Matthew 18.15-17, Godly Confrontation, and Forgiveness

Matthew 18.15-17, Godly Confrontation, and Forgiveness.

this is so thorough, objective, and accurate that I find it startling.

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A Pain-filled Realization

Polished stainless steel sloping fork crown.

Polished stainless steel sloping fork crown.

Last fall (2012) I contacted a local artisan who hand-crafts steel-tubed, lugged bike frames.  To my surprise, he would be finished with his current project in a few months, so this past January I eagerly began working with him to come up with the design for my dream bicycle.  This was originally going to be a 60th birthday present to myself, but since I was already the focus of the bike builder, I would be riding this one-of-a-kind work of art by Labor Day 2013 (“at the latest”).

For too many years, as Chromoly steel-tubed frames have been replaced by over-sized aluminum ones and then unbelievably light and stiff carbon fiber ones, my cyclist’s brain still lusted after a classic steel-tubed frame with polished stainless steel (not chrome) sculpted lugs.  Now that I had found an award-winning builder of these rare frames living just 10 minutes east of me, I began counting down the months till he would finally be finished with mine.

We selected the tubing, the design of the front forks, the specific length for each tube that would match my riding style and stage in life.  He watched me ride up and down his street, making suggestions and making subtle adjustments.  He told me to ride for a week or two with those changes, to be sure that they were improvements.

Then we parted ways for the next several months.  I went about my life while dreaming of the day when I would straddle the freshly painted top tube, snap into my new pedals, and then take off down the street, with the morning sun glinting off my mirror-like lugs.  He continued to work his 40 hr/wk job, co-parent two young and rambunctious children while painstakingly cutting, grinding, cleansing, braising, and polishing the assortment of Columbus tubes and stainless steel lugs after dinner and on weekends.

He missed pretty much all the deadlines he would give me, but I was understanding.  After all, I chose a perfectionist on purpose to make my dream bike.  Finally, as August was speeding towards September, he told me that he was completely finished prepping and polishing my bike and would be shipping it to San Diego in a few days to legendary bike painter Joe Bell.  “He usually takes 4-6 weeks to finish a job.  Since yours has polished lugs, he’s going to have to mask those separately, which takes more time.”

That first week of waiting was excruciating.  But before I knew it, Week 3 was coming to a close.  I sent the builder an email and TM, wanting to know if the builder had given him an ETA on the frame’s coming back to him.  Nothing.  Silence.

Hmmm… ok, don’t panic.  I called the painter and asked if he had any idea when he’d be shipping my frame back to the builder.  “I still don’t have your frame.”  What?

I sent the builder another email, telling him about my conversation with the painter and wanting to know why he failed to ship my frame to him.  My mind was filled with all kinds of possibilities.  But I never guessed what actually caused the latest delay.  The builder finally called me.

“Everything was ready for paint, but when I mounted the custom stem that I made for you, I could see it wasn’t straight and true.  So I had to make you another stem from scratch.”  Ok, that made sense.  I responded, “Ok, but is it possible for me to pick up my frame, stem and fork from you this Wednesday so that I can drive them down to the painter myself?  I’d love to discuss my ideas for painting this and I think it would be much better in person.”

“Sure, fine.”  Part of me really wanted to believe he would be able to make this deadline, but part of me really doubted that he would.

Got a TM from him on Tuesday, telling me that all the fine polishing he was doing and really done a number on his fingers.  Could I come over on Thursday instead?  “Sure, sure.  I called the painter back today and we agreed that I’d be at his studio tomorrow by 1 P.M.”  I honestly told my builder that because I wanted to put not-so-subtle pressure on him to be ready to hand me my unpainted bike on time.

This evening, two hours before I was due to retrieve my bike from him, the builder called and said, “Ken, I’m sorry, but I have some really bad news to tell you about your bike.”  Did I just hear him say that?   Now what?  What could really bad news be?

“In doing some really fine polishing of one of your stainless steel lugs, I came across a ‘void,’ a small space left by an air bubble when they were casting that lug.  If we were going to paint over the two head-tube lugs, this would be a none issue.  But because you’ve chosen to have them polished and clear-coated, this little flaw would be quite visible.  Your fork and stem are down.  You can take them with you, if you like.  But as far as your frame goes, I have to start literally from scratch.  There’s no way to repair that void.  When I realized this this afternoon, right before I called you, I almost broke down and cried.  I’ve sunk all kinds of money and time and energy into this frame.  And since I made it just to your specs, no one else can ride it.  Either you can choose to keep it and paint over the two front lugs, or it’s just going to sit here in some dark corner of my garage.  What do you want to do?”

