The Real War on Christmas

It’s that time of the year again when journalists, bloggers, and politicos debate over whether or not there is a War on Christmas. This is one of the humorous yet uncomfortable realities of living in a post-Christian pluralistic society. I happen to believe that there is a war. And I think it’s well captured in the picture above.

Yesterday, we had a worship service that some might call “wonderful”. Not least because it was closed out by our children’s choir. All our iPhones were out to capture this mildly chaotic/boldy cutest of affairs (one child had to make an early wailing exit because my son poked him in the eye). Because this is what we love as Americans. A Christmas that is cute, heart-warming, and involving children. The children were leading us to sing songs of Christmas.

But what was the story of Christmas, sung from the mouth of babes? A story whose central characters, whose key eyewitnesses were the likes of Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and Magi. Watch enough holiday TV and these guys get reduced to cute cartoon characters. But read the actual story and it’s a story that begins with the least believable, least reputable of characters. Mom was a rural pregnant teen. Dad, a disgraced church leader caught up in another sex scandal. The key eyewitnesses: the night-time office cleaning crew. The first worshipers?  Not the local pastors association, but a cell of Muslim imams. And the man who is supposed to save us from empire, terrorism, and ourselves? Not a man at all, but a bastard child. This is the story our children led us to celebrate.

But what’s the Christmas story that gets told on our TVs, malls, and (gasp) school musicals? A story that celebrates sentimentality and unbridled consumerism. As long as we can all cram our sinful selves into the same Norman Rockwell painting, then we can call it Christmas. We think this season is different, but it’s just a sanctification of the status quo.

But what could be more anti-Christmas than the status quo? What could be more anti-Christmas than to silence the people of ill-repute in our society and our lives? The real war on Christmas isn’t the loss of freedom to utter the name of CHRIST in the public square (that’s something troubling, but different). The real war is the violence we do to Christmas by neutering it of it’s subversive power. The real war is giving the Christmas story such a whitewashing that it fits better in the annals of American mythology than the annals of Scripture. (In fact, wouldn’t it be truer to the Christmas story if we Christians expected more persecution each Christmas, not less?)

You want to fight back against the war on Christmas?

  1. Give up war. And hatred and violence; there was enough of that when Jesus was born. Practice humility instead.
  2. Tell the real story of Christmas. Give more credence to children, marginal characters & people of ill-repute. Spend less on those you already spend all your money on – and give more of it away. Contribute to justice, not just charity.
  3. Give more of your heart, soul, mind, and strength to Jesus. Because at the center of Christmas isn’t family, charity, presents, or peppermint lattes — but the one we’ve been waiting for, the one called Immanuel, the one who can save us from our sins.

From The Atlantic: Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story

 

Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story

The grand jury report in the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I’ve read. “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” it states.

— Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

The moment we see the word “abortion” – most of us have already made a judgment about a person or an piece of writing.  So let me just preface this post by saying that this is not an opinion piece about the ongoing debate on abortion.  Policy is important.  But to jump to policy is to reduce Dr. Gosnell’s crimes from what it is:  Horror.

Notice, this article is not from Fox or WSJ.  It is from The Atlantic.  And that is part of the story – why have we not seen more of this from even the right side of the media, or much of the media at all.

But I dare you to read through this whole article and not begin weeping, not wanting to throw up, not wanting to do something out of violent indignation.  I want to share a word of hope, a word of exhortation.  But I am too horrified.  Usually people say that just to CYA before offering a strident opinion.  But I am truly and disgustingly horrified.

The only thing that comes to mind is that Christ weeps for those babies.  Christ was with those babies.  And Christ died with those babies.  For whatever you did to or for the least of these, you also did unto me.

Lord, teach us how to pray.

What do Christians think of the Iraq War?

Source:  http://framework.latimes.com/2010/08/18/the-iraq-war/#/8

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the US-led invasion into Saddam’s Iraq, the first movements of the “shock-and-awe” campaign.

