The mission of education in Taiwan

Today, my first full day in Taiwan as part of the House of Bishop’s meeting, was spent taking a tour of St. John’s University. The university was originally planted in Shanghai by the then bishop of Shanghai – The Rt. Rev. Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, one of my favorite heroes on our Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints.

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I found this plaque in English describing the work of Bishop Schereschewsky and his role in founding the University. We learned while we were there that the alumni have been quite famous over the years, presidents of Taiwan, representatives to the United Nations and even the famous architect IM Pei.

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We began with a presentation by the chaplain to the University, a former Math Professor who is also an Episcopal priest. He introduced the student faith community leaders (all Episcopalians) and they described their evangelism efforts and how they try to share the gospel on campus. It was moving and exciting to see how committed they were to telling the Good News in a place where Christianity is a small minority religion.

The rest of the visit involved meeting the University President – one of the few woman presidents in Asia, who is a Electrical Engineer who did her graduate training at Cornell. She talked about the history of the University and expressed her gratitude for the ongoing financial support of the Episcopal Church to its programs and continued growth. We asked about the possibility of forming a theological college to train clergy at the University and what might be needed for that to happen. (It’s needed she tells us.)

But I was most taken by the story of the university’s founding by one of our Episcopal Church’s missionary bishops. Schereschewsky, who also translated the Bible in Cantonese to aid evangelism efforts, founded the school as part of his work to create a new understanding of the role of learning in society, and a dream of having the Christian community in China take a major role in shaping the modernization process that was then underway. The university motto is “Light and Truth” – you would probably recognize it latin; Lux et Veritas. But I was taken too by the school slogan –

Talent serves Virtue; Learning serves Society.

A more Anglican understanding of the work of education would be hard to find.

The president of the University shared her need of Anglican and Episcopal teachers to come to live at St. John’s for a year or two. They would have the opportunity to learn Mandarin by immersion, and they would be incredibly helpful in the work of the Applied English department in training students to achieve functional

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(image of the altar of the Church of the Advent – the parish church on campus that also serves as the college chapel.)

Fall 2014 House of Bishops meeting

Tomorrow we will begin this year’s Fall House of Bishops meeting for the Episcopal Church. We’re meeting this year in Taipei, in the Diocese of Taiwan, a diocese of the Episcopal Church. As I mentioned this to people in Rhode Island, there was some surprise that Taiwan was part of our Church – but over the years, as our mission work in the Episcopal Church in the US
took us further and further afield, we have helped to plant a number of church communities in parts of the world beyond the US borders.

One of the hallmarks of Bishop Katherine’s leadership during her time as Presiding Bishop these past nine years has been strengthening of our interconnectedness with the missionary work that is happening around the world in the Anglican Communion and particularly in the Episcopal Church (which is still mostly based in the USA). Relationships have to be attended to intentionally to flourish, and visiting one another is a major part of that work. I’m still new to the House of Bishops, but over the past years, I’m told we have tried to visit a non-USA diocese at least once in each triennium.

I’m looking forward to this visit. There’s much to learn. As I write this, I’m sitting in the airport in San Francisco surrounded by people from countries all around the Pacific. It feels very different that it does sitting in the airport in New York City or in Boston, where you tend to be surrounded with people from nations that border the Atlantic. There’s a westward focus here on the West Coast that reflects America’s role as a Pacific Rim nation, just as there’s an Eastern focus on the East Coast, reflecting our role as a nation state on the North Atlantic. The food in hotel this morning reflected that – salmon, congee and rice along side the typical bacon, eggs and potatoes. (Just as breakfasts in the hotels on the East Coast will often have grilled tomatoes, backed beans – or just crisp breads, cheese and fruit.

Doing the work of telling the Good News requires the teller to be aware of the culture in which one is speaking. Learning to listen to and speak with the people of Asia may well be the great mission field of the Church in the next century. This trip we are taking is a chance for us to get started with that learning. I’ve never been to Asia – I’m excited to learn from the Taiwanese, and hoping to share something of what we are doing in Rhode Island as well. It looks like the schedule of presentations will include briefings on the work and challenges of the Church in Korea, in Pakistan and other parts of Asia as well.

Much to learn! Here’s hoping that there will be time to write and share regularly as well.

Acres of the Dead: Memorial Day 2010

In 2003 my brothers, father and I began a series of tromps around western Europe. The excuse was that my brothers were both living in Europe at the time. My middle brother was planting a church in Poitiers in France and my little brother’s MASH unit was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division stationed at the time in Wurzburg, Germany. But while visiting them was the excuse, the real reason was to spend time together and to try to get to know one another again. We had drifted apart over the years, and after the the death of our mother, we realized that without her to keep us joined as a family, we were likely to drift further.

