Fresh Off the Boat: the Risk of Talent

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One of the most hilarious scenes of the FOTB episode is when the waiter Mitch quits the restaurant.  The dad of the show decides that he has to hire a new worker.  We have applicants of all kinds including a vegetarian.  Finally, they found a guy to help waiter the place. This guy is a handsome and intelligent cowboy who can charm customers by trick lassoing chairs. The place thrives because of this new hire.  This new waiter is also full of great ideas but this displeases the father who owns the restaurant.  Meanwhile, the incompetent Mitch comes over to visit.  The reason why Mitch quit in the first place is because he was hired by a rival restaurant for a bit more pay, but soon, he finds out that the new place is not what he likes. So, he visits to see if he can have his old job back.  His first job upon coming back is to fire the competent cowboy for the owner.

 

When laughing at this entirely ridiculous scenario, we may ask why the dad wants to fire the handsome, loyal and competent cowboy in favor of the homely, disloyal and incompetent Mitch.  The answer is simple.  The cowboy is doing his job too well.  Instead of seeing the cowboy as an asset, the dad sees him as a threat. He’d rather have the lousy Mitch than the brilliant cowboy.  The show demonstrates the hardship of being in charge.  Healthy leadership doesn’t require the leader to know everything and have all the ideas.  Healthy leadership appreciates the superior talents in the subordinates.  This talented cowboy generated a lot of new customers because of his brilliance. He brings success. All good ideas don’t have to come from one source.  They don’t even need to come from the top.  At the end of the day, leadership requires character.  Leadership isn’t all about talents and great ideas.  It’s about the character that allows for great ideas by others and giving credit where credit is due.  The dad didn’t do this and his restaurant will once again stumble along with the silly Mitch who can’t even keep from knocking things over while trying to do his job.

 

Good ideas grow in an environment created by generous leaders with character.  That’s the bottom line.

Chasing the Cyberspace Ambulance: Pontificating about CY Leung’s Daughter

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Christians, especially famous Christian leaders, seem to think that they have the divine right to give their opinions on anything and everything.  Many try to stay as current as possible.  A while back, a friend describes this phenomenon as “chasing ambulance.”  The term originally describes lawyers chasing ambulance to get to the victim first so that they can be the first on the case to sue for money.  In cyberspace, there’re many ambulances to chase.  There’re many cases in society that demand the Christian response.  A while back, some Christians commented on how ISIS’s terrorism actually created unique opportunity for evangelism.  In a separate blog, I explained that such logic is “let’s bring forth evil so that good can come about”.  May it never be.  Dating 2004, popular preacher John Piper linked the issue of tsunami and God’s sovereignty in some tricky theological gymnastics that sends chills down many of our spines.  Most progressive Christians find this kind of craziness extremely annoying.  After all, this kind of unhelpful pontification is bad for the public stance of the gospel.

 

This week, the news brings us the case of the daughter of Hong Kong’s chief executive CY Leung, Chai Yan Leung.  She claims that her mother attacked her and called her a “stupid c…t” etc. and she has left her home.  Before she left, she also posted pictures of her heavily bruised legs that look like someone had practiced Muay Thai on them.  As a Christian father, this news breaks my heart, and I’ve been in prayer for her and her family ever since.  For those of my English readers who don’t know who CY Leung is.  He’s the chief executive of HK (equivalent to a prime minister position) who executed China’s policies in violating the civil rights of the HK people.  It was his governorship that had sparked some of the widespread protests in recent HK history.  Those who know me also know that I’m not at all fond of Mr. Leung. His disdain for human rights and religion certainly doesn’t sit well with me.

 

What I saw from responses to the demise of his daughter disturb me.  Here’re several possible response.  First, the psychological response.  With CY Leung being such a psychopath (and there’re many indicators that he is) and his abusive nature along with his wife’s fascist pro-China stance, it’s little wonder that the poor daughter is abused.  This is a good guess.  If the man runs his family the way he runs HK, the young lady doesn’t have many options other than rebellion.  Second, the allegorical  response, “We are Chai Yan”.  Some have said that CY’s daughter is like HK.  She’s abused and the people are rebelling.  She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t, much like the HK people.   I’m unsure what to say about this because she isn’t exactly like HK.  She’s a person.  HK is a group of people. It’s hard to bring the metaphor together, though there’re connection points.  You’re not Chai Yan.  Third, the theological response.   God must be punishing CY.  All I have to say is, You can’t read God’s mind.  Who knows?

