InHo Kim – My Faithful Journey

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


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Disruptions

disruptionAs I pondered this past Sunday’s gospel passage in John 2, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, the word that came to mind was “Disruption”. I usually think of disruption as something negative, but at times it is this disruptive Jesus who makes me feel and think about something that I hadn’t thought about or have forgotten about. Jesus shows me wrongs and injustices that anger me. Jesus makes me view the world in a new way and be transformed to live my life differently, or at the very least, moves me in a positive direction. So here are my disruptive moments/thoughts for this past week:

1. A 9 year old girl in Brazil who was pregnant with twins had an abortion this past week. It was soon found that the father of her twins is none other than her 23 year old stepfather who had been abusing her for some years. They are all catholic. In hearing this news, the archbishop of this town, with the backing of the cardinal in Rome, immediately excommunicates the doctors and the mother of this child. The young girl was not excommunicated since according to catholic law, a minor can not be excommunicated. And there was no mention of harsh words or excommunication of the stepfather. As the writer Mary Hunt points out,

at a time when a family most needs pastoral care, love and mercy (not to mention counseling and legal help), their church responds with a theological slap in the face. The Church is the cause of scandal. . . .In Roman Catholicism, according to these men, the law rules; letter over spirit, teachings over persons. One could ignore it, write it off as meaningless, except it’s hard to pass over the harm done to the people involved. They have suffered enough. They don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

It saddens me that any Christian church and followers of Jesus would treat God’s people in such callous and uncaring way. How was God glorified in this instance? I wondered how angry Jesus would have been in this particular temple.

2. I was recently directed to John Piper’s thoughts on female wrestlers by a few bloggers that I read, including Eugene Cho. I am not talking about women flying off the top rope WWF style, but actual high school competition on the wrestling mat. It seems that Elissa Reinsma of Minnesota, is the first female wrestler to ever compete at the state level in wrestling. And John Piper, a well known name in Christian circles, doesn’t like it. And really that’s fine, because I now have a daughter of my own, and don’t know what to think if she ever wanted to be a wrestler, though I would be supportive and never stand in her way of trying anything. But I do not agree with his theology, scriptural usage and use of belittling language to describe how women should act or how men should treat women. Here is some of what he says,

Wrestling obliges you to grab, squeeze, and pull with all your might. If a boy tries not to touch or grasp a wrestler around the chest, or not to let his legs entwine with the other wrestler, or not to slam his full body length on hers, he will wrestle with a handicap. Of course, he is being taught that handicap is not a virtue. . . Get real, dads. You know exactly what almost every healthy boy is thinking. If a jock from Northern Minnesota encircles her around the breasts and twists his leg around her thighs, trust me, he will dream about that tonight. Only in his dream she won’t have clothes on. And if he doesn’t dream it, half the boys in the crowd will. Wake up dads. You know this. .

He goes on to say by using 1 Peter 3:7, “woman as the weaker vessel”, that fathers should teach their sons to honor and protect girls/women.

I do not know John Piper, except for a few articles and blog entries, but I do know that if the only thing a son thinks about when he is in competition with a girl is sex, a father has much more to teach his son than honoring them a “weaker vessel”, which certainly he is not. Blog entries such as this from a very popular Christian leader makes me think that women’s viewpoints and voices are needed in all facets of society, and needs to be heard just as loud and clear.

3. Which brings me to the excellent blog entry written by Julie Clawson on women or the lack of women’s voices in the emerging church movement. It is a much needed read and something that should be heard by both men and women. The part of the blog entry that hit me the most as a man is:

I think men and women need to work together, mutually making sacrifices, to ensure that the conversation is a welcoming place for all. Men should take the time to extend invitations to women. They shouldn’t just assume that if women aren’t showing up to the conversation that they don’t want to be there. Taking the time to make room for women, going out of their way to extend invitations, and showing a willingness to learn from women are just the sorts of encouragements that many women need.

An invitation, so simple, yet powerful and difficult to do. It is not only about making room with an extra chair at the table, but also about giving up your power, giving up some of your time, opening your mind to new possibilities and giving up your voice so that other voices can be heard, encouraged and empowered. This idea is not just appropriate to the emerging church but to churches and society in general.

