Friends Need to Tell the Truth

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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.

The Foolishness That Saved My Life

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“Ascention” by Edward Vardanian

I think the closest I have ever felt to God was laying on the bathroom floor in a psychiatric hospital with my shirt soaked in urine and knowing that my life was a mess and finally becoming okay with that.

It was 5 AM or so, I think, and I woke up to a nurse rapidly spewing indecipherable words, and I nodded and nodded and nodded to keep her from talking too much, and she pulled a needle out of her cart and poked me and then left.

As she left, I decided to pee. I got up and felt a bit dizzy but I thought nothing of it until I strained a bit to push out my pee. And as I strained, everything became black and I fell on to the floor, pissing all over the bathroom and myself.

I laid there and I felt no reason to get back up. I just did not have the energy and I took it as an opportunity to figure out how the hell I got into this hospital.

I mean, I knew how I got there—it was after weeks of not eating, not showering, not going to class, ignoring phone calls, and pretending to get better so people would not worry. I became a skinny grease-magnet with little joy or hope. And I was planning out how to kill myself, and had been for awhile, and I finally admitted it to another soul. I was told the responsible decision would be to admit myself to this hospital. Did I really care about being responsible? I don’t think so. But as I confided in my friend and admitted my doubts and hopelessness, he consoled me by saying, “Even if you lack faith, even if you lack hope, I believe God’s promises for you. Don’t worry, I’ll have hope for you.” The way he leaned upon God in that moment relieved me of the pressure to believe, and somehow helped me lean upon God, too. I trusted him, and because of that, I mustered up some trust in God.

So I was sent off to the hospital.

As soon as I filled out all the paperwork, I entered the hospital and was bombarded by fresh fruit, granola, and people who were openly discussing what they were diagnosed and their medications. The guy who led me to my room made me take out the laces from my boat shoes. He was kind. He felt bad that he had to examine me nude. I didn’t really care. Turns out he was Pentecostal, and we bonded over the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit. He encouraged me and then took my laces and other dangerous items I could possibly attempt suicide with.

As I laid down in my puddle of urine and thought about it all, it all seemed ridiculous. My life seemed ridiculous. And I was okay with that. I was at peace with where I was at. The anxieties and fears I clung on to for so long did not disappear but they at least seemed far away enough so that I could finally think clearly.

And I wanted to talk to God—catch up a bit. I had a hard time being real with him for awhile and I felt like there was so much to say. I compartmentalized a lot and tried to keep secrets from God for so long. As my mind found some peace, I began to realize I was hungry for God. In fact, I was starving… but before I could even think of anything to say to him, I knew the Holy Ghost was there. And it was not that She just entered the room at that moment. Really, She never seemed to have left. I was unable to see God’s hand and presence in my life because I was blinded by my illness. But as my medication kicked in, and as I finally put food in my system, I could see the Light in my darkness.

It was there on the floor, as I soaked in my own pee, that I encountered the Father whose palm I could not be plucked out of. This was the Love, the One, I could never be separated from. And perhaps it was absurd that I could affirm the notion that God was good, that God was Love, and that God was close, after experiencing the closest thing I’ve known to hell, but I’ve come to see that most routes in life are quite foolish. Holding on to hope, believing in creative possibility, and reaching for wholeness and reconciliation, are often counted as futile and naive. Yet Jesus reveals that such foolishness is wisdom, and I’m convinced it is the only way forward. It was certainly my only way forward.

What the Wise Men Can Teach Us About God

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Journey of the Magi; Inquiry of King Herod (Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way.

And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” Matthew 2:1-12

I’ve been thinking a lot about these Wise Men, often called the Magi or the Three Kings. Over the past 2,000 years, plenty of theories and legends about these men have circulated throughout the Church. In the Western Church, there is a legend that their names were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and that they were respected scholars. It’s been long-claimed that Melchior was Persian, Caspar was Indian, and Balthazar was Babylonian. Syrian Christians claim the names of the Magi to be Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. Ethiopian tradition calls them Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater. Armenians believe their names to be Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. Meanwhile, Matthew never tells us their names, the number of these wise men, or their actual vocations. There is just about no indication that they are kings, though the Greek word magi (μάγοι) apparently may indicate that they were of a higher, priestly caste.

