For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name. (KJV) ( Amos 4:13 ) If you haven’t noticed lately, we are surrounded […]
At night, as he sat in the dark listening to the sound of the turtle-dove in the trees, he felt the face of Christ looking intently at him. The clear blue eyes were gentle with compassion; the features were tranquil; it was a face filled with trust. ‘Lord, you will not cast us away any longer,’ he whispered, his eyes fixed upon that face. And then the answer seemed to come to his ears: ‘I will not abandon you.’ Bowing his head he strained his ears for the sound of that voice again; but the only thing he could hear was the singing of the turtle-dove. The darkness was thick and black. Yet the priest felt that for one instant his heart had been purified.
~ Shusaku Endo, Silence (an excerpt from Chapter 6)
In my last piece for this blog, I had very clearly stated that I was moving away from mainstream Christianity and “becoming” a deist. Here, I want to clarify further by what I had written and published a little over 2 months ago:
One sunny Friday back in April of this year, I did not expect to be welcomed again by the Roman Catholic students at UC Berkeley. But that is exactly what happened—not only did I feel welcomed by the group, the ladies tabling that day out on Sproul Plaza were amazed not only by how much knowledge of the Church and its teachings I have committed to memory; but also led to one of the girls (also my former classmate from 3 years prior) to exclaim that it was “a sign that God has appointed you to be here.”
Truer words had never been spoken, because within a matter of weeks, I started going back to Mass more, praying the Holy Rosary and even going to my first Confession.
But just when everything looked like rainbows and butterflies, tragedy struck home when our last male cat, Lennie, was seized by Animal Control authorities and euthanized on June 2, 2018.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.
~ 1 John 4:1‒3 (RSVCE)
It’s painful for me to even consider writing this piece—as I know it may be deemed heretical in the eyes of many of my most devout Protestant and Catholic friends and family alike—but over this past summer, I have been experiencing severe psychological, emotional and spiritual burnout. Although I will add that I have been mentally planning to write such an op-ed as this one for at least a year’s time now.
But just a few months prior, many were expecting me to take a magical leap of faith as I had finally decided to go to my very first Confession in a Roman Catholic setting—despite being raised a Pentecostal Protestant. Of course, if Confession wasn’t intimidating enough, then taking the Eucharist should be even more so. Because if there is one thing Catholics are doctrinally right about, it’s that they earnestly and honestly look at the Host (bread) and wine as more than mere symbols of Christ’s body and blood.
THEY ARE HIS BODY AND BLOOD.
You’re supposed to be different and be a little weird. It’s not a bad thing, we’re not meant to be the same.
~ Christina Grimmie
I know I had previously announced that I would stop writing for a while, but something very tragic that happened barely less than 72 hours ago broke my fragile heart and made me scream horrendously inside. During what had seemed like another Saturday morning soon turned into my weekend of perpetual darkness and grief as I had read that Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by a man who had purported to hate Christians.
An article in The Santa Monica Observer displays the following headline:
“Crime may be investigated as a hate crime. The Voice singer was outspoken in her Christian faith” 
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.[b] Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
~ Isaiah 7:14 ‒ 16 (NKJV)
Aside from Easter, Lent, Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Holidays have always been my favourite time of year. As a child, I remember cherishing every Christmas Day morning, waking up to see presents sitting under the tree, and Christmas evening, reflecting on the birth of the Christ child and His nativity.
Every year, I also commemorate and celebrate my own birthday, with family beside me. But as the years go by, my birthday wishes have graciously evolved with me. Instead of asking Santa Claus for the latest toy, computer game, or DVD, I have increasingly taken the time to think about college (and my life after it), my finances and the future.
And… to be honest with you, the future is a very scary afterthought.
With my family putting the same expectations on me since I was that little boy sitting around our gargantuan TV in the family room, watching Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and of course, Phineas and Ferb’s Christmas Vacation (a nod to Peanuts as well)—every Christmas seems to feel more burdensome.
Had the inspiration to write this while thinking of something catchy and jingly in my sleep this morning. Yes, I sleep-write and think too. A one-shot poem that I originally was thinking of turning into a rap. Enjoy! 😀
If I had come out sooner, four years ago, what would you have said?
