Just to be with you…

It was a rainy day the previous day, and although we had only gone 18km, my group had to stop before hitting our goal of Astorga because of injury and failing waterproofing in our equipment.

That day, though, something in me told me I had to keep walking. I was two days away from Cruz Ferro, and for some reason, I could feel my soul being drawn to the place… Cruz Ferro is the highest point of the whole Camino, where there is a tall pole with an iron cross on top of it. The pilgrim tradition as of late is to carry a stone with you from wherever you begin representing something you want to let go of, and leaving it at the iron cross. On the whole walk to Astorga, I felt tension- the plan of the group was to stop at Astorga, but the magnetic pull was strong in me to keep walking. We sat for lunch Astorga and I was silent the whole time- strange for this extroverted American- and I told them, “Folks, I’m going to keep walking.”

The Camino is a push and pull between the discipline of community and individual discipline, and often, they are like opposing forces that battle fiercely in a tug of war within my heart and soul.

Accounting for elevation, I walked 22 more km after that. On that 22km… He began to speak to me again. Like he had begun to speak to me at the beginning of this trip in the mists of Northumbria, inviting me to open the curtains and stop hiding, where he replaced the voice “You should…, You didn’t…, Who are you…?” with “You are. You will be. I AM”.

He spoke to me as he had repetitively starting in Northumbria, and throughout the beginning of the Camino, and almost bellowing it over me during my first rainstorm walking from Najera, as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled in the darkness of the early morning, He shook my soul, “I AM in the storm, I AM in the shelter”…

He began to speak to me as he spoke to me earlier in the Meseta, where He challenged me, “Stop this passive agressive act. You’re not angry at the world, yourself, your situations… You’re angry at me. COME AT ME. FIGHT ME.” I tried to resist starting this fight… because I knew it was a fight I would lose… but as I fought Him, I felt His embrace, and the whisper… “I walk this camino with you…”

I didn’t hear you enter
But I know you have been circling my room
I listen for your footsteps
Close my eyes and wait for you to move

You’re hiding like a memory
Teasing like a girl I used to know
Tumbling and gamboling
Calling to the weakness in my soul

Telling me to speak

In one reckless moment
You move a little too close to my ears
I grab a hold with both hands
And scramble to make sense of what I hear

I try to tie you down
With synonyms and sad piano sounds
For a moment you surrender
One moment we both stand on the same ground

And I begin to speak
I begin to say something

And all at once you pull away
I’m lost within your atmosphere
As quickly as you found me
I panic as you try to disappear

I reach out with my fingers
And try to pull the letters back in line
But your words spin out of order
And the pounding in my chest is out of time

But I just want to speak
I just want to say something
I just want to speak
I just want to say something
Can anybody hear me?

-“Speak” by Ben Abraham

And as the calm following the storm of my anger came and I limped through the Meseta, He asked, “Are you ready to let go of the debts you are holding against me?”… that was the last time I talked with Him, I didn’t answer Him… What’s funny is that I had been carrying a rock the whole trip not knowing what it actually was- And I think it was the first time I realized what I needed to leave at the cross…

This time, I was pondering- why would James have made this trip? The original legend of James’ pilgrimage to Spain was actually a story of utter failure- He heard Jesus’ last words to go to the ends of the earth, so he went to the place that was literally called by the locals “Finisterra”- the end of the world- and got there and had almost no success with very few converts. He then had to leave without many results to take over a leadership vacuum in the church in Jerusalem… only to be killed there. I had been wrestling with this story- it’s a story of failure, of unfulfilled dreams, and not glamorous at all. It felt a little defeatist to visit this man’s burial place… “God, it doesn’t seem very fair for James- He obeyed You. Shouldn’t You have come through for him? Why the hell would he do something like this?” It reminded me so much of the fleeting success of community college ministry- sometimes it feels like sand castles that keep on washing away and that nothing I do has lasted… It wears on the soul.

“…James didn’t do it for the mission. He did it to be with Me.”

“Huh? What do You mean?”

“James knew it wasn’t about success… He saw that my camino was not about success, as my camino on this earth was cut short, in a bloody, ugly fashion, humiliated on a cross with my followers scattered in fear. But although it was worldly failure… I did not fail. My goal was not a path of power and success of the world… but it was the goal of a stricken lover; a parent looking for his child: I wanted to show that I- God, the I AM- desired with the passionate love of a father, a lover… to be with him, His people, his creation. And I wanted to be at the ends of the earth… so that is where James followed me out of love… And I desire to be with you…”

I pondered this at the end of the day, and went to sleep, tired from walking 34 km… But secretly I just didn’t want to keep going down this line…

…I woke up at 5am. God wasn’t done talking with me, and wasn’t going to let me sleep it off…

“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.”