Last night, we prayed with our three boys for the Iraqis.  Explaining war to kids is on one hand easy – they see it in all their Power Rangers and Bakugan shows; it’s surprising how normal war is in juvenile imagination.  But on the other hand it’s hard to explain it in a way that’s not cartoonish, in a way that compels compassion rather than “coolness”.  I’d like to think they understood as we prayed for the kids who were maimed, who lost their parents, and who still live without much safety and security.  I was both encouraged and yet disturbed to be teaching my kids to pray for the Iraqis.

But what has disturbed me more has been the paucity of public Christian reflection on the Iraq War – 10 years later.  Understandably, it’s hard not to talk about the war without jumping for the political hoop.  War is political.  But considering how American Christians felt about the war 10 years ago.  Considering that 4,500 US soldiers, 3,500 US contractors, and 134,000 Iraqis (70% civilian) were killed.  And considering just how much of our public consciousness has been about Iraq over the last 10 years, you’d think that there’d be more to be said and done.

How has the Iraq War affected how we, as American Christians think about and support or protest war?  Our relationship with the government?

What responsibility do we feel for the growing persecution of Christians in Iraq since the war?

How does the present situation in Iraq call us to be act, even with grave risk as ambassadors of Christ, and not of any government?

I have little idea because of the lack of public reflection by Christian leaders, theologians, journalists, or even veterans.  Check your Facebook and Twitter from yesterday.  Check out Christianity Today or whatever source of Christian thought and news.  There is little to nothing to nothing.

Lent Day 22: Pray through the local news

I’ve been documenting (most of the time) my journey through the Lent Experiential Calendar.  Today:  Read or watch and pray through the local news.

I’m not quite a news junkie – but I do follow the national news, especially politics.  I read the NYT, I listen to a handful of newstalk & political podcasts, etc..  National news is interesting, intellectually stimulating, and of course, riveting (read:  sequester, fiscal cliff, FLOTUS’s new bangs, etc.).  But national news, while sometimes affecting us on a day-to-day level, most of the time is of symbolic value (and distraction).  And unfortunately, with the continuing shrinking of journalists and therefore increasing syndication, national news is more prominent than ever.

But the task today is to pray through the local news.  And I’m in a city that is fortunate enough to still have a local paper (although, most of its content is from the wires).  And even more fortunate to have a local edition of Patch.com.  And so part of this morning was spent praying through the local news.

Union City Patch

Local news is challenging to pray through.  Seagate is moving into the old Solyndra building – so I guess I praise God for the jobs and tax base?  One of the local middle schools is considering a mildly controversial name change – so I pray that this will bring the community together?  A robbery & false imprisonment suspect is at large – Lord, let’s catch that sucker!  This stuff actually affects my local community, but it’s a lot harder to imagine the kingdom-goal I’m praying for; it’s a lot easier to pray that Congress will finally do something, or that the President will be just.  It’s like trying to pray through an episode of Parks & Rec.

But this is a challenge I want to take up permanently.  In fact, I’d love to get to the point where at the mention of any local news, my first reaction is to pray – even if you can’t tell I’m praying.

The story that has stuck with me this morning, though, is about a local police shooting late Saturday night.  Right outside of where our church meets on Sundays, a man was shot by two Union City police officers, who allegedly pulled a gun out on them.  He’s now dead.  And his identity was just released.  His name was Amos G. Smith, a resident.  It’s too late now to pray for Amos.  But I prayed for his family, his neighborhood, the police officers, and for truth to prevail as they investigate.

If you have a chance, please pray along.

Do Universities Discriminate against Asian-Americans?

Some like to joke that an A- is an “Asian Fail”.  And pretty much most of this attitude comes from the experience of going home proud with an A- to Mom & Dad, only to be greeted with a “How come not an A?”

Well, it turns out that Asian parents might not be as harsh as they are dealing with reality.  Some believe that when it comes to admissions into elite universities, Asian-Americans are at a disadvantage; when you compare to their test scores, there should be way more AA’s in these universities than there are presently.  And that, on the average, AA’s need to score an average of 140 pts higher on the SATs in order to be on par with similar non-AA applicants.

This is far from an open and shut case though.  I thought this debate was an interesting foray into the discussion.

Do Universities Discriminate against Asian-Americans?: Forum | KQED Public Media for Northern CA
http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R201003261000

What would I do if I had more time?

So I’ve been recently feeling way busier than I usually do.  A big reason is because now we have 3 kids and, really, I’m not gonna ignore them the moment I get home.  At the same time, despite our efforts, they love hanging out with us so much that they sleep pretty late.  I’m accustomed to working in the evenings, but since my wife now can’t handle all the kids alone (cus we’ve got 3), the whole working in the evening thing has been falling to the wayside.  It’s just the way it is.  (Okay, the fact that I’m getting older probably plays a hand in all this too, and my capacity/energy level is shrinking…)

But the question recently came to my mind…even if I had more time, what would I do with it?

I’ve been noticing through my FB feeds that a lot of church leaders are heading in a direction where they’re not only leading in their churches, but they’re leading movements that transcend the confines of the proverbial church walls.  Initiatives relating to poverty, sex trafficking, leadership development, church planting, etc.  My senior pastor’s the same way.

And so, being as self-absorbed as I am, it made me wonder:  What would I do?

No answer yet.

This Friday can seem distant in this Modern world

I should be the last person to poo-poo modern life. Far from being a naturalist, I’m a man of the great indoors. I enjoy a comfortable bed, functional indoor plumbing, a fast computer, and being to travel what used to be considered long distances because of cars.

But today, I feel the oppression of modern living. Although, as Christians, we call this Friday ‘good’, it is only good because we have seen the ending. It is only good because we have been given the privilege of seeing behind the curtain to what God saw. And so, on this Good Friday, I think the most meaningful response–before all the truly worthwhile celebration–is to pause. To pause to remember the pain, to remember the abandonment, to remember the sacrifice. And to let that pausing be our gratitude. To let that pausing be our worship. To let that pausing be our response to this mind-boggling act of love.

And the oppression I feel isn’t so much the evil that surrounds me, although that is always there. It is the unrelenting pace of this world. It is the constant demand to go-go-go. It is the whip of this world. But it is also an impulse that has been internalized into the very rhythm of our souls. The brand of modernity, seared into our insides.

Who has time to reflect when there’s so much work to be done? Who has time to pray when we have video games, TV shows, and Facebook walls to occupy our time? Who has time to remember when there never seems to be a convenient time anyways? Oh the oppression!

And if you think I’m poo-pooing others. Think again, because I am speaking about myself. But today isn’t a day of self-flagellation–I’m not into that anyways. It’s a day to pause to think about my Lord, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross and all the shame therein. To pause with all creation, to remember when all the world dimmed to its darkest at the murder of it’s Creator, even if few people noticed.

This Friday can seem distant in this Modern world

I should be the last person to poo-poo modern life. Far from being a naturalist, I’m a man of the great indoors. I enjoy a comfortable bed, functional indoor plumbing, a fast computer, and being to travel what used to be considered long distances because of cars.

But today, I feel the oppression of modern living. Although, as Christians, we call this Friday ‘good’, it is only good because we have seen the ending. It is only good because we have been given the privilege of seeing behind the curtain to what God saw. And so, on this Good Friday, I think the most meaningful response–before all the truly worthwhile celebration–is to pause. To pause to remember the pain, to remember the abandonment, to remember the sacrifice. And to let that pausing be our gratitude. To let that pausing be our worship. To let that pausing be our response to this mind-boggling act of love.

And the oppression I feel isn’t so much the evil that surrounds me, although that is always there. It is the unrelenting pace of this world. It is the constant demand to go-go-go. It is the whip of this world. But it is also an impulse that has been internalized into the very rhythm of our souls. The brand of modernity, seared into our insides.

Who has time to reflect when there’s so much work to be done? Who has time to pray when we have video games, TV shows, and Facebook walls to occupy our time? Who has time to remember when there never seems to be a convenient time anyways? Oh the oppression!

And if you think I’m poo-pooing others. Think again, because I am speaking about myself. But today isn’t a day of self-flagellation–I’m not into that anyways. It’s a day to pause to think about my Lord, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross and all the shame therein. To pause with all creation, to remember when all the world dimmed to its darkest at the murder of it’s Creator, even if few people noticed.

Even in my youth…

I think it’s fitting that these days, some of the most prominent faces we see in the media are faces that aren’t much older than mine. People used to say that we’re a culture that worships youth. Well, we’re now a culture where it seems like it takes youth to succeed. And I think this is all a lot more “in your face” here in Silicon Valley, where if you’re not a millionaire by the time you’re 30, you’re a failure (okay, that’s changed a bit over the last coupla years).

So most of my friends and I are in places that, probably in previous generations, were the privileged space of older folks. Not old, just older. VPs, Project Mgrs, Dept. Heads, Sr. Pastors, etc. And I think it’s great that we have these opportunities, while still in our youth, to make impacts that previous generations weren’t able to.

At the same time, I think there are times when I feel like youth can serve as much a liability as it is an asset. Over the last few years, I think I’ve come to realize that there are just some experiences that I just don’t have, stuff that I can’t just muster up through the masterful powers of my young mind and energy. I’ve come to realize that as someone who’s young(er), I’ve failed to have sufficient experience with, well, failure, for example.

One of the very prominent patterns in the Old Testament is when men show more charisma than they have wisdom.  This basically sums up much of the book of Judges.  But you also see it in King Solomon in his younger years.  And all of them ended in shambles.  What a terrible way to go.

So on this Friday, here’s three cheers to humility, wisdom and patience.  Three things that I wish I had.

After the Elections

This was quite an election season—nationally and locally.  I feel blessed that we’re a church of multiple political affiliations and perspectives because it shows that no one owns us but Christ.  But within our diversity, I imagine most of us have a mixture of feelings while also a shared anticipation for the future.

Several years ago, I became convinced that as long as I’m a pastor I ought to keep my votes between Him, YuYin and myself.  It has not been for fear of being political—I’m not afraid of being political.  Nor do I think any of you would construe my own selections as some sort of “God-endorsement.”  Rather, it’s been to avoid partisan affiliations and to avoid inadvertently putting myself, the church or God in a box.  In any case, it’s subject to change, but I’m still convinced.  But if you end up figuring out my views, well good for you.

At the same time, I think it’d be awfully non-pastoral to avoid any comment altogether.  Moreover, given that Jesus was the greatest political figure to have ever lived (and is still living!), I think it’s part of my responsibility to offer a few words.  So here are a few things I’d like to offer:

Prop 4 and Prop 8.  The first failed, the second passed.  I want to be very clear first of all about two things.  First, God has always stood on the side of the voiceless and on the side of life.  That’s been true in matters of social injustice, poverty, and also abortion.  Second, from the beginning God ordained marriage to be a lifelong holy union between a husband and a wife.  And that speaks to matters of cohabitation, divorce, infidelity, and also homosexuality.  Now, these propositions touch real-life issues and not just philosophical topics, so there is obviously a lot of complexity to them, especially given that we live in a pluralistic society.  Also, these propositions hit on other issues, like personal safety and parental and civil rights.  And so from a thoughtful Christian perspective, I know there are compelling reasons to vote for either YES or NO on either of the propositions.  But I want to be clear about the essence of where God stands, not on the propositions, but on the practices of abortion and homosexuality.  And we needn’t be ashamed to stand with him.

