Sunday School: Vol. 1

Sunday, July 21, 2019 Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important... courage, or any other virtue, would be, this process trains us in habits of the soul, which are more important still. It cures us of our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments; and on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection. 
C . S . L E W I S ,  M E R E  C H R I S T I A N I TY 

Happy Sunday! I've mentioned here and there that my most intense periods of personal transformation have always been accompanied - or rather, catalyzed - by profound spiritual growth. I've struggled a lot with religion my entire life despite spending most of my childhood in some sort of church. But I think that's what often precedes real faith - not certainty, but tides and tides of doubt. My testimony is premature and feels half-baked still, but I swear on all I know that the deepest grief I've ever felt was the shadow of the greatest love I'll ever feel, and I survived both only with God's grace. 

I'm unqualified to share any more than that, except to note that the most intense symptom of change is often nearly unbearable pain. I feel like parts of me - ego, especially - are dying and vehemently resisting death, all at once. There are times when I feel seventeen again, in that horrible, broken place, asked to quite literally destroy parts of myself that have become parasitic: 
The pain that you are feeling cannot compare to the joy that is coming.
R O M A N S  8 : 1 8 

I hope this post doesn't indicate at all that I've become a devout Christian and feel compelled to share the gospel. I haven't. But I am trying so hard to be better, and I've found so much clarity - not yet peace, and certainly not comfort - in the genesis of this "faith journey." This time around, it doesn't feel like the Sunday School I remember. I've been doing this "churchless" -- that is to say, searching for a personal spiritual relationship rather than an institutional one. So what I'm really trying to do is share the resources I've found. Yes, ladies, despite the winding introduction, this is, per LC brand standards, yet another roundup of interesting reads and podcasts. 

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity | C.S. Lewis
This was the book that affirmed I was heading in the right direction because it predicted all of the pain and grief I would feel. Intelligent and empathetic without the frustrating sentimentality I've come to resent in (bad) Christian literature.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
The Four Loves | C.S. Lewis
I read in another book of a character who scorned those who held 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ("Love is patient, love is kind") in highest regard because a Godless love is only superficial love. Anybody who centers the Scripture around this bit of comfort, according to him, was missing the point. "Love" feels easy when we conflate it with desire, with affection, with our raw need to be wanted. When we think the whole point of the verse is to teach others how to love us, how to meet our carnal and emotional needs. But that is so reductive of true, infallible love.
Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: 'We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.' Need-love says of a woman 'I cannot live without her'; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection - if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

At Home in Exile, by Russell Jeung
At Home In Exile: Finding Jesus among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors | Russell Jeung
I read this two years ago when I was feeling particularly agnostic but craving Asian American literature (this was the summer of the Asian American Book Club!). At Home in Exile weaves in narratives of longing and belonging as Jeung retraces the steps of his Chinese-Hakka family and his refugee neighbors. In the face of forced relocation and institutional discrimination, his family and friends resisted time and time again over six generations. This is a testimony that reflects the God and the faith I want to belong to: one sympathetic and wholly loving of refugees, one that protects the humanity of the disenfranchised and marginalized as an essential part of Christian duty.
At times, as in the issue of sex trafficking, we can easily rally against the sin and develop compassion for the victims. For other issues, we in the middle class are so thoroughly enmeshed in our lifestyles of consumption and affluence that we are scarcely aware of our own depravity, the spirit of prostitution, or others' suffering. We remain clueless about how we degrade God's creation or reduce others to great poverty. We are oblivious to staggering racial inequality in the United States that causes millions to be incarcerated or deported. The complicity is masked to us as we are caught up in the privileges of the American empire; we fail to recognize that, worldwide, more individuals today are displaced by war, violence, and poverty than at any time in history. Sadly, we are too busy to see the world for what it is. Being called out of the world, then, requires the perspective of a stranger and foreigner, that of an exile and a Hakka. 
Transformation Church: Relationship Goals | Pastor Mike Todd
I'm still working through these on an as-needed basis, but the first of the series, "Before the Person," really resonated and provided so much Scriptural clarity on why relationships become parasitic. To summarize, there are things we search for in other people (not just in significant others, but in mentors, advisers, friends) that only God can provide for us. Those things are (1) a sense of place, (2) a purpose, (3) identity and sense of self, (4) provisions, and (5) parameters. If we look for these in people, we inevitably punish them for our own disappointment in never finding them, or being dissatisfied with their lesser versions.

It's not like any of this is unfounded for the secular; Esther Perel writes in The State of Affairs (one of my favorite books on romantic relationships) that our expectations for our partners have expanded to include all that an entire, literal village was once tasked with providing: social status, success, children, companionship, "a best friend and trusted confidant and passionate lover to boot," for an unprecedentedly long lifetime.
Task yourself with the pursuit of purpose-driven personhood, with spiritual wholeness, with unshakable faith. Then find a partner whose only role is to help. Only that is sure to last.

Fiat lux,

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