Monthly Archives: July 2011

I know, and other figments of my ego

That right brain/left brain thing.

“It’s quite clear that in the final analysis it’s the grace of Christ that liberates us. It’s the experience of the unconditional love that truly sets us free. But first we have to be led to the circumstances that make it possible for this love to get through to us, so that we can sense and experience the need for new life. I believe that it was precisely the circumstances that converted the man living among graves. His experience was that of being excluded. The pain of always being rejected was what finally made him capable of reaching out to Christ. And that’s why Jesus often says that the tax-collectors and the drunkards are more open to the Reign of God than we theologians who have only theories in our heads.” –Richard Rohr, Simplicity, p. 122

This quote follows a section in which Rohr talks about the left-braininess of Protestantism that has made it insistent on logic instead of the holistic type of ministry that Jesus walked and preached. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the left side of our brains, it’s simply that, if we Christians are insistent on a ministry of love and grace, then we can’t be primarily concerned with being right (or left!), because we’re all wrong, we’re all sinners, we’re all broken. As Rohr points out, the tax-collectors and the drunkards have a leg up on those Pharisees or we theologians who, because we haven’t fallen quite as far, presume we can think our way beyond this need for God and others that derives from our very humanity.

Several years ago an ex-boyfriend of mine spoke truth into my life along these lines by pointing out how often I responded to others’ statements by saying, “I know.” “Erin,” he said gently, “we all know you’re quite a smart person, you don’t need to say ‘I know’ so often. Besides it doesn’t make you look smart, it makes the rest of us feel dumb.” I often think back to those words and find them quite wise: who cares what I know and what I don’t know if it doesn’t help me impart love and grace to those around me? All that knowledge doesn’t amount to wisdom, and if wisdom is what I seek, it certainly doesn’t amount to much at all. So tonight I’m praying for God to continue to be patient in teaching me the virtue of loving and being loved, rather than being right.


Playing Euchre

We’ve played it in Luang Prabang, Laos, in the Nanning airport, on a boat in Halong Bay with five people, and in coffee shops in Beijing.  It’s become our go-to four person card game, but it’s not something that usually graces such exotic locales as Southeast Asia and the Middle Kingdom.  And yet, it’s none other than the humble midwestern trick-taking game of euchre.  What’s funny about euchre is that I’d been privy to it all those years growing up in Wisconsin (only one state away from its alleged origin, Michigan, where it was transplanted by German settlers), witnessed high school kids from the midwest on mission trips from Washington D.C. to Puerto Rico play it with almost cult-like attention, and managed to never make myself sit down to learn it.

In all honesty, I’m not much for learning new things.  I find it laborious to sit through the rules, because I’m always itching to get going, I’m a bit spacey so I find it tough to keep track of things, and these two coupled together result in a genuine fear that I’ll never quite get the knack of whatever’s being taught.  So only when I was cornered in a coffee shop in Luang Prabang, under the peer pressure of three of my good friends did I buckle down and learn the rules to this midwestern pastime and truly discover what I’ve been missing all these years.

I’d been missing the thrill of setting the other team in the last hand, just when they thought they had things wrapped up, I’d been missing the audacity of “going alone” and the satisfying feeling of looking at a winning hand and uttering those three little words, “pick it up,” to one’s partner, I’d even been missing the miserable feeling of having to call trump on a dismal hand (which in my humble opinion is one of the great equalizers and points of the game!).  But most of all, I’d been missing the table talk in between games about whatever strategy was the best, about playing the odds, about that little bit of luck.  In a word, playing euchre’s not only fun, but it makes me feel smart.  I’d been missing out on feeling smart!  Funny what happens when you’re forced to learn new things!

Beijing Food Highlights

We’ve just returned from being on the road over six weeks, with two days back in Nanning in between each two-week jaunt.  I am tired, but grateful for all of our experiences and travels.  The plan now is to be in Nanning for a week and a half before we head out to Hong Kong for some library research for me.  Evan will leave from Hong Kong to travel to Yunnan with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship for a few weeks, and then we’ll meet back up in Nanning.

Our recent experience of playing hosts to Evan’s parents or my in-laws in China proved interesting, hectic, and tasty.  That’s why I’ve decided to blog two food highlights of our trip, both in Beijing, yet only one being of the Beijing genre (this type of info should be on my husband’s food blog, but since he’s abandoned it, I’ll have to take it from here!).

