As they were walking…

After Jesus’ death, two of his disciples left Jerusalem and were returning home to a village called Emmaus.  Sad.  Broken.  Lost.  Angry.  I wonder what was going on inside of them as they walked this seven mile journey back home.  Dreams broken.  Plans changed.  Hope scattered.  Trust abandoned.  Humiliated, perhaps?  Betrayed, even? Their “Savior” had just died. They built their arks but the floods never came. Now what were they supposed to do?

Sometimes I wonder if every Christian, if every person, doesn’t discover themselves in a similar place at least some point in their lives.  And it’s not like we’re ever fully prepared for it when life does decide to strike us down.  What do we do when our Savior is no where to be found, when life falls apart, when dreams don’t come true and we’re forced to make a change of plans?

As a pastor, I have the profound privilege of entering into peoples’ lives during such seasons.  For some reason or another, people still trust their pastor…or at least the ones who’ve earned their trust.  I’ve been learning more and more how fragile the currency of trust has become, and how sacred we must treat it.  For to whom are people supposed to go when their child is born in such ways that no longer make them “normal?” Whatever dreams they had dreamt while awaiting their child’s arrival seem to no longer be possible.  Or how is a young couple supposed to digest a miscarriage in a world that doesn’t like to deal with uncomfortable conversations about death and the messiness of childbirth?  How about those whose lives and faith are at the crossroads of irreconcilablity and crisis?  Then there are those parents’ whose son comes out gay and they don’t know how to process their new reality.  And, of course, are those who are blindsided by diagnoses of disease.  How are we to go on living now?

Broken dreams.  Scattered hopes.  Changed plans.

Along the way, a man appeared and began walking with the two men from Emmaus.  He listened to them and retold them the stories of scripture – the stories of their people, the stories of their God.  Stories of life happening, in all of its pain-inducing brokenness. But also stories of God continuing to show up.  Stories of God never letting go.  Stories of God leading the lost through valleys and wildernesses.  Stories of God providing, however meagerly, to get them through.  Songs are written about these stories.  Songs that remind us “Great is Thy faithfulness,” even when we’re not sure the Story is still true.

The stranger left after they had all eaten together.  “Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.”  As they were walking…

May we all be so fortunate to have others walk with us and eat with us through these seasons of life.  They are seasons.  They come; they go.  We are to go through them, and linger no longer than we have to.

And here’s one of the most beautiful aspects of this story: the two who were hurting, were walking together.  Sometimes the suffering are the only ones who can truly understand each other.  And, perhaps, in our walking together, we will recognize Jesus walking alongside us too.  Perhaps we’ll be reminded that he has never left us and that he’ll never forsake us.  Perhaps we will learn that there’s more to our story.  Just like that fateful Easter morning so long ago.

Grace and peace my friends.  The LORD is with you.


Come be with me, tell me what hurts…

I’ve got a few drafts I’ve been working on, so you can probably expect two blog posts today.  This one is a break from the “Because I am a Christian…” series, and has to do with a conversation I recently had with my spiritual director.

“Imagine Jesus sitting on a log or a chair – somewhere familiar and comfortable,” she began.  “And hear him inviting, ‘Come be with me; tell me what hurts.’

I wonder if this isn’t one of the first moves God makes toward us: Come be with me, tell me what hurts.  Such an invitation is one that welcomes vulnerability, honesty, and trust.  It is a far different fundamental position of God than the One who sits on the judgment seat.  But it isn’t very different from the one who hangs on the cross either…

The bible is full of stories and parables and poems and metaphors and similes and pictures of God.  God is, of course, beyond the scope of our imagination and exceeds the limits of our understanding.  There is mystery with God, and I think that’s what the cross invites us into.  Come be with me, tell me what hurts.  Mystery.  Honesty.  Trust.  Vulnerability.

God just wants to be with us.  The more I read and reflect and converse, the more I believe this to be true.  God is love, and that love is inherently a relational one between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thanks to Jesus, we are invited to be participants in that relational love – to receive and to give.  Come be with me, tell me what hurts.

May we sit with Jesus and tell him our hurts.  And may we then share what we have received, sitting with others and inviting them into conversations of trust, love, honesty, and vulnerability.  For in those moments, we might just discover God…

Because I am a Christian, I grow a garden.

There are certain practices I “take on” because I am a Christian.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more with you about some of the things I do and don’t do because of my faith.  This week I’d like to talk about a new practice my wife and I are embracing: gardening.

