Tiny Revolution: Dreaming of a ChurchBaby

Winter Sample Gates

Starting churches is in the blood of many immigrants in this country.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church that was young when we arrived in the late 70s because it was full of mostly newly-arrived Koreans chasing dreams of success, education, and making life really count. But the day in and day out of realizing the streets aren’t paved with gold and that bootstraps made little sense meant that church every Sunday was a chance to sort it all out and breathe in deeply. Sometimes it was also Wednesday and Friday, and maybe the occasional Saturdays. The Koreans can get fanatical. But each time in those gatherings, in the rented out basements, I watched my parents, all our parents, breathe easily, which meant they could also speak, and be heard, and listen, and sing, and laugh like they were shedding layers of that thick skin necessary to protect them and survive each day in this strange, hard country.

Church every week was a protest, it was resistance, it was a gathering in the darkness, and a way to be given life and light.

I know there’s hardly a tweet or post that goes by that I don’t invoke the words “vigil” or “demonstration” or “protest” or “resistance,” but that’s because these words articulate the kind of defense mechanism church is and was to my family, and to so many like my family. Church is a tiny revolution, says my dear friend and sister the Rev. Jodi Houge, and I feel this in my bones and marrow. Despite the many churches in my little college town, and that I am friends and colleagues with many of the pastors, and love and respect them and their work, I believe we need more tiny revolutions.

So I’m dreaming of a churchbaby.

It’s been swimming around in my soul for a while, this little zygote of a dream, ever since my first Executive Presbyter (Presbyterian-speak for bishop/superintendent/pastor to pastors), Jean Johnston, planted the possibility back in 2006. I had just started in my first call as an associate pastor and it was over a lunch in Flanders, NJ. She was scattering all manner of seeds: solo pastor, head of staff, church planter. And I was a hungry soil at the time – fascinated and wondering what would take root. Would I be able to handle it? Would I be smart enough, wise enough, saavy enough to do this kind of work? 

It’s 2016, and I’m still asking if I’m enough. For sure, one thing has not changed: I’m hungry. But I’m beginning to realize that perhaps this is enough for now. At least, it’s a beginning. I’m hungry for community, hungry for change, hungry for transformation, hungry for revolution.

I know in some ways I’ve already recently been a part of a kind of church plant with UKIRK at IU, which is a Presbyterian campus ministry, but I want to expand it so that it’s not only focused on a specific demographic but positioned more broadly. In doing so I hope to create more spaces for overlap between those connected to the university and those who have always held the deepest places of my heart – the people on the margins. In Bloomington, I see that being the homeless, transient, and working poor.

So, friends, this is what I’m thinking, doing, dreaming these days. And I’ll be writing out the process – as honestly, openly, and genuinely as possible – my reflections, my questions, my hopes. I am intentionally putting myself in those spaces and will begin: volunteering at the Shalom Community Center, working with Dan and the Interfaith Winter Shelter, and listening and learning from with those in the community who have committed their lives to these people. I’m talking with people who have business and startup experience about the possibilities of making this tiny revolution financially sustainable with pay-it-forward options. I’m dreaming about dinner church, story telling and peace making gatherings, interreligious vigils and protests, and a space for people to breathe, to listen, to speak, to laugh.

This may not turn into anything at all – I’m totally aware of that possibility. But, I believe in the meaning of process and journey, too, and am holding onto the hope that when you give yourself over to a God who loves fiercely and recklessly, then something amazing comes of it. It just may look different from the original blueprints. But I can’t deny the desire anymore, after all, it’s in my DNA. My father started a church, too. I do know one thing for sure though: Revolution will happen, at the very least, with me. And, that will never be an insignificant thing.

Journey with me, dear ones?

I change myself, I change the world. -Gloria AnzalduaClick To Tweet

 

Thank you to my sisters – who are also my inspiration and coaches in this endeavor: Kerlin Richter, Emily Scott, Jodi Houge, and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

#OneWord2016: Dream

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There’s a sermon that I often heard during the summers of 2002 and 2003.

At the time I was a backpacking guide for a ministry for high school students called Wilderness Ranch. It was my seminary internship for one summer, and an excuse to be in Colorado again for another one. I needed to get out of New Jersey for a few months. For seven days two guides would take a group of high school students from all over – Texas, Georgia, weirdly, New Jersey – through the Rocky Mountains. At the end of the week back at base camp the director, Skeet Tingle, would always do the same talk using the scripture from the Transfiguration.

