07 July, 2011

In Gratitude Of...Pt 2

I originally thought that my In Gratitude Of was just going to be one blog entry, and then I realized I mainly focused on the 3 instrumental key persons from Crosswinds' Venture. They were key to my spiritual life because I was so picky on selecting who where and when in regards to my baptism. It was almost a 9 year journey from when I re-committed to the Christian dogmas in 1995 to the baptism in 2004. Through those three, I was able to let go mostly of the need to be perfect. It may sound like a "duh" revelation, but on an inner emotional level, it wasn't. When The Salvation Army accused me of holding onto my need to perfect, adoption background and the need to belong as an "excuse to throw myself a pity-party," I gave up at the idea of continuing to follow any sort of Christian dogma and/or tenets. Peter was committed that I identified myself in the "sonship" of the living God, even if I were to walk away from the Christian church.

When I decided to "officially" leave The Salvation Army, that was around the year 2000. I spent five years there stumbling and picking myself back up. After turning in my official resignation, there were rumblings and innuendos thrown at me by the leadership members. 2000 and 2001 were a very challenging period of time. Add to that the need to belong to the CSU Hayward Campus Crusade for Christ chapter, and I was panic-treading on spiritual water.

Once again the silver-lining on those dark clouds were people who were committing in expressing their unconditional love and acceptance towards me.

Prior to my official resignation from The Salvation Army, I actually spent a year away from attending their services and was bouncing around to different church services. Throughout those times I received in the (snail) mail on a semi-regular basis cards from "Aunt Dolly." She was considered to be like the matriarch of the local corps. She was the mother figure for the pastor/corps officer. Her cards were like an open set of arms waiting to hug you, and not surprisingly, arrived at those most crucial times. If I were to stop by and visit a service on occasion, she personally followed-up on her messages to me in person with a hug and a, "I wanted to make sure you got my message, so good to see you." Unfortunately, a post 9-11 visit in the late fall of 2001 was the last time I saw her; I did not return to Asian American Corps until they had a memorial service in her honor in 2002.

In the summer of 2001, Crosswinds Church held an acting/improvisational workshop. It was my 2nd year of pursuing acting on a full-time basis, and an opportunity to "practice" my improv skills after graduating from Hayward back in 2000. Dan and Faith Alpher was this couple who were very seasoned in stage and film. Dan was the drama director for Crosswinds and decided to do this outreach. Turned out it wasn't really a workshop, but a way for them to "audition" new talent for the church's drama productions. I had the honor to work with them on three occasions. It wasn't funny then, its pretty funny now. My first live in front of the congregation performance (first production working w/them was an improvised film short) they handed me this single-spaced page and a half script. I looked at Dan and said, "I have to memorize THIS BY WHEN???" Long story short, at that time my specialty was short-form improvisation. Yup, butchered the script in front of everyone.

Dan encouraged me to attend a theater conference for actors with a Christian background. Coincidentally enough, CITA (Christians in Theatre Arts) was hosting their North American conference in Oakland that year. At that point I was very burnt out on the audition process. I did not have enough professional experience to get an agent, I was not landing roles, and friends/family/foes kept on pestering me that I was "not good-looking enough" to be taken seriously. After two years of going to many auditions posted on Craigslist, I was ready to just pursue work in the corporate sector. At the conference, the affiliated theaters were holding a general audition. I submitted for a slot, did my audition, and waited. After the auditions were held, we were to wait for two hours to see if we were selected for callbacks. I made a quick prayer to God for a message on whether or not to continue acting. If I received no callbacks, I were to hang it up for good and pursue something else. When the callback list were posted, I saw that I was on three callback lists.

While interacting with some of the other actors, I was asked pretty ignorant and sometimes racist questions. "Did learning theater helped you learn English better?" "What kind of acting schools were legal in China?" At that point, Vanessa chimed in on my behalf. She worked as one of the actors for the Kaiser Permanente Educational Theater program, grew up in Sacramento, and was the only other performer of color present at the conference besides myself. (In other words, there were only 2 actors present at the conference of a couple-hundred attendees who were NOT of Caucasian descent, and having to deal with the racist, ignorant artistic directors who insisted on casting myself and her as 1: the villian/villianness; and/or 2: those who the missionaries were reaching out to and were too "heathen" to accept the Gospel while 3: speak with an accent) We exchanged contact info, kept in touch with each other throughout the summer of 2001. She invited me to her church located in the Bayview/Hunter's Point district of San Francisco. It was there where I met Pastor Clarence Lewis, his wife "Sister Kelly," and his mother, "Mother Lewis." What I appreciated about Pastor Lewis was his transparency. He'd openly share tidbits about his escapades with his wife, (you could tell they were totally in love with each other; and not in graphic details) and was able to use it as reference on spiritual connections. Much more, it made sense. Whenever I came across "Mother Lewis," I was always greeted with a warm embrace followed by a "how's maahhhh BAYYYYBE doin?"

