Following Jesus’ call to plant Anchor City Church in January has been an adventure all the way!

Please take a minute and watch this short video (filmed and produced by some very talented creatives from our community) that introduces our heart & vision for Anchor City:


May God’s will be done in San Diego as it is in heaven!

Adventure

A very happy new year, friends!

When I responded to God’s call over 17 years ago to serve in full-time vocational ministry, I had no idea what was in store. God always knows what He is doing, though, right? There’s no way I was prepared for the ups & downs ahead, but Jesus has always had more than enough mercy & grace for the journey.

Our family is so thankful for the next adventure to which God is calling us. We are incredibly grateful to partner with a group of generous, thoughtful, faithful, kind, compassionate, and talented individuals and families to plant a new church here in San Diego: Anchor City Church!

We believe God is calling us to plant a third culture, multiethnic, multi-generational church to bless and serve San Diego and the world, and are excited to respond to the call. We believe a diverse church with Christ at the center reflects the joy & creativity of God and forms a beautiful, credible witness to a broken, divided world (Revelation 7:9-10).

As Asian Americans, we have experienced the pain of being not accepted as fully Asian or American. However, through the redemption only Christ can bring, our journey has been transformed from “neither/nor” to “both/and.” We believe God is calling us to leverage this gift for the sake of others at the margins, who might not feel at home elsewhere and to invite them to sit at Christ’s table among the family of God.  As the psalmist says, “God sets the lonely in families.”

As pastors, my wife and I seek to unleash the God-given dreams of each member of our community, to cultivate better expressions of Christ’s love for the world, and to join the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit throughout San Diego and the world. Christ is the true Anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19), the One who harbors us in the eye of the storm and who gives us the courage to venture forth and risk the ocean.

We dream of kids & families growing together in the truth that this is our Father’s world and following Jesus is an adventure like no other. We want to engage and unleash the God-given creativity, curiosity & wonder of people of all ages through music, art, science, food, and play.

We will begin gathering in homes this week as the new year begins. If you, or someone you know, does not belong to a church community and is looking to find a church to call home, we invite you to consider Anchor City Church. We believe God has not given up on the world, and neither have we!

Friends, we deeply value your prayer & intercession. We want to cultivate an outward-looking ethos & culture in Anchor City, and we believe that is only possible through the leadership & guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the weeks to come, I will be posting more about our heart, ministry, and life together — including our social media accounts and website. We look forward to connecting and collaborating for the Kingdom!

Every once in awhile, my lovely wife and I will bust out our Lord of the Rings special-edition DVDs (no, not Blu-Ray. We’re old-school like that) and immerse ourselves in the epic world of Middle Earth.

Funny timing, then, that we recently finished a viewing right before a set of events unfolded that would remind me that—as much as I’d like to be Aragorn or Gandalf—I’m more like one of the Shire-folk. But there is great honor in learning to fulfill our small part of God’s Kingdom work: after all, some of the greatest Kingdom work is accomplished through the unnoticed and overlooked.

As Galadriel tells Frodo in the midst of his fear:

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future

I am truly thankful for the leadership, tenacity, truth-telling, and grace of leaders (many of whom I’m blessed to call friends) such as Kathy Khang, Helen Lee, Ken Fong, Sam Tsang, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Bruce Reyes-Chow, David Park, and many, many others.

Jesus is recreating a people for Himself from those who are near and far away, from every tribe, nation, culture, ethnicity, and language.

This is our story to tell the world:

A better story of hope, redemption, life, salvation, justice, beauty, and truth in a diverse church that reflects the creativity and joy of Christ.

Recent events have reminded us how far we have to go in that journey, but that there is always hope.

I invite you to join with pastors, doctors, professors, artists, students, missionaries, attorneys, editors, accountants, counselors, moms, dads, and friends and raise your voice and sign this open letter to the church, to commit yourself to racial reconciliation, understanding, and forming a more credible witness to a broken world around us.

As I mentioned, I have felt quite Hobbit-ish in the midst of all these heavyweights. Most days, all I want to do is be the best husband and dad I can be, provide for my family, and live into our calling here in our little corner of the world in San Diego. My role in this story has been quite small, but I know that it is important not to give up—to lift my voice for my family, our church community, for Asian Americans, and for all people so that the world will know how great a Redeemer Jesus is.

I am incredibly thankful for my lovely wife—a profoundly gifted pastor, church leader, wife, mom, and reflection of the humble love of Jesus to the world. In many ways, it was her voice that became a sort of holy tipping point for one particular conversation with our friends from Exponential. As she shared her story, the doors of empathy and understanding opened.

It is no mistake, I think, that God used her voice to speak powerfully to a group consisting mostly of men. Like my friend Eugene, I also support women in all levels of church leadership. I believe this is the faithful reading of Scripture and, from my experience, the story the church needs to share with the broken world around us: God is unleashing His dreams through all of His daughters & sons, just as He promised so long ago.

