A current member of UCOH holds an MFA degree in piano performance, teaches complex material in her second language, started work on another master’s degree in computer science “because it was fun,” and traces her ancestry back to an important 18th-century emperor of China.
Meet Jennifer Feiereisel, who was born and raised in the island nation of Taiwan.
Her father was a navy mechanical engineer who arrived in Taiwan in 1949 when Chiang Kai-Shek’s Republic of China government retreated to the island. Her mother descended from the original immigrants from southern China. When it came time for the birth of their first child, the young couple lived in the mountains, where Jennifer’s father worked building dams. To find good medical facilities meant a trip down to a city, so the birth of little Mo-Chou Lang (郎莫愁), as the baby was soon named, occurred in the city of Keelung, on the northern tip of the island.
Jennifer said her favorite memory of childhood is being sent in the summer to stay with her father in the mountains. Her mother, who was busy taking care of subsequent new babies and a father-in-law, was happy to share the responsibility with her husband. So when Jennifer was old enough she enjoyed long summer visits with her dad in the employee village in the mountains. She said, “I think to this day my love for hiking in the mountains comes from those memories.”
It was also in an employee village that she began taking piano lessons at age seven from another employee’s wife. “I think we must have had a radio that played classical music,” she said. “I just had an immediate connection to it. To me, classical music is communion with God. It’s a different dimension of reality for me.”
The first classical piece she remembers hearing was Prince Igor, by Russian composer Alexander Borodin. “It just changed my world,” she said. (She demonstrated the melody on her piano, and I recognized it as “Stranger in Paradise,” which, I later learned, is taken from Borodin’s original composition.)
The public middle school required study of English, which was her first exposure to a second language. By high school she knew she wanted to major in music. After graduation and a series of very competitive exams and auditions, she was accepted to the music department of Tunghai University in Taichung, one of only four music departments in the country.
During her senior year, a visiting professor from the United States encouraged her to continue her studies in the U.S., specifically at Indiana University, where he taught. “I applied to IU and several other schools in the U.S.,” she said, “but for some reason I didn’t get accepted at Indiana. In hindsight, if I hadn’t also applied to and been accepted at the University of Illinois, I wouldn’t have met Neil.”
She arrived at the Urbana-Champaign campus in spring of 1985 and began the two-year master’s program in piano performance. At that time Neil was in Japan as an exchange student at Kobe University. They met when he returned to Illinois in the fall of that year, but after Neil returned to Japan, the relationship continued across the miles, and the two were married following Jennifer’s graduation in 1987. After a year and a half of living and working in Japan, they returned to Urbana-Champaign for Neil’s turn at a master’s degree in computer science.
In the meantime, because of her intense focus on music, Jennifer thought she might have missed out on some other things. “So I decided to experiment,” she said. “For fun, I thought I’d see what computer science was all about. For the first year, I took calculus, trigonometry, all the prerequisites, then was accepted to the master’s program. I had a scholarship, and I was a TA. But then I decided that was enough experimenting, and I had learned all I wanted to know about computer science, so I didn’t finish.” And besides, Neil had accepted a job in Austin.
In 1992 Mo-Chou Lang officially became Jennifer Lang Feiereisel, at the same time she gained U.S. citizenship. When required to choose an English name during Conversational English classes in Taiwan, she had chosen Jennifer, just because she liked the sound of it, and then it became official. She also conferred a Chinese name on Neil, which he uses when visiting family in Taiwan.
And speaking of family, Jennifer’s family history is intertwined with the history of China. Her grandfather descended from the Manchurian minority, which ruled during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and the most renowned emperor of that dynasty (Qianlong) was the son of her grandfather’s ancestor, the empress Hsiao-Sheng.
Her grandfather was a prominent writer, and it was from the title of one his books that the name Mo-Chou came. He also was a member of the Chinese underground and was captured by and escaped from the Japanese during World War II. This grandfather’s son—Jennifer’s father—lied about his age in order to join the military, and the family has never since been sure of his actual age. Jennifer’s parents, as well as three of her four siblings, still live in Taiwan.
