InHo Kim – My Faithful Journey

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


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My Heavy Feet And Heart

circle of friendsIt is Tuesday night around 9:40pm. It has already been close to 7 hours since the beginning of the Presbytery meeting and most of the 350 or so commissioners (all those who have the power to vote), are still there in this large sanctuary. The soft hauntingly beautiful music begins to play and soon the sanctuary is filled with the glorious, angelic voices of a choir. We all begin to stand and head to the front of the sanctuary to the Table that unites us, where we would partake of the bread and wine of communion and then stand hand in hand as we circle the outskirts of the sanctuary, singing, “Let us break bread together on our knees, let us break bread together on our knees. When I fall on my knees, with my head to the rising sun. . .” Doesn’t that sound like a beautiful way to end a long meeting/gathering of fellow Presbyterians, fellow Christian from the greater San Francisco bay area as we usher in and rest in the presence of Jesus among us. And yet it was the single most difficult thing that I had to do that night. As I held my 4 year old son, it took all of my energy to put one foot in front of the other, to stand in line, to take communion and hold hands in a circle with those I barely knew or didn’t know at all.

You see, just a few minutes earlier, there was a very crucial vote taken in our presbytery, a presbytery that consists of just over 80 congregations. Actually, it was a wonderful way to take such an important vote. It was taken in the midst of worship. With the crisp clear voices of soloists and the choir in the background, with scripture read by our presbytery moderator Chuck Fry, such as “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in all”, whose voice by the way is like the voice of God or angels and who I could listen to all day even if he was reading the yellow pages, we all took a vote. It was an important vote. It was a vote to pave the way for our LBGT brothers and sisters to be fully included into the life of our church. In the overall scheme of things in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a yes vote by this one presbytery may have not made too much of the difference this year, but this is MY presbytery, a church that I dearly love. And this year, by the vote of 177-167, we, the body of Christ, couldn’t make possible the way for full inclusion of all of our brothers and sisters. As the results were read, my heart was heavy, saddened and my eyes filled with tears. I hurt for the fellow brothers and sisters. I was ashamed (an immediate Asian response). I was angry.

When I checked the presbytery packet a week before the meeting, I read through this part of the agenda and thought how wonderful it was to have this critical and divisive vote be part of a worship service. And especially ending with communion to signify that we are still united under Christ made such sense to me. But as the vote was read and the music began to play to signal our moment to come forward, I couldn’t do it. My legs wouldn’t move and my feet felt like dead weight. I only stood up and began to move because I was holding my 4 yr old son who was such a trooper to sit with me all that time during this long meeting. It was my son who asked me what was happening in this part of the meeting and what people were discussing. It was because of him that I began to move slowly toward the front of the church to take communion with all those in the room, for I wanted to live out what I have always told him that even in the face of vast differences, we should still love and respect the other. I wanted to show him now and then to tell him someday that even at times when Christians so vehemently disagree with each other, we can and should be able to worship together. But I have to say that it was difficult. It was difficult to approach the table, the table where Jesus ate with and welcomed all, when we as the church, just minutes ago, voted to exclude some of our brothers and sisters from that exact table. And it was difficult still to stand in a circle and hold hands with those who stood at my right and left, those I didn’t know and who may have voted for the perpetuation of exclusion of certain members in our churches.

