On Being Loved- A Theological Reflection on Identity in the Midst of Mental Illness

by Serena Lee

I feel different. For the first time in years, I’m no longer drowning in my sorrow, treading through intense emotional pain. Although most of the time I am relieved that I am currently living a season full of confidence, resilience, and joy, there is a part of me that misses the dark seasons. I’m not sure anyone finds sadness, irritability, and anxiety enjoyable. But I do know something about the way those deep emotions shape so much of who we are that perhaps some of us begin to identify with those emotions.

I want to reflect on this topic because the month of May is both AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. As an Asian American with mental health struggles, I am challenged to look deep within myself this month and attempt a journey to discover who I’ve become as a result of my experiences. I have often wondered if my Asian American culture caused my mental health issues. Or perhaps the American need to label “deviant” behavior (i.e mental illnesses) skewed my understanding of my dual culture. Maybe Asian American culture normalizes abuse. Maybe mental illness is genetic. Maybe mental health symptoms are displayed differently among Asian Americans. Maybe Asian Americans don’t reach out for help.

Maybe, all these factors are correct.

The truth is nobody knows, and the answers are found in the gray. Mental health is not an identity, but it often feels so much like one because emotions are embedded into the core of humanity. The fact that humans can express feelings with words, music, art, etc is absolutely incredible and so essential to the way we live and understand life. Just think about any personality test. It is no surprise that when someone loses the ability to feel, or feels too much, can experience an identity crisis as a result.

Some weeks, I struggled to feel anything at all. Other times, I felt so much I thought I was going to explode. This constant battle between the ups and the downs felt like I was riding a roller coaster I couldn’t get off of. I had no stability, no way of predicting where or when my mood might swing. When I realized that I did not have control, I started expecting the unpredictable nature of my life. More than that, I began living around the roller coaster. In other words, I let the roller coaster design my life. That was the moment I no longer knew who I was.

But do I really know who I am now? How is it that I miss feeling out of control? How can it be that I feel a little emptier now that life is more set on solid ground? I think it’s because I’m living outside of my “new normal.” I’m just back to the normal kind of up and down. No more dramatic turns and upside down twists; no more screaming on the top of my lungs during the drop. This season feels manageable, and that feels weird after three years of constant craziness.

Because I placed so much of my identity in my emotions, coming off the roller coaster is like missing the thrill of exciting action. It seems terrible to crave that…but I want to verbalize it because I think at some level, each person knows something about that feeling. I crave action, not for action itself, but for attention. I crave attention, not for attention itself, but to prove to myself that I am loved. It’s no wonder I’ve experienced identity crisis; I let the fact that I am loved become dependent upon my fluctuating emotions.

It is important to believe that identity is rooted in being loved because that is the only thing that is always true about every human being. As an American, I sympathize how typical Westerners understand their identities as individuals in society. As an Asian, I emphasize the Eastern understanding of identity as relational. Of course, both perspectives are good and true, but they are incomplete without each other, and not the end of our understanding of identity. In fact, we must remember that no sociological, biological, political, or psychological explanation can fully grasp the depth of identity that a human has.

I come across no solid answers on what identity is in light of my mental health struggles and as an Asian American. But because of theology, I believe in a God who loves relentlessly, which changes and shapes my understanding of who I am, and who I am created to be. I can bring in my sociology, my psychoanalysis, and my physical body into the picture, and God is able to complete the picture of who I am by stamping upon me His seal of love. The fact that I am loved gives me meaning, creates my purpose, and sustains my life. Knowing I am loved has been the greatest insight into who I am, and has pushed me forward into mental health recovery like I’ve never experienced before. It can be for you too, knowing that you are not your pain, and that you are fully, truly, and always loved.

Comfort at The Cross

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE INVITE JESUS TO OUR PAIN & LOSS?

I still remember it like yesterday, on May 17th, when my mother came rushing into my room shouting, "something is wrong with 아빠 (dad), call 911!!" I jumped out of my bed around 3 AM and rushed downstairs to find my dad laying in his bedroom floor, unable to speak or move. His body was shaking and foam began to form in his mouth. I laid his head on my lap as my sister was on the phone with the dispatchers. We rushed to the hospital, soon to find out... that my dad fell into a coma.

Being in the hospital felt daunting & hopeless as doctors came to speak to our family, telling us that we need to prepare for his death & wishes. I wished for my dad to wake up from his sleep and to hear his voice once more. Family, friends, & pastors visited each day, accompanying our family & praying day through the night for hopes & miracles. 

One week after, on May 25th, exactly at 4 AM, my dad passed away. My dad's death was unexpected, sudden and I was very sad. I grieved & cried, huge numbers of tears as I hugged him goodbye. In many ways I can't explain, the sense of peace I felt even though he passed away because I was convicted my dad was walking with Jesus in Heaven. Even though the spirit of peace was with me, I suffered sorrow because he was no longer here. At home, I didn't hear my dad's voice anymore. His presence...his laughter... all of him was gone. 

