Monday, August 29, 2011

Politics and Religion: What are we to make of it?

Here’s another article from the Religious News Service that has been picked up by papers across the country. It was printed in my hometown paper on Saturday: American politics more religious than American voters, by Nicole Neroulias.The article refers to a book by Mark Chaves of Duke University, American Religion: Contemporary Trends. Using data from the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study, Chaves notes that while Americans are more religious than Europeans, church attendance has been declining since the 1970s. The author interprets the research findings as showing that Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the mingling of faith and politics and there is less confidence in religious leaders.

I bring this up because it is in line with the Barna Survey I referred to in Saturay’s post. We have seen a decline in mainline Protestant numbers since the 1960s and Roman Catholics are losing members in the U.S. We have witnessed the rise of mega churches in the Protestant arena, along with the newly touted and hopeful “Emergent Church” movement.  Evangelicals are redoubling their efforts in light of their declining numbers. In various denominations and religious communities, there is much discussion about how to keep churches alive and thriving.

Perhaps Changing Times Calls for New Structures

One thing that is going unstated in all of the efforts of the faithful to define themselves as evangelical, progressive, liberal, conservative, emergent, etc. is that all of our accustomed institutions as we know them took shape in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Our religious and educational systems have not really changed since the 19th century. In that formation, they were well suited for equipping the populace for conformity, duty, and factory work. As society has changed, and is still in the process of changing, our institutions have not really kept pace.

I think that part of what we are experiencing is that we are living in a vortex of change and it is not really clear how institutions will arise to meet the needs of our society. I for one see the importance of preserving the “mainline Protestant witness” as well as the “Evangelical witness” as well as the historical “liturgical witness” to how Christianity is to be lived out in the world. How all of that will happen will probably not play out the way any of us envision, but it is vital that we keep trying, each in our own way, to flesh out this faith that has been deposited.

I have a hunch that we will see new ways of passing on our religious/spiritual values. The growing numbers of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” and who glean their spirituality from a variety of sources, may give us a clue as to what structures may serve us better in the future. Will we see more enclaves, teaching communities, and online sources while seeing fewer traditional houses of worship?

Our generation may see nothing more than change, disruption and turmoil until society comes up with institutions or structures – educational, political, and religious – that that are more congruent with 21st century life and understanding. These will be the interesting times. The settled times, the new age, the future hope for a society that works, may lie on the other side of the vortex. Though we cannot yet see what that will be, we must at least find a way to pass the torch to a new generation.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

More for the Spiritual but not Religious

Today I am continuing the topic of organized religion vs. spirituality. There are two articles that I can recommend by Steve McSwain in which he argues in favor of a spirituality that is free from the entanglements of religion. In Finding God after Leaving Religion, McSwain tells of his own journey away from church in which he unexpectedly has a spiritual awakening. How to Know God Beyond Religion offers some helpful advice on being spiritual just by showing up and paying attention.

In the spiritual vs religious debate, rather than arguing for one over the other, I hope I can make a case for both/and.  I can see the appeal of McSwian’s spiritual pilgrimage and the disdain for organized religion that is too concerned with its own survival. On the other hand, I think it is important for spiritual seekers to have guideposts. I think we should be free to leave an institutional church when it is not meeting our needs, but I also want it to be there to convey the tradition. We are all on a continuum in the journey, not everyone is at the same place or the same security level.

Social support is another aspect of church attendance. It is vital for us to have those social connections and places to turn to when we hit those hard patches in life. Most church members have an unspoken contract: “I will agree on a certain range of ‘beliefs and practices’ in return for the social support that I need to live a healthy life.” For some, the beliefs and practices may become too high a price if they are incongruent with knowledge and life experience, and they may seek another avenue of social support. 

Baron Fredrich von Hugel had some helpful things to say in his classic work The Mystical Element of Religion.  He outlined three stages of religious expression after studying the life of St. Catherine of Genoa. These stages, or elements, are often in tension with one another and often difficult to reconcile:
  1. The historical/institutional element
  2. The scientific/intellectual element 
  3. The mystical/experiential element
The historical/institutional element is how most people come to religion. It is the structural support, the conveyer of the tradition.

The scientific/intellectual element is a stage of inquiry to explore the meaning and validity of the received faith. In my Baptist experience, this was often seen as threatening. Some people thought higher intellectual pursuits would “ruin” the faith of a Christian believer.