Towards the closing of summer, Vanessa was getting ready for a trip to Europe and her church was getting ready for their first anniversary as a church. Pastor Lewis makes an announcement that Sunday before Vanessa's departure about their anniversary banquet. Before he had the congregation pray for Vanessa's traveling safety, he called me out in front of the church: "Now Jarrett, I know Vanessa is not going to be here when we have the banquet, but I want YOU here, cause you's family." And in true fashion of a Black church, there were echos of affirmations from the other members, "yup, yup, you's family, Jarrett. Amen." I attended that banquet and gained at least 12 pounds that evening.

I no longer call myself a "Christian" on my Facebook profile. To me, the term "Christian" is nothing more than a label that has nothing to do with spirituality. Under the "Religious Beliefs" on my profile, I entered "Imago Dei in Everyone." "Imago Dei" is Latin for "Image of God." I'm at a point where spirituality to me is finding that God and/or Divinity in others. When Peter kept drilling me on the identity of the "Sonship of God," that's exactly what Imago Dei is about.

Whose face did I see when I read Aunt Dolly's cards? Or when Dan was directing me in a church performance? Or when arguing back and forth on theology, race relations, and theatrical theory? Or when I'm "pigging" out on soul food during a church anniversary?

It was God's, and I'm very thankful that God showed up all those times and will continue to do so whenever I look into anyone and everyone.

01 July, 2011

In Gratitude Of...

With the re-organization of my blogs, I seem to have focused on my religious journey in such a way that I was somehow or somewhat victimized by the ungodly behavior of those whom I attended church service with over the years. Yet over the years, I kept on coming back and found a way and a reason to attend (pun intended) religiously. There were reasons or little things that occurred over the years that caused me to look back and say to myself, "there IS a Loving God out there."

Enough of the focus on the bad folks. It would be totally insane for me to attend church week-in and week-out over the course of 16 consecutive years if it were all 100% negative. This may or may not be edited in the near future since I will be using real names to single out my "heroes and mentors."

I call these three the "Venture Triplets" because they were the key leadership of the Crosswinds start-up plant called Venture in 2003-2006. They consisted of the "Two Daves," (Haney and Sunde) and my friend and mentor Peter Sleeper. David Haney or "Dr Dave," was the Sr Teaching Pastor of Crosswinds Church in Dublin, CA who was passionate and able to teach Biblical applications to the younger generation. Dave Sunde was a very aware Gen-X'r who served in the college and young adults ministry, while Peter served as Executive Business Pastor.

During the inaugural Christmas Venture service Dave Sunde attempted to present a "youthful hip humorous" Christmas service by deciding to close the service with the closing scene from A Christmas Story. It was the scene in the Chinese restaurant. There were a handful of attenders being Asian descent; I was one of them. Peter, with a Hapa background, closed out the benediction with a snipe, "am I supposed to be HALF offended?" I was stunned and I initially felt displaced from the entire group. I sent Peter a voicemail explaining that I'm "100% offended," then I sent an email to the entire leadership staff expressing my sentiments.

I received a response I did not expect. Dave Sunde responded on behalf of the entire group with a very heartfelt, sincere and repentant apology. He also acknowledged that I did not attend the following service a week after, and wanted me to return to the next service. When I did returned to the following service, he went out of the way to find me and to apologize in person face-to-face.

For the 3 years that we met regularly for lunch, Peter would time and time again emphasized on my identity as God's loved and accepted child, and the concept of Grace. The unmet expectations I failed to fulfill and the corresponding judgment that I received from my prior church caused me to view myself as "less than." Those three years, I was in desperation for Grace. So when Peter and I met for our regular lunch during the week when I did not attend Venture service following Christmas, he simply said something to me:

"Jarrett, remember all you did during the past three years to prove to yourself that no matter what you did, you were still loved? That's Grace. However, in order for you to experience the fullness of Grace, you have to learn to give it in addition to receive it."

He was right.

I did and said some pretty rotten things over those three years just to test the boundaries of how I related to God. When I told Peter, he never flinched, never judged, just kept reminding me who I am and how much I'm loved. It was my turn to pass on that Grace.

When Dave Sunde approached me those two services after Christmas, I was able to look at him with no grudge at all. It was freeing. It was liberating and I felt literally and physically light. That Sunday Service happened to be the beginning of 2004, so the weekly Venture announcement included that Venture would have their first baptism service in the following two weeks. I sent an email to the entire Venture leadership group to put closure to the Christmas incident, and as a gesture of true forgiveness and connection on my part, I asked if I could be one of the first baptism member.

It was only appropriate that I had Peter perform my baptism. When I was baptized, I choose my favorite shirt that had a lot of holes as a result of wear and tear. (I had a "hole-ly" shirt on for baptism, get it?) It was my favorite shirt that I couldn't let go of. I told the church, I wore that shirt as a symbolism that like I was unable to "let go" of my shirt regardless the condition, likewise God wouldn't let go of me regardless of what I done.

In the summer of 2005 on Father's Day morning, my mother passed away. That summer of '05 were a lot of major changes including the Venture Triplet's move to Austin Texas. Yes, a part of me felt jilted by God that my church support system was uprooted at a "bad time," but I survived it after all. I've visited Austin twice since making sure that the Triplets do what they do best: teaching everyone they come across the Imago Dei that exists within them. My favorite message from Dr Dave was titled, "Shit Happens." (yes, that was the actual unedited title at church!)