06 April, 2011

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.

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