자취방 (Rented Room)

1 05 2018

“…한다고 했던 일이
내 맘대로 참 흘러가지 않아
주위를 둘러봐도
모두 나만 바라보고 있네…”

Time is so fleeting. Time is so limited. Time is so cruel. This pensive song about young folk who are struggling to materialize their hopes and dreams, yet failing, falling behind, and ultimately feeling lonely strangely reminds me of privilege. I have seen that the rented room is not the same for all. Some rent to chase their dreams and eventually make it to ownership. Many go from rent, fail to hit their goals (a lot not to their fault), and return home with their heads down and shoulders heavy. Renting is easy, but getting out of it takes hard work, perseverance, and a little bit of luck.

But when I think of privilege, it reminds me of those that rent without a heartbeat of worry. It is guaranteed. It is granted. It is merely a fun pit stop with the illusion of struggles toward a guaranteed success. Privilege is a frightening thing. While it guarantees material success and comfort, it eats away at the soul. Privilege is a dampening thing. While it guarantees opportunities of enjoying the things of this life, it numbs the heart away from true joy.

Lately, I wonder at the world. I see so much privilege. Not much courage, not much humility, not much sacrifice. Maybe there are, at times, a tossing of crumbs, things we don’t care to lose. Some generosity. Privilege. Lately, I am craving to see true sacrifice. Why is it so rare while we preach so much grace? Comfort. Lately, I ponder at how I have spent my years. I am so depressingly quick to ask, “What have I accomplished?” instead of asking, “Why have I not sacrificed?” Privilege.

Bonhoeffer’s famous quote crawls back into my memory these days either to haunt me or indict me. I sit in my rented room, wondering. When will it be my turn to leave? Will my hopes and dreams ever materialize? When will time stop chasing me? When will I stop making excuses and stop making the valuable grace of God cheap?

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it cost a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Cheap grace has much room for privilege. They love each other.

Costly grace only rents rooms to those who lay down privilege. It is not important, in the final sense, that we dream our dreams and hope our hopes. It is ultimately important who we dream for and who we are living for. The cost will be demanded on that difference.


“Have Mercy on Us” (…를 불쌍히 여겨주시고…)

23 01 2018

A year (or two) ago, the first morning back in Korea, my father prayed our usual routine breakfast prayer. He’s prayed this line many times before but it’s never struck me like it did that morning. During the prayer he prayed, “한국교회를 불쌍히 여겨주시고… [우리를] 불쌍히 여겨주시고…” [Translation: “Have mercy on us (or Korean Church)” or “Take pity on us”] At the time, the Korean Church was in shambles (in some ways, it still is). Scandal after scandal have weakened the trust of the populous in the institutionalized church. In addition, with the arcane nature of worship and the felt irrelevance of its theology to the changing world, the church has lost its prophetic voice in speaking transformation and direction into an increasingly lost young generation. Such is the assessment of many of the experienced pastors who have, with God’s grace, done so much for the Korean peninsula in the past. But in their acknowledgement of the dire state of the Korean church, most of them still hold onto a sliver of hope. What is interesting to me as a Western mind is that this optimism is founded not on method but on shear faith, almost blind faith. But upon closer observation, what may look like blind faith to the Western eye is, instead, a strong faith in the one who was mighty to save, and in that truth, they place their hope that the one who founded the church will not forsake it. “How?” is not a question to which they acknowledge they have an answer. Their desire is that the Korean church will once again cry out to the Lord in repentance, in dependance, and contrition: to cry out for mercy.

Isaiah-Chapter-6-The-Prophet-IsaiahI feel there is a lessen to be learned. In my close-to-two decades attending the immigrant, Korean-American, and now independent second-generation church striving to be multi-cultural, I have not very often seen a comparable spirit of contrition observable in these handful of elderly pastors in Korea. “Have mercy on us” is a line that I have rarely prayed and rarely heard on this side of the globe. Perhaps, it is because the American context is not as visibly dire as Korea. Or perhaps, the influence of William James has lead us to a pragmatic Christianity that constantly searches for a methodical solution to each problem. Or might it be the residual effect of the our idolatry of reason as an explainer of all things (though in the age of Trump, this is slowly and surely put into question). Whatever the explanation, I am not sure it’s of primary importance. At the end of my rumination, I have no solutions, no method, only the reminder of my father’s prayer for mercy. Instead of a thought or a method, we are in need of awakening toward the sense of dependance. Obedience starts with dependance. Obedience starts with contrition. We must be moved to our knees.

