A reflection on Hong Kong’s July 1st protest, by James Li
Note: The author of this piece is both a good friend and a former member of my youth group. You’ll be hearing more about him on this blog as soon as I have time to write. This has been posted here with his permission.
The first time I felt like I was part of something bigger was in 2003. I was eight years old and halfway through Pokemon Blue. I didn’t want to wear black - I thought it was embarrassing to wear black in public as it reminded me of pajamas. But everyone else was wearing black in the sweltering heat so I gave in. A bunch of activists bought me a burger, and I was instantly won over - it was obvious that we were the good guys. The march was long for my short little legs - from Victoria Park to the Government’s Central offices on top of that little hill with the old oak trees and British Neo-Classical buildings. There were professionals and the elderly and the working class. While it was mostly Chinese, there were Indians, Americans and British people walking aside us too. To say that it was packed would be an understatement. The city was brought to a standstill as it swarmed with black. Familiar roads and valleys of skyscrapers were clogged up with the sound of constant anger as the human sea streamed down. I can remember people I saw on TV standing on top of trucks with loud speakers. People sidelined the streets and stood in the pedestrian bridges, shocked at the sheer human spectacle. I shuffled with them, playing Pokemon Blue and looking up only half the time.
Half a million people marched that day. And I beat the Elite Four as we marched up Government Hill.
Article 23 (more or less the proposed Hong Kong version of the Patriot Act) was repealed quickly after that. And in 2005, our Pro-Beijing puppet of a leader stepped down. Numbers matter. People are predicting that there may be more than 500,000 people at today’s march (in 2003 they predicted 20,000). The stakes couldn’t be higher for Hong Kong, eleven years later. There’s far more at risk than there was in 2003. To my friends and family at the march - thank you for marching. Thank you for being invested in somewhere you love. Thank you for not being afraid to upset the status quo. I’m praying for a non-violent and successful July 1st protest from this side of the world.
It follows also that this new vision of ‘natural theology’ is equally concerned, let me also state at the start here, to be flexible in a variety of ways for use in different contexts and genres, for different audiences, and by means of varying forms of communication. The term ‘apologetics’, unfortunately, tends to come with as much bag and baggage from the era of brash modernity as does its cousin ‘natural theology’; but its history of association with rationalistic brow-beating is one we need to live down. The art of giving a reasoned, philosophically- and scientifically-related, account of the ‘hope that is in us’ in a public space is a Christian duty, and it may take a great variety of forms. As discussed last time in relation to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s analysis of Thomas Aquinas’s own variety of uses for his own Five Ways, ‘natural theology’ must indeed at times be used apologetically and even polemically, when the occasion demands it: that is, if one is called to public debate in the university, in public political contestation, or in the press. There is a huge cultural interest in seeing theologians and philosophers of religion perform this undertaking in discussion with secular science, and we undermine our own credibility if we fail to take on this task with grace, clarity and humour.
But more often, I find, I am called to this task as a believer, as an academic, or as a priest, in quieter, less overt, but no less significant public contexts: in being asked intrigued questions about evolution and theology by the seeker who wanders into Ely cathedral looking for something, she knows not what; by the half-believer who wonders if science does indeed render Christianity invalid; by the generation of my children’s age for whom in so many cases the church has seemingly lost all intellectual and moral credibility; for those hoping to deepen their faith spiritually or make it more intellectually mature; and for the doubting amongst the faithful. The disposition, attentive prayerfulness and bodily grace with which these conversations must go on is especially crucial: this task is not about the soap-box, but it‟s not for the faint-hearted or defensive either. It has to be as philosophically and scientifically sophisticated as it is spiritually and theologically cogent; in short, it must not merely dazzle; it must more truly invite and allure.
What is “wrong” in my life is not so much a matter of “sin” (though it is sin, too), but a matter of unawareness, lostness, slackness, relaxation, dissipation of desire, lack of courage and decision, so that I let myself be carried along and dictated by an alien movement. The current of “the world,” which I know is not mine. I am always being diverted into a way that is not my way and is not going where I am called to go. And only if I go where I must go can I be of any use to “the world.” I can serve the world best by keeping my distance and my freedom.
My joy is the great power of Christ. And for that, above all, I am glad of my deep moral poverty, which is always before me these days, but which does not obsess or upset me because it is all lost in His mercy.
My Catholicism is not a result of a single conversion but a habitual way of responding to reality through embodied action. It is more akin to how I go to the gym each morning, not because I made some decision years ago to be fit. Instead, I go to the gym because it’s 7 AM and my body, my subconscious, my own being desires it (even often against my conscious will).
So too relative to my own sense of Catholic discipleship. When I hear that someone is sick and dying from cancer, I say the Hail Mary. When I encounter an opportunity to light a candle and kneel in prayer, I do. When I walk by a church while traveling, I sign my body with the cross. When I encounter the poor in the street, I look them in the eyes–for before me, it is Christ. My “Catholic” identity is not something that I have “chosen” consciously to make central to my being. Rather, it was written upon my body as I have done the sort of things that make one Catholic. Often, it surprises me how much this way of being has become a part of my identity, the way that I think about politics and economics, philosophy and theology, advising students and making a phone call.
England was converted to the faith when St Augustine of Canterbury arrived on the island of Thanet with forty companions. They might have offered service and they probably preached, but they certainly settled down to Benedictine stability and contemplated God. That is one out of thousands of examples of the mystical process of spiritual power. It is mysterious but indisputable.
When we look at our contemporary trouble spots, at violence in the inner cities, at racial hatred, or torture, murder and rape, I can muster little faith in the efficacy of ‘praying about it’. I have absolute confidence in the efficacy of planting a contemplative community in the middle of it and letting God manifest his power. Prayer, real prayer, is no last resort but the first priority.
I know my way around American Christian Culture pretty well, but this took me completely by surprise. Where does something like this even come from?!? Come on, Zondervan: show some self-respect. We both know that you’re better than this.
There is no point in converting people to Christ, if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already — without Him.
What makes Sarah Palin’s ‘joke’ about waterboarding as baptism so very vile is this: that at baptism, we are baptised into a death, Christ’s, and pass through its deep waters. But into life. And while there is a torture victim in this picture — this metaphor, this sacrament — it is Christ himself, and Christians on the whole do not laughingly boast of acting as his tormentors.
Sarah and I attempt to share bubble tea.
(Note: I had just purchased a Lychee Green Tea, and Sarah, its Mango counterpart, at a restaurant named Strike. Sarah gave me her drink while doing groceries and I promptly ran away with it. That’s when the threats began.)
Inspired by @A_single_bear's delightful detective story.