The first is actually Sichuanese cuisine, known for it’s spice. I found this restaurant on the Frommer’s Beijing Restaurant guide, and it was not only tasty, but dishes were relatively inexpensive (avg 30-60 yuan). Chuan Jing Ban Canting is nothing to look at from the outside, and it’s actually owned by the Sichuanese government. However, the ingredients are reportedly flown in from Sichuan weekly, and each dish we ordered, from the cold tofu skin and loofa (yes, loofa), to the mains and veggies were flavorful and fresh. This place is not for the weak of stomach, it’s spicy Sichuan cuisine at its best, for a great price. (We did have to wait thirty minutes, but we arrived early, around 6 on a Friday night, and the line moved quickly.)

The second place came recommended from virtually every website I searched and featured Beijing’s speciality: roast duck. According to food critics around the world, there’s no better place to eat Beijing roast duck than Beijing Da Dong Kaoya Dian, and I have to agree. It’s not only the duck and the way the fat melts in your mouth, as well as the spread of condiments provided that makes this place special, but it’s the whimsical quality of every dish that elevated Chinese cuisine to a level we didn’t know was possible.

We ordered avocado and salmon rolls that were smoked inside a glass as they were served on the table, that were to die for, as well as a classic Chinese dessert, golden silk fried apples, which were wonderfully sugary and sweet. But Da Dong’s makes each meal, no matter what or how much you order (they have a unique menu, which while pricey, allows you to order a half portion of duck for around 98 yuan, and order dishes in single portion, small, medium, or large, so you can sample), a several course affair by throwing in soup, chilled lychees and melon, and green bean ice cream (while a first for all of us, and they do get creativity points there, still a bit gritty and bland). It was an elegant last meal that is worth shelling out for if you get the chance (and make sure you make a reservation)!

Some of the offerings at Da Dong Kaoya (courtesy of

On the road again: Shanghai

With the English Exchange Camp in Nanjing through (more to come later), Evan and I are on the road again, this time with my mother and father-in-law, who are on their first international trip -ever- and to China!  They arrived in one piece into Shanghai a few days ago, and before they arrived Evan and I had the chance to check out some amazing Peruvian cuisine at Azul in the French Concession (I highly recommend the tapas and drinks). When we were walking down the street, right before we hit the United States Embassy we passed by a mouth-watering display of pizzas, salads, and sweets at glo London, a bakery and coffee shop, so not like anything in what Evan and I refer to as the “real China.”

While in Shanghai, we visited the Bund and gazed at the skyscrapers. We also checked out the highly reviewed Urban Planning Museum, right off the People’s Square Subway stop. It’s not exactly the riveting experience others have made it out to be, but it does have models galore of the ultra modern Shanghai, a really lovely photo exhibit of new construction and old highlights, and a dizzying flyby 360 view film of the city.  (Photos to follow as my internet connection is dastardly slow here!)

We traveled back to Nanning, and we’re currently in Xi’an, where we’ve made it to see the terracotta warriors.  Tonight we’ll do some shopping, and tomorrow take in some local museums, good Muslim food, and of course, do some shopping.  Then it’s onto Beijing!

Hanoi & Halong Bay

The view from our boat on the bay!

I am a bit behind chronically our recent trip through North Vietnam and Laos, but I’m also determined to wrap things up!  One of the only disappointing parts of the trip is that we had planned to spend three days and two nights on Halong Bay, and because of a typhoon, we only got to spend two days and one night.  The scenery was awe-inspiring, the boat was very nice (Glory Cruise), the food was great, and chilling beneath the stars on the bay was wonderfully relaxing.  Had we to do it over again, we might just leave more time on either end of our proposed Halong Bay trip so we could readjust in case of a storm.  More time kayaking in the fishing villages, swimming in the bay, playing frisbee, and gawking at the karst limestone formations wouldn’t hurt us, you know?

On a day trip inside the caves off Halong Bay.

When it came to Hanoi, we rounded out our time there with trips to Cong Caphe to buy authentic Vietnamese coffee (which I have since drip-brewed back in China with some success!), propaganda posters, dvds, and grab some of the great international cuisine (for Vietnamese- great value, variety- Garden Restaurant, for Italian- Mediterraneo, and for Spanish- right next door, La Salsa).  Overall, Evan and I feel we have much to head back to both Hanoi and Halong Bay for in the future, but it won’t be the same without our fabulous friends along!

