21 March 2006

Cured by Ham

Recently, when reading the parables of Jesus, I've felt overwhelmingly convicted. Especially potent has been the parable where the master gives three servants ten, five, and one talent, and then goes away. Like the stubborn servant with the one talent, I'm predisposed to pout about the amount given me and sit on it, comparing myself to others.

Last week at Fiday Night Bible study, I led songs for the first time. Then I got to teach.

Anyone who knows me knows that when I get in front of groups, I'm a natural ham. For one reason or another, I'd been hiding this character trait from greater Taiwan. Well, from anybody who knows me here. Maybe because being a missionary, you're "supposed" to take things seriously? Probably. (You're not really "supposed" to do it, but that was apparently my careful approach.) Additionally, I'd never gotten the chance to ham it up, aside from with my 6th graders, which no one ever sees,and obviously the kindergartners, because any kindergarten teacher who doesn't ham it up is straight doomed.

Friday night, all that changed. Back to textbook Anne. It lifted a weight so big that I even felt lightheaded. I wasn't afraid to talk to anyone; I'm Anne. Finally!

It could hardly have gotten better when a man walked up to me. This was his first time to come to Bible study. I asked him what brought him here tonight, and he told me he wanted to learn more about the Bible. As part of being with us the first time, he had received a pocket-sized Chinese and English New Testament, but he thought the print was rather small. He was right. It was pocket sized. However, he told me that he had a Bible at home: he checked it out from the library. Well, that will do.

He said he wanted to learn more about the Bible because of the influence it has on the world. I figured, better not waste any time. Let's get this man what he wants. He agreed to start reading the Gospel of Mark with me, and we'd talk about it next week.

Maybe it's elementary to suggest this blessing was positive reinforcement from the Lord. Either way: pass the ham.

11 March 2006

Membership Guide

Only since Christmas, I've become an official grown up member of the Woodward family. I have become a birdwatcher.

I didn't get the many-pocketed khaki vest and I don't have the tripod and telescope, or even a decent pair of binoculars, but I did receive a hardbound volume of A New Guide to the Birds of Taiwan, a first (and prossably last) printing. I have reason to believe that my father (er, Father Christmas) went to great lengths to find this book, as locating anything in the area of an English Taiwan birding guide stumped even my internet-combing prowess (and everything's on the internet; if it's not there, it doesn't exist).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this book is amazing. Now, it's no Golden Guide to North American Birds, but despite the basic printing and limited illustrations, it includes not only English and Chinese, but also the phonetic symbols for all the sounds in the Chinese tongue, aka, the Taiwan Chinese Phonetic alphabet, aka, (laugh if you want to, I did) bopomofo, so that I know how to pronounce all those crazy characters. I've been using this book, believe it or not, to identify birds. When I see one I write down the date and any other important details in the checklist in the back. Growing up, this is what I watched my father do, and later my brother would do the same. Please humor a few examples of the natural world that this guide has helped me to observe.

Before I had a book to help me identify them, I saw the Chinese Bulbul all around campus. In the picture it's hard to see that he has a sort of golden-dusted olive colored back, which is especially lovely in the sunlight. Turns out he's pretty common, but a very friendly bird who especially enjoys perching on topmost branches. His song is heard ubiqitously throughout the well-shaded campus.

I've always believed that the female of most bird species gets the short end of the stick, especially when it comes to those named for their color. I spotted a vinaceous rosefinch while hiking on Jade Mountain (which has the highest peak in Northeast Asia, whatever that means). Had I not been carrying the volume with me, I would have thought nothing of the ordinary-looking bird, but seeing as how I could enlarge my schema of the mountain fauna, I discovered what a fabulous looking mate this one must have. He would have a wine-colored (that's what vinaceous means) head, back, and breast, with a striking silver-white eyebrow and brown wings and tail. But she's the one who came out for groceries in her housecoat while he stayed home, vainly arranging his feathers.

While perusing the volume, I bookmarked birds that I especially wanted to find. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across the brilliant river kingfisher skimming the surface small pond in Taipei, crisscrossing it in seconds with a shrill cry. Barely touching the water, he found some dinner and took it to a secluded perch to enjoy it.

Keep paying attention. This is where we'll start to build some substance. What I like best about this book is that the most important component of its contents cannot be bound. Not only do I search for its descriptions to be made manifest in the world around me, I take part in a communion with my family. For the Woodwards, observing birds bears an understood significance. A few winters ago my brother and I negotiated holiday traffic in order to keep an eye on a hunting kite. Visiting the mountain cottage of my (younger) youth, I whiled hours in a hammock or followed a trail, listening to my father emulate the call of a passing bird that it might linger in our neck of the woods long enough for us to have a look at it. Meanwhile, visitng hummingbirds made entries on my mother's keen mental log, alternately establishing dominance by chasing others away, preventing anyone, including themselves, from enjoying the sugarwater. At home, we had an ugly gray mug whose stamped precept made all things plain: "We're birdwatchers". Simply maintaining the birdfeeders at home became a perennial task for all members of the family; even the dog joined the campaign against marauding squirrels. (Of course her graceless attacks shuttled off all the birds too, but there's a margin for error in everything).

