Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A-Maze-ing McyD's MacGyver Meeting

How does one make a good decision?

Today, I was walking out of my apartment with Bethany as we both prepared to venture outward to visit the city (we live about one kilometer north of the inner-city of Baoding).

"Where are you guys meeting for lunch?" Bethany asked inquisitively of the location of the weekly "MacGyver Meeting/ Dude Time" that takes place each week and consists of Jon, Tim, Cameron, and I divulging the inner-most recesses of our hearts and minds.

"Well, we're going to this really ethnic food restaurant in the middle of the city. It's a little pricey, but there's some amazing American cuisine there that we're excited to try," I answered her.

"Ahhh," Bethany said smugly as she grinned through her response.



And so met the first installment of the Spring, 2010 MacGyver Meeting, named after the famous late-80's/ early 90's TV show, making light of the way our "small group" meeting is kind of just thrown together with no real leadership or planning, but seems to result in amazing discussion and deep thoughts, similar to how the character from "Macgyver, Angus MacGyver, constantly makes huge bombs and dynamite to blow up entire compounds just by using some shoestrings, a paper clip, and a wad of chewing gum--just, being resourceful with what we have.

Since this was our first meeting of the semester, it seemed appropriate that we had no real topic to discuss outside of what we'd study together over the semester. After deciding that we'd be looking at The Greatest Letter Ever Written to an Italian, we settled in around a new, more immediate topic: making decisions.

"It's just been a tough time of trying to see how to make a good decision with the next 3-5 or more years of life," Jon stated. He proposed that, when we're looking through the word and the circumstances of life press around us to make a decision about life ahead, as they are now for all four of us, it seems like we want to take the responsibility of walking out a big decision off of ourselves and kind of just pin it on the Father, like a cosmic game of "Who stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?"

"Yeah," Tim interjected, "it's like, if He's not talking directly about something, how do we decide?"

"He's always talking," I said, over which Tim trumped,"Well, if He's always talking, then I'm not listening 'cause I can't hear anything!"

My desire now is to just see Him for who he is, trying to really know him and walk with him. Where does trust, though, fit with the principles of really taking responsibility for our own lives and actions, especially if it comes time to make a big decision and all the Father is saying is still consistently, "Do what you want." There's this word "call" that keeps getting kicked around that I still don't understand entirely but comes to bear entirely on this conversation.

Well, I guess that means I need to...figure out what I want? Indeed, a perplexing simplicity in the maze before us.
A maze we're not walking through alone.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Natural Beauty in the Mundane Moment

A Snow-covered bench flanks Moon Lake at the newly-reopened Hebei College of Finance (Baoding, China; picture by Ryan Bettwy)

It’s not that natural beauty doesn’t exist in Baoding, but it’s something that you have to search for more intentionally than, say, if the mountains stretched out before a blue, spotless sky all around you. I mourn on days when the sky is overcast and can’t be seen, which happens often here due to our proximity to Beijing, China (one hour by train).

Yesterday, however, I was confronted with the most beautiful natural scene I have witnessed in all of my time in Baoding. The moment came and went like a mouse darting out of its hole, grabbing the crumbs of a slovenly-eaten dinner, and exiting his way back to the hole again, just swift enough to yank his tail away from the sweeping eyes of the table-sitting eaters. I wasn’t expecting it as I neared the underpass leading out to the Olympic Gymnastics Training Center stationed in central Baoding, a mainstay on my bike route, no more than any man reclining after dinner at his table expects to see a mouse stealing the remnants of his feast hoarded for fellow varmints in their hole, but there it was, the image painted through the centuries onto the canvas of the present moment:

