Archives for category: sigh

I knew it was getting bad last week when the coach of Appalachian State University, who upset U of M in last year’s opening shocker, was talking smack about the Wolverines — and they weren’t even playing them this season.  Check out this quote from the App State coach after losing to LSU last weekend:

“They (LSU) are so athletic. It just wore on us,” Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. “They didn’t play like Michigan. They played like LSU.”


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You know how some people carry around those little tip charts in their pockets? I’m thinking I could hit it big if I could make a pocket-sized “Christian equivalency” chart for people to carry around so they can steer clear of secular territory.  For example, this safety chart might have things like:

  • Mountain Dew t-shirt = “Jesus Meant to Die” t-shirt
  • Altoids = Testamints
  • Scattergories = Bible Scattergories
  • Dance Dance Revolution = Dance Praise Dance Game
  • Hootie and the Blowfish = Third Day, Casting Crows, MercyMe, et al.

…all of this was spurred on by the recent announcement that, for those of us who could not bear the thought of allowing face-melting heathen music like DragonForce or Iron Maiden into our homes but are still itching to play Guitar Hero, relief has finally arrived!

Say hello to Guitar Praise!

Unfortunately, although they do have a Petra song in the track list, I do not see any Stryper.  For real, no To Hell with the Devil or Honestly?  That’s a dealbreaker right there.

If you’ve been part of the Christian subculture for long enough, you’ve probably noticed the staggering amount of oddball Jesus Junk we manage to produce. Take your pick: Testamints (a perennial favorite target of skeptics everywhere, and yet, strangely tasty), Jesus playing hockey figurines (but would He have brawled during the heyday of the Wings/Avs rivalry?), Bible snack bars or this must-have design statement for your home (magically painted in light, no less). If you’ve got some time on your hands, Marko has been handing out Jesus Junk awards for awhile now.

Most of the time, I can either enjoy or dismiss these Jesus junky items with ironic detachment — I mean, seriously, how can you not appreciate the irony of “armor of God” pajamas that look like Roman soldier outfits straight out of a Passion play?

However, what can we make of a board game called Missionary Conquest? It sounds like the derisive kind of satire that those outside the church use to criticize Christians:

The object of “Missionary Conquest” is to establish as many missions around the world as possible, while racking up blessing points. Along the way, you try to avoid temptation and bad stewardship. If you get kicked out of a country, you lose bonus points and if you’re martyred, you’re out of the game, but you gain 150 blessing points

While many followers of Christ seek to live out and participate in the mission of God in their everyday communities with humility, love and respect, a game like this painfully reinforces the misperception that our faith in Jesus is colonial, domineering and/or oppressive.

In the NBA, there are many different players that make up a championship-caliber club. These days, a team needs more than one marquee superstar to get over the hump. Take Kobe Bryant — arguably the greatest talent in the league today — and his Lakers squad. Sure, Lamar Odom is talented and they have several important role players — but it was this year’s acquisition (read: outright theft) of Pau Gasol that has rocketed them back into the upper stratosphere of the NBA elite. Factor in the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a genuine star and we might see Showtime 2.0 for the next couple of years. Even Michael Jordan could not have enjoyed his great championship run without Scottie Pippen.

However, truly successful teams need much more than superstars. Every team needs role players — e.g., 3-point sharpshooters, defensive hounds, etc. While being a solid supporting cast member might not be ideal, there is one type of label that many NBA players seem to loathe: energy guy.

McSweeney’s defines energy guy in the following manner:

Varejao is what hoops experts commonly refer to as an “energy guy,” a player whose job is to grab key offensive rebounds, track down loose balls, and take charges (often, in Varejao’s case, by “flopping”). Praising this style of play, whose inhibition so contrasts with the fluidity and improvisation of star players like Varejao’s teammate LeBron James, makes the Bill Walton do-gooders feel that they are teaching America’s youth a more ethically sensible version of how to play basketball. I say, Don’t limit their dreams!

For many players, the energy guy label implies that they make up for their lack of inherent skill with lots of effort — as very vocal supporters from sidelines, hyperactive rebounders or pests who annoy the other team’s star. Ronny Turiaf of the aforementioned Lakers has been doing everything he can to shed the “energy guy” label this year — despite the fact that his post-dunk dances from the bench are extremely enjoyable.

From my experience, many first generation Korean immigrant churches are a little bit like the NBA in their attitude — pastors want to be the marquee superstars, while doing everything in their power to avoid being role players or energy guys (I suspect many other churches experience something similar, but I haven’t been a part of them).

The system is setup so that it is very clear that the senior pastor is “number one” and everyone else is probably around #247 or so — existing only to do number one’s bidding. What person in their right mind would stay on as an associate in such an environment? The negative force to leave and either assume a senior pastorate elsewhere or startup a new venture is too great.

