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(Ricardo Alves/iStock)

Popsicle philosophy

Simple pleasures can remind us of what we have in common

There’s a popular Korean saying that I always heard growing up: “You can’t spit at a smiling face.” I’ve never spat in anyone’s face before, smiling or scowling, but I did notice this: I can never seem to despise someone enjoying a popsicle. 

Hear me out. I grew up attending public schools in Singapore. I don’t know about now, but back in the 1990s, school discipline in the public schools I attended bordered on child abuse. I saw teachers do horrific things to young students in the name of discipline. In fourth grade, we had one particularly vicious teacher who was known to be the disciplinary matron of the school. Almost every day I would hear her shrill screeches at some poor kid who didn’t tuck his shirt in or was tardy to class. Or I’d cringe at the loud, wet smacks echoing down the hallway as she slapped the sweaty backs of non-compliant students. Nobody liked this teacher, and I despised her with all my 9-year-old heart. Until I saw her eating a popsicle. 

It was during recess, and I spotted her standing alone on the second floor leaning against the balcony, sucking on a little popsicle (or “lolly,” as we call it there). It was hot and humid, as it is every day in Singapore, and she was clearly enjoying that sweet, cold treat—her lips tainted with the neon color of the popsicle, blissfully oblivious to me looking up at her. 

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden, I felt a rush of warm feelings for this woman whom I had once detested. There was just something about her enjoying that simple, ageless, even vulnerable act of licking a popsicle. For that moment, I saw her not as a terrifying banshee but as a fellow human being who wasn’t so terrible after all. That feeling was nothing profound, but innate and organic—it was a 9-year-old girl somehow relating with a middle-aged woman through the shared experience of delighting in an icy popsicle on a hot day. And for those few minutes, I genuinely loved that woman.

As messy and complicated as we human beings are, we’re also wonderfully simple, lovable creations. Whatever our gender or age or ethnicity, we cry when we’re sad, laugh when we’re delighted, eat when we’re hungry, kiss when we’re in love, hug when we comfort. From everything I’ve learned in the Bible about God’s heart for us, I believe God laughed with joy when He created us in His image, and His smile is imprinted in our sacred dignity as human beings. Stripped of all our hurts and wounds, our politics, our selfishness and stubbornness, we all naturally yearn to love and be loved. We were made to enjoy the sweet, precious life that God gave us. As broken as our world is, it’s still full of daily miracles: the pink sun rising and birds chirping every morning, or the fact that despite all the guaranteed heartaches and disappointments, we human beings still choose to love someone every day. 

Perhaps because much of my interaction with humankind has been limited to iPhone blurbs during the pandemic, I had forgotten this beautiful side of humanity. Over the past few weeks, my frustrations and disappointments at my fellow human beings—especially at my brothers and sisters in Christ—have been rising like a dangerous tidal wave, threatening to crush my love and faith in others. 

Perhaps you feel the same way. I certainly see similar attitudes on social media as people—particularly Christians—react passionately to hot-button issues such as racial justice, protests, mask mandates, church reopenings, you name it. I felt shame as my non-Christian friends sent me texts genuinely questioning certain Christians’ rhetoric and decisions, felt irritation when I saw statements that so opposed my own beliefs and values, and frankly, felt a lot of self-righteousness and judgmentalism in doing so. I wanted to argue and reason my way to prove my point, believing that maybe more rigorous debates and nuanced understandings could change minds (incidentally, the only minds I thought needed changing were those of others, not mine).

And then something happened in my family that forced me to think long and hard about the intrinsic, sacred value of human life—human life, period. As I was pondering these things, I read a tweet from author and WORLD Radio commentator Trillia Newbell that cleared the fog of idolatries in my heart. She tweeted: “I believe that much of our problems with each other isn’t a lack of nuance or charity or patience or grace. It’s a lack of love. We don’t love each other and if we can admit it and confess it, maybe all those other things will change.” 

Ouch. Trillia was right: At the core of it, what I was missing was love. With love God formed us human beings, and with that love we are able to love others. That’s when I thought back again to that day as a fourth-grader when I watched my teacher enjoy a popsicle and felt an unforced, raw surge of love for her—not because she reformed herself and became kinder to her students. It was because even as an immature kid lacking sophisticated words to describe that experience, I was experiencing that God-given capability to see someone not just for her behaviors but for who she is—a fellow wonderful, adorable, glorious human being. It really is that simple. 