 

I want to now compare these three responses to tsunami or terrorist response.  We’re very appalled by the tsunami and terrorist response precisely because our pontification makes our faith look like a moralizing mess.  Many of us want to think that these issues are part of the mystery to that question “where is God?” We hesitate to assign cause and effect or make them metaphors of some other profound morality.  I think we need to apply the same criteria even when we apply our responses to CY Leung, someone we can really hate.  But can we apply it to his daughter?  If so, is it too soon?

 

As the daughter of a public figure, life must be so hard for her.  Many see the glamorous side from her Facebook or Instagram where she hangs out with the likes of Paris Hilton, but do many see the real her?  Behind social media is this scared little girl.  She has nothing to do with HK politics directly.  She’s just someone’s daughter possibly coming from an abusive background, and she simply can’t choose who her parents are; she’s born into this family.  It’s unfair to pontificate on her misfortune, I think.  She isn’t our rhetorical channel.

 

Am I saying that we as Christians, especially as leaders and preachers, shouldn’t talk about relevant reflections on contemporary issues? By no means!  Theology and faith ought to be relevant.  What’s the difference between relevance and chasing ambulances?  The difference is in context and timing.  When there’s no direct correlation between our reflection and the event, we’re reading reality out of context. We’re using the wrong channel to broadcast our rhetoric.  The issue here is family that goes beyond political differences. That’s as bad as reading a text out of context.  It’s just hijacking an event to push our agenda.  Domestic abuse happens on both sides of the political aisle.  If we want to talk about how the government intrudes on the family, perhaps just directly dealing with education is better.  We aren’t ideologues.  Our political lens shouldn’t color everything we read.  We should be truth speakers, not sophists.  One friend pointed out to me that people are looking for answers.  Sometimes, we’re too eager to give answers.  Sometimes, the best answer is to remain silent.  Answers don’t have to come in words. Answers can also come in an exemplary life of wisdom.

 

What about timing?  Just like when the ambulance’s job is to deliver the patient to get treatment, chasing it to get business may not be the best tact.  Timing is everything, but the quickest knee-jerk response isn’t.  I think in this age of cyberspace, most of us can use more time to reflect.  Our knees can take a bit of rest from jerking, and a bit more praying.  Being late to the party isn’t the worst thing that can happen.  Entering the through the wrong door certainly is.

 

Above all, pray for Chai Yan!

Fresh Off the Boat: Spirituality of Diversity?

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I’m going to write on and off about my reflection on the Fresh Off the Boat series simply because I really enjoy the show.  I watch it as a routine with my family every Tuesday night so that we can have meaningful discussions about our status as racial minority in the US.  In case you haven’t watched the show (and you live outside of the US), it’s a simple comedy showing the cultural difference between the races in the US through the eyes of one Taiwanese-American family.  It’s based on a book by Eddie Huang, a restauranteur in the NYC area who came from an immigrant family. I plan on reading the book soon. Although the real Eddie Huang had written a serious memoir with some humor in it, the show isn’t supposed to reflect on all the content of the memoir.  The show was only inspired by the memoir.

 

This week, we have Eddie the little ABC (i.e. American-born-Chinese, commonly known in the West Coast and East Coast as “ABC”) kid going to school and being forced to meet his new classmate who is also Asian.  I said “forced” because it was the principal’s idea to introduce Eddie to one of “his people.” (i.e. people who look the same).  Eddie finds out that this new kid isn’t anything remotely like himself.  While Eddie loves rap, this kid plays classical music.  While Eddie dresses in hip t-shirts and jeans (much like my little son Ian), this kid dresses in a jacket and slacks.  The humor was not lost on my own two kids when they both shouted “Heck, no!” as soon as they saw this other kid.  To make matters worse, this new kid is adopted by a Jewish family and has a name Philip Goldstein.  The difference creates a lot of comedy of errors.

