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I fantasize a lot. Especially when I grade sh*tty essays at 11pm on a Friday night.

My fantasies are weird. Sometimes they’re sports themed. Sometimes public speaking themed. Other times it’s in church and I’m delivering some sort of tirade or diatribe about how selfish we really are.

I think I must believe this on some level, otherwise I don’t think I would fantasize about these things.

And, yet, after “snapping out” of the dream I breathe in sober air and realize in the majority of these tirades, diatribes, and speeches one can descry a feeble person crying for attention, respect, praise, and ultimately, power. With it, we can transform our fantasies into realities, and bring about some “self actualization”. But even more, a by product of power is self righteousness and a self separation. Power elevates you above others – either through force or rhetoric – and you therefore can judge.

Why does this lust for power reside in me and my fellow man? Why do I want to stand above, but, not among my fellow man? Why is it so important to gain the notoriety, authority, from others and not enjoy the anonymity of an audience member? What is it that you need to establish?

Personally, I guess it must come from my upbringing to an extent. Favored child and son of a very proud Chinese family, I have been fed with a steady diet of praise and affirmation, and, perhaps, without a constant stream of adulation one might figure that something is amiss.

But that’s selfish. This attention-seeking is born from a lack of faith in Jesus, who has given all of his attention, love, and care to us equally and abundantly. He has not poured himself and divided himself equally as if he was a loaf of bread being portioned to paupers, but he is an endless wine that’s given “equally” – that is – everyone can receive it as equals, and not as someone with distinction or no distinction. There is no requirement that needs to be met in order to drink this wine. It is unlimited, therefore it does not need portioning.

I bet that that is why some of us reject it. It is unlimited. It is free. It therefore cannot differentiate me from fellow men. Doesn’t this go against our natural inclination to be different and acknowledge our unique identity? Isn’t this what “taste” truly means? To be able to select, purchase, and adorn ourselves with the various accoutrements and material things means to separate ourselves from each other to build our personal and collective identities (think: the public praise of Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Nike knit socks, custom made cuff links etc.). Doesn’t scarcity of resources therefore lead us to create hierarchical structures that rewards different groups of people and individuals based on their merits, heredity, and utility?

But Jesus is an endless resource, therefore, he is valueless to the person who desires  individuation (simply because individuation is predicated on scarcity) but he is infinitely valuable to the sinner, the parched, the downtrodden, the poor, and the rejected.

I don’t know what I’m saying. I just know that in econ something is valuable if it is rare, and less valuable if it is abundant, but Jesus as a resource is not rare but infinitely abundant and has no limits. Perhaps that is one reason why men reject him.

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okay. I don’t know how else to describe it. My job is challenging, as always. Every aspect of it. The intellectual side – planing, thinking, reading, designing, wording – is still a challenge for me. The human side – managing, coaching, encouraging, disciplining, loving – remains ever a challenge. Sometimes I wonder if I am cut out for this job. I know I can survive…but can I thrive? Can I, as selfish as this sounds, make a difference?

I have to remind myself that teaching isn’t purely a numbers game. Ideally, I’d love to see my students drink Progressivist Kool-Aid and go to college. I’d like to see them become more nerdy and stop obsessing over their phones, football/basketball, or high school fights (overgeneralizing here). I’d like to see the majority of my classes learn to love reading and discover their writing “voice”. I’d like them to score well on standardized tests.

In my 7 years of teaching, including Turkmenistan, I’ve had:

  • 1 student pass an exam to participate in a State Department sponsored exchange program.
  • 1 student graduate from university and become an English teacher.
  • 4 students enter some Turkmen university. All still speak (er..text) English rather well.
  • 2 former freshmen students enter college.
  • And I’m hoping for a slew of other students go on to college next year.

Not bad. Not quite the numbers that any teacher or admin would hope for, but there’s always Henri Nouwen to encourage me:

God rejoices. Not because the problem of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising Him for His goodness. No, God rejoices because one of His children who was lost has been found. What I am called to is to enter into the joy. It is God’s joy, not the joy that the world offers. It is the joy that comes from seeing a child walk home amid all the destruction, devastation, and anguish of the world. It is a hidden joy as inconspicuous as the flute player that Rembrandt painted in the wall above the head of the seated observer.

I have to remember that God loves every individual, and that, while he is the architect and designer of the cosmos and is thus necessarily invested in his creation on a statistically significant scale, he also is the God who paints parables of himself in which he leaves 99 sheep to find the one stray one. This is a God worth knowing.

