Jay Kim Thinks...

Thoughts on God, faith, and other things

I Don't Talk Good

I was chatting with a friend earlier this week about self-awareness. Mostly because I lack it often and also because I think this lacking is a wide-spread epidemic amongst us living in a culture that celebrates, above most things, the promotion of our social-media (read: fabricated) selves. 

The story of Moses' interaction with God at the burning bush came up. I've always found this story to be intriguing for a number of reasons but maybe most of all because of the incredible self-awareness Moses displays. And in turn, God's surprising response.

Here's how the story goes. God's people, the Israelites, have been slaves in Egypt for about four hundred years. Understandably, they cry out for rescue. God hears them.

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. - Exodus 3v7-8

This is major. This is a story about the God of the cosmos freeing his beloved people from the clutches of an oppressive empire. This is about abolition, liberation, freedom. This is a story so big, it's worthy of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack (and in 1998, DreamWorks made it so).

But Moses feels the moment is too big for him.

When's the last time you felt a moment was too big for you? When's the last time an opportunity was at hand and you responded the way Moses did?

Me? Really? I'm a nobody. (Exodus 3v11)

What if they ask me your name? I don't even know your name. (Exodus 3v13)

What if they don't believe me or listen to me and tell me I'm lying? (Exodus 4v1)

My personal favorite is found in Exodus 4v10: Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Read: Umm, I don't talk good. I didn't talk good before you showed up and I don't talk good now. I don't come up with...what's it called...words...yes, words...I don't come up with words fast enough.)

This is self-awareness at its finest. This isn't false humility or humility for the sake of being humble. This is God-honest, genuine, I-know-myself-all-too-well-and-I-know-this-moment-is-too-big-for-me humility. This is the sort of humility that can only be born out of strong self-awareness.

And listen to God's response:

Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say. - Exodus 4v11-12

OK, so God responds by basically saying, I'm asking you to lead my people out of slavery and you're worried about not being eloquent? You understand that I'm God, right? I made words, mouths, and everything else. I'll tell you what to say.

And even still, Moses responds: Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else. 
 
Moses isn't lazy. The moment isn't lost on him. He's been in Egypt. He's seen firsthand the plight and pain of God's people. He knows what's at stake. He's just certain that this has got to be some mistake. Again, his self-awareness can't be shaken. He knows that he can't do this. He can't possibly do this. God becomes angry. Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses. 

We would expect that out of his anger God would force Moses to go. Maybe he'll threaten his life or the lives of his loved ones. But none of that. Instead, this is what God says:

What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it. - Exodus 4v14-17

Even in his anger, God honors Moses' self-awareness and responds to it with the support Moses needs so that he can do what God's calling him to do. We live in a world where everyone wants to change it. Literally. We quip, easily and casually...

I want to change the world.
I want to make the world a better place.
I want to make a difference in the world. 

Sometimes I wonder if we really know what we're saying, what we're asking for. Changing the world, making it a better place, making a lasting difference in it - I'm not sure any of us is skilled enough, smart enough, committed enough to get it done. The world is a big place and we're really small people. And until we grow self-aware enough to admit as much, not just in the form of meaningless platitudes, but with genuine humility, we won't leave enough room in our small selves for our big God to come and do immeasurably more through us than we could ever do on our own.

God does his greatest work through women and men who've arrived at genuine humility born out of strong self-awareness. I think that God calls us into moments that always feel too big, too audacious, too ridiculous. This also means that God calls us into moments that make us feel too small, too inadequate, too much like there must be some mistake. All of that to say, I think that if the moment at hand doesn't feel that way, there's a chance it might not be God who is calling. 

So when God calls, be self-aware. Be honest about what you're incapable of, what you lack, why you shouldn't be the one to do this thing he's asking you to do. Then watch as he does it through you anyway.

Catching Days: 4 Practices

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. - Annie Dillard

I love this quote for the way it so wonderfully converges urgency, possibility, and a practical way forward. Our days are numbered and the hours pass by, steady and sure, without fail. Our only choice is what we do with the days and hours we've been given. Here are four (ridiculously) simple things I incorporate into my weekly schedule. Yes, they're elementary in their simplicity but in the busyness and rush of our everyday lives we often forget to engage in the simple things that help us experience life more fully. 

