Conversations on persecution with a Chinese Christian.

Apropos of reading this article – recording this to remember.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference held by my church. There, I met a Chinese woman, about my age who also attends my church. I don’t quite remember her name, it unfortunately went in one ear and then out again, so let’s call her “Summer”.

Summer is from Zhejiang province, and had moved here to study a master degree in law. She has full barrister qualifications in China, but was interested in studying in our country to broaden her skillset.

She attends my English-speaking, very multicultural church instead of a Mandarin-speaking, mainland-Chinese church, because she finds the latter too staid. Something about Chinese nationals being conservative and restrained, especially ones who came to the faith while abroad. She prefers the exuberance and unrestrained expressiveness of our church.

I was astonished when she told me that she grew up a Christian in a Christian family. Most Chinese Christians I’ve met were converts in adulthood, so it was unique to meet someone who’s been a believer since childhood. While living in Beijing, she attended an underground/unregistered church. That church has since been shut down by the Chinese government, but she wasn’t in the country when that happened.

We had a conversation about the underground churches, how they compared to the Three-self churches, and persecution from the Chinese government. Summer’s description of a raid was surprisingly prosaic: police walking into a meeting and watching from the back of the room, taking photographs of each person, having a word with the pastors. A raid doesn’t necessarily end in arrests, but it is designed to intimidate both congregation and clergy. There may be consequences the next time, and what’s more, the government has facial recognition software. Now they know your face and name.

I didn’t get to ask Summer about how underground churches and their members elude governmental scrutiny. I did ask her how she felt about attending an unregistered church, when the threat of raids and arrest looms over every meeting. She said that living fully for Jesus Christ and his Gospel were more important than personal wellbeing. The pastor of her church refused to register as a Three-self church because he couldn’t let the truth of the Gospel be censored by governmental bodies and he would preach Christ without restraint.

We both agreed that the power of God is equally at work in Three-self churches as unregistered churches — the Spirit of God will not be restrained — but as far as Summer was concerned, she finds fuller and deeper expression of faith in the underground church, and persecution is the lesser price to pay compared to the fullness of living out her faith.

But she was also thankful to now live here in a country where freedom of religion is upheld, and she wouldn’t be persecuted for attending church. This privilege is something to be cherished, she said.

This is the first time I’ve spoken at length to a Chinese Christian who attended an underground church. It was an honour to meet Summer. I admire her openness in discussing the realities of faith under persecution, and I want to learn more. I haven’t seen her since that day we spoke, but will look out for her.

Beastwatching in the urban jungle.

I went out walking in the city this morning, not far from the CBD.

Rising above an open park, some three blocks away from me, was a skyscraper. It was massive, multi-tiered, and like many buildings in this city, under construction. It bristled with scaffolding at every tier, themselves rising up at different (unfinished) heights, and there were two construction cranes sitting on the tiers, plus one more tall one on the ground.

Construction was under way, the cranes were lifting — what, I couldn’t see, it was on the other side of the skyscraper. As they laboured over this mysterious burden, they spoke to each other in groans and creaks and grinding of metal upon metal, a speech audible from half a kilometre away, a wordless language I didn’t and could never understand.

I thought of whales and whalesongs.

So I stopped for a minute to watch, from a distance, these inorganic creatures in their natural habitat, going about their lives, and speaking all the time. A strange song of (un)life, the sound of (in)organic industry and growth.

The machineworld has an unnatural, alien beauty that the natural world simply doesn’t have and the organic mind doesn’t comprehend. Who will have eyes to see this mystery? And what mystery was the cranes lifting up the skyscraper’s tiers, that they spoke about it the whole time?

I never saw the cranes’ burden. I had moved on, a little creature leaving those greater creatures crying and moaning to each other as they grew and raised the superorganism of the city into the sky.

Postscript: A week later, I passed by the same way. Nothing stirred around that skyscraper. The cranes were still and silent.

I saw a wizard yesterday. 🎵

A fiddler playing a Celtic reel live. The sound was like a a clear brook spilling over rocks, like a diving falcon.

