Friday, June 26, 2009

The Truth About Truth

One of the stops in China was Morningstar School. Like many private schools in China, they are pressing forward trying to educate children, many of them from the lowest rung of the economic ladder, so cash is in great demand, but in short supply. Also, teachers are in great demand and in short supply. Educators are in desperately needed throughout the entire country. The sparsity is so acute, that with modest qualifications, you could be on a campus, almost immediately, using your expertise, and pouring your life into young hearts and minds hungry to learn.

Morningstar, has outgrown several locations. Recently, they purchased a large building and are giving it an entire makeover. Their investment will allow them to double their growth. While visiting Morningstar, Robert and Sara and Sandy and I was given the VIP tour. Children rose to their feet, and greeted us loudly and warmly as we entered their classroom. Each of us gave them a little bio, and they listened with rapt attention. Placards with ancient Chinese proverbs could be seen on every wall. Surprisingly, cleverly matched, were proverbs taken from the writings of monotheistic Jews -- pearls of wisdom from both cultures -- and they were in agreement on a central truth or core value. As I stood reading the compressed conclusions of spiritual sages, most of them only one line long, I was reminded that the Truth can be rejected, buried, twisted, or exchanged for a lie. But the Truth about Truth is that it finds its way into every culture and people group. There is always someone -- everywhere -- who catches a glimpse of truth's transcendence.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SIAS UNIVERSITY- CHINA

SIAS University started with 230 students in 1998 -- while we were in China we celebrated its 10th anniversary. SIAS now has nearly 20-thousand students and faculty. Sandy and I were VIP guests and witnessed the graduation of over 4,900 students from the second row. Overwhelming.

In the days leading up to graduation we had the opportunity to speak into the lives of hundreds of students as we lectured day-after-day. Nearly every day's schedule began at 7:30 a.m. and ended around 10 p.m. We spent little time in our room, because we were constantly going from one function to another. Neither of us has ever been so graciously hosted or lavishly toasted. Banquet after banquet glasses were raised in our honor. When roaming around the campus, we had more conversations with students than I could count. Many of them wanted a personal audience with us, because they had questions that our lectures raised, and some of them just wanted to drill a little deeper into our life -- Chinese love Americans.

Since I was 21 years old I have been a public speaker -- that's 32 years of experience and experiences. For the most part, I have been able to keep my audience's attention (people are gracious). But I have never addressed such motivated listeners as the young Chinese students that hung on our every word. Body language can speak as audibly as a voice, if you know how to read it and listen to what it is saying. A silent voice is not necessarily a silent person, and our listeners laughed or frowned a puzzled look, and their eyes followed me as I talked and moved around the classroom.

In China, if you can walk into a store, you can buy alcohol. There is no legal age requirement to purchase. Yet, on just about any of the university campuses alcohol abuse is negligible. Not one out of control fraternity can be found -- Animal House does not exist. The reason? Students are so focused on learning that they don't have the time or desire to do so. If they wanted to, they could party without impunity.

If you went to college you probably changed your major at least once. Nobody chooses their major in Chinese universities. Every student is assigned their major in the best interest of the State -- and there is no recourse. Pressure takes an immense toll on the collegians -- depression is pandemic -- suicide is rampant.

Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Howard Thurman

Every lecture began with the quote above written on the chalk board. Thurman's insightful quote laid the foundation for our lecture topic - Finding and Pursuing your Passion. They got it. I think that explains why we were received so warmly, and listened to so intently. Words are powerful, and ours stirred something latent in their spirit -- they began to dream, and come alive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Perspective

Maybe my perspective is infantile, but I put a much higher value on experiences than on my financial net worth. I have always had enough Benjamins, but when my days here are over, I will not leave a lot of cash behind. Yet, if experiences and adventure have value -- then I am Bill Gates. If my life and money runs out simultaneously, Father has more than held up His end of our partnership.

