30 Words In 30 Days: HOURS

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH | CATHEDRAL | PUB | OCEAN | MOTHER | AGE | DEVOTIONAL

This piece is a guest post written by a good friend of mine, Marshall Sandoval. Marshall writes about video games, faith, and culture over at MarshallSandoval.com 

HOURS.

There’s a very popular idea from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers known as the 10,000 Hour Rule. The rule states that the key to success in any field is to put in 10,000 hours of work. It’s probably a fair assessment of the time it takes to truly master a craft. Even though our culture loves to toss the 10,000 Hour Rule around, we aren’t really wired to embrace that kind of grind or discipline.

Jesus used a lot of agrarian parables. I love these corporeal stories. At (Jay’s old stomping grounds) Awakening Church we’re studying the agrarian parables of Mark’s gospel in a series called Grow. These stories were embedded in a paradigm of thinking in terms of weeks and seasons; it was what author Richard Florida calls the age of agriculture. Later, Marx would claim that capitalism alienates us from our work and the products of our work in what Florida termed the age of industrial capitalism. Today, Florida would say we’re transitioning out of the organizational age; he titled his treatise The Rise of the Creative Class. To be a “content creator” today you don’t need special skills. Anyone with a WordPress account can write. Smartphones and a few apps with good filters can make anyone seem like Ansel Adams. There are some great aspects of these paradigm shifts. More people can get their 10,000 hours when the tools of the trade are so democratized. I just fear we’ve lost something in the process. We don’t have to wait for film to develop anymore. We don’t have to wait for seeds to grow into meals. I fear we’re always looking for instant gratification.

I think a lot about the scene in a sports movie or romantic comedy when the main character has a dramatic epiphany. Finally their resolve is steeled and they will get that girl or they’ll win that fight. The same thing always comes next…a montage. 10,000 hours are always reduced to jump cuts and a catchy pop song. We’re fixated on two points in a very long timeline: the epiphany and the payoff. But the hard part, the important work, happens in the lengthy gap between these two points.

I recently shifted career paths in just such an epiphanous series of moments. I’d love parts of teaching, but I want to write, I decided. Thus far, I’m still making peanuts as a freelancer, but I may yet land a job in the field of my dreams. My point is that the decision was full of risks, and people lauded the grandiose gesture. Whenever you make a dramatic and risky decision like that, people think that’s the brave moment of importance. That’s not the important moment. After every big fork in the road and before every grand victory or ugly crash are hours and hours of meat and potatoes dedication. The important moment is practicing your ball handling skills for hours and hours in the dead of summer. No one applauds you when you draw a practice doodle every single day, even the days you’d rather stab the pencil in your eye. The catalyst for change is taking the time to meditate when you’d rather check-out. What’s really important are humdrum everyday moments of mundane discipline. The important moments are all of the unsexy hours between the risky decision and the reward.

hours

30 Words In 30 Days: DEVOTIONAL

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH | CATHEDRAL | PUB | OCEAN | MOTHER | AGE

DEVOTIONAL.

When I was in high school, my church youth group was all about quiet timeFor those unfamiliar with the idiosyncratic language and culture of late 90’s evangelical youth culture, quiet time was all about setting aside 10 minutes (20 for the overachieving spiritual superstars) every morning before heading off to school and/or evening before tucking into bed in order spend, what we affectionately called, time with the Lord. In recent years, this peculiar yet powerful practice has been rebranded and is now often called a devotional. We Christians often ask each other what the Lord’s been revealing to us in our devotionals or how our devotionals have been going or when and where we have our regular devotional time.

My own relationship with devotionals has been up and down. OK, who am I kidding? Let’s just say it: I suck at devotionals. For years it felt much more like a wrestling match than a dance. I fought and struggled and walked away limping in brokenness more often than leaping for joy. But in just the last year, things have changed. With the help of some more seasoned Christ-following friends, I’ve been able to reshape my awareness and experience of God in my everyday life. I thought some of this might be helpful for some of you. As I’ve said in previous things I’ve written, these are all suggestions and opinions. Take what’s helpful. Feel free to throw away the rest.

I used to READ THE BIBLE. Now I let the BIBLE READ ME. I grew up thinking that the Bible was a book that I was supposed read. I thought that the quality of devotional time was in part based on how many verses I could get through. But I’ve since learned that the Bible is a mirror facing out, giving us a glimpse of what’s really underneath the facades of both self and society. It’s prophetic commentary and it has something to say. It’s words come alive because they are God-breathed, as 2 Timothy 3v16 reminds us. So now, instead of simply reading the Bible, I let it read me. This means that reading it is never detached from prayer. I approach it as dialogue, not monologue. Sometimes I read a few verses over and over and sometimes I read entire chapters but either way, I ask for clarity and conviction. I ask God to speak. I pause often to let the many pebbles of my own thoughts sink to the bottom so that the ripples dissipate and I can see my reflection clearly in the deep waters of Scripture.

