Thursday, May 15, 2008

Infant Dedication Ceremony

This Sunday, I will conduct my first infant dedication ceremony for Samuel Campbell. Usually, when I have things like this (weddings, baptisms, church membership), I go first to the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene. Near the back they have outlines and text for sacraments and ceremonies like these.
However, I almost always find that the language is archaic and not especially meaningful in my context. So, usually, I end up writing my own liturgy. Sometimes it tightly follows the traditional Nazarene text and is only an update of language. Other times, it is significantly different, like the liturgy I use for baptism. In this case, for infant dedication, I follow the basic pattern in the Manual, but I insert some of my own perspective along the way.
Some of you out there - or am I just fooling myself here? - might be interested to see how I'm working to update the Nazarene traditions to apply to my multicultural (post)modern context. So here goes:

_________ and __________ want to engage in an old Christian tradition of dedicating their new child to God.
_________ and __________ will you please bring ____________ to the front now?
Matthew 19 says, “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Jesus. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’ And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.”
____________ and __________ by presenting this child for dedication today, you are testifying to two things: first, your own faith in Jesus the Christ and, second, your desire that _________ will understand from the earliest beginnings what it means to walk in the way of Jesus and to entrust his life to God. This is a sign of your prayer that ________ will live and die a Christian.
To move toward this beautiful goal, you have some responsibilities as his parents. You must teach him to trust and to honor God in all he does. You must guide his education so that he can become a blessing to the world. You must teach him the Scriptures and how to live them. You must help him connect deeply with the body of Christ through worship and fellowship. You must discipline him gently and faithfully, guiding him away from harmful habits or influences.
But above all these, you have two fundamental responsibilities.
First, you are to set an example for _________. What you do will forever shape ________ more fully than what you say, so live well – with humility, gentleness, and service.
Second, your deepest and fullest responsibility is to love him passionately and faithfully because if he clearly feels your love for him, then it will be so much easier for him to feel God’s love for him.
Will you commit your life to fulfilling all these duties toward _______ with the help of God?
Parents: We will.
No one is a Christian alone. No one can be a Christian alone. No one raises a child to be a Christian alone. We are in this together. We need each other.
So now, church, I need to talk to you.
This is your child! [[Hold up baby.]] ________ is your child also. We share the responsibilities of helping _________ to understand the ways of God and to learn to live like Jesus. We share the dual responsibilities of example and love. We share the responsibilities of teaching the Scriptures to __________ and to all of our children.
So now, I have a question for you.
Will you commit yourselves as the Body of Christ to the smallest members of our body? Will you love them and support them? Will you serve them as teachers and helpers and playmates? Will you support _______ and ________ in the difficult journey of parenting ________ toward Christ?
People: We will.
[[Encourage people to volunteer in the children’s department.]]
Now Jeong-Hee would like to read a verse for Samuel – appropriately enough from the book of 1st Samuel.
We want to finish this dedication process by laying our hands on ________ and praying for him. I want his father _______ to pray for him on behalf of the parents, and then _________ will pray on behalf of the church.

If I Were a Cow ... - Matthew 11:20-30

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward

May 18, 2008

If I were a cow …

If I were a cow, I wouldn’t want to be a milk cow. On the plus side, I’d get the cool black and white hide. On the down side, most of life is spent in a barn, hooking your udders up to some machine. Granted, milk is pretty important, but I wouldn’t want the meaning of my life to consist of a morning bowl of cereal for hungry 5 year olds.

And if I were a cow, I would not want to be a feed cow. My grandparents raised beef cattle, and I’ve seen that kind of life. They spend all day just eating and walking and sleeping. Unless of course you’re a bull. Then, you’re life is all about eating and having sex – both as often as possible. That doesn’t sound too bad at first, but after a while it would get pretty boring. All in all, the total meaning of life is to make more beef for other people to eat. That’s not for me.

If I were a cow, I would want some work to do. I would want my life to mean something. I would want to get out there and do something. I would want to be an ox. As a nice bonus, I’d get a cool set of horns. Seriously, though. Hook me to a yoke – that’s the big wooden thing connecting the two oxen – and let’s go do something. Let’s plow a field, pull a wagon, harvest some grain. Whatever, but let’s do something, not just sit around chewing our cud.

And if I were a cow, I would want a good yoke. You know how you can get blisters or corns from a pair of shoes that don’t fit right. Same thing with yokes. A bad yoke can really mess you up – if you’re a cow.

