24 April, 2011

The Faith Entry: Some Side Notes

I want to go off on a tangent here in regards to my recent entries on my personal faith. I want to touch upon the topic of legalism. To the more traditional and conservative faction of the church, they defend their staunch support to legalism as something integral to salvation. (This is all from the POV of Christianity) The more liberal churches tend to openly disagree with legalism because they often wonder where the concept of Grace comes in.

Call me a liberal then.

As I shared in Part 8, my take on the Biblical account of the Fall of Humanity was that the real temptation wasn't on the disobedience, but on the logic that "if I were to DO THIS, then I will BE THAT." In the beginning of Genesis, it states that humans were created in the image and likeness of God. The serpent convinces Eve that if she ate the fruit, (it's not necessarily an apple, btw) she will BEcome "like God." Therefore the fall of mankind was the logic of "DOING" to "BEING."

NOW, let's look at legalism: it's normally based on the avoidance (doing) of certain behaviors to display their state of beingness. (In this case, redeemed or "favored" by God) That undermines everything that this weekend is all about. (It is Easter as I'm typing this, so Happy Easter!) Here's an example: controversy has been around the topic of music as long as I've began reading a Bible. Those who advocate legalism tend to encourage their followers to avoid listening to certain musical formats. The logic is that if they were to avoid listening to certain types of music, they will BE more favorable in God's eyes. A couple of things with that example:(and this is NOT a hypothetical example, this is a REAL controversy) 1) There's no Biblical base on what "types" of music is acceptable or not acceptable. 2) This is the "do" to "be" logic.

Legalism doesn't lead to a sinless life, it ironically leads to a more sinful life because it creates an endless list of "do's and don't's." We don't avoid certain behaviors because of a rule, we choose not to do something out of love and appreciation. Love and appreciation is not a state of doing, but a state of being. What we do is a result of how we're being. Going back to the music example, if I'm at a state of beingness where I feel loved by God, and I feel in returning that love "with all my heart, mind soul, ect," I tend to CHOOSE to listen to more music that's consistent with that state of being. It's not because someone said this is what you "SHOULD" listen to.

If we were to follow the dogmas of legalism, then there's no point to what Easter represents. So what does Easter represents? What Jesus DID was a direct result of WHO Jesus IS. And because of what was DONE AND WHO HE IS, WE ARE.

The Faith Entry: The Salvation Army Major Players and More Details on Pt 2

I spent at total of almost 7 adult years of my life with this organization. They have the most spiritual influence on me both good and bad, mostly bad. They meant well, but in the end of the scheme of things, it simply wasn't a fit.

When I first became acquainted with The San Francisco Salvation Army Chinatown Corps, I was simply keeping the lady I was seeing pacified. This was the church she grew up in and it was important to her for me to attend. Ironically, she herself was not a regular attender, but I HAD TO be there. So for the most part, I attended their Friday College Fellowship after my Friday lion dance practice. This was a common occurrence in the summer of 1990. I was still living in Oakland, so my weekend commute to San Francisco began Friday morning after my classes at College of Alameda and ended Monday morning when I left "Cindy's*" North Beach apartment. I had enough seniority at my movie theater job in Oakland such that I was not needed to be there on the weekends, or I "commuted" from SF to Oakland, back to SF on the Saturdays I did work.

In a lot of ways, I did not attend Salvation Army events as "Jarrett." I believe that I was known amongst the Salvation Army College and High School group as "Cindy's "FRIEND."" (Noticed that I was NOT known as her "boyfriend?" That was all in her decision) She was very paranoid with me in regards to my behavior around "Sherry*," the youngest daughter of the Corps Officer, Major and Mrs Yee. Reason one: she looked up to her and was only a few years older than us. Cindy even followed a trend of reversing how her t-shirt was worn. Reason two: it was Sherry's idea that I either attend church or for Cindy to not see me. I found Sherry intimidating for a different reason altogether: she was just hot.

Sherry's older sister Sharon* was married to Richard*. They just had a daughter who was a year old. They were both Sunday school teachers who also intimidated Cindy much to the point that Cindy overreacted after every conversation they had with me. ("Jarrett, what did you say to them???" "Oh my God, you didn't tell them THAT, did you???")

At the end of the summer, Cindy and I split up. I decided to keep going to the fellowship. Then again, it wasn't like Cindy was a regular attender. News traveled quick about the split. Bob* introduced himself and his then girlfriend Noreen* to me. They invited me to a dinner they were hosting because up until that point, they only knew me as "Cindy's "FRIEND,"" not as Jarrett, and they wanted an opportunity to get to know me. I accepted their invite, and as I recall, had a great steak and potato dinner! It was unfortunate that shortly after that dinner, I eventually weened away from the group.

When I began to date Marie in the summer of 91, the topic of church and theology came up again. Marie's background was Seventh Day Adventist and to her, anyone attending church on a Sunday was considered Satanic. A year after my last visit to SF Salvation Army in the fall of 91, I decided to return there because I had so much questions. When I returned there, the mood was absolute somber. I was not attending the College Fellowship, I was attending their Asian American English Speaking Worship Service. (That title was considered "modern" within Salvation Army because worship service within the organization were called "Holiness meetings.") I met a new couple who were officers ("Officers" were those in pastoral position within The Salvation Army) Lieutenants Don and Sheila Choy*. Sheila was the eldest of the three sisters who recently moved back to SF from Southern California. The mood was somber because of the recent death of their mother Mrs Yee. On top of that, I returned to their service an evening after a colleague of mine was shot. At the conclusion of the service, they opened a "Mercy Seat" (bench on the front) to see who was willing to make a public commitment or "re-commitment" to Jesus. I went up. Afterwards, Bob and Richard came up to me to offer support. Don and Sheila came up to introduce themselves to me. Bob and I had a conversation about Marie in regards to the conflict. Bob suggested that now that I recommitted, it's best to go in a separate direction from Marie. That was my last visit to the Chinatown Corps. Besides, I had a dream and a pursuit of a comedy career at stake.

Marie and I survived three years together after indulgence in drinking binges, drug-induced raves, her cheating, and my heavily invested interest in my first exposure to both the multi-level marketing and personal development culture. My pursuit of personal development not only threatened the relationship, but eventually became the undoing in the end. That was 1994-95 and I don't think I was ever in more turmoil. I had dropped out of undergrad at SF State, accumulated a lot of debt, and was in pursuit of meeting my biological mother which in the end was a complete disaster. The pressure, drinking, and drugging was ever so increasing following the meeting of my biological mother in Feb 1995. Couple that with a new tumultuous relationship to Janice* and an emotional timebomb was awaiting.

That timebomb ticked and exploded on Mother's Day weekend 1995. Nothing worse than to be on a drunken public rage where the police got involved. Luckily or unluckily for me, the cop knew who I was and instead of taking me in, took me around until I sobered up. The drinking binge began following the phone conversation I had with my biological mother who was offended by the Mother's Day gift I gave to her. As for the mother who reared me, the one whom I referred to as my "REAL" mother, imagine the look on her face watching me arrive home hungover from a police car. Neither of my mothers had a good Mother's Day that year.

That following Sunday, I trekked over to the Salvation Army Golden Gate Divisional Facilities in the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco. I saved the numerous letters of encouragement and invites from Sharon, Bob, and Noreen over those years, and knew that the then Asian American English Speaking Service eventually became an autonomous separate Corps: The San Francisco Asian American Corps. A year prior, a newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel Yee retired from his post at the Chinatown Corps. (He was then Major when I was visiting Chinatown in 1990) Upon entering the facilities, I was recognized immediately by Richard. Then moments later, Bob and Noreen spotted me and approached me, asking me if I had plans after the service and if I was interested in lunch with them since they hadn't seen me in 4 years. I accepted. During the dim sum lunch, I explained to Bob that I felt like he gave me an ultimatum of me having to chose between Marie at that time or my commitment to church. He felt bad that I interpreted it as an ultimatum and he only wanted me to avoid conflict in the long run.

