Bill Brown ... Xiamen University
"Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:4
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Kiss of the Year! The cover of Xiamen Daily's "Common Talk" this week was of Shannon and Miki's wedding kiss, and entitled "Kiss of the Year!" XD photographer Yao Fan took it during the Jan. 1st wedding at Xiamen Xinjie Church, China's oldest Protestant church. The day after the wedding, while working on my book "Old Xiamen in Foreigners' Eyes," I came across a photo of Xinjie church's interior taken 100 years ago! Time really does fly! (See "Sundial in the Shade").
School of Fatherhood Being a father has been the highlight of my life, second only to 1) getting to know my Father, and 2) marrying Sue. It has certainly been my greatest learning experience. Even as I must know more than my organizational behavior students at Xiamen University, so as a father I should know more than my sons Shannon and Matthew--in theory. In practice, however...
Mistakes. When I became a parent I vowed to avoid my own parents' mistakes (which somehow seem smaller the older I get). Instead, I not only came up with my own mistakes but also repeated theirs, but in new and novel ways, even though we bought a veritable library of "how to parent" books.
The Father and fatherhood Fortunately, I did learn a little over time, and many of the lessons came to me from the sons I was supposed to be teaching. And being a father taught me more about my Heavenly Father than anything else, transforming the notion of a "Father" from theology to something close and personal.
The Lacquer Plaque Ploy Below is just one of many lessons I learned from our sons...
In 1992, the boys were delighted when Sue and I promised to buy them each a toy while at a meeting in Beijing (good toys were not sold in Xiamen back then). Three days later we returned and the boys greeted us excitedly but were so anxious to see their toys that I could not resist playing a trick on Shannon. Shannon laughed as he tore open a nicely wrapped box to find not a toy but the black lacquer plate that Beijing had given us. His eyes widened, his mouth sagged ever so slightly, and then he looked up at me, hugged me, and said, "Thanks, Dad. It's a nice plate," and turned to leave. I could have cried!
"Stop, Shannon!" I said. "I was joking. This is your real present" I handed him another package, which he ripped open to find a miniature toy basketball game. He squealed delightedly, hugged me again, thanked me again, and ran off--but stopped in the doorway for a moment and said, "But it really was a nice plate."
I was shocked, touched, and convicted that a six-year-old who had just been so disappointed would show such restraint and compassion, not wanting his father to feel badly about having given him a lacquer plate instead of a toy! How often, I thought, do I take my own Father's feelings into account? No wonder Jesus said that those who humble themselves like a child are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!" (Matthew 18:4).
Shannon's Gift On January 1st, 2009, Shannon received one of the best gifts of his life, Miki, and I hope to learn more as I watch my sons become husbands and fathers. And if I am blessed with some Sino-American grandchildren, I'm going to pay even more attention to these little teachers the second time around.
The following story about Shannon was adapted from "Magic Xiamen--Guide to Xiamen").
Look UP! On a crisp November morning, Susan and Matthew went shopping and Shannon and I took the road less traveled—the trail up the mountain behind Nánputuó Temple and monastery, past the sign that says “No foreigners beyond this sign,” and over the crest.
We drank deeply of the silence as we picked our way over damp boulders covered in lichen. We waded through ferns, and ducked beneath the grayish green moss covered branches. At times I sunk into reverie, imagining that we were blazing trails where no man had gone before. And every time, I was rudely yanked back into reality by the sight of Chinese characters carved deeply into the granite cliffs by ancient poets seeking immortality with a hammer and chisel centuries before Eric the Red took up real estate in Greenland.
I paused at one fork (or maybe a chopstick) in the path and asked Shannon, “Which way?”
“Up!” he said.
“Why up?” I asked.
“Because up is more fun," Shannon said.
It takes a decade or more for children to unlearn their inborn inclination to climb. By adulthood, many no longer know which way is up, or care. Yet there lingers a memory of Up, and a vague discontent for which we compensate by looking out, or in, but seldom Up. As Thoreau put it,
“We seem but to linger in manhood to tell the dreams of our childhood, and they vanish out of memory ere we learn the language.”
"What is man that you are mindful of him...You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings... You made him ruler over the works of your hands..." Psalm 8:4-6
I suspect that children are a different species, a little lower than the angels and a little higher than man, given us that we may rediscover childhood’s marvelous mix of ambition tempered with contentment. Of such is the kingdom.
Shannon and I sat on the sun-baked granite summit of the Five Old Men Mountains behind Nanputuo Temple, and I penned in my notebook,
The simplest seed, entombed
ignobly on its noggin,
impugns the claims of gravity
and turning, strives to gain
the unseen sun.
Bill B. (Nov. 1997)
Life’s magic lies in looking up!
Of course, in China at least, when lo0king up, watch where you're walking.
Related: Miki's Marriage: Water Poured Before the Horse