Okay, I know, I know – it’s been a long time since I last posted.  But instead of giving my usual litany of tired old excuses (my kids, writer’s block, my house got broken into, etc.), this time, I have a very good reason for not being able to post:

Since I ended my time with Peace Fellowship, Carol and I have been trying to sort out our priorities, both what we felt God wanted for us, as well as what we wanted for our own lives.  Through this, we identified three prayer requests:

First, we hoped that God would place us with a church that really valued reconciliation.  Reconciliation is not just the idea that individuals can be reconciled to God, as amazing as that one facet is.  Reconciliation also has a corporate dimension, that people and even communities can be reconciled to one another.  Because of this, we wanted to be involved with a ministry that was culturally diverse and truly prized reconciliation work, while not compromising on the message of the gospel, which is Christ crucified and resurrected.  This might seem like an easy enough task, but you would be surprised.  Many churches pursue one aspect of reconciliation in lieu of the other, or don’t even believe it is a priority at all.

Our second prayer request was more personal: that we wanted to be closer to our family.  There is a practical aspect to this, that with our fifth child on the way, it would be immensely helpful to have another set of hands nearby to help with the kids.  But it went deeper than this.  We wanted our children to know the rest of our family well, not simply as people that they see once or twice a year, but as people with whom they shared a deep personal connection, as well as a biological one.  So we were hoping that we could find a church that was closer to family, which would limit our search to Chicago, LA, or Seattle.

Our third request was the most pragmatic: that this would all happen soon.  Because the baby is due in the beginning of August, we didn’t have the luxury of time.  We needed everything to come together very promptly so that we would have time to relocate and get situated before the baby’s arrival.  This meant finding a church and selling our house in a period of only one month, before the summer began in earnest – a pretty tall order.

And God have mercy on me, but despite everything that I have seen God do over the past few years of my life, I had my doubts whether God could answer all these requests.  Perhaps one or two, but not all of them, and certainly not in the timeframe required. But this just goes to show how little I truly know about God, because I am so happy and humbled to announce that starting in July, I will be leaving DC to serve as the lead pastor of Rainier Avenue Church (RAC) in Seattle, Washington.  

RAC is located in the Rainier Valley, which has the distinction of being one of the most diverse zip codes of the United States.  And having visited last weekend, I can testify to the truth of that assertion – it is a truly international neighborhood.  RAC also prizes the whole work of reconciliation, both its individual and corporate dimensions.  In fact, their mission statement is “Encouraging everyone in the Rainier Valley and beyond to find wholeness in Jesus Christ”.  And so, prayer request #1: answered.

In addition, Carol’s parents live close to Tacoma, which is not very far away from the church (and also not too close, which is kind of nice too, if you know what I mean).  And so, prayer request #2: answered.

And lastly, the whole timeframe thing – we had one month for everything to come together, and that’s precisely what happened.  The whole process with RAC began a little over a month ago, and finished up just this past week.  We put up our house for sale, and had a contract on it within six days.  This means that we will be moving out of DC at the beginning of June, well before the baby’s arrival in early August.  Prayer request #3: answered.

There are so many thoughts and feelings that are running through my mind and heart right now, it’s hard to express.  I am leaving behind DC, the city where all my children have grown up, and in which I experienced the most formative moments of my entire life.  That is both a little sad and daunting to me, and I’m sure that I will be processing this development a lot over the coming weeks.

But what I find deeply comforting is that in this new season, even though the city and the church might be brand new for me, the God who goes with me is exactly the same.  He is the same God who got us through Carol’s cancer, and protected Jonathan in the womb.  He’s the same God who gave me all my wonderful children, and two of them after doctors told we could have no more.  He’s the same God who carried me and my family through innumerable difficult moments of the past few years: break-in and thefts, personal and career setbacks, and various meteorological phenomenon (Snowmaggedon, Frankenstorm, Polar Vortex, etc). And as long as that God is with me…I’m good.  Or as it says in the opening verse of Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?

