This is not normal: An unusual week. To say the least

November 28, 2016

I started harvesting more news items, blogs, and other sources for this week’s version of #notnormal. It turned out to be quite a week of possibilities. Steve Bannon? More of Jeff Sessions? Betsy DeVos selected as Secretary of Education? The (unfortunate) firing of Charlie Strong?

No. Just under the wire: This.

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So: The backstory here is DJT’s outrage that Clinton and others have requested an audit of the votes in a few states. We all might take a step back for just one moment and at least concede this: anyone who has won an election might have more than a little emotional resistance to this kind of effort. OK? That makes sense.

And, truth be told, when I first heard about the various momentum toward audits, I thought that DJT would scoop everyone with the high road: Say something to the effect that he welcomed such audits, as the outcomes would not only verify his victory, but it would also reaffirm confidence in voting in any election, no matter what kind of ballot would be cast. Right? Such statements would at least position DJT as one who held confidence in the process and could steady the anxieties of the electorate.

Instead, this guy, the so-called PEOTUS, has done a few things that simply move the dial toward the category of “he’s certifiable” through a single tweet. Of course, he made several others since then, but the damage is done.

First, he made a claim that he could never in a million years ever confirm. How he knows this to be true simply is never substantiated.

Second, he called into question the very process that got him elected. Is there a conspiracy that we should now know about that he was already aware of?

Third, and here is where he moves into the same territory that got Clinton in so much trouble for calling US citizens “deplorable,” he ends up labeling the Clinton voters as people who committed voter fraud. Really?
Clearly, words do not matter to this fella. The kind of wordsmithing that DJT practices hardly commends any trust in the soon-to-be Executive Commuter. Stay tuned. Last week was an unusual week.

#notnormal


Preaching at Advent

November 21, 2016

“And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall live secure,
for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.”
Micah 5:4-5

This time of year is always my favorite for preaching. No, I don’t have anything scheduled! But, it brings back some memories that won’t go away: and I don’t want them to leave me.

Several years ago, through the unfortunate passing of a colleague, I received a call as what the Presbyterians call, “Temporary Pulpit Supply.” This call began in early fall of that year, and ran through the end of December. Thus, it fell to me to preach through Advent.

On another day, I’ll argue for why evangelicals (what’s left of them…) should preach from the Lectionary. But, as one who was already convinced, when early November showed up, and I cast my eyes ahead to Advent, I was delighted to discover: Every week contained a text from the Minor Prophets.

Not sure how else to explain this, other than: it was effortless study to reflect upon christological and eschatological themes (regarding the latter: it is “advent” after all…), as well as how such inform and empower a communal life that collaborates with God in mission. The ease at addressing evangelism and justice, as mutually informing responses to the anticipated coming of the Christ, really stood out as cohering well with the text of each week.

The feedback to my preaching was remarkably constructive and affirming. While all preachers admit to that being important, my overall sense was that God was drawing me into his mission, affirming my “temporary” status, preparing the local congregation well for their mission, and empowering me for service beyond the term of service. In short, God had a word for me about my anticipation of the coming of Christ.

So, for those pastors who haven’t committed themselves to an Advent series: the Revised Common Lectionary offers both the weekly texts and the resources needed for giving praise and witness to the Christ who has come and will come again.


“This is not normal”: A beginning

November 21, 2016

Watch out and don’t let anyone fool you!” —Jesus—

So, this phrase—”this is not normal”— has received abundant and frequent usage in the last three weeks. I won’t trouble you with all the citations you can find in Google.

But, I’ve reflected upon the circumstances and conversations of the last few weeks. I’ve participated in some of the above conversations; I’ve had some prayer. And the phrase captures our season in the USA.

Quite apart from my opinion of the election outcomes, or how people voted, or how people ascribe meaning to their votes: There are some realities now activated.

Expect me post here on more “not normal” realities that emerge each week.

Here’s one to get started: The President-Elect has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions to become the Attorney General. The racist history of Sessions is well documented.

Before you become animated—for whatever motivations—we should begin asking ourselves one question. Well, two, really.

(1) Re: racist. Instead treating the question—Is he a racist?—as a binary, we should aim for a different question:

What kind of racist is he?

(2) Why is this selection of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General not normal?


(Early) Reflections on post-election reconciliation…

November 18, 2016

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” — Jesus—
So, yesterday, I made my request for forgiveness for those whom I offended in a post made on FB. I also disclosed that some of those who contacted me in their pain and confusion also asked: Why wasn’t I involved in reconciliation and peacemaking?

