For years, I have thought of reading the Apocrypha (19 books for Orthodox, 15 for Catholics that have been omitted from Protestant Bibles), but I have never taken the time. A couple of days ago, Amanda and I were talking with Rod Richards on Skype and he asked me why they had been excluded from Protestant Bibles. I gave him my typical Church history account of why but had to admit that I had never actually read them.

Today, I read Tobit for the first time.

It has been fun to peruse a book without a theological bias, well more specifically without any assumptions of context or content. I know historically what was going on during this period of time, but I had (and for the most part have) no idea as to what God is doing or trying to do in these books. Protestants talk about this period as the (in my best Baptist voice) “400 years of silence” where God ceased to speak in any notable way, and I have heard countless sermons as to why and how we as Christians can relate this period to our lives. I have never been satisfied with the assumptions and I have always wanted to (as a good Berean, again, sarcasm intended) read the books for myself.

As I read this book (interesting apocalyptic literature stories aside – i.e. the story of the Angel Raphael giving Tobit’s son advice on how to fend off a demon who has been killing his future wife’s previous husbands), I am struck by Tobit’s commitment to the Lord and generosity to the poor. In a time that is thought of as Israel’s demise because of sin and idolatry, he alone stands as the voice of reason. He alone continues the tradition of training his son in the way he should go even when he (Tobit) loses everything including his eyesight. Even if the story is not “true” or even intended to be “true”, it is an amazing story of charity and love for people. Tobit continually says, “I walked in the ways of truth and righteousness…I performed many acts of charity…I alone went for the feasts…I remembered God with all my heart…I gave my bread and my clothing and buried the dead…”

So as I close, I left with the advice Tobit gave his son as he became a man. It is almost as if Tobit is giving me this same advice as I wonder what to do with this particular story:

Remember the Lord our God all your days, my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments. Live uprightly all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you do what is true, your ways will prosper through your deeds. Give alms from your possessions to all who live uprightly, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness; and for all who practice it charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.

…For in pride there is ruin and great confusion; and in shiftlessness there is loss and great want, because shiftlessness is the mother of famine. Do not hold over till the next day the wages of any man who works for you, but pay him at once; and if you serve God you will receive payment.

Watch yourself, my son, in everything you do, and be disciplined in all your conduct. And what you hate, do not do to anyone. Do not drink wine to excess or let drunkenness go with you on your way. Give of your bread to the hungry, and of your clothing to the naked. Give all your surplus to charity, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you made it. Place your bread on the grave of the righteous, but give none to sinners. Seek advice from every wise man, and do not despise any useful counsel. Bless the Lord God on every occasion; ask him that your ways may be made straight and that all your paths and plans may prosper. For none of the nations has understanding; but the Lord himself gives all good things, and according to his will he humbles whomever he wishes.

So, my son, remember my commands, and do not let them be blotted out of your mind…Do not be afraid, my son, because we have become poor. You have great wealth if you fear God and refrain from every sin and do what is pleasing in his sight.

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Protestant Tested, Catholic Approved

When I was in college a buddy of mine and his girlfriend made connecting iron-on t-shirts – one read “Protestant Tested”, the other, “Catholic Approved.” As I think about what the unity of believers means, I am struck by this ingenious design. Much of the problem with Christianity since it’s appearance on the world’s stage has been the incessant need for its followers to argue and prove their theology to be correct, most of the time at the expense of another believer. So many times this has even been abused by the misuse of scripture, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Don’t get me wrong, I love this I Peter passage, but I love it in context, “all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble…” If we were to actually approach our theological conversations with this in mind, how would they be different? Would they not at that moment truly encapsulate “Protestant Tested, Catholic Approved”?

Maybe it is time to drop the arrogance, restore unity, and focus on what really matters…

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Just like in the states there are many necessary amenities – water, gas, electricity, internet, rent, and filtered water. Unlike the states, paying them is always an adventure. It would be easy to just pay online or to write a check when the bill comes in the mail, but what would you do if no bill ever came and you had to pay whenever the collector showed up on your doorstep? Here are a few things that I have learned:

1. When the internet company tells you to just pay your bill at the China Construction Bank once a month, make sure you have all your paperwork with you because no one will have a clue that you are supposed to pay or even how much you are supposed to pay.