As I said, I am sure that I will be writing more reflections and thoughts on this transition over the next few weeks.  But for now, I am excited about this new season of life, but also thankful for all of you. Many of you have prayed and supported me and my family for years, throughout this entire process, and for that I am deeply grateful for you all.

Now, if any of you would like to help me pack, I’d be even MORE grateful still.

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music.  Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count.  The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along.  When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite. But personally, I have never had much of a problem with either, and it’s not because I’m all that great of a person – just ask my wife.  It’s probably because I have spent so much time in diverse kinds of churches.

I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, and can still remember the cathedral in which Sunday mass took place.  The entire building was constructed in a cruciform shape, the main entrance located at the foot of the cross, and the altar placed at what would have been the intersections of its beams. The ceiling was painted sky blue and dotted with bright recessed lights, which made it easy for a young boy to spend most of the mass staring upwards, lost in his own imagination.  The altar was made from white marble streaked with dark brown, like the best kind of ice cream.  And dominating this scene was the cross, painted gold and sumptuous crimson, and adorned with an ivory white life-size statue of Christ, eternally in his suffering.  To this day, I can still recall the beauty of that vaulted space and the spice smell of incense, and how my breathing would change when I walked through the doors, the way it does when you enter any sacred place.

When my parents decided that I should switch schools, we switched traditions as well, and began attending a local Korean Presbyterian church instead.   Although located only a few miles apart, the two could not have been more different.  The Korean church was modern and sparse, its design and decor efficient and linear.  But what the church lacked in physical beauty, it more than made up in spiritual passion.  My first Sunday service was a shock, three hundred young people praying to God in loud voices, some of them in languages that have no earthly root.  They prayed in tears, and almost always on their knees, not upon the cushioned kneelers that I was used to at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but directly upon the floor.  It was in the Catholic church that I learned that God was everywhere, but in the charismatic church that I learned that God was in me, and the connection I shared with him personal, and passionate.

After several years in the charismatic tradition, I eventually found myself in a reformed church, a movement rooted primarily in the writings and life of John Calvin. It was at that church that I had more debates than in all other years of church experience combined – debates about worship, debates about theology, debates about authority, debates about debates.  This sounds exhausting, and it often was.  But Reformed Christians believe faith is so rich that it should engage the totality of the mind.  So we should have debates on theology and the like, because those ideas are as deep and complex as any other topic of human experience.  Consequently, their approach to faith is thoughtful, intelligent, and cerebral, sometimes to a fault.  While the charismatic church engaged my heart, the reformed church engaged my mind.

I have had experiences in other churches as well, Mennonite, Pietist, non-denominational, and can say that I have honestly enjoyed (and sometimes loathed) my journey through them all.  Now some might say that these denominational meanderings put me at a disadvantage, but I wholeheartedly disagree.  It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.

After years in the charismatic church, I’m completely comfortable when someone prays in tongues.  But neither am I scandalized by those who contemplate in silence.  I have spent far too much time in those types of churches to arrogantly dismiss such a powerful means of connecting with God.  I know my fair share of hymns, but also own a few Chris Tomlin CDs, and can belt Fred Hammond with the best of them.  I own a New International Version translation of the Bible, as well as the New King James, New Living, and the English Standard Version.  Because I’ve witnessed firsthand people connecting with Christ in a myriad of beautiful ways, it takes a lot to scandalize me – not that it’s impossible though.

And so in the case of Gordon College, while it’s easy to be outraged at their outrage, many of these students had probably never been exposed to any form of worship other than what they experienced in youth group.  And really, do any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?  Hardly.  But you could imagine that if these students had spent even a small measure of time visiting and learning about the spiritual and cultural heritage of the black church, or really any tradition different from their own, their outrage would have been blunted significantly, if not avoided altogether.

