Friends Need to Tell the Truth

pacificism

Too often too silent

Truth-telling. It’s hard to say for Quakers today if it matters the way it once did.

That first generation of Friends were honest. Brutally honest. About the crookedness of Church-as-Empire, about the empty strength of the empire itself. Those Quakers were shameless. They preached a God of justice and peace. A God who didn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t tolerate a religion for show nor the vanity of power-schemers. They surrendered their lives to God, and in sweet surrender found themselves dynamically demonstrating the power of God’s Kingdom. On earth as it is in heaven. The early Friends prophesied, subverted society. Convicted by Love, they followed in her footsteps. She shook them, made them quake. And sometimes they danced. Polite society couldn’t understand and didn’t approve. That’s why so many Quakers ended up imprisoned, tortured – or dead.

I want to be that kind of truth-teller.

I want to welcome Light into the world, to expose, to transform, no matter the cost. Those fearless Friends walked in reconciliation. They showed the world Jesus. And the world despised them for it.

I am no prophet. Not many of us Friends are. At least not yet. But I must speak the truth. People are dying, murdered in the streets. This. Is. Not. Right.

Here’s what I know: my fellow citizens are being murdered by the police – those same men and women sworn to serve and protect. Many of the dead are people of color. Here is my reality. I am an Asian-American. Able-bodied. Cis-gender. Man. And I enjoy all the privilege that comes with these realities.

Systemic racism just isn’t blatant in my daily life. I don’t experience the pain. I don’t experience the loss of friends and family. I don’t feel the fear. It’s numbing. I’m numb. It is hard for me to empathize, hard for me to be angry.

But I can see the reality of white supremacy, and I can see the bodies of those who’ve been slain.

Do you see them?

So I call out and come out against the powers and principalities. I name the violence that haunts us because this is not right.

But what can I do?

I seek not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind because the truth is that racism has distorted how I think and act. Without meaning to, I have given myself up to the ways of the world. I have accepted the god of this age, who blinds humanity to the Light of the Gospel. I am guilty, too.

We all are.

I have safely ignored others’ pain. I have been irresponsible, unthinking, callous. I have been an active participant in white supremacy. I have benefited from it. And I am absolutely disgusted with myself.

Maybe what we need is repentance. At least as a first step.

It’s what I need. I also need to learn to see, to understand, and to appreciate the constant struggle of others’ daily experience. I need humility and compassion. I need to embrace rage. I need to remember – over and over again – that this person shot, dead, is not a statistic.

This person is a friend, a child, a partner. A person who bears the image of God. A human being with a name.

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Dontre Hamilton. Michael Brown Jr. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Tanisha Anderson. Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Rumain Brisbon. Jerame Reid. Tony Robinson. Phillip White. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Terence Crutcher. Keith Lamont Scott.

And so on and so on and so on.

It has always been this way, and we can’t let it remain this way.

I will admit that I am resistant because it hurts. And then I remember that it’s supposed to hurt. That I’m not the only one hurting and in fact, my hurt is small.

I live in and live off a system that steals lives, the same lives that built and continue to build our country.

I need to remind myself of this truth. I need to remind you of this truth.

I have sinned against my sisters and brothers by giving into fear, laziness, and privilege, by remaining silent in the face of suffering. I have been afraid, unloving, indifferent. I have yielded to racism.

I cannot remain complicit. We cannot remain complicit.

I must not. We must not.

Friends, if our Quakerism is not prophetic, if it fails to speak truth to power, then what’s the use of it? If it is not grounded in an apocalyptic vision, a conviction that the Kingdom is at hand, then what do we have to offer the world?

Do we even matter?

Quakerism – just like white supremacy – is in slavery to itself.

Somehow, that band of primitive prophets and preachers is now a polite group of politically sensitive and mostly silent worshipers. People wonder why we aren’t growing. Is it because Quakers are slowly going extinct? Yes, that’s probably true. A lot of people do know about Quakers, though. They know we are the “good kind of religious people.”

That can feel pretty good. But that’s not what Christ called us to be and do in the world.

Good religious people don’t revolt against the system and liberate the oppressed. Good religious people may quietly resist what they see as unfair treatment, but they are too pragmatic to work for real change.

So what about us? Do we have the spiritual and emotional resources to be more than just good? Can we be prophets once again? Are we willing to see what is real and to talk about it and then to do something? Can we proclaim that Black Lives Matter? Can we tell the truth?

Because if we can’t, then we’re no longer good for anything. Those people are right. The Quakers are already extinct.

Learning to like myself (post-break up)

It sounds like a back-to-school essay topic. What did you do last summer? But it’s not the essay I planned on writing.

I started my summer with a break-up.

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Here I am, desperately trying to have fun.

It’s OK, I’m not outraged. But I was. Deeply. Explosively. Outraged. I’ve been through the stages of grief, and by grace, I’ve landed on acceptance. But this wasn’t what I wanted.

We were just a few months shy of being together for three years, and then it was over. Our relationship had been strained for awhile, mostly because we were actively building our own lives in separate states, but ending what we had didn’t make sense to me. I was offended. I was humiliated. I felt destroyed.

