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When I was in junior high school, I remember a certain sermon in church. With that good ole "fire and brimstone" Baptist tone, the pastor asked whether we believed in God or whether we believed God. Well, we all believe in God, don’t we? Even atheists have to believe in the concept of a God or a facsimile thereof.

So do I believe in God, or do I believe God?

I actually don’t remember what the point of the sermon was. I just remember the unusual question. The pastor talked as if God was a human being, someone who could walk and talk with us everyday. That made no sense whatsoever.

I'll answer in the question, but like a good history major I need to fill in the backstory…

[backstory]
The year is 1980. The Cold War is reaching its apex after the fateful Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (funny how history works, as America's blind aggression against communism would be lead it to provide arms and to train the Al Qaeda in military tactics). Two young twenty seven year olds are traveling across an ocean, fleeing their homeland. They would never want to leave their country except they have no future. The government had branded them as traitors, forever suppressing their opportunities in a post war society. The young man had served as an army officer on the losing side, while the young woman had made the error of falling in love with him. Thai pirates robbed them no less than four times on their journey. They managed to make it to Indonesia, where they would live in a refugee camp for a year. One auspicious day they finally got received word that the great and powerful America would let emigrate there.

This young couple had several sponsors in the United States. They have relatives in California, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Arkansas. Minneapolis seemed to be the most promising as the young man has three brothers and a sister already in town for support. But on second thought, he chooses Ft. Smith, Arkansas. He wants to eke out his own living with his young pregnant wife.

Little did he know, the man had chosen to live in the middle of a region known as the Bible Belt. The Bible Belt proudly calls itself America's foremost stronghold of fundamental Christianity, the bastion against the heretics and nonbelievers of the God's Green Earth. The young man observed that there seemed to be a church at every street corner! Everyone claimed to know some sort of personal relationship with this Jesus Christ character, even the guys. How awkward. Sure, the young man had heard some about Jesus through the Catholic Church back home, but he had observed Buddhism all of his life. The whole Christ thing was confusing. And yet, the young man knew his budding family needed help. So when the cheerful members of East Side Baptist Church came to his house and helped his family out, the young man felt an eternal gratitude to the Baptist church. He promised that while he could never believe, he would make sure his children would attend the church in return for the help he received. He believed some God out there had aided his family and it was only right to repay divine assistance, lest he incur the Wrath of God.

His daughter was born soon afterwards. The young man and woman wanted American names for their children so they would better be able to integrate into American society. The young woman asked this elderly couple at East Side Baptist, Ralph and Jane Holmes, what she should name her children. Just to note, ultrasounds weren’t as good back then so you didn’t know if you were getting a boy or a girl. So Jane told the young woman to name her child Hannah if she had a girl and Daniel if she had a boy. Well a girl was born and she was named Hannah. Four years later, a boy came into their lives and he received the name Daniel.

So God became my judge.

(The Hebrew name Daniel means "God is my judge.")

Ralph and Jane became our American grandparents. Actually, I think they would have been my godparents if Baptists had such a thing. I actually told that to them once and they laughed and they said Baptists don't do godparents, only Catholics do. Anyways, Ralph and Jane made sure to take my sister and me to church ever since I could remember anything. I’ve been attending East Side since before they built the big chapel, which was in 1990. And so I learned all the Bible stories from a very young age. I also developed my memorization abilities as they bribed us with candy for quoting Scripture.

(Mmmmm, Starburst).

So, you’d think I’d be one of those people who grew up in the church and got saved and never knew anything outside church stories. But, if you notice, Ralph and Jane took me to church, not my parents. I hardly ever remember my parents going to church while I was growing up. I remember asking them about it, and they just said they weren’t used to it. That and they really didn’t believe. They told me to look out into the crowd, for I would find many people who mouthed pre made answers but really did not believe or even know why they were saying those religious catchphrases.

(That is, most people attend church more for its social aspect than its religious aspect.)

While I read my Bible stories growing up, my parents allowed me to read anything I wanted to read. I read stuff like the Dao De Jing of Taoism fame. I read the encyclopedia (hey, I was a curious kid) about Hinduism, Jainism, and other various religions. My parents even showed me Asian TV series like "Journey to the West" which supported a Buddhist religion. My parents were right. Christianity taught many of the same moral values as other religions.