Also, when I get frustrated with a specific church or with a specific denomination, my reaction is not simply to turn around 180 degrees and stalk off in the opposite direction.  I know what lies on the opposite end of that spectrum, and that what I will find there will most likely be equally good (and equally bad) as where I am now.  So the movements in my life of faith are not pendulum swings from one tradition to its diametric opposite, but more like soft oblique meanderings.  I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

Millenials so often express deep disillusionment with the churches where their faith was first cultivated, but I wonder if this is not due to the fact that many of them have been brought up their within a fairly narrow Christian tradition, usually a conservative and racially homogenous evangelical church.  Their concept of “The church” is in reality only “The church that I knew growing up”, which is not the only kind of church in existence.

But having no other experiences to draw from, their reaction to natural and inevitable disenchantment is sharp and reactionary, to push off from their sole point of reference to the opposite direction: from low liturgy to high, from conservatism to progressivism, from Southern Baptist to Episcopal, or vice versa.  But had they been more aware of strengths and weaknesses of other forms of worship and theology, perhaps they would not be so quick to throw their spiritual heritage under the bus.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly okay to cleave closely to a tradition that fits us best, and in my honest opinion, some traditions follow Christ far more closely than others.  Also, I am not advocating for reckless church-hopping that is encouraged by our consumer instincts, if not by churches themselves.

But I truly believe it should be required for every Believer to spend at least a modicum of time visiting and being exposed to Christian traditions that are starkly different from their own: Protestant, Catholic, Charismatic, Reformed, High Liturgy and Low.  And not just churches that are diverse theologically and liturgically, but ethnically and racially as well: Black and Korean churches, Hispanic and Hmong ones.  Perhaps then, we’ll stop summarily rejecting the beautiful ways in which other people understand Christ.   And if we ever get tired of our current tradition, we will transition to wherever God wants us to go with grace and peace, instead of leaving burnt bridges as our only testimony to the world.

I have so much to announce that it’s hard to know where to begin!  But given that I will be talking mostly about endings, perhaps I should just start at the beginning:

First, after serving as Interim Pastor of Peace Fellowship Church for almost two years, my time with that community has finally come to a close. They (hopefully!) will be closing in on a lead pastor this month, which means that I will have served my role, which was to help the church get through this period of transition.

It was only two years, but MAN - what a two years!  It was my privilege and honor to serve that beloved community, and I pray that they would continue to do God’s Kingdom work, east of the Anacostia River.

But this also means that at the end of April, I will officially be unemployed.  And with that, I could use your help: if you know of any ministry opportunities that I might be well suited for, please let me know.  I am open to anything really, but primarily opportunities in the Seattle and Los Angeles area, where we have family – or even in DC as well, since we are already here.  I can provide a CV and references and all that, but if you have been following this blog for any length of time, you probably have a very solid sense of who I am!

I also want announce that I have submitted my final manuscript for my book!  From here, it goes on to several rounds of editing, all before being published this time next year.  While this is obviously not the end of the process, it does mark the end of another long season of my life, which is my journey to getting published.

Three years ago, I had NO thoughts of becoming a writer (then again, 15 years ago, I had NO thoughts of becoming a pastor either – funny how God works).  It was only on a whim that I asked a few friends how one goes about publishing a book, and then put together a few truly terrible sample chapters for a proposal.  That proposal, along with its many revisions, was rejected nearly twenty times over three years, until finally getting picked up a few months ago.

And so when I submitted the manuscript yesterday morning, it felt in many ways like handing in a final paper for class, or even a dissertation for a doctorate – at 67,000 words, it’s much closer to the latter than the former.  I felt satisfied, but at the same time, exhausted.

With so many chapters of my life drawing to a close simultaneously, I have to admit that I feel a bit at a loss.  For the past five years, my life has focused on planting the Riverside, trying to get published, and pastoring Peace Fellowship.  Now all of these endeavors are complete, in one way or another, and I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing with myself.  What does a person do after going through the most terrifying, chaotic, and exciting season of his entire life?

To make this transition even more difficult to process are the practical concerns that we have to address now.  Not only do I feel emotionally adrift, but I am going to be unemployed with no concrete sense of what I am going to do next, all while Carol is pregnant with our fifth child.  These demands impose a sense of urgency to this season, that I cannot simply sit back and reflect upon the past few years, but have to keep pressing forward so that I can provide for my family, and make that cheddar (where in the world does that expression come from?!).

