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!)

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