The Friends We Are & the Friends We Have

As a child I remember the most jarring part of moving was saying goodbye to Serge, Vikram, and Evangelia. They were the friends that made recess at Waters Elementary worth the wait and gave each of us someone else to blame when the walk home took longer than it should because we stopped at the little store to buy a piece of candy. We were the best of friends and having to find new friends was scary. It still is.

I suppose that is partly why after reading The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow, all I want to do is get together with some of my closest college girlfriends to catch up, cry, laugh, drink some wine and eat. K, P and C are not the childhood or young adulthood friends that are chronicled in the book, but they represent the closest I have come to the deep and enduring friendships I have just read about.

My husband said that though we hadn’t known each other for very long before our marriage, meeting my friends, watching us, and hearing us taught him so much about me. He was watching both the kind of friend I was as well as the kind of friends I had, and he continues to watch as some of my friendships enter a third decade while others are just starting out.

There was a season in my life when there was little space for new friendships. I craved connection to other new moms, but the demands of motherhood when life was full of infants and toddlers and preschoolers made establishing new friendships seem impossible. But God surprised me with new friends, some of them women I had known of or known years ago.

So now that there is a different pace to motherhood I find myself longing for friends like K, P and C to be both near and far.

To maintain the friendships from far away we have used technology to help us connect through three time zones. We have made celebrations and professional conferences as perfect excuses to get together. We will see how crisis and death in the future play into our reunions.

And to build new friendships I am simply trying – trying to set aside my own insecurities, competitiveness, and other character traits that desperately need God’s redemption and trying to be the kind of friend I have been so blessed by. Trying to be open to new things, but I’m really not sure I have the time for scrapbooking. (If any of you are reading this you know who you are ūüėČ Thank you for reminding me that I am still invited even though I joke about it being a cult.) Trying not just because I’m an extrovert but because we aren’t meant to do real life all alone. Trying because my daughter is watching and hopefully learning how girls and their friendships grow into women and their friendships. Trying because friendships have been good for my soul, made us more into the image of God we were created to be. Trying because laughing and crying and coffee and wine and a good book or a bad argument are always better with a friend.

How old are some of your most precious friendships and how have you weathered life’s transitions? How have you nurtured new acquaintances into deeper friendships? How have your friendships changed you?

Is Christianity a Straitjacket?

Would you be interested in getting to know someone if all you knew about her was what she didn’t do?

Christians don’t lie, cheat, steal and gossip about their neighbors.¬†Christians don’t smoke, drink, use illicit drugs, cuss, play cards, dance, watch R-rated movies, read horoscopes or cross their fingers. Christians don’t have premarital sex, but they do have sex only to have babies and not because they actually enjoy having sex. Christians don’t talk about sex unless we can spell out the word and whisper it. Christians don’t like homosexuality but say we would love homosexuals if we actually knew any. Christians don’t believe in a woman’s right to an abortion because if everyone just stopped having premarital sex it wouldn’t be an issue. Christians are suspicious of if not against the public school system, science teachers and curriculum, and sex education in schools. Christians love the Right because they are right.

Sounds like a fun girlfriend, no?

It’s oversimplified and doesn’t take into context how complex religion’s relationship to culture is. And it’s not a completely fair assessment, but, like I tell my kids, life is not fair. If we Christians are honest with ourselves, and I am as a Christian trying to be honest with myself, the oversimplified descriptions are not completely undeserved.

We Christians have a PR problem. For most of my Christian life I have done a fantabulous job of communicating what I am against and somehow forgotten that even as I believe in a perfect God I am not close to perfect. I’m much better at telling another Christian about what I believe than I am at sharing about my faith with someone outside of my faith. I have often forgotten how to live out the love, forgiveness, grace and mercy God pored out on me. Dare I say we have forgotten?

A group of us at church are reading and discussing Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God. Sunday morning’s discussion was on Chapter 3: Christianity is a Straitjacket, and the discussion could have gone on much longer, I suspect. I sat there thinking not only of the friends and family who see Christianity as a straitjacket but of those who have been hurt not by a church building but by those of us who claim our usual Sunday seats inside the building each week. Because when we say we know people who have been hurt by “The Church”, that really means us Christians, not the building or some “Church” out there (I’m waving my hand out over there).

I thought to myself, no, Christianity isn’t a straitjacket, but maybe we should redirect our conversation away from those who aren’t Christians and make that claim to those of us who are Christians and make sure we are not wearing one. Perhaps we’ve already spent enough time telling people what we are against instead of living out what we believe and know to be absolutely true. Maybe? Even a teeny, weeny bit?

Am I kind and compassionate or am I more often than not judgmental? Yes. Do I live and love freely or is my love cheap and stingy and picky? Yes. Do I want God’s grace and forgiveness for myself and forget to extend that to others? Yes.

I have some work to do. Yes.

Another Example of Leadership: Lindsay Cobb

We found out late last night that Lindsay Cobb, an active leader with the Southern Baptist Church and locally at Uptown Baptist Church, died suddenly this week. I met Lindsay several years ago when the church we were attending was in transition and brought in an interim pastor.