4. And finally, I came across a short article in CNN about homelessness in America. 1 in 50 children in this great country of ours is homeless. This is from a 2005-06 analyzed data. At that time, 1.5 million children were homeless and they are sure that number has increased. Just heard on NPR a few days ago that in the town of Richmond, California, just across the bay from where I live, the number of homeless children enrolled in public school has doubled this past year, from around 350 to now well over 700. We know of the many problems associated with homelessness including the physical and the emotional, and most of these children will never finish high school. I know that homelessness and hunger issues are difficult and multifaceted problems to solve, but as I work with my church to forge a way for the future and to be missional in reaching out to the world as Jesus did, I feel that we must do something. I recently heard an interview with Jody Williams, a woman who won a nobel peace prize 1997 for her work with International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and who continues to work for other causes said, “I don’t care where you volunteer. Just be passionate about something and then get off of your butts and do something about it. Just imagine what this world could be like if everyone just gave 1 hour a month to a cause they feel passionate about.” This has given me the impetus to work towards opening a food pantry at the church building for those who are hungry and with needs around our neighborhood. I am sure it will not be easy since this I serve a church that built tall iron fences around the courtyard 10-15 years ago to keep out all of the homeless in the area, but when Jesus disrupts, one must follow.

In many ways, the Christian life is about disruptions. It is about Jesus disrupting me from passivity and apathy to action, new possibilities and hope. So as I live my life, I will continue to be open to Jesus breaking in and disrupting my life over and over again.


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International Women’s Day – Faith of Sarah

sarai1Today, March 8th, is a celebration of International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), today is the Sunday to celebrate the gifts of women. A while ago, I came upon a blog by Julie Clawson, that challenged people to synchroblog or synchropreach about women in scripture. As I was doing some research about International Women’s Day on the web, I stumbled upon a timeline of the suffrage movement in the United States. As I quickly browsed the timeline from its beginnings 1776 to 1920 when the 19th amendment allowing women to vote was ratified, one thing became adundantly clear. It is that with any movement, there was much pain, tears, sweat, toil, moving forward then taking two steps back, but all along the way, there were women like Susan B Anthony, who wanted to make the world a better place for all and who held on to the promise that God created all people equally, “in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them (Genesis 1:27).

The lectionary passage for today was from Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. Instead of focusing on Abraham and the continuation of the promises that had been made a few chapters ago, my focus began to wander towards Sarah, not only what it says in the bible, but what she must have been going through; the pain, the suffering of not being able to have a child. At a time when having a child as a woman was of the utmost importance, and even knowing of God’s promises of descendants, Sarah must have felt much shame and even ridicule.

This makes me think of my mother and what she went through, especially the first 7-8 year of her marriage to my father. Fortunately, or more unfortunately for my mother, she happened to marry a man who is the first son of the first son of the first son and so on going back generations to a king in Korea. Talk about pressure to have a child, and not just a child but a son. She did not have problems conceiving, but had many complications carrying to term. For years, she would talk about her first pregnancy, of carrying to term twin daughters only to see them taken away immediately after the birthing because they were no longer alive. Since that first time, she subsequently had 5 more lost pregnancies before I came into the world. Though none of them were carried to term, most lasted past 4-5 months. Not only did she endure the pain and sorrow of losing these babies, but had to withstand the ridicule from my father’s extended family. My mother, though small in stature, is and continues to be a strong, devout woman, who did everything for her family. Even when she went through horrible morning sicknesses, her in-laws would make her get up 5am in the morning everyday to cook a big Korean meal for breakfast. I witnessed my wife go through morning sickness with both our children. She couldn’t stand the smell of water next to the bed. And here is my mother, cookings, stews, soups, meats, side dishes, though tasty, all smells to high heaven. While living at my father’s parents home, which was customary in Korea, she took much verbal and emotional abuse, much of it caused by her inability to have a child. Of course, she found out after my birth, that the verbal and emotional abuse did not stop. But that’s another story.

I have heard her tell her story many times, and I would always feel hurt and anger for my mother, but I would also feel a tinge of anger towards my father. How can my father, who is medical doctor, let her go through such hardships and pain, physically as well as emotionally. If it was my wife, after a few times of going through pregnancies which so taxes her body so heavily, I would want to stop the process altogether or at least have that conversation. But I also know how strong willed my mother is, and this devout woman always hung on to the hope, no, more than hope, a promise that she would indeed have a child and the child would be a son. If one is counting, I was number 7 and my brother was number 13.

I see Sarah as a devout woman who lived with the promise, the promise that Abram would have many descendants. She is advanced in age. She is still barren. The only thing that she can do to see the promise happen is to give Hagar, her servant to Abram, which was customary at the time. It was not a lack of faith on Sarah’s part, but her willingness to what is necessary to fulfill the promise. This is true of the women who had gone before in the suffrage movement and the women who are continuing that journey to this day. They also hold a promise to make the world a better place for themselves and especially other woman who will come after them. It is the promise that as we are all equally made in the image of God, we should all treat each other in the same way in all spheres of life.

It is intersting to note that in Chapter 17, the promises of God is given equally to both Abram and Sarai. Abram will be the father and Sarai will be the mother of nations and of kings. Abram and Sarai are given new names in this endeavor, Abraham and Sarah. Even God calls Godself by a new name, El Shaddai. Just as in the first chapter of Genesis, here again in Genesis 17, God is again creating anew God’s community and views equally valuable the man and the woman. God continually calls both the man and woman to work together to further God mission and God’s kingdom here on earth. Not only on this day, but the gifts of women should be honored and celebrated everyday.


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Seeing with New Eyes

Ian's photoSo I gave my 4 year old son an old digital camera. Since he watches me take pictures of the family on a regular basis, he has wanted to take pictures for awhile now. And now that he has one in hand, he takes pictures incessantly. It is definitely from his 4 year old, half my height point of view, like the picture on the left (I am still trying to figure out how he did that). What he sees and what is important to him is very different from my perceptions of the world. In viewing his pictures, I see life and the world a little differently.

During lent, our small group called The Journey has been studying the book of Acts. One common theme that emerged in the last two weeks is the idea that in conversion experiences, God helps us to view the world with new eyes. In the last two weeks, we have been studying the conversion of Paul and the acceptance of gentiles by Peter. For Paul, he was literally blinded by the light and when he could finally open his eyes after three days, he begins to experience and view the world in new ways. And for Peter, it was the vision in a trance and his up and close encounter with gentiles that opens up new worlds to him. Lately, I began thinking of seminal God-moments in my life that have made me see the world in a different way.

One such moment occurred as I was graduating from college. I helped take a group of high school seniors to New York City to do a week of mission work. I remember one of our projects was to take hot, nutritious meal to those who were suffering from AIDS. I grew up in a small town and in a somewhat conservative church. I had ambivalent feelings about homosexuality and had never met anyone suffering from AIDS. As I walked up several flights of stairs to the apartment of my destination, I felt a tinge of nervousness. What do I say? What do I do? Do I and/or can I touch him? It was at a time when information about AIDS was just beginning to surface. I knocked on his door and waited with abated breath.

He opened the door with a smile, shook my hand and asked me to come in. I entered and quickly scanned his small one bedroom apartment in the middle of Manhattan. I felt as if I was walking into Bronners in Frankenmuth, Michigan, a place that celebrates Christmas 365 days a year. His place was littered with Christmas ornaments, mistletoes, blinking lights, creches and tinsel. As I served him his meal, he asked me about my life and my experiences thus far in New York City. After telling him about my boring small town life, I asked him about his. I knew it then, but now looking back, it was truly a holy moment as he opened up and told me some of the deepest parts of his life. He told me about the rejection by his family when he told them that he was gay. He told me about the rejection by his pastor and his church and now he was completely ostracized since they found out he has AIDS. He told me about the deaths of his closest friends. And he told me about his life as one of the Santas at Macy’s during Christmas time. He told me that being Santa at Christmas was the happiest time for him, though he had to stop a year ago because of his deteriorating health. He stated that in his Santa suit he can be completely who he is and is totally accepted for what he is. As I listened to his story, I felt as if God had put God’s hands in my gut to violently stir it around letting me feel all of the emotions and the passion of the moment. I felt tears for this man, but more importantly, I felt deep anger and deep compassion for him. It was a holy moment as he felt safe and trusting enough of a 22 or 23 old to tell of the most painful parts of his life. Through his story, God was telling me that ambivalence is no longer viable for me. Ambivalence leads to apathy and that is no way to follow in the ways of Christ. I was to follow Christ with passion and compassion. On that day, God showed me through my gut what compassion, agape love and true koinonia with a fellow human being meant. Because of this experience, I was forever changed. From that moment, I did see the world with new eyes.

Tomorrow morning, the California Supreme Court will be hearing arguments for and against overturning Prop 8 Ban that passed a few months ago. My only hope is that the judgement be made with justice and compassion in their hearts. That is my prayer.


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My Son Wept

tearsThis past Saturday my 4 year old son wept. He didn’t cry, ball, throw a tantrum, but he simply wept. I always knew that he was a caring, empathetic child but it was the first time I saw his tears as he was experiencing an unpleasant and painful emotion in his life. You see, his grandparents, my parents, had been in town for 6 weeks. Every winter, my parents who are retired, visit us for an extended vacation during the month of December and January. It is their chance for respite from the frigid Midwest and to spend quality time with their grandchildren. As my son grows up, he is beginning to understand just how much they mean to him and he means to them. More than the things they buy him, which is constantly, he cherishes every moment spent with his grandparents, his hanmi and happi. They are always up in his room playing games, roaring like dinosaurs, dancing to his favorite music, playing instruments, kissing him, hugging him, tickling him and loving him. I could plainly see that they delight in him and he in them. For 6 weeks, he experienced what it might be like if we had lived closer to his grandparents rather than 2500 miles away. And this past Saturday at noon, they left. He was sullen all morning and wanted to go with me to the airport to see them off. As we hugged goodbye, I could see the tears well in his eyes as he told them he loved them and watched them head toward the terminal. On our 20 minute drive home, I held his hand as he stared out the window with tears that flowed down his face. His only words were, “Apa(dad), I really miss Hanmi and Happi.”

As I watched my child weep, it was strange to feel both sadness and joy. I was saddened that my son was experiencing painful feelings, but I also felt glad that he was able to express those deep feelings in a natural way. You see, I grew up in an Asian home, a Korean home. And though I am lucky to have such loving and caring parents, I grew up hearing all of the things a little boy might hear, “don’t cry”, “stand and dust yourself off”, “it will be ok”, “suck it up”, “boys can take it”, etc. Looking back, it didn’t help me get over my hurt or pain. It just made me deny and hide my true feelings. Tears were held back, anger was buried, pain was dismissed. And as I grew up, I hadn’t a clue what I was feeling or even who I was. It was only in my mid to late 20’s that I began the journey to self-discovery and reclaim my emotions. And it was through my seminary years that I began to piece myself together, for I knew that if I had no idea who I was or what I was feeling, how was I as a pastor able to truly listen and have empathy for others. Now, some years later, I understand that the steps taken on this intentional journey not only made me a better pastor, but more importantly a better person.

This past week, I was directed to a commencement speech by JK Rowling at Harvard last June. The title of her speech was “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination”. I thought she would talk of imagination as a creative outlet as was clearly visible in her Potter series, but instead she states,

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared. . . . Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

Empathy as defined by Merriam-Webster is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” Empathy is difficult to teach or to instill. And in the world around us, empathy is in such short supply. As JK Rowling continues,

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

And yet, it is what God calls us to do and be, to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

So as I watch the tears flow from my child’s eyes and as he goes through life in his young years, the utterings heard of my childhood will never come out of my mouth. As I held my child’s hand, I told him it is ok to cry, it is ok to feel sad and I will be there for him in whatever way that he wanted. I told him I know he missed his hanmi and happi and that I missed them too. My hope is that in helping him feel and be in touch with his deep emotions, he can learn to better relate and empathize with others.

As we were heading up the steps to our house, he turned to me and said, “apa(dad), are you as sad as I am?” I simply told him that I was sad also and held him tight, knowing that in reality, I wasn’t quite as sad as he was. I do miss them since I only get to see my parents maybe twice a year at the most and we do have a great time together, but 6 weeks is a long time! I do need my house and space back. I need quality time just with my wife and my kids. Being an introvert, I need my own cave time at home. And like any parents, they have their criticism and advise on myriad of things in my life. I need my life back! So I told a little white lie to my son, but no one can say that I am not in touch with my feelings and needs . . . . . and hope my parents don’t get a hold of his blog!


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Annoyed and Annoying

brighton signA few nights ago as I was walking through our living room towards the kitchen, I happened to catch some FoxNews, you know that “fair and balanced” 24 hour news program. Normally it is not a station that I turn to unless I want to know how the other side still thinks, but my parents are in town. My father, who is an incessant news watcher and a republican to boot, was watching the news headlines and the words “Brighton, Michigan” caught my interest. It seems that Brighton, Michigan, my hometown, has passed a law few months ago that as of January 1st, 2009, it makes it unlawful to be annoying in public. Here are the short blurbs from Fox and Livingston County Press.

The statute states that “it shall be unlawful for any person in the city to insult, accost, molest or otherwise annoy, either by word of mouth, sign or motion any person in any public place,” and “it shall be unlawful for a person to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person and that serve no legitimate purpose.” And where in the public sphere can these law be enforced? The statute states in “any tavern, store or grocery, manufacturing establishment or any other business place or in any street, lane, alley, highway, public building, grounds or park.” Rich Perlberg, the editor of my hometown paper says that we “can call the police, who can arrest the guy, throw him in jail for 90 days, give him a $500 ticket or at least send his annoying behind on his way out of the city limits.” This little midwestern city in Michigan, population 7000 within city limits and its greater township which includes another 70,000, is now one of the most dangerous cities for many people to visit. Who hasn’t been annoying in public. With all these fines, I don’t think I could afford to live there. San Francisco is a costly city, but for many of us, Brighton may turn out to be the most expensive city to live in the United States.

For the last couple of days, I have been thinking about things that annoy me lately. So in honor of a book and website I found on cyberspace called “Life’s Little Annoyances”, I made my own list. This list is not comprehensive by any means nor is it in any order, but as I think about my life and my world, there is no shortage of annoyances. Here we go:

1. San Francisco Drivers – are notorious for rolling stops and not using the turning signal, even on left turns. I don’t know how many times that I have had to slam on the breaks or yell (of course with my inside voice) at someone stopped in an intersection only to see the car turn left without the turn signal. This is actually against the law. Can I make a citizens arrest?

2. Roundabouts – this is where an intersection that should have 4 or more stop signs is instead met with a circular path. It is supposed to help the flow of traffic but is confusing and dangerous in my opinion. Some years ago, when Brighton was growing, it began building roundabouts. At that time, it had the distinction of being the only city in the US that had a double roundabout which is doubly annoying.

3. Not respecting the elderly. A few days ago, I waited behind an elderly gentleman at RiteAid who was met with a rude and inconsiderate young clerk behind the counter, only because he took a little bit of time to get some change out his pockets to pay for his medicine. My Asian sensibilities took over and wanted to climb over the counter and slap the young clerk. (oh did I say that out loud)

4. Speaking of inconsiderate people, what about inconsiderate neighbors. We have a neighbor who will play her loud musical instruments (acoustic-electric guitar, trumpet, electronic keyboard, amplified microphone) all hours of the night. She can be heard singing and playing at 1 or 2 in the morning at times. We have spoken with her several times and yes, even called the police for help. Just like many San Francisco homes, the outside walls of our homes touch and with most of these houses built in the early 40’s, the walls are not that thick! I don’t want to jam with you through the walls at 1am. Instead invite me over at a reasonable hour.

5. Bad user manuals and even worse tech support. I struggled a whole day to setup a new upgraded wireless router which included horrible instructions and a tech support who I couldn’t understand and was not the slightest bit helpful. I returned the router and bought a another brand which had an excellent manual and was set up in less than an hour.

6. Bad and slow service at restaurants

7. Dishonesty – in a world where most information is spun and in a cyberworld where one can project whatever image he/she wants, honesty should be a prerequisite to being on the net. It is being truly who you are and being grounded in that in whatever conversation and situation that you encounter. It also means owning up to one’ faults, shortcomings and mistakes. A difficult thing to do as we see George W. Bush at work and in this video of Ann Coulter and Al Franken. Honesty is of great importance to me.

8. And with #7, I am annoyed by sound bites, punditry and polarizing analysis and analysts in the media, in churches, etc.

9. Churches and faith communities who say they are reaching out to young families and welcoming to children, but are readily annoyed when they make the slightest of noise in worship. Children make noise! God can take it and even enjoys it!! I think even baby/child Jesus probably made a little noise when he went to the synagogue. He made bigger noise as he grew up.

10. Not enough time to absorb information. A friend of mine was saddened that she will not be able to read all of the books that she wants to read in her lifetime. For me, it is not only books but information as well. My parents have been in town for the past three weeks and I haven’t had time to follow my google reader. I checked it this morning and it said I had over 1000 pieces of news and blogs that I hadn’t read. It saddened me to mark over 95% of them “mark as read” without reading them to clear them from the page.

11. My incessant need to check my facebook, twitter and my various email accounts. Having a blackberry doesn’t help here. May need an intervention.

12. I am annoyed that I am slowly getting sick of Korean Food. Again my parents have been visiting us for the past three weeks and every night, and sometimes for lunch, we have been eating Korean food. It is my favorite food to eat and my mother is the best, in my book, as Korean cooking goes. She makes food with the most delicate and cleanest of tastes and flavors. And even though all of the meals are slightly different, my taste buds and my stomach are beginning to revolt. And I hate that!

13. Annoyed that I haven’t had much time to myself and have not started many of my New Year’s resolutions

14. As I think back to the past year and all of the events in the world, I am annoyed that much of my memories are of the tragedies, injustices, violence and wrongdoings (as my favorite Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote), instead of all the good and hopeful things that people have done.

15. And finally I am annoyed that I am annoyed so early into the new year.

BREATHE .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

But maybe on this 8th day of the New Year, these annoyances will give me the motivation to actually do something about them. I hope!


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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.