“That depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.” – President Bill Clinton
“When we say ‘war’ what we are really saying is ‘peace.’ – President George W. Bush
Today, I went to Macau. Macau is a little like Asia-meets-Portugal-meets-Las Vegas, in the same way, that Hong Kong is little like Asia-meet-Methamphetamines, which definitely the case. They are both fantastic cities which dance with light and energy. As I go around, I find myself asking the question “What do all these people do?” It seems incomprehensible there could be so many people in the world!
When I told somebody that I was going to visit churches in Macau, somebody asked me,
“Does that really count?” She was referring to the fact that the most popular church to visit in Macau is actually the ruins of a Portuguese church once entitled “St. Paul’s”
To view my pictorial of the ruins, you need to have Google Earth downloaded on your computer, then you can see the pictures by clicking here. St. Paul’s is now merely a façade which is still standing where the rest of the church has been destroyed. After you see St. Paul’s, scroll down your screen to see the Cathedral de Macau and the Church of St. Dominick’s.
The goal was to reach 365 churches in one year. The question that came up was really meant to say, “Do the ruins of abandoned, destroyed churches count in my visitations?”
This actually brings up another question pertinent to today. The goal for this journey is 35 countries. I had to go through immigration and customs today to get into Macau. This is something I didn’t realize I needed to do before I actually was doing it. Macau was a colony of the Portuguese, Hong Kong was a colony of the British, both are now a part of China. So if I am supposed to visit 35 countries, and by visiting Macau, which was not a planned country, does that mean I will have visited 36 countries? Or since it is governed by China, and Hong Kong also is now governed by China, does it mean that, in the end, I will have visited only 34 countries? I’m confused.
I traveled to Macau with a priest friend of mine. He told me something interesting I didn’t know. Countries will often call different language groups within their own country a “dialect” rather than a “language.” A linguist might consider what is spoken by the different groups a separate language, but the governments won’t allow it because such differences would be considered a sign of disunity. “Officially,” by the government, the different groups are called “dialects.” So how many languages are really spoken in China and how many dialects are there? I don’t know for one, and for two, I’m still confused.
We have such power over the words we use. The prophetic science-fiction novel 1984, by George Orwell, imagined a future in which bureaucrats were employed specifically to eliminate words from the dictionary. The theory held by Big Brother was that too many words led to confusion. Words give control. When the government can control the words we use, it can control the way we think.
In the distant future, both Macau and Hong Kong will no longer be governed by intermediate authorities, but directly by China. They will not issue separate visas. To visit either city, you will need a Chinese visa, even though the history, the culture, and the development of the two cities will always be very different.
So what does this mean about unity and diversity? Are the things that divide us merely words created that can be eliminated like “dialects?” Are concepts like “Lutheran,” “Buddhist,” “Catholic,” and “Jew,” real differences? All these words describe communities of people who are seeking meaning by articulating a relationship with that which is beyond comprehension. Could it be that governments and people made up these words to create these differences, or are they real?
I tend to think both. On a certain level, the differences are just a perception built up by words that we use. “You” are different than “me” because I have been told that you do things different than me. Therefore “I” have a whole set of words that I use to label “you,” but those labels themselves are not real.
At the same time, there are real differences between individuals, religions, cultures, and countries. I base this mostly on the way my stomach didn’t like all that Kim Chi I had back in South Korea.
I think that if we are going to find the mystery of unity in diversity, we have to accept the fact that there are indeed differences, but the differences are the things that are real, not the labels we use to describe them. The labels can be, and are created and deleted. They can be positive or pejorative. You can say that “Hong Kong” is China or that Hong Kong is Hong Kong. In the end, there is an island on the earth that was here longer than we had a name for it, and sparing Global Warming, will be here longer than the name we have for it is long forgotten. Labels aren’t real. Heck! To prove this, all you have to do is look at the United States Presidents who have the habit of changing the meaning of a word, in the same sentence that they use the very word. It is funny, in a scary sort of way.
The labels we use do have power, and we need to realize that. When I say, “I’m Catholic,” immediately, a hundred feelings and images rush to people’s minds, positive and negative. When I say, “I’m American,” even more images. What I think is important is that we move beyond labels and really get to know individuals, countries, cultures, etc. for who they are, not what the label indicates. To do this, I think we need to stop seeing the world with our minds, where labels live, but with our hearts, our innermost being. I have never had an experience in which my heart hated someone because they were different than me. In me, hatred based on difference, has always been something that came from my mind, the labels I use, and the perception I had. Even when I’m mad at someone, if I look at them with my heart, malice does not survive.