An update on my life (& other propaganda)

I may not be as actively blogging as I’d like, but I assure you – I’m here. Still alive.

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With some of my favorite Friends

I haven’t had as much time or energy to write the past year – I’ve been trying to survive. To make it. To push my way through a 50-60 hour work week to barely pay my bills.

2016 and 2017 were packed with devastation, desperation, and were all around pretty terrible. Between the ending of my three year relationship, the death of my brother, and months of being unemployed, things were really hard. It feels miraculous that I’m still alive.

Things have only recently started to become more comfortable, and I’m beginning to have a little more space to digest the past year.

One thing I’ll admit: under the weight of surviving, I was often a reactionary. I made bold statements meant to convict, or rather guilt, those who didn’t hold radical political convictions. I deemed them lacking empathy for the oppressed, and to be honest, I saw them as people who didn’t care for my well-being. I came to despise them.

Of course, I wasn’t always full of grace, but also… a lot of people didn’t make space for me, not even those I considered my closest fellowship. It often felt like the only thing I could do was react. I wish I could have communicated the burdens and convictions of my heart with nuance, but I also don’t feel guilty or wrong for things I have said. They were and are true.

Through survival, I feel the Holy Ghost has transformed my conception of the gospel. The good news of Jesus became material. It became about people, and their bodies, and their survival. It became about liberation and humanization. It became about empathy.

For awhile I couldn’t even pray in good conscience. It felt like a waste of time. I knew I needed to act. It was there, in the streets, protesting, in direct actions, that I met God again. Rebuking the powers of this world. Lifting up the humanity and divinity of those our society is built on marginalizing. Revealing the justice of her kin-dom.

The past six months or so I’ve met other Quakers, Christians, and mystics who feel the need to act. They are convinced that the white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist empire we exist in needs to be abolished. Smashed to pieces. They are convinced that this is their duty as messengers of Christ’s gospel, as holy fools. They are people I wait in silence with, I pray in tongues with, I organize direct actions with.

A lot of my energy has gone into organizing with them. It’s been good. For me, for us. With these people, I am remembering why I fell in love with Jesus – the One who embodied solidarity and died building a revolutionary community. The One who desires to humanize both the oppressed and the oppressor, by tearing kings off thrones, and lifting up the humble – those subjugated by state violence, those forced into meekness.

This group I’m talking about is the Friendly Fire Collective. As our blog puts it, “the Friendly Fire Collective is a loose network of anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist Christians. Drawing from Marxist and anarchist political traditions, and grounded in the biblical vision of God’s Kin-dom, we believe we are called to create a new world in the ashes of the old.”

Knowing my Friendly Fire comrades has changed my life. Through them, I’ve stumbled into a Christianity I can believe again.

Some of them were recently arrested and are now facing felony charges for protesting at Michigan State University against an event that featured notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. Because of this protest, Spencer decided to cancel the rest of his campus tour and declared that antifa was winning. My comrades believe that the struggle against fascism looks like something. And the cost for them is real. It could put them in prison. They remind me of Jesus.

We are currently organizing a retreat that will take place May 1-3. We will be participating in Philadelphia’s May Day march, we will be feeding the hungry, and we will be praying, worshiping, and teaching one another kin-dom praxis in some cabins we reserved in the woods. It should be fun.

For those interested in coming out to the May Day retreat, applications are due March 29th. For those who are interested in our collective, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions. Also, we have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for – and here is our March issue.

Friendly Fire doesn’t exist to build our own brand. We are not a church-planting movement. We are a bunch of poor kids who love God and people. As a collective, we hope to nurture the emerging Religious/Christian Left. We want to help those with radical convictions and faith in Christ discover how these two things can be, and should be, beautifully married. We pray we can inspire the emergence of other collectives and prophetic radicals.

All this to say: Christians of the Left, unite!

