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Sunday School: Vol. 5

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fremont, CA

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
E P H E S I A N S  2 : 1 0

My mom told me recently that if I worked as hard on my attitude as I did on my career or academics, my ability to serve and uplift others would look a lot different. It's not something you necessarily have to change, she allowed, but it's something you should if you can.

I know I've practiced a lesser variant of love my entire life: the sort that, devoid of grace, casts judgment rather than seeks to serve. My brand of "unconditional" love said, I don't think you deserve this, but here you go. Truly unconditional love, I've learned, insists, it was never a question of worthiness; this simply belongs to you.

It's not an easy understanding to sustain, and separating merit from mercy will be a cross I'll bear forever. I want to be seen through my works so that I can judge others for theirs. I want the syllabus that outlines, do this to earn that, even if there are days where I literally hate myself for not achieving what is ultimately meaningless: a completed to-do list, an app-generated workout sequence, a set of KPIs. I denounce hustle porn only to breathlessly pursue its rebranded version: biohacking the human spirit, increased productivity marketed as wellness. Meritocracy is a fantasy, I wrote in college, but I'll look for it in every institution, every relationship, every opportunity. I've looked for it, it seems, even in my faith. These Sunday School posts have only regurgitated the same misled paradigm: sincerity measured by output, salvation granted by effort.

I want to tell God, I am a hard worker. I struggle to grasp that this simply isn't enough -- and what's more, in its absolute insufficiency it is no longer demanded of me. By His stripes, the scripture says. What I need to understand: and not your works. 

There's a quote I keep coming back to that suggests our surrender to God's will allows us to see His will in everything; the secular interpretation of this is mere coincidence. Either way, I finally see things fitting together. I've spent the last few weeks trying to understand grace before contemplating its place in my own life, my own desire for transformation. Along the way, unprompted and seemingly randomly, the people in my life have challenged me to amplify my impact. You can't change an environment you refuse to be in, they'll say. Or my mom, explicitly: any goodwill you might have gets lost in how judgmental you tend to be. There was connective tissue in all this, you see: because I could not understand the unearned, unmerited grace of God, I refused to grant it to others. Where grace is missing, condemnation asserts itself as a gatekeeper. No truth or conviction would compel other towards this barren, awful place. And here I was, punishing others for feeling unwelcome in the hostility I'd created.

I earnestly regret every moment (and there have been many) that I've criticized at the periphery rather than volunteered to help, thinking myself invested enough to know better but above the actual work. But only grace makes way for the twin pillars of justice and restoration; and only through understanding grace can I fully practice it.
My calling remains: not simply to have faith in the unseen, but to sustain a desire for what cannot be worked for or deserved. Below, how I'm preparing myself to do right and do better:


Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness | Jennifer Berry Hawes
On June 17, 2015, twelve members of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina welcomed a young white man to their evening Bible study. He arrived with a pistol, 88 bullets, and hopes of starting a race war. Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine innocents during their closing prayer horrified the nation. Two days later, some relatives of the dead stood at Roof’s hearing and said, “I forgive you.” That grace offered the country a hopeful ending to an awful story. But for the survivors and victims’ families, the journey had just begun.
In Grace Will Lead Us Home, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes provides a definitive account of the tragedy’s aftermath. With unprecedented access to the grieving families and other key figures, Hawes offers a nuanced and moving portrait of the events and emotions that emerged in the massacre’s wake.
The two adult survivors of the shooting begin to make sense of their lives again. Rifts form between some of the victims’ families and the church. A group of relatives fights to end gun violence, capturing the attention of President Obama. And a city in the Deep South must confront its racist past. This is the story of how, beyond the headlines, a community of people begins to heal.
Related, Obama's eulogy for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was one of nine victims in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


And finally, the sermons of the week:
Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 5) - Why Water Baptism

Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 6) - Only God Can Judge Me (Works After Grace)

Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 7) - Grace for Them? (The Power of Grace & Truth)

Transformation Church: Grace Like a Flood (Part 8) - Grace for the Faithful 

Much love,
LC

What LC Read: Vol. 20 (Masculinity, Race, Private School Drama, & More)

