From now until tomorrow MIDNIGHT (Dec 7, 2013) you don’t want to miss this chance to download FREE talks on C.S. Lewis from some leading thinkers / scholars / pastors in evangelicalism:
James Houston & Sharon Jebb Smith:
and more here!
Don’t miss your chance; you’ve got until Midnight on Sat Dec 7!
Is there a way to get back to the essential purity of what the Christmas Season is about? Is there a way to be out-of-step with the rest of society in its mad, consumerist rush to “celebrate Christmas”? Is there a way to do it without the whiny demands of “putting Christ back into Christmas”? I believe the secret is not in more culture wars, but in the more subversive approach of simply observing the Advent calendar / season. You see, Advent is about ONE THING… waiting. Therein lies the counter-cultural secret; that while everyone is madly fulfilling the Christmas season the week before Thanksgiving, those of us walking by the different rhythms of Advent are busy waiting. And OUR Christmas Season begins December 25th – the true fulfillment and beginning of celebration – 12 crazy days and 12 crazy nights.
So here are 4 insights into the Season of Advent that I think will revolutionize the way we “celebrate” Christmas:
1. The actual season of Advent runs for 4 weeks – starting the first Sunday after Thanksgiving right up to 12/24 – Christmas Eve.
2. Advent itself is about WAITING – not premature celebration. So we hold our breath, bated, poised for just a few more weeks. We deliberately hold off on the mad rush. Maybe even stay off the roads if possible. Some traditions hold off on doing their decorating until Christmas Eve. And perhaps we needn’t worry but trust that there will still always be a good tree left on the lot. After all, isn’t that what Advent is about? Trust, and the wisdom of delayed – not instant – gratification. It’s out-of-step with the rest of society in its mad, rushed frenzy to “celebrate” Christmas.
3. The season of Christmas lasts 12 days and 12 nights – from Dec 25th to January 6th – hence, (BIG discovery!) the “12 days of Christmas” are not the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but the 12 days after Christmas! 12 crazy days and 12 crazy nights! That is not hyperbole because lookit: the church calendar gives us plenty of dour days (Lent) and plenty of waiting and longing (Advent), what’s so wrong about 12 days a year of unhinged celebration of the Return of the King? It can only be good for us…
4. Christmas is about celebration – so once Dec 25th rolls around, better let your hair down, pop the cork, let the celebration spill out into the streets – the King has come. And while the rest of the world struggles to cope with the darkness of post-Christmas let-down, we’ve just turned the lights on, our party has just begun. Infinitely better, psychologically, if you ask me.
So! from one Advent practitioner to another, share your best practices: how are you subverting “Christmas” this year? How are you intentionally practicing waiting? How are you preparing to celebrate? I would love to hear your thoughts & advice.
I was struck by yet another Alfonso Cuarón movie this week (previous was “Children of Men” which blew me away / changed my life by causing me to hope again – but that’s another story detailed here). I was at a retreat center this week, weary & recuping from the labors of ministry, along with a group of pastors from the Midsouth area. I managed to get away with one of them, a friend from back at Regent – Jeff Pate – and we watched this movie. Dunno if he noticed, but I was dribbling behind those big 3-D glasses. It was a powerfully emotional film and struck so many chords about persistence, life going on, the fight to live, sadness, triumph, and powerfully about coaching.
I’ll say this; if you are a coach, pastor, mentor, spiritual director, pay attention to the character of George Clooney. His mannerisms, his ways, his non-reactivity, non-anxious presence. He embodies the older, grayer, wiser, who coaches a younger female protege, in a very giving, baton-passing, self-sacrificial manner; there’s even a yoda moment in it.
Jeff responded with a good pushback of how the fight to live should not be a solo endeavor, but a community one; my only thought being in a narrative sense, Clooney never left (being now one with “the Force”, so to speak).
But in the end as I returned back to the retreat site and mixed it up again with the pastors, many of whom older and grayer and very much my cloud of witnesses, I was reminded of the image of Clooney and Sandra Bullock tethered together in deep, dark, empty, life-threatening SPACE… and how at moments he had to yank her along, times she had to trust him, times he needed to release her – or be released – so she could propel to the next level. It was profoundly moving, as I watched these older spiritual directors around me, laughing and oblivious to the profound metaphor I had just witnessed of their own lives writ large on the 3D screen. To my older friends, coaches, mentors, guides, directors, pastors: your admonishment to us to not let go, that we will make it Home – this is what keeps us going, fighting against seemingly impossible odds, steering clear from debris resulting in wreckage of lives; so that indeed we might end well, and truly make it Home.