He and spent many hours e-mailing and talking about leadership, worship, conflict and crisis. His commitment to helping congregations through difficult situations was deep-rooted in his belief that God could change people and systems, no matter how broken or messed up they were. Grace Community Church was just one of many he had helped with his baseball illustrations and stories from the front lines.

He encouraged discouraged leaders to take just one more risk, to hold a Good Friday service, to change the order of Sunday service a bit, to assess the damage and pray about what God might do in our midst. He’d often talk about his mistakes – walking unknowingly into relational land mines, offending people he was trying to help, frustrating people as he dealt with his own frustrations, his off-balance life of ministry. Sometimes he didn’t make any sense, and I had a hard time understanding some of his baseball stories. He was human, and that made his leadership all the more appealing.

It’s been at least four years since I’ve been in touch with Pastor Lindsay. GCC had hired a new senior pastor by then, but when I had some questions about leadership and navigating cross-cultural conflict he seemed like a natural person to contact. I suppose even then he was pastoring me and Peter in what we would soon realize was our personal time of transition out of leadership roles and then out of the church.

Pastor Lindsay understood his role to be more than filling in a preaching slot. He understood how to pastor a congregation and mentor leaders into a season of discernment, waiting and anticipation. It seems appropriate then that Pastor Lindsay would leave this world to meet Jesus during Advent.

Thank you, Lindsay, for your example of leadership and sacrifice.

Gifts From the First Generation

The hope was to have this post ready for Choo-Suk (the Korean Harvest Moon celebration, often described to immigrant children as the Korean Thanksgiving), and then I pushed my self-imposed deadline to Thanksgiving. I let several things get in the way.

Anyway, I grew up in the Korean immigrant church. The family story is that one of the first places we visited upon our arrival to Chicago was to Sunday service at First Korean United Methodist Church. Through the years our family would change church affiliations, but we would always be at a Korean church. They were not perfect churches. And those churches had their share of broken people and broken systems. But reading through Dr. Soong-Chan Rah‘s book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity¬†gave me reason to pause. Rah uses the Korean immigrant church as his example for Chapter 8 – Holistic Evangelism, and it made me think back to my childhood and youth.

As the commenting raged on on other blogs about how Asian Americans need to get over their race issues and put Jesus first, I found myself thanking God for the gifts of grace, the power of faith, and the complicated and amazing ways in which my faith have shaped the ways I view ethnicity, race and gender and vice versa. Weren’t we all “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Won’t “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” be in God’s presence and glory?

So I go back to the memories of church – the sights, the sounds, the smells, and I am filled with gratitude for the gifts from the first generation.

I thank God for the experience of the first generation Korean church and:

  1. ¬†the church’s additional role a cultural school for me. I learned about Jesus and I learned about being Korean. I learned to read and write (though only mastered both to a 2nd grade level) the only spoken language knew until I was in kindergarten. That basic foundation of the language connects me to a rich history and culture that I grew up experiencing through all of my senses. I learned Korean folk dancing that allowed my body to tell stories that I could not speak.
  2. the gift of liturgy and hymns. They were sung and spoken in Korean.¬†It’s now my lost language, almost like a¬†faint memory that still speaks to places in my soul and communicate nuances I can still only grasp in Korean.
  3. the community the immigrant church provided for my parents and their peers who displaced themselves for the promise of a better life.
  4. the community the immigrant church provided for me and my peers who had no choice in our displacement but needed a group of friends (and frienemies) who could relate to the bicultural experiences our parents could not help us navigate.
  5. the gift of faith because it was at church my parents’ faith was nurtured in their native tongue and where local Bible school students interned and shared the gospel with me in English. I still have the Bible given to me by my Sunday School teacher, John Bezel, and remember his willingess to learn about the Korean American experience as he shared about Jesus.

Softening My Skin in a Mud Bath

My apologies to those who landed here because they were searching for information on skin care.

Zondervan’s decision to remove Deadly Viper Character Assassin and Mike & Jud’s decision to shut down their website is heating up the blogosphere once again. I’m concerned about the way some of these posts and tweets could be read – tone is a difficult thing to express well in the anonymous electronic world. And as many of us have learned during the past three weeks, the blogosphere can run pretty fast and furious. Right now there is a lot of mud being slung in all directions.

But one theme that has appeared in a variety of places has been the call to those who were offended (pick me, pick me) to grow, get, have “thicker skin”. The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin, and I pray against that. Lately it’s been a daily prayer.

Literally speaking, skin is our largest organ providing protection, support and circulation (I helped Corban study for his science test). Healthy skin is able to do those things well. Unhealthy or damaged skin put the rest of the body in danger as sensory and circulatory abilities are hampered.

