Why I’m not a Fan of Mother’s Day

2009

One of my favorite adult moments with my mom when I pranked her with paper clip earrings on Christmas.

I am not a fan of Mother’s Day. At least not the way it is typically done. Don’t get me wrong – I love my mom and will be forever grateful for her. On Sunday, I will still call her and celebrate her. You should, too. But Mother’s Day is not high up on my list of favorite holidays for a couple of reasons:

  • The Other: Aside from my distaste for its commercialized veneer (yes, I know I need to spend $ in some way, but how are you going to charge me an extra $24.99 on top of your regular delivery fee for a bouquet of flowers?!), I know that Mother’s Day can be difficult for many people who have lost mothers or experienced emptiness or abandonment. These realities, of course, do not mean that Mother’s Day needs to be scrapped. Instead, it must be reimagined. There are so many incredible mothers around the world and in our lives, and they should be thanked and joyfully celebrated.  But we also need to recognize that this day can bring up memories of pain and suffering for others. I think of friends who have lost their mom or their grandma this year or grew up without a mother. How can we honor those who have experienced loss, barrenness and motherlessness, even as we express our heartfelt gratitude to our mothers? In many of our settings, it may not feel appropriate to take the time to acknowledge these other narratives on Mother’s Day. And yet it is absolutely needed if each of us is to fully participate in community. Our call and our example to engage in other-ing comes from no one else but our God, who radically “others” when he sends Christ into our world and pursues you and me. What might it look like to put on Christ during Mother’s Day?  Giving voice to the other side of Mother’s Day honors the multi-faceted experiences of our humanity while also celebrating our moms.
  • Crutch: On a personal note, I am also discovering that Mother’s Day has become somewhat of a crutch for me, an easy calendar item to leverage as a means to express my love and appreciation for my mom. I don’t know about you, but I can tend to rely on Mother’s Day as one of the few days throughout the year when I intentionally serve and love my mom. And that’s only scratching the surface of my heart issues. If I were to pry a little bit deeper, I would find that on certain years, even mailing a card to my mom has been a perfunctory exercise: go to the store, fight the crowds congregating at the card section, select something sentimental, and then write my heart out, ending with a classic line like: “I hope on this day and every day, you feel celebrated for being the wonderful mom you are.” Hallmark and mom, cry your hearts out…. We need to love and celebrate our moms more regularly.

Uncovering My Story: At the risk of potentially sounding like someone who is being too hard on himself, I’ll be straight-up and say that I know I am not always the greatest son.

Simply put, I have recognized two things:1) My mom is one of the most gracious women I know and 2) I am really great at taking advantage of her grace. There are countless stories of how I’ve seen both of these realities. Here’s a more recent experience: One of my mom’s only requests over the past several years is that I call her once a week to say hi. Regrettably, I don’t have a great track record with her. When I make 1 phone call to her in a month, I feel like I’ve accomplished something significant . 2 or 3 phone calls, and I feel like I’m verging on the miraculous….and I only hit this number with my wife reminding me. Yet despite my slow progress over the years, my mom has always continued to believe in the best of me. She’s given me space, continued to pray for me and my wife and displayed an undeserved kindness and understanding towards me. But I should be clear here – my mom is no pushover. She will still get in a playful verbal jab at me once in a while (“lei mm gai dut ngo!”/you forgot about me), in which case, my heart will momentarily crumble with shame, only to be redeemed again when we come back around to share a laugh over our now familiar exchanges.

My mom is a picture of God’s incredible grace. As an immigrant to the United States, she has sacrificed more than I will ever know to raise me and my brother. Leaving the familiarity of her home, her language and her culture, she chose to bless our family in the most extraordinary ways. On this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my mom! Thank you for embodying Christ to me.

I am also aware that many do not share the same types of feelings and memories I have described regarding their mom or their experiences. To those who have suffered loss associated with a mom or motherhood, my prayers go out to you. You are seen and acknowledged, and more than anything else, God meets you in the midst of your own experiences.

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Missional Crisis #2: Psychological Distance

“Most of us have experience with setting goals we never reach.” –Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

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It’s no secret that many Christians today recognize God’s missional call in their lives. Yet something always seems to change in us when we leave our community gatherings and churches. It’s curiously routine how we can move from our Sunday readings of “Go and make disciples” into our Monday rhythms of “Get coffee, buckle down and survive.”

Why does this happen?

