New Year, take two…

10998077_10204965321507325_1645781452024522601_nWe’ve just finished the Lunar New Year break. The picture above is from our annual trip to Danshui/Tamsui. Today starts a new semester. Sam, Eva, and Eli are all back in school. I’m finishing up lecture notes and making a handbook for a class tomorrow. This semester feels like a big shift to me in several ways. The curriculum has been restructured, so I don’t have a required survey like I would normally (classes that before I’d taught for first and third year students will now be taught in the second year) and am instead teaching several smaller classes: an elective, a DMin course, and a class for a visiting group with Council for World Mission.

I joined two academic projects last semester, the first is a group of major Taiwanese academics surveying congregations in Taiwan, and the second is the “Chinese Christianities Seminar” that a group of us proposed for American Academy of Religions (Alex has a nice description here). The survey group is well established and has been going for years, while the Chinese Christianities seminar is brand new. I’m excited to be part of these efforts.

I also asked our administration at Taiwan Seminary if they could reconfigure my title/job description at the Seminary, so I will henceforth be a “Special Professor,” outside of the normal rank system. For the purposes of accreditation I’ll be something like an “Associate Professor of Practice.” In the last fifteen years only three professors here were formally promoted within the system (all are PCT pastors and alumni of our Seminary, so the criteria are different from most academic systems). This didn’t seem a viable path for me, so I essentially asked my school to create a separate category for me. Since I am here via PCUSA, this also seems to more accurately reflect the multiple commitments I have. I’m on a different calendar than the other teachers, a part of my work involves relating to US churches, and more of my work is cross-cultural. The best part of this was the chance to talk things through with everyone and to get us all on the same page.

At our church, I’m hoping to put together a series on living cross-culturally. Presbyterian pastors from New Zealand, Singapore, and the US are coming through in the coming months, and I’d like to connect them together in a series on 1.5 or second generation Christianity. All have worked with 1.5/2.0 generation ethnically Chinese Christians in different contexts, so I think it would be really interesting to see what we could learn from them.

I’m hoping the year of the sheep was will be one of calm, pastoral vistas and slow growth. The last year we did a number of major transitions (location, schooling for kids, a fairly intense summer in the US), so it would be great to have a year that is a bit more peaceful.

Taipei’s International Schools: Bethany

Today I visited Morrison Academy’s Taipei School, Bethany School, for one of their regular tours. The school counselor and admissions director seemed really nice and I have a better sense of what they are doing. In Taipei, there is an American School and a European School (the European has French, German, and English sections). There are also smaller schools (an Advent American school). Besides this, there’s the Morrison Academy, which is a missionary school and has branches in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. Taichung is their “main” campus and does grades K-12. Bethany School, Taipei’s branch, has through grade 9 but may expand to include a full high school program. If we stay in Taipei, we’d likely be at either TAS, TES, or Bethany for later elementary or junior high (maybe earlier depending on the kid). Bethany also has a slightly later cutoff for the school year (November 1 birthday, rather than September 1), which is a little appealing.

Bethany is located downtown not far from us ($5 cab rider, probably a half hour if you catch the bus). The closest MRT seems to be 台電大樓, Taipower Station. For us, it would be convenient in the long term because it is only about a five minute walk from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s General Assembly office.

I’ve met a few of Bethany’s students before and one of their teachers had attended our church in the past and is really friendly. I think in many ways this would be a more familiar, fairly friendly atmosphere for us. Their classes are smaller, with just twelve in kindergarten right now. They also offer tracks for Chinese study and a mix of activities (music, art, sports). They have a nice library and place book boxes in each classroom. They do storytimes and other activities.

Total admission at the school maxes out at 240, which means 20-30 per grade. Some people wear multiple hats. The counselor we met also hosts a youth group that meets Friday nights, teaches woodworking, and works with admissions. One of my colleagues at Taiwan Seminary said that when her kid moved from Bethany to Taipei American School for high school, he felt fairly overwhelmed by the size and atmosphere. The American School is gigantic, whereas Bethany’s campus feels very navigable and friendly. It’s a bit more familiar in terms of culture (no uniforms, English language environment, class projects on things like American inventors).