 

The comical part starts with Eddie sitting in the principal’s office, this time, not for fighting or for some normal teenage prank but for meeting his new friend Philip.  The principal knows that this is going to be awkward and doesn’t want to appear racist.  So, he calls the teacher to send Philip in. The trouble is that the teacher has a lot of Philip’s in the class. Which Philip?  Of course, it’s the Philip who would get along with someone named HUANG!  Eddie immediately latches on to the situation and spouts something along the line that the principal only wants him to meet his new pal because Eddie himself is ethnic Chinese. Out of embarrassment, the principal tries his best to play off the awkwardness.  Of course, just to prove his own non-racist diversity-senstive claim, the principal took a picture with BOTH Chinese kids.  We laugh. We get it!

 

This show is a complete parody of our society.  Everyone has an assumption, and some assumptions are implicitly racist.  Some actions are laughably racist.  The whole idea of “let me introduce you to a new friend who looks like you and must be able to relate to you because YOU are so culturally different from US” is completely true.  In a white church, when there’s an Asian visitor, what do people do automatically?  They grab me and my family.  Now, I don’t mind meeting new people OF ALL RACES but do my white brothers and sisters mind? Of course they mind.  Well, maybe not every single one of them, but a lot of them do mind.  They want to offload their Asian visitors to us so that they don’t have to deal with them.  Sure, there’re few who actually do go out of their way to welcome them. Now, notice I said “go out of their way” because it’s abnormal to greet someone of a culture you perceive to be different.  Yet, are the differences really that much?  Are the assumptions right?  Not always. Frequently, the assumptions are wrong.

 

To grab me or my family to greet a native Japanese or Korean or even mainland Chinese with the assumption that we have cultural commonalities is an extreme form of ignorance.  I grew up in the American South. Not only do I know American culture. I know Southern culture.  That’s the culture that stuck with me, for better or for worse.  If you go to the South, you’ll notice that we’re about as far away from Japan, Korea or China as possible.  Just because I’m completely fluent in Chinese, it doesn’t automatically make me the White Castle hamburger fast-food stop for ALL Asian visitors.  My wife grew up in SoCal.  She’s about as SoCal as they come.  I don’t think she can live anywhere else other than the West Coast of the US.  My kids lived all over the world with me but they aren’t Japanese, Korean or mainland Chinese.  They hang around mostly non-Asian kids because we have a lot of non-Asian kids in their schools.  Assumptions can be silly.  Assumptions based on skin color are utterly misguided.

 

What can the church do moving forward?  First, the church ought to stop pretending like the principal in the FOTB show that it is diverse by appearing to be diverse (take a selfie with a minority!).  The principal took the pictures with the Asian kids and sending them to his ex-wife to show that he’s diverse may look stupid, but that’s what a lot of churches do every Sunday.  Stop pretending that we have no assumption or that we’re so “one in Christ” when our very praxis says otherwise!  Admit to the assumptions. Have an honest conversation and hear the other side. In fact, better yet, let “the other side” speak once in a while like a real human being.  Now, I’m not complaining about my pastor, to be sure, because he sure takes a lot of risks by sharing his pulpit generously with me, but this is not the way things often work.  Second, individual white Christians should befriend someone s/he assumes to be culturally different than the typical white culture.  Leave prejudices aside and just listen. Instead of saying, “Gosh, how I love Japanese food.  You people are so polite,” how about just listen.  Let them talk, and learn from them.  Shutting up is one spiritual discipline that can help us all.  This is what being a diverse church is like.  Don’t assume that they’re our minority project. Assume that they can become or already are an equal partner in the Body of Christ.  That means giving them space to participate and making room for them to have a strong voice.

 

FOTB may be comedic, but its message is quite serious.  The church can learn from such a show.

What Questions Indicate

I have by now given seminars about the Bible all over the world. Upon a wide sampling of my audience, I have come to one conclusion. The preacher influences how the audience thinks. I think this may seem obvious, but many may not see its implications.

 

When I get invited to speak in different churches or organizations, I try to research about the sponsoring body so that I can tell what kind of teaching the people are used to. I would listen to sermons preached in such churches to get a sense of what the church is about. What I find is consistent. The churches that have strong pulpits tend to have a more informed audience. The ones with preachers who fly by the seat of their pants do not. The former group tends to ask intelligent questions in the Q and A time. The latter group tends to ask question that indicates serious gaps in its intellectual development. And this has nothing to do with church size at all.