I don't want to say that Richard was happy about my situation. He wasn't. He simply saw my situation as an opportunity for me to learn about his latest spiritual passion: The Promise Keepers. It was a movement of an all men's sporting pep rally for Jesus. It was created by Bill McCartney aka "Coach Mac." Funny because my only visit to Denver Colorado was in the winter of 94. The newspaper headline was about how this winning coach of the Colorado University football program recently tendered his resignation because of his "vision." That coach turned out to be McCarthy, and the "vision" of his turned out to be what is now known as The Promise Keepers. All these years of attending pep rallies for his football team had him wondering if it was possible to hold a similar rally for Jesus. Richard was gung-ho about the movement and sure enough, that year the West Coast rally was taking place in Oakland. It MUST BE God's provision that I went through what I went through in order to attend an event in the "backyard" of my own home. I was such a wreck at that point, I believed it.

* If you noticed, the asterisk was placed next to the names because those were not their real names.

15 April, 2011

Personal Development Books

As a person deeply immersed in the personal development arena, I am one of the subscribers to the Finer Minds website. One of their recent Facebook blog was an article on their list of personal development books compiled by the employees, founder and subscribers to Finer Minds. Interestingly enough, a lot of those titles listed were focused on financial state of mind. The reasoning behind that is the consensus of many agree that financial success is the physical reflection of the growth within the person, especially if the person started out physically and financially impoverished. (And spiritually)

Here's a small list of my personal favorite books in no necessary order that I personally and highly recommend to anyone on the path of personal development:

W Timothy Gallwey-The Inner Game of Tennis- I can't say enough about this book. Almost 5 years ago I was discouraged and desperate in my acting endeavors. I asked my acting coach and mentor if there was anything he recommended for me to learn and/or read. He recommended that book, and initially I was convinced that he was telling me to pursue tennis and to give up on acting. It's a very straight-forward and simplistic approach to how to create a state of mind and focus during a challenging task and/or situation. I go back to that all the time. Its a great companion piece to read along with other recommendation on this list as well as...

Harold Guskin-How To Stop Acting- I recommend this book for the actor in pursuit of personal development. It has a lot of information on techniques in listening, being present, and allowing your inner authentic self showing up to the scene.

Keith Johnstone-Impro- This is considered to be the "Bible" for those studying the theatrical improvisational system called Theatersports. He has a lot of interesting takes on how to transform and he adds some commentary on the current state of education.

...speaking of Bibles...Get one. You don't have to goto any church to read one. I tend to get several types of translation to get a different or clearer context to what is being said. One of my favorite translation is da Jesus Book, a Hawaiian pidgin language translation.

Napoleon Hill-Think and Grow Rich-anyone pursuing financial wealth and personal development who doesn't read this book and/or own a copy would NOT be considered "serious" on their endeavor in pursuing wealth, and for good reason. If there was such a textbook on wealth mindset, this would be it.

Wallace Wattles-The Science of Getting Rich-This book resurfaced shortly after the release of The Secret. I don't know how this book was underutilized compared to Think and Grow because if I were to compare the two books to an operating system on a computer, Think and Grow is to PC as Science is to Mac. Since I'm using a Mac now, can you guess which of the two I prefer to go back to for reference?

Dale Carnegie-How to Win Friends and Influence People-I was very young when I first read this. Not young as in child, but young as in childish. To find out if what Carnegie said was true or not, I'd often did the complete opposite of what what said to my friends and family. I also alienated a lot of them in the process. Yes, reconciliation was the result of humility and applying the book as it was written...

Randy Pausch-The Last Lecture-Personally if you can find the full original copy of the "lecture" he gave, get it. This book is merely a transcription of the lecture he gave as well as some additional insight. The premise of the book as well as the lecture was that at Carnegie Melon University there was a series called "The Last Lecture" taught by the various professors there including Pausch. It was a hypothetical lecture asking if you the professor knew you were going to die and you had one lecture left to teach, what would you teach? In Randy's case, he WAS dying of cancer, and was a pioneer in both computer engineering and virtual reality. His lecture had NOTHING to do with any theories and/or research in those fields.

Dan Millman-Way of the Peaceful Warrior- I have a confession to make on this book: I saw a movie version before I actually read this. I share this because I regret going in that order. Read the book FIRST before seeing the movie version of it. Reading about Millman's mentor Socrates and visualizing Nick Nolte can affect the reading in an adverse manner. (I think part of it resonated with me because of his use of Berkeley and the East Bay Area as the backdrop.)

Dr. Seuss-Oh The Places We'll Go... -Yes, this is sold in the children's book section. I'm a stickler when it comes to foundational work. Stick to the basic fundamentals. Do what you can to master them. (No one can master them) That's why the majority of the books listed here are older titles than the current ones out there. The same goes for this book. Yes it IS a childrens' book or is it? I believe going back to read a book from childhood with the same wonderment and openness as when it was read the first time can do a lot.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X-This is on my personal list because reading this book changed my entire perspective on life. This did not cause me to get out of my box or think outside my box. This blew up the box completely. Though it does get into a "blame game" at times, this will expand perception regardless.

Expect this posting to continue to grow and change in the future. This is not the complete list by any means, and as long as I have breath, there are more books out there for me to read...

10 April, 2011

The Faith Entry Pt 8: Faith and Spiritual Perspectives from a Spiritual Orphan

Principia is the name of a conference and convention for the graduates of PSI Seminars. More specifically Principia is for those who took all three levels of the main curriculum that PSI offered. (The Basic, The Life Success Course, and The Leadership Seminars) Putting everything on the forefront here and having nothing to hide, PSI Seminars along with other large group awareness trainings (LGAT) have been classified as "cultish." At certain points throughout my trainings with PSI, I too questioned whether of not I was placing myself in a situation to be manipulated. Well, that issue became mute for me during my first Principia. Mrs. W who's the top person with PSI came up to make an announcement after one of the guest speakers made a personal political commentary about the Presidential Elections. (My first Principia was in 2008) Her announcement was that she wanted to re-iterate the fact that all of us who's participating in Principia are "leadership graduates," therefore who we vote for, how and where we worship is totally up to us and ultimately, our own choice and decision. She wanted to remind us that PSI will never endorse any political candidates, suggest which church or pastor to follow, or any other lifestyle suggestions. There's no point in us taking a leadership course and then allow others lead us. She received a standing ovation afterwards. I received peace of mind.

Bruce recently shared with us that his blog was published nationally on what it is to "be a Christian." The reaction was negative from those who were from a more conservative, fundamental persuasion. His list was simple, short, to the point. No fancy "Dos N Don'ts" like the convenant I signed for my Salvation Army membership.

I'm going to take my observations a little further which will not only rile up the conservatives, but may even have them call for my imminent deportation to another remote Asian country even though I'm a U.S. born citizen. Most of my spiritual basis comes within the context of core Christian doctrinal beliefs, though my personal development has allowed me to broaden my scope slightly.

Sorry you anti-abortionist, but God IS Pro-Choice. If S/He wasn't that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would've been chopped down before Adam and Eve came across it. Evidence that God empowers His/Her creation with the power of choice: Think about the angelic beings and demonic beings. According to the Bible, they're identical, but what separates them from each other is CHOICE. (Don't worry, also according to the Bible, I believe the Angels, outnumber the Demons like 2 to 1)

The Fall had NOTHING to do with the fruit eaten. My own take on this: earlier in Genesis, it states man was created in the image and likeness of God. If you follow the wording on the temptation itself, it tells Eve "you will be LIKE God." The temptation is the lie that you have to "DO" something in order to "BE" something you ALREADY are. Even now. When my friend Bruce wrote that blog about "You know you're Christian when____", the response from the conservative circle protested that Christians need to "DO MORE."

I'd rather skip church service if I'm entering church hopeful and leaving church ready to strangle someone. In fact, as important it is for people to meet regularly, don't goto church if you're in that situation. Take a nice stroll, drive, bike ride on that Sunday if you find yourself leaving church in a rut. About a month after my mom's passing, I left church located in Castro Valley deflated, then got a ticket from a police officer a couple of blocks away. I came back to the church hoping to find a window to break. Just skip out.

Sometimes getting advice from someone who has no spiritual path (ie "non Christians") is more affective than getting advice from those @ church. Follow it. You'll be much happier.

There once existed an American terrorist training organization. Watch Jesus Camp and you'll know what I mean. They're nuttier than the so-called terrorists a half world away.

I personally believe that the terms, "carnal Christian, backsliding, Baby Christian, and God's Will" is a bunch of manipulative church terminology B*LLSH*T. It's what's thrown out verbally by those in charge of church who are unable to come up with answers.