…I found myself weeping in the cold albergue with the gentle sound of snoring from tired pilgrims. The love songs I had grown tired of that were the trend in worship music during the ’90’s began to play incessantly in my head, realizing how long it had been since I prayed:

“…I want to fall in love with You,
I want to fall in love with You…”

My walk up to Cruz Ferro was shrouded in mysterious fog, as it hid the striking contours of the mountains until the very last minute, as if the clouds and the mountains were in an intricate dramatic dance of concealment and revelation…

Usually you can see the cross for kilometers away, but the fog shrouded it well… Until I turned the corner, and there it was- a mountain of small rocks; of memories and mementos; of pictures tied to the pole of lost ones… It was a moving representation of the pilgrimage; people realizing, “Solvitur ambulando“- ” it is solved by walking”. The physical representation of surrender in this place created a sense of spiritual thickness I could almost feel like the thick fog around us.

“Are you ready to let go of those debts?”

I sat on the pile of surrendered rocks, and found myself weeping again.

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My fingers clenched tightly to my stone; I had been used to holding the weight of this stone for so long… The weight of every student I knew who had fallen off the grid that I couldn’t save, the weight of having to bear the brunt of every racist comment and stupid Asian joke while living in North County, the weight of Alfred’s death, the weight of Anthony’s death, the weight of feeling so much responsibility for grandma before she passed, the weight of the limbo of transition in a place that was once home but so foreign, the weight of losing her in the midst of that transition because our callings diverged… The weight of feeling I was owed for all of this.

In Hollywood-dramatic fashion, as I sat there, it began to rain. “I am, and have always been with you in those storms. I am the lover of your soul…” Jurgen Moltmann´s theological response to the paradox of the existence of injustice in the world and an all powerful God is sometimes so unsatisfying- that God does not solve the injustice in our worldly timeline, but joins us in suffering in the midst of it all… but that day, sitting on the pile of surrendered stones, I understood it.

I’ve heard it said that a man would climb a mountain
Just to be with the one he loves
How many times has he broken that promise
It has never been done.
I’ve never climbed the highest mountain
But I walked the hill of calvary

Just to be with you, I’d do anything
There’s no price I would not pay
Just to be with you, I’d give anything
I would give my life away.

-Love Song by Third Day

“Teach me to love again, Lord…” And the rock fell from my hand.

…it has been as if I followed the wrong trailmarker somewhere back there from the path of love and have wandered into a path of obligated service and work… The paths aren’t actually that different- the only difference is that one of these paths is much more lonely than the other. Although this pilgrimage has been about me finding that loving path again… It was really God who sought me out, walked towards me in singular purpose and passion and found me. I entered into sabbatical with the prayer of Moses, “If You don’t go with me, I can’t keep doing ministry like this!” But really, it was God saying it to me, pleading with me, “If you don’t let Me come with you, You can’t keep going on like this!” Now, I find myself awkwardly re-learning the rhythms of love, like someone who has been paralyzed and is re-learning how to walk. I am learning again that the mission is not success, but to be with Him.

…if I have to walk with a limp in the path of love, it’s still better than being paralyzed, unable to even speak…

“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”

-“Glittering Images” by Susan Howatch

…teach me again, oh Lord, to love You again…

I see the world
Breaking and falling apart
And I don’t know what to do with it
What to do with it
I see hate
Building up all of the walls
Turns family into enemy
What to do to do with it

I see love rising like a hurricane
Rising like a dead man coming up out of the grave
I feel love rising in my chest again
Rising like the burning sun into the day

-“Hurricane” by Gungor

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Meseta Lessons

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I’m here in Leon on a rest day. It’s just about the end of the meseta… and I’ve learned much already. The Meseta is a region of flat land in the middle of the Camino. They say the first section through the pyrenees and the rolling vineyards and fields of Navarre and Rioja test your physical strength. The Meseta is the second part of the Camino- and they say it tests your mental resolve.

The beginning of the Meseta, I was feeling wonderful. I did 4 days worth of walking in 3 days. I felt invincible. 30 km? No problem! This long legged person is walking 6km/hour? Heck, i can do that! This whole thing is flat, what could it hurt?

