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”

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.

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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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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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My Gay Is Not Your Gay

When you really think about it, language is kind of silly. Its entire purpose is to communicate ideas, but once words escape my mouth (or in this case my keyboard) and they’re out for the world to see, I immediately forfeit control over what ideas are contained in those words. I can try my best to structure my sentences in order to help convey the exact ideas I want communicated, but ultimately there’s no way to make you understand exactly what I want you to. Language tends to acquire a mind of its own, and every word is laden with unspoken meaning that changes from reader to reader.

Some of you will walk away with more insights than I explicitly present; that would be awesome. Some of you will completely misunderstand me; that’s not so ideal but also not totally unexpected.

This happens no matter what I say, but this principle is never more evident than when I use the three-letter bombshell: gay.

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