InHo Kim – My Faithful Journey

Life Stills of a Korean-American Man/Husband/Father/Pastor

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My New Year’s Resolutions

Sound of MusicA few lazy nights ago, I found my wife snuggled on the couch watching my favorite movie of all time. I joined her on the couch as the lyric “doe a deer a female deer” was being sung. Yes, the movie was “The Sound of Music”. Oh I suppose I could say that I love this movie because of the great love story or the beautiful music and the singing or even that I used to be in love with Liesel, but I think the real reason is that this is the first movie I remember watching in a theater as a child. While still in Korea, my parents have told me that they had taken me to a few movies before this one, but none of them made as big of an impression as much as “The Sound of Music”. Even months later, I dreamed of being one of the Von Trapp children. I wanted to jump up and down the stairs singing “doe a deer”, to put on a puppet show to the “Goatherd”, to hear my father sing “Edelweiss”, and to walk along the Alps meadows while singing “Climb Every Mountain”. Music has always been a part of our family. My father would sing and play the piano or the guitar and my mother would sing and hum while cooking or doing chores around the house. Growing up, I would be awakened every Sunday morning by the sound of Bach, Mozart, Ravel, Stravinsky, Beethoven or Puccini in preparation for attending church that morning. 

As I continued to watch the movie, the song that hit me this time was the song that was sung when Maria and the Captain finally realize their love for each other, holding each other while singing, “nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever should. Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” I often think of this line when I am holding my wife or when I hug my kids and look into their eyes. But today, I thought about this as I reflect on what we celebrated just a short week ago. We celebrated Christmas. In my eyes, somethings did come from nothing. The song sung by Maria and Captain Von Trapp seems to suggest that their new found love came about because  they had done something good in their past. But God’s love that was born to us in the form of a vulnerable baby child came in spite of all the horrible things that humanity has done or all the good that we have not done. It is God’s gracious gift to us. And for me, the questions is always, now what? How does this event even change us or compel us to act in a certain way?

About a week ago, I heard a discussion on NPR about the concept of happiness. Two psychologists, both outspokenly nonreligious, were speaking on the subject, and both of them conveyed that religion and faith seem to have much impact on one’s happiness. Why? Answer: gratitude and purpose. They both concede that happiness is indeed the state of the mind and spirit and those who are religious seem to live with gratefulness for what they have been given. Of course, these are in general terms. But simple things like giving thanks for food, for shelter, for friends, family and life itself, instead of coveting others and thinking about what one does not have seem to make people happier. And the other reason for the greater happiness for those who are religious is a life lived with a purpose; a reason for living.

I would love to be able to change the world, bring peace, bring about justice and equality for all people, make most firearms illegal, or even make the world environmentally friendly, but I know that I can only help to bring about change in me, those in my family and those who I come in contact with. So with the theme of gratitude and purpose in mind, here are a few of my selfish and not so selfish new year’s resolutions for the year 2009 off the top of my head:

1. Shed Some Pounds: Since the birth of my son and daughter, I have gained 15 or so pounds. My wife has pretty much lost all of her weight through breast feeding and by her awesome metabolism. I have neither so it will take more more work on my part.

2. Exercise: my resolution #1 pretty much hinges on this one. Again, my excuse has been no time, no energy.

3. Walk My Dog Daily: With the birth of my children, my lovable dog Chewy has been getting the shaft. I barely make time to pick up his poop in his “poop” spot in our backyard. This way, I can walk my dog daily for an hour, get some exercise and lose weight at the same time. At least that is the plan. 

4. Weekly Date with Wife: Before our first child was born, my wife and I promised to go on at least one intentional date a week. We were doing pretty well until our second was born almost 7 months ago. We still do spend quite a bit of time together, but our intentional time has gone by the wayside and I would like to retain it again. 

5. To Actually Finish at Least Two Books From Beginning to End Every Month: I am notorious for beginning books and reading through to the middle before I find others that interests me and I begin reading many of those. Every year, I am left with a plethora of unfinished books. By the end of the year 2009, I would like to be able to say that I actually finished 20 or so books.

6. Finish The 12 Week Lesson in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and Finish One Song: This is one of those books on my desk that I keep reading and putting down, and writing a song has been something I have always wanted to do.

7. Do One Thing Good for Myself Each Week: Being an introvert, I need my time alone to rejuvenate and to get my creative juices flowing. It may be a walk on the beach, a browse through a museum, hanging out at my favorite San Francisco tourist areas, or just taking in the sights, the people, the smells and the sounds from my favorite coffee shops or bookstores. This is made somewhat easier by embarking on the lessons of the Artist’s Way, where I will have to go on a weekly “Artist date” by myself.