Ultimately the person I really need to listen when "listening to God's voice" is me. What appealed to me the most about Jesus is the fact that he deliberately broke social and religious rules all the time. It's funny how by definition a "Christian" is someone who believes and follows the likeness of Christ, yet within the church settings, you're considered to be a "Good Christian" if you just followed the rules. This is probably why so many Bible, God, and Christian naysayers conclude that the Bible contradicts itself.

Very few religious institutions succeed in fulfilling that I truly believe is the real purpose of their existence: to heal and to build up humanity by empowering them in reminding them of their likeness to God. Instead most institutions tend to create very unhealthy power structures that belittles the average man or woman who step foot into their place of worship.

I do believe in the concept of 1+1=3. Having said that because of the corruption and disconnect created by the religious institutions, I do not believe that anyone is obligated to spiritually meet only during a religious service. I also do not believe in the concept of "Spiritual Orphan" due to the absence of a church membership. Like minded people who share similar spiritual beliefs should meet each other under their own whims and their own terms without the rules and regulations as defined by the social mores created by man. For example, if a group of friends meet at cafe to discuss and encourage issues of a spiritual matter that's not on a Saturday or Sunday, and the people involved do not meet at church that week, who's to say that they're wrong? Here's my challenge to the church who insists on regular church attendance: eliminate the tithe and offering rules and perhaps I'll see the sincerity in the importance of meeting regularly.

Theological degrees and credentials have little to no significance on spirituality. I'm not knocking those who work their a$$es off and sacrifice their time to earn their degree. It's just that it's not an "end all be all" deal. My ex gf was a licensed MFT (marriage family therapist) who vandalized the restroom of a restaurant because of rude waiting service. Her specialized therapy credential: ANGER MANAGEMENT. If anyone had the "credentials," it was the Apostle Paul, and he wasn't recruited until AFTER Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Apparently Jesus felt that his originally hand-picked group of men wasn't in need of any credentials. Why should we allow someone else tell us what God said just because they spent 2-4 years of additional schooling?

All in all, the choice is ultimately ours. It's by design.

08 April, 2011

The Faith Entry Pt 7: The Spiritual Orphan Wanders

I spent a good amount of time in 2010 recovering from what I went through with The Journey. In all honesty. I was pretty isolated throughout most of 2010. All I remembered was starting 2010 in Singapore, getting ready for CNY 2010, and did like a total of 4 lion dance performances during the CNY season. I missed the CNY Parade that year for a weekend workshop. I spent the spring 2010 getting ready for a lion and dragon performance at a temple's centennial celebration. I was not really going to church. I began to explore churches and spiritual centers that were outside of the mainstream Christian faith. I made several visits to the Christ Unity Centers. I still have the shell necklace they gave me on my car. What I liked about the Unity Center was a more candid approach the speakers took. I wasn't used to not having any Biblical references. Their lunches were superb. I don't want to say that attending Unity was because of the food factor, but in some ways, it was.

I sporadically began attending MBCC again since they moved from the South of Market location to a closer Ocean Avenue location. They also moved the worship time to Sunday evening which meant I could just stop by on my way home from Chinatown on Sundays. They started a "moment of silence" time which I adored. Admittedly, there were times when I used that period to actually doze off. Other times, I was able to briefly put into practice all those active meditation techniques I learned through various personal development programs.

Bruce was one of the few folks from MBCC who remembered me. Part of it was because we've been Facebook friends for a year or two prior to my returning, and because of the fact that I'd run into various members of his family at random spots. He told me about Philz Coffee and I eventually tried it in the fall of 2010. I've been a regular @ Philz since. He inquired about my time @ The Journey, but after seeing the expression on my face, he moved onto a different topic.

What I liked about MBCC approach is their "inclusiveness." In most traditional churches, the practice of communion was that only those who were actual members of the church was allowed to participate. (Communion is a practice of passing bread and juice and/or wine to members commemorating Christ's last supper) Churches were considered "liberal" or "progressive" if they allowed "visitors" ("spiritual orphans") who were at least "Christian" to participate. In the case of MBCC, people who didn't considered themselves as a Christian were allowed to participate. A part of the appeal was their use of Kings Hawaiian Bread as the communion bread. (Popular with the kids and me)

I recently heard of the controversy regarding a book by Rob Bell titled "Love Wins." I have yet to read the book, however his first book "Velvet Elvis" is a book that I considered to drastically help me on my cynicism towards Christians and Christianity. My response to Christians who's mantra was "love the sinner, hate the sin," was "I love God, I hate Christians." Velvet Elvis, Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller were saving grace books for me. This is part 7 of entries I've done and I haven't even gotten into what I said I was going to do: give my perspective on faith. I've only shared a very abbreviated version of my 16 year spiritual journey. (Even less than Cliff Notes!) What does this have to do with authors like Rob Bell and Donald Miller? I shared in entry #2 about my Sunday School teacher whom in my opinion and personal observation that he worship everything and everyone else EXCEPT God. When I recommend a book I do not do so as if it has any sort of authority on the topic the book is about. I recommend the book because of how it helped me personally. Nothing more, nothing less. When I recommend a class or a course, or an acting coach, it's based on how I benefited. The course or the technique or the instructor is not the end all be all. One of the controversy about Bell's latest book is the topic of "Christian Universalism." I was doing some research on this approach to spirituality. I say "spirituality" and not "Christianity" because from what I've researched so far, "Christian Universalism" is a more inclusive approach to spirituality. It appeals to me because of that reason. This is not to be mistaken with "Univeralist Unitarian," though truthfully I wouldn't mind visiting one of their services.

So this past year in addition to regularly visiting MBCC, I've trekked and visited a few Unity Christ services. I've been doing a lot of personal development within the LGA (large group awareness) setting these past three years, so what Unity had to offer was elements of my personal development and the Christian ideals together along with a very liberal inclusiveness. What was challenging was the parking situation as they were located in a prime neighborhood in San Francisco. (Pacific Heights) Their post-service breakfast spread was also appealing. What was confusing was there there seemed to be a aimless direction with lots of rituals. I felt lost at times there. On top of that, for a group who claims a Christian faith, the absence of the Bible as the primary literature was a little too off for my personal taste.

So many are wondering why not just simply take the plunge and just go for a membership at MBCC. A part of it had to do with the previous three memberships and the yearn to avoid certain patterns. The second is the fact that even though I like the worship style, the inclusiveness, the interaction during the service, the meals, there appears from my viewpoint that the overall paradigm undermines what I'm attempting to implement into my life in regards to my personal development. This is a church where the general consensus frowns upon the wealthy. One member recently announced that he is unable to assist the victims in Japan other than prayer because he's "broke." In fact, I recall several offerings being taken on behalf of Haiti at different times because of the economic reputation of Haiti. Recently, the only actions I've observed on behalf of Japan is "prayer."

Lastly, it was announced less that a month ago that my friend was stepping down as pastor effective May of this year. This is nothing new to me at all on the spiritual front. In fact, I believe I experienced one of the worse timing in regards to a pastoral departure. (Both Dr Dave, Dave 2, and Pete leaving to Texas at the same time my mother passed) Besides I kinda saw it coming when I initially began attending on a regular basis. Anytime there's talks on transitioning a pastoral position from fulltime to parttime to "allow" the pastor on pursuing other endeavors, that's a tell-tale sign a pastoral switch is in the air.

I'm a contract worker for UCSF Medical School. I do what's referred to as a "standardized patient." By that, I'm allowed to get paid as an actor by receiving a case to present to medical students within a simulated clinical environment. One of the cases I've presented several times was that of a character named T.E. His background was that he grew up in a conservative Christian family environment and that upon moving to San Francisco he was like a young child at a candy store. One of the exercises practiced by the medical student was to let TE know of his medical condition and my character raises issues on spirituality in regards to the diagnosis. As the character, I protested the pressure and expectation on attending church and defended my love of a regular visit to the beach to be in touch with nature. In some ways, that was me talking. I'd rather do my own thing and feel connected to "Source, Universe, God, Spirit, ect" than to attend a church service and leave disconnected to self, others and God. Because honestly, I've been through those periods where exactly that happened. On top of everything else, I felt cheated because my hour to two hours were "wasted."

