Friday, October 21, 2016

An Other Kingdom

I must confess, I am so utterly and totally disillusioned with the election cycle. I can barely read articles or posts (even written by thoughtful friends) about the election without becoming jaded further, cynical, angry and frustrated. I suppose I can add to the collective frustration by writing yet another post about the election season. I wrote back in February while Trump was ascending (before he began to descend) that the evangelical alignment with Trump was utterly disappointing, but not surprising, in light of the fear of our movement of being pushed to the margins of cultural power (though it is happening and will continue to do so) DT and the Evangelical Vote. Currently I am trying to give my dissertation a good push, writing and considering the idea of place and belonging.

Perhaps the most encouraging piece I read this week as I was writing was from a recent book put out by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight, An Other Kingdom. If you know anything about these three, they come from dramatically different backgrounds, Block being an organizational development expert from a Jewish background, Brueggemann an Old Testament scholar and McKnight a community organizer most well-known for having developed with Jody Kretzmann the movement ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development). While Block and McKnight have been writing together since 2010 (The Abundant Community), somehow Brueggemann joined the team just recently, and my mind pretty much exploded. For NBA fans, understand that in the world of community development and those who see the handprints of the Bible all over the ideas behind ABCD, Brueggemann joining the team of Block and McKnight is more explosive and wonderful than Kevin Durant joining Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the Mighty Mighty Warriors! : )

Block, Brueggemann and McKnight cast a vision for growth towards peace and abundance built on what they call a Neighborly Covenant. What if the place of transformation and reversing the evils of our consumer society were not so much in the place of national elections and consumer politics? What if Hunter's idea of "faithful presence" in our vocational spheres and neighborhoods was truly the way to at least hope for a flourishing society? (To Change the World) or as D.G. Hart wrote a few years ago that perhaps the greatest way to impacting society's welfare was to coach little league over and above getting too involved with national politics? (From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin). I must confess that living in Canada I have not been all-too-motivated getting my voter registration in order since I am quite ambivalent to our choices. Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. But I will get my boys to football practice this week, and I will continue to work towards building better neighborhoods in my community.

So, my apologies for adding another somewhat meaningless post to mostly meaningless posts about the election cycle. Enjoy.

"Our task is to imagine a culture ordered differently. Imagine the human benefit of an alternative to the market ideology that defines our culture. We call this the Neighborly Covenant because it enlivens and humanizes the social order. 

The Neighborly Covenant is an alternative to a market ideology that has reached its limits, no matter how high the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbs. The map we have really isn't working. It is visibly flawed. We see in every political campaign a rhetoric designed solely for marketing the candidate, not for meaning. We force all politicians into promising what they can't deliver. It becomes a concentrated version of the consumer ideology. Citizen as consumer, candidate as supplier. And so we campaign and vote on marketing slogans: liberal, conservative, values, democracy, end poverty, maintain standard of living, jobs, education, marriage this, guns that. These catchphrases are just code words, like advertising, that exploit people's needs and anxiety for the sake of candidate market share, namely winning their votes. This language is another subversion of the common good and the longing for public servants. We think the wish for an alternative culture will be fulfilled in the ballot box. 

What we are proposing is language for alternative ways to a covenantal culture. The free market consumer ideology has defined the dominant codes, that particular way of talking about our culture. This is what has led us to stalemate. Our work is to create another set of code words–ones that are active beyond election years and have different substance in defining our communal identity. This is the departure." 

Friday, August 26, 2016

David Brooks on the State of Politics, Loss of Vocation

Charlie Rose interviews NY Times columnist David Brooks on the state of the US political system, the rise of Donald Trump and why things seem to be the way they are with the system. Brooks is incredibly reflective in the interview (as he always is), lacks the smugness of many social commentators and has some remarkable insights into both the culture as well as to his own sense of "calling" as a columnist. Of course, to me the most remarkable line in the interview is when near the 18:45 mark, Brooks states that the "government problem" in the US stems from the fact that at some point "politics and leadership became a profession rather than a vocation." Wow.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Standing for What We Do Not Believe In

Building an identity on what we do not want: . . .