If you want a good yoke for your cow, you can’t just walk down to the market and buy a ready made yoke. It might fit. It might not.

Getting a good yoke is like getting a good wedding dress. It takes time. You have to bring your ox to the carpenter. The carpenter measures every part of your ox, from top to bottom, front to back. The carpenter uses those measurements to carve out the basic shape of the yoke. Then, you have to bring your ox back for a fitting. The carpenter puts the yoke on your ox. He carefully looks over every bump, every groove of skin, every part of bone sticking out. He marks every detail on the yoke and carves away all the imperfections. Finally, he gets out the file and rubs off every tiny bump, every sharp edge, every splinter, until the yoke is perfectly smooth and perfectly fitted to your ox.[1]

If I were a cow, I would want Jesus to make my yoke. Seriously. Jesus was a carpenter or a builder. There is an ancient legend that Jesus made the best yokes in Galilee. The story goes that Jesus was famous for making good yokes, that people from all over Galilee came to Jesus’ little shop in Nazareth to get custom-made yokes for their oxen. He seemed to have such a deep love and concern for the animals themselves that he went out of his way to make a perfectly fitting yoke. Some people even say that the sign over the door of Jesus’ carpenters shop might have said, “My yokes fit well.”[2]

Yep. If I were a cow, I would want to be an ox. I would want a good yoke, and I would want Jesus to make it.

READ: MATTHEW 11:20-30.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in Jesus.

It was hard for John the Baptist. He was the first prophet in hundreds of years. He was “a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! (Mt. 3:3) He preached that God would come like a thunderstorm with an axe in one hand and fire in the other hand.[3] (See Mt. 3:7-12.) In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, John expected “a tidal wave of a Messiah … someone … impossible to miss,” overwhelming everyone with the goodness and justice of God. But “what John got instead was a steady drip of mercy from a man named Jesus, in whom plenty of people saw no Messiah at all.”[4] John sent a message to Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Mt. 11:3).

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in Jesus.

Haven’t you ever wanted to see a miracle? Or lightning from heaven or a vision of angels? Haven’t you ever wanted to experience some dramatic event that would put to rest all your doubts about God? But would that really help us really believe in Jesus? Would it give us the kind of faith that changes the way we live?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in Jesus.

It was hard even for the people where Jesus did most of his miracles. They saw lots of miracles: “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Mt. 11:5). That ought to do it, right? How many miracles does it take to cause life-changing faith? One? Two? Seven? Twenty-seven? I don’t know, but the people of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum never got there. They saw Jesus do miracle after miracle, but they still wouldn’t put their trust in Jesus and learn his way of life. They saw his miracles, but they still rejected his message.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in Jesus. Maybe it always is.

Why is that? Why is it so hard to put our trust in Jesus? Why is it so hard to really live life Jesus’ way?

Jesus says smart people are the most likely to miss out here. Jesus thanks God for hiding his message from “those who think themselves wise and clever,” from the “sophisticates and know-it-alls,” from the intelligent and educated. We’re in trouble here. We probably have one of the most educated churches in the world. Almost every person in this room has either graduated from university or will in the next 10 years. Many of us are “Masters” or “Doctors” in our fields. We are clearly smart and educated.

When it comes to God, sometimes all of our education and intelligence can get in our way. Don’t get me wrong here. I believe in study and in thinking the hard thoughts, but sometimes we have to put all of that aside and fall at the feet of Jesus like a little child and say, “I trust. I have questions. I have doubts. My educated mind is still processing all of this, but I trust. I trust you Jesus.”

Here’s the deal. Jesus says everything centers on him. Jesus is the very center of the universe. Everything revolves around him and is drawn to him. If you want to know God, go to Jesus. If you want a good life, go to Jesus. If you want inner peace, go to Jesus.

Jesus gives us an inside look on God. He has unique knowledge of the Father, and he uniquely represents the Father’s heart.

What do we see when we look at Jesus? What is the heart of God like? “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. … I am humble and gentle at heart … you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:28-29).

At the heart of Jesus, we see the heart of God: humble and gentle love. The heart of God is humble love that serves others and brings healing and rest into their lives. This is Jesus. This is God.

It’s not overwhelming. It’s not a thunderbolt. It’s simple. It’s gentle. It’s real. God loves. God humbly and gently loves the whole world one person at time. Jesus humbly and gently gave healing and grace to one person at a time – one little miracle at a time, one little meal at a time, one little word at a time.

