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!