My grandfather served in World War 1 and my uncles in World War 2. (My father is a Korean War vet.) Grandpa had never really talked about what he had experienced in France. He had graduated from Yale with a degree in civil engineering, joined the army and served as a captain in the Field Artillery. We did think we remembered him saying that he had been at Verdun at one point during his service. We know he had been gassed – and the mustard gas had left him with only partial lung capacity for the rest of his life. My most common memory of him as a child was of him sitting in his sunlit study, filled with his elephant collection (he was committed Republican) and breathing through a rubber mask attached to an oxygen tank.

We decided to see if we could retrace the steps of his time in France during one of our weeks in Europe. My youngest brother borrowed an Army history of WW 1 from the base library and we used it to try to determine where he had been. Looking at the Infantry division patches, we recognized the patch of the 79th Infantry Division which had been on his uniforms. We think we recalled that his artillery unit had been attached to the 313th battalion. Reading the history, it appeared that his unit had been instrumental in the taking of Mount Falcon, a battle which was to some degree the turning point of the Battle of Verdun – one of the, if not *the* bloodiest battle of WW 1.

So we drove to Verdun and found our way to Mount Falcon. There were any number of monuments along the road to the 79th ID and to the 313th. We even found a plaque on the top of Mount Falcon that talked about the exploits there of the 313th along with a young colonel named George Patton.

6a00d83451b57769e200e54f6c910e8834-500wi.jpgAnd then we came across the cemeteries. I’d heard of the military cemeteries of Europe, but I never really had understood how big they were. There were acres and acres and acres of crosses marking the bodies of people killed, ground up in the brutal trench warfare stretching from one horizon to another. It was quite breathtaking. And quite heartbreaking. You can see a photo meditation I created of the experience linked at the upper left of this blog.

I grew up near Gettysburg. I know what battlefield cemeteries look like. I thought I was prepared for the experience. I wasn’t.

The experience of *those* cemeteries, many of them, filled with American, British, French and German war dead still haunts me today.

World War One never really needed to be fought. Some historians argue that the war ultimately stemmed from a German mis-reading of French intentions. And the German war plans were so complicated that once the mobilization order was given, there was no way to stand down. And that once the Germans realized they couldn’t easily win, they decided to fight a war of attrition, betting that they countryman could accept horrific causalities to a much greater extent than the French or the British. They were wrong, tragically wrong.

The whole generation of European young were ground up between the teeth of two war machines who couldn’t find a way to stand down. People who refused to surrender. People who thought the answer to violence was more violence, and the winning strategy was to take the violence to a level that the enemy simply could not countenance.

It would be a lovely thing to believe that such a thing couldn’t happen today. But only a fool would think such a thing.

It seems to me that the Church has to do everything in its power to make sure though that it doesn’t. I’m not a pacifist per se, but I have a growing sympathy for their stance. Perhaps it’s time for me to get out my copies of Hauerwas’ and Yoder’s writing and spend some time with them again.

Rene Girard suggests that the only way to break out of the cycle of violence, whether obvious or hidden, is to reorient our desires away from earthly things and toward Christ. It’s in the imitation of Christ and not each other that we have the best chance to fully enter into the Shaloam of the Kingdom of God.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember those who have served this country, and especially those who have died in its service, let us do what we can to make their sacrifice on the altars of war an historical event and not a current affair.

Piestewa Peak

Web  We took what will probably be the last hike of the season this morning. We got to the base of Piestewa Peak park about 7:30 AM, just in time to not find a parking space.

After parking a ways down the road from the trailhead, we made our way back to the base, and joined the stream of humanity making its way to the peak. We made it all the way up in about 45 minutes or so, enjoyed the view and took our time coming back down.

I think this means I've been to the top of all the major peaks in the extensive Phoenix park system now. We're planning on heading north in search of cooler weather this summer and more challenges.

On the way up and down we had a long conversation about the implications of the new anti-immigration legislation here in Arizona that was signed yesterday. It's going to be a very difficult time for the Church because many of the people we have in our community are directly threatened by this new law. Keep us in prayer.

Desert Spring

IMG_0208  A small group of serious hikers decided to head east out of Phoenix today to the base of Superstition Mountains, just outside of Apache Junction. We took about four hours to cover the nine miles of the relatively flat hike over rocky trails.

The big treat of the day was the amount of running water we had to cross again and again during the walk. The other hoped for surprise turned out to be a reality; the wildflowers were in full bloom. Every mile or so we came around another turn, and just said "wow" when we saw what the winter rains have brought to the desert this year.

The trail was pretty crowded. Horses, mules, dogs, and lots of people were all out enjoying the day and seeing the sights. And with good reason. Today was the spring flower hike that I've been waiting four years to take. The wait was definitely worth it.

You can see more pictures of the day here. I manage to avoid being photographed. Which is probably a good thing because all you'd see is the big grin on my face that I sported all day long.

Pictures from the Blessing of the Cathedral’s Light Rail Station

CIMG0079 We had a brief ceremony on Sunday following the 11 AM service. The Cathedral congregation has adopted the Light Rail station at Roosevelt St. and Central Ave. – the one right across from the Cathedral itself.

You can see all of the pictures from the day here.

