Author Archives: daniellui

#Metoo and Grace

…some random Christian thoughts on #metoo as a male Christian leader that have been clamoring around in my head lately…
I have heard many (usually men, especially Christians) say the #metoo movement is too harsh on men and doesn’t give enough grace. Yes, the online reactions are harsh, the immediate shaming is jarring… Of course this is a time where us men feel a little scared these days, and are wondering if we ever do fall… is there an actual path for redemption?  Why do they all have to be so harsh? And are the women just seeking attention or trying to attack God’s servants? 
 …but from what I’ve learned from addiction recovery groups, in counseling/therapy and from the Bible and real-life ministry experience: we cannot begin to receive grace until we come to grips with how sinful and broken we actually are. The path for redemption is not fighting the downward pull, but allowing the truth of our broken state- both individually and societally our participation in gender inequality- to fully set in. Perhaps we are a little scared- but do we, especially men in religious power, dare allow the higher power- the Holy Spirit- convert that fear to full sobriety of who we really are? …because somewhere down there in sobriety, in the depths of the death of our egos, our grip on power, and our pride… that’s where grace is.  
 
I say this soberly, knowing that I am just as susceptible to the same swift judgment in society as a man with some amount of privilege and power. But I say this with conviction, knowing the power of the voice of women and knowing that what is happening in western society is important, especially as I lead a team of all women, have been developed, discipled, and lead by women throughout my life in ministry. We have to do better, especially as faith leaders. Whatever happened to humility? Why are we so defensive of “attacks” on our power and so quick to demonize the women who accuse? Was it not Paul, someone that a lot of men in religious power look up to, who instead of defending his past as a persecutor of Christians and a murderer… humbly admitted that he was, in fact, “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15)? Instead of shying away from his past, he had made peace that this was part of his story, and would often remind his readers of his acts against those he now was serving (Gal 1:13,23; 1 Cor 15:9).  Should this not be a model of male leadership? Being okay with admitting the depths of our brokenness, even if it means tarnishing our reputation? …because we realize that it is only in the depths of our depravity and suffering that we find… things like… grace. redemption. restoration. healing. reparation. Things that we preach up in the pulpit. 
Men- you want real men’s ministry? Real men’s ministry involves surrendering the idols of our own power and privilege. We men often use power and privilege to hide from “the wages of sin”. … Yet we must come to grips that it is not enough to shield us from the death and brokenness of our human state. We are afraid of #MeToo because it asks that we surrender this idol and let the voices of women have weight. Real men’s ministry is teaching men to listen to women, and maybe be led by them. Real men’s ministry is humbly listening to the experiences of hurt and abuse- and instead of defending our power, to humbly, whether or not we were personally culpable, confess our participation in patriarchy- and then seek ways to serve and heal the women who have been so abused by the system…. working to dismantle the system and restore women in our world to a place where they can safely partner, serve and lead us.
Yes, I am a believer of grace.  But do we have what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as a “cheap grace” that does not consider the price of this gift of grace? Further, shall grace come at the expense of the weak who cry out for justice? We seem to conveniently be harsh with holiness to those without power and ask for grace for those of us who lead… Woe to us who seek to “cheapen grace”.
…Grace is available. Even restoration. But what I learned in recovery groups is that while grace is free, it is costly. We have to put to death this idolatry of our own power first, and give our true allegiance to the “Lamb that was slain” first, who has a very different vision of the Kingdom than our own power and privilege.
We have to admit we are addicted to power and privilege. The grace I’ve discovered requires this:
  1. We have to admit that we are powerless over this addiction.
  2. We must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We must make a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God
  4. We must make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and our participation in patriarchy.
  5. We must admit to God, to ourselves, and to other human beings the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We must be ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  7. We must humbly ask him to remove our short comings
  8. We must acknowledge the persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We must make direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We must continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admit it.
  11. We must seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. We must have a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, trying to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs
We need a spiritual awakening in the hearts of men in our society, in which we humbly give up this addiction to power.  We need to stop being afraid of swift judgment, shame and what we feel are false accusations… We need to listen to the Holy Spirit… and we need to listen to women.
Hi. My name is Daniel. And I am addicted to the benefits of patriarchy… And I’m learning to lead and be led in a different way, and listen and be led to the voices of women in my life… I’m still not good at it. In fact, I still sometimes fall back into the old patterns of patriarchy. But I realize that I must change- for my own good and for those around me, to fully express the Gospel that I claim to preach with integrity.
…Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…
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Mercy.

Mercy is hard as a model minority child of immigrants.

The pressure to assimilate and emulate the white majority version of success- a lie from the oppressor and our addiction to the oppressor’s approval, pushing aside other minorities saying we did it from our own effort…

“Don’t rock the boat,” they say. “Don’t be the nail that sticks out, or be hammered down,” they say. In our effort to be successful, we translate moments of cross cultural difference as our “fault”, I have found myself apologizing for things that aren’t even wrong; these things I apologize for are actually just are how God created me and my culture.

