Eugene Cho

making sense of virginia tech

Update: Read the article I wrote for the Seattle Post Intelligencer

Like everyone else – here [Seattle], there [Virginia], West [United States, East [Korea], and everywhere, I am trying to make sense of something that is simply – senselesss.  Personally, the emotions have been even more convoluted because I am Korean-American.  I am a Korean immigrant [immigrated at the age of 6] and understand the immigrant experience;  I am a Korean-American Immigrant Male [who even shares the same last name - 'C-H-O' - as the gunman].  I am a Christian pastor involved in the institution of Religion that Seung Hui Cho criticized and expressed disappointment.  For these reasons, many have asked, called, IM’d, and emailed asking me to share some of my thoughts – as a person, a Christian, an immigrant, a pastor, but especially as a Korean-American man.  I’m sharing some thoughts [some which are still in vomitaceous process] in hopes that we can dialogue here – that it may serve as part of the healing and redemptive process.

Monday night was an incredibly eerie day for me.  After watching the news with incredulity and horror, I posted a blog entry about the tragedy in Virginia Tech.  About 9pm [PST], I began to literally have over hundred people instantaneously get to my blog in a span of two hours. 

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As I examined my dashboard through wordpress, it was fairly obvious to me that while the news wouldn’t be shared to the larger world until the next morning, there was strong suspicion – perhaps through authorities or through some of the student body – that the gunman may have been someone named Seung [Hui] Cho.   I was speechless, ashamed, angry, and afraid. [You can also add 'guilty' because of my selfishness.  Like others, I felt "pathetic" in wishing the person wasn't Korean or Asian...I became more self-focused rather on mourning with those who have suffered in the tragedy].

Some vomitaceous thoughts, questions, and reflections:

1  We need to remember, foremost, that lives have been dramatically impacted.  33 people have died.  32 who were completely innocent.  Each person that died or was severely injured has a name, a story, a family, a passion, a dream, and a life.  Let’s not forget that in the midst of the media frenzy.  This is a must read.

2  It’s clear that Seung Cho was unhealthy, unstable, disturbed, ill [schizophrenia?], angry, lost, and [place your words here].  But that’s the only clear thing.  I needed the turn the TV off because the ‘stretching’ for information, analysis, scrutiny, and answers to who, what, where, when, and why was overly speculative.  Compare the reporting of Fox News and BBC News

While I understand the need for ‘why,’ we’re simply not going to know the full picture.   While Seung’s action were horrible and evil [and premeditated], we must remind ourselves that he too is a human being – as difficult as that might be.  Knowing some of the dynamics of the Asian/Korean culture and the synthesis of pain, guilt, and shame, I am sincerely worried for his family – particularly his parents.  They, too, are victims in this story.  Update: read the statement issued by Sun Kyung Cho and her family. 

One thing that the media won’t touch is the simple and painful matter:  Evil exists in our world.  There is a spiritual dimension that the media won’t discuss but the church must engage.  As much as we seek to create a perfect world [and it is a worthwhile pursuit], this will not be the first nor will it be the first murder or tragedy.

3  why do the media keep calling him ‘cho’?  he has a first name…  maybe it’s me, but i’m tired of hearing and reading my last name.  couple folks actually emailed me [from other parts of the country] through the blog to ask if i’m related to seung. 

Will there be racial backlash?  Do Asians and Koreans need to fear? On the most part, I do not believe there will be overt backlash but there are always going to be pockets of people that will be stupid and do stupid things.  It would be nonsenical for people to associate this violent act to Koreans or Asians simply because of Seung Hui Cho’s ethnicity.  In that same vein, it would have been preposterous and unjust for us to place blame on African-Americans for the actions of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in the ‘Beltway Sniper attacks’ of 2002 or to ask White Americans to share blame with Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma bombings of 1995.

But the question must be asked.   How is the media influencing the construct of the national consciousness?  That’s a worthwhile question for me.  In the early reporting, I was perturbed that Seung was being referred to as ‘the Asian killer’ and ‘the Korean killer.’  While he is Asian and Korean, the media needs to be more responsible in their sensational reporting.  What do you think? 

As one commenter replied in an earlier posting: 

i definitely wish/ hope that most would not see the shooter as representative of all asians, but in america, if the person in question is not a white, heterosexual, protestant, middle class, educated man, then their race, creed and color seems to always be part of the equation. he has been marked as the resident alien from abroad who came into our land and terrorized us, and with our heightened fear of the other, this situation seems to be full of potential for type casting and APIA caricatures. and i think if these kinds of caricatures flourish (as they did with mid-easterners post 9/11), then it’s not unreasonable to fear violent reprisal. and so while i certainly hope that people can view the event as isolated, i know that it’s very difficult for our culture to separate media representations of people groups from ‘reality.’

Why are Koreans/Asians afraid of backlash?  My hope is that in the midst of this tragedy, a small glimpse will be captured of the Asian-American [immigrant] experience.  Asians and particularly, Korean-Americans are xenophobic.  Historically, Koreans have been invaded, pillaged, and exploited…one of the foremost Korean historians Ki-Baek Lee refers to Korea as “the prostitute of Asia.”  From an immigrant experience, two very formative events in modern Asian American history impact our responses as Asian-Americans – particularly those who are older.  In my opinion, the most significant event in modern Asian-American history is the story of  Vincent Chin – a Chinese American man beaten to death by a baseball bat by two white auto industry workers – outside of a club during his bachelor party.  Even worse, the white men were acquitted.  For Korean Americans, the most significant event in their modern history is the LA riots and specifically, Sai-I-Gu (4/29).  

The United States is an incredible country and I am a proud citizen of this country; but it’s not a perfect country and while I believe there won’t be an overt backlash, I do worry how it will impact the individual and larger [White] collective view of Asian-Americans, Korean-Americans, “foreigners,” “immigrants” and such.  We should agree: if one Asian or Korean is bullied as a result of this, it’s one too many.  If one woman is bullied because of her gender, it’s one too many.  If one gay person is bullied because of their orientation, it’s one too many. 

