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.

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