The bottom line is that I've been following rules, advice, suggestions, feedback on how to let "God" change my life "for the better." Some of it were effective and I'm thankful for the changes that occurred. Most of it was looked back upon with regret that I yielded my personal power away to someone else, not finding the solution nor peace of mind I was pursuing.

So lets get to the nitty-gritty on my view on Faith and Spirituality...

07 April, 2011

The Faith Entry Pt 6: The Journey of the Spiritual Orphan

I didn't expect to attend a church service at a location where I once made out with this openly bi-chick who immediately moved onto another gal following the "quality bonding time" we spent, but here I was entering what was once The Regency Theater in San Francisco on the corner of Sutter and Van Ness. I was approached by the greeters and ushers as soon as I walked in. Now in a church service, that IS what's supposed to happen. However in other SF churches I've attended, that was usually not the case. The greeters at the other churches in SF handpicked and chose who they greeted. And on top of that, what is this that I see here: a buffet spread??? OK, it was just fresh fruits, donuts, coffee, tea, and juice, but that's a LOT. I'm happy just to get coffee. Otherwise you paid for your food at the church's cafe. Not so here. At the conclusion of the service I was able to meet the worship team and the pastor. Turned out that the pastor was a New York transplant who was the assistant teaching pastor of The Journey in NY. They decided to plant a church on the West Coast. His background was an actor in NY. I was impressed. I wasn't able to attend the following week's service because I had tickets to the Raiders game, so I returned the week after. I got to know more folks, and was invited to volunteer at the San Francisco Food Bank.

Volunteering at the Food Bank later that week enabled me to get to know other members of the church better. After helping out at the food bank, I was invited to meet some other members who was celebrating one of their birthday at a sushi spot. It was interesting to see some of the transplant from outside of the Bay Area express some reservation on the selection of the seafood on the menu. The person who was celebrating her birthday was the greeter who approached me the first time I came there. So the worship team leader who more or less hosted the dinner had a tradition to go around and have everyone make a positive compliment on the person being honored. When it came to my turn, having only met her three times, I simply told her my truthful experience with her: I thanked her for making me feel welcomed on the first day because that was a factor on why I returned.

For some reason, this was somewhere that I was initially comfortable enough to not only attend regularly, but participate in their activities outside of Sunday Services. A core group of attenders would rotate a lunch routine after the services on Sunday. I joined one of the groups that met regularly every week. This church also attracted a lot of artists. The wife who hosted the weekly study group was also an actor like myself, I met quite a few students attending Academy of Arts University. Another transplant from Omaha was someone I took under my wings in acting. Mentoring her led to actual performance coaching sessions which led to the beginning of my coaching biz. For awhile, I was in the planning route often running errands on behalf of the staff. Eventually I also submitted to a background check in order to help at the child care.

It's no coincidence that the length of the "good times" I experienced with The Journey was approximately the same length of time of my involvement with Venture. Kinda like how I was never able to exceed the three year mark of my past serious relationships. Actually the length exceeded that of Venture. From the end of 2007 to end of 2009 was about my time that I was involved with them on a consistent basis.

Things began to slowly unravel following the Christmas 2008 worship service. I missed the service because I was assigned to child care that day. I was working with the "new" person in charge of the childcare. Up to that point my friend was in charge of the childcare. The new person came in to check up on us two who were taking care of the kids. The 2nd person who was working with me was someone they brought from outside the church so that the "regulars" involved could be able to attend the service. When I brought it to the attention of the new lady in charge that if that'd be the case why was I still scheduled to miss the service. Her reply was that because she heard that I had no real close friends or family outside of the church, I wasn't likely to have guests to attend the major services. She even jokingly "warned" me that I'll most likely miss Easter service. I didn't think much of the "joke" until when Easter 2009 came around and I was scheduled to work childcare. I turned in my resignation for childcare shortly after Easter 09.

I guess I did take to heart of the lack of guests I've invited to church over the years. When I began my 90-day goal setting and coaching program called Pacesetters' Leadership Dynamics (PLD) in January 2009, I decided to set a "guests-goal" as my spirituality goal. (PLD had you set challenging goals for 4 areas: relationship, career, physical, and spirituality) So in the 90 days, I was to have brought a minimal of 8 new guests to a Journey worship service who did not attend another church on a regular basis. In that 90 days, I brought a total of 12 guests there.

Strike two was after donating a significant amount to their "Embrace the City" campaign, I requested to the pastor if it was possible for him to set aside a donation to one of my favorite charities as part of the campaign. He agreed to donate $500 to the charity. I thought it was fine and dandy until I received an email from the charity telling me that the check was no good. Supposedly, the church re-issued another check, and I guess things were better this time around, but I did lose a respectable amount of credibility with that charity organization.

The final straw was when my "buddy" from my study group who was a staff member of the church needed a car for the week because he was unable to rent a car. I loaned him my Civic naively thinking that as a church group, accountability partner, and friend, he'd approach the situation in a responsible manner. One week ended up being seven weeks, and he eventually offered $100/week because of the lateness to which he paid for. It was just that the day after the car was returned, I drove the Civic for no more than two blocks before the hood began to smoke, and I had to drive the car back to my parking spot on the street. I ended up having the car towed to the mechanic where I forked out $1400 in repairs. The car is still out of commission even after the repairs and the cost, and I have a daily visual reminder on the issue of trust. This is not the end of the story though. A short time after my car was in the mechanic, my "friend" approached me because he needed a photocopy of my registration and auto insurance. When I asked why, it was because his wife was speeding with my car and got a ticket. Failure to provide proof of insurance and registration was like a $1600 fine. When I reminded him about how my car was in the shop, his only response was, "how strange that we didn't have that problem when we had it." He kept pestering me for a couple of weeks until I sent him an angry email stating that as long as he was not going to help me with the mechanic expense, I was not going to furnish the copies.

When the couple who hosted the study group announced their upcoming move to Colorado, I received an invite to their going away get-together. I set aside that time and date since I felt close to the couple and we shared a lot over the two year period. In fact the wife who was a fellow actor and who used to be in charge of the childcare, took my spot in childcare on Easter when she learned about the scheduling, the comment made by the other person in charge, and the fact that I had two guests scheduled to come that day. It was unfortunate to have my invite "retracted" because since the friend of mine who borrowed and damaged my car was bringing his family to the event, the hostess (not the friend departing) felt it was best that I not attend.

I stop going to church for a couple of months afterwards.

When promoting the membership class for the Journey, the pastor would remind the folks about how bad it is to be a "spiritual orphan." His definition of a "spiritual orphan" is one who has not declared a membership with a specific "home church." To him, that lack of commitment was "not approved" by God. My response to that is when the church creates "spiritual orphans," who are they to judge them? If God doesn't approve of "spiritual orphans," then I'm someone who believes in God whom God doesn't approve of. Oh well. For me, I have no shame in being a "spiritual orphan." I've been physically orphaned the moment I was born, so what difference should not committing to a home church make?

Now for the record, I do not advocate violence to settle differences. After all the personal development courses I've invested in during the past 3 years, it'd be a waste to go to any extreme to settle a solution. Having said all of that, anytime I hear on the news about a church attack or a church shooting, or some sort of violent incident against a church or a congregation, with after all I went through with this church...


06 April, 2011

The Faith Entry Pt 5: Wearing My Spiritual Orphan Attire Loud and Proud

At the end of 2005, I had moved from Oakland to Menlo Park. Talking about culture shock. I didn't know which was worse: the culture shock of the move or the grief. I lasted no more than 3/4 of a month in seminary school. What was I doing there? I got accepted to their "Performing Arts M.A. Program." I thought, "wow, a degree in performing arts from a Christian grad program!" Little did I know, this was actually a training for a pastoral position. I figured that out when my prerequisites weren't voice, movement, media, but Old Testament, Greek, and Hebrew. Translating Hebrew Old Testament is very overwhelming for a grieving brain.

