Yesterday, the speaker at my church gave a testimony about the life of Dorothy Day. Ms. Day was the great Catholic social activist of her time. She founded the Catholic Worker and ran a soup kitchen out of her home that still goes on even today. Her whole life revolved around the Sermon on the Mount. She devoted every ounce of her strength to trying her best (and failing) to love the least of these so that Christ might step in and do that which she could not. In her time and even today, many wanted to be her achieve Sainthood, also she herself once said, “Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
What struck me during the sermon was how colorful her backstory was. Before she found Jesus, she was an anarchist and a communist. She admired Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and advocate for birth control. When she was younger, she had an abortion and she was married multiple times, once to a staunch atheist.
The reason her backstory struck me was because all those terrible things seemed to be pointing her towards Christ. In particular, Marxism is credited to have led her to convert to Catholicism. Marxism, despite all its flaws, taught Dorothy Day to have a compassion for the poor, which was a teaching she also found present in Catholic social teaching. After she found Jesus, her earlier experience with Marxism helped her in her work for the Kingdom as she established the Catholic Worker Movement and started a soup kitchen for the poor out of her home that still runs even today. This is the beauty of the Kingdom: God used a secular pseudo-religion to point a modern-day saint to the faith, and then rather than discarding that learning, He used it to inform her ministry.
That’s all fine and dandy, but why does it matter today? There are a dearth of secular pseudo-religions and philosophies going around these days. Marxism may have died, but modern feminism, LGBTQ philosophy, certain more radical wings of the environmentalist and animal rights movements and more. The lesson we can take from Dorothy Day is that there are many subscribers to these philosophies whom God is yearning to be brought into the Kingdom. And as they are brought into the Church, they each carry with them their own gift: the key truths from each of their philosophies, whether it’s compassion or equality or social justice, that were so distorted by sin and deception till they were submitted to Christ. And God uses those truths to remind the Church of parts of the Church’s mission that it has forgotten and forsaken. The one who blesses himself stands to gain from the one that was blessed.
That is why it’s so important for Christians to be well-versed in the philosophies of our times. Christ did not tell us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend those ideas and trends don’t exist. No, he called us to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. We must delve into the thinking of every modern pseudo-religion, every godless pundit, every TedTalk and social commentator, to understand the Zeitgeist of our time in order to know how to respond to it. Then, we are to cut into the dying bodies of the world’s philosophies with the scalpel of Christ and salvage the vital organs to be transplanted into the Church, which itself is so often on the brink of death from its own complacency and comfort. We are called to be surgeons, and our surgery will save ourselves. This is a serious and grim task, but the testimony of Ms. Day and so many others assures us that if we undertake it, we might make a few new friends along the way.
I’ve been writing a novel about Puritans and I read this poem as inspiration for one of my scenes. The more I read it, the more and more I like and agree with this excerpt:
“That is the way with you men; you
don’t understand us, you cannot.
When you have made up your minds,
after thinking of this one and that
Choosing, selecting, rejecting, comparing
one with another,
Then you make known your desire,
with abrupt and sudden avowal,
And are offended and hurt, and
indignant perhaps, that a woman
Does not respond at once to a love that
she never suspected,
Does not attain at a bound the height
to which you have been climbing.
This is not right nor just: for surely
a woman’s affection
Is not a thing to be asked for, and had
for only the asking.
When one is truly in love, one not only
says it but shows it.
Had he but waited awhile, had he only
showed that he loved me,
Even this Captain of yours – who
knows? – at last might have won
Old and rough as he is; but now it
never can happen.”
- Taken from “The Courtship of Miles Standish”,
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Survive Thrive in AACM: A Guide for Non-Comformists
The following post is one that I’ve written for the Senior Letters blog that I’ve re-posted here. If you enjoyed reading this, you can find more posts like this at: http://classoftwelve.tumblr.com/.
Welcome to AACM! The following is a guide of general tips that will help you make this fellowship your home. I’ve had four long years of reflection about this topic. As a leader, I’ve had the privilege of listening to what many people have had to say about this fellowship, and as a social scientist, I’ve learned to spot common trends. I am writing this to let you know how best to thrive in this fellowship. You may be asking yourself why such a guide is necessary. After all, isn’t AACM just another Intervarsity chapter? Don’t the same things that apply to Intervarsity everywhere apply here as well? That’s where you’re wrong. AACM is a whole different creature. We operate off of our own rules and in many ways are totally different from a typical Christian fellowship. In fact, if Intervarsity were the United Nations, AACM would be North Korea.