Read something interesting. I don't know of a better way to stimulate the mind and ignite the imagination than getting your head and heart into interesting ideas written by interesting people. I usually have a couple of books I'm reading at a time. Depending on the length, I may spend anywhere between a few days to a few weeks in each before moving on to the next. I find that reading two books at a time keeps me better engaged; once my mind tires of one narrative, I can take a break and be energized by getting into the other book for a while. More than two books becomes too complicated and I can't keep track of what I'm reading. So I keep it to two books at a time. Maybe you can do more. Maybe you'll have to go one at a time. Whatever works for you. The point is simple enough - read.

Hear something new. In recent years I've come to view my own sense of curiosity as one of the greatest gifts God's given me. It's led me into all sort of amazing ideas and opportunities. This is also an area where technology has been a tremendous ally. I pay a few bucks a month for our Spotify premium account and it's money well spent. I have access to new music at the touch of a button and I take full advantage. I'm constantly listening to new music that makes me feel all sorts of things. I also tap into the wonderful world of podcasts on a regular basis. I have a fairly long commute to and from work everyday so it's the perfect opportunity for me to lose myself in the world of brilliant ideas I find on podcasts. A few of my favorites are Radiolab, TED, Strangers, and Serial.

Experience something spiritual. French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is famous for having once said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." I couldn't agree more. As such, I believe that it is vital to our well being, both now and on into eternity, that we allow our complete selves the time and space to come alive. This happens best in environments designed to help our spiritual and human experiences collide in tangible ways. As a example, the Eucharist is one of these places. It's just bread and it's just wine but it's so much more. It's physical and it's spiritual and it's transformative. Experiences like this remind us of what we really mean when we talk about being alive.

Do something meaninglessly fun. Let me start with what I don't mean by this. First, I don't mean, Do something meaningless. Just waste time. Notice, I said meaningless fun. Second, I don't mean, Make sure you have some fun in the midst of your work and all your productivity. Notice, I said meaningless fun. This feels pretty antithetical to the pace of life and culture we find ourselves in today. But it might be the most human thing I do on a regular basis. I don't spend a lot of time on meaningless fun but I do spend regular time on it. Without it, I'd easily forget that I am a human being, not a human doing.

Dear Millennials

Dear Millennials.

In recent years, much has been made of your disenchantment of and mass exodus from the Christian church. Many of you have been labeled "none's" (those who mark "none" when asked about religious affiliation), while a growing number of you are now being called "done's" (those who were once involved in the life of the church but are now done with it and have no plans to return). Sermons have been preached, classes have been taught, books and blog posts have been written, all lamenting your departure from Christianity specifically and organized religion generally. The issues are many but they're almost always about what the church isn't.

The church isn't authentic enough.

The church isn't relevant enough.

The church isn't liturgical enough.

On and on and on. But I'm not buying it. I don't think you're leaving and staying away primarily because the church isn't a bunch of stuff you wish she was. No, I think that you are far too proactive and forward-thinking to care much about what something isn'tI think you're choosing to stay away not because the church is so disappointing but rather, because the other options of your life are that much more enticing, exciting, and fulfilling. And no, in my opinion, the two are not one and the same.

It's true that the church should certainly pursue deeper authenticity. But I think you're finding authenticity in more intimate settings. You and a few close friends over cups of coffee at your favorite cafe or a few pints at your favorite pub. No pretense, no frills, just good drink, good company, and good conversation about the really hard, really honest stuff of life.

It's true that the church should certainly desire to be relevant. But I think you're tapping into relevance all the time in all sorts of places, both strange and familiar. Culture, media, the arts, in pubs, museums, at the movies, on podcasts - they're all keeping you thinking, guessing, and wondering about what is and what might be to come. 

It's true that the church should certainly work toward rediscovering the beauty of our ancient liturgies. But originally the word liturgy meant a public work or the work of the people and the truth is, you're discovering the publicly shared work of brilliant, creative, innovative people all around you all the time. Their work is inspiring you, motivating and challenging you to offer your own unique work to the world.