Today, I pulled one of my neighbor's kayaks out of its cradle (ours are still in Massachusetts), carried it to the cabin, slid it down the steep bank, and eased the bow into the Penobscot just shy of its current's edge. How many times have I skimmed down the river? At least one-hundred. But every time I do, its like the first time. I absolutely come alive! If what one of the early Church Fathers is quoted as saying is true, The glory of God is man fully alive, then Bill Shorey is not only going with the flow of the river as he leans into his paddles and pulls away from shore. He is going with the flow of God -- the physical is transcended by the spiritual -- he is fully alive!

All my experiences have not been pleasant. Maybe it would be more honest to say many of my experiences have not been pleasant. A realization about myself has come to light -- I always expect life to play out large, and in one sense it does -- just as my adventures always exceed expectation, so do my disappointments. Most of my heart and spirit is stout and sturdy, but there is a boyish part that can be faint and fragile.

That's my perspective . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quick Trip

I raised the large front windows, and the cabin got its first gulp of fresh air in months. Daylight is trailing the sun west, but I have a few hours to decompress after the 5 hour drive from Massachusetts to Maine. Temperature -- seventy-eight degrees!

I lugged one of the red, canvas chairs from the cabin, and settled into it. Along with the chair, I brought out a small note pad, and a #2 pencil that has about 4 inches of use left in it. The eraser is petrified, and all it does is smudge and smear as I try to make a mistake disappear. I could have scrounged around in the Expedition and found a pen, but a rod of carbon sheathed in a sleeve of wood fit the environment and my mood. At the cabin, I always turn into a minimalist.

Across the river, the ledges are covered with a thin blanket of green. The water between me and the ledges is flowing by, and carrying all my stress away with it. A gusty breeze is coming on strong from the south. I know that behind it are low, heavy, dark clouds with enough rain to fall for 3 days.

When the last of the daylight fades -- darkness will bring more light -- I am going to build a campfire. A pile of twigs and pine quills will be the tinder. One struck match, and I will coax a flickering flame into a hungry, wood consuming blaze.

Fires mesmerize me. I think it's the brightness in the midst of black, and the phenomenon of stored energy releasing and dispersing, while slumbering people and animals try to recharge and restore energy for another day. Darkness also conceals all movement, but my fire reveals its every leap, twist, rise and fall. The sounds a fire offers up are distinct and out of harmony with the hushed sounds of night -- it hisses, cracks, pops, and makes tinkling sounds as it fuel gives its all, and then collapses in on itself.

So, in just a few hours I will spend hours enjoying the simple and satisfying pleasures of a campfire. In the quiet, my mind will begin retrieving memories from the recent adventure in China. Dancing flames will not provide enough light for me to journal my musings, but without paper or pen or pencil, sentences, then paragraphs, and then pages of written word will begin to organize in my thoughts. When the sun delivers a fresh, new day, I will ease into the red, canvas chair, pick up the #2 pencil, and write.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One Wrong Turn

If you are following my posts about China you know that I have jumped around a bit, so this goes back to an event upon our arrival in Shanghai. I had been in China, O, let's say 15 minutes. I needed to find the Men's room -- quickly.

In China, the restrooms are set up differently than in the United States. I thought it was just in the airports, but in general, they were all nearly identical. The biggest difference being that both men and women use the same sinks, which are outside the bathrooms, to wash their hands, etc.

As fast as my feet could carry me, without running, I started down the long, long hallways looking for that familiar, small, blue sign with the outline of a man and a woman. Finally, to my left about 25-yards away and 15 feet above the floor, I saw it! What a relief -- well actually it would be another minute or two before I found relief, but I had made it! When I threw open the door, two things surprised me. First, there were no urinals (sorry, how else do I describe it), and second, a short, stout, Chinese, with a Beatles style haircut, began excitedly waving at me, and jabbering something in a tone that sounded angry. Immediately, I opened my eyes as wide as I could, pulled down the corners of my mouth, raised my arms with my palms up, shrugged my shoulders, and said, Ma, ma, hoo, hoo (incorrect spelling). Which in Chinese can mean, "I don't understand" or, "I am confused."

What we had was a failure to communicate. My bi-lingual abilities were not working -- my new acquaintances voice became louder and his arms flailed more demonstrably.