I remember this as I sit at a table looking out at the lovely Blue Ridge surrounding Montreat, a Presbyterian conference center that hosts college students every year for a few days. How it’s easier to see at a height. How some things begin to make a little more sense up here. How you feel braver and truer when you are surrounded by trees and your Creator. How the air is clearer and you can breathe better.

The topography of a space has to include peaks and valleys, bright sunlight and a large sky, and a nibble of winter for me to come back to myself. Good preaching and the sound of 1100 college students singing Come Thou Fount and the Canticle of Turning helps, too. The epiphanies come like breaking waves and rolling clouds, and like Peter, I am eager to pitch numerous tents to hold onto those revelations. Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.

Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.Click To Tweet

And so that’s going to be the word for 2016. Dream.

I had toyed with “breathe” or “simplify” or wistfully, “sleep,” but a tribe of clergy and preacherwomen who are surrounding me with prayer sparked this one. It’s of course no coincidence that we are in Epiphany, and in the Matthew 2 passage where seasons and journey, and dreams shimmer on the surface of the pages. But it isn’t the star or the roads, or even the angels in Matthew 2 that compel me – it’s the dreams of the Magi and Joseph that lead them to move and live and be. So, dream. Dream because my Korean ancestors don’t take dreams lightly – they believe that dreams can tell you everything from the biological sex of the baby in your belly to when someone is nearing their death. Dream because dreams though they are strange and peripheral to our lives, they are often the instrument of revolution. Dream because our desires and hopes for our lives are usually barely articulated but cannot be bottled up and will find their way to the surface of our consciousness. Dream because they lead us to risk and change, and to grasp the possbility of a different reality. Dream because they are for the fools and desperados and the hopemongers.

Dream because I need to keep paying attention in fresh ways.Click To Tweet

I go back to CS Lewis’ Aslan during these times:

“First, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you awake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances.

Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (From The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair)

Skeet would often say something similar. Something about not staying on the mountain top because we aren’t made to live at the elevation. That even though we are able to see more clearly and feel more deeply, we are meant to have those moments in glimpses and glimmerings. We are made to live in the valleys. Jesus led his disciples back down, too. But, I’m reminded over and over – it’s the long run down and back with college students, it’s the now traditional catch-up over coffee with a friend, it’s being squeezed into a pew with 10 others during worship – we don’t go it alone, we have the people around us, we have our tribes and communities, and we always, always have those signs, we carry those dreams, to lead us.

Thank God.

Resurrection as Shared Life

Anne Lamott Why Church

Before Ozzie came into our lives the moms in my new moms group would often lament to me that they were trying to teach their child to share but having a single child made that task difficult. They assumed that the twins had an environment that would lend itself naturally towards sharing.

Except here’s the thing. The kids, I would say, 80% of the time truly suck at sharing. They are very territorial. Very possessive. Anna has developed a strong and alarming tendency towards hoarding – if I’m missing a magazine or book I’ve been reading inevitably it will be found in the top drawer of her dresser. Sharing is not innate. It’s not normal. It’s definitely not easy. But it is a major facet of being in community – not only individual families, but college students and living on campus, people being in a neighborhood or city, workplaces. </DO PEOPLE STILL WATCH REAL WORLD OR ROAD RULES ON MTV?\> The kids might not get it now but I know eventually they will have to figure out how to take turns with markers.

For a joint, campus group Dinner Church last night we read from Acts about the life of the early church. Luke narrates how in these idyllic days, the faithful sold all their possessions and shared all they had with their sisters and brothers in faith so that there was not a needy person in their midst. It seems so clear, so easy. No other New Testament passage depicts the ideal of sharing with the Christ-following community so vividly.

This is a picture of the ideal community, one in which no one lacks anything. They obviously did not have preschoolers in charge. But, guess what? Though they seemed to be of one heart and one mind, in the next passage Luke recounts a story of a couple, a man named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira who sold some property but kept back some of the proceeds, and lied about it. When he was found out he literally dropped dead. Talk about some major drama I mean Real World Confessional drama. Apparently even the first church had some flaws when it came to community.