 

Right on Target: Why a Church Named for Peace Is Worshiping Guns

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Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, leader of Sanctuary Church, and his wife Yeon Ah Lee Moon

Over a week ago there was an explosion of articles about Sanctuary Church’s blessing ceremony which featured church members in wedding gowns and suits carrying AR-15s and wearing crowns of bullets. For a lot of people, this ceremony highlighted the absurd marriage between the church and right-wing politics. Most who posted this article noted that this “gun blessing” was insensitive, considering that only a week prior to the blessing 17 people were killed and 16 injured by a gunman who carried an AR-15 style semi automatic rifle at Stoneman Douglas High School. Many saw this ceremony as silly, nutty – laughable, really. But this church isn’t just a bunch of quirky right-wing nuts. I sincerely believe they’re dangerous.

I grew up in the Unification Church, or the Moonies. Founded by the self-proclaimed messiah Rev. Sun Myung Moon over 60 years ago, my parents joined in their twenties believing this church to be God’s vehicle for establishing world peace. They left behind everything when they joined the church and spent years selling tchotchkes door to door, winning converts for their movement, living in vans and communal church centers, and yielding to the constant direction of church leaders. Over time the church’s direct grip on their lives loosened, and they were allowed to raise families, send their kids to public schools, and even take paying jobs.

The Unification Church was always radically changing, both structurally and theologically. After Rev. Moon passed away, and even prior to his death, different sects popped up in hopes to faithfully preserve Moon’s tradition. Sanctuary Church, led by Rev. Moon’s son Hyung Jin, who had been knighted Moon’s heir multiple times, is one of these sects. Over a year ago I posted on tumblr about this church with excerpts from talks by the two sons of Rev. Moon (self-proclaimed messiah and founder of the unification church) who run Sanctuary Church – one who is considered “the king” and inheritor of the senior Moon’s mission and the other an owner of the gun company Kahr Arms. These talks made it clear that they had a right, and perhaps even a duty, to murder their mother Hak Ja Han. They believe she, as the current leader of the mainline Unification Church, has betrayed the legacy and theology of their father and because of her heresy and “fall” deserves the death of a traitor.

There’s a ton more to say about their ideology and practices that reveal that they’re really fucked up, but honestly, I have mostly been bothered by the posts I keep seeing from current members of the Unification Church. They have used this as an opportunity to to say, “OK, we’re not like those whack jobs!” but, as another 2nd gen ex-member I know has pointed out, those whack jobs have come to these theological conclusions for a reason. They’re not grounded in nothing.

In Korea, there are countless stories of people who have experienced violence at the hand of the Unification Church. Critical reporters have received death threats, Christian pastors and anti-church activists have been beaten, some even abducted by the church. For those who grew up in the church, we all know the stories of violence that we’ve grown numb to. People often recount these stories as if they’re simply kooky. Many of our parents were locked in rooms with the “Black Heung Jin Nim,” who is supposedly the physical vessel of Rev. Moon’s deceased son, and were physically forced to confess their sins. Some were handcuffed, even. Many were beaten. Moon’s right hand man, Bo Hi Pak, even had brain damage from one of these beatings. We know stories of the Moon kids, and how they’d torture other 2nd generation adherents for entertainment. That includes the Sanctuary Church founder, Hyung Jin. I’ve met some people who counted it an honor to be hit by Hyun Jin (another son, running a different sect) and of course there is Hyo Jin’s well-documented abuse, of both members and of his wife. Our own parents were ordered to beat each other’s bare asses with paddles.

This all goes back to Moon. Sanctuary’s love for firearms goes back to Moon. He loved guns. His first major business was a gun company, and he owned several. He wanted all second generation members to learn how to use a gun just in case the Communists came to kill them.

With or without the blatant violence the membership experienced, with or without the guns, the Unification Church is and has always been violent.

The church keeps people in poverty so the Moon family can live in luxury. This has always been the case. We know about the mandatory donations for Moon to build his palace, or for our sins to be forgiven, or to simply get married. There were the mandatory workshops that were to secure our family’s placement in the Kingdom of Heaven. There were the shitty jobs our parents were forced to work, often with little or no pay.

And then there’s the Filipino members who came to the U.S. with a mission, discovering only after traveling across the world that this mission was to directly serve the leaders of the church. They lived with top Korean leaders in the U.S., cooking, cleaning, doing childcare, without pay. Some of them had their passports taken away. Some were unable to communicate with their loved ones in the Phillipines. I shouldn’t have to point out that this is slavery.

