God is Red

On Monday night, the dissident Chinese author Liao Yiwu gave a reading on my campus.  He read a poem, “Massacre,” about the killings of the pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. For writing that poem, Liao was tortured and imprisoned for four years.  This led to his writing about his fellow prisoners and documentation of more government abuses.  He now lives as an exile from his homeland.  He also read from his latest book, God is Red, which is about the rise of Christianity in China, despite horrendous persecution.

Here is a review of the book by my colleague, David Aikman, a former correspondent with Time Magazine who covered what was going on at Tiananmen Square who is currently a history professor at Patrick Henry College:

Every so often, you come across a narrative of courage under suffering that is so well reported, so restrained and sensitive in its intelligence, that you are momentarily altered by the experience. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had that effect upon millions, both Russians and foreigners, in 1962. The publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novels—like Cancer Ward and The First Circle, for which the Russian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature—even contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

It is far too early to guess whether Liao Yiwu’s latest book, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China (HarperOne), will have any long-term impact on the author’s homeland. But readers will surely come away inspired by the landmark account of Chinese Christians living under the vicious political campaigns of the Mao era. (No stranger himself to political persecution, Liao was imprisoned during the government’s post-Tiananmen Square crackdown. He described his prison experience in Testimonials, an expanded version of which has just been published in German.)

Two ingredients, in particular, make God Is Red such a powerful account of Chinese Christians’ perseverance. First, Liao acknowledges that he is not himself a Christian, so he cannot be accused of trying to persuade anyone of anything religious. And second, the quality of his reporting is simply excellent.

The drama of the reporting derives from the fact that much of it takes place in remote areas of the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The characters Liao focuses on are men and women of extraordinary saintliness: the indefatigably beneficent Dr. Sun, for example, a man who turned down prosperous positions in China’s cities because he wanted to help the poor and outcast in China’s remote rural areas; the elderly nun persistently appealing for the Communists to return confiscated church property.

Some of the narratives are historically fascinating. There is the story of the martyrdom of Wang Zhisheng, an ethnic Miao executed by the Communists in 1973 and commemorated today by a statue in London’s Westminster Abbey. Almost as fascinating is the detailed story of the suffering of Yuan Xiangchen (Allen Yuan). A patriarch of China’s house churches, Yuan spent two decades in labor camps (as did his friend, the legendary Chinese evangelist Wang Mingdao) for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-controlled church. Yuan died in 2005, but I can still remember visiting his house, which served as a house church, in the center of Beijing in the 1990s.

Like all good reporters, Liao lets his characters speak for themselves, without adding superfluous commentary. From hip-hop youngsters in Chengdu to seasoned old saints in Yunnan come varied stories of how each one became a Christian. From the same people come powerful recollections of the pitiless and evil tyranny of Communism as it struggled to dominate all of life in China. If you want to read one book that sums up the glory of the Christian witness under persecution and the tragic 20th-century story of China’s Christians, read God Is Red. Brilliant and immensely moving, it will, if anything can, inject new backbone into your own Christian life.

via Profiling Christians Who Have Suffered Under Chinese Communism | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Some memorable lines from Liao, who spoke through an interpreter:  “To survive under a dictatorship, you have to lie.”  When asked about contemporary China, he said that Americans are so concerned with making profits that they are neglecting their traditional values of standing up for freedom and human rights.  He said that his father always told him that if you are confronted by a wolf in the mountains, be sure to look it straight in the eye.  If you don’t, if you look away, the wolf will tear out your throat and drink your blood.  He thinks we are avoiding looking China in the eye.

I think it was good for our students to be in the presence of someone who had been tortured for his political beliefs.  I think it was good for them to hear about Christians who were killed for their faith.

When I came to the event, an elderly Chinese gentleman came to the door about the same time I did.  I opened the outer for him, but then he insisted on opening the inner door for me.  We smiled and I welcomed him to our campus.  It turns out, it was Dr. Sun, one of the book’s heroes, a saintly physician who led Liao into his exploration of the Chinese church.  I don’t know his story, if he too was driven out of China, but I want to find out.  It was remarkable that he showed up for the reading.

Seeing people like Liao and Dr. Sun in the flesh turns abstractions such as freedom, persecution, and martyrdom into powerful, tangible realities.

Buy the book here.

The Big 6-0

On Saturday I pass from middle-aged to aged.  I will turn 60.   I will go to the movies and order not an “adult” but a “senior” ticket, saving  $2.50.  I will be able to get cheap coffee at McDonald’s.  Please, no commiserations.  Don’t tell me, “you are only as young as you feel.”  I feel about, oh, 60.   And I don’t want to hear Bob Dylan’s blessing, “May you be forever young.”  (Bob, you know I’m a fan, but that sentiment is unworthy of you, especially since you have become way older than I am.)   Being young is not intrinsically better than being old.  Quite the contrary.   I claim Leviticus 19:32:  ”  32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.”  Rise up, you young whippersnappers, and honor my face!  Also Proverbs 16:31:  “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”  I don’t know about the last half of that sentence as it applies to me.  If sanctification is a linear progression, I should be farther along than I am, but I think it really comes from conflict, trial, and the continual pattern of repentance and finding Christ’s forgiveness, and I’ve certainly done that a lot.  So I am embracing my senior citizenship.  Plus, I am now embracing all of those old age poems by Yeats:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hand and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.  (“Sailing to Byzantium”)

Manliness: A Contest

One of my former students, Nathan Martin, had worked with Reagan culture czar Bill Bennett on his sequel to The Book of Virtues, a collection of classic and contemporary readings entitled  The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.