In some way, this makes me think of the people of Israel, when they were finally entering into the Promised Land and came to the banks of the Jordan River.  The river was impossible to cross at that time because it was at full flood.  And after wandering around in the desert for generations, this development must have been quite a discouragement to them, to have to face yet another barrier to entering into the Promised Land.

But of course, this situation also should have seemed more than a little familiar to them, to be standing in front of a body of water which separated them from what God had planned.  This is exactly the situation they faced when they left Egypt, the Red Sea in front of them, and the army of the pharaoh behind.  In fact, as similar as these two instances were, their circumstances by the Jordan were easier than in Egypt.  And so the memory of what God had done in the past should have given them encouragement for what they faced in their present, because they had seen God deliver them from nearly the exact same circumstances.

My situation is identical.  After all, it was almost exactly two years ago that I closed down the Riverside, the church plant that I had founded in 2009, after which I had no idea what I was going to do next.  And all of this took place while Carol was pregnant with our fourth child.  But of course, God would make very clear that he did have a plan for me, sending me to Peace Fellowship, and starting a career in writing, both developments that I would have never predicted or planned for myself.

So yes, I am leaving a ministry.  I have no idea what I’m doing next.  And my wife is pregnant with our fifth child.  But I have seen God lead me through nearly this exact same situation before, not two years prior.  So it would be foolish for me to be paralyzed in fear and trepidation now, as foolish as it would have been for the people of Israel to balk at the Jordan River in full flood.  Fear and trepidation are for those who have not seen God work in the way that I have.

So as overwhelming as this all is, I have faith that God will get us through this time, and has a plan for us.  I have seen him do this before, and whatever he has done once, he can surely do again.  But I am equally certain that I have no idea what that plan is.  So although I don’t feel afraid about the future, what I do feel is something closer to curiosity, that I am incredibly curious as to what God has in store for us next for me and my family.

Very curious.


But I am so glad that God is leading us, and that we have friends and family like you by our side.

Note: I use the term “Black History Month” rather than “African-American History Month” because a friend informed me that there are individuals who would not be considered African-American, but still very much are considered part of Black history, like Marcus Garvey and others. In general, I tend to use the terms “black” and “African-American” interchangeably, and I apologize in advance if anyone finds this offensive.

February is Black History Month.  I have to admit that before a few years ago, I didn’t really celebrate this in any real way, besides giving it some cursory acknowledgement.  But now, I actively celebrate this month, both in my personal life as well as in the life of the church.  I don’t do so because it’s the right thing for an educated person to do, or in an attempt to pander to political correctness.  Nor do I do this because I consider myself anything close to an expert on black history and culture.  The reason I unapologetically celebrate Black History Month is because the past couple of years of my life have made me realize that, even as a Korean-American, it was only appropriate that I do so.

The first event that brought me to this realization was that whole “Make Me Asian” thing.  Two years ago, there was an app on the Android market called “Make Me Asian”, which took photos from your phone or mobile device and digitally altered them.  This seems benign enough, but the manner in which they altered them was that they made your skin tone yellow, your eyes slanted, slapped a fu-manchu mustache on your face, as well as a rice paddy hat on your head.  In truth, the app was not really “Make Me Asian”, but more exactly, “Make Me A Horribly Offensive and Dated Asian Stereotype”.

I made repeated requests to Google to take it down, but they refused.  So I created a petition to ask Google to remove it, which garnered me a lot of flack of various sorts.  I heard criticism from people who just could not understand what was offensive about the app.  Others told me that the best way to address racism was to laugh it off, and argued that by bringing more attention to this app, I was only making the problem worse.  In addition, there were others, the “digital freedom of information” types who believed that no digital content should be censored or restricted in any way.  If it was offensive, then I shouldn’t download it, simple as that.  I even received no small number of insults and threats along the way, from white supremacists, to supposed members of the Anonymous collective!