The violence may not be with guns or in the form of physical beatings, but it is still outrageously violent, and it’s all rooted in Moon.

As a queer person, I was always deeply aware of how wrong my existence was perceived to be. I was 12 or so when I stumbled on the speech where Moon called gay people “dung-eating dogs” and prophesied their coming destruction. My destruction. I wasn’t much older when I saw Moon speak in real life, starting before sunrise and extending into the afternoon. For hours, with rage, he spoke about God’s disgust for those who practiced immoral sex, namely the gays. I was told that gay people, even if they remained celibate, could never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven because they could never receive the blessing ceremony. My salvation was impossible. God hated me. I learned to hate myself.

I had no place in this community of Moonies, and I had no place in the outside world. Suicide was something I prayerfully considered throughout my teen years, for my sake and my family’s sake. I knew salvation was familial, and I knew living a “gay lifestyle” was far worse than committing suicide. All sexual sin was devastating in the church, which is why “purity knives” were a thing for young women in the church. If women were in a situation where they could potentially be sexually assaulted, they were prepared to discard their bodies before anything happened that might taint their purity.

All this to say that Sanctuary Church sucks. It is not a community children should be raised in, and it is not a joke. People could get killed. But also, the Unification Church, in all of its manifestations, has always been dangerous. It has always been toxic. It has always been evil. Rev. Moon, the so-called second coming of Christ, was not the messiah, but a violent, narcissistic anti-christ. Frankly, I’m glad he’s dead.

For those who defend Moon and his church, you’re complicit. I forgive you. I realize you are in a difficult position. You gave your life to Moon and to realize you were wrong is to question your own life, your own identity, every decision you’ve ever made, all the ways you have supported violence.

Please know that it’s not too late. You can choose a different life, a new identity. You can be free. People, your family and friends, will forgive you. I also believe that someday, you may be able to forgive yourself.

I want to believe the first generation of Moonies were good-hearted and taken advantage of. I know that it’s more complicated than that, but I think this is for the most part true. I believe there is something good in you that led you to the church. I pray that something good also leads you out.

To the White Liberal Church

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I’m glad you don’t hate gay people. I’m glad you think Black Lives Matter. I’m glad you’re inclusive, welcoming, affirming – I’m glad you’re the good kind of religious people.

But you’re not.

A lot of us had to learn that the hard way.

We had to learn that we were counted as members in order to reach a quota. We were present so the pastor, the church, the denomination, looked good. Open-minded. Liberal. Progressive.

Our gifts were used, flaunted even, and we were constantly affirmed. Told we were needed, necessary, and we were thanked. Over and over again. For what? For showing up. Without saying a word, we were counted prophets.

Until we noticed how you spoke to our immigrant mothers in broken English, or that your missions program was deeply problematic, or that the whole staff was white – and we said something. And then, we were no longer told we were prophets. Instead, we were trouble.

Sometimes we were patted, thanked for speaking our truth, told our words mattered and that they’d spill into the board meeting. But nothing happened. We were just politely hushed.

And then so many of us realized what was happening, wondered why are we even here anyway?

We fell in love with Jesus – who centered and glorified those on the margins. We fell in love with Jesus, but maybe not your Jesus.

It felt good to hear his words from the pulpit, it set fire under our feet, a burning in our chest, but then we looked around the congregation and wondered who here would die for me?

And when we realized that we couldn’t be confident that our fellow church members would share their wealth, their privilege, or their lives with their siblings in Christ, that’s we also realized they probably aren’t our siblings. And this is probably not a church. At least not the one Jesus formed.

We want the Church of Jesus. A church that feeds the hungry, frees prisoners, cancels debts. A church that is aware and awake to the suffering around them and determined to dismantle and destroy every system causing this suffering. A church led by and for those so often pushed down and out. A church that embodies Love, a church that embodies Jesus.

That’s not what you offer. Your seminaries, your liturgies, and your churches weren’t made for us. Not even your gospel is for us. I’m not the only one that’s left the white liberal church, and I won’t be the last. We’re done with your churches and we’re not coming back. And I’ll let you know – we’re finding each other and we’re building something better. Truer.

