Public Prayer

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is a common fear held by many.  But let me ask you, do you have the fear of public prayer?  I tried looking for the specific phobia and all Google searches spat out were some obscure blogs about how to get over your fears of praying out loud.  Not to sound overly critical but one blogger’s solution to public prayer anxiety was to clasp your hands.  Come on, man.  You had the audacity to purchase a legit domain name and you’re going to end with clasped hands?  Bold take.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I dread praying in public but I find myself on the wrong end of the spiritual spin the bottle.  Those few moments of limbo where the authority figure is figuring out who should pray for the meal or open/close the gathering, is the worst part.  Again, it’s not that I don’t want to pray, but I can only pray that “God blesses the hands that have prepared the food” or “may this food nourish our bodies” so many times.

I liken public praying to freestyle rapping or an improvised jazz solo; neither one are truly pulled from thin air.  In both cases, you are working with a bank of phrases/licks and then you masterfully piece them together to create an illusion of improvised brilliance.  And that’s what public prayer is, except, you know, also quite different too.

I realized that I rotate through some go-to phrases/words in my own personal word bank.  Similar to Oprah’s favorite things list, I want to share with you some of my “hot” words that will surely get your prayers noticed!

1. “Consecrate” 

I don’t know why I’m feeling this word so much but it just makes me sound so much more (extraneously) learned.  You get that Old Testament vibe from it and tell me that you don’t have the urge to suddenly remove your shoes.  The key is to use it in the proper place to maximize its efficacy.  Don’t haphazardly toss it while you’re praying for the sandwiches.  This is best used as a pre-service, hype prayer.

2. “He must increase, but I must decrease”

What’s not to love here?  It’s biblical.  It’s humble.  It’s God-centric.  I mean, this phrase would assuredly illicit at least a few satisfactory “hmm’s” from the crowd.  After all, that’s how you know that your prayer is good.  Perhaps, if you’re in a more expressive crowd, you’d get a “Yes lawd” or “Amen!”, but this one is a crowd favorite.  It doesn’t matter what the context is of John 3:30, just know that you’re echoing the words of John the Baptist and that’s a win in my book.

3.  Any words with the prefix “re-“

Repent.  Revival.  Reorient.  Recalibrate.  Rejuvenate.  Restart.  Repair.  Redeem.  Reform.  Remain. Remind.  Restore.   Relinquish.  Rebuke. You get the point.  Bonus blessings if you can string at least three to fulfill the alliteration quota.  If the group hasn’t fallen prostrate at that point, that’s not on you.

4.  Superlatives

What kind of superlatives are you using?  “Dear Father God” is the classic intro but it never hurts to switch it up.  Have you tried God of Jacob?  Rock of Ages?  Jehovah Jireh? Ancient of Days?  If you know me, I’m a big fan of originality while avoiding showiness.  Just avoid the weird ones like “Dear Baby Jesus” (reference, anyone?) or “Dear Daddy”.

5.  Spiritual sigh/pause

This isn’t so much a word that I’ve been vibing with as much as the type of ethos that I want to promote; nothing screams contemplative Christian quite like that dramatic pause.  So much can be conveyed through the momentary pause.  If you’re mic’d up, hope that it picks up on your breathiness.  It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of trying to pray to God all the while trying to deal with your own struggles.  A dramatic pause means that you’re trying but that you’re also dealing with the pangs of your predicament.  Try it out!

6.  Search my heart / test me

I’ve been on this “test me, God!” kick.   It’s a bit confrontational and aggressive, but it’s definitely a go-to phrase for me.  This is especially effective if the worship team subsequently plays “Search My Heart”.

7.  Quoting Song Lyrics

I admit that I wasn’t always a fan but I think this tactic has grown on me.  Imagine how much more potent your public prayers would be if you unexpectedly inserted a “break my heart for what breaks yours” or “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders”.  The trick is to not quote too much of the song because you can either mess up the lyrics or you’re just reading song lyrics with sound corny or you’ll be guilty of being too premeditated.

