Posted by: jadanzzy | March 3, 2009

Navigating Through Liturgy

A friend of mine, being a good Episcopalian, believes strongly in liturgical church. He says that “the most radical thing that the Church could do, far more radical than any “contemporary” or even post-modern emergent style worship, while those may have their place, is to hold fast to and to uphold our traditional liturgies rooted in our ancient Faith”. He recently sent me an article with the premise that young people today are going back to liturgy and ritual. It states,

What I perceive more and more is that a sizable amount (and in some environments, the majority) of us prefers “old-fashioned” liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays.

The New York Times had also written about the resurgence of latin mass and its appeal with young Catholics…

“Those that turn to it are looking for a sense of mystery, a sense of the sacred they find is missing otherwise,” said the Rev. Jerome Fasano, pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Clifton, Va., which began celebrating the Tridentine Mass in mid-September. “The more people are exposed to it, the more they are drawn to it.

It’s true for me. Mystery and a sense of the sacred are two words or ideas that I never could have used to describe the style of worship in my past as a younger Christian. Even the community I worship with now, an emergent one, doesn’t have the sense of quiet awe and reverence that I’d get at an Orthodox divine liturgy or at Catholic mass. We sing meditatively, we enjoy silence together, and sometimes we engage in small rituals. However, it’s not the same as when a cantor sings the Eucharist or when incense fills your nose and a choir sings in Byzantinian melodies behind you.

Recently, I made a decision to attend worship services in the liturgical tradition. So I went to St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church, the Cathedral of St. Philip (Episcopalian), and St. Bart’s Episcopal Church. I have not yet been to Catholic mass, but I will. From these, I’ve concluded that the Orthodox divine liturgy is the richest, but their theology is very conservative. Catholics esteem Mary and the Pope more strongly than I’d like. So I decided I’d give Episcopal churches a run for a while.

It’s beautiful stuff. The deliberate pacing of the worship, the garb of the rector/priest/deacon, the elaborate nave, the simultaneous crossing of the congregants, etc. But I can’t help feeling, as a Korean-American, that all this is rooted in a particular ethnic culture. Anglicans are largely White Anglos. Orthodox are Mediterranean and eastern European, and Catholics are also European.

These expressions have made their way over to Korea and thus, are practiced in Korea, but the majority of Korean-American Christians, from my experience, practice a variation Protestant Evangelicalism. I grew up in church where images of Jesus or anything resembling an icon would be idol worship, not to mention the typically low-structured and “normal” style of worship (save for the sprinkles of Charismatic qualities).

So I constantly ask myself what an Asian-American liturgy would look like. What does it look like to blend a ritualizing of rich theology with a celebration of my hyphenated American culture? Do I have to steep myself in Anglican, Orthodox, or Catholic tradition before I can express it in an Asian-American manner? But surely an Asian-American liturgy can be done, right?. Asians have a deep history in ritualistic practices from shamanistic roots. Asian philosophy is centered in the meditative union of humanity and nature. It wouldn’t be heresy to draw from the religions of our ancestors and redeem it for Christian worship. That’s a lot of what’s done anyway in Western/Eastern Christianity.

I wonder if my struggle is farcical. I cannot speak for the multi-faceted number of Asian-Americans who, by the way, are leaving the church in droves. Does the young Asian-American generation want mystery, contemplation, and reverence like their white liturgical counterparts? Or is that even inherently Asian?

Posted by: nieophyte | February 19, 2009

Recently I’ve been pretty appalled by the stories I’ve read about this really rotten sheriff in my family’s hometown of maricopa county, Arizona named Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Here’s what Sojourners published on their blog just a few days ago:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, presides over Arizona’s Maricopa County (the 4th largest in the country) and proclaims himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” Sheriff Joe’s most recent publicity stunt involved parading 200 immigrant detainees to a new Tent City outdoor detention center. Shackled to each other and dressed in old-fashioned prison stripes, armed deputies marched the detainees past news cameras summoned for the event.

Last April, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon requested that then U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey launch a Justice Department investigation into “discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches, and arrests” of Latinos by Sheriff Arpaio. Mayor Gordon also stated that these tactics are putting Phoenix “residents’ well-being, and the well-being of law enforcement officers, at risk.” Last week, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers and other prominent members of Congress called for a federal investigation as well.

According to The Arizona Republic, Sheriff Arpaio’s other made-for-TV stunts include immigration sweeps cheered on by gun-toting motorcycle and anti-immigrant “Minuteman” groups that target anyone “guilty of looking Latino.” Sherriff Arpaio has even made the outrageous statement: “I wish that the Phoenix Police Department would arrest everybody, even if they’re not sure [of that person’s legal status].”

If that doesn’t make you angry, then read the wikipedia entry on him and you’ll get some pretty sad stories. In any case, Sojourners is asking people to send a letter to the department of justice requesting an investigation into the Arpaio’s practices. It’s pretty easy, all you have to do is fill out your name and address and you can ignore all the donation stuff at the end: http://go.sojo.net/campaign/arpaio

Of course, dissenting opinions may exist among some of you, and I welcome any other information or opinions you might have. Always good to know both sides of the story, right? But if you feel compelled to send a letter, I’d be so grateful!

love,

nieophyte

Posted by: jadanzzy | January 27, 2009

A Too-Specific Emergence

**This entry is inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Will Yoo, a graduate student at Candler**

The conversation around the emergent church’s legitimacy has seemed to die down a little apart from a few still kicking and screaming about its supposed heresies. No longer a uniquely post-evangelical expression, emergent church has made its way to the mainline church and has begun seeping into the Catholic Church. Apart from the fear that I have that emergent will be a box model, (i.e. Willow, Saddleback, or any other seeker-sensitive megachurch) I believe that it will be an expression that will see itself grow quickly, in spite of the naysayers.

…That is, only in the West…

Read More…

Posted by: jadanzzy | January 19, 2009

Where We Stand Today

Amongst the myriad posts today concerning the remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we here at Merging Lanes would like to be just one more voice.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born 4 days ago in 1929, in a world vastly different from ours today. And in his greatest moments, he has been the voice of prophetic justice. The president(s) of the time must’ve been frustrated or scared by the sound of his lion-like voice. Racial inequality was (and unfortunately, still is) the horror that marred American history, from blacks to the Chinese to the native Americans.

We will have our first African-American president on Jan 20th, 2009 (tomorrow from the writing of this post). Joining African-Americans will be the countless numbers of Asians, Hispanics, Arabs, Jews, and whites in America celebrating a progress that I so very much wish Dr. King were still alive to see. If I could only understand the emotions of Joseph Lowry, or John Lewis.

Although racial discrimination has not breathed its last breath, it is left maimed. However, in our day, new injustices have taken center stage. Sexual inequality, gender inequality, and global inequality. America, although a bastion of hope for many, is also a symbol of evil to others. How do American Christians navigate their way through this? Or, more potently, why do we American Christians participate in our modern injustices?

Reading the Old Testament is hard for one who pines for justice for all. Could God really ordain the killing of thousands of innocent lives? Does not love and reconciliation stand on higher ground than violence and destruction as a sign of God’s indomitable power? Then why does America carry on the tradition of violence? Imperialism? Why allow… Israel… to wrestle no longer with God for blessing, but with evil for power? Why allow for millions of dollars to go overseas in conquest of goods and resources when there are millions here who could benefit? Why put so much hope in a president when our faith in a supposed good God is hard enough to grasp?

I wonder what Dr. King would shout about today? I wonder if he’d speak of dreams bigger than black and white. I wonder if he’d not stand on steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but in the streets of Gaza, or in the wreckage of Iraq, or in the Oval Office of the White House.

Let us not forget our prophets.

Posted by: nieophyte | January 6, 2009

Hands over eyes, big breath, giant step, here I go …

My last job at a to-be-left-unnamed magazine had its good moments and its bad. There was friendship and drama, great triumphs and desperate losses, personal achievements and also the sinking suspicion that I was being taken advantage of sometimes. It was a great and terrifying time of growth, challenge and sobering revelations about what it means to enter the job force.

Despite the inherent difficulties of working there, however, the one solace was that I was assured my work was needed there … and the times were not as tough as they are these days.

Now I find myself in a completely different situation. My worklife right now could not be any sweeter. The people, the boss, the content– all of it is a dream come true.

And yet now with the impounding realities of the economic crisis, it seems that every day is a ticking time bomb … will I make it to the end of the day? Every call into an office is received with fear. Every task is perceived as a test. And I’m left wondering, does the lord indeed give and taketh away?

In my times of despondent manic depression, while working on something at my desk, only to pause and wonder, is this all for nothing? I’ve turned to that ever present solace for all 9to5ers of our generation: gchat. Ah those blessed green dots that indicate all the friends that are there for you in your times of boredom and need (and those wretched red dots that just piss me off … I KNOW YOU’RE SITTING RIGHT THERE!).

On one such occasion, after a particularly sobering financial report from our leadership team, I went to my gchat to find my friend Sam alive and well in all his green glory. “I am going to get fired.” I typed. “I have no revenue generating purpose at this place … I’m effed.” And proceeded to whine and complain and bitch and moan and flip flop from hope to despair (maybe they will keep me because I am one of the few asians on staff? or maybe they will say one is enough and cut me!) to which Sam faithfully and kindly extended solace, counsel, encouragement … but finally, and  most importantly … a kick in the pants. Here, below is part of our conversation verbatim, thanks to gmail’s magnificent chat saving capabilities.

me:

oh my gosh
if I lose my job
what will i do?
maybe i will go to the aveda institute and learn how to become a hair dresser

4:37 PM Samuel: your job is not yours to lose, God has you there presently, if you move on, it will not be “you lost your job,” it will be God gave you a new one =)
…duh

Glory. He was absolutely right, and with that chat my faith was reinstated in the truth that God is building a story in me that is beyond my control … he is the great author of my life and I am more than happy to let myself to be written.

It made me think of the time my friend Elizabeth and I decided to try and make peanut butter … the directions seemed easy enough: roast peanuts, remove skins, put through food processor, add oil and honey and voila! But with each step,  we fretted and worried. How was this bag of peanuts going to turn into the smooth creamy stuff we so loved? Had we roasted them properly? Had we skinned them thoroughly enough? In the end, it didn’t really look like the stuff we buy in the store. It didn’t look very good at all … it kind of looked like … silly puddy.

We looked down at our bowl of peanut scented silly puddy with the sober understanding that all that was left to do was to taste it. Shaky hands plunged our spoons into the stuff and slowly into our mouths … only to reveal the best damn peanut butter we’d ever had.

In remembering that moment, the truth sinks in and I am left with such great peace in knowing that my life is that peanut butter … my life is directions to be followed, steps to be taken, steps to be trusted, handed down to me from someone who knows better, who knows what the directions add up to. The best damn peanut butter the cosmos ever made.

My life is to be lost, and in losing … to be gained. Amen to that! My friends, my prayer for us this year is that we never forget that this life we lead is one of such amazing surrender and freedom. I pray we all live in the fullness of the call that God gives to his people to open our hearts and minds, to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Cheers to the new year!

-nieophyte

Posted by: edsohn | December 21, 2008

A season of waiting

I thought I’d post on ML some of the thoughts that jadanzzy, david and myself presented at ATPC a few weeks ago, as well as some of my own further thoughts on the topic.  A little lengthy but please bear with me.

Advent may have been first celebrated sometime in the 4th century.  It was a season of preparation for a holy feast borrowing from an already celebrated pagan tradition (a celebration of Sol, perhaps, a Syrian sun god).  As December 25 began to be nailed down as the date to honor Christ’s birth, the early Christians created a season of fasting, similar to Lent, in anticipation of what became the Feast of Christ’s Mass (Christmas!).

Wait, hold on a sec.  A fast?  We’re not just talking about toning down the consumerism (which you might have heard a great sermon about recently).  We’re talking about doing the exact opposite!  Fasting during Lent, for instance, has a smack of deprivation, of holy abstinence from worldly needs, like types of food or entertainment.  Lent is accompanied with an attitude of the Great Christian Fitness and Diet Plan, where we all get serious about getting into better spiritual “shape”.  And while there’s a danger of piousness and legalism in practicing discipline, I think there’s also a real visceral sense of anticipation, of longing, of hunger and yearning.

Advent has no such association, but it should! The word Advent itself MEANS “coming”, implying that something has not yet arrived, denoting a sense of incompleteness.  Advent’s appearance on the Christian calendar remembers the waiting of an ancient nation (Israel) for the COMING of its legendary, prophesied Savior king.  Israel waited for generations, especially through 400 years of radio silence from the Lord after the last of the prophets up til the birth of Jesus.  They longed and yearned for LIFETIMES for Messiah, the redeeming superhero, the arrival of the One who would make right all which was wrong.

Growing up, I often thought of Advent as a contrived game of make-believe.  Why do we engage in the theater of “waiting for baby Jesus” when he actually already came  thousands of years ago?  But today, I would posit that Advent still holds potential to be an incredibly rich spiritual experience that informs and speaks into our life stories.

For instance, I’ve been thinking about my life, and how crummy things have sometimes been lately.  My job is difficult, I’m not really great at it, and there isn’t a lot of margin for error, especially in this economy.  It’s extremely time and energy consuming.  I want to be doing something drastically different at some point in life, but I don’t know when that might happen.  And as for the other moving parts of life, they certainly haven’t yet fallen in place, like who I might marry (if I’m to marry at all), what plan lies ahead for my parents, if/when my loans will ever be taken care of, etc.  I give it all my best stab, but like any single 28-year-old that is two and a half years out of law school and working in my first real professional job, with around $100k of student loans still remaining… a lot of question marks are to be expected, right?  My story lacks resolution, at the moment.

And so, from the big picture view, my whole life is in a season of Advent. My friends can tell you, my heart has been groaning, yearning, panicked and frenzied, even whining… for something better.

As we remember humanity’s anticipation of its great Redemption, perhaps we can consider what we are waiting for in life.  Or remember what you have waited for, in the past.  Maybe it was waiting for Santa, on Christmas eve, awake in bed.  Maybe it was waiting for your SAT scores to come out.  Maybe it was the night before you said your vows and became one soul and one flesh with the love of your life.  Maybe it was that last week of pregnancy when your baby was due.  What was your heart like?  How did you feel?

I invite you to join me in these last days of Advent to embrace a sense of longing, desperate, active belief that the best has yet to come.

Posted by: jadanzzy | December 11, 2008

Your own Korean Jesus

It’s impossible to escape, really. Surrounding myself with many Asian-American Christian friends, I’m bound to hear tales of disappointment and anger with the church. I know this isn’t unique to an Asian-American (or more specifically, Korean-American) Christian experience. This can happen to any Christian belonging to a community of “cracked eikons”.

What I’ve seen in a church led by Korean-Americans so far is a propagation of a gospel of discipline and grace, and discipline again. You fail. You’re a sinner. You’re depraved. But there’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of the cross. So you’re free. You’re free, however, to obey with discipline and piety. Oh and by the way, you’re still depraved.

I think what’s more tragic is the countless other Asian-American pastors within a first generation church who see English or youth ministry as merely a maintenance of the status quo: as long as the kids read their bibles, pray (which isn’t the gospel), and are A+ students, my work is done . This is the dream of their first generation senior pastor, their employer. Their overseer. At least that’s what I’ve seen. I can’t denigrate my own youth group experience. I had a great time. I had lots of fun. But I do not remember any major paradigm shifts. I do not remember being taught how the gospel can uniquely and creatively apply to my adolescence, and a Korean-American one at that. We weren’t taught to think in those ways. To quote Dallas Willard, the gospel was merely sin management (and individualistic sin at that). Again, this is not terribly unique to an Asian-American Christianity.

The greatest downfall with all this is those within the church whose passions or visions extend much further than the very small world of the local church, pastor or non-pastor alike. I’ve been complicit in my past as a church leader of stamping out any such “wayward thinking” as one gives God most glory by remaining obedient and faithful to the local church. Then again, I’ve been a victim as well. What’s most frustrating is seeing the small, but growing number of a new generation of Asian-American pastors (female and male) who see the world much differently than the generation of Asian-American pastors before them (and definitely the first generation immigrant pastors), and suffering for it. Or they feel stifled by it, and end up leaving the Asian church to be embraced by their white Christian counterparts.

I can only plead with God, and thus answer the prayer by allowing people to speak with their own voice (or the unique voice of the community) the beautiful gospel , and not their pastor’s. If Phyllis Tickle is right, and the mandates of the Reformed Tradition (which the Asian-American church deems divine and holy) lose sway, then it behooves the Asian-American church to run away from a pietistic and disciplinarian Christianity, to an imaginative and generative one. This is where, I believe, the new generation of Asian-Americans want to be.

Posted by: edsohn | November 17, 2008

personhood

The God that Christians profess to worship is a person.  His personality is not the result of anthropomorphization (giving human attributes to that which is not human), or animism (giving living qualities to that which is not considered alive).  We have not assigned human qualities to that which is “transcendent”.  And the fact that He is a person does not somehow limit his deity.  But the assertion remains: God is a person.

This is a comforting idea, as it causes us to recognize the relatability of God.  But as we ponder the miracle of incarnation heading into the Advent season, I might assert that the deep mystery of God becoming “man” is a little less mysterious than we think.  God is a person, and Him becoming like us isn’t such a reach considering that we were made to look like Him!  God becoming man in the person of Christ is, in a sense, God showing us the truest sense of Himself.  He decided that He was done with the metaphors of the Old Testament (king, lover, military commander, provider of the household), and just showed up as a human person as the ultimate picture of what He’s really like!  Yes, God may have concealed a few of his more immutable characteristics, but incarnation is nothing like the burning bush or the ark of the tabernacle.  This isn’t God trying to jam Himself into something that’s not really Him at all.  Jesus of Nazareth, a man born in the Middle East about 2000 years ago, was the most accurate depiction of God Himself that this planet has ever known.

I’ve written about this before, probably several times.  But it strikes me again because in recent days, I’ve felt really, really tired.  Emotionally, spiritually, physically… it’s not like I’ve been suffering through great trials, but work has just been sapping my strength and the rest of my life hasn’t slowed down.  A certain numbness starts to overtake my senses, and I’m left feeling, well, less than human.  Sometimes I feel like a bundle of automated responses, conditioned behaviors that respond and react to my circumstances without consciousness, without intention.  Without personality.

And sometimes, I think my faith looks numb as well.  My concept of God becomes exactly that, just a concept.  A magic black box of conditioned responses, a grand spiritual algorithm where everything just makes spiritual sense.  But what makes people different than mathematics and physics and the forces of nature is that central element of identity.  And a refreshing thought entered my mind: the more I begin to recognize that God is a person I know, the more life it brings to my own soul and revives my own humanity and personhood.

My mind is wired naturally to think on the big picture, in terms of big principles and concepts.  And I do believe God sees people groups, big schemes and plans, all finding the appropriate role in the grand narrative of redeemed human history.   However, letting myself drift too long with big, sweeping, abstract principles desensitizes me to another central concept of biblical, Christian living that became so cliche in the 90’s: a relationship with a personal God.  And by personal God, I don’t mean it in a self-centered narcissistic way, like a “personal assistant” or a “personal pan pizza”.  I mean it in the sense that God is a person, with character and spontaneity and humor, with likes and dislikes, with a loving parental heart and a deep sense of justice.

I take nothing away from the overwhelming glory of God that finite minds cannot fathom.  But I also appreciate movies like “Bruce Almighty” (not for their doctrinal aptitude), toying with the idea that coming face-to-face with God will be marked with familiarity.  Yes, God will shine brighter than the sun itself, but He may also look something like Morgan Freeman.

And perhaps, Christians will find themselves in a richer, more authentic faith experience if they don’t let the glaring light of God’s glory blind them from the approachable, intimate personhood of His identity.

Posted by: edsohn | November 5, 2008

go out before us and fight our battles

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 1 Sam 8:19-20

This evening, we recognized that Barack Obama will be our next president.  I have been an openly unabashed Obama fan, even in the face of the fact that I’ve been a moderate conservative for most of my lifetime.  I have liked him since the early days of the primary.  I’ve volunteered for him, financially supported the campaign, and on this beautiful Georgia morning, I cast my vote for him.

But 1 Samuel 8:20 paints an important picture where the people of Israel have rejected their Lord in favor of a human monarch.  This is where the people move from an admittedly struggling relationship of being the people of eternal Y’hovah and Y’hovah being their God.  They want to identify with a human leader that other nations can see and be impressed with.  This ends up not working out well at all.

Tonight, I admired Barack Obama’s continual emphasis on people getting together and accomplishing the work that they hope for.   Like Israel, we too have longed deeply for a king to go before us and fight our battles for us.  And like the Israelites, that might actually work for a while, maybe even a generation.  But I wonder if the hearts of Christians have gone to a place where, in the macro sense, we have turned to a person who seems impressive for hope, rather than the all-powerful but invisible LORD who desires to be our God.

This is not to rain on the Obama parade.  I’m a huge, huge fan.  I think he’s a politician like none other in my lifetime, and I think we’re on the verge of seeing an American people totally inspired by its leader.  We should always try to exercise our political voice in voting, and while John McCain showed the quality of his solid character by a more-than-gracious concession speech, I do believe America has done the right thing, making a historic and wise choice.

Nevertheless, I believe that God’s desire has always been to give us identity in Him (you will be MY people), not just dependence that sits on our hands.  He is not simply a Messiah that came and died for humanity’s freedom.  He wants us to IDENTIFY with Him.

Christians MUST get on board with this idea.  An Obama presidency will invariably be flawed, simply because he’s human!  As I noted above, I respect him more because I think he recognizes this.  Our hope will be crushed if we put it in the ability and character of one person, no matter how tremendous.  People always talk about what Obama “represents” as an icon, and yes, his election does convey an identity of the American people to the entire world.  But we must not let our identity rest in Barack’s hands, no matter how capable.

So for those Christians that voted against Obama, please take hope!  I truly believe that if you give him a chance, you will find that you have compromised nothing in the fight to cease abortions, to protect our families from terrorism, to promote strong moral values and worship freely.

And for Christians everywhere, let us not take our identity as citizens of a nation governed in its highest office by an intelligent, compassionate Barack Obama.  As much as we might support him, let us take less pride in identifying as the “people of Obama”, and with much greater courage self-identify primarily as the people of the cross, the people of grace and mercy… the people of Jesus.

So rather than feeling fantastic that we’ve found a king to fight our battles, let’s go fight our own battles, not just as people of a great nation and a great president, but as humble people of a powerful and eternal God.

Posted by: jadanzzy | October 22, 2008

Paul-bearer

My relationship with the apostle Paul fell through about 2 years ago by no fault of his own. I suspect it was collateral damage from the manipulation of his words for the selfish benefit of local churches I’ve been a part of (as opposed to the dynamism of the expression of believers). I found his words to be sapping of life. Along with my letting go of modernist contraptions like “biblical inerrancy” or “final authority of”/”plenary nature of” scripture, I also let go of the idea that Paul’s words held as much weight as Jesus’ ( yes, I used to believe that, so as to maintain the unity of the full authority of Scripture).

So, I essentially ignored Paul and his letters (authentic and/or otherwise). I created, in my mind, a picture of Paul as a self-obsessed, self-aggrandizing man. A man I could blame for Augustine’s obsession with sex and sexual purity. This was a man that caused much strife between Jew and Christian, man and woman, church leader and layperson. I didn’t want more of it. I thought it was better, at the time, to just focus on Jesus’ words since he is, after all, the Savior. It was my rebellious attempt to put Mr. Pharisee in his place. If I were to be honest with myself, it felt good to do so.

Things have changed, although maybe not in a way that would seem obvious.

Read More…

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