The mystical/experiential is that poetic, immediate recognition of the spiritual validity of faith. Many who cling to the historical/institutional element see the mystical as dangerous and ungrounded. Those of intellectual bent often see the mystical as too emotional, not feeling comfortable with the non-rational aspects of faith.

McSwain got fed up with the historical/institutional package he received and moved to more intellectual and experiential modes (all of which I can relate to). He may not be giving due acknowledgement to the historical/institutional gift he received which gave him the framework and basis for his further search for meaning. As von Hugel indicated, there is a tension involved in all of these elements.

Finally, I must say that I have disdain for the hucksterism that is often seen in religion, preying on the emotionally needy. Human nature being what it is, we will always see that sort of thing, but it is another reason to keep alive healthy expressions of faith and religion (which may not be as popular as the opportunistic entertainment which masquerades as religion).

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You may be interested in the following related posts:

Western Zen

Don't Take My Word for It

Spirit Work, Soul Work

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are You Spiritual but Not Religious?

Rabbi Rami, in his blog on Friday, talks about  a recent Barna Group survey that indicates that while 95% of Americans believe in God, there continues to be a decline in regular worship attendance. This really comes as no surprise since we often hear of more and more people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” It is also a trend I can understand as we see more and more spiritual options available to people while so many churches remain stodgy, often stuck in another time. On the other hand we are seeing the rise of evangelical mega churches catering to the whims of the suburban class, and whose services sound to me like just another day at the mall.

The Rabbi makes a very good case in his blog post for being spiritual without bothering with regular worship attendance. He then asks his readers to respond, explaining why they do or do not go to a house of worship regularly.  I took him up on it and responded  with the following reasons I do attend worship regularly:

1. I value sacred places and ritual. I know that a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple are not the only sacred spots, but there is something to be valued in a place that a community holds as sacred.  One of the values of liturgy as I see it in Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox Churches is that it is always there. There are some days when I am not particularly into it, and that’s okay because other times I can really step into it and experience the sacred moment.  It is always there for me to either step into or to observe.  One day I may really be “into it” while another is just going through the motions. Another day we will change roles and I’ll be the one going through the motions, but the liturgy is always there and available, nevertheless.

2.  It is a habit. I like the continuity. I like that there is a group to which I can belong, even when I am feeling like an outsider.   I read a research study that claimed that people who gather weekly with others are healthier. That just affirmed to me the value of my habit. (Of course, I also pay attention to those surveys that say coffee is good for you, but disregard the ones that say coffee is bad for you – you know how research goes.)

3. I am stubborn.  I see those surveys that claim that regular churchgoers are more likely to vote conservative Republican.  I am determined that I will be one churchgoer who will skew the numbers by voting for a liberal Democrat whenever I get the chance.

4. Sometimes I hear something that I need to hear. I must admit that I don’t read the Bible like I did when I was a young Evangelical, but at church I will sit and listen to the readings. Each week I’ll hear readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, a New Testament epistle, and the Gospels. I may even hear something in the homily that is enriching.

5. I know that when I carry non-perishable goods to the First Sunday Food Drive, it will get to people who really need it, and I’ll be helping more people than I could by my own efforts (though I will continue to support liberal government programs than can help even more).

6. I am an introvert, so I have to work at this, but I recognize the need for community.

7. Sometimes programs will be offered that I really enjoy. For example, during the last Lenten season, a study in the English metaphysical poets was offered at our parish – a most inspiring series for one who loves poetry. This summer, our parish took part in an urban gardens project which my daughter participated in, growing vegetables for the local food bank.

8. I’m not saying that I go every single Sunday, so the days I choose not to attend services (when I realize that the Sabbath was made for man (sic), not man for the Sabbath) that in itself becomes a restful, nourishing time.

9. I think it is important to keep institutions intact which can convey our spiritual heritage. Even though most people I know who have a vibrant spiritual life must move on from the rote elementary practices found at the parish level, we still need that traditional institution to provide us with some common language and concepts.

10. I like the music. Sometimes the music does more for me than anything else. For me, music is a quick path to transcendence.