Yet, I still had to go to church with my sister, since my parents insisted that we pay back the church for their earlier help. Then why didn't they go, too? I was never sure, so I was not a happy camper in church. I hardly talked to anyone because I did not want to be there. On top of that, I thought people talked way too much in the first place. And such was the unhappy arrangement every Sunday morning, whence I had to hear that people were going to burn in the "fire and brimstone" of hell yet again for their sins.

(The "fire and brimstone" must be pretty enchanting if people keep sinning...)

Then one day my sister came home, burned out from college. I was in the eighth grade at the time. She had chosen chemical engineering as her major, planning to go to med school or pharmacy school. Come to think about it, she was definitely in a tough position. She was the eldest in the family and expected to lead the way. But constantly behind her was her amazingly talented brother. My sister was pretty good at Quiz Bowl. I was an absolute genius. My sister graduated third in her high school class. I graduated first. My sister was the elder daughter of an Asian family. I was the younger and only "golden" son.

(Hmmmm, I guess that's why I am a lazy, spoiled brat.)

The thing is, I really admired my sister. I respected her because she was always there for me. She taught me a lot of things my mom and dad would never think to teach me. She was a very organized person. I pretty much thought I would follow in her footsteps along the med school path. But when she burned out, it really made me examine my life. Would all my studying lead to the same fate? It was then I talked to Dr. Bob Ford, the pastor at East Side Baptist. I told him I felt an emptiness inside of me. Bob smiled and explained that the emptiness I had was the result of not accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior. I was just a young naïve fourteen year old teenager at the time, so I agreed with the nonsense that spewed forth from Bob's mouth. He asked if I wanted to be saved, and I said I thought it was time. I got baptized that summer at fourteen years of age.

(In the Southern Baptist Church, it's a big deal to know hold old you were when you were baptized.)

But I didn’t feel any different!

Wasn’t baptism supposed to make my life perfect?!? Yet I still sinned every day, and what’s more I began to realize most people in the church sinned every day as well. I became embittered by the fact that a lot of people were coming through the doors of the church on the false pretense of worshipping God when they were really checking out that cute girl two pews in front of them or they just felt like singing a few songs along with the church choir.

(I am such a hypocrite.)

One of few things that change your perspective on life is your first job. My perspective forever changed when I got my first job at a movie theater (darn you Carmike Cinemas). I figured I would get to see free movies with free popcorn. Instead, that job has made me despise going to see movies at the movie theater, even to this present day. I couldn’t eat popcorn for a year after I quit because I always came home drenched in that awful popcorn aroma. My first job did enlighten me on one aspect of people, though. I had heard of a myth that people are stupid. I discovered the myth...was fact.

(Yes, lady, when I say the movie is sold out I cannot sell you another ticket to that movie.)

Working at the movie theater meant I had little time to go to church. I became distant from my church body and youth group, so much so that I stopped believing in the Divinity of the Trinity and other such religious poetry. After all, my co workers seemed to get along just fine without Mr. Messiah The few friends I had in high school were good people who did not believe in the dogma of fundamental Christianity.

But then I had this incident at the lunch table in my senior year of high school, after I quit working. Normally I would sit with my friends outside for lunch, but we had two lunch periods. Unfortunately, most of my high school inner circle ate during the other lunch period. The friend that I had known since kindergarten usually hung out with his debate crew, while I hung out with the puppy and a random guy. But then one day I decided to sit with the friend I had known since kindergarten to catch up. The puppy and random guy knew him too so we all started sitting together with his debate crew. Soon, one of the debate girls came up and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to sit back where I was before. She didn’t mind the puppy so much, but random guy freaked her out. I probably should have told her that I was going to sit where I dang well pleased, but I was too nice and polite back then. But then, a stewing anger boiled over inside of me. In one of the ultra-rare instances in my life where I have actually raised my voice in anger, I yelled, “YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!!!”

I’m not sure what triggered that, but I knew as soon the words left my mouth that I had made a mistake. Although, to be quite honest, it was sort of funny just to see the absolute look of shock in that girl’s face. She stuttered around a bit before regaining her senses and stormed off. Of course my oldest friend from kindergarten came up to me and asked me to apologize. Sorry, old friend, I say what I mean and I refused to apologize. He shook his head and did the apologizing for me. I feel bad now, and I’ve tried to contact the girl several times but she never responds to any of my emails. I tried calling her once but she never answered. Personally, I don’t blame her.

I pray that I will be able to make things right one day.