"The community form of rebellion is protest. It is noble in tradition but still often keeps us in perpetual reaction to the stances of others. There is safety in building an identity on what we do not want. The extremists on both sides of any issue are more wedded to their positions than to creating a new possibility. That is why they make unfulfillable demands. The AM radio band is populated with this non-conversation. Any time we act in reaction to evil, we are giving power to what we are in reaction to. . . . The real problem with rebellion is that it is such fun. It avoids taking responsibility, operates on the high ground, is fueled by righteousness, gives legitimacy to blame, and is a delightful escape from the unbearable burden of being accountable."

Community: The Structure of Belonging

As the world rages, and as I believe I have been given a mandate to "go local" with love, to engage neighbours as a way of standing against the larger universal currents of evil that seem to abound, I've been blessed greatly by Peter Block's Community: The Structure of Belonging. Here Block speaks of the value of hospitality, of welcoming strangers,... but not only strangers but also of "the strange ideas and beliefs they bring with them."

"Creating space for dissent is the way diversity gets valued in the world. Inviting dissent into the conversation is how we show respect for a wide range of beliefs. It honors the Bohr maxim that for every great idea, the opposite idea is also true. 

There is no way to be awake in the world without having serious doubts and reservations. Each of us takes many walks in the desert and in some ways our faith is measured by the extent of our doubts. Without doubt, our faith has no meaning, no substance; it is purchased at too small a price to give it value. 

This sounds simple and true enough, but in a patriarchal world, dissent is considered disloyalty. Or negativism. Or not being a team player. Or not being a good citizen. America, love it or leave it. You are either with us or against us. This is a corruption of hospitality and friendship. Hospitality is the welcoming of not only of strangers, but also of the strange ideas and beliefs they bring with them.”  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Reading the Church

"In our fragmented, post-Christian culture, . . . what is demanded is a theology of orthopraxy more than orthodoxy. Again, this is not to dispense with the need for orthodoxy as a foundation for faith. It is, however, to make the practice of the Christian faith the ultimate concern of theology. What really matters now is how the church is able to articulate and demonstrate a transformative spirituality. If people are going to consider Christianity as a religion, the first text they may read is not the Bible but the church."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Firstfruits of a New Creation

"Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"

-Surprised to be alive, Sam addressing Gandalf in Return of the King

"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"

-Revelation 21:5

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

“[In anticipation of the coming Christ], God's Shekinah suffers the exile of his people. . . . has become homeless, and wanders restlessly through the dust of this world’s streets."

-Shekinah: The Home of the Homeless God, by Jürgen Moltmann

"Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"

-Matthew 27:45,46

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Banal "Politics as Usual"

". . . American Christians too often find themselves in deep regret at the loss of the privileges of being the chaplains to power. The Religious Right in the United States grasps desperately for nostalgic signs of 'influence' and occasionally works up enough political influence to warrant the passing notice of partisan machines. But their accomplishments are heralded by the world not because of their unique Christian witness, but precisely because of their ability to express support for the gods of the state and engage in banal 'politics as usual.'"

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Missionary" as New Cultural Identity

"The new cultural identity of the church in the Western world is that of missionary. . . . This means that local churches will need to undergo a conversion-like experience that brings a complete change in self-perception–from one that sees the church itself as the primary focus of attention to one that sees the community (or world) as the focus."

Donald Trump and the Evangelical Vote

There are some advantages I suppose to now living outside the U.S., after having been born and raised and having spent the first forty-two years of my life in the good ol' U.S. of A. For those familiar with my public ministry, I spent much of my time in Nebraska from 1998-2013, first at Zion Church and then at Grace Chapel, a church of which I was the lead planter, proclaiming from the pulpit that, despite conservative Christianity being aligned so closely with national politics for most of my years on earth, nonetheless the U.S. national political enterprise on whole was not the primary instrument by which the establishment of the Good News of the Kingdom of God would move forward in the world.

I've sought to communicate  that there is much about the national political enterprise that has been embraced for a very long time by evangelical believers as a form of civic idolatry. I feel a bit vindicated, though I'm not happy about it, by the fact that Donald Trump now seems to have gained so much of the evangelical vote during this 2016 election cycle. Should this development be so much a surprise? or is it a natural consequence of a certain view of the high virtue of the political enterprise for advancing Divine purposes that evangelicals have held for a very long time now, now turning desperate with a hold on political power beginning to slip, perhaps even dramatically so? If Donald Trump isn't anything, he is at least a charismatic leader, evidently a faithful Presbyterian now who can quote from Two Corinthians?! (wink, wink, tongue-in-cheek) well-versed and well-skilled in the exercise of power and persuasive rhetoric. I even listen to the Donald at times and then have to go have a strong drink to shake off the Jedi mind trick that has just been performed on me (doesn't Proverbs 31:6 say to give strong drink to those who are perishing?!) Perhaps rather than the humble prayers of God's people, the rise of Trump can now bring in Jesus on the white horse to deliver us from our sorrows!

