Right in the middle of our 4-day Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping) weekend, so we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Just as so many in Taiwan were at their family graves and tombs remembering their dead, so we celebrated new life; the joy of Easter filling us with hope once again.
Yet, we are so aware of the pain and suffering all around us. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown, isolation, deaths and illness have affected millions worldwide, though here we remain almost sheltered from the worst, in our own Taiwan bubble, as if watching from afar. But sheltered as we are from the pandemic, last Friday’s train crash on Taiwan’s east coast in Hualien County shook us all to the core. Fifty people were killed and over 200 injured when the Taroko Express Train No. 408 from Shulin, Taipei to Taitung crashed into a construction truck that had fallen onto the track from a road above, dragging the truck into a tunnel and derailing, with deadly results. The east coast train line is well-known for its dramatic cliffs, stunning scenery and long tunnels; I myself have done that trip many times. Taiwan’s population of 23 million may seem large, but the island of Taiwan is small and densely populated, so we are all affected. The whole of Taiwan was in shock.
All weekend, we saw nothing but news reports of death, grief and suffering on our TVs and cellphones. We saw people grieving the loss of their children, spouses, relatives and friends. We saw the Taoist priests and wailing mourners calling out to their loved ones to return home. We saw the tragedy of Rev. Chang, a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Indigenous Amis Tribe in Yuli, Hualien, whose 56-year-old son and 2 grandchildren, aged 22 and 20 were killed in the crash. His grief-stricken daughter-in-law survived the crash with only minor injuries, reporting that they had missed an earlier train, for which they had seat tickets, so had bought standing tickets for the next train instead, the ill-fated Taroko Express 408. It’s impossible to imagine losing your husband and 2 adult children all in one terrible tragic moment. We heard everyone around us asking ‘Why?’ Why indeed? How could this happen? Why so much suffering? Why so much pain? For Christians, at our Good Friday services held later that same day as this news was still coming in, we heard again the words of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Words heard on repeat, literally or in essence, throughout the whole weekend. Poignant words of sadness, of desperation and despair, echoing our own sense of shock and grief. It was indeed a sombre weekend in Taiwan.
And yet on Easter Eve, when we lit the Easter fire on the steps below Advent Church at the start of the Easter Vigil, we saw again that light has conquered darkness, love has conquered death, hope has once again come into our world. We had a baptism too, a sign of light, hope and courage. Our faith is not meaningless, void and empty, even if we do question ‘why’ in the dark times. But we were challenged afresh on Easter Day, when we heard in the sermon about how many of us still seem to approach our faith as if we are going Tomb-Sweeping rather than meeting with the risen Christ. For Christians, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen; yet so often we cling to the past, to our memories, rituals and traditions, instead of to the risen Christ and the new life and hope he brings.
Tomb-Sweeping Festival is a busy time for many families, paying their respects to the dead, often to both sets of parents and grandparents, and involving several trips to graveyards or to the huge columbariums up in the mountains where the urns of ashes are stored. It’s always the same date every year, April 4-5 with a weekend attached. Usually I go away with friends, and this year yes, I had originally planned to do something else for the long weekend – but then we discovered it coincided with Easter, so we all rearranged our plans to be here instead. In Taipei it was foggy, smoggy, muggy and overcast all last week, which added to the sombre atmosphere of Holy Week. Up in the mountains, lots of people were out hiking, but mostly there were no views, just the odd peak struggling to appear out of the swirling fog. Relief came early on Sunday, with rain and wind all morning, blowing away the fog and clearing the air.
Monday was bright and sunny, and I went round the northern coast to Jinguashi to climb the Teapot Mountain Trail and Mt. Keelung. Essential for this is good weather – and gloves for the ropes. In the Japanese era, 1895-1945, Jinguashi 金瓜石 had one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, with over 600 km of tunnels running deep into the mountains. Those mountains certainly conceal a whole array of terrible secrets, not least the remains of the old Kinkaseki Prisoner of War Camp down in the village, of which only one original gatepost and wall remains. The rest is a memorial garden, with plaques detailing the history of how the prisoners (many from the USA, UK and Commonwealth countries, captured in Malaya and Singapore during World War II) were put to work in the most dangerous parts of the mine, mistreated and starved. Death was never far away, the suffering unimaginable. So much tragedy.
