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sabbatical thoughts (part one) July 7, 2009

Posted by peterong in Reflections.
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As I return to filling various pulpits in the new york metro area since taking a one year sabbatical from preaching, I have gained a greater appreciation to my role in ministry and the heart that I have to this privilege of preaching.

As I have looked at this gift that I have been given to speak, it has always been an ambivalent relationship. one one hand, it is beautiful in going deep in the exegesis of the text and being able to share it with your church family but on the other hand, I think the celebrity that accompanies it is deceptive and sinfully alluring. for many preachers their sense of success comes from the quality of the reception of the sermon. in my case, i often felt that people equated my character with preaching and those are not necessarily the same. i confess that i often overshoot when i preach. i yearn for the gospel but not necessarily want to make the necessary sacrifices to follow the applications that I set out for others. so, i find myself at wits end because the culture of the church requires ministers to entertain, and be as provocative as their reality tv shows. so they want a good anecdote, a good message that is well organized, a message that is unique and witty. but if it were just that easy.

the words that are being formed around the preaching of the word are sometimes muted by the desires of the congregations and I am so afraid that i am falling into this trap. this trap of wanting so much for people to like me. to be a christian celebrity. but i am learning to speak harder with a prophetic imagination and especially with youth, i want them to go beyond “jesus loves you…” but rather “jesus is love…” and that truth should move us to a profound call to follow and to love with extravagance. (more…)

baby band aids and good friday April 10, 2009

Posted by peterong in chinatown, Reflections.
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Yesterday, I went to the pediatrician for the first time with Jamie to get to know our doctor and also to just get used to the idea of bringing Nicolas there. For the last six months I have avoided it because of this poor and embarrassing confession that I am afraid of seeing my son cry. Jamie have endured it for the last several months and she has supported me in this very particular weakness of mine. But yesterday, I decided to “man up” and just go. 

As I pushed the stroller through the streets of Chinatown, Jamie and I discovered Eldridge Street was covered in lanterns and found out that they are filming “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” there. But as we got closer to the doctor’s office, I calmly told myself to not be such “weak sauce.” breathe. it is not as bad as you think. So, when we walked in, it was crowded, maybe from it being the beginning of Spring Break for the NYC kids or just a lot of sick kids. It was great to see so many Chinese grandparents caring for their grandkids, I saw a newborn crying and reminded me that Nico was that small once. There were unapologetic gazes from toddlers who looked at Nico in curiosity. It was quite a wait but Finding Nemo dubbed in Cantonese really made the time pass. Then the call came…”Nicolas…” 

As we walked in, the wonderful pediatrician greeted me and she was sweet in making comments about Nico’s hair. Oh you not happy Nicolas, is that why your hair sticking up? Our little boy was measured and checked on. We found out he has two teeth buds (to our surprise). He has some eczema and we had our conversation then it came time for the needle. Nico was just staring and enjoying his time. Jamie handed him to me and my heart started racing. I can’t watch this. 

the needle went in (more…)

Paradox of Becoming Reformed March 17, 2009

Posted by peterong in Rants, Reflections.
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I am writing this partly because I had to do an outline for Bavinck’s “our reasonable faith” for a seminary class, and as much as I pride myself in being truant in my studies, which perplexed me because I love scripture. i love theology. but somehow the whole experience of writing this outline made me reflect on this journey towards being presbyterian and what is there tension in my heart. one of my tension has been that I find the intellectualizing of this gospel narrative to be so excruciatingly sterile to me (I know that I sound judgmental but please give me some license to share my heart). The picture that I can’t get out of my mind is when I watch csi and they are picking apart the body and looking at it with such forensic acuity but don’t take into account the corporeal aspect of this body that they are examining. who they are? what made them happy? what were their fears? who did they love or loved by? it is about solving a crime. it is to about solving a problem. to recreate a story without affection or adoration. that is what i felt when i outlined Bavinck. it was cold. it was filled with theological acuity. it brought something that is so bloody. the cross is put as a vocabulary of atonement or the fulfillment of the messianic vision of the suffering servant. so the cry on the cross becomes something to exegete and not receive the profound humanity in that moment. 