The last line of the song “Let us Break Bread Together” is “Lord have mercy on me”. That is the last line of every verse in the song. “Lord have mercy on me.” As I stood in the circle and meditated on those words, my immediate thought was for God to have mercy on us for what we have just done. But as I closed my eyes and began to meditate a little more deeply, I realized that I was the one who needed mercy. After this song was finished, a single voice began to sing “Amazing Grace” and others soon followed. I became visibly angry. It took all my power not to let go of the hands I was holding and walk away from the circle. The words to this song would not come out of my mouth. Where was the “Grace” that we are singing about in the decision that was just made? But again upon deeper mediation, then and as I think about it now, it was me who needed the grace, for all those who stood in the circle in that room did not take their decisions lightly. They all voted, like me, after deep searching and with prayerful hearts, minds and souls. Who am I to disrespect and question their integrity? Who am I to hate them for the decision that came from their hearts and voted with their conscience? Who am I to thwart the love and unity in Christ even in the midst of such divisiveness? In the very moment that I thought I should be asking God’s forgiveness for our decision, which I still did, I was asking forgiveness for myself. I felt saddened that the hands of those I was holding was defined by this one vote rather than the many other things that may unite us. And I was dismayed that when push comes to shove, instead of acceptance and love, it became almost impossible to even worship with those who had different views from mine.

Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound
That Saved a Wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

I am not sure I can completely say that I “see” the way God does for I know that I am still partially “blind”, but I can certainly say that indeed God finds me and saves me over and over again. Amazing grace.


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“I Promise To Visit Soon”

Italy Earthquake

Just last night we began our gatherings for Holy Week. It was also the beginning of the 8 day celebration of Passover. Rabbi Arik Ascherman writes that “Pesakh (Passover) is a time where Jews traditionally clean their homes of khametz (leavened grain products) and that many speak of cleaning our souls of khametz as well.” For us, it was a time to de-clutter our lives, our hearts and our spirit so that we can journey with Christ during the darkest of times and also rise joyously with him. We read scripture, acted out a Holy Week Play, celebrated communion, discussed how our lives connected to this time of the liturgical year and sang together. Then we ended the night in prayer, silently and aloud, for those dark and troubled places in our lives and in our world that is so in need of God’s love, grace and redemption.

We prayed for the 15th anniversary that commemorates that genocide in Rwanda that killed more than 800,000 innocent lives. We grieved over another mass shooting at a Korean Christian retreat center, a center that helped the orphans and the homeless. It is no less than 8 such mass shootings in the past few months. We prayed for the continued unrest and wars around the globe. We prayed for these difficult economic times and for the growing homeless population that includes 1.5 million children, 45% of which are below the age of 6. We prayed for one of our elderly members who had a horrible fall and fractured her elbow and her knee. And finally we prayed for the hundreds of deaths and thousands of displaced families in the earthquake in central Italy.

As I was driving home from this wonderful and spirit filled gathering, I turned on the radio to listen to NPR. The announcer stated that as of last night, there were 272 dead and 28,000 displaced residents in this town of L’Aquila, Italy. After all the news detailing the horrible destruction of that city, the announcer ended this segment by saying “And Pope Benedict has promised to visit them soon after Easter.” Upon hearing those words last night, I felt anger from the tips of the toes to the top of my head. Ok I was hungry, sleep deprived and visibly tired, and I could have been irrational in my feelings, but anger was all I felt.

Here is a town that has been torn apart by this earthquake. As of today, there are 279 dead, countless others missing, just fewer than 30,000 displaced with 17,000 living in tent cities just outside of town. 10’s of thousands of others have fled the city and are lucky enough to have family close by where they can live temporarily. One can not enter its churches, its schools, or most other public buildings because of structural damage. The newly built hospital that was suppose to withstand earthquakes is also crumbling and with one more shake, the experts say that it could come down also. In a country where 96% of the population is Roman Catholic, the Pope says he “will visit soon after Easter.”

Many times, when tragedies happen, the goodness in people shines forth. I remember while working in a nonprofit in downtown San Francisco that worked with underprivileged youth, a young girl was hit and instantly killed by a school bus two blocks from her middle school. Knowing some of the youth who attended that school, several of us went to the school to see if we could be of help, but already gathered were religious leaders, counselors, youth oriented non-profits to help any way they can. When I walk my dog Chewy, I find people walking several dogs at a time, and several of those people, I later found, are pet sitting for those families whose lives have been turned upside down in New Orleans until they can get back on their feet again. I know of scores of churches in the area who still continuously send people to work on homes to rebuild the towns and lives of people of New Orleans.