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I would also add that worship attendance would not be as meaningful if I were not open to spiritual experiences throughout the week. Those experiences can arise from a hike in the woods, music, drama, poetry, and interaction with family and friends. On another blog I recently discovered, Spiritually Speaking, Jane "Silver Spirit" reminds us that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”


Monday, August 22, 2011

Form and Substance: How a Sonnet Saved My Life

The Sonnet

The sonnet is the most restrictive of
Poetic forms. A scheme is strictly set
Dictating poet's rhyme and rhythm, yet
He chooses it for lofty thoughts of love,
Admiring noble deeds, or saintly stuff.
Indeed, the sonnet always seems to let
Transcendence have its way so as to get
A sense of freedom. Thus we see it prove
To be the highest, freest form to whet
A true Poetic. Often when I see
The bounds within which I must find my way,
(The cold collective spreads its mindless net
And freedom seems to fade) I wish to be
A living sonnet soaring through the day.

CLK                                       2/82

The sonnet, like so many aspects of society, provides rules, structure and boundaries. We can find comfort in those boundaries we see in society. Boundaries give definition to what is expected and provide security in our roles. On the other hand, boundaries can be restricting and oppressive. We have common metaphors that speak to this paradox: “keep your hand on the plow,” “stay on track” are just as familiar as “he was chomping at the bit,” or “pulling at the traces.” Boundaries indeed offer guidance, but sometimes one must slip the traces or jump the tracks. I recently read some words from Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

Why should we call
these accidental furrows roads?
Everyone who moves on
walks like Jesus, on the sea. [1]

The sonnet above is one that I wrote when I was 28 years old. I offer it as an example of how one can be awakened by one’s own poem. At the time, I was teaching English at Hong Kong Baptist College on a two-year assignment with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. I had graduated from seminary and had plans to go into ministry upon return to the States. During my first year back in the U.S., I was in the middle of a chaplaincy training program at a Baptist Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. One evening I was re-reading the sonnet that I had written two years before. For some reason, I imagined myself as a 68-year-old man and a young man was reading the sonnet. The young man asked me if I ever learned how to be a living sonnet. The only honest answer I could give in that imaginary situation was, “No. I never did.”

It was at that moment that I realized I needed to get out from where I was at the time. Toward the end of my training, I was offered the opportunity for a residency as chaplain in the hospital. To the director’s surprise, I never applied for the position.

Finding New Directions

“Where will you go from here?” the Pastoral Care director asked. I had no clear answer, except that I knew I had to go away from where I was at that moment. The next year proved to be a formative year. I left the Baptists and found St. Andrew's Episcopal Church where there was a commitment to high liturgy and social service. While there, I found employment at St. Andrew’s Foundation working with adults with developmental disabilities in group home settings. The overarching ideal at St. Andrew’s Foundation was “normalization,” meaning that we would allow each person to live as normal a life as possible, with normal routines rather than being defined by their disability.

The home where I worked was a couple of blocks away from St. Andrew’s Church.  In those days, the bell in the church steeple would sound out the hours. The liturgical hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) were designated times of prayer throughout the day. This was a form that I was unaccustomed to, having grown up Baptist. While I worked with clients at the group home, even though those liturgical hours were unfamiliar, it was meaningful to hear the bells sound during the day. It reminded me to stop, if only briefly, to acknowledge that I was working within a larger context of meaning.

Even more than the liturgical hours in the background, the group home residents themselves gave my life a centering. More than teaching and certainly more than professional ministry, my work now seemed like real life. Teaching and ministry are both wonderful and needed professions, but my own strengths and abilities did not fully align with the tasks in either milieu. I was therefore not finding life within those structures.  At St. Andrew’s Foundation I sat on front porches and in living rooms of those group homes visiting and talking with residents who were limited in many ways, but they helped me to see more clearly what real life is about. All manner of assumptions were dispelled during those days. We were all learning each day how to better find our way in the world. They needed help with shopping, banking, household management, job training, and managing the conflict that arises just by living with other people. They were learning to have a home of their own, and I felt like I was finally home.

I would later recount, "It was at St. Andrew's that I came to realize that people who live with disabilities have something very important to say about what it means to be human. How we respond to people with disabilities says something very important about who we are as human beings." [2]
Nothing is constant, however. After several years of rewarding work at St. Andrew’s Foundation, I was also starting a family and needing to broaden my possibilities. To that end, I went back to my old alma mater for a degree in Nursing. My first job in the Nursing field was as a psychiatric nurse at the same hospital where I had once been a chaplain. I remember walking across the hospital grounds one evening, recalling how I had made that same walk years before as a chaplain. Back then I was thinking, “I don’t belong here.” That night, however, as I walked the grounds as a nurse, I said to myself, “This is exactly where I belong!”