On Being Friends with Jesus

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“Slain in the Spirit”

I came to know Jesus when I was 16 years old. I was swallowed up by a revelation that sticks me with today: Jesus is God. Before that, religion was forms, it was duty. But then, it became a relationship, a person, a new kind of existence.

When I look to Jesus, I look to God. In this human, I can know God. It was through Jesus that I realized that I could be friends with God.

Newly saved, I would be anxious to get home from school, wanting alone time with God. I would read the Bible for hours, wrestling with the text and demanding wisdom, clarification, answers from God, and sometimes I’d be led to something, and other times not. No matter what, I was just happy to be in God’s presence.

I’d sing to God, dance with God. I’d have fits of laughter that would go late into the night. My mom would come into my room to scold me, thinking I was on my laptop screwing around on YouTube. She’d find me sprawled out, being tickled by the Holy Spirit. Her son, a Pentecostal. Relieved, I’m sure, that I wasn’t on the computer, but mostly confused. She didn’t know what to do with me.

The cheesiest pop songs on the radio – God, even Coldplay – began to mean to something to me. That’s how I felt about God. I longed for God. She was beautiful. I couldn’t get her off of my mind. I loved how she wrapped herself around all humanity, all creation. I love how she made her home in me. She was Love itself. And I was in love. I still am.

All that to say, I love Jesus. God is my friend.

As I’ve come to know Jesus, I’ve come to the humanity of God. The God I met in Christ is the marriage of humanity and divinity. “Fully God” looks like “fully human.”

The life of Jesus is the life of God. And his life wrecks all hierarchies. It dethrones all kings. Even Jesus was dethroned. With a crown of thorns, he took up a cross instead. And he calls us to do the same.

This is what it means to be godly: it is surrender to empathy wherever she leads you. It requires a certain weakness, a humanness, a vulnerability, that makes one take up the pain of others, to join their struggle and lean into solidarity,  fearlessly and shamelessly yielding to the movement of liberation.

By the looks of it, being God is being an accomplice, a comrade in the struggle. If the livelihood and very existence of the oppressed is practically illegal, then we are called to become accomplices. We are called to an existence that rejects and actively combats the false authorities that are imprisoning and murdering God’s image-bearers. Going as far as literally “setting prisoners free.”

Allies are not accomplices. Allies are disconnected from empathy, valuing appearances and gestures over action. Knowing the direction of where justice is calling us to, but limiting their surrender to it. They create no tangible or material change but rhetorically affirm their righteousness. They will not join the struggle of the oppressed but will instead dialogue with the oppressor, believing that they can convince others to be reasonable, compassionate, and perhaps, repentant. Meanwhile, people die.

Their desire for everybody, most importantly the oppressor, to be comfortable is more necessary than the liberation of those suffering. They’re proud to be more progressive and enlightened than others. They believe they see beyond the emotional cloudiness of the oppressed and the ignorant bias of the oppressor. And that they can be friends with both.

But they can’t. When you become a friend of Jesus, you discover he has very real friends, and very real enemies. Ultimately, Christ’s war is against systems and not people, but there are people who enjoy and push forward these systems, and they need to be restrained. These people are not your friends.

When you become a friend of Jesus, you join the struggle of his friends. And his friends are those that bear the Image of God most fully – the oppressed.

In some sense, there is still a hierarchy. We are called to lift up those who have been crushed, to amplify the voices of those pushed out and rejected. They are God’s priority and this is their gospel. In their suffering and denial of power, they know the heart of God. By being willing to do whatever it takes to honor their Incarnation, you become a Christian.

Honoring their Incarnation may call a disciple of Christ to what some may call violent action. We cannot simply dismiss all physical harm done to others for the sake of revolutionary and liberatory purposes as violent, when the ways we are trying to transform society are not working, and people are dying as a result of that.

If your pacifism is merely an ideological value and not a threat to the state and these systems we are called to wage war against, then your pacifism sides with the violence of the state.

