(April 17, 2011)
Well, hello, folks. I missed my biweekly goal, mainly because I couldn’t decide what to write about. Last time I wrote about the cross, but not long after I read new insights that seemed more challenging and biblical.* Realizing I’d have to come back singing a different tune, I wondered if there was anything I could write that I wouldn’t have to amend later. But unless I quote directly from Scripture, the answer is probably “no.” There will always be more to learn and fresh insights to be revealed. Not that the pieces of the puzzle that God has revealed to us in the past are meaningless, but that the more He reveals to us, the clearer the picture gets. I guess it’s humbling and exciting. The other reason I hesitated to update my blog is that I got a letter a couple weeks ago from a good friend, challenging me to read a “non-Christian” book for every “Christian” book I read: “I ask you to do this because when we narrow our world view too much we become one dimensional creatures and often get shut off to other ideas. . .” The part that stuck out to me most was “one dimensional creatures.” So before I could write another spiritual post, I had to examine myself: “Is that what I’ve become?”
I understand my friend’s concern. I know I’m always surprised and impressed when a pastor talks intelligently about something unrelated to ministry. “Huh?” I think, “He knows something about that? Wow, he even takes time to learn about various subjects.” A Christian must surely be acquainted with the stuff of this earth if we’re to understand our neighbors, the people who live and walk and breathe it. However, we cannot separate or “balance” our reading/viewing/listening intake into “Christian” and “non-Christian” categories. On the contrary, we read, view, and listen to everything with the mind of Christ. Our intake can be as diverse as God’s creation (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein” Ps.24:1), and yet everything comes to us through one medium, that is the mind of Christ. At first, I was opposed to my friend’s challenge, lamenting the waste of time it would be to read books of little spiritual value. But then I remembered that God reveals Himself in all things, in all places, and is a part of all history. When we read/watch/listen to things with the mind of Christ and for His glory, we can find great value—and even God’s fingerprint—in a good many atypical “Christian” fields. So I decided to give it a try.
I’d been really looking forward to reading a book on the Holy Spirit, but instead I picked up /Enrique’s Journey/, a heart-wrenching account of the many children who make the dangerous train-top trip from Mexico to the U.S. in search of their mothers. (I have to admit, after a week I gave in and decided to read both books at once^.^) As I was stunned by the cruel circumstances, desperation, and dangers that many Central American children face, I was equally amazed at the connection to Scripture. Take this excerpt from /Enrique’s Journey/: “[The children] don’t know where or when they’ll get their next meal. Some go days without eating. If a train stop even briefly, they crouch by the tracks, cup their hands, and steal sips of water from shiny puddles tainted with diesel fuel. At night, they huddle together on the train cars or next to the tracks. They sleep in trees, in tall grass, or in beds made of leaves” (p.6). Now compare to last week’s devotion from Job 24: “Like wild donkeys in the desert, the poor go about their labor of foraging food; the wasteland provides food for their children. Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked; they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold. They are drenched by mountain rains and hug the rocks for lack of shelter” (vv.5,7-8). Astounding. And horrifying. The words Job spoke thousands of years ago are so very, very relevant today.
As we seek to discover more about this world we live in and the neighbors who share it, considering all things with the mind of Christ and by the light of God’s Word, I imagine the intersection between the Heavenly Kingdom and this broken world will become illuminated. . .And we’ll find ourselves asking, not what must we do, but will we do it?
*“We must be cautious not to abuse the idea of ‘bearing our cross.’ The cross is too easily turned into a religious metaphor for any of our hardships. But the Bible never waters down the cross into a mere symbol that can make us feel more spiritual by wearing it around our necks. No, the cross is the execution tool of the state that killed Jesus and countless insurgents. And it is the place where Jesus faced and overcame violence with love. ‘The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt, or a nagging in-law; it was the political, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling [Jesus’] society.’ There are plenty of biblical motifs to counsel, soothe, and care for people in their troubles, but the cross is not one of them.” -Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (in-text quote by John Howard Yoder)
In thinking about what to write tonight, it seems fitting to speak of the cross. In the Christian faith, this is the season of Lent. For many, it’s a time to meditate on Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross as he took upon himself the sins of every human past, present, and future, and paid the price for each one of us to be ransomed from death and made right with God. To be honest, I haven’t been thinking much about that these days; I’ve been pretty caught up in my own trials and suffering, not to mention glued to reports about the crisis in Japan and the revolution and violence in Libya. Sometimes it’s hard to tear ourselves away from this present chaos long enough to meditate on the cross of Christ, his sacrifice for us, and what that means for us today.
