Friday, November 27, 2009

Family Groups

We're restarting a conversation in our church.
A few years ago, Adam, Elisa, Jackie, and a few others helped us start thinking about house churches. The basic idea was that once a month, we wouldn't have a regular worship service. Instead, we would have smaller groups meet in homes around town. There were two basic motivations: 1) To shake up the concept of "church" as a worship service or a place, and 2) To help people get to know each other more deeply.
But this idea seemed so difficult to get started logistically and conceptually, that it kind of faded away.
At our November pastors meeting, Matt, SuJin, and I resurrected this basic concept under a new heading: FAMILY GROUPS. We are thinking of a few little changes that might make it more workable. 1) We would actually meet in the Nazarene Building (the same building where we worship together every Sunday). We would just divide up into classrooms. 2) We would only do it every other month. 3) We would still meet in a big group to sing together. Then we would split into the different classrooms.
We still have to work out the logistics about how to divide people up into the different family groups, but we have some ideas on how to do that.
The basic structure would be that each family group would have a team of 4-6 hosts. Then we will add people to each group, trying to keep each group diverse in age, sex, and culture. The hosts will be responsible for preparing the food, leading the activities and discussions, making announcements, etc. Each family group will have a brunch-style meal together - something like breads, fruits, and drinks. They will spend some time just chatting. Then there will be a discussion about a Bible text and maybe a video on a connected theme. Then, they will share honest prayer requests with each other and pray for each other right then and there. And that's pretty much it. Hopefully, the hosts will do some follow-up care as well.
The basic goals would be:
1) Knowing and being known,
2) Praying for and with each other,
3) Mixing generations and cultures,
4) Increasing participation and ownership.

If anybody out there has any thoughts on this, I'd be happy to hear what you have to say. Also, if your church does something like this (or if you know of one that does), please post a comment.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adoption Standstill

Well, we have hit a concrete wall 10 feet thick in terms of adoption. It seems that international law is solidly against us - for now. Because we don't live in our country of citizenship, we are not eligible to adopt a child from any country!
This is very frustrating for us. We've spent almost two years working on this, and we've spent quite a bit of money as well. Sarah especially has invested a great deal of time in research, applications, and gathering documents.
However, for now, we are facing the reality that unless something changes - either the law or our location, we will not be able to adopt. Since we don't anticipate either of those changing in the next few years, we are going to stop trying until something does change.
That leads us to start pursuing other options. We still want to have more children, so maybe we'll have to make room in the womb for another guest.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Sexual Character - Marva Dawn. I didn't actually get to finish this one. Somehow I left it on the plane from DC to St. Louis in October. Here is one of the highlights from the first half. Our culture is trying to solve our pain of fragmentation and isolation (the break up of the community and family) through sexual intercourse. But this is the wrong medicine. It only makes it worse because sexual intimacy without commitment only makes us feel more fragmented and isolated in the end.

The Return of the Prodigal Son - Henri Nouwen. This is one of Nouwen's classics, but I've just gotten around to it. It is a beautiful meditation on Rembrandt's painting and Jesus parable. God loves us deeply whether we leave or whether we stay, whether we do wrong or do right for the wrong reasons. And eventually, he calls us to love others with the same open-hearted love. Very good. jjjj.

Jesus and the Undoing of Adam - C. Baxter Krueger. This is a outstanding little theology book on the Trinity and salvation. I often found myself nodding and reaching for my highlighter (but I couldn't highlight since Ron T. graciously loaned it!). I highly recommend this book for a fresh look at the Trinity and the Incarnation and salvation from the perspective that the Trinity is the center of everything. JJJJJ

Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri. This is a fabulous little book of short stories, mostly about Indian-American immigrants, but there are a few stories rooted in India as well. The stories are full of life and poingiancy. They read quickly, and I felt like I was getting to know people I really should have known all along. (Thanks for the loaner Dave.) jjjj

Spaces for Spirit: Adorning the Church - Nancy Chinn. This is by far the best book I have read in a long time. For some inexplicable reason, it is out of print. I happened to get it for free at a KNU used book give away, but I saw it listed on Amazon and other sites for $75-$150! Nancy Chinn is a professional church artist and a lay theologian. She writes with great profundity and insight about the role of art to enable the Spirit to sidestep our logic to reach the deeper parts of our hearts. Best of all, she gives advice on how to start a church arts council which will guide your church in implimenting more art in and around worship services. Our Worship Planning team loved the idea, and we are hoping to start something this winter! JJJJJ! (I would give six J's if I could.)

The Tipping Point - Malcom Gladwell. Beverly loaned me this book a long time ago, and it finally made it to the top of my stack. I loved it. I read it in about 2-3 days (spread over 2-3 weeks). The summation of the book is that small factors are often the difference in tipping an idea or trend or movement over the tipping point into an epidemic (something that becomes huge and sweeps through a culture or around the world). Reading this book together with Spaces for Spirit convinced me of the need for our church to become more deeply visual and artistic. We need to add "stickiness" to the message if we want it to have impact. Great read. Great thoughts. JJJJJ.