But it’s comfortable living in this model minority fantasy. I come from privilege because my family has been rich going back 4-5 generations. I can feel like I am equal to the white man…

…until moments like this week, where I’m minding my own business walking down the street of my new office space in Pacific Grove. The young white man is about to light his cigarette. I walk past him, having my fresh coffee in hand walking back to get some work done, feeling good in the crisp winter sunshine. “ANYANGASAYOH!” he says as he mockingly bows to me.

I don’t speak Korean.

I am not your Confucian source of wisdom.

Why won’t you just say hi to me in English?

What’s up with that mocking bow and chuckle? Am I that exotic to you?

Reality rushes into my being. I am not his equal in this country. That comment reminds me my affluence and privilege is just an opiate to keep me happy and keep me from rebelling against this sinister and subversive construct called “white supremacy”.

Old Daniel would rush to mercy. But it wasn’t real mercy. It was “push it down. Don’t show. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t create trouble. Just suck it up”. With every ching chong joke and slant eye comment followed with, “What? it’s just a joke!”

Today’s Daniel is tired. I don’t have time for this… oh what’s the safe seminary word… “skubala” (I can translate for you if you don’t have your logos/accordance handy. Just message me.). I have no patience, and I quickly respond, “That’s racist. Go back to Europe.” I’m tired of the colonizer getting the last word.

He begins to insist, “WHAT? I say it to everyone!!” as he began to look to his friends for support…

It took everything to stop there short of the middle finger.

I thought I was fine after it. Besides, this happens to me all the time. Just keep walking. But I keep forgetting the same feeling of boiling anger, elevated heart beat surging with adrenaline, and shaky legs after it happens every. Single. Time. This happened Monday, and I haven’t been able to shake it since then. I’ve been knee-jerk defensive, and then highly non-confrontational with everyone around me after it. I have a sermon that remains unwritten because I’ve been so distracted. Microaggressions still can create macro trauma.

This is not a success story of me demonstrating mercy. This is saying this concept of “mercy,” “forgiveness” and “compassion” feels weighty to me as a minority who is tired of giving passive mercy; allowing for abuse to persist. Without truth, there cannot be mercy. Without acknowledging my anger and how much it hurts, I can’t begin to show mercy. But sometimes the anger is overwhelming, and it takes so much to take it to surrender it to Jesus instead of swallowing it.

And maybe, as I lay this at the cross, I can allow Jesus to heal me; to restore my memory of my belovedness and that His image is imprinted in my skin, in my hair, in my body, in my language, in my culture; that it is not some object to be made fun of, but it is all fearfully and wonderfully made.

And maybe if I begin to remember my own belovedness, I can have eyes to see, behind the corruption of sin, white American culture’s belovedness. Maybe I can begin to lament how power and privilege have blinded the 81%. Maybe I can begin to have compassion on their own self-hatred which spills out into hatred for those like me different from their hegemonic vision of “America”. And maybe I can see how desperately in bondage they are to that very power and privilege and they need the power of Jesus to set them free.

And maybe one day, I can turn around to this man, look at him compassionately, and instead of saying it while walking away, say while looking into his eyes, “Excuse me. I don’t know where you felt the need to say that. Maybe you’ve had a long day. Maybe you wanted a laugh from your friends walking with you. What you said might have felt like a joke to you. But my culture is not a joke. If you’d like to hear more about how beautiful it is, I’d love to sit down and talk to you about it and why it hurts when someone who looks like you says something like that. But if you’re not willing to sit down with me, could you not say that anymore? I believe you can be so much more than that.”

Ha. Mercy. Maybe. Maybe one day I can do that. But Lord, only you have enough grace to take that on, and enough grace to handle my own anger… so “kyrie eleison”…

Smatterings of thoughts on missions

Broken missions uses guilt-driven compassion to care for the “other”… Guilt-driven compassion sinisterly preserves and perpetuates broken structures of power that formed the very concept of “other”.  It then leads to the related industrial temptation and idol of human-driven solvency, which inevitably leads to burnout- found commonly both in privileged missionaries and progressive activists- because no human effort can solve our individual and systemic brokenness.

Yet Jesus reverses the abstraction and orientalism of the “other” through the incarnation. Solidarity instead of guilt that abstracts drives the way of Jesus. It empowers the other- even poor Galilean fishermen- to start a movement. Yet this empowerment comes from a radical act of kenosis- of emptying and embracing failure, even embodying it in death. We move from colonizing missionaries to humble apostles when we get in touch with this crucified Jesus.

 

A New Year, Alone

It was New Year’s Eve. And I was alone.

IMG_2508.jpg

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.