Part of the reason we’re so different is because of our size. We are big enough that we have our own staff, ministries, and goals than the rest of the Intervarsity chapters, which we easily outnumber on a slow day. The second reason has to do with our unique cultural makeup. We are by-and-large a community composed of conservative Asian American Christians. This may seem obvious and even unimportant, but it is the most important thing about this fellowship, because culture shapes how groups of people act, and there is no Intervarsity chapter at UT that is as affected by its culture as AACM. Of course, any statement of culture is a generalization, but every generalization exists because a large portion of its members exhibit a majority of its traits. AACM members tend to exhibit a very clear set of traits that you will quickly catch onto if you are perceptive enough. At the same time, every individual breaks from the generalization in some ways that makes them unique, and these idiosyncrasies are valuable and need to be much more encouraged than they currently are in our fellowship. At the same time, our Asian heritage is a collectivist one, where everyone is encouraged to be the same, so idiosyncratic people often find themselves having to change in order to be accepted. The result is that are fellowship exhibits certain cultural norms that everyone abides by without knowing it.
Many of these norms are good and should continue, but some are detrimental to our community and our individual spiritual lives. The following tips are useful ways to break those bad norms:
1. Be direct and have opinions: Asian American culture has taught us that the best thing to do is always not have strong opinions and never be assertive. That’s why whenever someone asks where to eat or what they want to do for fun, the most common answers are that they are “cool with everything” and “don’t really care”. This is especially true for guys, who seem to think that by having no opinions, they are being flexible and chivalrous when in reality they are simply being infuriating. The problem with “being cool with everything” is that no one has any direction and people end up doing the default activities every time out of habit. So be direct. Know what things you like/dislike and learn to express those likes/dislikes audibly. You might come off as picky or rude, but at least you’re not boring. On another note, you may initially come off as immodest, but remember that modesty and humility are very different things, and that while humility is a Christian virtue, modesty is simply a cultural preference. Ultimately, if you are assertive while being open to compromise with others (rather than using it to be difficult and domineering), people will value your opinions and come to view you as a leader. Men: women value guys who are assertive and have opinions, because those are the sorts of men who can take charge and lead in a relationship.
2. Learn good conflict resolution: one thing Intervarsity is really good at doing is teaching people about conflict resolution. Staff workers have whole lessons about it with handouts and diagrams and everything. I once half-jokingly said that if all Christians in the world were members of Intervarsity, then the Church would never struggle with any sort of internal conflict. This is however, not the case in AACM. We are still inheritors of our Asian American heritage, which has taught us that the best way to resolve conflict is to never bring it up. Instead, we are taught to grin and bear it so as not to cause trouble. As Christians, we give a secondary justification that we are being sacrificial. But these are all delusions. Being silent about conflict is neither healthy nor Christ-like. Not only does it cause problems to boil up and lead to resentment and passive-aggression; it also is unloving, because by not confronting those who wrong you, you deny them the opportunity of repenting and changing, especially since many times, you are not the only one who has issues with them. Many Asians are not even aware that they have problems with someone, so the first step is often learning to identify those feelings. The second step is to confront them honestly and vocally, but with grace and humility. Never accuse. Never make a declarative statement that someone is arrogant/lazy/mean, because that just puts them on the defensive. Instead, talk about specific instances and tell them that while they probably didn’t intend it, it made you feel a certain way. For those who are conflict avoidant i.e. the majority of our fellowship, they may initially feel like you are beating a dead horse, but if they are wise, then they will in time come to appreciate the constructive criticism that you offer. Finally, always use each confrontation as an opportunity to ask how you could be doing better yourself.