After I read this great post on goals, I started to think about what keeps me from living into what I desire. Almost automatically, I could name things that I desired to accomplish and yet often found difficult to achieve because of the psychological distance* that existed between goal and reality:

  • Goal: Running 2-3 times/week; Psychological Distance: My bed, french fries and planning not to plan.
  • Goal: Reading every night; Psychological Distance: My bed, Facebook and Fantasy Basketball

Take a moment and think about your goals. You’ll probably find some gaps that exist in your life, too. And it’s true – there is much that you and I can do to decrease the psychological distance that exists between our goals and reality, to create environments where we can better live into our goals (thankfully, I’m eating less french fries and getting out of bed now).

But psychological distance doesn’t just affect my personal goals; it affects my discipleship with Christ.  In relation to mission, it is the gap between my perceived value for mission and my actualized value for mission.

Psychological distance (PD) is what exists between our Sundays and our Mondays. PD prays about God’s mission and then fails to recognize how God is pursuing a friend experiencing turmoil or need. PD agrees with the sermon yet remains significantly silent in the workplace and with our peers. PD agrees with the Spirit of God in us but then practically lives into the spirit of this age – comfort, success, wealth.

So what’s the remedy? Jesus. Jesus is who we need (the Sunday school answer lives to see another day). In Scripture, we see that Christ’s mission doesn’t begin and end on Sunday. Jesus brings about redemption everyday. He crosses gender and cultural lines to talk with the Samaritan woman; he enters into the world of a tax collector (someone who was despised among the Jews) and shares fellowship with him; he heals a crippled man and forgives him his sins; he works out our salvation on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus ushers the kingdom of God into the lives of men and women everyday, and he invites you to participate, to join with his activity in you and around you.

As you sense Jesus moving his mission forward, what are some things you can do to: 1) decrease your psychological distance from mission and 2) increase your awareness of Christ? Here are a few thoughts to get you started!

Decreasing PD from mission:

  1. Pray for those who are in your life (family, friends, co-workers, peers).
  2. Discover proactive ways to love and serve another person in Christ. And then do it. Write it into your calendar, schedule it with your friend.
  3. Invite conversations about faith and God with others.

Increasing awareness of Christ:

  1. Create rhythms of prayer throughout your day to ask for God’s perspectives. A short prayer like this can help recenter your life to what Christ is doing in you and around you: “God, help me to know Christ. Help me to see what you are seeing, to go where you are going and when appropriate, to speak what you are saying.” As we look to Christ, the danger is that we can think that we are somehow supposed to emulate Jesus. We make Jesus into an exemplar after whom we model our lives, when the call to follow Jesus really begins with Christ in us, transforming us. 
  2. Read Luke 10:1-10.
  3. Respond to God’s word by living it out in practical and contextualized ways.

Our life in Christ already resonates into Monday and the rest of the week because Christ himself has gone beyond Sunday. Let’s join him!

*Psychological distance is a phrase that comes from social psychology and the Construal Level Theory (CLT). I’ll leave it to my wife and other counselors/psychologists like her to provide a more robust definition than the one I’m providing, but roughly speaking, psychological distance describes the gaps that exist between our abstract thinking and our concrete realities. 

Missional Crisis #1: Entitlement

#ds509 - Order Here

Mission dies when entitlement lives. When Christians feel entitled to the best and the brightest, there is little room for God’s mission to grow and thrive in us.

How can we share the Gospel with more intentionality? How has the Spirit of God uniquely called you to embody a costly discipleship? When these questions are pursued wholeheartedly in Christ, they can turn your world upside-down. Over the recent years, there has been an upswing in the church’s focus on mission. Conferences have rallied around mission, books have been published on creating missional culture and small groups have re-imagined themselves as missional communities. It’s been encouraging to see a renewed focus on God’s call to our neighbors and the nations. But beneath the surface of all our missional talking points, I wonder – how many of us are actually living in life-on-life, real-time, Gospel-centered relationships? How many of us actually care?