Writing New Avenues and Looking Inward

I continue to make a living in healthcare, and I also continue to write. The point of sharing my sonnet is to show how the process of writing can help us to know who we really are, at least that has been true for me. My writing has taken the form of daily journals, personal letters, dream journals, essays, and poetry. The poetry that I have written over the years often has served as a kind of spiritual diary, recording where I was, what I was thinking, and how I was feeling at the time. Sometimes the writing surprises me by opening up new windows and new avenues. Sometimes the writing, as with this sonnet, helps me to see a bit more clearly how to live more congruently with my inner self and ideals.

For all who have an interest in writing, I say, by all means write! Don’t worry about whether it is “good enough.” That sonnet that I wrote all those years ago is certainly no Shakespeare or Dante, but it contained a true observation that allowed me to take a probing look within myself. Make sure that what you write is your true voice. You will probably learn more about yourself, and the writing might even save your life.

                                                                                                               Charles Kinnaird


1.  From I Never Wanted Fame, by Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly), Ally Press (limited edition) 1979.
2. From "An Ordinary Life" at

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Monday, August 15, 2011

A Jungian Appreciation of Mary

Our Lady of Fatima, on the grounds of St. Francis Xavier Church, Birmingham, Ala.

Over the centuries, there have been hundreds of claims that Mary, the mother of Jesus, has appeared to offer advice and comfort or to give warning and encouragement. Although there are only eleven Vatican-approved Marian visitations,  Lourdes and Fatima being perhaps the best known, there are even today claims of appearances from the Blessed Virgin. She has supposedly been seen by visionaries in Medjugorje, and images have been seen in windows, on walls, and on food items such as toast and macaroni & cheese. There is even a site down Highway 280, just south of Birmingham, Alabama, where thousands gathered after one of the Medjugorje visionaries reported Mary’s appearance to her when she was in town for medical treatment.

Growing up in the rural South, I experienced my share of anti-Catholic bias. Although the Catholic view of Mary is a stumbling block to many Protestants, it became one of my greatest attractions as a convert.  I should add that it took years to get there, and it was not dogma or theology that opened up the path. Instead, it was an understanding of myth and archetype. Years ago I was amazed and intrigued when I read in Carl Jung’s book, Answer to Job, that he considered the dogma of the Assumption of Mary to be the most important religious event since the Reformation. The Assumption of Mary was not proclaimed as official church dogma until 1950, but Jung saw it as something that the populace had been aware of for over a thousand years. Carl Jung, the influential Swiss thinker and pioneer in the field of psychiatry, had a lot to say about how archetypes speak to us in old stories that endure from age to age.  He also developed the concept of the collective unconscious, in which these universal archetypes speak to the human condition. He thought that understanding these archetypes could help us to understand our own interior lives. In reference to the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, he said::

 “But anyone who has followed with attention the visions of Mary which have been increasing in number over the last few decades, and has taken their psychological significance into account, might have known what was brewing. The fact, especially, that it was largely children who had the visions might have given pause for thought, for in such cases, the collective unconscious is always at work ...One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the 'Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.' For more than a thousand years it has been taken for granted that the Mother of God dwelt there.” (1)

It is undeniable that Marian visions occur. Rather than ask if they are factual, I think it is more important to ask why these visions are needed. I agree with Jung that we need the influence of the feminine archetype to have a balanced life. For Protestants who question this, think about 19th century American Protestantism. It was the most anti-Marian expression of Christianity known up to that time. Jesus was primary, and what did 19th century Protestants do to Jesus? They made him highly feminized, made him meek and mild, even gave him long hair and a dress! (2)  Some of the artistic portrayals of Jesus show him in flowing robes with arms outstretched – exactly the same posture that previous artists had traditionally given to Mary. This is just one example of how the feminine archetype will make itself known, even when a society tries to push it aside.

When I read about some of the Marian visions that have occurred in the past, often the message from Mary was to build a church in her honor and to promote the praying of the rosary. My own thoughts are that if this were the actual historical Mary appearing, such requests would be completely out of character – to dedicate a church in her honor? However, if that vision is an expression of the feminine archetype, it makes perfect sense. It is correcting a heavily masculine society, bringing balance by restoring feminine qualities and bringing the feminine archetype to mind (often Marian visions occur during wartime, or just before war breaks out, when the masculine war machine is at work destroying).

