We are Called to an Abundant Life

Recently I have been falling in love with how confrontational Jesus is about suffering and death—man’s greatest fear. One of the biggest messages I have been receiving from God, communicated through the gospels, is to make peace with what is and what could come, including death itself. I don’t understand how one can walk away from reading the Bible and come away with an escapist eschatology, or even more absurd, a theology that somehow promotes a life without suffering.

Jesus declared, “A thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy… I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). For some, these words are what convince people to believe that suffering is simply, and totally, not a part of their inheritance. I am perplexed about how one could read this as Christ promising an existence without stealing, killing, and destroying for those with faith, when he also commands us to take up our crosses (Matt. 16:24) and reveals that the rain falls on both “the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:24). Jesus even told the disciples, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” a standard he lived up to when he died for the world, counting all humanity as friends. Paul expounded and lived out this message faithfully, as he taught believers that dying is gain (Philippians 1:21) and that one may experience God’s power most fully in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Rather, I think what Jesus is saying in John 10:10 regarding the “abundant life” is that his redemptive work brings a fullness of life in the midst of all things, including the enemy’s stealing, killing, and destroying. The attacks of the enemy are even able to be redeemed as enriching, sanctifying, or as a witness to the Gospel’s power. Jesus, the one who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), ultimately reveals that God’s ways are higher than ours. What we could come up as good news is cheap; the gospel is unlike anything in this world, and is even better than we could imagine. The things we fear most, suffering and death, even turn out to blessings in the Kingdom of God.

Now, I hope to not romanticize suffering. I’ve seen plenty of folks throughout my life do just that, whether it was some form of self-flagellation or zealous believers praying to become martyrs, and I just cannot see how that is healthy either. I have seen people who were sick or dealing with tragedy but suppressing their hurt and pain, believing this was the most righteous way of dealing with their situation. Suffering sucks; on this side of heaven, I do not necessarily count it as wrong if we are not able to see God’s glory in dark moments.

I hold onto the belief that Jesus has the last word, and though I think we ought to focus more on the resurrection in the now than in the “end,” this narrative does provide hope that there is ultimate justice. That said, with or without that last day, that moment of complete reconciliation or restoration, Jesus calls us to labor for the Kingdom now, for reconciliation now, at all costs, even unto death. The Gospel’s good news includes a day that will come, but also an order being established now before us in the Church and through the saints. These saints who are ushering in the Kingdom will do whatever it takes to make the peace, wholeness, and joy provided in Christ manifest, and that in itself is good news, especially in the presence of life’s suffering. Even if it costs one’s life, it is the highest call, the greatest gift, and the path to he abundant life promised by Christ.

The God of My Mother

A picture from a surprise birthday party for my mom. She was surprised.

A picture from a surprise birthday party for my mom. She was surprised.

As you may know from my recent post, “My Strange Relationship with the Mooniverse“, I have recently been reflecting a lot about the religious group I grew up in, the Unification Church—also known as the Moonies. Alongside a call to expose the corruption in the Unification Church, I have also been reflecting on the positive aspects of Moonie spirituality that I was raised with. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was toxic (”gays are dung-eating dogs,” mandatory donations, blatant racism, etc.), but some of it still rings true in my soul. The parts most Unificationists would find as vital mean nothing to me, and some of it I find to even be revolting, including just about all of the Divine Principle, the main theological text of the Unification Church. But the spirituality of my mom, which is so grounded in the mythology of Unificationism, is something I admire. A lot of her beliefs, and sometimes even her behavior, are not at all perfect. Sometimes her beliefs drive her to do some really unwise and even wrong things, but I cannot deny that the core of her spiritual life is beautiful. There’s something about how she walks with God that reveals the essence of the Unificationism that attracted so many idealistic youth in the 60s and 70s. There’s something about it that reveals God.