6  As we mourn for those impacted, we must ask the question, “Why am I mourning?”  Are Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans mourning because the perpetrator was Korean [because of shame and/or fear] or because of the larger tragedy?   Are we mourning because of the 1 or are we mourning because of the 32?   For Koreans, the answer is likely both.  We are mourning because of the 33.  This is important to understand.  To be Korean – culturally – is to be communal.  Koreans are interconnected in a communal culture.  We rejoice and mourn with the successes and failures of our fellow Koreans or Korean-Americans.  We cling and rejoice with individuals like James Sun [The Apprentice], Paul Kim [American Idol], Michelle Wie [LPGA golfer], Yul Kwon [Survivor: Cook's Island], Hines Ward [NFL Football], and Yunjin Kim [ABC's Lost].  And because we are a communal culture – interconnected – not only as Koreans but also within our KA immigrant experience, we mourn and feel deep pain and shame over Seung Hui Cho.

For the larger Anglo worldview, the question must also be asked:  Is Seung Hui Cho an “Asian Killer” or “the Korean Killer” or is he a Korean-American [emphasis added] or an American that committed an evil crime?  What is the demarcation of what it means to be an American?  He immigrated at the age of 8; grew up in Detroit; moved to the suburbs of Washington DC; educated in the States; and was an English major in Virginia Tech.

A great definition of community (Romans 12:15) is when [or if] we choose to “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  As Asian-Americans, we must mourn with those who mourn not simply because an Asian was involved in the crime, but because our larger community – our country – is in mourning.  This is also our country, our people, our college community…this can’t be their tragedy.  this is [must be] our shared tragedy.

Why are we so violent as Americans?  Should we discuss gun control here?  Where do we start?  What is our Christian response?  Why are so many Christians so adamant about the right to bear arms?  Where is that found in the Scriptures?  I can cite tons of places about mercy, humility, justice, the oppressed, the poor, the widows…but why such obsession with arms and yet, such silence on the items listed above?  How are we as Christians and as consumers feeding the violence acceptance of our culture?  Insert pop culture here.

The lives of those who have perished must be remembered, cherished and celebrated.  Period.

But today alone, nearly 200 people were killed in Bahgdad.  It is estimated that approximately 30,000 children will die today because of poverty [according to UNICEF].  That’s 210,000 children this week; a little under 11 million children [five and under] each year.

While this is a horrible tragedy, [one life lost - is one too many] we must commit ourselves to the elevation of the sanctity of life.  each person – with a name, a story, a family, a dream, a beauty… 

Let’s remain in prayer for those impacted in this shared tragedy; let’s mourn with those who mourn; hope together; and work – whatever faith, ethnicity, country, political affiliation – for the shared responsibility of being a good neighbor.

_________

One last note.   As a Korean-American Male Cho Immigrant Christian Pastor, I do have another response:

God is love. Because He is Love, He created order out of chaos. His purpose was love and shalom.  We were created for beauty – created in the image of God.  Shalom was violated and marred.   Our image tainted and cracked.  Jesus came to redeem and restore.  Invitation is extended to all – including the lonely, the outcast, the marginalized, the rich, the debaucherized, and such.  And lest we forget or bathe in our righteousness, we have all fallen short of the glory of God.  We are confronted by our depravity.  We all need God and thanks be to God, the Lord is not far.  He is near. 

Filed under: asian-american

60 Responses

  1. daniel so says:

    Eugene — Thanks for sharing and for the desire to dialogue further about these thoughts.

    I have also been trying to wrap my head around many of these things. I agree that we must, especially as the church, constantly remember the actual people who are suffering as a result of this tragedy. NPR has been playing vignettes about the lives of each person who died in this massacre. Some of the stories have been about extraordinary heroism and personalities, but the ones that move me are the ordinary ones — these were regular college kids (and professors) who were killed in the midst of their everyday lives. It is that “ordinariness” that makes this story so personal and present.

    I have been deeply saddened by the media’s constant references to Seung-Hui’s ethnicity. The fact that he was a Korean citizen with a green card comes up within the first couple of breaths in every story on this tragedy. While I understand the need for people to paint a picture of why this happened, I do believe the media is generating the types of conditions that will fuel a backlash. Thank you for creating a framework for others to understand why the Asian American community has a very real concern about backlash (Vincent Chin, LA riots). I have seen various hate-filled messages floating around the web directed at Asians and Koreans. I took a group of my students out for a movie yesterday during their spring break, and I was actually worried that a large group of young Asian American students might attract the wrong kind of attention. Fortunately, nothing negative happened — but I can see it brewing just beneath the surface for many.

    In fact, one Asian American student was wrongly identified by many overzealous bloggers as the shooter. I saw an interview with him on CNN. I don’t know if it was fear, a desire to empathize with people, or some strange complicity, but this student was explaining how he understood that people needed a scapegoat, and that he was willing to take that role. I don’t blame this poor guy for his response — CNN is shoving microphones in your face, angry people are threatening and accusing, there is a real fear of racial backlash…. But no one, *no one*, should play the fall guy for this. Whatever the circumstances that led this person to commit such atrocities, the responsibility is *his* — not the Asian American community. While we should absolutely grieve in solidarity with all those who grieve, we cannot allow ourselves to become the punching bags for white rage.

    Re: point 3 — I have also been annoyed that they keep referring to this person as “Cho.” I don’t know if it’s their desire to pin this guy as “other” but most news outlets are trying to present his name in an Eastern style, surname first. Notable exceptions include ABCnews.com and NPR. It’s disturbing that the media feels it necessary to go this route, given that he lived in this country for most of his life. I imagine many people think his first name actually is “Cho.”

    Re: point 8 — Thank you for this reminder. Nothing can minimize the terror, fear and loss those in the Virgina Tech community have experienced. We must, and will, continue to pray for them and stand in solidarity with them. But it is almost crippling to realize the extent of violence that exists *every single day* in our world. It’s impossible for any of us to imagine the horrors many of our sisters & brothers face everyday. Our world is broken — if it was not clear before, perhaps this past week can jar us from our slumber.

    I want to jump in on point 7 (why does America love guns so much?) but I will leave off here for now.