Senior year passed by and I graduated valedictorian in my class. But it felt rather empty because I had to start over. Once I got to Tulsa, I was just like anyone else. The residual traces of my motivation allowed me to make a 4.0 that first semester, but my grades tanked (anything less than a 4.0 is tanking for me) the next semester as I failed to find the motivation to do electrical engineering. I had tried to follow my uncle’s footsteps, who had come from Vietnam and earned his doctorate in electrical engineering within ten years. The circuit theories were fascinating, but I was really bored in lab (the same problem I had in AP Chemistry). But I didn’t tell my parents this because I had to choose a profession that made money. I unhappily stayed in engineering, although a letter from Dr. Rahe allowed me to add history as a major.

After doing some history research projects, I found straight history to be rather boring. Research was just as tedious as science labs, except you get paid less. Much less. I remembered long ago that one of my first desires was to teach high school. But my parents didn’t support this plan, so I felt quite a bit unhappy. Things came to a head this semester with my depression and withdrawal.

But my faith actually got stronger during this time. They say that most people actually lose their religion in college as they are challenged by liberal professors to think for themselves. Of course, having thought for myself for quite a while, I was not bothered by probing questions. It would be a random chance meeting that would get me into the doors of the Baptist Student Union, and it would be in the BSU I would learn the true meaning of faith.

At the Activities Fair, I was given a pen inviting me to a FOCUS lunch at noon. Normally I would have avoided such a thing but it was free food. Free! I can’t lose too much on that. But, of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. I had been told in my senior year Sunday School class that most church youth group members stop going to these sort of things in college. So, I was intrigued by the group of people who willfully chose to go to these brainwashing sessions out of their own volition. I surmised that it was most likely out of responsibility to their parents.

That year, the BSU had a freshman Bible study that went by the name of BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ). I wanted to go, but not by myself. Fortunately, I sort of knew my biology lab partner from high school. We nicknamed him Z3-obsessed Stevo because he was in love with his white BMW Z3 roadster. (I believe Stevo and his Z3 are expecting their first baby in a couple of months.) I remember him going to First Baptist Church back in Fort Smith, so he was a good candidate to accompany me to BASIC. So it was that the Z3 obsessed Stevo and I attended the freshman Bible study at the BSU under the direction of the BSU intern and his girlfriend.

The Brian McFarland impressed me (one of the few people I have met who deserve the prefix The in front of his name). He was a smart, charismatic individual with a real command of who he was. His partner, Allison, was less impressive. I clearly remember my first impression of her: ditzy, blond chick who talked way, way, way too much (but somehow she ended up graduating with a 4.0 GPA). But one day talkative Allison invited me to her church. I was too polite to refuse, especially when Z3-obsessed Stevo agreed to go with me. She promised to meet us there. But...

That dumb blond bimbo never showed up!

I am not going to lie, I was ticked. What kind of Bible study leader invites you to their church but then fails to show up?!? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! I mean, sure I'm a freshman, but give me some respect. Sheesh, my already unfavorable impression of her sunk to new depths. In fact, I was so mad at the time that I was going to quit going to BASIC and the BSU altogether. I kept this to myself. Fortunately, Stevo calmed me down and explained that things happen. It could have been something simple as Allison sleeping through her alarm.

(Strangely enough, that was her excuse).

Kept in the BSU fold, I applied for the Freshmen Leadership Team. Our job was to organize one of the Sunday night worship services. Pretty simple. All we had to do was lineup a freshman band, speakers, and drama team. It actually went over fairly well, and I had one memorable line. I believe I actually said one of my problems growing up was that “Sometimes, I wish everybody would just shut up.”

(Allison took it personally, heh.)

I applied for the main BSU Leadership Team at the end of my freshman year. Quite a few of my freshman buddies had signed up, including Marcel “Da Noise” Ficklin. Marcel is the guy responsible for first opening up my personality, though that’s a story in itself. At the time you had to sign up for one of ten ministry focuses. I figured I would do Internationals thanks to my vast geography knowledge and slight advantage as an Asian.

I was very curious who the BSU director would pair me up with. This was a make or break situation. That person was either going to strengthen my faith or I was going to break that person's faith. I learned the name of Melanie Smith through an email. That's odd, I had no recollection of meeting any Melanies in the BSU and I possess the most powerful eidetic memory in the world. When we convened for our first Leadership team meeting, I understood why my eidetic memory could not playback any images of her. Melanie was a timid, quiet girl.

(Not exactly someone you would remember, to be quite frank.)