It’s been nice to get a sense of how different schools work and to see what options are for down the road. Sam is keeping up fine, but it wouldn’t surprise me if either homework or culture eventually becomes too much to maintain.

One of the main challenges for most families abroad is sorting out education. In many ways, we’re very lucky to be in Taipei and to have options.

Taiwan’s Bilingual Schools: End of the Semester Overview

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From the balcony, you can see the kids doing their Christmas performances. The founder of the school brings her greetings

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I have basically no memories of performing in elementary school, but at Lih-Jen, kids seem to do regular peformances, marching for assemblies, etc.

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He’s hard to make out, but Sam’s the spiderman in the center of the frame

I recently checked my site stats and realized that the vast number of visitors who come here from Google come to this site for my earlier post on bilingual schools. I didn’t really know these schools existed until a year or so ago, so I can imagine others are also trying to get a sense of how they work. In our initial searches, I didn’t find any other parents writing about these schools (at least in English). So… I thought I’d share a bit more about Sam’s experience at Lih-Jen and how our bilingual experiment is going.

I wrote about visiting bilingual schools earlier and then wrote about how our son was doing in October, halfway through the semester. Sam’s now just finished his first semester of first grade and there’s a new semester starting next week. During the semester students take two big tests, one at the midterm and one at the end. Sam was a little slow getting started—his bopomofo wasn’t as good as classmates at the start of the semester and he hadn’t studied English formally in kindergarten. Nonetheless, he got one of a few perfect scores on his first English test and scored in the 90s on Chinese, lower than classmates but not bad. On this last set of tests he scored in the 80s and 90s for Chinese and English. Despite the more relaxed kindergarten and slower start, he’s doing just great and we feel happy with the choice we made.

In general, he really likes things. We have him in Lih-Jen’s Chinese as a Second Language program. As near as I can tell, no other school has something like this. It means that he gets daily help studying Chinese in a small group with a kindly retired Chinese teacher. He likes that group a lot and has some classmates from Malaysia and other places. We think that being in CSL means that he gets help on his Chinese tests too. I’m all for rigor and fairness, but it’s also nice that he can get help if he struggles. If you’re reading this and know Sam, you may be asking, “how is it that a kid who did four years of preschool/kindergarten in Taiwan still needs CSL help?” What I’d say is that it’s just a really nice buffer for him. We can help him with Chinese, but in practice it’s great that he gets pulled out of the bigger Chinese class and gets more focused attention. His Mandarin is really pretty good now. I think if he spent all his time in the larger class, he’d get less practice talking and less hand-holding with things like stroke order for writing Chinese characters. CSL seems less strict than the regular program and we’re grateful for that too.

Socially it has been a good experience. He struggled a bit initially with the more Taiwanese tendency to scold students. Teachers just scold a lot here and it’s seen as a way to keep kids on track. I have to say that as an adult I don’t particularly like being scolded. I think Taiwanese teachers are just a lot more likely to do things that in the States we wouldn’t do (compare students out loud, use shaming language, etc.). Sam could tell me who all the top test takers were after the last test, since the teacher identifies them and gives them a certificate. We’ve also had a few times where we have had some mild friction. Sam was a bit upset that he wasn’t elected for a position in his regular Chinese class, and said most kids were chosen for something. This is probably because he gets pulled out for CSL, but may also be because he’s different. We’ve also had times where people have seemed a bit abrupt with us, but I think this is just language.

The school has won us over in some other ways. It includes a weekly computer class, some music, and some play/nap time. There are several teachers, so if you get someone who’s not a great fit it’s not the end of the world. We chose bilingual school as a compromise over local public school, which has some afternoons off and which would have required us to organize activities on our own. Sam’s set to do martial arts one period a week in the spring, which should be nice. He seems to get along with most of his classmates and we’ve found more of a social circle with parents than we ever had before. As non-native speakers, we sometimes get confused. I thought his winter break started next week, but actually it’s just that they are starting the new semester then because lunar new year is so late this year.

My sense is still that so far it has really been worth it. Sam’s been able to be part of more Chinese-language gatherings. He goes to Sunday School at church, and we’re going to start him doing baseball again. He can play with other kids on the playground using both languages. Our main reasons initially for bilingual schooling were to get him an English curriculum we didn’t have to teach, to build a base of written/spoken Chinese, and to have activities that we didn’t have to arrange ourselves. On those counts, it’s been a successful experiment.

