Before beginning, I want to make clear that I am not doing this to favor any political agenda. What is happening in the United States is about expression of pain, mixed in with acts of violence and destruction. This is not about us versus them. Any time I mention he word, justice or act justly is not that I am being one of those social justice warriors. Justice is about doing things right and acting and behaving with dignity. Justice is what law enforcements are trying to maintain and justice is what people are asking, and in the midst of the protests both sides are naturally looking for the same thing. Mixed in al of this are people who are hellbent on destruction. There will be misfits on both sides of protesters and law enforcements, that is what we have seen during these times. Power must be taken away from these miscreants. Ok, I just wanted to throw that disclaimer before I begin this.
I haven’t spoken about it, nor did I include any of it during the Pentecost service. During the moment of silence I didn’t offer any prayers for people who are protesting, or to the law enforcement, or even for stores that find themselves burned down, or even other buildings like police stations, capital building that have been burned down or looted.
I didn’t say anything because I have to be careful how I use this church pulpit. And I’m tired of the same incidents happening time and time again in the USA. Also this stuff always stresses me out and dealing with the up and down emotions I was going through during the week. Yet, last week for the virtual service, for some unknown reason, I was compelled to use the campfire scene. But I felt God wanted me to use that image. And I realize that image is all about how the Spirit of God shines even in the darkest of times. God is still here with us.
I am extremely exhausted right now. Last week and even today I have been gathering up a ton of stories for all over the country about racism, people in law enforcement, shop owners, and protester. At the same time suddenly, I must make sense of my past experiences of racial injustice, stereotyping, race related violence, and police misconduct. Those things I mentioned is a reality for all minorities. But, I don’t want to talk about my experiences, because those are mine, and those are what I must battle with day in and day out. But it is important to talk about what is going on right now in this country and where is God in all of this?
We have reached a boiling point in our country. The Coronavirus pandemic, to the massive unemployment rate, to Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia from two white men, to A Black Birdwatcher in Central Park having the police called on him by a white woman, to the tipping point of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota a Black man, being choked to death by a white police officer. Now everything has exploded. That frustration level, of years of racial intolerance, police brutality on minority communities, and the chaos caused by the coronavirus, and unemployment, just broke. Suddenly, we are wondering where is God in all of this?
Where is God? Well just like Pentecost has taught us, the light of Christ is still with us, the fire that is given by the Holy Spirit is with us and is opposite of the fire’s that are caused by unlawful rioters and looters. We worship a God who detests violence and destruction. A God who stands side by side lawful police officers, and lawful protesters. A God who is against police brutality and rioters or looters.
We have been learning about John for the past few weeks. Don’t forget Jesus has told us that we will not be orphaned and that the Holy Spirit is given to us, the Advocate. Also, in John Jesus has prayer on our behalf, knowing that we are still in this world and being part of this world, we need to continue to mission of Jesus Christ to all people. And in the book of Acts, Pentecost has taught us how the light of the Holy Spirit is upon us, even during the most dreadful and darkest night. Never give up hope.
What can we do during this time? We do what we should have been doing even before all this tension occurred. Look no further than Micah 6:8. My favorite Bible verse because it is simple, direct, and it is a reminder of what God has told us to do and is telling us to do right now. “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Do those three things, especially during these times.
Act justly, everyone has the right to life. Doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, or Asian, whether you are in law enforcement or a protester. Nobody needs to go through what minorities go through day in and day out in the USA or in the world. George Floyd did not have to die in Minnesota. Act justly is about giving all people a fair chance at living and pursuing the American dream, and nobody should do anything that infringes on the right to live and the right to live well. Justice is not about advocating violence and destruction, justice is not death, justice is not about getting mine and forget about the other, it is not about us versus them.
Love mercy, is about having compassion towards one another. Protesters and police officers is not about us versus them, because in the end of the day everyone is human, they all have a family to go to at the end of the day. Listen to people’s story, respect their right to live. Give what you can and be generous. No need to hoard all the toilet papers and meats for one’s own gain. Nor need to harm other people and restrict other people to protect yourself.