One of the greatest dangers within the North American church is our sense of entitlement. Entitlement kills God’s mission from being fully embodied in your life. It robs you from faithful risk-taking. It renders you immobile. It staves off any real response to Jesus. Entitlement, or I-want-ism, shifts your focus from Jesus to self. And when that happens, the results – probably all too familiar to you and to me – are both devastating and sad. When Jesus ceases to be the Caller in our lives, we not only lose sight of mission but also worship, community and faith. Without Him, we begin to make futile attempts to reclaim calling and passion as we desperately cling on to our sense of entitlement to great messages, better worship sets and an ever-growing appetite for more knowledge, all of which can functionally leave us with little room for real discipleship. Instead of simply responding to Matthew 28:18-20, entitlement thrusts us into a cycle of consuming more “stuff” and makes us the center of the Gospel. Under the deceptive guise of preparation or growth, we’ll spend time on a missional study of the Great Commission, unpacking the nuances between sovereignty and free will. We’ll jump from church to church and ministry to ministry, taking in what we like but never really committing to the local body in worship, community and mission. We’ll go to this year’s mission conference and hear the same things we heard last year. We’ll look for the next great sermon or talk. We’ll even take the time to train others in what we’ve downloaded into the reservoirs of our minds yet have never actualized as tangible, experienced knowledge. All the while, Jesus’ call remains, beckoning us to abandon ourselves for the sake of joining-in with God’s kingdom coming. Will you GO?

The mission of God always goes forward because the mission belongs to the God of mission. But it will wither in our lives if we cater to entitlement and oversaturate ourselves with “Christianity’s best.” How many churches and ministries do you have to sift through for that perfect convergence of everything-you-wanted (but probably nothing-God-envisioned)? How many missional conferences do you need to attend until you’ll actually go? Missional gatherings are great; they’re meant to equip the saints. But equipping is always for the sake of something else.

What if we pursued something different? What would it look like for you to simply hear, know and respond to Jesus?

Know Christ, and surrender your sense of entitlement to live out His call.

Hebrews 13:12-13 (ESV)

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Photo Credit: Sharon Drummond

Identifying Blind Spots and the Asian American Letter to the Church

AAletter

Two Caveats:

  1. I don’t like to be in the limelight. It’s not my natural inclination to engage in dicey conversations or involve myself in conflicts. Yet if I’ve learned anything over my short 28 years of life, it’s that there are some things where you just need to step in. Not doing so would only perpetuate further misunderstanding, brokenness and disunity with all parties involved.
  2. I cannot begin to express my admiration of Kathy Khang and Helen Lee, the two women who originally organized the open letter (Kathy is both a friend and a colleague). I am thankful for their leadership and their willingness to raise awareness for the sake of the church’s unity. It’s been encouraging to see what God is already doing. However, I also recognize that for some, certain parts of the letter have been difficult. More on this below.

Why this post?

It’s been a little over a week since this open letter went out. Before I keep going, let me put this out there: it is not the perfect letter, and it never will be. Connotations, tone, authorial intent and personal interpretation are a part of language, and these ensure that there will always be a level of subjectivity when it comes to writing and reading.

As a staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who serves Asian Americans, I added my signature early on. Since signing, I’ve wondered whether writing anything would be worthwhile. As I’ve followed many of the thoughts and questions that have proliferated since the letter’s release, it’s been apparent that there is no lack of public and personal opinion. My hope is not to add more stories or share about my own experiences as an Asian American to somehow either bolster the points the letter raises or argue against them. Instead, I write because this is an opportunity for us, the people of God, to grow together in Christ as one body with many different parts.

I didn’t sign up to bash Rick Warren. And it’s not even really about him:

I’ll be short and sweet here. This isn’t about Rick Warren. This is about a call for reconciliation and greater cultural sensitivity. Yes, Rick Warren slipped up with the image he posted. WIthout a doubt, his apology left some wanting. But he did own up to what he calls “my insensitivity.” Let’s not miss that in the midst of deconstructing the inner meanings of if-ology (which I admit has its very valid points; my wife seems to agree wholeheartedly). Are there places where I think more dialogue and reconciliation can happen between him and others who have emailed him personally? Yes. Can we all extend grace more abundantly to each other? Yes. Does it start and end with Rick Warren? No. His now deleted facebook posts represents a need for growth, but it’s not an isolated incident by itself. As the letter cites, there have been independent incidents that have happened in the recent past that signify a need for respectful dialogue in the Church – both locally and nationally, privately and publicly. As the Church, we are not culturally well-versed, and we cannot ignore this reality. To overlook cultural insensitivity is to refuse the invitation to respect and honor one another as one body united in Christ.

I signed up for reconciliation, dialogue and grace.