In the Lady Chapel
at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
 Birmingham, Ala.
Let me also share a personal testimonial. Although my wife and I are now practicing Catholics, last year we began going back to the Episcopal Church where we met. We heard that the church was in a rough spot so we began going back to lend moral and financial support. We would usually go there about three Sundays a month and would attend our Catholic parish once a month. On this particular Sunday, I felt personally inclined to meditate on Mary. As we entered St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, I was glad to find seating that was in line with the Lady Chapel, with Mary in full view. In my private prayers I prayed the Hail Mary (not a typical devotion in the Episcopal Church, though the Lady Chapel is an old Anglican tradition). After church as we were going home talking about the service, I discovered that my wife had also had Mary on her mind that morning and had spent some time much as I had done, to acknowledge the blessed Mother. Later that day, we both felt like going to the evening Mass at our Catholic Church. When we arrived, we were quite surprised to find that that particular Sunday (August 15) was the feast of the Assumption of Mary!  We enjoyed a full service giving special remembrance and honor to her. 

All of this is to say that while I am often skeptical of a lot of the Catholic lore – I don’t believe the bit about Mary’s perpetual virginity (I see no need for it) and have no use for the concept of Immaculate Conception (I see no need for it) – I do recognize the need to allow the feminine archetype into our consciousness, into our worship space, and into our society.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
Birmingham, Ala.

Black Madonna of Czestochowa
St. Simeon's Orthodox Church
Birmingham, Ala.

Stained glass window at
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church


1. C.G. Jung.  Answer to Job, trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp 99 -100.
2.  Cf. Stephen Prothero.  American Jesus, New York, Ferrar, Straus, and Giroux, pp.59 - 61.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The End of an Era

We learned this week that the U.S Congress is ending its House page program in which high school students served to run errands and relay messages and paperwork. It was stated that with today technology of cell phones, palm pilots, Twitter, and other electronics communication, the work of pages had really become obsolete.

The discontinuation of the use of pages will reportedly save over $5 million annually. The bad news is that a long-standing tradition has ended. The good news is that we will no longer be subjecting our nation's youth to the immature buffoonery that is the U.S. Congress


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Leaving Starbucks: Unchaining America

 I heard an interview with the mayor of Marion, Indiana on NPR the other day. He was proud to get a Starbucks to help revitalize his town, and other town’s folk were hoping they might see a Target, a Texas Roadhouse, and a Panera in the future as well.  I can understand the relief and/or enthusiasm of people to see such national brands promising to infuse new life into a depressed economy where jobs have dwindled. On the other hand, relying upon corporate chains could have other consequences as well.

Chain stores have taken over America.  We have been lulled onto a deep corporate sleep so that we see nothing but the same restaurants, hotels and stores wherever we go. John Archibald, a local columnist for The Birmingham News recently expressed dismay that The Olive Garden was voted “Best Italian Restaurant in Town” when there are locally owned Italian restaurants, run by actual Italian families that have a long tradition of authentic cuisine. I fully concur with his assessment.

Go to any shopping mall in America and you will find the same stores with the same look and feel.  This is not true Americana. Why should I travel a thousand miles to see the same strip malls and shopping centers that I left back home? Where is the local flavor?

As I write this, I am sitting in a little coffee shop located in a small shopping center, but I am not in a Starbucks or any other chain operation.  Forest Perk Coffee, located in Forest Park in the Piggly Wiggly Shopping Center, is a locally owned operation.  It may lack the spiffy shine and trendy d├ęcor of a Starbucks, but it is a one-of-a-kind spot. The floor is a cement slab with marks and scrapes incurred, no doubt, from previous tenants. The space may be a bit too large for the enterprise, but it has local character. Art from local artists adorns the walls. The menu is not one printed for mass distribution to dictate the choices for patrons across the country. It is a simple chalk board with today’s items written just this morning. This morning it was a great place to sit and read an essay by Robert Bly as well as do some writing. I'll definitely be back!

There is another coffee shop closer to where I live, Crestwood Coffee Company, that my wife and I enjoy patronizing.  It is not in the high rent district. It also has a not-quite-finished appearance, but it has its own character. You walk in there and you see a real community. You get a true snapshot of American life. Both of these shops brew and sell fair trade coffee from Higher Ground Roasters that is roasted locally. Crestwood Coffee Company is another place that you will definitely want to go back to once you've experienced it.

