Jay Kim Thinks...

Thoughts on God, faith, and other things

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. 

 

What's Your Next Thing?

All there is is the next thing.

The next word. The next sentence. The next paragraph.

The next note. The next line. The next stanza.

The next stroke of the brush. The next strum of the guitar. 

The next problem to be solved. The next question to be answered.

All there is is the next thing. What's been done is done. What is to come, that's the thing waiting to be discovered.

There's plenty of stuff all around, waiting to distract and deter us from this great discovery. But the most dangerous distraction? The most unrelenting deterrent of all? It's the grand dream of what lies beyond, on the other side of the next thing and the next thing after that and so on.

What if I actually get this book published and people read it and love it?

What if I actually get this song recorded and land that record deal and get some airplay?

What if I actually book that gallery show and these pieces do well and I start selling a few?

What if... What if... What if...

It's a dreamy little place to live, that place called fantasized future. Most of us do well here. We settle in as if reclining on a white sand beach with margaritas in hand. It's comfortable. But it makes us lazy. And too easily satisfied.

But all the while, we never get to the next thing. Because the next thing isn't nearly as sexy or fun or exciting as our fantasized future. Most of the time, the next thing is a pain, a chore, an exercise in discipline.

No one sits down and writes a book. No one sane and normal and balanced, anyway. To write a book (so I've been told), one must sit down and first write a word, then two, then ten, then a hundred. One must grind away. 

Sentence after sentence.

Paragraph after paragraph. 

Type type type. 
Delete delete delete. 
Doubt doubt doubt.
Type type type again.
Repeat.

Do this with enough consistency and grit and determination and someday (I've been told), you have it. You have the thing that's been inside of you, working you over, messing you up, ruining and rejuvenating you. You have it on paper. Or whatever your medium of choice might be. But the point is you have it out there. What happens to it from there is sort of up to you and sort of up to lots of other circumstances and factors and luck and the grace of God and the grace of others and so on.

But you and I will never even make it to this point, to the point where the thing inside of us is out there for the world to see, hear, taste, touch, or feel, unless we do the next thing. So do that. Do the next thing, whatever it is. 

What's your next thing?

Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry

Our world is one of massive inequality and inequity. But there's one great equalizer common to every person on the planet: time.

Each and every one of us gets the exact same amount of it, minute by minute, hour by hour. Some live longer than others but in every moment of life, the speed and pace of time is identical for all of us. Time may have some elasticity in theory but it is completely rigid in reality. And so the only choice we have is what we will do with each moment.

None of this is new. We all know and feel the limits of time, in both mind and body. And if we're not careful, these limits will sow seeds of anxiety in us. Culture at large partners with these limits and often whispers this lie: The more you achieve and the faster you achieve it, the more you accomplish and the quicker you accomplish it, the more productive and therefore the more successful you are. So go go go. Don't stop. Hurry

But an anxious and hurried life is diametrically opposed to a healthy spiritual life. 

I believe that an anxious and hurried life is a strong indicator that we’ve anchored our lives not on God but on our ambitions, our abilities, and, ultimately, on ourselves. 

I also believe that an anxious and hurried life often means that we’ve compromised relationships for the sake of results.

A friend once asked the late theologian Dallas Willard, What do I have to do in order to achieve spiritual health? After thinking for a moment, Willard replied, You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from you life. 

Paul writes in Philippians 4v6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Do not be anxious.

Pray. Petition. Give thanks. Present your requests to God.

Then what?

Then incomprehensible peace will guard your hearts and minds.

In the ancient world, across all world religions, it was understood and accepted that the standard practice of the gods was to establish their holiness in a place or structure – a holy mountain, a holy river, a holy temple, etc. In the ancient mind, the holiness of the gods was always established in a physical location. But the God of Israel does something different. He goes about creating the world and then establishes his holiness in an unexpected way, in an unexpected place.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2v1-3

The first place where this God establishes his holiness is not a place at all. This God first establishes his holiness in a day. And what is a day? It's a segment of time. God establishes holiness in time. The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explains this way: […] to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first. When history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time. 

So whatever you're doing, wherever you're going, no matter how much work there is to be done, no matter how many opportunities there are to be taken advantage of, remember this: 

Do not be anxious. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry. And let the incomprehensible peace of God guard your heart and mind so that you may know, feel, and embrace the reality that every minute of every day of your life is teeming with holy potential.