My mother’s spirituality is marked by an ardent but compassionate anti-individuality, or as they put it in the Unification Church, “living for the sake of others.” We were to live not just for ourselves, but for our family, for our country, for our enemies, for the whole world, and even for those in the world beyond. I could tell you story after story of my mom’s reckless, and sometimes downright irresponsible, giving. My mom passionately cares for people. She looks for the spark of God in everybody she encounters, and she loves them like they are holy (and they are). And when people are in need, she is immediately present, with tea and food and ears to listen and arms wide open.

The spiritual life she leads is also deeply prayerful. To put it lightly, she takes communion with God extremely seriously. I was taught that conversations with God were to be constant, reverent, and that they were not always easy. My mom is almost always driven to tears when she prays. It is not in a showy, self-righteous way. She just knows with all that she is that she is before God, and carries the burden of providence and those she loves into her intercession. She would even take upon the burden of God’s sorrow.

The Unificationist narrative of God being a suffering Deity molds her worldview quite a lot. The Divine Principle teaches that since the fall, God’s heart has been outrageously broken and that mankind ought to comfort him and help his heart heal. The theology behind that is questionable, to say the least, but the idea of a suffering God is something Christian theology barely articulates yet seems so in line with God revealed in Jesus. My mom almost seems possessed by the Spirit of God when she prays, as she is often overcome by this cosmic burden. Truthfully, the way Christ prayed in the garden of Gethsemane has always reminded me a lot of my mother.

My mother often spoke of the Spirit World, which at times comforted me, and other times was simply spooky. She would tell me that my grandmother and all of my ancestors were watching me, rooting for me, and aiding me as I moved providence forward. This was, for the most part, an awesome idea, but every so often I’d feel a bit embarrassed while going to the bathroom or changing my clothes, believing Obachaan and the whole Goto clan was watching. That said, I grew up with an awareness that a spiritual reality, of angels and the departed, was close and at work among us. I grew up venerating my ancestors and even doing rituals to support their spiritual development (which is a complicated subject packed with a whole lot of corruption). We’d welcome them into our house and offer them fruit, chocolate, and cakes, and ask for their help and guidance. My mother would even place food at the altar in our house for friends and family that passed away.

Something about this ancestor veneration, about this connection to those beyond, still feels… true. As I reflect on the all-consuming grace of Christ and the communion of Saints, I cannot help but believe that God’s desire to restore every person would extend to beyond the grave. Not only that, but I cannot help but believe that maybe, just maybe, those beyond would be at the aid of those on earth, that they would perhaps be ministering spirits. The communion of saints and their intercession is an orthodox belief, but what if their interference goes beyond saying prayers for us? What if God endows those believers with the same spiritual authority he grants to those who believe on Earth? What if they too can walk in the miraculous? What if they can work and inspire among us?

Perhaps. I’d like to think so.

I also wonder if at the root and head of this communion of saints, this cloud of witnesses, and this cosmic family, is the Alpha and Omega, the Firstborn, Jesus Christ. Perhaps he is our first and truest Ancestor.

Again, I’d like to think so.

Sometimes I don’t know how much of my mother’s spirituality is Korean shamanism she picked up from her mentors or what she inherited from her own upbringing as a Japanese Buddhist or what came directly from the Unification Church. I am pretty confident, though, that a lot of it connects her to our God. In many ways she connects to God even deeper than myself. But I cannot deny that I do pray and hope that she will discover that this light, power, and love reveal God in Christ. I think to some degree she has, but I look forward to a day where her and Jesus are on a first name basis and we both can praise him together. I don’t mean this in a way that devalues her story and journey, but I say all that because Jesus changed everything for me, that man transformed my heart and soul, and I really think they would get along well.

A Brief Update: Ending My Year With QVS

This is an extremely brief update (if the title didn’t give that away) and I could go into more detail about the work I have done with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the work QVS Portland has done together, but that is not where my mind or heart is, so excuse me.

My year with the Quaker Voluntary Service is coming to an end. And it is starting to hurt.

House dinner on my birthday.

House dinner on my birthday.