3. Cultivate your idiosyncrasies: you may be familiar with the Meyers-Briggs test, the popular personality assessment that assigns each person one of sixteen personality types. You may also know that it is currently all the craze in Intervarsity. Go to any Intervarsity chapter and people there will gladly expound on how their quirks come from being an N or a P. While the Meyers-Briggs isn’t perfect—because people don’t fit neatly into categories—they teach an important lesson: that in the Church, there’s never just one right way of doing things. Different people will accomplish something in different ways based on their personality and it’s important to be tolerant of those differences. The other thing you should know is that in AACM, the Meyers-Briggs craze has never really caught on. No one in leadership made a conscious decision to do this; it’s just that the culture of AACM has chosen not to incorporate it into the way we live. This is probably because Asian culture itself isn’t very tolerant of different paths to the same goal. We tend to believe that there’s only one right way of doing anything: one right way to do ministry, to view academics, to pray, to have fun (usually involving the playing/discussion/or watching of sports). That means that if you have some idiosyncratic quirk, skill, or interest—be it art, singing, environmentalism or whatever—you will be tempted to give that up and simply do what everyone else is doing in an effort to belong. If you pursue that interest, you may find yourself being pigeonholed as “that ______________ guy/girl”. However, for that very reason, it is absolutely crucial that you not give up those quirks, because your idiosyncrasies are the only thing stopping AACM becoming a dull and homogenous fellowship of identical people. Be grateful for your differences, because they put you in a unique position to further the Kingdom of God in a very special way. And don’t try to hide it for misguided reasons of modesty. It was given to you by God, so use it with Godly pride. And whenever others express interest, invite them to learn.
4. Be truly missional: when you come into AACM, you may hear the word missional for the first time. You won’t find this word in the dictionary, but it’s an adjective used to describe a lifestyle where every facet of your life is somehow a ministry to others. Occasionally, you’ll find that AACM has undertaken some sort of large-scale missional event or outreach that it asks you to be a part of. It will sound grandiose. It will sound intimidating. But here’s the deal: being missional isn’t anything special. It’s not even something that’s very hard. Because honestly, missional is just a fancy way of describing the act of doing that which you are required to do or enjoy doing in the presence of non-Christians. Need to study for a test? Join a study group and befriend your classmates. Or go to the professor’s office hours and get to know them as a friend. Have a hobby or cause that none of your friends care about? Join a club that relates to that issue. And then pursue meaningful relationships with those people. Ask them what they care about, what bothers them, and what their worldview is. And be open about what religion you are. If they ask you what you do, talk about going to church or Bible study or about being a leader in a Christian fellowship. Most people actually find those things to be okay, and even those who don’t will at least be polite and open-minded to listen to what you have to say. If you’re a visual learner, it may be helpful to create a Center of Influence diagram, which is a chart with you in the center surrounded by all the activities/clubs/friend groups you are involved in to understand where you might be expected to be missional.
5. Learn to NOT speak Christianese: this is not just so that your non-Christian friends can understand you; it’s also important because Christianese is often a way of being vague and unthoughtful with your answers. Practice using new and more specific words to express your spiritual condition. For example, instead of saying that you want to grow (you’re not a plant), say that you want to become more disciplined Scripture or in Sabbathing. Instead of struggle, say that you repeatedly find yourself vulnerable in the presence of something. Instead of saying that you’ve been spiritually dry, talk about the specific ways that you are feeling far from God, whether it’s in the lack of prayer/Scripture, or in your emotions etc. spiritual health matters. You would not go to a doctor saying that you simply feel bad and expect a accurate diagnosis, so neither should you tolerate vague Christianese terms to express meaningful spiritual realities.
6. Seek solitude and community: this is important because in a fellowship this big where the culture expects us to be courteous and save face, it’s tempting to want to get to know everyone. The problem is that this is impossible. It’s also unnecessary. But many people do think it’s necessary and they spend every moment flitting between spontaneous social gatherings at the expense of everything else. What’s more important is finding a core group of Christians who can support you and who you can support in return. These should be people who you can ask about deep issues of sin and expect real honest answers as well as good encouragement. Most likely, you will not have these relationships coming right into college. Often, you’ll have to take the initiative and prod them along like an obnoxious gadfly to reciprocate. It will be easy to choose to alternative where you are just buddy-buddy guy friends or girls who vomit up hugs and empty affections whenever you meet, but choose meaningful friendship instead, because those are the friendships that will be there when you are in crisis and need to talk to someone, and those are the friendships that will last past college.
