out-of-step-simple-3

I’m thankful for my good friend Jason Evans, with whom I’m co-writing and cross-posting this series.

Dan and I met several years ago while we both lived in San Diego. We became fast friends; both of us were Christian leaders that were hopeless music fans, particularly of punk rock and hardcore.

After this contentious, fractured election season, the two of us were messaging each other. The rhetoric before and after the election has been disheartening, to say the least. So much hope is put in the office of president. Yet, as Christians, we place our hope in another leader, Jesus of Nazareth. For us, this hope makes us more present to the brokenness and needs of our world today, rather than just trying to hang on until we die and go to heaven.

As we begin the season of Advent, we thought it appropriate to reflect on why we’ve given ourselves to this unKing Jesus and why we feel some things are worth revisiting during this post-election and pre-Christmas season.

Though we increasingly just look like average dads1, we’re both punks at heart. So, we’ve decided share our convictions through that lens. Punk rock is much more than a music genre. There is an important ideology that lies within it that you might miss if you’ve only listened to the Sex Pistols on the FM radio.2 In fact, in our adolescence it was punk rock that kept our faith alive and would nudge us deeper into our callings as Christian leaders.

We both might say that we are Christian because of punk rock. Dan remarked recently to another pastor that the DIY hardcore movement of the 90s was an essential part of his spiritual formation (more on this throughout the rest of this series).

We’re calling this series, “Out of Step” which we are borrowing from an old song by DC hardcore band, Minor Threat.

What Would Ian Do?  
In late 1980, two young men started a record label in Washington DC called Dischord Records. Since then, Dischord Records has released over 150 albums from a variety of Washington DC-area artists. The label has never entered into an agreement with a major record label and has remained fiercely independent to this day.

One of the label’s two founders is Ian MacKaye. MacKaye was a member of the band that provided Dischord its first release, Teen Idles – a DC hardcore, straight edge, punk band. Not long after the demise of Teen Idles, MacKaye formed a new group, Minor Threat. For three intense years, Minor Threat played countless shows, touring across the nation and spreading their straight edge message.

Straight edge, an ideal that grew rapidly during the 80’s era of punk and hardcore, encouraged abstinence from sex, drugs, smoking and alcohol. The proponents of straight edge encouraged punks to think clearly about social responsibility and personal development.

Four years after Minor Threat split up, Ian formed a new group, Fugazi. Labeled as a “post-punk” group, fusing elements of punk, dub and jazz, Fugazi has released seven albums, and toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Even before words like “punk” and “indie” were used extensively in popular culture, Fugazi and Dischord Records were committed to operating their business in a different way.

Fugazi has always maintained a ticket price of five dollars for each performance though, given their popularity, they had many opportunities to charge far more than that. Dischord has consistently ensured that the bands on their label make a fair share of profits and provided fairly for record label staff. In a time when record prices soared, Dischord always sought to be frugal and fiscally responsible in order to keep their prices as low as possible so that young people with little money could afford their releases.

For the entire music industry (and beyond) Ian Mackaye has helped redefine success by refusing to tread the well-worn path. Through his identity as a musician and a business owner, Mackaye has defied market principles and creative definition. But more than simply critiquing the system, Ian Mackaye has also created alternatives to it.

We, as followers of Christ, could learn a thing or two from MacKaye’s example. Sometimes, we need to pause and ask ourselves, “What would Ian do?”

Out of Step with the World  
As David Foster Wallace describes in This is Water, sometimes we need to take a step back and try to comprehend the cultural air we’re breathing. It does not benefit us to keep paddling down the same stream if it’s going to eventually dump us headlong over a waterfall.

In work, finances, business, relationships, and even recreation, our culture assumes that Newer! Bigger! Faster! is the best way to live. At the same time, many Western churches (and not only megachurches) have adopted the “more is better” mentality.3

Scarcity tells us there is never enough, that if someone else gains then I must be losing. Scarcity creates a constant, low-grade fever, a gnawing worry that we won’t have enough. Scarcity points the finger at the suffering and oppressed, blaming them for their condition. Scarcity screams get all you can, while you can. Scarcity is the walker among us, always consuming but never satisfied.

Advent tells us a completely different story, one that is out of step with this world. Advent heralds the coming of our unKing Jesus, whose generosity was so great that it frustrated, annoyed, and drove mad the scarcity brokers of his time but delighted and enchanted the marginalized and broken. Advent reminds us that, paradoxically, life is found in giving all we can, just as our unKing Jesus gave himself away completely. Advent pulls back the curtain to show us there is a better way to live, a way of freedom, grace, and wonder.

In the Book of Acts, Saint Luke writes of the early church, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Instead of scarcity, the Early Church practiced generosity, putting into practice the Jubilee and Sabbath principles that Jesus echoed at the inception of his ministry from Isaiah. They functioned on an economic paradigm of abundance. They were determined to make sure all had access to what they needed.

