As part of the Ecumenical & Interreligious Course I recently completed, we visited a mosque and took a dip into Islam. I was really excited about this part of the course because there are so many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. So here are 7 things I learned that stood out and everyone should know these thins, too, because we’re not so different. In fact, we’re all cut from the same cloth and the same way I don’t agree with my parents on everything, Muslims, Christians, and Jews also don’t agree on everything, but we are all children of God--the same God!
Let's face it. There's a lot we can learn from each other, but on a recent field trip to Hsi Lai Temple, the Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, I was enlightened by what I learned. Of course, my mind was flooded with so much more curiosity, and I was amazed by how many similarities there are to Christianity. As we got in a little Buddhism 101, two things struck me deeply as lessons we Christians could and should learn if the Christian community, particularly the Catholic Church's goal, is to create unity among Christians.
I went to Shabbat service at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple as part of an educational "field trip" for the Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Studies course I'm taking. We learned about Judaism and Catholic-Jewish relations, and it was such a revelation. I had been to temple once before, back when I was thirteen for a friend's Bat-mitzvah, but I don't remember what it was like. My mom remembers it being long, and she was right. Our Catholic mass is 1 hour long, this service we were at was two and a half hours! Although, that's also because there were two bat-mitzvahs at this service.
My husband once said to me, "You know, everything you're saying and a lot of what you believe goes against the Catholic Church." I was quick to respond, "Maybe some of the PEOPLE of the church, sure, but NOT the Catholic faith." Where we have seen the church fail, we have seen man fail, not God. All I know is that I am here to love and be love, and that is the basis of Catholicism...or at least how I have learned and understood it.
I lead the Children's Liturgy at my church about once a month, and part of me was thinking of giving up because often times when there's a big group, the kids get out of hand and I struggle to get them to listen to me or not speak and scream over each other. I spend more time trying to get them to be quiet and listen to one another, teaching them about respect and how to show respect, than doing what I'm actually supposed to be doing. I don't how teachers do it. Honestly, I have so much more respect for pre-school and elementary school teachers now.
It's only 20-30 minutes each Sunday though, and I always just think that if I can make even the slightest impact in these kids' lives, then AWESOME. Children's Liturgy is meant to go over the readings with the kids in a way that their developing minds can understand, and let's face it, the Bible can be complicated and boring if you're just reading it straight. So, I try to try to relate it to their lives, and also try to make church less boring for them. I also have them help me read it and sing the psalms and alleluias, so it's more fun for them for sure.
This Sunday, I was hoping there would be a small group, and what do ya know, it's like God heard me and only three little kids ran up to the front when it was time to lead them out of church and into the children's room. Well, two kids ran up, and one, very timidly led by his grandmother, also came to join.
The timid child, who we'll call A, was new to the group and he is just four years old. The other two are brothers, one eight and one five. The eight year old, whom we'll call G, as much as I adore him, is usually the one that drives me nutso; however, while not much less rambunctious today, he really surprised me in a way that reaffirmed what an innately sweet child I know him to be.
As I finished the first reading, I looked up at A and noticed he looked terrified, so I asked him if he was okay. He said, "no." So, I asked him if he was scared. He said, "Yes." I asked if it was because of the reading and he shook his head yes. The reading talked about fires and earthquakes and so I told him not to worry, Jesus was just showing us that no matter what, he will be there for us and he will protect us, even when we can't see him. We have nothing to fear.
What really impressed me and warmed my heart was that G noticed, too, and tried to comfort him and show him there's nothing to be scared of, too. He said his first time in this class, he was scared, too, because he had no idea what was going on and didn't understand anything. The protective brother came out and I just wanted to hug them all.
This occurred throughout the rest of our time together this Sunday, and it was a reminder to me that there is a reason I'm here with them every few Sundays. As much as I hope to touch their lives, they also very much touch and teach me so much. By the end when I was walking them back inside the church, A clung to me, held my hand, and almost wouldn't leave me. After mass I saw him and his family at donuts and coffee, and the way he lit up when he saw me just melted my heart. I wouldn't have been surprised if there was a puddle of heart at my feet. He kept wanting me to go back into the class with him, and had I not also signed up to volunteer to help serve the coffee and donuts, I would have ran in there with him. When he was leaving with his family, he ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug.