7. Ask girls out: this piece of advice is just for men obviously, since part of a man’s Godly responsibility is to initiate. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but apparently the modus operandi of the men in our fellowship when it comes to relationships is to spend six months secretly praying about a girl and then spring it on them suddenly as if they’ve known it all along. I’ve done it myself several times. But it’s not Godly, it does not cultivate healthy guy-girl relationships, and it is certainly not considerate to the girl. If you’ve known a girl for a good period of time and they actually care about you as a person and you like them and think the feeling may be mutual, then be up front and ask them out. Don’t worry, you’ll probably get rejected (sorry guys), but you’ll also have taken one of the ballsiest steps of courage that any man can take. I am not joking. The only more courageous thing I can think of right now is running into open gunfire, and only in some circumstances. Plus, you’ll be much more knowledgeable and prepared when the girl that you’re actually meant to be with comes around. Don’t overspiritualize. Relationships are one of those things where emotions are way too involved to ever be able to definitively say that God is calling you to date someone. Finally, if a girl rejects you, then respect them by backing the eff off!
So there you have it. My advice, collected from men and women much older and wiser than I. Individually, we have seen only a small glimpse of this fellowship, but together, we have experienced so much, and you’ll should really listen to what we have to say. Or else.
In college, I once had a discussion with another student about abortion. At one point, he sternly made the claim that any attempt to oppose abortion was “inherently misogynistic”. Now I have no doubt that the boy who said this was very intelligent—after all, he got into UT—but what he said at that moment was pretty idiotic.
Nevertheless, he has a point. While misogyny is not a necessary condition for the opposition to abortion, one could make a strong case that the way the pro-life movement has manifested itself particularly in the modern US is in fact misogynistic. The most damning evidence for this is that the public personas we see on the media representing the pro-life movement all tend to be male politicians or male religious authorities, many of which, like Todd Akin, have terrible misconceptions about women and also apparently, about basic biology.
Which begs the question: where did all the women go? Why am I, as a man who is pretty ignorant about women’s issues, the only one available to write a post like this right now? The self-righteous liberal answer is that all the women are on the pro-choice side and that I’m an idiot and a terrible human being. I can agree with the second criticism, but not the first. The most vocal female voices may certainly have moved over to the pro-choice side, but there are many articulate and intelligent women who oppose the ending of a human life. Unfortunately, the pro-life movement seems to have done an excellent job of shooting themselves in the foot by not giving credit to such women.
One of the most legit examples of one of these women was Susan B. Anthony, a woman (duh), a Christian, and a feminist. Here’s a link to a really awesome piece she wrote that looks at the abortion issue from an angle that a man like me would never have been able to appreciate on my own. This post is really just my extended prologue to her piece, which is much better written and full of cool-sounding old-timey English. I find it important to promote pieces like this because in our culture, the opinions of reasonable and involved people tend to fall through the cracks while the careless words of loud nobodies always seem to make it onto the front page of Yahoo! News.
Today was my last Sunday at Fort Bend Community Church, my home church since before I can remember. I’ve worshipped God with this congregation for over fifteen years, even before it had its own building.
I still remember the last few months of my high school career. The church prepared a Sunday school just for us about transitioning into college. A graduate from UT came one Sunday and talked about different churches in the Austin area. I remember that at the time, I was fed up with the routine and lack of passion of the traditional Asian church, and I resolved to do something different in college. It was only after meeting other Asian Christians from other parts of Texas that I realized how skewed my perception had been. Slowly I came to realize that FBCC was not stodgy and traditional but was in fact, quite progressive.
In Austin, my first choice of church was the Stone, which I picked because it was the exact opposite of FBCC. That first Sunday at UT, while all my other friends were checking out more traditional churches, I woke up early and plotted out a bus route on Cap Metro that would take me to the church I had been so excited about. Unfortunately, I got the address wrong and ended up wandering dazed and confused near central Austin for an hour before stumbling defeated back to the bus stop. This would become a recurring theme every time I rode the bus in Austin.