I missed him so much every day. On holidays and special occasions like my graduation, it wasn't the same knowing that my dad wouldn't see me walk as I received my MSW degree. On Father's Day, I wasn't able to see him & celebrate this day as we traditionally would. On my wedding day, my dad wasn't able to meet my husband, and walk me down the aisle. 

Grieving is a natural response when we lose someone or something we loved dearly. The internal work of grief is a process and a journey. It does not end on a certain day or date. Grief is real because the loss is real. Each grief has its own imprint, as distinctive and as unique as the person we lost. The pain of loss is so intense, so heartbreaking, because in loving we deeply connect with another human being, and grief is the reflection of the connection that has been lost.

Through my grieving and mourning, God comforted me through his word, through dreams, and through prayer to assure me of my heart longings. 

There were days when I would ask myself, “Why did he leave like this without saying goodbye? 아빠 (dad) why’d you go so soon, you were only 54 years old...?" In these moments of questions and despair, God comforted me through his word by allowing me to grieve. 

Jesus comforted me saying, “Daughter, I hear you. I am with you. Ellie, I know what it’s like to feel fatherless." My grief and pain took me to the cross as I saw Jesus cry out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” which means, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

You see because, Jesus was once one with God. The son of God and God, the highest were in union & they loved each other. But, when Jesus was crucified at the cross, He was separated from His Father. He was abandoned. He was forsaken by God to be the ultimate sacrifice to pay the price for all humanity, so we can dwell with Him and be one with Him. 
 
God comforted through the story of Moses telling me, “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.” “Take your time. I am with you. Blessed are you for mourning and you will be comforted!" (Deuteronomy 34:8)

God also comforted me through dreams. As I suffered from a loss, I often prayed, "God I just want to see him again. I really miss my dad." I would ask God, how is my dad doing? Is he okay?" 

God heard each of my cries, & he comforted me through a dream. On January 7th, my dad came into my dream. I saw my dad in the ICU, the same way I saw him last. In the dream, I felt an urgency to pray so, I laid my hands on my dad & began to pray. I began to see the Holy Spirit around us and a light around his body taking away every particle of sin and sickness leaving him. I was able to see my dad, awake, healed, & alive! Waking up to this dream, there was joy in my heart but I still grieved. 

As I was praying with my husband, Ezra one day, I was telling God, "what does this dream mean? So, God comforted me through prayer to assure and show me how good He is. He told me, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? (Luke 24:37) Remember, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, the old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17),

"Ellie, I know your heart longings. This is the promise and hopes I have given. Your father is a new creation! He lives! You are a new creation! The old is gone, the new is here! Whoever believes in me, is a new creation!!" 

So, what happens when we invite Jesus to our pain and loss? He comes. He speaks. He does. He did. Good Friday promises us that when we invite Jesus into our loss, he is taking our pain to the cross. He loves us so fiercely and cares for us so gently. He's a good father and loves us so deeply. I hope that in our life, we can continue to give our pain, our brokenness, a contrite heart and bring it to the foot of the cross because He wants to comfort us and make it all new!

If anyone is going through grief and loss, here is a great resource & book: click here

Gratitude:
Thank you Ezra, for supporting me & helping me through this journey.
Thank you Disciples NYC for the love & prayers. 
Thank you New Vision & Sycamore for giving me an opportunity to share the gospel last night.

Original post: from here

Good Friday Reflections - by Serena Lee

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

It's a cry I often prayed through several years of long-suffering. Growing up, I don't think I really understood why Jesus said this while he was dying. Didn't Jesus know and anticipate this kind of pain? Didn't he know his death would bring glory to God, and save humanity from eternal punishment? Little did I know that my struggle with borderline personality disorder would render me so hopeless that these words of Jesus would become my daily cry in the midst of my darkest seasons. I was grasping for any relief from my psychological pain. But most of the time, I felt like I was drowning, and God was nowhere near.

 

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by the intense fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, and impulsive behavior stemming from the inability to cope with strong emotions.  Having grown up in a fairly fundamentalist, Asian immigrant church context, I didn't feel like I could be a good Christian while also struggling with BPD. After all, I often blamed my friends for not caring about me, and attempted to manipulate them by exaggerating the depths of my woes to force them to show me an even greater extent of love and loyalty. I harbored resentment towards people I loved, and confused them when I pushed them away even though I wanted them to stay. It felt like I was riding a roller coaster, my mood constantly swinging, and my "frantic efforts" to avoid real or imagined abandonment became my new obsession.

In the first few years of my struggle with BPD, I found no relief in Christian faith. Honestly, I didn't try because many Christians would "comfort" me by saying that I just needed to trust in God more, perhaps believe in the "peace that surpasses understanding," or focus on the joy of the Lord. It wasn't until my senior year of college when I went through one of the darkest periods of my life that I finally cried out to God, blaming him too for abandoning me. I poured out my anger, my bitterness, and all my resentments towards God and asked him, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I was so expectant of abandonment from all those I loved, that it seemed as though God finally decided to leave me too.

Admitting to myself and to God that I was angry was the moment I now recognize as my first step towards recovery. In my anguish, I found relief. In my bitterness, I found understanding. As uncomfortable as it was engaging in my deep anger towards God, I felt a freedom to be completely naked before Him, my heart and my mind pouring out laments everyday. He is, after all, my God. He is my God.

Using this very prayer gave me great comfort knowing that Jesus enters into my loneliness and fear of abandonment. It felt like Jesus created this prayer for people like me- people plagued by fear, anger, and confusion. More importantly, it seems that Jesus prayed this prayer because He needed it. Up until the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had never been separated from His father throughout eternity, before time and space. Can you imagine the kind of anxiety Jesus had while he prayed, sweating blood and tears? Can you imagine the heaviness He felt while carrying His own cross up the hill, knowing that Father was nowhere to be reached? Can you imagine Christ in shock and disbelief that His own Father actually turned away from the Son in his most excruciating, painful hour? Perhaps Jesus was unprepared to accept the reality He had theoretically understood before agreeing to suffer for humankind.

God did not answer Jesus' tireless supplication. Defeat is on its way, and God appears to have abandoned His one and only son. And yet, as much as Jesus feels indignation towards God, still he uses a personal pronoun “my” to describe the Father, demonstrating that the relationship with God still exists and has significance despite the fact that God will not save him from his suffering and imminent death.

Of course, we know how the story ends. But if we skip over the significance of Jesus' lament on the Cross, the resurrection loses its compelling power to transform lives. As the Church, we need to be able to sit in the discomfort of lament in order to become more human. That is, Jesus's death on the cross reveals that the goal as Christians and as humans is not to be joyful, peaceful, or strong all the time, as many of us grew up believing. Rather, allowing ourselves to change in thought, in emotions, and in resilience brings us the freedom to accept seasons of adjustment in our relationship with God. We can be filled with joy before the Lord, or sit in anger. We can hold both peace and anxiety. We can live in doubt and in faith, hold lament in one hand, and hope in the other. This is humanity the way Christ has exemplified for us. This is beautiful.

 

Paradox-
What a relief to be at peace
with the reality of warring virtue and vice,
Spirit and demon,
voice of God and voices of untruth,
anxiety and serenity,
depression and joy.
To live in the in between,
the already not yet,
is the path that leads to sanctification, to healing
to full freedom

I am looking forward to those very things.

 

How I Fired Myself Part 2

Recap

Alright. Here’s part two of the story of my resignation at Shalom. For those of you haven’t read part one, you can catch up here.

Let’s get back to the story. Here’s a quick timeline:

·         October 31: I publish my first blog post on Perichoresis. Here’s a link. Later that afternoon: I get a call from one of the pastor, get caught with loving gay people

·         November 1: I submit my resignation because I don’t want to cause too much drama.

·         November 3: I have one on one meeting with my senior pastor to be evaluated.

Not Alone

This was one of the longest weeks of my life. The three days leading up to the meeting with my pastor was even more grueling.

But I wasn’t alone.

I was in the company of friends, at least digitally. After writing my out resignation letter, I created a Facebook message thread which included some of my most trusted friends and advisors. It was a mix of childhood friends, ministry partners, mentors, and newly adoptive spiritual parents who identify as LGBTQI+ or are parents of queer children. I alerted them to what had happened the night before and sent them a copy of my resignation letter. Some of them gave me really good advice and helped tweak parts of my letter. One even friend spot checked it for spelling and grammatical errors. All this was really helpful, but what was most edifying was the support I received from each of them. I was given the green light to move forward. They were proud of me and were cheering me on. I knew I wasn’t on this journey alone.

Judgment Day

On Friday, I drove down to church after I got off work. It was Judgment Day and it was my turn to stand before the Great White Throne. I had a mixture of emotions including fear, anxiety, sadness, along with good ones like freedom and empowerment. I showed up a little early and took a walk around my church. Before going into my pastor’s office, I decided to do a closure ritual missionaries have their children do before moving to a new city. They cover every inch their home and have the kids literally say goodbye to everything including the bed, couch, TV, swings, etc. Every goodbye brings them closer to the understanding that they are in fact leaving. It creates space for them to let go without holding onto what cannot travel with them. It seemed childish, but I felt like it would be a good idea. I went into each room and bid my farewell to all the inanimate object. After saying my goodbyes, I waited in the parking lot as my pastor pulled in. He greeted me and we walked into his office together.

We started with some small talk, then got to the point. He began the meeting in prayer, then asked a number of questions. The first topic was about homosexuality. He seemed somewhat in disbelief, and needed me to confirm what I had written in the resignation letter. Once again, I told him I was 1000 percent LGBTQI+ affirming and believed same-sex relationships were completely legitimate. He asked a few other relevant questions to make sure he heard correctly. He then asked me how I would define myself in terms of sexuality. He and others in the church were curious, thinking I may be have come to my position and became an advocate because of my own “sexual confusion”. To his surprise, I told him I was cisgender and heterosexual. He followed up with, “So in the future, you will marry a female?” I responded with, “Yup, that’s the plan.” He then asked a few questions other questions about my faith journey. After the questioning, I asked him about my fate at Shalom. He told me he would pray about it, discuss it with the elders, and let me know. For now, he wanted me to carry on with what I normally do. In the end, we both lifted up a prayer. I survived and walked out in one piece.

Leaving

Coming out of the meeting and bumping into him the following weeks, I sensed he genuinely wanted to keep me at the church and was continually praying for me. His heart was to restore me to the truth and build me up to become the man of God I was created to be. However, his primary role in the church was to protect God’s sheep. Consequently, he made the hard decision to let me go. On Monday, November 20, I received an email stating the elders have accepted my resignation, effective on the 19th. My journey at Shalom was officially over.

Well, that’s what I thought.

Over the course of the week, I receive a bunch of messages from church members. They were pissed. They understood the concern of the leadership, but totally disagreed how it was handled. One of the pastors was so angry, she drove an hour to Torrance on a Saturday to track down the elders and give them a piece of her mind. Trouble was brewing.

The next day, I got ready for my last day at church. I walked into the building and learned I wasn’t going to preach today. Another one of our pastors was asked to speak in my place. I still led worship at his request. After the service, a bunch of parents and church leaders came up to me either seeking an explanation or already angry because they knew what happened. At this point, they knew I didn’t believe the same way they did, but they still chose to defend me. They knew family was far more important than doctrine. Some of them even confronted the elders. It was revealed they didn’t even know the entire story. They assumed I submitted my resignation because I found a position at another church. An hour after service, the interim English Ministry pastor asked me to stick around and lead worship for the church. He had no idea I was “that good”, and he felt I needed to stick around. That was total vindication because he was the one who initially told my senior pastor about my questionable theology. He now realized he needed me more than ever.

After meeting him, I got coffee with our Student Ministries staff members and said my goodbyes. I drove home with a sense of grief. Yes, I was finally able to freely express myself in front of everyone I knew. Yes, I was free on weekends for the first time in years. But… There wasn’t any proper closure. None of the students knew it was my last day. Most people who did know left early without saying goodbye due to prior engagements. There wasn’t even a small going away party like they did with every other previous pastor. It was an anticlimactic end to a stressful month. I went home, hoping my next chapter would eclipse the grief of not closing my previous chapter properly.

Family > Beliefs

That night, I was at a local Starbucks, writing one of those long, sentimental Facebook posts reflecting on my journey and anticipating what’s next. As soon as I pressed the “Post” button, I received an email from my senior pastor. He wanted to clarify that though I am no longer on staff, I am welcome to remain at Shalom as a member. I just needed to be careful about sharing my views with the children and EM members. I responded, saying am grateful for his offer, but with reservations. I was totally ok with not talking about these issues with the children. I wasn’t their pastor, so there would be no reason to talk about it with them. However, EM members were adults. They were my community, and I had every right to be authentic and honest with them. After emailing back and forth, he agreed to my terms. My original plan had succeeded. I stepped down from Shalom as a pastor, but was free to take part in the life of the community with the blessing of the senior pastor and elder board.

I’m definitely not going to be at Shalom most weeks due to traveling, hosting events, and even the possibility finding a new church community. However, I’m incredibly thankful I, for the first time have a home church I can run to whenever I want. I have a community of Korean Christians who love and care for me regardless of how wacky my views are. Yes, there’s always going to be disagreements. Yes, at many points some at the church will worry for my salvation. Yes, there will be times I want to bop someone in the head because they make an ignorant statement about queer people or politics. But one thing’s for sure. Family is family. The universe is rigged in my favor. I am loved.

What’s Next:

The next few posts will be some of my thoughts and reflections on what happened in the last month. It’ll include psychoanalysis, cultural studies, ministry insights, personal heart junk, etc. This is where the fun really begins. Stay Tuned!

Social Media Terror and How I Fired Myself

Those of you who know me personally are aware that I’m on staff at a Korean immigrant church. I lead the English speaking adult congregation as well as help oversee all our student ministries. The next few (or a bunch of) posts will be about navigating the culture, theology, and politics in serving at an Evangelical and culturally Confucian institution. I’m going to be as naked and vulnerable as possible, so readers can dive deep into my processes (obviously a work in progress) and gain whatever insight they can from my journey. Let’s start at the climax of my journey with Shalom (which could have been the beginning and the end) and work down from there.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from one of the associate pastors at my church. He told me a parent (or more than one) recently found my Facebook page and was deeply disturbed by the content. I had made references to being an atheist, seemed to mock God and Christianity multiple times, made way too many sex jokes, and worst of all, affirmed homosexuality. This parent was so disturbed, they scrolled about a year or so down my feed and printed sections of my Facebook page to give it to the pastor. The news also started spreading amongst other parents. The pastor wanted an explanation, so I gave a bunch of ambiguous answers since I didn’t want to talk about it over the phone. Caring for my wellbeing, he advised me to talk to our senior pastor right away before he found out from someone else. That way, he can protect me and prevent more drama from happening.

After I hung up the phone, I knew it was time to resign. My time at Shalom was coming to an abrupt end. What’s funny is, I had already intended on resigning from pastoral staff in the near future. I was to step down sometime in 2018 after they found a full-time pastor to lead the EM (they have been looking since July), serve as a volunteer to help the transition process for six months or so, and finally leave to start a Progressive, Asian American, and LGBTQI+ affirming church plant. My original plan was foiled. It was sad, but the timing seemed to align with other things going on in my life. I decided to take it as a sign from the universe that it was time to go.

The next day, I submitted my resignation letter.

As I mentioned earlier, the story is multi-layered and ongoing. Over the next weeks, and possibly months, I will go deeper into all this and post updates. In the meantime, you can read my resignation letter below. I hope this will give readers an inside look into my faith journey and encourage others in whatever stage they’re in.

For those of you

Struggling with faith

It’s ok

You’re not alone

Welcome home

Now, without further ado. My Resignation Letter:


Dear Pastor Kim,

As you heard last night, there has been some controversy regarding my social media handle. Before we meet in person, I wanted to give you an overview explaining some of the issues that have been brought up to me, along with my faith journey the last few years.

There have been three major accusations brought up, and I will go over them one by one.

Sex with Angels

Here’s the original quote from January:

My Elementary Pastor asked me to sub for her for tomorrow's Bible study. They've been on a series going through the Old Testament chapter by chapter. Tomorrow's text is Genesis 6. I get to teach about angels having sex with humans and theologically justified mass genocide.”

Obviously, this was a theological joke that only seminary students and theology nerds would understand. I would never teach something like this to our kids. I fully admit and take responsibility for the fact that it was irresponsible on my end. I should be more careful. I apologize for the confusion and harm it may have caused to the parents and those who read it.

Atheism

Again, here’s the original text from April:

Years ago, I told myself I would never work in Children's Ministry. The universe had something else in mind. From September-October, in the middle of my season as an atheist pastor pretending to believe in God, I was appointed to serve in my church's elementary ministry as the interim pastor until we found our permanent one. The two months didn't bring me back to faith, but it did lead me to fall back in love with The Church.

The experience took me out of my comfort zone and pushed every social boundary imaginable. I had zero experience in Children's Ministry, knew nothing about child development, I didn't even know how to properly interact with kids. I wouldn't consider myself an expert today, but I think I've come a long way.

The opportunity to work with kids has by far been the biggest blessing and most significant growth experience of the 2016-2017 school year. Even though I'm no longer officially working in the department, I still get to hang out with these kids every week. Excited for another year of fun and learning!

This post was actually a follow up to a post I shared two months prior. It was me being vulnerable and sharing my journey in the last few years, losing faith and finding it once again. This post was specifically to share how working with children reignited my sense of awe and wonder, and how it helped bring me back to falling in love with God once again. Here’s the first post from a few months before In February:

The last year has, by far, been the rockiest season of my spiritual journey. The year before(the end 2014), my dad passed away, I stepped down from church I had really grown to love because I had huge disagreements with the senior pastor over what it meant to be an ethical church, and months later reluctantly planted a new church in order to keep nurturing the ones who chose leave with me. I really didn’t want to leave, and I knew my decision to leave would completely split the church, which it did, but I had to. The next week, I heard nobody showed up to service except for the pastor, his wife, his kids, and a few other family members. I felt terrible doing it, but I knew I had to. Prior to my departure, my team(really some of my best friends) and I were invited by a church in the area to work with them and join their spiritual family. We were ecstatic because we knew the senior leaders for years, and we had so much love and respect for them. We met regularly for two months, just dreaming about what we want God to do in our city. At the end, they rescinded the offer, and we were left to search for another home. For about a month or two, we traveled around like nomads, visiting well-known churches all over LA, seeing what else God is doing in the greater LA area, but mostly because we had nowhere to go. After a few people suggesting it, we decided to just go independent and start our own church. Shortly after, a friend of my dad, who happened to be a pastor caught wind of it, contacted us, and offered to take us under their umbrella, pay our church plant’s rent, and have us run as a satellite EM ministry of the church. We then started getting confirmation from dozens of people, which included encouragement, offers to help, and even prophetic words, that this was exactly what God wanted us to do. The entire time, I took risks in ministry and chose to keep fighting for healing in my city because I really trusted in God’s plan, and I was confident I was doing his will. Every step of the way, I had hundreds of people encourage me and tell me they were so proud and excited for what God was doing in and through me. This is where things started going south.

About a year into planting our church, my faith started to drift. Nothing in the church was working out and we were shrinking rapidly as members move to different cities, leaders got burned out, and people began to lose interest. In addition to that, I was getting even more disillusioned with Christians around me and started gravitating more towards eastern understandings of faith. I started getting super jaded with the church and regretted my entire 3 years as a pastor and 6 years as a parachurch leader. I realized God wasn’t going to take care of me and I needed to figure things out for myself, especially financially. That led me to apply to churches to escape from my situation. In May, I got in touch with the Shalom Church, BS’d my interview when we discussed my theological, acting like I still believed in Evangelical doctrines, and got hired right away. I thoroughly enjoyed and still do enjoy my time at the church.

What I hoped was, through the church, I would find my faith again. It did the opposite. Though I empathized with the sincerity of the people there, it reinforced why I had become so disillusioned with Christianity. After a few months, I pretty much stopped believing in God. After facing disappointment after disappointment, I was done with God. I still went through the motions when it came to teaching people about God. Though I had stopped believing in God, I was still in love with the story of Jesus, and believed his radical message of inclusion, humility, social justice, etc. I was still determined to live as a follower of this Jewish Rabbi even if I didn’t believe in his “father”, so I hid in and pretended to believe in God and thoroughly tricked myself. I used excuses like “I believe in the God of Quantum physics” or “Einstein’s God” or even used philosophical terms like “ground of being” and statements by theologians from the Radical Theology like “God doesn’t exist. God Insists’”. I didn’t really use these terms in the way they meant, but I did it to describe that fact that this “god” wasn’t personal. There was no meta-narrative, there was no plan, and God definitely didn’t answer prayers. Of course, I kept most of it a secret. I kept going through the motions. I continued to love on people, I prayed with people, I taught people about the message of Jesus, I preached every week, and I even gave dead on accurate prophetic words to people (which was really because I’m a 2 on the Enneagram and I can analyze people like none other). I did all this, but I didn’t believe anything supernatural was actually happening. I just wanted to lead others to health and wholeness, and if Christianity provided that, then great!

My atheism climaxed in December when I decided to call it quits and apply to a bunch of jobs. I was going to work as a police officer, help people, and blog for a living. I had a plan, unlike the God I only pretended to believe in. I was going to have a job that not only pays well but also has an amazing pension. I became super financially literate and learned to save money, then opened three different brokerage accounts to invest my money. I combined what I learned online about investing with my understanding in philosophy and anthropology and I’m doing really well. I’m up 30-40 percent on my investments since I started in October.

Anyway, this was my escape from ministry. I would no longer have to suffer the guilt of lying to my entire congregation as I preached “the word of God”. I would have slowly slipped out and left the vocational ministry world forever, while still living a life of purpose helping people. Did I mention I would also be a hell of a lot more datable because I wasn’t going to be a pastor anymore? Life was going to be good. I no longer needed the charity of well-meaning church folks, and I definitely didn’t need to depend on some deity.

I don’t really understand what happened, but after a conversation with a friend on Saturday, something clicked. I was just on my typical rant about God, but this time, it was different. I impulsively told her to disregard all the crazy stuff I say like, “God and I are divorced and the church is our kid we share custody over”. I said I trusted God and started mentioning the why I did. And for some reason, I meant it as I said it. After dropping her off at home, I forgot about the conversation.

The next day(yesterday), after church, I was really bothered by all this. I don’t know why, but I started believing in God again. And that wasn’t a good thing. My defenses had now come down, but that meant I had a lot of questions to deal with. All the beef I had with God not had to be brought to the surface because I now believed he was real. I was restless, so I drove around for a few hours late into the night processing this and cursing God for abandoning me. I didn’t want to believe in God. I hated him. I wanted to get back to my comfort zone of just being a closet secular humanist who is inspired by the Jesus story. But now, I couldn’t. I eventually went home and was somehow able to fall asleep.

Now, here I am. This is my reality. I can’t escape. I wanted to publicly share all this because I’m sick of hiding. I want to be my full authentic self in front of everyone, even if it means career suicide. I’m still the same Kevin everyone remembers. Even when I an atheist, I love people and believed in the message of Jesus the same or even more than I did as a theist. And now, as a guy who started believing in God again, I still do.

So…. What does all this mean for me? I don’t know. For now, I dropping all my applications to the police department. I’m staying in school, and I’m not quitting my church (Doesn’t mean they won’t fire me if they catch wind of this). All I know is that my next few month is going to focus on reconciling and re-cultivating my relationship with God. I need to detox from my cynicism. I also need to wrestle with God and the scriptures, because I’ve never been so disgusted by passages like Psalm 139, which is a favorite for millions of Christians. There’s a lot of work to do.