I don’t know if God was behind what happened or if God is just good at pulling Light out of darkness. But I have enough distance now to see why ending our relationship made sense. Some days, I can even give thanks to God that it happened. We had no idea what we were doing. For both of us, it was our first real relationship. We wrestled our way into coming out together, and we learned about vulnerability and authenticity – we went through a lot. We questioned everything. And at the same time, we were falling deeper and deeper into God’s grace. We had our certainties destroyed yet discovered a gospel greater than what we’d known. The tragedy is that something we worked so hard to build, something vital to the stories of who we are and how we got there, crashed. Those three years of being together – praying, fighting, compromising, loving – all wasted. Or at least that’s how it felt.

Those years were precious. I have to remember that. Those were good years.

I wonder now if going through the crash, being crushed, is what it took for me to learn to like myself. I know. I’m a masochist. But there’s a lot of shit I’d been ignoring.

I ignore a lot of things.

I compartmentalize. I avoid conflict. I don’t listen to myself, and it’s stolen my sense of identity. Who am I? I didn’t know.

It was easier to compromise, to shut down anything unpleasant, to shunt aside negative thoughts about others. Forgive and forget. The thing is, this relationship made me feel good. Because someone adored me. This wasn’t the first time, it was just a lot less unhealthy than the others (but still, unhealthy). I didn’t like me for myself. I liked being liked. Like someone else could do the work that I couldn’t do.

It felt good.

And then it didn’t. (It only works for so long.)

At a certain point, the sobbing ended, and the break-up began to feel like waking up. I could see how I had been holding myself back, compromising in order to “keep a good thing going.” This is what freedom feels like. It feels like you’re dying, like the pain is going to kill you. Then you wake up.

I woke up. It’s nearly impossible to map out the exact process. It didn’t happen instantly. There was lots of sorrow. After several victories of “moving on,” I fell back into the mind-games of denial, spiraled right back into my insecurities. So I’d climb my way back up and out. So much climbing. Until one day it dawned on me that in spite of all my climbing, I’d fallen even deeper. Into acceptance and into the Light. It was the Light that showed me my hurt, the ways I was unhealthy, a glimpse into the goodness at my core. This was peace. That maybe I didn’t have to climb anymore.

There are still a lot of shitty things about me. I’m impatient, impulsive, and worthless when it comes to detail-oriented work. Sometimes, I ignore people. I could go on and on with a list of vices and flaws. But here’s the point. I didn’t wake up to the realization that I’m perfect. No. What I woke up to was the understanding that I am someone. To think that I am not good enough without him (or anyone) is absurd. Stupid. So dumb. How did I ever get stuck thinking that way?

Because I’m actually pretty lovely. I can see that now.

I am seeing God in me the way I’ve always been able to see God in others. I was made in the image of God.

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from rupi kaur’s poetry collection “milk and honey”

Rev. Moon is still dead

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From Moon’s funeral (or Seunghwa ceremony, in Mooniespeak)

Rev. Moon passed away four years today. I’ve written a bit about my past in the Unification Church, but in summary: Rev. Moon was a narcissist that I was raised to believe was the second coming of Christ, the Messiah. And four years ago, I was still at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan when one of my best friends, somebody who knew about my past as a Moonie but was never himself involved in the Unification Church, walked into my dorm room and told me that he heard of Moon’s passing on CNN. I was shocked. I kind of brushed him off, tried to act normal, and went to the bathroom and struggled to breath.

I knew Moon was sick—critically sick even—yet the news of his death still managed to shut me down.

I imagined this day since I came to reject Moon as my personal savior. I thought I’d get drunk and celebrate with fellow ex-2nd generation, reminiscing on the pure wackiness of our childhoods and properly mourn, celebrate, and go through whatever other emotional processing needed. I thought I’d feel a deep sense of relief and liberation.

None of that really happened.

I was in Michigan, far from the friends I grew up with, and not knowing how to react to this information. I wished I knew how to explain the fucked-up relationship I had to this man who gave me a ginseng candy once. I’ve bowed to his picture thousands of times, venerated him since birth, as well as spent hours praying for him to repent, and in darker times I fantasized about confronting him, sneaking my way into his palace in Korea and forcing him to face the facts of his shitty reign as messiah. My experience and history with Moon was complicated, to say the least. And I felt trapped with my truth and story. Yes, I was surrounded by people I loved, but people who didn’t get it. Not the way I needed.

Tonight there is a gathering for ex-2nd generation in New York to “celebrate” Moon’s death. I know that sounds morally vile, and perhaps it isn’t going to be the most godly of events, but I actually really wish I could be there. What I would have done to be there four years ago. Instead of trekking out to Brooklyn, though, I am staying in, re-watching old episodes of Degrassi, putting together my new apartment, and maybe I’ll drink a few PBRs in celebration. Not to Moon’s death, per se, but in gratitude for how far so many of us have come post-Moon. I’m continually inspired by my friends who grew up beside me and found their place in the world.

I won’t lie, Moon still has a constant presence in my life. I cannot deny the impact he and the Unification Church have had on me. He even arranged my parents’ marriage. Without him, I wouldn’t be alive. He may be present in my heart and mind for the rest of my life, but I will say that he no longer has power over me. I can recognize his voice peeking in my subconscious at times and I see it for what it is: bullshit. And for that, I thank God.

For the True Father

I can shut you out
of my mind
for only so long
before I thumb you
shouting in the cleft
of my inner ear.

My muse, my guardian
angel, the anti-Christ,
stocky brute, father
to my father,
Bone and Stone.

Who would I be
without your stain,
without your mark
on my own name?

By your transgressions,
I am saved.