Monday, November 11, 2019

Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

Image text: "Every tongue. Every tribe. Every nation." With an artistic blue background. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

-------------------------

God loves the whole world. Every person in the world. God loves every person equally. I believed that back then, and I still believe that now.

And every person bears the image of God. Equally. I believed that back then, and I still believe that now.

It was easy to make these sweeping statements, like "God loves everyone equally", back when I was growing up in a white church in the US, and I didn't know what culture was. I thought that if I was kind and loving toward everyone in my life, then I was loving people the way God did. An impossible goal for sure, but that's what I should be striving toward.

Everything changed when I went on a short-term mission trip to China, and learned how naive and clueless I was about the world. In the US, I felt like I knew how everything worked. It was quite shocking to discover a whole entire society that was so completely different, where I was constantly amazed and confused about things I saw- but to the people living there, those things were completely normal.

It shattered my entire worldview- including my view of God. It changed my life- this knowledge that other cultures besides my own exist and are valid.

In the US, I had tried to love the way God did by loving people who were members of my own culture. But I realized that, even if I did that perfectly, it would only be a tiny tiny percentage of the way God loves people. Because God loves Chinese people- and people of every nation in the world- just as much as They love Americans. And I don't. Nope, I don't. Not even close. I don't even know anything about what people's lives are like in other countries. Of course I don't love them in a way that's equal to the way I love people of my own culture.

Of course when I read news stories about tragedies that are happening in faraway foreign countries, I don't care as much as if it had happened to white people in the US. But this is the case for everyone- everyone is more emotionally affected when they feel they can relate to the victims of a tragedy. When they feel like it could have happened to them or their friends, rather than some unknown people far away.

But God is not like that. God loves the whole world equally; They aren't localized to one culture the way I am. God is emotionally affected by all tragedies equally. God is equally close to all the victims. I am not.

Back then I totally believed in the whole "personal relationship with God" thing, and I thought I knew God pretty well. But then I learned what culture was, and I realized that if the image of God lives in every person in the world, then I don't have a clue about God. I know so little about the vast majority of the people in this world, because their culture is so different than mine.

About 4% of the world's population are Americans. Even if I was able to perfectly love everyone I met in the US, I would still only love 4% of the way God loves. And I would only know 4% of God. Well, I definitely don't even know 4% of God, because there's a lot I don't know about Americans from a different race or culture than mine. But God knows. And they bear the image of God- and so this means I don't know that part of God.

For the first time in my life, I realized how completely biased I am. Completely, totally, biased- every single thing about the way I think and the way I live is steeped in my own culture. I hardly know anything about people at all! I only know what life is like for people in my own culture.

I saw myself, living in one tiny bubble on a giant global landscape. I felt that it didn't make sense for me to stay in that bubble. I should look at the world from an objective, outside view. I should love everyone equally, just like God does. After all, I "have a personal relationship with God" and that relationship is supposed to dominate every aspect of my life, right?

I thought it was a bit strange, how the vast majority of people just stay in the same culture they grew up in. The vast majority of American college students want to find a job in the United States- they don't even consider other countries. That felt very weird to me. They're biased, they're extremely biased, we're all so biased, and I felt that it shouldn't be that way.

And I went to the Urbana conference, and believed in radical Christian missions ideology. I imagined that all of us Christian college students were a resource that God had, and God's goal was to send people to preach the gospel to the entire world- so wouldn't it make sense to spread us all out uniformly all over the world? Isn't that the way it should be? And the reason that the overwhelming majority of us stay in our own country, and the percentage of international missionaries isn't ANYWHERE CLOSE to "spreading us out uniformly" is just that people aren't willing to do what they *should* do?

I felt that I *should* be equally familiar with every culture in the world- that would be the ideal state. And of course, that's impossible, but I should work as hard as I can toward that goal. And that means getting OUT of the culture I'm the most familiar with, and spending time in a different culture. If I stay in the culture I'm most familiar with, I'm wasting my time. Since I know I'll never reach the "ideal" state of being equally familiar with every culture, it doesn't really matter which culture I go spend time in, as long as it's not the one I already know completely. At least then I'm making progress.

So I moved to China, and I didn't seek out other international, English-speaking people to make friends with. I thought, I'm here to learn Chinese culture, and if I talk to other western people in English, I'm wasting my time. That's only for people who can't speak Chinese well enough yet; ideally we get to a point where we don't need English-speaking friends any more. Because, I am morally obligated to be out of my own culture and absorbing a different culture as much as I possibly can.

Looking back at it now, I see how important it is to my mental and emotional health to have people from my own culture that I can relate to and talk to. I'm glad that I do have a lot of international friends now. And I see that writing this blog has been very good for me; it gives me space to talk about things that are important to me as an American. If I want to talk about "here's my opinion about a weird quirk of the white American evangelical subculture I grew up in", there are very very few people in my life here in China that would understand.

In last week's post, Because of an Idea, I said the reason I did all that work to learn Chinese and move to China was just one simple idea, which turned out to be wrong. The idea was this: The ideal situation is me viewing the world from an outside, objective perspective, and knowing and loving everyone equally, just like God does. I know that that's impossible, but I should at least work as hard as I can toward that goal.

And now, 6 years later, I've learned so much, and I see that initial idea was wrong. Specifically, I have learned about culture and privilege. Specifically, my own culture and my own privilege. (See the first two posts in this series: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It and On Immigration and Double Standards.)

I knew it would be "hard" living in China. Of course it's "hard." Everyone always said it was "hard," when they talked about giving up everything to obey God and be a missionary on the other side of the world. (Note that I am not a missionary, but I was very much influenced by that ideology.) But I didn't know how deeply, deeply hard and painful it would be. I knew it would be hard to find good cheese in China. But it's so much more than that. I didn't know I'd be losing my culture and my privilege; I didn't really even know I had those things in the first place.

Now it's 6 years later, and I'm looking back on my ideas about being "objective." How I believed there was something *wrong* with people just staying in their own culture, how I believed ideally we *should* be open to all cultures equally, and people growing up in the US and then staying in the US for their adult lives showed a failure to live up to that ideal because it was easier to just ignore that ideal.

I was wrong. I didn't understand how important my own culture was to me and how difficult it is to be separated from it.

And because I didn't *really* understand privilege, I thought I was going from "living in the US" to "living in China"- like some kind of objective definition of what "living in China" means. No. I didn't realize what I was actually doing was "living in China as an immigrant" and all that ways that's so much harder than just "living in China." (But obviously, "as an immigrant" is the only way I personally can live in China.)