8. Greek/Hebrew words (that are commonly known)

I admit that I’ve lost a lot of my control over both languages (as if I had much of it when I was a student), but sometimes a hesed or ekklesia.  Perhaps you can express your yearning for the restoration of God’s shalom.  Don’t go too overboard, obviously.  But like a pinch of saffron, these words will definitely help you in your public prayer.

9. Human anatomy = good

Open the eyes of my heart.  Soften my heart.  Bless the hands and feet of those that serve.  Give me eyes to see and ears to hear.  I’ve come up with a few of my own.  Let me know what you think.

“Give me a nose for your fragrant grace, O God.”
“Lord give me as many blessings as the number of hair follicles on my head, for only you know how many I have.”
“Protect me, O Lord, like my ribcage protects my innards.”

I don’t know; I’m still workshopping.

10. Always close your eyes

Drown out the haters and you’ll be less distracted.  Admittedly, I prefer to keep my eyes open while I pray but I’ve been told that it’s a bit too creepy.  So I close my eyes and it helps others.  I feel like when I close my eyes that other people are eavesdropping on my prayer to God.  After all, I don’t pray for them.

Try these out at your next opportunity to pray publicly!

 

 

2007

This past weekend was our church’s men’s retreat which sounds like a lot of protein bars and beef jerky (which was a thing) but also ended up being a weekend full of honest conversations and, dare I say, talking about our feelings.  It was a weekend long rebuke about how much of a malcontent I really am.  Thanks bros.

But this isn’t another post retreat debrief.  I’m done with the spiritual high life.  Rather, I want to testify that God indeed works in enigmatic ways.

Back in the Summer of 2007, I attended this 40-day spiritual boot camp in Costa Mesa, CA.  Ambitiously called Global Leadership Development Institute (GLDI), I went there for the least spiritual reasons and the lowest of expectations.  We were the inaugural class and so we were essentially test subjects to see if this program would work.  Led by the Korean version of the Monopoly Man or the Pringles man, me and 92 others, from all parts of the country, gathered at this small college campus to be a part of this rising generation that would bring a Jesus Awakening Movement in America (JAMA).  This was me in 2007 at GLDI:

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I’ve always had them crazy eyes!
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Angsty since the beginning.
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Dude magnet.

I hope you enjoyed that cringeworthy stroll down memory lane.  But back to the strange workings of God in my own life.  2007 was technically only 12 years ago but it feels a lot longer than that.  I feel like a completely different person altogether.  I eat mushrooms now.  I don’t rock fake Burberry skating shirts.  I’ve become a lot more even-keeled.  In some ways, I look back that version of myself and shudder.  If I met that iteration today, I’d probably fake text to avoid any interaction whatsoever.  GLDI, for me, was/is like your favorite cheese.  Like Burrata or something.  I was so gung-ho about GLDI.  I loved it so much.  I even wanted to drop another $3-4 thousand to do it a second year.  I went to the JAMA Conference the year after that to write for the newsletter.  I would go to the local reunions.  But as I was in the process of undertaking some serious foundational changes in my theology (among other things), my attendance at these reunions dwindled precipitously.  The spark, when thinking about my time in 2007, was less spark and more afterthought.  Less nostalgia and more a footnote in my narrative to my present (“better”) self.  And what started out as this wonderful, delightful bowl of cheese has now run its course and become this molded piece of mozzarella.  The funk has now become unappetizing.  Just to be safe, let me clarify: this is not a commentary on GLDI but a confession of how my feelings about that Summer of 2007 has changed.  Cheese, to be honest, might not be the greatest analogy because I’m not so much repulsed with it, but the point is that I’ve lost a lot of that wonderful passion, and, well, wonder as a whole.

But this is not a post about GLDI.  I’m just setting the stage.  It just happens to be a big stage.

Circling back to the men’s retreat, the guest speaker was Pastor Steve Choi.  It was great to have him share the Word of God this weekend, but it also was nice to see him after all these years.  He was one of the speakers at GLDI when I attended and he was one of more memorable speakers during those 40 days.  I could’t tell you what his main points were but I do remember him being an amazing weaver of tales.  One of his illustrations that had me rolling was his commentary on the scared disciples on the boat during the tempest and how they would eat soggy bread as they waited for Jesus.  It’s one of those, “you had to be there” moments but I remember laughing so hard and finally feeling at ease at GLDI.