A wolf in sheep's clothing, I thought it would be a fairly simple matter to break her faith, as she posed no threat to me. I asked her all sorts of difficult questions about the Christian faith. She would always stumble. But...she was honest, and living a more organized and more fulfilling life than me. There was also this, I don’t know, genuine feeling to her faith. It was not as if she was dead certain about every little nook of Christianity, but she knew enough to reject untruth.

(It was a good pairing as you had one person who was too shy to say too much and the other was a person who wasn’t shy enough to say too little.)

A lot of different personalities on Leadership Team heavily influenced me that year. Nick and Danny were two jokers who showed me one that could have fun and be Christian at the same time. Quade encouraged me to play intramurals despite my terrible athletic skills, and he was the one who gave me my nickname of "D2" (which has sadly stuck). Brad replaced The Brian McFarland intern and a good leader. Nathan Jordan showed me that witnessing wasn’t about a prefabricated system, but more of a feel it out type thing. Amy McNamara demonstrated to me the organization one needs to be a leader. Mallary and Libby showed me the faithfulness and joy in serving others. Even Allison had a use as the butt of all us sophomore guys’ jokes that year, though she would have the last laugh as she would marry The Brian McFarland.

(To this day, I still wonder what The Brian McFarland saw in that blond ditz.)

One presence in particular comes to my mind. Her name was Laura "The Friendship Tornado" Jantz. But as I’m apt to do, I called her Jantz. I mean I couldn’t seriously call her by a boring first name like Laura when her last name was Jantz. Jantz! Anyways, she was this FREAKISHLY happy person. I kid you not. No matter what time of the day it was she had this bright smile and cheery outlook on her face. I thought she was either on medication or a big fake. But no one can fake smiles that wide at seven o’clock in the morning, and medicine don’t work that quick in the morning either.

(Hrmmm, could she be for real?)

One day, at the BSU, I was flipping through my Bible. She stopped by since it was her birthday. I looked up and informed her that she was one day closer to her death. She looked a bit surprised, but then she smiled and said that meant she was one day closer to meeting Jesus. Holy crap, she actually believed what she was saying! I laughed and told her that I was sorry, for God had made me a pessimist. But she smiled and told me that God never makes anyone a pessimist; rather, I had made myself one. I didn’t believe her. So she smiled and told me to turn to Galatians 5:22-23, where the fruits of the Spirit are found. Okay, I knew that verse from Sunday School. There is no mention of pessimism. Well there you go, she smiled, God did not make you a pessimist.

(That terrifying Jantz smile haunts me in my sleep even now.)

I would have a lot of fun in the BSU, fellowshipping and growing in my faith. The last piece of the puzzle was the MasterLife Bible study. MasterLife is so intense that they do not allow freshmen to participate in it. It’s a bit of a commitment as it is a four semester Bible study. I jumped at the first chance to sign up for it as a sophomore. The others to sign up my year were Sara Griffin, Ryan Irwin, Jamil Glenn, Stevo, and Marcel “Da Noise” Ficklin.

Sara dropped out after the first year. She wasn’t getting much out of it as the only girl. How unfortunate. But the rest of the guys stuck around for the second and much more challenging year. Jamil had to drop behind a book due to his committment to the football team as an equipment manager, but he finished up this year. Prayer warrior Ryan, Z3 obsessed Stevo, Marcel "Da Noise" Ficklin and I bonded together in MasterLife. I can honestly say that those three guys are my closest buddies in the BSU and I would trust them with my life. We have all shared so much with each other that we are that tight.

We learned that a disciple of Christ is someone who makes Jesus Christ the Lord of his or her life, stays grounded in the word, prays in faith, fellowships with other believers, witnesses to the world, and lays down his or her life for loved ones in service to the good Lord.
[/backstory]

So…back to the question, do I believe in God or do I believe God? You know what? I believe in God and I believe God. I’ve seen a lot of good traits in my BSU friends in Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and so called atheists. But I believe God because of the special thing that the people who claim to be Christians reveal to me. They reveal to me Christ, who I’ve chosen to fill my emptiness as my Lord and Savior. And that is why I believe and have faith in the Bible, despite the fact that rational logic often dictates otherwise. This decision hasn’t automatically solved all of my problems. Yet I do know that I freely choose to use my talents and abilities for the good Lord. I strive to be the person that God intends me to be so that I can reveal to others He who is in me.

Does that make sense to you?

July 2009

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