We had a sermon a couple weeks ago based on Luke 9:23: “Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.‘” Of course, being a community church, there was great emphasis put on the very first section, “come after me,” which translated to “be with Jesus,” which translated to “live in community.” (Sometimes Bible study here is like a magician’s hat where no matter goes in, the same thing comes out every time.) :-) Anyway… back to the point. If we want to go after Jesus, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him.
I’ve been reading “Jesus for President” for some time now (it’s slow going because it’s packed with so much fascinating information that takes a while to digest). That book has really awakened a hunger in me to learn more about the Bible, about the context when Jesus lived, and the historical, geographical and political significance of various people, towns, parables, etc. My nagging curiosity really makes seminary sound good. But in the meantime, I figure I’d better learn to use the resources already at my disposal, like commentaries and word studies available free online. Tonight I found a gem of great worth at www.biblestudytools.com. Read what Matthew Henry says in his commentary about Luke 9:23 :
“So far must [the disciples] be from thinking how to prevent [Jesus’] sufferings that they must rather prepare for their own. We must accustom ourselves to all instances of self-denial and patience; this is the best preparative for martyrdom. We must live a life of self-denial, mortification, and contempt of the world; we must not indulge our ease and appetite, for then it will be hard to bear toil, and weariness, and want, for Christ. We are daily subject to affliction, and we must accommodate ourselves to it, and acquiesce in the will of God in it, and must learn to endure hardship. We frequently meet with crosses in the way of duty; and, though we must not pull them upon our own heads, yet, when they are laid for us, we must take them up, carry them after Christ, and make the best of them.”
Here we have not just the command, but the reason for it. The more we pamper ourselves and indulge our flesh, the harder it becomes for us to endure hard work, hardship, and desire, for Christ. The cross is like a workout tool for our faith and dependence on Christ. But it is more than that, too. Look at verse 24: “For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will save it.” The cross is the way to Christ; it is the way to life. It is the way Christ took, so if we would follow after him, we must also take it.
If you want to know where your heart is, consider how you view your cross. Do you try to avoid it? Escape it at all costs? Do you see challenges and hardships as obstacles to what you’d really like to be doing? Think you’d just like to get around them and get on with your life? Those are signs that you’re trying to “save your own life,” and I admit I find myself there pretty often. But there is a holier way, a way that is “set apart” from the natural, worldly way. Jesus says if we lose our life for his sake, we will find it.
Consider your cross. Consider the attitude Christ is asking you to have. Consider the sacrifices that will have to be made. For me, it will mean letting my toddler housemates play in my room a little more, going cheerfully to meetings I can’t understand, studying Korean more diligently, being attentive to the needs of others and taking time to really pray for them, reaching out a hand of reconciliation to an estranged family member. Not sure if it’s just me or the magician’s hat again, but it seems all those sacrifices have to do with living in community with one another—or, as Jesus would say, loving one another. How is Jesus asking you to follow him this week? Let’s take up our cross daily, spurred on by our hope in the Resurrection. It is not far off now. If we lose our life for Christ’s sake, we will find it.
Note: I post this article with a fair amount of trepidation, knowing how often I shun my cross to indulge my flesh. As a fellow work-in-progress, saved by grace alone, I hope the truths herein will encourage not only the reader but also myself.
