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Mixed Messages about Disability

 China Boy

I have been trying recently to make sense out of three isolated incidents related to persons with disability. One is a shocking denial of services to a child in desperate need of a kidney—because she was disabled—right here in the USA. Another is the blatant declaration by a Christian university that no one with serious physical disabilities need apply for their posted position in theology. And the third, which gives me hope, comes from someone serving cast-off boys and girls (especially girls) with disability in China in the name of Jesus.

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Chinese Missions Conference Workshops

MOVIE THEOLOGY WORKSHOP

Movies today powerfully reflect and shape beliefs, attitudes and values on a global scale. By cultivating the art of watching and listening perceptively, Christians can better understand what people today are thinking and feeling. Contemporary movies also provide important evangelistic “points of contact”–non-threatening opportunities for stimulating conversations on matters of faith.

Movie Theology Workshop Handout

IS THE SAVIOR GREEN? EVANGELISM AND CREATION CARE WORKSHOP

Environmental destruction is perhaps the greatest contemporary threat to human civilization. Historically Christians have been among the worst polluters. This presentation highlights the internal resources that Christianity can draw on to become a global force for the preservation and healing of nature, rather than an ideological foundation for its continued abuse. Christian commitment to creation care need not siphon energy away from evangelism. It can actually increase the credibility of the Gospel and also provide opportunities for building partnerships and personal relationships with environmentally concerned unbelievers.

Evangelism and Creation Care Workshop Handout

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Does Christianity Grow or Just Move On?

BSOP

I have just returned from Manila this week, where I had the privilege of teaching on Christian spirituality to a wonderful cohort of eager Filipino-Chinese and Mainland Chinese students. The latter are the “tip of the iceberg” of a remarkable, grass-roots movement of vibrant Christianity emerging out of a country that has been officially (and sometimes repressively) atheistic and Communist since 1949. Most of these bright, passionate young adults are university-trained students, and many of them possess Mac computers and international cell phones. Yet they have come to accept the prospect of suffering, and have embraced radical consecration, to a degree only sometimes seen nowadays among their North American Christian counterparts. What’s going on? Is Christianity really dying out in the West while growing up in Asia and Africa? If so, it raises another, somewhat troubling question: Does the Christian faith actually expand, or does it just migrate elsewhere?

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Financial Debt and Religious Freedom

mao-money.jpg


A profound social transformation has been taking place right in front of us, and we have barely noticed. Very quietly a revolution in attitude has occurred. It is simply this: debt has been normalized. As a professor I see it every day where students preparing for the (generally underpaid) Christian ministry blithely assume enormous debt to finance their seminary education. They are in effect committing themselves to long-term financial hardship. In some cases their only hope will be to declare chapter 7 bankruptcies. But this is simply a reflection at the personal level of a much larger national disposition. America is staggering toward its own bankruptcy, and we cannot seem to get a handle on the problem. This week I discovered another reasons why our growing debt should be a particular concern for Christians. It came out of a news report from China.

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As Theology Totters in the West

Renmin Business Faculty


The People’s Republic of China has enthusiastically embraced Western science and technology, and modernity’s materialistic worldview. Pictured above is the imposing business faculty of China’s Renmin (the People’s) University. Here this leading Communist university trains a new generation of Chinese business leaders, offering MBA degrees in global economics along capitalist lines. What you won’t find at the university, however, is a faculty of Christian theology. China is still disdainful of religion, and a robust program in theology would only encourage it. But how different it is in the West, right? Well actually, not so much. Christian theology is in serious decline in the West, even in evangelical seminaries and other institutions of higher learning. Pretty soon it may be on life support here as well.

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The Future of Smoke Stacks


 

Beijing Smoke Stack

 

Beijing is a polluted city. Not even the spin-doctors deny that the air here is bad. On a windy day you can taste it. But upon my arrival it still came as a surprise to see a huge ten-storey industrial smoke stack right across the street from my apartment on the campus of Renmin (the People’s) University. Encased in scaffolding, workers have been banging and jack hammering on it every day. The project’s location struck me as particularly offensive—way too close to this residential university, an inappropriate site in an already-dense urban environment. And then eight weeks on I made a surprising discovery. The smoke stack is not going up; it’s actually coming down! It’s another sign that China is making a serious effort to go “green.”

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Quanxi and the Image of God


China

 

Yesterday I had the unusual privilege of attending a business management conference in Shanghai. It was sponsored by the Euro-China Centre for Leadership and Responsibility (ECCLAR), and its purpose was to explore the “Practical Wisdom for Management” present in the Chinese classical traditions—especially Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. A speaker said something that got me thinking about a conversation I had years ago with one of my young (at the time) daughters about the pros and cons of killing a dog. I should probably explain.

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The Canary in the Gulf of Mexico


China Recycling

 


At the moment the world is fixated on the video-cam of oil spewing up out of the earth to defile the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone is hoping and praying that a technical solution will be found to stabilize this environmental holocaust. Should this occur in the near future, we will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Inevitably there will be resolutions to tighten up oil drilling safety standards and improve emergency response strategies, but perhaps the greater tragedy will be if in a few weeks or months we resume our same dangerous and unsustainable way of life. If this disaster proves to be of sufficient magnitude that it will not be possible thereafter to revert to business as usual, the tragedy itself may end up a “severe mercy.” We may look back on it as the moment when “the canary died in the coal mine.” It may be our chance to break out of something that is otherwise going to kill us all.

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Please, Help Me!

 Taoism


One of the near-universal functions of religion is to solicit help from the Higher Power to meet our needs. The main function of prayer, it seems, is petition—asking, begging, making promises and cutting deals, in order (we hope) to get stuff. I saw this dynamic alive and well at the White Cloud Taoist Temple I visited in a slightly scruffier part of Beijing. People kept arriving with gifts of fruit and flowers for the various deities (idols), and lighting incense sticks before kneeling before the images to ask for favors. It got me wondering how the prayers that Christians tend to ask are really much different.

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Religion as Therapy in China

Lama Temple Beijing

 

I have been in Beijing, China for about three weeks now as a visiting scholar at Renmin (the People’s) University, founded by Chairman Mao, and at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. I am comfortably housed in the Foreign Expert Building on the University campus, and get to bike around the leafy campus alongside many of future leaders of the Communist Party and of China itself. Without denying the real differences between West and East, it’s surprising how much is the same, even in the sphere of religion.

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