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Category Archives: Life

I just finished the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, and I am numb. The cruelty, horror, and inhumanity depicted in that short little book of roughly 75 pages disturbed me. I am shook to the bone.

My first emotion: anger. How did this happen? How did our world allow this to happen? How did God allow this to happen? Why are men so evil and so blind to their own evil? Why did institutional Christianity not only fail to prevent cruelty but even endorsed and underwrote it, and thereby defiled the name of Christ. After reading about the white nationalist rally in Charlottsville, I wonder how much evil and hatred reside in the hearts of men even 200 years after abolition? How can evil take root and fester and spread in man for so long? How is it possible for a man to fold his hands in prayer, or hold the hands of his family, embrace his fellow man in a hug, wipe the tear of his child, while with the same hands tie a woman to a post, strip her naked, and lacerate her with leather until her skin raises one end like flaking bark off a tree? What kind of man is this? Does this man exist in me?

Douglass adds an appendix defending his love for Christ and true Christianity, while excoriating the religion of America as Jesus did the Pharisees. He applies Matthew 23, the hell raising tirade against the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes, to the religious people of America in both the north and the south. I am nearly ashamed of my association with Christianity, and even Douglass still stays faithful to God and even acknowledges his providence in his escape from slavery in the book despite Christianity also being the religion of his captors and robbers.

I wonder – is there a blind spot for me, for us, today that causes us to ignore the cries of the oppressed? Who are the oppressed around me? Why have we chosen to ignore rather than to help? 

I once talked to a pastor about church, and he said we would never be a “social justice” church. That is fine. I love our church and how it strives to learn and know the word of God. But I wonder – does attending a mono-ethnic upper-class church affect the way I see the world? Do the sermons, Sunday school lessons, and more importantly, the discussions with people in my economic class help me become more generous and aware of oppression? Do we even give a fuck?

I wonder – will we hear anything from the pulpit about Charlottsville? Will we condemn evil when we see it? Hear it? Does mentioning this mean the polluting of our religion with politics? Is our desire to preserve unity going to muzzle our ability to speak against evil? I mean, we had no problem promoting Prop 8 when that was up for election, why do we shy away now?

Sigh. I need to remind myself your church is fallible and not the Word of God. It cannot do everything. Maybe all it is good for is potlucks and feel-good discussions about the Bible so we can feel spiritual about ourselves. Maybe it’s a place where we can feel less lonely and find roles to feel significant.

I understand these are not new arguments or sentiments. They have been around since the beginning of time. I know that such facts, especially put forward by others, are used to dissuade us from trying and from moving. And I am disappointed by my own lack of movement and understanding.

Reinhold Niebuhr is right – we can be moral towards our personal friends and family members but lack the necessary empathy towards out groups and the Other. And I am devastated.

 

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Random thought: Frederick Douglass deserves to be called a Founding Father. He pioneered his way into freedom, and in a way his narrative became a pamphlet for a new nation for his black brothers and sisters who suffered the lot of dogs and pigs for hundreds of years, and was not granted entrance into a new nation until Civil War. His short book should be required reading for every high school student in America. If they want to keep Robert E. Lee on the hill, then we should force every student in America to read and confront the history of our past with this book. History books, with their pictures of tattered black backs and cool analyses of the cultural, economic, and political conditions that allowed the institution of slavery to occur, do not even come close to demonstrating the utter depravity of the situation as Douglass’ short narrative account does.

 

I woke up with the stomach flu. I puked a couple of times this morning, hacking up bits of lettuce and saliva-infused water. I felt hot and my skin was sensitive.

I became a little delusional in the early morning. I said things like, “what’s the point, God?”, “Fuck that shit”, “Why the fuck did you have to take her?” (referring to my mom). All sorts of weird things came out.

To cope, I entertained fantasies that I will not pen here.

And then I forced myself out of bed, poured a can of chicken broth into a pot with old rice, ate it, and took an ibuprofen.

Then I played Douglass Moo’s lecture on the book of James on YouTube, the book we are studying in church right now. I respect Moo because other people respect his scholarship, but I also like listening to him because he’s an eloquent but gentle speaker. He fields all questions with respect and does not talk down at his students.