Last evening we celebrated the annual ‘eephakshik’ or opening ceremony for the new school year. All the first-year students and their families came dressed in lovely traditional clothing, and one at a time they introduced themselves to the rest of the students, families, and teachers. Many of the incoming students shared a special talent, too. Last night their talents ranged from playing ocarina and piano to singing in Russian to—this was the most unique—making a pen that could shoot rubberbands. The prudent craftsman was leery to demonstrate, insisting that it was “very dangerous,” but fortunately the rubberband fired straight up at the ceiling without causing bodily harm. :-)
Today I was busy with level tests, giving short interviews to the seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders, grading their written exams, and sorting the students into their respective English conversation classes. It’s always a long process, and I loathe the subjective scoring that the interviews require, but it was sure fun to see all the students again. I was especially excited to talk with the incoming seventh-graders for the first time. Three of the thirteen speak English fluently, as they’ve lived overseas a good part of their young lives. Judging from their level tests, language immersion is the single most important factor in developing native-like fluency. So it begs the question, “WHY CAN’T I SPEAK KOREAN?!?” I know, I know… I’m not giving myself enough credit, I haven’t been here long enough, I spend my days teaching English, and I’m not talkative enough to practice much conversation. But alas, I have morphed into quite the study bug in the past week! Granted, not even “studious” by the typical Korean standard, but a “nerd if there ever was one” by American standards. And I’m American, so we’ll go with that. :-)
Speaking of American, one of the new students was actually born in the U.S. though his parents are Korean. When he introduced himself last night I learned that he had lived in Russia for most of his life and his father was still there as a missionary. Immediately I felt a kinship with his mother, and after the service hurried to find and greet her. I was more than a little surprised when she came toward me with her arms wide open and gave me a bear hug like we were old friends. I can still feel the warmth and comfort of that embrace, for it had been a long week and I’d been lamenting (whether consciously or in retrospect, I can’t remember) the complete lack of hugs around here. God knows us, doesn’t He? He knows just what we need and when.
For those of you who have Facebook, you know He saw me on Friday, too. (Flashback to Hagar running away miserable in the desert, when God’s angel comes to her and Hagar comes up with a new title for God: “You are the God who sees me” (Gen.17:7-14)). I woke up feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, when out of the blue I got a text message from my Korean teacher. All it said was (and I translate): “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)! Victory in Christ!” How cool is that?! The right word at the right time. Pastor Mike at Crossroads Church gave a sermon about that once. About how good it is to give the right word at the right time. As we’ve all experienced at one time, it sure is a blessing to the one who receives it.
Tomorrow morning I will join the students on the opening trip of the school year. I’m glad that my friend Jisun is living and teaching here (and going on trips with us) for the semester, not only because I enjoy her great sense of humor, but because her English is as smooth as the wax on a grand piano, as natural as a monkey swinging from the treetops. (I told her she’d be featured here, haha.) Anyway, we’ll be teamed up for the trip, so please pray for our group of students to endure our antics well; I doubt most of their insurance plans cover post-field trip professional counseling. A-hem, I’m getting goofy now… time to sign off. Please note that I am meeting (and even surpassing!) my new goal of a bi-weekly blog. Till next time!
Pics of Jisun and me at a fun art exhibit:
I will skip the obligatory apologies for slacking off and not blogging for three months and just jump right in.
Christmas was amazing. I was so very glad and grateful to go home and spend that time with my dear family and a few close friends. The three weeks at home could really not have been much better. The family time was precious, the meals scrumptious, the sledding delightful, the Bateman Ball magnanimous, and so on. When it was time to come back to Korea, that was okay too, though. From beginning to end the trip was really a blessing.
I came back to Korea with so much strength, or heem, as they say in Korean. I felt refreshed and re-energized for my life here. Washing dishes at home by myself one afternoon (in the U.S.), I was struck by the fact that it was my only alone time in three weeks. Every other waking moment I was with family or friends or both, hanging out, playing games, shopping, traveling, and so on. For an introvert like me, that is usually kind of draining, but honestly I hadn’t noticed at all when I was home. So when I came back, I felt more eager to socialize and ready to try new things again.