 

This leads to my conclusion that the preacher makes the church, but then I began to dig a bit deeper when I start to talk to many pastors who invite me. Some who invite me aren’t at all satisfied with their church. They have trouble with the church and its members and so on. Others thoroughly enjoy their pastoral experience. This leads me to another question for which I have no answer. Does the church make the pastor or the pastor makes the church? I honestly do not know, but I do know that the preacher does influence the way his audience think. So, be careful how you preach.

 

 

Crisis Investigation and Growth

I’ve blogged about the integrity crisis of Christianity using football as an example.  Christianity is much like sports though.  Imagine every time a sports scandal breaks and the guilt is proven beyond doubt.  The investigation of the whole situation is  important in that it protects both the accused and the accuser.  The recent situation with the evangelist Yuen who is accused of repeated sexual misconducts is the best example of a muddled up followup with lawyer letter from the accused and a whole lot of silence of the lambs.  Now, he’s denied all charges but has taken a break (or maybe even quit) the ministry. All the people in his organization who depend on him for livelihood must now scramble to explain both his denial and his unexplained retirement.  Well, actually he has an explanation “so as to retreat in the Lord and seek renewal.” Why one has to quit his profession (imagine a doctor quitting his job?) “to retreat in the Lord and seek renewal” remains quite confusing. 

 

The lack of accountability and rampant misconduct aren’t just in religion. This stuff also happens in college athletics here in the US.  If we look at what happened at Penn State, the problem obviously goes beyond Joe Paterno. The entire system needed reform, and the investigation that exposed its flaws hopefully help all college sports to do better in the future.  I’m not saying that the investigation system is perfect, but there must be  a system not so much to punish only but also to restore and improve.

 

This is where Christianity as a religious system has failed miserably.  It fails because it has no such check and balance in place. It’s all about who’s got the most fans and who’s got the power.  As such, the powerful controls not just the system but also the investigation of its own scandal.  This  kind of conflict of interest is quite commonplace.  People are linked by networks of endorsement, ordination and business association.  When an investigation happens, these networks will unravel into a huge mess.  In such a case, what we see in growth in American Christianity is only artificial.  Its essence hasn’t grown because it doesn’t allow for plain and brutal investigation for all its wrongs.

 

Unless falsehood is exposed, our faith can’t grow. Neither can it thrive.

The Convenience Trap

I’ve been writing about integrity. Within the flawed system in which we operate, how do we keep integrity?

 

I get invited to different conferences to speak. In fact, that’s how I make a living.  For me, conference speaking is a business to sustain my livelihood and to feed my family.  It’s a fruitful endeavor that I enjoy almost as much as my classroom teaching and writing.  In this business of freelance speaking, I depend on networks.  As I do more and more speaking, the networks become more and more complex.  I get to find out more and more the dark side of ministerial business (as if I don’t already from growing up in a pastor’s family).  Probably the biggest lesson is that everything is political to a degree.  How do you keep your integrity in such a political situation?

 

I use the phrase “the convenience trap” to describe our temptation.  Let’s be honest, a lot of people befriend us not because they really want to be real life friends – they have plenty of those –  but because of the benefit they may gain.  Lest anyone thinks that I’m complaining, I’m not.  I also benefit from this system of “friendship.” It’s called networking.  I’m under no illusion that it’s anything other than networking.  How do I keep my integrity in check?  It’s hard.

 

I think the one lesson I learn is to avoid the convenience trap.  These days, my reflection is often to ask myself whether this networking is merely for convenience.  This is an important question to ask.  IF convenience is the criterion along with personal profit, then integrity is at risk.  A lot of people wonder why Christian celebrities fall.  My answer is because they too have fallen into the system and have become part of its machinery.  They too have fallen into the convenience trap.

 

These days, I’m no longer impressed with how large a conference I get to speak for or even necessarily the speaking fee (which is another book-length topic in itself).  Number is probably the least important thing on my mind right now.  I’m much more careful about the people who invite me because I don’t want to lose my integrity in earning a quick dollar.  Sure, my family needs to eat and I like to have some nice things in life, but you can’t buy integrity.  That should really be our bottom-line. When financial bottom-line takes over, our spiritual bottom-line will blur.  Money and power can numb the conscience, not just in church ministry or the business of church but in life itself.