8. Even in Difficult Times, Continue to Count My Blessings: These last few years have been fairly difficult for my wife and I. We have been through much in our work and in our personal life. Financially it has not been easy for us, and we were taxed spiritually and emotionally as well. But not a day goes by where laughter is not heard or a smile is not shared. Everyday is filled with joy, love and gratitude for all that we do have and I hope to continue these sentiments into 2009.

9. Instill an Attitude of Giving: Now that my son is 4 going on 5, I would love to be able to begin to instill the heart of giving, not just things and money, but of giving of oneself. This year, I would love to go with him to do at least two service projects in the city to open his eyes to the needs of the city and how we can help.

10. Give Hope and Direction in My Ministry: I have been in my current church for just over a year and I feel like I am just beginning to understand them. I now get the ethos, understand the leaders and see how the church operates. I am also beginning to get the feel for the congregation members. Though I am a part time “unofficial” pastor at this church, this year, I would like to help the English Ministry of this church begin to think about and formulate a vision, a direction, a sense of self, a purpose and hope for the future.

That is my list for now. Happy New Year! And what are some of your hopes and dreams for this coming year?

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Imaginary Fire

fireplaceFor the past two months, I have been complaining and/or dreaming of my imaginary fire. I may be wrong on this, but I think my facebook friends may be tiring of my many “imaginary fire” updates. You see, I indeed have a fireplace in my home here in San Francisco (yes, that is a picture of my fireplace) and on most nights I indeed can build a fire. The sad thing is that I have been absolutely lazy to check the air quality updates on a daily basis. This winter in San Francisco, it is against the law to burn wood in fireplaces on “spare the air days” from November to February. Typically, we have around 20 of these days interspersed throughout these months. The fines begin in the hundreds to thousands. You can see a short article here. So instead of lessening our checking account needlessly with money we don’t have, we have decided to not burn anything in our stocking adorned fireplace, which by the way should make it easier and cleaner for Santa to slide down the chimney in a few days. 

I don’t really need to burn anything in the fireplace at all, especially if it does any damage to the environment or hurts our neighbors who may have health problems. I don’t even need it for the heat. It is purely for emotional pleasure and the idea of a family gathered by the warm, flickering flames. With both my wife and I pastoring in our respective churches, it is always difficult for us to spend the holidays with family. We have been truly blessed these past few years, including this year, that my parents have been able to be with us during the Christmas holidays. But for some reason, I especially love having my parents here with us this year. Maybe it’s the fact that it has been a difficult year for us, or maybe now that we have a daughter we want her to be as close to her grandparents as her brother has been. Or maybe, just maybe, it has been so tiring parenting two children this year, I now want to be parented myself. To be mothered and fathered is a feeling that I will never outgrow no matter how old I am.

A few years ago, I went back to Brighton, Michigan to visit my parents. It is my hometown and it is not something I do very often. But I distinctly remember a moment when I thought to myself, “I will always be my mother’s child.” It is not something I think of on a regular basis but it was not an unpleasant feeling. I distinctly remember the moment while at a local mall and wrote a few lines of verse for a song that I never finished:

I am standing in the mall with my aging mother

Trying on a pair of pants one after another

Here I am a man supposedly 40 some years old

Still enjoying being taken care of like he’s a 3 year old.

I am sure that there is a country song in there somewhere, though “country” as a genre is not on my musical radar.

For this year, the fire and glow is not in our fireplace, but in my heart and in my soul. I watch my mother hold and laugh with her 6 month old granddaughter. I see my 4 year old son run into the arms of his grandfather first thing in the morning. I hold and and snuggle with my wife to bask in all our blessings and in our abundant love. And yes, even Chewy the dog rubbing his brown, soft, furry body along my leg wanting to be petted and rubbed gives me a warm glow. 

In this hectic holiday season that all ends on Christmas eve, I hope the real glow of the meaning of Christmas doesn’t fade the day after Christmas. (Not unlike my somewhat flickering glow for Obama as to the choice of  Rick Warren for the invocation prayer at his inauguration. Don’t get me started and I am still trying to understand it, here, here, or video here – but I digress) I hope to continue to remember God’s love that came to us in the form of a baby Jesus, and just like an infant, I will continue to provide nurture and care so that love, peace and justice can permeate in all and through all. All I can do is to keep the glow of Christmas burning and “Go Light My World” as in the song by Chris Rice:

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Sorrow into Joy

Upon reflection of this weekend’s activities, it is amazing how seemingly random events are so interconnected. First was the Saturday night Christmas party for the English Ministry of our church. It was a gathering of current and former members of all ages. At the midpoint of our get together, as we were contemplating the true meaning of Christmas, I asked those present to share stories of hope or joy. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked that question, but it turned out to be a wonderful time of sharing that lasted much into the night. People began to share their experiences of this church, of who invited them, who welcomed them, their painful and joyous times, and of meeting their spouses at this particular church or walking into the church office to find their pastor handcuffed to the file cabinet by those who took all of the Sunday’s offering. And finally we heard stories about the history of this church. Though First United Presbyterian Church was founded in the mid-1800’s, it moved to its current location in 1953. It was a mostly Caucasian congregation and it was busting at the seams with almost 500 children and youth participating each weekend. Then as it often happens with many churches, the membership began to shrink and age and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the church viable. It was at this moment when the Taiwanese congregation was welcomed into the church and it was this congregation that continued the ministry of First United PC. It was a new birth and the former members of the church told stories of their thankfulness to this congregation for carrying on the ministry of the church. It was a moment of turning sorrow into joy.

Just this morning, the Advent candle that was lit and my message during the service happened to also touch on the topic of turning sorrow into joy. The scripture was from John 16:16-22 where Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection and turning sorrow, mourning and pain into joy. Jesus uses the metaphor of a woman who endures labor pains, but soon forgets about the anguish and feels the joy of bringing a baby into the world. I know that we would like to think of Jesus as being empathetic and equal to both sexes but when I read this, I know he is speaking from a very male point of view. I know many women, my wife included, who may forget the pain for awhile; however, I do not think it is completely forgotten. One thing that was clear to me is that all of the tears and the screams of childbirth did turn into joy when my wife held our baby in her arms. The tears of pain immediately turned into tears of joy.

"Laying on of Hands" by Toto Hartono

"Laying on of Hands" by Toto Hartono

This evening, I attended a different kind of birth. It couldn’t have happened at a better time when we are in the Advent season and especially on a Sunday when we celebrate “Joy”. Today was the day when Mission Bay Community Church was finally birthed as an official church of the Presbyterian  Church USA. It certainly was not an easy process. Its conception and labor pains lasted 9 years. I was privileged to be part of the pastoral staff for five of its beginning years. And now that this community has been joyously birthed, yes, I still remember the birthing pains.

I remember times when we would work blood, sweat and tears to put a great worship service together week after week to only see 5 or 6 people in the congregation. For more than a year, the members of the small band, the pastoral team and a few worship leaders would outnumber those sitting in the pews, or I should say, sitting on IKEA chairs. I remember the 100’s of trips to our favorite store IKEA to fill our worship/office space. I remember all of the moves and the pains of boxing and hauling and painting and redecorating and reorganizing. My mind aches to think of all of the disappointment that we would feel when we would not see the fruits of our hard labor, knowing that we would have to pick ourselves up to work just as diligently the following week, knowing the results might be the same. I remember agonizing over the budget and having to take major salary cuts. I remember losing hope and faith at times. And yes, there were tears and fears and gnashing of teeth along the way. And I remember all of the former and current “as of today” members of this congregation, who began with the church or soon after its conception who gave time, energy and sacrifice to make today’s celebration possible.

But as I was laying hands on the new members, elders and pastoral staff, who would lead this congregation, I did for a moment forget the pain. I was at one with all those in the room to celebrate the joy of the moment and prayed that God would continue to bless and lead them in very special ways. And though I do remember all of my pains and sorrows in this place, I felt joy that this congregation has come so far and that I was privileged to have served in a small way to make this birthing possible.

May God continue to work through Mission Bay Community Church to transform, heal and touch the lives in the San Francisco community and the world.

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Holiday Cheer

With all of the busyness of Advent/Christmas season, I sometimes forget about the real meaning of Christmas and also lose some of the Christmas cheer. But once in awhile I encounter something that brings a smile to my face and warms my spirits. And this video brings me back to the ’80s at the same time. It’s Straight No Chaser singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”:

For those of you who are not cultured enough to know the song that they are singing, here is Toto singing “Africa”:


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Unexpected Hope

pennySo as I was about to take a few “golf” pencils from the back of the pew to poke my eyes and ears out as I sat through an excruciatingly laborious congregational meeting, I was stunned back to reality by two things. First, as I was about to put my head in my hands and stare down to the floor to find a sign that this will get better, I found a shiny penny on the red, just shampooed carpet below me. And secondly in that same exact moment, the elder who was about to take us through the budget for next year mentioned a name, Louise Mueller. Though I knew what the penny was and what it represents, luck or hope or even a sign of uselessness in today’s economy, I had no idea who Louise Mueller was. It was explained to us that Louise was a former member of this church. Because this church touched her so much over the years and because she continues to have such hope for this faith community, she gave a large portion of her estate in her death to our church. Hope comes from such unexpected places. As our economy struggles, so does our churches and the church that I serve is no exception. I believe it hits smaller churches the hardest. But just when things look bleak and the glimmer of hope begins to distinguish, hope arrives unexpectedly.