Then, Jesus does that thing that makes us love him and hate him at the same time. He says something that’s true but doesn’t make sense. “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you … and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Mt. 11:29-30).

Wait a minute. I thought Jesus was going to take our burdens away, right? We’re tired and carry heavy burdens. We come to Jesus, and he gives us rest – by taking the burdens away, right? Yes, but there’s more.

When we come to Jesus, when we put our trust in Jesus, we have to take off our old yoke. And we all have an old yoke. We all have that old way of life, that old way of trying to make things work in the same old way: working harder, doing more, buying more, playing more, praying more – whatever, we all have that old yoke, and if we’re honest, it’s wearing us out. Deep inside we are all straining and struggling to find meaning in our lives.

What do we do with that inner anxiety, that inner despair? Different yokes for different folks.

n Some of us hitch up to the yoke of success: study or work all day, all night. Damn the wife. Damn the kids. I’m doing this all for them anyway, right?

n Some of us choose the yoke of pleasure: play the pain away, stuff our minds with comedy, drama, sex, horror, anything to push away that inner anxiety.

n Some of us yoke up to stuff: more money, bigger house, more techie toys.

n Some of us yoke up to religion: pray more, read more, give more, study more, do more, be more, work your way into heaven. This is probably my greatest temptation.

n Some of us yoke up to cynicism: doubt everything and everyone, stand aloof, be superior by being critical, if everything is wrong then I never have to commit, and if I never commit then I can never be hurt.

These old yokes become our way of life. They become the glasses through which we see the world, what Bible scholars call “our interpretive lens.”

If we come to Jesus, we’ve got to get rid of those old yokes and take on his new yoke. Here’s the good news: Jesus’ yoke fits us perfectly, but it doesn’t fit over the top of an old yoke. What Jesus expects from each one of us is custom made for each one of us, but we can’t have Jesus and materialism, Jesus and workaholism, Jesus and cynicism, Jesus and legalism. It’s one or the other.

Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you.” Here’s the thing that we forget most of the time. Jesus yoke is a two cow yoke. Sure, Jesus is the carpenter who made the yoke, but Jesus is also the other cow. There’s one slot for Jesus and one slot for us.

Barbara Brown Taylor preached a sermon on this passage called, “The Open Yoke,” and she explains it like this: “Jesus is standing there right in front of us, half of a shared yoke across his own shoulders, the other half wide open and waiting for us, a yoke that requires no more than that we step into it and become part of a team.”[5]

Jesus is not a hard-hearted farmer snapping his whip into our backsides telling us to pull harder or to go faster. Jesus is the ox next to us, pulling our load along with us. Jesus has taken the yoke of humble love upon his back. He is teaching us how to carry this yoke by walking right along with us. We learn by watching Jesus and doing it with him.

How do we walk the walk of humble love? How do we take Jesus yoke upon us? A good place to start is with these basic words from Jesus. Look for those who are tired and carry heavy burdens, and see how you can give them rest. How can you relieve some of their burdens? How can you step into that yoke with them and help them pull for a while?

But how is this an easy burden? How is this light? How does this give us rest or heal our souls? This is the great mystery of the gospel. God doesn’t call you to be like me or Matt or Samuel or SuJin. God calls you to be you with Jesus.

God has a tailor-made life for you, a custom-made yoke for you. Your job is to find out how what you do best matches what the world needs most. Frederick Buechner put it like this: “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[6] You figure out what fires up your passions and makes your heart sing and find a way to make that connect with the needs of hurting people around you. Then, you do that. Give your life to that. It won’t be a burden because it makes your heart sing. It will be work, but it will be work that heals your soul.

William Barclay, an old British scholar, tells a story of a man who saw a little boy carrying a smaller boy on his back because the smaller boy had a crippled leg and couldn’t walk. The man said, “That’s a heavy burden for you to carry.”

The boy answered, “That’s not a heavy burden … That’s my wee brother.”[7]

Before I came to Korea, I was shopping in Wal-Mart, and my cashier was obviously a recent immigrant from Africa. (I can’t remember which country.) If you know me, you know I’ll ask anybody anything. The store wasn’t busy, so we started talking. He told me that he had been in America for about a year, and that he worked two jobs for a total of 80 hours a week. He told me that he lived with several other Africans in one house to save money. And every month, he sent 90% of his money back to his family in Africa. I asked him why he did this. He was smiling a real, genuine smile the whole time we were talking, but this time, he smiled especially big and said, “They are my family, and they have nothing.”