I could sense that he was dreading having to start my bike over, that he would LOVE for me to let my dream of a polished lug steel-tubed bike be replaced by a bike that had painted lugs and rode exactly the same as the hoped-for one.  The residual people-pleaser part of my brain kept coaxing me to paint over both front lugs, but before it took control, I managed to mumble, “This entire journey was about you building a light, customized steel-tubed bike with polished stainless steel lugs for me.  As tempted as I might be to drop that dream so that I can drive this frame down to the painter tomorrow, I’m going to stick with my original dream.  Even if it means you have to start from the beginning again.  And even if it means I won’t have it to ride during my entire sabbatical–contrary to what I’ve been planning to do.  I’m prepared to wait until I finally have the bike I’ve always wanted.

He let me bring the custom stem and straight-bladed fork with polished sloping crown home with me.  “Maybe if you have these two pieces to stare at, it won’t be as hard for you to wait another two months.”

Am I disappointed?  You bet.  Frustrated?  Are you kidding me?  Upset?  Well, maybe initially.  But I’m glad he’s not the kind of artisan who hides their mistakes or doesn’t mention the problems.  However, as painful as it is for me, I can’t begin to imagine how painful it was when it hit him that this lug manufacturer’s defect meant not just that he’d have to start all over on my frame, but that it was unlikely he’d ever be able to recover the cost of the original materials, to say nothing of being paid for all the hours he’d invested in this work of art.

I guess we both could have remained frozen tonight on his driveway, unable to move a muscle.  But we both concluded that the first step toward producing my special bike was to accept what had happened as a freakish occurrence, and then create a clean emotional palette to begin again.

Having now just re-calibrated my expectations of when I’ll have the finished bike (this Christmas?  By my 59th birthday at the end of the year?!?), I was careful to attach a conspicuous mental asterisk to it.  Because there’s always a chance that it won’t be ready when I want it to be.

But since this was supposed to be a 60th birthday gift to myself, any delivery date before 12/29/14 would mean that it was early!

______________________________

Have you ever had to admit that, in spite of what you wished the way things were, there was an unfillable void in some part of your life?  Did the prospect of scrapping whatever you’ve worked so long and hard on and starting over keep you in denial even longer?  How do you know when it’s time to give up trying to make something work?  How do you know if there aren’t some alternate solutions that you’ve yet to try?  What do you do when you feel like you’re wasting your time, that your optimism is simply an advanced form of denial?

_____________________________

Less than 12 hours after meeting with my builder and deciding together to start over, he contacted me with a possible work-around.  He’s going to grind off the two lugs and remove them and the headtube.  If the top tube and down tube look intact, he’ll then braise together two new lugs and a new headtube and then repolish the lugs all over again.  We won’t know if this will work, but if it does, it means not having to trash the frame and start from scratch.  He’ll have to put in a ton of work before we’ll know if this is the solution.  But life can be that way.

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Descendants of a Bunch of Poisonous Snakes

One of our church members recently asked what the characteristics were of modern-day Pharisees.  Since I fervently believe that we all have a sinful predisposition to take the radical Good News that Jesus preached and demonstrated and turn it into something dead and deadly, I jumped at the chance to share my thoughts.  Thoughts that have been churning in my brain for years, producing not only these insights but years of trying to pastor a sampling of God’s people so that we would admit having this huge blind-spot AND take concrete steps to reject it.
How I believe that we are most like the Pharisees in the NT:

1) We mistake the Bible for the Word (Logos) of God, which John clearly identified as Jesus (John 1:1).
2) So when Jesus actually showed up, they didn’t recognize the Son of God at all, instead attacking him and the works of his kingdom with Bible verses.  As the late Prof. Ray Anderson (Fuller Seminary) was fond of saying “Sometimes, not always, the WORK of God should make us reinterpret the WORD of God.”  I know, we’re not Jesus, but I believe the principle is sound.  If we clearly see, say, captives being set free, but it doesn’t line up with how we’re reading the Bible, then we should at least pause to wonder if our interpretation in this case is flawed.  Doesn’t mean that it is, but we should be humble enough to acknowledge that it might be.
3) As in the case of the Good Samaritan, Pharisees often choose not to love unexpectedly and unconditionally because it might make them “unclean,” ie., give others the impression that they are condoning something sinful.  Failing to love our neighbors in unexpected, unconditional, and uncomfortable ways is failing to love God with all our being (Matt 22:34-40; 1John 47-21).
4) Pharisees live as if the world is neatly black and white and they see themselves as clearly living in the black while most others lived entirely in the black.  (They naturally feel qualified to pass judgment on others, even though God prohibits us from doing so.)  Jesus destroyed that distinction and created a new Temple in himself, one that reconciled all sinners to each other.  Jesus made it a level-playing field; Pharisees prefer to see a hierarchy that promotes their greater righteousness.
5) Pharisees spend gobs of time in Temple-centered activities and pride themselves that they aren’t like the less devout and observant.  But Jesus called them white-washed tombs and broods of vipers.  I no doubt that Jesus would label modern-day Pharisees as poisonous snakes, too.
6) Pharisees’ obsessive focus on obeying God’s laws led them to rely on their own efforts (and resulted in deadly hubris) and not throw themselves on the mercies of God in Christ.  Like them, we naturally gravitate towards believing and behaving as if we are able to boost our worth to God thru good, moral behavior (older brother of the Prodigal).  But in doing so, we diminish our desperate need for Christ and his cross.  And when we erroneously believe that we haven’t been forgiven very much (sin-debt), Jesus says the consequence is that we love very little (Luke 7:36-50).  As John put it, “we love because He first loved us.” (1John 4:19)

I was raised to be a neo-Pharisee and I’ve always been part of some kind of Pharisee Factory.  I am addicted to hypocrisy, hubris, and spiritual conceit.  But because Jesus is full of grace and truth, I have hope to overcome these habitual horrible habits.  Like an addict who has come to grips with his addictions, I now carry the identity of a Recovering Pharisee.  As such, I should be acutely aware of my Pharisaic proclivities, of my instinctive desire to think that I can add to my worth to Christ by being more moral than most.  I need to wake up each morning feeling humbled and grateful, not boastful and judgmental.  I need to avoid hanging out with Pharisees who are still deep in their addictions and in denial, because they can easily bring me back to being too full of myself and less full of the Holy Spirit.  And even if I’m ‘clean and sober’ for a long time, I should not be surprised when I relapse, because–guided by the love of Jesus–relapse is part of my recovery.  For relapse humbles me further, making me more teachable.  And hopefully, a little bit more like Jesus and less like a venomous snake.

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Despicable We

There are at least two ways to become a despised person.  Do something that a significant number of people deem despicable (and thus become a despicable person in their judgement).  Or hang around despised people enough and the same folks who despise those they perceive to be screw ups, hedonists, misfits, or miscreants will begin to despise you, too.  

Given a choice, I’m pretty sure that most people would prefer to be loved, respected and admired than despised.  If I’m any indicator, then we put all kinds of energy and effort on a daily basis into not being the target of people’s derision.  We don’t leave home before looking and smelling presentable, even desirable.  We edit what we say so as not to offend others or embarrass ourselves.  We make sure that our behaviors, our work habits, even what we do in our free time, will keep us in the company of the esteemed.  

Becoming a Christ-follower and being part of different communities of other Christ-followers only serves to amplify these proclivities of presentability.  Lord help us if we do anything that violates a Scriptural prohibition or admonition.  Let me back that up a bit: Lord help us if we fail to heed only certain commandments or if we fail to conform to our Christian-circle’s standards and expectations.  In spite of the dire warnings not to love money, for example, if most of our fellowship loves money or harbors racist or sexist attitudes, we’re in no danger of them despising us.  Even if, in the end, we all run the risk of Jesus despising us (Matt 7:21-23; 25:31:ff), no matter how safe and sound we think our doctrine is.

Some of us, however, don’t get to decide whether we’re going to be known as despicable people.  Like modern-day lepers, we either pop out of the womb as those who don’t match what is mainstream or the circumstancs of our lives conspire against us ever being seen and treated as acceptable.  I was going to suggest that an example of the first category would be those born with serious mental or physical challenges.  But while they might not be shown much hospitality because many feel uncomfortable around them, they are ignored or marginalized, not despised.  To be overlooked or diminished is a terrible outcome, to be sure.  But is still a step or two above being despised.  