As I began to ponder the incredible gift of hope that Louise gave to the church in its time of need during Advent, my mind wondered to my experience of Advent just two years ago. In just a few months after a painful separation from a faith community I dearly loved and cared for, in my dark place of despair, my wife and I discovered that we had conceived our much wanted second child. It occurred during the beginning of Advent and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We were desperately needing and looking for any sign of hope, and joy came down to us in a form of a our beautifully growing child. As I reflect back, at the time without knowing it , this child became for us “the” sign of hope in our lives. But it was soon short lived when in early January, during an ultrasound, we found that our baby’s heart was no longer beating. Not only were we devastated because of the loss of our child, but also because of the loss of hope in our lives. It threw me into such a state of despair that the only way to express it was through a handwritten poem:

I Am Sorry

I am sorry for the way

I didn’t think about you during the day

I am sorry for the way

I didn’t talk to you each night

I am sorry for the way

I forgot about you in my life

I am sorry for the way

You are not here with me today

I am sorry for the lack of tears

And for my stoic face

All I feel is numb and cold

And a smile is a mile away

I am sorry that I did not think

About you, when you were alive

And I am sorry I try to forget

About you, now that you are gone

I am sorry for the way

I put my hopes and dreams on you

I knew it was unrealistic

But it’s what I needed to do

And I am sorry that my anger

Is over a damn bed that will not come

Instead of that my unborn child

Will cease to grow and be born

But I do think about you

Each and every night

Just how much I would have loved you

And kissed you good night

How beautiful you would have been

And a mother and brother who would have love you so

And now all I can say

Is sorry that you had to go

So we lay your beautifully forming body

In front of our loving God

May God hold you close and dear

Forever and today

I love you, Your Daddy

But in this darkness, hope came unexpectedly from so many places. There were many Louise Muellers in our life. When I had lost hope, there were others who hoped for me, carried me and even instilled hope in me once again. So in this Advent season as we celebrate the time of hope, I continue to think about how I can be an agent of hope to those who need it the most. And I think this is what the Advent Conspiracy is partly about:


The Art of Forgetting

Gluttony is the word that describes my last 6 day vacation in Reno. The days just flew by full of food, laughter, beers, wine, desserts, and more food, laughter, and yes even more libation. It was a whirlwind vacation with a Thanksgiving feast, family gatherings, my son’s birthday party, a baptism of my niece, pictures with Santa and ending with a hike into the mountains of Toiyabe National Forest to find our own Christmas tree. Here is a family pic (possible Xmas card?)

2nd annual xmas tree search

For six days my only focus was my immediate and extended family. It felt awesome. Of course it took me a few days to mostly unplug my life. I say mostly, since I did send a few twitter updates during the six days. Being an Internet junkie and a recent convert to social networking sites, it was difficult to completely unplug. It took all I had to hold myself back from checking all of the news/tech/digg/sports/facebook/google reader/twitter gadgets on my igoogle page as I stared at a beautiful 24 inch iMac screen in my sister-in-law’s home. It was harder still to ignore my emails on my blackberry which constantly reminds me of incoming mail with a tone only described as “caffeine”. My favorite blackberry button during the week was “delete on handheld”. Even in my SF home when our eldest is away in preschool, you would mostly find my wife and I in the living room with our laptops, browsing, checking emails and working while instant messaging each other sitting side by side. Geeky I know in a cute kind of way of course. And finally it took two days to completely unwind and leave my work life.

In the midst of my vacation, what I began to forget is the world around me: no news, no information, no emails, no status updates. I would not have known about the terrors in Mumbai, the bombing in Somalia, the continued economic downturn, and the possible Obama cabinet members if my news hungry father didn’t tell me about them when I called him to wish both my parents a Happy Thanksgiving.

But most of the six days felt like a Sabbath for me, a true Sabbath of rest and of basking in the life that I now live. It was a time to unwind from the world, work and information overload. This vacation gave me a chance to enjoy those around me, and God’s gifts and creation more abundantly. And it all culminated on our last vacation day while hiking through the forest on our 2nd annual Christmas tree finding expedition. Breathing in the cool crisp air with the crackling sounds of snow under our feet and with family and friends by our side, it was easy to forget my San Francisco and my cyber life. I drank it all in while watching my son and his cousin make snow angels on the ground, staring at my wife lovingly holding and kissing our daughter, smiling at my dog Chewy as he pranced in joy among the snow piles, searching high and low for our perfect Christmas tree, laughing while hearing awful jokes, and yes, downing another beer while holding, no inhaling a bowl full of homemade chili. It was a perfect way to celebrate and end my Sabbath.Toiyabe Forest Hike

The art of forgetting is difficult to master and so needed in life, and this week has reminded and taught me just how important it truly is.