Here’s the reality. They were not of one heart and soul because they obligated to do it or because tried really hard. They did not sell their possessions because it was in their mission statement or required by law or the morally right thing to do. Instead, everything they did was because of their belief in the resurrection. And it was not only that Jesus overcame death but that the resurrection itself was a relational event. God resurrected Jesus, Jesus did not resurrect himself. God resurrects us not just for ourselves but for our fellow human beings.

All these moments together – whether Sunday church in our respective traditions and communities or like this evening – when we gather to break bread and share the cup in this way, we are embodying the meaning of resurrection – not only the reality of life thwarting the clutches of death and destruction – but that our lives are tied up together. The resurrection is certainly about the power of God countering annihilation and insignificance, grace countering sin, reconciliation countering estrangement, but for sure, love dispelling hate. And, it is not meant to be in isolation – it is always about each other – it is about our lives being inextricably connected, intertwined, and joined together.

So the text from Acts invites us to see this passage not as a mandate or moral prescription for church life but a description – an image of what community looks like when we table together. When we come together on a regular basis – in the midst of our shared fragility and vulnerability – our brokenness and neediness – we get a glimpse of that kingdom-come, heaven-on-earth that we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer. And yet, it’s not our commonalities that are the substance of this joining together but the reality that we can come together rooted in our differences and even disagreements, arguments and opposition. The miracle of our life together is that we are foreign and strange to one another, but in the same way God came to us – we who are so Other to God – it is at this table that we come to each other and experience the love that will not let us go – that love that will not give up on us.

“God wills our liberation, our exodus from Egypt. God wills our reconciliation, our return from exile. God wills our enlightenment, our seeing. God wills our forgiveness, our release from sin and guilt. God wills that we see ourselves as God’s beloved. God wills our resurrection, our passage from death to life. God wills for us food and drink that satisfy our hunger and thirst. God wills, comprehensively, our well-being—not just my well-being as an individual but the well-being of all of us and of the whole of creation. In short, God wills our salvation, our healing, here on earth. The Christian life is about participating in the salvation of God.”

Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith

And I am back at Jesus, again, thankful for the way God came to us, Emmanuel – GOD-WITH-US – who showed us the way to participate in this salvation – he shared his life with the disciples, he shared his life with us, he shares his life with all of humanity through the Holy Spirit so we can taste and see the ever present possibility of risen life, and life made new.

May you summon the courage, in Brennan Manning’s words, “to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.” May you feel that life shared and given for you in every moment of the day. May you live and love in the abundance of that goodness now and always.

The miracle of our life together is that we are foreign and strange to one another, but in the same way God came to us - we who are so Other to God - it is at this table that we experience the love that will not let us go - that love that will not give up on us.Click To Tweet

Confession as Resistance and Solidarity in Bloomington

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An Indiana University student was arrested over the weekend after police say he attacked a Muslim woman, yelling racially charged comments at her and trying to remove her headscarf. Police on Monday did not identify the woman, but said that she had been dining in a Bloomington, Indiana, restaurant’s outdoor seating area Saturday night with her 9-year-old daughter when she was approached by 19-year-old Triceten Bickford. Police said the woman claimed Bickford was yelling things like “white power,” “kill the police” and derogatory statements about black people.

The following are remarks I gave at the Bloomington Against Islamophobia event today.

Good afternoon, my name is Mihee Kim-Kort, and I’m a Presbyterian minister and director of a campus ministry here in town and one of the conveners of Btown Justice. I’m honored to stand with the wider Bloomington community to speak out against Islamophobia.

A major tenet of Protestant faith is the act of confession, both as individuals and as a community. Confession can serve as a means to honestly and genuinely express not only one’s failures – or the failures of a community, but as way to acknowledge and lament the fragility of humanity. In that vein, I want to offer these remarks up in that posture – I am wholly and painfully aware of the ways in which those who profess to follow the Christian faith have failed over and over in not only the areas of tolerance but compassion – we do lip service but when it comes to truly knowing and loving our neighbors we have so much more work in front of us. Moreover, we have also been complicit in perpetuating those value systems – guilty of prejudice and violence towards those who are NON: non-Christian, non-white, non-male, non-hetero, non-normative at so many levels.

In the same way confession acts as a mode for honesty and vulnerability, as a way of interrogation and self-reflexivity, it is a way to proclaim and affirm the realities of the struggle and what it means to cling to hope despite the realities around us. Click To Tweet

As I reflected on the actions of the IU student, I couldn’t help but feel sad for him. He is a symptom and product of white supremacy. It is in the air we breathe and we consume it like food. This is to not excuse him or his actions or justify any of the violence done towards our brothers and sisters but a way to hold us accountable for our own actions and what we are called to do with the words and opportunities before us, too.