I am 100% sure he didn’t remember because I never introduced myself to him in 2007.  I never do.  But I do remember that in 2007, at GLDI, the wheels of ministry started to turn ever so slowly in my heart.  I was so against it.  But despite how I feel about GLDI now, I cannot deny that God used that Summer to get the ball rolling to where I am now.  And Pastor Steve was a part of it.  I didn’t know it at the time, but his whole being, his aesthetic, his style of story telling, his zeal for the gospel, were things that I would end up being.  It’s eerie because my wife didn’t bring her glasses yesterday and for a second, she thought that Pastor Steve was me because I, too, love the short-sleeved button up, jeans and dad sneaker look.  *cue Skee-Lo’s I wish (I was a bit taller)

I promise there’s a point here.  You’re almost done with this literary marathon.  ‘Grats.

We’ve established that there is no real way that Pastor Steve could’ve remembered me.  And I feel like I’m starting to sound like a magician setting up for a trick, but I can’t be more clear of how weird this whole thing is.  During the retreat, I didn’t want to say hi because, well, I am naturally interaction averse, but also, my life is ripe with too many moments where I muster up the courage to say hi because of a shared moment with someone, only to have the words of death bounced back to me: “excuse me, who are you?” or “where do I know you from?”

But my pastor motions me to come say hi, and I reluctantly do.  And as I explain our connection, his eyes light up and he starts talking like we know each other.  “Good to see you brother!  Wow, how’ve you been?”  All this while my hand is being crippled by his vice grip of a handshake.  I didn’t think much of the interaction, but slightly concerned by the glacial return of sensation to my right hand.

After both services conclude, I make my way to the youth group room.  Coincidentally (or providentially), Pastor Steve had to pick up his stuff in the same room.  On his way out, he placed his enormous mittens on my shoulder, thanked me for doing a great job presiding and that he was blessed by it.  He was so pleased to see how I was serving God and he encouraged me to continue to persevere in the gospel endeavors.  I kind of flinched as he approached me, but I was so blessed by his short exhortation.  Again, not sure that he even knows who I am.  And who thanks someone for presiding and doing announcements?  That was a first for me.

The interaction lasted less than 30 seconds in its entirety.  He didn’t pray for me.  He didn’t friend request me.  He just encouraged me.  And do you know how sometimes a different voice can mean the world of a difference?  In that moment, it kind of cut through the chaotic noise in my head and his very presence was a reminder of my calling into the ministry again.  If you know me, I am reluctant to (hyper)spiritualize anything.  I’m not the type to drink water and in my mind scoff because I know that there is a living water that is far better.  I’m not going to gratuitously and grossly misquote scripture out of its context and pair it nicely with a portrait mode photo of a twice-baked almond croissant.  But it’s been some time since I intentionally pondered on my calling.  This wonderful calling to ministry was almost a boastful badge that I bore many years ago.  It’s been awhile.  And so I am thankful.  The reaffirmation of that calling, that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing, gives me a second, third wind to be diligent.  It takes me back to 2007 and reminds me why I am doing all of these things.  Suddenly, then, the trivial tasks become transcendent toiling.  The menial becomes meaningful.

Pastor Steve, thank you for coming and preaching this weekend.  You’ll never read this and even me thanking you has strong stalker vibes but thank you for reminding me of my call and the seeds that were planted 12 years ago.  Thanks for reminding me that the antidote to the heart of a malcontent is to remember.  And when I remember, or when I remind myself, God has been nothing but faithful, albeit manifested in quite a different way.

 

 

 

Palate Cleanser

I felt like a sellout with my last post.  Though I was pleased with the exponential uptick in traffic, I realized that my normal shtick is so niche that it’s virtually nonexistent.  But audience of one, they say.  And so here I am writing to myself, opening up to anyone that is willing to eavesdrop.