I kept going to Stone for two and a half years because I loved their mission, but slowly I realized that I had neither the resources nor the community to be involved effectively there. It wasn’t church for me; it was a weekly concert. Eventually I made the switch to Austin Chinese Church, which I had adamantly avoided for the longest time because I thought it was the most like FBCC out of all the Austin churches. There, I found a community that I could take part in and give back to. I found great value in the college Sunday school, where I could wrestle with and respond to Scripture in community. Sermons only have a one-way vector; you can only receive information. Discussions allowed for a two-way dialogue that I found invaluable. Lighthouse (as the college Sunday school was called) was also student-led, and I had the privilege of teaching my fellow students. Ironically, my journey had led me right back to the “traditional church”, and I began to realize that a consistent and accessible community of passionate believers was much more valuable than any single preacher or worship leader.
At the same time, FBCC was going through many changes. We’ve always struggled with a generation gap. Students graduate from the church and spend four years somewhere else, meaning that the college fellowship drops to nothing except during summers, when our numbers suddenly swell. When they return after four years, it no longer feels like home, but a foreign environment. Moreover, during the school year, there were no college students to counsel the generation directly below them, the high schoolers, and our youth ministry took a hit as a result.
Individuals with more foresight than me perceived this happening from afar, and during the annual IV end-of-year retreat, brought their concerns to the rest of us. When summer began, they partnered with the church staff to hammer out a radical and ambitious plan of action to graft the college students back into the church body. Like most radical and ambitious plans, the important part was not that individual parts of the project succeeded (I hardly remember the specifics for any parts of the plan now), but that the spirit of the plan prevailed, instilling a paradigm shift in the way people thought. No longer was it considered responsible practice for college students in abandon the church for four years and then return as if nothing had happened.
At the same time, FBCC was reaching out to us. I still remember the care packages that the high schoolers sent us during our freshman year. They were filled with candy and little notes of encouragement. Me and my roommate ate the candy and stuck the notes onto the respective sides of the dormitory. And whenever we returned to Houston, there was always some gathering made available for us as college students, as if to remind us that we hadn’t been forgotten.
At some point, I don’t remember when, we got a new English pastor. He’s a quirky and affable man who lived in England for a while and was a fan of Harry Potter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another family integrate so quickly and so well into our church before. With him came another burst of energy and momentum that continued to move FBCC forward.
By the time I returned to Houston for good, FBCC was very different from what it had been when I left. One new thing was the M68 initiative (based on Micah 6:8), which rallied a number of various social justice initiatives under one banner and provided them with support and publicity. It was started by a mixture of older members and young career people, many barely a year or two out of school. Having committed to a two-year stint in urban ministry, I was shocked by how eager they were to support me and incorporate my plans into their initiative. Moreover, I was graciously given the opportunity to speak about my plans during the English service. That was the first time I felt truly like a member, rather than a mere attendee, at my church of fifteen-plus years, because for once my own spiritual life and my own ministry were not my own. They belonged to a greater body of believers who were unified not just by the ethereal bond of common ideology, but by the tangible willingness to support, admonish, and pray for each other.
What I came back to was a more passionate church, or perhaps, my church had always been that way and I had simply matured enough to see it for what it was. This was most evident one day when I was sharing at a Chinese Sunday school about my plans. Before I spoke, the mandarin pastor gave an extended lesson about the Biblical case for social justice. He had spoken at our English service many times before and the general consensus was that his sermons were passionate but awkward. But as he taught the Mandarin Sunday school, the awkward phrasing disappeared and I saw him teach articulately with conviction in his familiar tongue. At the end, I realized that he was probably more passionate about social justice than I was, which was both a humbling and encouraging thought.
During the summer after my senior year, we celebrated FBCC’s 15th anniversary with a combined service. The modern church is defined by specialization: there is a ministry for every possible niche group: children, youth, college, career, college-entering-career, adult, singles, elderly, English, Mandarin, Cantonese. Two things that tend to get lost in this mix are the biological family, and more importantly, the unified Body of Christ. The beauty and shrewdness of the combined service is that it routinely rejoins these disparate cords into a single inter-ministry multi-lingual multi-generational strand. One thing that was repeatedly emphasized at the anniversary service was the history of the church and our place as individuals within that history. In our hyper-individualistic society, where salvation and discipleship have become just another commodity to be selfishly consumed and where churches are more like gas stations—places to go each week to get your fill of sermons and singing—than families to invest in, this was such an important message, that this is a family, and you are called to give back as much as you take out of it.