I do have some caveats on the bilingual schools:

  1. It would be a lot harder with no Chinese at all, and it would probably be easier if one parent was a native Chinese speaker.
  2. It’s also a lot easier if your kid has a base of both Chinese and English heading into schooling. Sam’s Chinese was rusty after a summer in the US but he got it back quickly. I think starting Chinese “cold” would be very hard for an elementary-aged kid. In my experience, for a kid or an adult, it takes at least half a year for basic comprension and a full year for conversing, and that would be hard on an older kid without any Chinese background.
  3. Sometimes there will probably be values conflicts. We often find the homework excessive, since we’d rather spend more time doing free reading or family activities. The teachers have been okay with it when we write “Sam did a half hour of homework but looked tired, so we put him to bed.”
  4. The bilingual schools probably have a little more give than either local public schools or the expat schools.
  5. The bilingual school parents tend to be wealthy corporate types. For me, in a churchy, academic world, it is a nice change, but it means that there are a lot of kids arriving in expensive cars and doing winter breaks in Europe or Japan. Basically all of his classmates are studying music privately. This would probably be the same at TES or TAS, and maybe even just for downtown regular schools. Still, it’s an issue (honestly, most of my coworkers from PCUSA have said the same thing about the schools their kids attend).
  6. Taiwanese parents often seem to be trying to figure out how to game the experience. In a group of five parents, several had a kid at Lih-Jen and another kid at one of the other schools (Kang-chiao, Fu-Hsing), and they were often trying to figure out which school was best (often understood as the one that gives the most homework). When we lived near Tianmu, I know colleagues were aware of which was considered the slightly better junior high school and had their kids on waitlists. There’s a lot of pressure on studies.

If you came to this page looking for information on bilingual education in Taiwan, feel free to send me an email. I spend a lot of time thinking about culture and how to be a foreigner here. I’d love to hear from others facings similar challenges. I like cross-cultural parenting books and am trying to figure out how to do this. I think so far it’s been a good experience, but we’ve definitely learned some lessons along the way. I’d love to hear from others doing something similar.

Seasons Greetings, between Christmas and Lunar New Year

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Eva plays a serious Mary, with brothers as cows, for church Christmas service

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At the performance. Eva and Eli performed in separate classes. 

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With adoptive aunties at Eva and Eli’s performance

This was one of our better Christmases/winter breaks. In the past we were still in the age when our kids were too little to appreciate/understand/acknowledge the season, and bringing them anywhere together was still pretty horrible. This year, however, we had a nice mix of school activities, church activities, and family togetherness. Emily still gets a bit homesick at the holidays, and we had a bout of stomach illness. Still, to me it feels like we’ve turned a corner.

Eva and Eli had performances at their preschool, which were quite impressive. Sam did his performance at his school today.  I’ve been highly impressed by the quality of the kids’ performances. I don’t think in my K-12 schooling I was ever part of a choreographed singing or dancing number and I certainly don’t remember kids doing this at ages 4, 5, or 6. Eli was initially wary about going up, but when he realized I’d stay in his line of sight and that he would get a lighted wand, he decided to go for it. Eva was enthusiastic and even was singing along. We were especially lucky this time to have a coworker come with some friends. It was nice to have a hometown crowd.

Sam’s performance also went well. Here they are today at Lih-Jen. We were even able to sit behind the school’s founder for part of the performance, although parents produced a wall-of-photography that encircled the presentations by the kindergartners and first graders. (I always wonder what will happen to these millions of pictures of the children recorded at every event.)

With church, we’ve been grateful for activities arranged by Sarah Lakkis. This year they did gingerbread houses, candle making, and a small children’s performance that included some of the kids (she made some really nice costumes).

On Christmas day Sam developed a stomach bug. Ironically, he was so happy about the presents and the excitement of the day that the lack of appetite, 5 hour nap, and illness didn’t really phase him.

