Jay Kim Thinks...

I talk. I write. I wonder.

Dear WestGate. Dear Vintage Faith.

Dear WestGate Church. When Jenny and I landed here with you a couple of years ago, we arrived with wobbly legs, uncertain about so much, but eager to learn and grow. We were nervous but the way you received us, loved us, and cared for us immediately put us at ease. And that acceptance, love, and care has not changed during our time. I don't have enough words to tell you how grateful I am. You've seen us through some big life moments. Jenny and I became parents during our time here. We learned to change diapers and survive without sleep here. We first dealt with separation anxiety and checking a baby into the nursery here. We learned to admire and cherish the hundreds of amazing volunteers and staff who create such great environments for kids here. Again, words can't say enough just how grateful we are. To Steve & Dana Clifford, to our elders, to our incredible staff, and especially to every single one of you who call this place home, thank you. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for listening. Thank you for sending us well. We'll miss you, probably more than we even know.

Dear Vintage Faith Church. It's a strange and funny thing that God does sometimes when he intersects two stories. When I started coming over the hill to hang with you about a year and a half ago, I was mostly excited about three things - coffee at the Abbey, fish tacos at Taqueria Vallarta, and the opportunity to teach a community I'd admired from a distance for years. But as my time with you became more regular, my excitement shifted. Vintage started feeling less and less like a place I was visiting and more and more like home. I've come to the realization that this happens whenever we encounter a person or a community of people who share the same ethos. That's what I've discovered in you. There's something embedded in our body and bones, something I don't quite have words for, that frames the way we see the world, the church, and Jesus himself. This isn't to say that we agree on every minute detail of our theologies and philosophies, nor should we. What it does mean is that we seem to be moving at similar paces, in rhythm with one another, likeminded in our desire to see God flood our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces in fresh new ways. I'm humbled to be coming alongside you, to labor with you in creating a Worshiping Community of Missional Theologians that loves and serves Santa Cruz County and beyond, so that God's kingdom might come and his will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. I can't wait to get started. Let me know if you want to grab a fish taco (or two, or three) sometime.

The Long Defeat

J.R.R. Tolkien coined the phrase "the long defeat" in his Lord of the Rings stories. He meant it as a sort of assessment of human reality, that life is a series of small victories interspersed along life's seemingly endless narrative of defeat. But he didn't mean the statement to point to hopelessness. Just the opposite. He actually wrote in a letter once, "Actually, I am a Christian...so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory."

Final victory. Seems hokey, I know. But we all want it, don't we? Christian or not, we all want the bullets, both stray and pointed, to cease in flight. No more violence, no more sadness, no more loss. Christian or not, we all want someone to wipe every tear from our eyes, and bring an end to death, mourning, crying, pain. Christian or not, we all want this old order of things to pass away. Christian or not, we all want someone to introduce a brand new way to be human. We all want it. I know we do.

Last weekend I was down in LA to see Thrice, one of my all time favorites. They have a song on their new album based on Tolkien's idea of the long defeat. In this giant room with thousands of people from all walks of life, this song became an anthem. I stood next to a stranger and from our conversations throughout the night it was clear that he wasn't the religious type. But during this song, he had tears in his eyes and a hand in air, like he was reaching for something he knew was out there somewhere but hadn't quite experienced just yet. I think he was reaching for final victory. I think we all are.

Keep reaching friends. It's coming. I swear, it's coming.

Dear Harper

Dear Harper.

In the months leading up to your arrival last April, I would listen to this Coldplay song called Always In My Head. I read Chris Martin say in an interview once that the song was about, "togetherness through life's challenges." For me the song simply said what was wonderfully and mysteriously true as we waited for you to enter our world: You were always in my head.

I didn't know what you would look or sound like. I didn't know what would make you laugh or cry. I didn't know if you'd be funny like your mom or funny like me. I didn't know anything about you.

But you were always in my head.

You still are.

Thanks for flipping our lives upside down, sweet girl. So much of what used to matter matters much less now. It's hard to remember what life was like before you. I think things were simpler but I can't be certain. It's a blur. It's a blur because you are our clarity now. You've disrupted our comfy little life in the loveliest way and we're grateful because everything is in sharper view.

Mommy and Daddy love you.

Happy first birthday.

New Music Review: When You Go by Shamina

OK first things first. This is a blatantly biased review. Shamina is not only an uber-talented singer-songwriter, she's also a friend. I make no apologies though. At its best, music reveals and accentuates our biases. It pokes and prods at the ways we see and understand the world, influenced by all the who's and what's of our everyday lives. Sometimes it affirms these biases and sometimes it critiques them but always, good music engages us on that level, that place beneath our filtered facades and layers where the truest things about us reside. In both affirming and critiquing these deep recesses of ourselves, good music digs in and asks us the questions we're not always comfortable asking ourselves out loud.

What really happened there? What do I really believe? What do I really want?

