01 September, 2012

The Secrets of The Salvation Army

For a good 7 years of my life, I was a part of The Salvation Army Asian American Corps in San Francisco, California.  Church, God, and Christ became a center or SUPPOSEDLY became a center of my life during that time.  I've blogged in the past about my time with them on my original Faith Entry.

Let's face it, for the most part all families are dysfunctional.  (Best case scenario: quirky; worse case: criminally dysfunctional) This church family is no different.  It's just that there's no "father/mother" dynamic, but more of a "pastor/pastor" one in place.  (One of the requirements of The Salvation Army pastors aka "Corps Officers" is that both parties to the marriage must enter the ministry.  In other words, if a husband felt a "calling," the wife must enter ministry training too along with him.  It's somewhat progressive in a sense cause the wife does have equal title and position, but not progressive because what if the wife felt another occupation was her calling?  Refer to this cause I'm going to go back to this.)

I've already shared a lot of the criticism I received from various key members of this organization on the aforementioned blog entry,  and some of their "quirks," but it seems like the quirks are ever expanding.

When I "officially" left at the end of 2001, there were a lot of whispers and speculation of where I was going to end up.  I left a message on the end of my letter acknowledging them as my "1st church family," and that I leave "with no ill-will towards anyone."  When I received a message from the Territorial Director of Program that I "fell short of the higher standard of Christ," I suspected that though I share no ill-will, the opposite may not be true.  That was confirmed when I learned that I was a center topic of discussion shortly after my departure amongst my previous study group.  Now of course my study group was going to discuss my departure, it's just that the added twist was the attendance of the Corps Officers themselves.  That's when I learned that the officer commented with a sarcastic tone that he "hopes I find what I'm looking for."

Now that I've been studying and learning about New Thought Practical Christianity, I feel a breath of fresh air and a sense of freedom, however I also am aware that there still lies an emotional bondage I developed as a result of my time with SA.  Slowly and surely, those layers are thankfully coming off.  Gone is the need to inquire about whether or not a business person is a Christian before conducting a transaction with them.  In fact I recall that it was "a good idea" to use those who advertise on KFAX. (A Christian talk show station) So after following suit I learned the hard way that just because a business declares their Christian belief, that doesn't necessarily means their business practices are "Christ-like." 

Now another aspect of The Salvation Army is their propensity to assign the corps officers to different assignments.  They nickname this procedure as "the move."  This is when around the month of May corps officers learn if they're going to be re-assigned to another location.  Having visited a corps with several different officers in charge within a seven year period, one should not be surprised at the general surface small talk, lack of a connection mentality amongst the congregants.  Having visited a "final service" of a corps officer who was being "moved," what I witness was not an encouraging sight.

When a corps officer couple went through a divorce, the husband adamantly wanted to remain as the corps officer.  Because of the divorce, not only did he lose his position, he lost his other benefits as well.  It was believed that they were not "truly called" as corps officer since they could not hold their marriage.  Eventually the Army "rehired" the husband as an "Envoy" (not full benefits as an officer) since they were short-handed finding officers.

I also shared an experience where I was openly criticized about my "quiet time."  That's a time which consist of anywhere between 10 minutes to up to 120 minutes of Bible reading/studying and personal prayer time.  Upon my return and learning about "quiet time," I often closed my day before bedtime.  After an incident involving myself, I was accused of not having a "quiet time" otherwise the incident wouldn't have occurred.  I was then grilled on what I did and how I performed my "quiet time."  When they learned that I did so at the end of the day, they concluded that the incident occurred because I did not conduct that time in the morning.  Eventually my quiet times became less and less.

Our Sunday school instructor was the brother in law of the then corps officers.  He often interject his opinion on how "sinful" it was to not honor the boycott of Disney.  (This was during the Ellen De Generes controversy) Ironically enough, The Salvation Army was sponsoring a Salvation Army Day at Disneyland.  He was also the same one who linked any struggle that the male congregants experienced to whether or not they attended an annual event called The Promise Keepers.  The Promise Keepers was an all male Christian outdoor rally.  If they struggled and did not attend, that's where the problem lies.  If they struggled and did attend, they needed to make a commitment to register for the next one.  It should not be surprising that one of the number one "struggle" within those who attended regularly were sexual and pornographic in nature.  That aspect was so repressed so deep. Sadly, the single male members were singled out or "profiled" as being the highest "at risk" for such struggles. 