Our group on Halong Bay cruise.

Luang Prabang (Days 3 & 4)

I maintain Luang Prabang is such a sleepy town that it inspires relaxation and laziness–that’s how day 3 of our travels was spent: sleeping in, wandering around the largest temple on the peninsula, and trekking to the top of another temple in the evening to watch the sunset.  For dinner, we stopped at Tum Tum Cheng Restaurant, also a cooking school. While the prices were a bit steep for the small portions, everything was tasty Lao cooking, the glass of wine was an excellent value (more like two glasses), and the outdoor courtyard was lovely.

On June 23rd, Emily Ben and I woke up early to the site of young monks receiving alms of sticky rice and walking quietly through the streets of Luang Prabang. Then Emily and I went on a run a bit more toward the outskirts of town, and after breakfast we left to ride elephants and go to the smaller waterfall. While many in our group found elephant riding uncomfortable and disappointing (while we did go through a jaunt in the waterfall, most of our ride was through on a jungle-loop path), the small waterfall proved to be an enjoyable climb and swim. Just overlooking the waterfalls was a cheap, Lao restaurant where we feasted on fish, curry, greens, and beer.

Emily and I ran across this bridge on one of our morning runs in Luang Prabang.

In the afternoon we finished up some shopping, dining at Phousi Guesthouse (although there seem to be two on the peninsula), which we would not recommend (bugs, small portions, disappointing food: “Meat of Paradise Luang Prabang” turned out to be a sad version of beef jerkey), before heading out of town the next morning.

Church Renewal from Below

Richard Rohr writes,

‘In 1961 the pope asked us to send 10 percent of our personnel to Latin America. Nobody did it. Even people who claim that they obey the pope didn’t do it. When I went to Latin America, I was told: ‘We’re glad they didn’t send any priests then. If they priests had come, things would have gone on the way they always had. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to celebrate any Eucharists or that we don’t want to have God’s word preached. But we were forced to seek out our own way, and now we have a country like Brazil with between eighty and a hundred thousand base communities.’

…or a continent like Africa, a country like China.

Rohr goes onto say, “It seems to me that Jesus is renewing the Church, not from above but from below” (Simplicity 112-113).  These words are on my heart this week as Evan and I leave to participate in the third annual English Exchange offered through the Presbyterian Church USA‘s Outreach Foundation in Nanjing, China. It was an experience last year that changed both of us- a rare opportunity to interact and fellowship with Chinese church leaders, pastors, and professors.

A Chinese pastor friend and myself at last year’s English Exchange at Jiangsu Bible School in Nanjing.

And as this opportunity returns this summer, I’m left pondering my reflections regarding my experience with Chinese Christians over this past year, particularly my fears about the lack of theological education available to the growing house churches in China, and the impact of that on Chinese Christianity.

And yet, Rohr reminds me that these fears are my fears, and they have little place here.  These fears reveal that despite my best intentions, I hang onto a supremacy of sorts that suggests that the type of renewal that can and will happen in the Chinese Church is not “enough,” in that it needs Western intervention, Western wisdom.

But, of course, it is enough, and it’s precisely what China needs.   The Gospel is best understood by the least of these rather than by those whom the world credits with all the knowledge, power, and wisdom.

This premise undergirds the myths Rohr draws upon from Anne Wilson Shaef, myths that world systems are built upon.  They are myths that our systems are superior, omniscient, logical, and truthful, when really such systems blind us from the truth that Jesus gave us, the simple command to love God and love our brothers and sisters, and regard them more highly than ourselves.

And at my best, this all induces great humility in me, the kind I felt in the mountains of Yunnan, among the Christians there who welcomed me and my American friends with open arms and full hearts, or the kind of repulsion I feel when Westerners declare that our role in the Chinese Church today is to “provide training.”

Of course, training will happen, with us, or (probably more effectively) without us, but I know one thing in my soul: we’re called to listen, to encourage, and to learn here, but not to lead.  

God, give me the faithfulness and the courage to do so over these next few weeks.  And God make me an instrument of you, open my eyes to see, my ears to listen, and my heart to learn from those to whom in the world’s eyes are may be regarded as poor in spirit, but to whom I know much has been given.  Amen.