Revisiting May 23rd.

I’m not even certain how to begin writing this, but perhaps sincerity will do the speaking.  Three years after the Isla Vista shooting, I’m finding myself thinking about what transpired in my beloved college town.  This is the first time I’m finding myself not in Santa Barbara thinking about what happened, and the sorrow, shock, and surrealism of a tragedy striking far too close have been replaced by a longing to understand.  Frustrated confusion mingled with silence are all I have left this year.  The obvious question then was: why? But the more compelling question now is: how?  How did a life become so distraught, so self-consumed, so unrecognizable to humanity?

On the night of the shooting, I found myself reading up on what had happened, watching the intensely disturbing YouTube video, and reading the “manifesto” that had been written, and I remember thinking that this was the work of a person who deeply misunderstood the source of value in life.  Tonight, I re-read many portions of the manifesto, and I still think that intuition was correct.  Perhaps the more religious among us would be inclined to chalk the enormity up to “man’s fallen nature,” and I don’t disagree.  Nevertheless, I’m not certain that I’m fully persuaded by a description that seems so bereft of the utter darkness that we witnessed.  It just doesn’t seem like a complete enough description given the implicit resignation of the phrase; it seems more like the manifestation of radical despair and unmet desires.  Upon reading the manifesto tonight, I was met with conflicting pity and disgust, yet there was also a part of me that wondered if our world hadn’t groomed such a tragedy from the beginning.  Obviously I am not trying to justify what the killer did nor am I pinning the blame on society; this was truly a case of senseless, hopeless violence.  Yet, the questions are overflowing.  Did he have friends to help him through these troubled thoughts?  How did his parents not perceive the issue from an early age, when he seemed to have begun his deviation from living a full, vibrant life?  What could we collectively have done differently?

I’m not entirely sure I’ve had enough time to understand – it may very well be the case that his story is not one to be understood.  But more than anything, I find my heart broken once again for the families who lost their loved ones in the most unnatural way.  I will never know the depth of suffering that the friends of the deceased endure every year around this time.  All I can do – all we can do – is be faithful each year to honor the memories of those whose lives were claimed and be reminded to love those around me with kindness and with respect.  I believe that the end is drawing ever closer, and so I must believe that a loud voice from the throne will eventually say, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And yet, in the middle of an especially dark night, I am finding it difficult to bear the burden of tears that have yet to be wiped. 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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Hey, There’s a Verse on That Bottle.

So, tonight, my fellowship, AACF (Asian American Christian Fellowship), had a Halloween outreach event at around 10PM in front of Jesus Burgers, a nearby locale that serves the people of IV by cooking burgers for them on Friday evenings. What the event entailed was grouping up and passing out water bottles to people ambling the streets of IV, looking for parties or walking off the alcohol they’ve consumed, and the general sense of the night was to show love to the citizens of IV by serving them and attempting to share the Gospel with them.  Going off my experience last year with the event, I only ended up passing out water bottles without saying a word, and making someone cry; I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of a repeat performance.

This year, if I’m honest, I only went in support of and to stand in solidarity with the leaders of inreach/outreach ministry.  My heart in the matter was just to make sure to set an example for other AACFers in giving God’s work a chance no matter the environment.  I didn’t really expect to talk to anyone at all, and I was fairly cynical about the whole situation producing any productive conversations because I was convinced that these people roaming the streets were the rocky places spoken of in Mark 4:5.  However, God was faithful to His work and humbled me in my assumption that the night would be another night of unfortunate silence, producing three memorable instances (among many) where I was able to really launch into a quality conversation with a complete stranger.

The night started off rather poorly, as a brother of mine felt understandably uneasy with the theology of some of the people we were working alongside, and it set a daunting tone for the rest of the evening.  I told the brother to pray over it and follow God’s peace, then set to pass out water bottles quietly. At first, the water bottles were handed out without any allusion or mention of the Gospel, but I guess Jeremiah 20:9 really spoke to and through me tonight, and the mentioning of Christ was indeed like a fire shut up in my bones that I could not hold in.  Soon, God gave me the idea to just tell people to even read the verse on the bottle, using it as an opener to anyone who might be interested in getting deeper in what I had to share with them.  This little tactic led to three conversations, each entirely unique and completely encouraging.

The first conversation was with a guy who came up to me, asking for water.  As I gave it to him, I told him to try and check out the verse that was on the bottle, and he actually stopped at the corner of Jesus Burgers with me, and read it.  Curious, I asked him what verse he read, and he told me it was John 16:33 (I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.). I asked him if he knew what it meant, and he shook his head, and then I proceeded to tell him about a God who loves us and gave His Son to die for us that we might overcome the chaos in this world through the knowledge of him, which brings peace to our hearts.  He seemed interested in what I had to say, and thanked me for the water before proceeding to the rest of his evening.

The second conversation was with another guy I handed water to.  This person seemed considerably more intoxicated than the first guy, but not obnoxiously so.  I told him to read the verse, and he glanced at it, then began to talk about the Bible. I asked him if he was brought up in the church, and he told me that he was brought up Catholic, but converted to Christianity on the basis that Catholicism had too many ceremonies and rituals whereas Christianity allowed for the freedom to love God in any way.  He began sharing a bit of his life story, saying he’d been struggling with his faith, having a father who left him when he was eleven years old, and realizing that that departure was God providing him with strength, and he wanted to use that strength to help people who were weaker than him be as strong as he was.  He talked about how he believed God gave us strength so we could help others, and spread positivity around the world.  Although I might have judged him a little based on how liberally he was speaking, I did pray that God would straighten his path and bring back that brother to Himself.

The final memorable conversation that I had was with Patrick from Germany, the only name I managed to get all evening. He was wearing a demon jester costume, and stopped by for rehydration.  I asked him as well to read the verse, and he opened by asking me about how I felt about the Pope changing the Church’s stance on evolution.  I told him my opinion, which does potentially clash with creationist views; I explained that I believed the two need not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but to use one to explain the other would be difficult because they are fundamentally on two different planes of thought and experience.  He agreed with what I had to say, and told me that he was Christian as well, but admitted that he wasn’t the most devout Christian.  He told me that hearing about this new Pope gave him some hope and some pride in being a Christian because the Pope seems to be a legitimately good person, and I agreed, the Pope was a very good Pope.  I then asked him where he was from and discovered he was from Germany, and we talked soccer for a bit before he clutched my shoulder gently and said that he was glad to have met me, and then we exchanged names.  I bid him a good evening, and he and his friend walked away.  I would later see them, and they cheerily greeted me.

All told, tonight’s Halloween outreach was definitely humbling and eye-opening. It humbled me because I thought I knew what God had planned for the evening, and I guess I lost hope in the salvation of IV during the Halloween season; it was eye-opening because it showed me how I was unknowingly limiting God’s power to work through me by using me as a vessel to try and speak truth into the lives of total strangers.  I’m definitely grateful that He guided me to go out to the water bottle outreach this year, and I just praise Him for the aforementioned conversations; without God’s help, I would have been rendered just as mute as the previous year, but by His grace, I was able to speak of Him to at least two or three people in Isla Vista.  If it seems like I’m boasting, I hope it seems like a boast in Christ because that is what I intended to convey.  God brought me low expectations only to surpass them greatly and prove that Christ’s love cannot be shackled by human apprehension.  Again, like it is written in Jeremiah 20:9, holding it in will wear you out, and eventually you can’t help but speak in His name.  May this spirit of sharing the Gospel continue more and more through the year within AACF.  Praise Him.