For those who asked, first off: Thanks. I suppose in the present cultural climate, as well as in the stream of a former political tradition, after an election in the USA, we’re all supposed to “come together for the sake of the country/democracy.” Or so a version of that idiom goes.

In a limited way, that idiom still possesses power in our social interactions, although my read of the power may not be what is embedded in the request for reconciliation, peacemaking, and unity.

In the latter, the power should lead toward a justifiable sense of victory in the election, and a readiness to collaborate with the new administration, to set aside conflict and enmity, and to work toward a smooth transition in power.

Also, the declaration of the idiom should also become an occasion for those who voted contrary to reaffirm their commitment to democracy, however bitter the loss, and to work towards the peace and prosperity of the nation. So, the idiom often goes, and in the past, it worked.

But, who it worked for has been exposed and illuminated in irreversible ways. That discussion will be deferred for another post.

How the idiom now limps along could be up for discussion here as well. Instead, I want to attend to why the idiom is quickly becoming evacuated of its power.

In other words, the plea for reconciliation and for unity cannot move quickly past the words, the precipitating violence, and the identities of candidates with histories of antagonism. The persons who hear the words, receive the violence, and become displaced from the antagonism not only deserve to be heard and known:

For them, any real attempt at reconciliation cannot bypass the offense: it merely generates a false sense of unity for those who possess the social and cultural power. Let me explain this with a very scary moment from last week that involved my wife.

She was riding the train home, seated next to a black man, and across from her was an elderly Latina and a man wearing a yarmulke. At a following stop, a white man entered, dressed in camouflage gear, rolling in his bicycle. Behind him was a black man, dressed in a hospital gown with a wristband on, and presenting quite disoriented. The white man began to loudly berate the gown-adorned man, who appeared to be quite oblivious to the volume of the criticism. He then disembarked at the next stop.

The black man seated next to Annette attempted to distract the white man from the criticizing the other black, but that only escalated him into further shouting, including comments about the election results, that he was a retired veteran, and that he could say whatever he wanted to say.

At this point, Annette noticed that everyone around her was not white. And, that the white man was banging his bicycle against the elderly Latina. Then black man leaned over to Annette and told her that the white man had a knife in his coat: and the white man heard the comment. He became enraged, and threatened to assault everyone on the train because he could and that he did not need the knife. The black man attempted again to walk the guy back from his anger: and then Annette, the black man, and everyone else exited the train at the next stop. Violence avoided. The threat of violence: not avoided.

These events routinely occur through those with social and cultural power, especially whenever their sense of unity feels threatened. And, often, the feeling of a perceived threat generates injustice: such as verbal assault and the promise of battery. Of course, there are other ways those feelings get expressed: but, injustice often manifests as a result.

Any proposal for reconciliation and peacemaking, then, must address the injustice, the lament, and then—and only then—enter further processes for reconciliation. I would add: let’s not just address the wrongs, say “sorry,”  and call that “reconciliation”: let’s get our attention on what will promote human flourishing, i.e., shalom, and make that one of the end goals of reconciliation.

From within the Christian tradition, Jesus offers power and companionship for not only human flourishing, but also for the antecedent messiness that accompanies reconciliation.

What a blessing that would be, and it would demonstrate the identities of those involved in such peacemaking.


Please forgive me

November 17, 2016

Please forgive me.

Apparently, in an observation posted last week on Facebook, I generated some replies from people near and far who were quite anguished with me. Here’s the post:

Observation: White evangelicals trying to explain on FB to my friends and family of color: “We’re not haters, we’re not racists, even though we voted for Trump.”

Now, I’m not so naive to think that anyone would limit themselves to the thought: “Mike just made an observation.” Of course, our minds and our hearts ran unleashed beginning on Wednesday morning of last week in ways that we could have hardly imagined: no matter how you voted.

I received so many impassioned responses that ranged all over the place, including disclosures of how people voted. Everyone was offended.

First, let me state again: Please forgive me. I’m just as vulnerable to the “law of unintended consequences” as you are. My vulnerability, however, cannot excuse my replies. But, my post did not merely make you uncomfortable. In some of my replies to people on FB, I demonized some actions and attitudes, and therefore, some people. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Second, I realized, in getting so many messages from people from around the world: I’ve got a lot more trust than I imagined. (Parenthetically, I better get to writing some books I hadn’t planned on, as I’ve learned: You read my posts on FB!)

But, weak humor aside, I learned through the generation of so much pain, that many people—from around the world, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in years—trust my theological judgment about what is taking place in the world, even when they don’t agree with me. I don’t want to lose your trust: or our friendship.