Late weigh-in on this and really hesitated to do so as I watched it unfold from day 1, but as a longtime member of the Asian-American Christian (blogging) community, and also as one of the leaders of CAPA, the Asian-American pastors association of the ECC (serving alongside Greg Yee, Gail Song Bantum, Angela Lin Yee, & John Cho) I thought it was necessary and responsible to do so (although I claim my views as my own).
As I said I saw the whole thing unfold the minute Warren posted his tweet with the above pic and the caption “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” My ground-zero reaction was “is that a North Korean soldier?” and thinking “that’s not really funny” – but the offense for me stopped there and I went on with my day. You see, my opinion of Warren has evolved over the years, from an initial disdain for the whole 40-days / purpose-driven thing (IMO back then just too “pop” and shallow – although I never really read the materials) to a gradual understanding and an increasing respect and admiration for the man and his ministry.
It began when I became a lead pastor and understood what it meant to have a target on your chest and become the object d’jour of discussion among the people whether for praise or for criticism, out of an idle tendency to just talk about “what’s wrong with the church.” I discovered that EVEN in times of difficulty, personal or otherwise, that the critique was unrelenting, and that even if you were to experience an intense family loss (as did Warren when his son committed suicide recently), unknowing people would still rip into you, blindly, without a regard for where you are at in this present season of your life.
In that regard, I think there are very, very few people who will understand just how difficult it is being a lead pastor / public figure.
On top of that, I had actually begun reading Warren’s writings (ok, his tweets) and I found them to be not only encouraging to this pastor, but also surprisingly insightful. Whether pastor of a large church or a small, he’s got it, IMO, that intangible that makes a preacher insightful, a pastor loving, a leader effective. In my own twitter timeline, there are no other person’s tweets favorited more, and that, for personal reference so I might continually go back, re-read what he said and be encouraged, and I actually do this quite often, honestly.
So I couldn’t help but hurt a little to watch the firestorm unfold from the Asian-Am community directed at Warren after the above post. Do I think we should not say anything about racial injustice? Of course not. I’ve been in the blogging community long enough for anyone to know that I’ve not been absent at the barricades when time called for it in the past, and even recently. But I am starting to wonder about the flavor and the voice of our protest – which I want sustained, effective, weighty, meaningful, transformative, and not screechy, reactive, petty, and jumping to arms on every little gaffe. I just don’t think that’s an effective use of our energy and resources. Perhaps the paradigm of the “angry asian man” worked for a season when we struggled to find our voice. I think we’ve found it now. Let’s save it for more bigger-ticket items.
“The whole thing felt kinda shady, you know? Morality-wise?” – Badger
*Warning * Spoilers ahead.
Now that’s writing. I make a living off of closely examining the written word, looking for conventions, motifs, understanding background story and context, interpreting culture and re-interpreting back into culture; sometimes parsing the meaning of words and phrases here and there. Which is why I have long bemoaned the deplorable writing behind much of contemporary visual media to the point where I stopped watching TV altogether and passed up on major summer blockbusters. There is nothing significant to ponder on, to work with, to discuss, to exegete.
That changed when a friend recommended Breaking Bad a few months ago and I started watching it on Netflix. My immediate response? Revulsion. I always felt kind of down, a little depressed, disconcerted after watching it, but at the same time I was mesmerized by the story development. I kept waiting and watching for Walt to finally grow a pair, in the hopes that Skyler would one day break bad and maybe Hank too, and maybe they would become a huge crime family with ties into the DEA, operating right out of the valley. And then I found myself waiting and watching and wondering how in the world they were going to end this thing and that Walt – having become a true anti-hero – would have no choice but to atone for his sins with his own life. I’ve dabbled in writing plot lines before and have found difficulty in plot and character resolution so I braced myself for disappointment – but to this interpreter’s hard-earned pleasure, I found the resolution of the story – the finale – to be complete, tied-off, nothing left hanging, solid.
And then it’s been days since and I’m still pondering and reflecting; what did I just see? And why is it that something so morally reprehensible in subject matter (hence my revulsion above) is so darn compelling, and powerful? Just what about it was so redeeming? Badger is right after all, in what seems an almost-apology from the writers about the whole thing: “The whole thing felt kinda shady, you know? Morality-wise?”