He has no idea how much his love meant to me, and I'd chase all the beetles and lions and everything else that scares him away if I could. G also has no idea how big his small gestures to make A feel safe were today. Kids, when you nurture them, they in turn learn how to nurture. They need to feel safe, because when they feel safe, they also learn to be free.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I heard that Archbishop Jose Gomez, the archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese was passed up for Cardinal by Pope Francis, because Pope Francis wanted to bring up some of the "smaller" guys. It would have been easy to appoint Archbishop Jose Gomez, because he runs the largest diocese in the United States, which naturally means having great influence. However, Pope Francis decided to show everyone that the guys covering small diocese, the ones who may go unnoticed, are just as important. You can never forget the "little" people, because they too make up our community.
I don't know how true this is, but it sounds like Pope Francis, and it made me think about the state of our country. There's concern that those being appointed to lead our country will only look out for the big guns. Right after our election someone told me, "Justine, you have nothing to worry about, because none of this is likely to affect you. You're not a minority. You're privileged." My mouth dropped a little and I was deeply offended. I'm American-Asian and I'm a woman. How am I not a minority? I understood what she meant though. But regardless of how any policy directly or indirectly affects me, this is my country, my people, my world. These leaders are supposed to stand up for our values and work for the people. Have we all forgotten what the very first line of the preamble to our Constitution says?
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
I started thinking a lot about these words as our country continues to feel more and more divided. WE are the PEOPLE of this great country. If we are to always works towards a more perfect Union, we cannot reject parts of the union, and parts of the people. Having a difference of opinions is one thing; but taking action that most certainly disturbs domestic tranquility and divides the people is another. If we don't work to support ALL the people of our country, then we are only allowing ourselves to fall greatly and fall far. True, times were different when our founding fathers drafted the Constitution, and many of them may have been racist and slave owners, but the preamble to the Constitution does not refer to any specific kind of people like "We the white male People of the United States." Nor does it say, "We the some People." No, it says, simply, "We the People..." Our founding fathers drafted and implemented the Constitution on behalf of ALL Americans.
I keep repeating those words to myself, and I keep thinking about my friends' families who are affected and would be affected by any sort of ban on Muslim countries. How are "We the People" able to split up families, upstanding American families, because we are driven by fear? Many of my friends' families fled dire and perilous situations, came here, worked hard, and lived out their version of the American dream. They embody the American values our forefathers laid out to protect in the Constitution.
The sad part is, this sort of anti-immigrant attitude is not new to our nation; but we live in a time where we shouldn't have to fight this. It's the Muslims today, it was the Italians, Irish, and Chinese before, who will it be ten or twenty years from now? It should be no one, if we remember our Constitution, if we remember what is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”), and if we remember that refugees are people, too. They're escaping the horrors from which we are trying to protect our country. So, we're on the same side.
How can a nation ever be strong if it preys on its most vulnerable links? If you want to fly, you must lift those who helped build your wings.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Last night, as my mom stood in church taking pictures of Chris and I receiving our Confirmation, I laughed, because it took me back to when she'd take pictures of my brother and I at our school functions, Boy and Girl Scouts events, recitals, and various other activities. More importantly, I felt the unconditional love of the sweetest and fiercest woman I know.
It's not easy getting my family to church these days--I usually have to find an excuse of a special occasion, or travel to other parts of the world and make it part of our itinerary. So, last night was one of those special occasions. It was Easter Vigil, and a very important night for Chris and I, as well as hundreds of thousands of people around the world doing the very same thing. I even got my brother into the pews, which meant the world to me.
I see my mom get antsy when we're in church these days, because she rarely goes, so she gets anxious about remembering what to do. I tell her, "Mom, God loves you like you love me. He doesn't care if you mess up. In fact, he probably loves you more when you mess up, because you still show up with love."
