Feeling Excited, Sad, and Scared

I’m back in Chicago. I finished my eight week internship at the National Housing Law Project, and will start a ten week internship at LAF here tomorrow. It was a great two months in the Bay Area, and now I’m looking forward to this next step.

This past weekend, I was busy unpacking my new place (my roommate, a true champ, moved my stuff for me while I was gone.) I was so busy with finding places to put my things that I haven’t had a chance to reflect. Now that I have some time, I realize something: I feel sad.

I feel sad because I feel homesick. I enjoy Chicago and love my community here, but California is still my home. My parents’ home in the Valley, friends’ apartments in Berkeley, the different communities I joined during my time there…I miss it.

I also feel sad and a bit scared because now I’m one step closer to 3L year, one step closer to graduation. While I’m looking forward to both those things, the uncertainty of not knowing the next step is difficult. I’m scared that I won’t have a job after graduation, that I will be a failure, that I’ll finish school with nothing to show for it. Of course, I know that (1) I don’t need to worry about getting a job, because of my experience and my school’s strengths; (2) my sense of self-worth is not defined by my job; and (3) a life of faith entails trusting in the uncertain places. But it doesn’t change what I feel.

I am tempted to try to shake off these feelings. But as I’ve learned from my counseling training (and learned again from watching Inside Out), it’s important to value all feelings. They’re all trying to tell me something.

So I say that, as I look to the future, I feel excited, sad, and scared. And that’s ok.

Making parents happy

I overheard an interesting phone conservation on the way home today. There was a young man on the train who was talking to his friend “Jen.” Evidently, Jen had been going through some troubles with her mom. The young man told Jen, “You can’t let your mom dictate your life! She is trying to control you with her approval and her money. That’s no way to live.”

It reminded me of a lesson I learned several years ago. I had to let my parents go as my sole source of emotional fulfillment. When I was a child, the right order was for them to provide for all my emotional needs. I would go to them when I was sad, angry, or upset. As I have gotten older, I have learned to put our relationship in the proper place. I still go to them when I am sad, angry, or upset, but I also know that I can’t rely just on them for my emotional satisfaction. That goes both ways—I can’t be their source of emotional satisfaction. I do not have the power nor the responsibility to make them happy.

I told this story to a friend, and he asked “Was Jen Asian?” I couldn’t tell, but when the train went underground, the guy’s phone cut out. When Jen called back, a picture (I assume of her) showed up on the screen. The picture was of an Asian girl.

Can the Church Ally with the LGBT Community?

Hi, all. I’m going to write something for my church friends. I’m writing on Facebook so everyone can listen in, but please keep the audience in mind. Thanks!

What would it look like for the church to ally with the LGBT community?

It seems impossible. When the Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision came down, LGBT advocates responded with elation and church leaders responded with dismay. Not universally, of course—some LGBT folks don’t approve of same-sex marriage and some church folks embrace it—but as a general matter, the two groups hold opposing views.

It is disingenuous to try to patch over such disagreements. They stem from core beliefs about human autonomy and self-determination. LGBT folks and church folks are unlikely to come to much consensus. I hope that conversations continue on these points in respectful ways, although that seems to not be the trajectory. We need to learn to live with each other, after all.

That said, as a member of the church, I don’t believe that LGBT folks are my enemy. I submit that there are areas in which we can work together. Let me provide an example.

There is a big problem of homelessness among LGBT youth. The US LGBT population, according to a federal government survey, is roughly 3%. However, according to some studies, LGBT youth comprise 20-40% of the homeless youth population. The most commonly cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness is rejection by family members after coming out, compounded by bullying at school. These LGBT homeless youth are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be victims of crime, have mental health issues and suicidal inclinations, and engage in substance abuse. The push on marriage has in some ways eclipsed this problem. In fact, some of my LGBT friends cynically say “We may not have enough money to buy bread, but at least we can eat wedding cake.”

The problem of homelessness in general is one that we as a society need to confront. The church has played a vital role in championing the cause of the homeless, both in the US and throughout history. This may be an area in which we can partner with LGBT organizations for coordination and strategy.

Some in the church may say we should just focus on homelessness or homeless youth in general, which would include LGBT youth. I see their point that this is part of a bigger issue, but we would be wise to see the specific contours here and recognize our lack of expertise. If I ran a homeless shelter and 40% of the people I saw were Armenian, I would ask my Armenian friends for advice on what to do. If 40% were African-American or Buddhist, I would ask my African-American or Buddhist friends. If 40% are LGBT, I would talk to my LGBT friends. This doesn’t mean their experiences will be directly parallel—everyone’s experience is different—but they can advise me of trends or patterns. Even if we disagree on how to help these youth, we can still share ideas.

