Friday, June 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

real talk

im wondering why people blog. why we get tumblrs and facebooks and twitters and then complain about how much time we waste on it. i dont see how we could call it anything but addiction. addictions are escapes. we drink and smoke because we need to escape reality, escape the humdrum monotony of everyday life. we get addicted to things like warcraft or call of duty because we want to escape our irrelevancy. we want a world where we can be good at something, where we can make progress. isnt blogging or facebook or twitter just another form of escape? we want so badly to escape our loneliness. we want other people to know us, to know our thoughts, to know what we're doing, where we're eating, who we are. or at least who we present ourselves to be. i blog about the things i blog about because i want you to see me a certain way. blogging, facebook, and twitter, after all, are simply about creating an image for yourself. i have become addicted to image production. it helps me escape the fact that i am actually broken, inadequate, and needy when maybe the acknowledgement of these things is what i needed from the start.
i think it's a good thing that everyone and their moms is giving up facebook for lent. this is probably why the early monastic tradition is filled with solitude and silence. when you're by yourself with your own thoughts, there's no need for addiction. you can't run from anything. your entire self--brokenness and all--can only be repressed for so long when you dont have tv or internet to distract you. i think lent is a good time to get back to that.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

in defense of Grace

I've been trying for an unnecessary amount of time to think of a funny way to intro this post, but alas I give up. The subject matter is too serious and the News too good to distill it with my feeble attempts at humor. No bs. Here are some excerpts from the book Between Noon and Three, by Robert Farrar Capon:

"Do you see... that it means that I may well be wicked at any time, but that I am free for all time of any condemnation for my wickedness? And that therefore I am free to be wicked, monumentally or shakily, alone or with others, in thought, word, or deed - and with no limits upper or lower my whole life long - and still remain free of my wickedness? Was there any way I could have told you that truth without some shock to your system?"

"Therefore let me lay aside my apologist's bag of tricks for one paragraph and say, as a plain Christian man, what you quite rightly fear I am really saying. There is indeed no horror, no wickedness, no evil - no cruelty, no torture, no holocaust in the whole history of the world - that is not, under the sovereignty of grace, already reconciled in Jesus. And there is no perpetrator of any horror, wickedness, evil, et cetera (up to and including Hitler and your dreadful brother-in-law) who is not, in Jesus, forgiven. That is the Gospel, the Good News, without which we are all obviously dead ducks. But it is also, from where we sit, the most outrageous piece of bad news the world has ever heard because it says quite clearly that, on the basis of anything we can know or feel about the goodness of creation, God is bad. All I can say is that I know and feel that too, and that I can only believe in a God who asks me to trust his Word to the contrary in Jesus crucified and risen... So much, then, for the total honesty of faith. Back to the comforts of theology."

"But all the while, there was one thing we most needed even from the start, and certainly will need from here on out into the New Jerusalem: the ability to take our freedom seriously and act on it, to live not in fear of mistakes but in the knowledge that no mistake can hold a candle to the love that draws us home. My repentance, accordingly, is not so much for my failings but for the two-bit attitude toward them by which I made them more sovereign than grace. Grace - the imperative to hear the music, not just listen for errors - makes all infirmities occasions of glory."

"It is Jesus who saves us, not we ourselves. He dies for us while we are still sinners, not after we have managed to get our act under control. He is lifted up to draw all unto himself, not just those who are willing to break their appointments with the compromises of their lives. His reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth is a fact, conditional upon nothing but his own free choice - on nothing but his totally one-sided act of dropping dead on the cross."

"Jesus came to raise the dead. Not to reform the reformable, not to improve the improvable."

"Everyone who is drawn to Christ, whether now or at the last day, comes with his loser's grip on his own life broken, absolved by death. And that means, quite astonishingly, that Christ judges us only as he holds us, not as we hold ourselves. And since he holds us reconciled, it means that the judgment is, in some vast and fundamental sense, rigged in our favor."