These days, Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park is a museum and a popular place for a day out from Taipei. Hundreds go up to the Teapot Mountain 茶壺山 (580m). It’s fun ~ and from certain places the Teapot really does look like a teapot!
The trail goes up into the actual teapot, and out the other side. Then up to Mt. Banping 半平山 (713m) and along the ridge to Mt. Canguangliao 燦光寮山 (739m).
The views are across to Mt. Keelung (588m) ….
There are steps up Mt. Keelung, also a popular hike with lots of people. The most exciting part of the whole trip is to walk along the top of the ridge to the East Peak. It’s steep, and those ropes are something else, but the views were amazing.
Jiufen 九份 is the nearby town where most of the miners back in the day spent all their money – in its heyday, Jiufen was known as Little Shanghai. From a distance it looks like a large town, perched on the side of the mountain, but closer up, it’s clear that a whole section of what look like houses are actually graves. They do look like small houses, that’s for sure.
And 40 minutes down the mountain at Keelung Harbour, a cruise ship was setting sail – off for a tour of Taiwan’s islands. Amazing really that Taiwan still has cruises going on, while the rest of the world is at a standstill.
And there was a display of children’s art work called ‘Keelung Rain’ – these are all supposed to be raindrops. Keelung is famous for its terrible weather – it’s all wind and rain, so it’s kind of appropriate. Sadly, this year there’s been nowhere near enough rain down in central and southern Taiwan, and water rationing has already started in Taichung, along with the closure of all public swimming pools as they try to conserve water. With no typhoons last summer, and not much rain since, so the reservoirs are very dry. It’s a worrying situation.
Just to add to the events of this last weekend, it was also Children’s Day on Sunday (with free entry for children to many attractions), and my 60th birthday was on Easter Eve. Thanks to those who sent me birthday wishes, there were lots! Celebrations are delayed until next weekend in Taichung and even later, though we had a celebration for April birthdays in Advent Church on Easter Day….
And we’ll have one at the diocesan office next week, along with Bishop Chang whose birthday was the day before mine. One of our students did take a birthday photo on Saturday after the Easter Vigil. I was in pink with a pink face-mask! And here’s to the next decade…
Wishing you all deep Easter joy and peace in these troubled times. Thank you for your prayers for Taiwan, and for your Easter greetings. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Pingtung: yes, it’s THE place to be for Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year / Spring Festival)! Everywhere is beautifully and creatively lit up with lanterns, and the temples and streets are busy. Although the pandemic has meant less travel than usual and the cancellation of many large events, there’s still plenty of things going on, and most people are wearing face-masks most of the time, and staying away from too many crowds….
It’s also THE place to be on normal days too ~ there’s so much to see, so much to do! Highlights include the Confucius Temple, and Xianmin Cultural Park – containing the old sugar factory and paper mill, both of which have been restored – it’s a good place to visit at night, and there’s street art all over!
Pingtung is Taiwan’s far distant SW county, famous for everything that northern Taiwan is not – meaning hot sunny days, mild nights, sandy beaches, coconut trees, fields of rice and fruit, high mountains, indigenous culture, Hakka villages, wide streets, a slow and unhurried pace of life – and of course its traffic lights!
Pingtung City has over 30 sets of animated traffic lights where the little green man is proposing to his girlfriend on the red light and they’re walking hand in hand on the green light. In 2018, they introduced another 30 or so sets of traffic lights where they’re expecting a baby, and walking along as a family. Such fun! Check out this Taipei Times article here all about it. All so appropriate for Valentine’s Day this past weekend. Pingtung is just such a romantic city!
