fix it with a plothole

The September update for Final Fantasy XV came out yesterday, promising to disclose the details that lead to the Astral War. Having been discussing the world and its history with several others, I was very much hoping this update would canonize the Pitioss Ruins theory by Perona77 (don’t read that if you don’t want major *spoilers*, but it’s totally fantastic, so you should read it if you have a love for storytelling and won’t be bothered by *spoilers.* Have I said “*spoilers*” enough yet? *spoilers*).

It seemed to do the opposite.

I have loved this game since choosing “New Game” and getting introduced to the boys. This is the first time I’ve truly been disappointed with regards to the story. Yes, the game has a few issues to address (particularly in pacing), but as for the continuity of the story, I felt they did a pretty fine jobone obvious problematic continuity issue being that Iggy’s eyes went from “ain’t that bad” to “I can barely see you without my glasses” somewhere between Cauthess and the Vesperpool. They don’t get specific on history and mythos in the game either, so you do have to dig around a bit for that, which is particularly why the Pitioss Theory was so goodit seemed to fill in the blanks almost perfectly.

But this.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In the established storyline of the game (prior to this update), Ifrit, the astral of fire, is called “wicked,” “fickle,” and “the Betrayer” because he turned against humans and sparked the Great War of Old. (Although, if we track with everything that Shiva said about her feelings toward humans in this update, it sure sounds like she’s actually the fickle one here.) It’s been a while, but I don’t recall there being an explanation as to why he did what he did, and it seemed a little unprovoked considering the language surrounding the betrayal.

In the new patch, the player has the option to ask Shiva, the astral of ice, about the past. She has always been described in the game as the astral who held the most compassion toward humans and the one that was most likely to be in their corner, yet she explains that she once held disdain for humans (cue still image of her freezing them to death for some unknown reason), but Ifrit was fascinated by them, admiring their willpower, and so blessed them with fire, which helped them advance their civilization, etc. He eventually warmed her up (pardon the pun) to humans as well as himself, and they fell in love. Then the humans became prideful and rebelled against the gods, and Ifrit reacted by attacking them. But because the astrals had sworn to protect Eos, they fought alongside the humans. Ifrit then is used by Ardyn and corrupted by darkness. Shiva pleads for Noctis to free her love from the bondage of darkness, and Noctis accepts.

There are several issues:

  1. How does one get labeled “the Betrayer” when one is more accurately “the Betrayed” according to the update?
  2. The battle with Ifrit becomes problematic, as Shiva comes in near the end, proclaiming, “Pyreburner. That heart of flame was turned to ash once. A dead flame must burn no more. Taste again the chill wind of death.” (Basically, “Hey Ifrit, you supposed to be dead. Time to go back to being dead.”) I get that killing the guy would essentially “free” him of the darkness, too, but her request didn’t seem to suggest that’s what she wanted. And then she comes in and kills him. Also, for Noctis to fulfill his new promise to Shiva, wouldn’t he have to actually seek Ifrit out? They never planned to meet him; it was Ardyn who had a plan to introduce them, but we can’t exactly rely on Ardyn to do anything we want him to.
  3. What the heck kind of purpose does Pitioss now serve? Granted, it was a theory to begin with, but it made so much sense that it really might as well have been officially canonized. You go through this dungeon and see the story unfold through Ifrit’s eyes (as his testimony of innocence), showing why he did what he did to start the war (I’d argue chaotic good for him as well). This was the one piece in the world that told the truth about what happened. Instead, you now have a random woman, represented by a statue deep in the ruins, that Ifrit went to save despite being in love with Shiva.
  4. Even if we nixed #3 on the list, #1-2 are still valid issues, and the question of the purpose of Pitioss Ruins is also a valid question. Why put a 2-3 hour, crazy confusing dungeon in this game without giving it a purpose, when everything else seems to have been quite deliberate? I’d heard that Tabata himself said that this dungeon told a story, but what story can it possibly tell now? (EDIT 10.6.17: I’ve now heard that Tabata has denied Pitioss has a story at all, that it was just a creative outlet for a designer’s imagination. So the Ifrit statues, the statue of Titan, the woman in chains, the barreling skull that is probably Doomtrain… all of it is random. It makes even less sense for it to be random.)
  5. I have to wonder, considering how freaking insane Niflheim is, and their goal is to become the Solheim of the new age, if Niflheim bears any resemblance to the old civilization of Solheim (who themselves are guilty of pride as their reason for turning on the gods), it almost seems like fighting against the humans would protect the world more so than fighting against Ifrit.
  6. The scars on Ifrit’s body were described in the update to be a result of Starscourge, but they seem more consistent with the burns that Noctis and Nyx both got from tapping in to the power of the Crystal.
  7. The patch said that some time in the age that followed the war (however long it took for the nations to be developed, Ardyn to be named the Chosen King, and Ardyn to be corrupted and shunned by the gods), Ifrit is revived by Ardyn and corrupted by the Starscourge for Ardyn’s own plans, which awakens Shiva to rush to help him. If I remember correctly, Episode Prompto said that Shiva was awakened because of the experiments at the First Magitek Research Facility where the Empire was attempting to create daemon-Magitek superhybrids, such as Diamond Weapon. She purposely goes after them in an attempt to stop these dangerous and immoral experiments. This aligns more closely to her being the compassionate astral who actually likes humans (lawful good, if you will). She set them back, killing much of their army while sacrificing herself in the process, and the Empire began developing weapons to fight the astrals.
  8. Her story does not describe how the darkness came into the world, despite previous notes in the game that said Ifrit brought the darkness when he betrayed the humans and the gods. It’s suggested that he was resurrected by the darkness, and corrupted and driven mad by it, so again, where did the darkness come from now, if he is now not its bringer? But as it seems Shiva transported herself into the Messenger Gentiana when she died; I’d always figured that the body we see Ifrit in was also that of a Messenger, which was why he looked a little more human than depicted in Amano’s Big Bang art.

