church pt. 2

so here’s something you probably didn’t want to know about me – my grandparents are in a cult.

the name of the not-so-lovely cult is Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa). Wikipedia defines Falun Gong as

a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance

Sounds about right. Except for omitting the part about worshipping a dude who lives in New York. That’s right. Whenever I talk about this, I die a little bit inside because it’s such a dark and painful part of my story. I don’t want to tell you everything because I want to respect my family, but my grandparents encountered the practice around 1998. When I went back to China for a year in 2001, I would remember them doing their meditation exercises in the open balcony of our apartment every morning. What harm does that do? Oh, you don’t even wanna know. After we came back to the States, they would still do the exercises, albeit this time shielded from any possible harm. See, it wouldn’t have been any problem if they were just doing the practices, but it was more than yoga.

Practice of Falun Gong consists of two features: performance of the exercises, and the refinement of one’s xinxing (moral character, temperament). In Falun Gong’s central text, Li states that xinxing “includes virtue (which is a type of matter), it includes forbearance, it includes awakening to things, it includes giving up things—giving up all the desires and all the attachments that are found in an ordinary person—and you also have to endure hardship, to name just a few things.” The elevation of one’s moral character is achieved, on the one hand, by aligning one’s life with truth, compassion, and tolerance; and on the other, by abandoning desires and “negative thoughts and behaviors, such as greed, profit, lust, desire, killing, fighting, theft, robbery, deception, jealousy, etc.”

Because the Chinese government sees Falun Gong as a threat to its national security, they have been severely persecuted (think waterboarding, prison torture camps); that’s why I mentioned that it was a great risk for my grandparents to engage in the practice in China. Eventually, he and my grandmother returned to China because they thought it would provide better medical care (oh, the irony). However, eventually he passed away at home, having refused to go to the hospital because he trusted in Falun Gong’s healing powers (think Christian Scientists).

All that to say, my 6th grade self really hated God. Why would God take away my grandfather? My grandmother came back a few months again, and immediately went back to her routines: doing daily meditations, going to the practice’s group, participating in demonstrations and conferences. I continued going to church, but only going because I felt I had to (and because I would get yelled at if I didn’t). However, I continued to rack up more knowledge of God and the Bible. I even won Bible scholar of my grade. But I wanted to get out of the routine.

I entered 7th grade and I was so excited, because this would be the year that I would enter the mysterious youth group. I had heard that kids loved going to youth group! The first time was terrifying because it was full of mostly unfamiliar, and older faces, but I loved it. Worship reminded me of something that I hadn’t felt since I went to North Point – passion. A new youth director had just came in, and I loved his talks about Jesus, the Bible —- and movies. I was surprised at how hospitable everyone was, especially because my speech impediment had always made me felt ostaracized. Being in 7th grade, I also left Children’s Worship to attend English worship with all the youth, college students, and adults. Ironically, we had also gotten a new English pastor at that time. I really appreciated how straight to the point Pastor Jeff was, how he didn’t try to water down the word of God. It was hard to pay attention to 40 minute sermons at first, but I began to love it. Sunday School also somehow changed. The teachers were asking us personal questions, telling us about the Jesus that they love, instead of just telling us stories we had all heard one thousand times about the Bible.

However, there was one thing I loathed about church. Since my church (as does many other churches) only allows those who are baptized to receive communion, I had to let the platters of the “bread” and grape juice pass me every month. One Sunday, they announced that there would be baptism classes. I immediately signed up. Baptism class was refreshing; the material was nothing new, but it was a beautiful thing to learn about. A few months later, I got baptized and I felt so new.

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