The book of James is a mess. According to Moo, it’s unlike the Pauline epistles and more like the intertestamental wisdom literature, stuff protestants like me don’t know about. The structure is not easily discerned, if there is one. Luther classified the book as a secondary letter, since it disagreed with his “justification-by-faith-alone” ethos and others seem to have labeled James as “weak” in theology. It’s just a bunch of exhortations, like Proverbs.

Moo replies that while James does not have much explicit theology, it is still theologically written. Its content is concerned with pastoring a flock gone awry, not with indoctrination or fine points of theology. In light of this revelation, we can read and appreciate James for what he tries to accomplish – the exhortation of brothers and sisters in the Christian diaspora to act properly.

James starts off with:

Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

It’s hard to be joyful in moments of disappointment and loss. In our 30s, I can already see some of my friends suffering from deep disappointment in themselves for not accomplishing the things they wanted to have accomplished by this age. Some want to be married. Some want financial stability. Others want to be more advanced in their careers. All of us compare ourselves to others. “He’s younger than me, but he has a child already”, “he’s got millions and a house and a great girlfriend…God’s favor is on him”, “he went to a great law school and has a job set up for him already”. Living in the bay area, where so many young, talented, highly motivated, and rich professionals populate the area, I think envy and anxiety are creeping around at every corner. We want to hang our heads high but the competition is just too fierce.

Moo reminds us that trials come from God. Much of the Old Testament, he says, report God giving his people trials to test their faith. Perhaps the most famous being Job, and, in the New Testament, Jesus.

If we see our failures in life as trials from God, I think we could have some sort of joy. James encourages his readers to persevere in trials because it renders the believer mature or perfect, as the ESV puts it. Moo comments that the NIV translation, “mature”, is too weak of a word to get across the finality and strength of what James means by teleios. “Perfect” is too loaded a term in English because it connotes a sense of OCDness or impossibility, and, thus, a despairing word. And yet, James pushes us to have faith in the testing process, which will achieve for us some wholeness, and, of course, “a reward of the life of the crown” (v.12), that is, life itself. With this end goal in mind, perhaps it might be easier to see our tests as occasions for joy, for we will not only have eternal life but also transform into the healed, whole person that we all truly desire to be.

In our trials, however, we are tempted. We are tempted to curse God, like I did. We are tempted to self-console through the usual or unusual vices like gambling, alcohol, sex, porn, overeating. We are tempted because we have inherited this strange desire to rebel against or thwart God. I’m not entirely sure why or how we are programmed like this – perhaps our hearts and minds are so fed on a diet of pleasures and rewards of the world that we seek to make friends with it to receive our due reward. In other words, we work hard in order to play hard.

In the face of utter failure of our designs, then, is an opportunity to rejoice in the trial. There is some purpose behind our failure, and it’s not merely if at all the reason to succeed later on in whatever worldly way we conceive. Our capitalistic society does a good job at convincing us that dogged determination will help us be like Mike or Bill Gates or Jack Ma.

James also advocates for a single-minded perseverance, but not in the same worldly sense. He tells us to persevere under duress, because that single-minded pursuit of the kingdom will reap for us wholeness, and rebirth. An existence not predicated on our own expectations of what the “good life” is, but one that rests solely on the glory of God.

On a personal note, as mom’s death anniversary comes up, I can’t help but try to apply this to my mom’s situation last year. She died a painful death. I saw her deteriorate rapidly like a broken plane sputtering across the sky crash into a fiery blaze into the earth.

She cried because of the pain. She vomited from the pain medicine that she received, which in turn created more pain. I saw her drench her bed with urine. I heard her complaints and cries for help. I will never forget the day I sat next to her, massaging her aching hip, hollowed out by cancer, when she suddenly buried her face into my shoulder crying, “hao tong, hao tong” – “it hurts, it hurts’.

My mom always said with a sad, childish face, “I’m not afraid to die, but afraid of the suffering leading up to it”.

1 year later, it is still hard to see the joy in that trial, one which we will all experience soon enough. And yet God promises us that these are the things we shall undergo in order to become whole and complete. May God grant us the faith to believe in this truth, may he give us the wisdom to endure it. I know he will. He wants to.

Online posts are a mixed blessing: On one hand, you gain lots of “likes” and encouraging words, but on the other hand, your tired, unrefined  thoughts get published at the click of a button. This encourages more scrupulous readers to remind me to adhere to standard grammar rules, or, for the more audacious, to critique the attitude or ideas of the post.

One such reader gently objected to my use of ghetto/ratchet to describe Inglewood. The reprimand forced me to reflect on my choice of words.

Why did I choose those words over other diplomatic (but less colorful) ones such as “challenging” or “difficult”? I’ve changed the post’s term to “difficult” because, in addition to heeding the advice of my reader, I also realize I’m uncomfortable with the words ratchet and ghetto. This story might help illustrate:

One day I used the word “ratchet” in a lecture to my students. I forget why I used it, probably for effect, but most likely it was an attempt to connect the subject-matter with my students. I had a pretty good understanding of the word – ghetto, uncouth, low-classness, etc. – and needed to find a way to communicate this idea by employing one of their own words.

The word, however, did not generate its intended effect. A few of them, especially some of my brighter students, were astonished. Maybe they were even offended. I was confused by their reaction, because everyone and anyone I knew threw the word around in the hallways like it was nobody’s business, so I treated it as such. Besides, I’m trying to find ways to communicate with my students by using their lingo, so, why should they be offended? Shouldn’t they give me the benefit of the doubt?

If you’ve ever taught ESL or just been around foreigners long enough, the first thing they’ll want to learn is how to cuss. In my experience, however, every time I hear a foreigner bleating cuss words I cringe in disgust. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the accent. Perhaps it’s my snooty upbringing. Or maybe it’s because I feel that the foreigner is trying to gain entry into my culture with cheap entry tokens, as if these ugly words signify their authenticity and inclusion. It’s like a nerdlinger donning expensive jeans and La Coste polos at the club. Or like that one time at the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina, where a white girl zeroed in on our family in the parking lot and enthusiastically started speaking her heavily accented Mandarin to us. I think she was so excited to flaunt her Mandarin with these Asian people so we could marvel at her cultural competence and linguistic powers. Sorry, not impressed.

And, perhaps my using of “ratchet” and “ghetto” with my students served as a cheap ploy for me to gain entry into their circle. The use on WordPress is even worse, because it’s like I’m broadcasting my hardcoreness to my very upper-middle class circle of friends. It’s like a smug Peace corps volunteer brandishing a Peace Corps pin on a NorthFace backpack, which will inevitably draw compliments like, “WOW, you are SO HARDCORE!” oogle oogle oogle. -__-

Anyways, I realize that I’m being a little hard on myself and the hypothetical people I’ve described. After all, being in Peace Corps is somewhat hardcore, and speaking decent Mandarin is really no easy feat. Still, the nerdlinger can eat it, and the teacher trying to get “in” with his students with a few phrases he picked off the street should be rightly ridiculed.

Well, virtual world, I’ve uprooted myself once again and have (temporarily?) planted myself in the desert shores of sunny SoCal. On the surface, I’ve come to study and obtain a Master’s degree in Teaching, but what I’m really looking for is some theory to ground my practices and mentorship from people who have taught for some time. So far classes have been great, but am a little bummed that I have to take a few classes online. I feel like teachers taking online classes don’t realize the irony that they’re participating in – isn’t the very act undercutting our very professions? Anyways, I need to be open to different ways of formation, virtual or real, so I guess I’ll give it a shot. I don’t have much choice anyways. 

School is great at a christian college. Every class starts with a meditation on a passage and prayer. At first I was weirded out, and, being the contrarian that I am, my gut reaction was to scoff at everything. From the smiley, friendly people to the Bible verses plastered all over the library walls, I felt I did not fit in with all the bubbliness. But, now, I gave in to the happy feelings that were actually fizzing within me, and now feel relieved and thankful for being in a setting that allows me to express this side of myself more easily. It’s weird, everyone on the first day of class was sharing their testimonies and personal philosophies about why they were there, and it was all so friggin’ brutally honest that I felt like I was at an AA meeting. Not that I’ve ever been to one. Where else on earth do you put your WORST foot forward first, and put forward your BEST foot only as Christ Jesus? 

And, I’m really thankful for this: this college has dispelled the myth that Christian students are bleeding heart simpletons who lack academic rigor. Today I met a Guatemalan-American grad student from Inglewood (a difficult neighborhood) who graduated from MIT! One drawback, however, is that this campus definitely lacks in diversity. Tons of (East) asians and white people, but only a few black and latino people. 
 
Here’s my room where I cradle and nurse my profound thoughts into brilliant essays: 
 
room 1

It’s been 2 years since writing the journal entry below, but I’m still posting it today because I still find it, sadly, relevant to my life today.

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January 17, 2012

or 16th. I don’t know….

I’m exhausted. My lesson plan sort of fell through today. Teaching can be humbling or debilitating – it’s only humbling if you are humble enough to learn from your mistakes, but debilitating if you let your failure undercut and waste you. Sometimes the difference between these two connotative words is a choice. Sometimes it’s not. In fact, it’s a constant mind war between your fear and your dreams and somewhere in the middle lies your character, your persistence.

We must always be wary, in such times, of false dreams and siren songs that tempt us from our immediate tasks. Somehow Society does not encourage us to persevere enough, but to flee, relax, spend, enjoy. These visions of vanity distract us from our true happiness, and, for the man, that is honest, pure work. Do not flee. Move towards your dreams.

For some reason, through all the times I’ve read the Sermon on the Mount, the blaring contradiction of the hidden vs. visible righteous life never occurred to me until now.

To begin, Jesus starts off his Sermon the Mount with a call to action:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven

But, for some reason, Jesus contradicts his call to action with warnings to hide our righteousness. This has completely escaped my notice until now:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

These contradictory commands confuse the reader and the sincere disciple. While he calls us to do good deeds before men, he also exhorts us to hide our righteousness before men? Naturally it follows that God will not be glorified if we do not somehow perform deeds in the open? How will the sinner know God if He is hid under the bowl then?

Bonhoeffer explains the seeming contradiction like this:

“How is this paradox to be resolved? The first question to ask is: From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or of what we are doing. We must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only in so far as we look unto Jesus; then it will seem not extraordinary, but quite ordinary and natural (Cost of Discipleship p. 158).

and,

“All that the follower of Jesus has to do is to make sure that his obedience, following and love are entirely spontaneous and unpremeditated.”(Cost of Discipleship p. 159).

I understand, and I don’t understand. How else are we to know if we are good or righteous before God without self-reflection? Practically speaking, how does one actually live so spontaneously (and irresponsibly) when Jesus does not literally tell us what to do in our day-to-day lives? Are we not left on our own then to make decisions that require self-reflection? When I do action X, don’t I need to first count, measure, and do some sort of opportunity cost analysis in order to move?

This is the testimony I gave at Urban Grace church in Oakland on May 18th, 2014 at 12:00(ish)pm :

Ever since I was a child, my mother and father dutifully took me to the local Chinese church every Sunday. I saw epic Bible stories played out on felt boards, and learned to memorize Bible verses each week for stickers. I did well at “church”. Sunday School teachers would always compliment my mother for raising such a “gwai xiao hai” – which roughly translates to a good, obedient child. As a natural progression, when I reached my sophomore year of high school, I got baptized as a public proclamation of my faith.

However, by the end of high school, I harbored doubts. Not only did I struggle with personal sins, I also began to question the exclusivity of my faith. One of my best friends was Mormon, so I wondered why God would judge people based on minutiae of some doctrine? Most of my Christian friends grew up with the propaganda being spoon fed to them since childhood – were we really that set apart as the Bible asserts?

I still went to church and led an ostensibly “Christian life” through high school and college – even serving as a leader in my college fellowship. You know, the guy on stage with the guitar. And, yet, the questions I left on the backburner began to boil over towards the end of my college years. Did I live it right? Am I faithful because Jesus is truly the son of God or am I faithful because I have found a place, the church, where I could exercise my talents and abilities and be recognized for them? Did I love and believe the thing itself, or only for its consequences? Did I do this to become and be recognized as a “gwai xiao hai” – except the people complimenting me were not aunties and uncles, but my friends.

