Positive Psychology – do you mean joy?

Biblical principles sneak up everywhere to me: usually it’s literature, but today, it’s contemporary psychology.

From Australian psychologist Lea Waters’ talk on positive psychology.

There are various negative psychological states that characterise mental illness:
Depression
Anxiety
Insecurity
Addiction
Violence

When psychologists try to help people in such states, should they focus on the burden or the blessing? (Dealing with the negative state or encouraging positive attitudes.) Waters’ answer is BOTH.

Positive Psychology:
Hope
Optimism
Resilience
Gratitude
Perseverance
Empathy

She calls these attitudes “an armour against life’s challenges.”

Excuse me while I mentally connect each one to a facet of Christianity: Hope in God’s Plan, Trusting in God’s Goodness (through anything), Expecting and Undergoing Trials and Tribulations, Giving Thanks to God, Persevering in Obedience and Resisting Sin, Compassion. And are we not told to put on the armour of God? The assurance that if God is for us, none can be against us – not even the dark forces of hell.

Furthermore, that question of whether we focus on the burden or the blessing, and the answer being, “both.” When we recognise the burden of our complete depravity (sinfulness) AND the blessing of God’s complete goodness and sacrifice for our sakes we are much closer to the untouchable armour that is the joy of grace accepted.

Modern psychology just corroborated the truth of the gospel and Christian living.

Her talk is here:

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Banking in China (1 letter off from baking, and much less pleasant)

Being a Canadian abroad fully intending on returning to Canada in the future (read: planning to pay taxes), from about November, I started preparing to wire some money to my Canadian bank account. I will try to be informative by listing out the complete requirements at the end. [See bottom.] People say you don’t necessarily need all that stuff if you just ask a Chinese national to do it for you, if you can find one that you trust with a big sum of money. It’s not technically ‘legal’ given that there are personal yearly limits specified, and it isn’t really illegal since the lines are blurry if you just give the money to a friend to transfer for you, but I want to do this right! I’m not trying to evade taxes, and I see that I will be fully within my transfer limits as a foreigner. This is who I am: I diligently build and maintain my credit rating – both generously using and fully paying off my credit card. I will do this too, even if it means I need to obtain some official documents. With this in mind I research precisely what I need to do according to Chinese law and bank rules, looking online and asking my bank representative.
  1. November. I walk into the bank and am served by a young man who appears to know little English. He one-fingers each letter of the bank address etc. onto the form, with frequent spelling mistakes. (Wince.) He takes so long that the Foreign Transfers Counter announces their closure by the time I have the form printed. The single Foreign Transfers Counter (out of 20+ counters at this big branch) is only open 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00. Each customer sits (yes, there is a chair… hint hint) at the counter for an average of 45 minutes before the business is done. The wait? No less than 30 minutes.
  2. December, the next time I have the leisure to go to the bank. I get to the foreign transfers counter after much waiting, but am told that I am missing a 9-digit CC Code. After some strained yelling across the clear plastic barrier, I obtain that this code is Institution Number + Branch number.
    “All I have is 8 digits with those numbers put together… can’t you use a SWIFT code? Isn’t that an international banking standard?”
    “ICBC cannot. You could try HSBC or Bank of China.”
    “You mean I can just take money there and do it?”
    “No, you would need to open a bank account with them.”
    “You’re telling me to take my money to another bank and open an account with them?”

