of how the rural Iowa culture was formed that shaped my family. What a gift to the people of Taiwan that they can gain a bit of similar insight without having to travel all the way back to these provinces in southern China. image
Thanks to Kai’s family, Cherry and I both gained a small window into what it might have been like to live in such a place in China a couple hundred years ago or to have come to settle in Taiwan and build such a home and community here. It helped Cherry understand her Taiwanese home culture better. It helped me understand what has shaped the culture of our Portland Taiwan Lutheran Church brothers and sisters a bit better.

And so the rhythms of the journey continue… and so do the rhythms of imagewonderings and questions and provisional insights here and there.

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of “Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. Although I will not be reading those emails immediately while I focus upon that still small voice of God arising from within my spiritual practices and through my travels, I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please copy SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!

 

The Kaohsiung Incident

I am here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. imageIt was here on December 10, 1979 that the turning point occurred in the island’s recent transition towards democracy. It was a moment that galvanized the people of this island and inspired the Taiwanese community abroad to take political action.

The “Kaohsiung Incident” began as a human rights day celebration here. It ended with police surrounding a peaceful crowd and firing teargas while pro-government agitators incited violence. More than 90 civilians and 40 police officers were injured. The KMT government forces subsequently engaged in a misinformation campaign and used the incident as an excuse to arrest most every Taiwanese opposition leader. Three different groups were tried including one group of 10 people associated with the Presbyterian Church. They were accused of helping hide Shih Ming-teh, the main organizer of the demonstration. Two years earlier, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan had published a “Declaration of Human Rights by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.” Now prominent church leaders began to stand up and put that faith into action, even by breaking the law. Among the 10 arrested were Kao Chun-Ming, the general secretary of the Presbyterian Church here. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. The church stood up even more boldly and broadly in the months and years to come.

Today, I worshiped alongside Christians imageof Kaohsiung. Cherry Chi, her aunt, her uncle and other modern day Christians filled the pews of one of the historic Presbyterian Churches here. I understood not one word of the service, but the liturgy was quite familiar to me. The Gospel was preached. Hymns were sung. New members were welcomed. We shared the peace. Following the worship service, Cherry’s aunt took me by the arm and walked me through the crowd introducing me to the pastor and other members. I have no idea what she was saying, but there was nothing foreign about this post-worship liturgy. imageCherry’s aunt could so easily have been one of my own great-aunts in rural Iowa or one of the lovely eighty or ninety-something year old members of St. Andrew in Beaverton taking me by the arm to bring me over to meet people after a worship service. I felt so very much at home in her gentle and gracious care.

After worship, Cherry, her aunt, her uncle and I all went out for lunch at a restaurant Cherry remembered going to as a child. The temperature was on its way up to a humid 84 degrees so the shaved ice for dessert tasted delicious. Cherry and I then checked into our hotel, toured the city, and sipped tea as we overlooked the port from the vantage point of the former British consulate’s residence. imageThen we headed off to meet fellow Portland Lutheran Church member Kai Cheng, his parents and many members of his extended family. Cherry and I were so blessed to be adopted into Kai’s warm and welcoming family for an evening, feasting on a lovely dinner of Japanese hot pots! It was much like fondue but with soup to cook my veggies in instead of oil or cheese! It ranks right up there along side the other favorite meal of this trip, imagethe delicious Taiwanese dinner to which Julia Ku’s parents treated my mother and me while we were visiting Taipei last week!

Now back in my hotel room, thinking about it all, today seemed every bit a typical Sunday as so many people of faith might experience it. Yet this typical day was held in such an atypical place, imagea place that is forever associated with the turning of the tide in the movement for human rights in Taiwan.

There are those who are convinced that faith is primarily about personal salvation. I no longer believe this to be true. I think it is much more about receiving and sharing God’s gift of unconditional love whenever and however it comes. The kind of love that welcomes the stranger who is so far from home, the kind of love that takes somebody by the arm and helps them feel included, the kind of love that feeds the hungry foreigner who cannot read or speak the language, the kind of love that stands ready to risk laying everything on the line when necessary, even life itself.

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I would be delighted to receive your response to this blog or anything else you are learning related to the theme of “Returning to the Rhythms of God” at RhythmsOfGod@gmail.com. Although I will not be reading those emails immediately while I focus upon that still small voice of God arising from within my spiritual practices and through my travels, I will begin reading a couple of those emails per day beginning May 10, 2016 as part of my daily devotion time as I begin integrating what you and I have learned into my daily ministry with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and EcoFaith Recovery. In the meantime, if you are also willing to share your reflections with the larger St. Andrew or EcoFaith communities, please copy SabbaticalTeam@gmail.com and/or Office@ecofaithrecovery.org on your emails to me. To subscribe to receive the next blog post delivered to your email box, simply enter your email address into the box near the upper right corner of this website page. Thanks for your prayers, love, and support!