Monday, September 9, 2019

San Francisco, CA, USA


Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver | Mary Oliver
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver presents a personal selection of her best work in this definitive collection spanning more than five decades of her esteemed literary career.
Throughout her celebrated career, Mary Oliver has touched countless readers with her brilliantly crafted verse, expounding on her love for the physical world and the powerful bonds between all living things. Identified as "far and away, this country's best selling poet" by Dwight Garner, she now returns with a stunning and definitive collection of her writing from the last fifty years.
Carefully curated, these 200 plus poems feature Oliver's work from her very first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, published in 1963 at the age of 28, through her most recent collection, Felicity, published in 2015. This timeless volume, arranged by Oliver herself, showcases the beloved poet at her edifying best. Within these pages, she provides us with an extraordinary and invaluable collection of her passionate, perceptive, and much-treasured observations of the natural world.


On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous | Ocean Vuong
Poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.


The Flatshare | Beth O'Leary
Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.
But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window


The Gifted School | Bruce Holsinger
Smart and juicy, a compulsively readable novel about a previously happy group of friends and parents that is nearly destroyed by their own competitiveness when an exclusive school for gifted children opens in the community
This deliciously sharp novel captures the relentless ambitions and fears that animate parents and their children in modern America, exploring the conflicts between achievement and potential, talent and privilege. Set in the fictional town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School is a keenly entertaining novel that observes the drama within a community of friends and parents as good intentions and high ambitions collide in a pile-up with long-held secrets and lies. Seen through the lens of four families who've been a part of one another's lives since their kids were born over a decade ago, the story reveals not only the lengths that some adults are willing to go to get ahead, but the effect on the group's children, sibling relationships, marriages, and careers, as simmering resentments come to a boil and long-buried, explosive secrets surface and detonate. It's a humorous, keenly observed, timely take on ambitious parents, willful kids, and the pursuit of prestige, no matter the cost.


Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland | Jonathan M. Metzl 
In the era of Donald Trump, many lower- and middle-class white Americans are drawn to politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as Dying of Whiteness shows, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death.
Physician Jonathan M. Metzl's quest to understand the health implications of "backlash governance" leads him across America's heartland. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, he examines how racial resentment has fueled progun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. And he shows these policies' costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates. White Americans, Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise.


The Screwtape Letters | C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters by C.S.  Lewis is a classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to "Our Father Below." At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.


21 Lessons for the 21st Century | Yuval Noah Harari
How do computers and robots change the meaning of being human? How do we deal with the epidemic of fake news? Are nations and religions still relevant? What should we teach our children?
Yuval Noah Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a probing and visionary investigation into today's most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, and the world feels more polarized than ever, Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change and raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to survive.



If Beale Street Could Talk | James Baldwin
In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin's story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions — affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

Sunday School: Vol. 4

Sunday, September 8, 2019

New York, NY, USA

As usual, I'm hesitating here between divulging all my angsty personal secrets and choosing radical honesty. I hope it's clear I'm not trying to be prescriptive or smug; I spent twenty-two years in a Christian household (doing vacation bible school, dinnertime devos, all that) and very little stuck with me until year twenty-three. If there's a lesson in that, it might be to trust in divine timing, or to be grateful that my parents believed free will was a prerequisite to real faith. But obsession with and devotion to self-improvement are on-brand for me, so I hope you understand my sudden enthusiasm for sharing Sunday School posts.

Everything that changes me fascinates me (boys, books, and now the Bible, I guess), so I'm not writing these to evangelize, only to testify: I wanted to grow, and this is how I am.

My challenge for the week was to devote 75-90 minutes daily to a sermon and reflection (my current proxy for attending an actual Sunday service). What I'm finding isn't exactly a deeper understanding of precise theology, but an irresistible invitation for radical love and inclusion. Searching for my own gospel grounds my faith beyond blind belief. This is probably the circumstantial Methodist in me, but I want to know Christ as praxis, not Christianity as an organized or institutional religion.

I'm sharing below key takeaways and suggestions for reflection from each sermon this week. If any part of this resonates with you (though I don't at all mind if it doesn't) I really do recommend taking time for reflection and a bit of writing to help clarify your thoughts. Beyond all the empirical evidence in favor of personal journaling, I've found this to be one of my most powerful techniques for processing and analyzing new information.