It would have been difficult, if not outright impossible, to argue against these criticisms on a purely personal level, simply by saying, “Well, this hurts my feelings.”  As important as my feelings are, this would not be enough. I needed some kind of precedent to effectively argue that these kinds of portrayals were truly offensive and even harmful, not just to me, but to Asians as a whole.  And fortunately, there was such a precedent: blackface.

Throughout much of the 19th and 20th century, white performers would often dress up as black people, including darkening their face, hence the term, “blackface”.  Blackface often took the form of a comedic portrayal of the happy-go-lucky negro on the plantation, but was also used to portray blacks in an even more negative and violent light, as the threatening dark-faced intruder, a bogeyman of sorts.  At the time, no one saw any problem with black people being portrayed this way, and evidenced by the blackface’s broad use in film, theater, print, and cartoons, even by such cultural icons as Shirley Temple and Bugs Bunny.

But by the mid-twentieth century, this started to change.  There was a growing realization that blackface was not at all a benign and humorous portrayal of blacks, but nothing less than an insidious means of control.  By portraying blacks in this way, whites could continue to dictate the way in which blacks were portrayed to the broader culture, perpetuating the abstraction that they were either servants who were perfectly content with their situation, or else intruders who were out to violate sanctity of home and person.  Additionally, blackface subverted the creation of self identity by denying blacks the ability to determine for themselves how they were presented, what they found offensive, and what they did not.

And so African-Americans stood up and rejected such portrayals, often in the face of intense scorn.  And their perseverance eventually won the day, as they were able to reverse the perception of blackface, to the point where most people today consider it offensive and inappropriate (although sadly, not everyone).

Because the Android app was in essence a form of digital yellowface, this precedent became the bulwark of my defense.  So sure, I was making a stand against the offensive characterization of Asians, but I was using the historical precedent that had been established by African-Americans.  Like them, I did not want to allow others to dictate the portrayal of my race and ethnicity, and wanted the right to decide for myself what I found offensive, and that included this app.  And because my argument was not simply personal in nature, but was formed from this storied precedent, other people could resonate with it, and understand its importance.  In the end, nearly 15,000 people signed two petitions, including many blacks, whites and other non-asians.

So when Google did eventually take down the app, I was under no misapprehension as to what was the cause.  It wasn’t because of my snarky tweets and outraged emails.  It was because the ideological foundation and historical precedent against yellowface had been well established decades before in the fight against blackface. And without that, I would not have had a a leg to stand on.

The second event that convinced me that I should celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans was when I moved into this community, nearly 5 years ago.  I know that most of the time on this blog, I talk about the harder aspects of living here, people taking my bike or breaking into my house, or even taking naked showers with my garden hose.  These are all true stories, and have made living in the city difficult.  But I should also point out that the very reason that I am able to live here and blog about these events is because African Americans fought hard for that right.

It wasn’t always the case that a person could live anywhere they wanted in the city.  There used to be a policy in DC called Racially Restrictive Covenants.  Basically, associations around the city would draft legal documents that restricted home ownership to people of specific races or religions, to make sure that their neighborhood remained the way that they wanted them to be.  But in the 1940’s, African Americans began to challenge the legality of such covenants, and worked towards getting them overturned.  They eventually succeeded, challenging the legal basis of these agreements.  But even then, when blacks began to move into historically white neighborhoods like Mt. Pleasant and Bloomingdale, the local residents were openly hostile to African-American families, shunning them, or worse.  Despite this, blacks persevered in these neighborhoods, until it no longer became a strange sight to see a black family in every corner of the city.

Now fast forward over half a century later, to my own life and situation.  I never had to worry about these kinds of issues.  When I moved into this neighborhood, I didn’t have to put any thought into whether I was legally allowed to.  And my neighbors, Annette, Vanessa, Tyrone, William, they didn’t shun me because of my race – they all warmly welcomed me and my (growing) horde of children.  So clearly, I enjoy the right to live where I want, and not face legal nor cultural persecution as a result – but I did not fight for this right.  That fight had been fought and won by African-Americans, and I am just a beneficiary of their difficult struggle.