With that, I’m now even more determined to work on my blog and common cause community. The HowtoKillGod.com site and online will be a space for people to find refuge in their doubts and theological exploration. I’ll be writing (at least) weekly posts and provide content for learn and grow in their journey. We’ll also be having monthly gatherings in the South Bay for doubters, prodigals, and heretics to meet and realize they’re not alone. This will eventually develop into more large scale events where all this will be presented through performing arts. I realize I have to do this even if it kills me. Even though I’m sure I’m no longer an atheist, I could never go back to the Christianity I grew up in. I believe in Evolution, I’m fully affirming of same-sex relationships, and I believe the table is much bigger than we realize.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m still struggling, processing, growing, and re-reading Love Does to purge the cynicism out of me even though it hurts like hell. Anyone interested in joining me?

 

                So with that, no, I am not an atheist. The last nine months have been a time of restoration and re-ignition of my passion for Jesus, the gospel, and the church. But as you can see, my faith has radically changed since seven years ago when I began my process of deconstruction, which leads me to the final accusation.

LGBTQI+ Affirmation

                There was a picture of me around June where it had a rainbow cover. And yes, the accusations for this is at least partially correct. After seven years of searching the scriptures, walking with God, reading philosophy and science, and most important of all, building genuine friendships with those who identify as LGBTQI+, I have come to the conclusion that same-sex relationships and other queer issues are perfectly legitimate in the eyes of God. I know that this view is extremely unpopular within Evangelicalism, and I already suffered plenty of persecution from friends, ministry partners, and former mentor because of it. All in all, I’ve come to realize that it’s a life or death issue for those on the inside. Let me explain. About 45-50 percent of homeless youth are queer. This is a staggering number. While only about 10 percent of the general population are LQBTQI+, it looks like millions of queer children are getting rejected by their families and faith communities and living in the streets. In addition to this, LGBTQI+ teens who are rejected by their families and churches are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are accepted. These are just statistics. From these and so much more, I’ve come to realize that in the public sphere, it would be a sin for me not to stand up for my queer brothers, sisters, and friends. From today, I will no longer compromise on being affirming.

Conclusion

                I knew this day would eventually come when the church figured out I do not theologically align with Shalom and the majority of the Korean immigrant church. With that, this letter is my official letter of resignation.

                I am submitting this sooner than later for the good of the Shalom family. I know that some of this terrifies many of the parents, and I do not want to see anyone leave the church because of me. Shalom is my village, my family, and my home, but I understand I must depart for the health of our community.

                In conclusion, I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve at Shalom, learn from you, and meet so many amazing people. Shalom will always be a place of amazing memories where I once again fell in love with the church, rediscovered awe and wonder through children, and reignited my relationship with God. I will never forget my experiences here and will always be grateful. My hope is that I too am not remembered for my controversial beliefs, but my commitment to loving God’s people and my loyalty to this community we both call home.

Saying all this, I want you and our elder board to know that I am willing to comply with whatever is necessary. If the best decision is for me to depart right way, I fully understand and honor that decision. If our church leadership needs time to process before accepting my resignation, that is fine. Feel free to take all the time you need. All in all, I promise I have zero negative memories with Shalom and will never slander the church, and will always stand up to defend the integrity and legitimacy of our family, and honor you and our elders as my spiritual fathers.

Sincerely,

 

Your Spiritual Son, Kevin Kang

Perichoresis: An Introduction

Those of you who find yourselves reading are doing so for a number of reasons. You may have stumbled here scrolling through your newsfeed, letting curiosity get the best of you. You might have opened it via a friend’s recommendation. Or maybe, you’re a church leader concerned for my salvation, here to eavesdrop on how far I’ve fallen from the “Truth of God’s Word”.

Others of you are on a journey longing for community, solidarity, and maybe some direction.

Maybe you’re a wayward traveler in search for truth.

Maybe you’re a hardcore follower of Jesus looking to deepen your faith.

Or maybe…

You’re pretty well versed in disappointment and religious trauma. You’ve grown disillusioned, even cynical. The idea of God, church and spirituality leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, heightens your blood pressure, and unleashes gag reflexes in your belly which may or may not cause you to hurl.

You’re barely hanging on and screaming for salvation.

Or maybe…

You’ve already walked away.

We come from different walks of life. No one person is the same.

Yet, here we are together. Our paths cross by mere chance.

But…

I’m glad you’re here.

Perichoresis is for the faithful, the doubting, the curious, the broken, the rebel, and anyone willing to embark on this journey of finding ultimate reality and becoming integrated with oneself, other human beings, and the universe around them. We are a community where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. You will be accepted no matter what, but you’ll also be called out on your BS. You will be affirmed for who you are: the good, the bad, and all the quirks that come with the package, but you’ll also be challenged in everything-from your belief systems to how you live and operate in the world.

Our goal is to create safe communities where people are free to process doubt, heal from ecclesial trauma, and explore what it means to be fully human. We believe the face of Christianity, religion, and spirituality is rapidly changing, and we want to play a part in redefining of our tribe.