Gardening has been a budding (get it?! ZING!) interest of mine the past few years.  When we were living in an apartment during my seminary years, my wife and I discovered Square Foot Gardening thanks to our church that was introducing community gardens.  We built a small 2’x4′ garden on our porch and reaped the most delicious 14 green beans we’ve ever had in our lives!  And those tiny carrots that tasted so good we couldn’t wait until they grew to respectable sizes? YUM!  ahhh #memories

Since those days, I’ve gone back to my roots (man, I’m on fire today! thanks, Afternoon Coffee!) and embraced home gardening.  This year we planted green beans, three types of peppers, four types of tomatoes, summer squash, a host of cuttable flowers, brussel sprouts, and pumpkins!  We mostly do the Square-Foot and container methods, aside from a few items that are growing around our house.  It’s been a lot of fun and each year we are learning more and more, even embracing “heirloom” seeds after having read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – a book I HIGHLY recommend.  I’m always proud of my little plots of land and remember my great-grandparents “Victory Gardens” that they tended to up until their deaths.  I remember picking flowers, weeds, and vegetables from my grandma’s garden as a little boy, and I still remember just how good those carrots tasted out of my mother’s garden too.  Gardening is part of my family’s story.  And it’s part of yours too.  Part of what it means to be human is to be people of the soil.

I was introduced to Theological Anthropology during my years in seminary, and it completely revolutionized how I see myself and the world we live in.  Anthropology is the study of humankind, and Theological Anthropology makes the bold claim that our Christian faith teaches the world what it means to be human.  Early in the bible, in the very first book in fact, we learn that humanity is earth-based.  Adam (the “first” human) and adamah (Hebrew for ground, land, earth, dust, etc) are intimately related.  We are reminded later in the Scriptures that “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.”  We are people of the soil.  And we are entrusted with its care.  

We realize this innately.  There is something within us, a pull, that draws us to nature and soil and growing things.  That’s why, at least in part, my great-grandparents grew gardens and why apartment complexes are adorned with flower boxes. We are earthy people.  It’s in our blood.  Our connection with the soil is part of what it means to be human.

Expositions have been written about Creation Care and how to faithfully interpret the opening chapters of Genesis (as well as a whole host of other scriptural passages), and Ellen Davis does an especially good job of this.  Read anything of Ellen’s that you can get your hands on; she’s absolutely amazing…and an even better person!  My point isn’t to go deep into those issues in this post, but rather to share how the scriptures are shaping my life and how I understand what it means to be human.  We are meant to be in tune with the earth.  And we’re growing increasingly less and less so…

Speaking of…do you even know where your food comes from?  How far did it have to travel to get to your local supermarket?  We didn’t know.  We still don’t know.  And that’s a problem.  I did find out, however, that the flowers in our church’s sanctuary are flown in from California, Canada, and South America.  That’s a problem too…

As a follower of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, I have to do something.  Clearly I am a part of the problem, but I also want to be part of the solution. And so, because I am a Christian, I grow a garden.  Does it really do much good?  Probably not.  But at least it’s a step in the right direction.  It’s a step toward becoming more human.  It’s a step toward Jesus.  And that’s the direction I want to be heading.

See you next week when I might discuss why I refuse to eat foie gras, and why you shouldn’t either 😛  But seriously though.  Don’t eat foie gras, especially if you are a Christian.

Because I’m a Christian, I…

Last week I reflected on the question, “What’s the Church going to do about that?”  The next logical question – because I am a Christian – is, “What am I going to do about that?”  And that’s the question I can’t stop thinking about.

Yesterday I preached on the Prodigal Son text in Luke.  Jesus tells a story, a parable, about a father and his two sons.  “Prodigal” isn’t used in the text, but rather was ascribed to it sometime later and it’s an appropriate description of the younger brother.  A “prodigal” is someone who spends resources freely and recklessly; it’s someone who is wastefully extravagant.

As I thought more about the word prodigal, I began thinking how freely and recklessly we in America spend our resources.  The average American, according to, has over $200,000 in debt(!) – a combination of credit card, student loan, and mortgage debt.  The CDC reports that over 1/3 of Americans are considered obese and another 1/3 are overweight.  That means two in three persons is overweight in America.  Talk about prodigal living…Moreover, the continued water-shortage in the Western United States is intimately tied to current water use practices that are absolutely ridiculous, even sinful.  There should not be lush golf courses in the deserts of Las Vegas and retirement communities of Arizona.  No wonder water is running out; we are freely and recklessly spending it on extravagant, wasteful living.  We are prodigal sons and daughters, not the stewards of creation God intended for us to be.

