God without Borders

Many of us have heard about Doctors Without Borders. It is the non-profit group that has doctors doing their skills in other countries. Well, I have a similar situation. But, mine is with God and not sick people. I was contacted by a fellow teacher in another part of China this morning asking me about a summer camp I worked at for the past two years. And then he said he heard that I am strong in my faith in God. He is too. But, he and his wife are in a middle ground that I am familiar with.

Many of my Christian brothers and sisters will debate me on my beliefs and my theories about my faith. They tell me that I should read the Bible, go to church, believe this or that in regards to today’s social agendas, that the ONLY way into heaven is through Jesus Christ, that the Bible is the actual word of God “inspired” by God through men, and so on. And, I will consistently debate them on this issue by saying that we will have to agree to disagree on the debates they want to have with me. ‘

Here is my take on my faith and relationship with God. It is between He and I. We have a great bond together. Yes. I speak to Him and He speaks to me. I know this sounds crazy to many people. So be it. But, He has shown me that I am not wrong in my theories. He has blessed me greatly and has not tried to steer me in the direction that my human counterparts have. And, I will take His guidance over a human guidance any day.

Years ago, I turned my ENTIRE life over to God. I believe He has a master plan for me. In order for Him to complete this plan, I can either accept it or I can fight it. When I fought His plan, He would be the Father that He is and spank me to lead me in the right direction. So, it is just easier for me to follow His will. I have written about this in my previous blog posts.

It is not always black and white like many of my Christian friends like to believe. For instance, many of them firmly believe that to be “right” with God, you need to be in a church because the Bible says you should. Well, again, I agree to disagree with them. For one, when disciples of Jesus converted people, sometimes a “church” was not around, let alone other Christians. And, since the Bible was never developed at that time, how would people know this. And then there are people in this world who are like me now. I am in China. Yes, there is a huge Christian population here. But, they all speak Chinese and not English. There are a few English speaking churches in places like Beijing and Shanghai. But, I am not in those cities. So, does it make sense for me to sit in a church every Sunday when I have no idea what is being said? Nope. I choose to hold church in my heart.

I am told that I need to believe in the Bible and it is supposedly clearly states that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. Well, of course the Bible says that. It is for Christians. The church developed the Bible for their beleivers and to grow the sustainability of the church.  It was not designed for people of the non-Christian faith. If you read and study other Holy books of other faiths, they say that you need to follow XYZ to find heaven. For me, I know of a God that loves all of His creations. We are all children of God. And, the God I know loves us more than we can measure. So, I can not see my God sending His children to Hell because they don’t have a belief in Jesus Christ. All God commands of us is that we love Him. I believe people can love God without having known Jesus Christ. I do think the path to heaven through Jesus Christ is a much easier path to follow. But, I do not think it is the only path to God.

When you are in a comfortable environment that allows you to do the things a church commands of you, you can accept these things. Since my life is not normal like many of my Christian brothers and sisters, things are not as black and white. But, it really does not matter to ma any more what others say or think of my faith. It is really none of their business. They can continue to enjoy their way of faith and love of God they want. I am confident in my relationship with God in my own way. I am not trying to make people conform to my way of theology and belief. And, I respectfully ask that my brothers and sisters do the same. Stick to your own brand of faith and leave others to their own. Sure, you can speak to others about your brand of faith. And, I have no problem with you trying to “convert” people to your faith. That is what you think you are called to do. It is how the church has stayed in business for over 2000 years. But, try opening up your mind from what other human Christians dictate from your life and learn to love all people and accept all people for who they are. There is no right or wrong when it comes to loving one God.

Student Art

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Our English Corner kids were asked to provide some art for the walls of the classrooms we use. This is some of the art they provided. Keep in mind, they are grade 7 and 8, ages 12-15. Amazing work. Below are some of the better ones I think. I zoomed in on them so you can see them better.