Would you have embraced me, or shook your head in dismay?
Roll your eyes disgustingly, and yell, “Be gone filthy sinner! You are no longer welcome to stay!”
As I would have curled up into a minuscule ball and cry,
Sob and wail so loud from the depths of my heart
God, do You still love me? 😭
We can use our own pain to understand the pain of all living beings. Having learned to accept our own suffering patiently, if we then think of the suffering of all the other living beings trapped in samsara, compassion will arise naturally.
~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
ELEVEN MONTHS AGO, I HAD ENOUGH. Enough of suppressing a deeply hurtful part of my soul—equal to the pain of knowing I have and live with cerebral palsy, each and every single day. My mom first skimmed through my Aiming for Inclusion column last October, after receiving a copy in her e-mail. She was appalled to see the Phinerb artwork I had posted. It was then, on one Sunday afternoon, October 20, 2013, we finally sat down and talked things out for over an hour regarding my bi-romantic/bisexual attractions.
IN HIGH SCHOOL, as many other young adolescent teens are during this time, I began to feel an emotional admiration for classmates and friends of both genders—males and females alike. My freshman year, I met a boy whom I only once briefly met in the 7th grade during a small group therapy counseling session with our guidance counselor. You can imagine the look on his face as I glanced over at him for the very first time—small beady eyes, a warm, gentle grin and sunny disposition. I was somehow entranced, but dared not say anything except for a simple “Hi” and a gentle wave of the hand. When we finally briefly re-connected in high school, I nearly fell in love with him—or so I naively thought. Fast forward ahead many years into the near future. After many long hiatuses of not communicating back and forth online ever since Tim and his mom moved out to Texas in February 2008, one May evening one year ago, I decided to muster up the strength to tell him the truth about how I really felt about him all this time, and how much I’ve missed him so. “Tim, I love you. I really do.”
On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars — but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war — but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks — but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day — and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack. 
~ Former President George W. Bush in his Address to the Joint Session of the 107th Congress (September 20, 2001)
CONTRARY TO THE VIEWS expressed by the mainstream media, the notion of Islamophobia—the irrational fear of the beliefs and institutions of the Muslim faith—did not first enter the modern American psyche on September 11, 2001. Rather, it occurred decades before my time, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office.
Former President George W. Bush’s now famous declaration of ‘a war on terror’ is in fact a continuation of his father’s legacy, Mr. [George] Herbert Walker Bush and Mr. Reagan respectively before him, not an initiation, despite what my current generation of Millennials may presume to think.
Three years ago, within weeks of saying goodbye to my fellow graduating upper classmen of the Class of 2010, I struck up a conversation with one of my few close Muslim friends Adam S. one afternoon. Initially sharing my profoundly educated knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of his own faith with him, I somehow eventually felt emotionally provoked to painfully, but honestly scream the statement, “Nevertheless, I still believe that Muslims are terrorists.”
I could observe the deep remorse and pain in his face as I declared it. As I would later solemnly apologize, I restated that my motive was not to label every Muslim person walking around as a terrorist, as clearly that would be irrational, not to mention, unethical.
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them….
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Former President George W. Bush couldn’t have said it more clear-cut or more precise, as his words still ring true nearly a decade after the attacks. Nevertheless, despite his best-suited intentions, we still have yet to fully recover from the damage left behind in a post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are still questions that are left to be answered. Most importantly, if and when, the nations of the Middle East, and the people living there can ever accept the notion of executing democratic principles, not in the names of liberty, freedom or equality, but swiftly with mercy and grace.
In recent years, ideological Islamophobia has resurged with the controversy of constructing Park51 two blocks from Ground Zero in New York and Pastor Terry Jones purposely burning a copy of the Koran two years ago at his church in Gainesville, Florida.
As a fellow Christian, I again would like to apologize to the worldwide Muslim community if there are people among us who use hate and fear to evangelize our beliefs on the rest of the world.
The Great Commission
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Amen.
~ Matthew 28:16 – 20 (NKJV)
If we are indeed human, wouldn’t we also share the same resentment and hurt if other rogue parties were to target and ransack our churches, desecrate our icons of Christ and the Cross, and shred our Bibles? As history proves to humanity repeatedly, violence can only beget violence, no matter what one’s faith.
