Our Family Stories

I recently read a book called, When My Name Was Keoko (affiliate link). It’s a YA book from the perspectives of two Korean siblings, a boy and a girl, and their experiences of growing up in Japanese occupied Korea during WWII. I loved it. Of course, I am biased because I do enjoy YA books and historical fiction in particular because then I can learn history without having to “learn” history. (Side note: Who knew that Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945? Not me!)

The book touched on hard and terrible subjects without becoming maudlin or manipulative or overly depressing. (A somewhat difficult task considering the subject matter.) The author, Linda Sue Park, did a wonderful job. However, for the first time, I found myself conflicted when reading about this horrible time during Japanese history.

You see, my kids are part Japanese and it is very difficult for me to reconcile wartime atrocities with their cultural heritage. After all, the US was founded on genocide and slavery and I am just fine with living in the US. Plus, I am also okay with Germans (my kids are also part German) as well as less okay with the Chinese part. (I have my own reasons for my distinct distaste for Mainland China.) I am very fine with the Taiwanese part – but that’s because I’m extremely biased in my opinion of my own people. (Who isn’t?)

Anyhow, I found myself once again ashamed at my complete lack of historical awareness and a renewed desire to actively learn for myself (as well as teach my children) our Chinese/Taiwanese/Japanese history. Up until this point, I must say I didn’t care as much about Japanese history because let’s face it, my kids are being raised Taiwanese American because that is what I am. But I have always felt cut off from my cultural heritage and family because my parents didn’t emphasize our family histories and I envy all the people who have stories passed down through generations. I would prefer my children have the stories as part of who they are.

I only have two living grandparents left and there is a major language hurdle for my maternal grandfather as well as an emotional hurdle for my paternal grandmother. (I despise her.) This makes me sad. But I think I will encourage my own mother to tell me and the kids more stories of her family and childhood. And perhaps, I will cajole my uncle to tell me stories of my father’s family and childhood. In addition, it would be nice to have Hapa Papa’s mother tell more of her and her family’s stories as well. I will have to do better with keeping in contact with Hapa Papa’s father’s side of the family, too.

As I mentioned before, I often felt abbreviated and adrift due to my not having a firm grasp of who my families were and how we came to be here in the US. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing or an immigrant thing or just my parents, but I rarely heard anything about their pasts or childhoods when growing up. I felt as if we just sprouted out of thin air.

Now, to be fair, that did have some advantage in that I haven’t felt the burden of generations past. But as a result, I also feel disconnected from my families – and that makes me very sad.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more drawn to histories and biographies/autobiographies. I am much better at grasping and learning through stories versus dried up facts so I am looking forward to expanding my library and my mind. I think I will start with myths and legends of China and Japan. After all, how is it that I know more of Jewish, Greek and Norse Mythology than my own peoples? And who are a people without the stories they tell themselves about their gods and themselves? Plus, this will make it easier to teach the kids about their heritage as well.

Then, I will expand into stories set in historical situations or perhaps I will have to suck it up and read long non-fiction tomes. *sigh* The things I do for my children.

How have your families passed along generational history, stories, legends, etc.? I am very curious and hoping to steal some good ideas. Let me know in the comments.

The Lie of Being Strong

These past few weeks or so, several of my friends have been hit with really hard news and family situations. Reading their status updates on Facebook is heartbreaking and at best, I can post an encouraging prayer or comment. (Not that my friends are actually looking to us to write the perfect comment that would solve all their pain and suffering. If only it could be so easy.)

Of course, being the nosy person that I am, I also read other people’s comments and encouragements. Inevitably, person after person wrote for my friends to “Be Strong” or “You’re Strong” or some variant of “God doesn’t give you things you can’t handle.” The first few just piqued my annoyance. But comment after comment in the same vein started to piss me off.

Why? Because they’re lies. Insidious, invidious lies.

Obviously, people aren’t writing these types of comments to be assholes or unhelpful. They mean them to be encouraging – and perhaps the comments are even taken as encouragement. This is not a diss on the kind and well-meaning people. This is a tirade against the lie.

My friends, if you are suffering, you don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to be a rock or have everything handled or under control. You don’t have to be anything you are not currently.

If you are overwhelmed, be overwhelmed. If you are weak, be weak. If you are spent, be spent. If you are grieving, grieve. If you are furious, be furious. If you are afraid, be afraid.

You have complete freedom to be whatever you are at this very moment. And if in fifteen minutes, how you feel changes – then you have complete freedom to be that as well.