Final thoughts: Most of the people in my circle are those who've pursued self-improvement with the same relentlessness, vigor, obsessiveness. I don't care if they find it in a church, or in a fitness routine, or in their career (knowing them, likely a combination of these and more). What I do adore about them is their bias towards action, their existential fear of inertia, their sustained passion for a full, satisfying life. I don't know many who've elected to settle for what they'd been born with or given. The glow up is excruciating, I know, and extraordinary. I'm so proud of us.


M O N D A Y / 2  S E P T E M B E R
Key takeaways: 
  • How we love is learned, and how we learn is how we last
  • God's grace is greater than the weaknesses of all the people in our lives, no matter how much we love them (or don't); only He can redeem and relieve us from the damage of imperfect relationships
  • All the ways people fail us can serve to illuminate the ways He will not
My suggestions for reflection:
  • Given that we don't choose the circumstances we are born into, how can we think about our birthright (or perceived lack thereof) as an opportunity? 
  • What are the ways we become, or find in others, what we're missing? 
  • What are the generational curses that absolutely end with us? How will we protect our descendants? 



T U E S D A Y / 3  S E P T E M B E R
Key takeaways: 
  • Identification is the prerequisite to transformation
  • Without intervention, we inherit the bad habits, hobbies, and hatred of our ancestors; the sins of the father are the sins of the son - not because God holds generational grudges, but because we are products of our circumstances
  • What our parents and grandparents never reconciled within themselves affect how they raise us; this is often the root of the trauma we bring to other relationships
  • When we don't recognize and amend incorrect behavior, we normalize and preserve it. There is no running from something that has manifested within you
  • God wants more for you; He will provide all that you need but were not born with
My suggestions for reflection: 
  • How do challenging relationships with our family members teach us endurance? 
  • Are we obligated to love our relatives? What can this teach us about perfect and imperfect love? Does love require us to stay in unjust, cruel situations? (No, it doesn't! But how can we find the courage to leave?) 



W E D N E S D A Y / 4  S E P T E M B E R
Key takeaways:
  • Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, and unearned kindness and favor of God
  • You can only receive and experience what you believe exists; your perception of Grace informs all that you do (if you believe God to be a vindictive one, your actions reflect a fear of punishment. If you believe Him to be a loving one, your actions reflect an aspiration to emulate this)
  • You are delivered from your transgressions through faith, not through your own works or good deeds
My suggestions for reflection:
I personally feel like I went through a lot with this series, the most important being a sudden breakthrough on why I've harbored a lot of spiritual doubt. If the premise of God's grace is that it is necessarily undeserved and unmerited, that erodes at a lot of what we like about ourselves: being hard workers and high achievers, being self-made and self-led. As a lifelong gold sticker-chasing, independence-boasting Asian American practically marinated in meritocratic idealism, the idea of an unconditional, unearned gift seems incomprehensible.
The calling is this: not to have faith in the unseen, but to sustain faith in the undeserved. Can the foundation of unconditional, unmerited grace liberate us from tethering self-worth to productivity and output? Can we allow ourselves the possibility that we are worthy without our work? Is this, then, our imperative to view others with this same uncritical love? How do grace and free will interact?




T H U R S D A Y /  5  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: All Strings Attached (Part 3) - Too Many Friends
Key takeaways: 
  • Friendships are our chosen attachments in life, and we inevitably become the average of our circles
  • To be clear, everyone needs friends around them. It is not good to be alone all the time
  • Everyone around you is not your friends; we habitually invite people into our lives (due to proximity, circumstances, etc.) and allow them to influence us without really knowing who they are or what they stand for
  • The people you might loosely call "friends" might actually fall into three categories: fans, followers, and (real) friends
  • Your real friends know your heart and will hold your integrity accountable; they will fight with you, for you, and against you when necessary 
  • Conversely, we are fans, followers, and friends to the people in our lives, too. Knowing where we stand helps us add value to those relationships
  • Don't ever let somebody who doesn't know you try to inform or influence your identity
My suggestions for reflection: 
To be real, I almost skipped this sermon because literally nobody in this entire world would accuse me of having too many friends. I'm anti-social to the point of concern, and am known to be the absolutely least needy of low maintenance friends. But I guess there was something to unpack in how small I keep my circle, because this ended up being an important lesson, too. Even in my little pool (and your probably bigger one) - are there relationships we need to reassess and redefine? What does loyalty look like if we prioritize each other's integrity and growth over lifelong ties?



