The System’s Broken

1 05 2010

I have a confession. I have student debt. Significant student debt. As in, enough to buy a house in a small town.

Yes, it was my choice.

No, I don’t regret it.

Here’s a graph that’s been floating around:

A lot of people are noticing that college is far more expensive than it used to be, and probably than it should be as well.

I don’t have a solution. I’m just saying there’s a problem. A lot of people are saying there’s a problem.

So, how do we address this? I think we’d better figure out a theology of education, then take a look at economics, politics, sociology, even psychology.

In other words, the answer’s going to take a whole lot of brilliant people in a whole lot of important fields. Well, that’s also true of global warming, international relations, poverty…

The Church’s role? (1)Prayer. (2) Having a theology to ground the answers we seek. If our theology says God created the world and it was good, then we have a starting place to deal with environmental issues. If our theology says that humans are made in the image of God, then we begin to address poverty.

The answers aren’t easy, but first, we need to see that there’s a problem.


Christianity introduced to Japan

4 04 2010

As promised, I’ve been reading Moffett’s History of Christianity in Asia. In particular, I started with Japan. Looking into the history of a culture clarifies its present.

Francis Xavier (a fascinating figure I should like to write more about) was the first to enter Japan as a missionary in the 1500’s. Yeah, over 500 years ago. Before the founding of the Lost Colony of Roanoke in the New World, a Jesuit priest was contemplating missions strategies for Japan. After his experience in India, where focusing on lower classes resulted in only local effectiveness, Xavier decided to start at the other end. In Japan, he chose to approach the ruling class, the feudal lords, the daimyo.

Personally, I would say that given Japanese culture and its attitude to authority, he couldn’t have had a better approach. Japan is a very top-down, group-focused culture. If you convert the leaders, others will follow. (I’m not sure that would be as effective an approach in American culture, where we tend to be suspicious of leaders and pride ourselves on “independent” thinking.)

The mission had success. In fact, as Moffett points out, there were a higher percentage of Christians in Japan in 1600 than in 2000. But he also points out, rightly, “how little the Christian century [1500’s] affected the subsequent history of Japan.” (pg. 68)

It is indeed astonishing to know that a country which, for its own reasons, welcomed Christianity, was later able to stamp it out, and still remains a mysteriously closed door. I would suggest it has much to do with the nature of Japanese culture and missionaries’ inability to understand and speak into the Japanese context. On the other hand, I would also suggest that when Japan does finally hear the gospel, it will be a powerful and sudden conversion.

So, Xavier departed in 1552, after just 3 yrs in the field. Think about how short 3 yrs is to introduce Christianity to even a single person and give them the knowledge and faith to face a lifetime of following Christ without a mature Christian community! Now realize he did that for an entire people. Of course, Jesus did the same for all of humanity in the same 3 years… so I supposed standards are relative. Anyway, in just 30 years (to 1581), th numbers grew from 800 to 100,000. All of that, by the way, was long before the first successful colonies in America.

So, that’s where I’ll leave the history of Japanese Christianity for the moment. Introduced, spreading like wildfire, but… something went wrong.

Found the Stacks!

23 03 2010

I work at a top university and yet, I’m surprised to discover a library. This week, after 6 months here, I ventured into the depths, or rather heights, of the SNU library. Wonder of wonder! Books! The best part? They’re about 30-50% English (at least in the fields I’m interested in).  I was most impressed to find a basic selection of theological books, so much so, that I proceeded to check out more than I can possibly read in the next month (including Tillich’s Systematic Theology – since when am I interested in pure systematics? And can we all say, “Nerd!”)

Well, this blog was intended to motivate me to keep up with my studies, by being more of an academic pursuit. While that’s clearly not the case, I’ll be doing short summaries & analyses of whatever I do manage to read.

There’s not going to be any order to what I read, just the whim of fancy. I also don’t promise to finish any of the books… so you may get nice summaries of the first half of a book. If I’d been doing that the past few months, there would have been a lot more posts.

The first book I’ll be reading: Christianity in Asia: 1500-1900. I’ll only be reading sections I’m interested in, mainly Japan & Korea, and likely China.  I’ll post on those sections later. But for the moment, I’d like to introduce the author:

Samuel Moffett. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because his father was one of the main missionaries to Korea and bore the same name. Moffett Sr. entered Pyongyang in 1890 as a Presbyterian missionary. He was responsible for founding the first seminary in Korea, and a great moving force in the Korea Christianity. Moffett Jr. was born in Korea, then ended up serving 25 yrs there himself. In other words, the history of Christianity in Korea is inextricably linked to the Moffett family.

After his own 25 yrs on the field, Moffett Jr. returned to the US and became a professor at Princeton. Now he’s in his 90’s (b. 1916). He’s still working on finishing the third and final volume of his The History of Christianity in Asia. I pray he completes this task.

The Need for Other Voices

31 01 2010

Today I watched part of a training video from a large,  successful and well-known church. Because I respect the church and the training material they produced, I will not name them in this post. Before watching the video, I’d read a book written by the same author and mostly respected the book. When I saw the video, I was shocked.

Now, before I tell you what shocked me, you need a little background. I’m white. But I’ve been in an Asian-American sub-culture my entire adult life. So, I’m sure I’m about to offend some people. In fact, if I heard another white person say this, I’d be offended. But here it is: I’m Asian. Well, Asian-American: in my thinking, at least.

