Friday Photo: Reading the Bible

In March of 2012, I travelled with Noel Piper in Sichuan province on a research trip. On the second Sunday of our journey, we found ourselves in the Protestant Church in Huili, Sichuan. Even though the church is in the heart of a city, most of the parishioners were peasants from the countryside, many of them elderly. During the service I spotted this woman intently reading her Bible. I couldn’t pass up the shot.


Reading the Bible

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A Tribute to My Father, 2015

Fourteen years ago today, my father died. Below are the words that I spoke in farewell and tribute to my dad at his memorial service on January 25, 2001, in Roseville, Minnesota. Standing before a crowd of 600 people to deliver these remarks was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The first part of this tribute was written at 30,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean as I flew home from a vacation in Thailand.

Posting this on my blog is my annual tribute to him.

dad reading the paper

The call you dread and fear and never expect comes. It’s mom. “Joann, your father died this morning. Please come home as soon as you can. I need you.”

Like an arrow out of no-where, somewhere, it hits first the head, then the heart, and slowly the pain sinks into your bones.

One day you’re relaxing on the beach, washing off the stress of a difficult term, and 24 hours later you’re wandering in a daze around international airports—Phuket, Bangkok, Narita—all jammed with people, and yet feeling so incredibly alone.

The words keep shouting in your soul. “Joann, your father has died,” slamming against your bones and your organs and your skin like a bullet ricocheting around a steel cavern. You try to drive them away with polite conversation, with reading, with hymn-singing, hoping against hope that driving the words away will drive the reality away as well.

But then the words and reality force their way back and the pain starts again.

“Joann, your precious father stepped into glory this morning.”

“Joann, your wonderful father went home to be with his Savior.”

With every fiber of my being I believe these words, but don’t want to believe them at the same time. He was a precious father, but now he is lost in wonder, love and grace in the presence of Jesus.

Yet here at 30,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I feel just plain lost.

Lost in sadness.

Lost in pain.

I know he’s with his Savior, but I want him here with us.

How will I get through the next ten hours on this plane? How will I bear to see my mom and sister and her family at the end of this long journey?

One hour at a time, one grace at a time.

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater; He giveth more strength as the labors increase. To added affliction, He addeth more more mercy; to multiplied sorrows, He multiplies peace.”

Then it hits me.

Despite the pain, I too am lost in love and grace. Sustaining grace.

John Piper describes it like this: “Not grace to bar what is not bliss, nor flight from all distress, but this—the grace that orders our trouble and pain, and then in the darkness is there to sustain.”

Will the sadness and the tears and the pain ever go away?

Probably not. But then again, neither will the grace.

So, my beloved dad is gone. What to say?

The words that scream loudest from my soul are simply, “please come back.” I know he’s in a better placee, but I still want him back here. There are too many words and no words. But following are a few—just a few of the special things I remember about my dad.

He had a sense of humor. He loved to laugh and make others laugh, and he was never in danger of taking himself too seriously.

He was a servant. He would do anything for anybody anytime anyplace, from bringing coffee to my waking mom every morning to fixing church roofs to shoveling neighbor’s driveways.

He was humble. In a stuffy academic world, he was just himself.

He was generous. If there was a financial need, he gave. His giving to us seemed limitless and it gave him great joy.

He was compassionate. His heart was tender and easily broken by the pain and suffering in the world. Last month in Beijing, we visited a clothing market that the government was ready to close down. The peddlers were selling their goods at rock-bottom prices. In a crowd frenzied over the best bargain, he kept asking, “what will happen to these poor people?”

He loved Jesus. Quietly and simply, he ordered his life grounded in that love.

He was a wonderful father and I miss him so very much.

Perhaps the greatest tribute I can give will be when I come to the end of my days and people say of me, simply, “she was just like her father.”

Goodbye Dad. I love you and miss you more than words can express.


If you knew my dad and have any special memories, please feel free to leave a comment.