F R I D A Y  /  6  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: Grace Like A Flood (Part 2) - I Am Right With God
Key takeaways: 
  • God's grace is undeserved; there is nothing we can do to earn it, and nothing we can do to lose it
  • Perception is the ultimate reality, even if it is not the ultimate truth; your reality dictates your actions
  • Grace is never about our works or our service. God cannot love us any more than He already does; we should act in His example because He loves us, not so that He will
Suggestions for reflection:
  • Are we righteous because we do the right things, or do we do the right things because we are made in righteousness? 
  • What are we trying to measure up to? 
  • Why can't righteous people ever lose God's favor? If unconditional grace is real, what is the incentive for goodness? 



S A T U R D A Y  /  7  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: Grace Like A Flood (Part 3) - I Found My Anchor
Key takeaways: 
  • God is immutable - unchanging in the midst of everything that does change; He is the anchor, greater than the ship and the tides that pull it
  • Grace can only be received; because it is unchanging, it will never lessen or be taken away
  • If we feel secure in this relationship, we feel encouraged to bring our sins to Him so that he might help us fix what went wrong; until we understand this, we will judge ourselves and others for our inevitable failures
  • Jesus is the high priest forever, allowing us direct access to God forever; this is the new covenant God made with us
Suggestions for reflection: 
  • What are the implications of a God willing to create a new, third covenant in order to meet us at the level of our sins? 
  • What things and people do we ask to be our anchors instead of God? 



S U N D A Y  /  8  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: Grace Like A Flood (Part 4) - I am Sav(ed)
Key takeaways: 
  • Salvation is eternal and applies to our past, present, and future; it is not a temporary gift for a temporary state of being
  • The ultimate atonement saved us from the penalty of our past sins, the power of our current sins, and the presence of sin in Heaven
  • If we believe that we have been redeemed, our tests become opportunities for testimony
  • Grace applies to all who believe, regardless of their works or merit
Suggestions for reflection: 
  • How does the concept of unconditional grace challenge our perceptions of goodness? 
  • Why do we want others to measure up in the ways we expect of ourselves? Why does it trouble us that God sees us equal to those who seem to have achieved less? 
  • What does the dissolution of a meritocracy mean to you? 


I am not a worthier Christian today than I was yesterday, or even last year. That's not what unconditional grace requires of us. But I am absolutely a better person. That's what atonement allows in us.

Fiat lux,
LC

Sunday School: Vol. 3

Sunday, September 1, 2019

San Francisco, CA, USA

Maybe the desire to create something beautiful is the piece of God that is inside each of us. 
M A R Y  O L I V E R


I've finished Transformation Church's series on Relationship Goals! I know the title seems a little corny, but I really, truly believe that pursuing a biblical understanding and paradigm of relationships (platonic, professional, romantic, etc.) has fundamentally changed me for the better in a very short period of time. I'm still trying to find a comfortable balance between not oversharing my personal life and wanting to deliver earnest testimony, but the sequence of these episodes has exactly mirrored the lessons I've needed to learn lately. Like, exactly. This series was so good for/to me. I can't recommend it enough (or literally anything else in this post, I'm absolutely serious when I say that my life is changing and I want you to experience the clarity I've found, too.)

Related, part of the impetus for this "Churchless Christianity" series is that I grew up in Taiwanese churches that mostly served an older congregation. Beyond the slight language barrier, I really struggled to find much that resonated in sermons delivered to those with seemingly well-established faith and entirely different life experiences than mine. Curating my own Sunday School (in addition to being very on-brand for me) allows me to find Christian counsel on what's directly and urgently important to me every week. On that note, I'm renaming these posts to "Sunday School" in an effort to honor the churches that have actually always tried to give me a home, and those that have changed me without us having ever shared a physical space. I also just really love school.





