CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里

Yay blurriness?
A sloppy selfie taken after arriving in Hong Kong.

The last three months of my life were not what I was expecting. Romantic ideals of getting in touch with my “inner Chinese culture” and exploring the depths of the language were weighed down by social anxiety, isolation from loved ones, and overarching feelings of incompetence, and what I thought I was getting into quickly turned into a fight simply to stay in one piece. But it was precisely in those dark times that I learned the most about myself, about my heritage, and most of all about God.

No amount of mental preparation could have spared me the radical transformation to be effected in myself — the bursting of an ideological bubble so long held firm by a self-contained and sheltered existence — yet in the end I find that’s precisely what I needed after all. Between all the fun times and the fascinating explorations, the semester invisibly held me through a burnishing flame that not only melted away the façade of who I thought I was, but further illuminated the God who all people are made in the image of.

The China Studies Program (CSP), sponsored by BestSemester through the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), was a three-part abroad semester hosted by Xiamen University (厦门大学 Xiàmén Dàxué, often abbreviated as 厦大 Xiàdà or XMU) on the southeast coast of Fujian province, right across the Strait of Taiwan.

After a brief orientation period in Hong Kong, Segment 1 focused on academics in Xiamen. During this month I took courses on Chinese Language, Intercultural Communication, Contemporary Society & Public Policy, and Tai Chi. This post will focus largely on Segment 1.

Segment 2 was a travel component we called “the Trek”: one week in the ancient capital of Xi’an, another week in the modern capital of Beijing, and a few days in the metropolis of Shanghai. During this Segment we were given a rigorous overview of Chinese History spanning about 5000-7000 years.

Finally, Segment 3 marked a return to Xiamen, where seven of the ten students would begin internships at various companies in the area, while three of us (me included) would continue with an elective course called Dimensions of East Asian Culture — encompassing short workshops about Chinese Home Cooking, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Painting.

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To Chase the Light (Coming Out)

Most wardrobes don’t have secret worlds with epic adventures and magic waiting inside, but a few of them still conceal stories of their own. There, the sun never shines, the eternal winter doesn’t thaw, and the lion isn’t your friend.

You spend years upon years fighting the monsters, hiding from lions, and wishing that someone would come to strike down the wicked witch, but no one ever does. You stand by the lamppost for hours at a time, ready to escape your cold shadow of a world, but always stop at the border, thinking it safer to fight the demons you hate than fight the people you love.

Until, one day, you realize that living in darkness is hardly living at all. That if there was even a glimmer of light where the wooden doors have cracked open, it would be better to die in the sunlight than to waste away in the shadows.

So with one final push, the closet door swings open, and you know there’s no going back. The next words will change your life forever:

Dear world,

I’m gay.

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Running from Grief

The room is dark except for the blaring stage lights going off during the concert, and mostly everyone has moved down to the ground floor to get a better view of the singer. She’s a young, African-American alto who vaguely reminds me of Jamie Grace, though I know it can’t be her. Among the few remaining in the balcony seats are me and another boy; and since neither of us appreciates crowds, we’re happy to enjoy the performance in relative solitude.

We’ve been good friends for a while, so it isn’t particularly strange that I’ve nestled my head in the crook of his neck. I feel comfortable and secure, enjoying the brotherly affection I can openly share with my friend, until he slips one hand into mine and lays his other on my thigh. Suddenly the contact doesn’t feel so brotherly, and I freeze up, unsure of what to do. Part of me craves the warmth of his hand in mine, longs for more human touch than I’ve previously allowed. The other part of me panics at the boundaries he’s just crossed, but doesn’t want to damage our existing relationship by drawing back. We need to have a discussion.

Talking over the deafening music would be nearly impossible, so I walk him out of the concert hall, never breaking the hold between our hands — something I desperately want to last, yet at the same time want to end immediately. While we walk in the dim light of the hallway, I get a good look at his face: short, sandy blonde hair; bright eyes I can’t quite tell are blue, green, or grey; and a well-defined but delicate jawline. He’s deathly cute, and the way he locks eyes with me and smiles nervously only enforces that.

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Gay Theology, Part 1: The End of Clarity

Alternate title: “I don’t know anything anymore this is confusing.”

In the LGBT-Christian dialogue, there are generally two major camps of thought:
1) Side A, which believes that God blesses gay relationships under the same provisions as heterosexual relationships, and
2) Side B, which believes that God does not bless same-sex sexual activity of any kind, and therefore gay/bisexual Christians are called to abstain from sexual intimacy, unless they happen to marry someone of the opposite sex.

It has come to my attention that many people on both sides of this issue lack a comprehensive Biblical understanding of why either side believes what it does (really, who does, though?). In both cases, we usually end up regurgitating what we’ve been told our entire lives without questioning whether or not our reasoning is philosophically sound; we often do this without realizing exactly what we’re saying and end up simply talking past each other. If we ever hope to accomplish fruitful dialogue, we must learn how to communicate on the same page.

This series of posts will attempt to rectify that situation by presenting what I believe to be the most pertinent data, followed by an analysis of what we can and cannot conclude from it. As I state in my disclaimer from my About page, I am not a theological authority — I’m only here to help you think, not to tell you what to think. For all our sakes, you’re more than welcome to fact-check me.

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My Gay Is Not Your Gay

When you really think about it, language is kind of silly. Its entire purpose is to communicate ideas, but once words escape my mouth (or in this case my keyboard) and they’re out for the world to see, I immediately forfeit control over what ideas are contained in those words. I can try my best to structure my sentences in order to help convey the exact ideas I want communicated, but ultimately there’s no way to make you understand exactly what I want you to. Language tends to acquire a mind of its own, and every word is laden with unspoken meaning that changes from reader to reader.

Some of you will walk away with more insights than I explicitly present; that would be awesome. Some of you will completely misunderstand me; that’s not so ideal but also not totally unexpected.

This happens no matter what I say, but this principle is never more evident than when I use the three-letter bombshell: gay.

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