theology has been such a wonder to me. it has been a gateway of seeing the grand picture of the unfolding story of redemption that we are participating but somehow, what i am wanting is what Peter Ahn, pastor of metro community church, shared today at our PaLM meeting, that we often preach the theology of resurrection at easter sunday but we don’t recognize that good friday came before easter sunday. in the little exposure that i have been to reformed folks and also from what i see and experience  is that there is a lot of layers removed from the pain of this fallen world. god is sovereign. when people struggle to figure out how to passionately pursue god. it is futile, we are depraved

i have tension. and i never felt so ashamed of this affection i have for god. i question if i really know what i am in love with. as if it is infantile. as if a cloud of calvinists are scribing their theologies and guarding the intellectual property of scripture and look at me with such disgust. i suspect that i have not capture true reformed culture but i can’t shake this feeling that i am become a part of an infantry that is guarding a fort of our leader but i am not eating at the table with my lord. i am not communing but guarding. even the sacrament of communion is a theological creed. i love the creed. but they are not jesus. they are words. 

and right now. i am yearning for the the first chapter of john. the word became flesh and dwelt among us. I am putting down Bavinck for the time being…and I am going to worship…and hoping that this deep affection i have for this wonderful Jesus is not a source of an outline.

sabbatical (of sorts) December 14, 2008

Posted by peterong in Reflections.
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I fighting a cold and getting out of bed with certain aches and pains. it has slowed me down and as usual, it frees me to understand that there are limits and boundaries of what I am to do. Yet, I am compelled to write and to get these thoughts on and it reminds me of the days when I wrote more when I was living in Syracuse (when demands of ministry were less and the blog world were a new and exciting way for my soul to find nourishment from the wilderness of Syracuse). 

It was a sabbatical time for me; those two years in Syracuse and I as sit in my bathrobe, with a cup of green tea, I reflect on this past year and returning to New York City has been such an enriching time. For me to reconnect and yet remember the humility of just being present in the lives of others. To hear people just wrestling through faith and finding comfort that I am not a lone doubter of this experiment of worship. 

As I write this paragraph, my little son is grunting and making “body music” my thoughts return to him and how I want words to be part of his discipleship. For me to chronicle some of my journeys for him to know that this encounter with the cross is explicitly violent and yet, it is transformed into something so glorious. That atones us. That restores us. I want him to recognize that the cross is not to be censored or sanitized but to enter into the brutality so that he can know the depth of love that comes from it. So I pray. 

I know that this blog has been an oasis of sorts for others and for some others it is just another blog among thousands/millions. But I have this corner that exposure has been somewhat assured that people are moved by it. but I write with a heaviness and responsibility that I am to maintain it. To write so that God can be reflected in this journey. I have found myself more and more regularly returning to orthodoxy and how much more I trust it. Seminary has taught me the paradigm of orthodoxy as a groundwork of engagement in a new generation who needs to understand the message of the cross. We are all born with a theology, the question is which one is it? 

I miss this place. of creating words. of jaunting through the world where people who are becoming fellow pilgrims. I have met so many good people through it and I miss the diversity, the passion and the distinct approach towards faith. I miss it but I also found refuge from it, from the constant insecurity of my blog stats, my feedback, my referrers, etc. I just want to write because my heart is full and it overflows into words. I do miss the people. from the atheist who discovered with me a gospel that is so close to being beautiful to her. to the seattle pastor who continues to stretch people towards encounter out call to those who are poor, to the asian american brother who I find we are living in parallels of having a child and going to seminary, to the teenager who thought that pro choice is really having a choice and her choosing to have her child adopted, to the young man who lost his faith in the Asian American church and found that there were places in his life that was crying out for freedom and to the one woman who lost her child to suicide who is slowly stumbling back into faith. 

this is my story unfolding and with each word, I pray that I remain in worship.

convergence September 12, 2008

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on this day, is a day with its four syllables. nine. e. lev. en. a day that carries such gravity. it continues to haunt me. today was an absent day, filled with hollowness in new york. there was much activity, but inside, people were poured out. grief. melancholy. reflection. as the streets felt its first chill of the fall, i found it appropriate. the four syllables repeated through out. nine. e. lev. en.

i am taken back. of the silences that will remain. the empty chair of friends who once occupied them. voices that i can’t recall what they sound like. yet, it is the images of their faces that has marked clarity. today, with its four syllables, i am still stunted by grief. i wanted to remember but also on moments like these, i want to forget. but memory does not like cooperate. at least not consistently. it holds. it breathes. exhales moments of such profound release of mourning and inhales moments of hope. for another cycle (more…)

surprised (blindsided) by compassionate Reformed Theology June 14, 2008

Posted by peterong in City Seminary, Reflections.
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I just got back from my week long intensive classes at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS)as part of my City Seminary degree. I had a mix bag of emotions coming into this week; a part of it was the turmoil at WTS in light with Peter Enn‘s dismissal due to his book Inspiration and Incarnation (a list of articles here) and the other part was of excitement to be at the school that has been part of Dr. Timothy Keller and my pastor, Stephen Ro.

