Saturday, July 10, 2010

Without the Three Bears, Clarification

Even to this day I remain my own fiercest critic. This critic wants to tear me down and tell me that my place is to be miserable and endure life, to suffer like my parents did at jobs they only wanted for the money, to retreat into television, consumption economics and frivolity. Breaking free from this paradigm of existence would be rebellion and an insult to those whom I love dearest.

Similarly, in my Christian life the allure of martyrdom has always been too strong, too premature. If I'm not suffering, I'm just not putting my neck far enough out on the line. To enjoy a life of comfort and plenty would be to mock the God who didn't have a rock to lay his head upon, who, under Pontius Pilate, suffered, bled and died to ransom sinners. 

Or so I believed.

For so long, my model for understanding obedience and fidelity operated on mimicry. If I love someone, I'd live their life just like them. 

No longer. 

I am not my mother. 
I am not my father.
I am not Jesus.

I don't have the same upbringing, the same mission, purpose, desires, quirks, tendencies... why in the world would I live my life the same way? I began to understand these differences as I mulled over the life of my father more and more. A refugee for a great deal of his life, he endured imprisonment seven times in China for attempting to leave. He knew deep poverty. Why is a man so strong, so short? How big would you grow if you had to ration out 2 lbs. of rice for 12 people over a month? He chased grasshoppers to roast them over fire in the corner of a forest. His family ate a lamb they found inside a python because they were so hungry. Needless to say, I have never experienced poverty so crippling.

He came to this country and toiled in oppression, but at least he began to toil for himself. He strove against other Chinese people who wanted to use national origin as a way to defraud him of his money. He strove against street thugs who threw lit firecrackers into the kitchen he worked, who tried to mug him and intimidate the vulnerable immigrant. He strove against the suits who thought this funny little man must be dumb because he can't even speak English properly. 

I grew up steeped in his alithea-truth. If you want to survive, keep your head low, don't make eye contact, don't stand out. That was how he survived New York City, the metropolis that welcomed him in his second day here with the great blackout,  his first summer with the Son of Sam murders, and his first October with a Yankee championship. He doesn't know baseball so he never mentioned the last part. I mention it because I just can't help but put my heart into his story.

But I am not my father. I am half a foot taller, about 10 lbs. lighter, speak 2 languages fluently, and my Chinese is improving. I do not believe I ever worried a day in my life about starving to death. I do not believe I ever will. If that day does come, I'll deal with the challenge then. But how absurd would life be if I sat at a buffet and hoarded the food because I thought the kitchen might run out? How ridiculous would the scene be if I received a 30-minute grab-all-you-can shopping spree and spent 20 minutes comparing prices on items? 

He came to the land of plenty and taught me how to survive poverty. I realized this truth half a decade ago.

In my spirituality, I am only now beginning to see the same story played out. I've said before that I don't like Piper. After listening to some more sermons, I retract my statement. He has such amazing insight into the text and maneuvers through the rich terrain so deftly that I can't help but feel a warm, unhostile jealousy towards him. So whence did my previous animosity stem? I suppose it's from Piper's Pretenders who try to emulate his way of speech and understanding.

I identified a deep hypocrisy in my own emulation of the Puritans. I'm not a New Englander hoeing impossibly tough soil in bitterly cold winters in the 17th century. The infant mortality rate in my community is not 80%. I do not need to have kids to survive my old age. I did not escape religious persecution in the Old World, and I do not have to take up arms in case of an Indian raid. The only person that tries to ambush me these days is Richie Luu and he can't take more than 1 body shot without doubling over. Therefore, I am not going to write like I am a Puritan. I would never write this sentence except for irony:

"In answer to this mystical type, the great High Priest of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, being to enter into the "holy place not made with hands" (Heb. 9:24), did, by the glorious prayer recorded in this chapter, influenced from the blood of His sacrifice, fill the heavens above, the glorious place of God’s residence, with a cloud of incense, or the sweet perfume of His blessed intercession, typed by the incense offered by the high priest of old." -- Excerpted from John Owen's "Glory of Christ"

I do not have to be anyone else.
I need only be myself.

Does this truth need defense?

No one seems to be attacking this beautiful statement. Except in practice. Do something untried and people grow concerned about orthodoxy. Ask a question that challenges the categories people have always worked with and receive violence as they protect the structure of their world. If I've learned anything during my quarter-century of experience in this world, I've learned that the world is enormous, beautiful and terrifying. The most glorious way to honor God making this world gigantic, breathtaking and intimidating is to draw out the best within us and explore. 

My life is my exploration. And I love it.

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