I was there for Chinese New Year, from February 11-15, kindly invited by good friend, Ju-Zi 菊子 ~ she’s the very lively chair of the church council at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Pingtung. Ju-Zi took me on the train to visit Zhutian 竹田, home to mostly Hakka people, and famous for its historical train station from the Japanese era, and the coffee shop in the converted rice mill. It turns out that Zhutian is also the original home town of my good friend Mrs. Hsu – her childhood home has been restored and also converted into a coffee shop and museum. Her father was a member of Pingtung County Council and the family photo is on the front wall of the house. Really great to experience and soak up the Zhutian atmosphere!
St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung is small and very homely ~ the church members are just like a family, more so – in my opinion at least – than any other of our churches in the diocese. They are all so lovely – and so lively ~ there’s never a dull moment! The vicar is Rev. Joseph Wu 吳明龍牧師 – his wife and 2 children had come from Taipei for the festival; his son had even come all the way by motorbike! Ju-Zi invited them all to her home on Chinese New Year’s Eve for a delicious dinner ~ and me too. Thank you Ju-Zi!
St. Mark’s had a Thanksgiving Service on Friday, Chinese New Year’s Day, followed by a shared lunch and then an outing to a nearby forest. We also met up again for the Sunday Service on the third day of the festival, followed by lunch together and another trip out. One of the members is in a wheelchair – she came too, and the church members carried her up and down steps, ah she was so happy! And then a small group of church members came with me to Tainan to visit Bishop Lai and Mrs. Lai on Monday, on my way home to Taipei. Thank you! They are all so kind, friendly and very sociable!
One of the most popular places in Pingtung City in recent years is the former military dependents’ village, now known as Shengli Star Village (勝利星村), where the houses were mostly built in the 1930’s by the Japanese, but after World War II, they were used to house military families. As people moved out, so they were left to decay. They are now being restored, house by house, and converted into shops and restaurants. The place is humming with people!
The military personnel who lived in Shengli Village mostly came to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949 ~ with Chiang Kai-Shek and the then government of the Republic of China (ROC), fleeing the advance of the Communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Some of the military personnel were Episcopalians and the earliest origins of St. Mark’s Church lie here in Shengli Village, where one of the military families held the first services in their living room ~ yes, this is the actual house!
St. Mark’s Church was consecrated in December 1966, built not too far from Shengli Village, and many of the current church members were themselves brought up in military families. I asked them where they considered their families to be from, and the response was a wonderful mix of Taiwanese, Hakka and Mainland China, with many different Chinese provinces listed. Several said their father came from China, while their mother is from Taiwan. As they settled down in Taiwan, many of the military men from Mainland China married Taiwanese women. Quite a lot who came to Taiwan already had wives and children in Mainland China, but with no hope of being reunited, so they married again in Taiwan. This was also the case with Ju-Zi’s father. He came from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang (Chekiang) 浙江, home province of Chiang Kai-Shek and many other notable people. As a military man, her father had left his wife and son in Mainland China, but with no chance of being reunited, so he was officially listed as ‘single’ and could get married again in Taiwan. This is Ju-Zi’s parents on their wedding day…
As the PLA advanced across Mainland China, so the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan and to the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Chekiang Province in exile relocated its capital to the offshore islands of Dachen (Tachen) 大陳島, where many ROC military personnel were based – one of their last strongholds in Mainland China, along with the nearby small Yijianshan Islands 一江山島.
In Ju-Zi’s words: on January 18, 1955, the Yijiangshan Islands were captured and the ROC army defeated. The people of the Dachen Islands were in great danger, and Chiang Kai-Shek, though reluctant to retreat, negotiated with the US government, who sent in the Seventh Fleet to evacuate everyone from the Dachen Islands to Taiwan. In total, 16,487 Dachen people were evacuated, starting to board on February 8, 1955, and landing at Keelung Port, Taiwan the next day, February 9 (apologies for any historical inaccuracies: check out the official Wikipedia version of these events here).