Now I see how there are actual good reasons for staying in one's own culture. We're all so biased, but I no longer think that's a bad thing. The harder I worked to become "unbiased", the more isolated I felt, because it meant cutting myself off from all the people who truly deeply understand me.

So I've given up on "loving the world the way God does." I can't love everyone equally, and I have stopped trying, because losing my own culture is just so hard.

And it means emotionally, I am more affected by things that happen to people of my own culture, and I'm no longer trying to change that so I love everyone equally. This is troubling to me, though, because when we have this kind of bias, it means we will be less motivated to take action to help people who aren't like us. And that has very real consequences in the real world. And now I'm saying this bias I have isn't a bad thing? That I've stopped trying to "love everyone equally" and that's okay?

(Hmm, maybe it's not possible for a single person to "love everyone equally," but if you had an extremely diverse group of people who all valued each other's perspectives and made decisions together, that group would be able to "love everyone equally." ... So ... that's what I have to say about politics.)

Well, let's back up. Maybe instead of "I already know my own culture, so no point spending any more time on that if my goal is to love everyone, let's leave it all behind and learn another culture" I should do something like this: Have a support system of friends and family who understand me, who will understand when I talk about things that are important to me- and the vast majority of these people will be from my own culture. And then, after I have that support system, I should also meet people from other cultures and learn about them. In other words, recognizing how I truly need to connect with people that I can relate to, and at the same time recognizing that it's important to sometimes be out of my comfort zone in order to love the world better.

And interestingly, accidentally, that's basically what I have now. I'm happy to be part of the international community here in Shanghai. I have a lot of American friends, and a lot of friends from other countries. And I also interact with Chinese people all the time, sometimes in Chinese and sometimes in English.

And interestingly, accidentally, I am closer to the "love everyone equally" ideal, but in ways I didn't expect. I thought I would be learning to love Chinese people, and yes that's part of it. But I've met friends from so many different countries now- England, France, Italy, the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, South Africa. When I hear about something in the news that happened in some foreign country, it doesn't feel like a mysterious faraway place; instead, I think to myself "oh I've met someone from there" or "I know people who have traveled there." Sure, that's not the same thing as actually knowing what that place and its people are like, but it's better than just thinking in terms of stereotypes.

The international community in Shanghai is extremely diverse in terms of what countries we are from, but not very diverse in other ways. Most of us are young, like in our 20s and 30s. We speak English- many speak English as their second language, very fluently. We're the kind of people who study languages and travel to many different countries.

But the biggest unexpected development on the "love everyone equally" front is the empathy I now have for immigrants. I'm an immigrant, and I've experienced so much stress because of that- missing my home and my family, 14-hour flights, worrying about getting kicked out because of paperwork problems, adapting to a new language and culture. I did this all legally and I've never had any governments telling me I'm not allowed in for political reasons, and yet I've still had so much stress navigating all this bureaucracy, where failing to get my residence permit renewed means I literally have to leave the country. Wow, what a massive upheaval of my life that would be. Nobody wants that.

So I find that, emotionally, I care a lot about all the immigrants in this world. Including refugees, including undocumented immigrants, all of them. I want everyone to be able to live where they want.

I don't "love everyone equally," but at least that's something.

Oh, and another thing. I married a Chinese man.

Yes, see, back then I thought it was odd that the vast majority of married people are married to someone of their own race and culture. Shouldn't all cultures be equally likely, when you are choosing a partner? (Weighted by population, of course.) I thought, isn't it kind of messed-up that I always imagined I would marry a white American man, as if that is the "default" because I am a straight white American woman? Ideally, there shouldn't be a "default", right? I should be objective, standing outside of culture. But we see that in reality people are many many times more likely to marry someone from their own culture than another culture, and that means we're biased... and that's bad, right?

No, now I see that culture actually matters. There are a lot of things I love about being in a cross-cultural marriage, and a lot of things that are hard. I do have a need to connect with people who share my cultural background, and so I get that need met through friends instead of through my husband.

My husband is great and I am very happy I get to be with him. But I'm realizing that I didn't really understand what I was getting into- specifically, that we are going to be an immigrant family for the rest of our lives.

So, to sum this all up: Before I moved to China, I believed in objectivity as the ideal. God is objective; God is not attached to any one culture, God loves everyone equally, and we should all be like that. I believed that being more attached to my own culture above all others was a bad thing, and therefore I should get away from my own culture as much as I can, in order to spend all my time and energy absorbing foreign cultures, with the goal of learning all cultures in the entire world just as intimately as I know my own culture. Obviously an impossible goal, but I should at least work as hard as I can in that direction, right?

I still believe that about God- that They are objective and love everyone equally. But I no longer believe I should be like God in that sense. I am attached to my own culture- white, American, English-speaking, suburban, northern-US, etc. That's not a bad thing; actually, it's a need. I need to have human connections with people who understand me, and that usually means people with a similar cultural background. Of course it's also important to get to know people from other cultures. But it is reasonable if the majority of my close friends are from my own culture. Yes, that means I'm biased. But that's not a bad thing.

So now, 6 years later, I have learned that one of the main factors that motivated me to move to China was wrong. But paradoxically, I never would have realized that if I hadn't left the US. I would still be sitting there thinking, "I should love everyone in the world equally, like God does. I should be objective, like God." Still not understanding my own deep emotional need to connect with people from my own culture. Still unaware of how much my life is rooted in my own culture and my own privilege.

And all of this is the reason I'm ready to move back to the US. Emotionally, I am ready now, but for practical reasons it will probably happen in a couple years. Hendrix (my husband) and I know that eventually we want to live in the US, but there are a whole lot of steps that need to happen, about jobs and green cards and money.

I love my life here in China. I love all the amazing experiences I've had and all the great people I've met. I don't want people to read this blog post and think I'm saying I regret coming to China. I definitely don't regret it.

But it's shown me there was so much I didn't know. And I was wrong about objectivity.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Blogaround

A golden retriever puppy. Image source.
1. I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb (posted October 31) "Airbnb has created a web of more than 7 million listings built largely on trust, easily exploitable by those willing to do so."

2. Scientists plan a new orbiter mission to Pluto (posted October 30) "The mission timeline we created is as follows: Launch in December 2028, a Jupiter gravity-assist flyby in October 2030, braking into Pluto orbit beginning in 2046, and concluding in 2059." Cool!

