Dragon boat racing has become the world’s most popular water sport in history. Racing events are being conducted on rivers and lakes in thousands of communities around the world. The annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing is the largest in NYC. Last year it attracted over sixty thousand spectators. Though the majority are Asian New Yorkers, the event appears to become more and more multinational every year.
As a Flushing resident and prayer researcher, I’ve been attending almost every annual dragon boat festival in Flushing since 2002. I’ve become amazed not only with the rising popularity of the sport, but also how the universal moral and spiritual implications of the ancient legend behind the sport does not receive the attention it deserves.
The dragon boat race legend of the Chinese poet, Qu Yuan, is a powerful parable concealing a mystery for all people in all times. Wrapped in ancient history and poetry, it conveys a critical truth for our world awash in moral and social corruption. It seems reasonable to conclude that the archetypal power of the legend of Qu Yuan initially had something to do with rising popularity of dragon boat racing. Ironically, its success also contributed to the significance of Qu Yuan becoming lost in the mere image of a race.
There are a number of versions about Qu Yuan. One of the most popular is that he was a well-loved statesman and poet who lived in the Chinese kingdom of Qu over than 2000 years ago. Much like our day, the kingdom of Qu was troubled by widespread corruption that extended to the highest levels, reaching even as far as the king. Like a biblical prophet, Qu Yuan was the lone voice crying in the wilderness. His noble fight for truth and justice earned the envy and fear of other officials.
When Qu Yuan tried to persuade the king to mend his ways, he was falsely accused by corrupt government officials of treason. They succeeded at pressuring the king to have Qu Yuan banished. In despair, and perhaps as a final protest to awaken social conscience, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Mi Lo River leading to his death by drowning.
Respecting the minister as an upright and honest man, the local residents frantically jumped into their boats and raced out to search for Qu Yuan and rescue him. Fearing the dragon gods of the river might devour Qu Yuan, the local people sought to distract or appease the dragons by throwing dumplings into the waters.
(Great Chinese dumpling could distract anyone, maybe even dragons!)
Though unsuccessful, their attempt to save a courageous man representing virtue in a sea of corruption is what the Dragon Boat Festival is believed to commemorate every year. At its core, the dragon boat race is a dramatic re-enactment of ordinary citizens racing to keep honesty and integrity alive for future generations.
I am much more impressed by this legacy of Qu Yuan and its endurance for thousands of years than just watching the races by themselves. I can’t think of any other sport that can make such a socially conscience claim for its origins. I can’t think of any other exciting spectator event that can also provide us with a potential venue to inspire public resistance to widespread corruption in our day. How uniquely refreshing in the socially diversionary world of sports! Whether you are a participant or spectator, the prophetic character of Qu Juan challenges us to go beyond corporate sponsored dragon boat races into turbulent waters of challenging corporate greed.
Qu Juan provides some glaring ironies for the contemporary dragon boat race scene. Would he be comfortable with some of the sponsors of today’s dragon boat race, i.e., Citibank, HSBC, or JP Morgan Chase? Would he be comfortable in their sponsoring an event that is based upon his sacrifice knowing that these banks, among others, have been looting the public? If he were sitting in their board meetings, what would he be saying about their international Ponzi schemes and laundering of hundreds of billions of dollars from illegal drug sales?
The irony of Qu Juan is not limited, however, to Wall Street banksters and complicit politicians driving the global economy into an infinite black hole of debt, derivatives, and depression. There is a much deeper corruption. Qu Juan’s failure to reverse institutional vice and the people’s inability to save him says something about our universal spiritual condition. Something about you and me. People everywhere, at all levels of society are perpetually flawed. Our best efforts at righteousness may temporarily stem corruption, but apparently never enough to stop the downward spiral. No matter how much we complain, human corruption seems irreversible and programmed to eventually destroy us.
This difficult truth is further elaborated by Qu Juan’s poem, The Fisherman. In the poem a fisherman asks Qu Juan why he is exiled. Qu answered, because the “crowd is dirty.” The fisherman again asks, “if the people are dirty, why then don’t you wallow with them in the mud?” Qu answers honestly, that he too would be “sullied by the filth of the world.”