On the other side of conflict is the peace of God. The Gospel calls for peace, and that is why I’m in this mix. Christ calls each of us to live in grace with each other, even as we navigate something that can turn messy (and in some ways, already has) before it gets better. But real peace and unity are where Christ is leading us. So, while the letter’s language may not perfectly express my sentiments in every way, I do believe that it accurately conveys a need for the American Evangelical Church, of which Asian Americans are a part, to reconcile as we dialogue and grow together.

I’ve been thankful for conversations that I’ve been having recently. They’ve been revelatory, challenging and grace-filled. One of those conversations occurred last night when I spoke with Kevan after reading his thoughtful post. It was a very honest and reconciling conversation, and in the end, it was encouraging to know that we both desired to see reconciliation happen.

The open letter is a call for reconciliation on all sides, and that includes those who may disagree with the form, content or tone of the letter. It is a call to forgive and reconcile. It is a call to identify blind spots. Rather than perpetuating the same cultural miscues and mistakes, we must learn how to appreciate, respect and celebrate the different ways God has created each of us. Throughout this process, people on all sides, Asian Americans included, will need to listen and learn with humility and grace.

Cultural blind spots abound in all of us. Let’s help each other identify and shed them. Here are a few that have popped up in my interactions:

Blind Spot #1: Cultural Insensitivity and Us vs. Them

Ironically, this was one of my own blind spots, and I didn’t recognize it until I started talking with others.

“Lastly, in many of these occurrences of cultural insensitivity, we have seen a tendency amongst white Christians to point out that they know Asian Americans who weren’t at all offended by what they did. So, the argument goes, this must mean that any Asian American who is upset is being overly sensitive.” (Open Letter)

In Christ, we are all united as one. As a signatory, I personally own that these few sentences could have been framed in a more culturally sensitive way to our white brothers and sisters. While I cannot speak for anyone else, I can see why some have been pushed away because of these words (which accurately describe the reactions of some white Christians – and other ethnicities, I might add – but certainly not all). I apologize, especially to my white brothers and sisters, for how this, even in context, was a generalized statement that unfairly lumped white American Christians together. Many of you have embraced multi-ethnicity and even stood with us. I ask for your forgiveness and your grace as the Asian American communities navigate how to talk about our experiences in constructive, gracious and Christ-centered ways. I know that the letter’s intention is to welcome dialogue and reconciliation as we raise awareness about things that need to change. As the letter clearly demonstrates, there is real hurt and pain; the cultural insensitivity in the Church and in the world cannot and should not continue. So if you haven’t already, I ask for you to join us in solidarity. Doing so acknowledges that we collectively need to learn to respect each other more on every side. As we navigate current and future conversations, let’s pray for greater cultural sensitivity and grow in mutual respect for each other in Christ.

Blind Spot #2: References to the Civil Rights Movement and MLK

Our narrative is different from the Civil Rights.

It’s fine for us to refer to certain aspects of history. I don’t have any problem with that. But one thing needs to made abundantly clear. Now and then are not the same. We are not talking about civil rights, hate crimes and the ugliness of calculated actions against Asian American communities. Our levels of experience are not the same as African Americans during that era, and we would do well to acknowledge this. As of now, I haven’t really seen anything overt in terms of a direct analogy, but as we continue talking, let’s make an effort to be wise and clear in our communication. MLK fought against intentional offenses and systemic establishments of inequality. Many of the initial miscues Asian Americans have experienced represent unintentional offenses and systemic blind spots. That means that people either didn’t know or weren’t culturally aware. Of course, this does not make everything okay, which is part of the reason for the letter. But the call for grace (and wisdom) remains.

What we do need to tackle are the subsequent responses (or lack thereof). These are very intentional, and they have been mixed between sincerity and dismissiveness, solidarity and insensitivity. (See Blind Spot #4)

Blind Spot #3: Private vs. Public

I recognize that there is a temptation here to dig our heels into the place that feels most comfortable and confine our “dialogue” to only the blogosphere, the private conversations or the public forms. But we cannot afford to relegate our conversations to only one space. The cultural insensitivities have happened on all levels, and like it or not, they are being talked about in public and private spaces. As a united Church, let’s press in together to grow in personal and corporate reconciliation. If you’ve only had conversation in one particular space, I would encourage you to go beyond it, and invite others to do so, too.

Dialogue on these levels are often not one-time, quick fix conversations. Inevitably, in the coming weeks and months, it can appear as if parts of the Church are bashing one another or living without forgiveness. For some, that may actually be true, and if that’s you, don’t settle in a no man’s land of bitterness. Rather, let’s value others above ourselves in Christ (Philippians 2). Let’s forgive freely and live full of grace. Let’s believe that we are for each other in Christ. And let’s remember: growth will take time, patience and effort from all who are involved.