3. Donald and Melania Trump place candy on top of child's Minion Halloween costume, video goes viral (posted October 31) I don't talk about him much because he's just THE WORST, and what else is there to say? He's THE WORST. But for some reason this- putting candy on a child's head- really bothers me. As best I can tell, the orange antichrist is standing there giving out candy as part of this Halloween event, and he's bored, and a kid shows up with a costume that has a big flat head, and the orange antichrist decides to stick the candy on top of this kid's head, just for his own amusement. This kid is in a big inflatable costume and probably can't see very well, probably can't grab the candy off of his/her own head because the costume is so unwieldy, and the candy falls off. The president is like a school bully, messing around with this vulnerable kid, whose senses and movements are extremely limited by his/her costume, just because he thinks it's funny. Complete lack of empathy.

4. If Richard Spencer Were Missing Teeth And Wearing Overalls, He Never Would Have Been On TV (posted November 4)

5. T.I. Said He Goes To The Gynecologist With His Daughter Every Year To "Check Her Hymen" (posted November 6) Ewwwwww. There is so much wrong with this. I'll just say one thing: getting your daughter's hymen checked is an example of sexual immorality.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Because of an Idea

A girl carrying a backpack and looking at a map. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

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As I was working on this '6 Years Later' blog series, about how I left behind my entire American life and moved to China, I came upon this GQ article: The American Missionary and the Uncontacted Tribe. It's about John Chau, the American missionary who was killed in 2018 by the Sentinelese islanders he was trying to "share the gospel" with. (I wrote 2 posts about Chau in 2018: This Is Exactly the Martyr Fairy Tale We Aspired To and Evangelicals Agree With What Chau Did (And It Makes Me Angry): Here Are The Receipts.)

The GQ article tells Chau's story in more detail than any of the news articles I had previously read. It talks about Chau's background, his family, his beliefs, his friendships, and the years and years of research, training, and planning he did to prepare for his mission on North Sentinel Island.

The article details every step that Chau took to prepare- from wilderness survival training, to making multiple trips to India to build a network of contacts, to researching what sorts of gifts a hunter-gatherer tribe might appreciate, to revealing his (very illegal) plans to Christian friends, and so on and so on. And as I read it, reading about how he spent years considering every little detail and doing the best he could to plan for it ... I have 2 thoughts:
  1. This is so tragic
  2. Well, yes, of course he did that
It all started with one idea, an idea I know all too well. An idea that was wrong. Because of this idea, he made it his goal to go befriend the people of North Sentinel Island. And because that was his goal, he made this whole years-long plan of all the practical steps he would need to take to get there. Every step misguided and wrong because the initial idea was misguided and wrong.

Every step was tragic, but inevitable. Because of the idea that started it all.

Here's "the idea": Every person in the world needs to hear a specific story about Jesus ("the gospel"), and this is so important that it's worth sacrificing one's life.

Chau believed this with all his heart. And I used to believe it too. Christians say it all the time- but usually they don't truly believe it the way Chau believed it.

It's not true.

It's not. It's very wrong.

But it was this one idea that inspired Chau to take all these steps that led to his death. He believed it so hard, so there was no stopping him. (The GQ article mentions Chau's father and other Christian friends trying and failing to talk him out of it.)

I read about all the things he did, all the little practical things to get ready, and it sounds so familiar, like, yes of course he did that. I've been in that world, to a certain extent. Well, let me lay out my missionary credentials for you:
  1. I went to InterVarsity's Urbana conference (a giant missions conference held every 3 years) in 2009 and 2012. This is a conference for college students where we get all gung-ho about missions. Every evening there's a speaker who gives a grand inspiring talk about how God is calling us to "GO!" and we sing worship songs about how God loves the whole world and we want God to send us out. During the day there are workshops that give practical advice about how to be a missionary. And there's a big hall with booths from all these different missions organizations- kind of set up like a career fair. In 2009, I totally bought into all that missions ideology. In 2012, I was starting to question a lot of things.
  2. I went on a 6-week mission trip to China in 2010. And that experience inspired me to devote myself to learning Mandarin Chinese and coming back to live in China long-term. But it wasn't for the normal "missionary" reasons- it wasn't because I "felt called" to "share the gospel" with Chinese people or whatever. It wasn't related to the idea I talk about above, the idea which inspired Chau. Instead, it was about a desire to get out of my own culture and learn a whole new one. (More on that in part 4 of this series.)
  3. I spent the next few years preparing- studying Chinese, befriending a ton of Chinese students at my college, praying and agonizing over the possibility of living in China long-term, applying for jobs in China. 
  4. Some of the jobs I applied for were with missions organizations. Looking back on it now, I'm glad none of those worked out, because I was in the process of questioning a lot of evangelical beliefs, and it would not have been good for me to be in a job which required me to pretend I believed certain things.
  5. I moved here in 2013 and I've been living here ever since. But not in any sort of missionary role.
I know what it is to long so hard to go, go far away and leave behind my home and my culture to live in a new world. Being willing to give up everything for that dream. I know what it is to spend years preparing, praying, working towards that goal. To have friends and family who want to support me but feel uncertain about if it's a good idea or not.

I read about Chau, and I feel like we are almost the same- giving up everything and moving to the other side of the world just because of one simple idea. Years of determined preparation just because of that one idea. 

But my idea was different than his. As I said, his idea was "Every person in the world needs to hear a specific story about Jesus ("the gospel"), and this is so important that it's worth sacrificing one's life." Mine was ... well I'll get into that in part 4.

His idea inspired him to go to North Sentinel Island, which was dangerous and illegal. My idea inspired me to come to China, which is not dangerous/illegal, and so fortunately I was successful, and here I am 6 years later.

Chau's story is so tragic because it's the result of sincere, determined, good-hearted pursuit of an idea that was so completely wrong. And in my case ... I think I was also inspired by an idea that was wrong.

I don't regret it. I love living in China. But it's been hard in so many ways I didn't expect. And now, 6 years later, I'm able to see that I was wrong about some of the things that inspired me. Ironically, if I had never moved away from the US, I never could have realized those ideas were wrong.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Blogaround

A baby wearing an Ironman costume. Image source.
1. TobyMac’s Oldest Son, Truett, Has Died at Home (posted October 24) Oh no.

2. Why I Was Forced to Resign from Southwest Church (Indian Wells): Pastor Gerald Sharon’s Story (posted October 24) "One of the people who had signed up was a gay man, which caused panic among the elders and leadership staff. ... So they instructed the staff to put his name at the bottom of the list and to tell him, 'There is a long waiting list and we just haven’t gotten to you yet.'"

3. theological foundations: trauma theology (posted August 8) "Trauma theology helped me see all that, revealing it all in an intuitive, natural way. I can see it everywhere now, too– in every single one of Jesus’ healing miracles, when Moses flees Egypt, the interactions between Paul and Barnabas, or Mary Magdalene at the Tomb."

