Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In Southern Cross, Christine Heyrman explores the historical development of evangelicalism in the South. In the 18th century, evangelicalism presented an alternative for subordinate groups. The 19th century witnessed the capitulation of evangelicalism to the dominant values of southern culture. Evangelicalism retreated from promises of liberation and invested in upholding the equality and honor of white men above African-Americans and women. Adaptation to the norms of southern society laid the groundwork for much of evangelicalism’s subsequent success and formation. Drawing upon primary sources, Heyrman provides an engaging and convincing narrative. Two key elements of Heyrman’s argument were particularly well constructed. Heyrman reveals evangelicalism’s shifting position on the slavery issue as an example of capitulation to the prevailing value system. Heyrman also demonstrates that the diminishment of women in the evangelical movement reflects acquiescence to the culture. Heyrman explores how the ability to adapt to cultural expectations could have significant negative consequences. The cultural captivity of southern evangelicalism resulted in the loss of a prophetic voice and in my opinion, the loss of the full gospel message.

Giving up for Lent

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

My kids asked me what I was going to give up for Lent.

I said, “Cigarettes.”

My kids said, “But Dad, you don’t smoke.”

“True and I’m not going to start during Lent.”

So giving something up seems to be the thing to do during Lent.

By most accounts, the forty days of Lent reflect the forty days of fasting Jesus endured. Some accounts attribute the number forty to the number of hours Jesus laid in the tomb. Either way, forty seems like a nice Biblical number.

So for forty days, we give up something that we hold in high value and might hinder a life devoted to Christ. A self-sacrificial act as a small token of what Christ gave up for us.

So initially I decided that I was going to give up chocolate for lent.  I really like chocolate. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate. But I realize that I don’t eat chocolate all that frequently. So I would be giving up about five servings of chocolate over the Lenten period. Didn’t seem like that great of a sacrifice. I also felt like kind of a wimp giving up chocolate for Lent when others are giving up meat or swearing. I’ve done Daniel fasts in the past. For forty days before I got married, I gave up meat. But it was worth it because I was going to marry my lovely bride at the end of the forty days. I also lost 10 pounds.

So I settled on giving up coffee.  I drink coffee pretty much every day.  Most days two cups a day. It also looks right. A professor in a tweed blazer with a cup of coffee in one hand, maybe a pipe in the other hand. (But no cigarettes). Coffee definitely fits the criteria.

So that’s my final decision. No coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes during Lent. My hands tremble from caffeine withdraw as I type this final sentence. I need to have some Coke Zero this afternoon.

In April of 2012, Judson Press will release Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations.  This book is co-edited by Al Tizon, Sydney Park, and the author of this blog. See description below:

In this intentionally grounded and richly theological volume, the editors bring together ethnically and generationally diverse leaders from pulpit and academy alike to explore the opportunities for ministry in the Asian North American Christian community. Each acknowledges that this community is increasingly challenged by a generation gap, not so much between age groups but between first-generation immigrants and the second- and third-generations.

Ministry issues addressed include:

Pastoral formation
Women in ministry
Lay leadership
Public witness
Global mission

Each chapter of Honoring the Generations provides both theological and practical resources for those “in the trenches” of cross-cultural and cross-generational church ministry, regardless of ethnicity.

Editorial Reviews:

“In Honoring the Generations, God’s Spirit has finally provided us with a theologically calibrated and field-tested GPS that will guide us more harmoniously, more inclusively, and maybe even more rapidly to the many different places where God is leading ANA churches…How this book came together is proof of how God’s Spirit can fit together different generations, different genders, and different theological perspectives into the Household of God in Christ Jesus.”—Rev. Dr. Ken Uyeda Fong, Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

“This book challenges us to remember that no matter our ethnic, tribal, or theological background, we all are members of the household of God. Thus, we need to seek reconciliation, unity, and peace with one another.” —from the Afterword by Biak Mang, Pastor, Myanmar Christian Church (ABCUSA), Chicago, Illinois