What can we do to unchain America? For one thing, we can support local independent entrepreneurs whenever possible.  Next time you want Italian food, instead of automatically thinking of some nationwide chain that has pumped millions of advertising dollars into TV ads to assure name recognition, take a few minutes to consider a locally owned restaurant.  Make a local coffee shop your stopping place rather than a prefabricated national chain. Try to do the same when you need household repair items, flowers, shrubs, or other purchases.

I’ll admit that the malls are convenient, but they are not Americana.  The really good ones try to fake Americana, but it is all fabricated in some corporate board room. We could lose our local identity, not through totalitarian governments, as was feared in the last century, but through our own lazy complicity with corporate giants and Wall Street financiers.  

I am not a paid celebrity spokesman for either Forest Perk Coffee or Crestwood Coffee Company. In all fairness, there are other local coffee shops in town. Check online or in the telephone directory to find other independent, unchained establishments.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflecting upon Michelangelo's Pieta

Reflecting upon Michelangelo's Pieta

Revolutionary words,
Valiant tasks,
And the highest of aspirations
Having been brought to an end,
She looks with compassion
   upon his lifeless form.
He is enfolded and finds rest
Within the fully human and never-dying
Mother of all.

There is room in her flowing earthly garments
To enfold every missed step,
   every high calling,
      every miscalculation.
Each pointless task
Together with all fruitful endeavors
Are gathered into her bountiful lap.

In stillness and silence
Her fully human and never-dying love
Brings redemption to the son.
As all shall know
When the clamoring and shouting have ended,
All things are brought with compassion
To the bosom of the
Earthly and
Mother of all.

by Charles Kinnaird

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hong Kong Memories

The name "Hong Kong," translated from the Cantonese, Heung Gong, means "fragrant harbor." We expatriates who lived there found that to be a bit amusing. There were definitely many aromas, especially in Kowloon City where I lived, but that combination of automobile exhaust, yesterday's garbage, restaurant cooking, and open markets was not what we typically referred to as "fragrant." I am assuming that in the old days before it was so populated, local vegetation along with natural beauty gave rise to the name.

Hong Kong was indeed a fascinating and diverse place to live. It had a long history of taking in refugees. Many had flooded in from mainland China in the wake of political turmoil. In the 1980s, there was a large refugee camp in Kowloon for Vietnamese refugees awaiting resettlement in various countries. In addition to the majority Cantonese (southern China) population, there were also other Chinese groups such as Hakka, Swatow, and Szechuan as well as a large community of "boat people" whose homes were in boats on the harbor, and whose families had traditionally earned a living by fishing. 

At the time I was there, Hong Kong was still a British Crown Colony, so there were many British expatriates there as well as other European business people. Being such a vital place for business, there were also Japanese, Koreans, Indonesians, people from India as well as Americans there involved in various business ventures. There were also significant Filipino and Southeast Asian populations living there. I saw an amazing hodge podge of old tradition and new industry; Asian culture with European and American influences.

Before I left Hong Kong, I wrote a poem for one of my Chinese friends who was a school teacher. She herself was about to embark upon a journey to England for further study. In the poem, I tried to express my sentiments about the place I was leaving behind.

Fragrant Harbor

A fragrance to heaven goes up each day
            as incense burns in temples.
A fragrance to world endures in time
with the gathering of spirited and lively people.
A fragrance to business and trade is sure,
            and it disperses throughout the land.
A fragrance to the East,
A fragrance to the West;
A fragrance to all who have come.

How many have sensed the sweetness of this place,
For whatever reason they journey –
To escape, to be caught;
To be lost, to be found.
The motives are many, the result is one.

I number among those
Who have caught the scent
Of this busy, crowded, unique place.
And something in me shall hope to smell again
The fragrance of these shores.

Charles Kinnaird                               6/83         


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Crossing the Harbor

One of my favorite things to do while living in Hong Kong (from 1981 to 1983) was to ride the Star Ferry. For the equivalent of about 20 cents I could take the ferry from the Kowloon Peninsula where I lived over to Hong Kong island. The subway train which ran through a tunnel under the harbor was much faster (and cleaner), but I loved taking the time to ride the waters and watch the crowds coming and going, trying to get a flavor of the culture.

