As I first started writing this post to you I sat on the ninth floor of one of the many office buildings in Downtown Oakland, reflecting on the deliberation of those last five hours. After our meeting with members of the East Bay Immigration Coalition we came back to the CLUE office to debrief and continue to plan for the upcoming prayer vigil. I find it hard to stay present in the moment, reminded of how I was so riveted that morning by the gravity of the situation that Bay Area undocumented people face. Faithful men and women from the Pacific Steel Workers Union who have had stable jobs for over a decade are being targeted for audit by the federal government—with the ultimate end being their expulsion from their principal means of making a living.
Yet I am only witnessing the tip of the iceberg to the unfolding story of growing unrest in social justice circles across the country. To put things simply, our current administration is becoming more and more draconian. I mean, using racial profiling to conduct searches, seizures, and detainment without a warrant? Deporting mothers or fathers who have children at home, or youths stopped for traffic violations? You’ve got to be kidding me. Each new scenario that presents itself shows another facet of the brokenness our country calls domestic immigration policy. The difference is now I can finally put a face to the deplorable human consequences. And the more I see the human faces the harder it becomes to dismiss the current status quo as simply an interesting issue to discuss. It is real, tangible, gritty. It is the life and death dance worked out in deserts and cities, in the fields and the detention facilities.
Street Level reveals similar human consequences. One of them is named Carlos, a man with chronic arthritis that has spread to all major joints, yet cannot risk asking for treatment because of his undocumented status. Limping over and explaining his situation in clipped Spanish, his wide smile and dancing eyes are a thin façade hiding enormous pain and torment. In a moment the lethargy I felt at writing up interviews is gone, as I try to convey my sympathy to his plight. This man is probably almost as old as my Dad, but unlike him, could never have the opportunity to any better arthritis treatment than popping a couple coveted aspirin. Sorrow and compassion mingle in my heart and add a touch of constriction to my throat I hope is not betrayed in my voice. At the end of our conversation I realize that he knows better than to ask me for medical attention. Instead, his aim is to leave a small part of his enormous burden with me. He moves quickly toward the door, filled with the strength gleaned from understanding another human being acknowledges his suffering.
As God taught me, as SUP taught me and as BAyUP has reinforced time and again, Mercy is willingly stepping into the suffering and struggle of another. Embracing the person behind the mess, and the mind behind the madness. I feel like this lesson is being fortified in my being with every interaction with a man or woman seeking for a validation of their God-given dignity. The dignity the world denies them. The dignity that Christians often deny them too. The dignity and identity that I can recognize in my communion with them.
As God teaches me more and more through my sites, I am also learning a great deal about the hardships of living in community. Here I was, thinking that I could get used to anything for just 6 weeks. Instead after only two weeks I began to feel cooped up and cornered. If it is tougher than I thought to live in a duplex with 11 others, what must the families I see feel like living 7 or 8 people in one apartment?
Part of the dissonance I experience is in remembering how much of my summer I want to consecrate to hearing from God. I have been pushed to embrace flexibility and sacrifice control of being able to do things my way. Blocked from leaving to gather my personal thoughts with Him alone, or prayer-run for exercise at my convenience. They say it is because it is too dangerous to run around my neighborhood; too easy to be surprised unexpectedly by someone in the streets and alleys. I guess I get that. But it still feels dumb not being able to break up the work/prayer/seminar marathons except for the weekends when I have time to bike or walk over to somewhere safer.
There have also been relational hurdles to overcome. The social dynamic skews 8 females against 3 males, and Asian-American cultural style against Anglo style. I feel like I need to take the Myers-Briggs test again, unsure if my personality has altered significantly or just been exaggerated or “brought to light” in contrast to the others surrounding me in this enclosed space. Just last night I had to have a heart-to-heart with Josef John about my intents and feelings towards others. Thinking out loud allowed me to diagnose with greater clarity what was wrong. My mind as of late has devolved into being overly critical and judgmental. The taxing days and long nights have gotten to me. A spiritual gorilla the size of Mighty Joe Young named “Burn-out” is trying to climb on my back again. And like Sarah Lin challenged the returning-leader team at Chapter Camp: “When you’re in Burn-out you’re in sin”. How much more direct could you get? When I am taking my eyes off of God and not actively dismantling the thorns growing up around the seeds He has planted in my heart, the words that He is already growing within me are being choked out by the cares of this world. The repercussions are evident: misalignment of attitude and a selfish/materialistic mindset instead of a radically transformed one.