    • In Which I Call TD Canada Trust Long Distance and a Helpful But Confused Representative Tells Me There is No 9-digit “CC Code” in Existence
    • In Which I Feel Vindicated but Trapped and Shed Some Hot Tears
  3. January… The young man who doesn’t know much English can recognise me now (and maybe inwardly curses the fact that I am at the bank once again), but introduces me to a Foreign Currency Expert. She says, “Oh… for Canada we usually just add a “0” in front of your Institution and Branch Number to make the 9-digit CC Code.” I had found this suggestion online already, but needed confirmation from them as the sources weren’t specific to China and weren’t fully official. We’re cutting it close to closing time but I miraculously get to sit down at the counter when a loud lady leans in between me and the counter and yells that she’s in a huge rush so the Foreign Transfers Counter guy decides to help her instead. “Excuse me?” “Come back after lunch.” I am flabbergasted and dislike his face, but get up and leave the bank quietly upset. He is, after all, the sole guardian of the counter and I cannot argue. I can’t just come back later though – I have school activities to tend to.
  4. February! I almost lose hope that there are too many people ahead of me in the queue, but the couple who are just before me seem to be having trouble with the Foreign Transfers Counter guy. He keeps yelling “CC Code” and they keep yelling, “Isn’t this the code?” (They have a SWIFT code, apparently from the alphabetical letters on their form they wave at him.) I smile sympathetically behind them and think, “Aha, my suffering will be useful!” At first they think I’m trying to cut the line or complain that they’re going to take too long (fair suspicion, given my own preceding experience), and then they see my form and that I’m also trying to wire to Canada, and begin to trust what I have to say, being that I know each of their frustrations and confusions. The Foreign Transfers Counter guy doesn’t even trust me at first, but once I speak loud enough to show my knowledge and show him my correct “CC Code” he grants that I know what I’m talking about. They give up as they realise that they don’t know the branch number and can’t find out immediately. I sit down at the counter at long last! How long does it take to complete my transaction, minus the 30 minute waiting time? 1 hour. Good heavens.
    Tired Foreign Currency Transfer guy: “You know, you should just ask a Chinese national to do this for you. It’s much less of a hassle. You don’t need all this paperwork.”
Alright, what is wrong with Chinese administration? There’s so much red tape that rebelling against an organisation is what the organisation’s representative tells you you should do. (Open an account with another bank; skip the paperwork by taking the dodgy shortcut.)
This motley of administrative traffic jams and encouragements to cut corners is precisely the kind of culture in China that means that the owner of a factory dropping heavy pollutants into a river can suffer a tiny bit of bad press, close down, and then reopen on a different river. On the other hand, you have the all too familiar, ‘Food item X is reported to have been faked with chemical Y which can cause health problems Z, T, U. Things like this make me sad and ashamed to be Chinese. These are the things we are known for in the world, not wonderful literature or innovative practices. We are a nation of ancient glories and modern iniquities.
Yes, today I am getting down on ‘my people’ and perhaps a bit too harshly, but maybe if it made more sense to play fair in China, she wouldn’t have such levels of pollution in nature and society.
——————– How to remit money from China as a foreigner ——————–
Tips for wire transfers! [See above for other details. Below is just a list of supporting documents needed.]
UPDATE: It worked! 14 February 2014, TD Canada Trust indicates that it received my amount, less handling fees. That’s pretty fast! It got there the next day. Wonders. (I had to pay fees to my Chinese bank and to my Canadian bank. 177 RMB and 32.5 CAD respectively, though I’m sure this changes from time to time.  Rather hefty at 65 bucks per wire, so don’t wire minuscule amounts!)
Officially, a foreigner can remit / wire up to 50,000 USD abroad per year. That’s plenty. You need the following items to transfer money abroad from China as a foreigner.
Before going to the bank, gather these:
  • Pay stubs enough to cover the amount you wish to remit (stamped with the official company chop from your employer) – 工资清单
  • A tax receipt obtained from the local tax office 地税局 (stamped with company chop) – 个人完税证明
    • Fun fact: The bottom of your tax receipt reads, “Thank you for your contribution to China’s flourishing and prosperity!” 感谢您为祖国繁荣昌盛做出的贡献!
  • Original work contract  (stamped with company chop)

At the bank, find and fill out these forms:

  • Before you get to the counter: Application for Funds Transfers (Overseas) – 境外汇款申请书
  • Before the counter: write a ‘letter’ of application (I, _______, apply at bank X to purchase Y amount of currency Z and to remit this amount to [insert country here] for [whatever purposes]. ID/passport number, date, signature.)
  • At the counter: 因私购汇申请书 – no English name, but it’s another application form

Untangle

When I had to sort through some thoughts, emotions, and behaviour I couldn’t understand or control, my mother, a psychologist, recommended I try breaking it down based on Virginia Satir’s model of personal analysis. Being a thoughtful sort of confused person, I was extremely excited about the prospect of analysing my confusion, but my mother warned me to try it first and see if it helped before getting so excited about it. Well, one year on, I say it did help, for it certainly made even me consider more facets than my mind usually gets to. I was forced to be rational about something I really wanted to be on an irrational rampage about.