“The ‘next evangelicalism’ of which coeditor Rah has written to high acclaim is here unveiled as that which includes the contributions of both the elders and the younger generation. The Asian North American voices in this volume have much to teach evangelicals across the spectrum who are ready to escape the western cultural captivity of the church.” —Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology, Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, VA

“Honoring the Generations challenges its readers to deal with the complexities of calling people to faith and developing churches in the midst of generational change, cultural adaptation, and the struggles of minority identity development. They write from their experiences within their various Asian North American communities, drawing out specific insights for ministering within ANA communities, but also addressing issues that cross ethnic and cultural lines. The book is an indispensable contribution to Asian American ministry and to the growing literature on ministry in the intercultural reality of North America today.” —Juan Francisco Martínez, Associate Provost for Diversity and International Programs, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This engaging conversation among Asian North American (ANA) ministers and professors names numerous challenges—including generational differences, cultural diversity, public engagement, assimilation, and gender inequality. The writers put their on-the-ground experiences on the table, reflect on historical elements, cultural influences, and biblical passages, and clarify what is important for ANA churches. Don’t expect answers, but do expect diverse voices, stories that narrate various experiments, and a call for deeper engagement across differences. This is a crucial conversation among ANA leaders.” —Mark Lau Branson, EdD, Homer Goddard Associate Professor of Ministry of the Laity, Fuller Theological Seminary and coauthor of Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations & Ethnicities

“An old Japanese proverb, ‘The nail that sticks up gets hammered down,’ continues to portray much of the ethos of the Asian North American church today. In Honoring the Generations,however, noted Asian North American theologians and pastors from varying theological traditions and cultural backgrounds honor and draw strength from disparate church experiences. The writers share the fruit of a long and sometimes arduous dialogue in hopes of inspiring a Kingdom revolution in the church that is both generative and generous for first-, second-, and third-generation Asian North American Christians alike. In the process, this book invites readers to envision together the nature and practice of the church as God’s household, with the capacity to forge the future of the Asian North American church.” —S. Steve Kang, Professor of Educational Ministries & Interdisciplinary Studies, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Coauthor of Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful, and A Many-Colored Kingdom

“In an increasingly diverse nation, the biblical, theological, and practical insights and lessons in this must-read book will go a long way in helping congregational leaders confront the cross-cultural and cross-generational challenges of their ministry. This book reflects a unique collaborative effort of scholars and practitioners responding to what I believe is the most critical issue at the dawn of the twenty-first century—ecclesiology. Here you have a relevant and robust practical ecclesiology by a variety of voices that will prove to be a gift to the Christian church at large and not just to Asian North American congregations.” —Rev. Eldin Villafane, PhD, Professor of Christian Social Ethics and Founding Director of the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston, Massachusetts

“To have such a range and depth of Asian North American leaders active today in teaching and ministry is an answer to so many prayers. For them to all have been at one conference together and now to have their thoughts collected and published is probably more than we hoped to pray for. Here in these pages are fresh lessons from Scripture, inspiring ministry stories, and an array of leadership insights to help the ANA church take needed next steps toward a better future.” —Russell Yee, ThM, PhD, adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and author, Worship on the Way: Exploring Asian North American Christian Experience

“Rich in Scripture, overflowing with grace, easy to understand, respectful of complex variables, and humble about methods, this is a book for our time.” —Miriam Adeney, PhD, Associate Professor of Global and Urban Ministry, Seattle Pacific University and author, Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

“This collection by Asian North American theologians and congregational leaders present the most heartening reflections on the daily struggles and triumphs of Asian North Americans in living out their Christian faith. The challenges and conflicts surrounding the issues of generation, gender, leadership, evangelism, and social engagement are not unique to them, but common themes for all evangelicals in the contemporary social and cultural contexts. It is a valuable reading for all those who are struggling about these issues, especially those who are engaged in ministries among Asian North Americans.” —Fenggang Yang, University Faculty Scholar, Professor of Sociology and Director, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

