The army man Maph and I used to go to his old elementary school at night to play around on the swings. We would often ramble about our future and philosophies. And one night he asked me what I thought the perfect world would be. I defined the perfect world as one without strife. In other words, my perfect world was one where everyone was dead. After all, heaven’s full of dead people, ain’t it?
Of course, so is hell. So my perfect world isn’t so perfect after all. But I suppose that was the ultimate idea of my faith, that in the end we were all going to die. So it never made sense to me to try too hard in life.
Something gnawed at my mind, and one day it surfaced years later when I was discussing the exact details of my faith with a girl I had nicknamed Kimono-chan. She furiously stood by the Bible and the fundamental aspects of Christianity. Curiously, I chose to tell her that my faith was based on people…
I don’t believe in randomness. While some coincidences are merely that, a large part of coincidences are set up. The people I meet and interact with, they all have had some impact on my life. My life intersected with theirs for a purpose.
My mom once told me that when my sister was born, there was only a dime in her purse and that dime represented her net worth at the moment. She had arrived in America six months pregnant and three months later was saddled with a daughter in a foreign land. She didn’t have any family or friends to turn to.
How did my mom and dad overcome their long odds? Of all the groups helping out Vietnamese Refugees, Southern Baptists were among the most helpful in Arkansas. They taught my mom how to take care of her child, all the while explaining the power of Jesus Christ. If their God is that powerful, why not worship him?
So off I went with my sister to church. My parents stopped coming after awhile, but I kept going since it had been a habit ever since I could remember. And yet I was stuck between Buddhist and Baptist ideals. They shared a lot of philosophies but of course their differences were accentuated each time I came home from church. I wasn’t sure who to believe.
Going to college at the University of Tulsa, I had a half-hearted intention of joining the Baptist Student Union. I felt like I owed it to my American grandparents
to undergo a deeper inspection of my faith. There were two reasons. First, was the recognition for high school seniors at my church. Second, my American grandparents had given me my name of “Daniel”, which means “God is my judge.”
To address the first point, they had a slide show of all the high school seniors one night at a dinner at the church. I was struck by how few pictures of myself I was in and by how many things our youth group had actually done. Eastside Baptist probably would be considered one of the wealthier churches, in terms of its active members having well-paid professions, so it would only be natural that the youth group would follow suit in its passion to serve Christ. I laughed to myself as I realized that I reflected no such passion.
For the second point, I believe names are important, so much so that I love asking how people got their names. We often don’t ponder on this, but our names usually represent some sort of hope. Yes, our names are given at both, when we have near unlimited potential. As we grow up, people give us nicknames to describe our true character. I’m fond of giving people nicknames for that reason.
At the Activities Fair for freshman orientation week, I was handed a big pen with the words FOCUS, the name of the weekly lunch for the BSU. Wednesdays at noon, free food. I’m a sucker for free food, so I took them up on their offer and to my surprise it was delicious. But I wasn’t naïve enough to believe this lunch was free.
As a freshman, they strongly encouraged us to visit the freshman Bible study known as BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ). I remember the intern that year. I remember wanting to live like this guy, confident in my faith and confident in the path that I’m walking. His future wife almost screwed it all up, though.
One of the traditions in the BSU is that upperclassmen will invite freshmen to their churches so they can sample a range of worship styles. Some people like traditional worship, some contemporary, and some in between. Well the blond girl, serving as a freshman leader, invited me and my friend Stevo out to her church.
“I’ll meet you guys there,” she said. Well, we were there, but she wasn’t. At that point, I got angry. But more than that, I started thinking, “Man, if this is the kind of people who are leaders within in the BSU, I’m not too sure about these guys.” But Stevo, ever the personable guy, explained that stuff just happens. I would later find out that she “slept through her alarm clock.”
I didn’t attend many of the BSU events or activities my freshmen year. But, one day during freshman Bible study, the intern and his future wife asked us to plan one of the Sunday night worship times. We would form a Freshman Leadership to plan such a thing. We needed to have a message, a drama, and music.
The “Arkansas Connection” formed to take on the message portion. Stevo, Noise
, and I decided to split the message into three parts. I would go first, setting up some problems. Stevo would knock them down. Then Noise would use up the remaining time with his message.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that we had an unusually strong freshmen class. When we were seniors, we would comprise seven of thirteen leadership team members. This Sunday night service displayed our potential. And it revealed something about me.
