Yes, ‘Easter Advent Calendars’ are all the rage – and there’s lots available, as you can see above. This is your chance to forget the dreariness of Lent and its grim associations with fasting and penance; instead we can have a fun 24 days leading up to Easter. But get yours quick, as the 24 days have already started!
Lent feels extra long this year, and we have Tomb-Sweeping Festival coming up this weekend, plus tons of rain and miserable weather, so we need some good news to look forward to ~ and so what better than to focus our sights on Easter. Even the cherry blossom, which looked beautiful for a brief few days, has now given up waiting for the sun to return. Petals cover the ground ~ the season is nearly over for another year….
These were the moody skies along Taiwan’s northern coast at Fuji Lighthouse, LaoMei and along to Yehliu Geopark just after the rain stopped a few weeks ago. See the people queueing to take their photos with ‘The Queen’s Head’ rock?!
It’s not all bad news weather-wise, and we had a few weeks of sunshine earlier this month, and a few hiking trips up to Yangmingshan – see the sea of clouds in the distance….
And views from Guanyinshan …
While for those more interested in staying in the city, in Taipei’s Da-an Forest Park, there’s a series of water fountains that are powered by pedal power…
We’ve had nice views of Advent Church from the offices on the 5th floor too…
But then last week the rain started again, and it’s been raining more or less since then. Good job we’re all mostly indoors with the new semester well and truly underway – and my English class too….
And diocesan office February and March birthday celebrations ….
Yes, facemasks can come off for photos! Taiwan continues to do well in the pandemic, though there are still cluster outbreaks in different places, with yesterday’s headline being ‘Domestic COVID-19 cases spike in Taiwan as clusters grow’. Yesterday, there were 83 new domestic cases in 6 clusters, the highest number since last June, today there’s another 34 added to the total. One cluster of 39 is in Keelung, linked to a karaoke bar, spread to the police force and resulting in even the city’s mayor now being quarantined after he had contact with an infected police officer. Another cluster of 63 is among Thai migrant workers working on a power plant in Taoyuan. There were also 120 imported cases yesterday, 93 today. Even though a negative PCR test is required to travel to Taiwan, testing is also done on arrival at Taoyuan Int’l Airport, and a surprising number always found to be positive – 55 today. Total COVID death toll is 853.
Border controls are still strict, and the country is still closed to tourists and those without visas ~ although hotel quarantine for all arrivals is now reduced from 14 days to 10, followed by 7 days’ home quarantine. The government is saying that there’ll be some sort of quarantine requirement for the rest of this year at least. The general public continues to widely support these measures, even though individuals who need to travel overseas of course find them very inconvenient. But given the choice between these strict pandemic restrictions for arrivals, or opening up like other countries have done, and risk huge numbers of cases – so far, I have not yet heard anyone say that they think we should change track. Most of us have just had our booster shots in the last 2 months, and daily life continues more or less as normal. Wearing face masks gives us the freedom to do so much without worry, and they come in all styles and colours. Check out our ‘Stand with Ukraine’ facemasks from the Taiwan Presbyterian Church….
I just spent the weekend at St. James’ Church, Taichung. The main topic of conversation there was last Tuesday night’s series of earthquakes (the biggest 6.6 but very deep) centered on Taiwan’s east coast, which shook everyone wide awake at 1:40 am and then continued through the night. Me too. No more sleep from then on, and like most people, I was distinctly bleary-eyed for the rest of the day. People living up in high-rise buildings had by far the worst of it, but here in Taipei, it seems more people were amused to be woken by the very noisy beeping of the earthquake text alert, rather than by the actual earthquake. Anyway, things have quietened down since then. Until next time.
I was there at St. James to do the sermon at the English service. Mostly, I like to speak on the Bible readings and link in with the News if it’s relevant, but both have been hard in recent weeks. On February 20, the Gospel reading was Jesus telling us to love our enemies. Ironically, only 4 days later, on February 24, came the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lent started on March 2, with a sermon the following Sunday on Jesus’ temptations – check out the one of power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world, so relevant to the Ukraine war. Then we had Jesus and the barren fig tree last week, with all those questions about suffering.
There is so just much suffering in the News. In Ukraine, we see the awful suffering caused by the Russian invasion, the terrible bombing of hospitals and residential buildings, the thousands of refugees trying to escape the war. In Mainland China, we see the authorities trying to halt the recent Covid surge with lockdowns of whole mega-cities for weeks at a time, while in Hong Kong, there’s been overflowing hospitals and empty supermarkets, with the world’s highest death rates. And in Australia, we just saw the worst floods ever recorded in New South Wales, thought to be directly related to climate change. Plus ongoing crises in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, S. Sudan, Haiti and more. Plus plus plus, there’s so much more each of us could add. And all this is bad enough, but then we see governments paralyzed by political wrangling, inaction, and incompetence. It’s easy to feel frozen in horror at it all.