One of the people from the Dachen Islands to arrive in Keelung on February 9, 1955, was Ju-Zi’s mother, along with her mother and siblings, including a sister-in-law, a group of 7 in total. At the time of their arrival in Taiwan, Ju-Zi’s mother was 31; she had been married and given birth to 2 children in Dachen, but both children had died. So on arrival, she too was officially listed as ‘single’. At the time of the evacuation to Taiwan, she was staying with her mother, and so was evacuated along with the family group. In the rush of the emergency evacuation, and thinking this would be only a temporary move to Taiwan, so they brought little more than bedding and basic clothing with them. On arrival in Taiwan, they were initially housed in schools and government accommodation, until they were assigned more permanent homes.
Those homes were to be villages specially constructed for the Dachen people, over 30 such villages were built around Taiwan. Depending on their skills and previous work experience, so the Dachen people were assigned to villages – on the coast for fishermen, in rural areas for farmers, and in the cities for those with other skills. Ju-Zi’s grandmother and the rest of the family were in the fishing business, so they were assigned homes in Donggang, about 30 minutes drive from Pingtung. Ju-Zi’s mother had written that her skills were in sewing, especially making fishing nets, and she was assigned a newly-built house in Pingtung’s ‘Dachen New Village’. The photos below are of the village today, with the green sign 大陳新村 at one of the entrances. These days the village is sandwiched between a school, temple, park and Carrefour Supermarket, but the old alleys and narrow streets remain. Cars and motorbikes can just about get through some of the streets, but originally it was only possible for pedestrians -and maybe bicycles. As time has gone on, so most of the original Dachen arrivals have died or moved away, and their houses sold, renovated, remodeled or completely rebuilt. Only 6 of the original Dachen families remain, and it is the younger generations who live there; Ju-Zi’s mother is the last of her generation in the village, and one of only 3 left in the family group of 7 who originally came in 1955.
Today, Ju-Zi and her mother (now aged 97) still live in the same family house in Pingtung’s Dachen New Village. This is the house, with Ju-Zi putting up the red couplets for the New Year….
This is Ju-Zi and her mother….
Ju-Zi’s father was 12 years older than her mother, and when Ju-Zi was born (an only child), her mother was 38, and her father 50. This is the most wonderful family photo of the 3 of them at home….
The Dachen Islanders found it difficult to settle in Taiwan, mainly because of language. They could only speak their own Dachen language, few could speak any Mandarin Chinese, and certainly none could speak Hakka or Taiwanese. As a result, many found it difficult to find a job, and as opportunities came to move to the USA, so many set off to make their fortunes cooking Dachen food in New York’s China Town, where Dachen chefs had a big influence on US Chinese cuisine. Fortunately when Ju-Zi’s father and mother met – in Pingtung’s Dachen Village, where he was visiting a friend – they had enough common language (both being from the same Chinese province) to be able to communicate, and her father could also speak Mandarin Chinese, so he could find a good job. He was also the one who would go shopping for the family and handle all communications outside the home. This is Ju-Zi’s mother and grandmother on the left, and on the right – the family outside their house!
Ju-Zi herself is fluent in the Dachen language, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese and with some English too. She spent most of her career as a tour guide, leading Taiwanese tour groups all over the world, mainly to Mainland China, Japan, SE Asia. After her father died 20 or so years ago, her mother was left alone, and found communication with Taiwan people almost impossible, as she has never learned either Mandarin Chinese or Taiwanese. Some years ago she moved into a care home, but there was nobody there who could speak her language, and equally important, nobody there who could cook Dachen food. She was really miserable.
The first Christian in her family, Ju-Zi was first introduced to St. Mark’s Church and the Christian faith when she was 15, when she was invited by her classmate, Wen-Ping, daughter of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, then vicar of St. Mark’s Church, to come to the church youth group. Of the 10 students invited, only Ju-Zi continued on; she became a Christian, was baptized and joined St. Mark’s Church. She has been a member ever since, with a short gap of a few years when she lived in Taipei and worshiped at Good Shepherd Church.
