Hippies in Tevas: A Love Story by Sophia Chang

I'm a Bible toddler. When I started going to church I had no idea what it was about. As far as I knew, Peter, Paul and Mary left on a jet plane. 

Because of this, I always wanted to go to Sunday school. On my way to the bathroom during adult service, I'd pass the ring of kids sitting cross-legged on the nubbly gray carpet. Inevitably, I'd drift closer to peek at the drawings, wishing I could plop down with the children Billy Madison-style. But I was too shy to sit, so I lingered on the outskirts, goofy, grown, and God-hungry. 

One day Jonathan was teaching. He held up a page in a picture book and asked, "What is this?"

"The Bible!" the kids shouted.

"And what is the Bible a story of?"

Well that was a loaded question. If you'd asked me at any point in my life I would have shouted:

Judgement! 

Contradictions! 

An epic myth all screenwriters base our stories on since Joseph Campbell!

But these are kids, so it had to be a good thing. I settled on the perfect response. 

Jesus, I answered in my head, feeling smug and Christian-y.

"Love," Jonathan said.

The top of my head blew clean off.

A Love Story

The Bible is a story about love. 

It's a manual, actually. One that uses God's love as an example, so that even those of us who grew up in crappy families eventually get an instruction book in life, after thousands of dollars of therapy and a string of poor relationship choices. (Not that I know anything about that...) 

So how come I never heard it taught like that?

I spent decades thinking the Bible was a messily organized amalgamation of marriage tips, Jewish versions of fortune cookie sayings, Aesop fables, some dude's family tree, a town that sounds like a venereal disease, and a warning about haircuts. 

Starring a bunch of hippies wearing Tevas while sustainably farming crappy land.

That the Bible as a love story was such a shocking revelation to me speaks to how skewed representations of the book have become. Humans are clearly missing the point. 

And Christians need to take responsibility for that. 

Tell the Real Story

We're doing a disservice to everything God intended when we lead with anything but love.

Are you using the Bible as a "told you so" more than a "good for you"? Are you regulating more than you're praising and uplifting?

This isn't an either/or question. It's one of degree and focus. Yes, sin and conviction and all that are vital, but, more importantly, so is remembering the point, the whole point of being on this big blue ball. 

The point is: we are loved.

Don't let the human tendency towards superiority and condemnation obfuscate that message. (Like the word obfuscate does that sentence.)

No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.
— Philip Yancey

I can vouch as a former atheist which type of message drew me closer to God, and which pushed me away.

The Bible deserves a better book report than the ones going around. It deserves to have its main message put first and foremost. 

Will you spread the love? 

If so, please click "Share" below!

Mormons on a Plane: Your Behavior Matters More than Your Belief by Sophia Chang

I'm a fan of Mormons.

I try to go back to Taipei every year to see my beloved grandma who helped raised me. On one flight several years ago, I was joined by a large group of Mormons on their missions trip. 

I watched these young, extremely pale kids dressed in ties and long skirts shuffle politely into their seats. I'm used to Westerners pushing about loudly in other countries, being rude to locals and making an overall embarrassing example of Amurrica. (In fact, whenever my college friend and I are in Europe and see or hear Americans, we immediately switch to speaking Chinese to avoid being associated with them.)

So it was a treat to see one of these blonds help a woman with her suitcase. Then he opened his mouth and fluent Mandarin tumbled out. I almost died. 

"Where did you learn to speak Chinese?" I asked in English.

"Utah," he responded in Mandarin. I hadn't even known we had a word for 'Utah' in Mandarin.

Americans have, hands down, the worst accents in Mandarin - it's as if our culture makes people quite literally tone-deaf. Even the king of Facebook - a fellow Harvardian - had the best trainers and still couldn't master it, so to hear these mild-mannered Mormons trilling my mother's mothertongue that they learned in the middle of a snowblind desert garnered massive props.

I wasn't a believer then, so I didn't think much of missionaries, but the fact that they took the time to learn the language - and learn it properly - and were behaving with such decorum and grace impressed me to no end. When we landed, I felt bedraggled and cranky in my yoga pants, but the Mormon kids looked just as patient and pert, not a dress shirt untucked or belt buckle loosened after 16 hours of trans-pacific flight.