Blind Spot #4: Forgiveness and Reconciliation are Different

Let’s not confuse these two things.

Forgiveness is a gift we offer freely to others in Christ. We do so because Christ has freely forgiven us and calls us to do likewise (The Lord’s Prayer). It does not mean that we overlook the offense, or somehow downplay our hurt. Instead, forgiveness looks at the offense and chooses to love and accept the person unconditionally in Christ. When we choose to forgive, something beautiful happens. We not only free the one who offended us from our anger and desire to enact justice ourselves, but we also free ourselves from bitterness, self-righteousness and pride. We free ourselves from self-destruction. Or rather, Christ frees us. Regardless of any apology, forgiveness is God’s call for us. Sometimes, we may not be ready to forgive. More conversations may be needed before forgiveness happens. That’s okay. Yet, in the same breath, needing time and space does not change the fact that we are all called to forgive each other in Christ (Matthew 18).

Reconciliation is not forgiveness. Reconciliation includes forgiveness, but it’s not the same thing. Reconciliation is the process through which two or more individuals/communities progress towards renewed relationship, trust and understanding of each other. Reconciliation does not happen overnight, and often times, it can take months, even years for it to be fully realized. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the places where I pray we are going. May we, the Church, be people who have freely forgiven because of God’s forgiveness, but also people who are making every effort to pursue real peace and reconciliation through ongoing dialogue. As the people of God, we need to learn from each other. We need to listen. It’s a slow journey, but it’s always a worthwhile one.

Last Thoughts:

As a brother in Christ, I’ve forgiven those who have been culturally insensitive. And just to err on the side of clarity, I was never angry or bitter towards anyone. As I’ve reflected on what’s happened in the recent past, I do not believe the videos, the facebook post and the Deadly Viper book were ill-intentioned. They were products of insensitivity or low cultural awareness.  I understand that some of us cannot accept the apologies offered at this point, and ultimately that is your decision. But apology accepted or not, we are still called to forgive, just as Christ has forgiven us. We also need to raise awareness and graciously share our stories so that we can be understood – even as we come to understand others. Otherwise, nothing changes.

Forgiveness is not the final chapter; it points to reconciliation. So now, as the Church continues to dialogue, the process of reconciliation can begin. And it is happening! Our American Evangelical Church is growing in Christ because of how this letter is raising awareness and inviting dialogue. Together with the writers of the letter, I am hopeful. We can debate the forum and public nature of the letter, but the truth is we are seeing Christ renew his Church. Even if you may disagree with the method of the open letter, please don’t miss what Christ is doing in all of our communities.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. Would love to talk and grow together with you more!

A Journey in Missions, Pt. 2

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Circa early 2000’s:

“Have you ever considered ministry?”

Excuse me, what? Of course I have. A few years back, the parking lot, sun blazing. It was really hot. No thanks.

Throwing the last pieces of drum equipment into their respective bags, I searched for the best way to respond. I mean, I didn’t want to offend the guest speaker for our winter retreat. Awkwardly, I looked up for a second. I guess it’s kind of an honor to be asked. But in my own teenage world of friends, fitting in, getting grades, running and eating uncontrollably because my metabolism was like rocket fuel, ministry was the furthest thing from my mind. So in my best attempt to be respectful while also seeming semi-interested, I muttered to him, “No, not really….why are you asking?” Great strategy, put it back on him. As I was busy congratulating myself on a well-played hand, he said a few things. After a few moments, he finished up. Right on cue, I said thanks and walked off, wondering why this guy, who I just met a few days ago, would ask such a substantial life question. I bet he probably said something that would’ve been helpful when I asked why. Maybe I should have paid attention. But I mean, I’ve got my whole life in front of me. I haven’t even graduated from high school yet, and I’m just trying to enjoy my winter break. So I side-stepped his question and trudged through the snowless fields of that Texas retreat center, the ground’s dead grass crunching in cadence with my really cool Nikes. Time to get on the bus and head back to Dallas.