"What does he want?" I began to think. So I studied my situation more closely. Once again, I scanned all four walls looking for urinals -- there were no urinals in that bathroom. Then I looked more closely at the the short, stout, Chinese guy with the Beatles hair style. He-was a she.

Oops.

Believe it or not, for a few seconds, using hand signals and gestures, (don't ask "What kind of hand signals and gestures) I tried to explain to her how I had mistakenly chosen the wrong door -- she wasn't in the mood to talk.

I turned, left, and chose door number-two.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bailey: March, 1998 - June, 11, 2009

If you have followed my blog you have read posts about our dog, Bailey. Our irascible pooch made it into about 8 posts. In most of them I was cataloging some kind of mischief he had gotten into. Yesterday, we had to have Bailey put down. I say, we, but it was our son Josh who took him to the vet. There were no options -- a degenerative spine left him paralyzed in his back legs -- his time was up.

All the Shorey men are fierce. My sons are Jedi. None of us have ever picked a fight, but neither have we let a bully cower us -- not once. We are stand up guys to the bitter end. All the Shorey men put a high value on loyalty. We are also tenderhearted, and life often makes our heart ache. So, true to form, I want to tell Bailey and Josh's story. Like I said, all the Shorey men are tenderhearted, and to me, what I am about to write is a story worth telling . . .

Since Bailey became paralyzed, Josh has talked with Sandy, me and his brother and sister every day. All of us have cried. Sandy, me, Justin and Erika are in Massachusetts, and Meagan is away at college, so Josh had the lone responsibility to say a final good-bye to the only dog we he had ever had as a family.

Josh made sure that Bailey's last day was special. Even though Bailey was paralyzed, Josh got a big kick out of the fact that he never quit being his goofy self. Though paralyzed, every time someone showed up at the house he started his excited barking and tried his best to go bounding to the door to greet his guests -- Bailey thought every time the doorbell rang, no matter who it was, they dropped by to see him. Throughout the Bailster's last day, Josh gave him scoops of his favorite treat -- peanut butter. That night, Josh cooked him a steak, lovingly fed it to him, and spent the night sleeping beside him on the floor.

Bailey was a little nervous as Josh carried him into the vet's office and laid him on the table. With great tenderness the pet doctor injected Bailey, and soon he became calm and peaceful and then his once endless energy was gone.

Josh took him back to our home in Columbus, GA. and buried him in the woods behind the house. Geesh, I love that boy.

I thought it would be good to repost one of our adventures with Bailey. He was a force of nature, a pain in the butt, and larger than life.

Bailey, our dog, now under the exclusive care of Josh, got out of the house and did not return a few hours later covered with red, Georgia mud, and stinking to high heaven, as was is his usual routine. In fact, he never returned at all that night. The next morning, Josh got up to see if he was at the back door. No Bailey. Josh returned later that day, and there was still no Bailey, so he decided to call the dog pound and see if he had been incarcerated there.

Sure enough, the lady answered our son's inquiries and said that, indeed, she was in possession of a white wheaton terrier. . . Check that. She had been -- he was no longer there -- the owner had picked him up earlier.

Josh was taken aback, to say the least. "I am the owner, and I don't have him." he said.

The lady at the pooch prison said, "Well, we know that the dog's tags said he belonged to Bill Shorey, but the lady who came and got him told us Mr. Shorey gave Bailey to her over a year ago."

"No. My father didn't give Bailey away (Although I have unsuccessfully tried to do so on numerous occasions. Ask Richard, Kendall, Maris, Emily, Luke, Tim, Ben, Sarah, Alec, Miranda, the Mitchell family, random people asking for directions, and every salesman who ever rung our doorbell). Bailey has been with me, but he escaped yesterday and didn't return."

Neither Josh, nor I know how the dog warden got Bailey back from his temporary owner, but my guess is that even though she may have been a thief -- she was not completely stupid. After about an hour of Bailey's antics she probably figured out that she had gotten a lot more than she bargained for!

Bailey is now back in the possession of our son.

I guess that is good news . . .