Which evidently, brings me to Syria…
Although President Obama has identified Tuesday night President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the involvement and usage of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, he also agrees not to send troops to intervene in Syria:
First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are “still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.” A veteran put it more bluntly: “This nation is sick and tired of war.”
My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.
His overall message resonates with me, and echoes a similar overtone several of my other politically inclined friends on Facebook have recently been discussing in the last few weeks regarding Assad’s Syria:
Whatever we do over there, I believe it’s just going to fuel the fire and make matters more complicated. Whenever we drop bombs, people get killed – guilty and innocent both. This fuels the fire of the Muslim’s already present hatred of us and it will do it until the end of time. We can’t bribe real friends. And we can’t intimidate them to be our friends by bombing who we deem as “bad guys.”
We’ve spent hundreds of billions, if not more, in bombing middle-east “bad guys” the past decade, and lost some 8,500 Americans. Does the US really need to keep bankrupting itself and putting lives and weapons on the line in yet another country? When will moral policing end?
We went into Iraq, partially under the pretense of helping the people Saddam used chemical weapons against. And what a disaster going into Iraq has been. And if we go into Syria, even with just drones (as if that’s no big thing), I still think we will end up with a bigger mess of which we may have to help clean-up.
And we haven’t even talked about who we’re helping by going after Assad: Al-Nusra, the al Qaeda wing in Syria.
I think the Founders, as the saying goes, are rolling over in their graves at the sight of how many countries our government is involved in.
~ Chris Wright, expressing his opinions on the possibility of American military intervention in Syria
Going off Chris’ points directly here, first of all, I agree with everything he writes. As I voice my thoughts in a different Facebook comment thread with another fellow Mormon, Josh Roundy, I make a firm statement that coincidentally enough, reiterates the same points Chris outlines above:
I am not saying don’t help or support the children of Syria. We should in theory, help all, refugee and rebel alike. But I personally find it very emotionally and psychologically unsettling when one regime dominates the mainstream voice in the political and social discourse, as in the case of said Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
As for the actual children of Syria, here is the first of a series of clips I have painstakingly nitpicked from browsing and watching Youtube news on the conflict for months now.
This next one documents wounds two boys have sustained from a shelling in a neighborhood in Homs, dated April 2012:
*Contains some graphic/bloody imagery. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
I’ll be honest here folks. I trembled and even wanted to cry as I glanced at the doctors removing the first boy’s clothes and examining his wounds as he cries aloud in fear, and tears. My heart cannot ever properly express the sorrow I feel tremendously every time I watch videos of this content and nature, especially when there’s children involved.
To help tell the story of one family siding with the Free Syrian Army rebels in the bustling city of Aleppo, and one boy’s experience of wanting to go to school to earn his education despite living in a war zone, here is Ibrahim’s War courtesy of Journeyman Pictures.
Trust me, this film will move you in ways you couldn’t imagine of being moved:
As for the Christians of Syria, many of us are now learning that rebel forces are attempting to seize total control of the small mountainous community of Ma’loula (Maaloula).
The local residents seem to gravely fear this predicament because it could inevitably give the rebels more legroom towards not only riling the authority of Assad’s regime, but also sparking further clashing of ideologies and religions in the process. Surprisingly, both Muslims and Christians previously living in the town, who are now fleeing the area due to the nature of the attacks, collectively agree that they have lived together side by side in mutual peace for years.
Ma’loula is also home to one of the most well preserved sanctuaries of the modern-day variant of Aramaic, presumably to be the tongue of the historic Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
And as the documentary describes, director Mel Gibson—who is indeed a devout Roman Catholic and directed the now worldwide sensation The Passion of the Christ—even took some civil and historic liberties of helping to carefully reconstruct the form of ancient Aramaic that Jesus and his followers spoke in his heyday, as accurately as possible.
This ensures that there are people who are currently not only proactively determined in trying to save an essential Biblical language from the near brink of extinction. It ensures that history can be rediscovered, relived, and continue to live on in the present day for the world’s nearly 3.6 – 3.8 billion adherents of the major Abrahamic faiths, all of which, coincidentally, have their origins in the Middle East.