Also, this flawed ecclesiology completely ignores an individual’s particular gifting and sense of calling. I have seen many “administrative” pastors in first-gen Korean churches who were completely disorganized — totally incapable of balancing scheduling and facilities needs, office work and all the other behind the scenes things admin people are supposed to do. It’s just a stepping stone, a desperate clinging, to the dream of becoming number one. And someone who believes they are called to serve youth or children as more than just a quick stop to something bigger and better? Give me a break!

On top of all this, the idea itself, that the pastor is somehow the “boss” or “star” of anything, is utterly repugnant to me. This goes beyond the negative professionalization of ministry. In the first gen setting, it’s more about patriarchy, filial piety and a barely-masked “pastor as shaman” attitude.

So… in other words, there is no room for role players in most of these churches. Being anything other than the superstar is so utterly demeaning and unsatisfying that only a masochist would stick around as a role player. And yet, there must be some people who have been called to a vocational ministry other than senior pastor in this setting — while it might not sound like a great “career” path, perhaps some people’s unique gifting and calling equips them particularly as an associate pastor of some kind (or even a *gasp* lifetime youth pastor).

I think most first gen immigrant churches would benefit greatly from having an “energy guy” or two on the staff. Right now, there is a culture of suspicion in many first gen churches — if an associate gains too much popularity, the senior pastor either forces them out because of insecurity, or that person leaves of their own accord because they feel they would do a better job anyways. How different things would be if there would be staff members who were not looked down upon as being “less skilled” than the senior pastor-type, but who believe in the vision and can wholeheartedly and energetically support the church, genuinely cheering on the success of others and revitalizing the efforts of the entire community.

Over the last couple of years, I have done a lot of soul-searching (as most of us in vocational ministry will do) about what my role in the church might be. Like many of my peers who have served in first-generation Korean immigrant churches, I have become more convinced that I do not have a place here because I simply do not understand the church in the same ways as most first gen pastors. The next great task, that I have been wrestling with nonstop for awhile now, is not just ruling out what I think is a wrong approach, but developing what I think might be a more healthy ecclesiology and sense of ministry and where that might take me.

Because of our church’s location, we encounter a relatively steady stream of people — many of them homeless — who come in and ask for money. Even in the year or so we’ve been here, we have met quite a few characters with a wide range of stories that span the spectrum of believability.

Yesterday, however, I met a man with the most elaborate story yet. For about forty-five minutes, John laid out his story of the difficult divorce he was enduring — that his wife of almost thirty years had been seeing another man for about a year and was in the process of draining him of all his resources: financial, emotional, etc. He said he worked in the area and had passed by our church many times but was compelled to stop by today because he was at the end of his rope and needed someone, anyone, to talk to.

My heart really went out to John. After all, who hasn’t felt let down by life before, harassed and helpless before a constant barrage of circumstances beyond our control? And, from the way he described his circumstances, things were going to get much worse before they might become any better. He said he was alone — no parents, no siblings, no kids. I listened, asked questions, tried to reassure him that God never abandons us, even if it appears that all hope is lost.

However, by the last third of our conversation it became readily apparent that he was asking for money. If we could just float him a loan for $150 he would pay us back by Friday, payday. This would cover his hotel costs for the week, you see, and he was totally good for it.

I don’t mean to come across cynically in sharing this story. In fact, my wife and I were ready to strain our meager financial resources in order to help him out. We want to be wise, however, in how we choose to help. I made a couple of phone calls and it became quite clear almost immediately that John’s story did not check out. He left for a “meeting” and, when he returned, I told him the church would not be able to help him out financially. He left quickly, but not before asking half-heartedly, “You don’t have any money, do you?”

At the risk of sounding naive or idealistic, I am still pretty shocked when a person can lie so brazenly — clearly, John knew which buttons to push and which heartstrings to pull. I suppose, since he was asking for more than just a couple of dollars to eat a meal, he needed an appropriately large story to match. I can understand a person’s struggle and desperation to make it. To quote Kanye West, “So I did, what I had to did, because I had a kid…”

I want to be part of the solution. I believe in contributing to organizations that have experience and expertise in dealing with the root causes of poverty and injustice. I wonder with the same ambivalence if that panhandler asking for a dollar will spend it on alcohol or drugs. Like others, I think I prefer to give a sandwich or buy a meal for someone who says that they are hungry. Had John’s story checked out, my wife and I were prepared to drive down to his hotel and cover his bill until Friday.

But, at the same time, I want to do more than cut a check from a distance and call it a day. As Shane Claiborne writes in The Irresistible Revolution:

Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He seeks concrete acts of love: “you fed me.. you visited me in prison… you welcomed me into your home… you clothed me….” The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed.

Learning to sort through and filter out the hustling, lying and scamming is part of the territory. Choosing to enter into the mess of someone else’s life always means getting your hands dirty. I don’t want the audacity of some grifter to harden my heart to others who are in need. Even John, who thought he’d come and pull a fast one on some dumb pastor, is someone deeply in need.