Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christmas Shopping Justice

Reverend Billy is an offbeat preacher who tackles the consumerism of Christmas that we often hear about, but done in a humorous manner. I had heard how he refers to the coming "Shopapocalypse" with a chuckle, and read that Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me even financed a limited release film called "What Would Jesus Buy?"

All this to say is that Tammy and I have been discussing more about how we can transform the dynamic of Christmas, particularly when it comes to gift giving. I think we realized we can't necessarily change people's own expectations and values regarding Christmas, but we can change our own understanding and practice. We can change how we think about gift giving, and particularly, what and where we give.

For instance, instead of just coming up with a wish list of things that only benefit ourselves, we can ask for things that impact the community, like (for me) seeds that go towards a garden program that contributes to feeding low income families.

For buying gifts, being aware of where I'm shopping from points towards stores that practice fair trade, benefit survivors or developing economies in the world, or supporting local businesses. Facebook has an "Unconventional Christmas Shoppers" with a list of organizations, and Pasadena actually has a Ten Thousand Villages on Lake Ave.

In the end, it's not about decrying shopping and gift giving in general but allowing it to be transformed by Kingdom values. These are just some small steps to seeking the Kingdom in this area of our lives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Running Reflection on the Self

This book was recommended by my spiritual director, and he was generous enough to loan it to me as part of my spiritual reading. The point of the book is to really move away from the typical "how to" approach to "finding God's will" and focusing on opening ourselves to God's love and will instead.

One example of someone he knew struck me into self-reflection, about a Christian man he got to know well called Michael:

"Discipline characterized every aspect of his life. He was a highly competitive runner who rain--snow, rain or shine--four days a week for at least two hours each day. He was also fastidious in maintaining his spiritual disciplines of daily prayer and Bible reading, allocating from 5:10 to 5:30 each morning for his soul before heading off to take care of his body...

But all that discipline made him proud. He went through his day comparing himself to others, always with a favorable result. He felt enormous secret pride about extremely insignificant things. He confessed, for example, that he prided himself on being able to go to the bathroom less often than others. He also took a private delight in what he judged to be the superiority of his ability to judge the passage of time--periodically glancing at his watch throughout the day to test himself...

Not surprisingly, Michael's secret pride was matched by an equally secret contempt for anyone who lacked discipline. This included people who were overweight, disheveled in appearance, poor, inarticulate, lacking in intelligence or in any way lacking in competence and success."

I guess as I read about Michael, I could see some of those same attitudes that creep in with my own "disciplines" in reading Scripture and running, etc. It's almost like once you begin to get something under your belt, you forget how much of a failure you were in the past and start to believe your own press and effort. And you find yourself wondering why others can't be as competent as you...

Getting to the heart of the deep issue with Michael, the author continues:

"Pride alienates us from others. It also spawns an illusory sense of self-sufficiency...Psychologically, Michael's willpower served as a defense against his deep longings for intimacy and dependence. His reliance on himself was an exaggerated expression of the opposite of what he was really desiring and feeling. Under his bluster of independence and self-sufficiency was a little boy who longed for someone to take care of him. He desperately wanted to give up having to be so competent. He wanted to need someone, not simply others need him."

I guess this example has helped me to see more clearly how I have used such good disciplines like running and daily Scripture reading as shields from a true and living relationship with God and others. I posit that there's always a secret Pharisee inside every Christian. For Michael, he was able in time to change for the better--that's encouraging to know since I see so many pieces of Michael in me now (well, minus the bathroom and time obsession :P)!

The sum up:

"A reliance on willpower blocks love until will learns to surrender to love. Unless our will is softened by love, it strangles life. Until our spiritual disciplines are motivated by love of God, they will block love of God. Unless our personal disciplines are shaped by our love of others, they feed our narcissism."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Becoming a Minority....Again

A Latino client recently told Tammy that she spent part of her weekend at Olvera Street, and Tammy innocently said, "where is that?"