After their move to Austin and the birth of daughter Amy and son Evan, Neil and Jennifer began looking for a church. Although Tunghai University was founded by the Methodists, she hadn’t been involved in much religious practice during her time there, and for a time in high school even had decided she was an atheist. Jennifer’s earliest exposure to religion had been to Catholicism at a church in a town near her Taiwanese home. “The first time I went in the church, I had this sense of something washing over me that I had never felt before,” she remembered. “It’s similar to the mystical experience I have with classical music. It was a beyond-the-world experience I’d never had in any other way.”
Although her family in Taiwan didn’t have a strong religious practice, Jennifer had always been a seeker. “If you are seeking truth, truth will find you,” she said. By the time she met Neil, her ideas had shifted enough that she then considered herself an agnostic. “When I met Neil, our first conversation was about God. He was raised in Christian Science, and our ideas seemed to mesh.”
After trying several local churches, in 1995 they noticed an ad in Hill Country News about a newly forming church and immediately felt at home when they attended the very first service of Unity Church of the Hills. “When we found Unity,” she said, “I didn’t have any of the baggage that so many people have from their childhood. No matter who was trying to talk to me, all I heard was the Truth. All the untruth just passed away.”
A few years later, Rev. Ron Scott began a study in something called A Course in Miracles, with about a hundred people attending the first meeting. They started a study group. “When we couldn’t find a babysitter, Neil and I alternated attending it,” Jennifer said. “The study group was my ‘happy hour’ of the week.”
From the beginning, the Course just resonated with both of them. They were in the Wednesday night study group for a long time, and Neil still facilitates it today.
Rev. Steve Bolen was a long-time student of the Course, and after he became senior minister of UCOH he supported the community with an eight-week series as an introduction to it. They instituted a once-a-month Wednesday night service around A Course in Miracles.
Jennifer said that as she became aware of the constraints of the study group format, she began to feel a nudge to create another way for people to learn the Course material. She finally recognized the increasingly strong “nudge” as guidance from the Holy Spirit, and the idea for a new class was born.
“In 2011, I gained clarity on how I could be most effective in sharing the Course with others. That’s when I started my class.” The class is called “The Way of A Course in Miracles,” and is one year long. “In my class the goal is to take a comprehensive look at this complex Course. We break it down into major ideas and then put it back together as a whole. We try to simplify it for newcomers. By focusing on one topic at a time, we are able to go deeper, and that can bring clarity. So the class is friendly to newcomers, but still has a lot to offer experienced students.”
In addition to teaching young piano students in her home and accompanying the Inspiration choir, she teaches parenting classes twice a month at UCOH on Sunday mornings. “I got into studying parenting skills because I needed help,” she said. She had volunteered at Parents Anonymous before she had children, and was puzzled by the rage she saw displayed by some of the parents she worked with.
Then daughter Amy turned two. “I never knew I could be so upset!” Jennifer said. She took a class called “Redirecting Children’s Behavior,” then “Love and Logic,” offered by Leander ISD. She added a class called “Language of Listening” with Sandy Blackard, and now uses Blackard’s resulting book Say What You See.
“It’s all about being present with children. I have come to realize that being present is the answer to everything,” she said. “It’s how you practice forgiveness; it’s how you come back to the center; it’s really what forgiveness is all about. The technique is completely in alignment with the Course, and a great complement to the Course. For me, it’s not just a parenting technique. If you truly know how to use it, it’s a way to be with other people, with ourselves, with our environment, with God, with our reality.”
Concerning “The Way of A Course in Miracles,” Jennifer said, “After I’d taught the class for some years, I realized what I was doing was applying the rigorous discipline from classical music. In studying classical music, you really study every single note, every chord, and every phrase. Classical music is a balance between emotion, state of mind, structure, and logic. Classical music is rigorous and intentional. There’s structure, phrasing, development, and it all starts with building blocks. It’s the same for A Course in Miracles—one note at a time.”