“With a scarcity of such resources available, Honoring the Generationsis a long awaited and welcome book. Connecting the significant biblical and Asian North American (ANA) cultural themes such as honor and household, the authors integrate both ANA contexts and biblical principles to foster a thriving ANA ministry. Since the book comes out of a consultation of ANA leaders, the methodology of the book is itself communal.” —Rev. Young Lee Hertig, PhD, Executive Director, Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC)

“Two central underlying themes of the contributions in this edited volume are the questions of (1) how Asian North American second-generation Christians are coming to terms with their cultural and spiritual inheritance from their immigrant parents and (2) what legacy they will leave their children. Through each chapter we are invited into the struggles of generational differences over leadership, women and calling into ministry, apathy and disillusionment. And in each chapter, written by leading ANA theologians and clergy, we are presented with biblically informed and experiential perspectives that will encourage readers who identify with these problems or know someone who does. As the second generation are now raising children of their own, the urgency for examples and role models is all the more pressing; Honoring the Generations is a fresh provision for that very need.” —Jerry Z. Park, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Baylor University

“It might be surprising for most people to learn that most Asian North Americans are Christian. However, it is no surprise that most of Asian North American Christians belong to immigrant and ethnic congregations, as did their predecessors whose ancestors came from other continents. This collection of coauthored chapters by Asian North American theologians and congregational leaders presents heartening reflections on their daily struggles and triumphs in living out their Christian faith. The challenges and conflicts surrounding issues of generation, gender, leadership, evangelism, and social engagement are not unique to them, but common themes for all evangelicals in the contemporary social and cultural contexts. However, the theology of God’s household seems to be distinctly Asian or Asian North American. It is a valuable reading for all those who are struggling with these issues, especially those who are engaged in ministries among Asian North American Christians.” —Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology, Director, Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University

So every Friday, I’m going to offer up a book review. Just to keep fresh on various topics. Will also post good book reviews from students as I receive them. FIRST UP: Harry Stout’s classic work on George Whitefield: The Divine Drmatist.

Harry Stout presents a portrait of George Whitefield as “Anglo-America’s first religious celebrity, the symbol for a dawning modern age” (xvi).  Whitefield’s innovations related to revivals in the Anglo-American context (such as the incorporation of the theatrical in preaching, the para-church nature of his ministry, and the willingness to compete in the marketplace) reveals his ability to adapt to the emerging consumer culture (xvii).  This adaptability reflects a salient characteristic of modern evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has demonstrated the ability to adjust to cultural trends over the course of American history and Whitefield provides the example and prototype of evangelicalism’s intersection with contemporary culture.

Utilizing primary source material, Stout presents a compelling argument. The strength of Stout’s argument lies in its comprehensive nature and his ability to trace a consistent profile throughout the narrative.  One question that I would raise about the work, however, is the seeming ease with which Stout attributes negative motives to Whitefield. On numerous occasions, Stout questions the purity of Whitefield’s motives and seems to focus on his negative motives.[1] Is there more conjecture than is necessary by Stout? While one could argue the merits of dissecting Whitefield’s motives, would it be more helpful to focus on outcomes?  Or would that approach reflect the pragmatism of both 18th century and 21st century American evangelicalism?

[1] For example, Stout is quick to attribute pragmatic motivations for Whitefield. This perspective could easily disintegrate into a second-hand interpretation of a fame hungry demagogue desperately willing to resort to anything to accomplish his own goals. More could be said about the possibility of a purity in his motivation.

Beginning the Lenten Season

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

I grew up in a very non-high church. (I don’t like the phrase “low church” — makes me feel less than). I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church with Pentecostal spirituality (the ultimate in non-high church). I grew up in a church that eschewed robes and anything that hinted towards high church traditions and liturgy.

The church calendar has always been a mystery to me. I’ve toyed with the fact that the church calendar really wouldn’t mean a whole lot for communities that deal with wet season and dry season vs. winter, spring, summer, and fall.  Or I wonder how different colored raiments would work in sub-Sahara Africa. But I must say there is something to be said about seeing the story of Jesus unfolded throughout the year.

