It was New Year’s Eve. And I was alone.
Just me, myself and a nice Firestone XXI anniversary beer on New Year’s Eve. It’s ironic really. With a family death and holidays, I had spent so much time in the Bay Area that my neighbors were starting to get concerned. “Dude. Where have you been?”. I hardly felt like I lived in Salinas. So I resolved to get the hell back to Salinas.
Something about being down here makes me feel more whole. Something about exchanging being stuck behind self-driving cars for being stuck behind a tractor is refreshing. There’s something invigorating about the displacement wandering through the mercado, trying to find something to eat.
…or at least, it was for the last 4-5 months. But last night- after missing Salinas so much during this last month- I realized I was alone. It’s a crashing realization for an extrovert. I envy my introverted friends who just shrug with relief at this type of realization.
It’s these moments where the sexiness of planting wears off and you realize it’s just plain hard. It’s those moments where I have to lean back on the brute force of faithful obedience instead of sounding really heroic with my casual explanation of what I do, “Oh. I start Christian communities at colleges where there is none”. So much hubris. All the posturing feels so stupid when you’re alone, drinking a nice beer, hoping to get accepted into the local crew of drinkers at the local bar, wishing for a Cheer’s experience, but realizing I am just an extra in the background.
…and I remember this feeling. I remember the isolation I experienced in North County San Diego for those first several years. One can think that they are invincible if they’ve survived something similar before… but the existential need for community gapes before me- familiar, but just as painful.
I have to remember- experience does not automatically give one invincibility… but it gives one hope.
This morning, as I’m on an inaugural new year’s run, I get to a narrow path, and I begin to stumble on the unpredictable ice plant banks to my left and right. And my mind wanders to the abstract…
It’s a narrow path… on one end I can be a progressive but I start to replace God as the primary actor in the world, and I become angry and burnt out as I am jarred by the lack of solvency by my own human means. On the other end I can be an esoteric mystic, but I start to think God is only for me and that He is shaped around my desires, and I have become a selfish self-centered human being with a God too small for anything beyond my own individualistic desires.
It’s a narrow path… On one hand, I want to be confident and put a strong leadership forward. I need to as an ethnic minority in an evangelical world dominated by white leadership. But those I lead can see right through it, and all they want is a leader who isn’t afraid of being vulnerable. But on the other side of the path, I want to lead vulnerably, but as I was reflecting with an old friend one night- it’s easy to feign vulnerability. I make it my idol, and it is my main source of status. Ironically, my vulnerability can be my source of invincibility, and instead of surrendering power, I have given it a new mask.
It’s a narrow path… I feel the apostolic call to go to unreached places. But I can veer too far and lose connection to the land I am called to. I feel incarnational call to be with people. But I can veer too far and idolize a place to the point where it becomes a barrier to the new things God might have for me.
It’s a narrow path… I fear being alone. But I become a person who is obsessed with performing before the world and stuck in a torturous hall of mirrors. So I leave with a thin mask of monasticism… but find myself in isolation.
For much of my life, I prided myself in being “balanced”. I sought the “radical middle”. I’m realizing in retrospect that many of my second generation Asian American friends had and still have this mindset, as we try to make sense of our imposed model minority identity (but that’s another post). But these days, that type of thinking has been hijacked by “All lives matter” and saying there are “many sides” to a march that is so obviously broken and demeaning to the God-given image in humanity… In our search for balance, instead of being the best of both sides, we become the worst of both sides. It hijacks us, objectifies us as tools for the extremes of both sides. Viet Than Nguyen opens his novel with this reflection:
…I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent… At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called a talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot *not* use, the talent that possesses you- that is a hazard I must confess.
-“The Sympathizer” by Viet Than Nguyen
Ironically, this talk of balance does not come from a wise sage… but a spy. An imposter. Someone not to be trusted. Is that what I am?
As I continued to run, to breath out my feelings of isolation, and to breath in some sort of serenity, with all these thoughts about internal balance as I struggled to keep physical balance, the loneliness I felt the night before surged again, but in a deeper way. The path set before me feels so narrow, and it’s so easy to fall to the left or the right.
But the faithful, gentle whisper that always floats into my consciousness even in my darkest of times- more faithful than the continual rhythm of the crashing waves- it re-entered my awareness, it incarnated itself, it embodied itself, “You are not alone. I will always be with you”
And I hate it when God speaks to me with trite “Precious Moments” slogans. I always want to initially stick the middle finger up, or tell Him to eff off. But faithfully, the whisper keeps crashing on my consciousness, breaking through this heart hardened by cynicism, loneliness and misguided duty…
I remember that to walk with Him is to walk in the rhythms of grace. I remember that balance is unattainable, and that I desperately need grace. Not the easy grace professed by hypocritical molesting “christian” senators to excuse them for the sake of power, but the self realization that I’m not any of my high ideals, I am so far from what i wish I was, and I have no power to become it… and the faithful divine reply, “Yet I have chosen to be with you. You are not alone.”
The path is narrow. But his faithful loving-kindness is wide, and sometimes I need to just come to terms that I am just weak and need a higher power to carry me. And perhaps it’s not heroic hubris or brute-force obedience that will keep me running, but it will be my choice to resign myself to my humanity and weakness so I can receive the only thing that can move me forward: grace.
It’s New Year’s Day. And I am not alone.