Church-wise, I discovered a church in Oakland called Church of All Nations. Best way to describe the vibe was that it was a cross between MBCC and Venture. In other words, I felt at home. The assistant pastor invited me to breakfast to make sure I was doing okay since it was so close to after my mother's passing. One thing I remembered of my first visit there was that during the worship music, this adorable 3 year girl was dancing along the aisle doing an occasional flip and cartwheel. When it came time for the "meet and greet" this little angel came up to me. "Hello you're new because I've never seen you before, so I wanted to be the first one to say 'hi' to you!" So cute. And yes, her father was the assistant pastor who took me out to breakfast. His wife was finishing up her MFA in dance at Mills. What I really appreciated about them was the fact that they were transplants from the Pacific Northwest. Normally people who move into Oakland lament on what's to bad about Oakland and what changes were needed so Oakland could be a better place. They moved into Oakland and loved and accepted the community for what it is. It's too bad that the commute from Menlo Park to Oakland was too much for me. It was so ironic that I found a great church in Oakland AFTER moving out of Oakland.

So Menlo Park Presbyterian Church had a young adults service called "The Sanctuary." I went to their newcomers dinner and that was where some of the culture shock came from. It was also a lesson for me that it's not about church, but also economics of church location that can change the culture of a church. We were doing an icebreaker where we introduced ourselves' and stated what was our favorite vacation and why. When this young coed from Stanford introduced herself, "um hi, I'm _____, so yeah, my favorite vacation, yeah, so lets see, was it the second time or the third time I went to Greece! Oh yeah! So yeah, my name is ______, and my favorite vacation was during my third trip to Greece because daddy actually let me take FIRST CLASS instead of THAT Business Class, and he paid for EVERYTHING! So yeah!" That was the last time I went to that service.

In the beginning of 2006, I moved from Menlo Park to South San Francisco (aka "South City) I was introduced to two churches two blocks from each other: GRX and Cornerstone. Honestly, I wasn't a fit at either one of those churches, but I joined a small group in GRX and attended services at Cornerstone. The thing about Cornerstone was that the production quality matched that of Crosswinds: music, theatrical, and the quality of the speakers. What was different was unlike Crosswinds, you can go there on a regular basis for over a year and still remain anonymous. The main pastor reminded me of David Schwimmer from Friends. Like Crosswinds, I auditioned for the drama department for Cornerstone. They had a "surplus" of talent already. As for my small group with GRX, I left after one of the female group member, (we met as a main group, the split according to gender afterwards) made a racist comment and I called her out on it only to have other group members reprimand me for my reaction.

I was going to Southeast Asia 2-3 times a year from 2005 to now. My main stops on those trips was Singapore. I had a friend there of over 13 years now whom I refer to as "Singapore Sis." She is very adamant about her Christian faith, and we'd gotten into some heated emotional debates over the years. It's no surprise that during my visits to Singapore, she insisted that I would attend her church. In Asia, when it comes to church, "big is better." So it's a status thing for a church to be large enough to accommodate 3000-5000 attenders per service. In Singapore, having your church service at either The Expo or Suntec Centre is a status thing. There's no other way to connect with people unless you join a small group or their term is "cell group." After Venture, MBCC, and All Nations, I did not feel comfortable with the worship culture in Singapore. I've actually contemplated a church plant there modeled after Venture. I explained that to S'pore Sis who thought of it was a "silly idea." That created another argument as I said some things about her pastor addressing himself as "Apostle," and how he tours a magic show.

One thing about a specific service I attended at the Expo. It wasn't the church my S'pore Sis belonged to, it was the other mega-church that rented the Expo. Another friend of mine invited me to attend and I was curious enough to go. During that service they had a guest speaker from the States. On the seats were envelopes and the guest speaker explained that the envelope was provided for to separate those who want to be blessed and those who "choose" to be financially "cursed." Not only did he blatantly state that those who put nothing in the envelope would be financially cursed, but those who didn't place the "minimal" dollar amount would still NOT be blessed. At the conclusion of service, I wanted to talk to the pastor more about what I heard, but I was actually physically pushed and shoved by the pastor's bodyguards. I spend my Sundays in Singapore just doing a nature stroll nowadays when I'm there.

For a brief moment in 2006, I made a public renouncement of faith. In fact while in Singapore during Thanksgiving 2006, I took a Christmas picture that I sent out to everyone via email and MySpace. (I wasn't on Facebook yet) I was in front of a large Christmas tree in shorts, tank, and flipflops flipping two birds. I got an agent in Singapore so I was leaving the States or so I thought. My bird flipping was my "goodbye" message to everyone. Then 10 days before Christmas, I was rushed to the hospital in San Jose. My left hand was mysteriously swollen to the size of a baseball glove. I had surgery done on the 18th of December, and was scheduled for amputation on the 24th. (Yes, Christmas Eve) I eventually gave in and contacted all of those whom I met over the years in church to pray for a miracle.

Mel and Nes were two young ladies I met at Venture. They actually were members of another church in Oakland, but since Venture met in the evenings, they were able to attend Venture regularly. When I contacted them from the hospital, they were the first ones to drop everything and actually showed up to the hospital. They asked me what the situation was, and I explained to them that I'm scheduled to have my hand amputated. Mel looked at me directly in the eyes and said, as long as they do what they came to do, I'm going to walk out of the hospital the next day with my hand intact. What they came to do was not only pray, but they brought w/them oil that their pastor prayed over to pour into my left hand. The next day which was a Monday, I left the hospital with my hand intact.

I kept attending Cornerstone from 2006 to the end of 2007. I received an invite through a Meetup group for a new church called the Journey. And I was off to a new spiritual journey.

The Faith Entry Pt 4: Winds Continue to Change

My ongoing friendship with Peter continued to grow as well as my contact with Dr Dave. They invited me to be on the planning group for a new church plant. I met Peter during the first time Crosswinds did the church plant for the young adults. They wanted my take on what worked and what didn't work during the first go-round. At that time living with Ms B in San Francisco, I spent many commutes from SF to Dublin much to Ms B's dismay.

Finally the church plant came to fruition, and Venture (the new name of the church service) came to be. This church process was very much collaborative effort from a group of very diverse people. We got to reincorporate the "stations" again, adding a "self-service communion station." It was purposely placed next to the "prayer/meditation corner." What was also created was a "community funds" offering dish. That was a "givers gain, pay it forward" type of offering basket. The premise was to take whatever cash was there, and when the time came and you had something to offer, replace it at a future time. That "community funds" was covering my commute back and forth from SF to Dublin.

Venture was a collaborative well-oiled machine ran by Dr Dave, Dave 2, Peter, and Miss Wall. The worship leader name was also Dave, so we'd joke about how its advantageous it is to work in Venture is by changing the name to "Dave." To avoid confusion, we simply referred to the worship leader as "Mots" which was an abbreviation of his last name. It almost came to a halt on my part one Christmas week.

The first Christmas Venture service came without a hitch. No, this wasn't one of those Christmas pageant type of services. It was more like any other services of Venture had there wasn't a Christmas. It just incorporated the Christmas message from the parent church service. Dave 2 decided to utilize some "Christmas humor" as a part of the festivities. One of which was an excerpt from "A Christmas Story," during the final scene where the family's Christmas dinner was ruined so they had no choice but to dine at a Chinese restaurant. The waiters with the fake Chinese accent butchers the Christmas Carols they're attempting to sing. The members of Venture was cracking up at the scene. I left dejected and alienated.

I sent the pastoral staff of Crosswinds the angriest letter via email as a "Christmas gift."

Dave 2 sent me the most humbled reply. He acknowledged the hurt and anger I expressed and asked for forgiveness. He also offered an "open door" invitation to me to give feedback on Venture to avoid future incidents. Peter and I met for our usual lunch and apologized to me as well. I was very cultured shocked. When a hurtful prank was done to me by my study group at Salvation Army, the pastoral staff not only did not come to my defense, they actually sided with the group because at that time I was not a member in good standing. Here was two pastors asking ME for forgiveness. Not only did I forgave them, I took it a step further. When Venture announced that they would hold their own baptism service, I came forward as one to be baptized. While the majority of those being baptized at Venture wanted Dr Dave, I thought it was appropriate that Peter who took care about 90% of the lunches, listened, talked, being patient with my cynicism was the most appropriate person to perform the baptism. So on January 18, 2004 I was one of the members of the Venture inaugural baptism.