So what do we know about these men?

Not much. They were from the East. We don’t know if that means they were Persian, Babylonian, Indian, or something else completely. We don’t even know what religion they were. Many, such as the Swedish religious scholar Anders Hultgård, convincingly argue that these Wise Men were in fact Persian Zoroastrians, but again, that is never mentioned in the text. What seems evident enough is that they were not Jewish. They had to ask Jewish people about the scriptural prophecies on the messiah’s birth. They called this man, this baby, the “King of the Jews.” They even followed a star to find Jesus, which sounds awfully astrological to me.

And yet, these non-Jews, perhaps Zoroastrian, perhaps amateur or even seasoned astrologists, looked for Christ, found him, and worshiped him. They never converted to Judaism, they never articulated that this child was God or even Savior, but they knew they had to honor him. And today we venerate these men, often as saints, despite the fact that they never knew about the atoning sacrifice of Christ and never claimed to worship the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Not that we know of, at least.) And yet God led them to this baby, not to be evangelized to, and not to convince them of some doctrine or perform some saving ritual, but so that they may honor him and, I think, experience his presence.

It seems to me that these men knew God. Matthew tells us that God even spoke to them in a prophetic dream as they left Christ, warning them to not to return to the blood-thirsty Herod. God was pretty serious about talking to these men. Even though their religious practices and beliefs would not be considered orthodox by the Jews of their day or even modern Christians, God was with them, for them, and used them. It seems that God even used their own religious system, which in many ways was incompatible with Judaism, to do this.

This is shocking. And I think it’s part of the gospel.

In fact, it makes a lot of sense that God’s arrival on Earth in Christ would be kicked off with an invitation to these men. It seems to me that this was a glimpse into the heart of God. Paul reveals in 1 Timothy 4:10 that our God “is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” This Savior is the Savior of all people. This good news is good news for all people. I even think this extends to those who do not identify as Christian or even as a Theist.

In Acts 17:16-34, Paul preaches in Athens among philosophers and worshipers of various gods, and appears to commend them for their religiosity as something fascinating and respectable. He boldly claims that their altar and worship to an “unknown god” is truly the “God who made the world and everything in it.” The God proclaimed by Paul “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” He goes on to say that God “is not actually far from each of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.”

Jesus was prophesied to be Emanuel (Matt. 1:23)or God with us. The new covenant of Christ, revealed through his incarnation, his ministry, his death and resurrection, and even through Pentecost, make it clear that God is with usall of humanity, all of creation. It was the Church, the followers of Christ, who knew very early on that the Spirit was truly poured out on all people (Acts 2:17).

There is an inextinguishable hope for all people in Christ. 

I am confident that it is through Jesus that we can most perfectly know God and most fully inherit the abundant life he offered (Matt. 11:27, John 1:18, 6:37, 14:9, 2 Cor. 5:19, Col. 3:3). That being said, my pursuit of Quakerism has given me the courage to state something I’ve long known but also been hesitant to say out loud: there truly is that of God in everyone.

I have several friends who have left behind Christianity because of the toxic culture in the Church and their inability to have faith in the Christian God, and often any god. Some of them have turned to Buddhism, others dabble in self-help and New Age books and practices, while others have given up an active pursuit of spirituality. Most of these folks have come out of their de-conversion more fully themselves and I would even say more Christ-like. No longer are they hindered in their ability to love and accept others because of their church’s dogma, no longer are they trapped in a culture of condemnation and a phobia of anything academic, and they have found the freedom to ask hard questions and be true to themselves. I think I can see Jesus in that. I would dare to say it is a move of the Spirit.

After all, the life of Jesus illustrates that God will do anything to redeem all people, even if it requires meeting us where we are at and entering into our mess. If you can believe God is in the mess we call Evangelical Christianity—which so often looks like a rigid moralism rather than a spiritual path and which so often contradicts the message of Christ by advocating for violence, nationalism, and capitalism—then it can’t be too hard to accept that God is even working among those who do not know or believe in Jesus Christ.

It is because I believe in the Lordship of Jesus, the incarnation, and the atonement that I can declare that God is in and with all people.