At this point, an especially pessimistic person might argue that blacks weren’t exactly fighting this battle on my behalf.  The fight against blackface and racially restrictive covenants was fought primarily on behalf of black people, and Asian Americans like myself were just unintentional and unwitting beneficiaries of their efforts.  But I don’t think that’s true. For instance, after the successful bus boycott of Montgomery, black leaders penned a letter with instructions that included this:

“Remember that this is not a victory for Negroes alone, but for all Montgomery and the south.  Do not boast.  Do not brag.”

So no, they might not have specifically known that one day a Korean-American like me would benefit greatly from their efforts, but they always knew their fight went far beyond their own community, and was a fight for universal human dignity and equality.

These are scarcely the only examples in which the black Civil Rights movement lays a foundation for the rights of all minorities – these are only the examples that affect me most recently.  And so, even though I am a proud Korean-American who is by no means an authority on black history or culture, I actively celebrate Black History Month because I actively benefit from the efforts and sacrifice of black people. So have all minorities, and in truth, all Americans. Black history is something that we should all take time to learn about and celebrate, because some of the broadest shoulders that our nation stands upon trace their roots not to the continent of Europe, but Africa.

A Polar Vortex Miracle

January 14, 2014  6 Comments

Like many of the weather phenomenon of recent years, I haven’t a clue as to what a “polar vortex” is.  But to me, “polar vortex” is synonymous with “crappiest week that I’ve had in quite a while”.

It all started on Monday morning, when I awoke to discover that our kitchen and bathroom sinks were all frozen from the cold.  But having suffered through frozen pipes before, I wasn’t unduly concerned.  All I would have to do is make a quick trip to Home Depot, and I would have those pipes unstuck in no time.

But as I drove, I realized that even though the engine temperature was up, the car was not getting any warmer.  At a stoplight, I turned on the heat to full, and was greeted with a blast of polar vortex air to the face.  Knowing that it would not do to have a car with no heat in this kind of cold, I took my car to the mechanic to check things out.

But by the time I got things sorted out with car, it was already the afternoon, with only a few hours of sunshine remaining.  I feverishly tried to unthaw the pipes in the time I had, but was unsuccessful.  I would have to leave them overnight, and hope that they didn’t freeze so completely that they would burst.

I got up at 5 am to start working on the pipes, using a hair dryer to thaw them.  But a few hours into this process, I suddenly heard a sharp crack, followed by the sound of rushing water.  And despite my complete lack of plumbing knowledge, I knew what that meant – our pipes had burst.  I rushed outside to see water cascading from underneath our back porch, where not one, but two pipes had burst. Continue Reading…

Ah, platform.

For the uninitiated, “platform” is the term that people in the publishing world use to describe a person’s fame, influence and breadth of their social networks.  It is measured in different ways, but most commonly through Twitter followers and page views.  And the more platform you have, the more likely it is for you to get published.  Many people believe that platform is the main lens through which publishers decide whom they will consider for publication, an observation that I generally would agree with.

After three long years of writing and trying to get published, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the concept of platform.  And since there seems to be an uptick of discussion on the subject, and I thought that I might weigh-in.  Please note that these are only my opinions, and only involve my experience with the Christian publishing industry, which I suspect is substantially different from secular. Continue Reading…

***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…

Thank you to everyone who donated to our health insurance this year!  Here’s an update on where things stand now:

Unfortunately, we haven’t raised enough to afford the same health insurance plan that I had with my denomination for the past four years.  This was initially something of a disappointment.  But the good news is that under the new Affordable Care Act, my family qualifies for a subsidy to purchase health insurance through the health insurance exchanges.  And with that subsidy and your donations combined, we will be able to afford health insurance for the 2014 year!!  So a huge THANK YOU to everyone who gave, it really means so very much to me and my family.  A tax deductible receipt will be mailed out to you before the end of the year.  If you were planning to give but hadn’t found the chance, sorry, you’re too late!  But please, use those funds towards other worthy causes. =) Continue Reading…