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Another Bike Ride in the Countryside

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BJ and I took another ride on our bikes. He has named his bike the Red Emperor. I have not decided on a firm name yet for mine. Either Black Stallion or Black Widow. Although, going down those mountain hills today, I realized that I need to severely adjust my brakes or else I will have to name my bike the Widowmaker. Ugghhhh. Anyways…BJ and I took about a 45 km ride today. We started off after lunch at my favorite noodle shop. As we were just beginning our trek, a Chinese friend (Aaron)contacted us and wanted to go with us. So, we had about a 30 minute delay waiting for him to arrive. Of course, he said he would only be 10 minutes. Love that Chinese time. I know now why Chinese people do not use times zones and Day-Light Savings time. The whole country would be in a state of total confusion. Just a joke…maybe…

BJ mentioned that we were going to go through the route we had taken previously, but take a side road that might lead us to a temple he had seen. Aaron knew of the temple, but took us a different route. Our first task was getting over a large mountain road hill. It is a busy road used by city folks. If you have ever seen Chinese people drive here, you know that using this two lane road with very little shoulder is not a wise move. Not to mention the sheer upgrade of this road was hard. We were on the main road for about an hour. Luckily, once we were off the mountain road and on the local highway, there was a very large shoulder for us to ride on. But, there was not much to look at. At least, not like our previous ride. And, there were more hills along the way. Overall, it was a good ride for exercise and chatting along the way.

The day was perfect for the ride too. It was cloudy all day with a rain system that was making its way into Shangrao later tonight. So, the temperature was not too bad. And, a cool breeze helped The only problem, as you might tell from my pictures, the haze made landscape pictures hard to take. Aaron and I were debating whether it was just normal haze or pollution haze. To me, they are about the same. But, with the rain system coming in, it might have been mostly regular weather haze.

We get to the side road that leads to the temple. It is a pretty easy trip, with a few hills we actually had to walk up with the bikes. We get to the temple and we see a sign saying there is another temple 2 km off another road. We decided that 2 km was not bad to go see an older one. Well, that was not such a great idea. It was all uphill. It was walking our bikes most of the way up. And, on the way down, the brakes on my bike would not do much in stopping me. BUT…it was great that we made the trip up. The views were wonderful. And, we made two new friend with the monks that were there.

Here are some notes about some pictures I took.

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If you read my blog, you know I am a sucker for Chinese architecture. Old, traditional buildings. I do not think you can get more authentic than this. This home and numerous others in the area are made from the dirt of the land compacted into bricks. And the roof has the old wooden struts and ceramic tiles. Sadly, these structures, even way out here in the country is being replaced by concrete multistory homes.

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We were on top of the mountain, looking at the scenery, and we noticed this fancy tomb/grave. The first picture is what my camera took. And, that was using the zoom lens too. You can see how hazy the day was. The second is a cleaned up version using the photo enhancer program I have on my computer. I usually have to enhance my photos due to the constant “China Haze” that exists nearly every day. China Haze is the propaganda term for Pollution I think.

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The highlight of the day was meeting these two Buddhist monks. Especially the older one. He had such personality and character. He spent time with us describing his faith, asking us about our faith, and doing comparison and contrasts to them. Aaron was our translator. And, I can ever be sure if Aaron took any liberties with the translations. But, the monk seemed very interested in our faiths and never disparaged them. Although, I though it was interesting how he said that they try to leave all the earthly wealth behind. Their faith is about giving unto others and not taking anything for themselves. Yet, they both had very nice Apple I-Phones that are very expensive for monks. It was truly an honor and a blessing for me to have had this discussion. It just proved to me that regardless of our faiths, we strive for a common goal. How we achieve that goal may be different in beliefs and rituals. But, the tenants of the faith, the scriptures of the holy books, and the willingness to give up part of our individualism for a high cause are the same. I would have loved to have sat with this monk and had a philosophical discussion with him.

Soapbox commentary here: If the religions of the world would learn to stop claiming that their way is the only way or the best way into heaven and to be with God…or whatever higher plane of existence they are striving for, there would be much more peace in the world. The faiths are more similar that different. The practice of the religion is what becomes the problem.

Biking in the countryside of Shangrao China

My friend BJ and I took a long bike ride into the countryside today. Here are some of the images I caught on my camera. What a beautiful day!!!!.

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This first series of pictures is of the high speed train rail over the river. Notice the unfinished house/hotel/whatever. Behind the building is a tunnel for the train. BJ got a little creative with the camera…Ha Ha.

