We Need a New Quakerism

Early Quaker Meeting

We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”
—Extracts from the Writings of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Faith & Practice

A phrase that keeps coming to mind is “a new Quakerism,” and oddly enough, I’ve been hearing other Friends unknowingly echo this phrase back to me. It seems to me that many Friends, even those who consider themselves “convinced,” are hungry for more than what the Society has to offer. We keep coming back to the same point: we desperately need to re-imagine Quakerism.

We need a new Quakerism.

I’m not talking about re-imagining structures or techniques. We need a complete change of course. We need a revival. A brief breeze of enthusiasm is not enough. In order to survive, we need to do what I’ve heard C. Wess Daniels refer to as committing “faithful betrayal.” We must betray what-we-know in order to discover what is true – what is at the heart of the Quakerism we need.

In order to get to the heart of that Quakerism, the radical vision of early Friends might be a good place to start. From the basics of our movement, from the simplicity of the Gospel, that’s where we can find the power that George Fox lived in and that lived in George Fox. In stillness, in Light, centered on the imperishable Seed within, the living “One, Jesus Christ who can speak to thy condition.” The Society of Friends was not built; it was born – a community of prophets. In the shared worship, where egos were hushed and Love was magnified, there was an abundant life and conviction that led Friends to corporately reject the abusive and unfair ways of the world and seek (and demonstrate) a better Way. A transformative and subversive faith was discovered. Thousands of Friends were imprisoned for their faithful subversion, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to
suffer shame for his name.

At the heart of Christ’s good news and the faith of the early Friends is a vision of the Kingdom – transformative apocalypse. Daniel Seeger wrote a brilliant article in Friends Journal, “Revelation and Revolution: The Apocalypse of John in the Quaker and African American Spiritual Traditions,” that eloquently expounds on the radical implications of Quaker eschatology:

“What the Apocalypse of John revealed to George Fox was not the end of the world but its rebirth, a rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples as the disciples act concretely to advance the cause of justice and truth in human society. Using imagery from the Book of Revelation, George Fox describes this struggle for truth and justice as the Lamb’s War, a war carried out by the meek through gentleness, nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and peace. While there is a lot of mayhem and violence in the Book of Revelation, this is violence and mayhem perpetrated by oppressors against each other and against the weak and innocent. The single weapon in the Lamb’s War as described in the book of Revelation is a ‘terrible swift sword’ which proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. In other words, it is not a humanly devised killing machine, but only his truth which goes marching on into battle with the forces of evil.”

Early Friends were bound together by faith in God’s Kingdom, one where God reigns as Lamb and the Spirit of God was upon and within all. This was both present reality and future hope. It is true. It must also be sought. Does that conviction still, in some way, fuel the work that we do together? I hope so. Because it is that conviction that pushed Friends to prophetic work that shook the social order. It’s what made them Friends.

Without that conviction that God reigns and that God will reign, only the empty forms of Quakerism persist. That is the way of death.

We need a revival of that apocalyptic faith. Without it, we may provide folks with open-minded communities and strong, progressive values. Without it, we may provide kind spaces and opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. But without that apocalyptic faith, without that conviction, we lack the full gospel that shocked the world, liberated the oppressed, and empowered the saints. We do not have to be fundamentalists to have an eschatological conviction, nor do we have to be spineless in order to be inclusive. Early Friends knew of God’s wide, generous activity throughout creation, of the innate value and dignity of every child of God, and the need to fight against the oppression of Empire.

Those who fight the Lamb’s War will discover James Nayler’s words to 
be true: “Their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God.”

We fight, we wage war, with peace and good will towards all the creation of God, and through this we crush the spirit of the age’s power and extend God’s reign. We usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we are confident that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and we are called to live out this hope.

If we do not or cannot, then we have failed as Friends.

I wonder, is institutional Quakerism a contradiction to our apocalyptic faith? If we have unknowingly abandoned our core beliefs, what’s next for us? How do we come into Gospel Order? Can we re-center our vision and our hope? What does that even mean? I’m not sure. But I know many who are hungry for a new expression of faith, and I know
that the world could use us.

We must follow the Spirit.