“For my yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

If I were a cow …

Let me finish we some good news and some bad news.

Bad news: We’re all cows.

Good news: We get to choose which kind of cow we are.

Bad news: We all have yokes, even if you can’t see them.

Good news: We get to choose which kind of yoke we wear.

Bad news: Jesus calls us to change our lives. Jesus calls us to give up our old yokes, our old ways of doing things, our old ways of making sense of the world, our old ways of feeling good about ourselves. Jesus calls us to lay all of that down and take up a new yoke – Jesus’ yoke of humble love.

More bad news: This is harder than it sounds. Trusting Jesus is hard. Humble love isn’t very logical. Hard work, hard play, hard cash – these are logical. Taking up Jesus’ yoke involves a leap of faith. We have to put our questions aside and fall at Jesus’ feet and trust his way of humble love.

Good news: Jesus’ yoke of humble love gives rest to our souls. It heals us from the inside out. It is still work, but there is just something about humbly loving and serving our world that makes us right inside. Jesus’ yoke is the way to life.

More good news: Jesus is there in the yoke with us, teaching us to be humble, helping us to love. We don’t have to do this by ourselves. We have each other, and we have Jesus.

If you were a cow … what kind of cow would you be?

If you were a cow … what kind of yoke would you choose?

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 11.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Taylor, 21.

[6] Quoted by Elizabeth Steele, “How Responding to People’s Needs Hurts the Church,” Congregations, (Alban: Spring 2008), 14-15.

[7] Barclay, 18.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Emma's First Sleepover

A few months ago, we were delighted to discover that a new family had moved into our apartment complex. They are from Russia and Ukraine, and they have two children: Mirek (a 2 1/2 year old boy) and Sasha (a 5 year old girl).
I first met Ilya (like Elijah) on the street, and his eyes lit up like a kid in a candy shop when I asked him if he plays soccer. We've been playing soccer at Cheonan Stadium fairly regularly on Sunday nights for more than a month. Ilya's a goal keeper, so that's a big bonus for us. People who actually want to play goalie are hard to come by.
Emma and Sasha have become fast friends. Sasha goes to the same preschool as Emma, so they get to play together there and occasionally at the park near our house.
Wednesday night we finally invited the whole family over for dinner. The kids quickly spread toys all over Emma's room and our room. We had a great time talking and learning about recent Russian politics.
Language doesn't seem to be much of a problem for the kids. They talk in a mixture of English, Russian, and Korean. Emma has even started saying "stop" with a Russian accent: "shtope." English definitely dominates though. It's Emma's strongest language, and Sasha has studied English some before. It seems like her dormant English is finally finding the motivation for lots of expression.
Wednesday night when everyone was leaving, I asked Sasha if she had a good time. She responded in Russian, and then her parents started laughing. She said, "Yes, I had fun, but it would have been better if my parents had not been here."
I said that was easy enough to take care of. Today (Monday) is a national holiday (Children's Day), so all of the schools are closed. So we invited Sasha to spend the night last night for Emma's first ever sleep over.
The night started beautifully when Ilya brought some homemade cottage cheese. That might make it into a lovely lasagna!

When Ilya and I returned from playing soccer, I found Emma and Sasha freshly bathed and in matching pajamas. Then, the girls wanted to play and to rough house with me. Sasha kept asking for me to do the game when I made them do flips. Unfortunately, I was too tired for all of that stuff last night.

We put the girls to bed about 10:30 (very late for Emma). After a host of books (close to 10), we turned out the lights and said goodnight. But the girls were not ready to sleep. We heard them walking around and going to the bathroom. Sarah went in to lay down with them for a little while about 11:00. Then around 11:30, Emma knocked on our door and said, "Um, I have a question. Sasha fell down."

The girls had been playing with their cups of water. They spilled water on the floor, and Sasha fell on the water and somehow cut her chin pretty good. For a little while, I thought Emma's first sleepover might end with a teary-eyed trip to the emergency room.

But Sasha was a real trooper. She didn't cry at all, and surprisingly, there wasn't much blood even though the cut was fairly deep. We cleaned her up and put on a band-aid. After talking to us on the phone, her parents decided to let her stay. Both girls were asleep by midnight. Tragedy averted.

This morning, they woke us up at what felt like the pre-dawn hour of 7:30. They've already had breakfast and TV, and now they're "feeding" Emma's lovies and playing on the piano.

All and all, a good sleep over. And definitely a memorable one.