Life was good at Venture in 2004. That was until a pastoral search committee from a church called Riverbend based in Austin Texas came to visit the Wednesday night service. They liked Dr Dave so much, they wanted him to take over for their retiring senior pastor. Dr Dave countered with a condition that he wanted a group of handpicked staff members from Crosswinds to join him. Among them was Dave 2 and Peter along with their respected families. The announcement to Crosswinds and Venture came about in the fall of 2004, around the first anniversary of Venture. At that point I had my own personal concerns to deal with: I had officially split from Ms B and had moved from SF back to my mother's in Oakland. That was appropriate timing considering we learned that my mom had cancer. The transition for them to Austin was to take place in the summer of 2005.

That transition experienced some rough waters when the programming director of Crosswinds was unexpectedly killed while serving as a missionary in Africa. The overall mood in both Crosswinds and Venture was a devastated state of shock and disbelief. One thing I remembered clearly was one of the final gestures during his memorial service: They set up a director's chair in the middle of the stage, and asked that anyone who worked w/him during any of the production or was touched by any of his productions to place a flower on the chair. At the end of that, I was amazed by the amount of flowers covering the chair. I determined for myself that that was the kind of spiritual legacy I wanted to leave at the end of my earthy journey. Yes, I did place a flower on the chair too as I remembered fondly those moments I butchered his monologues on stage during church services.

On Father's Day June 19, 2005 (less than a month after the programing director's service) while on the first day of my first feature film shoot as one of the main characters, my mother breathed her last earthly breath. Later at the end of June, my friend and mentor Peter moved his family to Austin. I also received my acceptance letter to Fuller Theological Seminary.

The Faith Entry Pt 3: Winds of Changes

So in the period of the new Millennium, I was once again an undergrad student having been kicked out of San Francisco State some 5 years earlier for academic probation. (Something like a 1.8 GPA) Cal State Hayward was either a radically different environment or I simply went there with a changed attitude on approaching academics. Maybe it was a combination of both. One major difference was that while a student at SF State, I along with this homeless political activist street entertainer named Stoney would harass the various student Christian organizations such as Campus Crusade, Asian Am Christian Fellowship and the likes. At Hayward, I joined Campus Crusade. It wasn't like this was my first Christian exposure to anything outside of SA, I've been attending Crosswind's Wednesday evening services at that point, and I'd visit with another group sponsored by AACF. Campus Crusade was one of the first places where "we'd agree to disagree."

At the same time, Crosswinds began their "church plant." It was an evening, candlelight acoustic music aimed for the younger generation. Instead of a full production, it was scaled back. Instead of pews or seats, it was setup like a cozy coffee cafe. Instead of former prayers, there were "self-expression prayer stations." They had a meditation corner, a painting station, a journal station, and spots for other forms of self-expression. I loved it. I also loved how the worship leader would simply say, "hey, we just ask for you to be yourself like God wants you to be. We're going to do a few songs, so if you feel like standing up and sing, go right up, if you feel like sitting, you can just sit and listen, heck you can lie down and nap at the meditation corner, I won't be offended!" The funny part was that, I'd still look over my shoulders to see if I was going to be reprimanded for "doing it wrong." It took awhile for me to get accustomed to this style of worship. It was unfortunate that this particular worship service lasted no more than nine months of that. Because of the "come as you are, do what you want" approach, everyone did including NOT tithing and doing offering. That meant the basic expenses weren't met. At that point, there was no going back. I had a real opportunity to attend a worship service where I was actually comfortable being in my own skin.

I completed my B.A. in Ethnic Studies from CSU HAYWARD (NO, NOT East Bay!) at the end of 2000. I was working different temp assignments and pursuing acting projects at the same time. I was also keeping in contact with someone who was an Asian American Studies major at SF State, and I was spending time with another acting collaborator whom I met through a Christian theatrical organization.

Here's a quick note about the Christian theatrical organization. I was introduced to the drama coordinator at Crosswinds and he provided information on this organization which was having a national convention and open general auditions in Oakland. At that time I was having second thoughts about my dreams and pursuit of being an actor. So I went to this audition with the mindset: "God, I'm not sure about the direction I need to take on this acting. So if I don't get one single callback, I know to no longer pursue this thing called acting." I ended up getting THREE callbacks. So you'd think I'd figured it out right? NOOOOOO. I was angry and confused about it. "What the hell does THREE mean?"

So going back to the "talking" stages. I was single since 1999. Dating here and there but no one exclusively. The SF State student, and the one whom I was doing a lot of collaborations with were "just friends." The thing about the young lady whom I was "collaborating" with was that she was the FIRST person whom I was interested in and who was a regular church attender. In fact thanks to her, I spent most of my summer Sundays at a church in the Bayview's Hunter's point area. That church gave me a reference to what it's like to use the term "church family" and actually mean it. There was a warmness to receiving a hug from the pastor's mother as I hear, "ooooooh my Baby's here. How's my Baby doin?" So that summer of 2001 was spent more with my "fellow collaborator" since my "fellow academic sister" was in China furthering her studies. Then the one who I was "collaborating" leaves for a whirlwind trip to Europe, and "Li'l Sis" returns from China. (She'd called me "Big Bro") At that point, I was cast in my first production performing double duties as the father of one of the main characters and as assistant director. Suddenly at the snap of the finger, our lives changed like that.

Tech week is also nicknamed "hell week" for those who are familiar with stage productions. With less than a week before our scheduled opening night, I awoke with a frantic phone call from the director. It seems that we were "under attack" and BART had shut down as a precautionary. He wasn't sure if the bridges would be opened or not. Bottom line was that we would have "business as usual" that night, and when our rehearsals begin later that evening, he will create a "World Trade Center discussion-Free zone" Yup, it was 9-11.

People tend to question God's existence in the wake of a tragedy. My academic "Li'l sis" was no exception. Her friends attend church. Her boyfriend at that time was in the same Chinese Christian Union sports league that I used to play softball for. Yet she was "not a church person." She called me instead of her bf and asked me about "church." I took her to Crosswinds. I swear, that first Sunday after 9-11 church attendance in the States must've exceeded Christmas AND Easter attendance records put together. It was after that church service "Sis" started asking me questions about my faith. It was also when she revealed to me she no longer was with her bf for various reason and how she no longer was interested in calling me "Big Bro." So from this point, "Li'l Sis" will now be referred to as "Ms. B"

Shortly afterwards, I found myself "staying" in San Francisco with 80% of my stuff at Ms B's home. It was also a time of "exploring" different churches in San Francisco since Crosswinds was so far away. (Attending Crosswinds on Wednesdays still existed as it gave me an opportunity to visit my mom in the East Bay and attend service afterwards) We even visited The Salvation Army Asian Am Corps.

Big mistake.

One of my past ServiceCorps teammates was engaged at that time. When she met Ms B, she expressed her DISS-approval of her. She went on and on about how it's God's will that we should not be together and how "unequally yoked" we were. She also thought it was "God's provision" that she was there for that service since she been attending her husband-to-be's church on a regular basis since the engagement. Finally she asked if she could "pray" for us. Since this was church, she did. Included in the prayer was for God to "find a way for us to not be together." On top of everything else, the instructor's wife confronted me on how I was "a withering tree not bearing fruit." She had to tell me that cause she "still loved me."

So being the internet savvy couple that we were, we looked online to find a new church to check out. When we saw the website to Mission Bay Community Church or MBCC, curiosity got the best of us. We ended up in some dot com office building near the recently built Pacific Bell (not ATT) Park. It was like a funky cafe you'd find out in the Mission District. We didn't realize we were talking to the pastor while getting our coffee until service began and he came up. Afterwards he talked to us some more and we met his wife and two daughters. Like Ms B, Bruce also received a BA in Asian American Studies from SF State which Ms B could relate to. So for a certain period, Ms B and I would rotate visits between Crosswinds and MBCC...that is when Ms B was interested in going to church. Otherwise I'd trek there solo.

At Crosswinds, I was lucky enough to get acquainted with the pastoral staff through helping out at a couple of their drama presentations. The teaching pastor, or "Dr Dave" as he was known, the business executive pastor Peter and I would often meet and talk about not just the spirit stuff, but life in general. Dr Dave, a Dallas transplant would often chastise me for being such a Raider die-hard. Peter and I would discuss Hapa issues, coming from the East Bay area, and our respected encounter with The Church of Christ.