…Well, it could hurt a lot haha. By the halfway point of the Meseta (and the Camino), I was hobbling with 2 new blisters (named Jim and Larry), had to stop in an albergue early and was all alone there that night- horrifying for an extrovert. I had to learn how to slow down, to accept that I could only do at most the average amount of walking, and that I am bad at listening to my body. It’s funny how the least physically challenging part of the Camino seemed to take the most out of me. I got to the last town yesterday night feeling broken as I had been ambushed by a horizontal hailstorm that made my unprotected legs (ha. i was wearing shorts) numb with cold and pain.

I’ve had to accept that I am amazing at conquering mountains… I can handle long climbs uphill and steep downhills- but I am horrible at figuring out what to do in the calm flatness of the terrain- and life. It really is an analogy of my life- I shine the most when faced with adversity in ministry- but when things get flat or calm, I am unsure what to do with all that energy. I have burnt myself out trying to have fun. I have fallen into depression on those calm days of rest, and swing the pendulum towards extreme lethargy.

But on the second half of the Meseta, I had to learn to slow down. I had to learn to stop trying to compare, and to let go of my F.O.M.O. of those who go faster and ahead of me. I have to learn to listen to my own mortality and surrender my pursuit of being invincible. At the same time, I have learned determination- not just to sit down in despair because of a painful blister and give up the whole endeavor- but to stop, rest, eat a meal, sleep, and try again the next day, even if it is just a few kilometers. Finally, I’m learning to forgive myself for taking it easy- and allowing myself to take the bus if I need to once or twice :)- to rest in the short term so that I can keep going for the next two weeks.

Honestly, it’s really simple and straight-forward… but sometimes, simple and straight-forward are the hardest things to learn :).

Camino de Santiago: Thoughts at 36% of the Way There

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"Stop to think. Start to feel -found outside Santo Domingo"

Hard to imagine I’ve completed about 281 km (close to 175 miles). I’m taking a break in the beautiful city of burgos. From here, the gentle fields of wheat and vineyards transform into a lengthy flatland called the meseta.

Health-wise, I actually feel the best I have during the whole Camino. The little Camino cold I caught in the beginning is all but gone, and my shin splints are no longer bothering me. Not to say I’m not tired- there are new aches now that have come with 2 weeks straight of walking- the joint in my right big toe is tired from bending so much, my back a little sore… Yesterday upon arriving in Burgos, I just collapsed on my hotel bed and didn’t get up for 2.5-3 hours haha.

This is a jubilee year, so the Camino has a record number of pilgrims this year. It’s got me thinking about my conversations with God lately- before the Camino, at a retreat, I had a powerful conviction that I have stopped fighting with God. “But God, I’ve become more mature than the angry daniel that bickered with You. I don’t stick middle fingers at You anymore. I trust You…”

“…Daniel, if you really did trust me, You would remember that I can handle it… Plus, don’t you remember that it was that angry Daniel that I pursued all those college years? So let’s do it, Daniel. Let’s fight. Come at me, bro.”

Ha. “Come at me bro.” I never knew God could be a brodouche.

So me and God have been having some healthy bickering as I have been walking long distances by myself.

It’s been great- but today, reflecting on the nature of debt-releasing in the spirit of jubilee, His voice whispered to me as I watched the rain in Burgos, “Are you ready to release some of the debts you’ve held against Me?”

My stomach turned, and I felt a mental wall in front of me.

I have followed God and obeyed Him in crazy ways in the last 9 years of ministry, and maybe before my time in ministry. And after moving to the edges of society to obey His call, of having to walk students through the shit of life, of having to attend too many fucking funerals, of having to feel alone in all those moments… I realized boiling beneath the surface was a resentment and a feeling that God owed me something- an easier path, a life partner, a stable group of friends…

…I had begun to operate out of deals and debts with God- “I’m not going to move or take another risk until You provide me these things in life”.

…And the verse from the end of the parable of the prodigal son of the father speaking to the older son echoed in my head, as it has been since I began my sabbatical, “Everything I have is your’s…”

It’s an offer that isn’t with strings attached, with debt in mind or entitlement of work… It is simply the free gift of grace. And I have turned grace into burden, into a debt owed to me.

As I start on the meseta tomorrow, there is an invitation from God for me to start releasing those debts off of Him. In all honesty, I don’t know if I can do it, it feels more impossible than walking the remaining 500 km. But maybe it’s not a matter of ending my bargaining with God, it’s more that He thinks I should be bargaining for more- not a spouse, not a community, not an easier ministry and not a stable life or a house… But to take a page from Moses’s book and demand that His Glory go with me.