Crossing the Harbor

When crossing the harbor at night,
Or on a cloudy, windy day,
My thoughts are carried swiftly away
To a realm potent with yesterdays and tomorrows.

As I ride the waters
My spirit soars;
Exchanging thought for dream,
And dream for destiny.

I think of how it would be
If you were on the other side –
A warm heart and receptive ear
Taking joy in sharing both the petty and the profound.

Knowing that you will not be there,
I realize that I've yet other harbors to cross.
My spirit shall continue its flight,
And I shall continue my wanderings.

           CLK                                                       10/81

Friday, August 5, 2011

Old Canton

Guangdong, know to westerners in the past as Canton, is the major city in the Guangdong Province. As we crossed the river into the city, we saw many traditional boats on the water, with newer modern buildings in the background, some of them still under construction in 1982.

There were many two-wheeled carts, and many,many bicycles in those days. The woman in traditional garb pulling her cart is one of my favorites.

There were were open air markets out in the streets, including a vendor selling fresh meat.

We saw many old brick buildings. There was a plaza in the middle of town that more more open and spacious while most of the streets were quite narrow.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Farming in China

These pictures were taken on an old farming commune in the Guangdong Province. I don't know if anything like this exists anymore.

China Child

I seldom think of politics
As I ride the back of a water buffalo.
I think of fields and harvest;
I think of walks in the hills;
I think of cousins and friends;
I think of my father who is holding the plow.
I doubt if he thinks of politics either.
Charles Kinnaird                    1/82

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Memories from China

The post on Monday, "To a Local Goddess," brought to mind some other pictures and poems I wrote during that period. This one refers to a mountain, Chungshan (translated Middle Mountain) out in the countryside that we saw before reaching Canton (Gwangdong).


I first saw Middle Mountain
   when the sun was high and the moon was dim.
I walked toward it through the day
   over soft plowed ground.

When I came to the foot of the mountain at twilight
   and began my ascent,
   the moon was round and dusty white.

I reached the top where I could see all around.
   The rice fields were resting
   The crickets were singing.
And the moon was full and bright.

           Charles Kinnaird                                1/82

More pictures to follow this week.


Monday, August 1, 2011

To a Local Goddess

In 1981, I moved to Hong Kong to teach English for two years at Hong Kong Baptist College (now Hong Kong Baptist University). My Cantonese instructor arranged a trip for his students to go into the Canton (Guangdong) Province of China. It had been just five years since the Cultural Revolution had ended in China with the death of Mao Zedong and arrest of the "Gang of Four" in 1976. Under Deng Xiaoping the country was beginning to open up, but entry by foreign travelers was still limited.

That first afternoon, we stopped at a hotel that had recently been built to accommodate tourists. We noticed a new Chinese temple that had been constructed up on a ridge above the hotel. We wondered about it, since we had read so much about Chairman Mao cracking down on religious practices. One of the people in our group who spoke better Cantonese than I (I had only been studying for a few months) asked about the structure atop the hill. With the Chinese man's limited English and our limited Cantonese, we learned that indeed it was a temple erected to a local goddess. It must be another sign of things opening up in that country, we thought. At any rate, some of us decided to make the trek up the mountainside to visit the temple. The pictures you see here are photos that I took that day. The poem that follows is one that I wrote after returning to Hong Kong as I recalled the experience.

To a Local Goddess

At a little crossroads
Not far from Sheik Keih
In the Guangdong Province
At the foot of Chung Shan,
   the Middle Mountain,
We spent the night.
Hard working men in cloth shoes
Had labored to build stone steps
All the way up the mountain.

Someone said that she had been
A local maiden
Whose loyal and heroic deed
Earned her a place with the gods.
"And the government doesn't mind that
They built a new temple for her?"
I wondered aloud as we climbed the steps.
Apparently not.
Perhaps this little village is far enough away from Beijing.
I suppose I'd be proud too,
If she were from my hometown.

I did not know her at all                            
(Unless I had mistaken her for
   a sister or a cousin, a friend or a lover
   somewhere along the way),
But after six months of crowded streets
Hot sidewalks
And tall buildings,
My first trip to the countryside
Was like taking off cheap shoes
   at the end of the day.

I went back to a time
That had been years neglected,
As a bright moon rose
Above newly planted rice fields
And I looked down from Middle Mountain.
Somehow I was renewed
And free.

Photos by Charles Kinnaird

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