Read more posts about my dad:

Pittman Hall

Pinch and a Punch

Happy Birthday, Dad

It was Chicken! It was Chicken! 


Evacuation, Part 2

In Democracy We Trust

A friend recently posted this photo to Twitter and asked me about the translation. Apparently it’s part of a campaign going on in China to promote “socialist core values.”

In Democracy We Trust

Setting aside the mildly disturbing nature of the photo, it is an interesting look at contemporary political discourse in China.

The main question my friend had was in regard to the phrase “democracy is a belief” — was that an accurate translation of 民主是一种信仰 (minzhu shi yi zhong xinyang)? The translation on the poster is certainly the most direct. Minzhu = democracy; shi = is; yizhong = a kind of/type; and xinyang = to believe in something (like a religion).

I immediately remembered seeing that construction somewhere else, on an advertisement for some kind of learning center. In this case, they translated the phrase 学习是一种信仰 (xuexi shi yizhong xinyang) as “In Learning We Trust.”

The grammatical construction is the same, but the translation is less clunky (in my opinion, anyway). So if I had been asked to translate that phrase, I would have used “In Democracy we Trust.”

The real question, however, is what does the word democracy mean when used by a Communist government? This of course brings to mind the famous line from The Princess Bride. (click here to see video clip if you receive this by email)

In other words, they keep using that word, but I do not think that it means what they think it means!

And if you’re wondering what those socialist core values that these rather dour looking students are speaking for, here’s a photo that another friend in China sent me just today:

core socialist values

There you have it!

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I read an interesting article today in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of pork in the Chinese economy. The title of the piece is Why Pigs are Crucial to Understanding China’s Surprisingly Low Inflation.


The gist of the article is that falling pork prices  in China are primarily due to the “anti-extravagance” campaign being waged by the government:

Farmers usually make decisions about production at least six months prior to the high-demand seasons. But demand for pork lately hasn’t shown strong seasonal rebounds, Mr. Zhou said.

The impact of Beijing’s anti-extravagance campaign has been rippling through far corners of the economy, beyond consumption of luxury goods and gift cards and impacting many Chinese households. Apparently, as some make do with less, less pork makes it to their tables.

Pig farmers have been suffering losses. Hog prices need to be six times the price of grain in order for them to break even. The multiple has been below that level since the beginning of last year and is currently at an unprofitable 5.7 times, official data showed.

The government’s efforts to stockpile for its pork reserves have failed to lift prices for the country’s favorite meat.

This article reminded me of a conversation I once had with a friend in Beijing who studies religion and civil society.

“Chinese people will never convert to Islam,” he said with a tone of absolute certainty.

“Do you know why? Because of PORK! Chinese people will never give up eating pork. So obviously Islam has no future in China.”

Nothing like good ol’ Chinese pragmatism!

Image Source: Wall Street Journal

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Cultural Values, Mapped

Crossing a cultural boundary inevitably leads to cultural clashes. Sometimes the clashes occur at the point of behaviors and customs, such as eating, drinking, or even how to cross a street. More often, however, the clashes occur at the deeper level of cultural values — beliefs about what is right and wrong or how the world ought to be ordered.

I recently ran across an interesting graphic that maps out these cultural value differences based on two major dimensions: traditional values vs. secular-relational values and survival values vs. self-expression values. Here’s how the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map is described on the World Values Survey website:

Analysis of WVS data made by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel asserts that there are two major dimensions of cross cultural variation in the world:

Traditional values versus Secular-rational values and Survival values versus Self-expression values. The global cultural map (below) shows how scores of societies are located on these two dimensions.

Moving upward on this map reflects the shift from Traditional values to Secular-rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from Survival values to Self–expression values.

Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.

Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)

Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.
Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.

Here is the map:

cultural values map

This is one of the clearest depictions of cultural value differences I’ve ever seen. If you teach in an international or cross-cultural setting, it would be great to use in a class.

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Where Are the Foreigners From?