This sermon by Brittany Packnett on why social justice is the will of God, and why discipleship today compels us to liberate first ourselves, then the oppressed, and above all else, our oppressors. That she attended my alma mater (and was in my honorary!) should really be our school's claim to fame. Read more about her here, then please watch/listen to her sermon. "When a pastor looks out," she begins, "he sees a congregation. When activists look out, they see a rally." Yes. It's all that good

She also cites the 1619 Project by The New York Times, a collection of essays about the true American heritage and legacy -- one I hope we would all recognize as a violent and unjust one. While I believe that the deconstruction of these structures is a secular imperative, Christians especially have a biblical calling for the liberation of all. Those who deny, dismiss, and destroy Jesus's example of radical social justice in His name are false prophets (we have one, for example, as president). The true Savior, Packnett argues, would have us sit among and heal the diseased -- not deny them affordable healthcare. He would have us welcome migrants into our homes, not incarcerate their children. The hopelessness we feel is man-made. The work ahead is God's plan for humanity. 
The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to re-frame the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

If all your prayers were answered today, would it change the world or just your life?
I'm probably just a simple and not-very-bright girl, but sound bites like this get me. I've always been very frustrated by the "thoughts and prayers" rhetoric, but I realize it's unfair to generalize Christians as apathetic and actionless when those who don't actually do the work are not, in fact, following Christ's example. I know I'm sensitive by nature (and always will be), but the world really has been breaking my heart lately. Between state violence in Hong Kong to migrant detention centers at our own borders and all the hurricanes, mass shootings, and heartaches in between, to the 5+ years that Flint, Michigan has been without clean water, if my faith were a fraction of a degree weaker, I'd feel nothing but despair. As an outsider, I've always wondered how people could put their faith in God to reconcile man-made systems of oppression and inequality. What sort of prayer was ever going to make insulin more affordable, or change a dictator's heart? Even last month's volume admitted to this doubt. Prayer, I now know, doesn't inherently change the circumstances; but they strengthen our own ability to do so. I believe, now, that every skill and characteristic I have - including my weepy, fiery little personality - when tasked with Christ's command for goodness, generosity, and radical justice, is unstoppable. Not because I am unstoppable, but because His will is.
So today, I feel less despair than I did yesterday. Everything we abhor reflects the hurt we have to heal. We can only free what we recognize as caged; only redeem what we find to be broken.

May we do right by each other in this lifetime.

With love, love, love,
LC

What LC Read: Vol. 19 (Artisanal Soy Sauce, Football, Embezzlement, & More)

Monday, August 26, 2019




The Farm | Joanne Ramos
Notes: Like The Handmaid's Tale with the exquisite specificity of Filipino American literature (think remittances, "chosen" families, sacrifice, etc.). The unrealistic, haphazard ending had me bristling, but it's a nevertheless compelling and worthwhile book. Ooh, also: the "villain" of the book is one of those innocuously evil East Asian American sellouts -- you know the ones. Delicious.
Synopsis: Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money—more than you've ever dreamed of—to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your ├╝berwealthy clients.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter's well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she'll receive on delivery—or worse.
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.





Normal People | Sally Rooney
Notes: My sister the Literature major hated this one, but I stand by its merits! I think it's one of those rare books written about young adults but for adults. There's enough nuance to curate and encourage nostalgia and empathy; but enough distance to feel sophisticated and retrospectively wise.
Synopsis: At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other. Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.





The Misfortune of Marion Palm | Emily Culliton
Note: I'm not really sure what I found so compelling about this book, since it was a drag to read and full of deeply unlikable people. Still, I got through it eventually. No resounding endorsement here.
Synopsis: Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather "a woman who embezzles." Over the years she has managed to steal $180,000 from her daughters' private school, money that has paid for European vacations, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, and perpetually unused state-of-the-art exercise equipment. But, now, when the school faces an audit, Marion pulls piles of rubber-banded cash from their basement hiding places and flees, leaving her family to grapple with the baffled detectives, the irate school board, and the mother-shaped hole in their house. Told from the points of view of Nathan, Marion's husband, heir to a long-diminished family fortune; Ginny, Marion's teenage daughter, who falls helplessly in love at the slightest provocation; Jane, Marion's youngest who is obsessed with a missing person of her own; and Marion herself, on the lam—and hiding in plain sight.