Knowing how she feels, I was deeply warmed when it was time for Chris and I and our thirty or so friends to stand up in front of the church, and she had no anxiety about standing up in the pews to snap pictures of us. That was my mother, continuing to capture the big and small moments in our lives with her love and her ginormous iPhone.
This week has been so special, and we continue to receive SO MUCH love. This morning, we woke up and opened the gifts and read all the cards we received from Confirmation. I started to tear up when I realize that many of these cards, prayers, and kind words came from folks we don't even know. Yet, we know they are our family, not just because we belong to the same parish and the same faith, but because humanity means loving each other as brothers and sisters. Chris and I are truly blessed to know this kind of pure and unconditional love. We put all the cards and gifts in a box we've labeled our "God Box" so that we may open it whenever we want to or need to feel the power this incredible love.
May YOU always remember that you, too, are deeply LOVED. You may think it strange that a stranger could honestly love you and wish for your well-being, but I promise you it's true.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Without humility, there is no charity...
Over the last weekend I was frustrated when a Turkish football derby was cancelled due to a “serious security threat,” and the national team also postponed its training for some international matches coming up. When you cannot play or watch a friendly sporting event, then your freedom is being taken away. What kind of evil feels the need to get in the way of football?
Tuesday morning I woke up to news of a terrorist attack, that occurred in Brussels, and my heart sunk. I immediately checked in with friends there, and thankfully they’re all okay. For the first time, I felt sort of defeated, like okay, this is the life we face and the world we live in--you never know when you wake up which part of the world might be attacked. It's bound to hit my city soon, isn't it? I know that there are parts of the world accustomed to regular bombings and violence, but now instead of trying to help certain parts of the world, it seems as though we all most stand on guard. Still, I have to believe that through love and education we can conquer hate…or can we?
A long, long time ago, say about a couple thousand years ago when folks sat on the floor to eat, it was important to have clean feet, because it would be embarrassing to come to the table with dirty feet. So, usually when you entered someone's house, you would have your feet cleaned--typically by a servant.
At the Last Supper, Jesus asked us to love one another, and then he washed all his disciples' feet. This was a symbol of his love, and an incredible gesture of great humility and service, because without humility there is no charity. By bringing himself down to the level of a foot-washer, Jesus showed us he is one of us and we must love one another equally.
This week is Holy Week, the most important week of the year for Christians, and the tradition of foot-washing continues every Holy Thursday. At my church, we too, carry on the tradition of foot-washing, and last night I participated for the first time. It was a beautiful experience, because not only do you wash someone's feet, you must have your feet washed, too. The beauty in that is that what we give, we must be able to receive as well. Often times, the latter can be more difficult than the former.
No matter your religion, or lack there of, the significance of this tradition is but one powerful and universal message--love.
So, as I think about the terror that continues to plague our modern society, I pray that we all remember to be foot-washers. Throughout mass on Holy Thursday, as I watched people wash others' feet and get their feet washed, I thought how much more love and peace there might be if we all were foot-washers. That doesn't mean going around washing everyone's feet every day. Even something as simple as letting the person behind you in the grocery line go ahead of you, because he only has one item to checkout is being a foot-washer. It shows you are aware of others.
Pope Francis also continued the tradition, and he washed the feet of Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox, and Catholic refugees. As Jesus did, he reminds us that love knows no boundaries and sees every colour.
Be a foot-washer. Remember to be a foot-washer.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
You've shown me incredible pain, only to give me more incredible strength. For this I am grateful. Thank you for blessing me with this beautiful life. I've felt the greatness of your love through my parents, my grandmothers, Chris, my family and friends who've walked with me through rain and sunshine, and even strangers.
When I was lost and alone, you hugged me tightly. When it was dark, I felt your warmth. When I fell the other day, you kissed my head as my father did when I fell from my bicycle when he taught me to ride. I saw your beauty in the dandelion I made a wish on yesterday, I heard it in the words of a stranger, and smelled it in the sea air.