The Church of Christ was an organization that's been documented within the Christian circles as being more of a "cult" rather than an actual denomination. There is a denomination with the same name, and this particular group I'm referring to, split from the main denomination. Anyhow around the time I began my new commitment to my Christian trek with my second go-round with The Salvation Army, one of my friend from community college contacted me out of the blue asking me if I was interested in meeting new people from his fellowship. I accepted the invitation, but eventually the encounters gotten really weird and "hard-sell." Eventually my friend and I went in different directions with my friend's last words to me was "I'm sorry you and your Salvation Army are going to Hell." Kinda makes me wonder what kind of 24 Hour Fitness sales people those folks from Church of Christ would make. ("OK, you can accept this offer of the 879 for three years contract today, or your glutton body will be condemned to Hell") What I later learned was that CoC was structured in a similar manner as most MLM companies. Instead of having an "upline" within an MLM, the CoC had "disciplers." Hence, the "hard sell" tactics utilized. BTW, my last words to my friend after he condemned me and The Salvation Army to Hell was, "I'll be sure to say 'hi' to your mother when I get there." I actually documented my encounter with my friend as a stage play. Study Buddy was workshop'd by the Asian American Theater Company's NewWorks Incubator in 2004. The feedback after the workshop was negative as the evaluators couldn't believe such an absurd interaction had taken place.

I started a temp assignment in the Pleasanton/Dublin area, so my regular lunches with Peter increased. I was able to meet a lot of the core contributors of Crosswind during that time. Peter at that time had two young sons with another one on the way. I felt safe to take Ms B there, and up to a certain point, she felt safe going there with me til it came crashing down...literally.

We were en route to the Mother's Day worship service one Sunday afternoon when we were rear-ended by a speeding pickup truck. Our car flew forward and hit the car in front of us. The driver of the truck, jumped out, shouted at us, and sped away. We checked with the passengers of the car in front of us and it turned out to be other folks from Crosswinds. The police came took a report and did an investigation. Later we learned of the identity of the driver of the truck: a lady who was dedicating her older child for the Mother's Day dedication service and because she was running late, she wouldn't stop for us. Upon learning that we reported the accident to the police, she fled as soon as service was over, and no longer attended church. Ms B wasn't so lucky. She ended up with two herniated discs on her spine and a big question mark on who God is and whether or not S/He really existed based on her experiences. Eventually my involvement with church became a bigger issue with her and we eventually went our separate ways several years after the accident.

The Faith Entry Pt 2: The Days of S.A.

I wish I could say that I returned to The Salvation Army on a positive note. I didn't. I didn't really return to The Chinatown Corps. At that point, the English-speaking Asian American Worship Service that I had attended years prior split and became their own self running full time Corps. (In Salvation Army term, a "Corps" is equivalent to a "church") So I went there, and to my surprise, a lot of folks recognized me and welcomed me back. I just arrived at the wrong time.

Turned out, a short time after The Asian American Corps weened away from the San Francisco Chinatown Corps, a new group of attenders began to show up. For those who grew up in the SF Chinatown Corps, this new group was taking over too much and too quickly for their taste. So for most of the folks who welcomed me back, they were leaving one by one. Meanwhile, I was making myself acquainted with those from the newer group. In less than six months, the original group I was used to spending time with was no longer attending there. I still made new friends there.

A group of us young single twenty-something men in the process of being mentored by the main Sunday School teacher. It was my direct personal experience with this teacher whom I learned a very valuable lesson on spirituality. In fact, I would have to say that I wouldn't be typing this had I not learned from my experience with him. It is this: NEVER let anyone tell you what God says. NEVER let anyone or anything else take the lead on the path to God. I'm sad to say that this teacher was tunnel vision and blindsided by a particular movement called The Promise Keepers. His mentoring attitude was predicated on your recent (if you're a man) participation to the conference. It was sad to see someone in leadership leading people according to what other so-called "authorities" were saying about faith and the Bible. I remembered my first experience on Sunday school when he was adamant that I stay and attend class because he invited a guest speaker on "adoption." Turned out that the guest had no knowledge on the adoption process and was there to speak against abortion. Out of a 50 minute talk, only about 20 seconds addressed the topic of adoption if that. For weeks afterwards, whenever our teacher addressed the topic of abortion, he often quoted the guest speaker. "Well, So and So said this, So and So said that." If it wasn't another nationally known pastoral figure he quoted, then it was a book he bought at the Christian book store he regurgitated.

I've had some of the highest and lowest moments of my life while being a member there. Within the first year of my return there, I unexpectedly lost my father. (adoptive) A year after my father's death, I was selected to be a member of the Summer Service Corps program to teach conversational English to students in Hong Kong and China. What was great about that trip: it was 1997 and we were in Hong Kong during the Handover from Britain to China. What was even cooler was the fact that in 1994 during a goal-setting class, I set a goal to be in Hong Kong prior to July 1, 1997. Our Service Corps landed in Hong Kong June 15, 1997. Upon learning that I was sexually active, the pastoral and elders felt disciplinary action was needed upon my return from that trip. I "lost spiritual credibility" (not allowed to publicly share any items from my spiritual journey) for a year. I was officially "just a church attender."

Ironically in all this, the Sunday school instructor insisted on "intense" studying. Everything I did was put under scrutiny. As a member of a martial arts and lion dance team, I was asked to no longer participate in such "ungodly activities." The instructor blamed my status because of my absence from the most recent Promise Keepers conference. My pastor blamed it on the timing of my Bible reading and prayer time. Upon my return to S.A. I read and prayed a half hour before sleep. I was chastised for not doing this in the morning. One of my assignments as a team member of ServiceCorps was to submit essays on my trip to Asia. Most of my submissions were not published. When members (actually it was just one member) played a prank on me for not disclosing to them about the disciplinary actions, I was not allowed to bring it to the attention of the elders nor the pastoral staff and so, nothing was done. I was also ordered to go into "Christian counseling."

Christian counseling was a great lesson for me. Not everything labeled as "Christian" could be that of high quality. Long story short, NEVER go to Minirth Meyers Counseling. Not only were they not effective, but they took offense to my direct assessment that they were ill-prepared to handle issues relevant to me. Specifically the issue of adoption. My counselor, a recovering drug addict would constantly remind me of my ingratitude of my "chosen" parents. He eventually sent me to one of his associates who went off on me during a session because I "abused" her dogs. (I closed the bathroom door to use the bathroom as one of the dog approached the door) She then explained to me after I came out of the bathroom that she believed in "justifiable anger and abuse" stating that if anything were to happen to her dogs...when I asked to see a different counselor after the initial complimentary intake session, the pastor or Corps Officer said no. The reason: No proof of the counselor's Christian background.

Luckily that I was working in Pleasanton the past few years, and a friend invited me to his church's midweek service. Talking about a breath of fresh air. The teaching pastor on Wednesday would reveal his own personal struggles to the congregants and there was no outward judgment from the attenders. Just an identification with him. I felt safe enough to meet some of the younger staff members to let them know of my situation. They said that if I needed to look for a Christian counselor, why not use the counseling services their church had to offer. So I contacted the counseling services there and they immediately...placed me on their wait list! Thus began my long relationship with Dublin's Crosswinds Church.

Once I got off the wait list, I met the counselor. He was open enough to admit that with his training, he was unfamiliar with the severity of adoption issues. He then stated that with "my permission," he could look further into the issue and he could learn from me and possibly be able to help other people with adoption issues. SCORE! About a few months into the sessions, he concluded that my struggles and issue weren't just about what my S.A. elders were concerned about. (Emotional insecurities, "backsliding" tendencies, ect) He felt that my emotional struggles were a result of how I was treated by the S.A. elders. Eventually I was "restored" to "good standing member" shortly after they received a letter from him explaining how my progress was "hindered" by their behavior.