God Help the Child | Toni Morrison
Note: Re-reading Toni Morrison's works because obviously. This wasn't my favorite of hers, probably because it was uncharacteristically sparse. (Is that fair to say? Her works are never excessive, but they've always felt rich and this just didn't.) Still an aching, desperate novel.
Synopsis: God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish ... Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother ... Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she's suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother ... and Sweetness, Bride's mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."





Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God | Francis Chan
Note: Probably what C.S. Lewis meant by "if you're looking for comfort, look elsewhere." (The actual quote is: If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.) Very little about my faith has centered on comfort - it's why I keep emphasizing my pursuit of clarity, which is often ugly and unpleasant but has never led me to a forsaken place.
Synopsis: Have you ever wondered if we're missing it?
It's crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe—the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and E-minor—loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs, and try not to cuss.
Whether you've verbalized it yet or not, we all know something's wrong.
Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn't working harder at a list of do's and don'ts-it's falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same.
Because when you're wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.





Soy Sauce for Beginners | Kirstin Chen
Note: This had all the elements of an amazing book! Authored by a Chen! "Tension between personal ambition and filial duty!" My favorite Singaporean word, "Ang Mo," (used to describe white people) and its implications on interracial relationships! But I found this book severely lacking in any real meaning or character; I literally could not care less what happened to Gretchen despite wanting so badly to empathize with her. Very disappointing.
Synopsis: Gretchen Lin, adrift at the age of thirty, leaves her floundering marriage in San Francisco to move back to her childhood home in Singapore and immediately finds herself face-to-face with the twin headaches she’s avoided her entire adult life: her mother’s drinking problem and the machinations of her father’s artisanal soy sauce business.
Surrounded by family, Gretchen struggles with the tension between personal ambition and filial duty, but still finds time to explore a new romance with the son of a client, an attractive man of few words. When an old American friend comes to town, the two of them are pulled into the controversy surrounding Gretchen’s cousin, the only male grandchild and the heir apparent to Lin’s Soy Sauce. In the midst of increasing pressure from her father to remain permanently in Singapore—and pressure from her mother to do just the opposite—Gretchen must decide whether she will return to her marriage and her graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory, or sacrifice everything and join her family’s crusade to spread artisanal soy sauce to the world.





The Fifth Risk | Michael Lewis
Note: A dizzying, fast-paced read that reminds you all the horrible, incompetent people you refused to delegate to during group projects are now real adults with significant power and they still don't know how to do anything. Except now you're not there to save them. A shudder of a book. No, a grimace. Highly recommend (as I do of most of Lewis's books!).
Synopsis: "The election happened," remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. "And then there was radio silence." Across all departments, similar stories were playing out: Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them.
Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it’s not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.
Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.
If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system—those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.





Book of Hours: Love Poems to God | Rainer Maria Rilke
Note: I don't know what there is left to say about Book of Hours that I haven't already sobbed to anybody who will listen. This was my point of no return to poetry; my personal copy is in tatters. The most divine, elegant, raw and human creation to ever grace earth. I will dedicate my firstborn to Rilke.
Synopsis: At the beginning of this century, a young German poet returned from a journey to Russia, where he had immersed himself in the spirituality he discovered there. He "received" a series of poems about which he did not speak for a long time - he considered them sacred, and different from anything else he ever had done and ever would do again. This poet saw the coming darkness of the century, and saw the struggle we would have in our relationship to the divine. The poet was Rainer Maria Rilke, and these love poems to God make up his Book of Hours.





The Blind Side | Michael Lewis
Note: I started this book with absolutely zero understanding of football. I don't think I've ever held a football in my life. Post-The Blind Side, I know... some things, none of which will prove to be of any practical use. But if you don't mind that your mind will keep wandering towards Sandra Bullock (who of course, played Leigh Anne Tuohy in the eponymous movie), this is such a good read. I love Michael Lewis. I really do. He made me care about sports.
Synopsis: When we first meet Michael Oher, he is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or how to read or write. He takes up football and school after a rich, white, Evangelical family plucks him from the streets. Then two great forces alter Oher: the family's love and the evolution of professional football itself into a game in which the quarterback must be protected at any cost. Our protagonist becomes the priceless package of size, speed, and agility necessary to guard the quarterback's greatest vulnerability: his blind side.


Fitness Friday: No. 3

Friday, August 9, 2019


(CL Editor's Note: My half-marathon was on April 14th, so it's been 3 months.. oops!)

