Archives for category: frustration

Today, our car battery died. More specifically, it died on three separate occasions — all within the course of an hour. The first time it went down for the count was, fortunately (or so I thought), at a gas station. We had just filled up our tank and were preparing to leave when the car wouldn’t start. It was the middle of the afternoon and there were plenty of people around so, even though we didn’t have jumper cables, I thought we’d be recharged and ready to leave in no time. Apparently, I was wrong.

First, I approached the employees and asked if they had jumper cables. They informed me that they did not, which seemed strange to me, but I figured there were plenty of other people there so it wouldn’t be a problem. After being told by three or four people that, sorry, they didn’t have cables I ran across the way to the drug store to pick up a set of cables. Now that we have our own cables, I thought, things would be much easier. Wrong again.

I ran back and started asking people for help: Sorry to bother you, but we’re stranded here at the gas station. Our car is right over there and I have these cables in my hand. Could you give us a jump? About four or five people said no (and a couple of others got into their cars and left as quickly as they could when they saw me walking around the gas station) when I approached a man in a Mercedes. When I asked for help, instead of replying with a simple “no” he scoffed and said, “Not with this car.” It’s not just that the effort of popping the hood and turning the key to start the engine is just too much to ask; it’s the very thought of contaminating his luxury import with my unworthy family sedan. I don’t even have my Junky Car Club sticker on my car — I guess he just has extrasensory perception about these kinds of things.

Eventually, one of the employees came out and gave me a jump.  We drove off, dumbfounded.  I can be pretty cynical, but that man’s hardcore condescension took me off guard.  However, my faith in our fellow human beings was restored by the next person who helped us.  I’ve had car batteries die before and, usually, after getting jumped and being driven for awhile things work out alright.  However, after running a few errands (and leaving the car running, with someone inside, of course) the car decided to call it a day once again in a parking lot while it was still running.  That, I’ve never experienced.

Dreading a repeat of the gas station incident, I went straight to the employees.  I was pleasantly surprised when one employee, Elizabeth, offered to help right away.  Because of the way the parking spaces were configured, our jumper cables would not reach her car.  I began pushing the car out and Elizabeth started helping me push as well.  She then explained to another customer who was angry that the car was blocking her way that our car battery had died and we needed a jump, and could she pull out of the parking in lot in the other direction?  Once the cars were properly positioned, jumping it was a breeze.  We thanked Elizabeth sincerely (I’m definitely writing a letter to her manager to let them know how helpful she was to us) and were on our way.

What a mess we all are.  Even when we have good intentions, sometimes just having a bad day throws everything out the window.  I think, in some providential way, God knew that I needed to both the beauty and depravity residing in all of us, and to remind me to help others in need — even if it inconveniences me a bit.

After reading this article about a series of nooses being hung all around the nation, apparently in response to what is happening with the Jena 6, I am saddened, disgusted and frustrated. Nooses, really? Our culture is digressing in troubling ways. I get the same sinking feeling that Eugene Cho wrote about recently, in his post Racism Sucks, about the vast difference in media coverage between crimes committed against white and black people.

There is so much hatred lurking just beneath the surface. People are so quick to pin the blame for the difficulty in their lives on someone else — it’s always “their” fault, whoever they might be. What is particularly infuriating about these noose incidents is the disgusting cowardice of these perpetrators. Like the Klansmen who hide behind masks, these people sneak around as they attempt to inflict terror on others.

I am reminded of an ugly incident that occurred during my seminary days. Several non-white students received racist, hateful rants scrawled across the message boards on their doors. Although the seminary convened a task force in response to these incidents, the perpetrator was never caught and the matter was essentially swept under the rug. Looking back, I wish I had taken a stronger stand in pursuit of justice instead of allowing the seminary community to act like nothing ever happened. Princeton is a wonderful community in many ways, but very proud and set in its ways — during my time there I encountered many people who were shocked to find that not everyone shared their worldview and that, in fact, their perspective was not normative for everyone else.

We are often guilty of perpetuating the culture of self-centered entitlement — Jesus died just for you, our church is all about your needs, etc. — instead of self-giving servanthood.  This sense that someone, everyone, owes me only breeds resentment and violence.  May Christ break this sick, self-perpetuating cycle of privilege and selfishness.