I was also grateful for a week away from campus. I had a lot to do, but it was nice to be able to work more from home. I’m trying to write up notes for my class next semester, write letters of recommendation, and finish a sermon. Next week Sam starts a new semester. A week later he gets nearly a month of winter vacation. This will also mark a change for us, since we’ll have more schedule but also an older kid to plan for. I’m hopeful that we’ll find some good things to do with the time. We’d been slow on getting Sam back into sports or other activities with the start of the semester, but now we’re starting to re-launch these things. Sam had his first week back at baseball last week and we also did pinewood derby with the Scouts. I’m hoping that we’ll have some good ways to use the weeks ahead.

World Christianity, continued

Earlier I wrote about a course on World Christianity and World Literature (WCWL).  It has been a good semester so far. It’s a small course run seminar style and students seem to like the discussion. In my earlier post I gave a simple typology for WCWL. Here I thought I’d write a bit about challenges for teaching in terms of student backgrounds, materials, and themes.

Student Backgrounds

First I’ll tackle student backgrounds. In the US, literature is pretty firmly rooted in our curricula. Like most high school students, I read or was assigned to read dozens of novels over the four years of high school. These included plays, classical novels, and more contemporary literature. By the time we got to junior and senior year we were reading books by Tolstoy and Shakespeare, and also by Richard Wright, Virginia Woolf and so on. In college I also read novels for language, literature, and history classes. In contrast, most of our students have read little fiction in school. They often begin a more serious study of classical Chinese in high school and the curriculum is rooted towards standardized testing. Students rarely write long essays and they also rarely read long works of fiction.

(As an aside, I am really ambivalent about both systems. A colleague of mine when I taught US undergrad students said she had a nephew who literally never read any of the novels he was assigned in high school, so it is not as if the US educational culture naturally leads to critical reading. Similarly, I know students here who majored in English for college in Taiwan and did essentially four years of grammar and translation with no engagement with literature or culture.)

Materials

A second question is materials. Our course is a bit of a hodgepodge, but in a good way. Students have read a mix of works for Japan, Nigeria, US, Russia, Germany and other areas. We’ve had a guest lecture by a Taiwanese poet who has translated Latin American materials. For many students, there is a vague sense that the west is formed by Christian culture, but it is still interesting to talk about the variety of ways this takes shapes, from Tolstoy’s anarchist Christianity, to revolutionary liberationist movements, to real ambivalence about the relationship of Christianity and culture. One of the books we read is The Color Purple, which treats a long stretch of Jim Crow-era US and also includes a black missionary family to Africa. Many people in Taiwan have literally never met someone who is black. Race has an impact here, but in a totally different way. For many students, the engagement with the US has primarily been via Hollywood, so trying to get behind these images is a challenge.

Themes

What I like best about this course is that it gets at themes that would be hard to find in other ways. We’ve talked a lot about identity. What does it mean to describe something as Taiwanese, as Christian, or as indigenous? I taught a short section on Christians and atrocity. Taiwan is an interesting place to discuss this because it has had its own waves of colonialism and dispossession. The shift in Christianity has taken place together with the end of colonialism and new nationalisms. Christianity in Asia has also often been a critic of the state.

The strength of a course like this is that it gives different lenses to view Christianity’s development in different places. How does faith look when one is part of majority culture, minority culture, empire, or colony? How do Christians abet or resist violent states? How is faith formed or diminished by suffering, resistance, capitulation, consumption?

Future Directions

Ironically, we are limited in the materials we have about Asia. This semester on my own I’ve read two novels that indirectly deal with Christians in Asia, both are epic family tales that cover the WW2 era through the present. The first is the Man Asian Literary Prize winner Please Look After Mom (Kyung-sook Shin, 2008; translated 2011) which tells about a sacrificial mother who goes missing and is never found. (See the New York Times review.) Set in post-war Korea, the book describes the children’s’ reactions with frequent flashbacks to the past. Churches pop up only a few times during the novel, but the concluding scene finds the daughter Chi-hon (an author, likely modeled after Shin) visiting the Pieta and reflecting on how Mary’s relationship to the suffering Christ helps her understand her mother. I remember being surprised that this was the concluding vignette.