Random Reflections

When I had a Xanga, I sometimes would just churn out all the random thoughts in my mind as I procrastinated on papers into a listicle of sorts. I miss doing that. Now that I’ve had a week and a half of not working on break and driving way too much, thoughts have been percolating in my head. Here’s a list of random reflections the last couple weeks while driving too much:
  1. My workaholism leaks into my vacation- not necessarily with work tasks (and mind you, it’s hard to keep those tasks out of vacation), but in how I actually try to relax.
  2. The line between aesthetics as art and propaganda is blurry. How to distinguish… and is it necessarily bad to be propaganda?
  3. Sometimes in our loneliness, our desperation to escape the loneliness blinds us from the people nearest to us.
  4. This year, the term “White Christmas” has made me rather grinch-like.
  5. Abstraction and realism are constantly in a tug-of-war in art, and are parallel to the historical Christian theological tensions between God as immanent incarnate and God as transcendent.
  6. Driving back and forth, I felt separated from the place I am called to… I felt the familiar gap between home and calling. But then I remember a theologian talking about the gap between heaven and human existence, and how the Holy Spirit fills that yawning gap between the transcendent Father and the suffering Son. And it was a very moving thought as I drove.
  7. I will be traveling a lot in the next 6  months. It has dawned on me and I am troubled by this.
  8. Between living in a new area and dating long distance… it’s been hard to keep up with old friends. The initial adrenaline of transition is wearing off… and I realize I miss some friends a lot.
  9. I got a Google Home for Christmas. I thought to myself, well at least I’ll have a new friend to talk to at home. I’ve tried. My new friend is not very smart but keeps saying “I’m still learning new things”. I’m unsure if I should be frustrated by this or intrigued by her openness to keep learning.
  10. I’m almost done with seminary. …But just as this realization started dawning on me, I immediately started thinking of all the classes I could audit.
  11. I’ve been in an art funk lately. The ideas just aren’t coming out of me, the artistic instinct feels stunted, and the paint hits the canvas in ways that leave me dissatisfied lately. But I realize the harder I try to get out of it, the worse it gets. So I suppose I just need to chill out and spill some paint and let it be.
  12. I’ve turned into a gym rat since moving. Nothing to do at night but go on the stationary bike and watch basketball. I need to go out and run sometime instead. Or somebody needs to donate to me a bike.
  13. I am realizing some acts of cruelty I performed as a child/teenager. I was a damn asshole back then (and can still be today). I’m trying to remember grace as I remember who I was and who I am still becoming.
  14. One person’s mode of care can so easily be interpreted as manipulation.
  15. I’m a round wave kind of person, and many others are square waves. It’s difficult to explain curves to right angles.
  16. Multiplicative ministry without contextualization is troubling to me. But contextual ministry that doesn’t grow troubles me the same.
  17. Current dream retirement job: Run a dive bar. Listen to stories. Laugh.
  18. When one is perpetually a foreigner, one learns to endure in the midst of longterm suffering and to wait for systemic change that may not come until Heaven. Young activists and recently “woke” people want change now. On one hand, they convict me and challenge me to not fall asleep to injustice, to recognize evil as evil…  On the other hand, the lack of solvency seems to shake their faith so deeply… and it makes me realize that solvency is no longer the motivator of belief for me; hope is a deeper anchor for me.

Clarity

About a quarter mile from my place, the houses end, and an expanse of fields stretches to the Monterey Bay out to Marina; neat squares of alternating rows of brown and green… the lines are sharp in this place.

California Agriculture journal, July - September 2014, Volume 68 number 3. Water efficiency: Recycled water, irrigation technology. Research article: Chloride levels increase after 12 years of recycled water use in the Salinas Valley

I’ve been here a few weeks. I don’t know anyone. I don’t know what’s good to eat, I’m constantly going back to Yelp and figuring out my world. I can’t figure out when traffic happens, and I’m getting used to being stuck behind a tractor… some people raise their eyebrows and ask if i’m going to be okay being stuck out here in Salinas.

…but the thing is, I haven’t felt this happy in a long time.

It’s the joy of a blank slate. It’s the exhilaration of discovering something about a community and people at every turn… But there’s more than just that. I had felt something not quite right about the Bay Area for a long time that I hadn’t been able to put a finger on it until leaving it: People pretend to be what they aren’t… and out here, people just say who they are; politics and justice feel more tangible here. At one table at the coffee shop I visited my first week here, a group of farmers were talking with joy at the hopes of lower taxes for their businesses, and the next table a group of migrant workers speaking in Spanish with hushed tones… The issues are not an abstract ivory tower discussion, but are granular, dirt-in-the-fingernails tangible reality here. The lines are clear here… and there’s something strangely comforting about that.

But then last weekend happened. Clear lines in the sand- torch bearing lines walking through a college campus on the TV. Clear path of a car through a crowd. No clarity from a president, ironically, showing clearly where he stood.