God, restore in me a hunger and thirst for Your presence, Your face, Your Glory.

Walk On…

As I’m in Pamplona resting and nursing some physical ailments, I get to spend good Friday here.

I’ve been trying to do the daily offices from the Northumbria Community, who I’ve spent some time with on a silent retreat before starting the Camino.

On this good friday, there was a meditation in the offices today that really struck me:

“A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about His eyes and His voice. There’s something about the way He carries His head, His hands, the way He carries His cross – the way He carries me.’”

Frederick Buechner

It sucks to be hurting right now, I feel close to my mortality… But I was thinking about it- a fair amount of pilgrims are on the road because they have either encountered their own mortality with a near death experience or retirement… or they have experienced the mortality of someone dear to them. And for those of us young guns on the trail, we at some point encounter our own mortality with an injury of some sort…

The pilgrimage Jesus took though… He has indeed encountered mortality… Experiencing the pain and brokenness of human experience with the hope of revealing the deeper joy that God implanted in our being before the corruption of sin… But mortality hurts.   “Father, if there is a way, take this cup from me…”. He could have given up. But he pressed on, for the joy set before Him.

I am on this pilgrimage… In hope that God would un-bury some of the hidden treasures within my soul that have been so hard to see because of my busy-ness and burnt out living… But a different kind of work lies in front of me to get to that place, and it’s damn painful to let God unearth the created goodness in me. Just as there is a long road ahead of me to Santiago… There is a long way to go on my heart. …And all I can do is to ask for mercy to take the next step, to do the next stage.

…because He didn’t give up in that garden. He pressed on. He faced death, and didn’t run from it and marched forward unto death, carrying my sin and it’s consequences, even if it tore at every fiber of his being; physically and spiritually. Because he kept walking forward… I will continue to walk. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Thank you for carrying me, even if it cost you everything.

…and yes. That’s part of the “something” that keeps me clinging to Him, the look in His eyes, the way He calls me child, the way He carries me… Something grabbed hold of me, and continues to grip my heart no matter how angry or burnt out I have become. I keep holding on… But really, it isn’t me- it is He who took hold of me, even if it killed Him… And didn’t let go. It was He who, even if I keep running away- walks forward in love towards me, and won’t give up the pursuit, even if it is towards the cross.

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Departures are just the beginning of a long journey home

I’m leaving today to the UK… This morning as I reflect, it’s hard to believe I’ll be on the other side of the world after this flight.

For most of this last week, many of my anxieties have sprung from me not knowing what to expect in Europe… today, seeing news of a shutdown Trump rally and beautiful stories of protest,  my mind has started to wander further into the future. Technically, the destination for my camino is Santiago (or Muxia if I want to follow in Martin Sheen’s steps haha)- but this morning, I’m thinking about how, really, every journey’s real destination is home.

I’ve been so dialed into the happenings around us; into the political scene; into the the polarizations of politics and race… It will be strange to be unplugged from that.. I wonder what America will look like when I return. I’ve actually not thought of this much. In fact, most of my motives for this trip are quite introspective (I had a friend look at me inquisitively with a raised eyebrow, and asked if it was safe to be so introspective)- so I just haven’t really thought in those grand scales of the state of society… But things are changing, shifting and moving in the US. I wonder if the America’s conscience will finally awaken… or if our generations-old structures of brokenness will weight us down.

…but as I write that, I realize I have the same questions for myself in my life- will my deep, created goodness formed in me by my Creator awaken? Or will I be forever weighed down by the sin and brokenness I have inherited?

In ways, I’m looking for my Steinbeck East of Eden “timshel” (translation: Thou mayest)- in which the characters negotiate the expectations of others in their roles as protagonists and antagonists on account of their family line… and finally, in the end, they finally hear the underlying, freeing timshel of their true Creator. The true gospel frees us to emerge out of the bonds of our inescapable sin and brokenness… and choose the good life God intended for us. If I want to see that freedom for my country, my church, my family, my staff team, my students… I guess I’ll need to experience some of that myself.

The Camino Beckons

The Camino is beckoning me, I’m two days away. I’m excited. I’m nervous.

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No, not the Camino. Rancho San Antonio in Los Altos. I got stuck here after sunset a couple weeks ago doing a practice hike… scary hiking at night through woods without a flashlight!

People ask if I feel ready… I’ve bought my tickets, most of my lodging is figured out in UK and Paris, and I have my train tickets, I’ve been assembling my pack and weighing my load, and I feel like I alternate between going to REI and Sports Basement each day.

…But no, I really don’t feel ready. In some ways, I would ironically feel more at peace going to China- it’s actually the only country I’ve gone to outside of North America, and even with all the weird T.I.C. (This is China) idiosyncrasies of China… Europe is a foreign place to me in comparison. There is so much unknown, it’s hard to tell if I’m ready or not logistically… and then my soul- …yeah my soul.

If you haven’t been able to tell from my last post… I’ve been feeling just a tad… angsty lately. In a way, I knew this would happen, but at the same time, I didn’t really anticipate so much underneath the surface. Just boiling angst about everything from white supremacy to too many people having assumptions, opinions and expectations of me to somebody coming 10 minutes late because of traffic… I didn’t realize how much anger there was under the surface.

So my solution has been to take “practice hikes”. In fact, right after angrily typing out my last post in a huff, I slammed my laptop closed, got in my car to Rancho San Antonio and started hiking- for what I had planned as an 1 hour 3 mile hike at 4:30pm. But as I climbed up that hill, seeing ridge after ridge, with each bend revealing a new vista… I just kept walking. There was something cathartic about walking… stride after angry stride, I kept stomping up the hill, until I forgot I was taking steps and just kept going forward.

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Before I knew it, I had walked over 4 miles and was looking out at the clouds rolling down over the coastal ranges into the San Francisco Bay during the sunset… It was such a moment of peace, only to be interrupted by the realization that I would have to hike over 4 miles after sunset.

And there was something peculiar as I trudged through the woods in the dark, trying to make out the slightly brighter coloration of the path, and thinking every dark tree stump was a mountain lion- I just felt lighter. In fact, as I got to the car to find a ticket on my windshield because I had stayed in the park after the closing time… I laughed.

Vulnerable confession- I’ve had a deep fear during this sabbatical. I know that it’s common for one’s ugliness, sin and brokenness to be revealed during a time of rest- but eventually revealing the deeper currents of the Father’s grace for even those ugly parts of oneself, and to be reminded of that we were indeed created in His image, to find the true human being who can only be revealed by Grace …My fear has been that I would go through this sabbatical and just find how deeply sinful I am and that I wouldn’t find that deeper current of Grace within me. I’ve been afraid of peeling back the layers only to find rotting trash underneath, and as I’ve engaged with the stench of how broken I can be, I’ve started to not be sure if His Grace is strong enough to make me whole, especially to those deep layers…

…But the choice I make is to hope. I choose to hope that my angry trudging up the paths will be transformed into joyful laughter.

Jesus, God who incarnated Himself to walk among us… as I walk on this path ahead of me, remind me that You have not left my side, you continue to walk alongside me as brother, even as I feel my path is lonely and I prove to be sometimes a miserable and angsty companion- You’ve already walked this path, you are not afraid. 

If you want to follow me during these next 7 weeks, because I won’t have my laptop, I’ll be updating on my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/daniel_looks/) and my tumblr (http://daniellooks.tumblr.com) because of the shorter format. All posts will be cross posted onto the tumblr.

Simmering Below, Unpredictable Eruptions

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I am an angry person.

After 2 months of sabbatical, this was my new (but not so new) revelation from my introspection.

People who don’t know me so well often raise an eyebrow. I’m such a gregarious personality on the outside, always ready with a cheesy joke said at the most inappropriate time.

But simmering below is a cauldron of frustration and unquenchable rage… and people who know me have seen it- whether it was my childhood tantrums, my high school mopiness, or the slamming down of the beer glass at the bar while yelling obscenities about a situation- people have seen it and sometimes it shocks people… and somehow- although it has happened repeatedly in my life- it has always shocked myself as well, along with a hangover of shame for the next few days that I had lost control.

During these 2 months of sabbatical, there have been moments of peace. There have been opportunities to unwind, to read things I haven’t been able to read without a deadline, to reconnect with friends whom I value- but throughout it all, there has been an underlying buzz of anger in me that bursts out of me at the smallest things… whether it be an assumption someone makes about me, or someone cutting me off on the freeway, or hearing a Sunday message I don’t agree with- the underlying buzz has come much closer to the surface in these last couple months, and has erupted out of me much more than I’d like to admit.

And I have to come to terms that this is not just some alternative Hyde to my Jekyll… This is me, and I am not ignoring an insane element in me, but I have tried to silence this part of me for so long and have never been successful at it.

I am an angry person, I am angry about so many things- some things true, some things not- but I am so damn angry.

  • I am angry at the media shit-storm I experienced last year over a stupid yelp review
  • I am angry at the isolation I felt in North County as an Asian American for 7 years.
  • I am angry that I had to sit through so many stupid racist assumptions and jokes about me those years.
  • I am angry at that feeling that I have had to fight for people to pay attention to community colleges for so many years, while watching students actually physically die…
  • …I am so angry that I got left having to take care of Anthony the week before he died.
  • …I am angry that I couldn’t tell something was wrong with Alfred’s health when I drove him home a few days before he passed.
  • I am angry at the cluelessness and generalizations people have made of my ministry.
  • I am angry that people assume that I am just a bunch of loud jokes like I can’t handle “real things”.
  • I am angry at the trauma I’ve experienced through watching my home church fracture and split so many times over the years
  • I am angry at the religious manipulation I have experienced in my years as a Christian, that has driven so many of my friends from church
  • I am angry at whoever taught me that to be a leader is to pretend that I am invincible, that nothing bothers me, I am angry that I am taught to bottle it all up, I am angry at people calling me “dramatic” when I finally decide to voice my anger
  • I am angry that I feel so incompetent these days at my job

… the list goes on. And the thing is- this anger can be so righteous. In fact, it’s one of my strongest drivers in ministry, it’s what makes me want to protect people, it’s what makes me want to take risks, it’s what spurs me to prophetically call out the fake counterfeits and to challenge people to hope for something truer and more real…

…but there have been times during these last two months (and throughout my years in ministry) when I just feel like I’ve been oozing  bitterness… It feels gross. It feels un-cleanable and unloveable. There are times my anger is holy fire, but there are other times my anger is thick tar that covers and chokes my being.

And I have been like the bitter elder son outside of the house, full of resentment…

“Everything I have is your’s…” says the Father.

My fists clench. I want to celebrate. I want to have joy. But I just feel too toxic to receive it.

I am like the disciples, feeling alone and desperate in a sea of 5000 hungry people and not knowing how to feed them all. I am angry with the Father telling me to feed all these people when I barely have enough to feed myself. I feel bitter, toxic cynicism as the little boy brings 5 tiny loaves and 2 fish to Jesus…

…but as I watch him break the bread, and see the pieces of bread multiply abundantly, more than even the 5000 need… I realize that in the deepest part of my being, I want to be a part of this- but I feel so ashamed of my anger, my bitterness, of my cynicism. He looks intently at me until I look back into His eyes.  He repeats, “Everything I have is your’s…”

I look away. And He is so angry at these vendors in the temple court of my heart, that I have built, cheating myself out of receiving His love, putting imaginary fees on the gift of His grace that He has already paid so dearly for. Rage flickers in his eyes and his chest heaves in exasperating gasps as He throws the tables aside, yelling at the top of His lungs, “This place is to be a house of prayer, of communion with me, but you have made it a den of robbers!”

And in the midst of that underlying buzz of anger in my being- at myself, at everyone else, at God… within His being is an underlying song of grace, building up, ready to burst forth in the holy fire of that deep violent compassionate twisting of His stomach that I am starving because I am cheating myself from experiencing His love, constantly beckoning me to come back in, ready to give me more than I could ever imagine instead of always exiling myself outside the house with resentment and imaginary rules, showing me it is safe to give all of myself to Him because He has already given me all of Himself, and it is more than I could have ever imagined receiving…

God, overturner of tables and gentle Father who beckons me in- teach me that angry gentleness, that violent compassion, that grace that rips veils… and I know- first, before I can imitate it, I have to allow my heart to be engulfed in that same Grace.

 

 

 

 

Brothers Still

The four of us sat in a row together, in a building full of memory beneath the paint of the walls. The first slide up front was a cursive proclamation: “You Belong Here”. Perhaps to some of us, it was a warm welcome home, and perhaps to others of us, it was a threat… or maybe a mixture of both and more. Listening to the songs that meant so much to us when we were younger, eliciting different reactions in us today- comfort, revulsion, confusion, curiosity. Familiarity and foreignness.

There was a communal snicker that came out of our row of four as the announcements of a youth lock-in came on screen. “…remember the bathroom?” and it was hard for us to contain our laughter as memories from almost 20 years ago resurfaced; we were making a scene just like we used to all those years ago.

Sit. Stand. Pray. Sit back down. Greet someone. (“…It’s been so long!”) Listen to sermon. Try not to listen to eachother’s snickers. Stand. Pray. Leave.

Nothing’s really changed.

As we sat at a barbecue restaurant at 10:30am (nothing better than barbecue for breakfast), we marveled at how much it all felt like home, but how strange and unfamiliar it all was. We’ve gone our separate paths. Life has brought different things to us. Some of us have kids, some of us have experienced heartbreak, and some more than others. But all of us are showing age- if not in the color of our hair, it’s in our stories; it’s in the brief pauses after our laughter at old memories and stupid jokes… And in our age, “God” means different things to us all, and some would even say that some of us have “wandered” from the family… but here we were, this strange hodgepodge of personalities that came from the same cloth, as if some strange modern Asian-American version of the beginning of a Dostoyevsky novel (I should probably try finishing that book at some point in my life) had reincarnated itself in our own lives… brothers still.

As we jabbed eachother with old trash talk, with inappropriate jokes and with reminders of awkward memories… there was something powerful and incorruptible underneath it all. There was something deeper to our brotherhood than even (dare I say) religious affiliation.

…Maybe even a hint of God’s presence in our midst, whatever that might mean to each of us.

…or maybe i’m just a little too sentimental. Maybe I’m just a little overoptimistic about the fortitude of old friendships. Maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten how hard these friendships were to maintain through the years. Maybe I’m  just someone stuck in the past and things aren’t as much the same as I think.

But whatever I am, I’m sure of this: I miss these brothers, and I’m thankful for the part they’ve all played in making me the beautiful mess of who I am today. Thanks guys.

Tagged

Hope

Hope is not an obliviousness to broken reality or a sentiment fueled by avoidance of hard things- it is a discipline of faith that even in the most broken and dead things, that life can still yet be found in the in the rubble.

…not that I’m in expert in such things. Ninety percent of the time I’m really writing these things to myself.

…Lord, revive hope in me. Give my hands strength to dig through the rubble and to keep digging for life even when all seems utterly destroyed. Restore real vision to my eyes to see the radical and risky potentiality that Your kingdom brings into all things.

Lord, show me what you mean when You say, “I make all things new”.

Teach me to hope again.

On Apologies and Forgiveness: New Developments in My Starbucks Yelp Review

I was exhausted yesterday… and it was only 3pm.

I had been attempting all day to do work, but calls, emails and interview requests about my Yelp review kept coming up. Most of these interviews have been great, and I’ve been able to have great conversations about race, Starbucks and real reconciliation. Others hadn’t gone so great- one radio station host’s questions were insinuating I was making too big of a deal about the whole thing and what I had encountered was not racism (his words, basically, “I admire Asians and their hard work… don’t you think you’re making too big of a deal for having it so good as a people group?”). Suffice to say, I was completely exhausted from being a medium viral sensation… breaking the Asian-American internet is an energy-demanding venture.

Then the phone rang. It was an executive leader for Starbucks. He said he wanted to hear what had happened in my own words. I began to tell him the events again, thinking this was customer service further investigating… when it dawned on me as I was telling the story, that this might just be…

…”Well, Daniel. I want to let you know that I am that person.”

Wow.

He went on to apologize for what he had done. He explained that he was speaking to another customer who told him that he (the customer) was looking at the store’s concept in order to bring it overseas. This customer pointed in our direction and said, “I’m with my friends over there to see how we can do something similar overseas”. Assuming that we were this customer’s partners, he came up to us after the meeting let out, began leading a tour with the people in the meeting and saw that we were still sitting at the counter. It was then that the events described in my yelp review unfolded.

Now I know- it still raises a few questions- Should I trust this exec’s story? Should I believe that there was a person of whom “I can’t even remember what he looks like” that pointed directly at us, conveniently saying that we were actually there to steal secrets? Some of it just seemed too perfect of a storm to believe…

…but then my mind snapped back and remembered the comments I’ve received on some public sites. I remembered some very hurtful statements, saying that I was doing this all for money or attention (to which my response is… I DIDN’T PLOT TO HAVE THIS REVIEW EXPLODE LIKE THIS… but trolls never listen). I remembered racist comments people would say, saying that I was just race baiting, I should fall in line because Asian Americans aren’t really oppressed and that I should grow thicker skin. I remember hating that a lot of these comments showed that there were so many people that assumed the worst in me. And I realized- I can’t stoop down to their level.

