It’s been a while since I’ve written just to… write. hold onto your seats folks, I’m about to just start typing. haha.
I’ve had a few conversations with people from my movement… about the game.
The game. The game is jockeying for attention in the organization. It’s about letting people know who we are. It’s about building the foundation for our promotion. It’s about networking with the right people. It’s making sure that your achievements are recorded and brought before those above you. It’s about speaking up so that you matter in the organization. It’s about strategically choosing where you spend your time to the advantage of your career.
These things aren’t all bad. As an Asian American, learning some of these things can be empowering. Asian American culture is a lot different from… “the game”. You trust that your leader is always watching what you are doing, and you wait to be noticed by your leader, you never show off what you do. The indirectness of our culture is… yes on one hand, very polite, but can lead to unspoken dissatisfaction or anger, especially when working in a more white organization. An Asian American will wait patiently and work diligently with extreme excellence… but get frustrated as he or she watches his or her peers get more recognition simply because they told people what they did. Resentment arises as it seems like the only way people get ahead in the game is that they “showed off”… anyways it’s a nasty spiral (that i’ve watched myself go down).
But working several years in Intervarsity, I’ve noticed how much more confident it has made me in situations and I’ve been able to speak with more authority than before (but I still need work… confession: I still get anxious talking to an older (or just taller) white male that I don’t know). I’m able to express dissatisfaction with a situation easier instead of letting it boil inside of me. I find myself confidently speaking with a composure I didn’t have before. I’ve learned that speaking up isn’t always bad, it’s not always showing off, but can be approached as Godly confidence. Plus, not speaking up didn’t make me any less prideful… it just let it simmer into resentment. I’ve discovered, in interacting with other cultures, that there is a Godly power in proclaiming the good things that have happened. It is, in fact, worship.
But it is, in fact, difficult to find balance between these two poles… on one hand the jockeying for power and recognition, on the other, silent bitterness.
Today I was thinking about one of those conversations with a younger staff and my journey through that. We were talking about what it looks like to speak and be recognized in a community of so many confident ministers passionate about seeing God’s kingdom expanded. Sometimes my mouth talks faster than my integrity. I started talking about the game, and how much I hated it. And the younger staff, full of admiration, said “Yes, and it’s awesome to see how you’ve done it, choosing to stay at a community college, saying ‘no’ to other things.”
At that moment, I realized with a tinge of pain that yes, I’ve made those decisions… but my heart still wasn’t at peace with it all. My choice to serve at such an unglamorous place was a choice I made, but it’s still a choice I have to make every day. To make up for our low pay, a lot of my co-workers proudly say that they are reaching the next generation of leaders as they look upon their chapters at elite UC’s and Ivy leagues… while I’m in the muddy trenches just trying to get some of my students to even transfer to a 4 year institution. To the world, this profession is pointless and unrewarding, it’s not worth the effort.
The younger staff, not knowing the tension that was going on in my head said, “Were there people who disagreed with your decision to stay?”
“Yes.” I had very concerned friends and mentors pull me aside, tell me to get out of there. “Daniel,” they would say, “I think if you stay where you are, you could be shooting your career in the foot. Community colleges aren’t that recognized by people or even in our own organization.” I had one friend say something along the lines of (his english isn’t so great haha), “How long are you going to stay in that god-forsaken place with such a shallow pool of spouses?” I have felt pressure from all around me to get out, I’ve seen friends who live where I grew up and in my former college community move on with life. I have an insurmountable amount of FOMO (fear of missing out) as I watch them get engaged, married, have kids… and realize that I don’t talk with them anymore, I live where none of them would go after getting a college degree.
As that paragraph raced through my head in the matter of one second and a few milliseconds, I continued with, “I’m not doing my ministry at the community college for the game. I’m doing my job because God loves this campus, and He has called me to love that campus.”
Sounds so grandiose… and I’m sure I get some gospel “b.a.” credit for saying that. But as I was driving home, I realized my heart was not convinced. I can publicly say I despise “the game”, but deep inside, I long so much just to be recognized, to get that promotion that I could get easily elsewhere, to wield power, to get the masses to follow me (ha) or even just a few more compliments than what I get…
Has it been worth it? Am I driving my life to shame as I let it get enveloped and immersed in the incarnate mission of community colleges? God, is it worth it?
I was mulling over it in the car today and God brought to mind a paper I recently wrote on Hebrews 12. It’s too long to recount here (if you want it, i’ll email that 20 page beast to you haha), but one of the main themes that had really impressed me about this portion of scripture was how God transforms our symbols of shame (the cross) into victory (winning the race). The author’s call to the readers was to endure in the face of persecution and that the shame that they were experiencing, Jesus experienced as well, but allowed God to transform it into a crown of victory…
And as I drove south on I-5 in the waning light of the day today, I heard His gentle voice reminding me- I recognize your sacrifice in obedience. I recognize the price you have paid for the sake of these campuses I love so much. I recognize the shame you feel when nobody even remembers the name of your campus… because I was once forgotten, I made myself nothing so that this world could in fact know me fully. I would give it all for the sake of even the least of these. You are not alone in your sacrifice. Trust me and hang on, because I’ve run the same race. You’ve been a good and faithful servant, your reward is not found in the world, it’s not found in what people say, it’s not found in “the game”. Your reward is a heavenly one.
…And I have to remind myself over and over again… that my reward is not from this world. I have to remember that I can sacrificially love because I have witnessed His unswerving, covenantal love for myself, and for MiraCosta and Palomar. Yet I struggle so much to know it… I have to wake up every morning and remind myself that, yet, once again, His love endures, and it will continue to endure. I have to step off this giant board game sometimes and remember that what I do is not just some game, but is a calling to care for the eternal destiny for the thousands of students on the campuses I minister to.
This gospel thing, with the first being last and the last being first… It’s really pretty sounding. But it’s actually a messy and sometimes bloody inglorious thing. Sometimes I want out, because this mud just gets too much for me, the mess I see around me becomes so overwhelming and I feel so alone in these trenches…
…But I suppose it’s the big messes that produce the most profound beauty.