Archives for category: environment

Maybe it’s because I’ve been fighting off a nasty cold for a couple of weeks (an airplane is just a petri dish with wings) or because we are extremely busy with church (what else is new?), but it just hasn’t been looking a lot like Christmas for me these days. It’s not any kind of cynical holiday-burnout; I’m just kind of beat.

I find myself becoming more & more liturgical — both in how I envision our community worshiping together and in my personal sense of what it means to seek after God. Not liturgy for its own sake, but as a way of creating a rhythm in seeking after God. The word liturgy itself can be translated as, “The work of the people.” Most days, spiritual awakening and passionate revival aren’t falling from the sky in the form of high-density protein bars (nope, not even this kind). For me, the experience of God happens in the active search, the longing, the seeking. I need to lean in, to calm down, to pay attention to God.

Advent (which began this past Sunday) is a season of watching and waiting, expectation and anticipation. I love that, for the Church, our calendar is not set by the madness of Black Friday. No, our year begins as we prepare the way of our Lord, as Christine Sine explains in this wonderful post about Advent. The Advent season reminds me that business is not as usual and that I am being called into a different rhythm.

I recently joined the Junky Car Club. From their site: “Junky Car Club members are learning to live with less so we can give more. We’re a bunch of happy drivers who are politely rebelling against consumerism by driving junky cars. We encourage our members to use their dough to support social justice causes instead of making fat car payments. We believe in environmental stewardship and hanging onto things a little longer. Junky Car Club members sponsor kids living in poverty through Compassion International.”

I love that phrase, learning to live with less so we can give more. It reminds me of a great GK Chesterton quote I read in Al Hsu’s The Suburban Christian:

There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.

It’s easy to rant about Jesus being the “reason for the season” or to denounce the commercialization of Christmas. Learning to desire less stuff — that’s where life happens. The Junky Car Club is a fun way of promoting the transformation of hearts & minds and making a difference in the world. And, as an Asian American, I love the idea of subverting our car-obsessed culture. Seriously, how many Asian American youth pastors have had students hold down a part time job just to support their body-kit habit on their perpetual work-in-progress Honda Civic? Imagine what would happen if we, collectively, decided to ditch The Fast and the Furious for simple, authentic love, mercy and justice.

In a small way, joining the Junky Car Club has become part of my personal liturgy during this Advent season. Instead of a self-indulgent holiday filled with more and newer, just a little bit of self-control (because, really, simply owning a car at all — no matter how beat-down or busted — makes us rich in a global perspective) can point me towards the heart of Christ during Advent. Jesus came to serve, not to be served; and He calls us to the same. If I can live with just a little bit less, there will be that much more to give.

Christ has come; Christ is coming! Prepare the way of the Lord!

As Eugene Cho wrote recently in southern california is burning, it can be hard to actually enter into another person’s experience. Even for us, right in the midst of the firestorm and its aftermath here in SD, there can be a strange disconnect. Like others around the nation, we’ve been watching the firestorm from the television. As Shane Hipps comments, “The screen always wins.” I mean, we are here and it wasn’t even a week ago that we were grabbing only the essentials as we evacuated through the smoke and sirens early in the morning and yet watching the constant news feed has a strange, dulling effect. The sense of being “informed” creates a false sense of understanding, which can easily create a barrier to actually engaging the reality of individual people’s lives.

Sometimes it takes just being there to feel and understand it. During our return back to San Diego, we drove past the Camp Pendleton fires which created a menacing black cloud through which we had to drive. This junky cell phone photo (which, not to worry, were taken by my wife from the passenger seat!) shows how powerful one small brush fire can be — the hills and valleys in the immediate vicinity were, at the time, pretty well ablaze, so you can imagine what the larger scene looked like:


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However, more than just driving by, what brought home the impact of these fires for me was helping a church family try to deal with the aftermath. This particular family lives in one of the hard-hit neighborhoods and were just able to re-enter today. After much worrying and wondering, they were relieved to find their home in good condition. Their neighbor five houses, down, however, was not so fortunate:

I have heard about the random nature of fires — one house will be perfectly fine, the next completely leveled. But it is an altogether different experience to see it with my own eyes. We spent most of the afternoon trying to clean up the ash and soot that covered most of everything and to try to make their place livable again.

