Jay Kim Thinks...

Thoughts on God, faith, and other things

Make A Point Or Make A Difference

With just about every important situation in life that we choose to engage, there is a common, consistent, universal choice to be made.

It's the choice between making a point and making a difference

The path of least resistance is to make a point. We say what needs to be said. We say it as firmly and as loudly as we can. If others respond in the positive, our work is done and we feel accomplished. If they respond in the negative, we volley right back. The back and forth goes on until we've won or we're exhausted. 

But the more difficult path is to make a difference. This usually requires humility, patience, conviction, and sacrifice. Making a difference always costs something. Time, money, energy, pride, ambition, plans. All sorts of things can and will be tampered with when we choose to make a difference rather than simply make a point. So why do it? 

Because nothing of lasting worth or value has ever come as a result of making a point.

Because every moment in human history that ever really mattered has come by way of an individual or a group of individuals choosing to make a difference.  

I am an expert at making points. I've become adept at throwing my fair share of social commentary out there in 140 characters or less. I'm almost Shakespearean in my ability to quickly type out clever little quips about all that's wrong with the world, laced with just enough ambiguity to keep me out of too much trouble. 

But sadly, I'm still a novice at actually making a difference. It's exponentially easier for me to stand in front of hundreds of people and eloquently make the point that making a difference is important than it is to actually make a difference, even in one person's life. I'd like to change that. I've been trying. Three distinct reminders have been tremendously helpful in my attempt to make less points and make more of a difference.

TALK LESS. LISTEN MORE. Making a point is all about talking. It's all about rhetoric. It's all about the loudest voice in the room. We've all read and heard plenty by now about the various pitfalls of social media so there's no reason to get into it here but I will say this: comment feeds and like buttons have become the drug of choice for those of us who live amongst the make-a-point masses. But digital dialogue always fails to provide the necessary nuance and depth required for meaningful, thoughtful conversation. Digital dialogue leaves us deaf and mute to the depths of others stories. And making a difference always begins with truly hearing others. Making a difference inherently requires that we begin with the posture of a learner, listening intently in order to immerse ourselves in stories that are not our own.

CRITIQUE LESS. AFFIRM MORE. The old adage goes, there are two sides to every coin. This word picture is helpful but it falls a bit short because real life situations have a few more dimensions than the quarter in my pocket. Most of the situations we find ourselves in have many sides. And depending on which particular side we're looking at, there's always going to be something or someone to critique. It's not hard to be critical of things. Criticism comes easy and natural. The difficult thing is to affirm. Not to patronize but to genuinely affirm, to do the hard work of excavating a situation until we find something that we honestly agree with. In order to make a difference we must put in the effort to find the good, even in the disagreeable. This humanizes us and all others involved and until we see others in the fullness of their humanity, making a difference will be just about impossible.

(OVER)THINK LESS. DO MORE. I have a tendency to overthink things. It's much easier for me to live in the confined spaces of my own thoughts, safe and sound from the influence of anyone and anything who might disagree with me. But this leads to intellectual elitism and in my experience, intellectual elitism always leads to functional atrophy. We become so satiated with our own thoughts that we never get up to actually do anything about them. Let me be clear. I do not mean that we shouldn't be thoughtful. We absolutely should. We must. But if being thoughtful is the end of it, again, we'll end up simply making a point rather than making a difference. My friend Steve talks about what he calls the 10-second-rule: If you sense that God is asking you to take action in a particular situation, take action within 10 seconds. This has been a great challenge but an even greater help as I attempt to make less points and make more of a difference.

What are some things that have helped you make less points and make more of a difference? Comment below.

Can We Disagree And Still Be Friends?

Can we disagree and still be friends? Can we work toward common understanding, agree to disagree, hold varying positions on a variety of issues, both big and small, and still care for one another in genuine and meaningful ways? 

Can we extend kindness instead of malice, even when malice seems justifiable, even when the idiocy of the opposing view compels us to attack in no uncertain terms?

Can we be selfless instead of selfish, even when self-preservation and proving our point seems to be of utmost importance, even when winning the argument at hand feels crucial?

Can we be generous with our words and our actions instead of being vengeful, even when vengeance seems to be the most fair course of action, even when only full retribution will do, even when they deserve it? 

Can we work hard to assume the best about each other instead of so quickly assuming the worst?

Can we ask more questions beneath the questions that help us get to the heart of the person rather than simply the heart of the matter?

Can we try and give each other the benefit of the doubt before we so aggressively give each other the finger?

Can we be civil instead of mean?

Can we be patient instead of short?

Can we work toward embrace instead of exclusion?

Can we choose love instead of apathy or hatred or any number of other destructive options?

I hope we can. I really do. 

Original image courtesy of Huffington Post

Original image courtesy of Huffington Post

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.