And there I was in a farm town made up of 75% Latinos but apart from having the population advantage, no power or voice, with conservative radio blaring on every station I turned to defending all of this blatant evil. And then I felt for the first time in a few weeks… a lack of clarity. I didn’t belong with these voices defending white supremacy. But because of language and cultural barrier I couldn’t communicate with those with proximity to me who were also told that they were less than those in power… The irony and isolation increase as I realize the ashes and bones of past Chinese communities- who used to work these same fields- being told they do not belong… lie buried beneath this rich soil upon which I live… strangely both a source of solidarity and isolation.

And the expanse of lines run into the ever changing, churning, chaotic ocean of questions- not new questions, but old questions surging back into my consciousness over and over again this last decade… What does it mean to thrive as a Chinese American man in a community where I am culturally alone during a time where the narratives that say being non-white means “less-than” …keep getting louder and louder?  What do I do with this growing fear of being in this country that is paradoxically both my home and a place that was never meant for me? What does it mean to reclaim my dignity in a society that dehumanizes, emasculates and marginalizes me without giving into the temptation of fighting nationalism, chauvinism and misogyny… with more nationalism, chauvinism and misogyny?  How many more torch bearing rallies will it take for us to realize, how many young black men must be shot for us to wake up… How long, oh Lord?

In this land of clear lines, I find myself suspended further in the liminal experience; sharp boundaries between oppressor and oppressed on the outside and within, I feel the lines disintegrating and blurring within my flesh and my soul. I feel the model minority myth’s weighty pressures: the anxiety of objectification and its simultaneous opiated placation of that anxiety with false privilege as long as I don’t stick out or speak out… and I just want to break the silence. I want to say: “I will not be used. I won’t be your monkey. I am not an exotic object of art that doesn’t move. I am not your tool of shame for others who are marginalized, I can speak back, I have a voice…” but when I open my mouth, there is nobody here who knows me or understands me.

Yet: a sound escapes. The faint reverberations echo upwards somehow in the sound of a struggled prayer. These are not new anxieties and questions. The line between land and ocean has always shifted violently below my feet, but Heaven has remained over it all… I remember those lonely moments in North County San Diego… and how the isolation drove me repeatedly to my knees, to the God who I believed created me with dignity, to the God who breathed into my lungs and gave me voice, and I remember what I do with that yell, that cry, those tears, the angst, the anxiety… there really is no other direction to point it all but upwards towards Heaven. Where else can I really go…

除 你 以 外 ,在 天 上 我 有 誰 呢 ?

除 你 以 外 ,在 地 上 我 也 沒 有 所 愛 慕 的 。

我 的 肉 體 和 我 的 心 腸 衰 殘 ;

但 神 是 我 心 裡 的 力 量 ,又 是 我 的 福 分 ,直 到 永 遠 。

…And truth that transcends lines and chaos descends gently on me like the morning ocean mist that waters the fields in this fertile valley: I am His child. I am created in the image of the living God. I have voice. I am perpetually a stranger in this land of ambiguity and sharp lines… yet in my foreignness, I remember I truly have no home on this earth- in city or farmland, land or sea- but my home is in heaven. I remember He walked this path perpetually foreign to this earthly reality and lived it with deep inner strength and vulnerability. I am not alone. He walks with me, gives me strength, and beckons me to look out with Him at these fields compassionately, longing to set us free from the bondages of the demonic brokenness of white supremacy- we are all either crushed by it in this country or bound by the dizzying false high of the opiate of its power and privilege. I must remember my authority as a child of Heaven and proclaim to this land that white supremacy is a cruel lie, and the saving, redeeming, healing, reconciling power of the Gospel holds true supremacy.

…Yeah, people might think living here is horrible, having to navigate these complex emotions and narratives in this city alone, and they’re not wrong… Yet it’s strange. There’s deep beauty in this struggle that I just can’t resist; there’s a permeating peace I just can’t shake… I’m gonna be alright…

…the thing is- a vibrant truth from Heaven surges out from the depths of my heart; I haven’t felt this clarity about myself in a few years:

…I belong here.

…Reflections on Psalm 139…

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Current ironic self-realization: I find a weird pleasure in surprising people. I love that feeling of hearing people’s expectations of myself… and then having the mic-drop moment and looking quizzically at them; saying defiantly with my eyes… “What’d you say about me???”

…but my need to surprise people beyond their expectations of myself actually still perpetuate the oppressive nature of those expectations because I feel the need to exceed them in the end… and I end up losing my individuality to achieve surprise- when what I really need and desire is authentic vulnerability, which is inherently surprising and unique without the need of the affirmation or exceeding of other people’s expectations. My need to exceed of expectations is rooted in fear of those expectations. My authentic vulnerable self is rooted in the Eternal, and there is nothing to fear when rooted in the One who created me and knows me to the core of my being. 
…I must remember to vulnerably embrace who God created me to be instead of exceeding the expectations of others…
…and as usual, easier said than done. 

