Tag Archives: Christianity

The Fictive Kin Identity and The Importance of Being a “Bro.”

Yah, I give it a couple years before I'll be the short one.

Everyone has pet peeves, whether it’s people who wear socks with their sandals, drivers who don’t use a signal to turn, or that one student who feels the need to prolong class time by asking stupid questions. You know who I’m talking about. As for me, I hated it when guys would come up to me and ask, “Hey, what’s up bro?” First of all, I’m not your “bro.”  We’re not even related; I do have a name, you know. It’s Gio. Use it.

In college, it was bound to happen. Every guy has the potential to become a “bro.” Now, I’m not talking about the Urban Dictionary definition, which defines a “bro” as  “obnoxious partying males who are often seen at college parties.” I’m talking about the commonly used greeting of a male to another male in order to indicate a sense of friendship. After hearing it so often, I found myself using it. I use it in my daily speech when I speak to another guy around my age. I even use it so much, that perhaps, I’m someone else’s pet peeve. Little did I know how the word would be essential to my survival, to my process of grieving.

You see, when you lose two siblings, your identity also changes. It just has to; you’re forced to. I was the oldest of three, then two, and now I’m the “only child.” Is that what I call myself now? An only child? It is, after all, fact. An “only child” is one who has no siblings. That’s what I am now, right? Yes, and no. I’ve grieved over the lost of my siblings, but I am not sibling-less. And if you’re going through what I’ve gone through, you need to understand that.

Sociologists have a term for it: fictive kin. Thanks to Wikipedia, we know that a fictive kin is simply “giving someone a kinship title and treating them in many ways as if they had the actual kinship relationship implied by the title.” Now, I should get used to the practice. I am, in fact, Asian. And Asians are notorious for indicating a familial relationship when there is no genetic or marriage ties. In most Asian cultures, especially in Indonesian ones, you would call an older male and female who are around your parents’ ages and are close friends of theirs as “uncle” and “aunt.” Their children would be your “cousins.” Let’s just say it was confusing growing up, keeping track of which of my hundreds of “uncles” and “aunts” were actually related to me, and which of my “cousins” I could date.

We're really well-dressed for this wedding.

Fictive kins relationships are essential for one’s survival. One such example of its importance can be found in American history. During America’s slavery period, it was common practice for slave owners to separate slave families in order to control them. Parents would be separated from their children and siblings would be separated from each other as they were divided to different plantations. In an act of human survival, to maintain that human sense of family, it was also common for strangers to become a family. An older slave woman would take in a slave child as her own. Slave children would call each other as “brother” or “sister.” Fictive kin relationships provided slaves with a symbolic family, as each person supported one another.

Yes, we're "related." All Asians look alike, right? Maybe 3 out of the 5 in this picture do.

You see, saying “bro” makes perfect natural sense for Christians. If we’re all part of God’s family, then we’re all brothers and sisters in and through Christ, His Son. As the greeting goes: Hey brother from another mother. And I guess, that’s how I’ve chosen to survive and to maintain my “older brother” identity. Yes, by societal standards, I am every bit an “only child.” But in a larger and deeper sense, I have a lot of brothers and sisters. They may not be my flesh and blood family, but they act in every bit like a sibling should. Do I argue or fight with my “brothers” and “sisters?” Sure, that’s something that siblings do. But we also enjoy each other’s company. And when I find that I need some lifting up when I am depressed, I know my “brothers” and “sisters” are there to help me out, and vice versa.  The result is fictive kinships are relationally deeper than friendships.

As for me, I no longer mind being called a “bro.” I welcome it. I love it. When I hear it, I am not reminded by what I’ve lost–I am reminded by what I’ve gained.  I also don’t need to put a close sibling-type relationship in quotes, as they are now my kin. Maybe you’ve joined a fraternity or sorority and have gained new brothers and sisters–more than you can imagine. Maybe you’re in a college club or ministry and have grown so close to certain people that they’re practically family. Maybe you don’t work with your co-workers, you hang out with them after work and they too, have become part of your symbolic family.

