Thirty Years Ago: “Troubles” At and After Tiananmen Square

This post is one I have mulled over for almost as long as I’ve been blogging, and that’s over 15 years–half the timespan between events related to the massacres in Tiananmen and the lesser-remembered Tianfu Squares, and now. I’ve delayed writing it, not just because it’s about some difficult and disturbing subject matter, but because if I were to write about this at all, I knew I needed to write with discretion, to do my best to shield a friend from China.

I have had many international friends over the years. Some were students, others a friend’s spouse; some immigrants, others refugees. They’ve come from every continent—except Antarctica!—and a range of generations. I’ve learned fascinating things from their personal stories while sharing coffee (or tea) and conversations, working with them or for them, or responding to their request for feedback on a project.

What the perfume district of Tehran was like in the era before Khomeini.

What life was like in the U.S. for a woman academic originally from the Middle East.

How tea tasters brew samples to grade the quality of tea leaf harvests.

Harrowing experiences on the open sea as a boat person escaping genocidal tyrants in Southeast Asia.

Cultural dynamics in South Asia among various castes and between different religious groups.

Ministry journeys that involved travel to every country in Central and South America.

Some of the changes during the early decades of post-colonial West Africa.

Punk rockers and missional ministers from Australia and other South Pacific islands.

Surviving the bombing of Coventry during World War II.

The prayer and devotional life of people who carried Bibles to believers behind the Iron Curtain.

What it was like to come of age during Mao’s cultural revolution, or around the time of Beijing Spring, or in the decade just before the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Which brings me full circle, back to this particular friend from China. Hopefully you can see from that rather random listing from around the globe that I care deeply about my friends, their stories, their cultures. So it should make sense that I found the Tiananmen events incredibly distressing. I’d had periodic correspondence with one particular friend for years before that event. But after Tiananmen, I didn’t hear anything … month after month after month.

I discovered there can be a great deal of angst in not knowing:

Have they been at all involved?

Is any Chinese citizen in jeopardy, simply for having been in the West?

Will I ever hear from them again?

There was also a great deal to learn about waiting and watchfulness.

How do we best pray for people under persecution?

What things must we do to protect others as best we can, to avoid putting them in danger?

How can we show solidarity with them when we cannot communicate directly?

Finally, something like six or seven months after the massacre, I received a letter from my friend. What a relief to see that distinctive penmanship and that international stamp!

My immediate response was to want to write back. But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” So I slowed myself down and devoured that letter, reading it time and again to see what I could discern between the lines.

Clearly, it was cautiously written. I recall one passing comment along the lines of, “There were some troubles recently but everything is all right.” That was before a section on various happenings workwise and otherwise. I took it as a veiled reference to the massacre and the widespread crackdown that followed.

What to do now, though? I felt my friend was telling me as discretely as possible that they’d come through this period of national trials, but the letter also had a tone to it of saying goodbye.

Sadly, I strongly felt I should not write back. Sometimes I’ve regretted not doing so, but overall feel that was the best decision in this sensitive situation.

And so, this 30-year milestone for Tiananmen brings forth a flood of emotions. I am thankful that my friend was safe—though our ongoing friendship was lost, and I doubt those lines of communication can ever be reestablished. I do find some degree of comfort in trusting that God holds all people in His hands and heart of providence.

And this post is my way of saying a goodbye now that I could not then …

Veterans Day, PTSD, The Lord of the Rings, and Winnie-the-Pooh

War is devastating, and World War I was particularly so. According to a BBC segment on A Lost Generation, “It is believed that World War One had the highest number of active serving writers, artists and musicians of any war in history, many of whom were part of the estimated nine million military casualties.”

Among those cultural creatives who fought in the war were J.R.R. Tolkien and A.A. Milne. How might their wartime experiences and possibly even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have played a role in what they wrote and why? What personal and social dynamics did suffering, loss, and grief bring to their country, and how might this have affected the ways in which these authors’ works were received?

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Kristallnacht 1938-2018

Angela Merkel Quote, July 2018

Angela Merkel recently said that, “When the generation that survived the war is no longer with us, we’ll find out whether we have learned from history” (Newsweek, July 20, 2018).

That time draws ever near, and what have we learned … about totalitarianism? About violence? About resistance?

November 9-10 marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the “night of broken glass.” These orchestrated attacks against Jewish citizens, shops, and synagogues in Germany mark the onset of violence that led to thousands of concentration and labor camps, six death camps, and genocide with the ultimate loss of millions of lives.

This weekend I will invest time in reading, viewing, and reflecting on the meaning of those times and their significance for our own. For those interested, below are links to a few of the multiple media resources I plan to absorb. There are plenty more available through searches online, plus hashtag pages on Facebook (#Kristallnacht) and Twitter (#Kristallnacht).

May we not let the memories or the markers of this atrocity slip into the darkness, but continue the legacy of shining the spotlight of compassion and justice upon it.

