Monday, May 13, 2013, 1:56 PM
This blog entry was first published as the Spirit Calendar meditation for the week of May 13, 2013, based on Acts 2:1-21.
We tend to focus on the fire.
Every year I served in the parish, we celebrated Pentecost with an "apostle cake": a set of small figures, hand-molded in clay, with a lit birthday candle rising from their heads. In memory of those Pentecost flames and the birth of the church, we'd tell the story, we'd sing a happy birthday song, and then blow out the candles. They were ever-light candles, of course, which would relight themselves, and I'd declare, "The flame of the Spirit never dies."
Similarly, we've commemorated Pentecost in our Conference Meeting with a pillar of (flash paper) flame, the climax of a rising cacophony of voices and music: with a bright, unmistakable flash of light, we cheered the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
We tend to focus on the fire.
But strangely, in the story, nobody comments on the fire. Jerusalem's devout visitors and residents follow the sounds, and by the time they've discovered the newly commissioned apostles, the tongues of fire have faded away. They find a confused and chaotic scene, where even the realization of understanding ("They're speaking our language!") provokes further mystery, even bafflement. "What does this mean?"
Is it any wonder that they seize the first explanation to hand? And doesn't Peter's first defense of his companions, it's too early in the day for drinking, seem remarkably naive for a gruff and hearty fisherman?
We tend to focus on the fire, in part, because it seems so clear -- though we might bear Moses' ability to bargain with a burning bush in mind. When the Holy Spirit comes, the end of doubt and confusion is at hand.
The Holy Spirit's mighty wind, however, doesn't rush in with clarity, but with mystery. Like Peter, we still have the task of using our newfound gifts to communicate God's deeds of power, mercy, and grace. The most likely response is the one that greeted our forebears that first Pentecost morning: sneers, derision, and dismissal.
But perhaps, just perhaps, someone might find, in the center of chaos, the echo of the still small voice that says:
"God loves you."
Call me crazy, call me drunk, but that's worth a little derision to me. Even without the fire.
Holy One, renew your people. Send your Holy Spirit like the rush of a mighty wind, and send us forth to proclaim your deeds of power, mercy, and grace before all people. Let them call us crazy, let them call us drunk: but let them never lack for assurance of your love for all your people and for all your Creation. In Jesus' name: Amen.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013, 5:41 PM
One of the first full meals I had in the United States after returning from South Korea was breakfast in a restaurant in Boston. I took a fried potato on my fork, placed it in my mouth, and my eyes flew wide.
It was salty. Noticeably salty. Startlingly salty.
I really enjoyed the Korean food during my visit, and although I was never as adept with chopsticks and long spoon as my hosts, I never had serious difficulties. At one meal, a pastor warned me against one dish I'd just helped myself from. It looked like rather long, rounded noodles with some shrimp in a creamy sauce.
"You may not like that," he said.
"What is it?" I asked.
Well, I wasn't in Korea to not try things, so I did. Mostly, it tasted like pickling spice to me, and I found it rather tasty. My Korean hosts later made a point of telling me that they'd appreciated the fact that I not only tried their cuisine, but clearly enjoyed it a great deal.
Korean tables have a lot of food on them. The chefs are liberal with peppers, pickling processes, and of course the fermentation process called kimchee (which they apply to more than cabbage). The flavors tend to be quite strong, though they also appreciate a very plain rice and water soup as well. But the only times I had much in the way of salt at a Korean table was when the dish had a dipping sauce based on soy or miso (which was fairly rare).
Korean meals mostly lack sweet desserts as well. They like sweets, but don't make a habit of them. The snacks we enjoyed while singing karaoke were mostly nuts and dried fruits. Breakfast appears to be incomplete with fruit (we had oranges and strawberries), but there's very little processed sugar.
And Koreans, by and large, are thinner than Americans.
I'm still uncertain whether those Boston hashed brown potatoes were overly salty, but to my Korean-influenced taste buds, the difference was eye-popping. My eyes have stayed open, to note that Westerners put flavor into their cooking with sugar, with fat, and with salt. All three, we note, have real health consequences.
In contrast, dishes in Korea rely on pepper and pickling.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:34 AM
Tonight is the last one I'll sleep in South Korea this trip. The bags are packed, with just the traveling clothes left out. It's after 10 pm here, so this post will have to be brief, though heaven knows I will be spending a lot of time doing nothing but sitting in an airliner seat tomorrow.
In just five days (thanks to a huge delay in our arrival), I've done a great deal. I've preached twice. I've addressed the Kyung-Ki Presbytery meeting. I've had tours of the National War Memorial Museum, the royal palace in Seoul, and an ancient set of royal tombs. I've spoken with members of the Presbytery's Overseas Committee, its ministerial authorization committee, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Korea and the head of ecumenical relations, as well as the dean and the head of the international studies program at Hanshin University.
I've visited the home and memorial to the women forced, during World War II, to provide sexual services to Japanese troops. I've seen two of them at a protest outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul. I've spoken with the leader of the protest movement, which is asking for a simple admission and apology from Japan.
I've been to the Demilitarized Zone, and witnessed how hope refuses to whither amidst a human tragedy of separation. I've seen and walked one of the tunnels dug by North Korean forces to prepare for an invasion. It made me both very aware of the real danger faced by my hosts, who live very close to the border, and the resilience of hope.
I've made my hosts very pleased that I thoroughly enjoyed each Korean meal they served me.
I have a great deal of stories to tell. One regret I've had is that I've had so little time to tell them!
But the final comment for the night has to be this, and it was made by Professor Yeung Mee Lee at Hanshin University who, when she heard that our visit was only five days, exclaimed, "But that's not enough!"
And she's right.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 8:50 AM
What do you get when you combine a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and two UCCs?
Wait for it...
Pretty darned good music.
Yesterday, after attending the Kyung-Ki Presbytery meeting, held at Immanuel Church in Suwon, delivering our greetings (in the previous blog post), and speaking with Dr. Bae, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK; more on that later), the Presbytery's Overseas Ministry Committee (more on that later, too), and Dr. Min, the ecumenical affairs officers for the PROK, it was time for some sightseeing. Rev. Lee and a good friend of his, a Methodist pastor, whisked us away to Seoul.
There we visited the palace of the Joseon Dynasty, which is surrounded by the modern structures of this enormous city, and beautifully restored and maintained. Couples, families, and school groups flowed around us as we moved through the complex.
From there, we went to South Mountain, upon which stands a space needle-like observation tower. The view was incredible, despite a hazy day. It's very touristy - in fact, most of the signage is in English first, then Korean - but the locals clearly enjoy it, too. There was a duo singing as we left, and a local astronomy group had telescopes set up.
We enjoyed - really enjoyed - a late dinner at a little restaurant in Suwon. Around the tower, they'd offered plenty of tourist fare, but this was what the local residents really like to eat, and it was a bowl swimming in seafood and a hearty broth. Add some rice and various spiced vegetables, and we were a well satisfied group.
That leads us to the adventure of the night, which was "no re bang," the Korean equivalent of karaoke. Unlike what I've seen in the States, there's no stage. We were ushered into a smallish room with a table (and plenty of snacks), a big TV screen, song title books, a controller, and two microphones.
Irene Choi and I can carry a tune (she's an operatic quality soprano), and our two guides were enthusiastic and amazing. Rev. Lee loves music, both traditional Korean and American pop of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. So we sang the Beatles and Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and contemporary Korean pop, with the sound echoing around our little room.
We laughed and snacked and applauded each other. It made for a late night - we sing quite a while - but oh, it was worth it.
What do you get when you put together a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and two UCCs?
Amazing music: and a balm for the soul.
Monday, April 22, 2013, 5:52 PM
I delivered these official greetings of the Connecticut Conference, UCC, to the Kyung-Ki Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Korea yesterday afternoon:
On behalf of Interim Connecticut Conference Minister the Rev. Charles L. Wildman; the Board of Directors and their chairperson, Sara Sneed; the ordained, licensed, and commissioned ministers; and the people of the congregations of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, I bring you our warm greetings and prayers of thanks to you on the occasion of this meeting of the Kyung-Ki Presbytery.
Since the visit of your Moderator, Rev. Kim, and Rev. Jeung of the Nong-Chun Church to us last October, the seasons of nature and of humanity have visited us in Connecticut. A February blizzard brought our state to a near halt, but just two days later, our church in Bolton celebrated the ordination of a talented young woman pastor. I didn't get there, because I was still digging my car out when the service ended.
Last December, a gunman killed twenty-seven people, twenty of them six and seven year old children, and then himself in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. It left us all shocked and horrified, and with far too many mourning families to comfort with ministry and with prayer. But just days after that February blizzard, over 5,000 people came to the state capitol to declare that violence would not have the last word. We still struggle with the political process to reduce the harm that individuals can do, those who are determined on evil. More than law, however, we know that we must work on the heart, to build a society more likely to care for the mentally ill than drive them to violence, more likely to encourage people to resolve their anger with words than with a gun.
We are all too aware of the risks of violence here, in this place, in this nation, on this peninsula. You know far better than we what the threat is, and we hope that you know far better than we how to maintain a peace whose fragility has become apparent. We have no solutions to offer, beyond our prayers that God bring wisdom to national leaders here and elsewhere. May a conflict avoided in this time become a seed, one that when planted, watered, and nurtured, becomes the blossom and the fruit of a just and lasting peace.
The seasons have brought us a further blessing in Connecticut. On Saturday, at a Special Meeting of the Connecticut Conference, ministers and delegates elected the Rev. Kent Siladi to be our new Conference Minister. He will begin that ministry with us in late June, and we are looking forward to the blessings that God will give us through his leadership.
We are also looking ahead to next year, and the twentieth anniversary of our partnership. At that time, I was an interim pastor in our Conference, still a young man and rather new to the Christian ministry. Today my moustache is longer, and there is gray in it, and in my hair. I am rarely the youngest minister in the room when clergy meet.
But our partnership still feels young to me. There is so much that might be tried, so much that might be done. Though the language barrier remains, the Internet has grown so rapidly in these nearly two decades that photographs can float across the Pacific Ocean in the blink of an eye. We can share stories more quickly and in more ways than we ever could before.
So I bring you these greetings in person. It is the blessing of God that I can do so. I thank you for your gracious hospitality, for your courage in frightening times, and for your witness to the risen Christ in all seasons. May God bless you. Amen.