This morning, I stopped by a Christian bookstore to pick up some resources for our youth ministry. I was deeply disappointed to discover an old edition of Skits That Teach still on the shelves — the one that opens with a mocking, racist portrayal of a “Chinese food deliveryman.” Although it might feel like a long time ago, this whole commotion took place earlier this year. I have asked this particular bookstore to remove this edition on at least three occasions. This morning I sent both an email and a letter to their corporate office. Hopefully, this issue can be resolved quickly and simply. After all, the publishers, Youth Specialties, took extraordinary and decisive action to make this right. It seems like a very small step for this store to replace the old version with the updated one.

As draining and frustrating as this issue has been, I know that it it is only a very small component of the greater picture of racial justice in our country. It was only fifty years ago that nine African American students required the protection of the 101st Airborne simply to attend classes as schools became racially integrated. How could a society be so sick that a group of high school students required Presidential protection?

And yet, this is not a story that happened and we moved on from it. It continues to happen today. As Juan Williams writes in The Legacy of Little Rock, for Time Magazine:

American schools are still nearly as segregated as they were 50 years ago. Almost three-quarters of African-American students are currently in schools that are more than 50% black and Latino, while the average white student goes to a school that is 80% white, according to a 2001 study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

However, what might be more disturbing than this continued segregation is the underlying attitude that Williams identifies in the current state of our approach to education, race and civil rights:

…even as we celebrate what happened 50 years ago in the glory days of the civil rights movement, the political will to integrate schools in this country is long gone. So, too, is the desire to fix every economic inequity before delivering quality education to all children.

It is so easy to lose heart, to grow apathetic, to feel like things will never change. Maybe it’s because we think we’re beyond all of this “race talk.” After all, we don’t see hooded Klansmen murdering people or the police turning firehoses and attack dogs on peaceful protesters, right? Then again, the Jena 6 situation might suggest that we haven’t come as far as we’d like to think.

And yet, in the midst of this confusing mess, we cling to the promise of our God who makes all things new. I must believe that God wants to create His perfect shalom out of all our hatred, violence and nonsense.

In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, China has made efforts to eradicate the often-confusing, sometimes-embarrassing Engrish translations that appear on signs in public. An example below:

I always get a kick out of signs that do not communicate their intended message. For example, you can find the sign on the left in each boat on the Small World ride at Disneyland. The text (which is not pictured) tells riders that, for their own safety on this particular ride, they should not stand. However, whenever I see this sign, I imagine it saying: “No Breakdancing.” As an aside, the characters in the prohibited photo look to me suspiciously like Mr. Bean dancing. If they don’t want people standing during the ride, maybe they shouldn’t make it look like so much fun!

In any case, I bring up this idea of clear communication because I recently registered with Technorati (which I still don’t really understand). I was a bit dismayed to find that someone had responded to one my recent posts about worship, music and lyrics with the criticism that I had over-intellectualized the subject. It’s not so much the criticism itself that affected me (although I get the distinct feeling that this blogger misunderstood what I was trying to say) but the idea that I might not be clearly communicating what I intend to say. Or, worse, that I might come off as pretentious. As someone who preaches to youth who will let me know what they think of my sermons (e.g., smiles, frowns, nodding approval or nodding off) every week, I wouldn’t think of myself as communicating in a pretentious or confusing manner.

I saw this sign in a shop in K-town in Los Angeles:

Although I can sound out the Korean words phonetically, my comprehension is minimal at best. I puzzled over the English sign for awhile. So, does this product give a person all of these horrible diseases and, if so, who in their right mind would pay $10 for each of them? What else should we expect from them?

To my relief, my wife translated the sign for me and assured me that, in Korean, the sign shows the unique ways in which this product will help a person. I hope my words do not create the reader’s version of athlete’s foot but would, in some small way, be a help instead.

Finally, finally, there is some good news coming from Afghanistan regarding the South Korean hostages who have been held captive for six weeks. According to Yonhap News, twelve of the remaining nineteen hostages have been freed by the Taliban. The remaining seven are scheduled to be released soon. Let’s hope and pray that the rest of the group makes it home safely as well. Eugene Cho has been faithfully keeping many of us up to date on this situation; DJ Chuang and Laurence Tom have also been updating.

What a terrible ordeal these people have endured at the hands of terrorists. And, as if they have not suffered enough already, it appears that they might face criticism and controversy when they return home.

Details of the deal struck between the Taliban and the South Korean government are being disclosed. From the Yonhap News article:

Seoul, instead, has promised to pull its troops out of the war-torn country before the end of the year, as well as prohibit any South Korean Christian missionaries from entering the country, Cheon Ho-seon, a spokesman for the presidential office, said in a press briefing late Tuesday.

Many could speak with more passion and insight regarding the political reasons and ramifications of South Korea’s military withdrawal, but my concern today is the prohibition of missionaries. Understandably, because of the intensely tragic events that took place in Afghanistan, the South Korean government would want to do whatever they could to ensure the future safety of its citizens. However, I can’t help but wonder about the consequences of such a decision. I’ll save my thoughts about mission work (and my disappointment with the Western media) for another time.

For now, it is enough to celebrate the good news at hand. Today, perhaps, the released hostages and their families can begin to live and breathe once again. We can stand together in joy and relief with them. At the same time, this is also a time to persevere in prayer for those who are still being held captive.

The headline of the September 3, 2007 issue of Time magazine made me hold my breath for a moment: “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa.” In this day & age, scandal among leading figures of faith is nothing new — but Mother Teresa?

Well, as it turns out, her “secret” is that she suffered a crisis of faith. I suppose in a culture where Mother Teresa is more of a cultural archetype than an actual human being, the fact that she struggled — mightily, at times — in her faith would be a shocking “secret” worthy of an expose. I would never wish a dark night of the soul upon anyone. The pain, the emptiness, the grief — these things can almost tear a person apart. But I find myself oddly reassured that Mother Teresa was a real human being, with very real questions, doubts and struggles. It gives me hope that, by the grace of God, I can become the person God intends for me to be. As Eugene Cho writes in his post about this article:

While I have joy in my convictions as a believer of God and follower of Christ, I am not afraid to call Mystery and Doubt my friends and acquaintances. They have accompanied my journey for some time…and have actually strengthened my walk with Christ.

It is almost human nature to love the idea of a person more than the physical human being in front of us. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that is a large part of why many relationships fail — we develop this idealized version of our beloved that can only lead to disappointment and failure. I love this quote from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community, even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.

Even though I’ve been serving in a first-generation immigrant church context for awhile now, I still struggle with understanding the Asian idea of saving face. At times, it feels like we are willfully misleading people in order to maintain the dream of the community, as opposed to entering the messy reality of one another’s lives. It’s safer and simpler to keep each other at arm’s length. But what costs so little yields a similarly cheap result.

I have really struggled over the last couple of weeks because of the circumstances of a family we know. The husband and wife have been contemplating divorce — difficult in any circumstance, but made even stickier in a first-generation immigrant setting. On top of that, the husband works for their church as a member of the first-generation staff. Unfortunately, their resolution seems to be sending off the husband to another country for “mission” work. This ridicules not only the sanctity of marriage, but also the calling to cross into another culture and serve in the name of Christ. The frightening thing is that I’m sure many of us could repeat almost verbatim the same story from our own church experience — it’s not love that covers over a multitude of sins, but a holy facade.

What would happen in the Asian American church if we acknowledged, and entered into, the mess of one another’s lives? We might have to fight our inner Homer Simpson shouting “Too much infor-mation!” and deal with the awkwardness of actually getting to know each other, but isn’t it worth it? The mess could become beautiful if we lived in it together. If you need a little inspiration, or a soundtrack to your messy spirituality, listen to this track, I Live In The Mess You Are, by Zookeeper (Chris Simpson of post-rock powerhouse Mineral and shoegaze wonders The Gloria Record).

Preaching that we should always trust in God can feel kind of trite and condescending when done from the comfort of a sleepy Southern California suburb while yet another South Korean hostage has been murdered in Afghanistan. It’s bad enough that such a terrible series of events is happening, but I start to despair when the response of the body of Christ here is either deafening silence or outright hostility.  One outstanding voice has been Eugene Cho, through his regular updates and insights into this situation.

There is a time and place for critiquing and questioning this group’s purpose and methodology in their trip to Afghanistan, but now is not that time. When people are being murdered and held hostage, we should mourn, weep and pray — not stand on our comfortable soapboxes, point fingers and blame the victims.  It saddens me that a powerful voice such as Christianity Today barely mentions this tragedy — and, even then, focuses their coverage on critiquing Korean missionary efforts rather than sounding the call to prayer and solidarity.

Regardless of whether or not this particular group was there to overtly share their Christian faith, it frustrates me to hear criticisms such as, “Well, they should have known something like this would happen in such a dangerous place” or “They have no right to try to be there.”  Maybe one day I will share some of my thoughts about the shortcomings of Korean and Korean American missionary efforts, but I will say this right now — I have known many Korean missionaries who have given up very comfortable lives in order to go live in hard places, often without electricity or running water and usually without recognition or applause, simply because they are compelled by the love of God in Christ.  By the same line of reasoning many critics are following, the martyrs of Hebrews 11 should never have gone into difficult places hostile to Christ.

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy.