Below is the transcript of a small talk I gave on 1/18/2017.
Hi there, I hope everyone had a restful winter break as we enter a new semester here at Berkeley. I wanted to talk a little bit about why I’m a Christian. As Ryan said, it really doesn’t make much sense to be a Christian at UC Berkeley or at any society built on intense competition and rankings that naturally constrain us to fight for more societal worth.
It’s hard to love your neighbors as yourself when your curved grade depends on how bad your classmates perform. It’s hard to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind when your mind is already full with two midterms and an essay due tomorrow.
Life, as it is known in society, is largely driven by a dominantly conditional logic, that is: If I get that — whatever that is — then I will be happy. If I get that grade, if I get that job, if only I could be like that person, then I will be of more value, then I will be more thankful, then I will finally be content with myself.
This is the narrative that drives pretty much everyone. The unfortunate thing is that it’s not actually true.
It’s the single greatest lie that society has instilled in me — a lifestyle fundamentally painful, incessantly dissatisfying, and freakishly asymptotic — all when God’s love and grace allow us to live into a completely different logic. A logic in which giving is receiving, love is unconditional, and your power, your possessions, your position are not glorified.
And by all means, I want to encourage everyone to set goals and work hard towards them, but what Christianity has taught me is that all this hard work and all that we produce is completely independent of our inherent worth. Oftentimes we directly correlate our achievements and our worth because quite frankly, it’s easy. It seems natural. It’s how society trained us to think! Patting you on the back when you do something well. Passionately praising your success then immediately condemning your next mistake. Great job: you deserve my utmost admiration; bad job: you don't seem so useful anymore.
Again, unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy narrative, nor is it true.
But refusing this type of lifestyle is difficult. If it were easy, everyone would already be living into this logic. I myself am no expert. I am challenged many times everyday to not submit to how society tells me to think — especially at a hyper-competitive place like Cal!
Every day I have to resist living into this conditional logic, which makes me susceptible to placing myself in an endless spectrum of ranked satisfactions. That is, there always exists a better version of myself that I'd be happier with and a worse version I'd be dissatisfied with. Thankfully, in Christianity, it doesn’t make sense to determine our personal worth in this fickle way.
I started living more and more into the alternative logic that Christianity uniquely offers after a particular experience in August 2015. I still remember, in this exact room, Ryan asked us to write down five things about ourselves on a sticky note. Things that establish my identity. He then asked, if those descriptions that define who I am are ripped apart from me, i.e. if I’m not a Berkeley student, if I don’t look or talk this way, if my name is not Julian — then who am I? What stays constant regardless of what I do?
For me, what stays true regardless of where I am or what I am doing, is that I am a dearly loved child of God. That my identity is under God’s name, not under any title society gives me, and not being defined by how many prizes I win along the way. I realized through Christianity that God gifted me with a radically unconventional way of life, freeing myself from meaningless competition. That’s why I chose, and continue to choose, to be a Christian at Berkeley. Because in Christianity I find freedom.