DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

You Better Watch Out!

Written by: on February 8, 2018

At twelve thousand feet above see level it is hard to breath; especially in a line with 1000 people. In Lhasa, Tibet while visiting the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple, I stood in line with a friend to see and understand this site that Tibetans make pilgrimage to. After about an hour, our line moved into the temple. We paid an entrance fee and were allowed to stand behind ropes around the  periphery of the inner temple. It was my first introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and I was impressed with the incense, gold plated objects and rows of monks chanting. My friend however disappointingly said, “Well, they have succumbed to the tourist. Last time I was here, there wasn’t a tourist line and a worshiper line. You didn’t have to pay to get in and the monks were not in fancy robes with golden objects sewn in.” China had just added a fast train to this location which connected the rest of China with this unique province. As a result, the city, the people, the temples were now reflecting the potential for catering to the consumer. Religion and economics have often had a tumultuous relationship; yet how we as Christians respond does reflect on the core of our beliefs.

 

There is a “danger of cultural erosion in globalizing capitalism {…and the] profits from globalization”.[1] “The problem for Miller does not lie at the level of beliefs. It lies at the level of practices”[2] How we live out our beliefs speaks loudly of what is important. I believe the problem is more than a broken economic system that needs to be fixed. Jay would say I am talking about a heart problem again; I suppose I am. Miller says that one solution is found in a dialectical process.[3]Willingness to understand the systemic problems our church and our family participate in bring clarity to the conversation; especially in the context of religion.For many Chinese, religion is an extension or luxury to their life. What I mean is that it is not always at the center except during holidays. So for Chinese, religion has nothing to do with a desire for more money (except you can pray to be blessed with it). For those that have grown up in poor communities, the pursuit of wealth and the accumulation of things bring comfort. Consumption is about the entire process of obtaining something, no longer comes just from possessing objects but in the pursuit of those objects.[4] The needs we filled with religion and community, we have attempted to fill with buying. A person continues to consume excessively because he or she is never content with any one thing. This is true with religion as well. “People pick and choose from the offerings of religious traditions to produce their own syntheses[…] Under such circumstances, it is easier for religion to become an empty myth than to be the bearer of uncomfortable challenges”[5]

 

Christmas is China is an example this kind of a twisted holy-day. “The Western religious festival is so trendy, in fact, that it may be the second-most-celebrated festival in China after the Spring Festival among young Chinese.[…a Chinese young man said,] Christmas is “an excuse to party” whereas Chinese festivals are comparatively “solemn, serious, and spiritual,.”[6] So we often see Santa and Christmas lights displayed in stores from November until after Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, Christmas is also taken as a Valentine-style day, where boyfriends and girlfriends exchange gifts and often their virginity. There is a Chinese saying, “Silent night, first night” that promotes Christmas Eve as a night of love. “Consumerism focuses on the self and pursuing one’s own individual desires. The difficult aspect of advertising no longer describes the qualities and virtues of a product, […]but instead create visions of the ways in which their product can transform the life of the consumer.”[7] Chinese have bought into the lie that self satisfaction will bring all that one needs for the day.

 

The Chinese unfortunately have learned a lot from our movies, songs, spending habits and quite possibly from those here to promote Christ. Two Christmas’ ago, we invited our local neighbors over to our home to celebrate Christmas. Most of them were government officials and I wanted to share the Christmas story creatively. I decided to explain the decorations of our house so they could understand their meaning and the story behind them. I was very proud of myself for finding a unique way to share the story. After some reflection, I wonder what they remembered; the cost of the beautifully decorated home or the story of Jesus?

 

China also has learned to profit from the commercialism of holidays. “Shenzhen’s population swells by 5 million in the summer to feed the Christmas electronics boom, and Yiwu famously produces 60 percent of the world’s Christmas decorations. In this real Santa’s workshop,[there are]12-hour days at $500 a month, and 600 factories churning out thousands of baubles a day, as a migrant workforce largely indifferent to their meaning produces disposable tat bound, ultimately, for landfills”[8]Yet I see hope, “Far from ushering in a new age of enlightenment from the “opiate of the masses,” the country’s strident and bewildering economic development has left behind Marxism and instead sent millions searching for priests and prayer books.”[9] The hope I see in Chinese Christians is that many see the trappings in a pursuit of wealth alone.

