Scorn, No. Alarm, Yes.

 

***I haven’t written an actual blog piece in a very long time, and really wasn’t in any hurry to do so. But after reading something on Christianity Today earlier this week, I felt like I had to stand up and say something. And yes, it’s about Donald Trump.***

Let me start off by saying that I really like Ed Stetzer. We both were columnists for Christianity Today, although I very much doubt he knew of my existence there. And I appreciate how he brings a consistently insightful and informed perspective to issues of evangelical life. His recent piece on scorn is no exception. In it, he cautions evangelicals against being scornful of other people who support Donald Trump, as such an attitude runs dangerously close to the Pharisee in Luke 18 who disdained another man for not being as holy as himself. This is excellent advice, as it is easy to get mired in a disdainful attitude towards those with whom we disagree. We should all take his words to heart and strive to speak with grace and love to one another, especially those of us who have become particularly snarky this election season (which might describe me, unfortunately).

And yet, I think an important counterpoint has to be made to Ed’s piece, and that is to remind people that although outwardly very similar, there is a huge difference between scorn and genuine alarm. And for people whose very place in this country is threatened by figures like Donald Trump, we are motivated to speak out with such vehemence because of the latter, not the former.

Continue reading “Scorn, No. Alarm, Yes.”

Newtown is a True Christmas Story

***This post was first published on December 18, 2012***

The above picture is what twenty 5-year olds look like.

It’s Christmas time, which we all know, is the the most wonderful time of year.  Joy to the World, and all that.  And there is good reason for this, both culturally and theologically.  We get to take time off from work to give and receive gifts and spend time with the ones we love.  And as Christians, we celebrate the birth of Christ, and the love that the incarnation represents.

But it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit as I imagine what took place in Connecticut, as a gunman cornered kindergartners in a room and shot them to death.  Many of the children were the same age as my daughters.  As I picked them up from school on Friday afternoon, I could not help but imagine that it was they who were trapped in that room as a killer pointed a gun at them and their friends and pulled the trigger.  The horror of the thought took my breath away. Continue reading “Newtown is a True Christmas Story”

The…Exaggerations of the CBS Sunday Morning Piece

In case you missed it, here is the feature that CBS Sunday Morning produced on me and Peace Fellowship Church.  Check it out:

Just a few thoughts I had after watching it myself:

First off, Peace Fellowship isn’t really what I would call “predominantly African American” – it really is closer to multi-ethnic.  There are African Americans, Caucasians, Korean-Americans, Africans, mixed families, Europeans, um…all this to say that Peace Fellowship is a wonderfully confusing place to worship.  And I think the piece consciously played up this angle to emphasize the oddness of a supposedly black church having a Korean-American interim pastor.  And that would indeed be odd…except that it is not really what Peace Fellowship is. Continue reading “The…Exaggerations of the CBS Sunday Morning Piece”

My (Long Overdue) Review of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

One of the most popular blog posts I have ever written was my response to Amy Chua’s essay in the Wall Street Journal, which was a teaser for her upcoming book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  You can read my post yourself, but I shared that in my personal experience as a product of the “Tiger Mother” methodology, there are some dire consequences that go unnoticed until children grow into adulthood.  While I was pretty even-handed in my approach (at least in my own eyes, which probably means very little), I do admit that I have always felt a little uncomfortable with my piece because I had written it prior to reading Ms. Chua’s book.  My response was based solely on the excerpt that was printed in the WSJ.  And given that the excerpt was designed to drum up interest in her soon-to-be-released book, that’s not really fair.  So I do apologize, and feel badly for that.

But after two years, I have finally gotten around to finishing her book and would like to rectify my previous error by posting some additional thoughts, this time based on a fuller reading of her memoir.  And here’s what I think now:

I stand by everything that I said earlier. Continue reading “My (Long Overdue) Review of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother””

It’s Down!!

I am very happy and relieved to report that the Make Me Asian app, along with all of the others by that developer, have been taken off of Google Play.  So you might be asking, how exactly did a no-name pastor singlehandedly get the world’s largest and most influential technology corporation to do something that it didn’t want to do?  The answer is…he doesn’t.  He does it with lots and lots and lots of help from the following: Continue reading “It’s Down!!”

Newtown is a True Christmas Story

This is what twenty 5-year olds look like.

It’s Christmas time, which we all know, is the the most wonderful time of year.  Joy to the World, and all that.  And there is good reason for this, both culturally and theologically.  We get to take time off from work to give and receive gifts and spend time with the ones we love.  And as Christians, we celebrate the birth of Christ, and the love that the incarnation represents.

But it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit as I imagine what took place in Connecticut, as a gunman cornered kindergartners in a room and shot them to death.  Many of the children were the same age as my daughters.  As I picked them up from school on Friday afternoon, I could not help but imagine that it was they who were trapped in that room as a killer pointed a gun at them and their friends and pulled the trigger.  The horror of the image took my breath away.

What a jarring juxtaposition with the merriment and joy of Christmas.  It seems so completely contrary to the season and its spirit.  But that’s not actually true because the full context of Christmas is also one of tragedy, not unlike Newtown.  We have just chosen to ignore it.

If you know the Christmas narrative, you know that Magi from the east see the new star in the sky which heralds the birth of Christ, and so they journey to find this newborn child, and pay him homage with rich gifts.  And so naturally they go to the place where a king would typically be born – the palace.  They ask Herod, “Where is this newborn king, so that we pay him honor?”  And this does not sit well with Herod, because after all…HE’S supposed to be king.  But being a rather clever and bloodthirsty man, he hatches a plan.  He tells the Magi that he does not know, but that if they do manage to find the child, they should let him know so that he too might pay homage.  But of course, Herod wishes no such thing.  His only desire is to kill Jesus.

The Magi find Jesus and give him their gifts of myrrh and gold, but are warned not to return to Herod.  Herod discovers this and is furious.  And in his fury he gives a command which will forever be known as the Massacre of Innocents: every boy under the age of 2 should be executed in the town of Bethlehem.  Some doubt the historical veracity of this account, but almost all scholars do not doubt that it is certainly possible, even probable.  After all, Herod even killed his own wife and two sons when they became a threat to his throne, so why would he hesitate in killing the sons of other people?  And so that day, somewhere between 20 and 50 little boys under the age of 2 were slaughtered.

The Massacre of Innocents“.  That sounds so familiar right now.

And this is not the only tragedy that surrounds Christmas.  Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal of the highest degree.  Israel was an oppressed nation, brutalized by Antiochus Ephiphanes,  then Herod the Great, and then the Roman Empire.  The true and uncensored context of Christmas is one of scandal and suffering, and in this context, Newtown is a startlingly fitting Christmas story.  The only reason that that should seem strange to us is because as modern people, we have chosen to characterize Christmas as a generic holiday of generic joy, and nothing more.  The way we celebrate Christmas, you would think that Mary gave birth in a sterile hospital, surrounded by supportive family and friends, while Israel flourished in a time of peace and prosperity.  But the truth is really the opposite – Christmas took place steeped in tragedy and scandal.

I think our shallow conception of Christmas is a symptom of a larger illness: how thin and one-dimensional modern Christianity has become, and how we favor glib aphorisms and slick marketing over cold truth and hard wisdom.  We have little patience for contradiction, and no tolerance for lament.  Confession makes us feel uncomfortable, and honesty frowned upon.  And so we take complex stories like Christmas and drain them of their fullness, preferring to chew on the husk of positive sentiment rather than taste bitterness in any way.  In so doing, we relegate ourselves to being walking contradictions, followers of the Suffering Servant who are ourselves scandalized by suffering.

As much as it pains us to do so, we should know that there are vital and rare lessons that we learn when we face the full story of Christmas, and any other similar story or situation.  One thing we take away is that it is normal in life for blessing and suffering to co-exist and intermingle with one another, the joy and tragedy of Bethlehem, blessing and suffering, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  We see that the existence of one does not preclude the existence of its opposite, contradicting what our simplistic and binary view of life would lead us to believe.  Stories like Christmas lend depth to the expression of our faith, allowing us to hold both joy and mourning in tension, without contradiction.

We also learn to do something truly rare in our time, and that is to yearn for God.  As modern day Christians, with our full bellies and full bank accounts, we so rarely yearn for God.  Our songs of worship express such sentiment, and we close our eyes and lift our hands to engender the feeling, but actual longing is a rare thing.  When we do yearn, especially during Christmas, we do so for material things, things that we desire but do not truly need, like the new iPad.  In this way, our sense of longing is more closely related to coveting than anything else, the closest analogue that our modern mentality can easily grasp.

Because in the terrible context in which the first Christmas took place, the people of God didn’t just mildly hope for a Savior, but yearned for one.  They longed desperately for a Messiah who would rescue them from the nightmare in which they found themselves.  You see the depth of this longing in the response of Simeon and Anna when they first lay eyes on the child Jesus, a longing so deep that Simeon joyfully welcomes death because his eyes have beheld the one whom he calls, “The Consolation of Israel”.  He can die in peace, he says, because the one whom he longed for has come, the Savior, the Messiah, God-With-Us.  It was the suffering and pain of Israel which heightened that sense of yearning so acutely.

I experienced something very similar last Friday.  That afternoon, I did not long for an iPad or for more stuff, but for answers.  I cried for comfort and consolation, for something to make sense of it all.  I longed for One to come and wipe every tear from our eyes, and to make all things new.  I cried that God would save us from the horrors that we invite upon ourselves.  Suffering has a way of taking our base covetousness and transforming it instead into holy yearning.  Our paradigms shift, our priorities realign.  We transcend materialism and superficiality and instead cry out from the depths of our souls, and long for something more: for a Savior.

We face a dark Christmas this year, there is no doubt.  But so it was in the first Christmas as well.  And rather than turning away from this bitter truth or ignoring its existence, we need to face it and wrestle with it.  And as we do so, we come to realize how acute our need for Christ truly is, and that as dark as the night is, it is still not enough to extinguish the Light that comes from God.

“Don’t Be Evil”? How about “Don’t Be Racist”?

I don’t do this very often at all, so please excuse me while I rant.  Google Play, their version of Apple’s App Store, has an application listed there called “Make Me Asian“.  It is one of those apps that modifies your pictures, you know, like the ones that make you look fat or make you look like a zombie.  Except this one tries to make you look Asian by…you guessed it, overlaying a rice paddy hat and fu manchu mustache on to your photographs.  And if that were not enough, you can make your eyes more slanty to really complete the effect.

For those of you who might not know, this is not okay.  These stereotypes are dated and exploitative, offensive and false.  They are characterizations that have been used to marginalize and insult people of East Asian descent for decades.  It’s not cool.

Strangely, Google’s company motto is “Don’t Be Evil”, which you would think would automatically include racism, but obviously does not.  So please, go to this online petition and let Google know that you think this app is unacceptable and should be removed immediately from its Google Play store!