It's been a couple of months now since my half-marathon, though it feels like it's been a year. I can still remember some feelings of it quite vividly, but other feelings I've forgotten. Don't mean to sound overly dramatic, but I don't ever plan on running another half-marathon ever again. The toll it takes on your body (or at least the toll it took on mine) was huge. But completing the half-marathon felt like my greatest accomplishments in the past year. I truly have no idea how people do a full marathon at 26.2 miles when the half-marathon at 13.1 miles already tortured my soul.

To start, this race was actually my first ever race. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but you get put into "corrals" aka groups based on how fast your pace is. You also don't have to worry about not being able to run the first couple minutes, because the official time doesn't start until you cross the start line. They measure your official start based off of when your bib crosses the start line (something something bib tag something technology). As soon as I started, I knew this was the one and only chance I'd ever get at recording a half-marathon time since I knew right away I never wanted to run one again. This was great in that it pushed me to run fast! 

Pre-race I had woken up early to eat my home-made chocolate peanut butter oatmeal bowl for the #carbs #carbloading and during the race I ate Pro Bar Energy Chews. If you're thinking of running a half-marathon, definitely figure out what works for you but the consensus online is that you need to eat carbs beforehand and during the race mid-way through most take some energy gels or chews.

The hardest part of the half-marathon for me was probably the end. Every second of miles 10 to 13.1, I wanted to give up. I also vaguely remember getting a horrible cramp sometime in between and feeling as if my rib was broken. I'd definitely say that knowing the course helped me a lot because I knew when hills were coming and to mentally prepare myself for them. I think having people cheer for you around the end is really important whether it be strangers or loved ones.

All I remember about the "post-race" portion is cheering for my friend Dara and then us eating the free bagels and pretzels and juice they had given us. We both decided to take naps, so we passed out for a couple hours before meeting up again to eat together. Later that day, I ended up getting wonton soup, dumplings, Asian peanut noodles, and ice cream with her. We had been training together for the past month or two by running usually 4 - 6 miles once a weekend in Central Park. I also remember eating some cheap pizza later that night because I was starving from all that exercise! I think the best part of the half-marathon was finishing it, then sleeping, and then eating as much as I wanted to... haha!
Overall, I truly am so proud of myself for finishing my (one and only) half-marathon. There's just something about striving for a goal for a couple months and then accomplishing it that feels really satisfying. For those curious, my official time was 1:50:05 and my pace per mile was 8:24 (not sure if this actually really means anything to anyone though since running is truly an individual thing in my opinion).

Happy running,
CL

Not a Hot Take, I'm Just Mourning: Toni Morrison

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

San Francisco, CA, USA

Photo by Acadiana Center for the Arts

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 
T O N I  M O R R I S O N

I always suspected that my body, my personhood were insufficient vessels for all the grief and gratitude I've tried to contain within it. I drown until I spill over. The news of Toni Morrison's passing this morning confirmed this belief to be true. I am shell-shocked and speechless; I want to genuflect in praise and incomprehensible joy. I want to hug strangers on the street. "Don't you know," I want to scream, "don't you know the good news: that literature and language are undying, incapable of certain death. Look at all that cannot be burned down. Look at what nobody can take away from us. Look at the love and light that will always, always, forever be ours to keep. Look at what has been left behind to save us all."

I could try to prescribe her works, or catalog her finest prose. But any reader knows that this is unnecessary. You'll find her when you're ready; or maybe, the words you needed will find you. There is an entire generational canon of literature that can trace its ancestry to Morrison: 'If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.' 
My own, little as it is, sits among these.

So I'll end with the words that found me last:
I am a writer and my faith in the world of art is intense but not irrational or naive. Art invites us to take the journey beyond price, beyond costs into bearing witness to the world as it is and as it should be. Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it from even the most tragic of circumstances. Art reminds us that we belong here. And if we serve, we last. My faith in art rivals my admiration for any other discourse. Its conversation with the public and among its various genres is critical to the understanding of what it means to care deeply and to be human completely. I believe. 
I'm so devastated. So indebted. Thank God for Toni Morrison, and for every teacher who's led me to her. May her journey home be mighty, freed.

LC

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