In the following weeks, though, I couldn’t shake off the question. It was like those words had made landfall on my imagination and were now moving further into my comfortably constructed life (Well, really it was more my parents who had constructed it. I was just basking in it.) Then, the second wave came crashing in. Prayer times were littered with snapshot visions of ministry and what could be. Uninitiated conversations about calling kept happening with people I respected. It almost seemed like my youth pastor and the leaders were all colluding together to execute some sort of masterful, step-by-step plan to ask me the ministry question each time I saw them (I got so paranoid that I even asked one of them if they were somehow in concert with each other. They weren’t). And finally, the kicker. During that time, I wrestled with a lot of different parts of Scripture. Chief among them were John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” and Mark 8:34 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

At some point during those two months, I slowly began to learn how to surrender to Christ and deny myself. Jesus was showing himself to be far better than anyone or anything in my life. I wouldn’t say that I was saying “yes” to ministry or “no” to ministry. Looking back now, I don’t think I even knew what ministry really was (that’s another post altogether). I was simply learning how to follow Jesus, the Faithful One who was and is my life, my strength and my eternal hope. In this satisfying surrender, I started to meet with the God of mission, this Hound of Heaven, who pursues me in Christ and reveals His heart to me.

It’s surprising how a few words, strung along together into a question, can so radically affect us. God’s words are different for each one of us. No matter who you are, what you do or where you are, God is present and speaking to you. As you meet with Him, what are God’s words for you? Where might his voice lead you? What is his call for you today? Don’t just listen. Respond. Only then will you know Him as the One who says, “Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home. Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat-and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet-
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

…..

Now of that long pursuit,
Comes at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy Earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me.
Strange, piteous, futile thing;
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting;
How hast thou merited –
Of all Man’s clotted clay, the dingiest clot?
Alack! Thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee, I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms,
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home –
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

– Excerpts from “Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson

 Photo Credit: “Hound of the Baskervilles” by Bialy

A Journey in Missions, Pt. 1

stained glass

I grew up in a Chinese church in Dallas that supported missionaries. Every year, we would have a missions conference, and families serving in China or India or some other seemingly remote place in the world would come to share about what God was doing overseas. One Sunday, when I was still in middle school, a missionary came and shared his testimony with the church. I’m sure everything he said was great, but my mind was somewhere else. All I could think about were the difficulties this guy and his family had to endure.  No nice bathrooms, no $2.99 Cici’s pizza, no air-conditioning… and their kids probably didn’t have recess…  (clearly, my middle school sensibilities about difficulty were very far-ranging and insightful).  After the service ended, I distinctly remember walking out to the back parking lot of my church. The sun was blazing that day, slowly baking all of those Toyota mini-vans, Honda Civics and occasional BMWs that were nestled next to each other in neatly organized rows. Beads of sweat started to form near my forehead. It felt like the temperature was already climbing close to 100 degrees again. Wiping those first droplets off with my hand, I started to make my way back inside. Need air-conditioning, now.

But for a moment before I entered the church again, a thought registered in my mind. Why would anyone ever go on missions?

Lost in my thoughts, I swung open the door. Suddenly, a gust of cold air rushed past me. I walked in, doing my middle school version of cost-benefit analysis. Not a lot of money. No cool toys. And I think the guy mentioned needing to raise money. So lots of costs, but what were the benefits? I couldn’t think of any that day. So as I rounded the corner and saw a few of my friends, I said to myself, “I’m never going to be in ministry.”

Photo Cred: Eddy Van 3000

One Thing

“One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.”

As the start of a new year student ministry begins, I’m reminded of how it’s so easy for me to approach ministry and life dualistically, as if the two were somehow disassociated from each other.  Ministry can suddenly become so external to my life with Christ. I can serve, meet new students, invite people to respond to Christ and lead teams – and never once experience how Christ is meeting me and my community. But when I retreat or step back from ministry, then I can experience Jesus. Then, I can take out my cup o’ joe, journal a little bit and interact with Jesus in my constructed and self-determined space. And yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s air-conditioned and well-lit, with some soft background music.

Oh how much I yearn to meet with you more, Jesus. Would you break down these boundaries and usher me to behold and know your Presence, the very Presence who dwells inside of this body, this temple.

Silence and Race

I’ll be honest. For a long time, I have sat at the edges as I’ve watched the Zimmermann case unfold, hiding in the background and avoiding any controversy. My wife and I have had few quick dialogues about updates we’ve heard or posts we’ve seen on facebook, but none of our exchanges have lasted more than 2 or 3 minutes.

