In the summer of 2004, the Taiwanese American Association Chicago Chapter invited the Rev. Dr. Daniel Beeby (former Vice President and Professor of the Old Testament at the Tainan Theological Seminary) as the keynote speaker.
In his opening words, easily and amazingly with his perfect Taiwanese, Beeby asked the audience (about 800+ Taiwanese Americans):
“What is the Taiwanese culture?”
“What does it take to maintain a Taiwanese in the mixed culture of the United States?”
Most people, if not all, were professionals there. I would not be surprised that many must have been thinking rapidly the possible answers, but all remained silent.
“Cast the first stone? Who? Me?”
“Would it be the cuisine we enjoyed when we gathered together? Or could it be the gossips when we pick up the phone?” I thought for a few more moments and kept it to myself too.
Last September I came back to Chang Jung Christian University (長榮大學) for the longest stay in nearly forty years of absent. Some students called me “grandpa teacher” (爺爺老師) jokingly yet rightly so because the age gap is about half a century. But the cultural gaps shock me more than anything else.
I remember when I first came back to Taiwan in 1995, I visited my uncle who was a retired teacher (and a lay preacher) for almost forty years. He took me for a ride on his motorcycle in the country site of Kaohsiung city. I enjoyed the ride very much until he took a “wrong” turn going against the traffic on a one-way street. I started asking him to stop.
He responded me with a big laugh saying, “Don’t worry. What are they going to do to me?” he continued, “All cops were my students!”
He never got a ticket. “Just a minor accident,” he told me.
In 2008 I came back with my wife and my mother-in-law (who was in her late 80s) and we were taking a regular ‘zone’ train from San-Hoa(善化) to Tainan one Saturday morning. It was a rather comfort ride until arriving the station. Once stopped at the Tainan station, the young people were waiting anxiously to get on the train without letting us come off first. We almost missed the stop if the traffic cop did not correct the situation with shouting and whistling.
”Off first. On next.” It is such a simple logic. Yet it’s so hard to follow!
This time I have been at the cross roads in the city of Tainan long enough to observe more interesting things. The riders on a motorcycle could be riding and using the cell phone at the same time as if they were in their living room watching TV. And it seems to me that there is no traffic rule against any act whether a car is making a U-turn or left turn, both illegally. “First turn first serve” and “I dare you!” seem to be the patterns/models where the cutting edge traffic signals are merely for references only (僅供參考). As far as I can remember in the last 6 months, I never failed to witness the nerves breaking actions at least once in every cross road.
A young man once told me that if he followed all the traffic rules, he’d be late for just about every occasion.
“I may be stupid, but not that stupid!” he said.
Don’t we see the pattern when a certain culture is formed?
1. First the thought was formed.
2. Then the words were formed through the thought.
3. Then the words turned into actions.
4. And the actions would gradually and surely become habits.
5. Finally the habits would become part of the culture.
And then back to square one – forming a new thought…
Thoughts à Words à Actions à Habits à Culture
Jesus said, "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."
- Matthew 7:24-27 (RSV)
With the cutting edge technology, we all now know so much so rapidly.
But knowing is one thing, practicing is another.
Historically speaking, Christian culture is a lot more than knowing.
It is about practicing the gospel.
It’s about where we build the house of our faith.
Besides, we may be the only Bible some non-believers are reading.
One look at us might turn into a farewell response, “Enough read!”
The words of God are not just for our references only.
Our faith and our very life are depending on them.