  2. Yung says:

    I was deeply numb as I heard about this incident. In the back of my mind when they said the shooter was Asian, I was just hoping he wasn’t Chinese. Pathetic, I know. Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter, most people can’t tell the difference between Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Sometimes I can’t. It doesn’t help that local Korean-American political figure Paull Shin is apologetic for the actions of one Korean (Google News the name).

    So far, I actually think the media has done a good job distancing his ethnicity and his violent act, aside from the earlier coverage.

    Typically news journalists like to use last names as identifiers. So using Cho isn’t out of the ordinary.

    I wrote about gun control and this incident on David’s blog. You can read it there, I won’t repeat it.

    Hopefully God can bring restoration and healing to the friends and families who lost loved ones, including the shooter’s family.

  3. Jennifer says:

    PE

    I think its been a difficult thing for some of the SPU students too simply because they are also living in a college context. Combined with last week’s Equaltiy Ride, they’ve had a lot to process.

  4. e cho says:

    yung: i read about paul shinn. i understand why he did what he did. it’s the same reason that you and i felt that wrench in our stomach – hoping and wishing it wasn’t an asian person, or chinese, or korean. there’s so few of us – particularly portrayed in the larger media worldview – that we are ashamed and embarrassed. i don’t agree with all that he said but i understand why he chose to address the larger group.

  5. e cho says:

    daniel: while i’m not overly concerned about large overt backlash, i’m more concerned about the subtle, underneath the skin, this is what i’m thinking without you knowing thoughts. which is where the larger media comes in – the main designers of our larger social consciousness. we have become slaves to media and all its forms.

    maybe you and others have seen this but i have yet to see them interview any asian/korean americans – citizens or more well known – to convey that this is a shared tragedy – not just because the gunman was korean but because we share in the pain, anger, and grief.

  6. Dennis says:

    While I understand why Asian-Americans could be fearful, I also think that they are being too presumptuous in the backlash. I hope I am making sense.

    I appreciated your comments for Korean-Americans to experience this as a “shared tragedy” and not simply a tragedy out of SHAME.

  7. gar says:

    pastor eugene-

    A lot of your thoughts resonate with me and have also crossed my mind; thank you for organizing the issues into a fairly readable form.

    in response to 4 & 5 > Regarding the issue of backlash, another case that comes to mind is the case of Chai Vang, a Hmong American convicted of killing 6 men. When his case became publicized, several residents in the area started distributing bumper stickers that read “Save a Deer, Shoot a Hmong”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chai_Vang

    I can only hope that the response in this case is better, and that Seung Cho’s actions are viewed as the result of his own poor choices and fallen nature; not because he happened to be Korean American or Asian American.

  8. lk says:

    i can’t even imagine what the loved ones of the victims are going through right now. it’s difficult to sleep just thinking about it. the injustice, grief, and horror is really overwhelming.

    in some ways, i identify with the parents of the gunman. i too am a korean-american born to immigrant parents, who, with their broken english, operated a small business (grocery store) for a while. i don’t know their story, but if it’s similar to that of other korean immigrants in the states, they were probably extremely hard-working people who toiled every single day to make a good life for themselves and their children. i shudder when i picture their exhausted and aged faces absorbed in the laborious work at the laundromat only to be interrupted by the news that their son, for whom they had been working hard to support and create good life for, had commited such an unfathomably atrocious crime.
    they might feel extreme guilt in thinkng that if they had been home more and paid more attention to their son, things could have been somewhat different. however, due to their immigrant/financial situation, maybe they had no choice but to be at their business all the time (like my own parents), because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to provide for their family. i don’t know them, but i’m just picturing different scenarios.

    honestly, i am a little worried for my family. right now we are in a small town where we are still the ‘exotic foreigners from the orient’ (yes, they still use that term here). ppl here think korea is some far away exotic land with dirt roads and primitive huts, no joke. i get asked about which half of korea i’m from north or south, and people are shocked that my english is ‘so good’ and my name ‘so americanized’. we are seen as guests/aliens/other, and i’m sure this incident won’t help that much at all.

  9. e cho says:

    yung: there’s clearly many layers to the story. it’s very complex and everyone’s trying to make sense to a senseless act. I know you wrote a bunch about gun control. to reduce this to gun control is not the point; it would be erroneous. but, there are many layers. while gun control isn’t the primary or secondary issue, guns ARE an issue in the US – those that are brought forth by the media and the shootings that take place where no one wants to know about them. the reality is that in this tragedy, an isolated, angry, confused, and ill man chose to plan a course of action that involved GUNS. so, while, i don’t necessarily want to jump on a certain bandwagon, we simply have to talk about guns. and of course, the larger issue of the glorification of violence in our culture.

  10. JT says:

    I wonder if there’s been much written on the actual content of his package and letters? Not in any way to justify his actions, but the only thing that has been spoken of is his loneliness, sickness, and isolation. So, not a single person wronged this guy in any way in his four years at VT? He has several roommates and no one knew him? How is that possible? How in the world did they become roommates? Is anyone wondering why people didn’t listen to the two African-American professors, Drs. Roy and Giovanni? This is all just fucked up.

  11. e cho says:

    JT: I think I know what you’re saying – even the last sentence. Exactly my thoughts.

    I think what some of us feel awkward sharing or questioning – in light of the tragedy [and timing] – is the following: “have WE collectively failed Seung Hui Cho?” Clearly, we know what he did was wrong and atrocious; we know he was unhealthly, ill, angry, etc. The media [and us] are searching for answers and analysis why he has done what he has done. We are looking outward for answers and at some point, we’re gonna need to look inward at the state of our large national and cultural worldview and it may not be pretty. This is why – whether now or later – we’re going to have to talk about what I’ll just leave as ‘stuff’ for now.

  12. rikyrah says:

    Got your link from Skeptical Brotha.

    This was an excellent post. I haven’t heard him referred to as the ‘Asian killer’. The first description of him didn’t come from the police, it came from witnesses who lived. As an African-American, one is used to ‘collective shame’, so I understand that.

    It is hard to humanize a killer. I know that you’ve tried to, without making excuses for what he did. The more I read about this young man, the more human he becomes, but it still doesn’t make the anger at him destroying 32 other lives lessen for me.