4. Trump Tweets Faked Photo of Hero Dog Getting a Medal (posted October 30) This is odd.

5. This tweet from @ToriGlass:


6. John Piper: Scare the Bejesus Out of Your Children (posted October 29) Ah yes, my reaction was the same as Libby Anne's: "What in the blazes is this."

Monday, October 28, 2019

On Immigration and Double Standards

The Statue of Liberty. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

-------------------------

I always heard Americans say this about immigrants: "If you're in this country, you need to speak the language." And I agreed with it.

And then I prepared for my short-term mission trip to China. I tried to learn as many Chinese words as I could. I was quite worried about "what if someone talks to me and I can't understand them?" Because I believed "If you're in this country, you need to speak the language." I reassured myself that I wouldn't be traveling in China alone; I would always have a Chinese-speaking friend with me to explain to strangers that I didn't speak Chinese.

Because, I thought that would be something strangers needed explained. The idea of meeting someone who's "in the country" but can't "speak the language" just felt so unbelievable to me. Like it would be something astonishing and ridiculous to be walking along in China and meet a white person who can't understand Chinese.

And now that I've lived in China for 6 years, I've met A LOT of white people who live here but can't speak Chinese. A lot of white people who have a "*shrug* why bother?" attitude toward learning Chinese, who don't feel weird at all about telling people "I don't understand Chinese" and attempting to communicate with strangers in English instead.

And there have been so many times that some stranger talks to me in English. I used to get angry about people assuming I don't understand Chinese- I do! I've worked hard on this! But then I met all these clueless white people, and I understood why Chinese strangers often speak English to me. Because most white people in China actually can't speak Chinese. So it doesn't bother me any more if a cashier says "for here or take away?" Whatever, I'll answer in English. But if we're going to have a long complicated conversation then I'll let them know I can speak Chinese.

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When I was in college [which was in the US], sometimes there would be a group of international students talking to each other in their own language, and the American students would say "Why don't they speak English? They CAN speak English, so they should."

And then I moved to China, and I thought because I CAN speak Chinese, I should, with everyone, all the time. I remember very early on, I was meeting some American guy at a Starbucks in China, and when I called him on the phone to ask if he had arrived yet, I asked in Chinese. I didn't even check beforehand to see if he could understand Chinese or not- I just reasoned that he lives in China long-term so he should be able to speak Chinese. And even though we are both white American English speakers, I thought that since we are in China, I should talk to him in Chinese.

At Starbucks, he talked to the cashier in English to order his drink, and that confused me.

I was working as an English teacher, and I felt like of course at my job everyone should speak English, because this is an English school, but in public in China everyone should speak Chinese. I did not at all try to seek out other international people and make friends- I thought, that would be pointless. I would just be speaking English to them, and I didn't come all the way to the other side of the world so I could speak English. For the first couple years I lived in China, I purposely avoided places and events where I could meet a bunch of international people speaking English.

I thought that the "correct" way for me to live in China was to speak Chinese to everyone. Because, as all the Americans always said about immigrants in the US, "you're in this country, you should speak the language."

There was even a period of time when I was going to therapy, and my therapist could speak both English and Chinese, and I felt bad about the fact that I always talked to him in English. Immigrants aren't supposed to do that, I thought. It's only because I'm not good enough at Chinese that I'm stuck here talking to my doctor (privately! confidentially! no Chinese people are even hearing this!) in English. I don't know enough Chinese vocabulary to talk about emotions and abstract thoughts in nuanced detail. And I thought that was a less-than-ideal situation and I should change.

Anyway, all these years later, I do understand why those international students in the US didn't "just speak English" even though "they can." Yes, they could, but it's easier to speak their native language. It's always easier. And I couldn't understand that before- I thought it was binary, you either "know English" or you don't. But now, I'm fluent in Chinese but it's just easier to speak English. For me it'll always be easier to speak English.

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My high school health teacher [in the US], Mr. B, liked to ask "bonus" questions whenever we took a quiz. I now see that they were questions about American culture, but at the time I didn't really understand that I, a white American, had a culture.

I was always astonished by how "easy" the questions were. If there was, say, a question about the game Monopoly, the answer would be "Monopoly"- you just had to know the game Monopoly existed, and you would get it right. It wasn't anything more complicated than that. All the questions were like that- very basic-level trivia about classic American games, movies, etc. Mr. B seemed to just be making up questions on the spot for his own amusement after we finished the health quizzes. Every quiz would have 1 or 2 of these "bonus questions."

There was one student in my health class who was an immigrant from Africa, let's call him Ryan. He never got any of the bonus questions right, and I didn't understand. I didn't realize they were "American culture" questions. I had no awareness of the fact that I had a culture, so the only way I could label them was "easy" and "obvious." They weren't things we learned in school, they were things that everyone just knows, right? So "easy" and "obvious" that we don't need to learn them. And so I was always astonished when some of my classmates didn't know the answers.

It wasn't until I had lived in China for 6 years that I thought about Mr. B's questions again and realized they weren't "easy" and "obvious" questions; they were "American culture" questions. (And they weren't really fair to Ryan, were they?)

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I met a lot of international students when I was in college [in the US], and I was extremely impressed. They left their own country and learned to live in a whole new culture and speak a whole foreign language (English). Wow, what a huge challenge! People who do that are amazing! And I wanted to be like them.

I wanted to move to China, just like I had seen students from China come to the US. I wanted to learn how to live my life in China, adapting to the culture and all the little daily-life things, just like they had to learn how to live in the US. I wanted to get an engineering job in China, just like all the Chinese engineers who come and work in the US.

So... I did.

I did. I learned Mandarin Chinese- speaking, listening, reading, and writing. I initially came to China as an English teacher, but later changed to an engineering job at a Chinese company, just as I planned. I did it.

And after I did it, I realized... people don't really do that. I've met a lot of international people in Shanghai, and only a few are working in, like, "normal" jobs that a Chinese person can do. Most of them are working in something related to teaching- teaching English to Chinese people, teaching normal school subjects (in English) at an international school, offering training programs for business skills (in English with a Chinese translator).

You guys, I went on Chinese job search websites, read job descriptions in Chinese, went to interviews for engineering jobs and talked about robots and algorithms and software in Chinese during those interviews.

Of course I did. It never would have occurred to me that, as a white American, it doesn't make sense for me to search for jobs in this way. I live here, I should use the same system as Chinese people do. Right?

And on a few occasions I got job offers. And that's how I got my job.

At some point I realized that those companies were also interested in my English skills and ability to communicate with international customers. It wasn't just about my engineering ability, the way it would be for Chinese job applicants. I tried to ignore that reality though. I didn't want to be treated differently.