Well a few weeks ago we went to Olvera street downtown right off the 101, a piece of LA history and culture that is an attractive touristy introduction to the pervasive Latino heritage (read: Mexican) we have in our city. The open air market is probably the main spot for local tourists like ourselves, although the prayer grotto at the Catholic church across the street seemed to me to capture a living snapshot of existing religious reality for many Latinos...

I think I counted a handful of other Asians besides myself in the marketplace. I mention this because ever since I've moved to California, I've reveled in the ethnic diversity and the fact that people don't give me the same looks that always bothered me growing up in the East Coast very much a minority.

But as I reflect on my immersion into the Chinese church and Asian American subculture here in LA, it was really a time for me to feel "safe" in the majority, to find confidence and connection to something I didn't have back East. And now that I've been reflecting more on the Kingdom and incarnational ministry in an urban setting, I realized that if the church is to have "community impact," it can not remain in a cultural ghetto. For me, this has been expressed in connecting with the East LA Intervarsity fellowship, which no surprise is mostly Latino. It's meant I've had to ask the basic questions to the students and leaders there about food, customs, etc. It's meant that I have to become comfortable in becoming a minority...again! But whereas back East I had no choice, this one is a choice based on a conviction about what God wants to see more of in LA: a church that visibly reflects the diversity of all peoples and nations--and socio-economic levels!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A "Seed Book" Germinates

It's funny how sometimes I buy books that are on sale and then put them on a shelf untouched for say, a few years? And every once in a while, I realize that some of these books are really a "seed book" that just need the right conditions for it to finally germinate and grow.

One such book is called Going Public With Your Faith: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work.
I picked this up probably from a pile of clearance books at a local Christian bookstore years ago. But now that I am working in a non-church setting full time, this book has a new found relevance, as I struggle to figure out what it means to be a faithful Christian in the marketplace.

I was surprised getting into this book that the two authors are as blue blooded Evangelicals as can be (Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs and Texas :P) yet espouse some of the same sort of "organic" understandings of conversion and witnessing that are common parlance for the new wave of "postmodern/emergent" et al. And they get into the whole disastrous split between sacred and secular which was one of the themes in my Emerging Church class. Guess it makes a difference when you're working at ground level like these guys are!

One thing I've been realizing and they highlighted is that what's right for the workplace is going to be different for each person. Each work environment will have different cultures and attitudes that need exegeting: "A cookie-cutter approach to evangelism is doomed. In fact, some of the old gospel-sharing methods are unwise, if not flat-out unethical. A workable model for evangelism must respect the nonbeliever's integrity and vulnerability while also considering the professionals fiduciary responsibility" (p. 25).

I kind of chuckle at the part I italicized. First, because it reminds me of my miserable failure doing that in high school with the 4 spiritual laws. Second, because it reminds me of one of Tammy's ex-cholo Christian co-worker who's in everybody's face at her work about Jesus. When Tammy told another person outside of her work about his evangelism techniques at work, there was great indignation about how "unethical" that sort of thing was...

So, now I'm left with the question: "What does God want to do/is doing at my workplace?"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sushi Love

Thanks to all who gave birthday greetings; apparently Facebook is good at reminding friends?

We had sushi for the first time in a long while with our former Kayo chef, Ichisan, who is now at Japon Bistro in Pasadena. We went around 5:30 on Friday so there wasn't anyone there--it was almost like having your own chef!

I had been craving sushi since I read the book The Zen of Fish by Trevor Curson, which is a very entertaining English language history of sushi. I don't think I've had sushi since Ichisan left Kayo, and my experience at the bar was a reminder that I've been missing out (although my wallet probably appreciated that!).