So up until a few years ago, I hadn’t really participated in an Ash Wednesday service. It just wasn’t something that was a high priority in my community. But I’m learning and growing. Appreciating the meaning of Ash Wednesday beyond the external. For I truly am dust and to dust I will return.

So there are two moments in my Ash Wednesday experience that deepened my appreciation of the meaning of Ash Wednesday.

The first is a completely non-Spiritual, non-liturgical experience.  I played basketball for the first time in about a year and a half. (You can attribute this to temporary Linsanity). After a handful of times running up and down the court (I originally thought it was going to be a half court game), my mortality became very real to me. For the rest of the day, I walked around like an old man. Reminded that I am no longer 21 years old. My body is decaying faster than I would like.

Later that evening, I attended my church’s Ash Wednesday service. Watching my very diverse church join together in the Ash Wednesday ritual, I realized what a powerful statement of multi-ethnicity Ash Wednesday proved to be. We are all mortal. Despite our cultural differences, we are all dust in the wind. Moving towards the inevitable moment when we will return to dust. It brings a level of equality to the church. We can claim our worth, but our equality is most revealed in our united mortal frailty.

North Park University to Host ‘Justice Summit and Chicago Reload’ March 23-24

North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload image

Cornel West, Jim Wallis highlight prominent speaker lineup

CHICAGO (February 2, 2012) – North Park University, Chicago, will host hundreds of people next month at an event for those who want to know more about justice as a way of life. Participants in the “North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload,” event will learn how to engage in ministries of compassion and mercy, confront policies through advocacy and community organizing, and partner with programs and projects of community-based organizations, all from a Christian perspective.

The Justice Summit and Chicago Reload is March 23-24. It combines Chicago Reload, an annual event for urban youth workers hosted by the University the past seven years, with a new Justice Summit to expand the audience and dig deeper into the subject of justice, including focus on systemic issues and policies. Event organizers are hoping at least 500 or more people will attend.

Prominent plenary speakers highlight the event, and are expected to address justice, compassion and mercy from varied perspectives and contexts. They are Dr. Cornel West, Princeton (N.J.) University; Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners, Washington; Rev. Harvey Carey, senior pastor, Citadel of Faith Covenant Church, Detroit; Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary; and Rev. Judy Peterson, campus pastor, North Park University.

“The whole idea is to gather folks around the issue of justice, and start the dialogue in a direction we think is holistic,” said Tony Zamblé, director, North Park University Ministries. “This idea gained traction because we believe North Park is uniquely positioned as an institution to lead the conversation on justice.” Justice Summit and Chicago Reload presenters will address the theological framework for justice ministry so participants understand what God calls them to do, and why, Zamblé said.

Justice issues are a significant component of youth ministry regardless of the context, said Alison Burkhardt, assistant director, Center for Youth Ministry Studies, North Park University. “There is a real electricity around Chicago Reload, and I believe it’s going to translate into the full conference. I’m hoping attendees will leave knowing that what they do makes a difference, having perhaps a different perspective on the impact they have on the communities they’re working with,” she said. Conference planners hope attendees gain “foundations and tools” for doing ministry that can be applied in multiple contexts, Burkhardt added.

Attendees will be able to choose from a significant number of workshops organized into four tracks, said Rich Kohng, urban outreach coordinator, North Park University Ministries. Workshop categories include “Presence,” “Policy,” “Programs,” and “Perceptions,” he said. Some workshops are already planned, and others will be added in the coming weeks. Kohng said he hopes attendees will become “contemplative activists,” combining their relationships with Jesus Christ and activism as important components of the gospel.

Conference registration is open online; early registration rates are available through Feb. 29. Regular registration begins March 1 and closes online March 21. For those who sign up, conference email updates are also available.