Speaking of Amano’s Big Bang…

We can identify Ifrit by his horns. And that blonde woman in his arms is definitely not Shiva (you find her slightly right of center), so what is he doing with another woman, and why is he trying to rescue her when she doesn’t seem to have room in this plot anymore? This blonde woman happens to also be bound at the wrists and in the same position (link credit: Perona77) as the unnamed woman in Pitioss. It’s been long speculated that the unnamed woman and the blonde woman in the Big Bang art is Eos, the goddess of the Dawn, herself. She had always been important to the story, but now I’m not sure how she’ll fit. Considering she’s the goddess of this world, it seems strange that she would be glossed over in favor of something this basic, something that leaves no room for her story.

(EDIT 9.30.17: According to FFPeasant’s video on this, the FFXV Ultimania says that Eos is not only the name of the world in which this story takes place, it is the name of the “goddess whose power is bestowed upon the Oracle.” So yes, she indeed is supposed to be important to this story.)

There was one thing about this update that I very much liked, and that was the extended clip about Luna’s feelings toward Noctis. You do see many other clips in the latter part of the game, showing exactly what Luna felt for Noctis, and you can infer how Noctis felt for Luna based on his reactions and mannerisms. They now make his feelings a bit more explicitly stated in this new clip. However, those of us who have been paying attention to the changes in his behavior and demeanor when it comes to Luna figured it out fairly early on—pretty much right when we first met Umbra at Longwythe. You see a much more gentle side to Noctis where Luna is concerned. So while I thought this scene was beautiful and heartbreaking, and while I am glad that it was included, we have also had many beautiful and heartbreaking scenes showing exactly how these two feel about each other. Had it not been added to the story of the War, I doubt this scene would’ve warranted an update by itself.

**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**END SPOILERS**

This seemed to be a pretty big miss, so I’m hoping that I’m just missing something that will be revealed at a later date, and I’m hoping that the potential something doesn’t just convolute the story more. It seems the September update decided to fix missing information (that realistically could’ve stayed missing, at least for now) by creating several new plotholes. I’m hoping that this is not the full story but rather, another “doctored” account, much like how the history books don’t mention Ardyn, or how Ifrit has been excluded in the Genesis painting, among other deliberate deceptions in the game’s story.

In my mind, I’m going to jettison this update into an alternate universe. I do very much still love this game; it is very dear to my heart, as it is the tool by which God reminded me how I best worship Him.

To bring us back to a more positive view of this game, check out this article from Geeks Under Grace on God and FFXV (again, **spoilers**). I was a hot mess when I finished this game, and, if I’m honest, **SPOILER-ish** it’s been a month, and I’m still mourning. This article really let me see that other geeks are also finding God in the small things like video games and other media. It was nice to know I’m not alone, and also that there are other people who also don’t limit the ways God wants to reach people. I came across a disturbing image from a group that called themselves “Christians Against Final Fantasy” while searching for something FF-related. It was captioned something along the lines of, “allowing your daughter to play Final Fantasy is like allowing her to be groped by thousands of sex-scented hands,” and depicted a naked little girl with a bunch of photoshopped man-hands all over her. Right, that image came to your mind, but FF is the problem.

I’d written my final Soteriology essay in college on Final Fantasy X. I never got it back, but I passed the class, so it must’ve been pretty good. FFX was not as Christian-friendly as FFXV (as the Geeks Under Grace article mentioned, XV is the first double-digit FF that isn’t totally anti-religion/anti-Christian). At another time, I will try to re-explore that here, but for now, I’ve deviated enough from my original intent.

Game on, brothers and sisters. ^-^

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Journey to the Badlands

“The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.” – opening introduction

In recent months, Into the Badlands has become one of my favorite shows. In the wake of a certain superhero “martial arts” show failing to live up to its hype and the popularity of its predecessors, Into the Badlands provided a refreshing look at how a martial arts show should be made. Rather than zoom in so close that you can’t see the action (in an attempt to mask how badly the “martial artist” fights), ITB pans out so that you can see the full scale of the choreography and work these actors and stunt people have put in. Rather than splice up the fight scenes (in another attempt to cover up the Living Weapon’s lack of skills), the camera follows the action properly so you don’t miss the details. Rather than teaching the Immortal One his fight choreography fifteen minutes prior to shooting, the actors of ITB come together for fight camp during the offseason to learn and train with the masters behind decades of successful Hong Kong martial arts movies.

