Saturday, November 28, 2009

From the Taipei Airport

I am en route to Los Angeles after perhaps the second strangest trip of my life (Antarctica Christmas '07 is unsurpassable). I just spent a lovely week with my dear friend Tulsi and her boyfriend Chad in their home of the semester, Bangkok, Thailand. In light of my six hour layover and the blog-negligence-guilt welling up within me, I have decided to revisit this site and write about my thoughts for you (not that this pronoun has any real people attached to it).

1. Why don't more public places offer free internet? As a capitalist (don't hate), I'm totally down with making money for providing goods and services. I just like getting things, particularly invisible things like wifi, for free. All that to say: props to Panera, and to the Taipei airport for making this relatively meaningless blog post possible for someone unwilling to pay for internet access.

2. I'm sorry, but Asian pop music is horrible. I got a 4 hour taste of Thai pop yesterday on a bus and am now experiencing the Taiwanese version. In my humble and very unenlightened musical opinion, this is just not pleasant. Furthermore, I have just discovered that you cannot access Pandora (just edited that from "Panera," bread withdrawals maybe) internationally.

3. Thai food is so good. Tulsi and I took a cooking class this week and I am so excited to try some recipes out at home. Thai food is way up there on my list of favorites, just below Indian I think, and this trip certainly did not hurt. I kind of wish that La Mirada streets had food carts that sold Som Tam and fresh pineapple for pennies. Alas, we are stuck with Taco Bell to satisfy our need for cheap food. Back to the point: I learned how to make Thai food and intend to make it at home.

4. Speaking of food, I love it. It has been so fun having a kitchen this semester and being able to cook and eat pretty well (if I do say so myself). I told my parents that food may be my calling in life, and they, unsure of whether I was serious (I guess I am sometimes a little too subtle with the sarcasm, but I sort of enjoy their reactions, is that so wrong?), tried to gently persuade me otherwise. I personally think that food is a very high calling; my dream job is to be a traveling food taster. Doesn't Giada-something from the Food Network do that with Italian food? I think I could branch out to all cuisines in all countries and totally own her ratings. I just need to develop a more TV-friendly persona and get a cooler name. Ideally, though, I would find some way to do what she does without the cameras while still getting paid.

5. On a more serious note, I have been giving a lot of thought to the gospel and evangelism lately. Having confessed my capitalism in this post and my Calvinist-leanings in another, I have already lost all credibility with my peers, so I feel completely free to admit my distaste for the variety of gospel/ evangelism promoted by Shane Claiborne. There are countless other names that could be attached to the ideas I intend to criticize, but his has come to my attention over the past few weeks due to 1) my writing a paper in opposition to his ideas about the relationship between economics and morality, 2) his coming to speak at Biola, and 3) my reading an article he wrote for Esquire magazine which I found through another blog (in that order). My paper was focused on his glorification of poverty as moral and condemnation of wealth as immoral (I argued that wealth and poverty are amoral), so it does not apply here. His talk at Biola, however, confirmed what I could have guessed his evangelistic sentiments to be based upon my sometimes insightful, often (to my shame) overly-critical and uncharitable, tendency to try to categorize people. His article served to further develop this confirmation as it contains his actual presentation of the gospel.

I will direct you to what I think is an excellent refutation of Shane's article, but I will briefly share my own thoughts here as well. Shane, as with others like him, is certainly well-intentioned. He cares deeply for the plight of the poor, so much so that he dwells among them and takes on their burdens as his own. I sincerely applaud him for the fact that he lives out what he believes and is doing good work in aiding the needy. My primary problem with him is his overemphasis on attending to physical needs at the expense of sharing the gospel to the end of saving souls. I believe that Scripture is very clear that we ought not simply throw words at starving people while disregarding their suffering ("be warm and well fed"), but this does not mean that the message of the gospel is impotent unless accompanied by food or shelter. Passages such as those found in Matthew 25 and the book of James speak to the hearer of the Word who must be a doer also, but do not imply that the message of the gospel can be hindered by the believer's failure to act. The gospel is life to those who hear it and believe, so while some momentary sustenance may make it easier to swallow, living water is the only necessity to people who are not mere bodies. I have heard countless times that "people don't care what you know (the Truth) until they know that you care (about their bodies)." I have never heard it said outright, however, that people who don't care that the living God came as a man to shed His blood in order to save them from the damnation they deserve on account of their sins are wrong, even if someone lamely forgot to include a care package with the message. Again, the responsibility to care for physical needs may lie with Christians with means, but this does not excuse messages such as Shane's which encourage Christians to first care for physical needs in hopes that someone might consequently care about the gospel, as if it were a dispensable appendage. I was appalled when I was speaking with one of Tulsi's fellow exchange students the other night about his passion for missions: I, perhaps rudely, asked him very pointedly about his thoughts regarding the importance of including the gospel message in efforts to help people out of poverty. His response was initially impressive, as he said that caring for physical and spiritual needs are the two rails on a train track and both are necessary to effective ministry; unfortunately, in my opinion (because he cares what I think?), he went on to say that it is important to share the gospel and make converts because, otherwise, you might pull people out of poverty and they will get rich and exploit poor people. Essentially, help people out of poverty and make them Christian because this will help the anti-poverty cause. What about working against poverty for the cause of the gospel? I added, again, perhaps rudely, "and they won't spend an eternity in hell."

This is becoming longer and heavier and meaner-sounding than I intended, so I will briefly share my more positive thoughts on the issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Word of God is so central, so foundational, so essential (need I go on?) that it is surely capable of standing on its own as a supremely valuable message. Again, don't mistake me for saying that Christians are not obligated to help those in physical need. I am merely asserting that the gospel itself, Christ Himself, is all that those in need really need. Thinking economically (not in the sense that the unnamed aforementioned was thinking economically), I think it is reasonable to value people's eternal destinies (big benefit) over their temporal states (small benefit). I am fully aware that such a statement is not in vogue among Christian young people, but I am at a loss for how to argue (and why I must argue) that an eternity with God is better than another day on earth in preparation for an eternity in hell. What has happened to the Christian belief in the afterlife, a literal heaven and hell? I see and hear so little of it nowadays. Yet as I think about and share these convictions, I am painfully aware of my failure to live up to what I believe to be an essential part of the Christian life by sharing the gospel. My prayer is that I might see people as they really are: eternally significant creatures made in the image of God, and lost apart from Christ. This means more love (and that only by the power of God in me): toward fellow saints with whom I share my feeble faith in the Savior, and toward the lost who, when seen with spiritual eyes, need nothing apart from Jesus Christ.

6. I watched The Time Traveler's Wife on the plane from Bangkok to Taipei. I was expecting The Notebook Part Two and was pleasantly surprised to find out that this one was not, in fact, written by Nicholas Sparks. Needless to say, I was prepared for the worst and, while it was certainly not great, I was satisfied with my decision to forego The Ugly Truth. But the point I want to make here has little to do with the movie apart from the activity of time travel. Much like Henry, I am a time traveler. Impossible, you say? Well, I am leaving Taipei in one hour and will arrive in LA three-and-a-half hours ago. I get to relive 16 hours of Saturday November 28th (11 of which will be spent in the sky, don't even get me started on flying). Also, I was eating Thanksgiving dinner (celebrating an American holiday in a French restaurant in Thailand) before you woke up on Thanksgiving, and was looking at ancient Buddhist temples on Friday afternoon as you were finishing your turkey. Why do I still think time changes are so fascinating? I have a feeling they will seem far less exciting in class on Monday when I am severely jet-lagged.