Friday, July 29, 2005

Divine intervention

(disclaimer: no disrespect to anybody meant in the piece below)

I decided to shelf the documentary project on Christians in Beijing for now when I visited the Guangwashi Church again two weeks ago.

It was a humid Thursday evening. I arrived at 7:40pm to catch the Youth Congregation which the young Minister Zhao had strongly recommended me attending on a prior visit. I had a lengthy discussion with Minister Zhao on some theological issues during that visit. He probably hoped a prescription of testimonials from my young peers would somehow sway a staunch atheist like me.

Ten minutes late for the congregation, I took one of the few empty seats left. The spacious church was jam-packed with worshippers not exclusively young for a youth night. Latecomers had to walk over to the adjacent chapel and watch the proceedings on TV screens.

Indeed a testimonial was going on. Five young girls, in their early 20s and wearing pink skirts, stood facing the congregation in front of the church platform. The girl in the middle, holding a mic, was telling a story of how her prayer got answered one night; the other four swayed their bodies slightly as a piano played soft music nearby:

She worked very late one night. The last bus going to her home in the suburb would have been gone by then. Her friends offered to have her stay with them but she declined. She prayed to God, hard, as she walked to the bus stop because she really wanted to go home that night. When she reached the bus stop, she bumped into a middle-aged woman who’s running towards the bus stop. To her greatest joy, she found the bus waiting at the stop with several passengers onboard. It turned that the middle-aged woman was the driver’s wife. Apparently , the bus driver always waited for his wife to go home each night on the last bus, and that night, the wife was late.

Her story was interrupted several times by hymn singing. The two middle-aged women sitting next to me just wouldn’t stop chattering. The rest of the congregation listened attentively. There were several Caucasian faces there, a few of which were dosing.

After the story, the girl spoke passionately into the mic: “What were the chances that the wife was also late to the bus stop that night? Brothers and sisters, it’s God’s grace that kept the wife late that night so I could catch the bus home. It’s the power of prayers…”

Alas, my resolve to document the Christian faith’s positive impact on the morally deficient Chinese society crumbled at that moment. In my teaching, the story could be simply explained as statistical coincidence. Numbers. Cold hard numbers with no warm old figure behind to make them more humanly approachable.

Of course one could ask why there shouldn’t be a divine power controlling the mechanism of statistics. Even Einstein famously said once "God does not play dice with the universe”. But I can’t accept a god that answers the prayer of a girl late to the last bus on that day, but not on other days, or other prayers on the same day. If only some of your prayers would be answered and you have to stomach the rest, if prayers answered and not answered are all in god’s design, then this theory is way too easy.

Perhaps I was too restless that evening because I was starving, or perhaps because the 1.5-hour service was too long for a non-believer. In any case, when the service was finally over after Minister Zhao’s 30-minute preaching on being nice to your family and a joyful singing with hand waving in the air, I walked outside and waited for my chance to speak with him. I asked Minister Zhao if he could let me use a tiny camcorder to shoot inside the church, as Mr. Wen at the Three-Self Committee had suggested, he said no with a smile. Then he asked me if I’d like to join the other first-timers for a special session for new believers.

I thanked him and left. Now looking back, I begin to realize that I had been fascinated by the topic of faith due to the beauty of its sheer power; but what I found was a faith that made the answers too easy. If every question of mine would be answered by a reference to god, then it would be difficult to engage me intellectually during the project.

So during the past two weeks I have been focusing on a different documentary project on outsourcing. I would like to explore the human side of outsourcing, how it impacts the lives of Chinese and American engineers (with the emphasis on the former since I’m in Beijing) and why as part of globalization, it’s not something for America to fear.

I had met the English teacher for an outsourcing software company at a book reading. He introduced me to the CEO of the company who’s surprisingly open to my project. After showing him a New York Times article on America’s fear of China, he bought my argument that the documentary would help America understand the benefits of outsourcing, and more importantly, show America that outsourcing to China is not just about abstract numbers but also real Chinese people who want to better their lives after some American dreams.