Some in the church may say we should not partner with LGBT organizations that were our enemies on the battle for marriage. “I won’t give Lambda Legal money, because they could use that to spread their message on redefining marriage.” I can understand that, and it is wise to choose allies carefully. However, it is striking to me that the same logic applies for people that refuse to give Christian humanitarian organizations money for fear that it would be channeled to proselytizing. “I won’t give the Salvation Army money to help with natural disasters, because they could use that to spread their message of hate.” And again, I don’t believe LGBT folks are my enemy.

Some in the church may say that working specifically on LGBT issues would legitimize the existence of an LGBT identity, which is not in accordance with church teaching. I understand that too. That said, it is at the very least a powerful social reality that affects people’s lived experiences. I believe that even those who reject the idea of an LGBT identity can still recognize that people who express same-sex attractions have specific lived social experiences.

Some in the church may say that we need to respond with truth. I agree. I say that the first truth is that all of us are terribly broken and wonderfully loved. I would tell my LGBT friends that God loves them more than they could ever imagine. I would apologize for how the church has done a horrible job of representing that love. I would also express my earnest desire for them to walk with God and work through all the brokenness and beauty of life, not just the parts that the church is so keen on highlighting. And I believe that the truth is far easier to hear in quiet, respectful conversation with someone you trust than shouted through a megaphone from 100 feet away.

What would it look like if I, as an attorney, decide to partner with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force or Lambda Legal and provide pro bono help for LGBT homeless youth? Would my church consider that an expression of the love of God, or capitulation to a rapidly decaying culture?

I’m still working through these thoughts myself, and would love people’s input. I don’t want to see the church ride in as conquering cavalry, taking over a movement that people have worked so hard to sustain. I do want to come alongside those who are suffering and ask how I can help. I want the church to continue to proclaim a distinctly Christian vision for all of life, including care for others and sexual identity. We also need to live out this teaching. As my friend put it, “Please! Stop watching porn, committing adultery, and getting divorced just because you ‘feel like it,’ and then we can talk about what marriage should look like.”

Garbage

When I was around 12 years old, there was a troublemaker at my church, around my age. He was a mischief maker, pulling pranks on others and doing stupid things. He once exposed his genitalia to one of the Sunday School teachers. Nothing sadistic or evil, just stupid.

But it was enough to earn the ire of the adults. I remember once he came up in conversation, and one of the adults said “That kid is trash.”

What does that mean? Does that mean this kid, this child, will never amount to anything, that he will always be garbage? He was behaving badly, to be sure, but it struck me as a strong pronouncement of his lack of worth.

But to call someone garbage is the easy route. There’s no need to empathize with them, connect with them, understand them. If I dehumanize you, I don’t need to engage with you. I can throw you out as not worth my time.

What upsets me most about this is that it was someone in the church who said this. Now, people in the church are not perfect, God knows. Yet it is for that very reason that the church should be a sanctuary for everyone. For those that the world calls garbage, the church can embrace, to believe that every person is an image bearer of God, a unique expression of His glory.

Consider the example of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter to a church with all manner of problems. Divisions, in-fighting, immaturity, immorality, disorderliness. Yet Paul started his letter by saying “I always thank God for you.” How Paul be so thankful for such a church? “Because of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus.” He knew that their current bad behavior was not the last word. “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What I pray is that God teach me to be thankful for those whom I would rather throw away, to believe that God’s grace is always at work.

Public Prayer

I recently attended a friend’s wedding. My friend was born in Korea and came to the US for high school. He had a Korean pastor give a prayer during the ceremony. It has been a while since I’ve heard Korean prayer, and I found the cadence of the words familiar and soothing. The drawn-out sentences, poetic wording, and pauses in just the right moment for the congregants to respond “Amen.”

The event got me thinking about public prayer. I am part of several faith traditions that emphasize extemporaneous public prayer. Until recently, the concept of reading a prepared prayer was foreign to me. Prayer was always immediate, flowing from the heart. In my worship experience with my church in Chicago, I have come to appreciate the care of prepared written prayer, but I still enjoy those prayers from the heart.

I do notice some strange patterns in public prayers, though. Many prayers sound like this: “God, I need your help, God. I need you to come through for me, God. You have always been faithful, God. God, you are so good to me, God.”

Imagine if someone talked that way to me: “Joel, I need your help, Joel. I need you to come through for me, Joel. You have always been faithful, Joel. Joel, you are so good to me, Joel.” What a strange way to speak! And yet that is often how prayers sound.

Some may say that it reflects their deep reverence for God. I call shenanigans. None of the Psalms sound like this. Consider Psalm 28

To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.

The reality is that those who learn to pray in public learn the form from others. Furthermore, speaking in public is difficult, and “God” can become a verbal tic, a comma between (run-on) sentences. But the name of God is not a punctuation mark.

This isn’t really about prayer. What I would like to see is people taking more care and attention in how they speak generally. Public prayer becomes a expression of that care.