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Final Countdown to Launching Futuristguy’s Field Guide #1!

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN IS ON – and I’d greatly appreciate your prayers for stamina and wisdom, as my schedule is packed this month!

WEEK #1. I start off with a bunch of small catch-up projects. Then the book layout file is due from my graphic designer – that starts the actual book-launch countdown clock. Check to see that all content and all 200+ images are there and in their right places.

WEEK #2. Update the document file with any changes, run a test copy of the book, do a final format check, repeat that process if needed. Work on a one-page flyer that overviews the series and gives sales details on the first book.

WEEK #3. Finish flyer. Contact people I’ll be inviting to review the book. Also, I’m attending The Courage Conference, where I’ll be connecting with some of these reviewers, and just enjoying being with others involved in similar ministries.

WEEKS #4-5. Finalize sales webpages. Finish three articles for the companion website. And if all has gone well, order books for reviewers, start up sales, and get the word out that the book’s available!

As you can imagine, each of those tasks has mounds of details to do, so I will likely be off-line more than I am on, but will check messages regularly.

But the last steps are really really here. Finally – almost done! Thanks for your prayers and support along the way …

Coming to Terms with Culture, Context, and Civil Conversations

In 1979, I read the just-released *Contextualization: A Theology of Gospel and Culture* by Bruce J. Nicholls. I still recall his description of contextualization tasks when one African tribe wanted to share the gospel with another.

The way Nicholls saw it, they would need to think through at least four cultures: (1) Their own tribe’s culture and how it differed from (2) the other tribe’s culture. (3) How their culture had been affected by colonial culture syncretized into it by European missionaries.

(4) What the culture of biblical times was had to be explored and interpreted in order to exegete principles that could/should be applied to Christians in either tribe — i.e., which practices in the Bible were cultural options, not moral requirements.

In decades since, I’ve gradually understood better the complexity of these interconnected contextualization tasks. Four key things come to mind as essential: (1) personal presence with other people, (2) careful listening (basically two open ears, one closed mouth), and (3) time. (4) We need to view each person as living an individual culture within their larger social context. We aren’t amorphous parts of a categorical group or label. Useful as cultural categories are, the larger the group, the less likely its paradigm features apply to a person in it.

Contextualization to bridge cultural differences is a paradoxical practice. We can not discern general cultural trends if we do not truly hear lived experiences of specific individuals. And if we only pay attention to individuals, we fail to see how culture influences them.

Probably a fifth discipline is needed for cross-cultural communication to be more effective: humility. Namely, a willingness to share in the conversation – not be in control over it, plus speak honestly and keep asking clarification questions to work through to understanding.

It strikes me these five practices also form the core of civility in social discourse, regardless of the topics at hand. But humility is the center of civility; if we are unwilling to partner in conversations, surely we only get diatribes and debates, never true dialogue.

Here’s the link to the 2003 reprint of Bruce Nicholls’ book, one of the formative volumes in the 1970sand ’80s on understanding the context for effective cross-cultural communications.

Remembering the “Zero Hour” Over Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This week marks the 73rd year since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima, Japan, (August 6) and a few days later on Nagasaki (August 9).

Two months ago, Judy Wu Dominick, whom I follow on Twitter, posted a photo of “the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.” This image and knowing what it meant stirred up a lot of emotions. It moved me to post on memories I’d been mulling over the past few years. Here is that series of tweets: Continue reading

Movie Recommendations in Remembrance of Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday

Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918. Surely he is one of the most renowned people of the 20th and 21st centuries. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, I have three movies to recommend.

Mandela died in 2013, just around the time when a movie based on his autobiography premiered. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom contrasts how similar suffering led to different trajectories for Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie. For him, apartheid and imprisonment led to a heart for truth, justice, and reconciliation. For her, these conditions propelled her on an opposite path. This is instructive — and an important warning — during an era when oppression and injustice are so pervasive in our society.

The past few years, I’ve explored the topic of apartheid in South Africa and the role that peace-making played there in the 1990s. I’ve looked at how Nelson Mandela in particular sought to reduce enmity between the races, and to forge a sense of one nation out of what had been a horrific race-based split. Among the many documentaries and dramatizations I’ve watched about apartheid are Invictus, including all the related special feature interviews, about how the 1995 Rugby World Cup became a symbolic center for uniting the nation, and a related documentary, Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle.

In these movies, I see deep lessons on both humility and having a conciliatory spirit, and how these two complementary attitudes can fuel peace-making efforts that embody “compassion, restraint, and generosity.” Those three qualities were absent under apartheid, according to a speech Mandela gives to his fellow black and colored South Africans in Invictus. And now, as their newly elected president, he hopes these qualities will be exhibited by the black and colored majority toward the white minority.

These are movies for our times, whether we are survivors of injustice, leaders in social enterprises or ministries, or everyday people who want to make a difference.