Lots of Chinese engineers come to the US and work there. I wanted to do the same thing, but in the other direction. I've now realized that there are economic, political, and cultural reasons why it's so common to see this happen in one direction but not the other. But back then, I had no idea. It seemed so simple- I met a lot of Chinese international students in the US, I admired them, and I just wanted to do the same thing.

If I had known back then about the reasons this happens in one direction but not the other, that what I've done is so rare that I don't think I know any other international people in China who have done the same thing (I know international people who speak Chinese and use Chinese a lot in their jobs, but still at international companies where mostly they speak English at work) ... if I had known, would I still have done it?

I'm successful, and I'm proud of that. Maybe it's good I didn't know how unusual this was, because it might have made me too discouraged to try. Or maybe the "economic reasons" that this happens in one direction but not the other are important things I should have taken into account, and I should have just gotten an engineering job in the US.

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The first time I got sick in China, I went to a Chinese hospital. (Note: In China the doctors all work at hospitals; you have your normal doctor's appointment at a hospital. It's not like in the US where you only go to a hospital for some VERY SERIOUS problem.) I knew some of the other international teachers at my job talked about going to an international hospital, finding a doctor that speaks English, etc. But I thought... Well I thought that sounded sort of racist. It sounded like "yeah, sure, Chinese people can go to Chinese hospitals but I'm TOO GOOD for that, I'm more special than them so I need to get more special health care."

I thought, I can speak Chinese, so I can go to a Chinese doctor, no problem. I couldn't imagine there would be any problem, since I'm able to speak the language. What other problem could there possibly be? Yeah sure they do some things differently, and maybe in some ways the quality of the health care might not be as good as an international hospital, but if it's good enough for Chinese people then it's good enough for me. To believe otherwise would be racist. Right?

So I went to Chinese hospitals, had bad experiences a bunch of times, went to international hospitals where everything went much better, and then decided I'm not doing Chinese hospitals any more. Nope. I'm done. Only international health care for me.

I couldn't comprehend why things had gone so badly at Chinese hospitals. I thought in terms of just one dimension- in terms of medical expertise being better or worse. Beyond that, I thought the only differences would be some superficial things like language and some organizational or administrative procedures, things that weren't really a big deal.

I thought that when I, a white American who speaks Chinese, walk into a Chinese hospital, it's the same as when a Chinese person walks into a Chinese hospital. And the international people who wanted to find an international hospital were bigoted because they didn't want to be "the same" as Chinese people; they felt they were superior.

I was wrong.

See, it's not the same, because Chinese people have something I don't have: knowledge and experience with how Chinese hospitals work. Back then, I had all these assumptions about how doctors and nurses are supposed to treat patients; basically I expected I just make an appointment and then show up all sick and helpless, and the doctors and nurses would ask questions and listen to me and take care of me. They would help me not just with my medical problem, but would be emotionally sensitive and I would feel their kindness and compassion. I guess that's called "bedside manner."

But I guess Chinese hospitals are more like, you just go in and get your treatment and that's all. Nobody comes to help you along and make sure you're doing okay emotionally. I guess because there are just too many people in China- too many patients. You have to advocate for yourself.

For example, one time when Hendrix took me to the hospital, we checked in and Hendrix said the next thing we do is go see the doctor. So he started walking down the hallway, opening doors to find a doctor. Apparently that was the correct thing to do.

And on another occasion, I was lying on a bed getting an ultrasound, and some random people just opened the door and popped in. Like, not hospital staff- just random patients. And that was normal. Apparently nobody really cares about privacy.

And none of the doctors or nurses at Chinese hospitals asked if I had any allergies. At the international hospital, they ask ALL THE TIME. So I guess in the Chinese system, it's my responsibility to confirm they're not giving me anything I'm allergic to.

All this left me feeling very vulnerable and unsafe, and so after enough experiences like that, I made the decision that all my health care would be at international hospitals from now on. At the time I made that decision, I still didn't understand. I still thought when I walk into a Chinese hospital, it's the same as a Chinese person walking in. I didn't understand why it had gone badly for me but was fine for a billion Chinese people; I just knew that my needs weren't met, so I was unwilling to put myself in that situation again.

It was because of my expectations about how health care is supposed to work. I want to be treated like I matter and like the hospital staff really cares about me.

It was because Chinese people have something I don't have: an understanding of how to navigate the Chinese health care system.

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All those years ago, I decided I wanted to learn Chinese, so I signed up for Chinese 101 class in college [in the US]. After about a week or two, our professor, Mr. Wang, said, "Some of you should drop the class, because you already know Chinese."

I didn't really think that much about it. Just that yeah, obviously, if somebody already knows Chinese then it doesn't make sense for them to be in Chinese 101 class.

Months later, I happened to be talking to my friend Alice, who is an American-born Chinese (ABC). She mentioned Mr. Wang and said "he's racist." She said he didn't treat the ABC students fairly.

Personally, I had a great time in Mr. Wang's class. He LOVED me. He always told me I was the best student. Actually, Chinese 101 class was just one small part of my efforts to learn Chinese; I was also regularly meeting with Chinese international students to practice (which I would say is the most effective way to learn a language). So I was learning much faster than our Chinese 101 curriculum, and so I always got everything right in class and Mr. Wang told me I was the best ever.

Also I'm white.

Alice said "he's racist" and then I thought about when Mr. Wang said "some of you need to drop the class." At the time I didn't get it; I thought you either "know Chinese" or you don't. But the students that Mr. Wang was referring to weren't just there for an easy A because they "already knew Chinese." They were ABCs that could understand and maybe speak a lot of Chinese because their parents spoke it at home, but maybe they couldn't read or write. Or maybe they didn't know much vocabulary besides whatever their parents talked about at home. They were there to fill in the gaps in their Chinese language ability, but Mr. Wang wouldn't let them.

Wow, that was messed-up, and I never noticed or cared because everything went so well for me in that class.

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White people in the US tend to think that the ideal is to "be colorblind", to "not see race." Treat everyone the same. Feminism has taught me that there are actually a lot of problems with this "not seeing race" concept. Basically, race does matter, and you can't correct the problems caused by racism if you pretend race doesn't matter.

But most white Americans see that as the ideal. Treat everyone of all races the same. And in one's normal day-to-day interactions, that is the right thing to do.

In China, that's not the ideal. Chinese people think that, in order to be polite and welcoming, you should NOT treat white people the same as Chinese people. No, when you meet white people, you should talk to them in English, not in Chinese.

(And of course I have met international people of other races in China too, but their experiences with race in China are different from mine, so I can't really speak to that.)