On Monday, while were still greeting evacuees at our church, a stranger wandered into our education building. After talking for a bit, finding out some of his story and giving him some bus fare, he said (regarding the wildfires), “You know, people call these kinds of things ‘acts of God.'” I told him I didn’t think that was an accurate description of what was happening. As much as we’re all grateful that God has spared our homes, can we really say that we out-prayed or received more favor from God than those who lost their homes? I don’t think this is a straightforward one-to-one proposition — otherwise, we’d all end up losing our places, wouldn’t we?

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After cleaning the front of the house and the garage, we moved to the backyard — which, if we didn’t realize it before, definitely put into perspective how close they came to losing their house. One family member saw the garden hose in the back and didn’t remember leaving it out, and then we saw this burnt out palm tree, not even ten feet from the house:


We could only guess that either a firefighter or neighbor who stayed behind saw the burning palm tree and doused the flames with the garden hose. Just beyond the white fence is the ravine through which the fire cut a brutal path — embers kicked up from the Santa Ana winds must have caught the house five doors down.

However, the street just across the gulch was hit much harder. I passed house after house that looked as if some angry, mythic giant had just stomped on them; but there was the same randomness — one house was hit, the next three were fine, and then two in a row were gone. News crews were out in full force (I saw at least three), chronicling the heartbreak of families trying to salvage whatever they could.


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My daughter attends the preschool of a church in this community in which 57 families lost their homes. Tonight, they hosted a gathering of worship, prayer and sharing. It did our hearts good to stand with others in our community who have lost it all and yet can say, “We are survivors; God is with us” as we did as a modified benediction today. Reading Scripture together, seeking God and interceding on behalf of others, sitting together in silence. The old hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” came together with a new resonance tonight.

We realized tonight that, in our longing for connection, community is not going to come to us — we have to pursue it, build it wherever we are. If you are in the San Diego area, there are plenty of people in need. Some need help sifting through the rubble, some might need special expertise navigating the maze of FEMA and insurance, and some might just need you to listen to their stories and weep with them. Let’s be the body of Christ to a hurting world. Or, as Donald Miller writes, followers of Christ are called to live “as if something was broken in the world and we were supposed to hold our palms against the wound.”

Thank you, everyone, for your prayers.  I think they might be the one thing sustaining us right now.  

I am writing from Orange County. My wife is an amazing trooper — she drove most of the four-hour drive through bumper-to-bumper traffic up from San Diego, while I spent most of the trip vomiting (we think it was probably due to smoke inhalation).   Our family is still safe, but all we have right now is what we could cram into the car during the mad dash to evacuate our place.  We are hearing reports that our apartment is still standing, but at literally the next stop light up the road the fire departement is not allowing people to pass because of the continuing fire danger.

We spent most of yesterday at church helping out church families who were, and still are, under mandatory evacuation from their Rancho Bernardo homes.  Just to give you an idea of the sheer destructive force of these fires,  here is the preliminary report of homes lost in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood alone  (although, because so many residents have been trying to access the site, you might want to wait a couple of days before checking it out so that there is more bandwidth for those affected).

There are wildfires raging in Orange County as well, which is what brought us to my father-in-law’s place.  If they need to evacuate (which is still a realistic possibility), then we wanted to be available to help them.  Things seem relatively stable here, so if we get word that we can return to our homes then we will be back in SD tomorrow.

Our students are frightened.  I can’t tell you how many of them received phone calls from their friends, weeping because they had already lost their homes.  One of my ninth-graders, in fact, was the first one to inform her friend that she had lost her home after seeing their address listed during the continuous television coverage.  How do you deal with that? We prayed together and tried our best, with racing hearts, to reassure and comfort them.

Worse still, many of them live in the neighborhoods that were hit hardest.  One of my youth group teachers left her house with only her family and the clothes on their back when the police arrived at their house at four in the morning, urgently telling them to evacuate because the fire was already destroying their neighborhood. 

