Several times in recent days I have thought about posting this or that thing on my blog in response to issues. Well it should be obvious that I have found reasons not to post. I think it is time though to wade back into the world of public discourse for two main reasons.
Firstly, it is a discipline of stewardship for me. The discipline of writing forces me to engage more fully with the intersection of issues of culture & faith, and sharpens my thinking in the process. It is also a way of being responsible with the use of the intellectual gifts God has entrusted to me. By sharing my thoughts in a public way, there is the possibility at least of interaction, of critique, of response that hopefully sharpens, refines, and humbles me.
This leads to the second reason for re-engaging, which is one that feels a bit presumptuous to articulate. That is, I think I may have something worthwhile to contribute. I don’t harbor any illusions or pretentions that my small blog will draw any audience or set the internet ablaze. Nor do I imagine that the thing I share will really be that significant or impactful to anyone. Yet still, I believe at this point in life and ministry, I have developed some insights that could be useful for people to hear.
It is interesting that the second reason is more challenging than the first, especially given my chosen response to the Divine vocation of minister of the gospel. For the last 20 years the declaration of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ — a task I’ve endeavoured to be faithful to, though I have failed at many times — has been my calling. Yet to write my thoughts and share them in a public way feels differently (though I have actively blogged before).
This brings me to the reason why it has been hard for me to re-engage. As I have read, and continue to read, studied theology, reflected more on scripture and life, begun married life and the task of child-rearing and, perhaps most critically, moved outside the US context, my views on a number of issues have shifted, in some cases, significantly. If I am honest though, I don’t know how much my views have shifted as much as they have been increasingly clarified and I feel less reluctant to share them than previously.
In any event, my wife suggested that I should indeed re-engage. My blog was one of the tools she used to ‘vet’ me during our long-distance courtship prior to our marriage and though I don’t believe in submitting to my wife, I am choosing to re-engage
I am not Asian-American. So when I read the Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church I did not immediately rush to sign the letter. It seemed to me impertinent to do so, not to mention presumptuous. How can I sign a letter written from a community of which I am not a part, regardless of how strongly I feel myself to be in agreement with the sentiments expressed therein?
As I reflected further however, I thought of my children. Well, my children are very brown — they look more ‘Black’ than ‘Asian’, but they are as fully Asian as they are Black and who are Asian-American, who understand Mandarin Chinese almost as well as English, whose kitchen pantry is filled with ‘exotic’ foods and spices used to make the yummy food that will always smell like ‘home’ to them, who, when they grow up, may be asked, depending on the setting, ‘where are you from?’, or ‘what are you?’. Because of how they look, they may miss some of the more egregiously negative experiences of being Asian-American, but that doesn’t change their heart.
I thought of my ministry. The Christian fellowship I planted for Asian-Americans, the Bible study group I led for Korean graduate students, the 2nd generation English Ministry congregation I served for more the 5 years as the pulpit supply pastor and interim youth director, the Asian-American fellowship I served for several years. I thought of their struggles and their triumphs, their fears and longings.
I thought of my Korean-American friend, the godfather of my eldest son, who feels equally at home pigging out at a soul food restaurant as at a Korean barbeque.
I thought of my wife, who really does have an answer to satisfy the curious who ask, ‘where are you from’ since she wasn’t born in the US and has lived a lot of her adult life outside of it, but who still deals with the assumptions and stereotypes that go along with her sex and ethnicity.
I thought of my colleague Kathy Khang who always seems to be in the thick of these things; pushing, advocating, pointing out — sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently, but always with a desire to see the whole body of Christ do more and be better. I thought of many other friends, family members, colleagues.
And then I thought again about my sons. My beautiful, biracial, bi (multi?) cultural sons. Of course, it is not just about them. But the connection to family brings the abstraction of the pain and frustration and futility that so many others talk about into concrete form. That my sons will have challenges sorting out their racial / ethnic / cultural identity I have no doubt. After all their father is a Black American from the southern US, their mother is a 1.5 generation Chinese-American with Malay roots, and they are currently growing up in West Africa. Of course they will have challenges. But for their sake, and for the sake of the integrity of Christ’s witness in the world through his church, I pray these challenges and burdens will not be added to by those same brothers and sisters in the church.
It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space and don’t know how many people would even read this. This is actually an odd post to start a resumption of my blog
I must admit that this post is a response to a write up I read by Hugh Halter in Outreach Magazine. Now admittedly, I don’t know the man and don’t regularly read anything he writes, so I’m not qualified to make any broad assertion about what he thinks and how he interacts theologically with the issues he raises in his post. With that disclaimer in mind, I found myself responding a bit negatively to what he says. but since I was inspired I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.
He says a couple of things to which I agree wholeheartedly:
In other words, worship on Sunday is only going to be as deep as our worship the rest of the week.
I agree with this. Worship is intended to be a whole life response to God, not just a weekly musical concert with a lot of emotional content. However, he then continues to assert:
Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us.
Whoa! That’s where my caution meter kicked in. Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us?
This is, in my opinion, quite an erroneous statement and a misapplication of the biblical admonition to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbour as yourself, which he cites as support for his assertion.