When You Go is a thoughtful collection of four songs that meet us on this level. Over the course of 14 tidy, well composed minutes, Shamina digs in and asks us the questions we're not always comfortable asking ourselves. These songs take us on a journey from the whimsy of new love to the heartbreak of love lost. They delve us deep into the complications of how we get tangled up in our confused theologies and philosophies. They hit the visceral, human longing in each of us for that reality some people call heaven, whatever and wherever that may be. 

All of this comes clothed in the beautiful simplicity of an acoustic guitar, a piano, and a unique voice that cascades over us with both warmth and conviction. Shamina's gifts as a writer and composer are evident here. The arrangement of these songs have been stripped of pretense and offer us a clear and compelling glimpse into the heart and mind of a supremely talented artist who, after years of traversing her way through the rocky landscape of the local and national music scene, is undoubtedly becoming more comfortable in her own skin and with her own voice. 

Shamina's understanding of the world is evident in these songs but they come to us without the sort of heavy handedness of some other singer-songwriters. Instead, they're offered here with a charming sort of modesty coupled with a melodic confidence that comes, I think, only from someone who's dealt with their own insecurities and uncertainties. And in inviting us in, Shamina walks to the front of the line and asks the questions we're all asking. Whether we agree with her conclusions or not is up to each and every listener. But agree or disagree, these conclusions are worth a listen...or two...or ten...or click-the-repeat-button-and-let-go. 

Stay in touch with Shamina here.

Find When You Go on iTunes here.

My Unbelief

Resurrection.

It's a ridiculous notion. I get it. We're products of modernity, children of the digital age, with endless strands of data available, quite literally, at our fingertips. Biology, chemistry, physics - they all tell us, once dead, always dead.

So when someone mentions the crazy idea that an ancient middle eastern rabbi named Jesus was anything more than a great teacher, we think we know better.

Dead people don't come back to life.

This is fairytale, a strange myth that somehow took on a life of its own.

At its worst, this is all a fabrication woven together centuries ago by institutions that were only interested in exerting power and control over the masses under the bloody guise of religious and spiritual authority. 

This all makes perfect logical sense. So yes, maybe it's a sham. Maybe Easter is the saddest day of the year (or funniest, depending on how you look at it) as people all over the world gather to celebrate a farce and remember a moment that never happened.

I'm a pastor by trade. Clergy, according to the IRS. This means that I'm paid a salary to suspend doubt from nine to five, including some special weekend hours; at least, that's what the cynic would say. It certainly means much more than that but I mention it only because it's connected to a confession: I do have my doubts sometimes.

As much as I am a believer, I also carry with me a portion of unbelief. I have these strange mornings, usually the ones after sleepless nights, when existential angst and anxiety hover like shadows cast against darkness. There is no light and yet there they are, hovering still, enveloping me in hushed whispers of skepticism and fear. 

What if death really is the end?

What if I've been lied to? What if I'm a liar?

What if this is all headed nowhere?

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter nine, we read a story about a father and his mute son. The son has been possessed by a spirit since childhood; a spirit that's robbed him of his speech and tried to kill him on multiple occasions, by fire and by water, as the narrator tells us. This father loves his son and wants nothing more than healing for him. And so the father brings his son to Jesus. But he does not carry with him confidence and conviction. No. This father carries his broken son to Jesus, saddled with doubt and apprehension.

If you can do anything... please help us, the father says to Jesus.

The father is unsure. He is uncertain and uneasy. Maybe like me, he too is wondering, What if death really is the end? What if I've been lied to? What if I'm a liar? What if this is all headed nowhere?

Then the father speaks the words which have illuminated the darkness and erased the shadows of my own doubt on countless occasions...

I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.

The father believes. But he also doesn't. What a wonderfully true paradox.

What is it that draws out such poignant honesty? The answer is simple enough. 

Desire.

The father loves his son and in his love, desires his son to be made well. It is this desire and this desire alone that breaks the father open, past the religious platitudes of his day, to this place of brutal, contradictory truth.

So now, back to Resurrection. This coming Sunday, countless people around the world will gather to remember and celebrate this ridiculous idea that Jesus died and came back to life. It makes no logical sense (although, it actually does if you dig into it enough; but that's another conversation for another time). And maybe as a smart, savvy, sophisticated modern westerner, you've already categorically removed yourself from this nonsense. You could never believe such a thing. I can certainly understand that. 

But I'd like to invite you to something. I'd like to invite you to allow your desire to trump your (un)belief, if even for just a day. Because religious or not, for most of us, our desire is the same. Our desire is that life would go on, that death wouldn't have the last word, that loved ones lost will be embraced again, that our children and grandchildren will continue on into eternity, that we would too right alongside them. Our desire is that this is all headed somewhere.

This is the promise and the hope of Easter. 

It's OK if you don't believe it just yet. You just have to desire it. Desire it and see if your unbelief is overcome by something greater. That's been my experience, time and time again.

I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.

*If you live in or near the Silicon Valley and don't have a place to go for Easter, we'd love to have you join us at WestGate Church. We have services all weekend at a couple of locations. I'll be hanging out in the theater at the Saratoga campus on Sunday 9:30am + 11:15am. Would love to see you there.