Sometimes there are ways that we have concluded we should be behaving or even ways we can’t help behaving, or sometimes we know the ways we should be coping, or how we think we should be feeling, perceptions we don’t realize we have, expectations we want to be true, yearnings we wish we didn’t have, and a self we perceive ourselves to be based on circumstances or assumptions. Letting that fester as an indistinguishable mess is like letting weeds consume your garden; the plants that you want to grow will not be able to grow. The behaviours or feelings you want cannot grow, and the yearnings you have may not be realistic or you may not even have admitted to having them.

Although I don’t think Virginia Satir meant this to be religious (rather, the submerged iceberg smacks of Freud’s subconscious), I find it a helpful way to figure out what and how to confess and pray. Facing a blank piece of paper draws a blank, but having categories like this is like filling in the blanks. Wherefore confession if you don’t see your state clearly?

Satir Iceberg

The iceberg metaphor in the Satir model… in a bilingual poster!

Computer Programming and Secular Fiction

A friend of mine expressed recently that he wishes he had been more efficient about solving a problem while he was programming (that is, computer programming).

As I lie awake realizing I should have taken a sleeping aid until I’m fully over some jet lag, I turned this thought over in my mind, realizing that this is precisely my sentiment towards the way God’s plans seem to hash themselves out whether on the grand scale of history or in my personal life. Why couldn’t he have been more efficient? Just save us and be done with it, for goodness sakes. As God, could he not have taken out the several wrong turns or daft moments his people had/has/will have? But of course, mistakes are often the greatest teachers. Even as I think this I begin to think fondly of the (mild) troubles in my life..!

When I learned briefly the basics of programming in Python, the instructors gave us a function design recipe. When you create functions to do calculations for you, there are steps to follow in their creation. You consider the outcomes you want, the parameters you need to have, the description of what you’re doing, and then actually write the function. But wait, there’s more. Then you test it, and often there are things to tweak. Usually, the better the initial planning, the fewer tweaks you need to make. But with more complex calculations, there are bound to be more things to consider and more things that can be overlooked. As I learned how to use a programming language for the first time, in order to learn how the language worked, it was actually more helpful for me to purposefully make some mistakes and see their results than to just do the exercise and move on!

What is that but a suitable metaphor for how God could want to purposefully let us follow him in an inefficient manner? Fail, fail, fail and keep at it. It is probably so that we learn better deeper fonder. After all, he has always been preeminently interested in the state of our hearts. Haughty or humble? Hard or soft? Unwilling to change, or ready to be renewed?

Metaphors are great because it lets someone perceive something they do not already understand. Another friend of mine once illustrated this finely: you can’t say that those steps on the hill we’re going to walk on today are just like the ones on the Great Wall of China if I haven’t been to the Great Wall. But after I walk on those steps, the metaphor is useful. Then I’ll know what the steps of the Great Wall are like because I’ll know one half of the metaphor.

This is why this article about the importance of reading fiction rings true. Reading good fiction is no less important than reading good theology because these creations are our connection to the minds of this world. (And I suppose this encompasses good movies, good hobbies, and other worthy pastimes that may otherwise be deemed worldly.) I have quite the list building up of literature I must read. Silas Marner, here we come. (But first, sleep.)

Event Planning 101

  1. Never completely trust an “I wanna go!!!” Save yourself the heartache. Don’t get excited until you’re all on the road / at the party … etc.
  2. Asking “Do you want to go on a road trip?” is the same as asking “Do you like road trips?” It gives you no indication of whether the person will actually go on a road trip with you on any day you suggest.
  3. Instead, ask, “Do you want to go camping at Location Alpha with myself and so-and-so from the umpteenth of Mayvember to the impteenth of Apruary? It’ll cost $300. We’re leaving by 19:07 and returning by 15:29.”
  4. Remember that your friends are still your friends, even if they keep bailing on you. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Sometimes, I feel that righteousness alone would not actually be that hard. (Now really, it is, but let us conjecture for a short while.) That would be to claim, perhaps rightly, that you are in the right and have been wronged and there’s no argument about it anymore.

