Thursday, January 19, 2017

One Evening

What if you could have one evening with the President of the United States?

I've certainly imagined it from time to time. I've liked Obama's sense of humor. Sharing jokes with him would be awesome.

No cameras. No microphones. No agenda. No one else around. Just you, the President, and a couple of drinks at some undisclosed location, having a conversation, getting to know each other as much as the night allows. I would hope that the President would be completely himself, not trying to politick me into something or attempt to spin me towards a "side" on an issue. Clearly, I'd sign a non-disclosure agreement. I'm not a fool.

Imagine that... an unfiltered look into the life of the person occupying the highest office in the land.


I was born in 1984, about a week before Ronald Reagan was elected to his second term in office. In my lifetime, we've had Reagan, two Bush's, a Clinton, and Obama.

Eight years ago tomorrow, I was sitting in the living room of a house in Oregon, where I lived with two other guys. I didn't have to work that morning, so a few fellas came over to sit down and watch the inauguration of our nation's first black President. I have to admit, I did not vote for either McCain or Obama that year, but I did feel privileged to witness such a historic event. Hard to believe, with our nation's messy history, that we'd see such a day. Maybe one day an Asian-American President will happen in my lifetime. One day.

I had a lot of friends who were very proud of that moment. Some joined the Obama campaign and were actually walking door-to-door to get the word out. There was a lot of hope (yes, that iconic campaign poster with the word "Hope" on it, I'm aware) among young adults across the country. I was excited for the black community as they had someone like them as President, like the boy in this picture who asked to feel Obama's hair to see if it was like his. I'm sure that meant a lot to him.

Admittedly, I was critical of President Obama when he first took office. I simply thought he didn't have enough experience to take the job. Honestly, since Bush Jr. was the first President of my late teens and early 20s, very formative years, it was hard for me to experience a different kind of leadership. Now, those who know me well enough that, at the time, I had no business commenting on the dealings of our political system because I made sure I stayed uninformed on political dealings except for what happened every four years.
I remember mocking Obama for getting a Nobel Peace Prize when his chair at the Resolute Desk wasn't even warm yet. I also had people in my ear claiming that Obama would be the worst thing to happen to our nation... no, I'm pretty sure slavery, along with internment camps and exclusion acts, has that title, no question. That's how my time as a citizen under Obama's leadership started.


Eight years later, with our new President Elect about to be sworn in, I can't help but reflect on what I would ask President Obama about if I did have an unencumbered evening with him.

... What's it like raising kids in the White House?
... Tell me about your childhood, and how having an absent father shaped you?
... What was the best day of your life while in the Oval Office? The worst? (*Author's note: President Obama has recently gone on record saying that his worst day was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I have no doubt about that.)
... What's President Putin really like?
... Favorite place you've traveled as President and why? The best part of Air Force One?
... Do you think Bernie Sanders' plan would've worked? Why or why not?
... If you have a faith in a religion, how little/big a part did that play in your decision-making?
... What do you think the average citizen absolutely needs to understand about the political process that they simply would not get from outside the walls of the three branches of government?
... Could you play pranks on the Secret Service? I bet you could. You're the President.

I could go on with questions, and I'm sure I'm not the only one if we all had the opportunity. I'm sure there would be more questions of a more serious nature, as well. I would also think, in the spirit of the occasion, that President Obama would ask me about my life. I think he's got a naturally curious personality, and I would happily engage it. If I'm sitting with the President, I got nothing to gain by hiding anything.

But, as a good chunk of this nation has expressed, there are things President Obama has done that have rubbed people in the worst way possible. No President is without criticism. I have a few of my own:

... You promised during your initial campaign to close Guantanamo Bay. I know prisoner numbers have been reduced greatly, but I personally would've loved stronger action from you for the closing to happen under your watch.
... Why the more "hands off" approach to addressing ISIS, and the large use of drones, dropping bombs and killing many innocent lives?
... You're nicknamed "deporter-in-chief." I think DACA was a good move, but so many were caught in the middle and had to be deported. Wasn't there something that could've been done to prevent that?

Yes, there are many layers to these questions/criticisms I have that I'm either not aware of or haven't done sufficient research. I haven't been overt with these questions around others, and I have a few more that I'm going to keep to myself. There are better, more educated people who can go toe-to-toe with him on a bunch of issues, I'm sure, but those are my criticisms, and getting him to answer those isn't my goal for the evening.