The threat of the Alt-Right and the growing number of organized and armed fascists and ultra-nationalists, is a reality the Church is facing and will continue to. Violent political upheaval didn’t climax in Charlottesville, it was simply inaugurated on a larger scale. The original sin of the United States, white supremacy, has become more blatant and spelled out, and as capitalism collapses on society, things in this regard will only get worse.

Such purist perspectives on violence are idolatry. The idea that God is above us and that their instruction is more important than the well-being and lives of God’s children is cruel. This piety is demonic. Any theology that values God above people is false. From experience I can say that as I’ve fallen more in love with God, I’ve fallen more in love with God’s children. Our loyalty to God is found in our loyalty to the suffering. If our loyalty to God leads us to betray or forsake the suffering, then we are deceived idolaters.

Allyship is not enough. The kin-dom of God is not a matter of talk, but power. When God’s love manifests, it turns power upside down. It destroys and creates. It tears down and lifts up. It’s shocking. It makes people angry, scared even. It’s prophetic.

Of course, allies will name the marginalized in their lives as prophets. That is, until they prophesy to them, or their community. When their allyship is attacked, they will shut down these prophets with condescension, with eyes signaling that they’re understanding but words that are really just a drawn out, polite hush. They say, isn’t that a little harsh? Isn’t that taking it a little too far?

Friends of Jesus are accomplices and realize that loving their neighbor looks like something. It looks like solidarity, it looks like mutual aid, it looks like reparations, and, frankly, it looks like revolution. They realize that sometimes loving their neighbor looks like keeping their neighbor from oppressing others. They realize that love for others can put their reputations and lives at risk. They realize that the systems that dictate our lives cannot be reformed or transformed, but need to be abolished. And they act on it. They live it.

God’s kin-dom demands more than allyship – it demands revolutionaries. To be a friend of Jesus is to know him not as a great leader or mighty king, but as a comrade. To be his friend requires becoming an accomplice to the oppressed, to join their struggle. As he was an outlaw for the sake of the oppressed, so will be his followers. He will walk with us, hand in hand, to tear down Empire, and to welcome our kin-dom. It’s in our midst, he says. We just need to be willing to let love unravel in our lives. It’s a daunting task. The systems of the world are built against you, and they will fight you from all sides. Do not fear, though, for he is with us, to the end of the age. Love is on our side.

Sometimes love breaks rules

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My mom didn’t talk to me for forty days after I came out to her as gay. I’d revealed that the friend I kept bringing when I visited family was actually my boyfriend of two years. She was shocked.

Because my mom believes in a sanctified numerology, forty days was the time she needed to sort through her hurt and disappointment with God. At the end of the forty days, she concluded that I had a clean conscience, and she couldn’t argue with that. But in spite of her tolerance of me, her theology remained unchanged.

She’d once told me that gay people were “spiritually lower than animals,” so perhaps this was a progressive position for her.

What followed, though, was silence.

We talked some on the phone but never about anything important. She’d update me on family gossip and I’d tell her I was busy but doing well. I kept things brief and vague. I couldn’t talk about my favorite person with her. I’d tell her about trips, outings, concerts, all sorts of events and occasions, but I’d always leave out that I went with my boyfriend.

Before she knew he was my boyfriend, she used to ask about him all the time, how he was doing, what he was up to. She would often remind me to be more like him – a good boy. This was also her way of saying that I should go back to school. That was before she knew we were together. She didn’t bring him up after she found out. I lived across the country, so this arrangement of silence felt doable. It didn’t feel good, but it was something I could live with.

A year later I moved back east, staying with my sister and her husband. Then, six months later, my parents decided to move in as well, to help with my newborn nephew.

Things were strained and surface-level. I was hiding my life, barely explaining why I was flying to Texas every other month or why I wasn’t doing Thanksgiving with the family. My family is good at denial. Things too confusing, too difficult, too awkward, just get put away where we don’t have to look at them. This was just like all the other things we never deal with.

But then my boyfriend broke up with me. And all I could do was cry. The tears would well up without warning. I’d run to my bedroom or the backyard or go on a walk. I felt like a teenager again, hiding things from my parents. Smoking out of my windowsill became sobbing into my pillow. I’d practice looking happy in front of the mirror after hours of crying like I used to practice looking sober during parties.