Let’s Discover the Gospel Together

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This is my gospel-preaching face

Dear Friends,

My journey into the wacky world of Quakerism began in Barnesville, Ohio. At that point in my life, the writings of George Fox, Margaret Fell, and Isaac Penington often played a role in my morning devotions, but my interaction with Quakers was, to say the least, limited. I came to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship (FoJ) gathering in Barnesville having little idea on what to expect and never having met the other participants, but I believed that there was something special about this group’s vision. I read their Advices and Queries a year or so prior to this gathering, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how their words describing life in the Church and the gospel of Christ deeply resonated with me.

This FoJ gathering played a major role in my own participation in the Religious Society of Friends. I found something in the silent worship that I barely encountered before: a space to wrestle God and a way to dive into and draw from the wells of Christ’s Spirit within me. I realized I was hungry for that silence. Starving, even.

It was also the first time in a long while where I felt at ease in a spiritual community. My then-boyfriend came along, and I remember not being used to having my gay relationship so naturally affirmed and blessed by a Christian community. It was a bit disorienting, but so healing for my soul. Also, most of the participants had not been involved in the Charismatic Church or no experience with charismatic phenomena, yet I found my perspective as a tongue-talking, miracle-believing charismatic was affirmed and honored. I had never met these people before, yet my gifts were so welcomed. I was welcomed.

Since getting involved with the FoJ, I have gotten more and more involved in the wider Society of Friends. I’ve found myself caring for our very diverse and very fragmented communion. I have been a regular attender at both Liberal and Evangelical Friends meetings, served a year with the Quaker Voluntary Service, worked (and still work) at the Friends World Committee for Consultation – Section of the Americas, and have had several opportunities to meet and worship with Friends from all over the world and from every branch. I’ve experienced the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in diverse ways among the different flavors of Friends, but still, I find something very uniquely rich and nurturing at the FoJ gatherings.

Now, I do not mean to sell another brand of Quakerism, nor am I claiming that the Friends of Jesus Fellowship is superior to other Quaker fellowships. What I am saying is that where I personally gain the most vision, experience Quakerism most fully, and feel the most spiritually at-home, has been at the FoJ gatherings… and well, I believe our gatherings have something to offer every disciple of Christ, and even every seeker. At the FoJ gatherings, I’ve found a space to communally reflect on the radical implications of the gospel, I’ve found a community offering mutual support in one-another’s ministries and sojourning, and I have seen what leaning on the Holy Spirit looks like, in the testimonies of Friends and in the Spirit-orchestrated worship. More than anything, I’ve been thankful to be so welcomed to dream and discover the gospel alongside some very honest, beautiful, and real people. From my experience, I’ve experienced a genuineness and authenticity at these gatherings that is rare in the world.

I do not see FoJ enaging in sheep-stealing anytime soon, as we do not aspire to grow into another denomination or even strictly a church-planting network, but I do see the gifts that FoJ has to offer the Society of Friends and the wider Church. For those who hunger for a contemplative yet embodied worship, who need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, and need to hear the gospel again, especially in a time where good news is hard to find, I encourage you to consider coming to our fall gathering in Silver Spring, Maryland, this upcoming October 7th-10th.

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For more information on this upcoming gathering, check out this post by Micah Bales. You can buy a ticket for the gathering here.

I hope and pray you’ll consider worshiping with us as we learn what it means to confess Jesus in a chaotic world.

In friendship,

Hye Sung

 

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

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Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

I doubt the Church.

I doubt the Church.

It’s been hard to write, talk, and even think about God as of late. A major life change snuck up on me, devastated me, and left me questioning everything. To be honest, I’ve been wrestling with hopelessness, doubt, and fear on a fairly constant basis the past month. Even as I’ve been able to get my head above water, and as I’ve reconnected with God, I’ve still been pretty hopeless about church. I’ve been haunted by thoughts like, “Maybe it’s time to let the Church die. Maybe it’s a waste of time to try to keep these institutions running. Maybe we need to abandon the Church as we know it.” I am struggling nowadays reconciling institutional Christianity with Jesus. This could just be my 8 wing acting up (for Enneagram nerds) or maybe I am just bitter, but the American Church models and breeds capitalism, white supremacy, nationalism, and it may do some good, but is it worth it prolonging its death for that?