I am an ambivalent Reformed pilgrim, there is so much good in the relentless pursuit of truth but somehow I am always moved to pause by the pride and corrective postures so many Reformed people take. They are spiritual naggers. But yet, I love the historical orthodoxy that it comes with and it has been part of my tradition through my years at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and also through my reading lists online as well as my home library that are riddled with Calvin, Murray, Owen, Luther, Van Til but yet I occupy this space where I am friendly to the emergent church, the postmoderns and I revel at Driscoll, Mclaren (much less so nowadays), Campolo. So I swing between two worlds of theological underpinnings…I feel like a spiritual mixed breed. or a traitor o sorts to both camps. But as I thought this out, I feel that there is a third way, and it is a conversation that will continue to mold me. Not to be polarized by the two but rather to focus on wrestling through the gospel. (more…)

model minority or minority model (denial of privilege?) June 10, 2008

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Rants, Reflections.
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A report was released today regarding the state of Asian Americans in Academia as reported in the New York Times. It has this quote: 

“The report quotes the opening to W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 classic “The Souls of Black Folk” — ‘How does it feel to be a problem?’ — and says that for Asian-Americans, seen as the “good minority that seeks advancement through quiet diligence in study and work and by not making waves,” the question is, ‘How does it feel to be a solution?'” (more…)

John Piper says “Hatred” (I wonder who he is addressing…) March 7, 2008

Posted by peterong in John Piper, prosperity Gospel, Reflections.
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HT: Between Two Worlds

A Christmas Carol December 22, 2007

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A Christmas Carol

By Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


Waiting to Exhale October 19, 2007

Posted by peterong in Christ and Culture, Gays, Rants, Reflections, Uncategorized.
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It has been a time and trying to find time to pause. Sorry for my lapsing into these moments of deferment. today, i had my first sabbath in sometime. went to mulberry street public library for some reading and just browsing the bookshelves for some inspiration and a momentary lapse of care. no prayer. no meditation. just a simple jaunt through the pages of the New York Sun or the Daily News.

These past few days I am still haunted by my recent retreat at a Chinese church in  Boston. I spoke on a series of talks that I did at the New York Summer Conference this past summer called “Jesus Uncensored.” I talked about how within the confines of Christian and church culture, we have muted some of the most profound elements of our Christian faith. Most importantly, the issue of grace, radical inclusion, outward missional posture and the expression of faith through engagement not disengagement. I found there moments of great connection with several of the conferees as I shared about our concord with those around the world who are in need and how we need to shed some of our inwardness to reach to those around the world who are part of humanity. To see the scriptures as a missional statement for those in bondage, oppression and blinded by grief. Not to shape our theology to cater to our fears. To exclude or demonize those who are so in need of understanding the gospel. Of God’s good news…God’s desire for redemption.

Yet as the days went on, I realized that I need to walk in their shoes as they live in a state where there is an embattled fight regarding same-sex marriage. As I listened to the parents and how they didn’t want their kids to go to schools where there were gay principals. I was yearning to understanding why there was such a venom behind their words. Yet, as I have been reflecting on this issue, I am trying to be very careful about the implications of how this stance is so prevalent in our Christian communities. But I have to confess that there is very little said in scripture about this particular sin and it seems as if we take liberties to choose which are the sins that are of note. Yet, we don’t think twice about our Lord’s word of caution on when we use the word “fool” or when we miss the spirit of our call to be holy not simply for us to be “set apart” as righteous through our morality but by what Christ called to bring people the freedom of the gospel. Not license but a freedom that comes from transforming hearts…to see what is latent with this holy discontent…that in that holy discontent has a destination for our common desire for dignity.

We fail because the the scandal of grace says we are all in the same situation. I take comfort in that, becaus I begin to see that I am part of the problem. I wanted so much to say to them…some of us are more lost then others and the question is to what extent are we willing to what my good friend Hosive says…We are called to “carry the cross for others, not putting people on crosses”

But I realize that it is hard to carry that cross…especially when it comes to an embattled place…where children’s innocence are at stake and I confess, I want to understand more. I want to listen more. Perhaps that would have been wise…to listen, to find places of fear and supplant it with hope. Hope. Gospel hope.