This year, Easter celebrations and the Paschal season are being “welcomed” in a remarkably different way: millions of people practicing social distancing, bathing and washing their hands regularly—and while many of us are staying home for longer periods of time—we are all connected by that great, invisible network that is the World Wide Web (Internet).
I do have to say one thing though: despite the convenience livestreaming/digitally recording church services brings to all of us honoring the stay-in-place policies mandated by our state governments—there is indeed a “God-shaped” hole in the hearts of the Faithful who long to experience the Mass in person. In other words, for the world’s billion Catholics and the over 260 million Orthodox Christians, many of us are prohibited from receiving the Holy Eucharist and being in His literal presence in churches everywhere.
Due to the—you guessed it—spread of COVID-19.
Despite the Easter-related messages and letters I have received in my inbox stating that this pandemic too shall pass—nevertheless, my mind, heart and soul doesn’t feel at peace about the situation this planet is literally in at this very moment (and will be for at least another year, many experts are now advising the public).
The only way I feel truly at peace, I find, is when I attend the Mass and stare longingly at Christ on the cross (crucifix)—His eyes and face contorted, full of utter pain and sorrow, and yet…there is something else too.
To be honest, I feel as though the world’s Catholic and Orthodox Christians are more spiritually inclined than most Protestants I know (especially of the “Evangelical,” “Baptist,” “non-denominational,” and “Pentecostal” types).
(More on this later…perhaps even in a future article.) 😉
But I have yet to see a fellow “fundamentalist” Protestant not be humbled by such realistic and gruesome imagery as the sculptures and stained glass windows created by the hands of devout Catholics.
That goes double for the atheists and agnostics out there. You know who y’all are. 😜
Therefore, in my very long and continuously winding journey towards the Roman Catholic Church (again, for those who don’t know, I’m converting over from my childhood-reared Pentecostalism)…I can only now understand why the Crucifix is such a powerful statement to certain Christians, more so than others.
A close Protestant friend of mine once asked me whether Catholics believe in the Resurrection. We were teenagers, and she had just accompanied me to Mass. I realized how striking and maybe even disturbing it might have been to her to be confronted with the gigantic, realistic crucifix up front, which I was so used to I hadn’t even thought to forewarn her of. I think she wondered how, if we believe in Christ’s Resurrection, we could be putting so much emphasis on the disturbing image of His dead body.
Later, when it began to dawn on me what the crucifix meant, there was a period of months in my life where I found it almost too hard to look at one directly. Even now, on a bad day, it can be hard. Christ is just so exposed, so vulnerable, and I don’t like to be reminded that “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. (Jn 12:26).” And where He is is exactly where I don’t want to be. I want to be His servant, sure, but I don’t want to go all the way to the Cross. But, of course, there can be no resurrection without death first. It’s no good hoping for one without the other.
In other words, we cannot and should not be thanking and praising Jesus as THE Lord and Saviour of all if He never took the punishment that we lowly sinners deserved—as evidenced time and time again in the Tanakh (Old Testament).
This is why, in the Western world, Catholics are often associated as being the “people of the Cross (Crucifix).”
But at the same time, Protestants shouldn’t be hogging the Resurrection story and the Empty Tomb either—personally speaking as someone growing up with a devout, fanatical Pentecostal convert (originally from Taiwanese Buddhism) of a mother.
Being a Christian isn’t just about showing up at church, reading the Bible together, singing a few songs, say some prayers, watch some VeggieTales™ or Superbook™ …and then see ya next week.
It’s so much more than that.
Because the truth of the matter is: you ought to be as passionately filled with the love and devotion of and to Christ (and finding His Real Presence in the Eucharist) as much as Pastor Francis Chan here:
So, in the midst of this time of anxiety, depression and great suffering, may we always remember that Christ is King, keep one another in service and in devoted prayer; and to quote Blessed Saint Pope John John II here:
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”
For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name. (KJV) ( Amos 4:13 ) If you haven’t noticed lately, we are surrounded […]
At night, as he sat in the dark listening to the sound of the turtle-dove in the trees, he felt the face of Christ looking intently at him. The clear blue eyes were gentle with compassion; the features were tranquil; it was a face filled with trust. ‘Lord, you will not cast us away any longer,’ he whispered, his eyes fixed upon that face. And then the answer seemed to come to his ears: ‘I will not abandon you.’ Bowing his head he strained his ears for the sound of that voice again; but the only thing he could hear was the singing of the turtle-dove. The darkness was thick and black. Yet the priest felt that for one instant his heart had been purified.