I’m still wrestling with these questions.

The Way of Christ is not meant to be conventional or logical, but instead powerfully subversive and Spirit-led. I want to follow Jesus to be a holy fool, a disciple, a peacemaker, and I don’t see the institutional Church being able to support such callings. The American Institutional Church rarely breed “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10) but rather pushes people with the seed of Christ to continually deny the radical notions of the gospel. Pieces of the Gospel can be found in the American Church, but it is laced with various poisons that make it unsustainable. The Liberal Church has idols of success, intellectualism, and… being white. The Conservative/Evangelical Church has idols of tradition, moralism, and exclusivism. Both are quite toxic and some days I think it’s better to just let it all die. Pull the plug. Abandon ship.

I’m tempted to protest church, exhorting God’s people to sell the steeplehouses, close down the institutions, meet in homes, and encourage each other in the Way of Christ. After all, following Jesus as a community, as a people, is the only way I’m convinced one can follow him. I cannot help but think that perhaps church-as-we-know-it more actively opposes the Holy Spirit in her building of koinonia than supporting and welcoming her. I struggle to see how much of this could be part of Christ’s vision for his people.

Is it fair to doubt the Church as much as I do? Perhaps I am self-deluded and my passion for a high ecclesiology is actually idolizing a certain ecclesiology, a certain expression or way. It may not be fair to the Church, and it probably is a limiting view of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I am sure that’s all true to some degree. That’s partially why I haven’t given up on institutional Quakerism.

I am convinced that God’s grace can reach into any moment, any experience, and even any institution. The richness of the gifts in Quakerism holds me in this peculiar Society. I have not found a vision of the gospel more compelling, more transformative, than that of Friends, and though we may have loosened our grip on some aspects of this vision throughout the branches, it is still part of our spiritual DNA. I’ve seen the Society come alive in this power, at QuakerSpring, at Friends of Jesus gatherings, and of course in Peru at the World Plenary Meeting, where Friends from all branches came together to worship and fellowship, offering their tradition’s gifts. I have had glimpses of revival, and I want it.

Maybe God will lead me out of institutional Quakerism one day, and maybe God will let the institutional church crumble. The truth is, I have little idea on what God is up to, and I have little authority to speak on what God should do… but I’m confident that I have been animated by the grace of Christ, and it is hard for me to deny the Spirit leading me to Friends. So what does being faithful and believing Christ’s good news mean for me right now? I deeply sense that it is to continue being nurtured and edified by the Society of Friends, and to call forth the gifts of Quakerism that we’ve lost sight of. Is that the answer for other Quakers, and for other Christians sojourning in denominational structures? For some, but definitely not all. But for myself, I feel my spirit leaning on some rather obscure Scripture verses, giving me hope for the Religious Society of Friends and the Church as a whole:

God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.

—Deuteronomy 30:3-6, 10 (The Message)

For myself, Friends, the Church, and all who know the love of God: may we not be halfhearted, and may we hold nothing back, so God’s presence would be welcomed among us to restore, revive, and redeem.

 

I am not white enough

No matter where I’m dropped, I always struggle with a sense of not belonging. I’m a gay, half-Japanese, ex-Moonie, college drop-out, Quaker who believes in Jesus, speaks in tongues, and takes communion. I am in many ways a paradox, but more than anything, I’m a really bizarre human being. And my last post about “White Appropriateness” deeply reflects my own exhausted experience in the white mainline Church. Yes, I painted the mainline world with a broad brush. I recognize that I am currently going through a sudden and painful life-change and some of that hurt may have been funneled into my last post. That said, I stand by everything I wrote, and I hope I can clarify a bit on what I mean by “white appropriateness”, and how I have encountered it among liberal mainline Protestants and even Quakers.

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My best friend and I watching TV and mutually encouraging one another in the sloppy, wacky, and foolish way of Jesus`

“I am not white enough.”

It scares me how often I think this, especially when engaging with my faith community. The biblicism, homophobia, and overall lack of critical thinking were hard to deal with in charismatic circles, but I didn’t struggle as much with shame for not being white enough. Perhaps this was because the charismatic fellowships I was a part of tended be racially and socioeconomically diverse. To be fair, a lot of my experience in Evangelicalism was also haunted by this notion, but not nearly as intensely as I’ve experienced in the past few years of participating in white mainline communities.