It was also a new story. They created a post-apocalyptic world with its own system of government (however flawed), and centered it on martial arts. It’s awesome seeing Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung doing successful things in American media. Into the Badlands also gives us a type of media representation we hadn’t seen much of before in Hollywood: a strong, multi-dimensional, desirable Asian male lead.

As a quick summary for the two of you who still read this blog, Into the Badlands stars Daniel Wu as the main protagonist Sunny, the head clipper in service to his baron. Sunny is very stoic at the beginning, having become desensitized to years of service to his baron. His back is covered in hash marks–one for each successful kill. As the season progresses, we see Sunny struggle against the norm and have to learn how to become more human. He has a small group of people to protect, one being a young boy named M.K., who is also one of our protagonists. In the second season, Sunny befriends (I use that term loosely) a man named Bajie. Bajie is a bit of a “chaotic good” alignment–he follows his own moral compass, which, while good, may not align with the rest of the population. I introduce these three main characters for the following reason.

Despite having caught up on both seasons, it took me till almost the end of Season 2 to draw a connection between Into the Badlands and Journey to the West. Journey is a folktale about Tang Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk tasked to retrieve the original sutras from India (“the west”) and bring them back to China, but he is often accosted by demons and evil spirits because the flesh of a righteous person is more delicious (*cringe*), and—if I’m remembering correctly—grants special properties. Throughout the story, he gains three disciples: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King; Zhu Bajie, the pig demon; and Sha Wujing, the sand demon. Wukong joins him as penance for wreaking havoc on the heavenly kingdom, and this journey is also part of his own spiritual journey to deification.

I know, I know. What’s a professing Christian like you doing reading and watching stories about Buddhism? Right?

As it turns out, I was raised Buddhist for the first fifteen years of my life. My house was adorned with many idols, and it constantly smelled of incense. My mother was often found chanting the sutras, praying, and serving food and drink offerings. We spent festivals and holidays at the local temple, doing much the same in a larger community. I took the oaths (I’m not sure that they’re called in English, actually) when I was ten-years-old. One of the things I committed to when I did that was observing a vegetarian diet on specific days of the lunar calendar (because I was on the school lunch program, I made up for it on weekends), and those were the worst days of my life. I often felt very afraid and even judged by the ceramic idols in my home. We had them in the living room and one of the bedrooms. If I forgot something in the living room at night, I either decided I could live without it for the night, or, if I couldn’t, I reached into the next room and flipped on the light before I entered it, and would do so with every single light in my path. Then I’d turn them off behind me and run toward the light of the next room. Once, we noticed a green scepter in the hands of a small Guan Yin we had in the living room and to this day, we are convinced she did not originally have that. So yes, I understand the darkness of spiritual matters quite well. And you should take time to learn about things you don’t agree with so that you know why you don’t agree.

Anyhow, back to the point.

I’d seen how “Bajie” was spelled throughout the entire second season (I like subtitles and captions), but they pronounced it “bah-jee,” so I didn’t think much of it (more on why this is relevant later). Over the summer, I bought a Playstation off a grad student (refer to this post for details), so for the first time ever, I had Netflix on my TV in my living room (what a time to be alive!). (Note: Yes, I know people have had this ability for many years, but my most recent system up till then was a Playstation 2, sooo… yeah.) One thing I enjoy is watching Chinese movies and shows with my mom, so since Netflix had The Monkey King and The Monkey King 2 available, we gave it a go. Despite no longer being Buddhist, this story is still a part of my childhood, and I shared many hours bonding with my mom and grandparents over this story.

And it was the first time I noticed that the romanized spelling of “Zhu Bajie” looked familiar (in Chinese, every vowel is pronounced: “bah-jee-eh”—see? It was relevant).

So of course, this made me connect “Sunny” with “Sun Wukong.”

From there, I did some googling and discovered that this show actually is loosely based on my childhood stories, though the article was written early on before more players and plot were in put in play.

In Into the Badlands, M.K. holds the key to find a place called Azra, which exists outside of the Badlands. It’s fabled to be a utopia, but as no one has ever left the Badlands, its existence is shrouded in myth and legend. I’m considering a connection between Azra and “the West,” and I’m going to draw a parallel with M.K. and Xuanzang. Sunny and M.K. decide to find Azra, and Bajie eventually joins them. Both Sunny and Bajie protect M.K. like Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie protect Tang Xuanzang. While it doesn’t seem that Sunny does this out of penance, as his identity slowly begins to shift away from being a clipper and more toward being a regular human, he does realize he has much to do penance for. Another connection is that Wukong is the best martial artist who can even take on the strongest demons, like Sunny is the best clipper in the Badlands. In Journey, Zhu Bajie is lustful (which is actually what got him kicked out of the heavenly realm and turned into a demon) and sometimes a total blunder, though he has the party’s best interest in mind. He and Wukong give each other a lot of grief and grate on each other’s nerves. Bajie (ITB) is also pretty lustful and a blunder, and, as I’d said, chaotic good. He and Sunny butt heads a lot and definitely frustrate each other (sometimes comically, like Wukong and his Bajie).