Obedience and Grace

20 11 2017

“Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.” -CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory

In hopes of gaining some advice on how to plan for the future, I was rebuked, almost to tears. As the coffee hour before the 2016 Annual Westminster Korean Alumni gathering began, I sat next to Reverend Yoo, the senior minister of the host church (Chang-shin Church). A long time professor who stopped teaching 7 years ago to pastor his current church, I asked him about his experience teaching and why he stopped and perhaps any words of guidance for myself looking to get a grasp of the lay of the Korean scholastic geography. His response was soft-spoken yet weighty, and utterly unexpected. Instead of giving me strategic advice, he spoke of obedience. ‘우리는 하나님의 부르심의 따를 뿐이지 아들이 아버지 한테 ‘전 이거 때문에 여기, 저기 갈 겁니다’ 하면 진정한 아들이 아니요, 순종이 아니지. 예수님이 자기 의지로 지구에 오셨나?’ [Rough Translation: ‘We are merely to follow God’s calling. If sons (or daughters) say to their fathers ‘I will go here because of this reason and because I prefer it, he (or she) is not acting as a true son (or daughter), and such is not obedience. Did Jesus did come to earth because he preferred it?’]

As my long, long (too long) education nears its end, I do keep thinking about the choices before me, the preferences before me, instead of Kingdom principles and Godly desires. But is that really the issue? The dichotomy of my preferences versus Kingdom principles seem in some ways two sides of the same impersonal coin of principles. What I mean is, my preferences and principles of God’s Kingdom detached from a relationship with God are both the same legalistic obedience to a principle. The political theologian, Oliver O’Donovan, explains that obedience to a command that does not account for the personal authority of God is the same as being responsible without knowing why one has to be responsible. It is, in other words, not only wrong but nonsensical. Real obedience in essence is not doing good things, but it is following a person. Bonhoeffer explains in Discipleship,

“Struggling against the legalism of simple obedience, we end by setting up the most dangerous law of all, the law of the world and the law of grace. In our effort to combat legalism we land ourselves in the worst kind of legalism. The only way of overcoming this legalism is by real obedience to Christ when he calls us to follow him; for in Jesus the law is at once fulfilled and cancelled.”

Even Kingdom principles without relationship to the King is nothing more than legalism. The pharisees realized this only too slowly.

More thoughts of the future, lately, have been emphasizing the command Jesus gives us in Matthew 16:24 after rebuking Peter for not understanding His reuncertain_future2demptive agenda. “Follow Me,” Jesus says. More accurately, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (NIV). But how the heck do you follow someone who is sitting at the right hand of God, right now? Do you sit next to Him? What does it even mean to follow Christ? To deny oneself? Take up my cross? How do you obey God when obedience itself is a doing of God, a grace? So many questions, or… is it too many questions? Grace and obedience, how do they happen together in planning of the future? Perhaps CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, is helpful here:

“And, in yet another sense, handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

It seems I forget that obedience and grace is both in the context of adoption. I am his son and He is my Father. He commands and He is good. Obedience is not following a principle, but it is trusting a person, the one who denied Himself, carried the cross, and was nailed and bled upon it.  Trust: not having faith but faith-ing. Like a child following the back of her mother, without a care for all that is happening around.


Why We Are So Impatient

24 12 2016

“Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. He must adapt himself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which he was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. He was made to eat when he was hungry and to sleep when he was sleepy; instead, he obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. He was created with a certain essential unity, and he is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.”

-Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society (1964)

We live in a world so connected, so fast, and so efficient. We live in a world where I can send encouraging messages halfway around the world to my church college students during their time of exams. We live in a world where we can order our coffee on our phone and it awaits us moments later on the counter of Starbucks, leaving to imagination, the who, when, how of its manufacture. We live in a world where the game of phone stack could be one of the hardest challenges faced. We live in a world where music is seen in increments of bits and the art of the album has been long buried in the past. We live in a world where in some parts of the globe it’s easier to access wifi than clean water. We live in a world where the appearance given to us by our parents are suggestions or the template for the surgical artisans to shape into their modern Mona Lisa’s.

results-1But technology is not the problem. Even Ellul, in the quote above, was not indicting technology, per se, but was speaking of “technique”. He defines it as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.” To put concisely, Ellul is saying that “technique” has converted spontaneity and unreflective behavior into behaviors that are only deliberate and rationalized. We’ve become obsessed with results and our prime concern becomes the best way in our life direction. In other words, the technical eclipses the organic, if you will. Perhaps, we see this played out in the sliver of economic life in Goudzwaard’s assessment of capitalism’s obsession with progress.

Setting aside Ellul’s ‘technical’ analysis, all of us sense that this world is in a rush. Time is measured by the second, and waiting for a friend has become obsolete through the invention of the cell phone (or as Koreans endearingly say ‘handphone’). Life is faster and we don’t have to wait. We are impatient because our muscle for patience is unpracticed.

But along with time, there is also space. The technical affects the shape of the world we live in; it even molds the shape we are as humans with personalities, souls, and bodies. Could it be that we are also becoming more impatient because we are so practiced in molding our world rather than being molded by the world? Our desire for independence, autonomy, whatever you want to call it, lends our hearts toward impatience. When we cannot create the world we envision or strive to shape, we grow impatient, sometimes even angry. When encountering people who do not fit into the world that we have created for ourselves, we don’t have the patience to change our world to welcome them in. Rather we are agitated, and further, we ostracize. Our impatience wants to change the other instead.

Then, is it a matter of practicing our moldability muscles? Perhaps, but not entirely. The irony of Ellul’s quote is it is saying that we are controlled, that is, molded by technique. Our problem is not only that our will to change ourselves has atrophied. Ellul is alluding that we are always being molded, ourselves, our world. The question is ‘by what’ or ‘by whom?’

It’s Christmas tomorrow and, whether you are on the East or West of the Greenwich meridian,manger-cross at Christmas you tell the truth. Sorry, couldn’t help it. No, but seriously tell the truth to your loved ones, but in addition, enjoy extravagance. Not utility, not efficiency, nor progress, but sheer lavish extravagance. Waste time with your loved ones, don’t plan, don’t rush, but be among them. Further, be molded by one another’s desires, one another’s wills (within reason of course). Do what you may not prefer for the sake of the other. Mold your desires to another’s. Because at Christmas we remember lavish extravagance. God came to earth to give us eternal life, but he also molded himself, if you will, into a human baby. He molded his will and desires, to allow us to do the same for others.

What are the marks of the church?

9 09 2013

We often say that the church is not the building, it is the people who gather. Then why do the answers to the question ‘What are the marks of the church?’ often seem to be impersonal concepts? Church 01One of the more extensive lists out there are Mark Dever’s nine: Preaching, Biblical Theology, The Gospel, Conversion, Evangelism, Membership, Discipline, Discipleship, Leadership. Of course, it would be unfair to say these ‘marks’ are all strictly impersonal as many of them have personal qualities embedded in them, but I look at the list and wonder, where is love, where is service, where is sacrifice? It can be said that love, service and sacrifice and anything else is subsumed under one of the earlier categories, but in the nine marks, where is the sense of hospitality and inclusion, where is the sense of imperfect beings walking together in repentance and faith? Brueggemann comments, in Peace, on possibly what we may have been missing.

This is what it means to take Jesus seriously as Lord. And. of course, we have forgotten that. We have made the mark of the church the right tag words of doctrine or of piety. Or we have preferred a certain social ideology of the left or of the right. But to love the brothers and sisters enough to raise and include them, that is a mandate of another dimension that comes to us with pain.