So with all of that being said, the question remains. Why are Millennials leaving the church?

I'm sure the reasons are vast as each individual's story has its own set of particular circumstances and motivations. But I do believe that on the whole, the church today has tried so hard to be more authentic, more relevant, and even more liturgical in some cases, that we have forgotten to be the one thing I believe the church ought to be more than anything else.

PROPHETIC.

By prophetic I do not mean that the church should be in the business of foretelling the future. We have plenty of wannabes and phonies who do that work at the expense of, monetary and otherwise, people who are desperate to make some sense of their lives. By prophetic I mean something else completely. The theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the prophetic this way:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.

I believe that the church ought to be about the work of speaking the loving, honest, mind-blowing word of hope that only God offers in the face of the dominant culture - a culture that lies to us by telling us that we can find hope elsewhere or that we can manufacture hope on our own.

Millennials, I believe you are leaving the church because we are failing to speak this prophetic word of hope into your beautifully authentic, relevant, work-of-the-people-inspired lives. I believe you are leaving the church because you want some help making sense of what all this authenticity, all this relevance, all this creative, innovative, transformative work you're doing is supposed to actually lead you to, how it's supposed to actually change you and your world. I believe you are leaving because you're looking for heaven-on-earth but the church, for far too long, has just looked like the rest of earth.

Here's my invitation. Come back. Jump in. Get your hands dirty with us. And let's dig into this prophetic work together, helping usher authenticity into transformation, relevance into truth, liturgy into transcendent, heaven-on-earth beauty.



To All Who Are Waiting And Hurting

Sunday is Mother's Day and this year will be unlike any other before it for our family. Last week Jenny gave birth to our first child, a little girl named Harper. Words fall short so I won't try to describe what it's been like to have her with us, other than to say that it's been truly amazing. This has all been a long while coming. For years, Mother's Days were difficult as Jenny and I struggled with the pain of infertility. The constant disappointment, the sense that we were failing somehow, the fear that we'd never be parents - these emotional mountains we had to climb on a daily basis were amplified to almost unbearable degrees on Mother's Day.

Bitterness and resentment took root in me. I started to think that my friends who were able to have kids without any issues had received some sort of special preference from God. In my mind I knew that this was theologically out of sorts and understood that God didn't operate this way. But viscerally I felt rejected and denied. I'd jump on facebook from time to time and be bombarded by a constant stream of baby announcements and baby pictures and updates and on and on. Nobody was trying to mock or ridicule or hurt us but it felt that way sometimes. Now I'm on the other side, flooding my social media streams with blog posts about our baby, pictures of her nursery, and tweets about the cost of diapers. I half-jokingly complain about the lack of sleep but many friends living daily in the agonizing hurt of waiting would gladly trade any amount of sleep to be parents. 

The distance between our desires and God's good gifts is often far and wide. At times, when we stand on the edge of the near side of this chasm, we look across to the other side and wonder why God wouldn't bridge the gap. We wonder if he's good. We wonder if he cares. We wonder if he's capable. Even worse, sometimes our friends are standing on the far side, enjoying some of these very gifts we've desired for so long. What are we to make of this? Does God arbitrarily pick and choose who gets what? Well meaning people will tell you from time to time, in a moment of irresponsible care and concern, that in due time, if you simply continue to pray, trust, and surrender, God will bless you with the desires of your heart. This idea is dangerous for a couple of reasons. One, it assumes that receiving God's blessing is somehow tied to our spiritual output or fervor or performance. Two, it assumes that God's blessing looks exactly like our deepest desires. The first is unbiblical. The second is rarely true. And often, these well intentioned people who say these sorts of things are standing on the other side, having already received the gift we ourselves so desperately desire. I'm not pointing any fingers here. I'm certain I've been this person in all sorts of ways, both knowingly and unknowingly. 