My fellow Christians here in Canada tend to be quite puzzled by how it is that an unscrupulous guy with so very little evidence of a Christian ethnic or moral center can be so popular with Christian voters in the U.S. It is an absolute conundrum to them, and in my mind, right it should be. Currently working on my dissertation, I came across this little section in Lee Beach's recent book The Church in Exile on the idea of living faithful lives for Christ in a post-Christian world, one where the church now has to grapple with what it means to be without power and cultural capital in the world, a convenience it had possessed for a very long time. Beach writes that Peter in his first epistle offers this vision of the posture the early Christians took essentially as a powerless people:

... one (a posture) that acknowledged the people's lack of power yet offered them a vision that empowered them to see that even their quiet lives of holy living could make a difference. In the post-Christendom church this kind of vision can provide a unique challenge. For many of us, living as those without power is a new experience to which we have not yet become fully accustomed yet. We are used to having an opinion that represents the majority and a voice that curries influence with those in power. This has changed radically, and learning to function in a way that relinquishes old assumptions about power and influence is difficult. p.130

I suppose there is always the adjustment period of coming to terms with what has been lost for the church in the U.S. and continues to be lost as far as a majority voice on political and social matters. James Davison Hunter in his 2010 book To Change the World makes an evaluation regarding why this is so; Hunter ties the general tide of marginalization of Christians based on the reversal of fortunes for those (evangelical Christians) who had assumed that power was the way to establishing the will of God here on earth in the first place. How did we get so far off track from the basic teachings of the Bible that the first will be last, and the great ones must first become servants? I don't know any more than I know why Trump has the majority of the evangelical vote? So as Hunter says, the general tide of res-sentiment, a Nietzschean term, developed as a sentiment of resentment and hostility against Christians in the broader culture. If you believe in Karma (which ironically enough I don't), then one could argue that the Christians are finally getting their due! Perhaps it is not really Karma, but to reject Karma is not to reject our accountability to the covenantal nature of God's universe with its accompanying blessings and curses. As my doctoral advisor Dr. Steven Garber likes to say, we have one world to live in and it's God's world,... so in the end, given the complex bottomline of the universe, you must listen to what it teaches you if you are going to flourish in all the ways you were meant to flourish. The way of the Kingdom of God comes through far more humble means after all. What if we had simply done a better job loving the world? Well, one missed opportunity I suppose makes way for a new opportunity. Now Christians in North America are able to serve as an increasingly marginalized people- to be more careful and caring and subversive with how we engage the world for Christ.

Retreat I do not advocate, though I suppose 2.5 years before the phenomenal political rise of the Donald, one could argue I already took up the offer of one radio host to move north of the border should Trump ever become elected president! I'm not a prophet or the son of a prophet,... but then again... : ) Actually, I'm here for a more positive reason- in a place where Christian power and the generational memory of the work of the Church was lost long ago, the work of the Kingdom of God has continued to move forward in small but meaningful ways, as God's people pray and as Hunter says, exercise faithful presence in all of life, stewarding whatever vocational influences are their's. As for the church in my beloved home country, if pruning and humbling and the perpetual reminder that Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world is what it takes for God's people to see finally, then with a heavy heart, I rejoice for Jesus' Church there as well.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Beware of the Phog : )

Lots of goodness here as over the holiday break I was able finally to take my family to Allen Fieldhouse, "the St. Andrews of College Basketball." My first experience with the historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse was in 1979 when I went to basketball camp there following my 3rd grade year. It was great to take my kids to the KU athletics hall of fame at the Fieldhouse to learn a bit about the history of the game (the inventor of the game of basketball James Naismith was the first coach at KU and is buried in Lawrence; he was also a Presbyterian minister and a Canadian- too much goodness to even put into words : )).