At that point, few people knew who I was in the BSU. I was a quiet, self-effacing freshman in the honors program. But during that message, I asked what bothers you most. For me, I blurted “I just wish everyone would just shut up every once in awhile!” to quite a bit of polite laughter. Later on, Danny and Nick would tell me that was when they knew I’d be a good guy to have in the BSU.
From there I would join the leadership team, going to a retreat known as Glorieta during my freshman summer. I met and interacted with other BSU leaders, finding out joining leadership team meant that I needed to attend as many BSU activities as possible, a stark contrast to my freshman year. I’d also participate in intramural sports, which I was terrible at but they encouraged me to participate anyways. It was during flag football season a guy named Quade stuck me with the nickname of “D2”.
Officially, I was in international ministry. However, I see now that I was the one being ministered to rather than the one doing the ministering. A lot of things never made sense to me, but my elder leadership partner patiently explained her views on things. And so I did international ministry for two years.
Also during this time, I completed the MasterLife course in four semesters. Well, it was more that I learned the techniques of discipleship rather than discipleship itself, but that was my own fault. Regardless, the deepest friendships I would have with at the BSU would be formed in this class. For example, I would have never known the prayer warrior Ryan if it wasn’t for that class.
One of the things that I noticed was that people are hesitant volunteer to pray in large groups. I clearly recall several instances of where an open call to prayer was met with a few seconds of awkward silence. Eventually, that changed as Ryan started volunteering almost every time for that duty. I think I started volunteering just so that he wouldn’t have to do it every time.
At this point, I began realizing that I wasn’t cut out for international ministry. I didn’t say this directly, but it was strange being the one ministered when you’re expected to be the one to do the ministering. So I asked to be on the freshmen ministry for next year, where I hoped to avoid contentious religious issues.
Something unexpected happened one day. Steve called me into his office and explained that Lauren was going to be the intern for my coming senior year. That made sense to me. Nope, what surprised me was that I had been on the short list of candidates to be the next intern.
At this point, I began to realize that there was a dissonance between how others perceived me and how I perceived myself. I knew inside my head that I would be a terrible intern, but at the time I couldn’t grasp what others saw in me. What seemed natural to me, like regularly attending events, serving drinks at FOCUS, or selling the parking lot were things that people picked up on.
I had been developing signs of depression, but my personality refused to let anyone know that. On the outside I was a highly intellectual person, brimming with confidence and curiosity for life. On the inside, I was a lazy, spoiled brat, bored to death by mundane everyday routines.
Then I just went home for awhile to cope with my depression. This probably caught a lot of people completely by surprise. And during that time I said some terrible things. I wasn’t right in my mind, but I lashed out anyways. Eventually, I would calm down enough to return to TU.
My voice of conscience spoke loud and clear, telling me to do strange things. I purchased a calling card to call up a friend studying abroad in Spain. I bought a girl a pink shirt because she had never owned a pink shirt before. I organized a welcoming party for a girl I had never met. I attended an Episcopal service just to hear a red-headed friend sing in the choir for her birthday. I tried playing a piano song in front of an audience, forgot my sheet music, tried to play that song, tried to play another song that I forgot, and finally played a third song correctly.
People actually believed I was okay, but the fire inside out of me was burning out. Once it did burn out, I disappeared. My parents found me and brought me back home. People called me and emailed me to try to find out what happened, but I didn’t answer any of them. I didn’t touch a computer for several months as I just slept and slept and slept. It would be awhile before Phil figured out a way to drag me back.
When I fell out of belief, I realized something. The dissonance in my life was caused by my own dishonesty. I claimed to be a straightforward person where I was not. I had to do something unthinkable: admit the truth. Admitting Jesus was not the only way to heaven would certainly be a betrayal of my time on leadership, and for that I can never do enough to make amends for.
But all these experiences have helped me regained a burning fire for life. Then I realized a perfect world was not one in which everyone was dead. No, it was one in which everyone had a passion for life, a world which would be alive. I seek to brighten other flames in life, so heaven can wait while I teach history at the high school level.
In conclusion, this was a long-winded way of saying “be yourself”. The person you are is who God wants you to be. You cannot live a happy life otherwise.
This means that for those seeking to explain to me the deficiencies in my faith, you don’t have to worry.
I’m the type of person to seek you out.