It explores the traits and virtues of manhood, some arguably lost in our feminized and gender-neutral age, using stories, poems, and reflections from authors ranging from Homer and Shakespeare to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan.  (Luther even makes an appearance!)  The book is divided into chapters  dealing with Man at War; Man at Work; Man in Sports, Play, & Leisure; Man in the Polis; Man with Woman and Children; Man in Prayer and Reflection.

The Acknowledgements credit not only Nathan but also a slew of other Patrick Henry College products:  Christopher Beach, Olivia Linde, Brian Dutze, Shane Ayers, and David Carver.  That’s virtually the whole research team, drawing on their background in the Great Books, their perceptive thinking about these issues,  and their writing and editing skills.  So I’m very proud of them.

Nathan is also a fan of this blog (you might also recognize some of those other names as occasional commenters) and of the discussions that we have here.   He sent me two copies of the book, one for me and one to give away on my blog.

So I will celebrate my birthday Hobbit style:  Instead of getting a present, I will give a present.  Well, actually I’m not giving it; Nathan is.  And it won’t really be a gift.  Unlike God, I am making you earn it.   I’d like to start one of our famous discussions.  And the person deemed to have made the best comment will receive the free book.  (I haven’t quite determined how this will be decided yet.  Maybe it will be obvious.  Maybe we’ll vote on it.)  The comments, for the purposes of the contest, will be closed at midnight Eastern time on Sunday.

So here is the topic for discussion:  What is “manliness” in your thinking and in your experience?

I’d like to hear from women (what are the masculine traits that you look for in a man?) and men (when did you have to “act like a man,” and what did that entail?), and from people in various stages of life (boys, youth, husbands, fathers, and old guys like I have now become).

By the way, if you don’t want to hold out for a free book, you can buy one by clicking the links.

 

Black Cherokees

I grew up in northeast Oklahoma: Cherokee country.  Many of my African-American friends growing up were also members of the Cherokee tribe.  The “Five Civilized Tribes,” which include the Cherokees, assimilated quite a bit into the white man’s ways–which is why the white men called them “civilized”–and that included, since they mostly lived down south, owning slaves.  On the Trail of Tears, they took their slaves with them to Oklahoma.  After the Civil War, in which conflict most of the Cherokees sided with their fellow slave holders in the Confederacy, the slaves, of course, were freed.  In 1866, the tribe signed a treaty that included the provision that all of the Freedmen, the ex-slaves and their descendants, would be granted full membership in the Cherokee tribe.  I always thought that was a noble gesture, accepting the former slaves as equals.  And the Cherokees in the past have not been particularly insistent on “Indian blood,” since tribal rules also allows for white Cherokees, who are as little as 1/16 Native American.

But now the Cherokees have voted to kick the Freedmen out of the tribe.  That was a few years ago, but now the tribal court has ruled on the matter, saying the black Cherokees can be kicked off the tribal rolls, which also means that they will be cut out of the health care and other benefits the federal government gives to Native Americans.  A federal court, though, has stepped in, forbidding the racial discrimination and insisting that the 1866 treaty is still valid.   So now the tribe is up in arms (not literally, not like the old days), insisting that a nation has the right to determine who its citizens can be.  (I suspect that another dynamic here is a bitter election for tribal chief.  A recent vote was nearly a tie, and it was contested to the point that a new election is in the works.  I suspect that disenfranchising a block of voters might be to one of the candidates’ advantage, though I don’t know who.  And there may well be other issues.  I’m pretty much out of touch these days.  I’d be glad to hear from any Cherokees of any color who might be reading this.  Feel free to correct me.)

Cherokee Indians: We are free to oust blacks – US news – Life – msnbc.com.

No more congressional pages

When I was a youth, back in the olden days, I got to serve as a page in the Oklahoma state legislature.  It filled me with awe, getting to be on the floor of where laws were made, carrying messages for congressmen when they signaled to the row of us sitting in front and bringing them coffee.  It was a great civic experience.

But now the House of Representatives of the United States of America has canceled its 200-year program, in which some 70 young people come to Washington to serve and to learn as congressional pages.   Congressional leaders who made the decision cite the cost.  $5 million.  But since when does Congress care about that kind of chump change?

I suspect the real reason is the difficulty of safeguarding the pages against the sexual predators in Congress.  Think Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.),   Dan Crane (R-Ill.), and Mark Foley (R-Florida), all of whom were caught in sex scandals with pages.  Better to protect Congressmen than to protect the pages.

How far I have fallen from the respect for lawmakers that I had when I was a page!

 

See End of House Page Program is bittersweet for some lawmakers – The Washington Post.

He could-a been the champion of the world

Our week that began with an earthquake ended with a hurricane.  But, as it happened, the latest graphic of Hurricane Irene’s path showed the outer edge of the system passing by just 15 or so miles away.  So it really missed us.  We had some rain and wind, but it wasn’t bad at all, and the power stayed on.  (Which, for this part of Virginia, is remarkable, since gentle breezes are often enough to put us in the dark for hours.)

The hurricane as a whole wasn’t as bad as feared, though it killed 18 people, knocked out power for millions, flooded some areas and did other damage.  Now comes the second guessing, criticizing the governors for evacuating areas and making a bigger deal of the thing than it turned out to be.  But I think the officials did what they needed to do.  No one could tell what the hurricane would do.  An excess of caution and of preparation is better than the blind optimism and lack of preparation that we saw with Hurricane Katrina.   A storm whirling like a buzzsaw (a splendid description I read in one report) running along the entire East Coast is surely something to worry about.  That it lost power and turned into a mere tropical storm by the time it hit New York City is something we should just be thankful for.

But I do need to report something:  Many of the plants in our garden were blown down.  The result was something I can only describe as a crop circle.  Which means that aliens landed in our garden!   In a hurricane!

Do any of the rest of you have hurricane stories?


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