As a Chinese-American, this type of veiled silence is often normal and deadly. Like a festering wound left untreated, it eats away at my soul and the collective well-being of our brothers and sisters. Of course, there may be an initial acknowledgment that something is amiss, perhaps even a certain amount of expressed sorrow shared on social media. But then, soon after, there is that silence that typifies so much of my own response. There isn’t an immediate uproar about insensitive comments, not even a response. Though I’m not Japanese, I’ll have to borrow this proverb because I think it illustrates a shared value that is often true for many, but not all, Asian Americans: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.” While this proverb has some great truth, this is not a time for us to remain silent.

I’m not here to pretend that I understand. There’s plenty behind this case that I will never understand. I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m part of the in-between. I will never know what it’s like to be stopped by an officer because of my skin color. I will probably never experience the looks of distrust or fear that others face daily when they enter into a neighborhood. I will not get it on that visceral, internal, gut level way that my black friends do.

I’m not here to take sides, but…. I’m torn up, and my heart goes out to all those involved and touched by this case. No amount of words could ever bring back Trayvon to his family and friends, and no amount of words could ever describe Zimmermann’s experience over the past several months and what he still faces beyond this trail. Given the complexity of this case, there’s not much more that I can write that will be helpful here. However, as I read posts and reactions to this case from different perspectives, I cannot escape this reality: race still divides. Yes, the civil rights movement has secured on paper an equality for us all, and yes, we’ve progressed in so many ways. But underlying all of our suburban neighborhoods, city planning, justice systems and cultural consciences, there’s something that’s seriously rotting in us around the issue of race. And it stinks, guys. Our perceptions of race still carry significant implications on how we treat one another. Have doubts? Check this racial profiling video out (Thanks K Khang!)

I’m here. I’m here to pray for the day when Christ comes to heal all that is wrong and bring it to right. I’m here to listen to my brothers and sisters and learn from their own experiences. I’m here to commiserate when appropriate. I’m here to encourage dialogue and growth rather than unquestioned assumptions or unhealthy silence. I’m here to take a stand for racial reconciliation, even as I find things in myself that need to be repented of. And I’m here to offer my voice rather than my silence.

A Plea to Asian Americans and Others Like Me. It’s easy to avoid being that nail that sticks out, to sit on the sidelines when you’re not primarily or essentially affected. But we’re not meant to live on the sidelines. When real injustice perpetuates itself in instances like racial profiling, God’s Spirit nudges us a bit because it runs counter to the Person of Christ and our very humanity as it is meant to be. It’s almost like he’s trying to shake us out of our slumber, saying “Pay attention! Don’t ignore this!” And if we really take a step back and consider what’s at stake, we would see that we really can’t afford ignorance. It’s too costly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to guilt or shame you into caring. Indeed, God intends for us to live in, through and by grace. But He also intends for us to participate in his kingdom breaking in as He makes all things new and transforms us “till we have faces.” So let’s get in the game. Talk with your friends. Ask what’s going on. Listen. Learn about the ways that racial profiling affects your own perspectives. And where we still might fall short, let’s lean on the One who will renew all things for his glory.

The Locomotion of Jesus [Pt. 2]

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Jesus to Naruto and Superman: “Take notes”

Finally back to blogging – thanks for hanging around guys =)

I’ve always found the idea of locomotion pretty cool. I think time travel, flying, Naruto and stuff I obviously can’t do. I googled the definition earlier this afternoon, and this is what popped up on Merriam-Webster: “an act or the power of moving from place to place.” I’ll come back to this idea in a bit.

In talking with my wife about our faith this past week, I was reminded that there’s an unmistakable desire felt in our humanity. Augustine called it the restlessness of our nature; sometimes, preachers describe it as a god-shaped hole. Any one of us might say that we experience it when, in our cultural ennui, we grasp for something more substantive than what we have or experience. In our own individual ways, we medicate ourselves on success, sex, prestige, power or significance. Even our innocuous pastimes – Kingdom Rush, reading, hobbies, NBA playoffs, movies – can morph into an unhealthy deterrent (or if you want old school, an idol) that keeps us from life. For the record, I’m bummed about the Spurs losing the Finals. Also, my wife and I are going to watch Man of Steel this weekend. We’re a week late, but can’t wait!!

Some claim that when you pursue God or gods, meaning or purpose are not too far behind. Yet in Christian faith, we find that the opposite is true. God, in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, pursues us. He ascribes significance to us in the Person of Jesus. He draws near, miraculously and peculiarly entering into our humanity, the very thing he created and sustains. Why? Because Scripture speaks about how it is impossible for us to please him in our own damaged and sinful being (Rom. 3:23). So when we could not reach him, he lovingly reached us in Jesus Christ, the Logos who, through his death and resurrection, mediates on our behalf for our good.