And so, to all who are waiting and hurting, I want to say I'm sorry. While I do not know your exact pain, I do know your pain in general. I don't know why some receive certain things and others don't. I don't have a theology for why, when, and how God gives what he gives and doesn't give what he doesn't give. I'm uncertain about the future, both yours and mine; what we will and will not receive. I want so desperately to tell you that if you just hang on, that if you just simply continue to pray, trust, and surrender, you'll receive what you so deeply desire. But I won't because I don't know that you will. 

Here is what I will say to you instead. You are not the sum of your gifts. Your worth is not in any way tied up in the life you've crafted for yourself or the one you think God owes you. But God does see your waiting and knows your hurt. He hurts with you. It doesn't mean that he will give you what you want in order to alleviate your hurt because, ultimately, that isn't his primary concern. God's primary concern is that through all things, even the waiting and the hurt, he might draw you closer and help you see and experience the fullness of his unfolding story, both in your life and in our world. So as you wait and as you hurt, remember that God sees you. God loves you. He has not left you. He has a brighter future for you than any you could possibly imagine or fashion for yourself.




Surprised By Rescue

I had a really dark dream a couple of nights ago. Literally dark. I was under water in the pitch black night. I knew instinctively that I was out in the middle of the ocean, alone, drowning in the darkness. I can remember feeling certain about death. There was nothing I could do. Even still, I tried calling out for help but I'd been rendered mute by the midnight sea. Then suddenly, I was surprised by rescue. I felt it gently on my cheek. The warmth of a soft familiar hand filled my lungs with breath and turned the cold killing waters into the comforting warmth of our bed, our home, and our joy.

As I'd been drowning in my sleep, Jenny lay beside me in bed, listening with concern as I murmured and whimpered along. She placed her hand on my face and asked if I was OK. And then I was.

I've found in my experience that rescue often surprises us. In particular, God's rescue is almost always surprising. Exclusively so, even. It comes unexpectedly, in counterintuitive, illogical, implausible ways. The Bible is rife with such stories.  

For over four centuries the Israelites have been slaves in Egypt, bricks in their calloused hands, whips at their tender backs. They're waiting for God to show up on the scene, to topple Pharaoh's empire and plunder his armies, and to lead them into a land flowing with goodness and hope. Instead, God sends an Egyptian reject, a man who once ruled over them, called their very oppressors family, and has since been banished from the land.

King Saul and his troops stand on a hill and tremble as they look down at the valley where a giant named Goliath taunts them to send their best to fight. They're waiting for a hero strong enough and fierce enough to be their giant killer. Instead, God sends a prepubescent shepherd boy whose only reason for being there was to deliver lunch. The armor doesn't fit his spindly preteen frame so all he takes is his sling and a few smooth stones from the river.

Elijah is on the run. A powerful woman named Jezebel has called for his head and he fears for his life. He is afraid and alone. He retreats into the wilderness where God meets him. Elijah's situation is dire and he needs God to make a big move. Indeed, big moves come, one after another. A great wind tears the mountains apart. An earthquake shakes the ground. A fire consumes the land. But God isn't in any of it. Instead, God speaks to Elijah in a gentle whisper.

The people of God are awaiting a Messiah who will come and free them from the tyranny of an empire called Rome. Rome rules with sword and spear and so they expect their Messiah to arrive with enough military might to vanquish the enemy. Instead, the Messiah is born into a peasant family and spends his time teaching, feeding, and healing. Eventually, the Messiah dies a criminal's death on a Roman cross, defeated by those he came to defeat. But the story takes a turn three days later and, surprise of all surprises, the Messiah defeats something far greater than Rome - death itself.

Life has a tendency to take some ugly turns and we regularly find ourselves in need of rescue. There are moments when we come to the absolute end of ourselves, realizing that we'll be unable to see ourselves through. These moments feel like we're drowning out at sea, alone and afraid, looking up at the pitch black night through the water glass keeping us from breathing. But even there, in the cold dark sea of your despair, rescue is coming. It may not be what you expect but it will be exactly what you need because when it's God doing the rescuing, even the gentle touch of his hand upon your cheek is strong enough to fill your lungs with breath and turn the cold killing waters of your pain into the comforting warmth of new life.