I enrolled in a Korean class almost immediately and have really enjoyed being a student in a more formal setting again. The commute is a bit long though, 5 hours round trip every Saturday. But there’s enough to do in Seoul that I can make a day out of it if I want. Last weekend, Karen and I went to Yangpyeong to visit our dear friend Juhee. It was nice to catch up with them and enjoy a walk in the countryside. Spring is on it’s way! Today I went for a walk with one of the new teachers next-door and savored the first ice cream of the season. We could also savor the bom naemsae, or spring smell, which really translates to manure. The farmers are getting ready to prepare their fields for planting.
God is preparing our hearts too. If I didn’t believe this, it would be hard to live in this community, so far from home, and with so many challenges to endure. In the month since I came back, several hardships have come up, but God is walking with me through each of them. A few days ago, I felt deeply hurt by something that had been overlooked in our community. I went to my favorite place to pray that night and knelt down in front of the cross, pleading desperately with God, “Why am I here? What can I do? I am so weak. I’m weak at teaching, I’m weak at learning Korean, I’m weak at sharing my life in community. I’m so weak.” And I was reminded of the verse, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9a*) But it didn’t seem possible. So I rather accusingly reminded Him, “You promise that your grace is enough and your power is made perfect in my weakness! But how?! Show me!” I calmed down a little and stopped my crying and began to pray for others. Then I went over to the piano and began to play, first hymns of encouragement and then hymns of praise. My heart felt lighter and lighter until my sorrow was replaced with joy and adoration. And I realized, “Yes… His grace is enough. His power is made perfect in weakness.” I don’t know how it works, but it does. I asked Him and He showed me. . .
Later that night, I shared my burden with a friend and became angry and upset all over again. I guess it’s like Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. Heavenly joy is not something we can fill up with at the beginning of the week and expect to carry us through for the next six days. It’s something we have to keep going back for. Every day. Multiple times a day. But it is there. And we find it in walking with Jesus, sharing his burden, placing our trust in him, and—my favorite—singing his praise. And not only will you receive joy, but it’s a whole lot harder to get worked up about things when you’re focused on Him instead of yourself. As one of my friends once put it, “Christians should be the least offend-able people.” Think about it.
And here’s to having a bi-weekly blog, starting today!
*In looking up the scripture reference for this verse, I realized that the follow-up verse is just as fitting (2 Cor. 12:9b-10): “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In honor of my favorite holiday, I put my toaster oven to the test and whipped up a big Thanksgiving dinner: turkey*, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, biscuits, creamy fruit salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie, all made from scratch. I was excited about it since before November even rolled around! I love cooking for groups, and I especially love Thanksgiving. However, the baking turned out to be a little more stressful than I expected, though I suspect I’ll look back and laugh about the following anecdote for many years to come.
Jiny, my eager-to-cook, 4-year-old housemate followed my every move as I pressed the pie shells into the pans and mixed the batter for the biscuits. Since we have so little counter space, I do most of my cooking on the floor, and that’s where the three pie shells and the mixing bowl full of dough were when Jiny ran out of the kitchen with a trail of battery footprints in his wake. He’d stepped right in the mixing bowl with his bare feet. Already tense and tired from baking all evening, I whisked him into the bathroom and told him to stay put while I fetched his dad so I could continue the baking marathon. As soon as Jiny bounded back into the kitchen, he stepped in the batter again! I couldn’t believe it, but this time we all had the routine down for clean-up! I figured any dirt would bake out in the oven anyway, so I just pretended it never happened. But can you believe he stepped in a pie shell next?! I swear, it was an accident every single time. I never for a moment thought he did it on purpose, but it was pretty incredible that it happened three times!! And never could I imagine that happening in the U.S.—oh, the joys of cooking on the floor!
*I can’t take credit for cooking the turkey—a kind lady from church picked up a huge, pre-cooked bird from the U.S. Army base where she works. What a treat! Many of the dinner guests had never had turkey before, so it was fun for me to introduce it to them!