A month ago, I showed up for my once a month appointment at China Construction Bank and waited in line for 45 minutes only to be sent to the Bank of China across the street. At that bank, I waited about 30 minutes only to have the teller tell me I needed to go to China Unicom’s office. When I refused, she called China Unicom and then sent me back to China Construction.

2. When paying the electricity bill remember that you can buy as much power as you want and it is usually pretty cheap/kwh, so 200 RMB ($30) goes a long way. Remember to check your meter once a week because it could run out before you get home, and who likes a defrosted freezer?

3. Gas? Who uses gas? Oh right…for this bill you can probably work it out with the landlord when you sign the rental contract. Apparently our gas bill is paid for the year.

4. When negotiating rent with the landlord, make sure you have everything in writing and bring a lawyer with you to the rental agreement signing. There is a good chance the landlord will try to up the rent on signing day just because she can. Also remember that you will usually have to pay 3 to 6 to 12 months in advance plus realtor fees and a one month deposit and if you are lucky a foreigner tax or a full month’s rent.

5. When buying filtered water call the number on the side of your unit and give them the 4 identification numbers. Remember to use the correct tones – Yi Bai Wu San is not the same as Yi Ba Wu San. This can get really confusing when the Chinese guy you work with can complete this phone call in 4 seconds and the American guy (me) takes 10 minutes and still has to get his Chinese friend to call to make sure they understood him.

6. Finally, when you haven’t seen the water lady, expect her to come randomly demanding her money. Easter morning is when she graced us with her presence. First she pounded on our door. I dressed, closed the bedroom door, and Ni Hao’ed her. She started speaking, I shrugged, and she pushed her way through the door and into the kitchen. After checking the meter under the sink (a feature I didn’t know we had), she apparently told me how much I owed her. When I didn’t understand, she wrote a bunch of Chinese characters on a piece of paper. Since I don’t speak Chinese it should be assumed I don’t read it either, but I just shrugged, so she tried to push her way into the bedroom. After I stopped her, she pulled out a calculator, showed me the price which I paid, and she left. Happy Easter to us!

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Great Scrawl of China – March 2011

If you want to check out the PDF, click here.

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Fat Guy in a Little Country…

Evey time I get on the subway or walk around town, I realize I am truly a fat guy in a little country.  Unlike in the states where there is a one seat space etiquette, China has no such cultural understanding.  If there is an open seat on the subway, bus, etc., someone is going to sit there.  I have begun using this to my advantage.  Each time I get on and there is an open seat, I make everyone uncomfortable.  Many times, the Chinese will try to double cheek the seats so they can have more room, but when I get on, I just sit between anyone with an open place.  In my head I do my best Tommy Boy impression:

If you need another example, see exhibit B:

Can you guess what size this shirt is?  If you guessed medium, you’d be way off.  If you guessed my usual American size (XL), you’d still be way off.  That’s right folks, Zach wears a 3XL in China!

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Class Projects

My first teaching job in China is an English writing class.  I have two classes that meet twice a week – one upper level and one lower level.  In my A class, one of my students wrote this essay during a timed in-class writing assignment:

Coin collecting is my favorite thing.  When I put many coins in my hands and shake them, I can hear the coins sing a song.  When I hear this sound, I think I am a rich man and can buy anything I want.  Even though I cannot pay for much, I am happy every day because I find happiness from the coin’s song.

This week I am talking about writing as a passionate art-form – I think this will serve a beginning.

If you would like a funny example of what I’ve received, check my notes on Facebook.

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All Things Forbidden

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. – Stolen from Wikipedia

Yesterday, we had some time between meetings (clarification: we had one meeting at 5 PM), so we decided to experience a little of the local sites.  The day’s trek – the Forbidden City. I am sure that Amanda will upload pictures, so I will not waste your time with the scenes.

This was my second experience to the city (Amanda’s first), and it was again nothing less than amazing.  For over an hour, we perused a city that so many throughout history have not even been able to enter. When I say that, I am not just meaning they couldn’t travel to see it, they physically were not allowed to enter the city. It has been open to the public for less than 100 years and has only been a World Heritage Site since ’87.

After our adventure, we went to our 5 PM meeting where a few open jobs were mentioned.  Amanda now has a handful of teaching hours and in-office work!  YEAH!

Things to think and talk with the Big Kahuna about:

  1. More teaching hours
  2. Understanding of the payment system and taxes
  3. A small group (we went to one meeting last night that we were less than impressed with – a story I might share later.)
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