In July, five years after I got baptized, I finally became a member of FBCC. Most people see church membership as purely ceremonial and as having no value in and of itself. But as I sat in the two and a half hour-long membership class, I slowly began to realize its value. Like the anniversary service, it gave me a history of the church and its vision, and showed me my place within both of these. It also taught me what the structure of the church looked like, and how one would go about making a difference there. The most valuable lesson I gained was that the church leadership had intentionally created ways to circumvent the hierarchical top-down structure of most traditional churches in order to encourage grassroots movements from the congregation, which is what I was starting to see happening with initiatives like M68.
I was getting excited. I’d never liked the suburbs. I found them wasteful, unnecessarily large, environmentally and economically unsustainable, and filled with spiritual complacency. But now I was in love with the suburban church of my childhood, which was none of those things. But then, today came, my last Sunday. In five days, I leave Texas for at least two years to work in an urban ministry in Los Angeles. I already know that it will be a hard and painful separation.
Every choice we make is a rejection of a hundred other choices that we could have made in its place. In our society of unlimited choices, our vast array of options wracks us with indecision and an unwillingness to choose our careers, our spouses, and our churches. That’s why the typically-self-centered question “what is God’s will for my life?” is so commonly asked these days. But in the midst of this, one thing I can’t help but sense is that although my choice to leave Texas was within God’s will, it would have been equally in his will if I had chosen to stay. I have no idea what lies in store for me after these two years, but I hope that life eventually brings me back to Houston. And I pray that when I return, I will still have the love and admiration for my church that I have right now.
Theology and doctrine have been on my mind a lot recently, because apparently this is all I do in my free time: think. I find that I really like Anglicanism, or maybe I just like it because CS Lewis and NT Wright are Anglicans, and I really respect them.
I did not know that Anglicans could be evangelical. That’s cool. I guess I was raised in a culture that tacitly assumed that that any church that wasn’t somehow affiliated with Baptists was not actually Christian. Or maybe I’m just the only one who ever assumed that and I just assumed that everyone else assumed what I assumed.
I think there’s a point to it though in that while mainline churches tend to be more thoughtful (in my opinion), they also tend to be more lukewarm because they are more established. It seems easier to find nominal Lutherans and Presbyterians than lukewarm evangelicals. That’s what attracts me to Evangelicalism: the evangelicals I know are also the Christians that are the most uncompromising and passionate about their faith; must have to do with the culture of evangelicalism. This is one of the big reasons I still feel comfortable calling myself an evangelical.
Another thing: if presented with three Protestant worldviews: Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Arminianism, I would greatly favor Lutheranism and Arminianism over Calvinism. I have an immediately negative emotional reaction to Calvinism because of how severe it is, but more importantly, I find that its interpretation of Scripture is no more valid than that of Lutheranism or Arminianism. Therefore, I would choose those two over Calvinism, because when presented with two options that represent Scripture equally well, why would anyone choose the harsher interpretation unless one is paranoid or a masochist?
Just some thoughts.
This semester of college—my final semester—can likened to a marathon. My senior class, about to graduate, collectively realized that the end was near, so together we made a final push to do as much as possible to strengthen our bonds with each other, invest in lower classes and future leaders, and reach out to those who didn’t know Jesus. It has been an exciting and thrilling time, and I’m glad for it, but now that graduation has ended and our degrees bestowed upon us, I’ve finally realized how weary I’ve been this whole time. Often, when you’ve been standing up for long periods of time, you don’t notice the strain it produces on your body. It’s only once you sit down that you feel how sore you’ve been. The loosening of the muscles reveals the intensity of the stress they’ve been released from.
This semester has been a microcosm of my college experience. College can be defined very simply in this way: it is the triumph of persistent extroversion over introversion, often to unhealthy extremes. It presents not only a variety of obligations: academics, work, and ministry, but a variety of pleasures: impromptu social events, late-night hangouts, and group meals at costly restaurants. The only thing lacking in this menagerie is healthy solitude. Compliance with such behavior is not enforced by saying “you must”, but rather by saying, “you ought to”, “you’ll regret not doing so”, and oh-so-often “it will be good for you spiritually”. Failure to comply is seen as being tantamount to heresy, and your friends instantly begin speculating as to what sort of personal or spiritual malady has befallen you that you should want to withdraw from their company. The choice is clear: run yourself ragged with the social scene or be branded a deviant by rumor and speculation.