I’d not seen real live wizardry, until I saw his fingers moving on the strings. Brilliant. Just spectacular.

I wish I’d recorded his playing, but it was a concert and against the rules. Still, would’ve been worth breaking the rules for. Hopefully the magic will live in my soul, even if I can’t hear its sound again.

Not the concert I heard. But behold that fiddling wizardry.

At the wedding.

It was the latest in a string of incredibly cold days this week: frigid, overcast, drizzling continuously. But it didn’t stop the wedding from being, in a word, splendid.

Both are not native to this land. She speaks five languages, and spoke all five that evening, welcoming family and friends from all over the world come here to celebrate with her. He speaks one language which is not his mother tongue, yet the majority represented there were family and friends from all corners of the city and all parts of his life, also come to celebrate with him.

She was a vision of beauty — but when is she not? She is, and will be, always beautiful and elegant and refined and a friend like no other. I’d only ever seen him in tracksuit, shorts, or the most casual of clothes, but as his brother said during the speeches, he looked sharp and handsome and wore the suit wonderfully on his wedding day. Splendour, embodied.

Many splendid sights were beheld, but the most endearing sight was seeing L., white-haired and slightly stoop-shouldered, carrying off an enormous bouquet of roses at the end of the evening.

(Each table at the reception had a huge vase of white-and-blush roses, each bloom larger than my two fists pressed together. There would’ve been hundreds of roses in that room. The guests were taking them away afterward. Who would not want to take home a memento of that day’s beauty?)

And as he was bearing away this giant bouquet for his wife and daughter, this man who’s not of any blood or ethnic relation but who has become something like a father to me in this city, said to me, “All things work for the good of those who love him, our Lord Christ. Don’t forget that.” A current caught, a thread pulled, a pot stirred, a word in season.

What a wonderful day.

Glimpses of glory.

Church has been holding prayer/revival nights. We came, some several hundreds of us, with hands raised to hail Christ our Lord and hearts open to receive him.

The teenagers were there, from middle school kids to high school youths, hands open, faces raised with passion. I thought: young lions, full of zeal. God, make them brilliant lights of hope and victory in a dark world.

The band played. I watched the young black African bassist with his groove and virtuoso fingers and flashing white grin, the young Chinese drummer whose hands and feet moved to conjure magic. Young lions, probably not even twenty yet, pouring their talent into a purpose greater than themselves, into worship.

Our pastor honoured the seniors in the congregation, asking those aged seventy and over to come forward to receive prayer and blessing. They came, the elders. Some were frail but they came from their seats to the edge of the stage. Some I know had been in this church for most of their lives, and are still here, still vibrant. We honoured their wisdom, their endurance, their faithfulness to the house.

At the end of one evening, I saw D. and R. in the parking lot. D., pastor out west, Latino, big in physique and heart, asked, “Vega, friend! you gonna make a pilgrimage out west to see us again?” R., white Anglo and fellow soldier, just smiled in his quiet way and hugged me. They got into the car and left, back out west, to the frontiers.

Soon, friends, I’ll make the pilgrimage.

Chariots at the airport.

Was at the airport a few days ago. The flight was substantially delayed. I had time, so I decided to walk down the concourse to the end of the terminal.

The concourse went on straight ahead. There was a trick of reflection and lighting, for I saw it go on and on, off the ground and into the night sky. Indeed, the wall at the end of the concourse was a big glass pane looking onto the flight runways. I was hoping to walk through a portal into the air and into another world, but I had to content myself with just looking.

It had gotten quieter as I walked down the concourse, until there were no people around and all human voices were gone. And now, the un-human sounds of the airport and runways came to the fore: the bass roar of jet engines, the moaning of the wind (for it’s been a windy, cold day), and the groaning creaks of the building under the assault of the wind and time.

Beyond the glass were airplanes, in a row. In the gloomy runway lighting they looked like gargantuan chariots of titans, parked and waiting patiently until they would be summoned to fly. Airplanes are mundane things, but tonight I was indeed looking through a portal at another world, and those mundane things became strange and grand.

Then the boarding call came through, and I had to go.

