The New Normal

There’s a memory I have of driving around with Emily and her friend Courtney in Fresno. We pass a restaurant that had a special on tempura. Next thing I know we are debating the correct pronunciation of tempura, karaoke and other Japanese words with the “r” sound. Emily finally resolved that since the majority of America pronounces it with the hard “r” sound, that has to be correct. Funny thing, when you look up videos online on how to pronounce “tempura” they use the hard “r”. I guess Emily’s right, whatever the majority identifies with becomes the new normal.

Normal seems to be an evolutionary concept. What is normal now, may not be normal in the future. Many social norms evolve over time. Hair styles that may have been normal a couple decades ago, are not normal now. Thankfully the NO HAIR style is in! Styles of clothing, tattoos, even language that may have been abnormal at one time now fits into the new normal. The invention of social media alone has created a new normal in society.

This change is true for more significant issues. Working in schools I see the “normal” presence of mental health concerns like ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Gender and sexual identity has developed a new normal standard that impacts our society. Social norms shape us all.

Close to my heart is the Church. I know that the Church is God’s desire for His people, but what I see leaves me uneasy. Like a punch in the gut, I cringe at our current state of churches. Businesses and man made institutions. Pastors that are CEO’s and spokespersons for these businesses and congregations that are consumers seeking a good product and a CEO that will manufacture it. Searching for the next fresh program or the next big hook we strive for ways to get people in those doors. I know, I was there, I was in it and I was a participant of it. I don’t believe this is what God desires for His Church.

When I discuss this with others, many agree. Most respond with “Unfortunately that’s just how it is.” Surrendered to the understanding that no church is perfect we just move forward and do our best. This is not really new. God’s people frequently went astray in the old and new testament. So I guess that’s just how it is, we accept this as our normal.

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Get My Goat

This phrase has an uncertain origin, but the meaning is clear. When someone or something “gets your goat” they’ve angered you. 

Last week when I had to literally get my goat, I can assure you, I was angry.

We started off with Richard, the white goat. Richard tamed pretty quickly and never really roamed too far from our house. The backyard has fencing that stretches along the sides to the top of the hill. At the top of the hill is a storm drain that does not have fencing blocking it. With Richard, it wasn’t a problem.

Then Richard started getting lonely and we had been told that would happen as they are herd animals. So we got Robert. 

Robert was a little more skittish, but he and Richard bonded pretty quickly. Richard established his dominance as he was the bigger one and Robert seemed to follow Richard’s lead. After a much shorter time being tethered to the ground spike, I set Robert free. For the first couple of months, it was fine. Then a couple weeks ago, it changed. 

Sunday afternoon and we had just come home from church. I peeked outside and didn’t see the goats. I walked the hill and could not find them. I decided to just go for a walk. About ten houses down, there they were, in my neighbors backyard, EATING THEIR POTTED PLANT!!! 

I chased them around and eventually back home. We corralled Robert and tethered him back up. Emily asked about Richard and I felt it would be fine. So far it has been. If Robert doesn’t run away, Richard sticks around. 

 We all have a Richard and Robert in us. Richard wants to hang around near the house, he doesn’t cause much trouble, just carries on with what he needs to do. Then there’s the Robert in us, enticed by what’s on the other side of the fence. Richard is more compliant, Robert just does what he wants to do. Robert often seems to be perceived as more fun, so Richard has the tendency to follow. Taken too far, this can be trouble. 

I think we have a Richard and Robert in us because we need a little of both. Sometimes, our Robert needs to be tethered so we are not jumping fences and eating other people’s plants. When Robert strays, Richard tends to follow and we are left getting our goats. Trust me, you don’t want to chase goats. -jason

Practice What You Preach

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James 3:1-2

Last week I was discussing this verse with a teacher at work. It started with talk higher expectations for pastors and whether or not it’s fair. In many ways there are high standards for school teachers as well. You are expected to not only have a higher knowledge of a particular topic, you are to exemplify that in your life. Your friend, the math teacher, has a miscalculation to which you reply, “I thought you were the math teacher.”

Teaching at a school can bring upon high expectations. Certainly, if you are not adequate at your job, you could potentially lose your job. Not knowing your material can lose you the respect of your pupils. In considering the verse above, perfection should not be an expectation. Teachers should be afforded that grace and I think it is critical as teachers to also exercise grace in the expectations of their students. Not only on our subject matter must we show understanding, but in the way we function.

For church leaders, which I believe is the true context of this passage, this is never more true. What I have seen in my time as a pastor is the trap of being judgmental. When you teach on the matters of sin, one might be led to believe they are authorized to judge. In taking judgment toward someone else’s sin, we get trapped in our own sin. We remove Jesus as judge and place ourselves in the role.

