Pulse

To the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.

Yesterday I walked with you down that beaten asphalt path,
my brother-sister-neighbor-father-mother-friend,
because you were brave and you were you, the way God loved you.

You were a warrior — you fought for us, for us who had no voice —
and you were and are and forevermore will be with us
in our hearts, in our minds, in our tears, in our songs,
in our voice-cracking-sobbing-breaking whispers because

sometimes courage is written in bloodstains.
Sometimes fear is written with bullets.

Sometimes prayers feel so weak,
running down saline rivers to a crumpled-up whimper:
“Lord, in Your mercy.”

Continue reading “Pulse”

Running from Joy

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
— Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

I admit: I’m a glutton for self-punishment. Not in the bodily, masochistic sense, but I’m a prototypical perfectionist who sets impossible standards for myself and then proceeds to beat myself up when I inevitably fail to measure up. I was raised with the concept of total depravity — the idea that there is absolutely nothing good in me apart from God, and that anything good is from God alone (which I have no actual part in).

Growing up, I internalized this entirely unhealthily. The idea that I was nothing but a worthless sinner may have made the concept of grace easier to grasp, but that never sunk in. I latched on to depravity so obstinately that my self-perception erased most of my humanity. I learned to see myself as a monster beyond redemption, every prayer and every good deed a worthless attempt to earn the affection of the Father who would never love me. And who was I to question that?

Continue reading “Running from Joy”

CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里

Yay blurriness?
A sloppy selfie taken after arriving in Hong Kong.

The last three months of my life were not what I was expecting. Romantic ideals of getting in touch with my “inner Chinese culture” and exploring the depths of the language were weighed down by social anxiety, isolation from loved ones, and overarching feelings of incompetence, and what I thought I was getting into quickly turned into a fight simply to stay in one piece. But it was precisely in those dark times that I learned the most about myself, about my heritage, and most of all about God.

No amount of mental preparation could have spared me the radical transformation to be effected in myself — the bursting of an ideological bubble so long held firm by a self-contained and sheltered existence — yet in the end I find that’s precisely what I needed after all. Between all the fun times and the fascinating explorations, the semester invisibly held me through a burnishing flame that not only melted away the façade of who I thought I was, but further illuminated the God who all people are made in the image of.

The China Studies Program (CSP), sponsored by BestSemester through the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), was a three-part abroad semester hosted by Xiamen University (厦门大学 Xiàmén Dàxué, often abbreviated as 厦大 Xiàdà or XMU) on the southeast coast of Fujian province, right across the Strait of Taiwan.

After a brief orientation period in Hong Kong, Segment 1 focused on academics in Xiamen. During this month I took courses on Chinese Language, Intercultural Communication, Contemporary Society & Public Policy, and Tai Chi. This post will focus largely on Segment 1.

Segment 2 was a travel component we called “the Trek”: one week in the ancient capital of Xi’an, another week in the modern capital of Beijing, and a few days in the metropolis of Shanghai. During this Segment we were given a rigorous overview of Chinese History spanning about 5000-7000 years.

Finally, Segment 3 marked a return to Xiamen, where seven of the ten students would begin internships at various companies in the area, while three of us (me included) would continue with an elective course called Dimensions of East Asian Culture — encompassing short workshops about Chinese Home Cooking, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Painting.

Continue reading “CSP, Part 1: Foreigner in the Fatherland | 外人在祖国里”

On Silence and Frustration

Well, here I am, sitting in San Francisco International Airport, half an hour before I step onto a hunk of metal that somehow makes it over the largest body of water on the planet, and I get to flip my internal clock on its head. I don’t have anything in particular to say, except perhaps about how I’m somewhat frustrated I didn’t have time (or motivation, maybe) to finish up my reflection from the 2016 Gay Christian Network Conference. Maybe I’ll finish it up soon, but as far as I know, WordPress is blocked in China and so I’ll be forced to take a break from blogging for the semester.

So I guess this is a temporary goodbye of sorts. Pretty much everything I know and love about the American internet will be off limits for me until April 28, and while that’s disappointing I think it’s also a good thing. There’s special sort of loneliness that comes from being connected yet not physically present with my loved ones — and while this is by no means a clean break (my yahoo email should still work), I think I have much to learn from this relative silence.

Sometimes God calls us to do the difficult thing simply because it is difficult, and that journey is important in forming us to be more of who we truly are — made in the Image of Him who is mysterious and eternal.

Frustration, in that sense, is a cousin of loneliness: not something I ever really asked for, but a necessary element of character development, and a different sort of gravity — perhaps a tension — like a rubber band stretched across the world so it can snap back all the stronger.

And in that, perhaps the silence will bring out the still, small voice of God that I often have so much trouble hearing. Perhaps I’ll learn to embrace the quiet, and return knowing better how to navigate the noise.

But for now, I think it’s time I shut up. Until April 28.

See you all, for now. Much love.

Alone in the Darkness

It is not good that the man should be alone…
– Genesis 2:18b (ESV)

streetlamp

I’m not the kind of person that views the idea of home as a specific place — I’d be glad to rewrite the adage “home is where the heart is” as “home is who the heart is with.” It’s been a difficult concept to wrestle with, and it’s only been these past few years that I’ve discovered what that means in relation to spiritual friendship and the community of Christ.

So in a sort of roundabout sense, home is where the friend is. And my friends… well, they’re all over the place.

I think of Westmont College as my home because that’s where the majority of my current friendships have been formed. But when school isn’t in session and everyone goes back to their geographical homes, I can’t help but feel that I lose my spiritual home. My community splinters every few months, and while I know that kinship still remains, it’s just not the same.