But regardless of our faith or our politics, 9/11 isn’t just a day when our country was attacked by Muslim extremists. It isn’t a day to start pointing the finger of hypocrisy and shame at our neighbors and condemn them as terrorists.
9/11 was, and is a day when religion and politics simultaneously intertwined and crossed paths once more, as a rallying wake-up call for all of us to reconsider how we approach sensitive topics surrounding our everyday religious confrontations, and the benefits and dangers of exploring both fundamentalism and liberal theologies and theocracies alike.
And remember: Muslims can be your friends too.
“O son of Adam, it is better for you if you spend your surplus (wealth), but if you withhold it, it is evil for you. There is (however) no reproach for you (if you withhold means necessary) for a living. And begin (charity) with your dependants; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand.” 
~ The Prophet Muhammad, Muslim hadith
*Original thanks to my good friend Marwan Mogaddedi for posting this verse on his Facebook three weeks ago.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you…”
~ Jesus of Nazareth, an excerpt from The Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:27 – 31 (NASB)
For Further Viewing and Thinking:
Christians in the Middle East
A Muslim Response in the Wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings:
When my first boyfriend broke up with me, I felt alone. I felt that I was unworthy of him, I was unworthy of my family and my church, and most depressingly, I felt unworthy of God. Because I felt as if I was an abomination to God, I attempted suicide multiple times.
One night after contemplating suicide heavily, I shouted out to God, “Why did you put this in me if you’re just going to hate me for it?” The reply brought tears to my eyes – “I love you.”
~ Aaron Crowley, an excerpt from There is NOH8 in Jesus (November 21, 2012)
The first time I ever heard the words “gay” and “homo” in public was during my freshmen and sophomore years of high school. May 2008 was the first time I had heard of the term “gay marriage”, when a close upper classman of mine—now a soon-to-be first-year grad school student in the fall at UC Berkeley—addressed in an exclusive e-mail on behalf of Youth Alive, my high school’s Christian organization, on how he feels about the gay debate:
Are Christians against gays?
You’ve probably heard this question or you might’ve asked yourselves that also as you watch different protests on TV. We need to clarify the term “gays.” The concept of homosexuality vs. homosexuals. The Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:27); it wasn’t God’s original intent from creation. That’s the basic definition of any sin, not part of God’s original plan.
Is God against homosexuality? Yes.
But is God against homosexuals? No.
~ Eric C., an excerpt from Memory Verse: Week 5/19/08—Homosexuality Part 1 (2008)
At the time, I strongly agreed with everything Eric wrote about in his e-mails on homosexuality and homosexual behavior being a dreadful sin, and something that Almighty God would send a person to a fiery Hell for.
JUNE 27th UPDATE: Quick note on my statements above over Eric’s views. After a brief misunderstanding, he wrote me not too long after I originally posted this column online, stating that he is NOT anti-homosexual orientation, and never will be. The views I have expressed are solely my initial thoughts upon first reading his e-mail on the subject over five years ago. I further apologize on both of our behalves if any misrepresentations and misconceptions seem to currently be directed towards the gay and lesbian crowd.
As a person continuously seeking to reform and re-evaluate his previous views on homosexuals and queer culture, I am now here to indiscriminately and unconditionally love homosexuals just as the people all of you are—regardless of whatever church minister or congregation inexplicably has been told and has held against you, and regardless of how they have distorted and misconstrued Christ’s authentic command to “love your enemies and pray for those who have persecuted you.”
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~ Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
Now in retrospect, however, I realize how much of a blind fool I was when I was playing the hypocritical Christian card the entire time. On the outside, I was publicly active in taking a hostile anti-homosexual stance, calling out friends and classmates who wanted to vote No on Proposition 8, since I was—and still am—raised to literally believe in the sanctity of one man and one woman in holy, harmonious matrimony. Until I realized these so-called “conservative” Christian leaders were not leading very sacred and harmonious lives at all.
That idealism began to crack and shatter during my junior and senior years onwards.