I Kissed Sex Goodbye

OK, well actually I just kissed talking about sex goodbye for now. Last Sunday, I finished my last sermon in our series on human sexuality. (Matt is preaching tomorrow on porn.) I have never been happier to finish a series! This was tough. Sexuality touches the core of who we are, and we have such divergent perspectives and experiences. I was always walking the line between stretching people without causing so much offense that they started throwing tomatoes or stones.

I think it has gone well so far. The feedback has been mostly good. Best of all, people are saying that lots of people are talking about sex. That was one of my biggest hopes - to decrease the secrecy and shame surrounding the topic of sex, to bring the topic into the light so that we can talk together about the best ways to be sexual.

In short, I'm glad we did this, but I don't want to do it again any time soon!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Homosexuality: Reframing the Discussion (Sex Series - Week 3)

Today we run the risk of misunderstanding each other. I want to begin by reading part of the statements on human sexuality in The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene and by our Board of General Superintendents:

The Church of the Nazarene views human sexuality as one expression of the holiness and beauty that God the Creator intended for His creation. It is one of the ways by which the covenant between a husband and a wife is sealed and expressed.

The Church of the Nazarene believes that every man or woman should be treated with dignity, grace, and holy love, whatever their sexual orientation. However ... We stand firmly on the belief that the biblical concept of marriage, always between one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, is the only relationship within which the gift of sexual intimacy is properly expressed.

This month we are trying to understand our sexuality in all its God-given beauty. Today, we are continuing to teach the holy love for God and for people which the Church of the Nazarene has always upheld. I just want to make that clear at the beginning.

I have been preparing for this sermon for more than a year. Throughout this process of reading and studying and praying, I have also thought about my friends and family members who are gay.

Sarah’s uncle is gay and lives with his partner in a long-term, loving relationship. We have stayed in their home more than once, and they showed our family great kindness and hospitality.

My cousin is gay. Her “wife” experienced severe and sustained sexual abuse by men. Now, as an adult, she is physically unable to eat foods that remind her of sex with men. Pickles, hotdogs, and mayonnaise all make her vomit!

Throughout this year, I have been talking with “JiHye.” She dated guys most of her life, but while at our church, she “came out of the closet” as a gay woman and began dating other women. She finally felt so uncomfortable in our church that she stopped attending. When I asked JiHye what I should say today, she said that I should put a human face on homosexuality.

To help us think about real people, I want to stop and hear a story from “Michelle.” Michelle no longer attends our church, but she sent us a letter telling us her story.

To continue reading this sermon, click here.


Sex Myths: Marriage and Singleness (Sex Series - Week 2)

Kevin Leman is a Christian marriage counselor. He often travels around giving marriage seminars. One of his lectures is called, “What Every Parent Ought to Know about Sex.” He always begins this seminar by asking a very simple, straightforward question: “What do we call penises in our society?”

Silence … dead silence. Leman says once a lady on the front row elbowed her husband and asked, “Bill, is he talking about piano players or what?”

Leman keeps pushing: “Come on, what do we call penises in our society? Better yet, what did your mother call your penis, men?” You know when she was giving you a bath, and it was time to wash that part, what did she call it?

So, he starts asking for a show of hands: “How many people called it a ding dong when you were growing up? A pecker? A wiener?”

Eventually the awkwardness starts wearing off and people start shouting out words: peter, pokey, the thing, ying-yang, dork, dink, pee-wee, boy part, private part, schlong, junk, piece, unit, rod, pee-pee, tee-tee, thing-a-majig. If he were in Korea, somebody would say 고추 (or pepper).

By this time, people are laughing so hard they are crying. And then, Leman reads a quote from another psychologist. “There is no reason ‘that a male [child], who points to various parts of his body and ears his parents say, “nose,” “eye,” “hand,” “toe,” should suddenly hear strange [evasive words] when he points to his genital area and hears “pee-pee,” “pee-wee,” “wienie,” “teapot,” … to cite only a few. Then he soon discovers that he is never to use the word around anyone outside the home.’”

All of these cute, funny names for a penis (and let’s not even get started with talking about the names we give to the “girl-parts”) – all of this sends a message to our children and to us that sex is dirty or secret or shameful. Sex is not something we can talk about. We can’t say the real names of our body parts, much less talk about what they do.[1]

Today, we are continuing our series on sex by talking about marriage and singleness. I want to do some myth busting today. We are going to talk about the top 10 sex myths in today’s world and what the real truth is.

Sex Myth #1: We can’t talk about sex. After last week’s sermon, we got two main comments: (1) That was interesting, and (2) That was really awkward. Honestly, I felt a little awkward, too. I pretty much never get nervous preaching anymore, but I was really nervous last week. It seems that we are basically out of practice when it come to talking about sex.

