Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tianjin Tidbits

I'm in Tianjin -- to be specific, I'm sitting in Becki's classroom as her adorable Jr. High students are watching an exquisitely edited movie on the blessing of the American Constitution .. I feel so tempted to poison their burgeoning minds with tales of Marbury v. Madison and McCullough v. Maryland :D

Even for a loner like myself it's shockingly easy to develop relationships with others "on the road" -- in youth hostels, planes, trains and automobiles, or just with other foreigners one encounters on the journey. These connections are much like life-preservers: They are meant only as temporary rescue-buoies to help guide travellers either back to their communities or forward towards new, lasting ties, at which point they will be obsolete and relinquished as quickly as they were formed. Being able to spend a few days with a dear friend and someone connected to my broader group of relations back home is a definite respite -- an island in the middle of the ocean, for myself and, more importantly, for her as well, I think.

One of the most interesting things I've found in the course of these "life-preserver" relationships has been the profound sense of search that many of them bring towards this part of the world. It may well be that all who travel are looking for something, but certainly most who travel to the East are looking for something spiritual. Some, of course, are merely dabbling in these matters -- eager to take home an "enlightened" experience the way others are looking for souveniers. A surprising number, though, are deathly serious about their pursuit, willing and eager to invest time, effort, money in discovering that unnameable *something* that has begun to lay hold of them but continues to elude them. Many of them are looking East either in search of a faith that has been passed down to them in name only by their parents, or for one untainted by their experiences growing up -- something purer, or merely different: their personal path into the desert.

C.K. Chesterton famously said that Christianity had not been tried and found wanting but had been found difficult and not tried. Interestingly, I think this generation struggles with a brand of Christianity that has been emptied of difficulties and filled with either traditions or mere platitudes. They do not merely want to find a faith to live by, but know intuitively that a worthwhile faith will tax their souls, bodies, minds and spirits. One of the most interesting distinctions a number of travellers I've met have drawn without any instigation on my part has been that between religion and philosophy. The implication is always "philosophy - good" and "religion - bad" but even the most eloquent and erudite struggle with drawing a line, or even defining a suitable boundary area between the two. Ultimately, when pressed, their definition of philosophy looks quite a lot like a biblically grounded faith.

In more mundane news, I've become amazingly lazy over the last few years. Most of my reading these days is done in English, with little German, much less any other useful languages to speak of. This really has to change: In Beijing, I traded my "Prayer for Owen Meany" paperback for a copy of Elie Wiesel's "Wisdom of the Talmud" in German; furthermore, a couple of books I am particularly interested in reading when I return to the U.S. have not yet been translated into English as well ... hey, it's a start :)


At September 16, 2004 at 9:45 PM, Blogger Ella Quint said...

ok, so what if i'm online chatting w/ you right this very minute? i can still leave a note on your blog! :)


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