Buddhist monks with the latest cell phones and running shoes or Pastors with luxury cars remind us how advertising has influenced us and the religions we follow. Keeping syncretistic models of worship of money and God out of our practices will be harder than we are usually willing to deal with. There is a girl named Angela that comes from a poor farming family, who came to know the Lord last year and is graduating from college. She has just begun to join (what we would call) a pyramid scheme. She has invested her money, attended the (worship service like) rallies on how to grow your business and become rich. Yet, she is blinded by her pursuit to see the problems. “The way of holy resistance lies at the level of practices. For only actual practices[…]will help us to counter an individualized, consumerist religion.”[10] The God (god), at the center of our belief, is lived out in the choices we make and the influence we have.

 

 

[1]      Miller, Vincent J.Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture

(New York, New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2003) 227

[2]      http://artspastor.blogspot.com/2010/03/review-of-vincent-millers-consuming.html. Accessed February 8, 2018

[3]      Miller, 221

[4]      Miller, 91

[5]      Miller, 94

[6]      https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/why-christmas-is-huge-in-china/384040/Accessed February 8, 2018

[7]      Miller, 41

[8]      https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/why-christmas-is-huge-in-china/384040/Accessed February 8, 2018

[9]      Ibid

[10]      http://artspastor.blogspot.com/2010/03/review-of-vincent-millers-consuming.html. Accessed February 8, 2018

About the Author

Greg

Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

9 responses to “You Better Watch Out!”

  1. Another fascinating post Greg! I can always count on you bringing out something I never knew from China’s culture. This time it was the “Silent night, first night”, sad, hilarious and interesting all at the same time. The fact that they borrow our holiday as a reason to party, then make it into an extra “Love” day is wild. They probably don’t even realize that them focusing on love at Christmas is actually focusing on something very Christian, since God is love (minus the losing their virginity part…unless of course they are married) 🙂

    • Greg says:

      I think anytime you are wanting to join in the fun and (fake) holiday experience you see in movies, you try to create the atmosphere and experience you hope will give you that sense of connection. (thus a party) Whatever you get from this program, it will include a side-education in China.

  2. Greg,

    Thanks for your insights here. I was horrified to picture Shenzhen swelling by 5 million people to manufacture our throwaway Christmas decorations and lights. It really challenges our consumeristic values when we realize the human cost and the ecological cost of being so festive.

    • Greg says:

      I didn’t include that that figure was 3 year old and would guess it is more than that now. It speaks again to the not caring where our stuff comes from that your blog alluded to. Ignorance of environmental and human cost that are across the world, help us sleep well at night knowing everyone we know is safe. I don’t think Christians talk much about systemic evil and how we participate in it.

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    Unfortunately, when I visited the Vatican, I had some of the same feelings you did when visiting the Tibetan Buddhist Temple. I was both enthralled and sickened.

    Thank you for the reminder of the “God Centered Life”!

    • Greg says:

      Jay I titled my blog, “you better watch out…” thinking of the Christmas song. I think the Vatican and Tibetan temples are the extreme examples but as much as I love Christmas (and all the decorations) I wonder how much is too much.

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Greg,

    One thing the US has been most effective at promoting is the idea of consumption. It is the ‘product’ that has had the most impact on the world, through the collapse of the Soviet Union through to the economics of China. As a worker in China I am sure it is hard to see the effects of this on the people you are trying to reach, such as Angela. Sadly despite our desire to share with others unimpeded by Western cultural biases, I fear that the overpowering effect of consumerism continues to impact faith development in the most far-flung corners of the world.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for the insight in to your ministry and a country that has always intrigued me. I wonder if the same depression from the trappings of a consumeristic life have begun to infest the Chinese as they have here. Can you predict, based on US and European history what may lie in store for the Chinese Christians? It would be an interesting study.

    Jason

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Greg,
    Thanks for these reflections and insights. I really enjoy hearing this word from the “global church” through your eyes and writing. Increasing Chinese consumerism (as more move into the middle-class) is well-known and much discussed where I live, and it basically mirrors (in its own way) the American experience of the same thing… It’s disappointing to think that the Christian faith has gotten caught up in that whole tangle, but again, that is also how it happened here. Keep up your good work over there, man.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *