What if you could write your own Resurrection Story? An Easter Reflection from Chongqing, China 2008

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by Robert Carbonneau, C.P.

October 15, 2008
Introduction to this essay: Religion is both a sensitive and sought after topic in modern China. Foreigners visiting, working and living in China have to reflect the historic centuries old sensitivity as well as be open to let the sacred sense of their presence and belief become a foundation for dialogue. In this essay, I tried to respect this reality. Frankly, I saw many faithfilled people in China and was asked about religion and culture quite often. Throughout the world people seek meaning and purpose in their life. This essay came about after teaching a Spoken English class on having a dream or personal vision. This was a challenge for my students. They enjoyed it. In this essay you have the chance to read what I read to my students. As Easter 2008 approached, I took the opportunity to remember faith is a gift and ask the question as to how we understand that Easter Resurrection gift of faith. This essay was published in St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish bulletin, a Passionist staffed parish in Baltimore, Maryland, soon after Easter. I had every hope that it would present a challenge then and hope it does now. It was also sent by email to Passionists and their employees.

How would you write your own Resurrection story? Yes, we are all familiar with the Resurrection story of Jesus. But when we think about it there are so many times in our life we have to dig into our spirit to understand what is going on around us. These are the times we have to build on our fragile faith. We have to make decisions that help us decide how we live out our own personal Resurrection story in modern times. Another way to say this is that we become the script writers of our religious understanding.

From my point of view, this is not like having our own personal religion. Rather, seeing ourselves as script writers of our modern Resurrection story correctly reminds us how we live out our belief of faith in our everyday life. Some people might see this is an exciting possibility in that it allows them to be in control and “play God.” For others the idea of being a script writer of their faith is a fearful experience because they know that they must face sorrows, hurts and even demons in their life. Still, others see the chance to write their own Resurrection story as a real opportunity. It affirms their ability to express their young faith or their faith of many years. No matter how we understand this, I suggest it is a sacred process especially if we become script writers from our heart.

I write this observation to you because I think it helps you understand how my teaching experience here in China has a relationship to people back home in Baltimore, Maryland, or in the United States, or any other place in the world. Let me explain. I have been teaching in Chongqing, China since August of 2007 at Sichuan International Studies University where I am a member of the English Department. When I arrived here I had to quickly decide what and how I would teach these young Chinese students. During the first semester I taught five spoken English classes once a week. Each class had about 25 students. Once a week I also gave a lecture class in English on international relations “hot topics” to about 70 students and a class on history and culture of the United States, Canada, Australia and England to about 150 students. This 2008 semester I am teaching six spoken English classes and next month will start some special lectures on history and culture of the United States. Believe me, this has been a challenge! I tell you this because when I look back at this teaching experience, I realize I have had to become resurrected as a teacher. Overall there is a complex simplicity to teaching in another culture. Because we all have had the experience of being bored in school I decided that I would stress two themes in every class. These two themes are imagination and critical thinking.

Imagination and critical thinking are not only important in our everyday life, they are important if we want to live and grow in our faith. Using our imagination and critical thinking allows us to value our ability as a kind of script writer of our modern day Resurrection story. We have to see how everyday life and our life of faith have a relationship. This is not always easy.

Yet, my students did share some other interesting perspectives on the Christmas season. Some told how if they had been fortunate enough to have foreign English teachers from their high school they had learned some Christmas songs. Others told how their high school teachers told them that there would be no Christmas celebrations in their high school since it was a western tradition, not a Chinese tradition. In a sense, my respect for Chinese history and culture makes me appreciate this tension of modern China. For example, when I travel here in Chongqing-a city of almost 4 million people-I find myself seeking out scenery from the past dynasties of China. Last month, I had to admit that anyone who comes to China today has to face the reality of China as an economic giant in the world. In other words, business and commerce are everywhere. Therefore China faces a unique challenge: how does it hold on to traditional Chinese culture of over 5,000 years and still grow into the future with hope and prosperity for all its people and with respect for foreigners who work or visit here? What does China mean for China? What does China mean for the rest of the world?

By using my imagination and critical thinking I have tried my best to see and understand my experience as a teacher in China. In many ways, even though I am in China I feel very connected to people in Baltimore, the United States and the rest of the world. For example, over the past years I have met people in the United States who tell me they have been to China. Each person has their own opinion of their experience. As we discuss their trips, I now realize how much we both use our imagination and critical thinking as we listen to each other. This always takes patience. Even in China I get international news in an instant. I have CNN international on the TV in my apartment. So often I watch the news and wonder about world peace in Afghanistan or Iraq. I grow weary and want to complain. Then I remember people I know in the United States who have served in the military or have a family member serving in the military. The news struck home when I got an email from a friend who told me that his nephew was killed as a soldier in Afghanistan. At moments like this my imagination and critical thinking is tested. How can I use these ideas to face these issues?

