Archives for category: church

This is part three of a series I’m writing with my good friend Jason Evans (Part one and part two).

out-of-step-simple-3

Perhaps our culture’s strongest signifier that the holidays are upon us is the annual trampling of humans and merchandise that begins the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday.1 While the spectacle of people camping out for a week to be the first in line for an oversized flatscreen television or shoving grandmas out of the way to snag a snack-retrieving drone2 still manages to elicit tongue-clucking editorials, it feels sadly appropriate for our consumer culture to ritualize the height of the consumer spending season3 in this way.

For Christians, Advent is an invitation to live an alternative story, one in which giving is better than receiving, where the unKing arrives amidst a violent empire as a vulnerable infant. Advent, not Black Friday or the ball dropping in Times Square, marks the beginning of our year.4

A Mechanic’s Guide
In 1991, Simple Machines published and sent out 10,000 copies of their Introductory Mechanic’s Guide to Putting out Records — a DIY how-to guide that explains the record manufacturing process in simple language. Originally, the guide was released as part of a larger booklet released in conjunction with Dischord and Positive Force DC (a DC-area activist group that works for social change and youth empowerment) called You Can Do It, which covered topics such as how to organize an activist group or put on a show.

The Mechanic’s Guide has been influential in a number of other ways, as described in the introduction:

This booklet is just a basic blueprint, and even though we write about putting out records or CDs, a lot of this is common sense. We know people who have used this kind of information to do everything from putting out a 7″ to starting an independent clothing label to opening recording studios, record stores, cafes, microbreweries, thrift shops, bookshops, and now thousands of start-up internet companies. Some friends have even used similar skills to organize political campaigns and rehabilitative vocational programs offering services to youth offenders in DC.

Discipleship, Movie Theaters, and Shopping Malls
In the Western church, we have become painfully dependent upon a spiritual hierarchy. We have professionalized the idea of ministry – with the amateurs sitting back passively and watching the ordained professionals “do ministry” for them. It has been grossly misused by paid ministers and has been the excuse of many to treat discipleship to Christ as a casual hobby.

In this scenario, one might picture church as a movie theater, where people purchase a ticket, sit back comfortably, watch the show, and then get on with the rest of their lives or church as a shopping mall, where shoppers survey the many purveyors of religious goods and services, expect and receive attentive customer service and then, again, get on with the rest of “real” lives.

Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved5
Scripture paints a very different picture: rather than passively consuming religious goods and services, we are called to make, create, and participate. In 1 Peter 2, we are told that, as a people belonging to God, all of us are part of a “royal priesthood” — not only the religious professionals or those on the stage. Scripture urges us to do more than “go to church” but to be the church. As 1 Corinthians 12:27 shows us, “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

You don’t have to search hard to find talk, both within church circles and in the broader culture, about finding your calling or chasing your dreams. This provides a unique opportunity for the church to remind Christians of our primary calling as the beloved people of God in Christ, and our primary vocation to seek the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus prayed. And, like early DIY punk scene, this challenges us to help the church live out our secondary callings in every sphere of life — everywhere we live, work, and play — and find a place for everyone to contribute so that the church becomes a dynamic, creative force for good in our local communities, rather than simply a destination to consume religious goods and services.

From Mass Produced to Artisan Crafted
From local craft microbrews and coffee roasters to artisans and makers, some in our culture have begun to shift from mass-production’s emphasis on efficient, scalable, and uniform to thoughtful, crafted, and unique. When the church calls everyone to participate in joining God’s mission of redemption, we may lose a bit of the slick, high-gloss sheen of big-budget productions, but we will gain much more — particularly in the unexpected joy of discovery as God’s dream for more of the church is awakened and unleashed.

_____________________

1. This day wears black on the outside, because black is how it feels on the inside.

2. Look, I don’t need a jetpack in my future — is it too much to ask Elon Musk to make a drone that will get me a Diet Coke from the fridge?

3.  To the tune of almost $800 billion this year. Yikes, indeed.

4. Many Christian traditions recognize Advent as the beginning of new liturgical year.

5. We could use some more Soul Power, too.

out-of-step-simple-3

This is part two of a series I’m writing with my good friend Jason Evans. You can read part one here.

_____________________

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.
— Paul Batalden

Suicidal Tendencies broke onto the punk scene of southern California in 1980. Long before the dreaded rap rock era of loud music1, Suicidal mixed the aesthetics of LA gang culture with punk and metal music. Not long after forming, they would find critical acclaim for their song, Institutionalized.2

The song dramatizes the story of young man who is criticized for his looks and behavior by his parents who think he might be unstable. At one point in the song, vocalist Mike Muir cries out, “I went to your schools, I went to your churches …” explaining that he is a direct result of the systems his parents created for him.

Beyond Critique
Punk has always been defined by a strong critique of prevailing systems and dominant assumptions. But more than critique in song, a punk rock ethic has lead many to seek out accountability of those in power. Through protests, petitions, and other actions punks have often set out to hold the powers accountable for their actions.