What my goal would be, however, on his last day in the Oval Office, as we finish the stories, the tears, the laughter, and the beers, to share a few things I would like to say to him to end our evening together.

First, I'd ask him how I can be a good citizen during this next administration. Second, and more importantly, I'd ask if I can pray for him and his family.
... "As a disciple of Jesus, I pray that you and your family find your ultimate hope and future in Him as well, because He loves justice, righteousness, and redemption more than any of us, and He will make it happen, on earth as it is in heaven. May you know the grace and truth of Jesus as Lord."

Then I would close with these parting words:

... "Thank you and Michelle for being such strong role models. I think many young men can benefit from your example simply as a husband. That alone was a huge gift."
... "I think you and I differ on some decisions made during your administration, but I've always admired how you've stood your ground on what you believed was right. I'll always respect that about you."
... "Thank you for taking the high road in our social media-saturated world, where every action you took was dissected exponentially. As the first black President, you've done your best to uphold the dignity of the Office and have set an example for future minority Presidents. Dr. King would've been so proud. I'm sure behind the scenes you've had your choice words for your critics, so thank you for the restraint."
... "I hope you and your family get a chance to rest and step away from the public sphere for as long as possible. I think, based on how you've conducted yourself, your convictions will only keep you away from the public sphere for a short time. Tread wisely, or Michelle might kill you."

I had to get one more joke in.

Thank you for your service, Mr. President. You get the next round.

Monday, October 17, 2016

It's Time

I'm going to go ahead and say it:

I hate transitions.

Changing of the seasons? Totally fine. The beginning/end of certain sports seasons? Also fine. Friends getting married and/or having babies? Also also fine.

Moving? No. Absolutely not. I like having a home base of some kind. No matter what's going on in the day, the job/school/community/home I am at or whatever I'm doing, I'll somehow get comfortable and bury myself into that life like a tick. I find everything I need, and I'm good.

My last transition was when I came out to the Boston area just over 3 years ago in the pursuit of a Master's degree and being more equipped to serve in vocational ministry of some kind. But, I admit, I came into the Northeast with a fair bit of ignorance and snobbiness (#westcoastbestcoast). I had my way of doing things in school and church, and everyone else had their way. In fact, my favorite activity was throwing these little grenades into conversations at school just to stir the pot (Okay, I admit, I still do that, but that's how I coped in transition). I kept people and the Northeast area at arms length. I didn't get too comfortable with people. I longed for PNW coffee, mountains taller than 10,000 feet, and the Pacific Ocean. Oh yeah, and my family German Shepherd dog.

But, as time has passed since I've been here, I've learned a couple things. First, Jesus did not care what my apprehensions were, and He started chipping away at my soul. He started to soften it. I thought the prickly, private, hard soil nature of New Englanders (and Pats fans) would be the end of me, but I've discovered that the soil is super rich underneath (no, I'm not a Pats fan... I'm not relinquishing that). This community saw me and knew me in a way I never thought possible. Jesus sent me to a church that was certainly a gift I can never repay. My time out here would surely be miserable if I did not come across this church. Second, I needed time away from my roots. I never thought I would end up in the Boston area, but as time has gone by since I've been here, I have received new ways of thinking, new challenges (both inside and outside the classroom and the church), and have been healing in almost all facets: physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. The people of New England, and frankly, people from all over the Midwest and South, as well, taught me more than I could have imagined. I have a long way to go, but as one friend said, my time here has been like being in a healthy greenhouse: I needed a safe, healthy place to grow, and be nourished and tended to by the people at my school, my friends, and my church.

But now, I need to be taken out of that greenhouse and planted in an outside garden, or more accurately, the forest. I don't want to leave. Like I said, I want to bury myself in my current situation like a tick. I like it here. I really do. The people I've grown to love and care for deeply... I don't want to leave that... but I am.

I'm heading home.

Sometime in the next few weeks or so, I'll be driving back across the country to replant back in the Portland area. I have been offered, and have accepted, a job as a youth pastor at a local Chinese English church in Portland. I'm not looking forward to leaving the people I call family in the Northeast, but at least I'll know I have their love and support as I move on to the next step.

Cheers to transitions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

30 in 30 for 30

Well... it's here. Another decade in the books.

Though these last thirty days driving through Proverbs has been fun, it's been one of the harder things I've done (learning dead languages rank higher...).

