Three-quarters of November

November has, so far, been the greatest month of this year for me. Let me tell you why …

November 4: Election Day

I got to start the day off with a cup of tea in my Obama cup!! And I got to vote in my first general election!! And Barack won!! And I had a little election night shindig at mine, with lots of friends crammed into my little studio, hunched around my baby TV, and munching away on treats.

November 6: Selah’s birthday

Two of my favorite people in the world—Adam and Katie—had their baby girl on Thursday, November 6. Selah Rose was just over a week early, and I got to see her at only a few hours old. (Also went for bowling with the boys.)

November 9: Dad’s birthday

My dad is the most sprightly 71 year-old I know. Happy birthday, Dad!

November 9-13: TiTi come to play

Sunday to Thursday: my bestest friends Tim and Tiff came to stay with me for a few days after spending a week in Colorado with Tiff’s family, and they got to meet my friends (again, in Tim’s case). I hadn’t seen Tim since last October and Tiff since last June, so it was great to see them.

Highlights: brunch at Coco’s, going to the beach, going to see Copeland, brunch at Marston’s, talking and playing cards.

November 14: Coffee by the Books

Almost every Friday, Coffee by the Books (Fuller’s coffeeshop) puts on an acoustic music night. On the 14th, I played what will probably turn out to be one of the last times I play at C by the B, and it was probably the best I’ve felt about how I did in the last few years. The weather was perfect, i.e. not so cold that my fingers are trembling and my vocal cords are freezing; and it was great to have so many friends out in support.

November 18: A Wicked Night Out

The day before my birthday, I went to see Wicked with Hyunja, and Matt and Sara, preceded by dinner at Thai Patio in Hollywood, one of the best Thai places I’ve been to … ever. So dinner was great (I’d recommend the Volcano Seafood dish), and Wicked was amazingly awesome.

November 19: Turning 26

My 27th year began with birthday dim sum. And then I was in class for seven hours, which I’ve never done to celebrate a birthday before. And then dinner with M&S (Matt and Sara, not Marks & Spencer), and birthday dessert with friends. Good times … (Also, happy birthday also to Helen and Shing, my birthday buddies!)

November 21: Korean BBQ and Bolt

Friday night, Micah and Christie treated me to Korean BBQ dinner for my birthday (which Gabe and Maribeth and the kids also came to), and then we hit up downtown Disney to watch Bolt with the Journey youth group (and their friends). It was hilarious; I laughed so much I couldn’t breathe. That’s the measure of a funny film.

November 22: Monstars Football

Fuller’s intramural flag football playoffs were this past Saturday. Last year, we made it to the championship game where we lost handily after playing three games before that. This year we won our first game, and then lost in the final four; but it was a good run, and we had a lot of fun this quarter. Changing our team cheer to “Yes We Can” propelled us to three victories, but couldn’t carry us through. Oh well; you win some …

And there’s still a week of November left! God is good. 🙂


The Greatest Generation

In Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw write:

Jesus would rather invoke the great kingless history of Israel. … Just like the kingless confederacy of Israel in the Torah, the kingdom [of God] Jesus spoke of is a real political kingdom that is unique, confusing, and unheard of. His kingdom is not of this world because it refuses power, pledges a different allegiance, and lives love. (110)

When we consider history, I think it’s very tempting to look back and wonder how things used to be so much better. A decade ago, America was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Two decades ago, the Berlin Wall fell. Four decades ago, a man walked on the moon. Those were the good times. Now? We’re in an economic recession, America has a reputation to repair, and we’re facing global threats of climate change, terrorism, and other major concerns.

Now, I don’t think Claiborne and Haw are trying to idealize history, nor are they implying that Jesus was doing so. And perhaps this perspective can be blamed on my realism/cynicism coming through, but when I think of the ‘great’ kingless history of Israel, I’m reminded of a people who complained constantly, starting right after the Lord delivered them from Egypt, even when he was with them in pillars of fire and cloud; I’m reminded of a people who disobeyed Joshua even as he led them into the Promised Land; I’m reminded of a people who, only a generation after Joshua’s death, “did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). When I think of the ‘great’ kingless history of Israel, I see what I see today: a bunch of people trying their best to follow God, making mistakes and messing up, but always, always being recipients of both God’s justice and his outrageous grace.

I think it would’ve been pretty amazing to live in the days when God dwelled with his people Israel, or when Jesus walked the earth, or when the early church “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold” (Acts 4:32, 34). But I’m not sure that we were meant to just seek to emulate those times. We live in different days, with different tools at our disposal and different challenges to face.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I always wondered what these would look like in practice, what these would look like when lived out; and I realized that that’s part of the challenge, part of the commission of the gospel. Every generation is called to figure out in its own context what it means to follow Jesus Christ and to bring the good news to the poor and the oppressed, to welcome the marginalized, to overturn the world’s understandings of power and strength and glory.

Post-Election Thoughts

Last night was a great night. Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States of America. I had a bunch of people over, and we were all cozying up in my little studio, hunched around my small TV and a table full of food. A good time was had by all (and pics will come soon).

This morning, I was able to have some more time to think about this momentous event. Barack Obama is our new President-Elect. After twenty-one months, the election process is over. It’s been a long and grueling couple of years, and I’m definitely glad the election is here and gone (and that we won).

But this, I’m realizing—this is where it really begins. This is where the hard work needs to kick in, and the hope and the sacrifice and the spirit of giving and service. The election is only the beginning. It is only a beginning. It is a momentous one, but it is only a beginning nevertheless.

