Three Snapshots of Saliency

A series of poems written for a homework assignment exploring personal identity.

I. Peccatoris

It’s safe to come out when the sun has gone down —
when there’s no one to see you, to hate you, to burn you
and you’re tired of being everyone’s everything
during the daylight: when it’s not safe to come out.

You put on your masks when the world awakes:
perfect son, perfect student, perfect brother, perfect friend…
your daylight is no life to you, for you are someone else.

But you try, and you wait, and you wait day by day
for the sun to go down, and when the night falls,
you rise,

but all you ever do is walk,
walk,
walk…
because all you’ve ever done is run.

Run to church, run to school, run to play, and run back home,
run from sin, run from work, run from joy, run from — love —
and walking is all you can do anymore.

You’ve run out of tears. You’re tired of crying:
you’re not even sure what to cry about now.
The night’s all you have, though midnight is burning,
so you savor the air that you’ll lose in an hour.

Breathe deep, breathe slow.
Two decades to ask, who am I?
No one knows.

II. Ad Orientem

You’re not alone in the dark, so you’ve found:
there are dreamers, and hopers, and lovers, and givers,
and they’ve taught you how to breathe again.

The streets are alive with the sounds of the night,
and they beckon you in with warmth and delight.
Their house is a strange one — a bit queer, if one will,
but it’s home nonetheless, and you’re welcome within.

You find yourself asking if shoes are okay,
if they hug their parents, or if they eat rice.
(Isn’t that a bit nice?)

What did their parents worship? What are their weddings like?
Did they grow up speaking in more than one tongue?
Is there family they can never speak freely among?

Once again, you’re alone, yet surrounded by friends:
bit-by-bit, they turn you around to face West.
So you’ll talk like them, walk like them, love like them,
yet explain to them that

red is for joy,
gold is for wealth,

but white, strangely, is for death.

III. Corpus Christi

you’ve never quite understood why it is
that humans kiss. quite frankly, it’s gross.
you thought you’d figure it out for yourself
when you finally did it, but the closest thing
you can compare it to is pressing two warm oysters together
and you don’t like oysters.

you’ve never quite got the hang of arms and
legs, clumsy! tripping over things that don’t, exist and
your body is a broken car for your brain.
weighty. stiff.
aching —

If only your hands and your feet would obey!
Dance free, take flight, like notes off a page!
Your daydreams are full of a song at command,
but jostled awake, all thoughts crumble like sand.

But raise;
you’ve only got arms to raise in praise, and fingers
graze sheer grace in the Body and the Blood.
“God has no hands but yours”, as they say.

you’ve never quite been so full of light,
flesh being more than casing for your soul and
the only thing you have to love with.

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A Taste of Home

Moving to a new place is hard. You leave your community, your family, behind; your apartment is dusty, and the heat is oppressive. But you get to know your roommates, you sweep the floor, and slowly it starts to feel like home.

The ache in your heart never seems to disappear, but you scrounge together the ingredients you have — a box of vegetables you ordered online, too ugly to be sold at a market but perfectly good inside. Onions. Garlic. Carrots. Green beans.

You brought pieces of home with you: rice, which you put on the steamer, and a packet of Japanese curry — it was your dad’s signature dish. He made it every family gathering, every time you came home from college, and just any time you ever asked.

It takes you almost two hours to finish. You salted too late, you’re missing the chicken, and you forgot that vegetables have water in them. The sun has long set by the time you fill your bowl, but you know it was exactly the right dish to make.

You’ve forgotten why your heart hurts so much, but it only takes one taste to remind you. Your eyes unexpectedly sting with tears, and your cry for the first time in a long while. Because you did it all on your own, and so long as you have the arms to cook, and the mouth to eat, you carry your father with you.

Because when you eat, you live. But more than that: so does he.

A Posture of Mercy

college-photo_15333Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
– Matthew 9:13 (ESV)

Three years ago, I fell in love. It was Preview Weekend at Westmont College and the air was alive with excitement, with perfect Southern California weather beaming down on a group of hopeful students just dipping our toes into the pond of postsecondary education. I had never felt so welcome before, so at home — so loved. My mind was reeling with the possibility of attending such an amazing place, and as soon as I returned north I sent my application in. I chose to love Westmont, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.

But much has changed since then.

I used to wear rose-colored glasses when it came to my school. Choosing only to see the good, I found it easy to accept the rules and regulations expected of me when I became part of the community. And yet I still vividly remember sitting at my desk, my eyes fixated on a single sentence on my computer screen:

The college does not condone…occult practices, drunkenness, theft, profanity, and dishonesty…sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.
– 2013 Westmont Community Life Statement (bold added for emphasis)

This was before I accepted my sexual orientation, and still I found myself reading that one clause over and over just to make sure I didn’t miss something. I didn’t know what even constituted “homosexual practice,” but it made me nervous. Several conflicted minutes passed before I hesitantly clicked the “agree” button. Deep down, despite my tightly locked closet, I knew that rule was directed towards me.

And perhaps this made sense — a boy who spent his life feeling estranged, unloved, and dissociated from himself ran to a place of security. A place where he could find himself, find joy, find Jesus.

I trusted Westmont because I thought it would be that place. I hungered for the true knowledge and love of Christ, and I fought down my hesitation because I thought Westmont would be the place I finally tasted it. And for a while, it was.

Continue reading “A Posture of Mercy”

The Illusion of Breath

“Do you see it too? Sometimes it looks like he’s still breathing; we’re so used to seeing the motion that our eyes trick us into seeing an illusion of breath.”

My brother and I stood at the side of the bed where our father’s still body lay. Half an hour prior, our family had gathered to be with him as he drew his last breaths. The morning sun was shining through the shades, casting a warm glow around the room. After 61 years of struggling, our dad had finally finished his journey, and for what might have been the first time, he looked truly at peace.

The two of us hadn’t spoken much as we stood by the bedside, but I nodded my head in agreement with my brother. Every little movement in my dead father’s direction prompted me to look harder, to keep searching for that wisp of breath that could have been his. The natural rising and lowering of his chest was no longer there, but my eyes couldn’t seem to give up expecting it — as if somehow he’d suddenly wake up, gasping and flinging his eyes open like in the movies. But he didn’t.

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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”

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”

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)”

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.

Continue reading “Family Matters”