During meeting this past Sunday, I couldn’t help but feel emotional as I sat next to three of my housemates. The realization that our year is coming to an end has been trickling in slowly but surely, but as I sat beside them and worshiped in silence, the mourning process accelerated quite a bit. I am going to miss these people. A lot. Even though I wasn’t always the kindest person, and conflict had a very real presence in the house, I love my housemates. We worked through a lot and we shared many sweet and even powerful moments and simply put, they’re great. All five of them.

Since that moment in meeting, I’ve been hit pretty hard with this realization over and over again. Though I have complained a lot about this year and every so often feel like I somehow failed my QVS year, the truth is that this year has been incredible. I did good work with AFSC, I met many brilliant F/friends, lived with five earnest and passionate individuals, experienced both the Liberal and Evangelical branches of Quakerism, discovered what Quakerism means to me, received some insight into my future and calling, and lived in Portland, Oregon—which is a glorious thing in so many ways. I’ve been very blessed and I cannot deny it.

July 29th, my last day of QVS, is approaching, and I have to clean and pack and figure out some logistics for my next step, which is moving to Philadelphia. Other than the moving part, I have little idea of what is next. I am glad that I will be near my family (who keep reproducing) and many of my friends, and I’m ecstatic that I will have a Friends of Jesus worship group nearby. Also, being in the heart of American Quakerism is pretty cool. I will miss Mt. Hood, Burgerville, kombucha on tap, my office, and all the children of God I have encountered here, but I’ve received a lot of confirmation and clearness that it is to move on.

As much as it hurts, I think I am ready.

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My Strange Relationship with the Mooniverse

Long time no see. I had hoped to keep my blog updated as I went through my year with the Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS), but work got busier, life took many twists and turns, and I just couldn’t find the time to put out a post. And now I’m at the very end of the year. Whoops. I feel terrible about it, as I imagined blogging to be a powerful spiritual discipline and an engaging way to show off the brilliant work of the QVS. I apologize for those few readers who actually looked forward to my posts.

A somewhat recent picture of the Portland QVS Fellows

A somewhat recent picture of the Portland QVS Fellows

In all honesty, I also didn’t have much to say. I started this year hoping to explore Quakerism for all that it is, and to some degree I was able to do that. I read plenty of books on Quaker theology and practice, I experienced the worship and communities within both the Liberal and Evangelical traditions, and I was able to connect even deeper to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship despite our distance. In many ways, I’ve discovered what Quakerism means to me. But really, that hasn’t been the query I’ve been all too concerned about the past year.

What I have been reflecting on and wrestling with kind of took me by surprise… and I’ve actually been blogging daily, despite my absence on this blog—I’ll get to that bit later.

You see, before I was a Quaker, and before I was speaking in tongues, and waaaay before I had come to have faith in Jesus, I was a Moonie. I was born and raised in the Unification Church; a Second Generation member. This is a topic I’ve always struggled talking about, even with those close to me. Sometimes my zeal against the Unification Church can be a bit overwhelming for those listening, and there have been many times where I have attempted to mold my past in the Moonies to simply be something strange and funny, but most of the time I try avoiding that conversation at all costs.

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Praying at a UC event in Newark, NJ.

For those who know nothing of the Unification Church, it is a cult. Of that I am confident. As somebody who has been critically researching the Unification Church the past six years, and as somebody who was born and raised in the Movement, I am constantly surprised and appalled by the corruption I keep discovering within it. The layers of deception and tragedy really seem unending.

Long story short, the group was founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who claimed to be the second coming of Christ and established a religious, financial, and even political empire for him and his family to live off. He displayed very real signs of being a sociopath and his rule over the Moon Kingdom was absurdly nonsensical and cruel.  I bowed to his picture every morning and believed he was the messiah. He was my messiah.

I have a hard time sharing about this part of my life because it is so foreign to people and often times people’s reactions are disappointing. Perhaps my expectations are too high for how people should react, and perhaps sometimes I make my delivery of this part of my story a bit too light-hearted, but somehow, after being out of the church for the past six years, I still do not how to talk about it.

