06 April, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jarrett. Thanks for sharing. I always think about that time you told me your pastor blamed your spiritual struggles on your prayer timing. Crazy how words can have such an ugly effect because I even find myself worrying if I do my study too late in the day. I am realizing how legalistic things can be. I hope I did not ever make your journey more difficult, and if I did, I am sorry.