While I had the usual salmon with the marinated seaweed on top, 3/4 of what I had were recommendations from Ichisan, including the sea bream in the picture which he took a blowtorch to sear. Most had their own sauce, so he said "no soy sauce" a lot. Aw man, what a flavor rush! With the handy tips on eating sushi fully followed, I left satisfied for my birthday dinner, if a little poorer :)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Questioning Values

Yesterday's training on sexual assualt had an interesting exercise where standing in the middle of the room, we were read a question that we would walk to one side of the room (one wall marked "A" the other "B"--there was no standing in the middle. Since this was the first day of training, the questions were more about our sexual mores and values.

Some sample questions:

1. A: Have a child at 16, or B: Never have kids
2. A: Only have same sex or B: No sex ever
3. A: Teens can all have sex or B: Teens have no sex at all
4. A: Only anonymous sex or B: No sex ever
5. A: FInd your life partner at 18 or B: Stay single forever

The last question was a bit extreme that I don't want to post it; ask me about it in person!

All in all, it made for interesting discussion regarding why we chose what side we picked. It was also a reminder that I'm no longer in Christian "Kansas" anymore, are we Toto?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Training for Justice

"Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:17)

Part of my job requirement is to do 65 hours of training in domestic violence and sexual assault training. We've had former police officers, lawyers and specialists share about all aspects of this issue --and all the evidence points to the fact that perpetrators are 95% men.

As the only male in this training, it has been uncomfortable to see the plain truth of our rampant "gender violence" culturally and globally. But as a Christian, I'm also to reflect on this general issue of justice based on my understanding of Scripture and theological tradition. (More on the specific issue of gender violence later)

1. Scripture: I think we have enough devotionals on how much God loves us and wants to be our friend. Many passages have been coming to mind as I sit through training that are focused on seeking justice, and I think it's high time to have a devotional book on that area!

2. Theological tradition: while things are changing for Evangelicals, there still exists a woeful split between social justice and spirituality, the sacred/secular that remains to be mended. I sit in training thinking that the Evangelical church overall has given up much of the thinking and action towards seeking justice to secular liberals, the courts, and government. The average Christian's ability to think through justice issues tend to be simplistic (like legislation against gay marriage, etc) or perverse applications of "love your enemy." Even with my Christian college and seminary education, social justice has been on the periphery of all that training, something extra.

I hope to see that training in justice becomes integral to what it means to follow Jesus.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sick Sabbath

You know that you're supposed to take it easy after awhile, but there's a part of you that thinks that you can handle it--and you're almost proud of how strong you've held up the past few weeks.
With vacation-family-marathon-work-training all wrapped up for the past few weeks that also jammed my weekends, my body finally forced a Sabbath day today, as last night I had what felt like a rock in my throat and started feeling feverish.

So all day I just slept, read and played some DVD favorites/chatted online. I actually slept a lot more than I've done in awhile. It's a good early lesson that bivocational ministry can easily overwhelm me if I'm not careful. It's almost like too much of a good thing when you're doing things you feel passionate about. But it's good to remember that the Kingdom of God is not up to my efforts, like a man who scatters seed on the ground: "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how" (Mark 4:27).

Or as I'm reading the Psalms of Ascents with the guys: "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rock N Roll!

OK, so it's almost two weeks since I ran the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon, but it's worth an entry. Here are some of the personal stats in case you were interested:

Finish time: 4:31:48--my PR!
Interval running: 5:1 until mile 13, 8:1 after
Weirdest thing: women Elvis impersonators
Best parts: running through Balboa Park(on the 163!) and the Gaslamp Quarter
Saddest thing: seeing a woman runner collapsed at mile 25
Best thing for an Asian runner: getting free sandals at the finish.
Best "team mate": my brother, who knows the roads! I got dropped off/picked up close by.

I often marvel at how I continue to distance run despite the punishment you inflict on your body at these events. But there's something physically tangible about learning patience and perseverance while you're in the race. It's said that the last bit of a marathon is often more a mental game than physical, and it's true for me because once you let any negativity creep in, you're going to stop. I had to keep saying at the end.."just keep looking for that next mile!"