~ Shusaku Endo, Silence (an excerpt from Chapter 6)
In my last piece for this blog, I had very clearly stated that I was moving away from mainstream Christianity and “becoming” a deist. Here, I want to clarify further by what I had written and published a little over 2 months ago:
One sunny Friday back in April of this year, I did not expect to be welcomed again by the Roman Catholic students at UC Berkeley. But that is exactly what happened—not only did I feel welcomed by the group, the ladies tabling that day out on Sproul Plaza were amazed not only by how much knowledge of the Church and its teachings I have committed to memory; but also led to one of the girls (also my former classmate from 3 years prior) to exclaim that it was “a sign that God has appointed you to be here.”
Truer words had never been spoken, because within a matter of weeks, I started going back to Mass more, praying the Holy Rosary and even going to my first Confession.
But just when everything looked like rainbows and butterflies, tragedy struck home when our last male cat, Lennie, was seized by Animal Control authorities and euthanized on June 2, 2018.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.
~ 1 John 4:1‒3 (RSVCE)
It’s painful for me to even consider writing this piece—as I know it may be deemed heretical in the eyes of many of my most devout Protestant and Catholic friends and family alike—but over this past summer, I have been experiencing severe psychological, emotional and spiritual burnout. Although I will add that I have been mentally planning to write such an op-ed as this one for at least a year’s time now.
But just a few months prior, many were expecting me to take a magical leap of faith as I had finally decided to go to my very first Confession in a Roman Catholic setting—despite being raised a Pentecostal Protestant. Of course, if Confession wasn’t intimidating enough, then taking the Eucharist should be even more so. Because if there is one thing Catholics are doctrinally right about, it’s that they earnestly and honestly look at the Host (bread) and wine as more than mere symbols of Christ’s body and blood.
You’re supposed to be different and be a little weird. It’s not a bad thing, we’re not meant to be the same.
~ Christina Grimmie
I know I had previously announced that I would stop writing for a while, but something very tragic that happened barely less than 72 hours ago broke my fragile heart and made me scream horrendously inside. During what had seemed like another Saturday morning soon turned into my weekend of perpetual darkness and grief as I had read that Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by a man who had purported to hate Christians.
An article in The Santa Monica Observer displays the following headline:
“Crime may be investigated as a hate crime. The Voice singer was outspoken in her Christian faith” 
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.[b] Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
~ Isaiah 7:14 ‒ 16 (NKJV)
Aside from Easter, Lent, Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Holidays have always been my favourite time of year. As a child, I remember cherishing every Christmas Day morning, waking up to see presents sitting under the tree, and Christmas evening, reflecting on the birth of the Christ child and His nativity.
Every year, I also commemorate and celebrate my own birthday, with family beside me. But as the years go by, my birthday wishes have graciously evolved with me. Instead of asking Santa Claus for the latest toy, computer game, or DVD, I have increasingly taken the time to think about college (and my life after it), my finances and the future.
And… to be honest with you, the future is a very scary afterthought.
With my family putting the same expectations on me since I was that little boy sitting around our gargantuan TV in the family room, watching Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and of course, Phineas and Ferb’s Christmas Vacation (a nod to Peanuts as well)—every Christmas seems to feel more burdensome.
Had the inspiration to write this while thinking of something catchy and jingly in my sleep this morning. Yes, I sleep-write and think too. A one-shot poem that I originally was thinking of turning into a rap. Enjoy! 😀
If I had come out sooner, four years ago, what would you have said?
Would you have embraced me, or shook your head in dismay?
Roll your eyes disgustingly, and yell, “Be gone filthy sinner! You are no longer welcome to stay!”
As I would have curled up into a minuscule ball and cry,
We can use our own pain to understand the pain of all living beings. Having learned to accept our own suffering patiently, if we then think of the suffering of all the other living beings trapped in samsara, compassion will arise naturally.
~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
ELEVEN MONTHS AGO, I HAD ENOUGH. Enough of suppressing a deeply hurtful part of my soul—equal to the pain of knowing I have and live with cerebral palsy, each and every single day. My mom first skimmed through my Aiming for Inclusion column last October, after receiving a copy in her e-mail. She was appalled to see the Phinerb artwork I had posted. It was then, on one Sunday afternoon, October 20, 2013, we finally sat down and talked things out for over an hour regarding my bi-romantic/bisexual attractions.