  13. e cho says:

    no one is going to dispute that he chose evil. he chose to act, to plan, to kill others, and to kill himself. we also do need to acknowledge the nebulous but very existence and working of evil. the spiritual realm conversation will NEVER be talked about in the larger media so the church does need to address that as several of you already have.

    so, while i don’t want to take the focus away from seung’s actions and his choices, i’m going to go out and presume that in the coming weeks, we’re going to be exposed to alot of difficult, harsh, painful, and gutwrenching experiences he had endured in his life.

    the immigrant life – and one as an asian american – is a difficult journey. he was eight. his sister was older which is even more difficult. i came at 6. my brothers at 9 and 12. i would urinate in my pants in school in 1st grade because i had so much fear and anxiety in speaking in class. no friends. sadly, i was called ‘the pisser’ by some. we all know – whatever the ‘difference’ might be – how cruel kids [and adults] can sometimes be. when seung was described as a ‘loner’ and ‘isolated’ – it got too personal. words that easily described me in my younger days. you add to that the bicultural pressure and identity woes; the eastern pressure to conform, to be quiet, to be docile, to be quiet, to not cause waves, to be passive, to succeed, and on and on.

    he made a choice. that must be clearly said. but we’re going to also discover some things that, as many have already said, will force us to examine how truly committed we are to ‘the least of these.’

  14. cindy moberg says:

    I am looking for what this guys family has to say. WHERE are they? Supposedly they are now AMERICANS. Where is their apology for what their son did. I also whould like to know what the news stations are all doing placing asians to report the issues with this phyco. I believe they are trying to minimize hate for asians but they are actually making , me for one think again. How did the people from other countryies actually get into THE U S of A? My son LIVES in a different country buy choice. It took a medicial , health , financial and work clearence for him to get there. It also took his possible employer $20.000 to pay for a work permit per year that he works there. My son has now been there 6 years. The US can’t do this WHY???? Cindy

  15. Nathan says:

    This kid is an example of a growing number of lower class – middle class people who grow up around other kids who get everything bought for them, who dont have to work for much, and act like they can do whatever they want with little consequence. Where they feel like they are always left needing and not receiving while others are wanting and getting without any work. His writings, his words, are of dispair and self righteousness. A messed up childhood, possibly, but it wouldnt be the source of what happened in VT. There is a population of people who are feeling much like cho did before going off the “deep-end”. Meaning plenty of people are bitter at others for what they have and dont appreciate. Cho is an example of something that could grow into another tumor in our societies side. What he did is unexcusable and absolutly horrindus. I hope it is a wake up call to us tho. There is a very valuable lesson to be learned from this. I am sure there are many others like him who simply havnt pushed themselves to action, or havnt had the final push yet. OUr government runs it self like a business, making money and profits for those that pay them. Its time we get treated like valued employees becaus it is us that makes this country work.

  16. Andrew GP says:

    The answer is simple, stop bully! Bully means intimidate, terrorize, persecute, torment, frighten, oppress, browbeat, harass, etc. What Cho Seung Hui did was a simple human reflect, revenge. Let me translate this, vengeance, retribution, payback, settling of scores and reprisal. Let me make this clear, I do not condone, agree or tolerate his action, because I know better. And I am about to sue the NBC for stereotyping an Asian male like they did these couple days, I am not a killer or connected with Cho Seung Hui. I am serving the country that hates Asian male in this war on terror. For your information, there are and were Asians serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. There were numbers of casualties associated for this war from Asian male group. Think about it and say your thanks.

  17. JT says:

    Cindy, I’m sorry but what the f**k are you talking about? Seriously, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

    As for his parents, I’m sure they are suffering more than you can ever ever imagine.

  18. yglin says:

    pastor eugene-I too identify strongly with the young asian male immigrant experience. I came to the US when I was 8 years old without knowing how to speak a lick of English. The feeling of being a pariah and an outcast is deeply personal to me. My parents were quite worried about me during elementary and middle school because I would never talk to them and never hung out with anyone. I was definitely a loner and isolated.

    cindy-The first part of your question goes beyond the scope of this blog post and touching on race relations in the media. The second part of your question is just ludicrous. Are you suggesting that Seung Cho was already a deranged, angry, senseless young human at the age of 8 when he migrated to the US? And that a thorough screening process could have prevented something like this from happening? You’re looking under the wrong rock.

  19. daniel so says:

    Eugene — I agree with you that the larger issue at stake here is not the immediate backlash (though I have seen threats being made in various places) but the media’s ability to create the unspoken subtext for our understanding of significant events. Even if there are good intentions behind it (e.g., trying to understand what role, if any, Seung’s racial/ethnic background played in this), the media has already established — without directly stating it — that he is an outsider, a foreigner, *not* a normal American.

    Robert Siegel, from All Things Considered, did a powerful piece yesterday about Seung’s background — emphasizing that, although he was Korean by birth, he was very much a product of his American upbringing. Again, none of this minimizes or explains away what the evil he inflicted on so many families. I don’t want to sound paranoid about left- or right-wing conspiracies in the media, but we must be aware of how the media (as a whole) uses its ability to frame our understanding of events.

    I spoke to a reporter today about all of this and he was asking if there was any link between Seung’s Asian American upbringing and what happened. Talk about a loaded question. I did my best to explain that many Asian American youths do go through feelings of isolation and alienation (being part of two cultures, but not belonging to either one), but that we cannot make a direct link between that and his murderous rampage or quantify its role in his feelings. This kind of evil goes far beyond questions of ethnicity and/or racial heritage.

    Thank you for highlighting our responsibility as followers of Christ to make this a spiritual conversation. In a sense, *everything* is spiritual but this kind of atrocity makes it very clear that we need to address issues of evil, the theodicy questions. I know that many have even been asking the “What if…?” questions about whether or not there was a church community that could have reached out to Seung. I would never point the finger at any church or fellowship at that campus as having failed. Instead, I think it points to the broader need for us to reach deep into the lives of the outcast, the disaffected, the loners in our own communities — not only to prevent this kind of tragedy from occurring, but to recognize the dignity and worth of each individual life and to point the way to redemption.