When I first went to China (way back in 1984), foreigners were something of a novelty. At the time, I was working in the city of Zhengzhou, in Henan Province. I was one of perhaps a dozen foreigners in the city of 2+ million people, which meant that we could draw crowds of curious onlookers merely by purchasing toilet paper in a department store. If we saw a foreigner we didn’t recognize, we would find ourselves staring, and sometimes chasing them down to find out who they were and why there were in Zhengzhou!

Since most of our students had never seen a real-live foreigner before, they greeted us with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Fortunately, both of those quickly dissipated and were replaced by warmth and friendship.

Thirty years later, things have changed. In many of the larger cities, you can hardly walk down the street without bumping into a foreigner, much less spotting one. This change is illustrated in two infographics recently published by China Brief showing the current make-up and distribution of China’s expat population.

There can be no doubt that in recent years, China’s expatriate make-up has been changing. With the country’s domestic work force steadily maturing, managerial positions are increasingly being taken on by Chinese talent, often with foreign degrees in hand and without the cultural disconnect of previous generations. The role of expats is changing as well. Where multinationals once came to China mostly for manufacturing and exporting, they are now increasingly here to access the Chinese consumer market, and are shifting their focus to logistics, warehousing and distribution accordingly.

The overall number of expats working in China has increased dramatically since the launch of “reform and opening-up” (in 1978). According to China’s most recent National Census held in 2010 – the first to record the number of foreigners residing in China – there are at least 600,000 expats working or living in cities throughout the country, broken down by nationality in the chart below.





I note with interest that Shanghai has twice the number of expats than Beijing and that there are just 97,000 expats in the provinces not highlighted in this map. Most of my expat friends and acquaintances live in those provinces.

Christmas in China

Here is an an al-acarte of stories and posts related to Christmas in China. And as we say in Chinese, Shengdan Kuai le (圣诞快乐), which means, well Merry Christmas. The Chinese word for Christmas is Shengdan Jie (圣诞节), which literally translated means Holy Birth Festival.

December 22 Gangwashi 016

From The Economist: Oh What Fun: Christmas with Chinese Characteristics

Cities across China blink with fairy lights, fancy hotels flaunt trees and tinsel, and glossy magazine covers display festive recipes and table settings. “Joy up!” reads a sign (in English) on three illuminated trees by a shopping mall in Beijing. The Chinese are doing just that.

From the Atlantic: Why Christmas is Huge in China

There’s a joke going around: “Santa Claus was descending into China from the sky. Due to the heavy smog, he fell to the ground, but no one dared help him up. While he was still lying in the snow, his bag was ransacked for presents, and his reindeer and sleigh taken away by the chengguan. Therefore, no Christmas this year.”

While some of the humor needs context—there are digs at China’s notorious bystander effect and much-despised urban-management officials, chengguan—the larger meaning is clear. Ironic jokes about Santa’s routine being disrupted with uniquely Chinese characteristics are a sure sign that, yes, they do know it’s Christmas time in communist China.

From the Guardian: Santa’s real workshop: the town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations

Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.

And a reminder of my previous posts on Christmas in China: 

The Great Manchurian Scarf Incident — an account of attempting to celebrate Christmas in small Manchurian (northeast China) town.

Some Thoughts on “Ping An Ye” (Silent Night)  — on discovering that the Chinese word for Christmas Eve is “The Silent Night”

The Silent Night — more stories of Christmas Eve in China

Santa on a Scooter – What’s not to love about that?

And finally, a few links to article by Chinese Christians about Christmas in China, from Chinese Church Voices

Preparing for Christmas — a Chinese pastor asks his congregation to make the proper preparations.

Villagers of the Chinese Christmas Village Don’t Know What Christmas Is — a Christian blogger responds to news reports about Yiwu, the town where most of the world’s Christmas decorations are made.

Merry Christmas!!!

(photo: Christmas program at Gangwashi Protestant Church in Beijing, 2006)