For my white readers, I know some of you are thinking, “how often does one’s economic and racial/ethnic background even come up in church?”

I want you to understand that I am constantly interpreting the tongue of white folks. Coffee hour at Quaker meeting is not easy. I listen to Friends talk about summers spent in France, granddaughters at Bard, family trips to Thailand, dietary needs, and Book TV on C-Span. I’ve found that these conversations require deep listening, discernment, and, for better or for worse, self-censorship. It isn’t like people are constantly probing me with questions that expose where I lack privilege (though, I will say, this does happen every time I’m asked about my education, which is every time I go to meeting or church) but I am constantly on my toes, trying to relate, trying to listen, trying to hear, and it is often worth it.

But here’s where it gets discouraging.

When I am myself, authentic and open, sharing my heart or telling my story, talking the way I talk, I’ve often experienced not being heard. I cannot tell you how many times people’s interest in me dissipated after pushing me to tell the story behind my unpronounceable name (which they insist on shortening to “Hye”) and finding out I am an ex-Moonie, or after finding out I am a Christian of a more evangelical orientation, or even when I simply act like me… goofy, emotional, and weird.

By no means do I count “weirdness” as a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a gift Jesus possessed. Perhaps the way he is portrayed as eloquent, constantly centered, and simply carrying a powerful aura that caused souls to yield, is accurate. But I have a hard time believing that he was not at all a freak. He cursed a fig tree to death because it didn’t bear fruit (Mark 11:12-25), which is a bit extreme, a bit magical, perhaps profound, but most definitely strange. His whole ministry path was not exactly typical, sensible, or even rational. I like weird. And thankfully, Quakers can handle weird. We have our fair share of eccentric folks, with strong personalities and brilliant minds and beautiful souls. That said, it seems to me that “nerdy weird” is the tolerable weird in Quaker circles, and that kind of weird, which I respect and love, can be kind of… white.

And I am not that kind of weird.

I’m speaking in tongues, grew up in a cult, openly weeping over my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, amateur Mormon historian, child of an interracial arranged marriage kind of weird. I’m the kind of weird that is often made to feel inadequate for not finishing my college career, the kind of weird that is demanded an explanation for my “exotic” or “funny-sounding” name (actual things that have been said), and the kind of weird that is dubbed by various believers as either too fundamentalist or overly-spiritual, and either way, too ignorant. I’m the kind of weird that feels irrelevant and invisible in a mainline congregation.

And maybe this doesn’t sound like a racist, classist issue, and maybe I am just an over-demanding special snowflake, but I cannot help but see how much the upper-middle class, white, liberal, and (over-)educated have managed to control whole denominational cultures. I cannot help but see how the Other is forced to conform to a certain cultural standard to the best of their ability to enter the life of the Church. And I cannot help but feel, today and too often, that I am simply not white enough to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

White “Appropriateness” Is Anti-Gospel

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A man getting tackled by the Holy Ghost, cause… why not?

I say all of this is as one who most often participates in Liberal Quaker circles and one who is technically still a member of a wealthier Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) congregation: There is something deeply wrong about the way the white mainline churches function.

I have struggled to put my finger on why exactly I feel so uncomfortable in the liberal mainline world. Of course, this is a complicated, multi-faceted issue and like the rest of the Christian traditions, this part of the Church is not immune to missing out some element of Christ’s Gospel. But I’ve come to realize that my main thing with bigger mainline churches, especially wealthier ones, is the white appropriateness that is so vital to its culture.

I understand the need for boundaries and having order, and the needs for administration and elders in the community to keep the community living out the good news. This need to be “appropriate” and “proper” or even “professional”, though, can be one of the most anti-gospel notions and I think is a huge reason why such churches are bound to die. People’s sloppiness and ultimately, their humanity, their holy foolishness, is rejected. And in that, the gospel of Jesus Christ is rejected.