Justice Summit and Chicago Reload sponsors are three University entities: University Ministries, Campus Theme Committee, and the Center for Youth Ministry Studies. North Park University is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Cultural Intelligence

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago, there was quite a dust up regarding Pete Hoekstra’s ads employing ridiculous stereotypes and evoking the yellow peril. Eugene Cho, Helen Lee, and myself wrote a joint blog post (which I failed to post). It turns out that the post was actually forwarded to the Hoekstra campaign.  They did pull the ad and changed the website.

What is your Cultural IQ?

Imagine this scenario occurring in your workplace. It’s your company’s annual corporate retreat, and in a misguided attempt to inject humor into the event, your leaders present a skit in which they all pretend to be disabled in some way.

They hobble around with awkward positions, as if paralyzed or unable to use particular limbs; they exaggerate their speech and behavior to grossly characterize those who have communication difficulties, and all these representations are done in a mocking and demeaning way, to garner a few laughs.

How about the Church?

No modern-day corporation would do this. And yet, in the context of Christian organizations and churches, similar situations still occur.

We recently witnessed a sermon video in which the pastor of a large, multi-site church in Minnesota brought an Asian man on stage representing a “samurai” and had him sit before the congregation, stone-faced and silent, while the pastor flailed his arms in a cartoonish imitation of karate moves while yelling random Asian-sounding gibberish, then banged a loud gong in an attempt to rattle the “samurai’s focus.”

As word of the video spread through the Asian American community and beyond, the church took it down but chose to ignore repeated overtures for dialogue from Asian-American Christians. In our fictional scenario above, this would be equivalent to the company leaders hearing rumblings from people who were offended with their dramatic representations and responding:

“It doesn’t matter what you think. We are the leaders, and it’s our choice how and what we want to communicate. If you didn’t like it, it’s not our problem.”

The church’s motivation may have been well intentioned; like many others before them who have co-opted another culture to serve their own purposes, they were aiming to be “relevant,” “engaging,” “creative,” “cool,” “hip.” But this sermon reflected none of those qualities, revealing instead an extreme lack of cultural intelligence.

For those who are passionate about the future of Christian leadership, for those who seek to or who already influence a group of followers, we have a prediction: more so than “emotional intelligence” or cognitive ability, your leadership prowess will be largely affected by how much cultural intelligence you possess and demonstrate.

What is cultural intelligence?

Our nation is moving rapidly towards racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, and American Christianity is bearing witness to these dramatic changes. Workplaces, congregations, conferences, and readerships are all changing to reflect this reality, but Christian leaders are lagging behind in attaining the cultural intelligence they need in order to navigate through this multi-cultural reality.

Cultural intelligence is not merely gaining intellectual knowledge about another culture. Just because you like samurai/ninja culture and have seen Kung Fu movies does not mean that you possess cultural intelligence. Instead, a leader with a high cultural IQ has developed a sensitivity to other cultures and handles those cultural contexts with honor and respect.

Without cultural intelligence, a leader runs the risk of caricaturing other cultures, as in the church’s example above. You cannot appropriately represent a culture that you have not taken the time to know or understand. And when you attempt to do so, you not only dishonor those who are a part of the culture you are diminishing, but you also dishonor the One who has created every tongue, tribe, and nation to begin with.

None of us can claim perfect understanding of the wonderful diversity that exists both around the globe and even within our own country. But Christians are called to be ministers of reconciliation, and Christian leaders are the ones who need to step forward in the hard work of developing cultural intelligence.

What are steps that leaders can take to increase their cultural IQ?

Here are three simple ways to begin:

  • Step out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to new cultural experiences that you have never tried–foods, styles of worship, entertainment, for example. As you normalize the discomfort of new cultural experiences, your sensitivity for those cultures will increase.
  • Examine your personal relationships: how often do you spend time with those from a different cultural background? If your relationships overly homogeneous, how can you expand your relational horizons?
  • Ask someone from a different culture to mentor you. As you meet leaders who speak into your spiritual and emotional life from a different cultural context, your understanding of our changing world will expand.

Cultural change is not a possibility, but an inevitability. The leaders who will have the biggest impact in this shifting cultural landscape are those who possess a teachable spirit, flexibility, and humility.