Historically, being born Black or with much darker pigmentation than the dominant group deems preferable or beautiful are better examples of this.  Or, depending on the culture, country, prevailing religious paradigms and time in history, being born female can set a person up to be treated as less valuable, less desirable, even detestable.  There are even places where rigid caste systems are still in place.  So regardless of your gender or complexion, if you had the misfortune to be born into the lower tiers of this oppressive pecking order, you are seen as despicable and no amount of integrity, education, or success can remove this trenchant label from you.  It really sucks to be born you.

Perhaps a very relevant example of this would be those who have concluded that they were born with something different than opposite sex attraction or with gender identity confusion, i.e. LGBTQ.  Years earlier, when I would assert that a gay person wasn’t born that way but was making a sinful choice, he would often reply, “I don’t ever remember choosing this.  And why in the world, if I really had an option to ‘remain’ straight, would I choose to be despised and vilified?”  The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have long since declared that being gay is not a mental malady to be treated and being transgender is a diagnosable disorder that has a prescribed mode of treatment.  So, at least according to the APA (1973) and the AMA (1994), gays have standing to say that non-gays should not despise them because they’re simply another form of what normal and healthy people are. (http://teachthefacts.org/resources-professionalorgs.html)  And transgendered persons have a right to say that they shouldn’t be despised because they have a recognized, treatable disorder.  It’s like each are making the exact opposite arguments that they hope will lead toward the same outcome: not being despised by people in general.

While the change in clinical opinions have been a significant factor in reshaping the non-LGBTQ-public’s perception of them, it frankly hasn’t done much to alter that of many conservative Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc.  To them, if their sacred text(s) clearly condemn homosexuals and homosexual behavior, it doesn’t matter what secular experts say: homosexuals and transgendered people are despicable, not because they have no worth, but because they are squandering their God-given worth in the pursuit of deviant sexual behaviors and lifestyles.

I don’t know if most Buddhists view LGBTQ people as despicable.  Those that believe in reincarnation probably don’t simply because there’s a good chance that they might have been LGBTQ in a previous life, or they might be in a coming one.  While I certainly don’t believe in reincarnation, in this case, I appreciate the value of a spiritual framework that essentially teaches, “Live in harmony with all people.”  Hey, you might not be despicable now, but you might have been before and if you mistreat people now, you will be down the road.

Since Christians don’t believe in living, dying, and coming back as a completely different person if you haven’t finished working out your accumulated bad karma, it should come as no surprise that it doesn’t come as naturally to us not to despise others.  Even though the Son of God taught us to be peacemakers, we have no problem disregarding or discriminating against those we see as being outside the purview of God’s unconditional love and unfathomable mercy.  “The Lord God has high standards, and God expects us to uphold them.”  Even if it means that we end up despising those that Jesus loved enough to die for.

To identify yourself as a Christian, historically, has sometimes meant choosing to be despised.  Jesus warned that this was going to happen, that we would be reviled and persecuted simply by claiming to follow after him (John 15:20).  In some countries Christians have had to go through life as a despised minority.  With conservative American Christians in particular feeling like a despised minority these days (a far cry from the triumphant days of referring to themselves as the Moral Majority), you would think that more of them would have greater empathy for other groups that are also reviled and persecuted.  But so far that hasn’t been the case.  Oddly enough, one of the primary reasons that more conservative Christians today are despised is because they are viewed as despising LGBTQ people.  In spite of insisting that they are “not hating the sinners, just hating their sin,” they are seen as having it out for LGBTQs, unmoved by the AMA’s and APA’s conclusions, unwilling to reboot their understandings about why these people are the way they are for fear of disregarding what the Bible says.  Despite their earnest protestations and perhaps in part because of how the mass media has chosen to portray them, more conservative Christians are characterized as ones who despise LGBTQ people.  So it should come as no surprise that many secular gays despise Christians–not just the really conservatives ones–back.

 

At the outset of this already-too-long blog I wrote that there were at least two ways to become a despised person.  Some do nothing more than make the mistake of just being born into this cruel and unfair world.  Some though, because of their beliefs, behaviors, or even failures, later end up being despised.  But it turns out that some of us eventually are despised simply because of the company we keep.