In fact, just the other day I lost an arm wrestling match to my fourteen-year-old brother. And I realized that in a couple years, he will grow taller than me. Just the other day, I saw my eighteen-year-old sister, and I saw how much she’s changed spiritually. And just today, I saw a picture of a New Year’s dinner party. I saw that I’m still the oldest of five brothers.

So how about you? Do you have fictive kin? Are you someone’s fictive kin? What do you do to grieve and survive the loss of a loved one?

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Filed under Christianity, Life, Masculinity

Being ALIVE!

Photo Credit: J. Kemper

I’ve seen the great heights,
Reminding me… that I’m alive,
I don’t wanna die,
I don’t wanna waste another day,
Or night,
I know there’s something more,
Than what we’re living for,
I see it in the stars,
I feel it on the shores,
I know there’s something,
I know there’s something more.

–Tyrone Wells, “More.”

Maybe it takes a walk on the beach, the feeling of the grainy muddy sand under your feet, and the cool salty ocean water splashing with every step you take in order to know you’re alive. Or maybe it takes a hiking trip with your best friends, getting to the peak and looking down at the vastness of the wilderness, the realization that you are small in comparison to know you’re alive. Or maybe it just takes sitting in a classroom, pondering the question that mankind has asked for thousands of years, only to conclude with Descartes’s Cogito ergo sum (“I think therefore I am”). Whatever it takes for you to realize it, you and me–we ARE alive in this moment…for now.

River just below Half Dome

As we’re in our sixth day in the year 2010, I can’t help but remember those #tenyearsago tags on Twitter during New Year’s Eve. Am I really a little more than two decades old? Has it really been a decade since I first entered high school? What have I done these last ten years? I began to think about some of my friends who didn’t make it to 2010, who lost their lives early on either through an accident or a suicide. I remembered the tragedy of discovering that my friends cut themselves because they didn’t look good enough to be on the cover of a magazine.

Oh youth, oh teenage years, where every thing was so dramatic that even an episode of 90210 looked accurate. We thought we were invincible, that nothing could touch us, not even death, so we participated in riskier things. No one has to take an adolescent psychology class to understand that we (my cohorts) were porcelain ten years ago, our egos sensitive and delicate. I fear for our youth and what they have to go through–all the pressure of living up to false images created by us. Even as the suicide rates have increased, I’m glad that it’s not as taboo to talk about it, to find help.

But this isn’t supposed to be a dark or emo post. This is a celebration in our identity of being ALIVE! You should be smiling, dancing even. We take that identity for granted sometimes. Instead, we focus our energies on death and our attention on what we don’t have. *Initiating inside joke now* Maybe that’s why the vampire life (or death, depending on how you look at it) is attractive.

We are ALIVE. Our beating heart pumping the warm blood throughout our bodies reminds us of the next step: doing something worthwhile. I’m learning to number my days, to celebrate what I do have. It can end in a second, I could breathe my last breath. So I choose to live a purposeful life, to help those who need help, to fight for those who cannot fight. Oh, and you’ll see me dancing soon enough, rejoicing this life I’ve been given.

And how about you? In your identity of being alive, you may find yourself asking the same questions I asked myself:

1. How am I wasting my days and night?

2. What can I do that is worthwhile?

3. How do I find meaning or purpose in my life?

4. How do I live a fulfilled life?

I want to leave you with an encouraging song called “More” by Tyrone Wells. I think he says it best:

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Filed under Christianity, Issues/Causes, Life

My Hands For War

It was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the brownish yellowish hill, covered with brush and dried bushes spread through desert-like conditions are run-down buildings. They looked as if a bomb had landed and incinerated all life, and all that remained were remnants of a civilization.  Men are attacking each other on two fronts, using what’s left of the buildings as cover. Some of the men have fallen, some are wounded. Some are hidden in the bushes as snipers, preparing to make a fateful shot. Heart beats are racing, adrenaline is pumping. I can’t think, but I am only sure of three things: 1. My gun has stalled. 2. I was just shot. 3. My side may be losing. It looked hopeless. This is what I get for starting this fight with my gun–my paintball gun.