Five years ago, Ju-Zi’s mother was baptized by the then vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Rev. Joseph Ho. For the baptism, he spoke in Mandarin Chinese, and Ju-Zi translated everything into Dachen language for her mother. About that time too, Ju-Zi also made the decision that her mother could no longer continue living in the care home, and she would have to find a way to take care of her at home, with the help of a live-in caregiver. Ju-Zi also decided that she would have to learn to cook her mother’s Dachen food. Following her mother’s instructions as she sat nearby, she started from scratch, with 5-6 practice runs at each dish before her mother declared each one to be perfect! This is Ju-Zi in action….
Cooking Dachen food for her mother each day and receiving her approval – and with her mother feeling so much happier, so Ju-Zi started to wonder if she could make a living this way. Having to stay home with her mother meant no more tour guiding and her mother had no pension, but she still needed some income. Maybe this was the way forward?
And so, through prayer and discernment, Ju-Zi had a vision of serving home-cooked Dachen meals to friends and guests – and so getting some income, but also through that, the chance to share her family story, and through that also, her Christian faith. She says that these days, so many people live alone – and they eat alone, and this would be such a great opportunity to bring people together, to enjoy each other’s company and to make friends. Plus too, cooking meals is very time-consuming, from buying the vegetables to preparing them all, and busy people in modern life have little time to enjoy authentic home cooking.
Amazing breakfasts made by Ju-Zi for me over Chinese New Year – well, three breakfasts over three days, to be precise….
Taking her mother out of the care home, and bringing her to live at home was a huge decision, and yet she went ahead in faith. Her mother is completely disabled, and can no longer talk, yet she thrives when she can eat her own food. So Ju-Zi’s vision was to build an extra room onto the side of the house, a very simple structure, built with a lot of DIY, decorated with second-hand everything collected from recycling stores, friends’ homes or wherever she could scavenge something as cheaply as possible. In that room, she would serve her guests delicious and authentic Dachen meals, and she would share the story of how this whole project came to be, why she was doing it, and how God had led her thus far.
The name Ju-Zi chose was ‘Wouli’ which in Dachen language is the word for ‘home’. Initial progress was slow, she had no experience of construction, couldn’t negotiate with the workers, was cheated or had a misunderstanding with the builder and the money ran out sooner than expected, and instead she was left with a skeleton of a room of iron bars, the corner posts in place, but no walls or roof or furnishings, Her initial confidence quickly changed to frustration, but this pushed her to pray and to cast herself into the hands of Almighty God. She now says that without those major setbacks, she would not have experienced the grace and mercy of God in the way that she has, as she came to fully rely on him to accomplish what she had in mind.
Bishop David J. H. Lai and Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang have both encouraged her to keep going and not lose heart, as has Rev. Joseph Wu and friends at St. Mark’s; in fact Wouli has been adopted and is partly supported by St. Mark’s as an outreach ministry. Ju-Zi has written an article for the diocesan magazine sharing her vision, and as a result, many of our church members across the diocese have been moved to help. Since then, through friends and contacts, Ju-Zi has collected and scavenged lots of roofing materials, corrugated iron sheeting, old windows, frames, furniture and, thanks be to God, the room is mostly complete, though she still has work to do on the garden and other buildings. Friends (and friends of friends) have written articles about her project and she has a steady stream of visitors phoning up to book meals. Over Chinese New Year, she could have taken bookings every day, but she took the week off instead. Many of the guests are people who themselves have vision and drive but lack the courage to do what Ju-Zi has done, and so they show their admiration by offering their help and expertise ~ gardening, DIY skills, cleaning, while others bring things that may be useful, a second-hand fan for the heat, kitchen equipment, even a fridge ~ everyone is welcome!
A few months ago, Ju-Zi gained her Chinese cooking license, which will help considerably. She says she remains indebted to Rev. Joseph Wu, who was in shop management for many years before becoming a full-time vicar, and has given her much practical advice. It is important to state that Wouli is not run as a business as such, but guests do give a set amount per meal as a donation.