Welcome to the Party

Communism. I read about its political doctrine and mission statement as I delivered newspapers in Howland, Maine as a kid. I feared Communism and Communists. Those thoughts emerged from my memory as I sat in conversation with several Party members. Some of them men and women who held places of authority and significant influence within the government of China.

I was surprised that in every one of those settings I never once experienced fear. True, I knew that my goals and sense of purpose in life were very different, and in some cases in direct conflict with the person on the other side of the desk or conference room. And I did not really want to engage in a conversation that would drill too deep into those differences for the time being. Words were carefully weighed and considered before they were spoken, but I never felt fear. On the contrary, there was exhilaration. Few times have I possessed a stronger confidence that the foundation I have built my life on, and the passion drives my life is, in the end, indestructible, rugged, profound, and capable of standing on its own merit. Each encounter opened my mind and heart to broader perspectives that were fresh and challenging and troubling and worth taking the next few months, or the rest of my life, to ponder, sort through, and consider. Was it possible that a script was developing for a much bigger stage and production in which I would play a part.

Is that arrogance?

No. Not in my estimation. But it does require me to return to my statement about being free from fear, because there actually were times during each of those encounters when a palpable fear -- a fear I could almost taste and smell swept over and through me -- an almost audible voice. . .

It emanated from an Evil presence that chided me to embrace a false sense of humility -- that same sick humility that convinces so many to live a terribly small life.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Wall

We left Jinan and flew to Beijing. In Beijing, as well as Jinan, and Shanghai, and several other smaller cities, we met with brother and sisters that were part of our global spiritual family. At all times we were mindful that we were guests in China, and we took pains to honor the governments view on Christianity. Our role was that of a responder to any and all who were exploring the nature of Faith. China is a land of mysticism and many of its people see merit in the historic Christian message.

In our hotel were about 100-hundred rambunctious teens from an ex-pat school in Shanghai -- they were in Beijing for a "cultural" study. They were also a source of entertainment (not all the hotel guests would share my disposition), and a great opportunity for my own personal anthropological and cultural study. You know, at the core, youngins' have not changed that much. I witnessed all the usual, juvenile pranks played out -- the same shannigans I would have been up to at that age. Racing each other -- one group using the elevators and one group using the stairs. A red faced boy -- wearing nothing but a towel and his birthday suit -- pounding on a door trying to get back in his room. You heard them before you saw them -- there was noise, noise, noise, and more noise. Shadowed alcoves and turns in the hallways made a good place for the love-struck to get out of sight and catch a quick smooch. Also, there were a couple of break-ups, and the accompanying tears, hugs of consolation, and empathetic consolation that life would some day be worth living again.

The Great Wall of China . . .

On day two we walked through the lobby to the awaiting Chinese driver named Tiger. Over and over again I kept giggling, I can't believe we are going to see The Great Wall of China. The ancient barricade is cloaked in myth. One being that it is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon. Not true, but I want to believe it! Long before we were able to actually set foot on the storied landmark, we caught glimpses of its serpentine trail wriggling along rugged hillsides or atop and along jagged ridge lines. It was my opinion that we were passing up some pretty impressive places to breach the wall, but that wistfulness disappeared when at last I found myself standing on the highest point of the entire Great Wall. Breathless from my highspeed ascent to the summit, I stood gasping for air -- my imagination going at full throttle. Again, I found myself saying audibly, I can't believe I am really here!

Where does one start in trying to describe something so indescribable? I will try. Steep slopes and carefully laid, massive, gray, stones worn smooth by the foot traffic of millions of people, were neatly and closely fitted together high above the contours that formed its base. Severed, skeletal sections of the wall appeared and disappeared for miles among the vistas of undulating topography that surrounded it. People of all ages trudged up the ramped inclines. One of the most striking scenes of my entire time in China was that of the young man plodding step-by-careful step carrying his aged (I presume) grandfather on his back to the Wall's summit. The elderly man was clinging to his carrier and looked to be clinging to the last days of his life. A steel cylinder with clear, slender tubes provided the air that hissed into his nostrils. Gaunt cheeks and pale lips that lay tight to the bone, stretched even tauter as he labored to gulp oxygen into his lungs. Twisted and powerless, his legs dangled awkwardly, and swung lifelessly, from side to side with each stride of his loving porter.