As this conversation moves forward, I look forward to the unique leadership of brave, godly, and strong women (as well as the voices of my brothers in Christ).

Friends, your voice matters.

If you need to be reminded, I encourage you to read Connie Zhou’s story. Perhaps some of you will see yourself reflected back. Or, even if you are coming from a different place altogether, you will benefit from hearing her voice.

As the Church, may we plant and cultivate communities who are radically committed to loving our actual neighbors with the transforming love of Jesus.

Is there something in the water that’s making people freak out on retail employees?

Maybe it’s not a zombie apocalypse for which we need to prepare, but an angry shopper-pocalypse. At least that’s what it’s felt like the last couple of days.

Last week I saw a customer becoming extremely irate at a cashier at a local Target. Perhaps this sort of thing wouldn’t have caught my attention normally, but this rather large woman was screaming down into the face of the much smaller cashier, who eventually left the checkout lane in tears.

While waiting for her contact lenses, a Costco optical employee told my wife the story of a customer completely freaking out on her over the weekend.

* An aside; It’s not in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure my lovely wife has the spiritual gift of making complete strangers feel so at ease that they end up sharing much of their story with her in a very short time. Amazing. 

Just yesterday, I was asking a Verizon employee a few questions when I noticed her glance over my shoulder a couple of times. There was another customer at the entrance losing it on another employee, ranting and gesticulating wildly.

Diagnosing the low-grade fever of anger seething beneath the surface of many people in our culture is above my pay grade, but I do see troubling connections between people freaking out at the local big box store and how we, as the Church, often handle conflict.

Rick Warren recently set forward a chain of events that played out as it has many times before (Kathy Khang has been a great voice in all of this; catch up on the particulars of what transpired here). Thankfully, this story ended in a sort of apology (for reals, one of the first things I learned in married life is that an authentic apology does not contain the word “if”).

I can’t read the minds of the three aforementioned aggrieved shoppers, but I wonder if they know what they look like from the outside when their faces become contorted in anger, seething red and rage for everyone to see. I know we’re all capable of forgetting ourselves, so I don’t want to judge them too harshly — in fact, I’m guessing that it wouldn’t even occur to them to consider what is happening outside of themselves in that moment.

And therein lies the problem for the Church.

Sure, others might look at someone who is hurt or offended and run down their checklist of dismissals:

  • Get over yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously
  • Grow a thicker skin. Get a sense of humor.
  • I wasn’t offended by that, so what’s your problem?
  • Why are you looking for reasons to be offended? I’m so sick of the PC police.

But should this be the heart of those who proclaim Christ as King? Seriously, take a look (if you have the stomach) at the list of dismissals, attacks, and “you’re great; what’s wrong with those people?” in the comments of Rick Warren’s FB apology. Double yikes.

In Scripture, followers of Jesus don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way. What’s wrong with you?”

They humbly serve like Jesus, listen, seek to understand, and hope to win their hearts. At least that’s how I’m reading Philippians 2:1-11.

Even if we think someone’s concerns are ridiculous or unfounded, what benefit is there in waving them off with a sneer, questioning their very salvation, or attacking their character? Has such an approach ever changed someone’s mind?

Of course, the way of Jesus is much, much slower and more difficult than any of us would like. As James says:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Listening is an act of love, as StoryCorps often beautifully reminds us.

If Jesus is our King, and He is redeeming us, then shouldn’t there be visible evidence that we will live, move, and have our being in profoundly different ways than what encounter out there?

What if we asked Jesus to crush that urge we have in us to respond with, “Well, that’s dumb” when we hear someone share their concerns with us. What if we listened with the Father’s heart?

Doesn’t look like much of a revolution but, then again, the Kingdom is sort of like that.

Listening – really listening — could be the unseen force that becomes tangible, visible evidence that another Kingdom is already here and is on its way.

.   .   .   .   .

Seriously, read this story from an Apple store employee (it’s the last one in this long post) and tell me that listening won’t change things: 

A manager scans the Genius Bar then approaches me. “Got something for you,” he says.

I exhale, leaving behind the comforting barrier of the Genius Bar for the open floor.

“See the lady that Dana is talking to?,” he says. “Her cat just died. So did her hard drive. You’re going to sit with her while we see what we can do. It might not be much, so prep her for that. You got this.”

He strides off to the opposite side of the store. To put out another fire, I presume.

All employees learn acronyms of steps to help empathize with customers. I can’t disclose them, as the Wall Street Journal already has, but they’re less important than the holistic goal. The gist is this: If you’ve never lost a cat, like this fragile woman Barbara just has, you can at least conjure a loss that would be as significant to you, so that you can relate. If you can illustrate to her that you get it, you’ll feel more and seem fully sympathetic.