At some point, this sort of extreme extroversion stops becoming something that others impose on you and becomes something that you impose on yourself. You internalize the values of socializing that you’ve been indoctrinated into and you become their foremost evangelist, proselytizing on their behalf to your friends. Glancing back, I now see how I created an environment for myself that was ever-increasingly public; the little private moments I set aside were like fledgling forts deep in enemy territory, easily picked off one-by-one. I came into college thinking that the ideal life was one where I was with my friends twenty-four seven. Now, after four years of college, two of which were spent in an apartment whose door was like the door to a sitcom apartment—constantly opening up to intruders who would bring in with them the next plot device, antic, or bit of community drama—I’ve learned my lesson about community. It too must be taken in moderation: too little and you become a recluse without communion to your fellow men; too much and your sense of self-identity and your identity in Christ get devoured by your identity with the group.
Now the events are over, the friends dispersed, and the race of college ministry completed. I have not been myself all semester; instead, I’ve tried to be someone else whom I was not. At long last, I have the chance to breath and regain the skill which I learned so acutely yet lost so quickly: the skill of solitude. Now I can sit alone by a bench, read a Psalm, alone with no one but God, and breathe in the sweet scent of God’s presence, which to me smells like freshly washed laundry. And that to me is the most beautiful aroma of all.
I made a vow to myself yesterday that I would look into the homosexuality issue that’s been raging recently. I made this vow because I realized that I had never really made a firm decision about it and that I seemed to have a chameleon opinion; I would say one thing to my Christian friends and another thing to my non-Christian friends. But I realized that this was too important of an issue not form an opinion. After all, I was tired of seeing Christians retreat from the public sphere and confine themselves purely to “spiritual” issues, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
So today I sat down for several hours and started reading through a number of articles from various perspectives, Christian, non-Christian, pro-homosexuality, and anti-homosexuality. From the onset the research depressed me, because the atmosphere around this issue is filled with bitter antagonism: conservatives are quick to use harsh words and talk out of anger, while liberals are so quick to call anyone who disagrees with them a bigot or prejudiced (reinforcing the notion that they are just a bunch of elitist snobs). I came upon one particular article called “14 Steps That Will Evolve Your View on Gay Marriage” that was so passive-aggressive and made such a bad use of the bandwagon fallacy that it actually briefly incited me to be even more conservative in my stance. Logical fallacies abounded on both sides. I was pretty close to throwing up my hands and just giving up.
Then I stumbled upon something that was a breath of fresh air. Coming upon a website called the Gay Christian Network (a site devoted to helping homosexual Christians cope with the stresses they face), I found a pair of articles written on the site highlighting two Christian positions on homosexuality. Both were written by committed Christians who identified themselves as being homosexuals. One argued the point of what is called side A (homosexuality is okay in the context of a monogamous Christian marriage), and the other argued from the point of side B (homosexuality is wrong and homosexuals should be celibate).
Several things surprised me about this pair of articles. First, the authors knew from personal experience what the struggle of homosexuality looks like because they had experienced it personally. Second, they were gracious and humble to each other and their opponents, even going so far as to admit that they could be wrong. This sort of kindness and humility is missing from most public debate, where it’s basically your job to convince your audience that you are a paragon of virtue while your opponent is the spawn of Satan. Moreover, it was clear that the authors treated each other this way because they were Christians who took seriously the importance of humility and kindness. The authors were not some liberal “Christians” evoking the name of Jesus merely for dramatic effect; they both clearly loved Jesus and made every effort to discern the truth through the Holy Spirit. Finally, their treatment of Scripture was thoughtful and in-depth; they weren’t simply trying to offer prooftexts, but really tried to wrestle with what each passage meant in its context. I flipped through each article (they’re both very long), and in the end, I still came down closer to the position of the side B people (homosexuality is a sin), but something had changed for me because I had seen a firsthand account of this issue that forced me to consider the implications our decisions have on real people.
