Wedding Poem

February 5, 2014

I must confess to you, my wife, my jewel, my star,
the lack of gifts that I’ve prepared for you
except the memories I’ve formed thus far.
A solemn oath to share our future too.

“What gifts are these?” the bride may ask the groom.
“What uses will they have for you and I?
What purpose served, in this our nuptial room,
are memories and oaths to til we die?”

Our memories can tell us who we are.
What is a man without them? He is lost!
Our oaths are what we hold near to our hearts.
My oath to you I’ll keep at any cost.

So will these two suffice for you, my wife?
For with these two I’m giving you my life.

Advertisements

Despairing of Beauty

July 23, 2013

The common objection to existence of an infinitely loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God is the existence of evil. And while such matters can be discussed on a purely intellectual level, most individuals who ask such questions are driven to ask it due to their own subjective and valid experience of pain. But as we live our lives, we also experience joys and beauties. We are not, however, driven to ask for the meaning of these beautiful experiences the same way we are driven to ask for the meaning of painful ones. There is no impetus, no force to ask what is behind the veil.

But when we sit still and reflect on our experiences of beauty, we are faced with the same important, ultimate questions. If God does not exist, all this beauty will pass away. All our experiences of beauty – all the idyllic hills and valleys, every majestic whale, the bluest of skies and clearest of oceans, the laughters we share with those most dear to us – they are all fleeting and will turn to dust. The whole creation groans even in its highest of joys. And so we are turned again to despair; for while we can enjoy for the present moment all of creation, in the back of our minds we know that this appearance of joy is a facade, that all is crumbling away.

But beauty itself gives us a clue. Much as pain, suffering, and evil give us a clue that there is a such as thing as right and wrong, a law, and a lawgiver, beauty points us to something that is greater than itself. For Beauty, while itself fragile and fleeting, speaks of something that is permanent, that will not be worn away through time. Lovers whisper to each other their undying love; the purple mountains that sit silently in the horizon attest to the immemorial past; the vast endless stretch of oceans and the waves roll on indeterminably. Beauty demands permanence but by itself it cannot hold its form.  Beauty suggests of something that is transcendent that Beauty itself is merely imitating.  We are, then, pointed to something outside Beauty that is everlasting.

While Beauty itself gives us this vague clue, the Gospel message gives us a clearer picture. A God who was infinite, who was not subject to impermanence, took on this fragile form. But because he was fully god and fully man, he was able to fully bridge the gap between this material world that is wasting away and the immaterial world that will last forever. The gap is fully bridged – and perhaps the old myth-makers were driven to invent genealogies of half-gods with the same impulse to somehow bridge that realm of impermanence to our decaying world. But the myth-makers could not imagine that this vast chasm could be bridged in a single blow, by a single being, of a god who would indignify himself and stoop so low. And this incarnation shows us that Beauty never pointed to itself but to him. We believed his message because his message was internally consistent; he himself did not point to himself, but to the Father. Beauty is inherently other-centered; so was he. And while for a moment it looked like he succumbed to inexistence, to death, just like the rest of creation, just like Beauty, it was not so. His resurrection demonstrated concretely that there will be ultimate renewal, that every joyful and beautiful experiences you’ve ever had matters because they are shadows of things to come, that every painful and sorrowful moments in your life matters because they point to an age when they will be no more. And so through the coming, the dying, and the rising, we can make sense of all our experiences and our lives.

What room is there for despair?


Cultural Bigotry of Liberal Theology

April 23, 2013

As a Korean-American who was raised in one culture while being immersed in another, I had an easier time recognizing various idiosyncrasies of the two cultures and noticed the mannerisms that were prevalent in both. It’s probably because I am aware of both cultures that I am able to criticize both of them and recognize that no cultures are perfect. Sometimes, in our discussions, I feel that the white majority in our class are critical of their own culture, heritage, and faith traditions and yet are overly credulous of other cultural and religious truth claims. I wonder if this extreme deference stems from cultural myopia. True humility does not consist of mocking, discounting, or debasing oneself; this applies on a cultural, religious level as well. Perhaps in an effort to be as tolerant and humble as possible, they’ve discounted and forgotten their own heritage. Rather, true humility consists on thinking of oneself less. But they do look at themselves, constantly, incessantly, for the only sin that they can think of – that of intolerance. Perhaps in their over zealous efforts to be accommodating of cultures they’ve introspected too much to the point of flipping inside out, and turned themselves into the worst kind of a pantheist – those who cannot even utter “I.”


Korean-American New Calvinism and Reformation of Korea

April 2, 2013

Christianity is like a divine flame that the winds of history have been unable to blow out. Christendom, however, is never sustainable. Korea, i believe, is fast approaching the state of post-Christendom,. The youths are allured by external beauty, and the church has been more concerned with building up monolithic churches rather than speaking into the culture.