There have been times where I'm walking up to buy something at a restaurant, and I see the cashiers scrambling around, trying to figure out who among them remembers the most stuff from their high school English class and can therefore talk to me. And then they apologize to me because their English "isn't good."

No, I haven't seen any Chinese equivalent to "if you're in this country you need to speak the language." Or "not seeing race."

It was surprising to me, though, how my whiteness affects every single interaction I have with ANYBODY AT ALL in China. From strangers, to Chinese friends, to American friends, to my husband.

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American high school kids travel to all sorts of countries all over the world for mission trips. American colleges proudly advertise their study-abroad programs, where students can go spend a semester in another country. Americans post their international vacation photos all over social media. And unqualified Americans have ESL job opportunities all over the world. (Yep, I was one of them- I totally moved to China on a work visa in an ESL teacher job. Which I was unqualified for.)

I always took it for granted that I could travel wherever I wanted. And when I set my goal of moving to China and living there long-term, I totally 100% believed I was entitled to just go to any country I wanted and live there. Of course there were some practical concerns like finding a job, language barriers, adapting to a different style of food, but those were all things I would deal with on my own, as I encountered them. I never, ever, for a minute, even considered the possibility of "maybe the government won't let you in, and that's that." Americans don't really think about that.

But look at it from the opposite side: A lot of people want to enter the US, but can't. One aspect of this is people who want to live in the US long-term: refugees trying to cross the border, people waiting years and years for a green card, undocumented immigrants overstaying their visas. But in certain circumstances, the US also denies visas to people who just want to make a short-term trip, maybe for a vacation or academic conference.

In order to get a US tourist visa, you have to bring enough evidence to convince them that you're not actually planning to be an immigrant and overstay the visa. If you can show that in your home country, you have a good job, close family, and a good amount of money in your bank account, then the US visa official will believe you're really going to go back home after your little US vacation.

I remember when my husband Hendrix (who is Chinese) was applying for his US tourist visa- he joked about "if a woman says 'I have no job and I am going to visit my boyfriend in the US', no chance they're giving her that visa." A friend actually advised us to make sure Hendrix got his 10-year US tourist visa before we got married- if we were already married, they might look at his visa application and be like "you're married to a US citizen?" and deny the visa.

I always felt like I had the right to just go wherever I want. It never occurred to me to wonder if a government would refuse to allow me to enter. I was in my 20s when I realized "You know all this stuff in the news about illegal immigration? What that actually means, in terms I can relate to, is that some people- depending on what country they're from- can't just take a trip somewhere just because they want to." And that astonished me, because I had always taken it for granted that I'm entitled to go travel or live long-term wherever I want. Everyone should have that right.

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Because I moved to China, I understand culture and privilege in ways I never could have if I had stayed in the US.

I left my own culture to live in a new culture. That means there are so many things which I always felt were completely normal, so normal that I never even thought about them, and now I'm surrounded by people who don't know anything about them at all. Pancake syrup, football teams, going through the drive-thru. I've lost so much that I never realized I could lose.

I knew I would be learning a whole new culture, but I didn't know I would be losing my own.

And let's talk about privilege. I always thought it's just one-dimensional: the US is better than other countries. More money, more resources, etc. I thought by moving to China, I would be moving from an easier life to a harder life. In China we don't have a dryer for our clothes, so we have to hang them up. In China we can't drink the water from the sink, so we have to boil it. In China I get paid less than if I got a job in the US.

I thought I was moving from "living as an American" difficulty level to "living as a Chinese" difficulty level. But no, I was actually doing something harder than that. Because what I actually gave up wasn't money or convenience; what I actually gave up was privilege. The privilege of being a native speaker vs speaking my 2nd language. The privilege of being in the majority culture and majority ethnic group. The privilege of being a citizen rather than an immigrant.

In other words, me living in China is harder than a Chinese person living in China. They have something I don't. They know the culture. They know the language better than I ever will. They don't stand out as different and foreign because of their race. They don't have to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops related to getting visas renewed, and handle all the logistical things that work differently for me because I don't have a Chinese ID card.

And in the same way, if a Chinese person moves to the US, that doesn't mean their life is the same as my life in the US. It's not just "the US is better"; no, if they don't have the knowledge and experience about how to do things, then it's not better for them. This, again, is all about privilege.

I thought of it as "I spent the first 20-some years of my life learning American culture, and now I will learn Chinese culture." But it wasn't like that; I didn't simply "learn Chinese culture." Instead, I learned Chinese culture from an immigrant's perspective. My own identity is the lens through which everything happens to me. It's not possible to experience Chinese culture from an objective, outside perspective.

And I'm thinking about all this, about what I learned about privilege, and I realize that even in this, I'm privileged. I chose to become an immigrant. I'm not a refugee. I'm not fleeing some dangerous situation in my home country. I didn't come here for better economic opportunities. No, nothing like that- there was nothing wrong with my home country that pushed me to leave. I came to China to live as an immigrant just because I wanted to.

And my life in the US is still there, still available, I can go back any time. Sometimes literally- I know I can go stay at my parents' house and not pay for food or housing, any time I want. I'm so privileged... I'm writing this blog series to say "well it's been 6 years and here are the things I learned about the world, culture, and being an immigrant, well that was a fun experience but I'm ready to be done, gonna go back home now" and then I can just go back, simple as that. A lot of immigrants can't do that. A lot of immigrants don't have a choice.

I chose to give up all that privilege- majority culture privilege, native speaker privilege, citizen privilege- and now I've decided I want it all back. And I'm able to do that. That, too, is privilege.

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Next: Because of an Idea

Related:
Feminism 101: Privilege

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Blogaround

Koi fish. Image source.
1. The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You (posted October 6) "“Many people have the view that nothing can be done,” Zucman told me. “Our case is, ‘No, that’s wrong. Look at history.’”"

2. John MacArthur Told Beth Moore to ‘Go Home’ for Having the Audacity to Preach the Gospel and Help People (posted October 21) Ewww how will I explain John MacArthur to my children?

3. getting over modesty culture: a step-by-step guide (posted October 21) "Recognizing my wardrobe needs to meet emotional needs has been one of the most difficult parts of this journey, and I’ve never really heard anyone talking about this component."

4. Emmett Till’s Bulletproof Memorial: We Have So Far Still to Go (posted October 21) [content note: anti-black violence]

5. The tree said, "No, it's time we set some boundaries." (posted February 12) YES! I love this.

6. choose you this day whom you will serve (posted August 19) "The DHS agents, ICE personnel, and metro police who eventually put us in squad cars and then locked us in concrete room without any water or food for twelve hours clearly thought of themselves as cogs and sprockets."