We preach and teach grace. God’s grace toward us though we may sin. So then we are held to a higher standard and more strictly judged by the Lord. When we know and teach grace, we should be the biggest distributor of it. Practice what you preach, for none are perfect but the Lord alone. -jason

Listen with Both Ears

Another election has come and gone and it seems the political arena is more divided than ever. I saw a commercial that explicitly advertised, “Vote Republican”. It wasn’t about a particular candidate, it was promoting a political party. I often bounce between both conservative and liberal media sources to attempt to sort through the rhetoric. In doing so I see clearly how one can easily be swayed if you only hear one side.

Same is true in our churches and theological debates that have been ensuing for years. Both ends of the theological debate have convincing arguments. If we are deaf to one side and only hear the other, we quickly create a divided environment. Politics, theology, economics, education…there are many areas of life that can foster polarization if we only hear one side. We become convinced we and our side are absolutely correct.

In the midst of this reflection I got news that a dear friend and mentor passed away. Tim Morita was an accomplished member of the military and retired as a high ranking Navy chaplain. He also had one of the greatest pastoral hearts that I have known. I learned a lot working under him. He was a good man, generous and humble. These things I can say in complete sincerity, even though we never saw eye to eye all the time. I’m certain I drove him crazy with my questioning and strong opinions. We had many disagreements, but I came to respect the fact that he was always listening, with both ears. I had some strong views of the church and the issue we are facing as the church. We disagreed on a lot of it. After he retired from Olivet, he gave me a call. In visiting other churches he told me, “I see what you are talking about now.” We had several conversations after he retired and I was looking forward to our next one in December when he was supposed to return to Hawaii.

As I think about it, many of my mentors hold very different views than I do. Tim Morita, Larry Smith, Glenn Harada and many others. We see things differently, but they listened with both ears. They could hear both sides of the debate and respectfully hold to what they believed. That’s something I treasure and hope to reflect one day. I hope I will always be able to listen with both ears and make my decisions on what I hear on both sides, like my mentors do, like Tim did well.

I will always remember vividly my three children running to the door at the end of the hall. “Pastor Tim!!!”, with their tiny hands and faces pressed against the glass door. Then Tim pulling up a chair to offer up jelly beans and a great big smile.

I’ll see you again, at the end of the hall. Door wide open, just like your heart. -jason

Pick Up Your Poop

Pick Up Your Poop

One peaceful afternoon, at a little cafe in Sausalito, I sat with some friends and a man walked by with his dog. As he safely passed out of earshot, Elijah said, “I wonder who’s the master?” Just then the dog stopped to do his business and his “master” bent over to pick it up. We all chuckled.

As a dog owner myself I often feel like my dog really owns me. As much as I loathe it, when I walk my dog, I pick up his poop. Unfortunately, there are some who do not. In our neighborhood I have seen large piles of poop left behind in people lawns and even one right in front of our driveway. In an effort to remedy this, people have put up signs, both handmade and store bought. When I have picked up my dogs poop I have had cheerful comments from neighbors, ‘Thanks for picking that up!”

Dogs are our personal pets, our own preferences and our responsibilities, but when we leave the poop behind, we affect others around us.

Reminds me of the “dogs” we walk in our lives. When we have a hard day at work, or we have a fight with our spouse, maybe someone cuts you off on the road and we walk that “dog” into the rest of our neighborhood. We leave the poop behind in other people’s lawns. We are short with our family members, we snarky with the sales clerk, we put in danger other drivers on the road when we drive recklessly.

Our dogs, our responsibilities, they leave their poop behind, but we can pick it up and dispose of it properly. Pull over, take a breath. Pray. Do something fun. Treat yourself to your favorite snack. Call a trusted friend. Whatever you do, be the master of your “dogs”, don’t let them master you. Pick up your poop. -jason

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

In a recent conversation with friends we were talking about ghosts. One friend admitted his skepticism toward ghost sightings. Two others shared stories to try to convince him otherwise. It appeared the skepticism was not toward a spiritual reality, or even the potential for us to experience it, it was the validity of human account.

Understandable. Seems everyone has a ghost story to tell. Either a personal experience, or a family member, or your fourth grade teacher’s husband’s uncle’s co-worker’s best friend’s ex-girlfriend. We embrace these stories. We love to sit around and tell these stories. During this time of the year the horror movies emerge and the crowds will flock to theaters for a good scare. Perhaps we love a good scare so much that the conjuring of ghosts and spirits are harvested from our own imaginations.

This does not surprise me. I see the same thing in our churches and in Christianity as a whole. The theme of hope is foundational to the Christian gospel, as is the grace through faith that our hope rests in. Hope is something we all need whether we realize it or not. Issues arise when the hope distracts us from the source of hope. When we crave hope enough, we can create experiences that may not be there. Personal encounters with God that are derived of the mind. We want it so bad, we fabricate it, sometimes unknowingly.

Like ghost encounters, it’s impossible to place judgment on anyone’s personal experiences. Who are we to say that Person A is making it up, or Person B just had and episode of mild psychosis. Emotional charges, both positive and negative, can elicit such powerful desires that we have the potential to create experiences in which we feel them. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Unless…with the inability to indubitably determine what is true and what is false, we just turn people away from any form of belief. Skepticism grows as they are left wondering, “Did they REALLY experience that?” Despite the ambiguity of true experiences, it has been proven that some many have falsified personal claims. Cynicism is expected with an unfortunate history of a counterfeit God.

We encounter people that pray off of these strong desires for supernatural experiences. Whether it is a promise of a ghost encounter or a surge of the Holy Spirit into your life, con artists are out their manufacturing experiences to take your money.

The unfortunate reality is that many will be left without the truth because of the apprehension toward those who misrepresent with warped realities. Like with ghosts we have a culture that identifies as “spiritual” and some that acknowledge their is a higher being, but never really get to know much more. There is so much more to learn about the God of all Creation. The Lord of Salvation that laid His life down for us. The Holy Ghost that speaks to us today. We don’t know what to really believe, so we will leave it as emotionally charged stories. A subject that’s fun to talk about, but saved for special occasions. With respect for others it’s good for them to believe, it’s just not for me. All the while we miss out on a fantastic truth that Jesus in His grace is calling you to know Him more. The good news of Jesus Christ is no ghost story.  -jason

Why?

Why?

When I was in high school I was not a good student, at all. I remember once my dad offering to get me a used car if I got honor roll. This was not an offer one would expect from my father. Seems he knew me better than I knew myself.

Two weeks into the semester I started to question my efforts. “Well…I don’t really need a car. I can just catch a ride with my friends!” Why was I working toward honor roll? For a car. The car was my “why”, it wasn’t very strong for me.

My academic efforts are laughable compared to the students I work with now. Their schedules, their class load, the extra curricular activities, it’s pretty extraordinary what these kids do. As amazing as they are, they still get overwhelmed. Many students have filtered into my office in tears and distress over the work they are putting in. I don’t blame them, it’s a lot! When they come in I have been asking them what their “why” is. “Why did you choose this school?” “Why are you working so hard?” Often they are unsure. I get vague answers like, “Get a good education”, “Go to a good college”, all good things, but not very specific and not very convincing. When I talk with them through it, some seem to have a revelation or reassurance of why they are doing what they are doing. They have a renewed sense of purpose in work they are pouring themselves into.

Even as adults we can just plow through life, caught in the routine and absent of the sense of why we wake up every morning and do what we do. It’s also possible that our “why” has changed. The world around us can be convincing like that. Why are you working 80 hours a week? Why are you living in debt? Why are you so busy with activities? Why do you live where you live? Why do you do what you do?

I’m convinced that when we understand why we do what we do, truly why, it drives us through the hard times. When we remember why we set our goals and why our lives are headed in the direction they are, there’s meaning and purpose.

Whether you need to figure out the “why” or remember the “why”, take some time and think about it. Stop wandering aimlessly or allowing other people to determine your direction. Establish your “why”. -jason

 

W.M.D. – Word of Mass Destruction

W.M.D. – Word of Mass Destruction

Weapons of Mass Destruction is a general term that defines any device that can cause widespread death and destruction. This term probably became most used in recent history by the Bush administration in the lead up to the 2nd Gulf War.

In 2003 the Iraq War was sparked by military intelligence that claimed the existence of weapons of mass destruction. After the horrifying events of the 9/11 attacks, you can imagine fear and suspicions are heightened. In 2011 after years of combat and many deaths, there was no evidence of WMD. President Bush suffered politically, military intelligence suffered publicly and worse, many families suffered personally.

Really, the War in Iraq was just fuel for a greater WMD, Words of Mass Destruction.

Watching recent events have me concerned. Political parties are so divided. Below there is a graph on the movement of our two major political parties in our country.