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I always like seeing the old architecture in China. Sadly, they are being torn down to make way for more modern, concrete structures. Notice the first picture with the ornate white front. The door was open and you could see inside. This house looks to be very large and old. It has an inner courtyard. I would think it was for someone very wealthy back in the day. I would have loved to have seen the inside of the house. But, no one came to the doorway for me to ask. As forward as I am, I know I would have asked.

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The highlight of the trip was the countryside. Around every bend and past the small towns awaited something interesting to see.

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And, of course we make friends wherever we go. The little boy was so sweet. Most of the time they are very shy and skittish at that age around me. He was more curious than anything else. And, he loved looking into the camera and seeing his picture.

Having a bicycle has opened up Shangrao a bit for us. We traveled quite a distance in just three hours. BJ is talking about an all day or overnight trips. It would be fun to do. I am just not sure my butt on that bike seat all day is something that my body can take. But, BJ is 10 years older than me…so, if the old man can do it, so can his young sidekick…Ha Ha. That is directed at my friend BJ who reads my blog from time to time.

Interesting Article I Just Read….

Confession time – before I came to China, my knowledge of the country was on the same level as that of my math and science – limited and measly. I was also very prejudiced.  I had been one of those people whose first association upon hearing “China,” is “fake.” My life in Shanghai and travels around China educated me, and shed a completely new light on its picture in my mind. However, the element of “fake,” did not evaporate.

It turns out that Chinese people have actually raised their mastery of counterfeit products to a whole new level, as of 2013. Aside from fake Armani bags and fake Converse sneakers, one of the biggest fake products in China is now fake divorce.

Actually angry, or thinking about buying their second apartment?

Fake divorces are all about real estate. In March 2013, in order to control housing prices, the State Council announced that those who owned more than one apartment would have to pay a 20% capital gains tax when they sold the second house (the tax was previously 1 to 2%). And if that wasn’t enough, banks in Shanghai were banned from granting loans to those who wished to purchase a third home. In Beijing, individuals could now purchase only one home.

Necessity is the mother of invention, especially in China. Resourceful citizens, anxious to allocate loads of cash in real estate, thought outside the box to solve the issue – or rather “outside the marriage.” There is a loophole in the vicious real estate law that stipulates that divorced couples do not have to pay the new higher tax. This is because after the divorce (which costs only a few Yuan!) each spouse would only own one house. That’s not all: after the divorce, one of the divorcees can generously transfer home ownership to their ex-spouse free of charge, and then purchase yet another home as a first time buyer (which frequently comes with incentives).

Next, the divorced couple will sell one property and quickly “fall back in love,” and remarry. Simple as that. Reuters reported in early March 2013 alone, 53 couples in just one of Shanghai’s districts filed for divorce. Last year, a grand total of 53,244 couples divorced in Shanghai, many of them for real estate related reasons. It’s no longer about weddings or birthday parties in China. These days, fake divorces parties are bringing the whole family together!

Shocking? When I told my friend in Poland about the highlights of life in China, she had a different opinion. “Wow, look,” she said, “Chinese people are so creative! We have a great deal to learn from them.” She is right.

“Fake,” culture does lend itself well to creativity. Last summer I was looking for a pair of nude color ballerina shoes at the fake market (the only place I can find shoes that fit my size 39 feet). In one store I came across a pair that immediately appealed to me, but the shoes were unfortunately a size 38. The shopkeeper told me that did not come in a bigger size.

Seeing my huge disappointment, the shop assistant said “Wait, I will check again.” He disappeared with the shoes I tried on. Five minutes later, he came back and gave me a seemingly new pair saying, “I found it! It is 39!” Partly happy, but partly suspicious at the sudden turn of events, I tried the shoe on. But somehow it still felt like 38. I checked the sole of the shoe to see the size on it. There was a sticker there in black and white – 39.

I had a hunch that I should just try to peel it off. Turns out, the resourceful gentleman didn’t have my size, so he just created it within seconds and thought that it would work as a placebo for my desire to have that particular shoe, and that I would feel that it really fit. Instead of getting angry, that man made my day, and I just couldn’t stop laughing all the way back home.

One of the most advanced pieces of knowledge about China that I’ve learned makes up for my embarrassing ignorance from a few years back: whether it is a fake shoe size or a fake divorce in the face of government restriction, where there is a will (and money) in China, there is a way!