Imagine what our world would be like if we all loved each other—period. No conditions, no reservations based on political ideology or religious denomination. Just pure love. Imagine what our Christian witness would look like to a world so full of hate and ugliness. Imagine that we responded to angry retorts with love. From experience, I’ve seen genuine kindness tame even the most irate, stubborn individuals, even if we still end with disagreements. 

Love is a God-given response that, to me, is so hard only when I believe it is hard, and so easy when I take the time to step back from my own ideas and see others through God’s eyes. Oh, may our Lord help clear all the clutter in our hearts that obstructs us from that innate ability to love, even if we have to imagine everyone sucking a popsicle in order to do so. 

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Ng Han Guan/AP

Chinese policemen march past the former United States Consulate in Chengdu on Monday, July 27. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Tensions rise between U.S. and China

As relations worsen, Mike Pompeo says “distrust and verify” in dealing with China

On the morning of July 27, uniformed marine security guards lowered the American flag at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu for the last time, signally the compound’s official closure. Outside, police shut down the streets surrounding the building after large crowds had gathered, taking selfies and milling around after Beijing gave the United States 72 hours to close the consulate.

After 35 years, the United States no longer has a mission in western China, a large swath of land that includes the Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou provinces as well as the politically sensitive Tibet Autonomous Region and the megacity of Chongqing.

Beijing’s order came as retaliation for the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston over espionage claims. Tensions over China’s human rights abuses, intellectual property theft, the origins of the coronavirus, and the South China Sea have recently rankled relations between the two largest economies in the world. “We must induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a July 23 speech that declared Chinese engagement a failure.

Residents in high-rises neighboring the Chinese Consulate General in Houston first noticed something amiss on the night of July 21 as they observed people burning documents in the consulate’s courtyard. They called firefighters and police who arrived on the scene but refrained from entering the compound as it is sovereign territory.

Hours later, China’s foreign ministry said the United States had ordered the consulate’s closure within 72 hours, a move it called an “unprecedented escalation” in tensions. By early the next day, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus confirmed the consulate’s closure, saying the move was necessary to "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information” but did not give additional details.

On July 24, a Justice Department official told reporters the espionage and influence activities of the Houston consulate rose “to a level that threatens our national security.” He pointed to an FBI investigation that discovered a network of Chinese nationals in 25 cities who concealed their connections to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in their student visa applications.

So far, U.S. authorities have charged and arrested four of these PLA members for visa fraud, including a woman who hid in the San Francisco consulate before her arrest. The official noted consulates helped them “evade and obstruct our investigation.”

He said specifically the Houston consulate guided Chinese researchers in stealing medical research and sensitive materials from institutes in the area and coerced Chinese citizens whom China considered wanted fugitives to return to China.

Dean Cheng, senior research fellow for Chinese Political and Military Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, noted that the move to shut down consulates is uncommon as typically countries expel a number of diplomats from the opposing country. But if the reason is espionage, closing the mission would be extremely disruptive for intelligence gathering.

The move to shut down consulates is uncommon as typically countries expel a number of diplomats from the opposing country.

China denies the claims, calling them “malicious slander” and retaliating by ordering the closure of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Cheng noted that the closure of the Chengdu consulate would result in losses for both the United States and China. The mission provides consular support for thousands of Americans living in Western China and issues visas for Chinese people interested in visiting or moving to the United States. Diplomats are also vital in seeing how things are going on the ground and interacting with locals, and the expulsion will make it more difficult for Americans to understand China as authorities are also kicking out journalists.

“U.S.-China relations are probably at a nadir, this really is some of the worst relations since 1972,” Cheng said, referring to the year that former President Richard Nixon visited Beijing and opened relations with the People’s Republic of China. He noted that in the past when relations have hit rock bottom—such as after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia, or the 2001 collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea—the two countries always had trade to fall back on. But now, trade issues are also part of the problem.