It was a beautiful moment. It was an excruciating moment. It was a humbling and tearful moment . . . Throughout the centuries the Great Wall had stopped the advance of conquering Legions, but it could not stop the advance of conquering love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HAZ-MAT

Almost forgot to tell everyone about our most unusual reception upon arriving in Shanghai. As you know, there was much ado about the H1N1 virus (swine flu) splashed over every major news outlet. Upon the break out and breaking news, the Chinese government put extreme measures in place to protect its citizens from the reported pandemic. Even when there isn't an over-hyped, over the top, media driven catastrophe it is customary to see Chinese routinely wearing dust masks. Air quality in their big cities is of the poorest of quality. Most days the sun is filtered through a brown-gray smog (I found it impossible to wear contacts while there). Also the past pandemic of the "Bird flu" heightened the fear of airborne deceases and that led to extra precaution. Glancing up the hundreds of passengers, as they filed in and stowed their carry on luggage, many identities were concealed behind beige and white masks.

So . . .

When our plane taxied to the gate in Shanghai a little surprise awaited. As the door opened at the front, left side of the cabin, in rushed 3 very serious looking men and one woman. Each was sealed inside a pristine, white haz-mat suit, and their oxygen was being supplied by air packs -- ours could not be trusted. Methodically, they went row by row pointing a laser at the forehead of every passenger. The flight attendants told us not to worry about the infra-red slash across our brow (yeah, that worked), and informed us that the laser was being used to scan for fevers. We were told that if one person was carrying an elevated temperature, and considered a potential carrier of H1N1 virus, the entire plane would be quarantined for seven hours -- or just long enough to find a large holding place to quarantine several hundred for 7 days!

As the Chinese version of the Ghost Busters squeezed their bulky bodies down the aisle toward me, I thought about the last 14 hours we had just endured with the darling little marathon screamer -- the one who pushed every passenger to the brink of insanity. I thought that even though it was but a remote one, it was still within the realm of possibility that I could end up being hellboy's cell mate for 7 days!

I gave serious consideration to making a run for it. But I remained cool -- just like every forehead on the aircraft!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Shandong Jiaotong University

We left Shanghai and flew to Jinan. It was in Jinan that I experienced the most treacherous driving in my life. I tell you -- I have no fear of exaggerating just how wild the chaotic, random, serpentine, darting, swerving, braking, honking, and near death experience of riding in a Chinese taxi! Someone said that there are 54-thousand auto accidents a month in the Big Country. I can't verify that, and to be honest, I never witnessed one collision. Also, I might add, regarding traffic, that Oprah, a Chinese friend of ours, gave us one simple rule to remember -- Autos are more highly valued than people!

Thankfully, Shandong Jiaotong University sent a driver to pick us up and bring us to our first speaking engagement. The University is a provincial school with a student body of nearly 20-thousand. As we walked through the campus my eyes swept back and forth and up and down trying to take in -- and catalogue -- my unique surroundings. As we passed by several thousand Asian Collegiate, some playing basketball and tennis and some practicing Kung Fu -- they did so in near silence.

Before I was to speak to the students we were scheduled to meet with the University President and several of his key people. It was my first of many such meetings and we carefully, and somewhat nervously followed protocol -- giving due respect is very important in the Chinese culture. Our hosts followed the Asian custom of giving gifts. We were given a unique bookmarks engraved with Chinese characters. I cherish mine.

Finally, we were escorted into the the large theater-style lecture room which seated approximately three-hundred. It was a little intimidating. I kept thinking . .. what if only 20 people show up? Part of the presentation I would give required powerpoint, and also a video clip of Yao Ming. Neither my powerpoint or my video clip would load, so for my first presentation I had to make immediate adjustments (as in, just before I walked to the podium the sound and audio tech told me he couldn't load the powerpoint or clip)! Yet, when all was said and done, my impromptu changes -- made in the time it took to walk from up the steps to the platform -- went off without a hitch.