  20. [...] making sense of the senseless by Eugene Cho, born in Korea, raised in San Francisco, a Christian pastor. Like everyone else – [...]

  21. Jim Peterson says:

    Eugene,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection. It is a sobering moment, and the ramifications are truly widespread. Your concerns as an Asian-American/Korean-American/Cho hit close to home for me. I am a life-long resident of Japan and yet I am American by name, ethnicity, and nationality. I constantly live in the tension of the dismay and concern with which non-Americans view U.S. foreign policy. I have no intentions of politicizing this. I just want to say that I resonate with much of what you have shared. The natural human response is to become calous and jaded. I laud your refusal to go there.
    Shalom

  22. e cho says:

    Hey folks, the key word here is ‘DIALOGUE’ – so let’s be as respectful as possible. I hate doing it but needed to remove one post already because it was a basic hateful rant. Sorry.

    Some thought and responses:

    Cindy: sorry if you feel like you’re being jumped on but honestly, I also don’t really understand youur point. It seems you’re leaning towards either a tougher immigration standard or closing the gates altogether. But I hope you got a chance to read YGLIN’s response. This is NOT an immigration issue. That’s one thing we can CLEARLY factor out. Even despite the constant focus on his resident status, we don’t need to go there anymore.

    His family will be heard from soon. But I can’t fathom that the nation is waiting for an apology for them to help them in their grieving process. Why is that necessary for you? This was a 23 year old man.

    Daniel: The spiritual element is definitely an issue. I agree that it’s not necessarily the defining issue. I guess it depends on your worldview. While we speculate on all the different reasons for this occurence, one thing we simply can’t discount is the FALLEN NATURE of humanity – and that would include me. This is not the first murder and certainly not be the last. While some may mock my [our] faith, I believe that there is substantive hope in gospel of Christ. And if we believe that, we must commit ourselves to the task of reconciliation and the life of ‘peacemaking.’

    JIM; dang. it’s so good to hear from you. your post brought a smile to my face. i instantly thought about basketball in tokyo that saturday morning. i think i’m still sore.

    while you have no intentions to politicize the event, we are going to need to address the nature of US’s foreign policy; our usage of power, authority; our stewardship; our accountability in our capitalistic system. while i’m not trying to stretch this metaphor, i wonder how it is that US is seen by so many as the BULLY of the world. how can we become more gentle, gracious, humble…in our relationship with the larger world.

    how are folks in Japan responding to this tragedy?

  23. [...] “making sense of the senseless” on Beauty and Depravity [...]

  24. peterong says:

    thank you eugene for this profound string of conversation that this has spurred…I appreciate your thorough and well thought out blog…but i find that all this talk about acknowledging the loss as “first and foremost…” is a bit disingenuous…while the blog is really an exercise of explorations of theories. I believe dialogue is important but I wonder, if this brings more clarity or confusion. I respect the need for voices…but alos the need for silence…a genuine silence…that is fused with mourning.

  25. Jane says:

    It so sad that he never new the love of Jesus and what a friend that he would of had in Jesus .. I am sad for his family but wish they would come out of hide and talk about this to the families that lost their love ones at the hands of their son and why did they see are get their son help many years ago as this didn’t just happen over night the with their son actions not talking to others .if only he would know the Lord and Jesus he life would been filled with Joy for other not hate as it was.

  26. JB says:

    Couple of thoughts in no particular order:

    No one has mentioned that we are only one year out from a similar horrific episode right here in Seattle, where Kyle Huff killed 6 people at a post-rave party, then himself. Some similarities hit me: his letter to his twin brother, amazing that it was even found, indicated he thought he was on some sort of holy mission. His loading up with arms and killing innocent kids he thought he didn’t fit in with. He didn’t have the same history of “weirdness” but he was described as increasingly isolated.

    Mental illness. I think we are driven to try to figure things like this out in some sort of effort to gain a (false) sense of security, thinking if we can just solve the riddle we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from such horror. Some think we can protect ourselves with tougher immigration laws (hmm, there’s Kyle Huff and Tim McVeigh right off the top of my head…maybe we should ban white males born in America from America…) and some (me included) look to our violent society, evil, etc. But what about plain old mental illness? I know a schizophrenic who has a brain that does not work well. He very clearly sees and hears things that aren’t there and truly believes the people at his church want to kill him, and basically is not rational. He is hyper-religious and believes he is a prophet and apostle and attempts to prove it over and over using the Bible. There are many people out there like him, and few are or can be institutionalized. Surprisingly, not that many are violent. But the question is, when you’ve got a person whose brain has entire sections turned off (visible in pet scans), do you need further explanation? I wonder if, as previous posters seem comfortable stating, a person with a brain that is so badly mis-wired really can make a choice, the way you and I do. Or at least some of them can not. Hard to tell which ones can and can’t, but when reality is distorted not by will but by biology….Well if you gave someone a car with brakes wired to the windshield wipers and with the accelerator controlled by the rear-view mirror control and told them to drive….

    But yes, I think we are a society that glorifies violence. Violence is macho. Pacifists are ridiculed. You don’t negotiate with other countries, you bomb them “back to the stone age”. Guns are just one part of it. Video games, media—hey, sex sells and so does violence.

    And the fact that the terrible, unbearable loss the loved ones of these victims are experiencing is just a drop in the bucket of suffering all around the world, e.g. a day in Baghdad, makes it all feel so hopeless.

  27. gar says:

    For those wondering about Seung-Hui Cho’s parents… according to this they’ve been hospitalized:

    http://ktla.trb.com/news/ktla-chosparents,0,4860937.story?coll=ktla-news-2

    I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of pain they’re going through; there’s plenty of grief in knowing you’ve lost a child… but to imagine knowing that your child is responsible for willfully taking of 32 innocent lives? People should cut them some slack.

    More information keeps coming out that clearly shows that Seung Cho felt isolated even before college… he was bullied in high school and middle school too, probably because of his personality and his race.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070419/ap_on_re_us/virginia_tech_shooting

    Quotes from the article:

    [Once, in English class, the teacher had the students read aloud, and when it was Cho's turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled. Finally, after the teacher threatened him with an F for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded "like he had something in his mouth," Davids said.