With these questions in mind, I decided to remove the institutional scaffolds of my faith and joined the Peace Corps after college. I was sent to a Central Asian country, Turkmenistan, and there I sought answers, but came back with even more doubts. In the desert I made even more non-Christian friends, and, in fact, I chanced upon my best friend, my host mother. She took care of me in this alien environment, and showed me more love and grace than I had ever experienced in the church. It seemed that my doubts and queries of faith would never be resolved.

The uncertainty that these questions produced really took a toll on me after Peace Corps. When I returned, I avoided the church like the plague, out of the fear of succumbing to the familiar friendship and community it offered, but by doing so, I alienated myself to a very lonely life. I felt like a tired bird circling in the air, looking for a perch to alight on, but because of indecision and doubt, chose to circle above instead of settling. Additionally, life after Peace Corps was horrific. I came back to a flailing job market that had very little demand for young, hippy dippy Peace Corps volunteers, but I did manage to land a job at a giant tech company, which was essentially a job for oompla loompas and minions. Day in and day out, my coworkers and I labored in a digital assembly line by sorting out gigabytes of data, all the while fully aware that the sort of job we were doing would not help our future careers one “bit”, or shall I say, “byte”.

One night after a particularly grueling day of work, I laid on the ground and was horrified at who I had become: an isolated, unmotivated, 8 – 5 cog in a machine with lots of extra time to study or better myself but without the will power to do so. Instead, I spent hours numbing myself in front of the television, consuming and searching for whatever was even remotely entertaining – I watched many episodes of the wickedly entertaining, “The Dog Whisperer”– and even delved into the dark portals of pornography. Disappointed in my life, I crumbled. I began to believe in my own helplessness, and hopelessness, and would not let myself give myself a break.

Underneath the disappointment, however, lied expectation. Disappointment implies expectation of an ideal. What expectation did I have for myself? What image of myself was I beholden to for so long?

Ever since high school, I often found myself fantasizing myself as a sage, or someone to whom people could come for counsel. I always desired people to come to me for advice, imagining myself with the power and authority of a Rabbi. I call it, the Rabbi Complex. Perhaps this was why I was so fixated on growing a beard in college, though that was a failed experiment. I realized that I idolized this ‘perfect’ image of myself, and to further flagellate myself and refuse to accept the fallen nature of my estate only reaffirmed my selfish desire to craft my life into my own image. In fact, my own questions of doubt- important as they were – served as smoke screens that discouraged me from simple faith. I desired perfect knowledge more than faith. I wanted to be a sage more than a servant for Christ. And in my selfish ambition to appear wise, I muted the clear, clarion call of Christ for all of us: to repent and follow him to the Cross.

When we raise questions about our faith, we may be telling ourselves that we are truly sincere in our seeking, but in reality the same questions may prove our unwillingness to heed his demanding call to the cross. How much easier would it be to disobey if we  could obfuscate the message of the Cross with our “honest” questions? Furthermore, how much more can I raise myself up as a wise intellectual by probing the tenets of the faith?

It was here, from the bottom of the pit of my life that I cried out to God. I knew, deep down that I was a sinner trapped by not only the desires of the flesh, but also the delusions of the mind. I asked God to heal me of my delusions for self-aggrandizement, and to release me from my own expectation of self that leaves me isolated in the doldrums between reality and expectation.

I’ll end with a quote from “The Cost of Discipleship”, a Christian book by the 20th Century Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“When a man really gives up trying to make something of himself – a saint, or a converted sinner, or a church man (a so-called clerical somebody), a righteous or unrighteous man,…when in the fullness of tasks, questions, success or ill-hap, experiences and perplexities, a man throws himself into the arms of God…then he wakes with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia and it is thus that he becomes a man and a Christian. How can a man wax arrogant if in a this-sided life he shares the suffering of God?”