There's a huge Mormon contingency in Hollywood so I've had acquaintances and co-stars throughout the years and I can say I've never met a mean Mormon in my life. It's true, I don't know what goes on behind closed doors, and their community is not without scandal or controversy just like that of any religion or culture. But on a daily basis I have always encountered good manners and good attitudes.

Even when I was an atheist I respected Mormons because it mattered little what they believed and very much how they behaved.

I'm not saying belief doesn't matter at all. It does. 

But long after everyone has forgotten what you espouse, they will remember how you treated them, how you acted when they were in need, and how that made them feel. 

So, my brothers and sisters, how do you behave?

It's the Relationship That Changes You by Sophia Chang

In counseling psych grad school we took a yearlong class exclusively on therapeutic communication. The most important lesson we learned was that the client healed not from some specific technique or information - but from the relationship with the therapist.

In fact, one of the most healing things that could happen was the inevitable therapeutic break: when the therapist messes up and doesn't say what the client needs to hear. At this critical juncture, the therapist has the opportunity to hear the client's hurt, to make amends, and let the client be cherished as vulnerable - often for the first time in his/her entire life.

This is life changing.

We come from families where our needs and feelings were squashed. We had no model for healthy communication and even fewer examples of how to listen.

To have someone see your pain - to witness your wound - and non-defensively hear your feelings provides a kind of wholeness that is sublime.

relationships that heal

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, seminarian Ph.D.'s and pioneers of relationship therapy, hold in their groundbreaking book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, that the very purpose of relationships is to complete our needed healing and development.

Relationship is the context in which you get healed…and we think couplehood is the most powerful source of healing there is.
— Harville Hendrix

They've since expanded their theories and practice to include all kinds of relationships.

This, of course, applies to the the most important relationship in your life - the one between you and Spirit.

letting love change you

We were made for intimacy. That is how God lives in us.

It is how God relates to us, and how we're to relate to ourselves, each other, and the world at large. Every connection is meant to change us in some way - to open us up, to heal, to teach us something that no other way can.

Smile, It's Just Spirituality by Sophia Chang

Photo by Megan Pangan

Photo by Megan Pangan

Ten years ago I took a ballet class in West L.A. I was still a night owl and the class was on a weekend, in the morning, much too early to be doing tendus.

The instructor called out the counts, looked at the frown knitting my brow, and said cheerfully, "Relevè, and then smile - It's just ballet!"

We burst into laughter.

As humans we can make ANYTHING a life or death matter if we tried - even pliès. But frowning and furrowing our way through isn't a comfortable method - or an efficient one, whether we're dealing with dance steps or religion.

Yes, spiritual wholeness is a serious concern (my main one, in fact), but we're not going to convince anyone of that by going red in the face. And you certainly won't get there yourself by stodgily refusing to have a sense of humor about it.

When my ballet teacher reminded us we weren't performing brain surgery, he did more than break the class tension. He shook us out of rigidity and into ease. He took our pressures and expectations off the dance, and let us release our bodies to do what they were perfectly capable of doing all along. 

Plus he let us have fun while doing it.

I don't discount the power of a single smile to turn a day around. Or the lightness of a heart to touch another heart - and possibly turn someone's life around. 

In the very least, it can make the ride go just a bit smoother. And isn't that one step closer to the very peace we seek?

True Surrender is Saying No by Sophia Chang

Photo of Sophia Chang by Vandiveer

Photo of Sophia Chang by Vandiveer

I was an atheist until the age of 24, when I fell in love with an evangelical Christian. He was so calm and his eyes were so alive - "he has the passion of the Christ", I used to joke when secular friends asked me why I was with him.

We were only together a short time, but it changed my life forever. It wasn't a happy conversion, or one without strife and tears. In fact, I didn't so much decide to believe in God, as I did decide to give up atheism.

I was simply tired of fighting. Fighting with my boyfriend, fighting with religion as a conglomerate. It was easier to just give in.

Looking back, I can say that was the moment I started learning how to surrender.