I’ve also just finished Mo Yan’s Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996, 2011 edition). Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature. (See John Updike’s take in the New Yorker.) Mo Yan writes in a magical realist style, with ghosts or magical events interspersed in a family epic set during the era from Japanese occupation (1937) into the 1990s. This book also had very little directly on faith–it’s not an intellectual reflection on meaning or existence–but featured a foreign missionary and a church that is a major site in the book. The protagonist of the story is the first son born into a family after seven daughters. He is the bastard son of a red-headed Swedish missionary with perfect Chinese who dies fairly early in the novel. The protagonist’s mother sometimes expresses faith in God or divine guidance. At the end of the novel, the protagonist finds his half-brother in a church and the story concludes abruptly.

One of my hopes is that eventually I could cobble together a dozen or fifteen books, translated hopefully into English and/or Chinese, that could give a bit more heft to the Asia section of our course. There are major differences between Taiwan’s modern development and the history of China or Korea, but I think the family epic dovetails well with how many Taiwanese families tell national or Christian history.

Reading Christian history in Taiwan

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Image from The Saints of Formosa (in the public domain)

This month I’ve been reading Campbell Moody’s The Saints of Formosa (1912), which is available on the internet archive.  Moody’s an interesting figure. H. Daniel Beeby, a former Taiwan missionary, has a short entry on Moody in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity. A historian colleague, Cheng Yang-en, has been working on a biography of Moody for some years.I asked Yang-en a while back how his work was going and he said that he’s hit a wall on research–there are archives that are available but are not catalogued.

Moody’s a lively writer and discusses a period that is pretty interesting.Moody is at the mid-point between the pioneers (George Mackay in the north, James Maxell in the south) and some of the institution builders (notably James Mackay). While he devotes some energy to the missionary apparatus, his writing is almost all about Christians: about pastors and helpers and converts; about travels, conflicts, and questions. He’s writing in the early years of the Japanese period, and also within a church that is growing. In class this week we’d been discussing contextual theology and my students were talking about how for first generation Christians signs and healings often matter a great deal. Moody wrote in this type of context, when medical missions and evangelism went hand-in-hand and for many people Christianity was still very new.

Moody was an exemplar of the mission station ideal. The station operated as a point out of which churches were launched and travels begun. Moody himself itinerated widely in the Changhwa region. Beeby says he visited 900 villages in ten years. Moody has some ideas about Christianization that reflect his period, and he still stands in the period when part of the goal was the Christianization of culture. I don’t foresee doing a lot of work in this direction, but as I’ve read through his book I’ve been checking names and locations against things I’ve seen and heard here. I still find that gaining even a basic sense of church history takes some time.

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Along similar lines, I was excited to have our campus minister, Rev. Juan chieh-min阮介民 (Taiwanese: Ng Kaibin) share with our class. Rev. Juan is writing a D.Min. on one of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s evangelism movements. The PCT, according to Rev. Juan, has had eight evangelism movements in the last sixty years:

  • The Church Doubling Movement (1954-1965)
  • The New Century Mission Movement (1966-1971)
  • The Loyal Servant Movement (1971-1976)
  • Independent Mutual Aid Movement (1977-1978)
  • The believers’ Growth Movement
  • AD2000 Gospel Movement (1991-1999)
  • 21st Century Taiwan Mission Movement (2000-2010)
  • The One Leads One Doubling Movement (2011-2015)

The original Church Doubling Movement was launched to coincide with PCT’s centennial, and the most recent “One Leads One” movement coincides with the 150th anniversary effort. The first doubling movement really did lead to a doubling in the size of the church. I’ve been realizing that statistically this is not quite as impressive at it sounds. The church had actually been growing more rapidly up to that point (from around 2000 members in 1910 to 20,000 c. WW2, to around 50,000 at the start of the movement). Other churches also grew quite rapidly during this period. This period also saw a rising population and the rapid growth of aborigine churches, many of which came into the PCT.

This isn’t to disparage the genuine achievements. The original doubling movement probably was one of the few movements to set and meet goals, and it coincided with rapid changes in society. It was a period of urbanization and industrialization and rising education, and the church held its own against a very challenging context. Rev. Juan was helpful in letting us see how this was reflected in the church. There was a rapid need for pastors and so two training institutes were created. Presbyteries struggled to adjust and expand. The denomination itself was still quite new and there was a growth in institutions. This also coincided with the arrival of missionaries who had come from mainland China and worked in aborigine ministries, campus ministries, and theological education. It is a period with a mixed legacy, analogous in many regards to the rapid growth of the church in the US immediately after WW2.