Qu’s insight into human nature should give us caution as we enter into the struggle against corporate greed. Even the best of us are subject to the same corruption that we so easily condemn. This insight echos biblical teaching:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24)
Does this mean that international bansksters should be left alone to get away with their crimes against the economies of nations unpunished? No way! As we hold them accountable, we need to become more honest about our own sins of complicity and recognize that none of us are any more or less morally superior then they:
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.“ "The poison of vipers is on their lips.” "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.“ "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes…” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:9-18, 23)
It may be argued that the moral and spiritual decadence of the “dirty crowd” is really what gives the power elites of our planet the ability to get away with their crimes for so long. If this is true, is there a solution to the dilemma of human corruption feeding corporate greed? How can unrighteous humans be made righteous again? Qu Juan’s attempt to find an answer this deeper question gives us more to ponder. In his most famous poem, “Encountering Sorrow,” Qu embarks upon a mystical journey in search of the wise celestial prince who would rule the people with justice. Riding into the heavens on a type of dragon boat, Qu’s search for the wise prince fails and ends in his profound disappointment. The corrupt condition of the earth will remain unchanged.
According to the Bible, Qu Juan was searching for the “mystery which for the ages past was kept hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:9). He did not know that heaven’s Prince of Peace, the Son of the Holy One, would one day Himself come to earth to as the Son of Man to initiate the restoration of true justice and righteousness on earth:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Qu Juan’s attempt to ascend into heaven and find justice restored to earth was frustrated because he sought for a mystery in God yet to be revealed. As Isaiah the Hebrew Prophet foretold, it was required that the Heavenly Prince Himself, the Son of God would descend to earth. He alone would come to identify with the “dirty crowd” and save us from the moral filth represented by the serpent’s bite:
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:13-16)
The descended Heavenly Prince fulfilled the requirements of our redemption pictured in the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. In Numbers 21:5-9 the people of Israel sinned and were bitten by fiery serpents. Moses was instructed by the Lord to set a bronze replica of a serpent upon a staff so that all those who looked at it would be healed of the serpent’s venomous bite and live. In the same way, Jesus Christ was lifted up so that all who believe and look to Him would be saved from spiritual death. In both illustrations agreeing with God’s prognosis of moral corruption and accepting divine intercession is necessary for the healing of the serpent-bitten race of men. We are like those diagnosed with a fatal condition that can only be restored to health through accepting immediate medical treatment.
The cross of Christ is God’s diagnostic instrument to reveal the full extent of the crucifying nature our moral illness. It is also the means by which the full extent of God’s redeeming love for the dirty crowd is manifested. As His Son was mocked and lifted up He cried out, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). At that moment of divine intercession, a great exchange took place:
"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
The sin of the world, yours and mine, was laid upon the sinless Son of God. At that moment in time the eternal justice we deserved was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice as He cried out, “My God, My God, was hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). In exchange for our sin and judgment, Christ’s righteousness is now offered to each member of the dirty crowd. He carried the sorrows of our separation from God so that you and I don’t have to. The Heavenly Prince that Qu Juan courageously sought after now offers you forgiveness of sin and restored righteousness.
Today you can be reconciled with holy and loving God who made full provision for your redemption! Begin by accepting His diagnostic assessment of your corrupt condition:
“…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:7-9)
The sacrifice of His Son alone meets the requirements to restore righteousness to and within you and I. Acknowledge that He was sent to became sin for you and die in your place. Accept Christ’s appeal to be reconciled to God through the exchange of your sin nature for His sinless righteous nature. Ask God by His grace, and not by any righteousness on your part, that He grant you His righteousness through Jesus Christ:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)
As grateful recipients of God’s righteousness, we humbly seek the increase of His government to others still wallowing in the mud. We call workers of injustice and corruption to arise out from the mud and join the team advancing heaven’s justice and righteousness on earth. Let’s strive together in the race that is marked out for us and already finished by our Team Leader:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This is one race you can’t afford to be on the losing side of…
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