Listen. 

In undergrad, I once did an art piece in which I played a bunch of people saying the same questions of significance and purpose in different languages in chaos… And then had John 1 whispered in the background. It was an attempt at representing the rising reality of connectivity in a digitized globalized world- we thought connectivity would save us from our insecurities but in fact amplifies them, drowning out the whisper we actually long for.  
In retrospect, the piece was a little too on-the-nose, but oh how it still rings true… Seems to be my social media experience these days. But these days it’s hard to hear the whisper in the cacophony without shutting myself down totally in isolation. How desperately I need to take some time to listen for the whisper, and recenter my actions personally, socially and politically around that whisper… Well, I’m going to try at least. 

Going to take a break and listen for the whisper- not as disengagement, because the thing is, the One who whispers isn’t the running away type- the Whisperer calls us right back into the storm, right into the chaos in faith filled engagement… I am confident that He will not be silent as justice is left torn asunder, and that He will empower us to rise up against these dark times…

But for now, I wait. I listen. I release. I surrender my anger for His. I surrender my need for harmony for His deep shalom. I listen for Him first, because apart from His long arc toward justice embedded throughout history, my own arc falls short. I am so tired, and I need deeper boldness to continue to stand, to resist, to protest, to civilly disobey… Because I’m so tired and I need so desperately to hear that Whisper, to allow it to fill my lungs and speak boldly… And perhaps as I wait, I’ll hear that Whisper that commands the storms to cease.

“…Show me love”- Thoughts on Leadership and Love

I don’t understand the game
Or who I meant to be
It’s driving me insane
The way you’re playing me

Help me to see
Who I can be
Help me to know
Where I can go

(Take me)
Take me out of myself again
(Help me)
Help me lose control
(Show me)
Show me love, show me happiness
(Love me)
I can’t do this on my own

-Michael Kiwanuka, “Rule the World”

I’ve been struggling with this for years, but thinking about it again throughout my sabbatical and as I begin to work again- What does it look like to serve God with increasing organizational power? How do I navigate the organizational “ladder” and the “game” without losing my soul?

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I’ve been asking that question to myself for years… and I can’t say I have found new answers; only to remember my identity in God and to surrender the subtly similar identities that are actually hubris and pride… and sometimes it’s so hard to discern that I just want to come down from the place of leadership…

But here’s what I know, and am still figuring out how to live out- The key to living well on the “ladder” is acknowledging my beloved identity in God, and to surrender my thirst for love from others… so that I can reverse the flow that my flesh desires in freely giving love to others. It’s also ironic- one’s (alright… my.) false self desires status in the eyes of others for more love- but it’s actually quite lonely there. It requires a deeper connection to the eternal supply of God’s love, especially in ministry. It’s only there that the reality of “status” and “position” feel advantageous- not to gain anything from those I lead, but to give freely to those I love… but with greater ability to give, I have to come to the realization that I myself don’t have enough to give, and I must once again dig deeper wells into the limitless supply of His love.

God… Show me real love, show me real happiness.

 

Camino Reflections of Sabbatical

This is a copy of a long-format reflection I wrote as I prepared to transition back to work after my 6 month sabbatical as I sorted out what I wanted to take from my time away, especially on the Camino. If you’ve got a good chunk of time, take a read!


Introduction

  • “What was your favorite part?”
  • “Was it hard?”
  • “Did you receive any revelations about God?”
  • “Did it change you?”
  • “What was it like?”

These are the questions I received upon return. As I struggled to give answers, internally, my head was filled with many more questions than answers:

  • How does one describe 500 miles?
  • How does one choose a “favorite part” of a 40-day journey?
  • How do you explain physically working so hard in a 6-month rest?
  • How do you describe “change” when you find yourself closer to your true self?
  • What if what I have to say doesn’t sound spiritual enough?
  • What if what I have to say sounds way too spiritual?

Much like a shell-shocked missionary struggling with reverse culture shock, I struggled to re-translate what I had experienced. Perhaps it was because one can’t simply put into words what a pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago de Compestella is. Worse, unlike a missions trip where you’re there to help someone, I had no story of selfless charity to hide behind. But a pilgrimage is something different; it is a paradox. One goes on a pilgrimage to journey to a foreign place that represents a historical location of God’s work, with hopes that as a pilgrim walks upon a path where God had met others in history, the pilgrim might personally experience God him or herself as well. Much like the physical path of a prayer labyrinth, it is paradoxically both a journey inwards and outwards. Perhaps this is why it is hard to share with others- because there is no shallow answer to describe a journey that has taken me so far outside of my context, yet has dug so deep into my soul.