Across the Pacific, Korean-Americans have along with the Christianity at large, have either embraced or were challenged by New Calvinism. With this rediscovery of our theological heritage, the faith of our grandfathers, we were able to speak into, both critique and affirm the churches our parents, the first generation, has established.

But does this rediscovery create a positive obligation to reform the churches in Korea? Or do church in Korea already possess all that New Calvinism identifies as what distinguishes it from Old Calvinism? Korean churches are already known for being missional and being spirit-filled (with the exception of the most conservative churches in Korea).

Perhaps the churches are not so good at working outside of denominational lines; the problem is that the denomination lines are not drawn at all or are drawn institutionally instead of theologically. This then should be the first input New Calvinism can have in Korean churches, that theological beliefs matter. Korea’s cultural and national urge for unity may have over time blunted the theological rigor. New Calvinism, then, should challenge the Korean churches to take theology seriously, to define what it believes.

From theological beliefs, then New Calvinism can speak into the culture. The failure of the Korean church to speak into the secular culture stemmed largely from, I believe, its lack of theological rigor. Otherwise, the Christian’s opinion remains mere personal opinions.

Perhaps the fire will not be rekindled in Korea. But for Korean-Americans, who are heading back to Korea amid the tough job market, they do have a positive obligation to reform. And may the winds of the Spirit blow through them anew.


The moral value of the secular world

February 4, 2013

I’ve changed my mind.  I do not think that the secular world lacks moral convictions.  The world is just as convicted as the church, if not more so.  The difference lies in the fact that they have a smaller set of moral values to draw from.  In particular, in the US, it seems that the secular society has only one moral value left to speak of, specifically that of autonomy.  Focusing on any one moral value to the exclusion of all others has a distorting effect on moral judgments of specific issues.

Take, for instance, incest.  Vast majority of people will agree that it is wrong.  However, if we only take the one moral value we have left, the one of autonomy, and make our moral judgments using that alone, then some instances of incest would appear permissible.  Again, this result highlights a distorting effect of our moral judgments due to the lack of proper set of moral values to draw from.

As a society, I think we can all agree on other moral values, if not relative weight of these values in any particular issue.  For instance, courage or honesty or integrity or solidarity or kindness are values that even the secular world would agree to promote in any given society.  Should not these other moral values be part of our rationale in thinking about the wrongfulness of an act?

The Christian alternative, of course, isn’t to impose the Christian mandate to non-Christians.  We can only fulfill our Lord’s commandment to love others as we love ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot expect non-Christians who do not have this Aid to live up to this standard that we ourselves fail to live up to even with the help.  But we can and should work to reintroduce to our society moral values that can be gleaned from general revelation.  The Church, after all, is the salt and the light of this world.


Pleading for Grace

January 22, 2013

In this post, I would like to examine the proper attitude of the offender towards the victim when asking for grace and forgiveness.  Here the term “offender” is used generally to represent anyone who may have committed any wrong either actively or passively towards anyone else.  Sinner, debtor, etc. are all categorized under offender for our purposes here.  Likewise, the term “victim” is used here generally to represent anyone who has been wronged by the offender and is in position, specifically, to dispense such grace to the offender.  The “offence” is used here to mean any wrong doing committed by the offender including sin, unpaid debts, any criminal or civil crimes, etc.  My hope is that this description of the attitude of the offender will fit the model of grace that is found in the scriptures in describing our relationship to God as well as to each other.

We can examine the proper attitude of the offender by examining the nature of grace.  Grace is something that is given, not earned; the giver of grace has no duty, no obligation to dispense it to the offender.  Therefore, the offender can not demand grace from the victim.  Such demands would require a wrong understanding of what grace entails.  The offender can, however, plead for grace.  Such pleadings can not have any coercive force of persuasion upon the victim.  Rather, the pleadings may appeal to the benevolent and forgiving nature of the victim, who will be able to absorb the costs of the offense by being gracious to the offender.  The pleadings may also appeal to the pitiable nature and situation of the offender, any remediating circumstances such that the victim dispensing of grace would itself not be a great a injustice and possibly a great virtue.

However, the essential element of a pleading is the “sorry.”  The offender must acknowledge the nature of his own acts as have been morally wrong before the victim.  The offender who pleads for grace cannot do so without to a certain degree admitting his own faults; when he asks for grace, he is asking for forgiveness.

There are then a number of different characteristics of the offender who pleads for grace.  These attitudes of one who pleads should be different from that of one who demands for grace.  These inner attitudes should be observable by outer, observable actions and demeanor.  Comparison of the attitudes of the offender who pleads for or demands grace highlights the proper versus the improper attitude of the offenders who ask for grace from the victim.