But I also couldn’t back down on how hurtful and uncomfortable the situation was. I couldn’t just pretend like it didn’t happen, and I’m not helping the situation by glossing over it like it wasn’t a big deal.

…So I told him that it was hurtful and left me feeling uncomfortable…

It was. EVEN IF it was justified because we were accused by someone else, the fact that we got lumped in as Chinese spies is a stereotype that is hurtful. I was born in the United States and am a citizen. For better or worse, I love this country and its ideals- that my physical complexion and ethnicity is a reason to feel suspected of sedition and robbery of the country that I am a citizen of- that is hurtful. It’s degrading to question my trustworthiness on account of my culture. And whether he had hostile motives or not- what matters is the outside action hurt and it made me feel unwelcome- not just to the store, but to the opportunity, ideals and vision of the country I was a citizen of.

…But I then told him, even acknowledging that real pain, that I wanted to extend grace and forgive him.

As I was in that conversation, I realized the tough balance that real forgiveness and reconciliation requires- that reconciliation is the restoration of each other’s humanity- both the wronged and the wrongdoer. But in the midst of that, for real reconciliation, the wronged doesn’t back down from the reality of his or her hurtful experience. It’s a choice to fully acknowledge in each other the vulnerable imperfect humanity in within, and choose to say “I will call you my brother or sister” instead of relegating the offender as “other”. This executive is also a human being, and I do the same orientalizing (read: Edward Said’s Orientalism if you want a fuller explanation of that term) alienation that those of western descent have historically done to those like me as someone with Asian descent if i leave him locked up as an evil perpetrator of injustice. Although we have different socio-historical forces that influence us towards evil and injustice… we are but the same in our potential towards evil. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

So he thanked me.

I’m not sure if he understood completely the complexities of forgiveness and the mental battle it takes for me not to sweep the wrong done to me under the rug and yet to press in to see his humanity… but I keep in the forefront of my mind that this executive who made these highly inappropriate jokes and myself as well- we have the same potential for wrong… but he also has the same potential for good. So I make the choice to believe in this man’s potential for goodness and for the image of God to be revealed in him.

The exec invited me to come back to the store again at some point. I’m not sure how I can afford to get a plane ticket back to Seattle, but I think that it will be worth it if I get to grab that cup of coffee with him- because for all the criticism I could give to Starbucks as a corporation (their partnership with Monsanto, gentrification, etc.), I do admire their goal and philosophy of creating communal spaces where friendship and family can occur. But as I’ve said before, REAL friendship and REAL family- especially in our diverse country caught up in the lie of “post-racial” America- is messy and hurts… and I hope that I can dive into the mess with this exec over some coffee, because I believe that it’s worth the mess and pain.

Let’s hope I can find a way back to Seattle to have that coffee.

—-

Some of you may be wondering why I won’t outright say this man’s name. While it would help my personal cause to put this man’s name on blast, I feel that it would be deconstructive towards real reconciliation and understanding. Here are some reasons why:

  • I want this man to experience forgiveness and restoration, not shame.
  • While my goal is forgiveness and restoration, I know that the internet is not a forgiving place. I’m not here to destroy Starbucks or this exec’s life; I want to model what it looks like to restore- and not even really for the “internet world” (although I feel our country needs real examples of reconciliation), but because I know I need to have integrity with the teachings of forgiveness, reconciliation and humility that I preach to those because of my work with Intervarsity and for the other communities that I influence.
  • I’ll also add- if this man is dragged out in a witch hunt and crucified for his insensitive and racist comments towards me- when do you think Starbucks will try again to actually engage issues of race? Their #racetogether campaign already failed, and I’m betting they’re feeling skittish about re-engaging with the race conversation. However, I want them to try again, and to succeed at opening constructive conversations about race, because honestly, we need as much dialogue as possible in our country’s race conversation, irregardless if it’s individuals, communities or corporate entities.

To the starbucks exec- it would mean a lot of there was a public apology. It would silence some of those horrible commenters saying I’ve made up the whole thing. But I can’t force that on you, and that really isn’t my goal. I’ll repeat what I want- I simply want to meet up with you, hear your story, share mine… and hopefully share a small sliver of the gospel dream of multiethnic, multicultural reconciliation and shalom that has utterly captured my heart and motivates the work I do as a minister with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Let’s get that coffee appointment organized, eh? 

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