How to Babel on the Gospel in China

I want to briefly illustrate the idea from my previous post. I suggested that it may be better for us to begin with the Babel story (rather than with Adam & Eve) when preaching the gospel.

The Babel account is especially meaningful for collectivistic, honor-shame cultures. Previously, I interpreted Genesis 11 and discussed issues of face and collective identity.

In this post, I’ll use a Chinese context simply for the sake of illustration. I encourage people to find similar explanations that draw from their own culture.

Credit: CC 2.0/wikimedia
Credit: CC 2.0/wikimedia

From a Chinese Perspective

Let me put this in a more “Chinese way.” I’ll include a number of idioms to benefit those in a Chinese context. I’ve discussed this at length elsewhere.

We tend to form factions. People attempt to use mianzi (“face”) to compensate for lack of lian (another word for “face”). However, this is impossible. Lian involves our character, our essential value as humans. Mianzi is superficial and transient. Furthermore, name and position “are as transient as fleeting clouds” (过眼云烟, guò yǎn yúnyān).

Sadly, people “would rather be a chicken’s head than a phoenix’s tail” (宁做鸡头, 不做凤尾; nìngzuò jītóu, búzuò fèngwěi). Accordingly, people boast in their various distinctives, like nationality, name, salary, traditions, titles, grades, etc.

Humans compete for a name. All the while, we forget the human family [人类大家庭] is broken. Particular subgroups (like nations, cities, clubs, etc) seem to have unity; however, it is simply superficial.

Mianzi is far inferior to lian.

So many people use relationships simply for personal benefit. The world is full of hypocrisy and lip service. Popular opinion controls us. We constantly think about how we compare with others. The world lacks righteousness love.

Essentially, we invade and colonize God’s kingdom.

We think, “This is my country. That is your country.” Or “This is my home. That is your home.” Wars and divorce are the marks of humanity’s lost lian.

How do we put it all together?

Because we reject God our Father-King, we alienate ourselves from other. We are not longer under his name; therefore, we have lost lian. Our lian is “lost irrevocably” (付之东流, fù zhī dōngliú).

Consequently, we are driven to find a sense of identity. People use relationships to pursue fame and wealth. We split into factions. These groups are called “country,” “culture,” “clan”, “ethnicity”, “company”, etc. On the surface, everything looks good. In reality, the human family “is scattered/separated from each other, each in a different corner of the world” (离散了,天各一方; lí sàn le, tiān gè yīfāng).

We try to preserve face, even at a high cost to others and ourselves. Despite our hard efforts, we are never satisfied.

 

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  • JW, I’ve tried on several occasions to have conversations about 面子 and 脸 without much success. Maybe it’s my context – I’m in rural Yunnan and the people I’m interacting with are probably a good deal less educated than your typical audience – or maybe it’s that I’m not framing the conversation well. But overall, few people have understood or been able to explain the difference between 面子 and 脸 that you are describing in these posts. In your experience, do you think this is (lack of) education issue?

    • Very good question. In fact, I’ll reply via a blog post soon because this is a common question. The answer requires some nuancing. It concerns communication more than content.

      In brief, I recommend you not make an overtly big deal of it to your listeners. Because its rooted is linguistic/etymology, it’s a subconscious distinction. Verbally, you can distinguish for the sake of communication convention but for ease sake, you might just want to add adjectives like 肤浅的面子 or 真正的脸 without making a big deal of deeper linguistic differences. I hope that helps a little bit.

  • JW, I’ve tried on several occasions to have conversations about 面子 and 脸 without much success. Maybe it’s my context – I’m in rural Yunnan and the people I’m interacting with are probably a good deal less educated than your typical audience – or maybe it’s that I’m not framing the conversation well. But overall, few people have understood or been able to explain the difference between 面子 and 脸 that you are describing in these posts. In your experience, do you think this is (lack of) education issue?

    • Very good question. In fact, I’ll reply via a blog post soon because this is a common question. The answer requires some nuancing. It concerns communication more than content.

      In brief, I recommend you not make an overtly big deal of it to your listeners. Because its rooted is linguistic/etymology, it’s a subconscious distinction. Verbally, you can distinguish for the sake of communication convention but for ease sake, you might just want to add adjectives like 肤浅的面子 or 真正的脸 without making a big deal of deeper linguistic differences. I hope that helps a little bit.