After vowing to leave that high school club, and all my attachments and associations with it behind, I again was left feeling excluded and ostracized from both family and peers whom I thought were douches for not accepting me as a flawed person—with all these thoughts running through his head, let alone mention his poor work ethic.
Back into my closet of emotional insecurity I went. A closet I psychologically built myself in, so that I didn’t have to face the experience of going through continuous rejection time and time again.
And then something happened…
Fast forward to May and June 2011, towards the end of my senior year. After initially attending one last Youth Alive meeting on a Monday around lunchtime, I eventually left again, shaking my head angrily and thinking, “No. I’ve had enough of this bullcrap.”
What I didn’t care to realize the moment I quietly stormed out was that a friend had caught me leaving, and within mere moments, he came to console me. “What’s the matter Josh? What’s going on?” I initially was too angry to say how I really felt on the inside, but I gradually released some steam. “I’ve had enough Andrew. I’ve had enough of this Youth Alive shindig! I want out! I’m done!” I wanted to further scream, “I’m through with God” as well, but did not plan to take the matter too far.
Fortunately, Andrew’s been more than sympathetic to hearing about my conflicting spiritual frustrations. He’s been UNDERSTANDING, and to this day, I cannot imagine not having a more sincere and caring friend than him, as a straight bro. 🙂
As for leaving behind this “conservative” brand of Christianity I grew up submissively obeying and adhering to through the end of my high school years, I now honestly view the nuances of meanings behind the Passion story and the significance of the Cross in a new Progressive kind of light. One where all are loved unconditionally by God, and where He only sees the broken sinner in need of healing and reconciliation, not the weight of unbearable sin crushing the sinner.
Progressive Christianity is an approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by post-liberalism and postmodernism and:
- Proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord;
- Emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person;
- Emphasizes God’s immanence not merely God’s transcendence;
- Leans toward pantheism rather than supernatural theism;
- Emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later;
- Emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell;
- Emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal;
- Stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship;
- Takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding;
- Emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs);
- Embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas;
- Does not consider homosexuality to be sinful;
- Does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).
Upon a detailed and painstaking scholarly personal investigation of my own now in college, I largely agree with most of these points—except for perhaps the supernatural theism one.
Moreover, to clarify my now redefining stance on the multi-layered “homosexuality is a sin” argument, I will only say this: He [God] may judge your sins, but He does not judge your sexual orientation, and we need to keep these two separate from now on, socially and theologically. Period.
And for all the conservatively-minded homophobes out there, while I can understand your reasons for hating gays—as I was once as well—in all serious honesty, you’re missing out on some great eye-opening opportunities to witness to and to get to know several of them as the awesome people they are BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE. And yes, even their faults and sins.
Recently, I sat in my adult Sunday School class while my pastor spoke about grace within the United Methodist tradition. She described how, in the midst of the grace that is always present for all of us, we often find ourselves in profound moments of justifying grace—moments of affirmation when we recognize that we, too, are loved. We, too, are welcomed. We, too, are forgiven.
For me, my coming out as an LGBT ally has been inextricably intertwined with my experience of justifying grace.
The irony of my situation is not lost on me. While my coming out as an ally has been so very humbling and faith-affirming, I know that for many, the experience of coming out is anything but. Most of all, I know this has to change.
This is why I feel so passionately about continuing to push myself to speak up. Even when it is uncomfortable. Even when I have doubts. Even when I’m sharing not necessarily with like-minded members of the faith, but with that same Facebook community which initially brought me to tears.
Above all else, I believe that this message and this experience of grace is for all.
And I want to help proclaim this Christian message.
Even me? Yes. And even you as well.
~ Holli Long, an excerpt from Experiencing Grace: My Journey To Becoming An Ally (June 17, 2013)
As an additional side note worthy of mentioning, I now also believe 17-year-old Graeme Taylor from Ann Arbor, Michigan is TRULY AN INSPIRATION, not only for standing up for a teacher who was suspended, but perhaps even more so for coming out of the closet (quite literally) and being honest, open and accepting of himself that he’s gay.
You got yourself another fan and an honorable ally Graeme. I’d hug you and kiss you as well if we ever have the chance to meet in person!