Forgive me if that seems obvious. This is a particular area in which I get riled up about.

You see, it makes me incredibly angry when people who are suffering are told that they can handle things because God wouldn’t give them anything they couldn’t take. (A side note: This post is not to argue the existence or absence of God or address the topic of theodicy. You don’t have to agree with my worldview in order to understand my logical framework within my worldview.)

The idea that God only gives us things we can handle is complete and utter horseshit.

God promises us many things in the Bible; not once does He promise that He only gives us things we can handle.

Things happen to us (whether or not God allows it to happen or actively makes it happen to us is actually beside the point) and many times, we are completely unprepared and ill-equipped. When these things happen to us, they can either push us closer to or further away from God. And when well-meaning Christians tell us that we are strong or we can handle it, they are actually pushing us further and further away from God.

Why? Because if we are feeling weak but then are told that we’re supposed to be able to handle the pain it only adds to our burden. We feel pressure then to act as if everything is okay or be immediately healed when the truth is far from it. We put up a façade and hide from even God because we must be dropping the ball or are spiritually inert if we can’t get our act together.

It’s simply not true.

I get it. After all, 99.9% of the time, the only way out is through. And often, the way to do that is through gritted teeth, digging deep, and putting one foot in front of the other.

But persevering and being needy are not mutually exclusive.

You see, I believe in a good, merciful, and redemptive God. A God who repeatedly offers comfort for the weak. And when people tell us to “be strong,” we miss out on that comfort because we are too busy pretending to not need it. And before we can run to God, we first have to admit we are in need.

Now, I realize that this post is woefully simplistic and barely scratches the surface on the problem of pain and sound reasoning. That’s okay. I’m not really interested in that. Besides, there are far more in depth essays, books, etc. out there by far more talented people. I just want to be a reminder.

God can handle anything we throw at Him. He is neither surprised or flummoxed. God is more than enough for us in our pain. His grace is sufficient.

My Church Dilemma

So here’s the thing. I consider myself a Christian and in theory, I think church is important. I love the idea of community and Bible studies and corporately worshiping with a bunch of other people who also love Jesus and strive to be more like Him. I grew up more or less in the church and even though I had my own particular issues with it, church was an important shaper of my life.

I haven’t really gone regularly to church for a very long time. There was a brief trial period for a few months when Gamera was born, but I fell off the wagon and for various reasons or another (more like excuses, really), I stopped going.

Ideally, I would like to start attending church again. But it is very hard for me to overcome inertia and my own multitude of prejudices and “requirements” for a church that I think would be suited to me. Actually, the hardest part about church is coming to terms that there is no such thing as an “ideal church” (in terms of my personal preferences) this side of Heaven. Also, I’m pretty sure that Heaven is going to be vastly different from what I expect anyway. I only expect to be awesomely surprised.

Anyhow, I’ve been mulling this topic on and off for the last decade or so. You see, there are a few things I would like in a church and thus far, no church in my area hits all of them. (Surprise, surprise.) So now that it’s taken me approximately ten years to come to this conclusion, I figure I should just get my butt into a pew somewhere and just deal with it – but WHERE? What items on my list should take precedence? Especially since I want my kids to attend and the foundation of their faith (or lack thereof) in the future will be laid here.

Here is an arbitrarily ordered list of the things I look for in a church:

– Women in leadership (and not just in Women’s and Children’s Ministries)
– Diverse membership and leadership (in racial and socio-economic sectors)
– Sermons and Bible studies that examine the text from a mostly inductive manner (eg: taking into account style of language, cultural context, audience, etc. vs having a topic and cherry-picking verses to fit the argument)
– Within a 30-minute driving radius because otherwise, it’s too hard to attend and meet people in my community
– Members that are keen on building a deep and intimate community

The sad thing is, just looking for women in leadership pretty much cancels out more than half of all churches. Throw in ethnic and economic diversity and I might as well be searching for a unicorn. So, which should I compromise on?

I’d prefer a place that examines the Bible in an inductive manner – but this, too, is difficult to find. Most churches say they are “Bible-based,” but what exactly does that mean? Does that mean they adhere to ALL the rules/laws in the Old Testament and the New Testament? Or does that only pertain to edicts about homosexuals? But nothing about giving all their money away to the poor, divorce, bringing in the full tithe, and there being no Greek nor Jew, male nor female, etc.?

I think ultimately, I will have to settle.

