Archive for December, 2009

Work and work

Though what used to be incredibly burdensome for me at church has now become more manageable, I still have a nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough. I feel like I could be doing more, but in reality just what I have to do now seems like plenty enough for me. I could theoretically be maximizing every minute of my time to plan and prepare for church, not just the sermon and praise, but Bible studies, fellowship events, outreach events, and other ways that will help Living Exodus to grow and mature. I was blessed at every Talbot class session this past semester, and I always wanted to take what I received and pour more into church, but when came time to follow through on my resolutions, I couldn’t seem to do it. I woke up early, but all it took was one 7:30 call from a customer and it was hard to get into the mode. There went my morning time. I would sit down at my desk in the evenings and the red numbers of my clock would glare back at me. Somehow the hours turned from 8, to 9, to 10, to 11, without much progress, and I resigned myself to bed so I could wake up again to try to redeem the next day.

I know I can do better. I know I can be more disciplined. I know if I could just get the sermon “over with” earlier in the week, then I can put my efforts toward thinking ahead, thinking about new things, new ideas. But just as it requires much self-restraint to put in the time to study and meditate for the sermon, it requires yet another push to do that breaking of new ground. It’s been a while since we sang a new song during worship.

One of the characteristics of a good leader is that he knows how to reach out to those who know more than him. He knows how to teach others how to do the things that he might only be doing out of necessity so that he can be freed to pursue other important matters. In our last class, we went over Ephesians 4. When other parts of the body are not performing correctly or they are weak, the body starts to use the stronger part. Sometimes the stronger part gets overused. We are meant to walk on two legs, not one. Walk on one too much and it will become stronger, but it will also become tired from overuse. No one is meant to walk on crutches even after a broken ankle is healed. The healthy ankle takes on a heavier load while the other is recovering, but it is only supposed to be temporary. When each part is working properly, the body can build itself up and grow properly (Eph 4:16).

I hope some of our group can step up more and learn to take ownership and responsibility for the health of our ministry. Am I able to discern when they are ready to take on responsibilities? Because so far, I see halfhearted dedication. They shy away from responsibility. They give God only bits and pieces, not their whole heart, mind, and soul. As a stronger part, I can fill in, but this is not the way it is meant to be in the long run. It is easy for them. All they have to do is “show up.” But most can’t even do that much. If they are not faithful with the little things, how can I entrust to them greater things?

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Being cool is (usually) not cool

One thing I realized was that in my last entry I might have suggested a sort of elevating the white church above the Korean church. I did not mean to do that. I was just sharing the contrast I’ve experienced between both settings. Maybe many will agree with me that white people tend to be more welcoming…but I know that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because they truly know the gospel. Maybe many are like that only because that’s how they were raised by their parents and not because they really know the gospel. I know there are probably many people in Crusade that show up only because their friends are there. But some of the most solid people I know are white, and one of the characteristics I see in common in all of them is a genuine warmth and hospitality toward all people, rather than just those in their inner circle.

I share about my experiences outside of the typical Korean church subculture because they have given me a perspective I wouldn’t have gotten if I had just surrounded myself with all Korean people in college. Some may ask, then, why are you still serving at a Korean church? Why do you live with all Korean roommates? Some may try to see in it a cowardly motive, but I hope it’s evident that rather than bail on the Korean church and resort to soapbox blogging, I want to edify the community while the opportunity is before me. And I am trying to do this both through sharing my thoughts in writing as well as living them out in person. Though my voice may be small, I hope that the perspectives I bring will continue to challenge us and push us toward a richer understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Of course, it’s not like these perspectives won’t benefit anyone but Korean Americans. I hope the few non-Asian readers of this blog can benefit as well.

I realized also that in the anguish of writing the previous entry I hadn’t included any Bible verses. Here are a few that I’ve been meditating on with regard to this issue.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” — Hebrews 13:1-2

This verse says to continue to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it also says to show hospitality and be welcoming to strangers. I think of Abraham’s encounter with the angels disguised as men in Genesis. Also, I think of Jesus’ words about the final judgment and the sheep and the goats: as you did it to the least of these, you did it also to me. How often does the Korean church neglect hospitality toward strangers, visitors, and newcomers, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

“Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” — Romans 15:7

I love this verse because in one sentence it tells us what to do and also tells us WHY. Here is the gospel, that Christ welcomed his enemies, welcomed strangers into the household of God. Christ was so thoroughly UN-self-centered that how can we not also be welcoming to strangers and especially strangers in the faith? The characteristic of being warm and welcoming is one of those characteristics that, when I see it in someone, I think, man, that person knows the gospel. Really and truly understands the gospel. These are the “cool” ones. I want to be one of those people. The Lord knows I fail just like everyone else, but the grace of the Spirit keeps me mindful of the call to Christ-likeness. Take care lest I forget…

A brother of mine has been writing on this issue as well (here and here). I hope we are not the only ones that think about this! Please join the conversation.

Being cool is not cool

Alrighty…so this was floating around in my head when I wrote the last bullet in my Nov 2 entry. So I ask readers to consider that Nov 2 entry as background to this. The questions I asked myself there were the questions I kept asking myself as I wrote this.

So…

One of the problems I see in the Korean-American church in Southern California (I don’t know if it’s true in other regions or states) is a general closedness to newcomers. When I was a kid, it would make me feel lonely and out of place. I didn’t know a reason for it; it was just the way things were. But now that I’m a bit older and have had a chance to observe and ponder things, I think I’m ready to write about this. I don’t want to over-generalize, because I know that these problems aren’t unique to the KA church, but man, it frustrates me so much in a way that doesn’t frustrate me in other settings within the body of Christ. I want to bring it to light, so we may be more aware of it.

I think it’s interesting that a lot of Korean churches have welcoming teams. At KCM it was called inreach. At the non-Korean churches I’ve visited over the years, there is no such thing because they don’t need welcoming teams! Everyone is already welcoming. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a welcoming team because it means that we acknowledge that there is a problem there, but that’s the point. There is a problem. I recall my time at the majority-white Campus Crusade for Christ at USC, I don’t really remember feeling lonely at the general meetings. People were always open to meeting new people. I was at a pre-finals Christmas party my freshman year off campus at someone’s house, and even though I felt “small” (everyone was older than me), I felt welcome. I got to meet and talk to people whom I had seen at general meetings but had never “actually” met. At KCM, on the other hand, there would be people I saw often because of all the events we had, but I never ended up talking to them, if even just a handshake and “Hi, I don’t think we’ve ever actually met. My name is…” I’ve had to be the one to do that a couple times. And even then, the response wasn’t always warm. This is sad.

A lot of my brothers and sisters in the faith have good intentions and want newcomers to feel welcome but just don’t realize that in large group settings, there are so many people to catch up with that unless they make an intentional effort to welcome newcomers, it won’t happen. It’s not that they’re mean. It’s just what happens when there’s a lot of people. Visitors end up falling through the cracks.

But it’s not just a closedness from the “inside.” Sometimes even outsiders can be closed off. Rather than go out and meet new people, they show up with their friends. I remember one time at KCM when I was a senior, I went around before the meeting began and found a new person sitting by himself. I think he was a freshman. I introduced myself to him and tried to strike up a conversation. His answers were terse and showed that he wasn’t as interested in meeting me as I was in meeting him. Turned out he was just waiting for a friend to show up, a friend who was also a first-time visitor. And once his friend came, he pretty much stopped talking to me. I shrugged it off then, but now, when I think about it, it was a great example of just how childish many Koreans are. What’s wrong with going somewhere new alone? Are we so afraid of talking to new people?

In college, I was always humbled when a person older than me made an effort to get to know me because even though I didn’t really have much to interest them, even though all I could tell them about were my GEs and intro economics classes and dorm life, things that were old news to them, they still wanted to have a conversation with me. It was about me feeling welcome, not them necessarily getting anything out of it. And even when no one did introduce themselves to me, I would go out and introduce myself rather than leave right after and mope about how I didn’t feel welcome. We all just need to grow up.