The characters I have not placed are Sha Wujing and the White Dragon Horse.

I’m impressed by and I really appreciate how they’ve creatively re-contextualized a popular folktale. They don’t call it Journey to the West because it is not Journey to the West. It is something all its own while also drawing familiar elements from a beloved fable. This is what it means for something to be “inspired” by something else. It is still respectful to Journey because it hasn’t dismantled it to make it something else while still claiming it’s the same thing. It’s difficult to explain, but I hope you can kind of grasp what I’m communicating.

Lewis Tan just announced that he’s been cast in a recurring role in Season 3. If this goes in the same trajectory as it has been, I’m secretly (not so secretly) hoping that Gaius Chau is Sha Wujing, the Sand Monk, so that we can see more of him as the story progresses. Fitting for the man who could’ve been the Young Dragon in a corporate drama cosplaying as a martial arts show to instead be on a martial show cosplaying as… a martial arts show.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

This is what storytelling is all about. It’s the details and the intricacies that make it what it is, for better or worse.

daughter day one

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:48

“Daughter.”

In a time and culture where fathers advocated for their daughters, this woman came to Jesus alone and ashamed. She was known to all as unclean, and there was no father to defend her or speak on her behalf.

Upon touching His cloak, she was healed from her ailment, from what made her unclean.

Yet, it is the word “daughter” that restores her identity and heals her soul. In a situation where no other defended her, Jesus chose to be her father. With one word, Jesus filled the lack and accepted her. She was clean. She was directly addressed. She was seen―seen by a man who would call her His child.

I have always been uncomfortable with this relationship of father and daughter. It is the identity of God that I relate to the least. While I never expected God to hurt or betray me in this role, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t understand who I was in this relationship or who He was. I didn’t know how to be a daughter to a father, and I didn’t know how a father would normally relate to a daughter.

Several months ago, I felt that God was inviting me to discover this with Him. I felt that He wanted me to know Him fully, and this was the relationship that was most awkward for us.

So I did what any daughter who grew up with an absent father would.

I turned around and walked―no―ran the other way. I could not get away fast enough.

Because I know that exploring this would ultimately bring me back to the father I never had, the father who never wanted me.

I spent years trying to heal, forgive, and move forward from the abandonment I experienced at his hand. While in college, I had finally done it. I was at peace that he was not there, and I decided I would forgive him so as to not be eaten alive by the pain and anger I felt toward him. His sin was my sin―just manifested differently.

This was the place I refused to go. I already healed. That was it. I would revisit this no more. So I built up my walls, hardened my heart, and wondered why I felt so empty.

(Pro-tip to those who receive an invitation from the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth: take it.)

Last night, my mom and I somehow got on the subject of my father. My mom asked me a question about his new family, and I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. So she told me about an article she found, and I looked it up.

Within seconds, I realized this was the biggest mistake I’d made in quite some time.

What I was looking at was an interview about my father, conducted by a girl who could possibly be my half-sister.

I read about his upbringing in China, which was similar to my mother’s. I read about how he did not want his children to experience not having food or clothing like he once did. I read that he came to America in 1988 and struggled until he learned English and could open his own business.

And I was angry.

In one sentence, he managed to insult both my mother and me, as he didn’t seem to care if we had food or clothing. The factual error of 1988 tells me that no one knows about my part in his history because we were a family in America by 1987. There were no details of how he came to America because that would have to include the ugly story of how he married a woman so that he could join her family, who was beginning to emigrate from their side of the Pacific. And then sired a child with her that he did not raise.

And then at the end of his interview, he boldly proclaimed that what he was most grateful for was that he would not have known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had he not come to America.

I was livid.

We may have happened before this, but we still happened. There was no attempt to reconcile, despite having been in contact with one of my uncles for years. This made me furious, but my anger only served to mask the deep hurt that was coming from a wound I thought was long closed.

This was why I didn’t take that invitation. This was why I ran. I had been hurt by this man long enough, and I did not want to invite him to live rent-free in my head once more. It took too much to heal the first time.

I have written countless letters, journal entries, and at least one poem regarding what I was feeling toward him, how I was processing, what I needed to do. And a few years ago, I wrote him an eviction notice. I was free from him. Finally.

I do not regret my life without him, despite having wondered more times than I’d like to admit, “why not me?”, “what would it have been like?” I was sent into the fire early, and from there, one can burn, or one can rise. It’s no one’s choice but your own.