There’s still a lot I don’t understand from this period. I don’t know how widely promoted or deeply accepted the other movements were. Rev. Juan focused on the Loyal Servant Movement, which had some ambiguous successes. PCT is currently in the middle of a growth campaign with pretty clear goals that will be a challenge to meet. It’s very helpful to know more about the context and to have a sense of why this movement exists.

 

Lee Teng-hui at PCT General Assembly Office

10345557_903628073003413_5676185215347238318_nLee shakes hands with PCT’s retired General Secretary Kao Chun-ming (from PCT News) 

LEE Teng-hui is Taiwan’s former president (now almost 92). He was vice-president to Chiang Ching-kuo and led Taiwan to democratization and multiparty elections. Lee didn’t come from overseas Chinese ranks and has a fairly distinctive biography (speaks Taiwanese, Japanese, and I think Hakka; PhD in agricultural economics from Cornell; pushed the process for democratization more strongly than others might have; favors independence). Lee attended the Presbyterian middle school in Tamsui, Tamkiang, where he was a star student. He’s held in understandably high regard by Presbyterians. He became a Presbyterianism as an adult and many people I know have stories of meeting him.

I’ve heard him speak a number of times before and my first time preaching in Taiwan Seminary’s chapel he was there on a visit. I briefly helped the English translation committee prepare a quick translation of a speech he gave on human rights at Aleithia University in 2010. It wasn’t my best work, but really gave me a line-by-line sense of his own path and of how philosophically he connected faith and human rights.  He described his own seeking, his growing discipline as a student, and why he became a Christian. He seems to accept  the narratives that of a knowable God and a universe with laws leads to modernization and human rights. I remember then that part of his speech dealt with the individual and the importance of self-development.

Today a new friend of mine, Mark Lu, told me he’d be speaking at our General Assembly, so I hopped the bus over a bit early and made it to the second floor. Today Lee was there for the launch of PCT’s 150th anniversary year program. December 10 is also “International Human Rights Day,” which may explain the flurry of speeches recently.

Lee is a figure I wish I could learn more about. It’s fairly shocking how much Christian hagiography was written about Chiang Kai-shek’s faith, and how little in English is available on figures like Lee Teng-hui or the other modern presidents.

Seven Stars Presbytery

In the Presbyterian system, there tend to be four levels of decision-making bodies (sometimes these actually function as church courts): (1) the local church council, session, or consistory; (2) the regional body, presbytery, or classis, (3) the synod or gathering of regional bodies; and (4) the General Assembly or General Synod. In Chinese these are 小會,中會,大會, 總會.

In my home denomination, we tend to place a lot of the decision-making authority at the regional level, with the regional body or presbytery. This is the group that accepts or rejects candidates for ministry or pastors who transfer in, organizes much of the shared mission, and (traditionally) funded a fair amount of common activity. In Taiwan, the church pushes more of this authority up to General Assembly, but presbyteries are still very important. Emily and I had inquired about joining a presbytery a few years ago and were recently placed in Seven Stars Presbytery 七星中會.  I have seen the “seven stars” refer to the Big Dipper, to a mountain range, and to a beach, so I’m not totally sure of the source. For us it is a good presbytery, because it is the home of the place we live, the church we attend, and a good number of alumni and local pastors related to my Seminary. Because Emily was ordained as an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, she is also a member of the Presbytery now (she was listed as the one hundredth elder on the form today).

The meeting are similar to those in the US. Presbytery meets only three times a year: in December, in January, and again in July. These are basically all-day meetings. Like PCT General Assembly, it has a General Secretary and then four elected offices (vice secretary, secretary, vice moderator, moderator) that in PCT go to clergy and one (treasurer) that goes to an elder. They also elect representatives from regions within the presbytery to serve at General Assembly. I don’t know the exact statistics, but the presbytery seemed to be 70-80% men and all the elected officers were men. Elders must first serve as deacons and then are elders for life. This means the office of elder is treated as a higher calling with a matching level of commitment, but also reinforces the traditionalist (and, honestly, paternalistic) tendencies of the church. For me the voting was a little strange. There is no background information or nominations for votes. Instead, you simply begin voting. On the first ballot the results might be split between a dozen people and eventually through subsequent ballots this is narrowed to a single choice. The oddness for me comes from the fact that choosing candidates is almost entirely a matter of reputation and word-of-mouth campaigning. I sort of miss getting a page about why so-and-so wishes to be moderator and what they would like to do if elected.