Finally, embedded in many of these messages was a question of why I did not pursue reconciliation or peacemaking with people: in contrast to what appeared as my fueling the anger and rage that is going on at large. I read that, and I hear your voices: That deserves a different post. Tomorrow. (I’ve already written it.)

Please also note: I am not taking the “forgive-me-*if*-I-have-offended-you” route. I’m not a hero. But, when I see pastors, politicians, and others take up the back door by including a conditional “if I offended you”, I think to myself… well, I won’t disclose all my thoughts: but, I know myself better than to say something like that. Why bother to say anything if not a clear and resolute statement of culpability and contrition? Especially if one claims, as I do, to believe in the Gospel?

For now: Please forgive me for my offense of demonizing you for your vote, your conscience, and your person. Obviously, I have a longer journey in front of me. Come back tomorrow for my reflections on the plea for reconciliation and peacemaking.


My biannual reflections on the PCUSA

June 28, 2016

CORRECTED! HT: AMG!!!

 

Today, I received an email from an executive presbyter (EP) of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) that attempted a brief summary of the preceding General Assembly that met in Portland. Comments made celebrated the efforts of a delegate, who was also a pastor from the same presbytery, on to turn aside divestment from fossil fuel companies as a church. Read the rest of this entry »


Keeping the Faith Among Freshmen/First-Year Asian American Students: For the Parents (Part 2)

August 23, 2014

I had a draft written about 3 weeks ago on this topic, and then the agonizing death of college freshman Mike Brown of Ferguson, MO, took place. I decided to pause, watch, and listen to what followed from Brown’s death. It will seem like a small matter here, but I trust by the end here, it will have some greater importance for parents of Asian American freshmen: namely, that Mike Brown was a college freshman. So, I have revised the topic.

The vulnerabilities of new students entering the university are many. Of course, nothing that happened in Brown’s death involved his campus, or the campus police. But, what of your children–adult children–and their early experience on campus? What kinds of conversations can you host with them, as you move in, unpack, and assist in the transition to classes beginning and the formation of their faith commitment?

I’m describing in this series some of the early discoveries I’ve made in my research so far. I’m attempting to describe how freshmen/first-year, Asian American students keep their faith in that first year of university life. Of course, most the background of this study emerges from a well known phenomena of Christian students of all ethnicities entering the university and abandoning their faith. I’ve taken up the question on the other side, so to speak: Why are some students keeping their faith, and how do they go about this, given their experiences of living in dorms, getting introduced to new ideas from their academics, and from their participation in extracurricular groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship?

In case you’re just joining the series, you can return here and here for some of the preceding discussion, but I would want you to know a couple of personal matters. For one, I am one of the multiethnic people you’ve always heard about (Asian-Hispanic-Anglo), and am married to a Chinese American woman: and we have a couple of great adult children. So, the research topic is close to home. The other personal matter is that I belong to the campus staff of InterVarsity; I’ve served for the most part among international students for 20 years. I’ve seen this abandonment of the faith up close, done by both domestic and international students who are freshmen, and beyond. This research really moves from observing what is taking place on campus to how such decisions to sustain one’s faith are made; I’m also aware that the experience of freshmen leaving their faith occurs in universities throughout the world (unfortunately), not just in North America.

At the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, and at the bottom of life: Your child is just like you: They will live in such a way to fulfill what matters most to them. That is an obvious statement, but needs to be kept in front of us more often.

And, if the interviews I’ve had so far with Asian American freshmen could be broadly applied: You may not know what matters most to your child. Of course, some parents are exceptions, and there is an interesting possibility here…

…Namely: That you’ve had a conversation in which you listened and your child did all the talking. That is the exception. I am not saying that those parents who listened agreed with what their child had to say. Far from it.

Rather, the few students I interviewed who had parents who listened to them, these students also had a pretty calm, secure sense of their faith in Jesus.

So, there’s my suggestion to empower your freshman/adult child: When you go out together this week or next, ask your daughter or son, if you can stop somewhere for a shaved ice/coffee/boba, and ask them, “If you had the chance to study anything at the university, what would it be?”

Then, no matter what comes out of their mouth next: Listen. Pray silently. Welcome their answers, and refrain from critiquing or commenting on those answers: even if you agree with your child…

I have a disposition: That we want our children to know that we love them, and of course, we demonstrate this by making sure that they have clothing, food, a home, and the resources they need for becoming a successful student.

What they also need is the kind of demonstration of love that cares about their social and emotional lives as well.

For some reading this, please don’t confuse what I am saying as, “You need to hug your children and tell them ‘I love you.’” That is not what I am saying. Listening carefully without criticism, even to the expressions of dreams and aspirations you disagree with, will inform your child of your affection for them.

Enjoy your time of listening.