Lent 2019: Embracing Death in the Land of the Living

was crucified, died, and was buried.
The Apostles’ Creed

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about human flourishing. What makes a human flourish? What does real flourishing look like? One prominent Korean scholar and writer made a keen observation that one tragic reality of this world is that people don’t think about death anymore. He thinks it’s tragic because human flourishing takes place when we truly embrace death. I deeply agree with him but how do we embrace this truth?

Our family watched a fascinating documentary about Pacific salmon a few weeks ago. One amazing fact I learned is that it only takes a few drops of water from their stream of birth in the ocean for salmon to find the path to where they were born. Their journey upstream is plagued by hungry bears and birds. Their lungs don’t function properly in fresh water so they get less oxygen as they get closer to their home. Thus, the moment they embark on their journey, the dying process begins. When they make it to their birth place and lay their eggs, all that remains is to await their last breath. This death brings life not only to hungry animals but also to the whole forest. The flourishing of the ecosystem depends on their dead bodies. All three of us were awestruck by the life and death of salmon, by their determination, bravery, and instinctual sacrifice. The image of a dead salmon completely absorbed in the soil and becoming the source of food for plants and trees captured my imagination and kept me thinking about the fascinating cosmic design for flourishing encapsulated in the life and death of a fish. 

Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. This is the day Jesus’s body embraced death. Jesus’s body in the tomb. No voice from heaven. Everything stopped. The disciples likely spent the day in fear or in immense grief. We, thankfully, can spend this day contemplating the world of darkness that would exist without the hope of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus died and conquered death. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been moved from the land of the dead to the land of the living. Our eternal life is sealed. However, that’s not the end of the story. 

Now we are invited by the indwelling Holy Spirit to this profound paradoxical truth that embracing death will lead us to true living and flourishing. That’s what we should also think about on this day. Jesus strongly exhorts us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-26) 

This is the picture of true flourishing for us: embracing death in the land of the living. Christian writer and speaker Andy Crouch, in his book Strong and Weak, describes embracing death as “relinquishing power and authority, embracing a position of unequivocal vulnerability.” Where our selfish passions and desires die (Gal 5:24), we will begin to see our lives truly flourish. Jesus calls us to a life of flourishing, life lived to the full, living rather than merely existing. He wants us to flourish so that the rest of the world can flourish. How will we respond? 

Prayer (from Psalm 27:13-14)

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
        in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
        be strong, and let your heart take courage;
        wait for the LORD!
Amen


Lent 2019: Flushing Art Tours / Part 3

This is part 3 of a 3-part series.
Please see part 1 for context.


I recently started a project called “Flushing Art Tours” in which I invite other Asian/Asian American Flushing residents to share their perspective on the neighborhood and engage in different hands-on ways to slow down, observe and reflect. I invite one person who then invites another person forming a small group of three. Each person chooses a place in Flushing that is significant to them for any reason, and then at the site they lead an activity that helps the group share in that person’s perspective. For this Lenten season, I’ll be sharing the contents of the first walk of the project with hopes that it will help us to slow down and reconsider the places that we may pass by regularly and see the different ways that people from our community are shaped by them.


Lent 2019: The Lamb Has Overcome

Have you ever had a great conversation with friends about what they’ve given up for Lent, all while hoping they don’t ask you the same? Or cringed in the awkward silence when they do ask, and you’re forced to admit you’ll still be consuming processed sugar and/or social media all through Easter? Have you ever wondered if your friends or church leaders secretly judge you as a heathen for not fasting? I have done all of these things―because I didn’t give up anything for Lent.

To be completely honest, Lent caught me by surprise this year. After a few days of berating myself and brainstorming options for fasting that suspiciously started to resemble self-improvement tactics under the guise of spiritual discipline, I ultimately decided against it.

The story easily could have ended there: the forgetful Christian neglects to prepare for the most important season of the faith, feels guilty, and then walks away questioning the legitimacy of their faith and their love for God. It’s certainly a practice that I often find myself slipping into easily. But thank God for grace―for while our sins and imperfections are unending, Jesus does not walk away from us; his love for us is never in question. God accepts us not because of our ability to complete the “to-do list” of being believers, but because of His loving mercy and grace.

