2019… what do I see

It is time for New Year’s resolutions and I will confess… I usually don’t make them. I am not good at keeping promises to myself because most of¬† my time and energy is spent trying to keep promises to others and that is difficult enough.

But if I was to have my way, I would ‘plan’ more fun. Like dancing, swimming, reading classic novels, live concerts, hikes in the woods, museums and traveling around! Maybe this is how every student feels in the final year of his/her studies when Facebook becomes really annoying ūüė¶ It somehow gives a (hopefully false) impression that others have all the time in the world.

So, what do I see when I think about 2019? In a larger, even global sense. Nothing rosy! Things used to be more predictable, forecasts more popular and every new year promised to be different and somehow better. And for some odd reason I have the feeling of ‘same old but more of the old’ to come. What I mean is that every new year, in fact, every month, week and day brings new challenges which also provide great new opportunities. Yet we stubbornly miss those opportunities again and again. (Don’t even get me started on sustainable global development issues!)

Here I am speaking of my sentiment over current affairs. Not gloomy but simply sad. Sad that many of our countries have become so consumed by domestic concerns and politics that our interconnection with the rest of the world and the global ecosystem is neglected, ignored or even bemoaned. Why should we care about other’s problems? Look how many problems are right here and right now!¬† Why should we think critically and use our brains when we can just go on social media and stop caring for facts and find people who will tell us what to think? Especially what to think of those “others”! Much easier and much more pleasant¬† is to live in our imagined ‘Whoville’ and get all upset when we are told it simply does not exist!

I know that this sounds like a broken record and we, especially in the West, keep going in circles with our discussions of politically divided communities and nations. But not until we are really fed-up with circling our ideological, theological, national ‘wagons’ and desperate enough to enlarge our hearts to love all our neighbors, we will just keep muddling through and keep up the frequent ‘mud-throwing’.

What we need in 2019 are more prophets! Not as fortune tellers or social protesters, but as people who, according to theologian Walter Brueggemann, “understood the possibility of change as linked to emotional extremities of life. They understood the strange in-congruence between public conviction and personal yearning. Most of all, they understood the distinctive power of language, the capacity to speak in ways that evoke newness ‚Äúfresh from the word.”

I do not claim to have this kind of prophetic voice but I do know people who speak, write and, most importantly, live with this prophetic ‘newness’. I gravitate toward them because they see something that most of us do not see yet. They themselves do not claim that they ‘know’ or that they ‘see’. To me this is actually one of the marks of a prophetic person – they are never know-it-all or the expert. They are simply on the road less traveled which requires more courage and trust in hope…

So, here is my New Year’s resolution – I want to walk on the road less traveled! And I see a small, winding path and it probably goes uphill…

 

 

 

 

 

Smells Like Old Spirit

China! Have no idea how to write it down without rambling … but something deeply troubles me and there is no easy way around or out of it. It troubles me a lot, it creates a huge challenge and also brings a certain sense of helplessness.

In the West, we are very worried about the rise of authoritarianism in many places around the world, including in our midst. But there is another large elephant in the room – what about about the dilemma and conundrum of our dealings with the Communist government in China? The system and power which reminds the Chinese people who is in charge and plans to stay in charge and tells the rest of the world “Stay out of it if you want our business”. And, oh, we want and need that business.

If you are an American reading my blog, this has nothing to do with the current trade wars between the US and China because you may have noticed that the human rights, liberty and democracy question is not even on the table. All we hear is talk of money and superpower competition. If you are an Asian, you have your own strong opinions which I am familiar with after having lived in Southeast Asia for many years. It is always difficult to be the smaller and weaker neighbor next to a regional hegemony and world superpower. Just ask the people in Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, etc…

Remember Francis Fukuyama and his famous (or by now infamous?) 1989 thesis of The End of History? Well, this “end” is turning into the “same old, same old”. My personal strong emotions and reflections come from the fact that I still remember my childhood and the life in the USSR – a totally oppressive and repressive system – and for those¬† who know what it smells, tastes and feels like, there is a strong aversion to these kinds of manifestations of power, manipulation, abuse and denial of freedom.

I also remember the propaganda and how hard the Soviet regime tried to manufacture a pretty image of a happy society. especially to the outside world. And I sense such a familiar spirit when I think of China¬† and when I watch how carefully and masterfully it manufactures and lobbies its image around the world¬† as the most “peace loving, truthful, pragmatic, benevolent, long-term thinking, secure, wealth producing and well-wishing” government. There are too many cracks in this facade.

And through those cracks, if we care to know and look carefully, we know that all is not what it seems. But these days we have to look hard because we don’t hear these stories in our media. Every once in a while there may be an article about the oppression of ethnic Uighur, a primarily Muslim group in Xinjiang province. We can read the reports about “re-education” camps and massive abuses of human rights. Or we can read the stories about the escalating crackdown on personal religious freedom and religious groups . In case it has completely escaped your attention, read this article by the Washington Post.

It has nothing to do with my personal Chinese friends whom I love and cherish. It has nothing to do with the amazing culture, history, cuisine, hard work, entrepreneurship and simply amazing people and the beautiful country of China. I have been privileged to visit it and have my claim of having walked on the Great Wall. And I certainly hope to return because there is so much more to see and to learn.

But what about those things that the Chinese government does not want the rest of the world to see? Working very hard to keep this poster image and somehow succeeding. What about the proponents of the ‘liberalism’ theory of international relations which proposes that the Western liberal values will get planted and automatically bring fruit in places like China through closer ties, trade and co-operation? Is it really working out??? I wish it was. I am no expert on Chinese politics but from what I can hear, read and sense, instead of the liberal values gaining momentum, the system is cracking down and making another hard effort to convince the Chinese people and the rest of the world that exchanging your freedom, including your faith convictions, for some kind of national security, financial gain and state control is a perfectly good way for the future.

Last night I went to hear a lecture by an American historian Stephen Kotkin and few things he said triggered this post because it reminded why many things in our Western approach to Chinese “capitalist” communism does not sit well with me. The most important question is always the personal one – even if my government will not criticize and speak out against these massive human rights abuses, I do have a voice. Small and insignificant but a voice.

After the lecture I had two short conversations and one person used the example of a woodpecker – how it keeps pecking and pecking and pecking until the branch or even the whole tree is hollow enough to come down. I would like to borrow this metaphor. So, while churches are getting closed down, people jailed for all kinds of political, ideological and religious reasons and minority ethnic groups being “Sinicized” in China, we need to keep pecking and pecking… that it is not OK and that we refuse to accept it as the new ‘normal’.