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Eve Neighbourhood Noël Dinner and Service

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)." -Matt. 1:23

We appreciate your prayers for our 2nd annual Christmas Eve Neighbourhood Noël dinner and service. Our desire is to extend the love of Christ to our immediate neighbourhood on Christmas Eve, so we have invited our immediate neighbours as well as folks from the public housing and drop in centre just down the street. Also, we will be singing Christmas Carols in front of our building as we transition our small space at Grace Vancouver from dinner to the worship service.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hsu Prayer Newsletter, 7th Edition

Here is our most recent Prayer Newsletter to our prayer and financial supporters. Thank you for everyone's support and care of us and our work here in Vancouver. And, yes, spoiler alert,... it does include more on Royals baseball : )

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Royal Celebration

A Royal Celebration
Hey Kansas City, today was amazing. Relive the moments here - you'll be talking about this day for years to come.
Posted by KMBC 9 News Kansas City on Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Downtown KC Victory Parade Celebrating the Royals

This is how much the Royals first World Series triumph in thirty years means to the people of Kansas City. Estimates are now that 800,000 people came out for today's parade.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Saints Day, . . . A Sacred Spin on the Dead

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?'"         -The Gospel of John 11:25,26

On this Eve of a Hallowed Day 2015, I thought I'd post something on how Nov. 1st, All Saints Day, has become one of my favorite days of the year:

I took the call to Vancouver in large part because of the memory of my late maternal grandparents who meant so much to me in life and are buried nearby in the Bellevue/Seattle area. After spending nearly a decade serving in Haiti among a very superstitious people, being raised in a Taiwanese culture, itself with much involvement with the occult and being somewhat familiar with the Chinese notion of "luck," I look back on my last 25 years as a follower of Christ, and I am deeply grateful that Christ has conquered the grave, and that because of His triumph for His Church Universal, we view death in an entirely different way from the rest of the world. Is death an intruder? Yes. Does it tear at the fabric of human relationships bound together in love and covenant? Yes. Did Jesus weep with a loud shriek of anger and pain standing before his friend Lazurus' tomb? Yes. But is death the great unknown like the Lord Voldemort, the one who must not be named? No. When Tanya and I were looking at one particular rental situation here in Vancouver, a Chinese family turned us down, the reasoning being this: Mike is a pastor, pastors conduct funerals that involve dead people; ergo, we do not want him living in our house for fear of evil spirits coming with him. I chuckle, and I grieve, for so many people live in this way fearing what is considered to be the great unknown; however, for those who know Jesus, we have a different kind of hope and formulate things differently.

In working on my dissertation, I came across this wonderful piece of reading from Philip Sheldrake's Spaces for the Sacred. Sheldrake speaks of how Christianity produced a "reversal of traditional beliefs and practices about death and burial" in the Roman Empire. A new equation emerged:

Cemeteries were sacred from the earliest times. Holy men and women eventually died. Thus it was their burial places, along with those of Apostles and martyrs, which became the most visible monuments of this changed understanding of the sacred as located in people. It was important that the holy dead should continue to exercise their drawing power in the midst of the living. Because a theology of resurrection altered the meaning of death to point onwards to another form of existence, dead people had a special role in Christianity by joining two worlds together. Their tombs were privileged places where contrasting worlds could meet.

The traditional practice in the pre-Christian Roman Empire was to relegate cemeteries outside the walls of cities. But by the end of the sixth century, the tombs of saints were becoming centres of public Church life. There was a kind of theology of real presence that suggested an equation: the saints are 'with God'; the saints continue to be with us; ergo they are mediators in our midst of the presence of divine power– a kind of 'taster' of what was on offer in the other world. This produced a reversal of traditional beliefs and practices about death and burial and was one of the most powerful symbols of the encroachment of a specifically Christian culture into the mainstream of the late Empire. The dead were no longer rigidly excluded from the public life of the city of the living. From the start of its public existence, Christianity engineered a massive and subversive transgression of important boundaries. Spaces for the Sacred, p. 48

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Go Royals!!!