Is it too much to admit that I’m lonely?

Continue reading “Alone in the Darkness”

Glory in the Liminal

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

– Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

I was only 13 or so when my uncle asked me something that would change my life. It was just an ordinary visit from him (which albeit didn’t happen very often because he lived so far away), but in the middle of our conversation he posed a rhetorical question:

“Jason, how do you learn things?”

I hadn’t really thought about it too much before that. You learn what you’re taught and you’re taught what is true. After some unsatisfactory guesses from me, my uncle suggested an answer that has stuck with me ever since — you learn by asking questions.

Before you tell someone what your name is, you first need to ask, “what is my name?”. Before you put on your clothes, you first need to ask, “what should I wear today?”. Before you ponder a deep question, you first need to ask, “what should I think about now?” (wow so meta).

Call me a skeptic, but questions are the backbone of knowledge. We cannot answer anything without having first asked a question, and it is my firm belief that the deepest answers are given to those who ask the deepest questions.

Though recently, I’ve been increasingly bothered by what happens when we don’t get an answer.

Continue reading “Glory in the Liminal”

A Light unto the Nations

I serve as a chaplain for my college’s choir, and I was asked to give a short homily before the dress rehearsal of our annual Christmas festival. This is a transcript of the message I gave earlier tonight.

11thAnnualxmasfestival

Let me read you all a quote from the great composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Yesterday the United States were struck by tragedy once again: mass shootings in Savannah, GA and San Bernardino, CA. This disturbs us, and rightfully so — but it doesn’t surprise us.

According to a mass shooting tracker on Reddit, defining a “mass shooting” as one that injures/kills 4 or more people, this brings our tally for the year up to 355.

I’ll let you do the math.

In times like this it can be especially hard to see the good in the world. These are just tragedies that made the headlines; how much more suffering goes on that we don’t hear about?

Sometimes it’s easier to offer an obligatory prayer and move on with our lives — we don’t always have the emotional capacity to deal with all of it, and we know it goes on all the time. We’d just prefer not to think about it — I know at least I’m guilty of this.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that we can’t run from grief. We can’t leave our problems at the door and put on our happy faces while we worship. We can’t conquer our pain unless we face it.

There is good news here. We are not alone.

Tonight we celebrate the coming of the God who didn’t run from His people’s pain, instead taking on human flesh and sharing in it — feeling it, bearing it, and taking it for us.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:4-5

This is the God of every cell and every galaxy, who redeems the world, and in His love deigns to receive our supplication.

O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with lovingkindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.

Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of thy blessed body.
– Ancient Latin text, “O nata lux”

So keep praying. But after you’ve done that, act.

God didn’t call us out of the darkness just so we could spend our lives avoiding it. That pain, that anxiety, that sorrow — we all have bits of brokenness with us today, and I want to encourage us to be honest and vulnerable with it. My hope is that when we’re here, surrounded by our brothers and sisters, we can let our walls down and really come to the cross together, casting our cares on Him, for He cares for us — for you.

Because when we let God shine in our darkness, He lets us shine in the darkness — to be a light unto the nations.

So tonight, when we sing, play instruments, carry candles, ring bells, or whatever, I hope we aren’t putting on our happy faces and doing it just because we have to. I hope we’re doing it to follow the example of Jesus Christ — walking headfirst into the darkness so that we can bring Light to it; celebrating our Lord’s First Coming, and looking forward to His Second Coming, when the Light indeed wins.

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Clipped

Originally posted to my Facebook on June 8, 2015.

They say that just to touch the sky,
to see the world with eagle’s eye
is our pure joy, our apex grand,
our purpose, and our life’s demand.

And great it seems, to watch the dance
of shifting wings in sweet romance;
but what of us who cannot fly
who cannot soar, not touch the sky?

“Your wings are bright,” they say to us,
“too bright and far too dangerous;
the color of your plumage bright
shall blind all others in their flight.

“So do not fly! Do not succumb
to sweetened poison on your tongue.
You wretched thing, we’d pity thee
if we weren’t so far up this tree.”

And thus I stayed here on the ground,
tethered to the earth, and bound
fast to running our good race
for Him above, for His good grace.

But dust and dirt, they sting my eyes;
they stifle every sound and sight.
Perhaps this life here in the soil
could use a Friend to share the toil.

For all who touch the floor will leave,
and each step leads to parting grief;
but until then we share the dust,
and until then we walk — we must.

Although this race below the sky
can still be run if we can’t fly,
this path on which we slowly roam:
it needs a wing to walk us home.

To Chase the Light (Coming Out)

Most wardrobes don’t have secret worlds with epic adventures and magic waiting inside, but a few of them still conceal stories of their own. There, the sun never shines, the eternal winter doesn’t thaw, and the lion isn’t your friend.

You spend years upon years fighting the monsters, hiding from lions, and wishing that someone would come to strike down the wicked witch, but no one ever does. You stand by the lamppost for hours at a time, ready to escape your cold shadow of a world, but always stop at the border, thinking it safer to fight the demons you hate than fight the people you love.

Until, one day, you realize that living in darkness is hardly living at all. That if there was even a glimmer of light where the wooden doors have cracked open, it would be better to die in the sunlight than to waste away in the shadows.

So with one final push, the closet door swings open, and you know there’s no going back. The next words will change your life forever:

Dear world,

I’m gay.

Continue reading “To Chase the Light (Coming Out)”