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?

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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.

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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.

An Exploration of Love (My Testimony)

On April 14, 2015, I had an article, which I intended to call “The Expectation of Love,” published in Westmont’s school newspaper, in which I briefly discussed my perspective on romantic love as a celibate gay Christian. It left a lot of questions unanswered, and I felt it deserved some elaboration. This is my story, along with a few extra thoughts — without a 750 word limit.

Coming out at Westmont was the third best decision of my life; the first being my decision to follow Christ, and the second being my decision to attend Westmont.

Although I expected a bit of backlash from the controversial nature of coming out as gay at a Christian institution, in reality I received the largest outpouring of love I’ve ever experienced.

I continued to brace myself for the insults and the condemnation, but it never came. For that I’m extremely thankful, but I also know that as an openly gay man in the modern evangelical church, the road I want to travel is one filled with pain and difficulty. It always has been.

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Singled Out

There’s a reason everybody freaks out when someone’s about to get married.

Families get involved, venues are booked, banquets are planned, gifts prepared, invitations sent, dresses tailored, decorations, music, cakes, photos, friends you haven’t seen in three years, and oh my word thank God there’s an open bar.

It’s a freakin’ big deal. But why? Why do we spend so much time, money, and energy on a single day of rituals when couples nowadays can simply get a marriage license and elope? Why do we all care so much?

Contrary to popular belief, a wedding isn’t all about the soon-to-be-married couple.

In a traditional nuptial, after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows, the celebrant asks the wedding attendees this question:

“Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”

To which the congregation responds,

“We will.”

The presence of this question, or at least the spirit of it, conveys the prime reason that nonaffirming Christians often refuse to attend same-sex weddings — whether or not that’s what they might be consciously thinking. When asked to formally voice their support for a gay union, answering in the obligatory manner would be simply dishonest.

It’s interesting to note that we often don’t think about this passing formality in weddings while it’s happening. We only subconsciously note it when we have something to be opposed to, like a same-sex marriage. In the last wedding I went to, I was too busy keeping myself from crying because my cousin looked so beautiful in her wedding dress to really dwell on the gravity of my affirmation.

But lately, especially in juxtaposition to gay unions, I’ve been beginning to realize that the public commitment of a marriage is one of the most inextricably important elements of a wedding. It is what holds the couple accountable in faithfulness to one another, and holds the community accountable to recognizing and nurturing that relationship.

In a sense, the marriage covenant solidifies the ties between each individual and the community — formal recognition forces the bride and the groom into the public eye, almost as if they have become full-fledged members of the world at large.

Which is great, except that it’s kind of a problem.

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Family Matters

This past week has been quite the whirlwind in the gay Christian world. Julie Rodgers, a prominent Side B Christian, recently published a post on her blog, in which she came out as a supporter of same-sex relationships. Despite how gracious and honest she was in her writing, it didn’t take long for the internet to explode afterwards, resulting in some scathing reviews (which I refuse to link to, but Eliel Cruz touches upon in his news report). Julie has been a role model of mine ever since I entered this conversation (and still is), in part because of her convictions and character, and also because of her bold decision to minister at Wheaton College as a part of the Chaplain’s staff — a position she has since resigned from.

Especially since Tony Campolo voiced his support for the full inclusion of gay couples in the Church, this tilting of the scales has been made more evident as more and more Side B Christians trickle into the Side A sympathy boat. And while I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing — many of my good friends are Side A — I am extremely upset that there’s always a vitriolic response whenever it happens.

If I’m to be honest, I’m scared. Frightened at the possibility of being the next generation to take up that mantle — a mantle that’s already been burned, scarred, and martyred beyond recognition.

But this is not just me being a coward — more than fear, what I feel right now is intense sadness. I weep because we’ve made factions of “good gays” and “bad gays.” I weep because we’ve put ourselves in God’s judgment seat. I weep because the voices of peace and vulnerability have been weaponized for everyone else’s agendas.

A mentor of mine recently said that she feels Christianity has lost its identity as a whole, and though I may be taking her words slightly out of context, I agree completely. We have lost what it means to be the body of Christ — we have forgotten what it means to be a family.

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The Right Kind of Misfit

You don’t belong here.

It was what I thought to myself as I walked the dirty streets of San Francisco, surrounded by thousands of cheering people — straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, tall, short, fat, skinny, white, black, yellow, brown, purple, red, clothed, not-so-clothed, and sort-of-clothed, just to name a few. The air was thick with the smell of big-city trash and marijuana, and what little breeze I managed to catch was tinged with the stale heat of the crowds. Rainbows dotted my vision as flags, bracelets, tie-dye shirts, and other paraphernalia seemed to shout: “I AM PROUD TO BE ME.” I was standing in the middle of the biggest inclusivity celebration of the year, yet in the back of my mind a tiny voice kept whispering, you don’t belong here.

No left turns.
Obligatory pride flag photo.

Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I went to SF Pride expecting not to enjoy myself, and I really didn’t. It was a learning experience that I felt almost obligated to go to; for a newly minted baby gay, Pride is like the coming-of-age ceremony of induction into the gay community. After coming out to my whole college a month prior, I considered myself newly minted and in need of effectuation. Thus, Pride Parade.

I had expected there to be a partygoer spirit to Pride that I knew I wouldn’t like, but apart from that I thought I would find at least a little bit of common ground with the people there. After all, it’s called the LGBT+ community for a reason. But with the exception of the friends I went with (who kept the experience from being outright horrible), I couldn’t see myself relating to anyone around me on any meaningful level. I called myself gay, sure, but my gay was definitely different than theirs.

With a theme like Equality Without Exception, I couldn’t help but notice the apparent lack of justice surrounding the city. Homeless people were still begging for money while heavily commercialized booths and floats populated the streets. The male-dominated industry within the LGBT+ community was overtly sexualized and marketed in every other display I passed by (though thankfully, there was a tiny feminist section I had to smile at). And after the Supreme Court overturned all same-sex marriage bans across the nation just two days before, Equality had effectively magnetized itself to the concept of the right to marry. Everyone was happy. Everyone was celebrating. Everyone except me.

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