"[Grace] is a love affair with an unlosable lover"

The church needs this message. The world, unchurched, needs this message. Yes, it borders on heresy, relativism, universalism... people will argue against it and with good reason. But the Scriptures point again and again to a God who loves and has saved the entire world. It's too late - my prescription has been adjusted and the world looks so much more beautiful through the lenses of Grace. Let the world know: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, there is nothing we have ever done in the past and nothing we can ever do in the future, nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Alleluia, amen.

(get the book or come borrow it from me!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Destroying The Church

Amy Chua recently published an article in The Wall Street Journal arguing why the Chinese parenting style is conducive to high achievement. To her I humbly respond: Shut the f up.

When one of your primary goals is to justify why calling your child "stupid," "worthless," or "a disgrace" is a beneficial parenting practice, then you is a freakin maniac or what Zach Galifianakis has coined as "the ruhtard."

What really angered me most though--and this is the crazy part--was that the article was true. This IS why Chinese kids are so great. This IS why we succeeded in school, became prodigies on the piano, and were given the debilitating "model minority" label. Like it or not, the values held in high esteem by the older generations do not simply disappear when American-borns stick their middle fingers up at the family tree--it is ingrained in us. And the church has not escaped that influence. Part of the reason this article was so difficult for me to read is because I know that this mindset is alive and well inside Asian churches and it is robbing the Gospel of its power.

How can you expect a church to understand Grace when all we've ever heard is that acceptance comes only as a result of high achievement?

How can you know the Loving Father when all you've ever seen is the belt-wielding, unresponsive father? (You might understand the whole "fearing God" thing, though)

How can you ever understand Freedom and personal faith if you've never had a say in your own passions and if everything has always been black and white, do and don't?

How can you ever understand Jesus if your goal in life is success?

The list goes on.

Don't get me wrong--Chinese ideology has its benefits too. Hard work and discipline as well as hard work and discipline are positive contributions of the system. Oh, and I almost forgot about hard work and discipline. These are things that can’t be ignored for Christians seriously pursuing Jesus. However, Chinese thinking has created a very distinct and, in my opinion, destructive church culture that has to be acknowledged and addressed, especially by folks in my generation.

I have friends who practically do everything for their church. I rarely see them all year because they're always busy, and when we do get to touch base for a little while, they always seem tired and frazzled. They serve their church because they love their church, but I can't help but see all of their efforts and ask, "What's the point of your hard work? To pull God down from heaven all by yourself? To impress him?" Maybe Asian American church leaders have only transferred their achievement-mindedness to the church sphere. Now, God becomes just another unemotional parent figure who chastises us while he swings the gai mo so.

And you'd think Chinese people would eat up an idea like Grace. I mean, it's a free giveaway of God's love and I KNOW Chinese people love free giveaways. But nah, this Grace thing just doesn't seem to make sense to us. I've heard it too many times, people that seem convinced that they're "not good or holy enough" to get baptized. I think that these kinds of ideas break the heart of a God who has always chosen sinners.

I'm rambling, but a couple more points. The example in the article where the mom forces her daughter to get the piano song right... this might work with piano, but it doesn't transfer over to faith. You don't practice faith until you like it or until it becomes easy; if you’re forced to practice faith, then perhaps it isn't really your faith. And if faith is something our parents simply forced upon us, we eventually reach the point where we either find ways to make it personally meaningful or we drop it altogether (which is what happens a lot in college). Our orderliness and black-and-white nature make the Asian church susceptible to the manufacturing of robots. We’ve been told and programmed what to do; we know the answers, we can do the practices, but we don't know how to ask questions or to think for ourselves.

I used to be optimistic about change. Now, I'm not so sure. Asian churches are generational; children's faiths often look a lot like parents' faiths; we are set in our ways. I understand why, historically, the Asian American church is the way it is. Especially for folks in San Francisco, churches were (and are) literally, sanctuaries. For immigrants coming in without a grasp of English and without a lot of resources, church was a good community. Away from angry white people, around those who understand you, throw in a God who helps the oppressed and you got yourself a formula for success. No wonder Asian American churches have a strong sense of community, a big passion for inreach and a value for taking care of their own, but also typically ignore things like social justice, radical giving, and missions. The Asian church in America was built on self-centeredness.

And it worked. We succeeded. We achieved the American dream. Thank God our Chinese mothers never gave up on us. We became middle and upper-class citizens and we praised Him for it. Church was our original safe haven and we moved out to the suburbs to cling even more tightly to our comfort. We ran from the suffering we once endured and we had cute kids and sent them to Sunday school to learn about Jonah without realizing the irony that one day the whale might come and get us too. We are running from Jesus Christ, the one who told us to give away everything, to be last, and to love our enemies. We baptize each other in lukewarm water and call it discipleship.

The answer, obviously, is not simply to sprint in the opposite direction. God knows that this generation has abandoned discipline and hard work to our own detriment. Also, I needa check myself to make sure that this isn't some lame postmodern, free-thinker, everything-is-good-if-it-comes-from-the-heart kind of rant. But I believe there needs to be a shift and that people like Amy Chua need to be taken down and burned at the stake. Jk about the last part, but yes. I love the Asian American church. I really honestly do. I understand filial piety and I respect our esteem for tradition, but the Gospel must trump culture in every instance, and if ethnic barriers keep us from fully following Jesus, then they gotta come down. It'll be a slow process, but someone's gotta do it.

And of course, I'm projecting. Forgive me if you believe the judgments in this post to be incorrect, for there is a huge plank that is obstructing my vision. Yet I am confident for both myself and the church that he who began a good work will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Since the TV went out, I've been doing a lot of reading.

Every once in awhile when you read something--and it's the same way with music--it seems like everything in the universe boils down to the words in front of you. Like, the timing that you read it, what you're going through in real life, the room you're in, your mood, the tone of the words--they all just come together and hit you like a ton of bricks.

It happened about a month ago that I read the epilogue to Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity. It's a one-page epilogue and it's an entry from his journal. It's impossible that you will read it the same way I did because our contexts are different, but I hope that on some level you will connect with it as I have. This small text has influenced the way I walk and pray and fight and I hope you will find some kind of good in it.

Michael Spencer died six months after he wrote this. Be blessed...
At approximately 1pm EST, the doctor's office called to tell me there were matters of concern on the CT scan. So no matter how long one has resisted the reality that the journey will take this turn, the turn arrives without permission and without the agreement that I will be able to find some mental tactic to live in denial. The next chapter arrives at its own time with its own contents, and I must open it now.
Like it or not, this is what I must live with, worship with, pray with, and love with today. This is my life as it comes to me from God. This is the God I know in Jesus. This is the God who gives my life significance. Whatever I am... or whatever I hope to be comes in the love of this God for me. The day is about receiving God's love; enjoying God's love; placing my many, many fears in God's love. This is today: a new turn, a new chapter, the same loving Father whom Jesus called Abba.
Every word of the Gospel is written to men who will be dead but are now alive by the mercy of God. This is my life and the life of all other persons.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NBA 2k11 and Advent

I had fasted from NBA 2k11 for 40 days. I postponed Nate Lee's budding NBA career, a season with the Warriors, reliving Michael Jordan's greatest moments, and owning Sammy Lee for 40 whole days.

When my fast ended, our TV broke...

Since then, I have been doing an involuntary fast.

When the TV went out, it honestly felt like God was kicking me in the groin. Repeatedly.
Like, I did this for you God, and this is how you're gonna reward me?? By breaking my TV? I didn't know that's how you rolled, G-man. Now the TV just sits there in our living room, staring at me as if to say, "Oh hey what's up Nate. You want me? You like how I look? Do you miss the lovin I used to give you? You miss your Warriors and your Netflix? Well too bad! I'm just a useless box taking up 43 inches of your living room now! That's what you get for buying me off Craigslist!!" Sometimes, I just want to punch him in the face. I mean, if he were a person. Which he's not.

But, in my infinite patience and wisdom, I have of course extracted a valuable lesson from this unfortunate happenstance. It is especially applicable for life right now because we are in the season of Advent, and in many ways, I am learning about waiting.

Advent is about preparing for Jesus' coming. Similarly, I am waiting for the coming of a new TV (Thanks Sammy and Black Friday!). As blasphemous as that is, I am realizing how hard it is to be on the edge of the arrival of something good, but knowing that it is still a ways off. Waiting is not fun. Sometimes we lose faith that the thing we are waiting for will ever really come. And when it comes, will it even be all that it's hyped up to be? In regards to my future, am I willing to wait for God to show me where he wants me to be? I feel like I'm perpetually trapped in this waiting, in-between period of who I am now and who I want to be. I don't think this kind of waiting will ever be satisfied. For those of us going through hard times, stuck in our Exiles of joblessness, loneliness, bad grades, or just plain weariness, do we really have faith that our waiting will be rewarded, as God always promised to Israel?

My favorite blog,, puts it like this:
The main cry of one who practices the form of prayer called “lament” is, “How long?”That’s how people who live perpetually in-between think and pray. We know we can’t go back to some golden age in the past. We know we have not yet arrived at the new creation promised to us. We live in-between. We long for in-between to end. Like children in the back seat, we must be a continual annoyance to our Father—“Are we there yet?”
For hundreds of years Israel waited. A lot of them died waiting. When Jesus finally came, he was not what they were waiting for. Maybe that's how God works. Perhaps my TV will not bring the fulfillment I am hoping for. Ok, I know the TV will not bring that fulfillment. But in the meantime, I must be ok with life post-TV and pre-new TV. I must also be ok with not knowing where my future is heading. I have to be ok with waiting. There is no point in making myself a nice little cocoon woven out of self-pity and anxiety; the waiting period is not a time of wallowing in worry. God wants me here, even if I know I am not currently who I want to be. I hold onto my faith and I hope that, by his good pleasure, I will safely arrive at home.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We are beggars. This is true.

My favorite line of all Sufjan Stevens songs—

“Tuesday night at the Bible study/we lift our hands and pray over your body/but nothing ever happens.


Please continue, Sufjan…

Sing the part that goes, “Next Tuesday night at the following Bible study/we lift our hands and pray over your body one more time/and then you get healed”

Surprise! That line never comes.

But cmon surressly now, who puts a line like that in a song? No one cares about that shizz. The songs about miracles and healings and victory—those are the songs that sell.

But there’s something crazy about that one line. It’s just so… human. And I think that’s something that’s hard for some people to really admit—

We are human. It is quite unfortunate sometimes.

And we often live our lives in denial of that fact. We act like believing in Jesus somehow transfigures us into beings that are no longer human. We become so convinced that faith inevitably leads to complete and total healing, victory, deliverance, whatever you wanna call it… but it doesn’t.

No matter how many miracles we see, testimonies we hear, times we read the Bible, or prayers we have answered... our doubts will never leave us completely. We may never be fully healed of our loneliness. We will never not be broken. Sorry. These are ripples of prosperity gospel, and they simply aren’t true.

God does not pull us out of our humanity. Instead he comes into it. The moment we try so hard to be like Jesus or to live a life that is righteous enough or to move beyond our humanity, we nullify God's grace. We do not need a God if we are trying to become one. Adam and Eve learned that the hard way.

There are so many hurting people in church. They need to know that they can be fully human. It is ok that you are trying to believe in God and you still feel lost, alone, or afraid. God and brokenness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we desperately need our brokenness. The miracles turn into testimonies and the healings make the headlines and it is easy for the very human experiences of faith to be silenced. The Christian life is not experienced through miracle after miracle. It is an everyday war. And when we win, Jesus is with us. And when we lose, Jesus is with us.

I believe in miracles and healings and all those beautiful, God-honoring things. But I honestly believe that God looks the most perfect in our lives when we look the most imperfect. Please, everyone, be human.