The Pope, who some say is the incarnation of God on earth, or the second in line to Peter, the rock, the foundation on which the Church is built, will not visit this little town in their time of need. So I thought maybe he is not in Italy or anywhere close for him to visit before Easter. No, he is in the Vatican. Maybe this little town of L’Aquila is too far away even in Italy for him to travel to during Holy Week. So I Google mapped it from Rome and it is only about 100 km away. That is about 62 miles. So in the Pope’s eyes and for the powers that be in the Vatican, it is far more important for the Pope to be part of the Holy Week services than sneak away for even a few hours to care for one of their own just 62 miles away. It reminded me of George Bush flying over New Orleans during its hurricane decimation and never landing. Call me unfair for the comparison but it’s just what I am feeling at the moment.

This also reminds me of the religious leaders who rebuke Jesus for bringing God’s love and healing to those who especially need it on the Sabbath. As the Gospel of Mark states:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:1-6)

The Pope’s inaction is a reminder to me, even in my difficult, sleep deprived, busy week, to not let the work of the church hinder the work of God’s love and grace to those around me. Or else verse 5 should be ringing in my ears when Jesus “looked around them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness . . . “


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All About the Experience

newtraditions

This past Friday, with a huge sigh of relief, my wife and I enrolled our son in the San Francisco public school of our choice, New Traditions Elementary.  The published statistics showed that only 60% of families had an opportunity to enroll in their 1st school of choice this year. It is a crazy public school system here in San Francisco, but we made it through all the meetings, the school visits, making decisions on what our 7 top choices would be and the four months of waiting after submitting all of our papers to the school district. As we sought the best school for our son, we really just had one criteria in mind. Is this a place where my son, with his particular personality, strengths, affinities and needs will be able to thrive?

Out of the plethora of schools that we visited last fall, New Traditions Elementary was our last visit. It wasn’t the newest building or the nicest. It didn’t have the latest technological equipment, spotlessly clean and sterile hallways or the highest API scores in San Francisco. The playground was not much to look at and really, neither was their website. But as I set foot into the school, there was a warmth to the place that was very palpable. It felt very homey. There was a familial feel within the staff and between the families of the students. We walked in to the sound of children singing in the auditorium and entered the Kindergarten class where the children were working cooperatively by reading together, building structures with toothpicks and marshmallows, helping each other with computer programs, painting and drawing, solving several puzzles, and putting on a puppet show. These methods were all used to study the single theme/subject for the day and it was all happening at the same time! Does it sound chaotic? It definitely looked like organized chaos and I loved it. The school’s website states:

We value the diversity of our community and recognize the importance of the creative arts in education. A holistic education recognizes that children learn academically and socially through all their senses. Students have the opportunity to learn through several modalities. For example, the required California Academic Standards are not only taught in the traditional way, but with projects integrating visual arts, music, poetry, and drama, taught by professional artists of our community.

Doesn’t that sound like a great way to teach and to learn. To engage the whole being, mind, body and soul and to experience fully what one is learning. I felt as if I had fully experienced their mission and vision and, again, I thoroughly loved it.

As I walked away from the school, I began to think about all of the churches that I had visited in the past and how many I can equate with this experience. I can honestly say not many, and sometimes, sad to say, not even at churches where I had served. The church is the place where God’s mission and vision comes alive. A church is the embodiment of Jesus on earth. The church makes visible the Holy Spirit who sustains, moves and empowers us to speak and show love and justice in our world. As Jesus eats with and invites all, the church is the place that welcomes everyone to the table. In how many houses of worship have I/we experienced this?

This school is the embodiment of its mission. We too as the church should be the same. It is something that I constantly strive for not only as a pastor, but especially as one who is part of a faith community that tries to follow in the ways of Jesus.


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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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You “____”!