It’s a fundamental concept that I struggle to accept on a daily basis, but God has been using this Lenten season to help me relearn this truth and deepen my understanding of His grace. He assures me that my salvation is not dependent on my ability to give up bubble tea for 40 days (though don’t get me wrong—fasting is a meaningful discipline that I still aspire to practice). He reminds me that His limitless grace enables me to offer the same to others, no matter how many times or how severe I feel the grievance may be. He also convicts me of my pride when I only consider the instances where I’m in the position to extend grace, because I most certainly need it from others more often than I can likely imagine.

In a song that has become somewhat of our Easter anthem (if you guessed “Forever (We Sing Hallelujah)” by Kari Jobe, you are correct!), a clear celebration of victory comes through in the chorus as we jubilantly sing, “Forever He is glorified, forever He is lifted high.” But this season, I am reassured and encouraged by the quieter bridge: “We sing ‘hallelujah,’ the Lamb has overcome.” Jesus has overcome death on the cross for every sin that we have and will continue to commit. He has overcome our doubts and overwhelms us with His love and ceaseless grace. He has overcome every obstacle that might keep us from Him, and He gives us hope.

Prayer, from Psalm 103

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
   nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
   so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.


Lent 2019: Flushing Art Tours / Part 2

This is part 2 of a 3-part series.
Please see part 1 for context.


I recently started a project called “Flushing Art Tours” in which I invite other Asian/Asian American Flushing residents to share their perspective on the neighborhood and engage in different hands-on ways to slow down, observe and reflect. I invite one person who then invites another person forming a small group of three. Each person chooses a place in Flushing that is significant to them for any reason, and then at the site they lead an activity that helps the group share in that person’s perspective. For this Lenten season, I’ll be sharing the contents of the first walk of the project with hopes that it will help us to slow down and reconsider the places that we may pass by regularly and see the different ways that people from our community are shaped by them.


Lent 2019: Learning Helplessness, Cue to Rest

I had once read an opinion piece from the NYTimes: a personal account in a German hospital that was more or less a commentary on America’s overuse of painkillers — and even more profoundly on the function of pain. She was preparing for a hysterectomy and was asking (or pleading) her physicians for any prescription of painkillers. Beyond the ibuprofen, of which she complained was for headaches and not organ removals, she was prescribed rest, tea, and drinking coffee slowly. The philosophy was to tune in to the discomfort, since they are important cues from the body to rest and recover.

The most difficult part of her recovery process wasn’t the pain. It was the boredom, the deep desire for distractions, and the dread of sitting in pain for the long stretches of time. Taking painkillers would have allowed her to seek distractions, unhindered by the pain of movement and action.

This same attitude permeates my practice of fasting and self-denial. I am counting down the time until it is over (someone once told me that the passage of time is more bearable when counting down rather than up). As an avid planner, I pack my days with activity after activity to avoid boredom and indulge in distractions. I find myself grateful for the days when I have work, because in my busyness I fail to notice the discomfort of my hunger.

The hardest days are always when I sit still. 

With a fasting period as long as Lent (and especially as we near the middle of it), it is important for me to have those reminders to tune in to my discomfort, not seek painkillers to mitigate it. I need those reminders not to just “get by” nor desperately strive to make things easier. I am reminded to rest.

I identify with the NYTimes author when she writes, “I know how to sleep but resting is an in-between space I do not inhabit.” When I fast, there’s an in-between space I traverse that feels adversely foreign. As pain is the body’s mark of vulnerability and weakness (and thus, a physical cue to rest and heal), discomfort in my fasting is a mark of my own helplessness (oh, the many many things I unfortunately depend on). It’s a space I am programmed to avoid using education, work, and sometimes even faith to build my competency so I’d never need to ask for help. For me to fast without distraction and to sit and dwell in my discomfort is to learn helplessness. It is my spiritual cue to turn to God in admission that I need His help — my cue to find rest. 

As we’re seeing hints in our study of Ruth in community groups, our ultimate rest is found with our Jesus, our Redeemer, and discomfort in fasting serves to remind us of this. It drives us towards this truth. We, as Christ’s church and redeemed bride, can find our rest because he redeemed us in our helplessness through the cross. The LORD indeed has granted that we find rest, and it is well with us.