One more piece to the happy ending . . .

Approximately two-hundred Chinese students and faculty, focused, hungry, interested, and fully engaged hung on to every word I had to say. When I finished they had so many questions for Sandy and me and Robert and Sara that the English department leaders had to move everyone out of the building so that it could be closed and locked!

Pretty cool, huh!

Shanghai-Day One (continued)

Some young Chinese were scheduled to meet us in the lounge, so we freshened up, entered the elevator, and descended to the ground floor. Our three guests arrived at staggered intervals. Each one had similar physical characteristics -- black hair, dark brown eyes, and the tight, Asian eye lids. Introductions and small talk paved the way for the young ladies to find the ease and confidence to take the conversation deeper. Our new friends began to share their dreams and aspirations. It was then, as matters of the heart were shared, that each one's distinct uniqueness--and dogged determination to live a life of significance--became evident. It is difficult for us (at least me) to appreciate the intense commitment it takes for a young Chinese woman to find her heart and pursue her passion -- high hurdles and daunting challenges resist every attempt. But the Big Country is changing -- women by the millions are finding a seam in their country's cultural fabric. Like the beautiful hand-stitched and woven silk that has given China world renown, women are bringing shimmer, color, and beauty that are transforming the fabric and culture of one of the world's oldest civilizations.

Listening to them manipulate and convert their Chinese thoughts into English words was at times tedious for them -- but nothing less than impressive (and sometimes amusing) to their hearers. Most of them had been speaking our language for a very short time, yet had an extensive vocabulary and command of our native tongue. We listened with great attentiveness and fascination.

Outside, the sun settled and the horizon transitioned from daylight—to dusk—to darkness. The ceiling-to-floor glass wall between us and the out-of-doors slowly became a mirror. Translucent images began to appear in the window -- ours. Soon, identical replicas of each of us reflected and mimicked our every move and gesture. It was then that a personal perspective began to emerge that I tried to maintain for the entire adventure in the Big Country. I will attempt to explain it . . .

As we chatted in the lounge, because of the reflection in the window, I could see myself contributing to the dialogue -- fully engaged and animated. But also, because of the effect of the window becoming a mirror, I could stand apart from myself. Observing and listening to my own words as an outsider, eavesdropper. Interestingly, I tried to give an interpretation to my every word and gesture as an observer, rather than contributor.

Hmmm.

My life is an ongoing conversation, and I am slowly learning that it takes on an entirely different perspective when I learn to process it both ways -- as an engaged contributor and as a silent, outside observer.

Friday, June 5, 2009

First Day In Shanghai

Our plane stayed aloft for 14-hours. During the flight, I learned that a 2-3 year old child can scream from Newark, New Jersey, over the North Pole, and on to Shanghai, China without taking a break. Time-after-time I tried to catch a few winks only to find I was merely rehearsing. Every last passenger on the big, Boeing, bird continually tucked their nerves back under their skin and I am quite sure battled scary, dark thoughts about how to silence the dear little boy!

Mercifully, we finally touched down, disembarked, and climbed into a dinged and dented subcompact auto for a one-hour taxi ride to our hotel. Arriving, we pulled up to a glass entrance that opened to an impressive lobby. Inside, the light colored, polished, granite floors sparkled. The ceilings soared for a couple of stories with a giant, crystal chandelier as the centerpiece. Brass rails separated the bar and lounge from the restaurant, and the black surfaced check-in counters from one another. Subtle artistic Asian d├ęcor clung to the walls.

Once in our hotel room, I set down my luggage, and flopped down on the bed. It was then that I was rudely reminded of something I had learned on my previous trip to China. What had I learned? As a rule, most beds in China are a hard wooden surface covered with a thin layer of foam—not a Posturepedic pillow top mattress. Mine was no exception to that rule. There was no soothing ahhh, as my back, backside, and the back of my head met up with the deceitfully enticing surface. Instead, there was a thud and my audible groans!