When I think of thick skin I actually think of dead skin that hasn’t been shed properly. The callous on my toe from those beautiful but painful new shoes. The gnarly cuticles that snag my most delicate sweaters. The tough skin on my elbows from resting on them too much when I have writer’s block. I scrub off the callous. I cut my cuticles (I know, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to push them back and put lotion on them to soften them.) I exfoliate my elbows. And then a moisturize like crazy to soften the skin so that it’s pliable.

I don’t want thick skin because honestly when I think of thick skin I think of elephants and their thick skin. Elephants are beautiful animals, but I don’t want to look like an elephant.

I don’t want thick skin because I do not believe God wants us to create a bigger barrier to feeling and engaging deeply with God and with one another. Our sinful natures make it tough enough. Adding more to the junk of our souls or covering it up with thicker skin isn’t going to help.

I pray for a tender heart and soft skin so that I can hear what God has to say to me, our community, our world in that pain. When someone offends me, brushing it off doesn’t allow for a sacred moment between me, the offender and God. Thick skin means I just “get over it” and move along. But what if God doesn’t want us to move on so quickly all the time? What if our attempts at getting over it just mean “it” never goes away?

There have been some nasty comments in reaction to the Deadly Viper situation – people assigning motive and intent, name-calling, etc. In some places it’s getting mean. If we all get a thicker skin I’m afraid we’ll never understand each other. And besides,¬†Jesus didn’t tell people to get thicker skin. He didn’t tell the bleeding woman to stop being a victim and get over the social outcast thing. ¬†

Issues of race, ethnicity and gender all involve tough conversations about power and privilege. I don’t like being called names. I don’t like being lumped together and being referred to as the “minority tail wagging the majority dog” (yup, that’s an actual comment on a blog). I don’t like being told to stop playing victim because I made some noise and the authors were the sacrifice (yup, that’s real too). But I suspect people who thought nothing of the initial outcry paid much attention because maybe they never had to. Maybe the anger and disbelief over the book being pulled and the authors shutting down the website has more to do with never having anyone tell them to get over themselves? See, it can get ugly and polarizing real fast. Thick skin will just keep us from going deeper.¬†

I’m not suggesting an over-the-top emotional response to everything in this world, but when the mud-slinging ramps up like it has our natural instinct is to duck…or throw more. But the mud has to land somewhere right? Maybe instead of ducking I need to sit in the mud a bit, get a little dirty and then let the mud soften my skin.

Zondervan’s Official Statement: An Apology for Publishing Deadly Viper

Dear Friends of More Than Serving Tea:

I’ve been in the air for most of the day, and I’m just getting on-line. Have you heard the news? Amazing.

 

November 19, 2009

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About ‚ÄúDeadly Viper: Character Assassins‚ÄĚ

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins. It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ. This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject. We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart. In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products. He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God. We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth. And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message. We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side. This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion. We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.

Warmly,
Moe

Does God Care I’m an Asian American Woman?

So my posts about becoming an American has been generating some great on- and off-line conversations and comments about citizenship, identity, etc.

My job involves engaging people into the conversation about multiethnicity/multiculturalism & Christianity. The conversations are always rich and often difficult. A question that “AS” brought up in her comment is one that often bubbles up to the surface:

What does it mean to say that “God doesn’t care if you’re black or white, male or female, rich or poor?”

What do you think? Does God care? Does it matter to God?

Sunday? Sabbath?

“Mom, can we take a break from church because I want to do something as a family for a day…like play outside?”

Elias apparently noticed that the sun is out this morning. My kids need some vitamin D after last week’s wave of clouds and rain. He wants to spend the day relaxing and resting…and even at his age he’s wrestling with something I’ve been wrestling with for years.

Sometimes our Sundays do not feel like a Sabbath. Sometimes going to church does not feel restful or restorative or even worshipful. Sometimes I just don’t feel like it. There. I said it. I’m struggling with identifying how big of a space “going to church” is supposed to take in my life. If going to church does not equal a Sabbath, what is the proper equation?

I grew up going to church. Even on family vacations my parents would try to find a local church to attend. During one of our week-long road-trips to see and appreciate the expanse of land known as AMERICA my father found a small countryside chapel. The pastor was the only one there, and my father explained in his choppy but not broken English that we were on vacation and couldn’t be at our home church. Could we pray and sing a hymn or two as a family here in these pews? I seem to remember the pastor joining us for the singing…

When Peter and I were in the painful process of leaving our home church of 10+ years, we did what we Christians call “church-shopping” which for me is a lot like bathing suit shopping – something I feel I must do but cringe at my self-loathing, over-critical, never-satisfied self. We church-shopped because we couldn’t imagine not going to church because that is what we were supposed to do, expected to do and wanted to do. We felt lost without that Sunday morning anchor, but somewhere along the line we gave ourselves permission to take a break and worship God together as a family by going to experience the Doctors Without Borders exhibit, by taking Sunday to prepare our vegetable garden, by meeting the neighbors and sharing a meal with them.

And then we “found” a church. And on this sunny Sunday, my youngest son is asking, “Can we take a break?”

So for those of you who are Christians, do you go to church? Why or why not? Do any of you practice the Sabbath? If so how?