But to have righteousness with grace and mercy and peace is another thing completely. To be in the right but not to boast, or be proud, or seek to dishonour others by pointing out that you were in the right (unlike somebody), and not be easily angered, and yet after that to keep no record of wrongs, and then following all the aftermath to still want to trust and hope and persevere? This is where the Bible gives us a far far higher standard than to merely be righteous.

Bilbo Baggins makes a decision

As one of those who watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey within the first 24 hours of its release in Canada, I can say that I enjoyed it.

The following concerns one of the most chilling moments of The Hobbit for me, though it’s probably not what you would typically consider a chilling moment. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, although if you’re against watching trailers, this does reference content in the trailer.

You can watch a snippet from 2:00 in this trailer if you wish, just of the exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf.

Bilbo Gandalf

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: …No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
[Click image for original website.]

Like Bilbo, I want that assurance of familiarity. Gandalf’s words that you and others will not be the same are almost like a nightmare.

Bilbo Baggins’ fear of change and strangers and uncertainty, his apprehension at leaving all that he knows and loves and values, and his reluctance to dive into a life-changing adventure are all things that I, at the depths of my play-it-safe nature, very much identify with.

This fear is one of the huge challenges for humanity, as expressed in so many of the stories in our culture: letting go of what could have been for what could be.

Frodo Baggins leaving the Shire for the Fellowship of the Ring.

Jay Gatsby refusing to let go of his ideal of Daisy.

Daisy Buchanan pursuing her ideal of love. (Funny how ideal is not far from the spelling of idol.)

Simba leaving his desert oasis paradise to challenge Scar on Pride Rock.

Spiderman taking on his burden of  great responsibility that comes with great power.

The twelve disciples answering Jesus’ call to follow him.

Again and again, we are shown that the world is not static, and that we must adapt as life happens, but we don’t always respond favourably. Most of us are control freaks, in the sense that if things are out of control and beyond our zone of comfort, we freak out. The thing is, if we see what we are as fine-and-dandy, we will abhor change; if we have a healthy discontent that recognizes how we could be changed for the better, we would be more open to change, in reasonable proportions. (I’m not talking complete overhaul for no reason.)

Now, I know my resolution to this fear, and it is something I remind myself of all the time. Yet this is a recurring concern that comes back to taunt me, in case I can be hoodwinked to forget the source of my confidence, so then I fend it off with my sword. I shall leave this post unresolved.

The Bottom of the Peanut Butter Jar

The best and worst experiences of eating peanut butter usually happen at the same time. Using the tip of a butter knife to scrape the bottom of a jar is like using a paintbrush to sweep the floor, or a Q-Tip to wipe down the counter. Be that as it may, it often works out that you need to open the next jar of peanut butter to finish spreading your piece of bread/toast/waffle/apple etc.. Dunking that knife into the smooth creamy surface of a full jar is very satisfying. You could take a chunk as big as your fist if you wanted.

Full and Empty PB

Life  seems to happen like that too. The best of times and the worst of times often come on the heels of the other. Although I dislike being in the worst of times, I’ve developed an acquired taste for them because when you’re on edge like that, high on discontent, high on consciousness of your limitations and faults, high on awareness of the forthcoming expiry of the broken world, you’re better at not letting the world drag you into slothful stupor. You are purposeful with how you spend your physical, emotional, mental energy, the little you can muster. Bittersweet.

Have you noticed that when you ingest something bitter, it can leave a nice sweet aftertaste in your mouth, and if you eat a bunch of sweet things, it can leave a nasty bitter-sour aftertaste? This is similar to life situations. When things are hard, you go looking to God for help, because you need reliable help. You actually seek Him like He is the water of eternal life. The Word on which to live, because man does not live on bread alone. This makes a bitter situation sweet. When things are mediocre, same old same old, kinda nice, sweet, smooth sailing, or some combination thereof, we get by on our own. This too, is bittersweet. Sweetbitter. You do it but you know it’s nasty.

Did Charles Dickens not write, in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…?”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Not that I agree with Dickens completely, but don’t you see in that quote a certain sense of awareness of eternity awakened in this state of superlative existence — in this state of living in the extremes? I hear many people tell me they wish life were boring and didn’t have all these ups and downs. I don’t think so: the middle ground is my least favourite time to be in. I am least proud of the state of my heart at these times. At these times I have, and I think it’s natural for most people to have, a take-it-or-leave-it approach to God.