However, since my mom never let me have a pet, I got nothing. I consider lying. I don’t want to lie. I wish I knew how the repair was going. I tell her I have lost hard drives before. I try to laugh bravely to her about semesters of research and libraries of mostly legal music evaporating. How it’s nothing like losing a companion, but how devastating it was to my freshman self.

Barbara is deflating on the designer stool right in front of me when my teammate brings out her laptop and, thank God, it actually boots up intact.

“It’s working,” I beam.

“Do you know how to check my pictures?”

“Sure,” I reply. “Right here in iPhoto.”

A grid of images of Barbara and a silver-haired man spring up. I wish I could un-see some of the images in customers’ photo libraries, but these are extraordinarily vanilla. Awkward-seated portraits in a garden, by some boats, at the beach, basic slice of life banality.

“That’s my husband.”

She’s crying with joy.

“He died last year… before I could print any of these images out. Thank you!”

My stomach drops. This, my manager didn’t know to tell me. I try hard not think of what it would have meant had we not gotten her computer back online.

I look up at the dozens of people cradling their aluminum babies. Tapping their feet, chewing their nails, licking their lips, they’re worried bad about something that matters to them. I wish Barbara the best of luck, really meaning it, and excuse myself. I unholster my iPod and call out the next customer’s name.

Sigh.

Yesterday, to his Facebook and Twitter streams, Rick Warren posted this update:

Warren

Let me preface this by saying I have, from a distance, lots of respect for Rick Warren. By all accounts, he seems to be a humble, authentic pastor who is investing in the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Rick and his family to re-enter public ministry life after losing their son to suicide and, unimaginably, have some of his enemies even rejoice in that tragedy. I can understand being sensitive to criticism during a time like this.

While ignorance shouldn’t give anyone an automatic free pass, I can even understand how Rick would not understand why this Red Guard propaganda photo is so terrible. I think it’s hard for anyone to know world history for cultures different from themselves Dr. Sam Tsang educates all of us regarding the atrocities the Red Guard has committed [h/t: Kathy Khang].

If Rick took the time even to glance at Dr. Tsang’s article, he would realize the depth of this mistake. 40 million people died in the Great Leap Forward. Countless others were tortured and killed by the Red Guard in ways that I cannot even bring myself to type on this page.

I think what hurts — as a fellow pastor and brother in Christ — is Rick’s response to those who were offended by this post:

People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!

So now anyone who laughed at this joke is a true “disciple” and anyone who was hurt is a “self-righteous” Pharisee.

Wow.

This incident has followed what has become an exhausting, predictable cycle:

  • Incident: Rick posts this photo and status update.
  • Response: People are, rightfully, hurt and offended.
  • Overwhelming backlash: The offender digs in, becoming defensive; supporters come out, claiming that the offended are “not real Christians” who need to “get over it” or “get a sense of humor.”

For many Asian Americans, the daily experience of racism is akin to death by papercut. While many of us have experienced our fair share of blatant racism and discrimination, often it is the compilation of a lifetime of small racist incidents that causes the most damage.  Dr. Sang Hyun Lee explores this damage powerfully in From a Liminal Place.

Perhaps non-Asian American people would have a hard time understanding why “one little joke” could be so hurtful. Consider, for a moment, how many television shows and films rely on Asian stereotypes for cheap laughs (where, more often that not, the whole gag is “Look how funny and stupid that Asian person’s accent sounds!”). Off the top of my head:

  • Arrested Development (which is painful, because that show is filled with clever writers — why should they fall back on lazy stereotypes when they have so much material at their disposal?)
  • Turbo
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Saturday Night Live — particularly awful offenders, having their non-Asian actors practically get up in yellowface several times over the last couple of seasons.
  • Dads — which, apparently, built its entire pilot around the premise of racist (and misogynistic) Asian stereotypes
  • And on and on and on…

As a follower of Jesus, I want my life to count for what matters. I don’t want to get caught up in useless in-fighting, or sidetracked by nonsense. I am fully invested in the church community God to which God has called me — I want to unleash their God-given dreams in order to bless and serve San Diego and the world. We believe God has not given up on the world and that Jesus is calling us to cultivate better expressions of His love & grace to our neighbors.

However, although I am bone-weary over this kind of nonsense, this is a fight worth fighting.

Not for the sake of arguing someone else down, but to show the world that, yes, the church still makes bone-headed mistakes but our Redeeming King makes it possible for His people to see their mistakes, recognize how they’ve hurt others, and attempt to make things right. Jesus actually does change us.

I take Rick Warren at his word when he says he didn’t mean any offense. But that certainly does not excuse his defensiveness or outright dismissal of the many, many people who have been hurt through his actions.

We all have blind spots. I hope — and pray — that Rick sees what has happened and demonstrates true Christian humility. The world needs the better way of reconciliation and shalom that only Christ can provide.

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