Not only can I declare it, but I can see it and experience it.

Jesus opened my eyes to his sweet presence everywhere. For so long I was numb to that presence, that air of reverence, that breath of God, outside of the ministry of Christians-that-I-mostly-agreed-with. But the longer I’ve been walking with Jesus, I’ve come to discover how wicked that “us vs. them” version of the gospel was and I came to discover God’s presence outside of worship services and Christocentric settings. I came to know the presence of God as I watched my agnostic brother-in-law holding my nephew, as I delighted in the Hare Krishna devotees chanting on the street, and in long late-night conversations with elderly Moonies. I came to know that God was truly with us; all of us.

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.

How Grace Unfolds

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When I first began interacting with Evangelicals in high school, I remember being deeply offended by the idea of being completely forgiven, having all my past sins washed away, and being made completely anew. I wasn’t raised a Christian; I was raised in the Unification Church, a sect that taught that God may grant forgiveness but never forgets about our transgressions and that our spirits are permanently scarred by certain sins. We were also taught a concept called indemnity, which the Divine Principle (the text of Unificationism) defined as “the making of such conditions of restitution” and “God’s work to restore people to their true, unfallen state by having them fulfill indemnity conditions.” Basically, we had to pay for our sins. There was no “get out of Hell free card”. There was suffering, as well as intentional conditions (such as fasting), in this life or in the next, to have your sins undone.

Eventually, the offense in my heart toward this Christian idea of forgiveness turned into a longing; a God so abundant in forgiveness seemed incredibly absurd and irrational, and yet so beautiful and glorious.

After I succumbed into the grace of Christ and settled into the faith, I was constantly begging God to re-forgive me and wipe off all the offenses I may have piled on throughout the day. I perceived God to be constantly disappointed and unable to interact with me because of my lack of holiness. There was an obvious disconnect from this initial grace I met in Jesus and how the Church started teaching grace to me. I do not doubt that somehow even remnants of the legalism I was raised in tainted my view of God. Later on I encountered what many have called “hyper-grace” teaching, which is often associated with a crowd of hyper-charismatics known for experiencing a feeling of intoxication on the presence of God. The premise of their teaching was that all sin—past, present, and future—has already been forgiven and that a Christian’s being was made God’s permanent residence.

Again, I was offended by such a teaching, and spent some time railing against those who believed such things. I counted my malicious behavior towards those who believed such things as righteous or godly anger. And yet, somehow, I also gained this revelation. Richard Rohr, in “Falling Upward”, says, “Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.” I can testify to how true that can be. Coming to believe that nothing I could do would offend God or cause him to flee from my life felt incredibly liberating. It felt like a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit. Despite the fact that this teaching was so thoroughly informed by penal substitution and despite the poor exegesis that brought me to such a revelation, I still hold on to the essence of this idea.

I cannot deny the newness of life that lives within me. I cannot deny the presence of my inward Teacher. I cannot deny that my desires have been transformed by the Spirit. I cannot deny that my God is faithful and never gives up on me. And I cannot deny that something in my core, something fundamental about me, has been completely made new, or restored, or renovated, or something to that effect.

I count it as one of the highest blessings to know that God holds nothing against me, though my theology behind that statement is a whole lot different than it was four years ago.

I also count it as a blessing to live in the tension of the already/not yet–to have a life that is a tapestry of darkness and light, that is a testimony to death of Christ, alongside the resurrection, and that is a testament to the incarnation of my God.

I still hold on to spiritual authority and the power of words, something preachers like Kenneth Hagin have taught heavily on; though we likely nuance all of this very differently. I am sympathetic to Derek Vreeland’s reconstruction of “Word of Faith” theology. All of that being said, the days of denying my pains, my flaws, and my sins for the sake of declaring some truer reality are gone. Such practices at times were healing, but too often they were delusional. This one-dimensional view of grace is undoubtedly freeing, especially initially, but it also can be extremely unhealthy.

I accept that the life of my spirit, the one occupied by God’s Spirit, is glorious and is in some sense my truest reality. But I also accept that in its entirety, my life and actions have not always been as glorious. I’ve wronged many people and went about things with an ungodly heart. I have a lot to reconcile in my life, continually, by grace and through grace.

