Power and Privilege: A Model from the Early Church

Seven DeaconsFor the past 6 years, I’ve gone to New Orleans in March to staff a service project for college students. This year, we piloted new curriculum that included racial reconciliation, power, and privilege. We looked at a situation that the early Christian church faced regarding injustice, power, and privilege (Acts 6:1-7) to see what we can learn from them. It was the last night of our community discussions, and I was honestly feeling fried. It was a long week, and we’ve already talked about so many hard topics. I didn’t know how much was left in me, and I didn’t know how much my table group could handle. But the Scriptures surprised me, and below is a quick sketch of what I gleaned from the chapter regarding how power and privilege can be used to address injustices. Continue reading Power and Privilege: A Model from the Early Church

Sabbath and Self Care

(I shared this reflection on Feb 11 with students at Northeastern’s Asian American Center for its Self Care Week. The reflection was influenced by Tim Keller’s sermon on rest.)

The spiritual practice of sabbath taking is important to both the Jewish and Christian faith. Let me read two passages from the Bible, one from the Old Testament where God is speaking the 10 Commandments to the Jewish people, and a passage from the New Testament where Jesus is speaking to his followers. Continue reading Sabbath and Self Care

Some Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Case

I’ve been thinking about the Trayvon Martin case. I was traveling two weekends ago and didn’t have access to internet and the news, so I found out by looking at TV screens in the airport and learned that Zimmerman was acquitted of all his charges. I was really surprised. He killed a man. How does he get away with it? And because of the “not guilty” verdict, does that really make him “not guilty?” The unanswered question for me at that point was how could he kill a man, and for some reason, legally, get no punishments.

In response, people have argued that the prosecution didn’t make a strong enough case. People said that the jurors weren’t impartial. I heard on the radio and read in the news that the “system” worked, that it didn’t work, that it was an issue of race, that it wasn’t an issue of race, that it was a black/white divide, that Zimmerman doesn’t even look white, or what about the other colors and how should they respond, how do Christians respond, how do we as a country respond, what happens to all the other injustices that don’t get coverage, white privilege, justifications for profiling, damaging effects of profiling, and the topics go on and on.

In all the voices, two threads came together for me the past couple of days. Continue reading Some Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Case

An Unusual Request

Two weeks ago, I went into the Verizon store at Harvard Square, and I asked a sales person to help me downgrade to a dumb phone. I had an iPhone 5 at the time, and I asked if I could trade it in for a flip phone. The sales person told me to buy a used phone and said that if I sold my iPhone, I could easily make $500+. After presenting what seemed to her a compelling case, I insisted that I do the trade in, and to do it then and there. She explained to me again, as if I didn’t understand the first time. I repeated my decision. Looking frustrated, she handed me off to another sales person. I repeated to him what I wanted, and he said, “You know, this is an unusual request. But you’re the boss. So we’ll do what you want.”

Why did I get rid of my iPhone 5? I have been a loyal iPhone user since 2009. The iPhone was the first and only smartphone I’ve owned. I really like the iPhone. So what happened? In very condensed form, there were two reasons: 1) to simplify my life; 2) in seeking sexual integrity, to block access to internet pornography. I will focus only on reason 2 in this post, and I hope to explain in more depth how I got here. To visualize my thoughts, below is a diagram.decision diagram Continue reading An Unusual Request

Luke 19 – “Slaughter them before me”

There are a number of passages in the Bible that are difficult to stomach. Last night during our bible study, we hit upon one of them. It was lodged in my mind and I have not yet put it to rest. It is the last verse of the Parable of the Ten Minas, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me,” (Luke 19:27). Below are a few translations of the verse. They are all pretty consistant. Below the translations are some commentaries trying to explain what this text means. Some feel more satisfactory than others, but it still did not rest my mind. So I will offer some of my thoughts in seeking to understand this verse. First, I want to make a few comments about parables. Second, I will focus on the structure of The Minas. Third, I will briefly compare The Minas to two other parables so that we can gain a little wider context, and I will offer a suggestion in terms of how to sit with this difficult verse.
Continue reading Luke 19 – “Slaughter them before me”

My Reflection on Easter

2013 marks my sixth Easter as a Christian. It is significant because this is not where I expected to be. Working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is not what I had in mind when a freshman at Harvard. But as I look back over the past six years, without a doubt, my decision to follow Jesus was the most significant turning point. I did not do it because it was vogue. In fact, historically, it has never been so. I did not do it because I was coerced, for genuine faith cannot be forced. And I did not do it to fit in, because what happened was quite the opposite.