Ju-Zi invited us for the Chinese New Year’s Eve meal, and gave us an authentic Dachen meal – so delicious! Nian gao is a main staple, and is especially popular at New Year.
Ju-Zi’s vision does not just stop at serving meals, but extends to reading groups, environmental action, developing and sharing friendships, life experiences, and of course sharing the Christian faith with those who come. It’s kind of community-building from the grass roots upwards. Maybe one day it could even become residential, sharing lives together. Four friends, including Rev. Joseph Wu have just started meeting regularly on Mondays at Wouli for fellowship, and as a way to invite people to come along who may not feel happy about going to a church. Ju-Zi’s testimony is compelling, but she would be the first to say that rather it is God’s love, grace and mercy that are truly compelling!
Praying for God’s blessing on Ju-Zi and her mother, and that Wouli will continue to go from strength to strength, becoming a place to share God’s peace, joy, hope and love ~ as well as good food and friendship!
This Advent season is a good moment to pause and listen to Mary’s proclamation. Do we sometimes think we are insignificant? Listen to Mary’s affirmation that God is deeply interested in us. Do we wonder what we should be doing with our lives? Listen to Mary’s words as she explains what God wants to do with this world of ours.
Then we need to be ready to proclaim this good news to others. Although Christmas can be a moment of joy, many people are missing someone they love, struggling to make ends meet, and afraid about the future. The invitation from Mary is to see oneself as a person connected with God—a God that seeks to use us to further a future that is different and hopeful.
Advent Church, Christmas Eve 2020.
Advent is over for another year, and so are these #AdventWord meditations, along with my photos of events in Taiwan in 2020. It has not been an easy year for the world. Many are suffering. Taiwan continues to do well in handling the pandemic, although the long run of 253 consecutive days of no local transmission ended a few days ago with one case, traced to a infected pilot who has caused much worry for the country ~ and has since been fired for his dishonesty in neither revealing his contacts nor his travel details. As it is, we are grateful that our Christmas continues as ‘normal’, which for Taiwan means work and school; we have no Christmas holiday or time off. Y’know, it’s actually good, there are so many opportunities for outreach, and many of our students and former students came to our Christmas Eve Service this evening ~ and stayed for the delicious refreshments afterwards. Tomorrow’s main event for Christmas Day will be at 7:30 am when we all gather to go to our neighbouring junior-high school to wish all the children and staff a Merry Christmas. 🎅⛄ 🎄
Thank you all for your Christmas cards and messages. I didn’t really send any Christmas cards this year ~ please accept this as my Christmas greetings for 2020. I am very grateful to you all for your support and prayers this past year, Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time!🎄🎄
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
Mary sang in praise of God: And holy is his Name. Gracious God, what is our song, Now in this time of weeping? In our night of pain and grief, Faithful voices rise toward starry skies: In you, O Holy One, we put our trust. Can we find once more your promise of mercy? A new light shines in the darkness – Together, we wait and rejoice.
The Nativity Scene here at Advent Church, Tamsui, Taipei
The wisest path is to surrender to the will of the “only wise God” when it is revealed to us. Mary was confused by her encounter with the angel Gabriel but wisely said, “Here am I” nevertheless. Indeed, having wisdom does not mean having all of the answers. Wisdom resides in actively waiting for the word of God to come to us at the appointed time. It involves trusting enough in God’s provision that we can say “yes” to God’s call.
Full of wisdom, compassion, energy and fun ~ this is our very lovable Herbert, now at the distinguished age of 78, celebrating his 10th anniversary as priest-in-charge of the Good Shepherd English Congregation, Taipei on November 22, 2020. He spoke of having saved the best till last, meaning of all the churches and ministries he’s served in over the last 50+ years, this one is the one he loves the best ~ so here’s to the next 10 years, Herb!
“Listen,” the Apostle Paul whispers, “I will tell you a mystery. We will not all die, but we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye…” (1 Cor 15:51-52 para). I look into the night sky. I find a star gazing back at me, and I let it be the star over Bethlehem that instantaneously called humanity’s attention to the unveiling of God’s love for all people… made known through the birth of Jesus. The mystery remains true: collapses and risings fill the patterns of our common life, still, we yearn for God’s love-filled light in the darkness. It transforms us, as God never puts an end to anything that God loves.
