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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As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer.

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