 

 

From one of Bonhoeffer’s sermons on death:

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not  been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sigh of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already to be the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all there is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up — that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death?…Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

Although he remained single for most of his life, Bonhoeffer’s friends often pursued domestic happiness through marriage. In a congratulatory letter to his betrothed friend, Bonhoeffer writes against fatalistic thinking and encourages his friend to pursue earthly joy as a sign of faith:

I would like to tell you how greatly I rejoice with you. What always delights me in enws like this is the self-assured glimpse into the future and the confidence that there is a reason to look forward to the next day or the next year, the joyful grasping hold of happiness where God still gives us. This is – don’t misunderstand me – a protest against all false, inauthentic apocalypticism that is becoming so widespread today, and I hail it as a sign of authentic and healthy faith. As earthly human beings we have to take account of an earthly future. For the sake of this future we must accept tasks, responsibilities, and joys and sorrows. We need not despise happiness simply because there is so much unhappiness. We should not arrogantly push away the kind hand of God because God’s hand is otherwise so hard. I think it is more important to remind one another of this in these days than of many other things, and I received your wedding announcements gratefully as a fine testimony to this very thing…May God also prepare you through this divine kindness to bear again the divine hardship if necessary.

 

I am a contrarian by nature and I often find myself on the opposing side of popular issues and pop culture. Bonhoeffer reminds me to avoid the trap of feigned intellectualism – anyone can naysay and take an opposing view to seem original, but what is his motivation? I know I have taken many stances of opposition for its own sake, and that is wrong.

On Sunday I visited my old college church and joined Sunday school. Shortly after we got into our small discussion groups, a young college student plopped down in the empty chair next to me, fussed about with his bag to find a pen, and immediately jumped into the discussion, offering his views of the passage without seeking the context of our own group discussion. He rambled on with observations that were difficult to follow, and, at the end of these long remarks, exasperated by his own loquaciousness, punctuated each statement with a, “Am I making any sense? Sorry, I just want to be clear”. His obsequious character reminded me of myself in college and high school, which was grounds enough to dislike him.

I thought I was rid of him after Sunday school, but I ended up sitting next to him at the picnic tables for church lunch. There were 4 of us – the young college student (let’s call him Bob), his friend (Jim), my friend and myself. Jim was handicapped who needed a walker that stabilized him when he walked, and also spoke with a slight impediment that made it difficult to hear and comprehend his speech. We were all conversing about college and their future plans when suddenly Jim requested a refill for his plate. With the same frantic eagerness he displayed during Sunday School, Bob jumped up immediately to fulfill Jim’s request. He clumsily clanged his own fork to his plate, abandoned his meal and took up his neighbor’s empty, greasy, paper plate and trooped off to the kitchen in search of seconds. I felt astonished both by the clumsiness of the action but also by the swiftness – Bob did not bat an eye or delay a second to serve his brother. He was so eager to serve that not only did he abandon his hot meal to the cooling wind, but also completely failed to remember that the Chinese congregation had not been served, which meant that he would inevitably be denied at the kitchen line and be told to wait until all church members were served. In other words, so eager was he to fulfill his friend’s request that he completely ignored the situation and himself!

From one perspective, Bob, in his blind and eager zeal, not only failed to bring back a second plate of food to his friend but also managed to let his own plate of food go cold as well. But, from a spiritual perspective, the lens through which Jesus sees us, Bob was working for the kingdom of heaven through his imperfect service to his neighbor. I felt humbled by the young man whom I had just only secretly derided in my heart for his bumbling deferential nature. His unselfconscious humility, or what I early termed as his “obsequiousness”, enabled him to serve his brother without any self-conscious thought to impede true service.

How often, do I do good to others and just as soon shout on the rooftops about my own righteous deeds? Or, even if I did not advertise my own goodness, how good do I feel when I sacrifice a little of myself for another? Do I not keep some sort of account of my good deeds in my mind, consciously or subconsciously, to monitor my own goodness? And, by that monitoring, obtain the reward of knowing my own righteousness?

But Jesus calls us to think differently. When Christ taught his disciples to give alms, he said that we should not let our left hand know what our right hand gives in secret (Matt. 6.1-4). In other words, we are to hide our discipleship, our deeds, from ourselves. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “we must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only so far as we look unto Jesus; then it will seem not extraordinary, but quite ordinary and natural” (Bonhoeffer 158). If the Christian is ever to give, or serve, He calls us to do it spontaneously and without self-consciousness lest we grow conscious of our own righteousness. And, now, I feel ashamed at my own judgment of this young, college student. For he, although unable to articulate clearly his own thoughts on serving our neighbors, has clearly understood the Christ’s message to love our neighbors.