The average church spends well over 75 percent of their time and financial resources keeping the “house of worship” open for business. How can minimize the consumer tendency, justify the expenses or at least find a balance that brings glory to God?
He then goes on to make some quite interesting suggestions geared towards minimizing the consumerism that threatens to creep into the life of the church — something that I believe NEEDS to be combated fiercely.
My problem though is at another level, and again, I’m not attacking the man, his motives, nor really even his good intentions towards the reform of the church.
My issue is that worship is inherently wasteful.
Significant sections of the entire book of Leviticus and Numbers are given over to description of elaborate ceremonies, costly garments, excessively expensive structures that God commanded to be constructed for the sake of his worship. A huge waste of materials, time and resources.
All of Israel was required to pay tax (tithe) to support a whole tribe of people whose sole job was maintenance of the worship apparatus. These people literally did nothing but conduct religious services. How wasteful (and unfair!).
Sacrificial ceremonies required people to travel quite some distance to offer the first and best of their produce and flocks as worship to God. In a subsistence agricultural context, this is very costly — indeed wasteful.
Israelite boys were required to be cut in their most vulnerable parts a mere eight days after birth without anesthetic, without antibiotics and in a context where infant death was very common. Also a wasteful act.
Of course these are all Old Testament references, which does not of course invalidate them though many Christian effectively behave as if it does. Rather we ought to look at the Old through the lens of Christ.
In this light, Mr. Halter’s words seem stunningly familiar. There was another disciple who decried wasteful indulgence of worship while insisting that the money would be better spent on the poor, or in Halter’s words:
put the same amount of money into serving the poor, equipping people to go out in missional communities or simply giving the money away to smaller church plants that can’t even afford to buy a portable Bose sound system.
Of course Judas was a thief and betrayed Jesus. I’m not suggesting that Halter is either a thief or a betrayer. I am merely observing that their suggestions are virtually the same.
Christians shouldn’t be wasteful and extravagant and wasteful in a consumerist fashion, spending only on themselves and their entertainment, and it is far too easy for the apparatus of worship to become that. Agreed. The larger point though is that everything concerning worship can be considered wasteful or extravagant.
By a drum set? Wasteful.
Pay the musician? Wasteful.
Have a carpeted sanctuary? Wasteful.
It is all waste — depending on your point of view, the money can always be spent on something more ‘worthy’.
God save us from a Judas spirit.
(Cathedral picture from: http://worshipvj.com/church-architecture-worship/)
It is difficult to believe that tonight is my last night sleeping in the United States for at least a little while. The long ago dream of a long since matured boy is coming to fruition: I’m going to live and study overseas. It is something I’ve always wanted to do but time and circumstance and the vagaries of life never permitted me to go until now.
So here I am…
the bags are all packed, the visas in hand. Everything is as settled as it can be. And tomorrow morning I board a plane for which I bought a one way ticket — to Accra Ghana.
Am I excited? Scared? Bored? Apprehensive?
Truthfully I am all of these and none of them. I simply AM moving to Ghana and uncertain about what life will mean for me there. I’m sure I will change; in fact I hope that I change. I’m sure that I will struggle. I’m sure that life will throw us curveballs and fastballs and the occasional slow pitch — and I’m not even a fan of baseball, who Lord knows what I’ll do with those.
But I’m on my way by the grace of God, to learn and to serve.
I take this journey in honor of my dear departed mother, who long ago launched me into the world and who always believed in me.
I take this journey in honor of my father, who is proud of me and who has traveled vicariously through me and who is now going through me to live, study, and serve in Ghana even if his feet never leave the ground.
I take this journey in honor of my grandmothers — one of whom has slipped away and the other of whom’s mind is slipping, neither of whom could have even imagined it possible.
And I thank God for the love of my life, Pauline, who walks on bridges with me, and makes me not afraid.
Originally posted on InterVarsity at Vanderbilt:
First, we believe that requiring our leaders to affirm the beliefs of the faith community they lead helps preserve our group’s unique religious identity as well as the purpose and mission of our group. Christians and other religious communities have used creeds for thousands of years to define who they are as a community and to preserve the religious tradition they have inherited. To abandon this practice would be to abandon a fundamental practice of our faith tradition, one that keeps Christians across the ages connected as part of the same body of believers and same faith.
We are often suspicious of creeds in contemporary American culture. We tend to think it is better to “think for ourselves” or to “follow your heart.” We think of creeds as dour, unquestioned dogma or, worse, as tools of indoctrination. However, the reality is that we all live by beliefs that we’ve…
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There was a group of young minority men who were among the best and brightest in society. Not only had they been top of their class, they were athletically fit, and good looking besides. They represented the whole package and consequently were selected to be a part of an elite government internship that only the very best could hope to be admitted to. Needless to say, they were very excited about the opportunity, but they were also somewhat nervous. It was not a very common practice for minorities to rise into such positions of influence, and they were concerned to make a good impression. At the same time however, they felt a lot of pressure to not “sell out” their identity in order to secure a position. It was delicate balancing act, but being friends, they worked hard to keep each other accountable and to encourage each other.
For the most part, they did well, but one day the internship director informed them that in order to advance in the program, they would need to sign some documents and agree to participate in some things that normally would be against their religion. “It’s all just a formality,” they were assured, but these young friends were a bit nervous and didn’t want to sign. The internship director told them that he’d give them a chance to think about it, but it really wasn’t an option — and he couldn’t figure what the big deal was anyway. Talking about it later on in their room, the friends decided that they really couldn’t sign it, and certainly couldn’t participate, but they knew it would only make it hard on the internship director, whom they all liked.
Somehow the next day they convinced him to let them continue the program on a trial basis, without signing, and promised him that if anything didn’t go right, they would go ahead with the full program. The director reluctantly agreed, and at the end of the program, well everything worked out for them. They were able to graduate and all of them got excellent government positions. The internship director wrote the references himself, something he rarely did.
Fast forward a few years and our young men are all still friends, well paid, and enjoying the good life. They spent their days in high level meetings and their nights out on the town enjoying the diverse and exciting night life befitting the capital of the most powerful country in the world. The petty troubles of their internship years were far behind them. They were still some of the few minorities working in such high levels of government to be sure, but they lived in enlightened times. No one bothered them much about their odd customs, other than to make the occasional joke, or the puzzled look when their friends found out that they observed such quaint religious rituals. ”To each his own,” their friends would say, “as long as you don’t try to impose it on others, I think it’s fine.” And it was fine, mostly.
Until one day when the large packet packet detailing all the requirements of recent passed legislation landed on the desk of one of the friends. He almost didn’t see it at first, as he lazily scanned the pages and pages of arcane legal language that was the most dull part of his day. But there it was, plain as day – “all employees shall…, failure to abide by this regulation…, this policy will be applied without exception….” He stopped reading, speechless. Usually regulations like this always contained some policy exemption, some language that provided a loophole here or there, but there was none.
Down the hall he ran, not bothering to knock but burst in on his friend. The others were already there. “So you heard?” he asked, but no answer was needed. They had.
Days and weeks went by; meeting after meeting was held. Promises of conciliation and assurances of good faith were given, but no, the policy would not be changing. ”You don’t understand,” they pleaded at desk after desk, higher and higher up the chain of management. Whose policy is this anyway? Surely they don’t mean to implement this. The questions swirled faster and faster but the conclusion was always the same.
The city lights sparkled in the distance. Soft music played while the smell of exquisite food being prepared in the courtyard below wafted in. The spacious apartment decorated in the latest style and filled with the finest decor was a far cry from the cramped dorm room. But the luxurious surroundings and fine wine could not hide the heaviness in the room. Their appeals were exhausted, and so it seemed were they. ”Maybe if we just…” ”No that wouldn’t work.” ”Do you think if we talked to…” Sentences half finished and never answered. They knew the answer already. ”We knew it might come to this some day. We’ve had a good ride so far. God’s been good to us, so we can’t really complain.” Muffled sighs of agreement and resignation answered. It was true. They had known; they’d always known. ”Well,” he spoke, standing and lifting his glass as for a toast, “we cannot know if the LORD will save us from destruction tomorrow or not, but whether he does or not, we will not bow.” The others lifted their glasses to the toast and drank the last in silence.
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Who among us does not remember reading, reciting, or analyzing this famous poem by Robert Frost during those long lost days years ago when we were busy cramming our minds full of the information society thought would be invaluable for us to know? Who among us can ever really get past the profound insight of the words themselves as our day to day lives are marked continually by the need to choose this or that path? And we look back in wonder that our choices and the choices of others have led us to this point.
The other day I met a man who is “living the dream,” that is to say, he is very much living the life I envisioned for myself when I was a college student: young, good looking & unattached, pulling down a handsome salary in the finance industry, and thoroughly invested in the life of the local church. As we talked, and as I left the conversation, I felt the familiar twinge of doubt, or was it regret?
I sigh inwardly and contemplate “the road less traveled” upon which I’ve trod these twenty years. My life is far different than I imagined it would be. We talked across the dinner table, my wife and I, discussing the petty details of upcoming travels and reflecting on the more profound details of what really is entailed in the “good life.” And it has been a good life. I have a wonderful wife, a healthy and handsome son, all my needs are provided for. And yet even knowing this, the twinge of regret/doubt still comes.
How did I get here? How do any of us get anywhere? Simply we get wherever we are through the day by day choices we make that lead us inexorably along a path the end of which we cannot now imagine. Who imagines anything accurately about their future life? We don’t and we cannot. We simply choose, one step at a time. It is this basic reality that causes me to reject any notion that people are somehow prisoners of their feelings or trapped by their inclinations. Scientists confirm what the Bible teaches — as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. And so as we choose the right, the holy, the merciful, the good – over and again – the paths in our brain literally take shape and we become different kinds of people than we were. A decision, once taken, will lead, with its twists and turns and hidden corners, either towards a deeper and richer and more transformative relationship with God through Jesus, or further and further away. And like the traveler in Frost’s poem, there is never an option not to choose.