And he gives a possible prescription as to how the church can receive and take on this mandate that threatens our status quo theology. How to raise the lowered and include the excluded.

Clearly the only church that can practice such ministry is the one so sure of its own identity that it can confidently be a servant. The only church that can practice such a ministry is one so sure of its security in the face of its Lord that it can take a role not defined by competence and achievement.

The marks of the church. It is something necessary to identify and distinguish, batmanbut maybe with it’s emphasis we are falling into the trap of false batman theology, that is, “…it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” Maybe it would be better to stop focusing on trying to figure out who we are and how we are different and to start figuring out who is out there, lowered and excluded, and how we can serve them, not because that makes us into a church, but just because, that is what happens when one is secure in the face of her Lord.

Loving God vs Loving Right

4 03 2013

A friend of mine tweeted this after the recent Justice Conference in Philadelphia, “Don’t be in love with the idea of yourself doing justice; be in love with the just King.” (If you’re curious as to his other insightful tweets, check out his blog: Kyuboem Lee.) In the wake of rising humanitarianism, which also encompasses the wider Christian population as conferences such as the Justice Conference seems to attest, Kyu’s tweet resurfaces some thoughts that are actually related to other aspects of the Christian conservative disposition.

It has come to my attention that I am not very good at loving God, and I think Christians (I should probably say American Christians) in general are not very good at it either. Of course, it would be an whole entire discussion to describe what the meaning of “loving God” is but to simplify one maybe has to take a peek at how one loves others. In Christianese (that is Christian lingo), it is often said that the vertical relationship affects the horizontal, which simply means that if you are correctly loving God, then it should show in your love for others. But it seems most do not understand how often that translation from the vertical to the horizontal does not happen so naturally. matt-22-381Most Christians, I believe, mistake loving what’s right with loving others, and in turn, mistaken loving God altogether. Lately, I have had the privilege of listening to a number of people who claim not to be Christian and it seems one big reflector of this ‘loving right’ tendency is reflected in the way Christians make them feel: dirty, unworthy, second-class. Even when Christians do not intend to do thus, mistakenly thinking you are loving God when you are only loving what’s right will naturally convey that sense. As somewhat of an aside, it is good Christian theology to think that all humans are sinful, dirty, unworthy, but the question of concern here is in reference to whom? Good theology says that it is in reference to God, but often in our practice of ‘loving right’ we make them feel unworthy in reference to us. This becomes very evident in Christian dealings with peccadilloes, not to say that condoning such things is the right thing to do, but raising the condoning or not condoning as the first question illustrates that our primary concern is with strictly ‘doing what’s right.’ This seems to fall in line with a critique stated by one of my professors concerning pastors of large (mega) churches, that they have the luxury to simply state unhelpful mantras like “Jesus plus nothing equals everything” because they don’t have to get into the messy lives of individuals. When throwing principles and mantras from a distance, one tends to miss the details, important details, and in worse cases, it can produce a culture of woodenly following principles as equal to ‘loving God’. This proclivity of ‘loving right’ is also illustrated in the inability of Christians to engage humanly with such complex issues as homosexuality, and in some ways, it becomes evident in almost trivial issues like underage drinking and smoking (i.e. partying). Christians are so concerned with finding what’s right, or to push the envelope, doing what’s holy, that they dehumanize those with whom they engage.

PictJesusHealsLeperRembrandt1655-60Part of the reason, which I don’t want to get into here, is that Christians a lot of times are not very humble people. The other part why this is so, I suspect, is because Christians (me including) suck at dealing with messiness. We hate it. We think it’ll taint us. We think we are actually clean ourselves. We operated in the Old Testament (Hag 2:11-13) sense that if you touch something unclean (dirty) you will become unclean (dirty). We proudly scream that Jesus gave us his rightness, but in practice, we act as if we’ve earned it by denying the manner in which that rightness was given to us. We forget that the manner in which Jesus engaged uncleanness was to plunge into it. And we forget that we live in the NT era where when the unclean touches the clean, no longer does the clean become tainted, but the unclean becomes clean (Mark 1:40-42). Ironically, the Pharisees were the ones who did not know this, they were NT people who operated in the OT schema. They could not deal with messiness around them. They made people feel dirty, unworthy, second-class. They loved being right, while thinking they were loving God. And while we think it may be so far from us, the ‘they’ starts becoming the ‘we’. We say we are loving God when all we are doing is loving what’s right. Maybe then, it’s time to pause… and acknowledge, “Maybe I don’t love God as much as I thought I did.”