Fall (not to be confused with The Fall) makes me feel some kind of way.  It adds another coat of existential thought on top of many layers of existential thoughts.  I’m like an existential piece of baklava–I’m just layers upon layers of deep contemplation.  Also, like baklava, I’d like to think that I’m underrated.  I never see it on anyone’s favorite dessert lists, and that’s precisely where I want to be.

This constant barrage of questioning about my purpose (and value as a human being, really) comes up when I get stuck in a routine.  The tyranny of the schedule combined with the relentless erosion of the weeks make me feel a bit hamster wheel-y.  Monotony isn’t the worst but it definitely neuters any semblance of energy and excitement.  And then you add in the secret ingredient “doubts about your efficacy” and you’ve gone from unappetizing oatmeal to inedible mush.

If I sound like someone that’s on the brink of a burnout, well, I don’t think I am.  But then again, those are famous last words of someone that burns out.  It’s not so much that I’m running low on energy but a deteriorating conviction in the mundane.  I can rise to the occasion when it comes to things that seem more ministry related, like preaching through Romans or leading a Bible study.  It feels like ministry.  It looks like ministry.  Ha!  It must be ministry!

But it’s in the smaller details that get me in the feels.  It’s the third email to send as a reminder to sign up for events.  It’s the scheduling the lunches.  It’s the forced fellowships where I have to be on because of a title.  How do I gently and lovingly say that the last thing I want to do is hang out with someone?  Please e-mail me your suggestions.

SushiGingerI never understood palate cleansers.  On its own, they aren’t very flavorful nor delicious. But that’s the point, right?  You need something bland or plain to cleanse your mouth so that you can fully appreciate the next bite.  When I was younger and my food snobbery was still in its infancy, I hated the tiny morsels of pink ginger at sushi restaurants.  Aesthetically it was alien and the flavor was acutely foreign and unpleasant.  Yet, all the other learned sushi eaters would mindlessly consume these thin slices of ginger.

Perhaps this is my own therapeutic way to make pithy metaphors to hopefully find profound lessons.  Maybe putting pen to “pad” is that cleansing of the remnant pork belly fat that need to be washed out.  I do admit that I feel a bit more refreshed having put in a somewhat censored version of my truest thoughts.  But a more unfiltered version requires a bribe of beverage and burger (or Banh Mi).

All that to say, as strong and stoic as I want to appear and despite my attempts to be this gargoyle, I do need a refresher.  I realize that I am absolutely terrible and resting. Recharging. I can imagine someone  sardonically saying, “dude, just rest”, but it’s just not that easy with a restless mind!  I’ve tried binge watching shows but they don’t do much for feeling rejuvenated.  People have suggested exercising and I walk away in mid-suggestion.  Or, I exercise away.  I’ve tried Sudoku and it kind of works until you find one that is impossible and now you’re nine episodes deep of Criminal Minds, wondering if your neighbor is a serial killer.

So I guess I’m just looking for suggestions.  How do you cleanse your palate?  Thanks for listening.  Like and subscribe!

Retro

I’ve always been a prisoner of nostalgia, but in the best way possible.  Think Misery, but James Caan is volitionally imprisoned.  If you know me, you know that I like the things in the past unironically.  I rocked FILA and Champion before the hipster hoards upcharged the once ahjusshi aesthetic.  I’ve been throwing things back before it was a hashtag.  And now Drake occasionally gets some play at the local “hip hop” station and I’m doubly mad because it’s not throwback and it sure is hell not hip hop.

But being in love with the things of days past has its serious drawbacks.  The present and future can never compete with things that came from the “good ‘ole days”.  Objectively, were those things better?  Probably not.  But there’s something about the “old school” that makes me crack a smile, probably at the most inappropriate time subsequently making me look like a serial killer.