So…what’s the Church going to do about that?  What am I going to do about that?  How am I going to be part of the solution and not just name problems?  That’s the motivation for my next “series” here on the blog.  In the coming weeks, I am going to reflect on some of the things I do “because I’m a Christian” and I hope you’ll join me in having a conversation in the comments section.  What do you do because you’re a Christian?  How do you spend your time because you are a Christian?  Where do you spend your money or how do you save it or invest it because you’re a Christian?  What do you eat or refuse to eat because of your faith?  I’m looking forward to learning from you in the coming weeks!

Next week’s topic: “Because I’m a Christian, I have gotten into home gardening.

What’s the Church Going to Do About That?

I really like living out my Christian faith through the United Methodist tradition.  Our emphasis on personal piety and social engagement is one of the aspects I love most.  It truly is a “middle way” that holds in tension Evangelicalism’s concern for personal, Christian development, and Progressivism’s heart for justice.  At its best, United Methodism holds these two together – united, so to speak – in its efforts to live into The Way of Jesus, who healed people both spiritually and physically.  

Yesterday our local paper had an article about a man who police officers saved after having overdosed on heroine.  He was found convulsing just three blocks from where my family and I live.

On our end of town, poverty rates, drug use, and single-parent homes are “above normal” when compared to state statistics.  If there was a statistic for profanity usage, then judging from conversations I hear outside our fence we would probably rate pretty well in that category too.  Moreover, the only grocery stores on the entire south end of our city are Dollar General and gas stations.  This is a problem for the majority of my neighbors whose primary means of transportation are mopeds and their own two feet.  Expanding beyond our neighborhood and going into the rest of the community, there aren’t many healthy, safe outlets for our town’s young people.  There are two beautiful parks, which are used readily.  There is our community’s library that offers a space where teens can hangout at after school.  Thankfully there is now also a small waterpark which has been a blessing to our city, but it caters primarily to younger families…and those who can afford to pay the $4 entry fee.

I shared some of these concerns and issues with my District Superintendent who asked me a very simple question: “What’s the Church going to do about that?”

What is the Church going to do about that?  About these issues?  About others?

The heart of that question, of course, is what am I going to do about the issues I see around me?  I am a Christian, living out my faith through the United Methodist tradition.  I am part of the Church.  My hands and my feet and my money and my time and my skills…are Christ’s.  People often wonder why God isn’t more actively working to alleviate the injustices of the world.  Well…what are you allowing God to do through you? How are you spending your money?  Where are you spending your time?  How are you creating solutions, not just naming problems?

Tough questions.

And these questions are precisely what my United Methodist tradition regularly asks of me.  I don’t have the luxury of thinking just about myself anymore, about my own family, my own circles of friends, my own church.  My own Christ-like development is inextricably linked to how I live out my faith, how I care for others, where I spend my money, in what I’m going to do “about that.”  In order to grow spiritually, I must also care for people physically.

It’s time for the Church in America to be more concerned about the question “What’s the Church going to do about that?” than whether or not our political influence and Sunday morning worship numbers are waning.

It’s time to get back to Jesus.

What are you going to do about that?

A Call for United Methodist Innovation

There are two types of geniuses, a radio host recently commented: inventors and innovators.  It’s apples and oranges, but both are a certain type of genius.  There is the inventor, Bill Gates, and the innovator, Steve Jobs.  Both are great, but in different and distinct ways.

Innovators take what is and make it better.  The very best ones, Greg Jones argues, are ones who are able to hold the past and future in tension – not opposition – such that vitality and growth occur.

This is a call for more United Methodist innovators.

As United Methodists, we stand in a long line of traditioned innovation that has changed lives and impacted the world.  John Wesley drew from the deep wells of his Anglican and Ancient Christian traditions, and created a movement of personal piety and social reform.  His innovative ministries were true to his tradition that emphasized personal spiritual responsibility as well as justice issues like anti-slavery, pro-education, and providing medical care for the underserved.  He held his past, present, and vision of God’s future in tension with one another, and the result changed the world.  Innovators came before Wesley and innovators came after him, and all worked in step with the greatest innovator of them all: God the Holy Spirit.

It’s time for United Methodists to once again draw upon our deep wells of scripture, tradition, experiences, and God-graced reason to work with the Holy Spirit as we create innovative environments that enable all persons to grow in their relationships with God, one another, and the created world.  It is time, once again, for United Methodists to become a people of traditioned innovation.