"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize.." Phil. 3:13-14.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sabbath Prayer in Arizona

I did finish the San Diego Rock 'N' Roll Marathon last Sunday, but I wanted to post about our weekend before in Sedona, Arizona. Even though I only worked 7 days, it was still nice to get away from LA and get a change of scenery. I was intent on making it a real sabbath for the two of us, without the crazy planning and running around to all the sights we typically do--just enjoying the natural beauty and the lovely beauty I'm married :P.

Also, the picture of the trail was part of the trail running I did in the surrounding red rock country early in the morning. I had a revelation that this sort of running was a form of prayer: enjoying God's creation and interacting with it in a whole different way than just walking. I remembered praying that I would see some native javelinas, a sort of wild pig/boar, and God in his humor had me stumble upon them on the way back, though I realized I was led off the main trail to see them (is that God's way of leading??). Prayer running in nature...that's a powerful way I connect to God.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First Week Reflection

After my first full week of work, I came up with a few reflections about my "regular" job, but I'll give one for now.

It's difficult to maintain discipline in devotions in the narrow sense (meaning Bible reading/praying). I can understand how many people struggle during the week with a devotional/prayer life with God--it can be such a chore to get through work, which eats up most of your time. You come home tired and after dinner, your night is almost over.

But then I also thought that perhaps the margins we search for that kind of relational work with God is eaten up by the easier distractions that fill our lives: "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Mark 4:18-19). I remembered two nights in row we ended up watching multiple season finales of TV shows we watch. And what about all the time I spend online and iChatting?

Is the issue really about time, or is it that we're unwilling to sacrifice little activities that in the end choke us and make us unfruitful? Our organic church group facilitator said that American Christians are most like the soil amongst the weeds. I can only speculate how much more difficult it gets when you have kids.

The devil's advocate question: am I limiting what is spiritual formation to only Bible reading and prayer? Shouldn't all of our life be part of our worship to God?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Commuter Spirituality

com·mut·er (kə-myū'tər)
  1. One that travels regularly from one place to another, as from suburb to city and back.
One of the things I haven't really had to deal with a lot in LA is a long tortuous commute. And so while I talked about how to integrate your spirituality while sitting in downtown traffic (in theory from the pulpit/class), now I get the chance to really "work out my salvation" in this regard. One possible area of theological reflection is how this liminal space/time--the "borders of life"--between home and work can also contribute to formation.

I've thought about things like driving with worship music, praying, listening to sermon/podcasts, sitting in silence (no radio/music/speaking). What works against me right now in terms of options is that I only have a radio that has one station that doesn't come in all the time. This morning I tried to let the Spirit lead me to situations and people to pray about, since this was a fuzzy station morning (difficult to say the least).

If anyone has any other insights on what they do to make commuting a part of their daily worship, hook me up!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

First Day

First days are not always the best thing to gauge a new job, methinks. Especially when it's all paperwork and gobs of information overload. Forms like I-9s, W-4s and insurance info sound boring even to type.

What was cool was that my predecessor will be training me for about a month! And over lunch, she said that I was the only candidate she pursued.

While it's too early to say, I can also see how the flexibility of this job and support role I play will be ideal for the "other job" of forming a new Christian community. Praise God for his smartness! :P

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Scared But Excited

So tomorrow I start my new job as an operations manager for a shelter. There are so many things I'm wondering about; scared and excited as this whole journey has been so far. I can't see spiritual growth without that mix of emotions now.

The best thing is that there's no turning back...right?!?!?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Wicked Mother's Day

I had been mulling a way to make Mother's Day special for Tammy last Thursday when later that evening someone had tickets to "Wicked" that they needed to unload. So after some bargaining, I found the perfect gift, since she had been wanting to see this musical for quite some time now.

So we went with some CEFC friends this afternoon and I ended up enjoying it. I wasn't too thrilled about it going in, just going more because Tammy would enjoy it and I'd get to experience the Pantages (like the San Gabriel civic auditorium on Miracle Gro) and walk on a bit of the Walk of Fame in Hollywood...almost 10 years and I haven't even done the obvious touristy thing until now!

The hook for me was the subversive nature of the narrative which overturns the simplistic good vs. evil dynamic of the original Oz movie. I'm all about being subversive...but the bittersweet ending felt like pandering to the audience--or was it subverting the source story again? Son of a witch!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Paid to Care

I've been reflecting this week on the nature of money and getting paid to care. Being a full-time church pastor paid by the people, for the people--that's where I think trouble lurks for many churches. While I see lots of downsides to paid church ministry, one of the key issues is how inversely proportional congregational involvement is to the amount of paid staff. In some ways it seems innocent enough: we (congregation) need to pay a professional to lead/run the church, and I (recently graduated seminary student with lots of loans) needs to feed family and live under a roof.

But what happens in almost any church is that the amount of ownership and participation decreases--the congregation becomes a passive recipient rather than an active participant. For example, if you look at most worship services, how many people are leading up front? In many contexts we're only talking about 2-3 voices, and if the paid guys aren't up there, I would wonder what we're paying them for (at the same time that I hope to hear a fresh voice). You've heard the jokes: pastors really only work on Sunday, so what do they do the rest of the week? But the only expectation for me as an ordinary schmo is just to show up (and for the leadership, to tithe). And in general we expect pastors to "care" for the flock with visitation, outreach, and a laundry list of competencies and responsibilities--all while the rest of us live our own lives and "volunteer" when we can (but if we can't, O well).

For me to take the "priesthood of all believers" seriously, I can't get paid to care because inevitably you end up robbing the body of Christ from expressing a wider set of its gifts. Once money is in the picture, all sorts of unspoken expectations and motives come into play that "volunteering" is largely free from. Volunteers want to be there.

I realize that in my job search in non-profits, the jobs are also ones where I'm paid to care. Perhaps a little ironic? To connect this with my bivocational journey, "I'm getting paid to care so I can care without getting paid." Perhaps there's a sort of inherent subversiveness in the bivocational mode. I think for missional pastors and leaders, we'll need to unhook ourselves off the life support system of full-time church ministry and see the body of Christ wake up to renewed life again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Farming in LA

"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains" (Jas 5:7).

I don't know if James ever farmed, but I wonder if the farmer back then was more resigned (because he couldn't control the weather) than blissfully patient. Or is it a Christian farmer trusts in God's timing while the pagan one entreats and seeks to manipulate his gods of wood and stone?

Anyway, I've been volunteering at a 4-acre organic urban farm just off the 60 in S. El Monte for the last few weeks. It's connected to one of the non-profits I want to work for called LA Conservation Corps. It blends a sort of environmental/green agenda with educational/mentoring of youth through their various work and after school programs. It's been a great way for me to see if this is really something I want to do, and so far so good.

Physical labor is really different than the typical office job. I've discovered muscles I didn't know I had, mostly because they were sore the next morning. I've learned to use a rototiller, seed broadcaster, and weedwacked for 3 hours (weeds are very juicy). And I'm developing relationships with the workers and high school students who are part of the program.

Honing a passion for green stuff has helped me see how it can contribute to showing the Kingdom in the community. I described it to some as "converting abandoned space into community space." Every time I see empty lots, I see their potential as green space that can also function as 3rd space for the community (God knows we need more of that in LA.) And developing relationships outside of the church is exactly the context I know I need to grow in being part of the Missio Dei.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tradition and Culture

We watched "The Queen" last night, which was a great movie that revolved around the events following Princess Di's sudden death (more than 10 years ago already!). I had forgotten the reverence given to her by the British collective psyche (if not the world) when they showed the archival footage of the mass of flowers in front of Buckingham Palace; something we Americans probably can't really fathom. I'm just glad we don't have one. Talk about drama (at least in this movie version)!

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that this movie was an excellent reflection of the tensions regarding the modern church's response to "culture."
The queen and monarchy obviously represent those who want to uphold tradition and resist any sort of "giving into the masses." Some of the anti-monarchists in the movie try to ride the people's outcry at the lack of response by the vacationing royal family.
And Tony Blair, newly elected PM, is caught in the middle.

I think deep down, I am more of a Tony Blair, hoping to change the unchangeable. But the deep dissatisfaction makes me sound like an anti-monarchist (so to speak). And I'm certainly saying more "nos" to the "change from within" opportunities in traditional church ministry.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Would Jesus Get an "A" in Preaching Practicum?

[Jesus] spoke in confusing riddles (parables) that evoked a spiritual search in the hearers. Nowhere does he give three-point devotional sermons that cover all the bases. His audience had to do all the hard work of filling in the blanks. In other words, they were not left passive but were activated in their spirits.

Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways

I read this right after reading Matthew 13's parables. I don't think Jesus would do well in a typical preaching class--"Good use of Scripture, but no resolution." One preaching professor's style would mark Jesus down because he doesn't help us know what his teachings look like practically.

But maybe Hirsch is right in that these parables are to provoke a search. And this activation of my spirit did happen, because I felt like more a person who is "ever hearing but never understanding...ever seeing but never perceiving." Reading these passages over and over you think you know it all, especially growing up in church. But it's precisely that attitude that can make you ever hearing but never grasping the implications. That's what I'm struggling with as I seek to understand the Kingdom parables: how do these parables shake our understanding and practice of mission and ministry? And we can't get it spoon-fed--takes all the fun out!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ethnic Workers' Summit '07

Although we realized that the median age of attendees of this conference was probably 40s and above, we did meet some great people doing good work all around the Pacific Northwest. The conference speakers were typical and OK, with lots of references to John 4. The workshops were just so-so, but the last one we took on Buddhism was great, because the speaker was clear and informed on the topic.

The best part was stuff that's not always planned; eating a meal with others. Since we didn't know anyone else, we ended up sitting with new people each time, and got to hear about what God is doing in different areas, churches, and ministries. Someone even eagerly volunteered to pray for us in our church planting adventure.

I feel stuffed with opportunities, networks, and other Christian co-workers of the Kingdom. Time to shift the balance and start living it out.

Top: At the SIM Missions booth
Bottom: Thai Presbyterian church performance on traditional bamboo instruments of "How Great Thou Art"--like a bell choir.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Seattle's Best

It's always fun traveling with Tammy to new places, and even better when it's sunny like it has been for the past few days in Seattle. We went to Pike Place, the famous fish market and other crafty/unique stores on the waterfront. It apparently was very much a Spring theme with all the tulips in the flower stalls. It's the kind of community gathering place that we need more of in LA--and I don't mean more malls! You rub shoulders with pretty much all kinds of people: rich and poor, different ethnicities, young and old.

I believe part of Kingdom work is what sort of community building we do as the church. And I mean both inside the gathering as well as in the community. If we're about creating space for connection with each other and God, then I think that overflows into helping fragmented communities connect better as well.

And yes, we're at a conference. But I'll post later on that :P

Top: Savoring a cup from the first Starbucks ever. Notice the old school design...scandalous!
Center: Flower market stall snorting.
Bottom: A famous shot of the market. Can you guess what company it's used for?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Funnier Than Barna

This book is a nice foil to George Barna's rather bombastic manifesto Revolution. And it's definitely funnier than Barna. Perhaps it's the fact that I don't need more talk, but more stories about practicing revolutionaries. Shane Clairborne is one of those "new monastics" who lives and ministers in Philly amongst the urban poor and marginalized. And his personal stories make me tear up both with frustration at the way things are and hopeful for what could be in the American church. And that's my feeling only through the first few chapters.