IN HIGH SCHOOL, as many other young adolescent teens are during this time, I began to feel an emotional admiration for classmates and friends of both genders—males and females alike. My freshman year, I met a boy whom I only once briefly met in the 7th grade during a small group therapy counseling session with our guidance counselor. You can imagine the look on his face as I glanced over at him for the very first time—small beady eyes, a warm, gentle grin and sunny disposition. I was somehow entranced, but dared not say anything except for a simple “Hi” and a gentle wave of the hand. When we finally briefly re-connected in high school, I nearly fell in love with him—or so I naively thought. Fast forward ahead many years into the near future. After many long hiatuses of not communicating back and forth online ever since Tim and his mom moved out to Texas in February 2008, one May evening one year ago, I decided to muster up the strength to tell him the truth about how I really felt about him all this time, and how much I’ve missed him so. “Tim, I love you. I really do.”
On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars — but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war — but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks — but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day — and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.
~ Former President George W. Bush in his Address to the Joint Session of the 107th Congress (September 20, 2001)
CONTRARY TO THE VIEWS expressed by the mainstream media, the notion of Islamophobia—the irrational fear of the beliefs and institutions of the Muslim faith—did not first enter the modern American psyche on September 11, 2001. Rather, it occurred decades before my time, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office.
Former President George W. Bush’s now famous declaration of ‘a war on terror’ is in fact a continuation of his father’s legacy, Mr. [George] Herbert Walker Bush and Mr. Reagan respectively before him, not an initiation, despite what my current generation of Millennials may presume to think.
Three years ago, within weeks of saying goodbye to my fellow graduating upper classmen of the Class of 2010, I struck up a conversation with one of my few close Muslim friends Adam S. one afternoon. Initially sharing my profoundly educated knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of his own faith with him, I somehow eventually felt emotionally provoked to painfully, but honestly scream the statement, “Nevertheless, I still believe that Muslims are terrorists.”
I could observe the deep remorse and pain in his face as I declared it. As I would later solemnly apologize, I restated that my motive was not to label every Muslim person walking around as a terrorist, as clearly that would be irrational, not to mention, unethical.
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them….
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Former President George W. Bush couldn’t have said it more clear-cut or more precise, as his words still ring true nearly a decade after the attacks. Nevertheless, despite his best-suited intentions, we still have yet to fully recover from the damage left behind in a post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are still questions that are left to be answered. Most importantly, if and when, the nations of the Middle East, and the people living there can ever accept the notion of executing democratic principles, not in the names of liberty, freedom or equality, but swiftly with mercy and grace.
In recent years, ideological Islamophobia has resurged with the controversy of constructing Park51 two blocks from Ground Zero in New York and Pastor Terry Jones purposely burning a copy of the Koran two years ago at his church in Gainesville, Florida.
As a fellow Christian, I again would like to apologize to the worldwide Muslim community if there are people among us who use hate and fear to evangelize our beliefs on the rest of the world.
The Great Commission
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Amen.
~ Matthew 28:16 – 20 (NKJV)
If we are indeed human, wouldn’t we also share the same resentment and hurt if other rogue parties were to target and ransack our churches, desecrate our icons of Christ and the Cross, and shred our Bibles? As history proves to humanity repeatedly, violence can only beget violence, no matter what one’s faith.
Which evidently, brings me to Syria…
Although President Obama has identified Tuesday night President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the involvement and usage of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, he also agrees not to send troops to intervene in Syria:
First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are “still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.” A veteran put it more bluntly: “This nation is sick and tired of war.”
My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.
His overall message resonates with me, and echoes a similar overtone several of my other politically inclined friends on Facebook have recently been discussing in the last few weeks regarding Assad’s Syria:
Whatever we do over there, I believe it’s just going to fuel the fire and make matters more complicated. Whenever we drop bombs, people get killed – guilty and innocent both. This fuels the fire of the Muslim’s already present hatred of us and it will do it until the end of time. We can’t bribe real friends. And we can’t intimidate them to be our friends by bombing who we deem as “bad guys.”