But in the midst of this, God blessed my father and allowed him to gift the character “phoenix” toward my name as part of His plan: before I was even born, God declared that I would be victorious.

I was afraid to come to this place because I did not want the wound to reopen. I feared returning to a place of darkness, anger, hatred. But it seems the difference this time is that the wound is shallow and uninfected, and I am pressed to address it while it is so. And it is God who will have to help me keep it this way because my natural leaning would be to pick at it.

To be here now, as difficult as it is, God had gone to drastic measures to barrel through all of the walls I had built up, for the sole purpose of extending His invitation to me again.

God is a God of second chances, and when your heart is as hard as your head, He will break that rock-hard heart to give you one that beats and lives, and ask you to try again.

A spiritual mentor recently told me that because I have endured this much pain, my capacity for hope is this much greater. My wounds and scars run deep enough that the foundation is set for hope and love to be poured in to fill these broken places.

Months have passed since I was invited on this adventure. I was not ready to accept it then, but I think I am now.

It feels like the first step toward something huge.

I am terrified of the idea, but I am also feeling something I didn’t feel the first time.

Hope.

The one gift my father gave me is also my greatest burden. To bestow the name “phoenix” is ironic and fitting and everything I don’t want to bear. But it is a name that is redeemed because God called me something else.

Daughter.

He saw my lack and chose to fill it. He saw my wound and chose to heal it. With one word, He claimed me as His own―His own daughter. With this word, He chased away the hurt, shame, and lies that I had chosen to believe for much of my life.

He gifted me the bearing of a phoenix to fulfill the promise He made to me with this name. I will be refined with fire in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

And a phoenix will always rise.

Above the ashes.

I am a daughter―His daughter. And I will learn to live what that means.

This is day one.

love your neighbor (redux)

We hear it all the time.

Love your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love. Jesus is love, and He wants us to love like Him.

What is that supposed to look like? Do we “love” someone by tolerating them? Do we love someone by doing our best not to offend them? Do we love someone by keeping our mouths shut regarding their actions, even if they may be dangerous, but it makes them happy?

What does Jesus say about what it means to love? What does He say it means to follow Him?

To know that, you must look in the Scriptures.

It demands our life, and it demands our comfort (or lack thereof). We like the “hippy Jesus” that tells us to accept people and be good neighbors, as some consider to be the “core” of Christianity, but let’s take a look at what that actually means.

In Luke 10:25-37, we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We have our cast: the wounded Jew on the side of the road, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan man. Let’s take a look at the last three a little more closely.

Many priests at this time lived in Jericho and went on two week assignments to Jerusalem, which was about seventeen miles away. The road they traveled was a common one and was known to them. A priesthood is extremely exclusive; it stayed in the family. This priest was likely wealthy and riding on an animal.

What were the stipulations and requirements to be a priest? What was his duty according to Old Testament Law?

1) he was not allowed to approach or touch a dead body, lest he became defiled
2) had he approached the wounded man to discover he was dead, the priest would have had to return to Jerusalem to be ceremonially cleaned
3) he would not be able to use the offerings he received (usually of food; his family and servants would also not be allowed to use them)
4) if the wounded man died later, the priest would still be considered unclean
5) serving as priest while unclean was punishable by death
6) when upon a dead body, he would have to tear his robes, but he could not tear ceremonial robes

The Levite was an assistant to the priest in the Temple. He likely just assisted this particular priest and was on his way home as well. Knowing that the priest just walked by, he could not challenge the decision made by the priest to pass the man, and so he would pass as well.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye, right? This isn’t in any way to excuse or pardon the fact that they were not neighborly, but we cannot deny the gray area in this situation. And isn’t the gray where most of life is lived? It’s not as pure as black and white.

Inserting a Samaritan into this story was a particularly radical move by Jesus. Samaritans are a mixed-race between the Jews of captivity and the Samaritan people of the land in which they were captive. The relationship between these two peoples were hostile as a result of their history with one another. The Mishna states, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” The Samaritan is not a Gentile but is bound by the same law as the Jews, yet they were considered impure “half-breeds.” The Samaritan would not naturally be from that area, so the half-dead man would certainly not qualify as his neighbor. And the Jewish man would likely have chosen death over associating with a Samaritan.

In that time, a tradition known as “blood revenge” was practiced. In it, a relative of the guilty party may be punished for the crime in his place. It did not have to be an immediate relative but could extend to the most distant branches of the family tree.

So let’s recap the sacrifices this man had to make in order to love a man who was not necessarily his neighbor and would not likely have welcomed his help or offered it in turn:
1) he risked defilement
2) he poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, sacrificing monetary and material resources
3) he paid for a place for the man to rest and heal
4) he paid for the man’s treatment
5) there was no way of guaranteeing that money returned; he was not expecting repayment at all
6) he exposed himself to the innkeeper and made himself and his entire family and tribe vulnerable to blood vengeance

Loving our neighbors requires sacrificing our comforts and possibly even our lives. It means more than just being tolerant. I would hate to just be tolerated by my neighbor. I would hate to just be tolerated by my friend.