A part of growing up near Kansas City and following a small market baseball team like the KC Royals is that the lows are low and the highs are high. The Royals had not been to the MLB playoffs for 29 years until last year when they went all the way to the World Series and then lost by one run in game 7 of the WS against the San Francisco Giants. I wrote about my excitement last year, of the Royals returning to the WS: KC, KC, Here I Come! My Royals ran into a performance of historic proportions in the work of SF pitching ace Madison Bumgarner, but I was so proud of how hard they played, never giving up, always playing with energy and purpose. Were it not for Bumgarner's other-worldly performance, they would have brought back their second WS title in franchise history back to KC last year. I was a 14-yr.-old in grade 9 when the Royals won their first WS title; back in 1985, I was able to attend Game 2 and an older gentleman leaned over and said, "you will remember this evening for the rest of your life young man." He was right. 

It is now 30 years later (wow, am I that old?! I am : )), and the Royals are up by two games to zero against the New York Mets in the 2015 WS; however, tomorrow night they go to NY for the next three games. Let's see if they can get it done; either way, it is an exciting time to be a KC sports' fan. I read somewhere that 79% of all the televisions in the metropolitan KC area were on for the first game of the WS a couple of nights ago. I imagine that number was even higher last night for game 2. Part of me has contemplated getting on a plane if the WS goes into next week as there is nothing like the broader Kansas City community on fire when one of their sports' teams is doing well; however, even from a distance, up in Canada, it has been an amazing October for me. Though I probably won't make the trip, it has been amazing to follow my team from a distance. In fact, it was fun wearing my KC Royals hat around town here in Vancouver BC while locals were all rooting for the Blue Jays in the ALCS!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Visions of Vocation

I consider Steven Garber to be a friend and mentor- the privilege of the last five years have in large part been due to my time spent with him in my doctor of ministry program. I cannot recommend highly enough to you his book Visions of Vocation. Here I quote an excerpt:

But when I was twenty, . . . in my own late-adolescent longings I thought Marx was close to the truth. He had a passionate commitment to a just world; at least it seemed so to me in my young idealism. He had a comprehensive critique of the world, and of our place in it, and I desperately wanted that too. But as tempted as I was by him, eventually I was drawn even more into another vision of the way the world should be–that of the kingdom of God. When push came to intellectual shove, the Christian vision for the way life ought to be answered my questions and addressed my hopes more fully than did Marx's–and it still does, more than ever.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Converting a Vision of the World and of Life

"There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already-without Him. This kind of Christianity is more terrifying than agnosticism or hedonism."

-Alexander Schmemann in his journal

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

God's First Thought of the World

"The Sacrifice of the Son is God's first thought of the world."

-Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Day!

"Today is Ascension Day, and that means that it is a day of great joy for all who can believe that Christ rules the world and our lives."

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Gift of Resurrection

"Life comes again to us as Gift, a free and divine gift.... Adam is again introduced to Paradise, taken out of nothingness and crowned king of creation. Everything is free, nothing is due and yet all is given. And therefore, the greatest humility and obedience is to accept the gift, to say yes- in joy and gratitude."

-Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

"He is not here; He is risen!"

-The two angels to the women in Luke 24

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

"And Adam, when he left the Garden where life was to have been eucharistic–an offering of the world in thanksgiving to God–Adam led the whole world, as it were, into darkness. In one of the beautiful pieces of Byzantine hymnology Adam is pictured sitting outside, facing Paradise, weeping. It is the figure of man himself."

-For the Life of the World, by Alexander Schmemann

"If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No–it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God's vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death."

-The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
-Isa. 9:6

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kansas City, Kansas City, Here I Come!

OK, so I'm not really planning at this point on taking the trip down from Vancouver to KC for the World Series. However, I must say this is a remarkable feeling seeing that the last time KC went to the World Series, let alone the playoffs, was 1985. I was a 14-yr-old kid at the time and able to attend game 2 of the Royals vs. the Cardinals in KC, a series the Royals would go on to win in seven games. A stranger who was sitting next to me said that I may not realize it at the time, but that the memory of being at the World Series will stay with me for many years to come- he was right; it certainly has. And now the Royals are going back! Wow, what a magical run it has been.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Foretaste of More than Tobacco

To the surprise of many, I have exercised remarkable restraint through the years by not writing very much at all about cigars and my passion for them : ). I have received criticism for standing by this passion; to this day, I correct my mother explaining the difference between a passion and a habit. I began my blogging journey back in 2008 by talking about the "taboo" subjects of motorcycles and cigars ( Now that I am deep into my passion on the centrality of vocation, so for the one who has eyes to see, perhaps even a cigar shop like this one serves as a foretaste of heaven; look and listen for it.