The one who pleads must first of all be humble.  The pleader may appeal to the benevolent and magnanimous nature of the victim and to his own pitiable situation.  The pleader is placing himself in a lower moral status, the only position from which he can receive the grace he hopes to receive.  The pleader is also asking for forgiveness, and as such is admitting his wrongfulness.  He cannot admit his wrongs without an attitude of humility.

By contrast, the one who demands grace may be arrogant. (or more precisely, “must not need to be humble.”)  The demander, who imposes upon the victim the duty to forgive, switches his position with the victim.  The demander is judging the victim for not being forgiving, and thereby positions himself on the judgement seat, on a higher moral authority.  The demander is not so much asking for forgiveness as for acknowledgement that he did no wrong at all.

There are other characteristics.  The pleader’s demeanor is marked initially by willingness, and throughout the pleading by hesitancy and even a sense of duty.  Since the plea itself must contain some form of an admittance of wrongdoing, the pleader must feel as though he must expose his own offense and yet take no pleasure in doing so.  Much as a person who takes out a log from his own eyes, he goes on with the task though he does not enjoy it.

The demander’s demeanor, on the other hand, is marked initially by denial and throughout the demands by dignity and appeals to higher moral standards.  (There may be a better word to summarize this demeanor.)  The demander wants to avoid admittance of wrongdoing and therefore does not want to acknowledge the log in his eyes.  His appeal to higher moral standards (though it condemns himself, Matthew 7), he seeks to divert attention away from his own, more glaring wrongdoing.  These demeanors are nearly the exact opposites of those of the pleader.

The pleader must be sincere and honest; he hopes to change from the received grace.  A necessary component of admittance of wrongdoing is the acknowledgement that any similar future acts by the offender would be likewise impermissible and that the offender affirms the moral judgments made upon him.  Conversely, the demander hopes to remain the same.  Because he avoids the admittance of wrongdoing, he can likewise avoid affirming and denouncing the moral judgments made upon him.

In summary, the offender may only plead for grace and not demand it.  The one who pleads must be humble, willing initially yet dutifully applying the moral standard upon himself, sincere, and reformative in his outlook.  The one who demands is arrogant, in denial, insincere, and stubborn.

Oh that our hearts may plead for grace of God and not mistakenly think that He owes us anything!  Oh that we may be on our knees and not defiantly on our feet!  Our attitudes towards each other is more complex than with God; for with God, we are the offenders and he is the “victim.”  And yet with each other, we are all offenders and victims.  I think that is why “counting each other better than ourselves” is so crucial in communities; for from the initial position of humility, we are better able to come to an admittance of wrongdoing from our own end, as well as to dispense grace to others (for in humble hearts we can better plead for God’s grace, which is the source of our grace to others).

In a future post, I would also like to examine the proper response of the offender in the event of becoming a recipient of grace and also in the event of the refusal to receive grace.


Argument from Desire

December 27, 2012

I. The Weight of the Argument

There are many arguments for God, but perhaps the most useful one in our society today may be the argument from desire.  This argument may particularly resonate with the growing “nones.”  Some of the “nones” have found themselves in their position after floating through ambivalence of spiritual matters and by the continually increasing distractions of our materialistic society.  And maybe the endless consumption of fleeting status updates and tweets have deadened their hearts from the pull, the weight of the argument.  But the gravity of the argument can be fully appreciated if we could just stop refreshing the website and checking for a text message.  Why did we go out in the desert?  What were we hoping to see?  We were all along looking for beauty and grief.  We were looking for something that will break our hearts all along.

II. Misapprehension of the Argument

Perhaps C.S. Lewis expressed the argument most clearly in his book Mere Christianity, when he wrote “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical conclusion I can make is that I was made for another world.”  This desire was a common theme for many of his writings; he wrote of the fleeting fragrance of forgotten countryside, the half-remembered melody of a lullaby.

Note that this argument is distinct from the wish-fulfillment, which says that “God exists because I want him to exist.”  This wish-fulfillment argument is rightly criticized, and some claim that it actually disproves God’s existences.  I can’t agree with either line of reasoning.  If I want God to exist, how does that in any way prove or disprove God’s existence?  My desires for a God doesn’t prove or disprove His existence.  But if a personal God did exist and wanted to know me, then I would suspect I would very much have something like a desire for God.

III. Formulation of the Argument

But that isn’t the argument at all; it does not proceed by saying “You want a God. therefore there is a God.”  Rather, it goes on saying “You have this unsatisfiable desire, namely one for some unknown beauty and pain and love and joy.  Based on what you know of other desires, namely that they can be satisfied, this yet-unsatisfiable desire must have something that can satisfy it.  Yet nothing in this world as of yet has satisfied it.  Therefore, there must be literally something out-of-this world that must satisfy this desire.  And this something-out-of-this-world should be consistent with the characteristics of the desire itself, namely that it must be beautiful, lovely, joyful, to the point of pain and truth, and quite figuratively out-of-this-world.”