What often keeps us from what’s best is what’s good.

Tolerance is “good.”

Acceptance is “good.”

Love is best.

Yes, Jesus preached love, but this love is dirty. It is demanding and sometimes demeaning; it requires us to get in the middle of people’s messes in order to love them. It requires us to point out what is wrong but not stop there—we must replace it with what is right.

It required a sinless God to step down from His throne to become a Man, made of dirt and clay; and it required His death to overcome death itself and His blood to cover all of our sin.

Pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians has been done over and over by the national media. Do we as Christians really need to add to it? When the world sees us dividing against each other, would they really want to know the Jesus we both claim to serve and love? Choosing to turn from each other is a declaration of a Pharisee, praising God that he is not a sinner like the tax collector, who is quietly begging God for His mercy to be extended toward him (Luke 18:9-14).

We don’t like the Christianity that is being portrayed in the media. We don’t like the hatred that is preached by some who call themselves Christians. We don’t like the misconceptions with which we label others, and we certainly don’t like the misconceptions with which they label us back.

Then what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to shame those people into submission? Did Jesus ever do that?

The kind of love we need in order to heal each other doesn’t come from us. It can never come from us. Look how easily and willingly we can choose to tear each other down.

So no, the core of Christianity is not to be a good neighbor. Even if it were, by context we are failing horribly at it. No, friends, the core of Christianity is Jesus.

If we are going to preach real, biblical love, this is it. It is gritty and it demands so much more than words and Facebook posts talking at people. Real, biblical love demands for us to destroy our pedestals and use those pieces to build homes. It demands for us to dig deep into our our poverty and feed someone else. It demands for us to love someone with a ferocity that destroys apathy and hatred in its wake.

Are we ready to do that?

ohana

Dear Family,

What does this word actually mean for you? You toss that word around when it’s convenient for you, and when it’s not, you hoard it to yourselves and keep it exclusively. When has that word ever been used to describe us?

Yet you asked me this week—no, you shamed me—in order to convince me you’re my family. You tell me that you can’t believe I would trust an outsider over my own family. It’s not the first you’ve shamed me with this either.

But let me ask you something.

Where were you?

Where was my family when I had to put a restraining order on one of our members? You were on the side of my abuser. Where was my family when I longed to belong to it? You were abusing me and shunning me from your presence. Where was my family when the inheritance I received from my grandmother disappeared and the account closed? You were the ones closing it. Where was my family when I was suicidal in high school because of the abuse? You were oblivious to your role in my suffering, and you could not be found.

How do you ever expect me to trust you? How could you ever ask that of me?

I have not allowed you to define this word for me for quite some time now. The word “family” does not belong to you.

It belongs to the Person who guided me out of suicide. It belongs to the Person who redeemed my greatest abuse to lead me to my greatest salvation. It belongs to His children, who have walked beside me and carried me these past fourteen years when you were nowhere to be found.

“Family” does not end with blood.

Blood may be thicker than water, but grace runs deeper than blood.

You made me feel that I needed to earn a place in this family. Was being my mother’s child truly not enough? Yet in this grace community, there is no such thing as earning a place in the family. We are family because of Him.

This word is still being redeemed for me, but here and now, I claim it as my own. It is not a word for you to throw at me to acknowledge your authority. This word will not be reduced to something so petty.

This word means hope. It means acceptance. It means love—love unconditional, love to the point of sacrifice, love for life.

This word is too precious to me now. You cannot define it for me any longer because I know what it is now.

My Father told me. He showed me with His loyal love.

I have a new family now. Maybe you can join it some day. But you’ll have to understand, it’s on His terms, earned by His death.

I hope you can give up your small definition for His great plan.

I got published!

Hi guys! Apologies for the long hiatus in entries. It’s been a really big time of transition for me as I’ve been getting used to being home. It’s a little hard to believe that I’ve been here two months already.

As you may or may not have heard, I recently got published! Hyphen Magazine accepted my piece on faith and culture, and how neither of them make the other one any less important.

Read it here, and please share it with your friends, family, neighbors, grandparents, and whoever else you have in your arsenal. 😀

Thanks for the support!

It’s a Wonderful Life

I could have died when I was fourteen.

No, I didn’t run up against any near death accidents or get kidnapped by a maniac or anything that dramatic. No one was threatening my life either.

Except me.

My dear reader, I know by now you’ve picked up a bit on how traumatic my childhood and youth were. What I haven’t really talked about is how I’d coped at the time. Yes, I’m a tougher, wholer, person today, but then? Then, I was a mess. Then, I was tired. Then, I was sick of it. Then, I was ready to end it.

Day after day of surviving, of doing everything possible to not go back to a house and see the relatives who had invaded what was home for eleven years—it wears on you. Not having a home, not having a place to belong, to feel safe—or rather to have had it ripped from you—it wears on you.