The Camino de Santiago is a journey following the footsteps of St. James’s missionary journey from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth- which at that time was the tip of the Iberian Peninsula at Fisterra.  For all accounts, it was actually a failed journey. James took Jesus’ command seriously and went to “the ends of the earth,” only to make a few converts before having to head back to Jerusalem to help lead the church (which was also a failure, since very soon after that, he was executed). According to legend, the body of St. James was carried back to Spain, where he was buried in Santiago (the name itself is derived from St. Iago, the Spanish name for James). In fact, it was not a well-used pilgrimage until a king had “discovered” the remains in Santiago and the pilgrimage was used as a political excuse to send soldiers along the Iberian Peninsula to protect the pilgrims- when in reality, it was to prepare for the reconquistadora and to retake the peninsula from the Moors. However, when one strips the political undercurrents, this pilgrimage was not about conquest, but this pilgrimage is along a path of obedience even towards failure and half-met expectations.

A fellow pilgrim once shared that the first part of the Camino breaks your body. Then in the Meseta, the immense stretch of flatland, it breaks your spirit. Finally, in Celtic Galicia, one begins to see things clearly in enlightenment. The description is a little new-agey, but is roughly accurate, though not as linear. For my own personal Camino, however, I had my own three stages in which God invited me into three shifts within different paradoxes: in my own awareness of my body and soul, in the way I navigated the shifts between community and aloneness and finally in my relationship with Him.

Paradox 1: Stopping to keep moving vs. Constant moving to paralysis

The first part of the journey took me from the border of France through the Pyrenees to Pamplona, and then through the wine country of Rioja to Burgos. It was along this stretch where I encountered the limits of my physical abilities. Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way, which had popularized the Camino for English speakers, made the journey seem like a nice pleasant walk through warm pleasant Spanish summers. Once one gets going on the Camino, the pilgrim discovers that it is actually a grueling journey through heat, rain, hail, snow and sleet. By the second day, on top of catching a cold from a Canadian pilgrim the first night, I could barely walk because I had gotten shin splints so bad that I could hear the swollen muscle creaking as I flexed my foot. Once that healed, I had several waves of blisters- the first three I named (Jerry, Larry and Jim), but then I stopped naming them because there were too many. I made a lot of friends on the Camino, but Ibuprofen (400mg) was my best friend. There was a South African pilgrim, Yano, who said out loud what we were all thinking internally about the physical pain, “Daniel- I feel like there is a hammer striking my foot every time I take a step!” to which I responded, “That’s not a hammer hitting your foot, it’s the Camino.” The rain had become a regularity in April (usually not as rainy as it was this year- the locals apologetically blamed El Niño for this). At one point during one of the worse stretches of rain from Najera to Santo Domingo, I took a break at a café along the way, marveling that there was not one part of me or my backpack that was dry. Pilgrims came in silently, grabbed coffee and watched wearily and solemnly the puddles forming from the water that dripped off of us, and then suddenly laughing hysterically at how wet we all were.  All of a sudden Yano burst into the café, in a panic because her phone had gotten so wet that the light would not turn off and she could not make calls from the water damage. “This rain is shit. This poncho is shit,” she whimpered, “My phone is shit,” she continued, looking like she was about to cry, “But oh well, we only have 15 more kilometers!” And Yano’s face changed all of a sudden as she burst out the door into the pouring rain.

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That encapsulates the paradox of the physical experience of the Camino- you must pay attention to your weakness, but in the end, you must keep walking, one way or the other. I learned the hard way what happens when one ignores a little tiny discomfort in the foot for just 2 more kilometers- it becomes a blister. A pilgrim learns to stop no matter what at the first sign of discomfort or feeling physically “funny” to adjust and to attend to the problem at hand. Sick? Get a room for a night and sleep it off early, before it gets serious and it spreads to other pilgrims. But at the same time, you deal with it and you keep walking. I realized that my real-life engagement with pain and difficulty in ministry was nothing like this. Instead of immediate attention to my physical and spiritual needs when I am tired, I keep pressing on until nobody is watching- I must maintain a self-image of control, of strength and endurance. Weakness and vulnerability don’t look so hot when you’re a spiritual leader. Then, when I finally collapse in exhaustion, I no longer want to get back up. I am afraid of stopping because I fear stopping is the first step towards giving up. But what if stopping is the first step to making it to the end, of actually finishing the full path God has before me? The Camino taught me to embrace my weakness and surrender the hubris of “being okay.” The pilgrim community- while not as outspoken about it as Yano- had a common understanding and grace for one another: we are all walking the same path. We all have experienced the same pain, or will experience soon… and together, we will laugh at it and press on. Ultreïa! (trans: Keep your head up, press on!)