What does all that mean?

Let’s say that the previous paragraph is a pile of rocks dumped in front of your lawn, and your life is a home under construction. (I know – it’s a random metaphor, but there’s a lot of construction going on around my neighborhood, so it was the first thing that popped into my head). As the framing that holds and supports you goes up, you recognize that you’re in process, and the pile of rocks is probably for you at some point in the future. But then construction stops. There’s no more visible activities – no walls go up, no electrical wiring comes in. Everything just ceases. Soon you grow accustomed to the rocks, acknowledging them while not really caring too much about them anymore. You learn to become comfortable, even though you are only half-complete, a shadow of your true self. But the truth is, without those rocks surrounding you, you’re naked, exposed and destitute to the elements. There’s nothing you can do now except maybe grasp out to catch a floating newspaper that that wind brings you. But deep down, you know nothing even comes close to making your complete. Nothing. Until suddenly one day, the builder and the architect show up. They take the rocks and all the other materials, and they finish the work they started. They even throw in the crown moldings and upgrade your bathrooms to Italian marble. Italian marble! You got your sink with that awesome insinkerator. Vegetable pieces, watch out! And your newly minted A/C unit, just in time for summer. You’re set.

That’s what God does in the Incarnation. He comes to us in Jesus, who completes each one of us. He removes the scraps of newspaper and surrounds us with the rocks that always pointed to his intentions and his person. He fills your home, your being.

In Jesus, who is both the builder and the architect of our lives, we see the locomotion of God. We see Jesus, who moves from his eternal divinity into our frail humanity, that he might renew us. In his historical life, death and resurrection, Jesus shows up to finish and redeem what he began in us. Coolest thing – as God, he embodied our humanity. In every way, he was like us, he “gets” us, yet he also remained God, conquering our sin, our cultural ennui, our shame, guild and fear, that we might have life in him.  In our paralysis, he moved to meet us.

And he’s still moving – in our world and in your life. Do you see his locomotion?

Picture credit: redletterchristians.org

For more on Christ, here’s a cool presentation that recently resurfaced on my radar.

Does Location Matter? [Pt. 1]

“Location, Location, Location.”

Like an ancient statue wrapped and lined with green, twisting vines, this mantra has remained steadfast and true throughout the years. Even as the landscape of business has shifted, with the old oaks of advertising falling and the saplings of social media slowly growing into middle-aged trees, this one word, location, repeated three times over, has stayed stoic, echoing a seemingly ageless wisdom for every new sojourner who seeks success.

Yet if we move from business to spirituality, location’s staying power is suddenly rendered in a different light. Does my location – where I am – matter when it comes to knowing God? I often hear students and friends ask, “Am I only saved because I grew up in a Christian home?” The corollary question comes soon after: “Would I still believe in Jesus if I lived in a remote island or happened to grow up in another country?” These questions, and questions like them, are legitimate. They need to be asked because they unearth our curiosity about this God who is love and justice, mercy and grace.

Does location determine salvation?

Dallas and Rochester are very different. 110 degree summers scorch the flat, concrete roads of the South while those living in the North enjoy the fresh blooms of lilacs and outdoor concerts at Central Park.  Texas cultivates a culture that thrives on religiosity; New York finds its religiosity in business, success and a restless ennui. Having grown up in the Bible belt and later experiencing the cultural dynamics of New York and the East Coast in college, I’ve tasted the flavors of religion and spirituality available to us in both places. Nuances abound, but generally, Christianity is fairly accepted in one place (you can guess which one) and more opposed and questioned in the other.

Given the stark contrasts between Texas and New York, I can’t help but wonder whether my location growing up ultimately affected my salvation. Of course, environment and culture cannot be ignored. They do influence, and quite substantially, too. But do they corner my spirituality to reflect my surroundings?

At first glance, God’s Word doesn’t directly reveal much clarity to our question. There are no verses that address hypotheticals like ours. But we’re not left completely in the dark either. Acts 17 says, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

In these verses, my questions are relativized before a wise God, who has determined when and where I should live, so that I might seek him and perhaps reach out to him. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that beautiful? God ordains our specific circumstances and specially designates them for us, that we might know him. And he does that for all us – the one surrounded by Christian culture, the remote islander, the seeker and the outcast!

“‘For in him, we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”