Truth: We need to talk about sex. . . . .

To continue reading this sermon, click here.


Repenting of My Suit

I wrote this for The House Studio's Changed Minds project.

My Dad fed me Dress for Success with my morning cereal. Barely out of pee-wee football, I could tell when someone was underdressed for an event.

Just when I was beginning to get pimples, I was also mastering which ties were classics and acceptable (diagonal stripes, dots, and paisleys), which were fashionable but unwise (plaids, abstract shapes, and stripes in any direction other than diagonal), and which were downright poor taste (pictures of any kind).

By Driver’s Ed, I could tell the difference between a 100% cotton shirt and “synthetics,” and I could tie my own tie at the right length.

In university, when I began to preach, I was a model “disciple” of my father’s rabbinical teaching of John Malloy’s Dress for Success philosophy. When I carried my Bible to the pulpit, I was never lacking my conservative tie, perfect suit, over-the-calf black socks, and wingtips.

After graduating from seminary, I landed in Cheonan, South Korea, as the bivocational pastor of a small international church on the campus of Korea Nazarene University. In addition to pastoring this family-sized church of 50, I taught conversational English at KNU.

Korea is deeply conservative in professional men’s dress. Suits are the expected norm for most office workers and for every leader. Pastors, above all, are expected to dress formally.

Throughout my first several years here, I donned a suit and tie with almost daily regularity. I repeated to myself some of my Dad’s maxims: You only get one chance to make a first impression. What you wear determines whether people will trust what you say. It may not be fair, but this is how it is. You can work with reality or break yourself against it.

But slowly, I began to chafe under the formality. Why am I doing this? What are we trying to say with these suits and ties? Why do we put on a coat in the middle of the summer?

I read Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees and saw startling parallels between their “extra long tassels” and my own neckties. The only purpose of a necktie (year round) and a suit coat (in warm weather) is to give the impression of a certain level of power and importance. The exact purpose of these clothes is to separate the powerful and important people from those without power or social significance. I couldn’t help judging myself and my peers as hypocrites who were trying to show off our status of power.

I also began to question the immense cost of this formal attire. Although I got most of my clothes on the cheap, I knew that many of my peers and our leaders spend thousands of dollars a year on these symbols of power. A sense of injustice grew in me. I was participating in a system of waste, excess, and self-promotion, which sucks millions of dollars from some of our most generous pockets.

I was particularly haunted by an experience from my university years. I invited my working-class cousins to go to church with me. After several requests, they reluctantly joined me in attending a conservative megachurch in an upper-middle class neighborhood. They felt woefully out of place in their T-shirts and blue jeans among suits and fancy dresses. The experience was such a disaster, that I didn’t even discuss church or God with them for a very long time. Years later, when I was attending a more relaxed church, I thought they might have a better chance of fitting in enough to actually hear the message. However, they rebuffed my offer with the claim that they had nothing to wear. They only consented to join me when I promised to wear blue-jeans as well.

I read biographies of Mother Theresa and was struck by her intentional decision to don the simple cotton clothing of the poor in her city. For a time, I seriously considered forming an “order neveaux” that chose to wear only blue shirts and khakis, as a form of public dissent against both the formal and high-fashion cultures.

I prayed. I read. I sought advice from others. My parents were predictably against the idea. My wife wisely stood on the sidelines and let me process all my conflicting thoughts and desires and fears. On more than one occasion I stood in front of my closet with the resolution to throw out every suit and tie I owned.

When our church decided to make several changes at once, changing our location and meeting time all in one move, I decided to add a wardrobe change for myself. When I walked into the new place, I left the suit and tie behind.

For another year or so, I continued to wear suits into my English classrooms at KNU. I reasoned that while I am in an official university role, I should go along with the formal Korean culture. So it was suits on class days and semi-casual wear on church days.

However, I began to feel dichotomous – like I was presenting two selves to the world. Also, my decision not to wear suits to church still did not resolve my participation in the “suit-system” during the week. I still felt like I was participating in a social system built on hypocrisy and contributing to global injustice.

About 4 years after taking my first pastorate and committing to the daily “uniform” of pastors and professors, I purged my closet of all but two suits and a handful of ties. My wife finally voiced her opinion and talked me into wearing suits for weddings and funerals. I am still not sure how this jives with my desire to be consistent at all times. For now, I agree with her advice that some special occasions seem to call for special clothing, and further that I should avoid giving offense if at all possible.

I may not be finished making adjustments in my clothing ethics, but for me, this process of intentional dress is a key component in my discipleship of Jesus. I want everything I do to help me follow him more, to be closer to his example. I want to be as simple and honest as I can manage. At the same time, I want to create as few barriers between myself as others as possible.

I don’t want to impose my clothing ethic on others, and I don’t want to judge all suit-wearers as Pharisaical hypocrites. But I do believe that questioning our motives and even our cultures is a healthy practice for all of us – especially those of us who long to follow our countercultural Messiah.