Pompeo delivered one of his pointed speeches against China at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., where he noted how the former president’s policy of engagement with China is no longer effective as China has grown in power and economic might and hardened in its authoritarian ways.

“We must admit a hard truth that should guide us in the years and decades to come, that if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done,” Pompeo said. He noted the United States needed to act based not on what Chinese leaders say, but what they do: “We must distrust and verify.”

Pompeo invited Chinese dissidents to the speech, including former Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan. He called on the U.S. government to engage with “dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party,” including Uighurs, Hong Kong democracy leaders, and other activists. He also called for the United States to work with “like-minded nations” to counter China before China changes the rest of the world with its economic might.

Cheng believes this tougher attitude toward China indicates that the United States is paying attention to issues like Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as China’s incursion in the South China Sea and intellectual property theft.

“It puts them on notice,” Cheng said. “It makes them aware some of their actions will have costs.” He pointed to how more and more countries have banned the Chinese tech giant Huawei from their 5G networks and noted it’s the result of years of the United States pointing out what China is doing and condemning it: “The U.S.’s audience is not just China. It’s everybody else.”

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AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

A Seattle Police officer rides a bicycle as people pack up their belongings from a homeless encampment. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Rushed answers don’t solve complex policing problems

Slogans and social media posts oversimplify complicated issues

I first learned about the “defund the police” movement, like many others, via social media—that place where everyone has a platform to post or repost very complex ideas into 280 characters or a square box. So when I saw people I follow call passionately for defunding the police—whether it’s outright abolishing them or diverting parts of their budgets to social services—what I saw wasn’t well-thought out ideas so much as a call to reimagine a better world. 

I have no problems with people getting together to imagine making the world a more just, more equal place for everyone. I believe that’s noble and even necessary—so many societal ills come from a failure to imagine outside of prescribed narratives and narrow-minded understandings of complex issues. But when I saw “defund the police” advocates proposing to divest money from the police and put it toward homelessness and mental health issues, I sighed in frustration: Why would we take money from a flawed system and give it to an even more broken system? Anyone who’s worked long and honestly in the homeless or mental health sector knows that both are also tragically broken systems. 

Before COVID-19 and protests spun our news cycle into a crazy, never-ending hamster race, I had been reporting on the broken mental health system in California. I followed Julian Canales, a Los Angeles Police Department officer who now works as the senior lead officer of the Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU), an operation within LAPD that works with people with mental illnesses. I ended up featuring Canales in my recent story on defunding the police. 

A little background: MEU uses a co-response model, which means both police officers and mental health clinicians together respond to mental health calls. They occupy the same floor at LAPD’s headquarters. At any given time, up to 16 co-responder teams are dashing across LA in response to 911 calls. The goal is to provide a “humane, cooperative, compassionate, and effective law enforcement response” by connecting those with mental illness to services instead of arresting them—or worse. Last year, the system received 20,758 calls for service, handled 7,871 of them, and put 6,281 individuals on an involuntary hold (called a “5150 hold” in California). 

Sounds good, right? Much better than deploying police officers with no training on mental health issues to handle people suffering psychotic breakdowns. Much better than the old-school approach: cuffing a screaming, delusional person. Or, as Canales put it, “just grab them and put them on a gurney.” All it takes is for that man or woman to wield something that looks like a weapon, and any police officer would feel justified to shoot that person on the spot. But that poor person may be helplessly reacting to a biochemical sickness in the brain. If we’re going to talk about the injustice of police shootings: In 2015 and 2016, one out of four police shootings involved someone with a mental illness, some studies show. 

So, isn’t something like MEU what some “defund the police” folks are advocating for right now? Many people rightly point out that police officers shouldn’t have to deal with everything society fails to take care of, such as mentally ill homeless people who in the vast majority of cases are not violent, dangerous, or criminal. Even police officers I talked to agreed. One officer in Texas told me, “Most officers would welcome someone who’s an actual professional coming in and taking the calls for all the mental health problems.” He suggested creating a 24-hour response team of social workers to deal with mental health issues. Well, MEU is a 24-hour program, and it includes mental health professionals. 

I found Canales to be a pretty compassionate, friendly guy with great bedside manners—and a heart full of frustrations at the reality of his limitations after eight years of working at MEU. 

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