The Charismatic World has a ton of their own issues, especially in its American form. I do have to commend this part of the Church, though, for approaching relationships, fellowship, worship, and ministry with such a incarnational lens. In these spaces, you will see people rolling on the floor, crying out to God, laughing in the Spirit, and being so… human. I remember one of the first times I entered a charismatic meeting, I was put off by this man with pink-paper dangling off his head, hopping and giggling in the front of the sanctuary, and now I realize I was being… an asshole. This was a child of God, reflecting their Creator’s image in a way that came off as foolish, and in that were being so true to their God-molded nature. Charismaticism, in my experience, is more likely to embrace the eccentric, the broken, and encourage one to experience God as truly as they can.

Meanwhile, so much of the mainline world is so often skeptical of the emotional, of the sentimental, and of anything considered strange or inappropriate. The mainline world tends to quietly disapprove and judge all that they do not understand and lacks… whiteness. We may call it professionalism, or appropriateness, but so often we’re saying “you do not fit the standards of my class and race” when we hold too tightly to such principles.

So much of the Liberal Church in America is fundamentally classist and racist. We desperately need to rebuke the broken ways of the Church, for their sake and the sake of those who are never given the chance to enter the life of the Church because they knew they were not fully embraced as they were. And why were they unable to experience the Church’s embrace? For they did not know the unspoken rules of the wealthy white folks.

It is hard to talk about all of this without diving into how disgusting the corporate structure is in American churches (mainline, Evangelical, and charismatic), and how so much of our church culture reeks of capitalism and the ways of the world. In my opinion, these things are intimately tied together. But what bothers me most deeply is how so many try to reconcile the way of Christ with the Way of white upper-middle class Americans. Simply put, it is impossible. These things do not work together. The attempt itself is White Supremacy.

Thoughts (and excuses) about my church attendance

I have a confession: I don’t regularly or actively participate in a faith community. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, as somebody who works for a religious organization and as somebody who has a (self-proclaimed) high ecclesiology, but… honestly, church has been a much more more draining experience than a life-giving one and I’m done trying to make it work.

At least for now.

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Church ought to be a sanctified brunch.

Perhaps my idealism sets me up for such disappointment, and perhaps this decision reveals the individualistic nature of my “millennial” faith, and maybe that’s all true. What I know for certain is that church, as I’ve experienced it, is unhelpful to me.

That isn’t to say I’ve never had an edifying experience in church. In times of discouragement or discernment, I often return to the promises prophetically uttered by lay ministers in the charismatic church or hear a Friend’s vocal ministry bounce throughout my head and lead me into Light.  But time after time, I’ve tried to find my voice in such spaces, I’ve tried to find ways to serve and grow in such communities, and it’s been pretty fruitless. And I like to think that I’m a friendly, personable guy, and somehow I’ve found it impossible to get grounded in a spiritual community.

So, again, I’m done for a little while. And I’m really okay with that.

I wasn’t always. In fact, I have spent a lot of time condemning myself for not living up to my Quakerism, or my Christianity, by being “out of community.” At a certain point, though, I just didn’t have the emotional energy to care any longer.

I still attend Quaker meeting to stay connected to Friends and to enjoy the power of corporate silent worship, but I probably pop in once a month. And I also go to various churches, to hear the Bible read and to sing hymns sung by thousands, if not millions, of saints before me. I do that even more infrequently.

Can I still claim to be Quaker, or even a Christian, when at the core of our faith is the Church? Can I still claim to follow Jesus when I am out of touch with his body? I think it’s a good question. I don’t know the answer and I don’t know if I ever will. I still dream of being in a house church, where tongue-talking, poetry reading, deep silence, delicious food, and political demonstrations are on the agenda, and I’m somehow confident that I’ll someday have that. But in the meantime, I will continue to try to bring and be the church wherever I go, and hopefully, sooner than later, I’ll find a way to sustainably, functionally, and joyfully be in community.

That being said, I know I love Jesus, and I am even more confident that he loves me. I know that I encounter the presence of God in staff meetings, when I mutter in tongues while making spreadsheets, when I see people make friends with strangers on the bus, when I watch my nephew play on my brother-in-law’s lap, and while I sip genmaicha and listen to my mother’s spiritual reflections each morning. Maybe that’s not enough, but for now, it’s what I can handle. It’s what I can do.