InHo Kim – My Faithful Journey

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


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.


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!


The Day After

obamiconSo I was awakened this morning, just like every morning,  by the smell of coffee wafting through the house. The coffee that we have been drinking for the past few years has been White House Coffee. For some reason, the coffee this morning tastes a little sweeter and smoother than two mornings ago. I then looked out the window to see the dark clouds moving inland with the ocean breeze and was greeted by the not so sweet smelling breath of my four year old who was hovering above me ready to pounce to rudely wake me up. I put on my pants one leg at a time, kissed my wife and daughter “good morning”, got my son ready for pre-school, fed my dog, picked up his poop and helped feed my 7 month old daughter by making funny noises and dancing around like wild man trying to distract her so that my wife can shovel homemade baby food into her mouth and finally used a Netti Pot to clear my allergy ridden sinuses. Just a normal morning for the Kim-Cho household all before 8:30am.

It’s the morning after. It’s the morning after taking the day off to witness an incredible event. It is the day after getting up so early to witness the historic inauguration with tears in my eyes. It’s the morning after standing up and clapping as loudly as I can as Barack Obama took his oath to become the 44th President of the United States. It’s the morning after connecting with and celebrating the day with friends and family by facebook, twitter, emails and phone calls. It’s the morning after shouting Amen, Amen, Amen after Joseph Lowery’s Benediction. It is the morning after.

My morning routine was the same. I was back at work planning out my week, making to do lists, checking my emails and my calendar. Already on the news, the pundits and some anchors are beginning criticize Obama. People are analyzing his inauguration speech for better or for worse. Those who are politically and religiously liberal are criticizing Rick Warren’s prayer (transcript here). Those who are considered conservative are ripping apart Joseph Lowery’s prayer-read the comments (transcript here). I heard on NPR today that religious extremists are now burning pictures of Obama as well as Bush along with the American flag. Many economists and leaders of the world don’t see much change in Obama’s speech yesterday. The republicans and democrats are at it again over Obama’s cabinet confirmations and there is no end in sight for the war in Iraq and who knows what will happen in the Gaza strip and in Afghanistan. So where’s the change?

Yet in these troubling and uncertain economic and political times, for me, something has changed. I was surprised to hear my wife say that “now I feel proud to hoist high the American flag”. It’s the same kind of statement that Michelle Obama was criticized for during the Democratic campaign, but today it seems appropriate, IMHO. The tears and my shouting during the inauguration wasn’t about the joy that a Black man became President, but that a person who embodies and talks about the hopes and dreams that I have for United States and the world will lead this country of ours. The tears were part of the release of my pent up anger and frustration over the past 8 years. And now like Moses, I can look down from the mountaintop and actually see the promised land. I can see God’s vision of all that we can be. It gives me hope and a goal to work towards.

Today I feel freedom from the past 8 years of decisions made in secrecy, the mentality of us against them, idea of our supremacy, not caring for each other, forgetting to create a just society, ignoring the less fortunate, abuse of power, not being able to take responsibility for all the actions or inactions, pillaging our environment, inability to say sorry and to tell the truth, forgetting that we are but one country in the world and that with our superpower status comes with it greater responsibility to the world. Obama has already begun to make his campaign promises come true today and will continue to fulfill them in the future. So when Aretha Franklin belted out the words “freedom” during her singing, I heard more than the plight and the cloud of witnesses in the civil rights movement for African Americans in this country, I heard freedom from all that has gone wrong with America from the past administration. And when I heard the clarinetist Anthony McGill begin to play “The Lord of the Dance” with Yoyo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Gabriela Montero, I could imagine Jesus dancing in heaven and on earth.

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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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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.