I used to PRAY HARD. Now I PRAY EASY. Teresa of Avila once said, All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent. I used to pray so hard, subconsciously believing that God was very distant and much effort was required in order to reach him. But God is closer than we could ever imagine. Psalm 145v18 reminds us, The Lord is near to all who call on him. James 4v8 invites us, Come near to God and he will come near to you. I am learning to pray easier, not harder. Sometimes this means that I simply say a few short, focused words. Sometimes I repeat the same few words over and over. Sometimes I don’t say anything at all, which leads me to…

I used to TRY. Now I TRUST & BREATHE. For years, not just my devotional life but my entire Christian experience was about trying. But trying never really got me anywhere. I always found myself back at square one, frustrated that my efforts were never enough. Here’s where grace comes in. I’m learning that grace is the subtle yet stern reminder that trying is futile and that it must be replaced with trusting if we expect to ever experience God in any sort of meaningful way. The simple act of silent, slow breathing, focusing on each inhale and exhale, remembering that each filling up of the lungs is a gift of God, has helped me to stop trying and simply trust.

I used to IMITATE. Now I IMAGINE. I used to spend time with God because I wanted to be like some of the spiritual giants I saw around me. Sometimes it was my youth pastor. Sometimes it was a kick ass speaker I heard at some gargantuan Christian conference. Sometimes it was C.S. Lewis or Bonhoeffer or Brennan Manning (minus the excessive boozing). But comparison is the currency of the devil. Nowadays I’m tapping into my imagination. I sit with God, read, pray, breathe, and all the while, I imagine. I imagine what he might be thinking or feeling about me. I imagine what the day might bring. I imagine how my unique and particular story might end up. I often meet God in my imagination and he is real there, fully present, bringing my imagination into being. Imitation shackles and enslaves us. Imagination frees us and sends us off into open skies to meet with God in brand new ways.

If you’re interested in exploring some fresh ways to deepen your awareness and experience of God all around, here are few books to read which you may (or may not) find helpful:

Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating

I Asked for Wonder by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer

 devotional

30 Words In 30 Days: AGE

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH | CATHEDRAL | PUB | OCEAN | MOTHER

AGE.

Aging is the one thing we can’t control. Every single year on the exact same day, whether we want it or not, we officially get older and lose an age that’ll never return to us. You will never again be 10 or 16 or 21. Those years are gone forever. And if they’re not gone for you yet, enjoy them. They only last 365 days. 366, if you’re lucky.

Just last week a friend asked me if I ever imagine what it’d be like to go back to when I was younger, knowing what I know now, and doing it all over again. Of course I do. My guess is that you do too, at least from time to time. Yet we all know this is a futile endeavor. We can’t go back and do things over. We get one shot and one shot only at each day. This is the great burden of caring for our fragile and precious minutes and hours with utmost respect and appreciation. But I’ve come to believe that this is also one of God’s most amazing gifts. It is the gift of holiness covering each of our moments – the good, the bad, the mundane. The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us, There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious. 

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is just over 78 years. This amounts to about 28,500 days. I’ve already lived 12,783 of those days, meaning that I’m closing in on the halfway point, assuming I make it to the expected age. And not a single day has been quite like any of the others. Each one, unique and subtly spectacular. Some days have been full of boundless joy. But like you, I’ve had many days full of sadness and pain. And each one has been covered in holiness, set apart by God to be unlike any other day in human history, truly once-in-a-lifetime, teaching me and shaping me.

If you’ve never heard Sleeping At Last’s song Uneven Odds, go listen to it now and thank me later. The song tells a story of loss and pain and the stark reality that there’s no respite from the relentless flow of time’s often treacherous waters. These waters can be frighteningly dark, seemingly without rhyme or reason. And yet, even in the darkness comes forth a gift. The gift of light.

As the years move on these questions take shape
Are you getting stronger or is time shifting weight?
No one expects you to understand
Just to live what little life your mended heart can

Maybe your light is the seed
And the darkness the dirt
In spite of the uneven odds
Beauty lifts from the earth
From the earth

You’re much too young now
So I write these words down,
“Darkness exists to make light truly count.”