It sounds like resignation, but it's much more powerful than that. Cunningly powerful, in fact.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.
— Steve Jobs

In entrepreneurship. During my healing journey. In coach training. Through therapy. As a novelist. Over and over again, the wisest advice is to let go, cull, drop weight, and say no.

Give in. Say no. 

What you were clutching so tightly in your clenched fists, you don't need anymore. See how much easier it is when you realize you don't have to hold on after all.

Give in. Say no. Surrender.

And be loved.

Which Direction Are You Praying In? by Sophia Chang

Photo of Sophia Chang by Megan Pangan

Photo of Sophia Chang by Megan Pangan

Some people have this view of me as fearless and independent. From the outside I understand it: I had purple hair at my Harvard interview, I travel solo, and I've been known to depart from a crowd when I preferred a different activity - sometimes trailing fellow renegades.

But from the inside looking out, I've almost never called myself independent because of this: 

I spent so much of my life worried about what people thought of me. 

When I look over the landscape of my varied and colorful life, I see a constant pendulum swing between being myself and wanting to be liked and accepted.

The thing is, the times that I was fearlessly independent were the times when greatness happened.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
— Romans 12:2 NKJV

Psychological and emotional maturity is the ability to make the healthiest and best choice for ourselves instead of constantly seeking outside approval. It's a necessary component of self-confidence and strong boundaries. And that can only come from shifting our decision-making process from an externally-driven one into an internally sound one.

That's why there's something really uncomfortable about the way prayer is interpreted and modeled in many churches.

where does god dwell?

There's a way in which we're taught to pray outwards towards an external God that dwells upon the high heavens, and not intimately within us as the Holy Spirit.

This happens when the cry to lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) is interpreted too literally and out of context - and I don't only mean within the scriptural context but within a spiritual context.

When we're asked not to lean on our own understanding, people behave as if it means we don't know any better and will never have access to this higher knowledge or larger, loving perspective - the analogy of an ant trying to understand the human is often inserted here.

When we interpret the verse in that way, we have completely forgotten about the indwelling Christ.Tweet: Don't forget about the in-dwelling Christ. Latest blog: Which Direction Are You Praying In? @thesophiachang http://ctt.ec/ygX75+ Tweet that!
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.
— Galatians 2:20 NLT

Where does Christ dwell? On a cloud looking down?

Try in your hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). That's right. Your roots grow down in love, not up and out into some mysterious presence in the ether, where who knows what happens to it.

Over and over we're reminded (particularly by John) that Christ is in us now.

Yet Sunday after Sunday we pray to a distant God, petitioning him as if he's a department chair who must approve our senior theses. (I've been interviewing applicants to Harvard all month and have college on my mind.)

I do this constantly - asking for a sign from the outside, a sign my eyes can see in the external world, a word I must hear from outside of me in order to believe.

It's no better than caring what other people think. No better than living for the world.

Spiritual Maturity

In the same way psychological maturity allows us to think independently and make healthy decisions on our own, spiritual maturity includes the ability to attune to the inner voice - the still, small one - and to live by that truth instead of relying on external opinions and approval. 

The only way to be true to Christ in his truest form, is to be true to the Spirit within you. So the next time you pray, try going inward to the very heart of the matter.

Remember the Christ within.

If You Want a Living Christ, LIVE as Christ by Sophia Chang

First shared live at worship on Sunday, January 24th, 2016:

We're Asians - we're good students who went to good schools and we know how to study.

I am careful as I learn about Christ not to turn it into another school assignment, where I'm just ingesting information by rote. I avoid this by checking in with what makes my heart come alive. This reminds me that Christianity is about a living Christ, not an intellectual one or a paper book one.

The things that make my heart come alive are the personal ways in which God speaks to me. I've come to realize that is true nearness to God - when he's so close he comes from within, not when he's coming in through my eyeballs in black and white.

That's also what faith is.

It's one thing to believe something because you see it, either experientially - in that it happens to you, or intellectually - which is another form of seeing (from the eyes to the brain). That's mere belief.

Faith is acting upon the values of God's love; it is embodying a living Christ by acting as Christ. 

These topics of personalization and an active faith are my obsession right now and I believe they should be an obsession for life.