But even without seeing the tears, my mom knew something was wrong. She could see the way I dragged my body. Concerned, she approached my sister. And my sister told her everything. She told her about the boy, about the breakup, about how my mom had proven she wasn’t a person I could share my life with.

My mom climbed the stairs to my room. She knocked on my door. I answered, and there she was, her eyes filled with tears. She wrapped her arms around me, held me tight, said again and again and again how sorry she was for the pain she put me through, for the pain I was living in. She promised I’d find somebody better for me, that I would be happy again, that I deserve that much.

That night my mom slept in my bed, holding me, wiping down my wet face. Only a few weeks before the break-up, she’d switched my glass of wine with Martinelli’s at dinner, thinking she was sneaky and that somehow I wouldn’t notice, but this night she kept asking if I needed a beer, if I needed to smoke. She was willing to break her rules for me. She was willing to go against her church. For me.

Sometimes love does that, at least the good kind of love. It breaks the rules – especially the religious ones – in order to embrace people in pain and to reassure them. You don’t have to be alone. Because I’m here with you. And I love you.

Seeking a People

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I used to call myself a Quaker. I never joined a meeting, and honestly, I had suspicions from the beginning that it just wasn’t going to work. But I was desperate for people, and I really wanted the Quakerism I’d read about.

I couldn’t find it, though, and now I’m not sure it exists.

In the meantime, I’ve been talking, and writing, and a number of Friends say my critical observations about Quaker institutions and culture are illegitimate, either because of my lack of membership or because of my newness. I don’t have a right to point out classism and white supremacy, they say.

It’s been hard finding my place and voice in the Religious Society of Friends. And honestly, I’ve given up. I don’t see the point.

When I read what early Friends wrote, I’m drawn to their vision. Friends lived out of step with the world. Their yielding to Christ demanded deep listening, joy in suffering for the truth, abandonment to the movement of Love. They declared the end of days and rejected the idolatry of nationalism. They were living into a new Society of Friends.

George Fox wrote about the Kingdom of God breaking into this world – and it came from within – this was the gospel I knew, the gospel I needed. Quakers were holy fools, apocalyptic evangelists, soldiers of prophecy. They were about liberation and creating the age-to-come. That was the Spirit I knew. This was the church I longed for.

Then I found Quakers. They weren’t exactly what I’d read about, and it was kind of confusing. But I decided to stick around for a while. After all, maybe God could use existing Quaker institutions to renew the Society of Friends. I believed and hoped that some of these institutions might lead Friends of all branches into convergence, and then that the Spirit might dissolve our dependence on institutions. I thought that as we yielded to the Spirit, she would return us to that apostolic and anarchic ecclesiology of early Friends.

What I’ve found, instead, is that Friends have converged on a shared history and a handful of practices.

But if the Society of Friends is to ever again carry the anointing of early Quakers, if it is to ever embody the vision of Margaret Fell, going “hand in hand in the unity and fellowship of this eternal Spirit,” it must do more than embrace a convoluted historical connection and some shared practices.

If we are converging on history and practice, we are missing the point. If we are depending on institutions to create a new society or usher in the Kingdom, then we are deceived. These will not bring the radically egalitarian and Spirit-filled communities that God fostered among early Friends. These are forms, and Friends must follow the Spirit.

I’ve met others who need a Spirit-led Society. We share this vision, and we share the disappointment of being drowned out in meeting by classism, ageism, and racism. Some of us wonder if Quakerism isn’t all that different from the rest of liberal religion. From what we’ve seen, it isn’t apocalyptic. It isn’t radical. It doesn’t sound like Fox or look like Jesus. It works at incremental transformation while simultaneously shushing those who need the system overthrown.

I’ve moved on.

But even as I’ve stopped attending meeting – even as institutional Quakerism has, for the most part, become irrelevant to me – I cannot deny that I am a Friend. Quaker conceptions of Christ’s gospel have led me closer to Jesus and it’s integral to what I believe and how I live. At the end of the day, though, if tables aren’t being turned, if people aren’t being healed and set free, if the prophets aren’t marching naked, I’ll have to follow Jesus elsewhere.