Strangeness

Was oddly restless and fey after work, so I went for a walk by the river. I need to walk more: there is something to be said about disconnecting from all intermediary forms and immersing my direct senses into the immediate moment without mediation. And then to let my thoughts run wild.

Run wild they did, mostly in the existential direction today, and I found myself praying an undercurrent without really being aware of it. The sky was bruised with deep blue clouds, and the setting sun cast a last gasp of gold and radiant white upon the oncoming storm. It was surely going to rain tonight.

I ended up at the boathouse, on the pontoons the rowers used to lower their boats into the river. I love this pontoon, because it gets me right on the level of the water at some distance from shore, and gives me the impression of walking upon the river itself. Nearby was a power line that stretched across the short span between the banks.

On the power line hung the carcass of a bird.

Continue reading “Strangeness”

Subterranean

I went walking by the river the other day, and saw something I didn’t notice before at the side of the pavement. It was a raised cement platform standing on its own surrounded by large gravel around it. Embedded into the platform were three metal covers like manholes, except made from much heavier iron material. Two of them were manhole sized, about 2.5 feet in diameter, and the third one was larger, close to 4 feet diameter.

They were stormwater drains. Furthermore, the largest one was ajar, the lid tilted half open.

I stood on the platform and peered into the ajar stormwater drain. All I could see was dark water standing about a foot below the surface of the drain, clogged with debris and a bit of rubbish.

I thought, something has crawled up from the deep and escaped. Something hidden and secret is now at large, and civilization is no longer safe.

A few days later, I walked by the same place. The large drain was covered over.

Killing the dragon.

Apropos of playing too much Dragon Age: Origins (I’m at the endgame too) and listening to heroic Final Fantasy soundtracks:

Last night I dreamt of a dragon-killing girl. She was living in a futuristic arcology: high-rises everywhere, what appears to be endless future city in all directions. A cyborg/android dragon was terrorizing the arcology, who knows where it came from. Her weapon was a tablet with a screen, the only way to kill or disable this cyborg dragon.

I was watching this all like a movie. The girl had pale skin and shoulder-length dark brown hair, and wore a grey trenchcoat. She had a tall, grim looking man with her — her retainer, or some leader. They went up to the pinnacle of one of the tallest towers in the arcology. The dragon emerged from a kind of cocoon and began flying around, roaring and destroying buildings. It was gun-metal and silvery-metallic, with glowing red eyes, and perhaps a red laser in its mouth. (Imagine Bahamut from the Final Fantasy series, if you will.)

The dragon attacked the pinnacle, and the girl and the man had to spend much time sheltering from the damage. When she could stand up, the girl aimed her screen at the dragon, like she was taking a photo or movie. The moment the red glowing part of the dragon (eyes, or the throat laser) focused on her screen, something happened… perhaps the laser got reflected? Whatever it was, it damaged the dragon, which enraged it. Three times she did this.

And then the dream ends. The rest, before and after, is unknown. Interesting seed of a story, perhaps I should work over it more…

Day flock, night flock.

Yesterday evening, walking home from the train station, I saw a most wondrous sight: bats flying out in the dusk. At first I thought they were birds, but then saw the membranous wings, the blunt heads, the outstretched legs in place of feathered tails. They were departing from some distant roost, and they streamed overhead non-stop in loose groups, all flying in the same general direction. There was nothing inherently sinister about that flock of bats.

I marvelled at how silent they were. They made no sound apart from the faintest flap flap of soft wings. And, but it might have been my imagination, the faintest of chirpings. On and on they came; I must have stood there with my head craned upwards for a full five minutes, entranced by the bats.

Then I recalled, in a vivid flashback, an almost identical vision I had some years ago, watching a flock of corvids streaming overhead at sunset. Black crows in an endless stream, flying towards their night roost, cawing like commuters shouting news and gossip to each other as they made their way home. Now I saw the same vision, but these were bats, departing to forage and socialize, and possibly calling the same kinds of greetings to each other in their ultrasonic voices.

A fascinating mirror: one flock going home in the evening from their day activities, whilst another flock emerges at about the same time to go about the same business night. How wonderful!