You can be “relevant” or you can be a reconciler: make the intelligent choice.

Fasting for the Budget

Posted: April 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

A number of faith leaders announced a fast to protest the proposed budget cuts that would negatively impact the poorest and the most vulnerable in our nation. See: In the Old Testament, prophets held the responsibility of representing God’s truth to the powers that be. The prophets would often ask the difficult questions to call the powerful into account for how they treated the very least of these. In these times, faith leaders should continue to ask the difficult questions. The budget of our nation has the capacity to reflect the morality of our nation.

If you have the chance, follow @jimwallis (one of the faith leaders participating in the fast) and #WWJC (What Would Jesus Cut?) on Twitter. The twitter feed raises questions appropriate for discussion in the public arena:
– “Do we cut $2.5 bil for low income heating assistance or $2.5 bil in tax breaks for oil companies?”
– “Do we cut $747 mil from WIC, a program that feeds about 25% of U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 4?”
– “Do we sacrifice the lives of 70,000 children and keep tax breaks for the rich?”
– “What would Jesus Cut?”

These are certainly questions that people of faith should be asking. In fact, asking these kinds of questions is exactly what people of faith should be doing.

I write this section on the heels of the Christmas holiday season. My wife and kids do a great job of decorating our house in preparation for Christmas. There is an evergreen tree by the fireplace filled with ornaments. We don’t have a Yule log in the fireplace, but we’ve consumed Yule log desserts in the past. The fireplace is adorned with green garland and bright red holly. And I’m sure there’s mistletoe in one of the many bright red and green boxes in our basement.







As I look around our house and reflect on all the symbols that we have come to associate with the Christmas season in the West, I am struck by just how very few of the decorations actually speak directly about the birth of Jesus in a little town in Bethlehem. In fact, when I observe the decorations that I now associate with Christmas, there are more pagan origins to our décor than there are actual Christian origins.
For example, the timing of Christmas is attributed to the pagan festival of Saturnalia and a celebration of the winter solstice more than the actual date when Jesus was born. Jesus was probably not born in the winter time. It is highly unlikely that the shepherds would be so jubilant tending their sheep on a cold winter’s night. The date of December 25th was chosen because of pagan festivals that coincided with the winter solstice (December 22nd), which was a significant time of festivals for many of the cultures that Christianity first encountered, particularly in the Western expression of the church. The date of the celebration of Christmas, therefore, has pagan origins.

The Roman tradition was to celebrate the divinity Mithra on December 25th. On that day, bulls were sacrificed and their blood was spread on the fields. The December 25th event celebrated a new-born child as well as celebrating the return of the Sun. Since the winter solstice was the shortest night of the year, the following days would now begin to get longer. It was believed that the Sun was returning and drawing closer. The winter solstice festival called Saturnalia was named after the Roman god of agriculture and celebrated on the longest night of the year. With the days now starting to get longer, there were a series of celebrations for the coming of the sun. Torch-lit processions, exchanging of gifts, and general merriment were the order of the day. During the festival, homes would be decorated with greenery as a symbol of new life. The festival would extend over a twelve day period; hence, the twelve days of Christmas.







The prominent use of greenery during the Saturnalia festival by the Romans is mirrored by pre-Christian Germanics, the Celtic tribes, as well as the Scandanavians. The pagan nations would also hold a festival in honor of the winter solstice. They worshipped the sun deity that is at its farthest point from the earth’s equator, but after the winter solstice would get closer and return to them. Worship of the sun through this winter “Yuletide” festival would insure that the Sun deity would return to them. As part of the festival, the participants would burn a decorated log, the Yule log which was a symbol of the burning heat of the sun. The plant life, such as the evergreen trees and wreaths that decorated their homes were symbols of perpetual life in the winter. Evergreens were hung to ward off wandering winter spirits and as a symbol of life. Holly and mistletoe were also symbols of life in the dead of winter. Holly was seen by the Druids as sacred symbol of life and peace, keeping the earth beautiful in winter. Mistletoe, which in Celtic means “all-heal,” was also a symbol of life and peace. The mistletoe was used by Druid priests in healing ceremonies.