IV. Experience of the Desire

But the argument from desire is more broader, more human than that.  The argument appeals to what brings us to tears when we hear a beautiful melody, or the awe we feel looking at a great artwork.  Such moments of awe and beauty and grief inevitably fades as time goes on.  Such moments do not ultimately fulfill us nor explain our human condition.  But God does.

So if you have experienced this moments, this hankering, this yet-unsatsified desire for the “other,” then maybe this God, this Jesus as described in the Christian tradition, fits that description of such desire.  Your desire was sometimes temporarily satisfied by others; the Christian God lives in unity within the trinity.  Your desire was sometimes temporarily satisfied by beauty; the Christian God is supremely beautiful.  Sometimes your desire rested on truth; this also can be found in the Fountainhead.  The best explanation for the cause of your human desire is found there.  So if you’ve drifted to where you are, perhaps it is time to look upstream.


Joy and Thanksgiving

December 19, 2012

What can make a heart wonder at the Gospel message?  What can rev up a dead heart to see and taste the Gospel and recognize truly and joyfully that it is good?  Thanksgiving is one such means that can rev up our hearts.  Joy is inherently other-centered; in wonder of God, we take joy in who he is.  Oftentimes we cannot feel this ultimate joy because we are not focusing on God.  At such points, we can remember who God is by voluntarily recounting His faithfulness and steadfast love to us.  And our voluntary remembrance of God and our voluntary wonder of God’s character will infuse our thanksgiving with joy! For the joy is a central characteristic, the unifying adverb to all activities of a Christian.  Our praises will be joyful praise; our thanksgiving will be joyful thanksgiving; even our endurance of prosecution will be a joyful endurance.  “… who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross…”

But sometimes the darkness will not lift.  Sometimes the remembrance of God’s character or his works will not seem affect our spirits with joy.   Sometimes our prayers of thanks will seem begrudging acknowledgement of his sovereignty rather than heartfelt gratitude to a benevolent father.  Even in those times, press on, fight for joy; for we are commanded to do so!  And the darkness will lift, in this life or in the next!


All things that rise must converge or fall

December 15, 2012

All things that rise must converge or fall.

Every good deed must turn divine or forgotten.

A hardened heart is no heart at all.

Every egg must hatch or else become rotten.

 

A seed must be buried to truly live.

Selves need point outwards or become it.

One will only have the things one gives.

For all things must under one name be collected.

(Apologies to Ms. O’Connor)


Wrong Values

November 7, 2012

As our society becomes more and more secularized, the vocabularies and the categories we use to describe our values have become shallower. Optimism replaced hope.  Tolerance replaced love.  Pleasure replaced joy.  Privacy replaced peace.  And a trust in the collective knowledge replaced faith.

The former values – hope, love, joy, peace, and faith – were of different quality than these newer ones – optimism, tolerance, pleasure, privacy, and trust in collective knowledge.  What does an optimist know of the eternal hope we have in Christ?  What does an optimist who only thinks of the glass of half full, know of the glass that will overflow with the love that the Father has poured out on us?  How great is the love that God poured out on us that we should be called the children of God! For that is what we are!

And what of love?  Tolerance knows nothing of love; tolerant were the pharisee and the teacher of the law who passed by on the road to Jericho and ignored the one who was beaten by robbers.  Tolerance lives and let lives; it also lives and lets the neighbor die.  Love, on the other hand, dies so that the other can live.  Love takes on the burden so that the other can flourish.

And joy!  What does this world and all its pleasures know of joy!  Oh if only a carnal mind can with all its powers taste the smallest joy of the divine life!  Then all its former sweetness will taste as sand and bitter as weeds.  This world that takes its temporary pleasures as the ultimate end – how can it know that these lesser joys are but means to know the author of all good things?

And peace.  We seek nothing from others; we wish to be left alone.  Our homes have become our own domains.  It is as if our homes are our kingdoms, and how could this be if “the kingdom of God is here!”  How can we claim privacy as a great virtue when our God lives always in community?

Finally, faith.  The world trusts in the collective knowledge; it places trust in what someone else knows.  We slide gently into the amnesia of this blind trust, and thereby vaccinate ourselves from the saving faith.  Oh what hubris!  For in mistakenly thinking that we know everything, we have forgotten the only knowledge that can save us!  What good is it the gain the whole world, only to lose your own soul!

As our values become shallower, so does our appreciation of morality.  We are less able to discern right from wrong.  It is the final curse of the fruit of Good and Evil; the very taste fades away and we begin to think that there is no such thing as morality.  We see ourselves as soul-less and thereby we literally lose our souls.

The only antidote is worship.  For only revelation, only in recognizing that there is another dimension outside our own, are we able to get the fuller picture of these values.  The only saving measure is humility.