State Side

Thanks for all your kind wishes and prayers. We arrived back in California yesterday evening, and to PSR around 8:30 last night. It was a wonderful trip, all-in-all, and between us, I’m sure, there are a life time of wonderful memories packed into two full weeks. Speaking for at least myself, the experiences we shared with the indigenous people and others have helped transform my theology in ways I can only begin to understand, but will remain deeply grateful for.

We’re all a bit jet-lagged, as well as a bit rattled from an exceptionally turbulent flight home, and I’ve no doubt it will take most of us a few days to recover from the time change, but it was well worth the experience.  If you have opportunity in the coming weeks, do speak with us about our experiences. It’ll be well worth your time.

Min hu mi sang!

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Since Taitung and the Bunun…

This is it. We’re down to just over 24 hours before our plane goes wheels up and we head towards that neat international dateline cross that is as close to time travel as we humans get to do—we leave Taipei on Sunday at 11:30 at night and arrive in San Francisco on Sunday at 6:30 in the evening.

What a whirlwind trip this has been: in pace, in destination, in joy, and in tension. The tensions that lie in those spaces between what is and what should be, what would could be and what must be, are those strains and anxieties that we as students of theology wrestle with daily, made all the more tangible, corporeal, and cogent by our experiences throughout our brief sojourn circling Taiwan.

We circled the island nation not just in the most literal way, traveling down the east coast, nearly reaching the southern point, and back up the west coast, terminating where we began in Taipei, but also in those metaphorical ways one expects to experience on such an engrossing excursion as this. Our experiences span the spectrum of deeply moving and joyful, to troubling and heart rending. Continue reading

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Nearly over…

Tommorow we leave the Bunan people and the east coast of Taiwan. And, ready or not, whether we like it or not…our trip is winding down. While I am looking forward to the great temples and history of Tainan, I will miss the cool, quiet of the mornings here, the camaraderie and laughter of the bus, the passion of the pastors we have met and the smiling faces of children whenever Simi is in their midst.

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It is beautiful here. The mountains are misty and lush. Voices of the Bunun are rising and falling in song and chant somewhere behind me and the wind is gently moving across the deck I am sitting on…cool, moist and slightly fragrant. Amongst such beauty my thoughts have traveled back to the first few days of our trip and a morning filled with love, soft weeping and remembrance. I did not expect to encounter death on this trip, or to feel the warmth and community which held all of us in the face of sorrow that morning in Yu Shan…but I feel blessed that I did.

Death and grief are deeply woven into my personal spiritual journey. I have seen the light fade from a loved one’s eyes and watched as the hearts of my children broke wide open, and then miraculously…somehow…began to heal. But, the scar tissue of loss is still tender and I’m sure that is why days later the poignance of the memorial service for Rev. Murray L. Garvin, is still lying gently on my heart.

How do you measure a life well lived? Is it the grand sum of who you knew? How much money you made? How many hours you spent with your children, your spouse, your family…your students? What will your legacy be? Who will remember you? And what will they remember you for? Speaking your truth? Loving those around you deeply, unconditionally and without reservation? Finding the grace and compassion of the Divine, and then sharing that knowledge…the powerful truth that we are not alone…with others?

I think the answer lies in some of the simple words used to reflect on Rev. Garvin’s life. “He never saw himself as greater than anyone else. He loved Taiwan and his students. He loved the tiny congregations he served in British Columbia. That is his legacy…that after our sorrow we are able to also see ourselves as no greater than anyone else”.

Last week the Yu Shan community lost a beloved teacher and friend. It’s too easy to merely say the service was beautiful and touching and tender…it was that and so much more. We saw a powerful legacy of love. I am grateful to be here in Taiwan and have born witness to it.

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Victory in Face of Unfairness and Defeat

This morning we attended the worship service at the Church at Bunun Foundation.  Rev. Lee Li-Shue gave a sermon on Samuel I Chapter 17 the morning right after the election day in Taiwan. The fight between Philistine and David, who was just a young boy, was an unfair one.  This was similar to the huge gap between KMT and DPP regarding the resources for their respective campaigns.

While the DPP lost in the presidential election, Rev. Lee noted to the congregation that, as Christians, they could still claim victory because the commitment and participation they had inviested in the process of democracy mattered the most.  Victory of Christ on the cross was indeed the source of victory for Christians.  She continued to expound on the importance of positive thinking, which was critical for anyone to succeed in anything.

I have been amazed by such a strong faith in the victory fo Christ amidst of all the grave injustices.  In face of rampant oppressions, I have always doubted with the belief that God is the master of human history.  Yet, I have felt empowered by the movements of the aborginal people in Taiwan as well as in different parts of the world who assert their own dignity and reclaim their own rights.  This is a long and lonesome journey, a road of uncertainties and doubt.  Blessed are those who dare to dream the impossible dream, question the unquestioned logic, break the unbreakable bondage, imagine the unimaginable solidarity.