If I were to examine all the evidence presented on the pagan origins of Christmas, I may never want to celebrate Christmas again. Christmas seems to have some unholy origins. In fact, more pagan and ungodly elements seem to be at the root of our Christmas celebrations than Christian ones. These revelations call the entire institution of Christmas into question. How can we taint a holy celebration like the birth of Jesus with unholy symbols? How can we take something pagan, sinful, and unholy and make it into something good. Why would God allow a sinful vessel to represent His holy Son? What business does God have of taking something unholy and sinful and making it into something holy and good?

But is this not the message of Jesus and the true message of Christmas? God has taken something that is sinful, pagan, unholy, and fallen and through His grace and His work, He has turned it into something good. If God can change Christmas from its pagan and sin-filled origins into a holy day, then God can take a fallen culture and still communicate the powerful gospel story through that fallen culture. Christmas is a reminder that the message of redemption is available for all cultures and all peoples. Christmas is a reminder of God’s grace made evident through His ongoing mission to reveal His grace, mercy, love, justice, and compassion to a fallen world.

Body Self-Image

Posted: October 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

My seven-year-old son and I are reading a Children’s Bible before bedtime. (BTW, I highly recommend the Children’s Bible by Bishop Desmond Tutu published by ZonderKidz – which is brilliantly illustrated by a wide range of artists and styles depicting many different types of bodies).  He’s leaning on my stomach as I read. After reading the Bible, we’re getting ready to pray when my son says, “Dad, God’s telling you to lose that gut.”

My first thought: “My son has the gift of prophecy.  He is hearing the voice of God.”  My second thought: “My kid’s a punk.”

I was actually under nourished as a child. My family was on food stamps for most of my childhood.  I actually remember opening up our fridge and finding absolutely nothing inside except for a huge hunk of government cheese in the freezer.  (Some of you may remember several decades ago when the government used to give away blocks of cheese).  We’re a Korean family.  Most of us are lactose intolerant. Cheese doesn’t go with any Korean food.  Cheese and kimchi may be the most disgusting combination in culinary history. So that hunk of cheese sat untouched in our freezer. It was still there when we moved out of the apartment.  It may still be there – remnant of failed social policy.

So during elementary school I was actually ridiculously skinny.  Like pants on the ground skinny.  All the way through high school.  Skinny kid with glasses and long hair in a plaid shirt and Sears corduroys secured by my big buckled belt. Thankfully, my poor fashion choices distracted attention away from how skinny I actually was.  When I got to college, I discovered the most amazing thing: the all-you-can-eat cafeteria. The food was awful. But you could actually go back for seconds. I’ve always been an overachiever. If the assignment was for 5 pages, I would submit 10 pages.  So when someone told me about “freshman fifteen,” I felt the strong inclination to overachieve above and beyond the “freshman fifteen.”  So the “freshman fifteen” was compounded by “post-undergrad poundage,” the “seminary sixteen,” the “grad school gainage, the “just-married  weight adjustment” and the “new baby Daddy gain even though I actually didn’t give birth but there’s a sympathy weight gain poundage”.

And I am now confronted with this gut-wrenching reality. In my son’s prophetic pronouncement of God’s will for my gut. In my nine-year-old daughter’s sly retort when I said that I wanted to eat more vegetables and less meat: “Who are you and what have you done with my Dad?!” Even my Wii Fit board’s condescending “Oh” when I step on. My wife doesn’t complain about my physical appearance, but she does tell me that I need to be mindful of my health.  That my apple body type inclines me toward numerous health problems. She reminds me that she wants to live a long life with me and wants me to see our grandchildren. Then she tells me that she’ll kill me if I die of a heart attack at an early age.

So that’s what it comes down to.  I will resist with all my might to be forced to conform to an image of masculinity and fitness that is out of my reach.  But I will do everything I can to avoid being killed by my wife after I’m dead.