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…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.

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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?”

 

 

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.

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.

It is funny how a few days ago I wrote a poem about a horde of moths clambering about to get into my room and now I’ve come upon a poem written about the EXACT SAME THING! Of course, William Dewitt Snodgrass does it better.

Flipping randomly through my American Modern poetry anthology, I come across this short poem on moth behavior.

Lying Awake

This moth caught in the room tonight
Squirmed up, sniper-style, between
The rusty edges of the screen;
Then, long as the room stayed light,

Lay here, content, in some cornerhole.
Now that we’ve settled into bed
Though, he can’t sleep. Overhead,
He throws himself at the blank wall.

Each night hordes of these flutters haunt
And climb my study windowpane;
Fired by reflection, their insane
Eyes gleam; they know what they want.

How do the petulant things survive?
Out in the fields they have a place
And proper work, furthering the race;
Why this blind fanatical drive

Indoors? Why rush at every spark,
Cigar, headlamp, or railway warning
To break off your wings and starve by morning?
And what could a moth fear in the dark

Compared with what you meet inside?
Still, he rams the fluorescent face
Of the clock, thinks that’s another place
Of light and families, where he’ll hid.

We ought to trap him in a jar,
Or come, like the white-coats, with a net
And turn him out toward living. Yet
We don’t; we take things as they are.

This is inappropriate but I don’t care:

“procrastination is a lot like masturbation. In the end, you realize you’re only screwing yourself”.

Yep…a teacher working on a lesson plan on a Sunday night? Never…

Other random thoughts I’m having at the moment:

1) I found this dated gem on the internetz which has inspired me to write more. Writing more, however, will inevitably lead to the demise of the quality of the writing (ha! did I just assume that my writing is quality?). From now on, my own blog will no longer adhere to proper standards for writing. I’m just going to conveniently toss aside concerns for grammar, flow, logic, or any other writing convention that might actually make this blog decent and presentable. In fact, this blog will have no standards. I’m just hoping that it will grow into a much prettier version of my juvenile Xanga posts of old.

2) in college I used to think that true friendships developed over open-heart confessions. Often times I desired (subconsciously or consciously) those cathartic moments where I could listen to a brave individual break down in tears during sharing time, or I thirsted for those ‘heart-to-heart’ late night talks, or just simple confession of shameful sins. Good, honest discussion should always be the aim of every relationship, but now I realize that a relationship fundamentally built upon heavy doses of confession eventually fizzle out. I wondered why, because isn’t heart-to-heart confession what we are looking for?

Yes and no. The truth is, like all things, we need balance. If I cannot rofl or lol a deep, hearty laugh with you then no matter how many dark sins we’ve shared with each other our friendship will never grow. I’ve seen many bonds form around commiseration (aka Peace Corps), but after a while those friendships dissipate as well. I’m thinking about this in particular because certain organizations (read: churches) are always trying to chip away at our fake facades by means of confrontation rather than by creating a warm, inviting environment.

However, on the other hand, other churches fall into superficiality when they focus too much on creating a jocund atmosphere. (Game night anyone? -____- ) Like my pastor commented about certain churches before: “The regular Sunday routine is this – you go to church, listen to a sermon, go to Sunday school, then go to a nice church lunch afterwards and that’s your Sunday”. Yep. He’s spot on. It’s hard to break the ice of superficialness when you’ve got a meaningless but comfortable routine to begin with. I find that this problem pervades most churches rather than the one mentioned above.

3) I seriously thought about dropping out of teaching this past week. I saw the mound of papers on my desk and no matter where I hid them ( in the trunk of my car, in the safe confines of my backpack, at the very edge of my desk just where my peripheral vision can’t reach), these papers, like a haunting Chinese ancestor, crept up on me and harrowed my conscience.

But I’m going back to work tomorrow. And I’m glad. Why?

I’m affecting livesI’m so happy!

Well because I can’t wait to see the bright happy faces that greet me every morning! Because I love affecting lives! Because I love students! Because teaching is the one profession where I can make a true difference!

no, no, no.

Just as how an animal lover should never become a veterinarian, a person who “loves” kids should never become a teacher. Teachers have to work hard. On top of the mounds of paper work, you have to essentially tell your students to “Shut up and get to work” in the most delicate way possible so as to not find yourself without a job the next day. You have to manage students who are prone to lie and cheat and find every possible excuse to not do the work that you’ve assigned them weeks before. You have to discipline your students (all 150) to the point where they will curse and hate you because they feel you are killing them with all these demands.

In other words, you really, really, really have to love them. And if I’m honest with myself, I am NOT loving my students as much as I should.

But I digress. I am a teacher because, morally speaking, it’s the cleanest profession I can think of. I don’t have to make any moral compromises with this profession. I never have to push a product, or help a solely, profit-driven company that tries to profit off of our idiocy and human greed. The goals of a teacher are inextricably tied with the success and development of students. Even if you are gunning to be the teacher of the year, dreaming of being the next Erin Grunwell, or doing it for fame, there is no way to be successful at teaching without caring for the well being of a student. I’m happy to be a teacher because I don’t have to sell my soul. So many of my friends who have entered the corporate world may be advancing their skills and careers, but I wonder if they ever wonder about whether they are actually adding any value to this world.