He let me have full access to his company. We even talked about having the company help contact American software engineers who had been laid off due to the outsourcing. I took out my camcorder and microphones on Wednesday night to prepare for the first day of shooting on Thursday.

Then the camcorder went dead and wouldn’t wake up.

Then I took the camcorder to the SONY repair shop in Beijing. It took them a day to tell me that they don’t have the part in China. They have to order it from Japan and it would take at least two weeks, which means I would be idle until I’m due to start working on a film coproduction set in mid-August.

I kicked myself after getting off the phone with the Sony service centers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. Two didn’t have the part. Singapore had it but they informed me that the China service center had to go through a different part ordering process. Oh my god. I hate idling for two weeks.

Then something magical happened. I got a call from the producer assistant from the coproduction. She wanted me to start working on Monday. I will only be able to do limited shooting for the documentary once I start on the set. But at least I don’t have to idle.

See, everything would work out eventually. If one believes in such a design.


Anonymous said...

Glad you heard the miracle happened to that young girl, ( if we can call the late-bus-catching a miracle.), now it is time for you to pray ( or just ask) for your personal miracle. You cannot believe God in other person's miracle, it only help you to get your own. And only when you have a
God-tailored-miracle for you to anwser your prayer, remember, you now, exactly now, you just started a life-long journey to the quest: how human can know God?
To the extent, God called Abraham "my friend", can you imagine, God who created the universe, called a human being on earth "his friend".

Human have a life so they can experience different things in the world ( or on earth), but everything on earth pointing to ONE destiny -- things in Heaven.
Bill Gates may have a lot of experiences of how to design a great software or how to make money. Jesus believer use all his/her life experiences to know something too, this time, the subject is God, how God show himeself to people live this earth before, and what's God plan for human being on earth. And most importantly, how God will intervene in your life?

People always ask for HUGE miracles, but it only comes after you taste the small ones and subdue yourself more to the Lord. God showed his real glorifications and true appearance to Moses only after he had led Israel out of Egypt, which is a gradually elevated procedure. Not to mention, 40 years in desert just to be a shepard, when he was at his golden age.

So, back to my point, we live to experience God, you may want to put as: we live to experience Money?
Fame? Grand House? Power?

But as you go on and go on, I think you propably begin to have a idea, all the things on earth cannot, yes, cannot satisfy you,
your true inner peace and grace come only from ONE source, our Heavenly father.

Hope this is not too long.

Anonymous said...

I thought it is not very polite not giving you my identity, but you can figure it out through your statistic-thinking, :-), I am in Toronto, my comments shouldn't overshadow the merits of your high-quality blog, as interesting as your other articles. Only as a old friend, I have to say, spiritually, you need to rethink what you are hold on to.

Life is the best gift God give to each one, don't you ever thinking about what happen after our earth-walking journey? The seed you planted now, is what you reap later, shouldn't it?

If you do think your life only last for these 50-60-70-80-or-more years, so, who cares about the others say and what they think things should be, I only live once, and I am 50-60-70-80-or-more years minus 1 day closer to my ending. Who can judge me, and with who's discipline?

Hope you the best, my dear classmate! Take care!

Dong said...

when Hao said:

Even Einstein famously said once "God does not play dice with the universe”.

Objections here. The point Einstein wanted to make is that the world is deterministic, rather than probablistic. He was NOT suggesting there's a god. Some Christians intentionally misinterpretated this famous quote; many others simply bought it.

Beijing Loafer said...

Let me respond to Dong's point first since it'd be easier. The deterministic law behind Einstein's statement could easily be viewed as controlled by or just being a divine being - God. Stephen Hawkin discussed this at

It seems unnecessary to add another being - God - as another and ultimate element in the chain of deterministic causes and effects. But I myself don't object to the interpretation of the law as God.

Will have to formulate a response to my Toronto friend. It's a discussion I've been having a lot lately.

Beijing Loafer said...