As MacKaye writes in his history of Dischord Records:

In the beginning it was basically a volunteer arrangement as there was no money to pay anyone, but by the early ’90s we were not only able to pay everyone, but also able to provide them with health insurance and other benefits. I’ve always considered this one of our most important achievements. Most businesses, including record labels, have used profits (or at least the fear of losing profits) as their guideline for operations. Because we have tried to approach the label as a mission of documentation as well as a community-based entity, we have managed to avoid many of the industry-standard practices. The fact that we are able to help support the people who work for us as well as pay royalties to the bands seems to be proof that such an approach is possible.

Perhaps MacKaye’s example can help us, as followers of Christ, reimagine what success looks like and help us reclaim the heritage of the Early Church. Like punk rock, the Early Church did not simply critique and challenge cultural norms, it offered an alternative. A generative community, whether the Early Church or punk rock community, is shaped by particular values and habits. Over the next three weeks we will share a post a week on our blogs that explores countercultural community, practices and ideals all through the lenses of our Christian faith and punk rock. We hope you will read and engage. May this season of Advent become one of abundance, generosity, and wonder as we celebrate our unKing Jesus.

Let’s go!

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1. These days, before heading out to a show, Dan’s daughter (wisely) reminds him, “Please don’t hurt yourself.”

2. Simply reading the word “punk” might evoke the mohawked miscreants of the fictional band Pain playing “all the way from the hills of Hollyweird” in this particularly surreal episode of CHiPS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLyMjIccjL4. Pro tip: The song borders on listenable if played at 1.5x speed.

3. Bill McKibben offers an important critique in his book, Deep Economy (Times Books, 2007).

Restoration - by Jin ChoIn addition to my pastoral work with Anchor City, I’ve had the privilege recently of working also with the good people of Flourish San Diego. As implied by our name, the mission of Flourish is:

to help people and churches flourish into the fullness of who they were created to be so they can join God in flourishing our city and world.

One of the frameworks we use to describe how we see the world is The Four-Chapter Gospel (for reference: A two-chapter Gospel basically summarizes life as 1. You’re a sinner and 2. Jesus died for you—nothing false at all, but certainly lacking a broad biblical picture of the fullness of Christ’s love to restore, redeem, and renew all things). In brief:

  1. Ought: God created the world in goodness, love, and holiness. Deep down, many of us feel that longing for the world as it ought to be.
  2. Is: The world, and our own lives, are broken. Every relationship that makes life meaningful (with God, others, ourselves, and creation) has been broken and marred by sin.
  3. Can: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make it possible for us to live as citizens and representatives of the Kingdom of God (which, somehow, is already here but not yet fully realized).
  4. Will: One day, rather than burning up the world He so loves in a Nicolas Cage-worthy apocalyptic trainwreck, God will restore all things. As Samwise wonders in Lord of the Rings, we live for the day when our King will make everything sad come untrue.

“Christian” art can be a tricky thing, often being reduced to “successory” style motivational posters or saccharine nostalgia. Culture critic Frank Guan makes the following important observation about art:

To my mind, great art fails to embody a better world, but it carries the promise of such a world and encourages its audience to be worthy of it. Mediocre art, on the other hand, reiterates the world as it already is: Lacking transformative energy, it can only reflect the stinginess and squeamishness of its society of origin.

To my knowledge, Frank has no allegiance to the way of Jesus, but he manages to powerfully advocate for a Four Chapter Gospel understanding of art.

Flourish commissioned my friend Jin Cho for a series of original photos inspired by the Four Chapter Gospel called The Big Story Project. The results are stunning. Each photo of our city (SD forever!) was painstakingly well-thought out and beautifully executed.

The photo at the top of this page is the final photos from The Big Story Project series, “Restoration.” Jin can tell the story better than I can, but there are several ways this embodies the story of Revelation 21 in which God restores all things:

  • There is an ethereal, liminal sense of heaven touching earth—the bridge of reconciliation God builds
  • In the coming Kingdom, work still exists (notice the cranes in the skyline) and is redeemed
  • The light (as described in Revelation 21:23-26) is coming from the city; in fact, God Himself shines as our light forever
  • There is a palpable love for this great city throughout the entire The Big Story Project series
  • After several weeks of trying to line up this shot, Jin was able to capture this beautiful image—at sunrise on Easter Sunday!

Please consider purchasing these prints here. You will be a supporter of the good work of Flourish San Diego, a patron to the artwork of Jin, and a storyteller of the Four Chapter Gospel in your home (or wherever you choose to display these wonderful photos!).

When making the daily rounds through social media streams, it’s way too easy for me to devolve into cynicism. Between the shouty political noise and clickbaity look-at-me clamoring, it can all be a little much.

But this, this is an example of the power of genuine, authentic faith in Jesus to cut through the noise and brokenness of our culture.

Ingrid Williams, the wife of Monty Williams, the associate head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was tragically killed in a car accident last week.

By all accounts, Williams is a beloved figure around the NBA and this incredible message he delivered at his wife’s memorial service demonstrates why:

Williams demonstrates so much to admire: his genuine love and admiration for his wife, his trust and faith in God even in these darkest of times. As he said during his beautiful eulogy, “This will work out. Doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Doesn’t mean it’s not painful. Doesn’t mean we won’t have tough times. What we need is the Lord. And that’s what my wife tried to exhibit every single day.”