The next few years of development for Perichoresis will occur in three phases:

1.       Weekly (or more) Blog Posts: It’ll be a mix of articles on theology, ministry, culture, art, music, fashion, psychology, self-help, deconstruction, reconstruction, etc.

2.       Live Events: We already have a network which consists of emerging grassroots communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Over the next few years, we will host live gatherings where people can learn, build authentic and lasting friendships, and create strategies for our growing movement.

3.       Plant New Spiritual Communities all over the country: You can call them churches. You can call them fellowships. You can call it hyphenated spiritual communities. Feel free to even identify them as cults. It doesn’t really matter. Either way, people will gather regularly, do life together, connect with the divine, and mobilize to bring lasting change and instill hope in their local communities and abroad.

With that I want to say;

Welcome home.

It’s a privilege to enter your story.

You’re safe.

 

Yours Truly,

Kevin Kang

 

To Love at all is to be Vulnerable

Two years ago, I remember nervously sitting in an empty room with white noise in the background & my therapist sitting across from me. In that hour-long session, all I recall are three words she told me, "open that door." I did indeed feel I had closed the door shut for many years while everyone else moved forward and left me behind. If only I open the door, then, I can experience, dance, and flourish through all the opportunities ahead.

But…

Who isn't afraid of being vulnerable? Who likes being criticized? It took me nearly my entire life to come out of my shell. It was never easy putting myself out there for the world to see.

Inside this closed door lived repressed fears and wounds accumulated from rejection and ridicule. It led to deeper insecurities, anger, bitterness, depression, anxiety, and feelings of unworthiness.

Whispers of:

“You're not good enough”

“You’re fake”

“You’re full of it”

“You’re conceited”

“You’re too into your looks”

Then…

The most daunting question…

Who do you think you are?

 

These words echoed louder and louder as I sat across from my therapist. In an attempt to snap me out of this trance and back into reality, she, once again, uttered the words, "all you have to do is open that door." I desperately wanted to, but that meant confronting my issues.

When I was a child, my dad bought me a journal and told me to write in it every day. He enrolled me in art classes after seeing me so stirred by his paintings. Since then, the arts were imbedded in my soul. I always loved to create. Whenever I drew pictures, wrote down ideas, captured moments through photography, sang songs, and even when I styled myself, I felt most alive and human. I was also inspired by other artists and drawn to their uniqueness no matter how dark. In some way or form, I felt a connection. It didn’t matter how good or bad I was at what I did. I was happy with my creation and the story I was painting.

Yet, this picture I was painting, not everyone felt the same. As I painted, people around me constantly vandalized my work, similar to throwing buckets of paint at my canvas. Whenever I started a project, I was met with criticism, gossip, and straight up opposition. My work was never given a chance to grow and develop into a masterpiece. It was repeatedly torn down by others and I eventually gave up. It hurt like thousand needles. I wanted to run away. I wanted isolate myself. That's what I did. My creativity crawled into a hole so no one can hurt me.

But it was time to make a change.

I was ready to paint my life again.

That evening, I walked out. I cracked open the door of my heart. I glanced back with tears dripping down my face with all my wounds wide open and ready to heal. For the first time, I felt unafraid. My feet took small steps forward. I then walked faster and faster. I felt empowered, encouraged, refreshed and renewed. The passion in me began to stir. At the end of the session my therapist reminded me that there are people in my life who actually care. She concluded, "I believe in you, your talents and your passion."

C.S Lewis once said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."

Creativity is my love and sharing it with the public was the greatest possible expression of my love. Yes, opposition is inevitable, but at this point, I would rather have people judge me than lock up what I was made to do. The inability to express fully ourselves is like the pain we feel when we endure a slow and painful death.

Facing our deep-rooted issues bring us to places that challenge us way beyond anything we could have ever imagined. It’s like pouring alcohol on an open flesh wound or going through chemo. The healing process itself can be traumatizing. It can take weeks, months, or even years to fully experience healing. In the process, we may not know what to do, who can help or when we will experience peace.

But the story doesn’t end here...

Facing our pain opens the door to new narratives. It creates stories of hope, growth, maturity, strength, freedom, forgiveness and beauty. I’m on a journey of painting a counter-narrative of embracing my true self. My hope is for readers to feel encouraged, empowered and liberated. I hope you keep creating and painting your masterpieces. Know this: by not doing what you love and not pursuing your passion, you’re robbing the world of the real you. And in some ways, that’s selfish. Will there be haters? Yes. Will some people gossip about you? Most definitely. Yes, rejection is inevitable, but giving in and quitting is far worse.

We at Perichoresis are here to walk with you in this crazy and messy journey called life. The content we create is dedicated to those who have been rejected, hurt, and are afraid to showcase what they are passionate about. As we step out and take risks, we hope you’re inspired to do the same and SHINE.