Eugene Cho

who am i?

As much as I want to believe life is simple, clear, and compartmentalized…it’s far from it. There are moments of simplicity but those moments are rare.

As a result, I sometimes wonder to myself:

Who am I?

In turning 40 this past year, I certainly feel more at peace with my identity but in the face of the complexities of the world around me; complexities of so many issues and situations…I sometimes feel a contradiction and tension. Things, thoughts, forces, emotions…all pulling me in different directions. As a result, I wonder…

Who am I in the face of such complexities?

Recently, I’ve been pondering and reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer – again. His stuff is too good not to read – again and again.  As some may be aware, he was a Lutheran pastor and a pacifist faced with the dilemma of Hitler and the Nazi regime:

Bonhoeffer became part of a group of two thousand pastors who formed the Pastors Emergency League. They opposed the state approved Nazi church. When pressure from the government increased, this group changed into the illegal Confessing Church. The Confessing Church believed that Christians should follow God first, not the nation or Hitler. Bonhoeffer served as the head of the Confessing Church’s illegal school.

Bonhoeffer was a pacifist. A pacifist does not believe that violence is ever the solution to problems. But as Bonhoeffer heard stories of Jewish people being killed, his ideas changed. He decided that pacifism was a good theory, but to not act was to act. If he, and others, did not act, they were letting Hitler succeed. If he did nothing to fight the evil he saw, he was supporting the evil. He said this:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us innocent. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Bonhoeffer eventually had the chance to leave Germany but eventually decided to return in an effort to re-build his country. After much wrestling, Bonhoeffer joined a group trying to kill Hitler. Their attempt failed and he was sent to prison where he wrote some of his books [of which couple are on my list of must reads for Christians].

But I wonder about what he must have felt and experienced:

  • tension
  • anxiety
  • conundrum
  • conflict
  • wrestling
  • conviction
  • desolation
  • discouragement
  • [                       ]

You feelin’ me?

Maybe it’s not supposed to feel right. Well, maybe I should just led Bonhoeffer speak  for himself. Read his poem entitled, Who Am I? This was also written during his imprisonment

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do you get confused sometimes?

What do you think?

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15 Responses

  1. DD says:

    Bonhoeffer got right the internal struggle that we all can experience if we really allow ourselves to feel and imagine. He embraced the tension rather than fleeing to the land of numb and feeling “Just fine.” This is one of a handful of poems I memorized several years ago. I find myself reciting it while I walk or drive sit in my office praying. Like Bonhoeffer, we feel the tensions in life. They never go away. We wonder if someone is going to “find out” what we’re really like. Do we dare tell our parishioners, our fellow pastors, the truth about who we are, or at least the truth of how we feel? I get to the last part of the poem and I open up my arms in a physical gesture to let God in. And I say, “Oh God, whoever I am, thou knowest, I am yours.” … And sometimes, very sweetly, God responds by answering with, “I Know. You’re tensions don’t bother me. You remain my son. I love you. I am proud of you.” With that, I let out a big breath, steal myself and press on with my day.

  2. Original Grand Torino says:

    I get internet stalked, discussion of age is involved but those who stalk act in anonymity. The stalking has stolen jobs, the stalking has prevented children being born, has been against the wellbeing of my family and has separated a family. I do not suspect the loving Hmong of St. Paul to be behind this stalking but those in my home state far away. The stalkers are of the worst possible kind. I think important is not discussion of age but if the stalkers are not the great Hmong of St. Paul, they are those of my homestate, more important would be to talk of suing these criminals and anywhere these criminals have acted against life, against work. Here we are talking about social injustice. I would consider with all respect, that this is another example of internet stalking because now in real life, it is reported to the police. Stalkers can only stalk now on the internet and other limited forms, somehow they see the ISP where someone goes and then one sees a posting like this. The stalkers acts should see institutions where workers aid the stalking to be sued for millions of dollars. All should be for the Hmong if this is the case, who treat me well. I play soccer, the Cambodians treat me well, NOT those who stalk which has been the Church, my homestate too since I can not read minds, the act of stalking from these menaces can not even be described in words appropriate for these forums but I would say, those who disrespect one’s position in the world should pay for their crimes under the legal system of this country and then, we would all say, they are not to be respected, they are criminals, they are the worst of the worse. They are not loving caring people like the Hmong. This is nothing only, with all due respect, another stalking post and I do not fault Mr. Cho. The truth is the Hmong can treat me how they want but I suspect this is not from them but from criminals and that is a kind word to use. I do believe this to be another case of internet stalking and again, one’s privacy is violated, one’s wellbeing is violated. Let us name the stalkers!! And I know, they will not have Hmong names, they will not have even Asian names but they will be the name of criminals whose acts of daily emotionally violence against life needs to be taken to the police as these criminals like to provoke trouble and then call and scare people with the police. .

    Okay, now the Christian thing to do, I have been stalked here, NOW, let us name these criminal fiends who should be imprisoned and sued for wages they steal of people.

    • Original Grand Torino says:

      I also wish us to remember as we go through for the millionth time, the demeaning act of stalking that has occurred that at least with my home state, we are talking about people who have used the most base forms of bigotry against a person, so envision the most racist or other bigotted terms imaginable and now, with the stalkers who are unnamed, this is part of the scenario and not just talk of age: as this now does. The truth of the stalkers is that words to describe them is not appropriate to say here as well as the words of bigotry they have used against me. Again, where the tender caring of the Hmong is involved; the stalkers who surely are not the sweet Hmong do not deserve one second of time but to be prosecuted criminally and to the full force of the law and for thousands of crimes.