We’re still waiting to find out which homes are still standing.  It’s the not knowing that is the worst part.  Yes, yes — it’s just stuff; but, at the same time, these homes are safe havens filled with memories and it has been utterly crushing to just sit and wait and watch while San Diego burns. 

Over half a million people have been evacuated.  There are over 20,000 people taking refuge at Qualcomm Stadium.  The fires continue to rage across thousands of acres and turn countless lives upside-down. View the San Diego Tribune’s interactive map to get a sense of the vast scope of devastation in the San Diego area.

Somehow, we know that God is bigger than all of this — but, from down in the soot and ash, fear and despair, it is so hard to trust.  We treasure your continued prayers for all of us here.

The LifeStraw is a portable water purifier in the form of an oversized straw that filters out most water-borne illnesses. At a cost of approximately three dollars, the LifeStraw will provide a person with safe drinking water for about a year. The LifeStraw was voted one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2005.

According to the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report 2006, 1.2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water and 2.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation. The report issues this sobering fact, “In a world of unprecedented wealth, almost 2 million children die each year for want of a glass of clean water and adequate sanitation.”

Many of us suffer from “compassion fatigue.” In the last couple of years, we have lived through terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and floods. And, after each of these catastrophic events, our inboxes are filled with urgent pleas to donate and make a difference. Even late at night, when we’re trying to watch SportsCenter for the third time in a row, we are bombarded with images of hungry children and earnest spokespeople asking us to help. I worry when my heart grows hard to the fact that four thousand kids die every single day from drinking dirty water. It’s easy to rationalize: I give to the church (I mean, I work for the church), we already sponsor a child and his family every month, leave me alone already, etc.

Fortunately, there are groups like Living Water International, blood:water mission and WaterAid who are hard at work to create a world in which people — every single one of them made in the image of God — have access to safe water and sanitation.

I am so proud of our youth group here at church. On Saturday, September 29th, we will participate in walktheirwalk — a twelve mile walkathon to raise money to build a school in the community of Twachiyanda, Zambia and to help provide safe drinking water throughout rural Zambia through Zambia Fresh Water Project. The twelve mile route of walktheirwalk symbolizes the distance children from Twachiyanda walk every day in order to attend school. We are privileged to be a small part of building a better life for these children, their families and their community. If you are moved to partner with us, you can donate online at our youth group’s walktheirwalk donation page.

According to this article, the vending industry earns around $30 billion annually. While most of this money comes in fifty cent increments on items like Doritos and Diet Coke, there is a growing segment of hi-tech, upscale gadget vending machines. I ran across the iPod vending machine pictured above at DFW.

Stores like Bed Bath and Beyond often put impulse purchase items near the checkout so that consumers leave the store not only with the spatula or towel they originally intended to purchase, but also with a three pound jug of Swedish Fish and a four-pack of Stick Up Bulbs. Marketers have long-realized that by placing the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs at eye-level for most seven year old children in the cereal aisle of grocery stores, they can initiate more emotional meltdowns (“But I neeeed it!”) and, thus, increase sales.

At first, I was strangely amused by the iPod vending machine. Does it come charged? Where would a person purchase songs for it, if the intent is to listen to it during an impending flight? Upon further reflection, there is something troubling about how easy it would be to drop $300 onto your credit card with one quick swipe. Of course, many travelers probably can afford to make such a large impulse purchase, and it is not the responsibility of vending machine companies to ensure that consumers spend their money in a responsible manner. But, still, do we need to feed our instant-gratification mindset anymore than we already do?

The process of spiritual formation is inherently, often frustratingly, slow. As much as we would like it to be true, we cannot simply swipe a couple of prayers through a spiritual card-reader and expect abundant life to be delivered via some mechanical arm into our outstretched hands. To paraphrase something I read once, we should not be surprised when people in our churches are self-centered and selfish when we advertise that we exist to meet all their needs. I certainly believe that people should find friendship, community, comfort, healing and love in church. But it is in that strange paradox of living by dying, gaining by giving, that we find what we truly need.