 

This is where this blog becomes deeply personal.  I haven’t kept it a secret that God has called me on a journey to figure out how earnest Christians who have accepted that they’ll always be LGBTQ can become beloved and contributing members of evangelical churches.  Heck, we’re making a documentary film about my current faith-challenge, so I am definitely NOT cowering in the shadows.  Little by little, more and more, as this subject comes up in different places, with different people, my name eventually is mentioned because I’ve chosen to be identified with the LGBTQ communities.  However, in this highly polarized atmosphere around this issue in regards to churches, a growing number of Christians are interpreting my willingness to be associated with some (not all) LGBTQ people as my endorsing the entire secular and Christian LGBTQ agendas.  It’s the old “guilt by association,” I guess.  

Last summer, I was one of the primary preachers at an annual week-long Christian camp for adults with their young children.  I used the book of Hosea to make the oft-missed point that we are unfaithful wife Gomer to God’s long-suffering and unconditionally loving husband Hosea.  I hadn’t preached at that camp in over twenty years, and I’m sure that most weren’t prepared to dive into the deep end with me.  But as the week progressed, countless people told me how much they appreciated my ministry that week.  A few months later, after reviewing the evaluations, the host organization invited me back for the 2014 camp.  I agreed.  At this year’s camp, apparently some of the talk among the conferees was my involvement with the LGBTQ community.  Some might have even known about the documentary film we’re making on this issue.  “Depending on where he comes down on this issue, I may or may not attend next year’s conference.”  Do they realize that the other speaker that’s been secured has staked out a much more radically-accepting position on LGBTQ issues than me?  To the credit of the host organization, so far they haven’t flinched in asking either of us.  That’s reassuring.  But it’s definitely a new experience for me to feel the threat of a boycott because I’ve chosen to identify with a currently despised group.

Jesus came to this planet because he loved all sinners and wanted to bring us back to his Father’s loving arms.  He came, knowing full well how he would be received.  “He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isa 53:3)  Once here, he wasted no time in making it clear that his love was especially for those that others couldn’t stand.  “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.’’ (1Cor 1:28-29)  And when some of the most despised people of that day flocked to him, Jesus chose to be identified with them (Mark 2:13-17), even as it outraged the religious establishment.  They saw his doing that as proof that he wasn’t spiritually legit, that he was in fact a dangerous and corrupt heretic.  

I’m not complaining, by the way.  I’m merely describing what it feels like to follow Jesus, to love people who don’t expect us to love them.  Even if it makes me uncomfortable at times (and it does).  Even if I end up speaking to half empty rooms.  Who knew that trying to be like Jesus–including identifying with the despised–would mean being despised by fellow Christians?  Jesus knew.

 

Despicable We.

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Asian Americans: Let’s Stop Thinking That We’re Switzerland

I haven’t blogged in, well, a long, long time.  But the verdict that came down last week in the Martin-Zimmerman case in Florida was just the catalyst I needed to sit my butt down and pound out a post.

Having heard today that some African Americans have taken their frustrations to the street, resulting in violence and, I believe, several deaths of White Americans (tragically, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time; ironically, like the late Trayvon Martin was), let me first add my small voice to the growing chorus in this country to re-channel the anger and outrage into efforts that–once and for always–establish equal rights and true justice for every person in this still-fragmented nation.  What would or should that look like?  I’m not really sure at this point.  Neither am I convinced that all that needs changing is going to take place sooner than later.

I do know this.  We can’t simply sigh, shake our heads, and do nothing.  I know that for most Black Americans, saying nothing now and doing nothing now is clearly not an option.  Not if they hope to make America safer for their children and grandkids.  And for White Americans: if you’re instinct is to argue the legal merits of this verdict, e.g., “Florida does have that Stand Your Ground Law;” or “The prosecutor either failed to make a strong enough case against Zimmerman or the evidence that was presented simply didn’t persuade the jury.  But that’s how our legal system works.”  Even if you think that arguments like these are valid, keep a lid on it, okay?  You’re only going to come across as blissfully ignorant of your White Privilege and you’re liable to (at best) alienate your Black friends or coworkers or (at worst) be on the receiving end of a well-deserved tongue-lashing from them.  Instead, ask them how they’re feeling.  Even better, visit a local African American church for the next several weeks and just marinate in their post-verdict juices until they tell you that you are truly starting to grasp why they’re so outraged and frustrated at this country’s uneven justice system.

For those of us who are Asian Americans, it’s easy once again to sit this one out.  To pretend we’re Switzerland–all spic and span and nicely neutral–while the Whites and the Blacks grapple in the Octagon.  Heck, this commotion might even involve some Brown Americans, since Zimmerman sure doesn’t look that Caucasian.  Black, White, Brown, but no Yellow.  So it’s doubtful America will see many or any Asian Americans protesting the conditions that allow verdicts like this to occur far too often to people of color.  Just not the color yellow.

How much do you want to bet that scarcely any Asian American churches (Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, etc) this past Sunday–in the immediate aftermath of the verdict–mentioned it or prayed about it?  And even though Zimmerman looks like he might have some Hispanic blood coursing through his veins, I’m guessing that most Hispanic American churches didn’t talk about the verdict either.  But you bet the house and everything that’s in your garage that every Black American church was focused on that unpopular verdict.  Their members went to their churches EXPECTING to hear it addressed from the pulpit.  If they didn’t, I’m sure many would have thought that their pastors and their churches must have lost their collective minds. 

Other than the more liberal, Mainline churches, I’m also guessing that the majority of predominantly White American churches–including the famous mega-sized ones–also skipped this opportunity to bring the headlines into the worship service.  And it’s doubtful that most of their members were disturbed by this blind spot or deliberate decision.  And to be fair, my guess is that most of the Asian American churches–especially the more conservative ones–saw no need to deal with or even mention the verdict.  And yet we too are people of color.  What gives?

Of course, we Asian Americans aren’t subjected to racial profiling as African Americans are.  So why should we get upset or get involved in redeeming our judicial system?  This isn’t our fight because we aren’t the victims of uneven justice.  No Asian Americans were injured or killed in the making of this ugly chapter of America’s history.  We can be Switzerland.

Maybe you think you can.  But I can’t.  Because I have a almost 15 year old nephew in Northern Cal who’s already 6’2″ and Black.  Yes, his surname is “Fong” since his dad is Chinese American.  Yes, his mother is a blonde White American.  And yes, his big sister is Eurasian American.  But put him in a hoodie on a twilit night in a small town in the South and there’s a good chance that he will be looked at with suspicion by the local gendarmes and patrolling vigilantes.  Even though I’m not Black and even though my child is not Black, I’m close enough to this issue to be concerned about racial profiling of Black Americans.  If something like this happens to my nephew-with-the-Asia-last-name, I will be outraged and on the warpath.

But as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I’m here trying to figure out what I can do to END racial profiling of Blacks.  To ensure that Justice doesn’t see the color of a person’s skin or the contents of their wallet.  I want to be part of making the future sidewalks of this country SAFE for my nephew and those he resembles.  I’ve got family in this game, so I can’t afford to be Switzerland.

But what if you’re Asian American and you don’t have any Black relatives?  What will it take to get you to stop thinking like you can remain on the sidelines?  The fact that so many of our Asian American churches are predominantly homogeneous, without even one Black person in the congregation, is a major reason why so many can’t appreciate how African Americans are feeling.  Our church has about a dozen different API groups in it, with a small but active number of Whites, Blacks, and Browns.  If we are truly the Body of Christ and the whole body is affected when even the smallest part suffers pain, then it shouldn’t take a large number of African Americans in an Asian American church for the Asian American members slowly to feel their pain and the reasons for it.  But given the general human proclivity to surround ourselves with people most like us, it’s doubtful that many Asian American churches will ever feel like home to most African Americans.  It’s sort of like the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: If more Asian American churches were truly hospitable to African Americans, they would have known to deal with the Martin verdict last Sunday.  But since most AA churches aren’t looking to welcome African Americans to join, they lack this sensitivity, fail to engage these kind of issues, and thus don’t feel like communities where Black brothers and sisters would want to join.

The homogeneous habits of all of us results in churches that are far from diverse.  That lack of diversity–racially, culturally, socio-economically, etc.–is one of the major reasons why so many of our churches–not just the Asian American ones–fail to champion the causes of those we don’t know and we don’t love.

I’m going to see my nephew tomorrow.  And I’m going to give him a really big hug.

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Learning from the Amish in the Wake of Pres. Obama’s Affirmation of Same-Sex Marriages

My old Xanga site is so ancient history, but it’s taken President Obama’s very public affirmation of same-sex marriages to get me off my blogger’s butt and start up here on WordPress.com.

Since you probably don’t know a thing about me, let me toss a few factoids at you, so you’ll at least know a bit about where I’m coming from on this and future issues.  I’m in my late fifties, am a 3Gen American with Chinese ancestors, and I’m the senior pastor of an American (as opposed to a Southern or Conservative) Baptist church in the sprawling suburban valley just east of downtown LA.