I love games but am not an avid online gamer. So when a friend sent me an email to play Texas Hold’em on facebook, I decide to try a hand or two. It’s been years since I would get together with the guys on Friday or Saturday for poker nights. We would win some, lose some, eat some, joke some, and expletives would fly around the table faster than the cards or our chips. We knew each other and were all friends. Now we are all married, have regular jobs and yes, kids.

As I sat down to play with about 6 others on my laptop screen, I didn’t recognize their names let alone pronounce them. As the hands were played, we chatted with such niceties as “nice hand”, “good play”, “good one”, “I thought you may have that card”, etc. But as the game went on and the amount of the pot rose, the chatting became a little more venomous, until about 20 minutes into the game, the pot was as high as we had ever seen it. And with most of our chips in the middle of our imaginary table, I received the exact card that I needed on the turn and won. As I was celebrating while watching How I Met Your Mother, immediately the expletives came flying my way by people who I do not know and have never met. And for a brief moment, I remembered all of those names I was called as a young Korean American boy growing up in a small town in the Midwest, by people who did not know me or wanted anything to do with me.

I just read an article in Reuters about the new controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s faith. The controversy isn’t coming from those who think Barack Obama is a Muslim, though in a recent survey, 50%  of devout Christians who were McCain voters thought that Obama is/was a Muslim. According to the Reuter’s article, the question of whether Obama is a Christian is coming from “those who think he’s a phony follower of Jesus Christ.” And the reason for this is because of a few of his answers to some theological questions in a 2004 interview with beliefnet.com. It just doesn’t jibe with their own theological views on which they stand. These detractors have never met or have had a conversion with Obama personally about his life or his faith.

Labels. Definitions. Can we ever be free of them. Can we ever free ourselves from a society, a world that wants to define us. I grew up with the words “chink” or “Jap” that dripped off my body as I walked the malls, the halls of my school, or the alleys of the streets in all my little towns, knowing that I fit neither of those ethnic groups but treated as less than all the rest. I was the invisible Asian but belittled nonetheless. I walked into churches where I was taught either I was a sinner or that I was better than most because I was a Christian. I walked into high school and college with instilled values that I needed to excel in math and sciences because that was what I was supposed to do to find a safe career. I was told to be good and act my best at all times because I wasn’t just representing myself in the world, but I was representing all Koreans to the community around me. I was and still am constantly bombarded by commercials on billboards, newspapers, magazines, websites, TV and Radio telling me that I am a consumer and have lots of needs. I receive ad emails and pop ups on websites by those who think they know me and what I want in life.  And I am still haunted at times internally or externally, that as a pastor I should be “holier than thou” and can’t really be me.

In a 60 Minute story on the Obama’s, both Michelle and Barack are were very protective of their daughters as well as they should be. But more than that, they wanted to protect them from being unduly influenced by outside forces that will come just because they are the children of the President. Barack said that after 4 or 8 years, if his children stay true to who they are and not become jaded or changed because of this situation, then they would have done their jobs.

It has taken me until my mid twenties to begin to break out from under the weight of all of society’s labels of me and to truly be me. At times I felt like I wanted to scream and rant like these two women in the video. (Please excuse the strong language but not the sentiments)

For the past 13 years or so, I have begun a path to discovery to finally claim my identity as a uniquely created child of God. I am sure that no amount of Therapy or introspection and conversation can rid me of all of my labeled baggage, or would I want to rid myself of all of them, but I can be aware of them and at least try to make the world a better environment for my Son and Daughter to figure out who they are without all of the negative help. Wish me luck!


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Publicity Stunt, Bringing the Sexy Back, or . . .