I love retro things/vibes (and yearn for it, frankly) because of its absurd simplicity.  Less things to complain about.  Less things to contemplate.  If I were to apply it to ministry, it was so much more simple and straightforward.  There was no Slack.  There was no meetings to plan more meetings.  Fewer notifications.  At the risk of sounding like I’m on my deathbed with little to no life left in my eyes, those were simpler times.  In a culture that is hardwired to always impress and be meta, I miss the simplicity.  Some might say that simplicity is a euphemism for stupid.  I don’t think it’s inaccurate, but I do, at least today, miss the stupidity of it all.

But in reality, I just came across this video for a promo for a youth group Christmas banquet and now I’m just in my feels.  This is all an excuse to post this video, really.  A couple of pre-show notes:

1. The electric guitar player is NOT naked.
2.  Your eyes does not deceive you; yes, those are FUBU shorts and Tai Chi Mid And 1’s.
3.  This was our YG praise team but I was the sound guy.  This was my time to shine.
4.  I couldn’t memorize my lines so peep the piece of paper.
5.  I need to lose some weight.  I was like, not that bad back then.
6.  The art of making promo videos is a lost art and I don’t know if it’s ever coming back.
7.  SNL used to be so good.  What happened to you?  They’re like the Mariah Carey of sketch comedy.
8. When the bass player croaks “HE SPEAKS FOR ALL OF US” is the funniest part.
8a. The second funniest part was when I walk away Kenny dramatically places his hand on my shoulder.
9. The song being played is “Trading My Sorrows” by Darrell Evans (for the youngins).
10.  How do I bring some of this weird energy to my youth group and even college ministry?  Please leave a comment.  But don’t forget to like and subscribe!

Community

I am far from the resident expert on the topic.  In my most honest state, I’m more community averse than crowd affinitive.  But you already knew that.

Community, specifically the desire for it, is not only a Christian idea; it speaks to a basic human need for connection and even though I prefer to be left alone, an occasional interaction is a welcomed experience.  It’s peculiar to me, however, that although the need for (good) community is a prevalent itch, it is so seldom experienced (at least in a sustained form).  Like the fleeting Snitch that seems to be, great community is so hard to find.  Perhaps I’m projecting and calling it a pervasive struggle, but I’ve seen so many people cite poor community as the very reason for abandoning a church or The Church altogether.  It, community, seems to be the popular whipping boy of many, as they limp out the back door of the church while tacitly suffering inarticulate-able pains.  I have yet to hear anyone leave a church due to a clashing of theological convictions.  Perhaps that’s more of a commentary on the overall dearth of theological fervor but that’s for another post that won’t be read.

People leave due to relational fractures.  Social insipidness, more often than you’d like to see.  There are some spiritual veterans that would veil the real issue with rhetoric like “this church is not a good fit for me” or the ever popular “I feel like God is calling me to a different community”.

The timing of this, I admit, is an odd one; the academic year has just begun and spirits are high with the college and youth ministry that I lead.  There is much excitement.  But I also know that numbers rarely prove to be indicators of spiritual health and that the Gospel, when preached unapologetically (and apologetically, if you will), has a natural paring effect on a group.  If you know me, I’m rarely the type to cajole or wheedle.  If anything, I am a perpetual offender of “keeping it too real”.

As someone who has cited broken community as a reason for leaving, let me tell you, it’s not always the answer.  They say the grass is always greener on the other side but it’s probably because you’re too busy gawking at the lush lawn over yonder and forgetting to water your own.

But more than anything, the real problem of using community as your exit strategy points to two problems:

1. There is/are some relational agitation or fissure that is threatening the golden goose of comfort.  Many people want to harmonize two diametrically opposing ideals: convenient communities and the inconvenient truth that we are all broken people.  Unlike the wonderful interplay of chocolate and vanilla or sweet and salty, the idealists who idolize the idyllic will always be disappointed by the dissonance caused by the depraved.  The dastardly will always cause ripples.  TLDR: building and being in community with broken people is hard (especially if you have high expectations, which you should).

2.  This flows from my previous point, but it’s a paradigm shift that I am trying to enforce in my daily approach to community: what if we could solve the seemingly impossible labyrinth that is community by changing our perspective?  What if the problem of dissatisfied customers, time and time again, with any community is simply because everyone is going into with the sole purpose of gaining and consuming?  Ironic, isn’t it?The intention of receiving deepens the malaise.  How would it community look like, then, if we shifted from a mindset of consumerism to unadulterated doxology?