There were things that were fun about the meeting. I saw students from eight or nine years ago, as well as the recent crop. We sat next to Rev. Peng from our home church and saw a dozen pastors we know. The meeting was nearly 100% in Taiwanese. Most PCT gatherings are now a mix. Our judicial committee is probably 90% Mandarin and General Assembly is 50-50, but since the presbyteries reflect ethnicity, it means that groups like this are all Taiwanese. My Taiwanese is not that great, but this was an incentive to keep studying. It also was a good reminder of where students will serve and what our base constituency looks like.

I enjoyed seeing local humor and hearing reports from schools, hospitals and the like. There’s a lot of excitement throughout the church now because the PCT is approaching its 150th anniversary. The meeting today talked some about that and introduced t-shirts that people can buy. It was a good opportunity to learn more about the local church. I’m kind of glad that presbyteries only meet three times a year but am also grateful for this opportunity to see what 80+ congregations in the Taipei region are up to.

Human Rights

Last Thursday one of our faculty members, CHIU Kaili, spoke on human rights and Christianity for a Thursday lecture series. Kaili just finished her PhD in Religion and Society at Princeton Seminary and studied with Mark Taylor, who writes on things like incarceration, globalization, and other issues of faith and culture. Kaili’s lecture talked a bit about the human rights as an idea and how Christians relate to it. I was grateful that her presentation was a bit less deterministic than some I hear (Christian faith => human rights). It was also interesting to see her interact with students. She’d earlier worked with the Church Press and had a background in sociology. I actually haven’t talked to her much since she came back, but knew her when I came to Taiwan during PhD and when she studied her first year at PTS. Students seem to appreciate her introduction of new (for Taiwan) theories. She also mentioned gender-inclusive language in prayer, which I believe is the first time I’ve heard this in Taiwan.

For me the human rights discussion is a quite interesting one. Taiwan has a very vibrant public sphere, a fairly rich democratic life, and a commitment to human rights as an ideal. Christians like Lee Teng-hui have sometimes advocated for these ideals, and much of the Presbyterian Church’s identity is staked to a series of public pronouncements it made in the 1970s and a confession that was written in 1985 (one of our professors, Yang-en, said that the Chrisological section of the confession had been revised from the original, which I hadn’t known). Many of the most interesting themes in East Asian studies, theology and the social sciences revolve around these topics: the nature of the nation, the development of civic culture, and the relationship between faith and public life.

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《人權與信仰》 Human Rights and Faith

Cub Scout Thanksgiving

cubscout thanksgiving

We’ve had some eclectic Thanksgivings over the years. During my first year of seminary a half dozen international students joined me at my parents’ house (1999). In our first year married, Emily was a secretary at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and we had some guests from the UK and China (2001); it was a fun time but we were pretty clueless cooks and things came out in batches. At one point we went to take the pie out of the oven, and since it hadn’t set, it simply folded in half! There was also “dumpling thanskgiving” (2005) when coworker John McCall’s friend, an elderly dentist, invited us to a thanksgiving meal at a dumpling restaurant. We also had a thanksgiving with language students (2009), one where Emily’s family was visiting and we couldn’t get the turkey done (2010), a gathering of neighbors (2011?), Em’s family visiting us in Princeton (2012) and a surprise family gathering where Emily’s brother Alan managed to get leave from Okinawa and was able to get a direct flight to Taiwan (2013). Pretty interesting years… This year there was a potluck at church (I missed it to stay home with Eli, who was sick), and we decided to have Sam’s Tiger Scout Den over (more on that another time). It was a very fun group. All kids with connections to the States, but also a nice mix of English and Mandarin and playing and talking and drawing. We did turkey by tracing hands, something some of the kids hadn’t done, and one of the moms did balloons. There’s something about Thanksgiving’s mythology that makes me really enjoy these mixed gatherings.