Friday, March 13, 2009

Harmony versus the Highest God

An important cultural value here is to avoid decisive subjects such as politics and religion in order to maintain harmony on the surface between people. For example, the other day a coworker had a conversation with a taxi driver up in the city.  The conversation was about how one must go to so see so many different temples to seek out so many different gods in order to find answers to specific problems, etc. My coworker’s probing question was, if one could talk to the highest God over all the other gods instead of going to see each and every individual god, then wouldn’t this save a lot of trouble? The taxi driver was uncomfortable with the direction of this question so the conversation basically ended right there. But maybe God’s Spirit will bring that seed to life.

The Strip-Tease of Religion

Night before last I was driving home in the countryside and from a distance saw a performance in progress at a local countryside temple. My Taiwanese passenger matter-of-factly responded, “Oh, it’s a striptease performance.” IYesterday I asked a teacher about them and read a few online blog articles. These strip-tease performances are common at some weddings, funerals, and major temple celebrations (such as the god’s birthday party, which is probably what was in progress that night). And yes, the strippers do take it all off, at least some of the time, and even let the men touch.  (maybe a Taiwanese reader of this blog can provide helpful insight as to the religious significance of these performances).

Whenever identified as a Christian, a common response we hear in rural Taiwan (well, anywhere in Taiwan, for that matter) is that “all religions are good”, “all religions are the same”, etc. because they all espouse standards of morality, encourage people to upright living, etc.  Are they really the same?

Historically in the Christian tradition both the body and sex have from time to time mistakenly been denigrated as being “evil”. Only the spirit is good, our spirits will eventually go to heaven, sex is bad, etc.

Wrong! In truth, God created our bodies. He intends for us to enjoy them in the proper way, with the proper person, at the proper time, to eat right, exercise, take proper care of our bodies, etc.  Part of the good news then is: our bodies are good! Therefore, we don’t want to denigrate or abuse or mistreat them. We want to respect ourselves and others because this is the way God made us.

In actual fact, even Jesus Christ, resurrected from the dead, now positions Himself at the right hand of the Father in a transformed human body. Furthermore, those who go to be in the future with him will not be disembodied spirits; they too will have bodies. We are created in the image of God. Our bodies then are good.

How then to respond to the comment “all religions are good, all religions are the same?” Those who follow Jesus have certainly messed up over certain historical periods in their own way (see “Crusades”), and each and everyone of us have our secret and not-so-secret warts of which we are not so proud today. Some individual Christians even turn away from God to attend strip-teases, etc. But as far as I’m aware, Christian weddings, funerals, or Christmas celebrations (birthday of Jesus) do not include strip-teases as part of the formal celebration event. So whether it’s this particular issue, or some other, if we say that Buddhism and Taoism, Christianity, Falungong, etc. are really all the same, are we being fair? Are we not disrespecting the nuances and distinctives of each and every one of these world views as we reduce and assimilate them into one nebulous faith concept? Aren’t we just teasing ourselves?

World Religions/World Views individually promote their own way of doing things and seeing the world, atheism and relativistic pluralism included. They each have their own system of do’s and don’ts.

I’m so glad I follow a person, Jesus. Following Jesus is not about following a system of do’s and don’ts in itself. It’s not about enforcing a set of rules, of forcing that set of rules on others, of abolishing traditional cultures, world views, and celebrations. In actual fact, Jesus liberates me from all doing and not doing just for the sake of the rules themselves. Rather, I seek to follow God’s way because that is like following an instruction book that will lead me to a wholer and healthier life with God both now and forevermore. No, I’m not there yet, and I have no desire to dictate my way to others, but I’m wanting to continue walking down that road myself, with whoever wants to come along. I’m following a Person, God Incarnate, risen from the dead.  And for this, I dance and celebrate (with my clothes on, however).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winning Invoice Numbers

Ever since I arrived on-island back in 1997, I’ve carefully saved purchase receipts and filed them away in my desk. Why?  Some years ago (prior to my arrival, anyway), the government of Taiwan, in an effort to encourage businesses to pay their taxes, began printing numbers on the top of receipts which customers could redeem if they matched one of several winning numbers. This practice encouraged customers to hold businesses accountable who did not give out receipts. See this page for an example of how it looks today.

Today I finally got around to looking at my receipts from last November and December. No, I didn’t win the 2 million New Taiwan dollar grand prize, but I did match 4 of 8 digits, which means I can collect 1000 NT (currently just under $29 US).

No, I’ve never even come close to winning the big money, but I’ve come away at least 3 times with 1000 NT, and 200 NT maybe a half dozen times or so. Yes, this is small money (and they keep reducing the number of winning combinations). I think from time to time about not bothering to save the receipts anymore (a lot of people donate them to charities), but I experience the adrenalin  rush of winning just enough to keep the suspense alive, at least for now…

Anyway, this reminds me of the stories Jesus shares in Luke 15 about the man who went out looking after the one lost sheep that got separated from the 99 others, and the woman who searches after one lost coin among ten silver coins. Both were precious to their owners. In the end, both the man and the woman call together their friends and neighbors, inviting them to share in their joy after what was lost is found. Jesus concludes: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Anyway, I invite the two or three of you who actually bother to read this blog regularly to similarly rejoice with me in my recovered spendings. Dinner and drinks are on me!



3/12 Update: Oops. I goofed. Today when I went to cash my earnings, I discovered that the last four digits were only countable on the total # from the 1st prize, not the grand prize #. So I only walked away with 200 NT this time. :-( Until recently, all the #’s were counted the same.