The darkness of life, though, has its place in our lives. We shouldn’t always try to immediately heal ourselves of it. We ought not to simply cast it off at its very sight. No, we can learn from this darkness. Often times it is the perfect place to dwell on the cross of Christ and to partake of his suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Peter 4:13), so that we may partake in his resurrection even more. Even if this darkness, whether it be suffering or sin, is not initially from God, I think that God can still use it to teach us something. God is the redeemer of all things, of all situations, and will miraculously find a way to pull Light out of any darkness.

You see, there is something precious about our brokenness. I do not want to romanticize suffering or darkness in any form, because Lord knows “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” and that Christ came so “that [his sheep] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That being said, God’s grace finds it way into all things on this side of heaven, even what the enemy throws at us.

I am thankful that Christ has led me here, to these simplest of revelations. Perhaps it is all semantics, but I count the days of my ardent Calvinism, of my hyper-charismaticism, and of my Quakerism all informative, and I cannot deny that God was in it all. It’s been five years following Jesus, and I’ve heard grace spewed out in all sorts of ways–most of it helpful, lots of it harmful, and all of it lacking. But I suppose grace works that way, in how it finds you where you are, and never stops shocking you with its implications and its power.

Advent and Waiting for the King(dom)

Advent is here and for the first time in my five years of following Christ, the Advent narrative has spoken to me. You can consider this shameful for two reasons: 1) This is about the birth of my Lord, so this should kind of be a big deal for me, and 2) I almost became Catholic… twice. All I can say to defend myself is that I have never formally belonged to a liturgical church; that’s all I really got. Having said that, Advent seems extra relevant this year and has caused much-needed self-reflection, especially in how this season is marked by waiting.

For those foreign to the idea of the liturgical calendar, Christian Smith makes following it very attractive in his book “How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps” (I know, it’s a mouthful). He explains that this calendar is “an ancient, highly-developed system of marking and living time that is shaped by a historically Christian sense of reality.” He goes on to explain the benefit of this sanctified time, writing that “the marking and flow of time is a fundamental force shaping our lives” and that “lives formed by a Christian approach to time tend to over time become more Christian.” He continues, “The significance and power of the cosmic story of redemption becomes more real, more embodied, more formative as it is dramatized across the year and within each day. The flow of the seasons, our waking and sleeping, become connected to Christian meanings and teachings. Christian discipleship is thus pressed home by means of a dimension of creation and life—time—that is both deeply natural and human.”

Advent is a season in this calendar where Christians worldwide anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ, who is believed to be Messiah prophesied about throughout the Old Testament and the one ancient Israel was promised for their redemption and liberation. In this season, we intentionally place our faith in Christ’s coming, believing in him despite our circumstances, and trusting that our hope’s fulfillment is approaching. During Advent, we not only take part in the joy that was Christ’s first coming, but find hope in Christ coming again. As we live in this paradox of the Kingdom of God being “already/not yet”, we choose to embrace the struggle of the “not yet” as we believe that one day Jesus shall fully reveal his faithfulness in his return and in the coming new heavens, new earth.

For me it has been striking how relevant Advent is to my life currently, as I seek to find and create the spiritual community that both I and others in the Church need, as I have yet to find out how soon I shall be reunited with my partner, as I wait to find out what exactly my post-QVS life shall look like, and as I discern my calling and vocation.

Part of me celebrates that this season is so relevant, and it feels like a gift from God, but part of me is annoyed. I am nudged by these Advent reflections to look at my life, with so much of it up in the air, and believe that this hope I am barely holding on to will be fulfilled. But how will this vague belief be good enough? I need answers, I need money, and I need my life to make sense! But no—the truth is, I need humility to trust that my life is in the hands of the maker of Heaven and to believe that God is faithful.

But this waiting-thing is a vital aspect of Christian spirituality. Waiting will not simply be a marker of a few transitioning seasons of my life but it will be essential to my discipleship under Christ.