(That’s Dean Dick George’s cassock. I’ve still not managed to order one, and this one fits well enough. But it is certainly, um, festive!)

Learning to desire the idea of a thing and not the thing itself

Stewardship season is soon upon those of us who serve in parochial settings. As such I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the proper relationship I should have to my “stuff”.

And given the pile of old furniture that, as the oldest child I’ve been tasked with managing, my family has finally had to break down and rent a storage locker to store that old stuff that we can’t cram into our closets here.

After my trip to Africa and my experience of the lively faith and joyful lives of people who had much less than I could ever imagine getting by with, I’ve noticed that there’s much more tension involved in my relationship with my stuff. As a result I’ve been slowly giving away or disposing of the years of accreted things that I’ve managed somehow unthinkingly to amass.

When I saw this comment posted over on a website called “Minimalist Mac” (how to use as little as possible to accomplish as much as possible) it made recall something from my childhood:

“All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebay is already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.

When I want to take something out of storage, I just pay the for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee, and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done with them, I return them to storage via Craigslist or Ebay, and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources.

This is also the case with all of my stuff that Amazon and Walmart are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates, and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice.”

From here.

When I was a boy our family didn’t have much money. We had enough for everything we needed, but not nearly enough for everything that I was being trained by advertising to want. I knew that there was a dichotomy between the two categories somehow even though I don’t think I’ve been able to name them until recently (post trip to Swaziland).

But I do remember working something out for myself when I was just starting to learn how to read. In those days Sears used to send out a special Christmas catalog to pretty much every house in the U.S. In that catalog was a large, colorful and carefully designed toy section. Every single toy in that book was made to appear to be the height of the toymaker’s art and, judging from the faces of the children pictured playing with them, they were guaranteed to bring joy and happiness into everyday life.

The catalog would arrive in early October (if I recall correctly) so as to help parents start their shopping as early as possible. My family couldn’t afford but one or two of the toys in the pages, but that didn’t stop me from pouring over the pages every day at breakfast. That was the best part of the fall for me. I’d get up, make breakfast, read the comics pages and then get the BOOK of TOYS out and sit at the table studying the pictures and reading the descriptions until it was time to leave for school.

I noticed something doing that. I’d become fixated on one toy or another and much less so in the rest. I’d open the book to the page with my toy-crush on it each morning and gaze rapturously upon it. I’d play with that toy in my imagination. Again and again. And after a week or so of doing that, I’d lose interest that particular toy and my desire would turn to another one in the catalog. The same process would start again. And then again. Lather, rinse, repeat… until Christmas.

On Christmas Day I’d receive one of the toys. It would be great for about 5 minutes. Then, not so much. The actual toy never quite lived up to what it had been in my imagination.

Once I realized that, I learned that I was much better off imagining playing with toys than I was with actually getting them. And, as an added bonus, in my imagination, the toys never broke, never needed batteries and could do things that the descriptions didn’t really cover… Actually receiving the objects of my fixated imagination was a let down.

That’s why this quote above struck me the way it did. It expresses the same principle I had blundered into as a child. I learned to enjoy the catalog of toys much more than the actual toy. What if we could learn that as adults. Don’t see the web pages as things we need to acquire so as to try to fill the holes in our emotional lives – but as things we already have and just need to retrieve if really necessary.

We’d probably enjoy them all them more.

There’d probably many fewer smoke plastic, led illuminated, electronic gadgets in the world overall.

And I don’t see that being a bad thing at all. Think of all the closet space we’d be gaining.

City dwelling is deleterious

It’s reasonably well known that crowded urban environments create enough stress that physical and mental performance declines in biological species. (I remember a reading about a study done on rats years ago that showed that at a certain level of crowding female rats began to spontaneously end pregnancies with miscarriages and were more likely to eat the babies if they were live born.) There’s evidence that too much crowding in a human environment causes a measurable and significant decline in mental and physical function – something on the order of 20% or so.

I once wrote on an essay I submitted for some position along the way that “there’s nothing that has ever happened to me that I haven’t been able to manage in some way by spending time in the outdoors”. I thought it was just me, and the fact that the happiest memories of my childhood are the days that I spent in the summers basically living outdoors.

Now I’m reading that there’s something more fundamental going on. According to a new study from the University of Michigan:

“‘Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating,’ Berman said. ‘People don’t have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter.'”

Read the full article here.

Hmmm.

We started a new program here at the Cathedral this winter. We meet twice a month for a Sat. morning hike. We do a relatively easy hike and call it the “Dean’s Hike” and a then alternate that with much more challenging hike (led by the Cathedral Wardens) and called the “Wardens’ Walk”. We’ve had as many as 25 people join us. Phoenix is particularly well suited for this given the extensive park system within the city boundaries.

I thought I’d been feeling better as a result… Now I’m thinking it’s not just the physical exercise that I’m noticing. There’s an increase in creativity and decreases in mental stress that’s going on as well. Perhaps I need to be a little more pushy about encouraging others to join me.

(h/t to Slashdot.)