When I was "baptized" into the Corps, it was really a "swearing-in" and a document signing ceremony.  There was no water involved.  The document itself included The Salvation Army's Articles of Faith.  It also included a list of "I commit to..."  One of them included an "I commit to abstaining from smoking, alcoholic beverage, and non-prescription drug consumption."  So based on that declaration of commitment, drug-addiction within The Salvation Army is avoided right?  Well, remember the key word(s) here are "NON-PRESCRIPTION" drug use.  There's no problem as long as the doctor makes a prescription.  So even though there were incidents of Corps officers who were abusing their prescription pain-killers, there was technically no problem since the doctor prescribed them.

Lastly, as a member of the Summer Service Corps program, I came and met a number of those who were openly recruited to become Corps officers in training.  I'll admit even I once considered the possibility.  Let me explain what Summer Service Corps is.  During summer academic break, college age and young adults are recruited for a 6-8 week program to serve on behalf of The Salvation Army in a ministry, in most cases overseas.  It's basically a summer mission.  It's also a way to recruit for new corps officers.  A territory would send 4-6 teams to different assignments.  All teams report to the Territory center for orientation.  (In my case, we were part of the Western Territory, located in Palos Verdes, California)  I met quite a few people during that summer (1997)  I even reconnected with some of them via Facebook in the past few years.  Recently I learned that one of them whom I met through the orientation and the "debriefing session" (we served on different assigned teams) was suffering from substance abuse and suicidal tendency.  Upon further inquiry, this person suffered from PTSS that was incurred during her assignment when we served in 97.  The traumatic event she encountered was coming upon the levels of abuse the officer to whom she reported to during her assignment was committing.  (Physical, sexual, and emotional)  I don't know if she personally received that abuse or was a witness to it.  If you think that the Catholic Church was guilty of scandals, then I'm sure The Salvation Army comes a very close second.

So why letting all of this come out now?  Part of it is simply "housecleaning" for me.  Tired of keeping all of this inside and not moving forward.  Another reason is because of recent events coming to light.  One of the former members whom I maintained contact with over the years was allegedly involved in a criminal investigation and mysteriously disappeared. 

In dealing with the emotional abuse that I tolerated from this organization during my 7 years with them, I accept my responsibility of my part in it.  As an institution who's public image is based on supposed "Christian qualities" and public perception, it's time to clean up and take a closer look in the mirror before condemning others.  It's not so easy to practice what you preach after all.  Stop sweeping the dirt under the rug and pretend that the dirt doesn't exist.  When I spent time with the Territory Program Director back in '97, I was surprised and baffled when he mentioned to me of all the pending lawsuits against them.

Now I'm not as surprised.


10 July, 2012

My Confession

Today is July 10, 2012 at 6am PST.  Normally I'm asleep until 9am after going to bed around 2 or 3am.  I awoke at 4:48am this morning after going to bed around 2:30am.  In other words, I barely had about 2 hours of sleep. 

Since 1999, I pursued acting on every possible level: from audition notices on Backstage West, to Craigslist, to CSU Hayward Theater department and everything in-between.  I did not call myself as a "professional actor" until I was actually paid for my performance on some commercial karaoke videos in 2001.  I was cast in my 1st local commercial at the end of 2003, and my first lead role on a stage production in 2004.  I "peaked" when I was cast as one of the leads on the independent film So Beauty.  That was in 2005.  During the filming, my mom passed away literally 20 minutes before call time.  Since that point, I've struggled with ease and confidence on productions, auditions, even promotional events.  Though I landed an agent based out of the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010, nothing had been handed to me easily. 

On a personal level, my last relationship ended in the summer of 2004, and I went on my first date since that summer in July 2006.  It didn't go too well.  I dated again in the spring of 2007, and once again, it didn't go too well.  It was disastrous enough that I sought out a personal development coach.  I attended one of his retreats during my birthday week in the end of August.  That was the start of my personal development journey. 