Shane has a lot of choice phrases and wording I've enjoyed boring Tammy with by reading them aloud to her standing in the Target checkout line. Here's one I liked:

I know there are people out there who say, "My life was such a mess. I was drinking, partying, sleeping around....and then I met Jesus and my whole life came together." God bless those people. But me, I had it together. I used to be cool. And then I met Jesus and he wrecked my life. The more I read the gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued, and hoped for upside-down. I am still recovering from my conversion.

I think that's a good way of describing my own journey: the more I grow in trying to follow Christ, the more he messes up my life. The process of this last year certainly has messed with my direction and calling to ministry and church planting to the point I don't think I can ever go back to "traditional" pastoral ministry. And that no longer scares me, oddly enough! What scares me more now is stepping out and not having God show up. But Clairborne's book gives me hope that God always seems to show up.

Monday, April 09, 2007

More of Christ this Easter

One of the things I've wanted to change is the way we celebrate Easter as a family. Christmas has cultural support which makes it easier, but Easter is more work. I always wondered growing up why my nominal friends got a "2nd Christmas" for Easter whereas, I--the "true believer"--got nothing but an extra sunrise service to go to! So it's been a chip I have on my shoulder for awhile. I also realize you got to plan it to happen if there's ever hope for it to become a meaningful tradition.

We went to CEFC this Sunday since some people we knew were getting baptized. It was nice to celebrate with our "home church" family here in LA. There were others who were also doing the same thing, like coming home for Christmas.

More significantly, Tammy missed out on Ambassador's Good Friday Tenebrae Service, due to her being the on-call therapist and getting a call just before we were to head out the door. When I got back, I decided we should have our own abbreviated Tenebrae service. I used the same symbolism of writing our personal confession of sin on magician's flash paper which we ignited in the "Christ" candle before snuffing it out. It's a cool effect; try it out sometime!

Next year, we're going to have a special Easter dinner...with hot cross buns!

Picture: Our "Easter lily" amaryllis this's the 3rd time it's bloomed in 4 years, and it never blooms in Christmas anymore.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Agitated Prayer

I was tossing and turning last night, and woke very agitated. And the first thing that came to my mind in the predawn hours was being very angry at God for the slow pace of finding a job. After I recovered from feeling a bit guilty for being angry at "GOD," I did what every self-help book would recommend: find out the source of my frustration and anger.

I realized that I have felt very powerless in this whole process--sending resumes and not hearing anything back....having to plug away even though I've only had one interview thus far for a job that I didn't pursue. I don't have a lot of guidance in job searching in the digital age. I'm not at a point where I can just go back to school, volunteer, or intern. And "pastor" on a resume just doesn't translate well into lots of practical skills for lots of organizations.

It was good to relay much of this into prayer as it helped me turn all this internal turmoil over to God. I found some Scriptural articulation later this morning in my reading of Psalm 61: "Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer...I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I."

Thanks Google....tanks!

So I guess this blog wasn't lost, just "in transition." Now that I have two blogs; what to do?
To go with the implications of "bivocational," I'm going to do both blogs: this one for life musings and the other one for my headier classwork stuff on Emerging church/ministry in a postmodern context:

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A "Great Race"

We got up at 5am to leave for Dole's "Great Race" in Agoura Hills yesterday. I did the 1/2 marathon while Tam did the 10K. The 1/2 marathon course was beautiful once we got into the trail section with the orange glow illuminating the chaparral hills. We ended up scrabbling over rocks and dirt to get up those hills around mile 8. I finished in 2:08, which considering the trails, hills and the fact I didn't do intervals I was "OK" with; but I hope to work towards a sub 2-hour soon.

I think it's a "Great Race" for the fact that it has the best free post-race food: eggs & sausage, pancakes with strawberries/cream/chocolate, burritos, Don Francisco's coffee, Emer-gen-C samples, and lots of free Dole samples too! Being a shameless Asian, I got an empty box to fill up on all the samples.