That said, I think we need to ponder very hard over the fact that when the world thinks of the church today, the world tends to think more about what we’re against than what we’re for.  We are known more for what we condemn than how we bless.  In other words, the church is viewed by many today as a negative, condemning, hateful and bigoted institution precisely because of singularly high profile stances on abortion and homosexuality.  And I think this a huge dishonor to God and his message.  No wonder so many people are wary about Christians and the Church.  And think of all those who might have had an abortion in the past or who are gay and are now looking for hope (and there are many); how readily would they seek out Jesus if their primary perception of his followers was that they hate people like them?

So what ought we do?  We should never give up on the voiceless, on life, or on what’s holy.  That’s always the tempting thing to do under pressure, but that would be loveless and selfish; we should never give up our Cross.  But I do think that we need to be better images of God in all his fullness:  reflecting his love, compassion, generosity, sacrifice and forgiveness…while also reflecting his holiness.  It’s all of that.  We believe that all good things come from God, let’s show the world that.

Presidential Election. Congratulations to Barack Obama. Around the Bay Area, the nation, and even the world I saw folks dance and weep as they saw the first African-American to be elected to the American presidency.  But more than that, for millions of people both here and abroad, he’s been hailed as the embodiment of “hope and change” and admired as a “transformational” figure.  Maybe you’re one of them, maybe you’re not.  Now, Obama is a brother-in-Christ and we share some common values and ideals together with him.  But as followers of the Lord, we need to always resist ascribing messianic-type hopes to anyone other than Jesus.  All leaders try to be saviors in a generic sense.  And if you’re among those who are invigorated and uplifted by Obama’s election, that’s great for you.  But we’ve got to all remember that there’s only one source of true hope and lasting change for our world, our country and for our lives.  And Obama isn’t it.  Not even close.

Also, unlike other contests, the real work of the presidency begins after he wins.  And Obama has very big challenges immediately ahead of him:  the economy, energy, healthcare, two wars, ongoing diplomatic efforts, etc.  So, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Tim 2, let’s thank God and pray for him—yes, even if you didn’t vote for him (and if you did vote for him, remember not to pray to him).  But let’s also remember he’s only the president; these issues will require the leadership of Congress and our state and local governments as well.  So let’s remember to pray for them too.   And let me make this clear:  I’m not telling you to pray just because it sounds a lot more lovey-dovey than bashing or praising our new leadership.  I’m serious.  Let’s pray.  Your prayers are more powerful than your votes.  Check out the Lord’s Prayer if you need some guidance.

Political Differences. Some of us voted for McCain/Palin, others Obama/Biden.  And I know we’re not all on the same page on Prop 4 or 8 (or 2).  I think we have to first recognize that these differences exist.  We can’t assume just because we’re all Christians that we’ll all vote the same.  The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we’ll avoid awkward conversations but avoid disenfranchising  one another.

Secondly, I notice that in our HOC church culture, the way we often deal with these differences is to deflect or just shut up.  Differences make us uncomfortable, we’re afraid that we’ll blow up, we’re afraid of what others will think, we’re afraid of dividing the church, etc.  There are a lot of reasons why we’d rather just avoid the reality that we don’t all agree.  But I don’t think that’s real unity.  The model we’ve been given in the New Testament has not been unity-through-avoidance but unity-through-engagement.  Scripture tells us to talk to each other when we have differences (and not to gossip or try to get a leader to do it for you).  That’s what unity in Christ looks like.  So I suggest that if you find out someone else in our church has a different political perspective than you, instead of judging them in your heart or avoiding the topic altogether, that you hear them out, ask them questions, share your thoughts, and do all this in a spirit of love and humility.   Sure, in the beginning it’ll be awkward and maybe a little heated; we’re all learning!  But over time, I think we can experience a new depth in our unity in Christ.

Lastly, remember that we are one in Christ, and that is bigger than our political differences.  We should talk about stuff we disagree on, but we needn’t focus on them.  No single party, candidate, or law owns the church; only God.  Let’s always remember that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts too.