Recognizing the underrepresentation of women’s voices in the Reformed world, Reformed Margins is happy to announce its first guest contribution from a dear sister in Christ! Today, Grace Chung, a recent graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, transparently shares with us what it looked like to pursue Christ during her time in seminary. Read and be blessed!
For my guest post, I decided to submit an old email from a former correspondence with a friend. I chose this in lieu of a more conventional blog piece namely because I write off of conviction, and this email has reemerged as just that. It comes from a time in seminary when I struggled hard with feelings of worthlessness and rejection and when I consequently sought my identity in the wiles of this duplicitous, elusive, uncaring, unfeeling, fallen world. The context is Colossians 3:1-4, my life verse, and the content begins with a favorite song (“Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead), which I was eager to share with my friend while in the depths.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4)
Lyrics are provided below. The reason why this song strikes me despite its rather simple and unexceptional musicality is located in the words. Everything is lyrically centered around the artificial, the inorganic, the insincerity of this world. Every single line is drenched in this motif, and each subnarrative ends with the inevitable consequence of such a world: everyone is worn out.
The first two subnarratives are really just expanded analogies for the narrator’s own experience, worn from the love he so desires, a love that is not true, a love that is not close; worn from the labor of trying to be whom she (his lover) wants, desiring, longing, desperately needing to be whom she wants; worn from never measuring up to a fake plastic love simply because that love is not real…and that love is never meant to be his.
That’s how I felt—about the situation (more as a representative of all the unrequited loves I’ve suffered in the past, whether relationally, like guys, father, mother, brother, sister, friends, leaders, general people from whom I’ve desired approval, or materially, like idols that could never validate me) and about this world. This world is so false. It’s so unreal. Not that it’s false and unreal in and of itself but rather as our place, our identity, our home. And it reminds me of the Matrix scene so poignantly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7BuQFUhsRM. “Ignorance is bliss”—choosing the seen over the unseen, suppressing the truth of God and the cross of Christ, and so suppressing the truth of our wickedness, selling ourselves short for the false promises of this world…
I told you about my best friend growing up, from 4th grade to 12th grade. She had my loyalty till the end, though rather quickly toward the finish of high school all our other friends had left her and urged me to likewise do so. She was really quite a bad person, fearing nothing, so selfish, so vindictive, so possessive with an evil power, so morbidly ambitious (for the wrong reasons). Well, she graduated from NYU Stern, got a great job, flies first class on her vacations, and today, I found, got into Harvard business school. My other friend in med school got matched at a hospital and is going to be a surgeon. Her status got over 250 likes.
I won’t deny the jealousy, envy, and hunger for status and acclaim that those events provoked in me. I started questioning if I should apply to Harvard, UPenn, all the elite schools for my teaching degree -_- so that I might one day post, or rather boast, of it on my own Facebook, to collect my own bevy of virtual “likes” and envy. I started questioning my place in seminary, my place in ministry, my little place of large debt with too little worldly acclaim (if at all) attached to it.
I went to a former Princeton student’s wedding last weekend at Princeton campus, and all of her guests were either from her Princeton class or from her current Harvard law class. When we took group photos, there were only two main categories: Princeton and Harvard photos. I didn’t belong to either, but I wanted to belong somewhere—somewhere seen, somewhere of this earth, somewhere seen on this earth. But tonight I wonder, with those 250+ likes on a post of worldly advancement, those posts boasting of this nation’s top elite business schools, of all the likes and congratulations and praise they receive, I wonder…would a status that reads, “I’m suffering for Christ,” garner even half as much? Would the world stop to praise one soul for standing tall in the face of trial and give thanks and congratulations that he or she is counted worthy of suffering for the name of Christ, suffering with Christ? Unfortunately, I think not.
All the fallen soldiers of our Lord’s army, they don’t fall with the buzz of celebrities who unfortunately pass from the earth. Theirs is a quiet road. And sure, even among God’s fallen soldiers, the world cannot help but to build divisive categories there so that popularity might abound, because we are such idolatrous people at our core. But what you told me tonight, which is what you’ve been telling me all along, is so true: when Tom Carson passed away from this age, he, an obscure no-name, a pastor who faithfully served in quiet, under-recognized, ordinary ways, he was received by heaven with loud celebration and glory. Or put another way, God loved him the same exact amount and way that he loves Piper and all other Pipers of this world. The world’s measure of success, of value, merit, worth—it really is all rubbish to the Lord, because only his measures true. Only his Son has made the measure of man’s worth true of himself through his death and through his glorious resurrection. And that resurrection is what gives us life—the life to press on, the life to hold gaze at the unseen, the life to say, “Though the world should plunder me, my prosperity is in the Lord” (my version of Hebrews 10:34), the life to live at all…because the world may crush us, and our souls may hurt…but the Lord is faithful through it all. He is saying, “Hold fast to the things above, not because I demand it of you, but because there in that place is glory that is yours. Your joy, your treasure, your prize, your portion, your life—they are up there…in Christ.” Christ our prize is there, and he has gone to prepare a place for me in my home (John 14:3), and I long for that day when I shall be clothed in white, celebrating with my Lord who calls out to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I long to be with my Lord.
So here are the lyrics and here is the song. Though the song despairs more than it strengthens because it lacks that redemptive close, I still found courage from the solidarity it embodies. Thank you, however, for being a more explicit solidarity. Thank you for being a co-heir of the hope. I am so thankful to call you my friend and more privileged to call you my sister.
Fake Plastic Trees
Her green plastic watering can for
Her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
What she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber bands
To get rid of itself
It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out
She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins
And it wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears him
She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run
And it wears me out, it wears me out
It wears me out, it wears me out
If I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted all the time, all the time