 

When the Game Stands Short

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I love sports movies.  One of the recent ones I enjoyed was “When the Game Stands Tall.”  It’s a story about De La Salle High School football team, the winningest football team of any level.  The movie doesn’t only show when they won. It also shows what happened when that winning streak of 151 game came to a halt.  The team that broke that winning streak was Bellevue High, a school my son may have to wrestle in upcoming seasons.  Bellevue is also quite a powerhouse.  Even today, Bellevue is still a sports powerhouse with a football ranking in the top ten nationally.  I followed this movie because it includes teams I’ve known about first in my former home of the Bay Area (De La Salle) and my present home of the greater Seattle area (Bellevue).  The movie gives a very good moral about what happens when the chips are down.  The appeal of the movie isn’t when the team was winning.  The appeal is when they have to bounce back from losing.  After all, who likes to lose?

 

I think as Americans, we love to win, even sometimes at all costs.  Christians are no exception.  Recently, we first have the scandal of the boy who after all didn’t go to heaven.  Before that, we have Mark Driscoll’s fall through a number of mishaps (e.g. plagiarism, abuse of authority etc.).  Lest you think that I’m harping on conservatives only, I am not.  The latest storm actually came out of the progressives, implicating some big-name leaders.  There’s one thing in common with all these events: money is involved.

 

When stuff like this breaks, two reactions typically happen.  One, someone will denounce the wrongdoing.  Two, someone will defend the wrongdoer calling him a “good  guy” etc.  The troubling thing about the recent events is that there’s far less condemnation of the progressives both among its own ranks and from the opposition.  I’m not sure why. I’m sure somewhere along the line, personal interest is involved.  After all, this is a game of reciprocation, profits and gains.

 

One thing is for sure.  Recent scandals show that Christianity in America isn’t only in decline.  It’s rotten to the core from every side.  I’m not saying individual Christians are rotten, but the system, whether conservative or progressive, is rotten.  It’s a system that is immune from public scrutiny. It is a system that negates accountability. It’s a system that acts more like the Illuminati than the organic Body of Christ. Unlike sports where the rules (besides making money) matters, this system rises above its own rule (i.e. biblical principles on integrity and righteousness).  It urinates on the rules.  The problem is not merely money.  The problem is not merely sin.  Both money and sin have been around since humans existed.  The problem right now is the marketing machine that is part of the system.

 

In the internet age, we have a greater temptation to market ourselves not as we are, but as the way people want us to be.  If enough of this marketing goes around, we will have rampant hypocrisy.  This hypocrisy goes unchecked because of Christian tendency to worship celebs, even the most dysfunctional celebs who may abuse their family members at home or others in the public place, take illegal drugs, drink excessively or commit martial infidelity.   We want to see the marketing image instead of who we really are, a bunch of messed up folks who need healthy Christian relationships.  This machine generates success or the appearance of it.  We love it.

 

At the moment, the silence about the latest scandal only confirms one thing. We love success more than God.  God forbid if anyone or anything interferes with our appearance of success.  With failure, we can stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars and we’ll then look less successful being poor.  Poverty is not sexy, though speaking about poverty is.  What we have here is integrity in crisis.  Integrity is the first thing on the alter in a sacrifice to success.  The machine generates success.  We mustn’t let the machine wind down into its rusty sinful reality.

 

Back to When the Game Stands Tall.  I love the movie not because it’s a mega hit. I love it because it deals with failure. In failure, we learn about honesty and integrity.  We learn about pain and grow.  The machine we create forbids that.  Unlike a football game, we don’t have score boards to give us black and white answers for our successes and failures.  It’s easier to hide when there’re no scoreboards.  Yet, we aren’t keeping score. We’re dealing with real lives and issues that are far more significant than a football game.  Yet, we do so with much less seriousness and integrity.  If there’s a movie to be made about this moment of American Christianity, it may be called “When the Game Stands Short.” We don’t know the score. Neither do we care.

Neo-Reformed Celebration of Terrorism: ISIS drives Yazidis to Christ?

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I did a double take when I saw headline: ISIS drives displaced refugees to Christ. I saw this on John Piper’s Facebook which contains a load of Christian cliche responses ranging from discussion about God’s sovereignty to God’s mysterious ways.  Here’re the sample responses I’ve read that have the most “likes.”