One article I read suggests the increasing polarity is due to a stronger ideological focus in politics. Now party alignment determines ones set of ideologies and that determines if you are a friend or an enemy. Division becomes more polarized. The battle between them is mostly with words, but the words they use are deadly. Consider Proverbs 21:18,

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

This war of words between politicians then gets bolstered by political analyst. Citizens then watch CNN or FOX and become infected with words and bring the battle into their homes and into their workplace. I was sitting in the hot tub with a couple co-workers when a political science professor walked in and started off with, “Are you following the story on the judge???” Here we go…

Physical death is terrible, acts of violence and terror are extremely tragic and should never happen. What’s worse is what the acts of the flesh do to the state of the heart, and its often words that spreads it. Ephesians 6:12 teaches us:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Such things of the flesh like sexual immorality and murder are egregious, but the words that follow these events are what lead to a corruption of the heart. The words we use can aim to kill.

Unfortunately, I have been both a victim and offender of harmful words. There are moments in my life I wish I could take back, but I can’t. We can only hope our hurtful words have not shaped the heart. When it does it can spread into the masses.

One Word is given to us for healing. Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. This is the one Word, no matter the speakers intention, is a healing word of truth. When Paul is imprisoned and writing to the church in Philippi he hears that his imprisonment and the reason for his imprisonment is becoming widely known. He says:

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

This is the Word of God:

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

Words can create destruction that is eternal. Be mindful of your words. Be aware of the destruction they can bring. Understand how your words can spread and cause mass destruction or bring life. Protect your heart from the words meant to destroy. -jason

 

It’s Tough to Be Me

It’s Tough to Be Me

At 6 feet tall, 230 lbs, and a shaved head, I have come to realize, I’m just not that tough. Most of my life I tried to be. It was a trait that seemed desirable for men. When we look at movies and television, the leading man is tough. In magazines and advertisement, the model is portrayed as tough. Sports stars are all really tough guys. So, I wanted to be tough also.

In college I was at the mall with my friend’s girlfriend and she saw a guy who owed her money. I offered to approach him about it. Trying to be as tough as I could the guy asked my friend, “Am I supposed to be afraid of this guy?” Ha! I’m no tough guy, not even close.

When I try to be someone I am not, there are problems that arise. First off, I can’t be comfortable being me and being the person that God created me to be.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10.

Once you really get to know me, you know I am a pretty goofy guy. I also have a lot of quirks, I’m pretty uncoordinated, and I my humor is pretty lame. With all of those “deficits” I am happy being me. I’ve also come to know that the people that love me, love me best when I am just myself.

The other problem is that you cannot enjoy certain things to it’s fullest. I love football and I wish I played. I was afraid I wasn’t tough enough, so I never played. I have tattoos, but it took me a while because I thought only tough guys could get tattoos. The military always intrigued me, but I got in way too late in life.

We can get so easily persuaded to be someone we are not. We might be tempted to pretend to be tougher than we are, or smarter than we are, or more wealthy than we are, but if it is someone we are not, we will not be happy. We cannot be happy if we are trying to be someone we are not.

In a world where perception drives our actions, it can be tough to be you…or maybe to be you is not to be tough. I’m not a tough guy, I’m okay with that. I know that when I am the person that the Lord made me to be, that is all I need to be. Be the person God has created you to be. You were created for GOOD works in Christ Jesus. -jason

Musubi Maker

Musubi Maker

I grew up thinking everyone loved SPAM. As a kid I loved SPAM and eggs for breakfast. In Hawaii, you can even get SPAM at McDonald’s. SPAM chopped up and put into fried rice can be served at any meal. When I was in college I would chop up SPAM, fry it and mix it in with Mac ‘n Cheese. Delicious, right??

As I got older I learned not everyone liked SPAM. In fact, I discovered that most people on the mainland thought it was downright disgusting! A friend just shared about a game they would play in their youth group where they had to pass SPAM the the next person with their necks! What a waste of SPAM!!

When I was in seminary we had an event where students would represent their countries with food. We students from he “country” of Hawaii were invited to have a table. What better to pass out than SPAM musubi!  A block of rice, a fried piece of marinaded SPAM, all wrapped in a piece of seasoned seaweed. People looked at it and cringed. “SPAM!?!?!” Then they took one…many came back and asked for another. SPAM musubi was a hit and we sold out quick.

Since being back in Hawaii I have been noticing that many that would normally not eat SPAM, will eat SPAM musubi. Even Emily has developed cravings for it.

Amazing that you can take something that is undesirable and transform it into something people crave. It’s all about that transformation. A balance of ingredients, the way it’s presented and an open mind.

In a similar way there are things in life that are undesirable. Chores, criticism, work, and many more things, these are just not usually desirable. So how do you transform it? Perhaps making a game out of chores, make it a competition. Criticism can be better received and effective if partnered with a plan for improvement. Building around a persons strengths as opposed to focusing on weaknesses can make a healthier team.

Be a musubi maker. Find ways to make things that may seem undesirable, something that people will enjoy. Also, eat more SPAM. -jason