One argument commonly applied to controversy is that only those who experience a situation have a right to make decisions about that situation. Therefore, only women can make choices about abortion, homosexuals make laws about homosexuality, drug users make drug regulations etc. This is actually a very stupid argument because if we followed this logic then society would not be able to function and because those who have experienced a situation can’t help but be biased. But I would like to revise this argument to something that makes sense: you can’t fully understand or have a mature opinion about a situation until you’ve either personally experienced or been exposed to a firsthand account of someone who has gone through that issue. In the case of homosexuality, you will never have a fully mature and loving opinion until you’ve gotten a firsthand look at the life of a homosexual, the struggles they face, and choices they have to make. Until you do that, homosexuality will just be an abstract theoretical concept. It will not be about real people and their lives. But once you see real human beings struggling with this issue, you discover that you really really really need to be sure you are right before you take a stance. You are now dealing with real human beings, not abstract concepts, so you better make sure that your stance is one that is thoughtful and loving, otherwise you will hurt others.
The problem is that most Christians have never encountered the lives of homosexuals, so they think they are being loving when they are simply deluding themselves. They say things like “love the sinner, hate the sin” and satisfy their own egos without realizing that they’ve actually deeply hurt those who struggle with these issues by saying those things. Don’t be a delusional do-gooder. Seek first to understand.
Why did I write this post? Well, because right now lots of pastors are saying lots of things about homosexuality. John Piper has done so, Mark Driscoll must definitely be railing right now, and I know that Matt Carter is saying stuff as well. I don’t know what they’re saying, and for all I know, it could be absolutely right, but I will say this: they can have all the theological knowledge and all the Scriptural truth that they want, but if they’ve never made the effort of seeking to understand the position, the story, the life of a homosexual, then there’s an integral part of this issue that they’ve failed to understand. Remember that there are two ways to get at truth: the first is through logical deliberation and argumentation and the second is through love and empathy. As Christians, we are called to do both.
If you would like to tangibly live out what I’m advocating, here are links to the two articles:
The letter “L” shall be the alliteration for this post, aptly named:
Lesson’s learned from “Love’s Labours Lost”
In high school, I once watched a comedy show in class that poked fun at Shakespeare. When they reached the part about Shakespeare’s comedies, the joke was that they all had the same plot. Then performers then proceeded to act out a satirical version of all of Shakespeare’s comedies combined into a single play. It was pretty funny. It’s also very true. Most Shakespeare comedies involve a set of mismatched couples who spend most of their time bumbling through high-verse, harebrained schemes, and mistaken identities, however, in the end, they all end up together, typically through some sort of plot devised by the comic relief side-characters. Although “Love’s Labours Lost” has much of these elements in it, it doesn’t have a typically Shakespearean happy ending. Instead, it ends up a very bittersweet note, which I suppose, is much more realistic.
I definitely left the play confused as to what the moral of the story was, seeing as it ended the way it did. After some thought, I came up with three important lessons about life to be drawn from the play:
1. Things never go the way you expect: the King and the Lords swear off women for three years, only to instantly find themselves head over heels for four charming ladies. They try to court the women seriously, only to find their seriousness taken as jest and repaid with mockery. When the ladies finally respond to their affections, tragedy strikes and the princess is forced to return to her country and take her entourage along with her to mourn for a year. Life is messy. Our plans never work out exactly how they want them to.
2. Any good we receive is a mercy given to us by God: the men in the play were bumbling idiots. In the first place, they were foolish enough to swear away “the cause why [they] were born” as if it were as easy as just saying it. Then, they concoct a harebrained plan to disguise themselves as Russian dancers and amuse the women, as if that would make up for the insult of treating them so curtly earlier in the play. Finally, as their plan unravels, they lose their composure and their pleas become desperate and honest. And somehow their pleading works, not because of how convincing it was, but because of the some grand mercy that we cannot comprehend.
3. Hope is something you have to fight for, not something you sit around waiting for: the one consolation of the story is that love is not lost forever, only for a short period of time. If the men swear to go into seclusion from the world for a year and a day, then the women will agree to marry them. It will be a hard year, but if they persevere, then there’s victory for them on the other side. I guess a real-world corollary is that in real-life, we can achieve a modicum of success so long as we look past the trouble of the present with an eye for the glory of the future. In Romans, St. Paul writes “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). So often, adversity is about the fight between feelings and thoughts. We know that if we act prudently now, then in the future we will reap the benefits, but in the present we just cannot bring our hearts to do it, because the emotions against it are too strong. In those times, it seems like perseverance amounts to a submission of the heart to the head, knowing that the head will lead us true in the end.