So, here’s what shocked me about the video:

It was a group of middle aged white men. They were American. They included pastors, authors, etc. They were trying to act casual in the video, while still teaching.

The one overwhelming feeling I had, was a sense of “other”. They seemed so very foreign. Remember, I was also watching this in Korea, in a room filled with Koreans, Westernized Koreans, and Westerners living in Korea. In other words, a very Asian setting. Furthermore, we were mostly young / single.

I looked at these white men and I thought, “What can they know of us?” Most of what they taught was solid and truly applicable to any group. But a few “americanisms” slipped in – cultural assumptions, attitudes, and suggestions that betrayed how very much they are entrenched in white culture. I could just imagine them with a beer in their hands discussing sports instead of church matters, which made it terribly difficult to focus on the good, true things they did say.

Suddenly, I experienced what I’d only heard of – the need for minority leaders / voices / etc. I was recently reading some Asian-American reactions to TV actors, and the repeated lament of not connecting to them or of being mis-represented. Since I have never been much for pop culture, I didn’t understand the complaint. But today I did – I couldn’t listen to the message because of the messengers.

So… we need great Asian-American leaders in the Church. And great female leaders. And great Latino, African-American, and NON-American! Until we see people in leadership and authority who look like us, sound like us, and think like us, we’ll have a hard time really supporting them and following them, mainly because it’s hard to believe they understand us or really know how to speak to us.

My prayer, then, is for God to raise up a new generation of leaders in the Church. A generation of cultural and racial diversity which can speak to the whole Body.

Spontaneous decisions

25 01 2010

Tonight I announced a decision, which I only decided as I was speaking it. I’ve made a commitment that I wasn’t expecting. I’d thought about it, then intentionally decided not to make that commitment for a while. Then I proceeded to commit to it.

I’d love to say that the Spirit moved me. Maybe he did, but I sure wasn’t aware of it. In fact, I opened my mouth to say one thing and another came out. I guess that means it was the Spirit… or a terrible mistake.

So now, the only thing left, is to pray it was the right thing. To pray for guidance as I follow through on it. To pray for God’s blessing, wisdom, and work through it all. To pray for strength to accomplish it. And to sit back and see what God’s got in store.

So, I guess I’ll be leading a small group for my church now.

The Value of Time

22 01 2010

I have a pet peeve: small groups & other church meetings that regularly go over schedule. I can be flexible; if there’s a good discussion / prayer going on, by all means, let’s finish it. But EVERY week? I don’t think so. Here’s why:

Who’s responsible? That’s easy: the leader. I’m sorry leaders, but yes, it’s all you. You may think people don’t want to end, but I promise – they do. If they really don’t, they can stay after and keep going. People are being polite by not walking out. The prayer meeting was scheduled to end at 9 pm. By 9:15, everyone’s feeling it. No one will be upset with you for ending on time.

Why don’t leaders end? Well, a few reasons come to mind.

  1. They don’t know how. I think this is the most common reason. They aren’t able to steer the conversation / prayer to a close.
  2. They don’t have the courage to do so. They may be aware that its time to end, but timid to actually do so. This may include fears that the group wants to keep going, or that they will be seen as “bossy”.
  3. They are completely unaware of the time themselves. Some people simply don’t notice the time. They may need a “timekeeper” in the group – someone to send a pre-arrange signal, including just saying point-blank that there’s only ten minutes left.
  4. They have an unrealistic agenda. No, you’re not going to worship, pray, read scripture, and discuss 10 people’s weeks in 1 hour. Don’t try.
  5. They may be talking too much (or allowing others to do so). If they’re teaching/preaching, they may need to reduce what they’re presenting. If they’re guiding a discussion, they may be doing too much teaching (This is a problem I often notice in the Asian / Asian-American setting. With Asian culture saying “listen to an expert” and church culture saying “discuss”, the result is a lecture diluted into a discussion.)
  6. Here’s the big one: They don’t want to seem “unspiritual”. This actually goes for members too – as a reason they don’t leave / insist on ending. See, it’s a church meeting, so we’re on “God’s time”. Therefore, anyone stingy enough to leave / end is really just being “selfish”. I’ve seen meetings run hours over schedule for this reason.

So why does this bother me so much? Mainly, it’s a matter of respect. People come voluntarily. They are giving up their time to meet, to pray, to study, to worship. Yes, they want to be there. But it’s still their time. They’re giving it to God (yes, theologically we could argue that all their time comes from God. But if so, I’d point out that they are stewards of their time). The more often the meetings run over time, the more the member knows their time isn’t respected, and the more likely that the member will just take to being late to compensate.

Example: It’s a lot like a tithe. A person may decide to give the full 10% of their income, just like they decided to give 2 hrs to the prayer meeting. No one would dream of adding digits on their offering check to make it 15%, and yet we rarely hesitate to make a 2 hr meeting run for an extra 30 minutes. Since the person knows the meeting will always run late, they may as well show up late too.

It’s a matter of faithfulness. The leader has been unfaithful to the promise they gave. Conversely, it’s also a matter of trust. If the church bulletin said we’d finish by 11:30 am, but we’re not done at noon, how can the member trust that bulletin? Or worse, the leader responsible? As the schedule is not followed, how can the member know that other things said by the leader / church are reliable?

I’m definitely not picking on anyone in particular – I’ve seen this at every church I’ve been to. As I said at the beginning, I’m most concerned with the regularity with which it happens. Please, please, leaders, end meetings on time!