Some of you might remember a post I wrote almost exactly one year ago, where I shared that I was having a hard time blogging because I had been rejected by a few dozen publishers.  Those rejections were not limited to publishers either, as an even greater number of agents had also turned me away, which was particularly frustrating because most publishers won’t even consider you if you don’t have representation. These setbacks obliterated my motivation for writing – in fact, even my emails came out weird and stilted during that time, like the time I started an email to a congregation member with this charming salutation:

“Hey!  Hope you good.” Continue Reading…

Tomorrow is my 10 year wedding anniversary.  10 years is an important anniversary for any couple, but doubly so for us as just a few years ago, I was terrified that we would not make it this far.  But lo and behold, we have arrived at this important milestone, and my wife is still healthy and cancer free.  I love Carol to bits, and am so thankful for every year, and every day, that we spend together.

At this point, you would probably expect me to gush about my wife and our marriage for another thousand words, but I actually want to do something quite different, even the opposite, and that is to take time to talk about the value of singleness in the Christian faith.  I know it is strange for a happily married man, on the occasion of his anniversary, to talk about that subject.  And I suppose that it is.  But perhaps that makes what I have to say all the more relevant, that a happily married man might feel that singleness is a blessing unto itself.  Regardless, I think it is a topic that is important to talk about.

I don’t know at what point it happened, but the church has for some time placed marriage on something of a pedestal, describing it in elevated terms, and investing enormous amounts of time and resources into strengthening that institution.  And I would figure that this was a response to cultural developments of the past few decades, both the rising prevalence of divorce as well as co-habitating but unmarried couples.  These dynamics did legitimately threaten a biblical understanding of marriage, and still do.  And so it was only natural that the church would shift its attention to marriage, in order to prevent, or at least slow, the degradation of that institution.  I think it’s important to keep this context and these good intentions in mind.

But there was an unintended side effect to this, that as the emphasis shifted towards the importance of marriage, the importance of singleness was minimized.  Marriage became very very important, and very very good, so good and so important that it became the implicit goal for all Believers.  And in contrast, singleness was naturally overlooked, and even seen as a deficiency to be avoided at all costs.  Being single was something of a pariah status, despite the fact that celibacy is considered a spiritual gift.  Singles ministry and events became synonymous with dating, mixers for single people to meet, court, and get married, and so to leave their wretched state behind.  Whether consciously or not, marriage had become the goal for all Believers, an ideal state that was infinitely better than the alternative.

This emphasis on romantic relationships and marriage only added to the immense cultural and even biological pressure that nearly all human beings already feel to get married.  Not to mention that there are some cultures that stress marriage more than others (**KOREANS!!!**  Whew, sorry, had to sneeze).  And so the burden that single Christians bore was doubly heavy, feeling pressured to marry not just from society, their parents, even their own bodies, but from their churches and pastors as well.

And this was nothing short of an enormous failure on the church’s behalf.  Of all institutions, church should have been the place where single people could thrive and feel valued for who they were.  After all, there is a deep respect for singleness both in the Bible and throughout church history, just as much as for marriage.  So the church could have offered itself as a community and family for single people, a place of lifelong and loving commitment, so that no single person would ever have to worry about growing old alone.  We could have, and should have, stood apart from the world as a refuge for single people, the one place that they could find freedom from the pressure to get married, and be valued no matter what their marital status, as being single is hardly a sin.

But tragically, church became known for the opposite, an institution so focused on marriage that singleness became a curse in comparison.

I know this is true because this is the story of a very close friend of mine.  This person is not a mental construct that I created for the sake of argument, but someone very real, and very dear to me.  Although she dated a few Christian men, she never found anyone with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life.  This was difficult enough given the pressure she felt from her parents to get married, but what made this infinitely worse was the fact that the church didn’t seem to have a place for her either.  No one ever spoke about singleness, and the value that it held in the Christian experience, despite the many passages that spoke to that effect.  There were numerous sermons and small groups that focused on marriage, but none on singleness, or our marriage to Christ above all others.  Although no one ever consciously drove her away, she felt out of place, alienated, and unappreciated.  And so she stopped coming to church.