      • Ben@TIC says:

        @OGT
        I love this stream of consciousness writing. On a serious note, you should register for my composition class. It meets Tuesdays and Thursdays. We will cover subject-verb agreement and sundry other basic forms of writing.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      what are you talking about?

  3. Marsha says:

    Bonhoeffer died April 1945.
    Just sent to correct a post that meant a lot to me, well said and I could certainly identify with it. Who am I? Thank you Lord for know me so well whether the world or I myself do or not.

    • Marsha says:

      (My own corrections-the reason I don’t usually reply!) Last sentence should read–Thank you Lord for knowing me so well, whether either I or the world knows who I am.

    • Sonja Lowe says:

      I agree, Pastor Eugene. VERY well said. As I am reading and pondering Bonhoeffer I’m most encouraged by the fact that his monumental testiment to faithfulness consists in simple “daily obedience”. One of Bonhoeffer’s sermon’s says:
      “So it is with faith too. Either we recieve it anew everyday or it decays. One day is long enough to keep the faith. Every morning brings anew struggle to push through all the unbelief…Every morning of your lives will begin with the same prayer: I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief.”
      I’m daunted sometimes when I study the “heroes of faith”. But Bonhoeffer reminds me that the great lives consisted in daily decisions. Just like mine…”and one day is long enough to keep the faith.”

  4. Sejin says:

    If Bonhoeffer successfully killed Hitler, is it something he would’ve repented for thereafter?

    I guess my real question is if Bonhoeffer was a godly man, why would he premeditate killing? Even if it is Hitler?

    • Andy M says:

      I’m a pacifist, but I imagine that if I were in Germany during WWII that I would have been conflicted in the same way as Bonhoeffer. When faced with such evil, it would be difficult to not support the assassination of the head of the Nazi government. It isn’t that it makes it right, but if anything it is maybe the choice between two evils. Let Hitler live and he massacres millions more people, or kill him and possibly save millions of people.

      It was a truly desperate situation that I think would challenge the resolve of even the most passionate pacifist.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      sejin:

      that, my friend, is the tension.

      i have asked myself many times, “what would i do?” and honestly, i go back and forth with my answer.

      fwiw, bonhoeffer made his decision and he shared his unease with his own decision.

  5. jchenwa says:

    I get confused sometimes, but who I am never changes. There is an ‘I’ that is unshakable and incorruptible – the True I, really the only I. Bonhoeffer was the real deal. Although he joined the group, he never pulled a trigger thus not trespassing the 7th commandment.

  6. Original Grand Torino says:

    I know who I am, a ‘jerk’, so this was posted also a few days ago so embarassingly, I didn’t find Eugene asking what I was talking about persuasive. But Bless everyone..

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People often ask, "How does one stand all that rain in Seattle?" Actually, it doesn't rain that much. I like the rain. Keeps everything "evergreen" and clean. Keeps our air fresh. What's challenging is the gray weather. Give me a few more sunny days. 99 more days to be specific. 
Regardless, still love this city. Checking out Canada in case I need to move up North after the presidential election. Just saying, eh.

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She was a devoted wife until she lost her husband to cancer, mother to three daughters, and later became a pastor. She became a follower of Christ as an adult and as such, led her her family to Christ. In her late 50s, she obeyed God's calling to go to seminary and be a leader in the church. She graduated #1 in her class and reminded us that it's never too late to follow a new dream or calling.

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Someday, I hope that when my kids speak of Minhee and I...above all, they would say with integrity that their parents prayed for them and kept pointing them to Christ. On this Mother's Day, I want to take a few words to honor mother.

There’s a moment from a few years ago that will stick with me until the day I die. It’s regarding Sung Wha, my mother.

Minhee and I were at a point of transition, between working at an ethnic Korean church in the northern suburbs of Seattle called Lynnwood and launching Quest in urban Seattle. As I shared earlier, I was in desperate need of a job. I had a mortgage to pay. A pregnant wife. A kid at home. 
Then, praise God, after months without work, I finally landed a job.

My mom was in between jobs at this point in her life. She was in her late fifties, but she had such bad knees and degenerative hips that it was, and is, difficult for her to walk. My mom is like a human barometer—when a storm is coming and when it rains, her hips throb. Although my parents lived in San Francisco, she was visiting us in Seattle to encourage us in this difficult season.

As I prepared to go to work one early morning, I walked downstairs to put on my jacket and shoes, and forgot that my mother woke up early every morning to pray. In fact, she had been praying for months that I would find a job. “Eugene, where are you going?” she said when she saw me.

I hadn’t told my mother the news that I had just recently been hired for the janitorial gig at Barnes and Noble. I chose not to because I thought she and my father would be devastated. I didn’t want them to think that after laboring, sacrificing, and doing so much for us over all those years that their son had failed them.

But I couldn’t lie to her, so eventually I told my mom that I got a job and was going to work. “Great! What job? What are you doing?” “Um, I’m working at Barnes and Noble as their custodian,” I said finally.

Without asking another question, my mother got up from the dining table where she had been reading her Bible and praying. She slowly walked slowly toward me.

She approached me, then walked past me without saying a word, and I realized she was headed toward the closet. She opened the closet door, put on her jacket, turned around and said to me (in Korean), “Eugene, let’s go together. I will help you.” This is my mother.

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