Doctor Fish

Friday night Sarah and I had our weekly date night. Amazingly, we had a real babysitter this time - two in a row! We decided to take advantage of this freedom and try something new.
A few weeks ago, we noticed an odd looking sign advertising a business on the third floor of the Yaoori/downtown area of Cheonan: "Books, organic tea, coffee, spa, doctor fish." I asked some friends about it, and Ron Knickerbocker was able to give us the scoop. It's a really cool coffee shop. You basically pay a cover charge, and then you can have all the house coffee you want. They have a small library of books and magazines to choose from (even one English book about touring in SE Asia). They even have a few puzzles available. It's a large room, so it's easy to find a quiet nook. It would be a great place to read or for a small party.
But the really unique thing about this place is the "doctor fish." They have two long tanks of small fish. For the very reasonable fee of 2,000 won (about $2US), you can put your feet into the tank for about 20 minutes. These little fish literally eat the dead skin off your body (in this case, our feet).
Doctor fish are most famous for Turkish spas which use them as a medicinal treatment, particularly for psoriasis. However, apparently, the ones in Cheonan are Chinese knockoffs, not the real Turkish fish. (Amazing, huh!)
So Sarah and I finished our coffee and gave it a try. It was amazingly weird. We put our feet in the water and about 100 fish attacked each of us. They nibbled away with a furious passion to get at every last dead skin cell. It felt kind of like being attacked by tiny piranha, but it didn't hurt. It kind of tickled.
The weirdest part was seeing them swarm. When Sarah took her feet out (which she did often at first), all 200-300 fish would swarm my feet. Sometimes I couldn't even see my feet. That was really freaky! I took my feet out at first, and I laughed so much that the store worker asked me to be quiet several times.
Finally, I was able to talk Sarah into putting her feet into the water to take some of the pressure of me (more available food for the fish). And about the same time, I started to get used to having hundreds of little fish eat on me, so I just relaxed and left my feet in the water. By that time, they seemed to have cleaned me off pretty well, so they preferred Sarah's fresh feet with - um - fresh dead skin.
All in all it was a great experience - lots of fun and definitely one of a kind for us. This was a great break from the date night rut: dinner and a take home movie. Thanks Ron for the recommendation (and FYI, Ron said Bruce squealed like a little girl when he met the doctor fish!). So if you're coming to Korea to see us, let's go check out the doctor fish.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Extreme Cross-Cultural Community

A mother tiger in Thailand gave birth to triplet cubs. Unfortunately, all three cubs died. The mother unexplainably began to decline in health, including major weight loss. The veterinarians guessed that she might be mourning the loss of her cubs.
They tried to find some substitute tiger cubs, but none were available. Finally, they decided to try something drastic: baby piglets.
It worked! Watch this video of this amazing "cross cultural" experiment.

If they can do it, so can we!

Cursing at my Class

This week one of my text books, which heavily emphasizes vocabulary and listening, had two very similar words: canyon and canon.
I noticed in my first class that the students kind of giggled when I was explaining the difference between these two words. But that's somewhat common, so I didn't think much of it.
In my second class, for some reason, I really emphasized the difference, and I said "CAN-YON" again and again with very deliberate pronunciation. Before I knew it, the whole class was saying "canyon" and giggling to their neighbors. Some were just laughing outright. I realized that I must have said something funny. I asked what they were laughing about, but nobody was willing or able to tell me. Finally, one of the students said that it was an easy word to pronounce and that I didn't have to keep going over it. I just thought I had drifted off into teacher LA-LA Land, where I was droning on and on about something not so important. (This is actually easy to do since I teach the same exact class 5 times.)
In my third class, when I got to canyon and canon again (without the heavy emphasis this time), everyone started laughing again. Finally, the light went on for me. I asked, "Is 'canyon' a bad word in Korean?" Several people nodded yes. I asked, "What does it mean?" No answer. I just went on with the rest of the material and finished the class.
After class, I asked one of the girls who seemed to be a good student what "canyon" means in Korean. She seemed pretty uncomfortable. Finally, she said that there isn't an exact translation, but it is kind of like "F--- YOU!"
I just laughed and said, "Oh, OK. Thanks."
As I was walking back to my office, I realized that I had been saying again and again, loudly and with clear pronunciation: "F--- YOU! F--- YOU! F--- YOU! F--- YOU!"
Ahh - the hazards of teaching cross-culturally!

Also this gives a whole new meaning to America's greatest national park: "The Grand Canyon"!