It was never easy for me. I faced opposition from my family. I feared rejection from my friends who weren’t Christian. My decision was seriously challenged as I encountered a number of faith crises along the way. I was a geology major so I had to wrestle with the Bible, creation, earth history, and evolution. I got entangled in a Christian cult that manipulated me and taught me inaccurate and potentially damaging theology. I struggled to understand how Christianity interacted with other religions, especially Buddhism and Islam. And as I interacted with my same-sex attraction and explored my sexual identity, I was puzzled, troubled, and intrigued with what Scripture had to say about it. All the while, I wondered, “Was I captive to the brainwashing of a false institution?”
Continue reading My Reflection on Easter

Luke 10 – “Don’t take anything with you”

A few weeks ago, we looked at Luke 10:1-24. It was too long for us to cover in an hour, but one thing that did stand out to me was question that one of the students asked about verse 4, “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” He asked, “Why do you think they were sent out like this?” A follow up question was, “How would you respond to someone who came to your door with a suit on? Or plain clothes? Or with armor?”

I then saw something significant in the passage: the place from which we share about the kingdom of God is crucial. It is with a certain meekness, not weakness. It is with a certain confidence without arrogance. It is with a boldness that is gentle. And what I saw was that even as they were sharing about the kingdom of God, these messengers were very much in need themselves. They had much to offer but at the same time were utterly dependent. It was from a place of humility because in not bringing anything, they were aware that they had nothing to offer but God. It was not about how clever they were or how charming they could talk. They didn’t even really have themselves to offer. They were just heralds and messengers of the one who was to come.

So I think about how Christians evangelize today and how Christians share about the kingdom of God today. How often do Christians approach others with spiritual arrogance and pride, thinking that they are better? How often do Christians mock the worldviews of others? How poorly do they communicate God’s love?
Continue reading Luke 10 – “Don’t take anything with you”

Luke 5 – “He saw their faith”

I’m constantly amazed by how much information is present in even small portions of Scripture. The past week, we looked at Luke 5:17-26, just 9 verses, but it is chock full of interesting questions and subjects. It touches on the topics of faith, miracles, sin, forgiveness of sin, Jesus’ claim to divinity, and one’s response to the miraculous. And in order to understand these topics well, it will require extensive study and reflection which an hour bible study cannot afford. Each time I revisit these familiar passages, I see something new and I see something that I have not seen before. Of these various topics that I mentioned above, I wish to focus in on the matter of faith, because this passage shows us something about biblical faith which can be give us some new perspective in our current culture.
Continue reading Luke 5 – “He saw their faith”

Luke 5 – Comments on the Latin

After thinking about the passage from last week (Luke 5:1-11), I decided to read through the Vulgate Latin translation. For the most part the English and Latin translations are pretty close. There were two things in the Latin that stood out to me which I would like to share.

Verse 6, “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”

The Latin is, “et cum hoc fecissent concluserunt piscium multitudinem copiosam rumpebatur autem rete eorum.”

What stood out to me is the Latin verb, “concluserunt.” This is the verb that we get “conclude” from. The Latin means to “close together.” What we have here is an example of usage changing over time. A very physical action that been passed down and is used now primarily in the abstract. I don’t remember the last time I used “conclude” or “conclusion” to mean something as physical an action as drawing in a catch of fish.

Verse 9, “For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken,”

The Latin, “stupor enim circumdederat eum et omnes qui cum illo erant in captura piscium quam ceperant”

The Latin translates “he was astonished” as “the astonishment/numbness surrounded him.” Above, stupor (astonishment/numbness) is the subject and eum (him) is the object. In someways I find the Latin translation to be more vivid and more captivating than the English version.

Luke 5 – “They began to sink”

We were looking at the Luke 5:1-11 last Wednesday in our frosh bible study. I’ve studied this passage a few times, and I wasn’t expecting to find anything new. But as with studying Scripture in a group, others often see things you don’t. One frosh was intrigued by verse 7 which reads, “They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” She wondered what the significance of the boats sinking was.

As I was looking at the passage for some clues, I saw something change in Peter in the following verse, “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'” Peter was in a moment of crisis. Peter recognizes that he is in the presence of someone greater than he and immediately acknowledges his sin and his unworthiness to be in Jesus’ presence. Peter calls Jesus “Lord,” which is significant because it reveals that Peter is beginning to understand something more of Jesus’ identity. What I found interesting was that during this time of internal crisis for Peter, he and the other fishermen were simultaneously experiencing a physical crisis: the boats were starting to sink.

These two crises inform each other. On the one hand, the revelation of Jesus’ identity seizes Peter, and his response shows, at least to Peter, that the spiritual reality is of more pressing concern than the physical danger he and his partners are in. On the other hand, the physical condition shows the weightiness and overflowing of God’s presence. Like the boats, mortals are unable to withstand the fullness of God. It threatens to overwhelm us and capsize us.

What I found to be exciting about this portion of the passage is the intrinsically linked nature of the physical realm and the spiritual realm. It affirms the physicality of our existence as God himself took on flesh and uses the physical world to point us to a deeper spiritual reality. It gives us a glimpse at the dynamic interaction of the seen and unseen, and hints at the fact that actions in the physical affect the spiritual and vice versa.