After reading “In the Shadow of the Moons” by Nansook Hong, I had finally become convinced that I could no longer associate myself with the Unification Church. I had been exploring my unbelief in Moon and his teachings for a year prior to this decision but continued my affiliation with the church. I had hoped to keep my ties to the church strong despite my lack of faith. After reading Hong’s account of her abusive marriage to Rev. Moon’s son and finding out that much of the church’s corruption is rooted in and endorsed by Moon, I knew I had to leave.

It was around that time I started writing a tumblr-blog called “How Well Do You Know Your Moon” in order to process my departure from the faith. It was meant to be a anonymous personal journal, and I didn’t find it necessary to publicize or advertise what I was writing. My entries were mainly about the inconsistencies in Unification theology, but I wrote on other matters such as the forming denominations and splits in the Unification Movement. Within a few weeks, my blog was discovered by church leaders and a witch-hunt ensued. The blog has been up for six years, though we temporarily took it down for a week at one point, and dozens of people have contributed and helped build the blog to be a constant whistle-blower of church corruption and a major resource on UC history. We’ve had several legal threats thrown at us from the Moon family and the church but luckily such threats were empty.

There were many months, if not several years, where my moderation of the blog died down a bit and I took a more hands off approach, blogging only when most convenient or urgent. Recently, though, I have found a renewed sense of passion and have made it a goal to daily report on the injustices of the Unification Church, including fraud, human trafficking, sexual abuse, etc.

My lack of activity with the blog was my way of “getting over” my experience in the church. I was constantly told by members that I was “bitter”, “resentful”, and “negative,” and I half-believed them. I’ve found that even among my friends, there is a hesitance to discuss the church we left behind. Many claimed to have moved on and feel no need to dwell in the past, and I’ve often shut down my own concerns and struggles because I didn’t want to waste my time thinking about the church.  But maybe I am bitter, resentful, and negative, and maybe that’s not that bad of a thing. I’m still on the road to healing and forgiving, but I also feel that an anger towards the viciousness of the UC is not simply just but also necessary to do the work needed to eradicate these injustices.

I can’t continue suppressing what feels like the burden of my identity. I need to embrace it, and not just for my sake, but for those living under the oppression of the church. I carry the weight of my history, yes, but also, to some degree, I carry the weight of the history of all those who have experienced being exploited by the church, as well as the weight of those who are still being abused and exploited by the Moon empire. I have not experienced the level abuse that thousands of other Moonies have, but these people are my people and their stories fuel this passion for justice.

These past few months have been eye-opening, to say the least. I have reconnected with old friends from my childhood in the church and made new friends who share this experience, and I’ve been discovering more and more that there is a need for advocacy and for the church to be exposed fully for what it is. I’ve felt guilty for awhile for not engaging more with theology and Quakerism, because that is a big part of what I had in mind for this year, but I’ve found myself tripping into what I see as an “opening” from God. I’ve accepted what feels like a responsibility but also a fire in my soul.

Though I committed myself to following Jesus at sixteen years old and have long-disconnected myself from much of the Mooniverse (at least socially and organizationally), the Unification Church is still very much a part of my identity. I’ve come to see it, at least for myself, as a gift and calling. When I think of Christ’s “mission statement” in Luke 4:18-19—“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”—I cannot help but feel that I am where I am supposed to be, or at least going in the right direction.

Soon enough my wordpress here will once again quote George Fox and I will give you an update on my QVS experience, I promise, but I felt a need to share these things and ask for prayer. I don’t think anything like a profession will come out of this, but I do consider the running of my blog as a ministry. I know that this ministry is not simply about a blog and may evolve and look differently throughout my life, but I trust that the Spirit is with me in this work to bring justice to the Unification Church. I’m playing a small part in a big, scary game, but I still believe that such a call needs humility and to be nurtured in the Light. I ask for you to hold me in the Light, as I continue to discern what being prophetic with such a call looks like, and even as I sort out my own identity as an ex-UC member.

Thanks, Friends.

For more information:
The Fall of the House of Moon by Mariah Blake (The New Republic)
Mike Wallace interviews Nansook Hong on 60 Minutes
How Well Do You Know Your Moon