We’ve spent hundreds of billions, if not more, in bombing middle-east “bad guys” the past decade, and lost some 8,500 Americans. Does the US really need to keep bankrupting itself and putting lives and weapons on the line in yet another country? When will moral policing end?
We went into Iraq, partially under the pretense of helping the people Saddam used chemical weapons against. And what a disaster going into Iraq has been. And if we go into Syria, even with just drones (as if that’s no big thing), I still think we will end up with a bigger mess of which we may have to help clean-up.
And we haven’t even talked about who we’re helping by going after Assad: Al-Nusra, the al Qaeda wing in Syria.
I think the Founders, as the saying goes, are rolling over in their graves at the sight of how many countries our government is involved in.
~ Chris Wright, expressing his opinions on the possibility of American military intervention in Syria
Going off Chris’ points directly here, first of all, I agree with everything he writes. As I voice my thoughts in a different Facebook comment thread with another fellow Mormon, Josh Roundy, I make a firm statement that coincidentally enough, reiterates the same points Chris outlines above:
I am not saying don’t help or support the children of Syria. We should in theory, help all, refugee and rebel alike. But I personally find it very emotionally and psychologically unsettling when one regime dominates the mainstream voice in the political and social discourse, as in the case of said Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
As for the actual children of Syria, here is the first of a series of clips I have painstakingly nitpicked from browsing and watching Youtube news on the conflict for months now.
This next one documents wounds two boys have sustained from a shelling in a neighborhood in Homs, dated April 2012:
*Contains some graphic/bloody imagery. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
I’ll be honest here folks. I trembled and even wanted to cry as I glanced at the doctors removing the first boy’s clothes and examining his wounds as he cries aloud in fear, and tears. My heart cannot ever properly express the sorrow I feel tremendously every time I watch videos of this content and nature, especially when there’s children involved.
To help tell the story of one family siding with the Free Syrian Army rebels in the bustling city of Aleppo, and one boy’s experience of wanting to go to school to earn his education despite living in a war zone, here is Ibrahim’s War courtesy of Journeyman Pictures.
Trust me, this film will move you in ways you couldn’t imagine of being moved:
As for the Christians of Syria, many of us are now learning that rebel forces are attempting to seize total control of the small mountainous community of Ma’loula (Maaloula).
The local residents seem to gravely fear this predicament because it could inevitably give the rebels more legroom towards not only riling the authority of Assad’s regime, but also sparking further clashing of ideologies and religions in the process. Surprisingly, both Muslims and Christians previously living in the town, who are now fleeing the area due to the nature of the attacks, collectively agree that they have lived together side by side in mutual peace for years.
Ma’loula is also home to one of the most well preserved sanctuaries of the modern-day variant of Aramaic, presumably to be the tongue of the historic Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
And as the documentary describes, director Mel Gibson—who is indeed a devout Roman Catholic and directed the now worldwide sensation The Passion of the Christ—even took some civil and historic liberties of helping to carefully reconstruct the form of ancient Aramaic that Jesus and his followers spoke in his heyday, as accurately as possible.
This ensures that there are people who are currently not only proactively determined in trying to save an essential Biblical language from the near brink of extinction. It ensures that history can be rediscovered, relived, and continue to live on in the present day for the world’s nearly 3.6 – 3.8 billion adherents of the major Abrahamic faiths, all of which, coincidentally, have their origins in the Middle East.
But regardless of our faith or our politics, 9/11 isn’t just a day when our country was attacked by Muslim extremists. It isn’t a day to start pointing the finger of hypocrisy and shame at our neighbors and condemn them as terrorists.
9/11 was, and is a day when religion and politics simultaneously intertwined and crossed paths once more, as a rallying wake-up call for all of us to reconsider how we approach sensitive topics surrounding our everyday religious confrontations, and the benefits and dangers of exploring both fundamentalism and liberal theologies and theocracies alike.
And remember: Muslims can be your friends too.
“O son of Adam, it is better for you if you spend your surplus (wealth), but if you withhold it, it is evil for you. There is (however) no reproach for you (if you withhold means necessary) for a living. And begin (charity) with your dependants; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand.” 
~ The Prophet Muhammad, Muslim hadith
*Original thanks to my good friend Marwan Mogaddedi for posting this verse on his Facebook three weeks ago.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you…”
~ Jesus of Nazareth, an excerpt from The Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:27 – 31 (NASB)
God bless everyone and Ahlan wa Sahlan my friends. #NeverForget 😀