How Nouwen’s insight about God’s character connects with my less than exemplary teaching stats is not clear. I think I am trying to console myself with dismal numbers by noting that I have made a difference in at least a few students’ individual lives.


Today I read a blog post on the differing perspectives of Muslims and Christians on the Eid-al-adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice. For Muslims, they commemorate Abraham’s obedience to Allah as he was willing to sacrifice his son (Ishmael). His obedience earns him righteousness, so to speak.

But, for Christians, Paul’s reinterpretation of this Jewish story emphasizes Abraham’s faith that led to his credited righteousness (Romans 4). Abraham’s belief, not his action, merited him righteousness.

Now, for Christians, a faith in the perfect Lamb of God results in eternal righteousness that does not fade or need continual sacrifice. For Muslims, however, Muslims must continue to sacrifice for atonement of their sins. Well, that’s according to the blog post anyways. I don’t know how accurate of a statement that is because Eid Al Adha is a commemoration, not quite a sacrificial offering. Nonetheless, the distinction remains – obedience = righteousness for Muslims while faith=righteousness for Christians.

 

Things are hard.

I want to think more clearly about the choices I’m making, and the words I’m using. It takes time and discipline and lots of trial and error to be mature and complete, says James, so I have to learn how to be patient with myself.

Today I read a lot on the internet. Jumping from webpages about Donator Advised Funds, to tithing, to Francis Chan’s radical living, to a sola fideist’s critique of Chan’s Crazy Love as being too extreme, which led me to search up quotes from Alan Jacob’s Original Sin, but ended up leading me to a review of his book

It’s just too much information. I’m trying to formulate a question to help direct my search. Francis Chan appeals to me because he has done some radical things in life that I admire and desire to emulate: he donates 90% of his money, he steps down from a glittering pulpit, his instinct tells him to go small and live uncomfortably rather than just go home. Are these things mired in guilt? When I hear him talk about tithing in the church, he will denounce moral compulsion as a motivator. And yet, in his other sermons he is afraid of, for lack of a better term for now, “Big Business” Christianity where the parking lots are full, the people eager adulators, and the money flows fast. In one of the Francis Chan fan site blogs they relate a story about how Francis Chan decided to downsize his church:

He tells the story of a gang member who converted, but stopped going to church after a while. Asked why, he said: “When I was baptized, I thought that was going to be being jumped into the gang where it’s like 24/7 they’re my family, because I didn’t know it was just somewhere we attend on Sundays.”

Chan commented: “That makes me so sick that the gangs are a better picture of family than the church of Jesus Christ. I can’t live with that.”

Well, I got to go help dad clean stuff up and set up things for mom’s tea party. More later. But the question I find myself asking – what does the belief in Jesus do to us psychologically, and thus, manifest itself in our decisions? For me, I identify with Chan more than any one – not only because he’s asian, but because I find myself nodding my head when I read these blogs about him. I sense that our Christianity is too businessey, too bland, too comfortable, too rich, too much like a place to have a few polite minutes of conversation rather than a “family”. When he says something like “I can’t live with [a stultifying and mundane Christianity]”, I hear a sense of frustration with how the world is. Or maybe I hear a sense of guilt. Maybe it’s my own frustration with the world and guilt that reverberates while reading those words.

Well, then – if we are saved by faith alone (sola fide), then why do I – and people like Chan – still experience a sense of guilt?

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.

…had me search up Brock Turner’s father’s letter to the judge. In case for the unacquainted, Brock Turner is a 20 something freshman who attends (or attended) Stanford on a swimming scholarship, and was recently convicted of rape. Social media is brimming with vitriol as a result of a light sentencing given by another white-male judge, Persky. Friends are digitally circulating a petition to remove him.

I wanted to see what the other side looked like since I have been encouraged in my MA studies to learn to read “charitably” or openly. I had read A Theology of Reading by Alan Jacobs – another white male – who advocates for an openness to reading all sorts of texts from all sorts of people, friend or foe, and I thought I’d try to practice that by reading Turner’s father’s letter. Facebook friends are posting and reposting a short phrase from his father’s letter, which states that his son’s imprisonment is far too harsh for “20 minutes of action”. The angry bloggers and facebook friends post articles that characterize the father as a father who reinforces rape culture and general white male privilege douchebaggery. I was hoping that by reading the father’s letter I could correct my own social mediated perception and try to relate to the father because demonization is another path toward another type of hell. What I mean by this is that forgiveness and redemption forge a better character than one of perpetual righteous wrath and moral outrage. Well, that’s my opinion anyways. I’m not a rape victim, so admittedly my perspective is limited.