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Playing paint ball with my fraternity was fun, but the heat was not. Sure, I complained about the heat until I realized that it gave me a small taste of the lives of soldiers stationed in the Middle East.  Unlike the soldiers halfway across the world, my danger wasn’t real. It was simulated. If I shot another man or if I had gotten shot, we wouldn’t have lost our limbs or our lives. We could just go home, shower off, and enjoy the comfort of the air conditioner. There are no real stakes with paint balling. No one really dies.

But I began thinking about the paint ball gun while holding it. Pressing the trigger and shooting at other people gave me a thrill–a cheap thrill. It gave us a sense of freedom as men. We were allowed to be aggressive without anyone holding us back. But why do men love guns or weapons? Why are we drawn to violence? It’s the story of men in almost every society all the way to ancient times.

A majority of violent video games are created for men, more specifically teenage boys. We have fun killing simulated people. Maybe that’s just the way we were made. Maybe we just love living out these fantasies of James Bond or Rambo. Or maybe because that’s how our culture is raising us. More than a hundred years ago, many men were still hunting for food. And now, only a few of us actually do. Those who don’t hunt buy food at the supermarket. We removed the thrill of the hunt–of the danger. Back then men were trained for readied aggression. The Wild Wild West, the pioneers, even back to the settlers taught their sons how to use a gun because it was a necessity to live. But using a gun today isn’t a useful or treasured skill. We’ve become a pacifist sort of generation.

Now, I’m not advocating for violence or guns or anything of that sort. I just think it’s interesting that men’s behavior of violence and aggression hasn’t changed much the last thousand years. We still train men to fight like the Spartans. We love UFC and boxing and anything that has the risk of death because we want to defy it. We men love blood and guts. We exert our masculinity through dominating another.

As violent as we men have the potential to be, there is one good thing that comes out of it. You may think I’m a male chauvinist pig for saying the following, but I do admire our need to protect. We have such a strong desire; it’s almost as if it’s our purpose for living–perhaps we are wired to protect and seek justice or retribution when we fail at protecting. We long to protect those that we love, that we are willing to lose our lives if it means that our loved ones survive.

That’s my masculine identity revealed–not that I love violence or that I am violent myself. I just simply wonder why violence and aggression translates well for men.

I love this very masculine Bible verse:

“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” Psalm 144:1  (ESV)

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A Life-Changing Love

love

Photo Credit: Flickr

What exactly is love? Countless of people from philosophers to psychologists to poets and musicians have tried to define it, but perhaps the concept is just too difficult to define or to grasp. Yet it exists somehow. Some define it as a “strong positive emotion of regard and affection”  (Source 1). Authors Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (2000) attempted a more biological definition, that love is an essential human drive, like hunger or thirst and may occur in the form of oxytocin, neurotrophins, and pheromones. The field of psychology looks at love as more of a sociocultural phenomenon.

Hollywood thrives over those sappy films filled with love and romance. They’ve become classics in our homes–movies like “Ghost,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “While You Were Sleeping.”  Unfortunately, sometimes Hollywood’s portrayal of love is really not about love at all. It’s more about lust. You know, those American Pie films that are supposedly about “young love” is really about the pursuit to “score.” Have we forgotten what love is? Or is love just purely “sex and candy” (Marcy Playground)?

The music world, is never without love songs. Nat King Cole cleverly created initials for love (“L is for the way you look at me. O is for the only one I see. V is very, very extraordinary. E is even more than anyone that you adore”). The Everly Brothers sang that “love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars.” Singers Joan Jett and Hadaway as well as the bands Incubus and Nazareth would agree that love is painful. But although love may be painful, it may be well worth it, as Taylor Swift reminds us with “Love Song,” a song about two modern-day star-crossed lovers. How romantic. The Backstreet Boys are willing to do anything “as long as you love [them].” But they are not alone. Heck, we’ll do anything for love, or at least to feel love.

Sometimes, this pursuit for love or to feel loved leads us to a downward spiral as we find it in the wrong places. We want intimacy, and not in the sexual sense, but in the sense that only love can provide. Intimacy is the feeling of mutual affection. It’s what genuine friendships are made of. And we aren’t getting enough of it. Perhaps our lack of love and intimacy makes us cheat on our spouses, instead of doing our best to examine the problem and communicate it with our spouses. Perhaps our lack of love and intimacy leads us to an addiction to drugs and alcohol–we end up drowning our sorrows away because the temporary high and buzz makes us feel better about our lives. Perhaps our lack of love and intimacy leads us to harm ourselves, believing that no one in the world cares about us, so it is better to just end our lives right here right now. The tragedy is that we deceive ourselves and that we allow ourselves to be deceived.