I hear early Friend Sarah Blackwell’s words ringing in my heart: “Christ is trying to make a dwelling place within you but he is left rejected and homeless.”

Jesus is still seeking his people, people who see the Spirit of God in the suffering and offer refuge. I’m seeking those people, too.

I believe in the Resurrection

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Somewhere near Bergamo

I never got to know my brother Kento. He was already dying and in a hospital when we first met in person. Just a few days later, he died. He was unable to speak or move, but he was there. I got to touch him. To see him. Finally.

Before that, there had been too much distance. I found him on Facebook, and when he accepted my friend request, it felt like a miracle. I could see pictures of him, read his statuses, see all the people who loved him. I wanted to be able to love him, too.

I only ever knew Kento’s hesitance behind a keyboard. I only ever knew his inability to deal with me.

I hoped he might make peace with us, his birth family, that he might decide to meet us. I told myself to not be anxious, that life would inevitably bring us together. And it did. In a hospital in Italy. In a bed in that hospital. Surrounded by machines.

Then he was gone.

His childhood pastor eulogized Kento’s desire to meet us and know us. Said that he was finally ready. That he wanted to know his brothers and sisters, his nephews. It’s a mythology I want to believe. Even while I know it could be little more than a cleverly revised report of what was actually the case, which breaks my heart. And just for a moment I’m entertaining the idea that this pastor made the whole thing up. To console us. And I know that’s a fucked up idea of consolation. But also, even if it’s true, I could never be mad at Kento. He could have lived a full life, and in that life he might still not have chosen to know us, and I would get that.

But I need to believe.

Or maybe I have to believe. Because I can’t live with the possibility that Kento didn’t want to know me, and I feel pathetic and stupid for how much I’ve longed to know him, and maybe I simply can’t face the fact that I never got to. I’m mourning Kento, the brother I never had.

But I feel him. I hate to spiritualize these sorts of things where complete devastation feels like the only way to honor the tragedy of a person dying. But I feel Kento in my mind, his essence – a burst of warmth, a glimpse of hope.

Here’s what I know: Kento was an anarchist.

We both grew up in the Unification Church, a fringe cult that created our complex family dynamic, but we were different. We were both second generation Moonies. Workshops were the rhythm of our lives.

That was where our lives made sense. Except Kento was considered a bad kid.

Flirting was deemed a serious offense. Our whole theology was built upon properly performing while simultaneously resisting sex. Avoidance of the opposite sex was not just seen as noble, it was required.

Kento didn’t care. He talked to girls, he kissed girls, and worst of all, according to workshop leaders, was how Kento could be such a good friend, even to girls, while being so obviously a bad kid.

He was designated a bad kid even before they had some religious reason to call him a bad kid. Because he saw through our religious leaders, and he knew they had no real authority.

I like to think his anti-authoritarianism was rooted in him being a good friend. The best kind of friend.

The present, goofy, do whatever it takes to make you feel good, alive kind of friend.

I met his friends. They talked about how different he was, both separate and warm, tender. They talked a lot about his tenderness, about his heart for people and for life. He was fearless. He was so alive.

That’s how I want to live. In this world, but not of it. Refusing and resisting illegitimate, oppressive authority. Defined by love. Full of joy in the midst of chaos.

I say all this, but I never really knew Kento. He was barely alive when we got there. There were moments where he seemed to be getting better, and we hoped for a miracle. Toward the end, especially, he was fighting so hard, trying to hold onto life. His heartbeat was fast, his body was swollen. He was sweating and unable to keep his eyes still. Then, just hours later, he was gone.

I was with him at his weakest. But I felt his power bursting through in those last moments. I felt him fighting.

I’m not going to act like Kento was perfect. I know his life wasn’t easy. I also know, so thoroughly, that there was something profoundly and exceptionally good about Kento. I want that. I think of him often, I sense his closeness, maybe even his aid, as I try to live a holy life.

I don’t know exactly how the afterlife works. But my brother lived into a peculiar pattern shaped by an open heart, and I believe he continues. As a result, I find myself believing in the resurrection in a way I never have before. And I think this is why. In resurrection, Kento finally gets his way. Full emancipation.

Freedom. Even from death.