Reading Turner’s father’s letter, however, failed to elicit any sort of sympathy from me. My friends’ FB posts claiming that his father’s letter oozed of white privilege did not seem, after reading the letter, seem so far off the mark. His father did not even seem to apologize for his son’s actions, instead opting to reflect on his son’s character attributes and accolades. In one part of the letter, the father reminisces about how he and his son visited Stanford and exclaimed that it would be swell for his son to attend a college with a history of Olympic swimmers. Look, jury, he has worked hard his whole life to achieve the academic and athletic achievements that have brought him thus far – we should not dole out too harsh a sentence for his “20 minutes of action”! He still has a bright future!

I am devastated by his father’s moral myopia. Where is his remorse? Where is the deep sadness of seeing your own child go astray from goodness and responsibility? He pleads for mercy by appealing to his son’s laurels and immaturity, whereas he should plead for forgiveness for his son. The father was so proud that his son could spell, swim, and maintain congeniality with others, but why did he not teach his son to avoid debauchery and to respect women?

Anyways, I could go on. I looked to the letter as an opportunity to soften my heart, but instead I find it steeling itself more than ever.

 

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.

—————————————————————————————–

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?”

 

 

Sometimes I wish I were smarter, more articulate, sophisticated, etc. so I could present the Gospel in a clear, understandable light. I want to be able to tell the non-Christian – “look! Here is the proof of God. Let me tell you (eloquently) of the story of Jesus and how he is the ultimate answer to our deepest questions and problems”. But, I cannot because I don’t have the ability or the knowledge. More probably, the poverty of my words and the deficiency of my intellect detracts from the Gospel message. The quiver in my voice, and the fear in my eyes betray a lack of confidence in my message, and myself. How could anyone believe in someone so obviously incompetent and afraid? In Poli Sci class they taught us that candidates must look sharp, healthy, and powerful so viewers can believe in the power behind their messages. McCain’s loss to Obama in the 2008 election was partly due to the indelible, tired wrinkles in his face, and the stumbling words in his speeches.

And, yet, God chooses the humble and foolish things to shame the wise. God chooses the weak things to shame the strong. God chooses suffering over comfort. God chooses the cross over the sword.

But who wants to appear foolish? Who will recount and admit his faults for the world to judge?

Each time I fall and fail to follow Christ, I react in one of two ways: 1) Bury my head in shame, flagellating myself for the stupid, stupid mistake. After which, I’ll dive into the Bible and read and pray and read and pray myself into forgiveness. Or 2) Parry aside the guilt assailing my conscience by rationalizing my behavior. What I’ve done is perfectly natural. It hurts no one. And, even if the action/thought is not generally accepted by society, I can measure myself by my peers and the rest of the world and rest comfortably in the fact that I stand far above most.

Jesus anticipates our human reactions to sin, and tells a parable that exposes the hypocrisy in both attitudes. Two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, make their way to the temple to worship. While the Pharisee gives thanks to the Lord for his earned righteousness (“I fast twice a week”) and his relative holiness (“Thank you I am not like other people”), the tax collector, so down trodden and weighed down by his own wretchedness, cannot even bear to look up to heaven and barely utters a few words: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

When we are exposed – to others, to ourselves, to God – our instinct is to hide or fight. We do not want to own up to our own shame. We do not want to appear weak. We will lash out at anything or anyone that contradicts the images we craft for the world (and ourselves) to see. Or, if we fail to fight, we hide. We dress ourselves with good deeds, acts of kindness, and the like. These two channels of action springs from the same compelling source: guilt.

But God calls us to honesty. He calls us to weakness. And, now, I realize that my earnest desire to present the Gospel powerfully and eloquently actually fails to testify to the true gospel, which is this, Reader: I am a sinner, imperfect in word and in deed. But God forgives us through Jesus and the Cross, which we only need to recognize and accept as his way for our salvation. This is not only to save our petty selves from our final destiny, but it is God’s counterintuitive avenue to glorify, or separate, Himself from the banal and mundane. For the message of the cross is foolishness to the world, but to us who are being saved, it is the power 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.