– Praise the Lord! To hear of how the Lord is using even this terrorist organization to drive out the Yazidis from their hard to reach homes so that many of them might hear the gospel of Christ and believe – that is good news indeed!

 

– Praise God for His beautiful paradox in growing life out of death!

 

– My hope is that ISIS will spark a huge spiritual revival in America and around the world. One thing I know for sure: Jesus is building His Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

 

– God is good!

 

– The failures of ISIS? Appears to be the Creators gain.

 

– Everything that happens is in the end all for the glory of the Lord…

 

– “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Gen 50:20

 

– When Stalin displaced Koreans into parts of Central Asia, he thought he was being clever, but you see God is over all. Those Koreans became some of the most on fire evangelists in all of Central Asia. Glory be to God.

 

Let’s now turn to the article itself. The article talks about all the work being done to help the Yazidis who were being driven by ISIS to flee into the border of Turkey.  The Christian aid workers set up tents for church and camp for residence for these unfortunate souls.  The result is the conversion of many Yazidis.  It’s a good story of Christian action, but then you have this headline.  It’s hard not to read more theology into headline simply because it’s so amazingly theological.  The logic applies to any disaster, whether it’s natural or manmade disaster. It goes something like this, “Since X disaster happened, this many came to Christ. Therefore, we praise God for using disasters to bring people to Christ.”  Essentially, we’re praising God for lost lives so that we can generate global conversion numbers.  If we turn that logic around on these mostly Western church organization and say, “Thank God 911 happened because it drove so many people to church,” I wonder how they would feel.  Of course, THIS is different.  It’s American. However, if it’s the Yazidis or the South Asians who lost lives in the Tsunami, it’s OK to use that logic.  Apparently, even God’s sovereignty favors the West.  Surely, we must be joking.

When some people do mission these days, it’s more about numbers than compassion.  These are real victims here, people!  Have a heart!  What’s the problem?  Our doctrine of God’s sovereignty has completely vanquished our compassion.  Those of us who teach and preach in our churches need to take serious responsibility to educate our people about the real expression of Christianity through compassion.  People shouldn’t know us by our warped religious logic in the guise of doctrine.  People should know us by our love and compassion.

Words Matter! The Danger of Music that Rocks

It was Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day a while back. Bruce Springsteen, the famous rock giant, gave a concert to honor the occasion.  One particular song the Boss sang was  a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”  The writer of this song was a war veteran who was a bit critical of the US military policy and the unnecessary deaths it had caused.  Well, singing that in front of the military crowd certainly didn’t help matter and some were offended by the song.  I was struck by one particular comment someone wrote, “If you think ‘Fortunate Son’ was in appropriate for tonight’s concert, you’ve clearly never never paid attention to the lyrics.”  I suppose the comment is directed at the lyrics of many of Springsteen’s songs because many of his songs are critical of many US policies from military to labor market.  It also strikes me odd that many who decide to show up to Springsteen’s concert would be shocked at what took place.  If we listen carefully the lyrics, we will surely understand where Springsteen stands on political issues. This leads me to further amusement that on such a “patriotic” occasion, who thought of inviting Springsteen to sing?  Perhaps this is meant to be a ingenious stroke of irony or satire. Who knows?

 

I suspect that most of Springsteen’s fans don’t really pay attention to the lyrics.  His music is usually catchy and upbeat.  I know because my wife is a big fan.  How is this related to our church ministry.  Have you ever noticed that we do the same in church?  Much of church music is there not because of its meaningful lyrics but because of its catchy beat or tune.  I bet most people don’t think of music as something that has meaning, at least not consciously.  When was the last time you hear a bunch of people coming out of your average worship saying, “Wow, the theology of the song is so great.”  No, usually, people would say that the song sounds cool.  The average worshippers could care less about the words in our worship.  There lies the danger.  Music is dangerous.