The book of Proverbs is not a list of predictions. They're proverbs. They're wise sayings and observations about life. I've read them a few times, and I learn new things every time.

These Proverbs address Wisdom and Folly. Yeah, I've mentioned that a lot. But then, I stumble into Proverbs 30. Agar, the son of Jakeh, is someone we don't know much about. What he does sound like is someone who's an everyman, somewhere in the middle between Wisdom and Folly:
"I am weary, God, but I can prevail. Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One." v. 1b-3
"Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." v. 7-9
I am weary.

I've been in the middle of a betrayal in a church, which led to its doors being closed. For awhile, I lost hope.
I've had some friends die too young. Death is a horrible, unnatural thing.
I've seen students turn away from Jesus.... hard. My heart aches... longs... yearns... for them to return to the cross.

And yet, here I am. Jesus sustains me fully when I am in despair.

Maybe I'm being overly dramatic.

It's really easy to look back on 30 years and feel like you haven't done much. Social media doesn't help. You see your friends either getting married, popping babies, getting promoted, growing in ministry. It's really hard to not compare yourself.

But, as I continue to be more self-aware, Jesus reminds me of the joys He has given to me:
- A family who loves and supports me.
- Amazing friends, both near and far, who love and affirm me, despite my best efforts to deflect their compliments.
- Fellow ministry brothers and sisters who are being lead by the Spirit in radical, world-changing ways.
- Former students who are leaning into the difficult life that is following Jesus. That warms my heart.

I could spout 30 words of wisdom on what I've learned in 30 years, but my friend Tyler Braun (a better writer with more clarity than myself), did a fine job.

Here's a few of my own:

- Rest. Don't underestimate taking a Sabbath, a period of rest. God gave it to us as a gift. We should use it.

- Ask honest questions. Give honest answers. Be truthful. People within the Body of Christ are more merciful than you realize.

- Slow down. Take in the experience. Remember the details. I'm amazed how much little emotions, small details, and facial expressions, bring out the richness in recalling stories and ideas.

- Grow. I may be an overgrown child, but maturing is essential. It's a weakness as I sometimes forget to stop joking around. Nevertheless...

- Be joyful! You live once. But don't make that an excuse to throw it away carelessly. Live a life worthy of Jesus, who is, himself, a joyful person.

Cheers, Twenties. You've been formative. And memorable. And painful.

And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

29 in 30 for 30

"When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people grown." v. 2

"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern." v. 7

"If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will be established forever." v. 13

I've never ruled a kingdom. Have you? The closest I've ever gotten was the Kingdom of Hyrule (if you don't get that reference, you're dead to me).

Proverbs 29, as I've quoted above, has a few things regarding the rule of kings. Now, in our context it's hard to equate the meaning of kingdoms since we live in a democracy. The people have the power to vote and all that jazz. This is continued in Proverbs theme of living in Righteousness/Wisdom or Folly/Wickedness. These are proverbs of observation of what we all see in the world on our smart phones or computers or television screens every day: The results of following the path of wickedness/foolishness.

- The ISIS situation
- The revolution in Ukraine
- Broken systems of government, including our own
- Trails left behind from murders, and victims of sexual abuse
Yes, the list continues to grow.

What does this have to do with kingdoms? Well, first, that list of atrocities that happen across the globe? No one in their right mind approves of such things, except for the "...bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity and seek to kill the upright." (v. 10)
Coming from an Evangelical Christian point of view, we as believers mourn these evils just as much as the next person. We should not take delight in any person who suffers or dies, no matter who that person may be. Those are unnatural things.

Ultimately, I believe the Kingdom of Jesus will redeem all things. He will rule with a just and fair hand. When we feel like we're fighting a losing battle against injustice:
"The poor and the oppressor have this in common: The LORD give sight to the eyes of both." v. 13
This should reassure the oppressed that justice will come. This should also serve as a warning to those serving the kingdom of darkness that their time is running out!

In the Kingdom of Jesus, which we as Christians are to represent while on earth, means we seek to better the world around us, because Jesus seeks redemption of all things. We are to love one another, as the music video suggests. But I would go one further on the "Kite String."

This wisdom we've been reading about in Proverbs? It's the string that ties us. The wisdom of God that created the universe and the resurrecting power of the Spirit of God, who resides in us, is the string that ties us.
We are only free in the way God sees fit. He's God. Who are we to argue what freedom really means? He wants us to follow the heart, soul, and mind of Christ because being in unity with God is the very reason we were created!

I look forward to the day we can soar, freely worshiping and fellowshipping with the One who has known be before I was even in my mother's womb.

29 years, 364 days, 14 hours, 53 minutes.... that seems like awhile.

But eternity, freely being a son of God, will be longer... and much better. May the string that holds me never be snapped.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

28 in 30 for 30

I'm a stubborn person.

In fact, all of us are pretty stubborn.

We're creatures of habit.
We don't like change.
If something changes, we complain a lot (see Facebook's reformats the last few years).
If we say we aren't stubborn, we're being stubborn about not being stubborn.

While working for a interior signage company, my stubbornness was addressed early on. I don't like to multitask. If I'm given a job or task, I don't like to be interrupted. I like getting in a groove. The requirements of the job, however, needed me to be able to drop something quickly to help my co-workers with a more demanding project or simply a task that needed more than one person.

I was interrupted all the time. I hated it. I don't like "time-is-money" mentality.

Over the 6 years I worked at the shop, I got accustomed to the rhythms of the job. I think I worked efficiently for the most part. I had my groove.
But once in awhile, when either my boss or my co-worker came up with a better, more efficient idea to help with workflow, I always resisted, thinking that my way is better.

This happens in life ALL THE TIME. We ALWAYS think our way is better than someone else's.

This is the basis of our sin. We think we can do better than God, then epically screw up:
"Those who forsake instruction praise the wicked, but those who heed it resist them. Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully." - Proverbs 28:4-5
Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we're cut off. We were made to be in total union with God, in relationship with Him in the purest sense, but we rebelled instead.

Thankfully, because of Jesus, we have hope. Hope to be reunited with God again, counted as righteous before him.

But we'll stumble along the way.
"Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart fall into trouble." - v. 13-14 
As Christians, we are no longer defined by our sinful nature. We are created in the image of God! We are valued because we look like Him! But, we're still broken. We will continue to sin. We will trip and fall, like the lemmings in the cartoon.

But broken implies that we can be fixed. As believers, we need to kneel before Jesus daily. In addition, as mentioned yesterday, we aren't meant to be loners. We are to be in community as believers. When you read the New Testament, a proper English translation for the word "you" should be "y'all" (something Southerners got right), because our faith isn't supposed to be something you do alone.

Confess your lives in vulnerability towards one another. This blog has mentioned that several ways over and over. It's counterintuitive in our culture to "show our weakness." But God uses our weakness against those who claim to be strong. Jesus' Kingdom runs counterintuitive to ALL thoughts on what kingdom, power, and control intend.

In our weakness, we are to see in each other the kind of love Jesus has for us. The shame we carry, thinking we are not good enough, is rubbish in the eyes of the man who lifts up our chin and says, "you are mine."

Don't be stubborn. If that's not possible, then be stubbornly submissive to the awe-inspiring love and power of Jesus on the cross.

Monday, October 27, 2014

27 in 30 for 30

This picture reminds me of a couple of things this time of year:

1. This was the celebration of one of my best friends, Jeff, getting married. He's the guy wearing the backwards baseball hat. Yes, his wife allowed for some reason. This was two years ago.

2. These two guys were my roommates for a season while living in Newberg, Oregon while I worked in the next town over doing youth ministry and sign production (yes, that's a job, and I was good at it... mostly). This was around 2009-2010. The guy in the middle, Matt, was a random acquaintance from Jeff's work falling on hard times, so he randomly became our third roommate. Despite the randomness of it, he and I became very close friends.

3. I miss these guys like crazy.
"Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, an the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice." - Prov 27:9
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." - v. 17
One of the hallmarks of my friendship, nay, brotherhood, with these two guys is that we all think very differently. Matt just became a lawyer and working with the state of Oregon on domestic issues. Jeff has been involved in social work with at-risk kids while studying church history and theology on top of getting a Masters in Counseling. And then there's me.
This friendship works because they both have unique ways of challenging me in life, faith, and shenaniganisms. There have been countless times when we've fought verbally, topics ranging from the ridiculousness of the Duck's uniforms (who wears booger green and urine yellow?) to various Atonement theories, and everything in-between.

They ask the right questions. And sometimes they'll stick their neck out and ask the dumb questions, because frankly, the obvious needs to be stated. They're willing to push into me, like a thorn, to get me to say what's really stirring in my soul.