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Finding God

We have traveled south to reach the Bunun Foundation near Taitung City.  After worship at six this morning, we were treated to some tribal music and dancing.  Now we are preparing to head into the city to learn some more.

In all the experiences we’ve had here so far, I’ve noticed similarities and differences between the theologies of the different tribal areas.  One of the largest themes I’ve found is the faith the God will provide what is needed.  It truly is the incarnational theology noted to us by many of the people we have met.  I thought I understood what that meant, but now I have seen it in action.

Through all the difficulties the native tribes have faced in their histories, they find hope in a Christianity that melds with their native religion instead of replacing it.  Throughout the history of occupation by outsiders in Taiwan, they have been killed, forcibly moved, and discriminated against.  They continue to fight for autonomy and to lift their people out of poverty, and many do so with such a positive outlook I could never imagine.

They have come together to build communities in the cities and in the villages.  They have built their homes and churches from virtually nothing to create thriving centers of living faith.  And, really, that’s what I see so much in these places we have been visiting: living faith.  Time and again, I can see the hope that they have for the future comes from the result of a miracle from God: creation meeting community to bring a better life.  The work is not over; it has barely begun.  But I have been moved through the living, breathing faith of the tribal people here.  God does provide.  God will provide.

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What happens if our own people are the teachers and the colonialism gets left out of mission?

Cave where Taroko church began worship in secret early 20th century

Yesterday we had lectures from Rev. Pusin Tali, president of Yu Shan Theological school, and Prof. Walis Ukan on the quest for autonomy for indigenous people (Yuen Chu-Min, or “the indigenous, YCM) of Taiwan and indigenous theology.  What is remarkable to me coming from the Hawaiian context is the difference between the histories of the church in Taiwan and in Hawai’i.

We are so familiar with the story of the church arriving as a tool of colonialism with an ideal culture that reflects Western values that erases the practices of of the host culture.  Yet in Taiwan, though the Dutch arrived trying to do that in the 1600s, by the time the Japanese came in 1896, there was very little Christianity.  Most of the conversion of the indigenous people happened in the early 20th century beginning with a Taroko woman named Chi-Wan who converted and began worshipping with other converts in a cave hiding from the Japanese who believed Christianity to be a tool of American colonialism.  The resultant dominant Christian church in Taiwan is Presbyterian and is concerned with the lives and self-determination of the indigenous people.  The church, though it did not always, now encourages traditional tribal spiritual practices and believes in interpreting Biblical story through the lens of tribal teachings even as they are open to the lessons of scripture.  The ministers of the tribal churches come from the tribes they serve and are trained at the social justice-oriented and indigenous-run Yu-Shan Theological school.

Priorities of the indigenous church include reclaiming indigenous land lost in the 1960-70s land reform where an estimated 2,900,000 metric acres was taken from the tribes who did not understand the instructions given in Chinese for claiming land.  (The land distribution was meant to distribute land from the hands of the few wealthy barons to farmers, but the indigenous people also clearly lost out.)  Other indigenous church priorities including reclaiming their names from the Kuo Min Tang, the nationalist party from China, policy that all aboriginees must use Chinese names, establishing self-governance, and continuing to re-establish official tribal status.

When the Dutch came in the 1600s, there were an estimated 53 tribes in Taiwan.  During Japanese rule 1896-1945 there were 28.  Under Kuo Min Tang 1945-2000 the tribes dropped to 9 under their policies of tribal extermination.  The Democratic People’s Party, whose female phD 1/4 aboriginee presidential candidate we are all rooting for in tomorrow’s election, helped restore 5 tribes to official status 2000-2005 to raise the number of recognized tribes to 14.

Obviously there are problems with colonialism in Taiwan.  It’s just that here, Christianity did not necessarily come accompanying it.  The models for tribal economic development largely revolve around ecotourism and building on their teachings of land-based spirituality and stewardship.  Obviously tourism itself can have negative consequences and build an economy too dependent on the outside world, as we know from Hawai’i.

But all of this makes me wonder, what if Henry Opukaha’ia, the Hawaiian convert who believed his people needed to learn about Jesus, had lived to bear the gospel to the Hawaiian people, as opposed to Hiram Bingham and the lot of the white American missionaries from the American Board of Common Foreign Missions who came instead?  Or is the problem when religion and economic gain get too intertwined, and the only reason it’s not in Taiwan is because the colonial powers are not Christian?  The answers are not simple.  Theological interpretation from Rev. Walis includes combining interpretation of the Exodus story both as the Canaanites who lost their lands and the Israelites who wander in search of the land that is their ancestors’.  I continue to lean into them as we hear more lectures this morning and then travel to another tribe tomorrow to stay at their ecotourism project.

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