She eventually did find people who accepted her as a single person, and stopped pressuring her to get married…non-Christians.  It was her non-Christian friends who provided her a community where there was no pressure to get married, a place where she could be both single and fully valued – after all, to them, marriage was a dated and impotent institution, why push it on anyone?!  And to this day, she has not set foot in a church, and feels little inclination to do so again.  I suppose there is an element of “chicken or the egg” to this story – was it really the church’s focus on marriage that drove her away, or was it simply an excuse to leave?  I don’t know the answer to that.  All I know is that if the church had played its proper role in valuing that sister as a full person, whatever her marital status, she would have had one less reason to leave those doors.  And that breaks my heart.

What could have the church shared with her instead?  Well, they could have told her the words of Paul, and how he says in 1 Corinthians 7 that if possible, it is better for someone to remain unmarried and be completely focused on the things of God.  They could have shared the words of Jesus in Mark 12, that in heaven, there won’t be the same concept of “marriage” as we know now because we will share that type of relationship with Christ, and with all Believers.  They could have told her about Acts 2, and the joyful community of the early church, one that started not with a wedding but a baptism, a family of faith.  They could have shared the words of Revelation, and how virgins and unmarried people are given a high place of honor.  They could have shared the stories of monks and nuns and ascetics, all ridiculously godly people who devoted their lives to both total community and total celibacy.

Or conversely, they could have shared more soberly and honestly about marriage, how marriage is hellishly difficult.  In addition to talking about the inherent wonders of marriage, they could have included its inherent difficulties, that there are depths of pain and hardship that are reserved only for married couples.  They could have said that even though marriage is good, it is not perfect.  Instead of hiding the difficulties of marriage behind the curtains of euphemism and propriety, they could have been honest and open, and in so doing, revealed to single people that marriage is not at all a haven from sin, hurt, loss, loneliness, or pain, not in the least.

Or they could have simply said, “You know, it’s totally okay to be single.”

Now it may sound like I am dumping on the institution of marriage, but I am not, not in the least.  How strange it would be for a happily married man to say such a thing, given that I know from first hand experience how wonderful marriage is!  Rest assured, I am not discouraging anyone from being married.  But neither am I discouraging anyone from being single either.  And that is an important distinction that the church needs to remember, that valuing the importance of one does not necessarily mean that we devalue the importance of the other.

And so on the occasion of my 10 year wedding anniversary, I say this: it’s okay to not be married, really. God is not mad at you because you are not married, and you have my permission to scoff at anyone who says otherwise, that marriage is God’s universal will for all people.  There are plenty of passages in Scripture that talk about singleness and celibacy with deep honor and respect.  Marriage is good, but it’s not perfect.  There are things that you can do as a single person that I cannot.  As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, as a married person with kids, my attention and energy is inherently divided among many concerns, but yours need not be.  Not to mention that you can also stay up late, making a ruckus while drinking beer with your friends, while I tiptoe around my house like a ninja and struggle to stay awake past 9 pm.

I know that you worry about being alone.  But frankly, so do I, because marriage will not bulletproof your life from pain or loneliness or tragedy.  People can be married and still feel desperately alone, or misunderstood, or even hated/hateful, all at the same time.  Marriage can be like living with your best friend, but at times, it also can be like living with your worst enemy.  And fear, loss, and mourning take on terrifying new dimensions when you are married, because you will be faced with the prospect of losing part of yourself.  No, the antidote to loneliness is not found in marriage, not by itself at least.  It is found in our relationship to a God who is always with us.  If is found in friends and family.  And it is found in the family of faith, the eternal community of the church.

So tomorrow I’m going to have a wonderful ten year anniversary with my wife.  But that doesn’t mean you have to as well.