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.

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

IMG_20160724_123348.jpg

Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

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.