• projectneighbours

Community matters

project neighbours tree seedling

I was born in Hong Kong when it was a slightly different place to what it is now. I haven’t really lived there in a long time, but I think it used to be that different groups had their own communities. The majority Chinese community was less dominating than it is now.

I was six when we moved to Canada. I didn’t want to go. My mum, my sister and I moved to Toronto one month after the handover. A lot of families moved away at that time. There was a lot of concern over how the Chinese would choose to run the place, after all, they don’t have a reputation for great governance. My parents have always insisted that politics didn’t play any part in their decision. They said Canada offered better opportunities.

Unlike in Hong Kong, where at my school children had to wear school uniforms and be deferential to the teachers, in Canada, you had to respect your teachers, but there was no expectation of anything anyone would call deference. We didn’t even wear uniforms. I don’t think I would have used the word at the time, but, in hindsight, there was something liberating to it.

The school was very mixed; there were kids with all kinds of backgrounds. All of our teachers were white Canadians. I don’t remember there being any divisions, except for the after school Mandarin classes, which were filled mostly with Chinese kids, who already spoke some Mandarin. My best friend at the time was a person called Alina. I don’t remember her last name, but I have a strong sense she was Russian. We played this game with the wind that created little whirlpools in the corners of buildings. The wind would kick up and pick up a pile of leaves from the corners and whirl them around. What a different time.

We moved back to HK just after Y2K, the great non-event of our time. It was because my dad thought I should learn Chinese. The school I joined after coming back was very different to the school I attended before we left. The teachers were kind and the children were friendly. For reasons unbeknown to me, I was relatively popular. People were eager to be friends with me while, as far as I could see, they weren’t always eager to be friends with others. I suppose, in a way, they found me quite exotic. I had come from a place farther away than down the street or even the other side of the city. Those were very happy years.

I went back to Canada for university; my dad thought it would be good for me. I arrived for the last year of school; it was a bit strange. I was no longer in an all-boys’ school. I had shed some of my Canadian accent. I didn’t have to wear a tie to school; instead, I was having to decide what to wear each day, which, this time around, felt like an unnecessary burden.

It was all very strange, in Canada. I’d take a train to school every day; it would take 45 min to an hour, depending on traffic and the weather. Then I’d go back. I’d move between home, school and church. I didn’t see a lot of Canada. I don’t feel like I had any part in it. I felt far more at home when I lived in Oxford, England, than I ever did in Canada. In Oxford, you get to walk or cycle, you run into people you know. That’s quite important.

Both my parents are Christian. I think they used to be more religious than they are now, but my father is still very conservative and he often has strong opinions. I don’t see my father very often, but when I do see him, we end up having rows about things that don’t affect us, like the Supreme Court’s decision to grant equal rights to same-sex couples.

Christianity isn’t just about politics. Christianity is about the person of Jesus Christ, the worship of Christ and the enjoyment of Christ. Outside of that, it’s about the community. There is a welcome for people no matter how we get there or how we practice. There is openness.

I think part of the importance of the community is that, sometimes, in people’s lives, things get hard. It is hard to believe on your own. When you can’t believe on your own, others pray for you and, metaphorically, believe for you. They remind you of things that you actually believe, in the depths of your heart, even when it’s difficult for you to believe in them. They carry you. And then, when you’re strong, you get to do that for others.

One of those beliefs, for me, is that God not only created people in His image, but He also created himself in the image of the people He created. He became flesh and died on the cross not only to bring Heaven to Earth, but to receive Earth back to Himself. He did this out of unconditional love.

If people were created in God’s image, that means they’re not just incidental beings; they’re like God himself. Their value cannot be taken and it cannot be given. Human value cannot be destroyed. This grounds a lot of purpose. Humans have been in the world for a little less than 300,000 years and, as a species, we might perish in about a million years, if we’re lucky. If there’s nothing greater than us, I think it’s very hard to argue that there is any purpose or meaning to humanity.

Having faith doesn’t make it natural for me to think I should turn the other cheek, but it means there is something that reminds me I should. It sets a bar higher and it reminds me that bar is there. But great acts of kindness don’t happen naturally; they are rather super-natural.

I’ve never had a crisis of faith, but there are a lot of things I used to struggle with and that I still struggle with. One of them is, what is the meaning of the Holy Trinity? Why one God in three distinct persons? It’s quite hard to understand. It’s a mystery. It might be a mystery for all eternity.

There is this idea that the Trinity explains the self-sufficiency of God. God being love was not lacking anybody to love, was not lacking community before the creation of the world because He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and each loves the other perfectly. I suppose within the Trinity, Christ welcomes us into this very intimate and very deep love. We’re welcome no matter what.

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