You see the same behavior in non-Christian Korean social gatherings. My brother has been trying to make friends in KSA in order to witness to them (I am proud of him for having this burden on his heart and for making an effort despite his fears), and he told me that when he first showed up to a KSA event, which was at a restaurant, no one talked to him. He was one of a few new people and nobody said anything to him. They just kept talking to their little circle of friends. He took the initiative and introduced himself to the people sitting around him, which happened to be mostly girls. He never got a chance to meet any guys. They were all too busy trying to be cool.

Guys like this are not cool. They are cowards. I can expect this kind of thing to happen outside of the church, but, sad to say, I find it in the Korean church as well. I’m not sure exactly why. I think ultimately it just boils down to pride. People are too much of a coward to leave their comfort zones and care about others, to make them feel welcome and loved. People seek approval and recognition from their peers, and once they have it, they’re not going to leave their safe zones. They hang out with the same people ALL the time. There is nothing wrong with having a few close friends that you love to hang out with, but when it means that you close yourself off to others, that’s being selfish. Maybe another reason is that it’s just taking a while for the gospel to really infiltrate the passive mindset we’ve adopted from our culture. The white Christians I knew in college tended to be more warm and hospitable to strangers. I believe they learned a lot of that from how they were raised by their parents. I think as the new generations start to grow up within the Korean church, we will begin to discard those un-gospel-like vestiges of our culture. Maybe one reason is that the Korean community in Southern California is so localized that we just don’t know what it feels like to be an outsider. Many Koreans are so attached to their high school buddies that they close themselves off to meeting new people in college. People who came from out of state to USC were forced to make new friends. Koreans from So Cal had it so easy. They already knew a ton of people, so they stayed within their bubble.

I’m realizing that a lot of people in the KA church who would consider themselves extroverts are actually very passive. In college, I used to feel jealous of those who, to me, seemed to have a lot of buddies, those who had friends to joke with and stay up late with. I was sometimes even a little jealous of the people that had a lot of comments on their Facebook wall and profile pictures. Now that I know some of them better, I don’t care much about that anymore. Underneath their seeming social comfortableness I see mostly passivity and childishness. And pride.

I am mentally tired from writing this. When I write something like this, I never feel fully satisfied. I know that it’ll be out there for a long time for people to read and comment on, and people will disagree depending on where they’re at in their walks (cf. bad worship song entry). And sometimes I will wonder if I could have added this or that or written something better. But sometimes I just have to call it quits and hope that as I call this problem out, somehow some part of it will resonate with readers and it will open our eyes so that we would be more aware of our sinful tendencies. Because at the core, I don’t think this is just a cultural thing. It is sin.

Plenty of practice

Pretty much everyone believes that a dating relationship with a girl or guy is practice for marriage. Some people go a little further and believe that cohabitation with that girlfriend or boyfriend is also good practice for marriage. I’ve come to believe that the better practice for marriage is learning to live with roommates. Now there’s a “cohabitation” that will provide plenty of practice for marriage.

The sad fact is, marriages after cohabitation do worse than marriages without previous cohabitation. I think it’s because these people haven’t learned to love people in general. The more I learn about the mundane realities of marriage after the initial feelings of romance, the more I see that the way we approach living with roommates may be indicative of the way that we will act in a marriage. Many might think, “But marriage is going to be different. We’ll be in love! I’ll be more patient with someone I love, rather than some annoying roommate I have to put up with.” I don’t think we–by “we” I’m referring to single college students and young adults–want to believe that, given enough time, that wife or husband might start to resemble that “annoying roommate” more and more.

People say that cohabitation is good practice because they can see their significant other’s little quirks of living, implying that it will help them determine whether they would make a good spouse or not. Good intentions, perhaps, but they’re missing the point. The practice of putting up with someone you’re stuck with has been happening since the day you were born. Are you patient with your family members, even though they do things that irritate you? Do you have the courage to confront your roommates out of love about things that bother you? Because in the end, if the only thing that defines your relationship as roommates is sleeping under the same roof at night, that’s not called patience. It’s not called love. It’s called being a pansy. The same rift that takes place when there’s not enough communication in a roommate living situation is the same rift that will happen when there’s little communication in a marriage. What makes us think that sharing the same bed as opposed to sleeping in different rooms will make it any different?

So consider how you act toward your family and your roommates. Think twice before you think you’re mature enough to date someone.

As I always write, I have much to learn.