Last night, there was a Men's ministry-type deal on Gordon-Conwell's campus. One of our professors, Jim Singleton, was our "guest speaker." In short, though he is a professor of Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism, he has been a pastor to many of the students here at GCTS. Last night, he addressed what it means to be a man in the church in light of the post-modern age.

Men have become isolated in the church. Looked down upon. The "Homer Simpson-ization" of men in the last 25 years has led them to become less spiritual leaders within the church. The numbers are overwhelmingly more women than men in church involvement. Now, this isn't an indictment on women. They are just as important to the Church. Nevertheless, Jim addressed some key issues about the wounds men hold:
- Our relationship with God. It's broken because of our rebellion, which is reinforced by the American mentality of individualism.
- Our relationship with our dad. It's a complicated relationship that has all sorts of awkward turns and expectations
- Our relationship with our mom. Same thing, though sometimes not as heavily associated.

What Jim was getting at was what are we doing to build support systems? Those three relationships are broken because we feel this shame and guilt for trying to repair them. There was a lot to unpack last night, and I could go on.

But Proverbs 27 reminded me of the relationships I do have, and how I value/invest in those relationships. The problem is that they're 3,100 miles away. It's hard to stay connected, especially when both Jeff and Matt are married men. It's just the way it is. Sure, we have phones, texting, e-mail, Facebook, etc., but I must stay connected to them deeply in order to retain this bond we have.

Who's your iron? What's sharpening you? What's poking at you in the right areas to get you to share your soul? God didn't make us to be alone. We're built for community. Use it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

26 in 30 for 30

This is my little brother, Uno.

Yes, he's a German Shepherd... with a Spanish name... owned by a Chinese family. We're diverse like that.

I love him. He's my buddy. I really wish I can have him with me at school, but I can't afford to keep him nor do I have the space to contain his energy.

He's over 2 years old, pure bred, and playful, active, and very friendly.

My mom is his primary caregiver. My dad got Uno for my mom for the purpose of keeping her company while he's on his long missions trips. My mom doesn't exactly share my enthusiasm for Uno, but she's warming up to the idea.

We all contributed, with the help of obedience school, training him. He knows how to sit, lie down, dropping items, heeling, fetch (though he gets bored of "fetch" easily). However, he loves pushing the boundaries with my mom. It's instinctual for him to see if he can be the Alpha male or head honcho of the family. Though he's much stronger than my mom, he clearly underestimates her powers. I know. I've experienced her powers.

Regardless of his training, he still does some pretty foolish things, as most dogs do. It's natural for him to do so.

I don't know why I'm thinking of Uno and this particular scenario when it comes to Proverbs 26. There are a few references to dogs, and they aren't exactly flattering allegories. When describing a fool, or one who follows Folly, they are, among other acute descriptions, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly." (v. 11)

This was an emphatic visual while at a youth camp in high school. While divided in teams, one of the games was to come up with an acted out miming of a Bible verse (I know, we're so edgy). One of my best buds was in the this group. While they performed, he was on his hands and knees crawling around. With a little bit of help from the camp kitchen/dishroom... yep, you guess it... they mimed Proverbs 26:11. It was gross.

I can't help but think that we do that, too. No, I hope none of you vomit then return to it to eat it up. That's straight up nasty.

What I'm saying is that we're foolish people. Old habits die hard. We return to the ugliness of our sin sometimes... and it makes us feel shameful. Back in ancient times, dogs were unclean and not looked upon as "household pets." We think that sometimes we just "fall" back into sin... we aren't responsible.
King David was a pretty wise person... yet clearly, he didn't "fall" into Bathsheba and "accidentally" kill her husband Uriah.
King Solomon was the wisest man on earth, bestowed the wisdom of the Lord. And yet, he gave into the world's ways of polygamy and the worship of idols. He didn't fall into it.

We're foolish people. We see it all the time all over the news every night.

And yet... for those who claim Jesus as their LORD, King, Savior.... we are no longer defined by our foolishness. We no longer bear the guilt, as Jesus took our sin on the cross! I'm grateful that God can call me His son, despite my foolishness, because he sees Jesus in me.

Foolishness makes us feel exactly that: foolish. Shamed. Despised. This is how the Enemy works. He isolates us, lies to us, and then comes down on us with a hammer.

But know this: If you know Jesus, and you declare Him your Lord... He has you. And He won't let go.

That's not foolishness.... that's grace.