03 December 2008

More questions and a China story...

Random questions. . .

1). Tell me about your time in China.

Even though I was there for only five months, those five months could make a good-sized book. II finished my masters in English in May of 1989 and decided that the life of a student was getting to be frustrating and possibly even mentally damaging! Through a fellow grad student in my department, I arranged a teaching contract with the Chinese government to teach English, American literature, and literary theory. In the fall of 1990, I arrived in Changsha, Hunan to teach in the foreign language college of Changsha Institute, a university of about 55,000 students operated by the transportation department of the government. My contract stipulated that I would teach no more than five classes per term. That I would be paid in foreign exchange currency (FEC) and not the local "monolopy money." My salary was set at 1,300 Yuan a month. This was 13x's what an average worker made in year! That I would have access to a car and a driver when necessary. There were other items but these were the important ones for understanding why I left when I did. My room and board were free. I lived on-campus and ate my meals in the faculty dining room. Next door lived an older Swiss couple who spoke only French and Spanish.

The teaching was a HUGE challenge. First, the university broke its own contract by giving me nine classes with a total of 320 students. I taught everything from sophomore oral English to a graduate seminar in contemporary literary theory. I taught all "classes" of students, meaning first, second, and third class students--respectively, the future diplomats and party official,s the future college and secondary school teachers, and the tourist industry workers. My students ranged from "better than me in English grammar" to "can barely say hello and thank you in English." The third class students were herded into my classrooms, and I was expected to train them like seals to bark out polite English phrases. The first class students were the least interested in learning b/c their places in Chinese society were already fixed. The second class students were the brightest and most eager to learn. . .more so than even the grad students.

Outside the classroom, I was in demand to give public poetry readings, talks on American culture, music, politics; tell stories about growing up in the U.S.; even answer the occasional question on religion. At the time, I was an alienated Episcopalian and firm Marxist. I kept the Marxist label to myself b/c I would have lost credibility with the students. My social life was pretty dead. I was the only American, the only native English speaker in that part of the city (3.5 million in 1990). There was a large group of American undergraduates teaching at a middle school about 30 minutes away. On the weekends I was a welcomed guest. I made ten times the money these guys did and I had nothing to spend it one but food and beer. So, I was the sugardaddy for the weekend gatherings.

Problems began to arise almost immediately. First, the university was monitoring my every move. My mail arrived opened. My phone was tapped. I was followed off-campus. Books I checked out of the library were recorded. Visitors were registered before being allowed to come on-campus. Second, the university would not pay me in FEC. I got Chinese monopoly money instead. This meant that I could not exchange my outrageously high Chinese salary for dollars. Third, I was going crazy from lack of friends and regular social engagement. On a regular basis my students would disappear out of town. No warning to me. No word at all that I would be going a week without classes to teach. I would show up on a Monday morning and there would be no students. I would do this until they reappeared. So, I would go for days without seeing or speaking to another person. If the American undergrads would out of town or busy, I would go for several weeks. I had a Chinese university employee who was responsible for herding me around and he actually became a friend, but his superiors were constantly chiding him for spending too much time with me.

The final straw came in November when I called home and found out that my grandmother's surgery for cancer had failed and that she was dying. With everything going on in the university, without any emotional or spiritual support, without any way to stay in touch with my family, I couldn't imagine staying in China through my grandmother's death. I decided to leave. The university made an effort to keep me on, but there was nothing they could do about my family situation. I left on Dec. 1, 1990 and returned to Mississippi. My grandmother died in January 1991.

Looking back three things are pretty obvious to me now: 1) I was not emotionally mature enough at 26 to take on an overseas adventure that large, that foreign; 2) I was not spiritually strong enough to combat the forces allied against me in the guise of Marxist ideology and the frequent assaults of Protestant fundamentalism coming from some of the American "teachers" in the city; 3) my problems can run as fast as I can, and they have a better sense of direction. Interestingly enough, my name is on a list somewhere here in Rome as a friar with experience in China and a potential missionary for work in the PRC. Yea, not so sure about that. . .

2). Is the Catholic faith scriptural?

Of course. All of the teachings of the Church are based on scripture and none contradict it. However, it can't be said often enough that the Catholic faith is not a "religion of the book," but rather a living, breathing Church, the Body of Christ. Yes, of course, we take the bible seriously and look to scripture for the truths of the faith. But the Bible cannot interpret itself. It must be read, interpreted, and implemented in the real world. This is why Jesus gave us the church and gave the church the authority she needs to interpret and implement the teachings of scripture. When it comes to interpreting the Bible there are three choices: do your yourself, allow the church to do it for you, or do it with the Church as a member of the Body. The first choice is the Protestant way. The second is the cultist way. The third is the Catholic way. Be careful in discussions with non-Catholic Christians that you do not let me browbeat you into the "where is that in the Bible?" stick. If they try that, counter with: "Show me in the Bible where it says that that has to be in the Bible in order for me to believe it." The Catholic Church does not see the Bible as the sole means of divine revelation. There are three means--scripture, creation, Jesus Christ (the two natured person & his Body, the Church) and one source--God Himself. However, if for whatever reason you feel compelled to argue scripture with your Protestant friends, here's a great website to help you: Scripture Catholic. Just keep in mind: as Catholics we do not need scriptural proof-texts for our beliefs; so, the charge--"that's not in the Bible"--is really no big deal for us.

3). What do you think of Obama's cabinet picks?