The war in Ukraine has had a profound effect on Taiwan, completely unlike any other war I’ve seen in recent times. The phrase, ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?’ is much quoted in the media as a warning that Taiwan could be next. And interestingly, in response, Taiwan seems to be undergoing something of a transformation, as we watch with amazement the way the Ukrainian people have stood firm and defended their land. The Taiwan government has come out strongly in support of Ukraine, and in the last few weeks, we’ve had hugely successful donation drives, marches, rallies and prayer services. Everybody is talking about Ukraine, even small children at school. Taiwan has also watched with amazement the way the world has come together to impose sanctions on Russia. While many young people in Taiwan say they would defend Taiwan if attacked, older people, on the whole, have always been of the opinion that we don’t stand a chance and should just surrender. But now, watching the courage of the Ukrainians and seeing the world unite against the aggressor, has given Taiwan a boost that maybe that same courage and support might be forthcoming if we are next. The government is busy capitalizing on this momentum of change, and among other things, military training is already being upgraded and increased in both quantity and quality.
And so to yesterday’s sermon, on the theme of reconciliation (lit. ‘bringing back together’) from the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son. Last Saturday, I helped a Filipino migrant worker traveling on a bus with a lot of luggage, who was transferring from one factory job to another. She’s been in Taiwan for 3 years, and in all that time, has not seen her children. Her 2 daughters, aged 10 and 6, live in the Philippines with their grandmother. Can you imagine being separated from your children for that long? It was Mothering Sunday yesterday, and while not celebrated in Taiwan on that day, still it’s pretty heartbreaking to imagine what it must be like to be a family in that situation. But the good news is that in her new job, she’ll be able to live together with her husband, who is also in Taiwan. They work in different companies, but now they’ll be in the same area, so for the first time in many years, they can live together.
The next day, I was in Taipei visiting friends who live on the 17th floor of an apartment complex with a view over Taipei. One of those very tall and narrow buildings, that looks like the wind will blow it over, was built 5 years ago – but so far nobody lives there, all due to a family dispute between 2 brothers. Sigh.
And later that evening, last Sunday, I attended a Taizé service run by the National Council of Churches of Taiwan, to pray for Ukraine. It was held in the Jinan Presbyterian Church in central Taipei, and also attended by Taiwan’s former vice-president, Chen Chien-Jen 陳建仁, a Roman Catholic, plus other government representatives and church leaders. That day was the 25th day since the war started, and the service started with the bell tolling 25 times, once each for those 25 days.
A Ukrainian girl read Psalm 140 out loud in the Ukrainian language. It is subtitled as a ‘Prayer for Deliverance from Evil Men’ and she read it with the expression, passion and anger that it deserves. Taipei’s Greek Orthodox priest was there in all his robes, and he led a prayer for peace. An R.C. priest read the pope’s prayer for peace in Ukraine, and one of our clergy prayed the prayer for Ukraine written by the Archbishop of Canterbury. We all lit candles and prayed for peace and justice, and an end to this terrible war.
Reconciliation. So difficult but so necessary.
There’s an interesting article below published in ‘Christianity Today’ about Taiwan churches and everyone’s willingness to pray for Ukraine, but otherwise differing responses to speaking out and getting involved in politics generally. Sums up the situation pretty much: ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow’? Island’s Christians Warily Watch and Pray
This coming weekend, we’ll have a 4-day weekend for Qing-Ming aka Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when families come together to visit their family graves, cleaning them up and making offerings. In connection with that, I was at our local elementary school on Friday for a day of learning about ‘My Family Tree’. Never an easy subject for families divided and broken. Actually, it is easier to learn about the Family Tree in English than in Chinese. In English, we happily classify everyone as an aunt, uncle or cousin irrespective of which side of the family they’re on, and regardless of whether they’re older or younger than us, but not so in Chinese. Every category of relative has its own distinct title. Anyway, I wore my ‘Lee’ outfit and showed a few photos of my Lee grandparents, and the kids brought photos too (photos below courtesy of the school). Ah, it was fun!
My next sermon is not until Easter Sunday, oh so wonderful! This Lent has gone on a long long time, so I’m counting down the days. But somehow the thought of an ‘Easter Advent Calendar’ doesn’t do Lent justice. Much as most of us don’t like all that penance and fasting stuff, still a bit of self-reflection and prayer during Lent does put it all in perspective, and fits the national mood as well as the world as a whole. We can’t just ignore all the suffering and pretend otherwise. Fluffy chicks and bunnies and chocolate eggs have their place. But not yet. We still have Holy Week to come. Keep going, we’ll get there before too long!
I’m grateful to our bishop who emphasized on Ash Wednesday that Lent lasts 40 days, but does not include Sundays, which are days, he said, for ‘celebrating Jesus’ resurrection’. Celebrating. Jesus. Resurrection. YES! Keep going, yep, we’ll get there before too long!
PS: The Taizé service to pray for Ukraine is on YouTube…