Kimjang, or the event of making kimchi, takes place every year in November. Families, or in my case, the church and school community, work together to prepare kimchi for an entire year. My first year it was just miserable, long hours of cutting vegetables, longer hours (outside in the biting cold with fingers chilled to the bone) cutting, washing, and stacking heads of cabbage (455 to be exact), and more hours of sitting cross-legged and applying red pepper paste to the cabbage leaves. Of course, all the while I couldn’t understand the conversation around me nor the right way to do my job. So last year I dreaded it with all my being, but contrary to my expectation, it was much simpler the second time around! Many of the students’ parents helped and it wasn’t too cold. So this year I had a pretty good attitude about it, and I can even say it was fun!! I took some pictures so you can see the process.
1. Gather the cabbages from the field.
2. Remove the outer leaves, cut the heads in half, and cut a notch at the bottom.
3. Pack (and I mean jam pack) the cabbage in deep tubs of water. Add salt, and stir once in the middle of the night (the high schoolers get up at 3am for that job).
4. Chop onions (white and green), garlic, ginseng, and other veggies for the red pepper paste.
5. Make the red pepper paste, stirring the powder in really well.
6. Apply the paste to the cabbage leaves.
The cabbage is then piled into plastic bags, put into heavy earthenware pots, and buried underground where it ferments for about a year before tasting just right.
And here’s a couple videos:
Last week I invited my sophomore class over to my room to bake bread. As I later recounted the experience to my mom, I told her about how it had been pretty stressful to have so many people in such tight quarters, sitting around a toaster oven that was reluctant to brown the dinner rolls that had refused to rise. Adding to my frustration was the very large student who had parked himself right in front of my bedroom door and refused to move even an inch or two out of the way each time I needed to fetch something from the kitchen. Because of his developmental delay, he often does little schoolwork and just draws pictures or tries to make the other students laugh. That day I caught him eating salt straight from the container. As I expressed my frustration to my mom, I exclaimed—and I am SO not proud of this comment, “He’s just like a lump!” And I explained how he usually just sat there and did nothing. But later that day my words echoed in my mind, “He’s just like a lump—a lump—a lump,” and I realized something very significant, a reflection revealing enough that it almost redeems that terrible comment.
I realized that one of my biggest fears is being seen as a lump. Especially my first two years here, but in my third year too, there are still many things I can’t do well and it’s difficult for me to participate to others’ and my own satisfaction. I go to meetings and sit through sermons that I can’t understand. I am never asked to pray in formal settings because it’s obvious that I can’t (at least not spontaneously in Korean). I don’t have any special role in the community outside of teaching. And so in many ways, when I compare my usefulness to the usefulness of others and my contributions to the contributions of others, I feel rather meaningless, like a lump. What am I here for? What can I do? How do others perceive me? Do they think I’m just a lump, irrelevant and in the way? Heaven forbid! And suddenly I realized that many of my actions, rather than being motivated by pure love, are driven by this worry that I am not naturally relevant but must make myself so, if not to convince others then to convince myself.
When I finally lit upon this idea, I was set free by the fact that it is God’s fingerprint on me that makes me relevant. It is nothing I do, nothing I say, no position of leadership, no responsibility, no respect from others, that essentially defines my relevance. It is enough that God created me and loves me. Who could be more relevant than a child of the Most High God? And at the same time that I was set free of my burden to somehow attain relevancy, I was also brought to my knees. For how could I have judged my student as irrelevant simply because he failed to meet my standard of performance and behavior? How could I have judged his relevancy according to my own standard, when he has the same innate relevancy in Christ which had just set me free?
The chorus to “Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns is quite relevant (hehe) to this theme:
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
And I think Matthew 11:28-30 could also apply:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I am relevant, and so are you. Regardless of your talents, your marital status, your job (or lack thereof), the money in your bank account, your SAT score, your age, your health, the length of your “to-do” list, or the number of friends you have on Facebook (or in your address book, Grandma). We are all relevant because of the God who made us, loves us, and paid the price to redeem us. Hope this truth lightens your load today.