Ugh. Politics again. Very briefly: I've said before on this blog that I believe Obama is a liberal Democrat, a typical politician. Nothing special as someone who runs and wins public office. That he is black and the first black to become President is a wonderful historical moment, but as a public servant, he's just a politician. His cabinet picks prove this. He appealed to the extreme left-wing of his party. Won the election. Now he is moving swiftly to the center. Predictable. Absolutely nothing surprising here. I think he's going to focus on the economy b/c his eyes are already scanning the deck of the 2012 re-election campaign. As long as the economy is bad, he will keep the SanFran/NYC liberals and their agendas at bay. He needs a Democrat Congress in 2010, and he know he will not get that if his main concerns become same-sex marriage and expanding abortion rights. So, let's see. I'm watching to see how he treats the Church when it comes to issues like publicly funded abortions and Catholic hospitals.

Also, I am waiting, no doubt in vain, for the MSM to start doing its job and providing the voting public with unbiased information about the Obama administration and its policies. All I'm seeing right now is talk show fluff, sycophantic doodling, celebrity-esque panting, and the very, very rare, "Hey, wait a minute. . .didn't he say something about change at one point?" Not enough. Not by far. With his leadership inexperience and his history of fraternizing with domestic terrorists and radicals, every decision he makes needs to be scrutinized in public with a microscope. I just wished we had a media willing and able to do this.


  1. Anonymous8:30 AM


    The web site < http://www.scripturecatholic.com/ > which you pointed out is one of the best yet I have come across. Thank you. This will prove to be invaluable in my discussions with my Pentecostal and Baptist friends at work.

    Oh, these Pentecostals and Baptists are God-fearing people who do love Jesus with all their hearts, but they really have a very distorted view of Catholicism. One of them told me that as a result of talking with me she has had to change her opinion of Catholics. Oh, she still vehemently disagrees with things such as Confession, infant baptism, priestly celibacy, etc., BUT she can no longer say that Catholic teaching in these areas is inconsistent with Scripture. She in fact got a little frustrated with me yesterday because she didn't have a Biblical retort for something we were conversing about from the Bible on these topics, and she called me "brain-washed". I responded by saying that being a recovering alcoholic, I prefer the term "dry-cleaning" and I thank God for the dry cleaning I got from the Church Universal (and of course a 12 step program). She felt badly and then apologized. Imagine that! A Pentecostal apologizing to a Catholic! Hey, there's hope after all!

    So thanks again, Father!!!!!!!!!!!


    Paul Primavera

  2. If Obama's cabinet picks indicate a "move to the center" then I guess I must be the right wing extremist they also said I was. Seriously how can any of these picks represent the center?

  3. You said, "Yes, of course, we take the bible seriously and look to scripture for the truths of the faith. But the Bible cannot interpret itself." In this conclusion, you are totally, unequivocally, and irredeemably wrong; obviously you do NOT take the Bible seriously. There is MUCH about Roman Catholicism that is so far from God's word (and you know it) that it (your church) commits heresy just by existing.

  4. Dave,

    Please explain to me how a bible sitting on a shelf, unopened and unread, interprets itself.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  5. Anonymous12:03 AM

    wow, thanks for the China story. I am especially grateful because I was actually thinking of doing teaching in China soon (graduated from UD in 07, getting my masters this year). What was holding me back was that I was not sure I could handle the stress - your story confirmed that worry!

    Sarah Honeycutt

  6. Sarah, I'm told by friends who have been there recently that China is a very different place now. I was there 18 yrs ago right after the Tiananmen Square protests and gov't crackdown. I was not a practicing Christian nor did I have much of an interior life.

    So, GO! But take everything you need spiritually with you.

  7. Anonymous5:14 AM


    I was once a member of the Assemblies of God, a Protestant fundamentalist denomination. For a variety of reasons - INCLUDING Scripture study - I discovered that the Catholic Church is as its name implies the Universal Church founded by Christ when He told Peter that "upon this rock I shall build my Church."

    If you would just go to < http://www.scripturecatholic.com/ > and start studying what is presented there, then you may just find out that Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VII, and others started man-made religions based on their personal interpretation of what they wanted the Bible to say instead of what the Deposit of Faith that Christ actually gave to His 12 Apostles really says.

    By the way, I find it utterly fascinating that in the 1500s the Church Universal faced the twin threats of the rise of Protestantism and the incursion of Islam (the Battle of Lepanto), and survived. In the same way today the Church faces the twin threats of Islamic fascism and atheist humanism. Just as the Church survived Islamic fanaticism and Protestant heresy in the 1500s, She will survive today similar twin threats. Why? Because as Jesus said, the gates of hell shall not prevail.

    Sadly, we see from the constant schisms among the Protestants that that isn't the case with them, the more recent being the Anglican crisis over female and homosexual clergy. There are scores and scores of Baptist denominations, Pentecostal denominations, and even schisms in the major ones such as Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational, etc. Exactly WHICH of these is the pillar and foundation of truth that St. Paul was talking about in 1st Timothy 3:15 (look it up)? There is only one - THE Church that Jesus founded, the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.


    Paul Primavera

  8. Ah Father, you probably just haven't acquired the New Self-Interpreting Version of the Bible... It must be due to your vow of poverty, as they're kind of expensive and only available in select Christian Bookstores (usually somewhere near the "special incense").

    Mine's great, not only does it join me in singing the Office each morning, noon and night, but it also offers a handy running commentary on the spiritual dimensions to my life each day as well as help me to correctly interpret the verses it reads to me.

    For instance, I crack my talking Bible and read Matthew 19:16-24, and I get all confused: Does Jesus really want me to sell all my stuff to get into heaven? Cause that's what he said to the young man.

    But right at that moment, the Bible pops up a tiny St. Paul Hologram (I call it a Paulogram) a la the Microsoft Office paperclip and says "It looks like you're trying to interpret Matthew, would you like help?"

    After telling the Bible my dilemma, it reassures me "No no no, silly. Here's what I really meant..."

    I'll look into buying you one for Christmas.

    God Bless