Monday, October 21, 2019

I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It

PBJ sandwich. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

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Living in China long-term has taught me so much about what culture is. I never could have learned this if I had stayed in the US. I've learned about Chinese culture, yes, but I've learned even more about my own culture. Specifically, the fact that I have one.

As a white American growing up in the suburbs in the northern US, I never thought about culture. Culture was when people in other countries ate weird food and celebrated weird holidays. That's all.

Culture? No, I don't have a culture, I just do normal things, things that everyone does. Eat a bowl of cereal and milk every morning, make a sandwich for lunch.

Just a regular dinner. With a cup of ice water. A fork, spoon, and knife- I don't know the technical correct way to make a place setting, but there are etiquette experts who do. And it's good manners to put your napkin in your lap. Pasta, meat, and a side of vegetables. Salt and pepper on the table. Dinner rolls with butter. Lunchmeat sliced right in front of you at the deli counter, so many varieties of sliced bread, so many different kinds of cheese. So many varieties of pasta. Buying a dozen eggs in a styrofoam carton, and a gallon of milk. Oh, and there's chocolate milk too. Pop-tarts. Raspberries. Bagels. Baking birthday cakes and decorating them myself. (And of course, licking the batter from the bottom of the bowl.) And you can eat cake and ice cream together. Granola bars. Chocolate chips. Pancakes with syrup.

Culture? No, I wouldn't call it culture. As kids we just watched normal kid movies, about believing in yourself, about following your dreams rather than being constrained by your parents' expectations. We played duck-duck-goose and HORSE. Let a slinky walk down the stairs. At birthday parties, we played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Parents put kids' artwork up on the fridge. Swimming pool and swingset in the backyard. Fighting with your siblings. Planting sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds outside and watching as the plants grow. And we were so excited when we stayed at a hotel that had a waffle maker.

School bus. Pledge of allegiance. Spelling bee. Kids getting their family to order chocolates or whatever as part of a school fundraiser. PBJ sandwiches. Middle school band concerts. Science fairs. Reading Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Langston Hughes and Robert Frost and Mark Twain. Prom and homecoming king and queen. High school football and cheerleaders and marching band. AP classes and the SAT. You know, just all those normal things that every teenager thinks about. Yearbooks. Class rings. Senior pictures. College admissions essays. Going down to the DMV after school on your 16th birthday to get your learner's permit, then taking drivers' ed and getting your license around age 17. Some kids' parents even bought them a new car.

Culture? That's not culture. It's just Superbowl parties and people who are only watching for the commercials. Just snow days and sledding and owning a variety of gloves and mittens. Shoveling the driveway. Painting Easter eggs. Easter baskets and the Easter bunny. Filing income tax. Spring break. Going to the garden store and buying a whole bunch of flowers for the front yard. Just summer camp and s'mores and canoeing and scavenger hunts in the woods. Wearing flip flops everywhere you go. Picnics. Barbecues, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and sausages. Corn on the cob with butter. Just Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating and haunted hayrides. Raking all the leaves into a pile and jumping in it. Just Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. Black Friday shopping and going to the Christmas tree farm. Candy canes and elementary school kids making their own ornaments. Stockings hung over the fireplace. Rolling out Christmas cookies, cutting with cookie cutters, baking them in the oven. Kids can meet Santa at the mall. Christmas lists, Secret Santa, white elephant. Drive around the neighborhood to look at everyone's Christmas lights. I don't have a culture, I just do all these normal things that everyone does. Things like Christmas shopping and wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree and waiting for Christmas morning. Leaving cookies for Santa. New Years resolutions. And just about every holiday has chocolates for it.

Drive thru. Pizza party. Road trip. Oven mitts and measuring spoons and meat thermometers. Swimming lessons. Ordering drinks first at a restaurant, and dessert last. Watch out for deer crossing the road. Public bathrooms have toilet paper and soap. Board games- pictionary, monopoly, scrabble, jenga. Ice cream truck. Dishwasher. Clothes dryer. Toaster. Petting zoo. Writing a check. Thank-you notes. Police have guns. Shoe sizing is different for men and women. Mowing the lawn. Joint bank accounts. Rolling the trash out to the curb for garbage day once a week. Jury duty. Fahrenheit. Debates about "is it called 'soda' or 'pop'?" Hunting. Pool noodles. Country music. Most families have 2 cars. Sending birthday cards. Tipping. Two political parties.

You should go to the dentist several times a year. You should tell your family "I love you." Eat chicken soup when you're sick. Say "bless you" when someone sneezes. You pay more than the number on the price tag because you have to add sales tax.

What if I told you EVERY SINGLE THING on this list is not part of Chinese culture? Or, rather, some of the ones related to cold weather and not living in a city might apply to some areas in China, but not areas where I have been. (I live in Shanghai now, which is in southern China.) Or perhaps Chinese people my age who watch American movies have seen some of them, but that doesn't necessarily mean they really *get* them. For every single one of these things, I expect that the average Chinese person I meet isn't familiar with the concept at all and I would have to explain the entire thing, and they still wouldn't *get* it because they don't have the lived experience of it.

When I moved to China in 2013, I knew it meant I would be experiencing a new culture and I would have to learn a lot of new things. But I didn't really understand what I would be losing- how I was leaving my own culture behind. I thought of my own experiences as "normal", like a neutral baseline that I would be adding new Chinese things on top of. My own culture felt so normal that I didn't even know it was there, and so I didn't realize that moving to China meant I'd be living among people who just didn't know any of this stuff.

Sure, of course I knew there were lots of American traditions that Chinese people didn't share. Of course I knew I'd be telling them "we hang up stockings at Christmas!" and wouldn't it be so fun and interesting to teach them about it. But it's so much deeper than that. It's so many things, so many little things that run through every aspect of my life, and I constantly live with the weight of how much I miss my culture.

Sometimes it hurts more than others.

Sometimes I really want a donut.

And it's not just that I miss it. It's living among people who don't miss it and don't know what's wrong.

And some of these cultural things I don't even like, but all of them have affected me and made me the person I am. So it's not just that I miss them- it's that most of the people in my life don't understand. Can't understand. Sure, I can explain what some American concept is, but not what it means. That's something that can't be communicated with words; you only understand if you've experienced it. How can I explain the emptiness I feel when I don't have turkey on Thanksgiving, when I don't actually like turkey that much anyway? How can they understand that even if we search far and wide in Shanghai and cobble together some approximation of the thing I miss, it's Just Not The Same? How can I explain how I feel when I see some superficial commercialized attempt at copying some American tradition, and Chinese people treat it like it's the real thing and say "China is becoming so westernized" and I feel empty and I miss my home so much more? Why do I always have to do the work of explaining these deeply-felt cultural touchstones to people? It's exhausting. I wish they just *got* it.