Also, I will have to actually discuss things with my children and not just leave it up to whatever church we end up at. I think that’s what REALLY bothers me. I am far too lazy for my own good.

Any advice? For those of you who are religious and attend places of worship, what were your criteria? And how did you ultimately end up selecting a place?

Revisiting Past Creations

I haven’t written poetry in at least eight or nine years. Sometimes, I look back and think, “Gosh, what utter self-absorption. What sentimental dreck.” But then, I go back and read them and some aren’t half bad. (At least, in my personal, unbiased opinion.)

Anyhow, I miss that part of me, but unfortunately, most of my poems sprang from a deep sadness and were a way to cope with depression and typical drama. (Years of therapy have definitely helped!) I am not sure I can even write a poem if I wanted to now. Not because I am in a good place – I find the idea that art must only come from depression to be sad and trite. Mostly, it may just be because I am out of practice and haven’t gotten into that type of mindset anymore. It is a muscle that I’ve let atrophy.

At any rate, this is just a long preamble for me to say that I will likely start sharing some of my poems on this blog. Just because I am a glutton for punishment (and praise!).

This is the last poem I wrote.

In All Seasons

I say
Today
I will blast through the dam of my soul
and tears will spring forth from a well
of thirst
salt water carving its course down
my radiant cheeks
full and round
bursting with joy
as I say,
“Glory Be! Praise the Lord, O My Soul!”
Even if it be through gritted teeth
It is still so.

– 10/13/05

I am surprised by how difficult this entry is for me to post. In fact, this post is harder for me than some of my more obviously “vulnerable” ones on my father. I suppose it is because while my posts about my father are vulnerable, they are my experiences and feelings. Who can dispute that those are indeed my feelings and experiences? Even if a person disagrees with me, my thoughts are still my own and perfectly valid.

However, if I create “art” (see, I can’t even bring myself to write “art” without quotes. As if what I created is insufficient to be called Art. Well, perhaps just art with no Capital A.), that can be judged as good or bad. may think myself quite the poet or wordsmith, but now, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

It’s like the deluded people who audition for American Idol. They think they are the next pop star but in reality cannot carry a tune if their life depended on it and are astonished when the judges boo them. (What they really should be astonished about is that no one in their life loved them enough to say before they humiliated themselves on national TV, “Sweetheart, you are good at many things. Singing is not one of those things.”)

Hmmm. I suppose that is an inaccurate comparison. Mostly because you are either on tune or not. That is not a subjective situation. That is an indisputable fact.

Anyway, you get my drift.

Well, good poetry or bad, it is not the SOLE reason to write and share. In fact, that applies to all art and creation. Yes, we would all ideally create only beautiful, wonderful things. But if that were the limitation we put upon ourselves, likely, there would not be any good (dare I say, transformative) art all. If the main driving factor behind our creations is whether or not something will be “good,” we have already hobbled ourselves, tamping down our free expression. But, if we are free to create utter crap, then we open ourselves up to making something that could possibly be True and Good.

Keep in mind, we likely have to throw away a lot of crap on our way to making something good. For some of us, we may have to throw away a lot MORE crap before we get to make anything mediocre.

That’s ok.

For so much of my life, because I picked up certain things really quickly (such as sight-reading music for singing or playing piano), I found it very difficult to try activities in which I did not immediately excel. Obviously, innate talent is a consideration, but ultimately, most activities worth doing well are only done so after much failure and practice. I wish I had been more willing to accept “failure” along the way to becoming proficient at dancing, drawing, and perhaps basketball.

Well, it’s not too late for me yet! I have enjoyed taking dance classes in my adulthood, and one day, when I am willing to make the time sacrifice, I will take drawing lessons, too. That’s one of my favorite things about becoming older and more comfortable with myself – I have mostly stopped caring about failure. I am more interested in getting what I want and sometimes, the only way to succeed is to fail along the way.

Inappropriate Bible Stories FTW

A few weeks ago, I complained about how Sunday Schools teach Bible stories that make either the Bible completely unappealing because everyone is a saint, or it sanitizes stories that are incredibly hard to digest and process. Well, today, I’d like to remind us of the stories I WISH Sunday Schools would teach – not because they are appropriate for children but because they are awesome.

Most people, when they think of Bible stories, don’t really consider comedy and potty humor to be part of them. They think of the Good Samaritan or Moses and the Red Sea. You know, morality plays or epic situations. And there are many of these types of stories to be found in the Bible. Otherwise, people usually think the Bible to be full of rules, lists of people who begat other people, and a bunch of overly religious prattle.

