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

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