I saw two dozen birds circling around a group of apartments that rose awkwardly across the landscape off to my left like primary school boys craning their necks in the class picture to look just a bit taller than the rest of the boys. Their attitude was for naught, for their stage was stolen as I saw over them to the rare, clear sunset of Baoding, something I’ve only heard whispers of, like rumors of healthcare progress or the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series: something I’ve heard described and dreamed of for decades, but never quite able to get over the hump. Here it was, inviting me to drink in the warmth of the dying sun stretching yellow and orange and fading into green and blue as I ventured on. The uphill climb snaking unconsciously through traffic as I continued taking in the view brought the revelation of several snow-covered evergreen trees, which proved to be the actual destination that the birds I was watching circled. Even with the furious traffic around me, I felt confident that I was experiencing a unique moment that most motorists were likely to glance over without a second thought, which forced me again to mourn not only the obvious, days when the sky is covered, but also the days when the sky is laid to bear on our lives and I am not open enough to allow the moment to press in around me as a daily Ebenezer of faithfulness the likes of which come only in the seeking heart.
Amidst this moment, I cursed the circumstance of having forgotten my groceries outside the coffee shop where I’d been planning my first week of classes and reading a great memoir called ‘Tis by American-Irish author and teacher, Frank McCourt. Since several of the groceries I bought at the Da Ren Fa were perishable, I decided that it was a bad idea to bring them into the coffee shop, but instead buried them in the snow so that they could stay for the two hours that I inevitably spent in the shop. This resulted in the demise of my ponderous moment as I U-turned across buses and taxi’s zooming by, knowing that the seekers heart must rejoice both in the profound and the mundane, such as when you forget your groceries that you buried in the snow to try to save money on refrigerating.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Back to School

For about two weeks, the population of Hebei College of Finance has been as follows:

12 stray cats
5 women hired to shovel snow
2 guards at the front gates
my roommate, Jon
our neighbor and teammate, Bethany

Since we returned from visiting and traveling in the South of China, our time has rushed by in a whirlwind of Settlers of Cataan and catching up on the latest season of "Lost." I have cherished this time to refresh and enjoy imagining the things that will come with the new semester.

One vital cog in our daily life that we have missed during the holiday season, which officially ends tomorrow with classes beginning at 8:00 AM, has been the cafeteria. Now, I know the images that such a word conjures in most peoples' mind: something along the lines of food fights in high school where sloppy meat balls and cold noodles are carried around on pink-styrophome trays, only to be tossed into the trash along with the bag of chocolate milk that you accidentally poked a hole through on both sides, causing it to leak into your overly-salted, frozen-on-the-inside-and-burnt-on-the-outside french fries. "Hao chur," perhaps, is just the sound of the person using the toilet to vomitt as they enter the cafeteria in these scenes, but here we use this word (which literally means "delicious") to describe our daily intake of delectible foods, ranging from the tang su li gi gai fan (sweet and sour pork over rice) to the always-solid chou mien (fried noodles...don't forget to add the egg on the side!). Certainly, our cafeteria gets a low score when it comes to cleanliness-- sometimes we have to avoid other peoples' trash and soup puddles when trying to sit down at a table-- but what it lacks, it makes up for entirely in the food department.

This afternoon, after Jon led us in an incredible time in the word, Cameron, Jon, Tim, Amelia, Bethany, Kerry, and I walked outside and braved the flurries assaulting our faces to make our first ascent of the semester to "Cantine 1," the cafeteria where we often go to eat. As we walked, it was almost overwhelming to see dozens of students mulling about, carrying huge plastic bags stuffed to the brim with clothes and supplies, preparing for the semester at hand. I walked by one small congregation of guys chatting when one of them yelled to me, "Hello!" I don't actually know who he was, but I stopped for a few minutes to ask how their holiday had gone. In true back-to-school style, I must have answered that question a dozen time over the next two hours as I made my way through the cafeteria, ordering the dishes and enjoying the atmosphere with my team.

"Di di! Mei mei" I shouted when I was making my way throught he crowd in the main stretch of the cafeteria, past the two rows of long tables, and seeing a young boy and his sloghtly-older sister playing cards at a table in the corner. His long, black hair curled into a rat tail behind him as he grinned through one or two baby teeth he has left, as his mouth begins to take a more mature form. These two friends I call "di di" (little brother) and "mei mei" (little sister) because of how much I see them on a weekly basis during the semester. They both seemed excited to see me and my friends returning to their mother's store, the small gai fan place where we often (literally everyday, in fact) eat dishes over rice.
"I will never know what that is like," I often think when I imagine the position the owner and workers of this store are in, working almost everyday from 7 AM until 10 PM, serving food to college students and teachers. The mother of these children has a raspy voice and always wears an orange rag over her hair, but always seems to spare the energy to smile as she ask, "Chur she ma?" (What do you want to eat?) It was truly an experience of reclaiming a familiar position as we enjoyed our meal together and celebrated the new semester's beginning.