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Archive for the ‘Journey’ Category

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.  “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring [emphasis mine]

No one knows how long this pandemic is going to last and when we as a church shall be able to gather together again. But as Christians, our commission and commitment ultimately does not depend on our circumstances.  In this time of COVID-19, how are we “making the most of every opportunity”?  How are we spending our time?  Are we living our lives in anxiety or apathy?  Are our decisions marked more by fear than faith?

The COVID-19 is a big wakeup call for everyone, including Christians. This pandemic has reminded us in a big way just how uncertain life is.  What is our response as Christians? More than ever, we need to trust that God is in control, that He is our loving Father, and that we have an opportunity to pause during this season and reflect on what we truly hold to be most important in our lives. I am blessed that my wife and I had intentionally chosen to live simple lives, free from attachment to material possessions and the fleeting pleasures of this world.  We are truly content with the simple and modest lifestyle that we have. I am not saying this to boast, but to testify to the joys of living more simply and more sacrificially. It is a blessed freedom to live by faith and not by FOMO.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Eph. 5:15-17; NIV)

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Leading the Way Forward

Quote of the day:

“Leaders with great goals pushed past all the conflict and tension, removed any doubt about self-interest, and dissolved the messiness and noise of the current state.”

—Mark Hannum, Become: The Path to Purposeful Leadership (McGraw-Hill, 2019)

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Quote of the day:

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

Henri Nouwen

For the past almost three months, I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside a fellow pilgrim, sharing the “brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish” that marks the human condition. The world says “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox), but the Word exhorts us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15; CSB).  I confess that many times, I don’t have any words of comfort or wisdom to offer; but I can listen, I can empathize, I can weep—and I can always pray.

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When I heard Josh Harris had left his former church in 2015 to begin theological studies, I was concerned. I just sensed it was a distraction from the messiness surrounding his former mentor. Though I was already married when his book came out, I appreciated his recent “I Kissed Dating Goodbye Documentary” and his apology tour.

However, I confess I was shocked to hear he is saying good-bye to his wife and his faith.

Time will undoubtedly reveal more, so all we can do is to humbly pray for both of them.

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Yearning

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

(The modern form of the saying was derived from a passage written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the “Citadelle”. Perhaps someone constructed a paraphrase that was later atributed to Saint-Exupéry.)

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
—John A. Shedd

If Christians could only get a taste of life together that is possible, they would never want to go back to the programmed machinery that goes by the name of “church” these days.  And yet … I find myself doing precisely that, back to the usual routine and rituals. Perhaps I’m there to “teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” …

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If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

So begins William Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”, a reminder of the importance of listening carefully to each other and sharing our stories with each other. It never fails to amaze me at how little effort we make to really get to know one another within our church family. Most of us prefer to keep our masks on, all the while proclaiming that we are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Stafford closes his poem with these stirring words:

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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Lately I have been very restless: in my job, at home, in church life, and just my life in general. Though I rest secure in my identity “in Christ”, there is a deep longing for something more. Part of this restlessness is due to our finitude and our desire to transcend the mundane and connect deeper wtih God; and yet, at the same time, I’m still enticed by and entangled with the cares of this world, and engulfed by the ennui of earthly existence.

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

George Gray
Edgar Lee Masters

 

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It was a full day: Up at 5:30 and time alone with God. Head off to church for weekly prayer time at 8:30 am with a few brothers. Then straight into the theological book club (just me and another brother at this point) session. This was followed by some alone time where I could pray, read and reflect, before heading to the front door to welcome and greet people coming to church. After the church service, some time of chit chat with a few people, dropped in to check out the inaugural Japanese outreach meeting, before rushing home to welcome a young couple and their adorable baby for lunch.

After a brief rest, it was off to a friend’s place to catch up over dinner: we had a leisurely dinner where we went around and shared our lives: aspirations, challenges, and changes. In particular, the wife shared her decision to step out in faith and be more intentional in her passion for leading spiritual retreats. This led to a discussion on the place of art in church life—which largely is largely non-existent in most churches, hindered as it is by current structures and traditions. We shared our yearning for a more authentic and intimate expression of church, a desire that neither of us could fully express in words, but which we both knew and understood.

What a blessed day to spend a day and evening in conversation with brothers and sisters!  Too bad Sunday morning church services don’t allow for such conversations in any depth …

“At its heart are people wrestling with the Spirit and one another to know the truth, grace and freedom of Christ in all the particulars of who they are and what fills their lives. I think of them as ‘grace-full conversations’. Conversations marked by grace. Conversations full of grace. Conversations that bring grace.”

― Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace & Community

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“The hunger for a feeling of connection that informs most everything I’ve written flows from a common break in a common heart, one I share with everyone I’ve ever really known.”

– Jeff Nunokawa, The Note Book

Since early 2007, Jeff Nunokawa (Princeton English professor) has posted daily meditations in the Notes section of his Facebook page, and 250 of his most popular reflections/essays were collected and published as a book in 2015. What motivated him to keep up this daily practice? The introduction to his book may give us a clue:

The lives we lead together, sometimes in the middle of the night, or of the day, when we least feel like we’re together: when we feel most separated from the lives of others, most separated from the social world that we love and wish to be loved by in return. …

All of us, I suppose, have encountered some form of the feeling of loneliness confessed in Lamb’s bachelor essay, and sought one way or another to address that feeling, by finding some way of addressing others whom we can’t, for one or another reason, face—sometimes writing across distances so long that we can’t possibly expect to know for certain whom we are reaching, or even that we are reaching anyone at all.

I can relate to and resonate with what Nunokawa writes: I too encounter loneliness, often and especially, in the middle of a church service. As I sit confined in my pew, staring at the backs of the heads of the people in front of me and struggle to remain engaged as the preacher undergoes his monologue, often an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness will wash over me. Soon, I think to myself, the service will be over, and people (my brothers and sisters) will scurry about their way. And I may never once have any meaningful interaction with some of them that day, that week, except for perhaps a fleeting hello or good-bye.

Perhaps this is why I resumed blogging again when I came back from exile and began immersing myself in church life again. I had to find a way “to address that feeling”, so I would add my Amen to what Nunokawa asserts: “I know as well as I know anything that the loneliness at the heart of my project is not mine alone.”  Truth be told, that is a large part of why I blog, due to the scarcity of genuine fellowship, though not from want of trying on my part.

The NT contains over 50 one another commands that require a relational and mutual context within a faith community in order to obey them and enact  them. Yet, I find I am largely unable to because of the lack of connection with many of my brothers and sisters.

Nunokawa asks, Why this overmastering desire to communicate with others? yet I’m not sure many of my brothers and sisters share that desire—at least inside the confines of the church building and the church service. Outside this artifical structure of space and time that are mistakenly thought of as church, things are better: I know many of these same people are able to open up more and allow for some connection. Clearly, we need to move from being largely passive spectators to more active participants if we are to have deeper spiritual conversations with one another.

Near the close of his introduction, Nunokawa ponders:

Sometimes I’ve wondered why so many of my morning compositions have felt like small acts of mourning something mildly big. What is the particular loss that generally marks and motivates what I’ve written over the course of our correspondence? Partly it is the loss of a once-crowded social world that I’ve already mentioned. But what I have written also marks the loss of something more intimate than that: the youthful hope (at least it was the hope of my youth) to have and to hold (and so to be held by) some continuous connection with some other party that would make both of us whole.

There it is: the loss of something more intimate[and the desire] to have and to hold (and so to be held by) some continuous connection with some other party that would make both of us whole. Yes, yes we come to our Sunday gatherings to connect with God, but to also connect with one another (κοινωνίᾳ). Church is like a jigsaw puzzle with many unconnected pieces, and I seldom seem to fit in. How I long to see all the pieces fitted together in their proper place so that we can all behold the beautiful picture as a result.

“For the body does not consist of only one part, but of many. … God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan.  Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? So there are many parts, but one body.”

1 Cor. 12:14, 18–20; ISV

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Body Talk

Heart-to-heart conversations have been on my mind a lot lately. I have been trying hard to get my fellow elders to open up and dialogue with each other, but there seems to be resistance and reluctance. If we can’t even talk together, how can we work together to care for the flock in unity?

… our inability to talk together in our churches, and especially to talk with people of different ages and backgrounds, is a cancerous disease that erodes our congregational health and threatens the future of our faith. Recognizing that we belong to one another in Christ’s body, our health and our future depend on our ability to learn to talk and work together …

Following in the way of Jesus, we learn to set aside our personal agendas and to seek the common good of our sisters and brothers and that of our place.

C. Christopher Smith, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church

That peoples can no longer carry on authentic dialogue with one another is not only the most acute symptom of the pathology of our time, it is also that which most urgently makes a demand of us.

—Martin Buber, Pointing the Way

True belonging is not passive … It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

However, on the bright side, I’ve had the privilege of journeying and conversing with a member these past several weeks, and it has been a very positive and rewarding experience. If only others could open up, be vulnerable and experience the joy of authentic and deep connections!

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