I returned to S.A. in 1995. I served on Service Corps in 1997. Lost "good standing" in 97 and was "restored" in 98. I was introduced to Crosswinds and would attend Wednesday services since the fall of 1996. The counseling with Crosswinds began in 98. In 1999, I registered with Cal State Hayward to finish my undergrad work. It was also in 1999 that my counselor agreed with the career counselor assigned by my job to pursue acting since it was a lifelong dream of mine. Not only did he suggest to follow my dreams, he suggest that I should ween from S.A. I waited until the end of 2000, beginning of 2001 before I sent a "formal" resignation of membership from Salvation Army. Behind my back, the corps officer stated to members of the church in a sarcastic tone, "gee, I sure hope Jarrett finds what he is looking for since he failed to do so in the six years here." I never was able to respond back, but my response upon hearing what was said remains the same. I was simply looking for Jesus and yes, I failed to find Him at his Salvation Army Corps Upon learning of my withdrawal of membership, the Territory Secretary send me an email along the line of:

The Salvation Army requires a higher calling with those more spiritually fit to take to the task of being Salvationist

Turn out that it was confessed that instructor Promise Keeper had his own issues with porn. Never verified whether it was straight or gay porn. Then again, this was a church where I did not have a water baptism, but a declaration signing. One of the items I signed on the declaration was that I would not abuse any "non-prescription" drugs. Hence why there were a lot of "looking the other way" at those corps officers who struggled with prescription drug addictions. According to the signed document, nothing was wrong since those drugs were "prescribed."

Not all my experience with The Salvation Army was negative. There was a period when I was visiting with the Berkeley Corps and connected with a group there. The nature of how most Salvation Armies function is that of a mobile system. It is structured like a military branch. Every year around the month of May is a procedure nicknamed "the move." That's when the higher-up ranks decide to move and re-assign corps officers (pastors) to a new assignment, or let them know they're remaining where they are. I learned that the situation with The Asian American and the SF Chinatown Corps were actually an exception and not the rule. The corps officers remained put there. When I learned that the officers at the Berkeley location were re-assigned, I visited the final service they were serving, and it wasn't a pretty sight seeing and going through the goodbyes. At that point, anytime friends would tell me about their church experience or church splits or church politics, I simply shrug.

So for those of you who wonder why the freakout during Christmas when I hear the bell ringing on the corner for donations, now you know.

05 April, 2011

The Faith Entry Pt 1

This is perhaps the most challenging posting I'm typing. It's not so much of a challenge per se to think this through because I've been thinking about it, it's more of a challenge to actually publicly post my personal opinion, experience, and observation on this heated topic. My observation on how convicted actors' were to their acting system/instructors was simply a "warmup" so to speak. Some actors who read the last entry were a bit offended by what I stated, though most didn't deny what I stated.

So I'm going to wrestle with the topic of God. (Yup, that's a Biblical reference already!) Just fyi: I'm no theologian, pastor, lay leader, or guru. I was a seminary student for a mere 22 days before dropping out. (Hey, at least I could say that I was once a Fuller Seminary student!) Some who read this may not think I have much authority on the topic. No matter. Their credentials are no more of an indication of authority either. The bottom line is that their credentials are not inherently significant. The significance has been created by man, regardless of how often those men "prayed about the topic." And yes, I'm saying men as in the masculine context because the majority of the decision makers on the topic of credentialing faith have been men.

I was "introduced" to God and Jesus at a very young age. When I began kindergarten, my great aunt trekked from Fresno Cali to Oakland Cali and moved in w/my family. My parents had been in and out of the hospital for one medical condition after another. It was also that time when my younger first cousin was born, and it was explained to me then that my parents didn't "have me" in the same fashion that my aunt and uncle "had" my cousin. I was "chosen" by my parents. My great-aunt or "Yee Pau," as my sister and I referred to her, would read her Bible to us kids before going to bed. So while she stayed with us, our family routine was grace before meals, and a Bible story before bedtime. When my parents recovered and my aunt returned to Fresno, that routine gradually phased out.

Several years later in the summertime school break prior to 4th grade, I was "reintroduced to Christ" while being sent to Vacation Bible School. I didn't know it then, but the adoption and rejection issue was a dominant dilemma for this 8 year old especially with all the bullying I had to deal with during school. During one of the closing prayers, the children were asked if anyone was "interested in being born again," and I adamantly raised my hand. At that point in the 4th grade, I'd sneak into my parents medicine cabinet and took a sleeping pill or two. The idea of "being born again" had such appeal. Imagine my disappointment. From that point forward, my common phrase was "F*ckin God." Oh and I eventually stop attending church at some point during the 5th grade. Saturday and Sunday afternoon lion dance practice had priority.

It's not that I never thought about God or anything like that over the years, it just became an afterthought. The majority of my family on my mother's side are Christian based, so family weddings would be in a church setting. Funerals were conducted by church pastors, ect. I've even did the occasional Easter and Christmas pilgrimage. For the most part, in junior and senior high school, the people I tend to clash with the most were those who were known for their devotion to their respected church. My attitude then was if that's who's going to church, I'm not interested in going. Conversely, while other friends of mine were invited to a Friday Fellowship, THEIR sentiment was, "Jarrett, naw not here!" Add to this the study of literature and history which highlighted the hypocrisy of the Church as a whole along with my mantra I created in the 5th grade and you got one cynical person towards faith of any kind.

It's no coincidence that I gravitated towards "recovering Catholics" when it came to dating. Then again in some ways, that was consciously by design on my part. A high school recovering Catholic girl meant easy sex, and that was considered important for the typical 17 year old male.

It wasn't to I was twenty when I was challenge on making any declaration on faith. From the time I was 18, I had this crush on one of my friend's cousin. I'd sound like a bumbling idiot when I was around her. It seemed like I couldn't get a coherent sentence out of myself verbally when she was around. When I was around twenty, I took a course on race relations which covered topics like Malcolm X and The Black Panthers. I became coherent after that. Any opportunity I had was about conspiracy theories and the haves versus the have nots. She became interested in me since my sentences weren't just coherent, but coming from a different angle as compared to other guys who were after her. Suddenly just like that, we began exclusively dating each other. Dream come true for me because I waited over two years for the opportunity. No sooner than it began, she was already taking measures to end it. The reason: she returned from a church retreat, "re-committed to The Lord," and felt that it was no longer right for her to go out with me. I explained to her about my VBS experience, and she countered that it took place so long ago. Finally after a week of being "broken up," she eventually called me for a compromise: Lay off the Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam rhetoric, and join her mom in attending church service. Like a guy who's gaga over someone, I agreed. So I started attending church...with her mom!!! Where was she? Well at that time, she had ongoing "rehearsals" on Sundays. So throughout the entire Salvation Army Chinatown Corps College Fellowship, I was only known as "________'s Boyfriend." So from age twenty to twenty-one, I was regularly attending services and college fellowship. Even after her and I split up, I was still attending services for a few months after the split.

Less than a year afterwards, I began what was going to be a three year relationship with a classmate from College of Alameda. Within that academic year, I became eligible to transfer colleges and I went to San Francisco State. She transferred to Pacific Union College in Angwin. "PUC" was a college ran by the Seventh Day Adventists. She was someone I met from a "religiously mixed" family: her father is Roman Catholic, and her mother is SDA. I didn't have the greatest of impression of SDA's since my SDA friend two years prior borrowed money and never paid it back. The difference between what was taught by Salvation Army versus SDA was that SA was big on the Old Testament military terms, while SDA were very adamant about having worship services take place on a Saturday, and any deviation (ie: Sundays) was considered anti-Christ. To them, any church that wasn't SDA was considered "false and Satanic." Funny because that family had their Christmases separate: mother and kids one service, father separate service. Never was able to figure out whether or not or how they reconciled that difference.

During that time of that relationship, I was in my early 20s and I discovered the drug ecstacy. What that whole experience provided for me was the sense of connection. It didn't matter that the connection was drug-induced or not. It was the connection and the euphoria that I couldn't get enough of. When I wasn't able to access the drug, alcohol was my bad substitute. I bring up the topic of drugs because of one important factor: that sense of connection I received as a result of using drugs was what I was looking for in all my spiritual pursuits. Church talkstalks a good game of "community," but that's all that is: just talk. I bring up the topic of experimenting with drugs and going out to drink because that becomes a factor in my spiritual pursuit.

I went in back-to-back relationships after the young lady with the SDA background. This new relationship was someone whom I'll admit I took as serious as I was capable of taking. Someone whom I really considered marriage with. Of course at age 25, with the excessive partying I wasn't ready for such a responsible endeavor. Also at that time was when I came face-to-face with my biological mother. That experience alone became a reason to increase the alcohol intake. (It wasn't a grand experience lets just say) Long story short, we split up shortly after I met my biological mom. I decided to go back to church, any church.

Thus began my journey with The Salvation Army...(again)