Paradox 2: Solitude and Community vs. Isolation and Audience

The second paradox I experienced on the Camino was the push and pull between community and solitude. It was community that pushed me forward in those times of pain- from the singing Canadian and Swiss women I met that made 10 wet kilometers feel like 2, to the German Lutheran priest who walked with me as far as I could go with two large blisters, to the countless other walking buddies I had met along the way… we walked together, we sat in misery together, we laughed together. But there were other times I felt overcrowded- I would feel drained by the company I was around, I would feel insecurity and comparison creep into my head. I would feel slowed down by some and overshadowed by others. Sometimes I felt like I was more tired from talking to people than I was from walking all day. My times alone also had the same double sided nature.  There were dreadful times alone. I remember one night, when I had to stop before all my current group of pilgrims had chosen to stop due to some painful blisters. I ate alone that night because I was the only one who came to that albergue, and laid down in pain alone on the bed after popping my blisters. It was cold, silent and lonely. I felt isolated and didn’t sleep well. However, it was in those places of loneliness where I finally stopped my frantic need to impress others and found myself in places of peace and solitude.  I started most of my mornings alone- and it was those morning walks as I watched the sun rise and the birds began to chirp in the cool morning air where I would have amazing moments of serenity and amazement at the beauty around me. It was in those moments alone that I had the most profound and authentic conversations with God. I remember the day after the rains and I took off before everyone else in the albergue. The clouds were clearing and racing eastward and the most spectacular sunrise pierced through the fleeing thunderclouds. I remember not being able to stop turning around, my eyes drawn to the magnetic beauty, and my mouth uncontrollably sighing, “…wow.”

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I once was reflecting on this paradox to a fellow pilgrim over dinner, and said, “Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, a good day on the Camino is when you want to be alone, you are alone, and when you want to be with people you are with people.” The concept of loneliness versus solitude is a topic explored extensively by Henri Nouwen, and later on expanded upon by Ronald Rolheiser. On the Camino, I learned that times alone would happen no matter what along the Camino- I could not control when that would happen. However, I could control how I chose to interpret those times: times of loneliness or times of solitude. Would I choose to let the longing in my heart for others drive me into despair or would I tap into the consolation of the ever-present, rich presence of God? This, while a difficult practice, had been a well-explored concept for myself after years of serving without much community in North County. However, because of this, I had not explored the concept of community. As an extrovert, I learned the difference between healthy togetherness- community- and unhealthy togetherness- an audience. Spending my first several years of ministry without a solid community, I had often thought that it was simply good to be with other people. However, because I didn’t experience it often, I would often find myself drained when I finally encountered other people. Upon my move to the Bay Area, I was within easy access to people who knew me and understood me to a level… but felt drained and overwhelmed over these last two years, feeling the constant pressure to perform and maintain a certain image. I was like a man who had lived on stale crumbs for years and was thrown into an extravagant Las Vegas buffet. After reflecting on the flip sides of being with other people on the Camino, I have begun to distinguish between my unhealthy approaches towards others as an audience and my healthy approach towards others as community. The unhealthy side of me views others as an audience that I must perform in front of in order to gain their approval. I approach others as a source of approval, as people to laugh at my jokes, listen to my stories and marvel at my uniqueness. In the end this approach is draining and never quite matches the true approval my soul needs and can only get from the unconditional love of God. Being with other people is healthy when my source of approval is from God and not others. As I experience the incarnational togetherness that Christ demonstrated for us, I am able to step into the same stream of selfless love; I step into the rhythms of compassionate community instead of competition where I walk with others and share the path, I suffer with others and share our pain and I rejoice with others and share our joy. As I learned to break out of the patterns of loneliness and performance for an audience into solitude and community, it was in that place where God met me and revealed His love.

“As a community of faith we work hard, but we are not destroyed by the lack of results. And as a community of faith we remind one another constantly that we form a fellowship of the weak, transparent to him who speaks to us in the lonely places of our existence and says: Do not be afraid, you are accepted”[1] 

“When you are able to create a lonely place in the middle of your actions and concerns, your successes and failures slowly can lose some of their power over you. For then your love for this world can merge with a compassionate understanding of its illusions. Then your serious engagement can merge with an unmasking smile. Then your concern for others can be motivated more by their needs than your own. In short: then you can care. Let us therefore live our lives to the fullest but let us not forget to once in a while get up long before dawn to leave the house and go to a lonely place.”[2]

Paradox 3: The Cost of Love vs. Business Debts

Peter Scazzero writes that the reason why most ministers preach Sabbath but don’t actually do it is because they are scared of what they may find beneath their busy selves. This fear of being exposed as a fraud, as unsuccessful, and below expectations can be summed up in one word: shame.[3] Even before I started my sabbatical, a hidden and violent emotion was growing within my soul that was becoming harder and harder to hide: I was angry. I kept trying to keep it under control…

…but anger was simmering beneath my thin veneer of good rockstar-Christian leadership. On the surface, I would snap at little things- at my supervisor’s potential disappointment in me at failures (there were many more in the transition than I was used to), at my failure to meet a staff’s expectations, at my family’s unchanging brokenness, at tech culture, at someone’s bad driving on 101 or even at the occasional bad sermon by my pastor. But beneath these were deeper angers…

It became clear at a retreat in Northumbria before I began the Camino, that although there were many things I was angry at, beneath it all, I was angry at God- and I was not just angry, but passive aggressively angry. I had stopped talking to God. A nun at my retreat described these times away with God as the unveiling of a curtain where we get a glimpse into what God is doing in our lives… later, I realized I was afraid of the curtain opening- not because I was afraid of what God was doing, but because I knew that in order for me to see God, I had to allow Him to see me- and I was ashamed.  It was at that retreat, God began to invite me out of my passive aggressive silence… to fight with Him again, to bicker with Him again… and in the midst of that, to experience grace afresh, learn to pray again, to worship again, to be with Him again in truth and authenticity.