I know that, compared with other immigrants, I'm privileged. I chose to leave my country. I wasn't forced to. I have the option to go back. So I'm lucky in that sense. I know that, compared with other immigrants, being American and English-speaking and white puts me in a relatively good position.

But this is hard. Living as an immigrant is hard. It's really good, but I lost so much, I gave up my own culture in ways I wasn't prepared for. It's what I want, I like living here, I don't want to go back yet, but wow it still hurts.

I know what culture is now, in ways I never did before. Because I never really I knew I had a culture. My white, American, suburban, northern-US life just felt "normal" to me- so normal that I thought everyone would automatically understand and I would never have to explain it. That's not true; it turns out I do have a culture, and I've lost it now. I've lost things I didn't even know I could lose.

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Next: On Immigration and Double Standards

Related:
I Didn't Count the Cost Before I Moved To China

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Blogaround

A pigeon. Image source.
1. The weirdly innocent part of the Jerry Falwell Jr. scandal (posted September 19) "The pictures don’t show them doing anything wrong or immoral or unethical — not to a normal human."

2. Disabled People Cannot Be “Expected Losses” in the Climate Crisis (posted September 23) "The structural barriers that disability communities face every day — inaccessible infrastructure, subpar public transportation systems, refusals to provide communication access, endemic poverty and a limited voice in civic governance — become a matter of life or death during disaster."

3. A Pastor Used the Death of an Atheist Mom’s Baby as a Sermon Illustration (posted October 12) [content note: child death] Heartless.

4. Real Rent Duwamish "Real Rent calls on people who live and work in Seattle to make rent payments to the Duwamish Tribe. Though the city named for the Duwamish leader Chief Seattle thrives, the Tribe has yet to be justly compensated for their land, resources, and livelihood." Ooooh this is a very interesting concept. I like it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Nobody Tell John Piper To Have A Good Weekend

Clipart image of a man leaving the office. Image text: "Have a great weekend. I hope your code behaves on Monday the same way it did on Friday." Image source.
I came across this video on Desiring God, by John Piper: God Demands Our Delight: Foundations of Christian Hedonism, Part 2. Actually, I found it because my twitter friends were commenting on an extremely effed-up tweet from Desiring God, which said "God cares more about your happiness than you do. He is so serious about your joy that he threatens hell if you refuse to find it in him." and linked to that post. Everyone pointed out that this tweet is describing an abusive relationship.

So I rolled my eyes and thought I might as well watch Piper's video and see if his abusive nonsense is worth responding to. Well, as it turns out, the video isn't about God threatening us with hell at all. It's not anywhere near as horrifying as the tweet made it sound. Actually, it's a video where Piper claims that we are "commanded" to "rejoice in God" and shows us a whole bunch of bible verses that say so.

And I'm watching this video, thinking, "this is just bizarre." He keeps pulling up verse after verse that says things like "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth" and says "this is a command." Over and over, Piper tells us "this is a command."

What?

This is so strange.

What? How can you read verses saying to "rejoice" and think those are "commands"? The writers are just very happy and inviting other happy people to share in their happiness. It's not about ordering people to act happy- that doesn't make any sense. Emotions can't just be manufactured just because you think you're "supposed to" feel a certain way. Like, what on earth?

Does John Piper hear the song "celebrate good times, come on" at a wedding and think that's a command? If he tells a friend about his upcoming vacation and the friend says "have a safe trip" does he think that's a command? In first grade, when the teacher told the kids their homework over spring break was just "have a good break", did John Piper think that was an actual homework assignment and he would be in trouble if he had a crappy spring break?

Like, I don't even know what to say about this. Usually when I respond to stuff from Desiring God, it's something that's abusive and dangerous. But this is just weird. Why on earth does he think those bible verses are "commands"?

I guess it's because he views the bible as a list of commands we need to follow. And believes in a God who wants to control every little tiny detail of everyone's life. And because he follows an ideology which policies people's emotions- we're required to feel certain feelings, and we're not allowed to feel certain "sinful" feelings.

That's just ... odd.

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Related:
"The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug
John Piper Said "There Are No Innocent Children" and I am Not the Least Bit Surprised

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Blogaround

Captain America. Image source.
1. Labels must be allowed to die (posted July 10) "The result is that these glossaries contain a bunch of labels that are otherwise effectively dead. People only learn about these labels by reading glossaries, or by encountering other people who read the glossaries. The glossaries mislead people into thinking that individual neolabels are more established than they really are."

This is a very important point. I have long believed it's *not actually useful* when well-meaning people in queer spaces list off every queer identity they can think of in order to "be inclusive."

2. Ambassadors From Aceland (posted September 14) "We can’t talk about where our “first time” happened, because that would be confusing and not “ace enough”. We can’t talk about why we want kids, because we all know how babies are made and people wouldn’t understand."

3. Why Woody Is Actually Captain America (posted October 8) "Cap and Woody also share the weirdly very specific plot point of having to un-brainwash their recently armless friend."

4. One Child Policy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) (posted October 7) This week John Oliver discusses China's one-child policy (which ended in 2016, changing to a two-child policy). I'm glad he's talking about this; it's good for his American audience to be informed about how things are in China.

A few things I want to add (source: I live in China- I'm in Shanghai, a huge international city, please note that the situation would be different in rural areas):

The one-child policy started in 1980, which means that the vast majority of Chinese people my age (young adults, around 20 or 30 years old) don't have brothers or sisters. (They have cousins.)

This means that families put all their hopes for the future on their one child. And they pour all their money and resources into the child's education. It's extremely competitive, and it puts a lot of pressure on the kids- they need to do well in school, they need to get a good job, they need to get married and have a child of their own.

There are Chinese people my age who aren't interested in having children, but their parents try to pressure them into it (because otherwise they won't have any grandchildren). And this is even more of a problem for gay Chinese people. (China doesn't have same-sex marriage.) Sometimes a gay man and lesbian woman will get married ("lavender marriage") just to keep their families happy.

And after 30-plus years of the one-child policy, Chinese people feel that it's normal to have one child. Now the policy has changed, and they can have 2, but a lot of people feel that financially it's just not realistic to have 2 children. The one-child policy caused everything for kids to become so expensive, and parents feel like they *have to* spend so much money and enroll their kid in all kinds of tutoring programs and everything, and doing all that for 2 kids would be way too hard.

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