I sat in my bathroom one day; my eyes were dried up from tears long shed. My heart was weary, and my body followed. I sobbed a tearless fit, and I wondered, “how much longer?” How much longer do I have to feel so cornered? How much longer do I have to feel so broken? How much longer do I have to feel so oppressed? How much longer do I have to feel so unwanted? How much longer do I have to feel so unloved?

And a solitary answer drowned all other thoughts.

Not much longer… if that’s your desire.

I could end it. I could finish it. I could finally stop feeling lonely and hurt because of my oppressors’ actions and words. The power was in my hands to never suffer again.

But then a rebuttal resounded through all of the dark corners of my battered soul.

If you do this, they win.

What did they care about what happened to me? Would it have filled them with remorse?

No. No, I doubt it would’ve. They were incapable of remorse.

Instead, my last action on Earth would’ve been breaking my mother’s heart and leaving her completely alone with them.

What a legacy that would’ve been. I would’ve proven to them that they could overpower me.

If I ended it this way, it would’ve been my loss.

And I have never been a gracious loser.

My focus shifted at that moment. I was going to come out of this a winner. I was not willing to allow anyone that much control over me to the point where I no longer had the ability to fight back, prove them wrong, and heal.

So instead, I thought of how I could win, how I could make something of myself, prove that they couldn’t break me.

Being that I was fourteen, plans to change the world weren’t exactly on my mind. I started small. I was going to be a leader in my extra-curriculars, and I was going to graduate high school, and have a life defined by my own terms.

What prompted this entry… you know, I’m not completely sure. I just started thinking about the people in my life and how much I would’ve missed out on had I not chosen to live.

I would’ve died never knowing what family really was.

I’ve just started figuring it out within roughly the last year. I would’ve missed out on redemption: the experience of real family and unconditional love. And I would not have hope for everlasting life but would be living in everlasting death.

Looking back at this time, it’s clear to me that, in this moment before I even knew Him, God had His sight set upon me.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”—John 10:27-28

It makes no sense, right? As far as I know, there has never been a Christian in my bloodline. I was a Buddhist in an abusive situation.

And God said, “I want her.”

In the midst of a hopeless situation, God saw me and led me into His arms and shared with me His family.

No one else can write a story this good. What a legacy this will be!

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you know just how loved you are; that when you see no hope, God will shower hope on you; that when you want to give up and let go, you find something to live for, no matter how small it is.

Because you never know when a small thing can change your life in a big way.

I have hope for a unified Body

I came across an article today from LifeWay, and my soul smiled.

Dr. Thom Rainer, the current CEO and president of LifeWay Christian Resources, issued a formal apology for VBS material that was released 10 years ago called, “Far Out Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son.” The material was the subject of major controversy, utilizing Asian stereotypes and generalizations to teach kids about Jesus.

In his apology, Dr. Rainer addressed the issue, acknowledged the hurt that it caused, and proposed a solution to move forward. According to the article, LifeWay is planning to train staff members to be culturally sensitive and avoid disrespecting other ethnicities and cultures. And the fact that this man had nothing to do with producing that material speaks volumes as well. Above all else, his focus is on the Body of Christ and its members. It takes a lot of love and humility to give a 10-year overdue apology for something he didn’t personally do, and it has made the biggest difference in reconciling our cultures.

This is a huge step since my last entry regarding cultural insensitivity within the Body. It is a bigger issue than just skin color—when my culture is made one-dimensional, my identity is attacked. I am Chinese-American and Christian and female, and this is how God made me. It’s when my brothers and sisters don’t try to understand the implications of this identity that I am hurt. It is a complex identity. Being Chinese-American is already complicated. Both of these cultures clash in many areas as it is. And on top of that, I’m a Christ-follower, which clashes with both of those. When my Chinese culture tells me that my family, my blood, is the most important thing, that I am to be loyal to that forever, no matter what the circumstances, how do I reconcile that with my American culture, which tells me that the individual and the individual’s freedom is the most treasured thing? And then there’s this Jesus guy who says that He is the object of greatest value, and even our love and commitment to our family has to look like hate in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

Being female in these cultures is a whole different can of worms. I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical Asian woman, and I have no desire to. I often wonder what God was thinking when He put me together. “I’m going to make her make no sense at all, and in doing so, make perfect sense.” Because essentially, that’s what it is. All of my cultures and pieces of my identity clash, but in me, they work, and they work together.

Someone once said to me that with Jesus, there is no culture. I would absolutely disagree with that statement. With Jesus, there is perfect culture. We, as broken mirrors, reflect that perfect culture imperfectly, but reflect it, we do. This thing called “identity” isn’t simple. It’s not just one thing. I’ve been told often that my identity is “child of God.” Yes, absolutely, but what does that mean? What is the makeup of a “child of God”?

I think “child of God” is more like an umbrella or a body. Underneath this identity is all that makes it up, like a skeleton, if you would. Underneath this yellow skin, God has, as I mentioned, created me to be Chinese-American and female. These absolutely affect my identity as child of God as much as child of God affects these identities. And beyond that, my identity as a healed and healing person also affects my identity as child of God. The way I see and experience God is very much influenced by everything that makes up who I am.