Love is out there and it’s not about cute little pink and red hearts. Just recently, I heard a song from Jaeson Ma which basically inspired me to write about this. Jaeson is an outspoken individual who is a culture changer, world shaker, and history maker.

His new song, “Love,” is refreshing because it provides a different message from all those songs and movies about love. What is love? Love is about sacrifice–it’ selfless. It’s thinking about others before yourself. What a radical idea! Perhaps it’s only radical because in our society, we use the word love so much, that it’s lost its meaning: “I love what you’re wearing.” “Do you love the Fray’s new song?” Perhaps it’s only radical in our society because love is self-centered instead of others-centered. We do things because it’ll make us look better. We do things for another only if they do something for us.

I want a love that is life-changing. I think that’s the only sort of love that’s worth it. So why don’t you take a minute and check out this unique message about love, and if you love it, then spread the love:

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Filed under Christianity, Life, Music

God, I’m Fat. God, Are You?

Photo Source: Roosevelt Academy

Photo Source: Roosevelt Academy

I recently went running with Michael, my fraternity brother, around the hills of Westwood. As some of the expensive-looking cars drove through Sunset Boulevard, I couldn’t help but wonder which celebrity had passed by and saw me catching my breath. How did I get to this point? I used to be able to run with ease! I will one day run with ease. But in the most humorous sense of weakness, I remembered thinking: God, I’m fat.

After running up and down Drake Stadium, I gave up running altogether and made my way back to the fraternity house in defeat. As I sat on the couch disappointed in myself and what I’ve become, I decided to amuse myself by taking my iPod touch and searched for the words “How fat is God?” I needed to laugh at myself. Lo and behold, I came across various results, such as mama jokes: “Yo mama is so fat, that when God said, ‘Let there be light,’ He asked her to move out of the way.” And then I came across an amusing article entitled, “Is God fat too?” by Jim Evans, an SF Fitness Examiner. And I’ve got to say, he made some completely interesting points and observations.

First, we all know that America is one of the most obese nations in the world. According to Forbes.com, “nearly 237 million Americans are currently overweight. It is estimated that medical costs connected to obesity accounted for 9.1% of all health expenditures each year in the U.S.” Although we may be ranked #9 because 74.1% of people over 15 are overweight in this country, the first 8 countries are islands and their population can’t really compare with ours. How the heck did we get to this point? Is it because of our stressful jobs and little exercise? Is it because our physical education classes in middle schools and high schools consist of only reading and nothing to do with physical activity? Perhaps it’s also our availability of fast foods and how affordable it is? God, we’re fat.

But maybe, just maybe, God is fat too! This is where Evans’ article gets interesting. He says that a majority of the people in this country consider themselves Christians, thus if a majority of this country is overweight or obese, then Christians certainly make a large part of these statistics. Evans reminds Christians that our bodies are temples of God, and that we are to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This suggests that we shouldn’t be filling our bodies with filth and other unhealthy things. That’s Jambaisms #5: “Your body is a temple, littering is strictly prohibited.”  Thus, if we are to be stewards of this gift–this body that we have–then we need to take better care of it.

Evans goes far to wonder (and I wondered about this too as I laid on the couch recovering from the run) that if we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and we are growing overwhelmingly obese, does this reflect God’s own image? I’m going to have to say no, and not because I think we need to all look like Abercrombie and Fitch models either. No, that’s more of a Classical Greco-Roman ideal. I like Evans’s answer when he says that God gave us common sense and intelligence about what we are doing to our bodies. Our behavior and the environment are partly responsible for making us fat. But more importantly, we chose this path. We have the ability to control it. We need to control it. Our bodies are temples for God’s sake! And whether you believe in God or not, it’s still very logical and very intelligent to keep your body healthy.

Oh, and whether you’re skinny, average, or fat, God still loves you just the same. And no, that’s not a big fat lie.

Photo Source: Roosevelt Academy

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