Our work is not yet done: we are still mired in an economic recession, fighting two wars, and facing the global threats of climate change and terrorism, among other things. We have come far, but there is still a long way to go. And this thought is not to discourage or to depress; it is a reminder and an encouragement. Let us celebrate this moment, and enjoy it.

But let us not rest on our laurels, thinking that electing Barack Obama to the White House is the end of our work, that he will take over the reigns and guide us to salvation. We have come too far for that. We have been reminded of our responsibilities—we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper; what happens on Main Street affects what happens on Wall Street, and vice versa; what we do at home and abroad affects our ability to effect change for the better; we are, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. This is the way God’s universe is made.”

The journey, the adventure, did not come to an end last night with a victory that put the first black man into the White House; it does not finish with the speech that was given in Grant Park, Illinois; it does not conclude on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States.

It’s just another beginning. And after the couple of days off that I’m giving myself to recover from the tiredness of the last couple years, I’m going to get excited about what’s coming next again. Bring it on! ☺

November 4

Yesterday morning (Monday, November 3), Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama’s grandmother and the person who played a large part in raising him, passed away. My thoughts and prayers are with the Obama family at what must be a bittersweet time.

And in case you didn’t know, it’s now Election Day 2008! Vote away …

Say What? Redeeming our vocabulary

I’ve been thinking lately about the words that we use, and about the associations and connotations that are already firmly attached to them. There are many terms and phrases that have been so warped over the years that their meaning has become unclear.

What does it mean when we say, “Muslim”? Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was notable for me in that it took by the scruff of the neck the subtle and insidious belief that if someone is a Muslim, he or she is connected to terrorism. Contrary to some people’s mistaken assumptions, the majority of Muslims are not extremists, bent on bringing destruction to the West and overturning capitalism and globalization. Can we see Muslims as believers in the one true God, equally committed in their spirituality, and trust that they seek to live out their faith as diligently as we do?

What does it mean when we say, “Christian”? If it’s quoted in the media, it’s usually referring to someone in the Religious Right—an ‘evangelical Christian.’ But most of us at Fuller Seminary would probably identify ourselves as evangelical Christians; and many of us would abjure aspects of the Religious Right’s agenda, or at least their methods. Must we attach a codicil to the words “We are Christians” spelling out exactly what kind of Christian we are? Or can we be people who all follow Christ but have different ideas of what that may look like, and can we value unity in the body over our particular interpretation of Scripture? Can we trust that God works through all manner of people who claim to follow him, and even through those who do not?

What does it mean when we say, “liberty”? Is it personal and individual freedom to do whatever I please? Is it license to pursue my own prosperity, regardless of those whose wellbeing is undercut? Is it about freedom from government interference, whether it be taxes or healthcare or education? Or is it connected with responsibility at all, with a duty to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper?

What does it mean when we say, “evil”? Do we locate it in a person—Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Do we locate it in people—al Qaeda or Hamas? Do we locate it in an ideology—big government, being pro-choice, or homosexuality (referring to the sin, not the sinner, of course)? Or do we call injustice evil? Do we call poverty evil? Do we call thousands of African children dying every day from preventable diseases and for lack of drinking water evil?

David Dark writes, “We need media that will help our words (freedom, love, terror, mercy, evil, forgiveness, democracy) regain their heft. When they lose their heft, we’re tools for whatever contagion best suits the stratagems of the prospering wicked. We lose the ability to question someone else’s abstractions, and we’re left with little means to learn or understand better stories than whatever seems to suit our anxious projections of ourselves” (The Gospel According to America, 49).

May we learn to be careful with the words we choose and the words we use.

I’m a Muslim; so what?

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama last weekend was notable for a number of reasons. Most notable for me was the addressing of the issue that no one had yet addressed up to this point. Here’s the relevant section from the endorsement:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, “What if he is?” Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—Purple Heart, Bronze Star—showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American.

He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

As General Powell pointed out, the underlying association that the McCain campaign was banking on was that people would associate Muslims with terrorists, a ploy which undermines any attempts at living in peace together because it grossly misrepresents the majority of Muslims and what they stand for. There are actually great similarities between Islam and Christianity: both the church and the Umma (the Muslim community) stand for ideals of justice, righteousness and peace. Both the Bible and the Qur’an agree that God is one, and generally-speaking, Christians and Muslims believe they are talking about the same God, though their witness concerning God may be different. Both Christians and Muslims believe that this God that they both worship is the Creator, and that he is separate from his creation. Both Christians and Muslims believe that God reveals himself to humanity, whether through the person of Jesus Christ or the words of the Qur’an. Both faiths stress peace and humility in relating to people of other faiths. Though Islam is a missionary faith like Christianity, it says in the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error” (2:256). Likewise, though Christians are called to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:20), they are also called to reflect the character and attitude of Jesus (Phil. 2:5ff), and to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22ff). This is especially noteworthy when one considers the complex relationships between Christians and Muslims in the world today.

For many, especially for those of one faith who have not considered the other, it is all too easy to assume, perhaps because of the polarization between the two faiths that we see in American culture and the media, e.g. Islamic extremists and Christian fundamentalists, that our differences are too great. Of course, there are differences between the two faiths—substantive differences about humanity’s nature being fallen or not, or about the final revelation of God coming through the Bible and Jesus or Muhammad and the Qur’an—and these differences should be acknowledged, but I think that more people need to understand that we are not as far apart as those hardline factions in both our faiths would portray us.

Barack Obama is not a Muslim. But even if he were, so what?