To my Toronto friend:

Everyone goes through his/her own spiritual journey in life. Some finds an answer earlier, some late. To me, the important thing is the journey, not the goal.

I don't object to any religious faith. I think it's beautiful that people believe. I'd like to understand the reasons why people believe, because every path to faith is a beautiful story. Sometimes I think I'd like to believe in some form of organized religion someday, if it ever happens. Maybe Buddhism. However, some Buddhists believes that life is an illusion and life is suffering,and that true bliss can only be achieved when we reach nirvana, which I disagree with.

I think life is beautiful. With or without God. And this life is the only life we have. And it's beautiful.

What I do find unpleasant among SOME of the Christians I talk to lately, are the following:

1. that the Bible has to be followed literally (Minister Zhao believed that. We had a futile discussion. We don't have to argue over this now since so many theologians have done it already.)

2. that the believers have got the TRUTH and wants the non-believers to follow them to the truth; (this I find very annoying)

3. that everything big or small is explained by God's intention (this prevents intellectual and critical debate which I enjoy)

Of course, none of this is unique to Christianity, nor does it represent the views of all Christians. I found it in Muslims, Buddhists and scientists alike.

I do believe the human's need to be in touch with the divine. But I don't believe there's a single path to it - artists do with their creativity, scientists with their discoveries, and believers with their prayers. For me, the path is complex, the inquiries constant, which is what makes the spiritual pursuit so beautiful and worthwhile.

Dong said...

Yes, if you define god as "that law", I have no objection here. But no Christian uses, as far as I know, this definition. They are more like what you described in the 2nd post.
I agree with almost everything in the 2nd post except one thing (Hao, you have to forgive me here, sometimes I just want to argue ;-)
The "goal" is extremely important to me. I don't think I can take my journey seriously if I beleive the most important thing is journey, but not the goal, which is the purpose of the journey by definition. I agree that sometimes (maybe most of the time), your original goal would lead to somewhere else and you end up with a defferent trajectory than you expected. But this trajectory is determined by the interplay of your effort to THAT goal and the constantly changing environment. For me (I couldn't emphasize this "for me" enough), a motion with purpose is different from Brownian motion, although the latter's trajectory could also be called a "journey".

Beijing Loafer said...

I think we do have a difference with regard to the journey here, Dong. Let me use the analogy of a hiker - s/he may be going after the Mt Everest, or s/eh may be just enjoying the hike on the path, watching the flowers and the chirping birds. Of course you can say enjoying the hike is a goal itself, which I agree, but I think it's different from the goal you are talking about.

As to the goal of the motion and the question whether we need a goal to our motion, I think it's the age-old question of "what's the meaning of our existence here". That, I firmly believe, is a question of faith, not of science ALONE.

Other Lisa said...

I just can't buy Jesus as such a micromanager - like he's got time to arrange a bus? Wouldn't He have better things to do?

I believe in the Way as much as I believe in anything.

Anonymous said...

cannot agree more! Glad we all on this life- long journey to quest our meaning of existance, no one on earth can claim he already reached the goal, yes, no one .

Let me repeat this again, maybe again, a human being cannot start this journey until he/she has the experience of a miracle, any kind, (may as small as a bus, or as big as a angel showing to you, remember, 6 billion people, why angel choose you) by any God he/she like to believe, until then, all things are Text ,on paper, after the miracle, welcome, to the real world beyond our world.
Then, only then, the spirit quest begin, with the truth of this universe.

Beijing Loafer said...

Hmm... That seems to be the kind of strong statement I'd like to make myself. :) I think for a Buddhist, the spiritual journey involves no angel or God or beiginning or end...

Dong said...

small probability might be hard to imagine, but it's NOT miracle, if we use the original meaning of the word "miracle":

An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God: “Miracles are spontaneous, they cannot be summoned, but come of themselves” (Katherine Anne Porter).

If you argue that miracle can be redefined as small probability event, I have no objection. It's all semantics.

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