I use my imagination and critical thinking when I walk the streets of Chongqing, China. This was the old World War II capital of China. All around the city are the famous “bang bang” men. These are men who, for a very few Chinese coins–1or 2 RMB or 10 cents (it depends on the distance)–carry the heavy loads of others. They wait in the hot sun of Chongqing, or they wait in the constant drizzle of rain. Often they run after the many city buses hoping that when the doors open someone with a heavy load will need their services. They are a unique and historic part of the Chongqing culture that I have come to respect. They have a hard life.

When I think about these two examples I realize that I have to use my imagination and critical thinking to find a sense of understanding for myself each day. I have to wake up every day with my beliefs. I have to inspire myself and my students. Some days my faith grows. Some days my faith is tested.

So I asked my English class students to use their imagination and critical thinking to write a personal statement of what they believe so they can inspire themselves. They have read their personal statements in class. As an example, I gave them a reflection written by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Written to promote the USO and National War Fund, it was broadcast on United States radio on July 8, 1941 and is now carved on a marble tablet at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Known as “I Believe,” it impressed my English students and impressed me. Like them I wrote my personal statement. In a real sense, what you read below is how I would write my present day understanding of the Resurrection story. I hope to you read it in the spirit of the Easter season.

My Personal Reflection by Professor Robert Carbonneau.

Life is sacred. Human life is a blessing from our God and creator of the universe. Human life is a gift to cherish. Care for babies begins before they are born. Always care for people who are old. The first breath of a person and the last breath of a person are both important. When we understand and believe in the value of human life we become like a mirror. How? Because we help other people see themselves in us every time we begin to care for the water, air, land and animals that share our life. It is a simple fact that if we respect human life others will respect human life. Living a full and prosperous human life requires that our heart be strong to love and our mind be strong to think.

I believe that everyday experience offers a pulse of life that allows us to know hope and suffering. On the one hand, we all rejoice when our relationships are full of hope. Good health increases hope. Enough food to eat increases hope. A good home and enough clothes to wear increase hope. A good job with fair pay increases hope. On the other hand, we can feel cries of bitterness in ourselves when suffering enters our lives. Suffering can come very quickly. Suffering can be chronic. Suffering can break a heart. Suffering is like a heavy weight. When it comes, we often seek, pray and desire that it be lifted from our shoulders or the shoulders of those we know.

I believe that we can face suffering when we use our reservoir of hope to be compassionate people. The symbol of compassion is the heart of a person. The heart has tremendous capacity to face suffering because it can draw on the reservoir of hope which every person does have. I believe that every person can be a person of compassion. How? It is so important to share hope with someone who is suffering. This is the true meaning of having good relationships. These relationships start in our family where compassion builds on good communication. Compassion also helps friendships grow with people in school or work. Compassion allows us to even begin to see that the lives of people around us tell a story of hope and suffering. For example, riding a bus allows us to look at another person and respect the story of life that comes from their heart. If we keep this relationship of compassion in our life, no one is weak. If we keep this belief in life, then every relationship has an opportunity to be healed. Compassion allows us to care for people of the world. We care for them as man or woman or rich or poor. We care for them whether they have religion or not. Compassion is social. We all can be compassionate and bring peace and hope to those who suffer. Compassion is the traditional medicine of life which allows for one person or all people to live together.

I believe that every citizen must love their country. We have no choice where we are born. Yet in the world of today it seems that there is terror on every side. Governments and people are not exactly the same but they have a very important relationship. The work and service of good people creates a good government. Yes, it is so true in every country of the world that citizens complain about their government. Some say government is corrupt. Some say government is too political. Some say government does not care about minorities or the average people. I hear this often in the United States. As a teacher, I suggest you listen to something I have tried to teach about being a good citizen. It is this. When you hear yourself complain take a moment and understand the reason. When you understand the reason use your imagination and ability to use critical thinking to rectify and make the situation better. When you are faced with a problem try to develop a plan that all participants respect. Why? I believe a good citizen must use his or her talents and abilities with others to build up the nation. If every citizen did this then they would show respect for local situations and national situations. If every person had this vision of citizenship then nations throughout the world might live in peace.

What would you write as your Resurrection story to inspire yourself everyday?