Further, they also point out to the rest of us our complicity, or participation, in furthering systems that often disenfranchise those on the margins. Suggestion by Fugazi is a striking example3 — the song decries the objectification and harassment of women in our culture, and calls out our complicity:

She does nothing to deserve it
He only wants to observe it
We sit back like they taught us
We keep quiet like they taught us…
He touches her ’cause he wants to feel it
We blame her for being there
But we are all guilty

American Jesus, Mohawks, and Faux Hawks
Several years ago Jason was watching the legendary Bad Religion play in downtown San Diego, CA. They ended their show with the song, “American Jesus.” At the peak of the song the audience chanted along mockingly, “In God we trust,” taunting the religious establishment that had reared so many of us. In that moment Jason realized something; the American Jesus that Bad Religion was criticizing was not a Jesus he wanted to follow.

We’re both too old to care anymore, but when we were much younger we knew there was a difference between punks that sported mohawks and “faux hawks.” Like Wattie Buchan4 of The Exploited or Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, those that had shaved clean most of their head with the exception of tall, often brightly colored, spikes jolting out of the tops of their scalps radically and obviously identified with punk culture. Their job opportunities were limited, public scrutiny was expected. They were serious punks. On the other hand, those who used a little hair gel to spike up their hair for the concert, only to wash it out at the end of the night could go back to being a normal kid, blending easily back into the culture—no cost, no ostracization.

Hair styles may be the shallow concerns of adolescents but punk rock provided an analog to our faith. Were we taking this seriously? Were willing follow Jesus only on Sundays? When it was comfortable? Or were we willing to follow when it was difficult as well? The Jesus that Bad Religion was mocking blindly aligned with patriotism and consumerism. It was a faux-Jesus; a Jesus that had some veneer of Jesus but none of the substance. That said, it’s easy to critique a shallow theology, the challenge is in choosing a different path.

A Different Path
From the prophets to Jesus of Nazareth, we see the same principle of speaking truth to power, holding those in power publicly accountable. What is more, they called God’s people to repentance which was more than saying, “We’re sorry, God.” Repentance begins with a recognition that we’re headed down the wrong path and is the hard choice to live differently, to count the cost, and to follow Jesus wherever he may lead.

It’s important to acknowledge our complicity in the problems we face today. Too often, we have made decisions based on fear, rather than perfect love that drives out fear. We have loved our lives and comfort in this world, refusing to plant the seeds of the Kingdom through our sacrifice. Rather than welcoming strangers, we have chosen to fortify and insulate ourselves against anyone who looks or feels different from us. We have blended comfortably into the system, rather than following the incarnate Christ, the light who overcomes darkness.

As we journey through the season of Advent, we are reminded of the stories of an unwed girl and day laborer that journeyed to Bethlehem looking for a place to stay. In a barn, the unKing would be born and his first cradle would be a feeding trough. The Gospel narrators do not provide these images on accident. They are intended to remind us that when His name is announced to mean, “God with us” that this means God’s presence would be found amidst the unwanted and outcast; not simply those we find to be comfortable company.

For varied reasons, many Christians are uncomfortable with where our nation stands today. We too are concerned. Yet we feel challenged by our punk roots and discipleship to Jesus to not simply criticize but to choose to live differently, no matter what popular opinion might be. We feel compelled to confess our complicity and to choose a different path. In our homes and Christian communities, will we embody the kind of life that the gospel calls us to?

_____________________

1. Look, even Barbie was “rappin’ and rockin’”

2. Did I see a boneless in that video, amidst all of the powersliding? Ah, the 90s.

3. See this short article from the Washington City Paper

4. Punk’s not dead, oh no! Wattie, after all these years.

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!

_____________________

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!).

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!

Our church community isn’t the most liturgical or formal. Even though my lovely wife and I have been ordained as ministers of the Word & Sacrament for a little while now, we generally don’t often wear vestments. [An aside: I did wear a clerical collar for the first time when taking my daughter to an event at the USD campus to protest racial discrimination as part of the post-Ferguson movement.]

Yesterday, as part of our worship service, we celebrated the Eucharist together. Whenever my lovely wife and I lead communion at church, we wear stoles in recognition of the significance of this sacrament (after all, for Presbyterians, we’ve only got two!).

As I began to read the Words of Institution, one of our first graders asked why I had put on a stole. I began to explain that when farmers lead oxen, they need to use a yoke—otherwise the oxen might run roughshod over the entire farm! In the same way, I told him, the stole is a symbol that we are all yoked to Christ, that He is the Leader.

Our first grader thought about it, smiled, and said, “So… it’s sort of like a leash then?” 

Sorta, I told him, as we all laughed! However, for followers of Jesus, we willingly accept His guidance and direction in all that we do (or, at least, that’s the goal).

*   *   *   *   *

Friends, may your Lenten fasts remind you that you are made for more than this world has to offer. May your capacity to love God & others expand as you make room in your hearts for more of Christ. And may you find joy in being yoked to our King.