I feel most loved when those around me make an effort to understand or at least respect my identity—this includes my ethnicity and culture. I feel stripped of my identity when people try to be “politically correct” or “color-blind.” Color-blindness didn’t work for anyone else, it won’t work for us either. When you tell me you don’t see color when you look at me, I will hear that you don’t see me. I will feel like you’ve taken something away from me, like you’re denying something that is deeply rooted in me.

This article gives me hope for healing within the body. The Body of Christ cannot be masochistic if it is to be healthy, and when one part is hurting, the rest of it is also afflicted. We in the Asian-American community have been hurting, and this wound has been neglected for a long time. But we are a part of the whole.

As the Body is conscious of the pain it feels, I am excited for the healing that can come about now. When I signed my name on the open letter to the church, I hoped that someone would listen. We are hurting, and it needs to be addressed in order for this Body to be whole.

I am grateful both to Exponential, for their apology and speediness in addressing their contribution, and to LifeWay, for showing that it is never too late to reconcile.

a multicultural family of God

“We are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When one part of the body experiences pain, should not the whole body feel the repercussions?”

Angry Asian Man and Kathy Khang have posted an open letter to the North American evangelical church from its Asian-American congregation. I’ve read over it before signing it myself. It’s not church-bashing in any way, but it does call the church out in order to seek reconciliation for some blunders. The letter is an invitation to understand Asian-Americans and why it hurts to have our culture minimized by the dominant culture, and it also offers ideas on how to bridge the gap that causes us to misunderstand each other.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I put too much emphasis on my cultural and ethnic identity. And it really hurts me to hear that. Yes, my identity is first and foremost a child of God, but under that umbrella includes my being first generation Chinese-American amongst others. You cannot ask me to separate my Chinese-American-ness from my identity as child of God any more than I can ask you to separate your culture from your identity as child of God. It is a beautiful thing that people of all colors can worship one God, so why are we trying to make this family monochromatic? When you look at me, I want you to see how God has put me together down to the smallest detail—this includes my ethnic background, my gender, and my history. Look how God has made sense out of this mess that is my identity! It’s a thing of beauty, and all the things that make it up should not be diminished.

I’ve also been told that my American identity should be most dominant because I’ve chosen to be here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But what kind of “American” should I be? What does it even mean to be American? My American identity is affected by my Chinese identity as much as my Chinese identity is affected by my American identity. This country is built on immigration, and I am as much an American as anyone else here. The “American Dream” is attainable by me as much as it is by anyone else. It is a bloody, brutal, and dirty road to get there as evidenced by the need for such a letter to be written.

I think this letter is thoughtful and inviting. Please try to understand the hurt and the pain that is felt when our family doesn’t try to understand who we are—when my new family hurts me as much or more than my first family did. I’m still trying to figure out this identity as an Asian-American Christian. I’m inviting everyone to walk alongside me in that endeavor and understand a bit more clearly what the struggle is and how to overcome it.

Also, mad props to Exponential for giving a thoughtful and sincere apology and for taking the steps to reconcile and understand their family.

this free slave

The other day in counseling, I was asked how I’ve seen or experienced God in the part of me that’s Chinese. I had to think for a moment, and I realized I’m not sure about this one. From the beginning, I met God in a pretty American setting. We met at a Chinese church in Anaheim, CA. I learned about Him in English while surrounded by my fellow ABCs.

But I think as I’ve been working out more of my history, I’ve come to appreciate and experience God in a way that is uniquely my own.

See, my Chinese culture places high value on family. This is why my rebellion was considered level with blasphemy. This is why, to this day, I cannot have a blood family.

I chose my voice over family pride.

Pride is a parasite. It is an incomplete that distorts the complete. And yet, for our family, there was no basis even for pride. We were a fraud of a family. But boy, did we look the part.

And I would learn just what it means to sacrifice for this God romance.

In my Chinese culture, your surname – your family – is your all.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/subtlenuance/

Therein lies the conflict.

God clearly tells me that He is above all, and I must choose Him above mother and surname if I want to come to Him; I must love God to the point where love for anyone else looks suspiciously similar to hate.

Gaining my family’s respect was my life. Giving up my family for God gave up my life.

I wonder how many people can appreciate the gravity of this situation. I wonder how many people have experienced just how invasive Christianity is, how much it demands.

In shrugging off the burden of being my family’s scapegoat, I donned a new set if fetters: I am enslaved to my God for the work of His glory, doing His will.

But being God’s slave is more freedom than I ever knew in my fifteen years prior to our meeting. It’s hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? But that’s okay. God’s big enough to handle paradox.

My counselor suggested that perhaps it is my Chinese culture that readied me to sacrifice all for who is worthy. I think it is very likely so.

Although it backfired for everyone else.

Worked out great for me, though.

And here is where God humbles me again.

Dear relatives,

Thank you for getting me here.