Longshan Temple: Finding Cultural Balance While Traveling

Longshan Temple is one of the top tourist destinations in Taipei. Built in 1738, it was a gathering place for Chinese settlers to worship, and continues to be a place of worship today for Buddhists, Taoists, and other deities.

I always have mixed feelings about visiting temples. I love the intricate architecture, as well as observing the rituals and cultural differences. But as a Christian, it often leaves me feeling conflicted. And, our recent visit as mere tourists to Longshan Temple left me with questions and unsettled feelings I didn’t expect.

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Greeted by color

6L3A6889When we first entered the grounds, I was assaulted by the colors, the flowers, the waterfalls, the dragon carvings, the crowds of tourists and worshippers alike, it was overwhelming. We hadn’t even made it inside the temple walls yet. Once inside, it got more intense. Tables full of food and flowers for sale covered the courtyard, which we quickly found out were for offerings to both deities, and for deceased loved ones. The range was impressive, everything from huge platters of perfectly ripened fruits, on down to bags of chips. I smirked as I whispered to Dan, “It looks like a marketplace in here. Think we could overturn these tables? WWJD?” We refrained. All joking aside, it was a lot to process. As we looked around, we saw other tourists engaged in the activities, although it was obvious they were just doing it for the experience, or maybe out of respect for the locals. But are there other ways of showing respect?

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Offerings for sale

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We entered the back of the temple, where the back wall was covered with hundreds of votive candles. I didn’t plan on taking any pictures, it just didn’t feel right. The votives represent people who are deceased, and it’s considered a sacred space. While we were taking it all in, an older lady made eye contact with me, pointed at my camera which was dangling on my hip, not raised to my eye, and she shook her finger at me while shaking her head. OK, no pictures. Got it. Wasn’t actually planning on it. Then she caught Dan looking at the back screen of his camera, and began speaking loudly towards him. Again, he wasn’t taking pictures, unlike several people around us, but for some reason she singled us out. Maybe it was because we were the only Western tourists not participating in the rituals, maybe she saw the “Light of Jesus” in us and it upset her spirit, who knows. But, we were definitely targeted.

We motioned an apology (although we had nothing to apologize for), and tried to convey that we really weren’t taking pictures. We were with some Filipino friends who were visiting Taipei at the same time we were, and she started in on them. They didn’t understand her, but since they “looked” like they might, she continued to vent at them. Eventually she moved on, but she watched us closely as we followed her from a distance.

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Back of the temple. No photo available.

I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t offended, but it did get me thinking. How should I have reacted? She was asking us to respect her beliefs, but they didn’t match mine. Where do we draw the line? Part of me wanted to say (or yell at her), “Well, these aren’t my beliefs, you can’t tell me what to do, I don’t answer to your gods.” I could have torn through the temple, destroying the idols, in the “name of Jesus”. But, in Bible, it talks about destroying our OWN idols, not someone else’s. Is it our place? If a non-Christian came into our churches and pulled down a crucifix, claiming “It’s an idol, my god says it’s OK!” would we be impressed? Would we rush to convert? So often, we take a prideful approach to evangelism, or really life in general. “I’ll just confront her since she doesn’t share my view, I’ll show her”, or “I’m not going to let the darkness in her control me. I’m above it. I’m blessed and chosen, so I have license to do this.”

But, what good does that do? Does it build relationship? Does it foster better understanding of different beliefs? (and I ask that question of both sides) And, probably most importantly, does it show the love of Jesus? Yes, Jesus overturned the tables in the temple, but remember, that happened in His Father’s house. This was not my Father’s house.

No, we didn’t spend any additional time with our new friend, but if she did in fact see the light of Jesus in us, I hope and pray that our respect for “her space” spoke to her more than any confrontation could have. Sometimes evangelism comes in the form of quiet respect for others.

Getting there: Take the Blue Line 5 to Longshan Temple, the temple is located just north of the station plaza, Exit 1.

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