I identify as Asian American. My family and I have experienced physical, spiritual and emotional violence. We have received demeaning and disrespectful treatment, we have been used and tokenized and propped up to support white supremacy while being made to feel like an outsider. This is typical of many AAPI. In the eyes of some, Asians in America are, writes Erika Lee, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.” If Asians sometimes remain silent in the face of racism, and if some seem to work unusually hard in the face of this difficult history, it is not because they want to be part of a “model minority” but because they have often had no other choice.

But I believe as one theologian writes that “prophetic grief transforms our sadness into seeking faith-rooted justice for all so we must speak up and repent by dismantling systemic racism within our institutions, churches, communities, families and hearts, and by becoming humble, supportive allies in the #‎BlackLivesMatter movement, accountable to those who suffer most.‬‬” ‬‬As a person who is committed to a faith that is centered around the life of a 1st century Palestinian who from the beginning stood with the marginalized, the rejected and isolated, the non-normative of society, and even himself experienced state-sanctioned violence and execution, because of his life – I believe and confess and affirm that black lives matter. Muslim lives matter.

#WhyChurch: Casseroles and Communion

Anne Lamott Why Church

There’s no one answer to “Why Church?”

Why do we keep on with church? When at its worst it is an instrument of exclusion, rejection, even yes, real violence … and (sometimes) at its best feels too polished and shiny like the individual silver chalice cups my former church used during communion. I can still remember the first time I stood up behind the communion table and lifted the lid off the tray expecting the typical Presbyterian plastic cups. Instead I marveled at the widening circles of goblets – each so miniature and a perfectly ornamented copy of the large communion cup next to the bread. I kind of wanted one for myself and was tempted to slip it into my pocket.

Last night on Twitter we had an incredible conversation around #whychurch, and the questions that garnered the most responses were:

“What defines church?”
“What are we trying to get out of church that we can’t get alone?”
“What is healing about church?”

And then #whychurch turned into #whycasserole because my wonderful partner and spouse decided to mention it, and now I think we need to write a whole new volume on a theology of casseroles to add to Calvin’s Institutes.

There’s so much more there, and going through the hashtag I feel my heart beat a little quicker, I remember why I fell in love, and what captured my soul about church, and I think, yes, I’m staying, I’m not going anywhere. Because not only do I need church…

The church needs me.

The church needs all of me. All of my failures and flaws, all of my baggage, even all of my struggles with ego and privilege because that’s where the transformation happens – in the midst of flesh-and-blood, brutal vulnerability and weakness. It happens in the woods and in the delivery room, yes, but most certainly, it was meant to happen in community, in the sanctuary, in the light of the candles, around the font and the table.

I’m – still, slowly – reading Lauren Winner’s Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, and I keep on thinking about communion:

I learn something about the elderly couple who, near the end of the Communion train, come to the rail and kneel, fragile as mushrooms. What I learn later is that for a dozen years, he has been afflicted by a wasting disease, an intestinal disease that makes it almost impossible for him to eat – he lives on Ensure and lemonade. But at the altar I don’t yet know that, I only know what I see: they each take a wafer from the priest; and when I come to them with the chalice, the wife dips as I say “The Blood of Christ keep you in everlasting life,” and she eats her wafer, and then her husband likewise instincts his round of Christ’s Body into the wine and then he hands the round of Body and Blood to his wife and she eats his wafer for him. There at the Communion rail, I don’t yet know what illness lies behind this gesture, I know only the couple’s hands and mouths, and that I am seeing one flesh. I have about this, heard sermons about a man and a woman becoming one flesh…

And here at the altar, I see that perhaps this is the way I come to know such intimacy myself: as part of the body of Christ, this body that numbers among its cells and sinews an octogenarian husband and wife who are Communion. Click To Tweet

Whether it’s a meal made up of creamy soup and noodles or mashed up food and crackers or gathering around a podcast sermon. We are called to be together. Being together matters. I matter. You matter. We matter together. 

The church was given to us as a way to care for each other, a way to be a glimmering of heaven-on-earth and God's kingdom-come, the church is meant to be food, meant to be breath, meant to be song.Click To Tweet