Because of you, I know my heart is unbreakable, because you made it wholly with your love, which is untouchable. Because of you I know I am never alone. Because of you I know not fear.
I pray my mother sleeps peacefully knowing I live with her love. I pray my father sleeps peacefully knowing I live with his wisdom. I pray my brother sleeps peacefully knowing I'll never leave him.
I pray all my loved ones know your love, too. I pray my enemies find peace in their hearts. I pray that those who hunger get bread, and those who have bread feel hunger.
I've learned to live in your time, and throughout my time on earth I will honour your love in what you've so blessed me with. May those who come to me always feel your love, which is my blood.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Love, Justine was started to inspire folks to love themselves, and thus be able to love one another. Well, I have a confession to make. I'm not always good at practicing what I preach. If you ever heard the way I've criticized myself and how I have judged myself, you might think I'm an awful, miserable person. It's truly terrible and so unhealthy.
As I've been preparing for Lent, which is finally upon us, I thought very hard about what I was going to do and give up this year. I pondered this for a few months, and one day a light suddenly opened up in my head as if the sun were rising out of it. I said to myself, I am going to give up fat shaming myself, and hating on myself in general. While I'm not berating myself daily, it's not an uncommon thought that crosses my mind, thinking things like "Oh, I hate my body," "I'm so ugly," "Why are my hips so wide and my legs not longer?" and the list goes on.
The level of consciousness I have regarding my body is something that was drilled into my brain as a small child. So, I don't think ever in my life, have I looked at myself and thought, I love my body. Whether I was a size 0 or 4, or a 6 (and I've been all those sizes), there was always room for improvement. It's really sad not to love your body.
Thankfully, when I was in law school I learned how to take care of my body and treat it well. I learned how to eat clean, and not only do workouts that I enjoy, but workout because it makes me feel good and strong, not because I needed to be "skinny." I learned that taking care of the one body I've been blessed with is so important, because I only have one life to live and I need this body to work properly for as long as possible, so I can do all the things I want to do in life.
Still, I've found it very difficult to speak kindly to myself, and to speak to myself with the kind of respect I command and expect from others. When my fiance tells me I'm beautiful, and I have a hard time knowing whether that's true or not, then something is very broken inside. There are a multitude of reasons for this, and I'm not always sure of the starting point of it all, but what I do know is that I don't want to hate myself. I want to love myself wholly, because I know that if I don't then I am robbing myself of love and robbing my loved ones of love they deserve. Moreover, if I ever have a daughter, I would never want her to speak to herself the way I have spoken to myself. It breaks my heart thinking of anyone hating themselves so much.
So, for Lent I am giving up saying the words "I'm fat" and "I'm ugly." Anything that would constitute verbal abuse if it were said to another person, I am refraining from, because it's time to stop verbally abusing myself. Lent is a time for spiritual growth, and that growth requires me to love the way God my made me. I am a confident woman, so I should learn to speak to myself like a confident woman.
Of course, the inevitable question is, "Well after Lent, will you go back to calling yourself fat and ugly?" No. My hope is, and I pray that, during this blessed season, I will build a habit out of loving myself and really learn what it is to love myself. There are other things I will also do to help me really come to my center, like taking Sundays off. For the next 6 weeks I will not check emails or work on Sundays, because this will allow myself to fully rest and be ready to work like a high speed train the rest of the week. More importantly, it'll allow me time to truly be with myself. Giving alms is an important aspect of Lent, so I will also be giving alms in various ways to spread love and joy throughout this season. I am dedicating the next 6 weeks to mending what was broken so long ago and I'm excited to see how I grow in this time.
Observing Lent the way I have set out to do this year is my way of telling God, thank you for creating me, I truly appreciate what you've blessed me with, and I love you. It's also my way of telling myself, "I love you." I cannot keep doing what I'm doing if I do not learn to wholly love myself.
It's time to escape my demons for once and for all.
BIG LOVE & HUGS