The good news is I know this is not the inheritance God has for me, for in reality I am a person who values healthy confrontation and reconciliation. God has blessed me with the strong motivation to remain open-minded and empathetic despite being in the midst of trying circumstances. I’ve described it before as “suspending judgment to refine relationship”.
An inner city missionary once said “Kingdom efficiency is seen through an eternal perspective”. And I’m starting to realize what this means in regard to letting go of the stress associated with work, and the criticism attached to my view of people. God is definitely rehashing truths I had yet to fully internalize while inspired to write “Loving the Idea more than the Actual” on my Tumblr. If you haven’t read that then get at ittt.
So overall don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to paint the portrait of BAyUP community with such broad negative strokes. Often it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. True to form, I can safely say some of the most life-giving parts of BAyUP community are painted painstakingly and with expressive care for detail.
The BAyUP-Open House embodied that to me so well. It was tight that Matt Kim drove out on short notice to grab dinner with me at Anh Dao Pho, and Henry Yang and Adam Kauk took me out to Yummy Guy afterwards. It was Hecka legit that a huge crowd of friends and family came to stand in solidarity with all the students sharing about their experiences. And super-legit tripled that Erica Vilay acted as the technical architect behind my team’s moving testimonials. It was such a godsend to invite people who care about us to come cheer us toward the second half of our summer journey. I for one drew so much strength and hope from recognizing that their honest praise, caring embrace, and loving intentionality reflected a people committed to interceding for us in the spiritual as we walk in the physical. Come what may, I will hold up that evening in my heart to identify what I am fighting for.
I seek the Shalom of the community as God has given me Shalom through my IV community. I seek identification with the poor in Spirit, as Christ has identified Himself with my personal brokenness and my sin. I seek Kingdom Justice and Kingdom love, as they are revealed to me day by day through His children and His word. And perhaps most of all: I seek surrender control, discipline to rest and receive from God, and the anointing to stave off burn-out with the replenishing fire of the Holy Spirit.
That’s most of the reason why I am writing to you now, sitting at home on a cloudy day with Josef John reading nearby, while the rest of my team takes their Sabbath near downtown Oakland and Chinatown. The other part of the reason why I’m here is that I feel sick and exhausted. I went to morning prayer, eat breakfast, went back to sleep, eat lunch, and then started to blog. Finally! A long interval of rest after a hard week. J
To pass some of the time during the trip where I’ve felt too weak or distracted to engage in constant conversation, I have gotten to reading Christian lit– including a novel about the community in which I’m living. If you’d like to take a gander then grab “Straight Outta East Oakland” by Harry Louis Williams II. It is a slightly romanticized picture of the streets I walk, but truer than you’d EVER like to think. Just watch out, it’s gnarly violent and ridiculously sad. Yet the message of the Gospel displayed in this book rings loud and clear, maybe even louder because of it. The way of the Christ-follower provides such a stark contrast to “the Game”.
Another book on my mind is called “From Brokenness to Community” by Jean Vanier. Thanks to Erina’s recommendation and Shela’s interest to share an excerpt of it during morning prayer, I have begun to read it in expectation of letting God’s vision for community galvanize greater faith and compassion within me with which I can love my BAyUP ‘Xiong-mama’, ‘Ahyi’, and my IV student peers.
From East Oakland this is your boy J.M.K., signing off.
Albums to listen to: ‘Thistled Spring’ by Horsefeathers, ‘Sea-sew’ by Lisa Hannigan, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ by Bon Iver, ‘A Good Day’ by Priscilla Ahn and ‘Come on, feel the Illinoise’ by Sufjan Stevens.
1. My little brother David has a urinary-tract infection. Pray for his physical healing and God’s hand upon him.
2. My rest in God—No burnout allowed.
3. Healing from my exhaustion/cold/scratchy throat.
4. Grace to have more time to exercise.
5. People to come to our prayer vigil at the West County detention center on July 20th. I just met an asian man with a family, whose wife is being detained and most likely deported because she’s not a citizen. So messed up.
6. Transformation of my attitude, mind, and emotions to love my BAyUP team well every day in every way. Patience, humility, and compassion are KEY to grow in.
7. More sleep.
8. Continued ability to speak Spanish with alacrity. When I was speaking it every day I was getting really comfortable, but now that I have not spoken with much frequency for the past few days I am having a harder time of it.
9. Grace upon my academic records at Berkeley and the office accepting my prereqs as per protocol instead of being lame and not putting them on my record.