Time passes through us at the same dogged and determined pace it’s been keeping up since the beginning of…well…time. As you well know, it brings with it many troubles and hardships. And in those moments, from our deepest and most desperate places, we will want nothing more than for time to stop, to give us a breather, to let us sit a while to rest before moving on. But rest will not come. Re-do’s will not be handed out. Our tickets of regret cannot be redeemed for added time. What we get is what we get. And what we get is often darkness and dirt. But may we remember today, in this very moment, this exclusive and endlessly precious moment, that darkness exists to make light truly count. 

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30 Words In 30 Days: MOTHER

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH | CATHEDRAL | PUB | OCEAN

MOTHER.

My mother, Young Soon Kwon, was born to a wealthy Korean family in 1948. But during the Korean War her family lost everything. Shortly after the war, my mother lost both of her parents. She was an orphan by the time she was twelve.

My mother is a strong woman, fiercely independent and startlingly driven. I’m not sure how much of this is due to an upbringing that required self-sufficiency. I’m afraid to ask. In her late 20’s she married my father, Won Sik Kim, mostly out of convenience I think. I was born in the summer of 1979 and my parents lost their marriage shortly after that. She packed our bags when I was too small to remember and we moved to California. We stayed with my aunt’s family in San Jose, just as the city was climbing out from underneath the shadow of San Francisco and forging its own identity as the Silicon Valley. My uncle worked for IBM at the time and for years I thought his computer at home was going to transform into a rocket ship and take me away from my sad life someday. It never did. It ran DOS.

My mother’s first job in America was at a dry cleaning shop downtown near the state university as the in-house seamstress. Such an asian immigrant move on her part. She hemmed, stitched, needled, and threaded her way to a better life for us. We eventually moved into our own place and she went on to own her own business, earn her master’s degree, and learn to play the harp, among other things.

When I was young, I was embarrassed of my mother’s immigrant story. I wanted so desperately to be American and she was so uncompromisingly Korean. Once, in second grade, she filled my Indiana Jones lunch box to the brim with kim-bap, Korean sushi. This was in the early 80s before sushi was in vogue the way it is now. And kids can be cruel. They laughed and jeered at the sight me eating rice wrapped in seaweed. I remember my eyes melting uncontrollably into a messy glob of hot tears. I think it was because of anger and embarrassment in equal parts. I quickly walked away and found an empty corner of the cafeteria where I ate alone, lunch box in my lap, carefully cracking it open just enough to pull one piece of kim-bap out at a time and quickly shoveling it into my mouth so that others wouldn’t notice. At home that evening I yelled at my mother. I hate kim-bap. I hate Korea. I hate you.

But the truth is, I don’t. Far from it. Over the years I’ve come to not only appreciate but deeply admire my mother’s story. I still have difficulty trying to understand the depths of her strength and resolve. And through it all, the ups and the downs, the struggles and hardships, she has kept her eyes relentlessly focused on Christ alone. They say that faith is forged in the fire. If this is true, my mother is a woman of immense faith because she has seen love and peace and hope seemingly engulfed in flames time and time again… and has kept pressing forward. I realize now that her story is my story. Who she is, what she’s done, and how she sees the world has shaped me in ways that I will be discovering for the rest of my life. I don’t pretend to understand exactly how prayer works but I do know that my life is different because she continues to pray for me each and every morning.

My mother is my hero. Love you, mom. I’m glad you packed that kim-bap for me in second grade.

Mother

30 Words In 30 Days: OCEAN

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH | CATHEDRAL | PUB

OCEAN.

I’ve always had a curious relationship with the ocean. I love it but I’m also deathly afraid of it. I almost died in it once when I was 7 or 8. A lifeguard had to save me. This also happened at Raging Waters around the same age but, surprisingly enough, I am perfectly OK with water parks.

It’s not that I’m afraid of water, per say. I really like swimming, actually. It’s the magnitude and mystery of the ocean that paralyzes me. It’s just so big. And what’s down there? How can anyone possibly know what’s actually down there?

Ocean water covers about 70% of the earth’s surface. They think that we’ve explored less than 5% of it. So, 95% of the ocean out there? Completely unknown. This is absolutely frightening. Why don’t they make more horror flicks that take place on ships out at sea? That’s much scarier than a cabin in the woods.

The ancients viewed the vast waters of the ocean with apprehension and awe. It was symbol of fear. I can relate. The reason this blog was originally titled Farewell To The Sea is because of the solace I took in Revelation 21:1:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

The writer sees a vision of new creation, when God’s redemptive action in the world comes to completion and he restores heaven and earth back to its originally intended beauty, and the ocean – the symbol of darkness, fear, anxiety – is gone. No longer any sea.

But I did say that my relationship with the ocean has always been curious. I’m not just afraid of it. I also love it. I’ve grown comfortable with this paradox. Everything that causes me fear about the ocean also captivates me. It’s magnitude and mystery don’t just paralyze me – they also pull me in. The sights, smells, and sounds – I can’t get enough. I feel so alert and so alive when I’m near it, constantly aware of its ability to engulf me if it so chose. And yet, it’s waters rush the shore, coming close time and time again but always stopping just short of taking me back into itself. The rush is exhilarating.

The ocean reminds me of my smallness. It reminds me that there is much in life yet to be explored. It reminds me that new heaven and new earth are coming. And for that, I am most grateful.

ocean

30 Words In 30 Days: PUB

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH | CATHEDRAL

PUB.

I’ve only been to a handful of proper pubs over the years but I love them for three simple invitations they offer. I believe that we (you, me, the church, humankind as a whole, etc.) can learn much about the nuances of doing community right from pub-culture. And so, the three invitations…

Come. A good pub invites us to leave everything else behind for a while and enter into something completely set apart. Typically, proper pubs are quaint and cozy. Their spaces are usually intimate and they offer us a chance to be seen, heard, and known. Most of us live anonymous lives. We’re cogs in the giant machine, helping to make sure things run smoothly, appreciated for what we do but rarely for who we are. Pubs offer us a reprieve from such harsh realities. They smile at us and ask us to join in on the fun of simply being without the pressure of doing. And doing community right is all about letting people be rather than asking them to do.

Sit. This isn’t always an invitation to physically sit down. Often in good pubs, there isn’t much room for sitting. Rather, the invitation to sit is an invitation to settle in and be here a while. A pub is a place to enjoy good company, not a place to rush in and out for a quick drink. In Jewish culture, there’s a practice called shiva – a weeklong observance after the death of a loved one. The doors of the home are left unlocked and guests enter in freely to come and sit with those who are in mourning. In fact, the word shiva means seated. Sitting down and settling in with someone for a while holds an innate power that has no substitute. Whether to celebrate or to mourn, the invitation to sit is crucial to doing community right.

Drink. Nothing forges meaningful community quite like shared experiences. The shared experience of a having a drink together is something unique and pubs do this just about as well as any place. It’s not just about the drink in hand. It’s about the way sharing a drink disarms us, comforts us, makes us laugh, colors our conversations, and opens us up to each other.

So, call some friends, find a pub, and share a few pints.

pub

30 Words In 30 Days: CATHEDRAL

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 DaysRead previous parts of the series here: WORD | HOLY | RELEVANT | WONDER | WINDOWS | TOWER | BENCH

CATHEDRAL.

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters this week for something I’m working on at church and I came across this brilliant bit the other day:

The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents – or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.

For those unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters, it’s important to note that the book is written entirely in the form of letters from a “senior demon” named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a “junior tempter.” The “Enemy” is God. The man is someone only called the “patient” in the book but really, the man is all of us.

The excerpt is especially timely for our day and age. We’re living in an era of cathedral-builders. Everyone’s working on the next big thing. Here in the Silicon Valley, we’re surrounded by the best and brightest, men and women who are making and creating some of the most interesting stuff in the world. And regardless of the industry, we all find ourselves caught up in the energy of this ever-growing cadre of innovators. My industry happens to be the church – the world of preachers and prophets, artists and theologians – and even we find ourselves swept up in it, laying brick on brick, admiring our cathedrals as we build them high into the limitless heavens.

There is however a subtle danger that Lewis astutely points out. It’s the danger of self-centered attachment. I have time and time again found myself dealing with this destructive sort of fastening on to the various cathedrals I work so hard to build. Sometimes it’s a message preached and other times it’s a blog post written. Sometimes it’s something else. I build my cathedrals and admire them as my own. But soon enough, each and every time, they come crashing down and I’m left with the familiar rubble of my own shallowness and self-centric tendencies. Much like a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall, the real power of the cathedrals we think we’re building lies in something completely beyond us. The sooner we recognize that, the better off we’ll be.

Some friends of mine wrote a song a while back called Cathedral (be forewarned – it’s loud). The song is about the Church and the many ways we try to build her in our own image…

We raised Her body. 
We made Her mind think. 
We told Her mouth speak. 
We built Her heart beat. 

…only to be left with a single unwavering question in the end: But where’s Her spirit?  

Despite all our best efforts, all of our brilliance and imagination, there is only one thing that elevates those cathedrals which most move and inspire us. Spirit. And for that, may we acknowledge God alone, who is Himself the Spirit and gives to us freely. As Lewis encourages us, may we rejoice, free from any bias in our own favor, with gratitude.

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