    "As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, `Go back to China,'" Davids said.]

    ["There were just some people who were really mean to him and they would push him down and laugh at him," Roberts said Wednesday. "He didn't speak English really well and they would really make fun of him."]

    It’s not a justification for what he did, but I think knowing more about Seung Cho’s background humanizes him. In a way, it’s consistent with the profile of other mass killers in that they themselves were also victims at one point too.

  28. jws says:

    My appriciation of the genuine responses put up for the benefit of those authentically concerned about the tradgedy that just most recently occured at varginia tech, is heavally noted in my spirit. Good looking out for our fellow Asian American brothers and sisters. Cho’s actions does’nt mean that we the poeple of this country that are still here today after this wrong doing should suddenly reconcider our love for one another or our love for our country. To look at this as it is is all we can do. Then continue our persuites of freedom as we will. To put it perfectly simple. Extraordinarilly Speaking. Thank u.

  29. Beejing says:

    Eugene, you’ve got a very interesting site here. I love its contents. I will add you to my blogroll, ok? better yet exchange links. Thanks. Hope to read more from you. Thanks again.

  30. e cho says:

    Peter: Thanks for the note; dropped by your blog to read your entry. Definitely very provoking; it’s my hope that my entry and thoughts don’t serve a self-promoting platform. I can write more but perhaps, it’s better I just end my thoughts here for now.

  31. The thing you said about wishing that the gunman was not korean/asian – how do you identify yourself (comparatively), as a korean or an american?

  32. z flynn says:

    Whenever I hear of these type of incidents (school shootings) I am never shocked nor do I ever think “oh the horror, how could anyone DO that?” Most kids, just like most adults, are frequently brutal bullies, preying particularly on those who look or talk differently; and since bullies are cowards they pick on the weak or anyone they don’t think can or will fight back, especially by banding together as a pack of bullies (often referred to as the “cool” crowd). Bullies are so entrenched in society that they become accepted as normal or even “a healthy part of growing up”. Are people really amazed when one of the millions of bullied kids is so badly scarred they actually snap one day, perhaps as in this case as a young adult? Or is this just another form of them bullsh+tting themselves? Pretending they’re these “wonderful” people whose bullying or passive acceptance of bullying is normal, even funny and that the kid who snapped is some deranged individual whose illness is completely unrelated to the crimes the “cool” crowd commit but never admit, especially to themselves? It’s a shame if anyone innocent dies in these situations but are all of them lilly white innocents? I doubt very much those like Cho and the Columbine kids would become so violently unhinged if they lived around people who really were mostly kind and not just mouthing all the “right words” at the “right times” (church, moments like these), only pretending to be good people. If most people were really good then bullying would not be as commonly rampant as it is everywhere in the good ol’ USA. But alas, the not so good masses continue to bullsh+t themselves so much they’re actually shocked when one of the countless bullied victims finally snaps and violently dishes out what he feels he’s taken all his life.

  33. e2mentoring says:

    I can’t help but notice that some of the comments made by certain White Americans, like cindy moberg for instance shows very clearly their fear of the yellow “peril”. But it is certainly ok for them to go other people’s countries and make a nuisance of themselves.

    I really find it amusing that some of them simply cannot grasp the idea that one could be both Asian *and* American.

  34. Peter Ahn says:

    Eugene,

    Thanks again for helping people understand the mindset of Korean Americans as we mourn the death of all the innocent lives at Virgina Tech, but also as we feel utter shame that the Killer was Korean-American. Your authenticity continues to be your greatest platform for ministry!

  35. z flynn says:

    Blaming Koreans or Korean-Americans in general for this isolated act of a mentally ill individual makes about as much sense as blaming all white people for Timothy McVeigh. Of course it’s moronic nonsense, but then again that’s a fairly high level for those who will do this kind of generalization. These people are just looking for any vague excuse to launch into a sadistic rage using whatever scapegoat that is convenient. This is the most common rationalization the common person uses for being a brutish bully. Ironically, it’s these mean spirited dimwitted masses of bullies who, in reality, are the most responsible for pushing deranged individuals over the line with their constant racist and other cretinous barrages, that are unfortunately supported in the media as possibly legitimate or anything else other than the illogical mentally ill brutalities of the obtuse. Oh well, it’s another excuse for those who like to to practice their favorite sport, sadistic scapegoating. Again, as I stated before, if you didn’t have these kind of generalized witch hunts by the general public, there probably would be no explosive incidents such as the one Mr. Cho felt compelled to engage in. He was actually a whole lot more right than the vast majority will ever admit when he said to the public in general “the blood is on your hands now and you can’t wash it off”. As long as we have bullying, sadism, racism and indifference to suffering of others so deeply entrenched in the average person we will continue to have “shocking” events such as these that, I for one, am quite impressed we don’t actually see with a much greater frequency. I salute all the millions of bullied persons in America, including those who are Korean-American who don’t feel the only way out is in a blaze of suicidal glory.

  36. m@ says:

    e2,

    As a white American, I have to scratch my head a little bit at your comment — are you suggesting that white Americans — and only white Americans — feel they have a sense of entitlement when visiting other countries?

    Trust me, I’ve encountered scores of Americans while living/working overseas, and in many cases their perception of what they deserve is not limited by skin color.

  37. e cho says:

    incorrigible: you wrote,
    “The thing you said about wishing that the gunman was not korean/asian – how do you identify yourself (comparatively), as a korean or an american?”

    i guess that’s the point of my entry here; to [attempt to] express my pain over the national tragedy but to also seek to shed some light on the korean-american/asian american worldview.

    i am a us citizen. all my kids were born here. i was born in korea. i speak both languages. i am korean. i am american. i am korean-american. i am bicultural and as such, i can’t answer that question with either/or. i identify myself as a ‘korean-american’ that grieves over not 1, not 32, but over 33. i grieve over the one not because i justify what he has done. i have a level of pain for him. but i grieve over the 1 because i know how easy it can be for korean-americans to feel pain, guilt, and shame over the actions of 1.

    hope this makes sense.