But that’s not true. Yes, there are boring bits, but personally, I think there are far more interesting snippets that if we learned them when we were younger, we’d be utterly hooked on the Bible because it is a crazy book!! (I’m not even including the insane acid-trip that is the book of Revelations.)

Here then, are two Bible stories that I submit for your edification. One that I find terribly intriguing and the other I find awesomely hilarious. What this says about me is uncertain except perhaps that I have somewhat deranged sensibilities.

1) Angels have sex with human women and make Nephilim babies!!

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. […] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

– Genesis 6:1-2, 4 (NASB)

WHAT??? This is like, barely making it through the first few chapters of the Bible and we get freaky angel/human sex that results in GIANTS!! I mean, I get why they gloss over this detail in Sunday School but OMG! The original urban fantasy novel!! And it’s just matter-of-factly summed up in three verses. WHY? Why wouldn’t they include more information on this? Instead, this is just served as the backdrop and setup for Noah and the Great Flood. BORING! I want more crazy angel sex!

2) Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah

Here’s the tl;dr version. After a long drought in Israel (which Elijah announced before it happened as God’s curse), Elijah wanted to prove to the Israelites that God was more powerful than the false gods they were worshiping. So Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to a very public demonstration. He has two altars built and completely drenched in water. Then he has two bulls sacrificed, one for each altar. Whoever’s god can light the sacrifice on fire is the True God.

Elijah lets the prophets go first and they beg Baal and Asherah for hours, cutting themselves, sweating, dancing, and pleading. Elijah mocks them and gleefully says, “You’ll have to shout louder than that […] to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” (1 Kings 18:27 TLB, emphasis mine)

I don’t know why this is my all-time favorite story but I suspect it has something to do with Elijah asking if the gods are out dropping a deuce and are therefore indisposed and cannot be bothered to send fire for the sacrifice. It is literal shit-talking!

Why don’t they teach this version of the story in Sunday School? Most translations use the euphemism “busy” instead of “pooping” – which is a shame because OMG, HILARITY.

I mean, really! The Bible is terrible and bewildering – full of totally fucked up people and unbelievable setups and resolutions. And yet somehow, this long, continuous and continuing epic love story of God pursuing completely undeserving people is how God chooses to communicate (in writing, no less!) to us. (And not because we’re so great – but because He’s so great. Of course, your theological mileage may vary on that interpretation.)

Can you imagine if we taught this in Sunday School? No kid would ever complain about the Bible being boring again! Off the top of my head, I can recount at least two or three more stories that reference pooping or peeing (of course, because I am twelve), a few that involve gruesome humor, and many more that are achingly beautiful. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Furthermore, we’d get a far more nuanced, sarcastic, and scathingly funny God. (And yes, compassionate, passionate, loving, and gentle God, too.) Far better to reject a God we are a little more accurately depicting than to worship a god about whom we are completely deluded.

What about you? What are your favorite (for any reason) Bible stories and why?

Rainbows and Genocide

‘Cuz God is a killer from the start
Why you think Noah had to build his ark?

Heaven, Ice Cube

Everything I ever learned in Sunday School about Noah’s Ark involved cute little animals marching up the plank onto a giant boat. Oh, and of course, 40 days of rain, rain, rain and crows and doves and olive branches. And rainbows. Pretty, pretty rainbows. And perhaps some passing mention of flooding the world to the point where everyone died except for eight people stuck on a boat.

Wait, what?!

God kills almost every person on the planet (not to mention all the animals and plants) and we Christians teach it to kids with catchy songs because it has cute fluffy animals and boats and stuff?

I find that really inappropriate.

In a related vein, my kids’ Sunday School teachers are going to hate me.

It doesn’t bother me that everyone dies by God’s hand. It bothers me because we gloss over hard parts of the Bible, Disney-fy a Grimm story, and put a pretty bow on it with a nice banal song to boot. Maybe even add a talking animal friend.

Basically, we lie to our children about God and His story and one day, they’re going to read the Bible for themselves and hit Noah’s Ark and say, “What the flying fuck is this?”

And not just Noah’s Ark. The Bible is page after page of completely messed up stories and people that challenge us and make no sense sometimes, and often bring up more questions than answers about God and His infinite mercy and wisdom.

Don’t think the Bible is that edited when we teach our kids? How about the raping of Dinah and her brothers killing all the men of the offending tribe when they are recovering from circumcision? Or David committing murder so he can cover up adultery and knocking up someone else’s wife? Or God commanding the Israelites to kill all the people – women and children included – in their skirmishes as they invade another people’s land to turn into their own? Or the tenth plague of Egypt where the Angel of Death kills every single first born – including babies and toddlers (which I have a huge problem with)? Or when Abraham whores out his wife, Sarah, to various kings because he is too cowardly to claim her as his wife?

I mean, this barely scratches the first few books of the Old Testament! You could say, “But that’s the Old Testament! God was different and full of wrath!” To which I reply, “Oh, God changes personality then? He is inconstant and schizophrenic? That’s comforting.”

But let’s say you’re right. What about the cozy, heartwarming stories from the New Testament? Like when the lovely baby Jesus is born and King Herod massacres all Jewish baby boys under two or three? (Kinda like with Moses.) Or that delightful, kid-friendly crucifixion – the basis of the Christian faith? Or John the Baptist’s head on a platter because King Herod lusted after his grand-niece/step-daughter (let’s not even get into the incest!)? Or Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead on the spot for lying about how much money they got for a plot of land?

We Christians give our kids such sanitized Bible stories that when they inevitably find out the truth by actually reading the Bible, our kids are totally unprepared for the brutality and hard questions these stories raise. At best they will think the Bible has no relevance to the real world and at worst, they will think the Bible a pack of lies. We rob the Bible of any teeth and power by serving it diluted. We do an immense disservice to our children when we “clean up” and serve God and the story of His people in palatable bites.

The Bible is NOT palatable. The Bible is not easy. The Bible is not safe.

The reason, of course, is that God is not palatable, easy, or safe.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis [emphasis mine]

Why are we so afraid of teaching our kids the unedited stories of the Bible? Is it because we secretly don’t believe that God is good? Or that God is big enough to handle our questions and doubts? Or maybe we are too lazy to think about these things at all? Because if we did think about what the Bible actually says about gossip, the poor, money, and grace, we would actually have to change our way of life?

I realize no parent in their right mind wants to discuss after Sunday School why it seems okay for God to kill babies or what adultery means. But that’s our job as parents. I don’t want to talk about drugs or sex or race with my kids, either, but I will because that is my job as a parent. To frame and put hard things in context. To equip my kids the best way I know how even if eventually they decide that my values and faith will not be their values and faith.

For me, that is the hardest thing. To trust that God will take care of my family and kids even if they reject everything I teach them. That even if I do everything “right,” there is no guarantee of safety or shelter from suffering. That life is like the stories in the Bible: messy, complicated, and sometimes, really screwed up.

Yes, life has beautiful and grand moments. It’s easy to think God is good then. But as we all know and experience, life is not always lovely and wonderful.

If we only cherry pick the good parts of the Bible and God, how will our children know to cleave to God when life spirals into the grimiest shit? How will they respond to the seeming disconnect between “God is good” and the world they see with their own eyes?

This is why I get so mad about Sunday School stories as they currently are. They paint a lie of the world – that if we just believe in God, everything will be shiny and full of ponies! That God makes everything better and rewards good little children. That only pillars of faith make it in the Bible – not real humans.

But that’s NOT TRUE. It is a lie.

The truth is, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NIV) That no matter how faithful you are, sometimes, prayer doesn’t work out the way we want and families split up or friends die of cancer. That despite all our good intentions, babies starve, women are raped, and children are sexually enslaved.

It is a fallen and broken world in which we live. The same fallen and broken world in which the Bible and its characters and the story of God’s people take place. I’m not saying that Sunday School should be a depressing experience, but it should at least sometimes reflect reality and not a Pollyanna view of the world. Sunday School should be a safe place for equipping our children to examine and question what the people do (as well as how God responds) in the Bible. Sunday School should not only be a place for our kids to learn about the Bible, but to learn how to grapple with the tension between the hope and promise of a new kingdom, and the temporary reality of pain and suffering in this world.

This sounds great in theory, but I have no idea how to implement this with my own children. They are young, yet. Plus, I doubt I will ever find this type of Sunday School while my kids are still eligible to attend. *sigh*

What do you do with your kids? How do you explain suffering and hope in an age-appropriate manner? For that matter, how do you approach religion and faith in your family? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking for ideas I can blatantly steal. 🙂 Cheer me up, please!