In those times of solitude, I realized that I had stopped treating God as a lover, but as a business partner… and I felt cheated. Why suffer if I never get rewarded? And none of this ethereal, abstract bullshit about my “reward is in crowns in heaven”- I had suffered all these years fighting for just causes as an Asian American in a very white space, and what did I have to show for it? Not much- just bitter, alone and scarred, and students that just keep coming and going (and worse, I constantly struggled with a feeling of being white-washed in comparison with others in the Bay Area). I felt God was a business partner who had cheated me, and I wanted Him to repay His debts. But in the midst of this all, I didn’t want to fight with God… because unfortunately, although He can handle our complaints, our hurt, our bitterness… He usually still wins. And I didn’t want God to win this argument. It took hundreds of kilometers for me to finally surrender this losing fight… and wait for His response.

He answered. From a blog entry at the time:

“Daniel, you refuse to give up these debts you hold against me because you believe that your covenant with me as a Christian and as a minister is a business deal… I AM NOT YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER. I am your Father. I am your lover, My covenant with you is not a business deal, but a marriage covenant… to be with you. I would do anything, and have done everything to be with you- not to guilt you into doing shit for me, but asking you to go with me to where I am… and sometimes that’s in the shitty storms of life, and sometimes it is in the places of peace. You have forgotten the point of suffering is not just to suffer… but it is to be with Me. I didn’t suffer solely out of empty duty like it was a job or a contract… I did it to be with you, out of my love for you… All I want is for you to love me back. You once knew how to do this… But these days you have forgotten how to love Me. You have made fake contracts with Me, putting prices on My grace, and I’m calling them out for the bullshit that they are- I tore those unjust contracts as nail pierced flesh; as curtain tore from heaven downward; as last traces of breath left my chest; as immoveable gravestone was moved… I freed you to love me freely as I love You freely; a choice I made not out of binding legal agreement but out of the wild yet resolute passion of One who is so in love with you. You are free to say ‘no’ to this offer, but I am so tired of this halfway relationship built on duty and not love… Enough of this slavery. Come back, learn to love again… I ask not for your service, but for loving reciprocation out of freedom.”[4]

I realized I needed to learn a new way of obedience, and that the cost of love is not an economic cost, but a cost of love.

“And yet that demand is innate in love itself. Love costs, costs everything. To love beyond daydreams means to ‘sweat blood’ and ‘to be obedient unto death.’ Love invites us to look at the pain that is involved in real commitment and say, as Jesus said: ‘Not my will, but yours, be done.’ The path from alienation to intimacy with others requires that we learn to say those words.”[5]

This was the most important experience of my Camino: an invitation from the God who loves me-not the God who owes me- to release the debts I held against God and to learn to follow out of love again; to continue to pay the cost of love that is not based on a business deal but out of sacrificial desire to be with Him, reciprocating His sacrificial desire. I had a recommitment experience on the Camino in that I surrendered my identity as God’s business partner to begin to rediscover my relationship with my Father and my Lover.

Walking Forward

As I conclude my sabbatical, I am left with questions instead of answers; I find myself within tensions instead of cut-and-dry mandates. How do I live in a way in that I stop so that I can keep walking, instead of never stopping to the point of paralysis? What does it look like to choose solitude and community instead of isolation and audience? What does it look like to follow God sacrificially from a place of love instead of a place of obligation and duty?

“And suddenly in my despair that I should now be so slow and awkward I longed more fiercely than ever for my new life. The longing had no words but I knew I was praying for a strength which had to be granted from without, not dredged up from within where my resources were so enfeebled”[6]

While I have a few plans made to help me make these shifts, I am left more importantly with a desire to live my life differently; with a new resolve to do ministry in a renewed way that can only be done with God’s continued grace on my weakness. The work God had begun in me during my sabbatical is not complete, but I am excited for the continued journey towards learning to live within His hesed (covenantal loving-kindness) and ministering out of that to those around me.

[1] Nouwen, “Out of Solitude,” P. 24

[2] Nouwen, p. 26

[3] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, p. 151

[4] For a fuller account of this interaction with God: https://daniellui.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/to-be-with-you/

[5] Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart

[6] Susan Howatch, Glittering Images

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