But at 4:40, Williams says something truly stunning:

I’m going to close with this, and I think it’s the most important thing that we need to understand. Everybody is praying for me and my family, which is right, but let us not forget that there were two people in this situation, and that family needs prayer as well. And we have no ill will toward that family.

In my house, we have a sign that says ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ We cannot serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness. That family didn’t wake up wanting to hurt my wife.

Life is hard. It is very hard. And that was tough. But we hold no ill will towards the Donaldson family. And we, as a group, brothers united in unity, should be praying for that family, because they grieve as well.

Normally, I’m in the don’t read the comments camp of Internet browsing. Too often, the comments are worse than a schoolyard with their no-you’re-the racist accusations and anonymized name-calling.

But the comments (at least on one popular sports blog) speak to the authenticity of Monty Williams’ witness of the hope and power we find in Jesus. A quick sampling:

Comment 3

It’s always heartwarming when a true Christian is heard from. I am not religious, but I believe the teachings of Christ is the lessons of forgiveness. Forgiveness is what you need in your heart to look at others and understand they grieve too. To turn the other cheek, sometimes you need to see through the eyes of others, as painful as that might be. The test of your beliefs is when you are in the darkest place, when everything is crumbling.

It is truly awesome to behold.

Comment 1

“We didn’t lose her. When you lose something you can’t find it. I know exactly where my wife is.”

Damn. Those sentences right there. Stopped me cold and made me think. What a powerful thing to say in such a simple and concise manner.

Comment 2

I’m a huge Knicks fan an I remember when they drafted him out of Notre Dame and everyone was concerned about his preexisting heart condition. It turns out he managed to rise above it and made a good career for himself. As great as that was, it appears his life off the court was even better.

Its heartbreaking that he lost his wife the way he did, but man, having that type of faith is pretty awesome. I don’t care what religion someone believes in, but when you see that type of faith, love, and forgiveness in someone, you know they will be able to carry on.

Was his condition that his heart is enormous? Sure sounds like it.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus rest upon the Williams family as they navigate their sorrow and loss, and may they continue to walk in such genuine faith.

My lovely wife was featured in this great interview at Christianity Daily!

PJ interview

Her leadership, wisdom, and pastoral insight are so vital—not only for Anchor City, but for San Diego and the world.

Working side-by-side with her and watching her mentor & coach other pastors & planters, discern & guide the culture of our church community, and pour into the lives of our leaders and church members is a tremendous honor and joy.

As Philippians 1:27 says (emphasis mine), “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

As I told a friend on Facebook, she’s the beauty & brains in this operation. Fortunately, I can provide some of the brawn!

Sermon 4 - Saint Exupery

With each passing day, I discover a new joy in this journey of church planting. As any planter will tell you, it’s lots and lots of work—but absolutely worth it!

I enjoy many different kinds of work, including graphic design, web editing, and freelance writing (and love that they’re part of my vocational mix) but I’m discovering that being a part of and helping to pastor Anchor City is really where my heart is. As God awakens and unleashes His dreams for each member of our amazing community, I’m filled with gratitude and wonder.

As the author of The Little Prince notes in the quote image above, pastoring at Anchor City isn’t about assigning tasks or accomplishing my 5-point vision plan: it’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder, discovering the vast, endless ocean of God’s grace.

A couple of unexpected opportunities have come up from this church planting journey, and I would truly value your prayers, friends.

  • First, my lovely wife and I will be sharing a breakout session at The Fellowship Community National Gathering on Wednesday here in San Diego. We’ll be sharing about our planting journey and what we feel it means for us to be a church for our great city.
  • Second, I’ll be part of a panel discussion at Exponential West on October 8th called “Engaging Healthy Conversations on Race Relations” alongside an incredible group of Kingdom leaders (for real, how did I end up in this group?). I hardly consider myself an expert on racial reconciliation, but I passionately believe a diverse church who reflects the joy and creativity of Jesus is a beautiful, credible witness to our divided, broken world (Revelation 7:9-10). As an Asian American, a central part of my life of faith has been Jesus’ redemption of my “neither/nor” existence into a “both/and” identity in which I can empathize with those who haven’t found a place.

“Platforms” are a funny thing. More power to those who want to, and are able to, reach large audiences through preaching, writing, or online. My lovely wife and I often say that we just want to be faithful in our little corner of the world. That’s not some kind of “holy” humility talking: as I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin, I recognize how God has wired me as an introvert (and shy, to boot), so public speaking events (outside of our church community) are not a top priority for me. At the same time, I’m discovering how much I love and am energized by seeing life transformation happening in our Anchor City community and, through us, in our city and world.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be… It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

If there can be some kind of Kingdom impact through sharing my story, let it be so. As we seek to join God’s mission of redemption for our cities and for our world, we need each other. Maybe I’ll see you at one of these gatherings!