  38. [...] thoughtful links: an article from new american media a firestorm of a dialogue [...]

  39. Jumbobody says:

    Reading your last comment, I feel like I’m looking into a mirror for my thoughts. It makes perfect sense. As a pastor, I wonder how many parishioners I have been around who are going through the same sorts of pain that Seung Cho went through. Like most KA’s, when we found out the shooter was a KA we had hunches that he was picked on and made fun of b/c he was different. According to ABC News, we were right. Like most KA parents, I wonder if someone is ministering to the Cho family during this time. Leading a memorial service here, I found myself praying for the Cho family as much as for the victims and their families. Thanks for your thoughts, they certainly reflected a lot of what I was thinking through.

  40. tunde says:

    Quite profund is your comment. Actually the cho episode is a clarion call for the preachers of the gospel to make as an urgent priority the issue of seeking and saving the lost, depressed and opressed. It is surely an indication of the endtime issue.

  41. chris.towers says:

    I find that some of you are contradicting yourselves. While you ask folks to not associate his race to Cho’s action, you still ask for compassion for his cultural pressures. Aren’t you then implicating him because of his Koreanness? Sounds hypocritical.

  42. Tracy says:

    I hate to be the black sheep (in more ways than one)…but what about the responsibilities of the christian students I knew this young man was in contact with because he mentioned his christian faith failed him etc etc. As a believer and an old lady who graduated from college many many years ago, I remember people like Seung Cho and other fellow college mates would label weird but I made it a point as a Believer to pray for the “weird” the “loner” the “strange”….and love. Just think of how many lives mere Christians saved by just simply praying for the “weird” and showing grace or giving the loner a smile… Lets not stop doing our job as Believers because people are different or strange. WE are called to a higher standard.

    My hearts goes out to all the vicitms and families that are messed up over this, and I am hurting with you and for you.

    Remember this scripture as well: “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” (Luke 10:29)

  43. jeff says:

    chris — here’s my take.

    although cho (apparently) lived out a common asian american immigrant experience, i don’t want cho’s actions to be interpreted as representative of a larger asian american pathology of violence (quiet asian kids are not all ticking time bombs). this is NOT a call to deracialize his identity — he is his experiences, and those cannot be removed from him. but here’s the point: cho’s actions are not indicitive of a larger national pathology of violence. his korean identity/ experience does not lead him to become a killer. there is no cause-and-effect relationship.

    a reflection on his struggle as an asian american, as i understand it, is more for the purpose of empathy rather than a call for pity/compassion (i’m speaking on my own behalf, here). clearly, practically all americans — asian or not — are very upset about what he did, so any call for compassion, imho, has nothing to do with his asianness. it has everything to do with a shared sense of isolation. there is a part of his story of rejection/loneliness/depression that many can relate to on some level or another, but this in no way is a call to blithely embrace his decision to kill. those feeligns are part of the human experience, however painful they may be, but i think everyone can agree that his reaction was cowardly, assuming he made this decision when he was “of right mind.”

    and lastly, here’s why i don’t think there’s hypocrisy in this approach: we do not implicate him for his koreanness, because we are not suggesting that his korean experience lead him to kill. hope this was clear.

  44. leah says:

    pe: thanks for sharing, and for posting such a thoughtful post about all that has gone on. as a white person, i feel compelled to apologize for cindy’s comments and the comments of all whites who have responded like her. i have the privilege of having white skin in this society, and also the priviliege of knowing that people will not associate me immediately with ‘cindy': i can take for granted that i will be seen as an individual. and yet this week, i have seen reinforced once again in the comments and responses of the media, and of attitudes towards koreans (and toward other asians by fantastically ignorant people), that this privilege does not extend to those who do not look white. i have been reminded again this week that we live in a culture where ‘whiteness’ is considered normative, and any Americans who are not white are still seen as ‘other’. on a side note, turning this into an immigration issue is complete nonsense. i would encourage white people, myself included, to speak against prejudice, ignorance, and racist backlash that has occurred in the aftermath of this event. silence is complicity.

    jeff, i appreciate your post as well, and hope that people will see his isolation, the mental illness and anguish he suffered as the root causes to this tragedy. how do we mourn for the situation he went through, the isolation? how are we as Christians called to reach out before things like this occur, as Tracy stated? how do we create an alternative to the violence glorified in our culture? and how do we respond, to ALL 33 families, cho’s family included? how do we pray at times like these? i’m still struggling…

    leah

  45. e cho says:

    hey folks: thanks for the great dialogue. at the risk of being insensitive to those whose lives are forever impacted, this conversation has been very helpful – to more deeply mourn for the 32, to process the actions of seung cho, and to wrestle with our response as human beings and/or christians.

    JB | i have to confess how inadequately prepared i am regarding mental health. it’s something that we, generally {especially the church} just simply don’t want to talk about. it’s a few years late but you’ll be hearing more about an anonymous group for folks to learn about mental health and folks to share their own struggles. we [and i] also need to be better equipped and that’s a long post.

    TRACY | thanks for stopping in. you touched on an issue that i believe needs to be one of the conversations we need to be having – long after this is no longer ‘hot news’ in the media. while people are politicking about gun control (a good conversation), we need to also be talking about community; what it means to be a neighbor; isolation; kindness; and what it means for us to be interwoven together as people and that’s including the ‘others.’

  46. Ken Wagner says:

    Eugene,
    Perhaps being a white, male, baby boomer who had the privilege of working in cross-cultural ministry for seven years, some of my first thoughts have been of possible racial backlash, and fallout for you, being a public figure in the Korean-American community with the last name of Cho. After reading your thoughtful reflections, I’m reminded of Joseph’s words about his brothers intending to harm him, but God meaning it for good. I know that God can redeem all things, and I think these reflections are part of that process of redemption. If it helps people who are not people of color reflect on how the larger culture failed this person, while at the same time mourning with those who are mourning, then some good will come of it.
    That’s my hope, as I continue to pray for you and your church.

