Easter approaches with lightning speed, it seems. One moment it’s Ash Wednesday, then boom it’s Good Friday. Last year I was caught totally unprepared. Last year I had a flu and then, by the time I got out of bed, it was too late to do much preparation. There were no eggs in the house, no egg dye, no baskets, no chocolate, no Sunday dinner, no family, no friends . . . you get the idea. On that Saturday I dragged myself to the store and scrounged up some baskets and chocolate bunnies, but my (unsuccessful) attempt to pantomime "Easter egg dye" to a food store employee was one of the low points of my China experience. Apparently, they had ordered a few bottles of food coloring but they were all sold out by the time I got there, or maybe they just enjoyed making me try to explain what an Easter Egg was.
Altogether, I think Easter weekend last year has to be counted as one of my worst times in China so far. Christmas is hard, too, but it is also a secular holiday so there is some recognition of Christmas. It’s also easier because it’s at least possible to find Christmas decorations. But beause there’s no secular recognition of Easter, it simply doesn’t exist here. Well, in fact there are Christians here and it does exist. But imagine the strange look on the faces of my Chinese friends who are Christian when I tried to explain to them what the Easter Bunny is. Sometimes it is a bit of a reality check to view our culture from the spectacles of someone else! 🙂 And there is a Good Friday service we could go to, but it is all in Chinese. I’m just not there yet. But Easter Eggs are still fun, even if they are a bit strange and pagan. So this year, I was determined to make sure we had a proper Easter. An American Experience, as well as to seek the true meaning of Easter.
The first bit of Americana in my American Easter this year was that I was asked to make a uniquely "American" product for the school’s annual "International Day" on Saturday. I signed up to bring Rice Crispy Treats. And since it was Easter, I decided to make the "church windows" kind, where you put multi-colored mini marshmallows into them and slice them thin, so that they appear slightly like stained glass windows. Laugh — reality check — think again — I think I’m in China! My first stop to find the ingredients was the Australian store "Park N Shop" which is something like a super wal mart including groceries. Yes, Corn Flakes. No, Rice Krispies. No marshmallows. So then I went to the small import shop Corner Deli. None. Then the import shop Aussino’s. None. Then to the larger import shop Oliver’s. No luck again. Then to David’s Deli at Gold Arch housing compound. You guessed it — none! Sometimes no matter how much you seek, you ain’t gonna find!
As I returned home empty handed from this expedition, I thought about how to thrive in another culture, you simply must be flexible in your expectations. After all, every store had brownie mix. If I hadn’t been so stubborn, I simply would have capitulated and made brownies to start with. Here I was, seeking ingredients, and not finding, and this reminded me of the song we used to sing from Matthew. Lazily, and in a pseudo-religious-Easterish mood, I had been thinkinig to myself, "seek and ye shall find." Except actually, that quote isn’t right at all. What Matthew actually quotes Jesus as saying in the Sermon on the Mount is: "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) " No matter how American and Apple Pie they are, I don’t think Rice Krispy Treats have very much to do with the Kingdom of God, do they!? If there was a spiritual lesson in my four hour expedition to find ingredients for Rice Krispy treats, perhaps that lesson was to give up a little bit of my American smugness (righteousness?). The Kingdom of God has nothing to do with Americana or Rice Krispy Treats. I know I’m stubborn, but in the end the Brownies won the day. As far as I know, they all got eaten just fine.
But speaking of Americana, in another Americana way, I was READY for our Easter celebration! This summer I looked high and low in the USA for Easter Egg dye, only to find that it is strictly a seasonal item. None could be purchased. But fortunately, I had one egg dying kit in my kitchen cabinet, which I carried with me in my suitcase last fall. And then two weeks ago in Hong Kong, David found some food coloring. So we were "set." I made up 12 different colors of Easter Egg dye! I told my teens they could invite some friends over, too, if they wanted. And I purchased 40 white chicken eggs. We settled on Saturday afternoon. I boiled the eggs. Then, about ten teenagers showed up at my house! All but one of the kids had dyed Easter eggs before, but none of them had dyed eggs since they had lived in Guangzhou (and for one of them that was 9 years). To top off the experience, I made a cherry cobbler. Some of them had never had a cobbler before. And, we splurged and put ice cream on the cobbler (ice cream is off the charts expensive here). I think a good time was had by all. Actually, the party didn’t stop until the next afternoon. After egg dying, the teens watched a movie, went to dinner, then spent the night. The next morning they used food dye to make "easter pancakes". J awoke long before the teens and found all 40 eggs the easter bunny had hidden. Then, while I went back to bed, she hid the eggs again for the teens to find when they woke up. There are pictures of everything in the Photo Album labeled "Easter".
But really the whole big deal is all about the Kingdom of God part, isn’t it?! There is a church here in GZ that I imagine might mirror pretty well what the Kingdom of God might really look like (except for the fact that there are no Chinese people in it because they aren’t allowed to attend, which is another story.) This church strictly for expats meets at the Star Hotel, has a Sunday School, a regular worship service. And it’s very multicultural: African, American, European, Indian, Malaysian . . . . Frankly there’s nothing WASP about it. And I don’t like it. First of all, it’s extremely fundamentalist and literalist. All about sin and guilt, not about love and redemption. That was a big turn off. But as we think about it there’s another reason we’re not drawn to it. What we miss most about our home church — Forest Lake Presbyterian — is our religion taught by someone who understands our cultural viewpoint, our own concerns and the way challenges come up in our individual lives in the reality we inhabit. When our home preacher teaches a sermon, it makes me think, "Yes, he’s exactly right." Perhaps it’s not ideal for us to be so centered in our own culture and what is comfortable for us, but religion taught from our own perspective is about where we are spiritually, and that’s often not the same spiritual place as someone from Europe or Africa or India. It’s what we can relate to, what we are thinking about, what concerns us. We visited just one time at the Star Hotel. Other than meeting some people who didn’t think we were lunatics, we didn’t find anything of such substance that we had any desire to return. But still, we miss Bible teaching and fellowship.
So imagine my delight when last week I was invited to a Ladies Bible Study. The person who invited me hit the nail on the head to make me interested when she said she enjoyed it because it wasn’t too "extreme." I understood that comment. It’s not that I’m not extremely committed. It’s that I’m not interested in extremely outlandish expressions of faith; extreme interpretations; extreme literalism, extreme emphasis on sin, extreme judmentalism. And what is most offensive to me is to confuse some "extreme" modern or political viewpoint (you name it — conservativism, capitalism, democracy, republicanism, etc) with Christianity or to use Christianity to justify one’s particular cultural viewpoint. I think, figuratively speaking, there are a lot of money changers making capital out of the temple these days, and I think Jesus would kick them all out wholsale — Republicans, Democrats, all. So I was delighted to be invited to . . . and find . . . a "normal" fellowship. Lovely songs, solid Bible study, great fellowhip, American accents galore, and good food for the covered dish lunch, as well! And better yet, they invited me to their Easter fellowhip! I was so excited, that sight unseen I invited two of my other friends who I suspected might be pining for something. And we were not disappointed. On Sunday we had a very low key "Passion Play" enacted by expat children in the group, followed by some singing and prayer, and a covered dish supper. It was my perfect opportunity to cook the big turkey that never got cooked at Thanksgiving or Christmas. (Finally there is room for something else in my freezer!)
So, it’s true. Seek and ye shall find, after all. Not rice crispy treats. But that which really counts — the Kingdom of God. It’s here, too, right now. Right where we are, wherever that is. If nothing else, read the book, and look inside.