Essential Extravagance of Festivities

26 12 2012

‘Tis the season to be jolly~ fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la~~.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJolly. Joy. Jubilee. Christmas is a time to celebrate. The colors, the music, hot chocolate warming a set of cold hands, the tinkle of the salvation army bell, the crowds and floats of the Macy’s parade, chestnuts roasting on an open fire (yes, I had to throw that one in); the air of December twenty-fifth moves us to celebration. Of course, not all celebrate the same things. The Christian will obviously celebrate Christ. The Jew, Chanukah (of course not the same day but the same month). And the atheist and agnostic still celebrate family and friends, or maybe one just celebrates the day off. Regardless of what the object of celebration is, Christmas is a time to be jolly, joyful, jubilant.

Often the Christian message that I hear in this season of December is a message that contends against the swing of culture toward materialism and for bringing the day back to celebrating the one who started the holiday, Christ. It is a true and profound message. But as I contemplate this message of anti-materialism slash gratitude of the Ultimate Gift, I’ve come to realize one thing. I’m not good at celebrating. In having processed the message of anti-materialism, I have become a poor participator of festivities. I have subconsciously filed in my mind all extravagance into the category of frivolities. And I have to say, I blame Christianity.

grguer2The culture of Christianity has historically found difficulty in accommodating the extravagant. It has often, for the sake of ultimates and essentials, sidelined the extravagant. And along the way, function has taken over form as the better half of the created order. If an object has no usefulness or function, it is difficult to find a place in the realm of modern Christianity. Art, in particular, is a victim of this tendency. The artistic has become at times unnecessary. People have asked, “Why pour resources in such a frivolous endeavor when there are essential needs in this world?” Christians have said, “Fashion is so extravagant that it’s so unimportant compared to the essential needs of injustice.” Yes, it is true that the artistic, music, paintings, dance, comedy, musicals, films and fashion, are all things that do not scream ‘urgent’. But for some reason, the culture of Christianity has concluded that the extravagant is never essential. Jed Perl, the art critic of The New Republic, writes in his article titled, “Put In Your Oar“, that the arts are sometime shoved into places of being efficient, but he contends that the arts are necessarily inefficient, and that its extravagance is essential:

In perilous times, those who love the arts quite naturally go on the defensive. They try to prove that the arts are in fact cost effective. They are playing a dangerous game. Too much can too easily be reduced to crowds and numbers crunching. Some argue that public arts funding boosts tourism. Others theorize that arts education improves children’s brains. And in publishing, the defenders of the now-endangered mid-list author argue that you will only find the next bestseller if you take a chance on what may initially look like modest books. I am certainly not advocating fiscal or institutional irresponsibility. In my experience, creative people are among the more fiscally responsible citizens, simply because they cannot afford to be otherwise. But I think we must insist on the fundamental inefficiency of the arts, on their essential extravagance.

I do not know where Perl’s faith lies, but he does offer the modern culture of Christian functionalism some good advice. Extravagance and essential are not antonyms. To always pit extravagance against the notion of essential is to lose the full Christian worldview. It is to make Christmas decorating a wasteful endeavor. It makes gift giving worthy only if the gift fits the functional needs of the recipient. It turns us into robots of efficiency. It makes us incapable of being jolly, joyful, and jubilant. So at the turn of this Christmas day, I will remember the One who came to save those who would believe, but I will also learn to sit, frivolously enjoying the Christmas lights, music and company, and at times enjoying extravagance, because that, I believe, is the glimpse of the world into which He saves us.