In March 2008, I took The Basic Seminar, offered from PSI Seminars.  That course enabled me to piece together my acting training, the personal development course I took in 2007, the sales and personal development courses I took during my 1st stint as a college student during the 1990s, and my church experience.  I took all the following advanced courses offered by them.  One of the unique benefits as a graduate is the opportunity to re-attend the Basic course at no charge, so I was able to review the elements of the class up to the present day.  In the fall, PSI offers an advance course/convention called Principia where guest speakers are invited to teach.  I attended the event in 2008, 09, 10, and 2011.

More recently in 2011, I made a spiritual transition of leaving the more mainstream evangelical form of Christianity and embraced what is considered "New Thought," which has been labeled as "Practical Christianity," "Spiritual," "Science of Mind," "Metaphysics Christianity," "Religious Science," "Unity" "Truth." 

Yet, I have a confession to make. 

With all that experience and new insights and achievements over the past 5 years, there is still an inner struggle I deal with day in and day out. 

My "I AM" statement.

Personal development and New Thought really has an overlapping concept of the "I AM" theory.  Not only is it a foundational spiritual statement.  (In the Bible, God's "name" is Hebrew form of "I AM")  In other words, an "I AM" statement is basically a self declaration belief about ourselves, and our concept of God simultaneously.  So when I say, "I AM _____," I'm saying that I am this, AND my concept/belief about God (Divine, Universe, Infinite Intelligence, Allah, ect) is this. 

An "I AM" statement can be empowering or it can be limiting. 

My "I AM" statement(s) falls in the "latter" category. 

In 1999, Crosswinds Church began a "post-modern, college, young career/family" ministry called "The Sanctuary."  It was an evening service aimed for young adults and "the young at heart."  That's when I befriended Peter Sleeper, who was the newly hired Executive Pastor of Crosswinds.  He and I met on a regular basis, and he recommended a home study course by a Dr Eckman about identifying the "Sonship of God," and claiming yourself as the rightful Child of God.  It was during that study when I came to the conclusion that I could never be a Child of God.  I'm not, wasn't, and would never be. 

"I AM God's mistake." 

You see, I was placed for adoption even before I was born.  Not only did I have the legal documentation to confirm that, I met my biological mother face-to-face who told me herself.  I spent my childhood growing up with four main messages:

1) I was a mistake by my "real" parents.

2) I can or will be returned to the adoption agency if I didn't live up to standards.

3) Every family negative situation was MY fault. (I was often blamed for my parents health issues, my father's alcoholism, and for my younger cousin's misbehavior) 

4) I was lovingly "chosen." 

Yes, that 4th message did contradict the other three messages.  It's funny about the "chosen" message and the fact that I "chose" a profession where I present myself to be "chosen" by casting directors, producers, ect.  Bear in mind, the "lovingly chosen" was a mild form of manipulation of the expectation of gratitude I needed to openly express to the family who poured their heart and soul into raising me. 

So this journey of the last 4-5 years was about letting go of a false "I AM" statement about myself as a "mistake," but I recently discovered a corollary "I AM" statement that was just as strong as the one I was dealing with.

"I AM worthless." 

That tends to sabotage and cancels out a lot of intentions I've set and developed over the last few years.  It not only undermines my financial and career goals, it also sabotages any sort of relationship goals. 

Don't ask me what I am going to do about those beliefs, for I have just come to the realization of the 2nd one and it has surfaced very recently.  I need to process what has been brought to my attention.  I have a list of request to ask in support of the recent discovery:

1) Please don't demand that I "get over it."  That only places additional pressure.

2) Please don't tell me to "not feel that way."  How about if I tell you to NOT think about the pink elephant. 

3) Sometimes your presence is worth more than the words you attempt to say.  If I'm at a state of feeling and am not saying much, you need to say even less. 

4) Don't let my smile fool you.  I am an actor after all. 

5) I acknowledge your Divinity, please acknowledge mine.  In other words, let God reveal to me that those two "I AM" statements are not true.  I know that already on an intellectual level.  It needs to sink, root, and plant in the depth of my heart. 

I am thankful for the support I've received over the years, the miracles that showed me differently, and tools I've learned to overcome such beliefs. 

But I just need time.  Time to process.  Time to reflect.  Time to let God show me the errors of my way. 

Thank you in advance. 

23 May, 2012

A Childs' Blessing

I have not attended church service in over three weeks so far.  No, it's not that I'm avoiding church.  I'm not.  I simply have been scheduled to work on Sundays.  It's times like this where I think an evening service would prove useful.  In fact, it'd be nice if a New Thought church would step up and offer what I call a "cafe format" evening service on a Saturday or a Sunday evening.

Since I started exploring the Unity Churches throughout the Bay Area, I've noticed that a common worship format practiced at several locations was that prior to concluding the service with the congregations' rendition of "Let There Be Peace on Earth," the congregation would present the children's participation in Sunday School.  (Then the children would receive a church blessing)

When I attended Mission Bay Community Church, Pastor Bruce held a cafe/contemplative format during service.  Contemplative as in there were moments we were able to spend time alone and reflect, and the cafe format to get the congregants to inter-mingle.  Though they were not a New Thought church, there were a lot of elements of progressiveness and inclusion.  What I enjoyed during their service was that there was a 4-6 minute period of complete silence.  Bruce would declare that parents need not to maintain the silence of their young children during that time.  If a child were to make any sort of noise during that moment of silence, it was meant to be.  One service I arrived totally combative, disconnected and defensive.  To be honest, I don't remember a lot about that service because I was combative, disconnected and defensive.  What I do remembered was during that moment of silence, someone's baby blurted out a very present and joyous "aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeee."  And the reason why I specifically remembered that moment was because I felt those three walls of combative, disconnection, and defense crumble with tears welling up in my eyes.

Going back to the Unity services, one of the San Francisco location and the San Leandro location would have the childrens' Sunday school presentation and childrens' blessing before concluding service.  (San Leandro is the only Unity that I've visited who doesn't close with "Let There Be Peace on Earth."  They conclude with Ricki Byar's "Blessed Always.")  With apologies to Rev Diana and Rev Maggie, I have to admit that there are times where one of the child's comment during this segment has more of an impact on me than what was shared during the message.  The children leader would ask them what they learned and it can be a simple word, or a belly laugh, or two kids wrestling around.  It'll hit me on the head like a ton of bricks, and I'll leave church service in high gratitude because I know without a doubt in my heart and mind, God spoke directly to me.

The reason why I bring all of this up was because of the most recent service I attended at the Castro Valley Unity.  A young mother brought her 1 1/2 year old daughter with her, and because the congregation is small in attendance (8-14 attendees on average)  there was no childrens' church/Sunday School.  Therefore little "Jazzy" joined us.  Throughout the service, Jazzy was...well she was simply being Jazzy.  That's what 1 1/2 year olds do: They just are.  Unfortunately after the end of service, the young mother was confronted by some of the attendees who demanded that her "child does NOT belong here at church," and that she was not welcomed to church as long as her child accompanies her.  Ironically my first time visiting that specific Unity was in November of 2011, and one of the prayer request that day from the pianist was that we would like to see "new young children grace our service"  which confirmed my initial impression of that location as I had visited San Francisco and San Leandro prior.  In May of 2012, that prayer was answered but it was clear that a couple of members weren't too thrilled.   I pulled the mother aside and told her that as an actor, I pay hundreds of dollars just to re-learn how to be like Jazzy, and that their presence is a reminder of what's important.

People tend to measure or determine what a church is like based on attendance, worship format, the presentational skills of the pastor, or even what kind of food is served.  I think a measure of a church can be simply determined on how the children are.  Not necessarily their behavior, but just their overall beingness.  If anything I've learned this past year's spiritual journey, it's the lesson that I should never under-estimate the power of children, for not only do they have that same access to divinity like the rest of us, but they have LESS obstacles in their way.

 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.   -Luke 18:16 NASB