Additionally, (just when you thought it couldn't get better) fixation with this little book gives me a little bit more insight into the the Bible. True, A New Guide to the Birds of Taiwan has nothing on the inspired word of God, but an analogy always has to be simpler than what it describes. As a member of God's family, availed of His Word, I observe and grow in understanding. I seek truth as Biblical authors have framed it. I hope for the Lord's promises. I pray for mercy and grace, rely on forgiveness, and wait for the Holy Spirit, which I know about because I read it in the Bible. It's like putting the birds I have seen and want to see into perspective.

I wouldn't want to give the idea that the Bible is just a practical guide for Christian living. It would be easy to treat it that way, say if I read more out of the books of James and Proverbs than any other book. I would describe Christ's redemptive work as the opposite of expedient and certainly Job's account contributes almost nothing to the pragmatist's inventory, save for "what to scrape your boils with".

Along with observing my parents observe birds, I also observed them read and continue to discover the scriptures. Isaiah 55:10-11 says the Word of God is like rain that falls, yielding both seed and bread. As seed is to the beginning of faith, bread is the nourishment of faith. We as members of God's family can not exhaust his word; it always holds something new for us though it's been there the whole time, just as the Lord God has been and will be. As humans we can't eat once and expect to remain satisfied forever. We can't expect the lessons we learned in Sunday School or as youths to sustain our understanding of our risen Lord as our mind matures past the intellectual and spiritual stages of youth. Kierkegaard reminds us in Fear and Trembling that it takes a man even such as Abraham his whole life to grapple with his faith, leaning on it as means and ends of his existence. From my limited perspective, I can only imagine what this means.

I'll never see every bird in my bird book. I'll never see every bird in any bird book. But I'll know what it's like to look for birds and find them, just like anyone who learns to look for birds and find them.

09 March 2006


1) I spent last weekend in Taipei for an English teacher's conference, of sorts. It was really just a chance for a bunch of publishers to show off curricula. Every workshop was a commercial, to some degree. But at least I got to go to Taipei, which I haven't done before, other than the airport, which doesn't count.

While in Taipei we had a chance to visit a sister in Christ, and just about the most joyful cancer patient I've ever seen. She recently retired from a career of teaching in a high school and owns the popular hangout for Western foreigners, the Golden Eagle Pub, in Chiayi. A little more than a month ago, she was diagnosed with lymphoma and the doctor advised her only to go ahead with treatment if she had a strong desire to live. She responded that she knew her God was strong enough to bring her through and continues hard-lining a dependence on Jesus Christ rarely seen by this (albeit novice) missionary.

Though, like any hospital patient in Asia, she wore a paper mask over the breating organs on her face, a shining smile was unmistakeable, and she was sitting Indian style on her bed. From the time we spent with her, it's clear that she hungers and thirsts for the living God. Though the visit left us surprisingly strengthened, she still needs our prayers. Difficult times are still to come.

It occurs to me that this is not such a different prayer request that those which might be offered at any church stateside. Some things don't change across the ocean.

2) Belated updates to the sidebar: Sam Beltz and Mel Scheer. Sam is my candid team-mate who clearly spends a lot of time in thought. He teaches at CMS (Concordia Middle School, on the same campus as CELA) but in a little bit of a different capacity from the other teachers at CMS. There's a segment of the student body who failed a test somewhere along the way, and their only hope for the future now is to learn a trade. The tests have already decided who has a shot at college. Whatever these students may be, they've been told that they're basically worthless, and they've come to believe it. Sam teaches these kids conversational English and Bible. I'll let his blog take it from there.

Mel Scheer (center) (this won't be news for some of you) is the DCE at St. Peter Lutheran Church. We didn't go to college together or anything, but I love to spend time with her whenever I'm in Lodi. I'm happy she's at my home church. She puts things together: people, events, probably sandwiches. That's why you can't get a picture of her by herself. Just for the record, she's been a bona-fide crusader on behalf of My Handsome Accomplice and I from the very beginning, and she plays a mean game of low-stakes poker. On her blog, she keeps track of her zany antics--I mean, life.

01 March 2006

Late Breaking News: Creation Subjected to Frustration

According to the eighth chapter of the Biblical book of Romans, written by the Apostle Paul, all of God's Green Earth has been "subjected to frustration." Experts interpret this God-inspired passage to indicate man's inherent sinfulness, beginning with the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden near the dawn of time.

Even after the Lord Almighty instructed the only two humans in existence not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they did just that.

Since that time, scholars believe, the whole of creation has come under the same fatal curse as the humans, and additionally suffers the burden that six and a half billion sinners place upon it daily.

Romans further states that "the whole of creation has been groaning", presumably under such affliction, and "waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed" in the hope of likewise being "liberated from it's bondaged of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God".

These portions of scripture bring discord from Know-it-Alls around the world, some giving credence to the Biblical promise of Christ's return to redeem those who believe in him, while still others remain convinced that it prophesies an enormous environmental summit of world leaders larger than any yet seen, resulting in the merging of all faiths, epic global policy reform and complete restorative effects in every corner of the earth.

In other news, I may be reading too much of The Onion.