I just came across a video and a few articles about a church lead by Ed Young in Texas. Beginning next week, he is calling for a 7 day sex challenge for married couples. Click below:


My initial reaction is that this is a publicity stunt for a church that worships around 20,000 each weekend. One can readily see from youtube that he has been on CNN, CBS and who knows how many other tv and radio stations. And if it is not a publicity stunt, and this is truly the way the church wants to talk about this issue, then. . . ill conceived or dangerous at its worst. I don’t think I ever want to my parishoners to say to each other, “because my pastor challenged us to do it”. To me, it is a very male way of looking at sex and especially intimacy between a man and woman. I will just chalk it up to messaging gone wrong. My favorite quote “it’s time that we need to put the bed back in church and God back on the bed”. What???


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Truth and the SF School Fair

School FairWe spent last Saturday morning perusing the sea of tables with information about different schools in San Francisco. In the almost three years that our son will have been in daycare and preschool, we will have spent more money than receiving my degree from University of Michigan where I attended in the late 1980’s. So we are taking the plunge into public school education which is full of choices, the anxiety, the information gathering, the waiting, and oh yeah, entering into The Lottery System that San Francisco uses to decide where our children will attend school. So in order to make an informed decision for our top 7 choices of schools, we spent an hour and half talking to school teachers, principals and parents. We already did some research before the enrollment fair and wanted to make sure to visit several school that we were already interested in, but also wanted a chance to see what other choices were out there. And we were pleasantly surprised that there plenty of good public schools in San Francisco that offer many different programs and teaching philosophies. Talking with those who were promoting their school of choice, one would have thought that all the schools were top notch, the best school out there, the most caring teachers, most involved parents, or “up and coming” and “jewel” in the rough. I think we have to take all of these with the grain of salt.

So today, as I was writing all the dates for school visitations, I began to think about the question, what and where is the truth. Do we take what these school promoters tell us at face value. Do we just rely on the comments, reviews and the school scores that we found on the internet. Or maybe do we just go with our gut. Today, I was directed to an online book called Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt by Mark Kelly. I was interested, had some time, and it was very short read. The author wants to prove beyond the reasonable doubt, more than saying I believe because I have faith, that the true religion and the morals associated with it is the Christian faith. He wants to blast holes in the different world views that people hold, such as Skepticism which he abhors, to prove that the Christian faith is the true religion. But in defending the Christian faith and denying other world views and ideas such as the Theory of Evolution, he uses those same lens of the skeptic. Not only that, he defends Christianity as truth by using the Bible itself and using his interpretation of it. As a Presbyterian pastor, I was so interested in how he would prove his point, but after reading the article, I became a skeptic myself. And a few questions that lingered afterwards is what is truth and what exactly are the truths that the author was talking about?

What is the truth? Is the truth relative? As I study, pray, engage with the community around me, I know I hold truths and stances that are very different from another’s. Whether it is in the interpretation of scripture, philosophy of ministry, or my moral and world view, I know my beliefs are contrary to some. In my context, in the place where I am today, in my connection with God, in my striving to live in the way of Jesus, I hold and live with these truths, truths which may be very different from another Christian who lives across the street, across town, or across the table in the small group that I lead. To me, this is where conversations are so important. I enter into these conservations with my truths, not to change the other’s mind or beat it over someone’s head, but more to listen and to fully hear, and hopefully to be heard as well. And in our talking, listening and understanding, the truth becomes bigger than mine or theirs.

Whatever the case, the truth of Christianity is not only to know it but to live it in love. More than making the best oratory or written arguments for Christianity, wouldn’t it be better to live and show it with our lived life individually and definitely as a community. This morning, I posted a status update on facebook pondering “what is truth”. And one of the comments I received was, “the love in your family and in your community”. For today, that is the answer to my question that I was seeking.

As for our Son’s school choices, we will visiting no fewer than 7 different schools in the first two weeks of December. More than taking the word of someone promoting their school, we will experience the school ourselves. And we certainly hope that the truths that were told is indeed true when we make these visitations. And really, isn’t this the truth that Christians and non-christians alike are looking for when they enter our communities of faith. Just wondering.