The Kingdom of God has not fully arrived, and the condition of this world can seem like such a mess that seeing hope in it can be considered foolish. But our calling remains the same: to contend for this coming Kingdom to be made manifest on this earth. This is not a complacent waiting. It is an eager waiting. It is an active waiting. Like John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the way for Christ’s coming. We are called to cooperate with Christ in revealing and extending the reign and Kingdom of God, and trust and find joy in that one day this Kingdom shall arrive in all its glory.

John of Patmos watches the descent of the New Jerusalem from God in a 14th century tapestry.

As Christians, we find hope in the coming Kingdom, but we believe that the Kingdom is also accessible to us now. The gospel we believe and preach is an invitation into this ongoing story of redemption and restoration. This gospel is relevant in every age, and that includes now, as the reality of systemic racism has become more and more apparent in the media, and as we’re hearing about the unjust deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Yes, it is difficult to muster up hope that mankind has a positive destiny, but the mission of Jesus Christ speaks directly into this oppression, as revealed in Luke 4:18-19,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus launched his ministry with this statement, and revealed that his mission is to undo and abolish oppression in all forms. The heart of his ministry was liberation, and it continues to be just that today, as Christians are called to follow the Way of Christ in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

If that is so, we are to believe a day shall come when the “year of the Lord’s favor,” or “jubilee,” is initiated for eternity. A large part of the jubilee year in the Old Testament was the freeing of slaves and cancelling of all debts. Jubilee addresses the hardships of oppressed and forgotten by offering them a new beginning. Jubilee was proclaimed and reframed by Jesus as a time that was coming while also meant to be experienced now. True Jubilee to be both desired and pursued.

And so we wait. And in this waiting we long for the Kingdom where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4) but also contending for the Kingdom in the meantime by visiting “the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (Jam. 1:27), feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, finding Christ in the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46), and doing all that must be done to serve the hurting and liberate the oppressed.

We wait believing that Christ was prophesied to be “Emmanuel” or “God with us.” We wait believing that Christ is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3). We wait believing that Christ reveals a new way of being, a greater Kingdom, and good news. We wait believing the gospel that soothes the ache of being caught in the growing pains of the Kingdom of God, providing hope for now and the future.

More Than a Story

“The Son is the image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1:15a

To be honest, sometimes I hardly believe in God. It’s not just doubt, but God and faith and all of that spiritual stuff seem so beyond me. I wish I could say I mean that in some powerful, mystical way, like I am just so overcome by God, but I don’t. I mean it in an anxious, worn-out way. It’s more like God is a distant theory that I cannot wrap my mind or heart around.

I am kind of going through one of those periods right now where I hardly believe in God, if you really want me to be honest. In these times where I cannot sense his closeness and I am unmoved by both testimonies and the words of everyone’s beloved N.T. Wright, I can only hold on to the gospel: Christ and him crucified.

Crucifixion (after Delacroix), oil on canvas, 40×30 cm

This gospel of the Crucified God is what keeps me holding on. It’s a story that defies every narrative about the almighty God, as it was through Christ’s life laid down for all creation that the most glorious mysteries are revealed. Power itself is redefined through this sacrifice, as he humbles himself to the point of torture and crucifixion and then bursts forth gloriously in resurrection.

There is power in weakness. There is glory in sacrifice. There is hope for the broken, the lost, the hurting, and the dead.

The violence of humanity is confronted at the cross, and a new way is declared. A whole new order is established; a new existence is created. The last are first and the marginalized and oppressed are lifted up. That is the gospel of the Kingdom.

This story is sometimes the only apologetic that reaches my heart and motivates me to follow God. Sometimes God seems so beyond me, and he even can seem a bit cruel and silly, but if he looks like Jesus, I need to follow him. This gospel, this Kingdom, this Jesus—it’s the most beautiful story I have ever heard.

And I don’t know if this makes sense, but perhaps it is too beautiful to just be a story. I’m inclined to believe that this story’s beauty is beyond the work of man’s imagination. Five years ago, when I fell on my knees and claimed faith in Christ, clueless to how such a procedure should go down, I don’t think I just fell in love with a beautiful story. I am pretty sure fell in love with a beautiful person.

Remembering all of this may not immediately stir my heart or even cause me to be confident in the reality of God (though sometimes it does), but it gives me enough courage to take one step forward in following Jesus.