I think what triggered the barrage of these questions was during one of my devotionals, I was reminded of the basic truth of my purpose as a believer in Christ: to glorify God.  I feel kind of embarrassed that this simple truth was somehow swallowed by the tall weeds of other mental/spiritual preoccupations.  But if I were to frame “community” with the aim to glorify God, I think that the benchmarks in how I evaluate the quality of my immediate community changes completely.  I think the very act to glorify God through my approach to community is implicitly an act of self-denial because if I were to be honest, my checklist for what I deem to be a solid group of people is pretty stringent.

Now I understand that a million different capillaries can come of this and I can already feel the one guy with the unlikeliest of hypotheticals slide into the comments section like, “bro, like, what if this one person is constantly punching me in the face?”.  I’m obviously painting with broad strokes here.  More than anything, this is me thinking out loud, wanting to challenge myself to shift in how I quantify the quality of the community that I’m in, but more importantly, to not fret and flee, but to fight and be faithful.  Maybe a helpful exercise is to abandon my obsessive need to observe and analyze altogether.  After all, what good can really come from someone like me, with a pessimistic bias, to poke and prod all the time?  How can I come away from that futile exercise inspired to commit?  At the risk of sounding pretentiously philosophical and hippie, maybe I should just be.  I already regret it.  It sounds lazy and passive, but for me, at least, that’s what glorifying God through community looks like.  I think.  It’s still hard.  And I have the added obstacles of being introverted yet impossibly idealistic.

I sometimes envy those that aren’t tied down by Christian values.  How much easier would it be to simply succumb?  Sometimes (and I cannot stress this word enough), I feel like I’m running the same race of life but with different parameters.  And it’s true.  There’s a different set of rules.  But those moments are just that–mere whispers wafted away by the reminder that there was someone who came into the messy community that we were in to repair, redeem and restore it.  Despite the litany of reasons to leave, he chose to stay.  He chose to glorify God over self-preservation.  I’m talking about Jesus here.  Yeah, that guy.  What a guy.  He set the curve for the rest of us and what a bar he set; but I’m glad for it because it means that my admission to the impossible task of being in community isn’t just crazy talk but gives me no excuse to always hold the posture of absolute dependance.

Post-Retreat Debrief No. Too Many

You knew it was coming; you knew a post-retreat thought vomit was happening.  And yet, here you are, coming back in the same way you click “play next episode” on Criminal Minds or something.

It is a tired tradition, trite and (over)treaded, but I’m feeling a bit on edge these days and I could use an outlet to both simultaneously bless others and find some therapy in writing.

There are many things I love about ministry and there are others that I wish would never appear on my plate again.  If ministry is a slice of combo pizza, retreat planning is the black olives that contribute a net negative to the overall enjoyment of the pizza.  It’s not that I don’t like olives, but I’m not a fan of them in the context of what should be a rhapsodic culinary mosaic of other wonderful ingredients.

Unlike the regenerative nature of your muscles after a good workout or the progressively increasing tolerance for black olives, retreat planning is just as hard as the first time.  And this is only my third retreat I’ve planned.  I’m not so thick-skinned;  it’s just fat, really.

This happens all the time: I go into the weekend, high-strung with low-spirits.  Then the weekend happens and I’m surprised, yet again, by the retreat.  Retreat planning hits a different spiritual taste bud, if you will, compared to when I was a young sapling.  When I was in complete consumeristic mode, retreats were based on how much I received (and how many care cards I tallied up).  Now, being on the other side of the table, I find a newfound satisfaction in providing a place for the kids to get away and spend the weekend contemplating on their faith.  My mom would say that she got full from just watching me eat.  I would shrug off that notion, ask her if she was going to finish her short ribs, and then gluttonously swipe them off her plate as if my question was merely a formality.  The whole time, my mother would beam at me, twinkle in her and eyes and all.  I get it now.

That was my takeaway from this weekend.  I think I’m starting to get the whole notion of how much more enriching giving can be.  On paper, retreat planning is much more stressful and tiring than merely attending.  And yet, I can confidently tell you that seeing the youth kids, for a whisper of a weekend, set aside time to seek God, to cultivate a desire for intimacy with Him, I am so full.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m dead tired, still.  I’m spent.  In this moment (and perhaps only for this moment), my cynical thoughts on the efficacy of retreats are absent.  I don’t know how this specific weekend will impact these kids but I know that even though retreat planning will forever be my black olives, I look forward to the strange interplay of pouring myself out only to be blessed all the more.  Now some quick hitters:

1. I’m glad that in an age where progress is praised that retreats are still a thing.  I’m glad that mafia is still around.  I shudder at the thought of retreats being considered extraneous to the Christian experience (but please take the cup of planning away from me!)

2. Why must retreat food be so bad?  Is it too much to ask for potatoes to be cooked all the way through?  The breakfast burritos on Saturday morning tasted more like sponge than eggs.  But super thankful that we could be nourished.

3.  Speaking of tradition, I always vow not to eat ramen but when I see all the kids ravenously eat these steaming bowls of ramen (anime style), it is like a collective Mukbang which then incites me to grab a bowl or three.

4.  There was a 9th grader that read her Bible in the morning and night.  I asked her what she was reading and she said Deuteronomy.  I made some remark about how difficult it is and how it is the graveyard of Bible reading plans, and she shook her head and said that she actually loves it.  And in that moment, I questioned why I’m even a pastor.

4a.  I need to give kids more credit; I think I was resigned to the fact that student ministry is simply the sowing of seeds with futuristic fruit that I would never witness. But they can really surprise you.  The first day of devotionals (7 AM), we had a pretty good turnout!  Second day, not so much.  And by not so much, it was just me and another dude.  And the other dude was just writing encouraging notes.  So just me and God.  All that to say, progress.

5. The best nap is a post-retreat nap.

6. Retreats are great but these kids know nothing of the torturous initiations and games we had to endure back in my day.  At the cost of sounding like a “get off my lawn” curmudgeon, these kids have it easy.  But perhaps it is for the better.

7.  I can’t believe kids still sing “I Will Offer Up My Life”.  It’s a dinosaur of a song.

8.  In the same vein as the timelessness of retreats, I love the fact that although these kids are being inundated with the temptation to seek “coolness” that they are also not so self-aware that they can play silly games and laugh.

9.  I’m super self-conscious about my snoring and I wish these retreat centers would have a special room for me.  I’d pay extra.  I tried to wait out the mafia game but they played until  4-5 AM.  I can’t hang anymore.

10.  I have two more retreats to plan for (January and March).  I know I just waxed poetic on the beauty of preparing retreats, but this is just crazy; this isn’t just a combo pizza but an entire jar of black olives being forced down my throat.  Pray for me.

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Standing Out

I don’t know if I should be flattered or offended when someone calls me unique.  How do you take it?  I think it depends on its context.  I would prefer my observational insights to be unique and not so much my outfit or go-to order at Subway.  I think more often than not, I’d rather stay in my lane and, at the most daring, be a slightly nuanced version of everyone else.

I had to privilege of going to a mission trip to China years ago and the team was comprised of many talented individuals.  Everyone had a shtick.  There was the buff guy.  The hot girl.  The overtly (and probably overcompensating) spiritual person.  All the bases were covered.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I brought to the table.  I was determined to contribute somehow.  I didn’t want to just play Jesus in a skit.  One might inquire about the benefits of having a buff guy or a hot girl on the team, but that further proves my point about being nothing.  I can’t even by eye candy.  I’m like eye legume.

We were greeted by heavy rainfall and due to the poor air quality of the Tianjin, the rain wasn’t this romantic, Notebook experience.  It was nasty.  And it rained so hard that the water on the streets came up to mid-thigh.  During dinner, we were arguing about who gets to use the shower first.  I know, during a mission trip to spread the Gospel, here we are arguing about shower order.  I argued that I was a senior.  He argued that age was just a number.  I pleaded that showering first would be a great parting gift to a graduating senior.  He argued that first shall be last and the last shall be first (and two years later, I became his CG leader).   We finally agree to allow the fair arbiter that is Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide our fate.  I unflinchingly throw out paper and my skillful enemy brother in Christ waits a nano second after and throws out scissors.  I’m drenched, but now I’m deflated.  I would have to sit an extra 15 minutes in my wet socks, still, again, with no real identity.  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  The honey walnut prawns were a welcomed companion as I tried to ascertain my purpose in life and the mission trip.

As we were walking towards our hotel, I had a flash of genius; if I beat my roommate to the hotel and took a shower, then I would win.  What would he do?  Barge in?  No way.  As soon as the hotel came into sight, I “rushed” towards it, cackling like a hyena.  If you can imagine, I am high stepping in the middle of a busy street, shouting “I’m showering first!  I’m showering first!”

My right foot, understanding that I have broken the agreement from our rock, paper, scissors game, decides to find a small divot or crack in the pavement and I topple.  Hard.  I belly flop into this Yoo-hoo colored water.  And my third yelp of victory ends in a sad gargle.  The aghast of my missions team is only matched by the confusion of the people.  Spoiler alert: I did not shower first.

Still struggling to find my footing (figuratively obviously because, well, yeah) on the team, I was resigned to just being a guy.  God’s glory, right?

During the Summer, Tianjin was sweltering hot and humid.  And unlike the Nelly song implores, the best way for me to beat the heat was to consume frozen treats.  They were absurdly cheap (even cheaper than the bootleg DVD’s we weren’t supposed to buy but we bought anyway because the flesh is weak).  The combination of being in an existential pit, a fiend for ice cream, and naturally being a stress eater proved to be the perfect storm.  I started out eating two to three a day, mainly to keep cool and de-stress.  My team members started to take notice of the feverish pace at which I was inhaling these popsicles.

“How many is that today, Jason, nine?”

Even if I correct them and respond, “excuse me, no; this is only my fourth one”, I still lose, right?

Then curiosity morphs into concern.  They weren’t concerned about the deep rooted, existential reasons for my indulgence but strictly because it wasn’t healthy consuming so many of these things.

“Hey man this isn’t good for you.  You should probably stop eating those.”

I was in a stage of life where any advice given, even if it was helpful, was fuel for me to do the opposite.  I think it’s called pride or something.

Then their concern evolves into their final and most formidable state: admiration.  I go into this Kobayashi mode where I’m pounding six to seven, unconsciously eating and fighting through the brain freezes.  I think the final body count was somewhere in the upper 70’s.  Even during the mission debriefs, my pastor would ask me how many I had that day and I would always subtract two or three because I was embarrassed, but even then, the team collectively gasped.    Whether those gasps were of disgust or respect, I could not tell you, but at least there was an opinion about me.  I wasn’t the buff guy nor the guitar guy, but I was the ice cream guy (which is more than ironic since I worked at my dad’s frozen yogurt shop for many years after).

Welcoming our mission teams back have gotten me into a reflection on my past mission trips and the conclusion is that not much has changed about me.  I’m not going to do any more spiteful therapeutic ice cream eating anytime soon, but I’ve always known that I’m kind of weird.  I am not unpleasant, but also not explicitly a delight.  There is an expected respectability that all people should live up to, but I feel it especially in ministry.  Living with this condition, then, is to color inside the lines.  Not that I view being a pastor as any sort of muzzle, but I realize that I do have to rein it in most days.  It really is a delicate art, isn’t it?  To be you (weird and all) but also to be all things to all people.  Sometimes I wonder if ministry is for me.  And most days, the answer is not really.  My tendencies and personality type is diametrically opposite of what I would define as a “good pastor”, aesthetics and all.  But I think that’s part of the gracious love of God, to call this insecure ice cream eating person to join in on this wonderful endeavor.    Progress report?  Still not sure what my “thing” is, but after many years, I think I’m ok with that.