In recent articles written by Christian Missiologist Ed Stetzer, Mainline Protestant denominations will continue to hemorrhage people and, if something doesn’t change, will cease to exist within the next few generations – at least in America.  Efforts are being made to change, new church starts are popping up across the country, and there appears to be a fresh working of the Spirit as more and more people – particularly persons under 40 – are responding to a call to full-time pastoral ministry (my class has around 16 people, next year’s will have double that!).  Moreover, as Stetzer points out, the decline of the Mainline appears to reflect the loss of “cultural Christians” rather than “convictional” ones.  According to Stetzer, “cultural Christians” are those who “believe themselves Christians simply because their culture tells them they are,” where as “convictional Christians” are those “who are actually living according to their faith…who would say they have met Jesus [and] He changed their lives.”  Too many United Methodists are United Methodists simple because their cultural upbringing has told them that is who they are.  Too few are United Methodist because they met the Jesus who changes lives and are living out their faith through a United Methodist ideology of personal piety and social transformation.

It’s time for United Methodist innovators to once again give birth to ministries that are true to our Tradition (with all of its emphasis on God’s grace and personal participation in God’s redemption of the entire created order) and, simultaneously, in tension with the future of God that is continually drawing us toward a brighter tomorrow.

It is time to let some things die.  It is time to pick up practices, theologies, and ministries that have mistakenly been set aside.  And it is time to take what is and innovate toward a better future.

It is time to take risks.  It is time to fail.  It is time to change.  It is time to innovate.  It is time to give birth.  All of creation has been groaning for the new life of Jesus Christ.  Join that movement and create opportunities for people to experience the Risen Lord.

A Hyphenated Existence: Being Korean-American.

A few years ago, I discovered a new term for me: “Hyphenated Existence.”  Historically, it seems, this term described any American who was of foreign birth or origin, and/or held allegiances to another country.  “Describe” is too generous of a word. Calling someone a “hyphenated American” was a form of racism; it was a disparaging and derogatory expression.

    The picture to the right was an 1899 cartoon depicting Uncle Sam asking, “Why should I let these freaks cast whole ballot votes when they are only half Americans?”  The linked to Wikipedia article (as trusted and reliable of a source as Wikipedia can be) quotes former president Theodore Roosevelt saying, “There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”

This hyphenated existence has since evolved and seems to become one that has been embraced by the Asian-American community in particular.  There is even a magazine entitled Hyphen that discusses issues particular to Asian-American living.  One such issue, as expressed so eloquently by Everyday Feminism’s Amy Sun, is how to walk the tightrope between being simultaneously both “Asian” and “American” – two very broad, convoluted, and diverse terms in and of themselves.  To drift too far in either direction is to “pay the price of disowning” the other.  My own personal experiences have also proven to me that it’s impossible to stand wholly on one side of the hyphen.  Around “real Asians,” I feel out of place – not speaking any asian language, not familiar with “real” Asian foods, and being completely unable to relate to Second Generation issues because my dad was adopted as a two year old from South Korea and was given the whitest name possible: Mike.  Around my “real American” friends – aka my white American friends – I have grown up out of place as well, never being fully “one of them” and always living into the caricatures of what it means to be Asian (black hair, almond-shaped brown eyes, likes rice, eats ramen, is good at math, on the shorter side, and dealing with jokes that demean asian genitals as “small” for men or “tight” for women).

So why am I sharing this today?  In large part, because I am still learning what it means for me to be biracial.  We are all journeys of self-discovery and living a hyphenated existence as a Korean-American is a significant part of my own journey.  And it will be for my children too.  I think they are two of the biggest reasons why I am continuing to wrestle with my biracial identity, my faith, and the world we live in.  I want to walk with them in their own journeys in hopes of helping them avoid some of the pitfalls I have fallen into.

I write this post also to continue the conversation of race in America.  I write this in hopes that my self-disclosure might invite further questions and curiosity.  I write this as a sort of plea for us to listen to one another.  To set aside our stereotypes, conjectures, preconceived notions, and just listen.  To ask to hear one another’s stories, to respect one another’s stories, to – so to speak – accept one another’s stories.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Isn’t that the cry of the LGBTQ community right now?  Isn’t that the cry of the poor?  Of race discussions?  Isn’t that the cry of the oppressed?  Isn’t that the desire we all long for?  To have a safe space where we can share our personal stories without the fear of judgment, but with the security of knowing that my story won’t be used against me?  Don’t we all just want to be heard and feel empathy from another who cares enough about us that they actually try to “walk a mile in our shoes”?  Don’t we all just want a bit of grace?

The call to listen to one another has been the drum I’ve been beating on for quite sometime now.  May we all be given more grace to do just that.  That’s a road I’d like to walk further down with you.