    Ken

  47. Meghan says:

    Eugene and others…

    Thank you for at least addressing the issue of mental health and severe mental illness particularly as it relates to this tragedy. I believe this is an area in need of much dialogue in the Christian community particularly. As a Christian and a counselor, I have been wanting to engage a conversation regarding the ways we can connect with ourselves and others in a more integrated and holistic way…i.e. emotional/spiritual/physical health. I look forward to that discussion.

  48. e cho says:

    ken: thanks for the note. i don’t fear any racial backlash for myself. i did have concerns for my children because of what they may hear from other students in their elementary school. so, i had to have this difficult conversation with them w/o going into too much details.

    while my initial response was for self-preservation, i want to particpate in the healing and conversations that must take place for the hope and redemption of Christ to reign – even in such a tragedy.

  49. JR says:

    Pastor Eugene,
    Your sermon today was incredible and inspiring. Thanks for sharing your raw emotions and for inviting us to throw our buckets of water in the raging fires. Love wins!

  50. RK says:

    Eugene,

    Thank you for offering an intelligent, thoughtful post. You bring up the issue of community, or really the lack of it. As humans, I believe our deepest need stems from a need to be known, understood, accepted…to be loved as well as to know, understand, accept and to love. In isolation, a person is in a form of hell, total separation from others and God. I imagine that it would be easier to de-humanize others in this state of mind.

    I think of people like Cho Seung-Hui, Andrea Yeats, and others who isolated themselves. The common factor in many of these tragedies was depression and isolation. I read an interesting study profiling school shooters. Race is a non factor. All in the study suffered depression; the majority underwent a sense of great loss or failure. Given these facts, as a society, I wonder how we can begin to address prevention.

    It is easy for us to label SH a monster, but I think it would be more honest to see within each of us forms of hate, jealousy and unforgiveness. How do we encourage one another away from these tendencies, toward love, understanding and forgiveness?

    While I am hesitant to say the following, I do think that it is an important issue. As a parent of, and 1.5 generation KA, I do think we need to address the tremendous pressure put upon children to succeed. Seung-Hui was just a month away from graduation. I think his sense of success or failure at the time of the tragedy could have played an important role. I read a Washington Post article which revealed that SH’s father never spoke of much, except when boosting about his daughter who graduated from Princeton. To attend VTech as an English major vs. engineer or other tech major, I imagine, could have been considered shameful from a 1.5 gen. KA perspective. Not everyone can be top of their class or the world’s best musician, but in many K parent’s hearts this is what we hope for…and perhaps, expect.

    This pressure is especially true for someone like SH, whose parents are poor, working 6 long days a week at a Dry Cleaner. I don’t think this is a KA issue, but rather an American phenomenom. Many American families today are dual-working households. In this way they, too are trying to give their children the “American Dream”, which often is about material and positional advantage. In doing so, many families sacrifice spending quality time together, while emphasizing the importance of success, be it soccer games, grades, musical instruments, etc. We, as parents, often communicate that a person derives value from these successes, that one is worth as much as one reaches these goals. How do we move away from this value system, to one that says spending time with, knowing and understanding one another, building strong friendships and in this way seeking a quality of life is more important than “winning”, affording a better house, a better car and so forth?

    SH seemed to have been driven to an unthinkable act through a sense of failure at home, with peers (society at large), and a sense of lost faith.

    How do we come to value one another based upon the awesome knowledge that God made us and saw that what he made was “good”?

  51. malai says:

    hello,

    i totally get everyword you wrote here and i am sorry that you are getting daft and patronizing comments from people who feel they have to defend whiteness and Americanness when they are exposed to the fact that their society is extremely racist.

    that said, I am a Muslim American and I totally get the knot in the stomach at this reporting.

    I have also had my nostrils flaring away as I watched TV call Seung Cho Cho Seung-Hui, refer to him as a foreign alien, and call him an English student as if he were an ESL student learning English, all underscoring his Otherness as a Korean and erasing his American childhood and Korean American upbringing. I am just sick, sick sick!

    Thanks so much for writing this…gomapsumnida!

    peace

  52. Jong Hee Cho says:

    As a Korean living in America, I couldn’t agree more with you, even though I have lived in US just for four years. Thank you for the wonderful post. I wish I could attend your church…. (I’m living in Ohio now)

    Jong Hee

  53. [...] have been appreciating the words of Eugene Cho, a Korean American courageously speaking out in the midst of the recent tragedy at Virginia [...]

  54. Jacob says:

    Eugene – thanks for your courage and wisdom to speak in a time like this. I also appreciated what you had to say at jesuscreed.com too. Grace and peace from one followers to another. JB. Where in Seattle do you make your home?

  55. Tricia says:

    I came to USA from Japan when I was a teenager, but used to hang around with 1.5 generation Chinese immigrants who came here as children lik Cho. and I am still mourning over this incident. I am also puzzled, why no one from his church group was able to extend any help to him as a teenager.(He was attending a Christian youth group at one point in his life) Or was he already that uncommunicative that no one could help him? I learnt recently that he had speech impairment. I am just so sad that this gifted young man who could have contributed to the society caused this tragedy.

  56. e cho says:

    RK et al,
    thanks for all the incredible and thought contributions. RK, i was particularly taken back by your thoughts – especially as a parent. i agree with you that amongst several very important issues, the topic of loneliness and isolation needs to be pursued. it’s my conviction that ‘loneliness’ is one of the my significant maladies of our world…

  57. mike says:

    Eugene

    Thanks for your heartfelt insight into this matter. It speaks. I’m in prayer for the Korean community here in Seattle and the US.

    Mike

  58. [...] Making Sense of Virginia Tech [Emotionally painful and raw; Traffic to this entry the day after the shootings went crazy.] [...]

  59. [...] Much of this editorial comes from some initial thoughts shared in a blog entry entitled, ‘Making Sense of the Senseless.’ Like everyone else — here (Seattle), there (Virginia), West (United States), East (Korea) and [...]

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One Day’s Wages

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My features over at @miir are hosting a book.giveaway + their world.class  tumblers. "Hot off the press! Eugene Cho, founder of @onedayswages, has a new book titled Overrated that will challenge you to actually change the world. We've got two signed copies to give away. Like this post AND tag a friend for your chance to win both copies and #MiiR tumblers." Good morning from Seattle!

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