- “Just get me home – I’ll do the rest” – intimation at redemption, divine or otherwise? (keys fall from above, allegedly attached to a Narcotics Anonymous emblem for “surrender”)
- Jesse’s refusal to pull the trigger for Walt one last time – even if it was on Walt himself – significance?
- What’s next for Jesse? Save Brock? I mean what chance does he really stand for recovery after all that?
- Jesse is the last man standing. Did they ever get that fly all those episodes back? (notice the way Jesse would wear his gas mask resembling a fly)
- The meaning of “Felina” – title of the last episode? (anagram for “FINALE”?)
- Saul’s changing wardrobe towards the end; trading his flamboyant colors for drab, khakis / slacks.
- Could we have one final scene of Walt in his underwear? Perhaps he was vulnerable enough at the end…
- And did Huell ever leave the apartment?
(Cont’d from my previous post) Immediately after the Zimmerman verdict, I began to flood my social media with the laments of many of my African-American colleagues (pastors). I wanted to expose as much as possible, to those in my sphere of influence – largely 2nd gen Korean-Americans – and particularly my own faith community here in Houston – the reality of race problems in America. I know what is said behind closed doors in both 1st gen and 2nd gen homes. I know what many Korean-Americans really think about blacks. And now we think this is their problem, not ours. But for those of us who are Christians and beholden to the 2nd greatest command – it is and will be our problem – if we refuse to face our own prejudices and refuse to engage.
At the risk of airing our own dirty laundry, Koreans are notorious for profiling and stereotyping. We gather in our enclaves and say things that don’t bear repeating here. But I want to move beyond this… this… suspicion. This fear. I want to know. Understand. Love. Care. I hope there will never be another Trayvon Martin. Not in my community. No; I want to bridge the communities.
One way to approach this problem? Know every child in your neighborhood – black or white or yellow or brown – and treat them as your own.
My hope is that I can shepherd my own small corner of America into a compassionate and listening posture, and a willingness to engage; I know there are those who disagree with me but understand: I am not focused on the details or the outcome of the verdict, but the fact that this is a generations-long festering wound in our country that will not go away by pretending it doesn’t exist. No. Job’s accusers were wrong for placing the blame back on him. Could they have listened?
Can we in the Korean-American community fare better than Job’s accusers?
I am appalled by the Zimmerman verdict, and how yet another young black male is bypassed justice due to him and his community. I mourn with my black brothers and sisters, and yes, I am angry.
Now, my agenda is twofold:
1. To cite some of the real-time responses I have heard from Christians - who believe that we shouldn’t see race as a problem in this verdict, and for some, how race shouldn’t even be an issue for our faith. I hope you will hear the inconsistency in this and be provoked to take a real – and perhaps for some of us – a new stance on faith & race. And that leads to the second:
2. To stir my own Korean-American community here in Houston to greater awareness of the intersection between race and our faith – AND to confront our own prejudices / discriminations (in a post following).
But first, hear some of the responses:
“The church needs to deal with people’s hearts, not social issues. The Gospel will cause social issues to change.”
“Peace and calm, PLEASE! Starting riots does not bring positive change, but rather it emboldens wrong stereotypes”
“Even though some people think this is racial, the end and true story is that two human beings and families have had their lives turned upside down for a very long time. God made us all the same color inside and loves each one of us the same- no more, no less.”
“Our justice system worked”
“When, oh when, will we begin to identify people by the color of their clothing or, much better, by the color of their personalities or the spirit of their hearts? When will people of European, African, Hispanic, Asian, or “whatever” descent move past old resentments, some transmitted generationally, and learn to openly relate simply as people? At what point will we realize that the actions of a few do not define the hearts and intentions of an entire group with a similar amount of melanin in their skin?”
“Our country is deeply divided right now. The majority of the black community and some whites see an injustice… The majority of conservative white America sees no problem.”
“why do you consistently post about race? As Christians can’t we see past color? If we constantly post about race we step backward”
“I say this to you again in a spirit of care. How does (raising this issue of race) edify the body of Christ? How does this facilitate unity? How does this honor Christ?”
Now I’m not lending legitimacy to trolls; these are actual opinions of well-meaning people, and I have heard much the same myself; so how does this make you feel? Can you agree with this? Does it not sound broken in some way? Does it not challenge us to an alternative vision of the kingdom of God?
Next post: “Korean Christian Responses” to the War on Young Black Men