 

Music can hide a lot of ideas that people may not normally accept but somehow attaching them to music makes everything okay.  This is relevant because as we may notice, the Psalms came to us in words.  I’m sure the music has changed but the words remain the same.  Words matter.  For our worship leaders, just because your congregation doesn’t care about words, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful about words.  Our wonderful music can be the channel for communication of truth or a shelter for our false ideas about God.  Words matter.  For the average worshipper, I would encourage a more careful examination of what you’re singing in church instead of merely moving to the beat because words matter, not only for Springsteen’s audience, but also for those who sing praises to God and about God.

 

The N-Word and Racism: A Response to Andy Gill’s Blog Post

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Last Monday, we commemorated Martin Luther King Jr for all the work he had done for civil rights.  Was MLK perfect? No!  Nevertheless, he did important work that moves us towards a better society where humans are judged by the character rather than skin color.  As an Asian-American, I can say amen to that.

 

Then comes mega church pastor Perry Noble’s untimely use of the N-word on last Christmas Eve, followed by Andy Gill’s excellent response.  Noble in his apology told people not to fight over his remarks.  Not to fight?  Those are fighting words!  Who exactly does he think he is to feel that he has the privilege to tell us what to do?  I can imagine the black folks telling him and his people off, and his fans defending him to their death.

 

Rather than simply dismiss the hurt as “fighting” and telling others to stop it in the name of the Christian mission, Noble ought to admit to his role in dividing the church via a racially divisive and hurtful word.  He should further tell his fans to step back from defending him!  This sort of behavior reminds me of what so many big-name pastors do when they get it wrong.  They post a Facebook or Twitter apology that sounds like a “I’m sorry that I offended you” and allow for their fans to get on the attack and creating further damage.  I’ve seen this happen to my Asian-American brothers and sisters. Now, it’s going to happen to my black brothers and sisters.  I’m not a race baiter. I’m just stating facts.  Such apologies should accompany by further qualifications such as “please don’t get online and defend my behavior, my people. I’m just a flawed human being in need of God’s forgiveness.”  If he is really faithful to his contrition, he should start deleting the hurtful comments from his defensive fans. Up to this point, they’re running wild, writing on every critic’s blog and youtube video.

 

The response of his apologists like many apologists for these celebrity pastors are pitifully predictable.  Many will put it down to Noble being careless with his words.  “Careless” is relative.  If he slipped in a few cuss words like Hauerwas or Brueggemann, that would be careless because those cuss words can slip into our daily frustrations and excitement, but not the N-word.  No!  I don’t allow my children to use such a word in our conversation EVER.  It is simply not even on our radar screen along with many other racially charged words. Why? It is because words have history.  Everyone who uses the N-word knows that history of white racists beating up, hanging, burning and killing blacks.  Unless we’ve been living under a rock for our entire life and skipped history classes in school, we can’t possibly not know that history.  Words don’t just have meanings. They can also have violent force and lingering effects.  If you don’t believe me, just read my blog this week about how Rick Warren’s words a year and a half ago describes Hong Kong today, and those words aren’t pretty.

 

Noble claims that he’s not racist.  I really want to believe him.  I mean, why would ANY Christian want to believe that a pastor is racist? Not me!  But he is.  Armed with such historical information about black history, the word is obviously part of his vocabulary in his private conversations. Otherwise, why would it slip out into his sermon?  At such a stage, I would ask why a privileged white use such an unfortunate word in his normal vocabulary database? Why would such a thing happen?  This is not about political correctness. It’s about self awareness.  Is he even aware that the private usage of that word indicates that he IS racist?  I don’t care what sphere, private or public, in which he uses that word.  That isn’t really the problem. The problem is, deep down in his heart, he IS racist.  He doesn’t about reconciliation between races. If he does, he wouldn’t so easily use his privileged position to dismiss his critics are those peeing into the wind just to get a few cheap laughs (yes, he used that urinary analogy in his apology video).  That doesn’t smack of reconciliation. Biblical reconciliation seeks to understand the offense from the perspective of the offended party.  Noble has no such understanding.

 

Let me translate and summarize what his apology sounds like to me.

 

“You all just need to relax. I wasn’t even kidding when my hearers think that I’ve said the N-word.  Come on, I wouldn’t do such a thing. Sorry, people.  That word was ‘at most’ in my mouth, but never in my heart. I’m all about reconciliation.”

 

Does that sound like someone who’s all about reconciliation? The only thing I’m glad for is that he didn’t add a “just kidding” in there somewhere.

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