All I need to figure out is how running events can be missional too!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Week 1 Class Post

It's interesting to realize in class that even what I used to think were "cutting edge" ministries and churches are still quite modern and "traditional." I wouldn't want to overstep and say that they are not effective ministries (we have many models that are reaching different cultures, ages, etc), but I for one feel (as a pastor even) that I no longer want a solo pastor/teacher/CEO as my linchpin for understanding what church, leadership, or ministry is all about. The alternatives are murkier, but that's the path I have to take...

Week 1 Reading

I'll be interspersing my weekly class reflection on how the reading helps a theoretical church planting team plant a missional church in a postmodern context. While the titles will be boring, the content I assure you will be fabulous!

This week we're going through Gibbs & Bolger's Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. For the sake of making an antiquated attempt to be linear, organized, and thoroughly modern, I will comment on good ideas from each of the four chapters I read that can help a church planting team :P

1. A Brief Look at Culture: "Religious behavior is not a given...religious beliefs are rooted in personal experiences rather in community identity or loyalty to historic institutions" (p. 23) How true, how true! I've given up on the idea that somehow inviting someone to church or telling them to go to a Sunday service is going to somehow answer their very personal quest for meaning and God. I think this also applies to those who come out of a churched background and especially from the immigrant church--appealing to an outside authority from self unfortunately doesn't work past childhood!
I think one way this can impact a church planting team is to realize that in conversations with others, appealing to the Bible or an instituion like the church isn't going to win too much of a hearing. We will need to be careful to understand and truly listen to people's individual stories, journeys and questions. We can not rush to give them "the answer." While I do think that learning about Jesus is best done in community, that is the answer the individual has to arrive at for themselves--and something we can share freely as our own realization and experience.

2. "Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures (p. 44)...[They] remove modern practices of Christianity, not the faith itself" (p. 29). How do we communicate clearly to our modern Christian family what this "emerging stuff" is about? I think it's important to not create needless tension and distrust on both sides, and these simple explanations gleaned from multiple conversations helps cut some of fuzziness inherent in much of the current discussion/debate. Any kind of church planting raises lots of "why" questions, and we need to be ready to answer why we're doing what we're doing, especially among detractors within the family of faith!

3. Identifying with Jesus: "More than simply offering a message of personal salvation, Jesus invited his followers to participate in God's redemption of the world" (p. 57) I remember talking to one of the Navajo kids about salvation years ago on a short-term mission, and when I asked him point-blank whether he cared about eternal life, he said "No" with certainty. If all salvation is is fire insurance, I guess I can't blame him for his shows a reductionism that really becomes a failure of imagination of what life in Christ should be about: we are invited to become part of God's work (Eph 2:10). That seems like a better way to explain life in Christ to those we reach out to.

4. Transforming Secular Space: "Emerging churches do not occupy a reactive and defensive stance in regard to the wider culture but rather seek to engage it as insiders" (p. 75). I've had to fight this tendency to want to bottle up missional initiatives and package it anew in a safer Christian version. I've thought about starting my own running club but as a "Christian" one, then realized I would just create another Christian ghetto disconnected from where most everyone else is going. So I've stayed put in the groups we run with, hoping somehow to influence from the inside. A church planting team needs to be careful not to be quick to create our "own space" that ends up removing ourselves from the culture and where people are gathering--whether it's renting our own space, or even meeting in our own homes. Thinking missionally will always challenge us from having any space that relegates us into a ghetto.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Starting Over

Starting over means coming back to an uncomfortable place where I no longer feel in control. It also means I face potential setbacks and failure. My current job search brings these feelings to the surface.

On the other hand, starting over also comes with a promise of new paths and new directions. It means building without the worry of hearing, "That's not how we do things around here." A vision for church planting missional communities raises my pulse and gives me the munchies.

So starting over means I've been both scared and excited at the same time. But I don't think I'd trade this experience for anything else. It's the only way I'm gonna grow!