When I was 17 years-old, my high school pastor did something that I haven’t been able to live past and forgive, he deleted me from Facebook. Sounds petty I know, but it was the underlying principle of the act that wounded me. That a man that I looked up to, followed, admired, and truly respected for almost a decade of my teenage life, would go as far and as little to do that was both shocking and heartbreaking. I remember I added him back to scorn him, to let him know that I knew, to which he accepted and blocked me once more. I was so angry.
But the most hurtful thing was the outcome of that event. Older men and women, people that I looked up to as legitimate brothers and sisters, being micro-managed out of my life as they sheepishly followed the words of a narrow-minded minister without question, that broke my heart. The betrayal felt real.
Thoughts still linger. How can a grown ass man delete a teenage kid, in his church and ministry, off of Facebook? How can a pastor be so petty? How can men and women that I’ve grown with, learned with, fasted with, cried with, be so quick to fall into judgment without assessing both sides? Were Christians actually this sheepish?
A Mother’s Love
If my father taught me grace, my mother taught me forgiveness. At the time that this drama was happening, my mom had been gone to Korea for 6 months in preparations to move back to the motherland. It was difficult for me, my church community was everything, I invested as much time throughout my week there. I had the luxury of never having to complain about much to my mom, I never got bullied in school, I never got beat up. But I did have an older grown pastor that I was having drama with.
And as any Korean Christian mother would do, she prayed. She prayed every morning for me, and for him, and for the community, messaging me bible verses every morning at 5am to encourage me and to challenge me to keep my heart soft. I tried.
He had gotten married recently, I celebrated as did the rest of the church. I was happy for him, his new wife was beautiful, and so absolutely caring. Funny thing is, I kind of became really close with her. The relationship grew naturally, and she had felt like an older sister to me. Maybe this was my in, maybe this was how I won favor with him, by winning favor with his wife. Sadly that wasn’t the case, since I was deleted from his friends list shortly thereafter.
My mom came back; I had told her the things that had happened. Nobody was willing to confront me, tensions were high, things got awkward, leaders were shunning me outright. I began to look into other churches to transition to. It was my time to leave. She was fuming. And one day when she returned, she had gone back to the church to attend a service and see some of her old friends. She saw the pastor from across the cafeteria and the craziest shit happened.
Life & It’s Complexities
Fast forward 4 years, I was 21. My friends and I had found a local Korean Tofu shop to eat at after a long day of snowboarding. Something hot, spicy, soupy, and comforting after a day in the cold was the perfect remedy. Upon ordering I heard the door open, and a family walked in behind me, and sat at the table across from me. Wataya fking know? My spiritual nemesis from my childhood.
Tensions shot in the room, and my friend decided to ice it by saying hi which led a forced conversation between the two tables. His wife was as vibrant and joyful as ever, and they had two beautiful kids. Also joining them was her parents. I was happy for them. Three generations eating together at a table, I was jealous, it was awesome. But he was still being petty, even after 4 years, hardly acknowledging me and being cold and distant.
Then the strangest thing happened. She turned to her parents, both very old within their 70s and 80s, and told them my name. Their eyes shot towards me, and tears began to fill their eyes. I watched them stand up, walk over to my table, and bow completely 90 degrees.
“Your mother and father helped us in a very difficult time when we lived in Alaska. They gave us so much. Thank you, and please tell your parents we’re so grateful.”
I was shocked. You see, turns out that day when my mom saw my pastor at the church, she recognized his wife. Before I was born in Alaska (fun fact), our parents were close to hers, and my dad had given them a car and money when they were having financial difficulties. While her parents worked to support, my mother used to nanny and take care of her like she was her own daughter. It was the first time she had seen her since.
My Letting Go
A few weeks ago, I ran into a few old church sisters and brothers throughout the week. It felt so awkward-- almost a decade had past and the tension that I left almost 10 years ago still sat in the air. I acted candidly and unapologetically friendly, responding to every awkward answer with deep interest and happiness to see them again. Yet still, it hurts me to hear rumors that my name is associated with something negative in the context of that community. I left because I was pushed out, not because I became disenchanted or disillusioned. Many think that my bitterness is what led me to leave the institutional church. I’d be lying if I said that had nothing to do with it. But the truth is I left because I felt like I was being unjustly attacked.
I remember I asked questions like: “How come we do church on Sundays when the Sabbath is on Friday night to Saturday night? Why is the pastor the leader of the church, when clearly in the bible it’s the prophet and apostle? How come we send missionaries to countries, but we don’t even steward our own communities?”
One time; our Friday service was canceled. So I rallied some of the church members to go and attend an event at different church. It was amazing, everyone was so blessed and encouraged, and we made a ton of new friends. I went to church on Sunday, and got chewed out so hard. I was so confused. When the church becomes larger than the Kingdom it serves, when the ego of a pastor becomes greater than the people he serves.
I was a young man, with an earnest hunger to know who God was, I was searching for answers beyond an institutionalized version of Christianity. I was tired of reading the bible, all these amazing and great acts of love, acts of love from a God that seemed so completely real and present, and not seeing them lived out in the present. I felt that the greatest days of the church were in our past, and not in our present nor our future. I didn’t agree with that, and it cost me relationships and trust.
I turn 26 in a few weeks. And being in Myanmar, I’ve been thinking about this event a lot. I guess all this time, my resentment and hurt blinded me from being able to see this story for what it meant. I’ve been thinking about my mom, who’s loved greatly, and unconditionally forgives the men and women that have continually betrayed and hurt her. A mother who prayed early morning for the man who emotionally abused her own flesh and blood, only to see that he’s loved by a beautiful wife that she too had a chance in loving and raising.
How can I hate a man, greeted every morning by the love of his lover, a woman who was raised by the hands of the same mother that loved me? The same back that I was carried upon, carried the mother of his children.
He is my brother.
And so I tell this story to let it go. It’s cost me hatred and bias towards Christians and the institutional church. Perhaps relationships will remain awkward, rumors will continue to float, and my reputation as some rogue anti-authority radical loose-mouthed kid will continue. But the resentment will stop. I didn’t have my justice, and that’s okay. People are ignorant, and that’s okay. It’s not my job to justify myself, and it’s not my job to educate them. My job is to love and love well.
Just like my mother.