The Mystery Photo of the Year! This is the Bishop of Wyoming, John Smylie on February 22, 2020 – he came to Taiwan for Bishop Chang’s consecration. The photo is taken in the meeting room at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei before the service started. The 2 girls are members of St. John’s Cathedral Youth Fellowship who volunteered to help welcome the international visitors. But until now (and I confirmed this with them yesterday!) neither of the girls can remember what they were talking about in this conversation, nor the reason for the wonderful expressions on their faces!
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers two definitions for the word ‘rejoice’. We mostly live in the first one: to feel joy or great delight. But it also offers another definition for rejoice that we don’t often consider. Rejoice can also mean to give joy to, to gladden. In this use, it’s a transitive verb. What that means is that the verb has a direct object. It seems to me that this is the definition Jesus embodies. He comes to be among us, born in a lowly stable, to give joy to us. To gladden our hearts. To be love incarnate, love made flesh. We are the object of his gift of joy.
This is us, rejoicing that we’ve made it to the summit of Xiaobajianshan 小霸尖山: 3,418 m / 11,214 ft, July 23, 2020. And the weather was perfect!
Imagine a flat plane holding all of creation, and at the center of all things, the radiance of God, alighting on all things, beholding all things, knowing all things. We, too, are on the plane, working to keep our eyes fixed on this center, drawing closer to the Source and each other with every step. But so often – all the time! – we take our eyes from God; we become distracted, we fall back, we get bored and settle for selfish desires, innumerable idolatries, and participation in systems that draw us further from God and each other. Now is our time to TURN back to God, preparing our hearts and fixing our eyes on the Holy One.
The turn of the year is coming soon ~ this was us at Grace Church, Tainan with Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, Rev. Samuel Liao and the congregation celebrating Chinese New Year on January 26, 2020 ~ the year of the rat. On February 12, 2021, we’ll be celebrating Chinese New Year ~ and the arrival of the year of the ox. Lots of family reunions being planned, and as nobody will be traveling overseas due to the pandemic, so the scenic spots, hotels, roads and shops will be even more crowded than usual. In the photo, everyone’s turned out in their new clothes, holding their red envelopes! Yes, red is the colour for Chinese New Year!
To BLESS is the act of honoring the divine in the other. Sometimes it is as simple as yielding our place in line to someone at the grocery store. Other times it takes a more sacramental approach. When blessing others, in the everyday or in the sacramental, the blessing is sacrificial and unconditional. During trying times, we must not lose sight of what it means to give ourselves a blessing. When blessing ourselves we practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and we find the imago dei within our own identity. For this is what fills the cups that we use to bless others.
Being a blessing to others: kindergarten teachers to the rescue! When the call comes to provide some entertainment on the spur of the moment – for the international audience of bishops and VIP guests on the evening of Bishop Chang’s consecration – then here comes our really wonderful Hannah (wife of Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang and a former kindergarten teacher) leading all the men in singing a children’s action song, February 22, 2020. 💃🕺 Believe me, kindergarten teachers are just so worth their weight in gold!
Love comes easy at Christmas, in the story of the birth of a vulnerable baby Jesus. It’s a good place to start, with Jesus, but there is more to know. The Jesus of the Gospels often challenges, standing in defiance of a world which refused to know him. And Jesus also challenges us today. As his disciples, we learn all we can, keeping our hearts open to the Jesus we find in scripture but also open to the Jesus who calls us to learn to love as he did. The “Way of Love” is to LEARN to love as boldly as Jesus.
‘Learning to Love’: Advent Communion Service for the international students from Uganda and Eswatini (Swaziland) studying at Chung Chou University of Science & Technology 中州科技大學, Yuanlin 員林市, central Taiwan, led by Rev. Simon T. S. Tsou, December 7, 2020