Ok, enough with the formalities. 

As most of the world knows, President Obama has now given his blessing to same-sex marriages, the first sitting POTUS to do so. If he manages to get re-elected now, even though he’s probably lost whatever chances he had of winning any of the Bible Belt states, then he probably won’t be the last POTUS to do this.  If he loses in November and if it’s clear that his affirmation was a major source of his downfall, then it might be years before a Presidential incumbent or candidate follows suit.

So I wonder how the Amish are taking his announcement?

While the progressive wing of Protestantism is celebrating, most of the conservatives are already reacting negatively.  Billy Graham’s son Franklin today declared that the President has just slapped God in the face and countless others from this side of the aisle are gnashing their teeth and draping themselves in sack cloth and ashes.  Surely, America is headed straight to hell in the fast lane.  “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and rescue Your righteous few!”

Even assuming the American Amish Christians don’t use the internet, I’m guessing that these ‘backwards’ brethren of ours have learned of the President’s change of heart on this divisive issue.  If they’ve already rejected electricity, internal combustion engines, shopping for clothes at Macy’s and shaving their beards, I’m pretty sure that they must have immediately rejected same-sex marriages.  Even if there have always been gay or lesbian members of their communities, I seriously doubt that they were ever embraced in the past.  And just because the President and Vice-Prez have endorsed same-sex marriages, I don’t think the Amish will be performing any of those weddings.  Ever.

Throughout the centuries, even as the majority of Christians in America have learned to ‘go with the flow’ of our culture’s shifting tides, the Amish have gone on pursuing their lives in accordance with the strict Amish-Christian beliefs, values, and traditions.  Unlike many other American Protestants, I’m guessing that they have chosen not to tolerate divorce, remarriage, out-of-wedlock children, cohabitation outside of marriage, premarital sex, etc.  The entire world around them might turn inside out and upside down, but the Amish persevere in choosing to live the way they believe is most pleasing to God Almighty.

What a stark contrast they are to the rest of us American Protestants.  So many of us are sounding the klaxons today, freaked out to the core that the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (and his wife and daughters) believes that all Americans should be afforded the same protection under the Constitution.  “Is this the tipping point for us to commit civil disobedience?”  “How in God’s holy name are we going to be able to protect our churches and our children from being infected and affected by this unholy stand?”  “If there was ever a time to home-school all our children, this would be that time.”  “We clearly are living in the Last Days.”

So why are so many of us so bent out of shape over what the Prez and VP have just said?  It’s clear that many Christians vehemently disagree with their position on gay marriage, but what’s not as clear is the apparent presumption that is fueling much of the fear and outrage.  What is it?  My take is that too many American Christians–especially of the conservative variety–presume that American society as a whole is supposed to line up with a conservative Christian reading of the Bible and the value systems that arise from that.  The Amish, on the other hand, don’t appear to make that presumption at all.  In fact, historically, they seem to presume that the world around them is NOT going to match their Christian values and views.  Their attitude has always been to stay committed to what matters most to them, regardless of what the world is doing.  Even if they’re completing surrounded by that world.  No matter which way the world decides to go, the Amish are determined to make choices that are rooted in their Christian convictions.  So I seriously doubt that they feel threatened in the least by this latest development.

It’s not like, up until yesterday, America’s values and laws lined up almost perfectly with what most Christians deem to be God-pleasing ways to live.  Prostitution has been legal in some states for years.  Due to the internet, porn is more accessible today than ever before.  Cigarettes are sold everywhere, and so is alcohol.  And even though the gospel of Christ calls us to live at peace with everyone, America is still teeming with racists, sexists and bigots.  Some even think of themselves as serious Christ-followers, too.  My point is that America might have plenty of self-described “Christians” living here, but it was never meant to be a theocratic, Christian nation.  Somewhere along the way, many American Christians seem to have lost sight of the fact that Jesus has called us to be like strangers and aliens wherever we are.  To be in the world yet not of the world.  To be surrounded by a world that doesn’t reinforce most of what we believe, but we faithfully practice our beliefs anyway.

So even if the Amish are upset about the POTUS’ endorsement of same-sex marriages, they don’t for a second feel that their way of living as Christians in America is threatened at all.  If you’re Amish, nothing’s changed.

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