Walk humbly with God is about doing justice and loving mercy. It is not about looting, destroying, or killing people in handcuffs. It is not about destruction. Walking with God is helping God, about continuing the mission of Jesus Christ to all people. Imagine what our world will be if we just did these things. We have to help God in these circumstances. God is holding the world in His hands, but the world is crumbling, our social responsibilities are being broken, and the foundations of this world are turning into sand. God is holding the world in His hands, but its really hard to hold a world that is crumbling and turning into sand, slipping through God’s hands. We can help God. By acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly, we put our hands in between God’s fingers and catch the crumbling world. It is our Christian responsibility to do such acts of mercy, be act justly, and be humble. Be safe out there, respect all people regardless of occupation or skin color. It’s time to rebuild the foundations of social responsibility that are crumbling before our own eyes.
I grew up Southern Baptist in Cincinnati, Ohio. I started to go to Mount Caramel Baptist Church, I was baptized there, had a lot of friends there and the pastor was a big mentor for me. When it came time to choose a college, I looked into a ton of Baptist schools, but I went to Hanover College, in Hanover, Indiana, which is a PCUSA affiliated school. I still believed that I was Baptist, and when it came to choose a seminary to get my Master’s of Divinity, I was set on going to Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. But I didn’t feel too comfortable there, and I ended up wandering off campus during a visitation trip and found my way to the bottom of the hill where I ended up on the campus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I really liked the feel on campus and I decided to apply to that school and ended up going there. I decided to be ordained as a…. Southern Baptist… yeah…
Anyways, I believed that I was Southern Baptist for a very long time in my life, even though my educational background was God trying to guide me to be a Presbyterian. Sometimes you don’t realize how God is guiding you because you might be too stubborn or even unaware of how the Holy Spirit is making these significant decisions for you! After some time, I went to South Korea and started working in a Presbyterian church, but I was still stubborn enough to think that I was still being a Southern Baptist. Even though now, theologically I am becoming more and more Presbyterian. Heck, I even married a Presbyterian! And her father is a retired Presbyterian pastor! Now… after I got married, we moved back to the USA where I began looking for work in Southern Baptist churches. And now my faith journey, my life narrative is about to hit a change.
I got a job working at the Korean Church of Tulsa, great church, for about 3 months… Here’s the thing… I don’t mind naming places that I’ve been and being open to what I have experienced, but I am not going to name any names. Everything was cool at that church, but then the senior pastor there (no longer there) made my life a living hell. At one point he grabbed me in the hallway and told me to leave this church. I yelled at him in his office, not knowing what was going on, and where all of this came from. The church deacons sided with me, and told me to stay and apologize to the senior pastor, I played the game, but he refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
I will spare you all the messed up situations that I had to endure during this time. But simply, that pastor was a very unstable.
I decided with his blessing that leaving the church quickly and quietly would be the best choice. I instantly became lost, not knowing how a church or a pastor can act in such a way. Impossible to find any church because I could not get a recommendation from the current church I was working at. Then I received a very unlikely call. And the one church that gave me a shot was Long Island Korean Presbyterian Church of Port Washington. The general presbyter however asked me a ton of questions which made me wonder about my journey of faith.
I had to question… am I still Southern Baptist? I had to go all the way back and reflect on how God has led me up to that point. Sometimes God is doing everything He can to influence you to go in a certain direction, but because us human beings are so darn stubborn or unaware of what’s going on, we miss all the signals. I realized I have been missing signals, turns, signs since I arrived at Hanover College. And it is absolutely amazing that God never gave up on me. He decided, “Yeah this dude keeps missing where I need him to go, but I will keep giving him opportunities.” And, even when I was pushed out of a Southern Baptist church in Tulsa, God’s hands were involved in everything. And He knew that I would be in good hands, and also God decided to limit all my options at that point and basically give me a Matrix like choice of taking the red pill or blue pill.
In order to work as a pastor in Long Island I had to become a Presbyterian. I took the red pill and had to take a few ordination exams AGAIN! But thank the Lord almighty for leading me and basically thumping me on the head to say, “You are Presbyterian! Can’t you SEE!” I went to a Presbyterian college, Presbyterian seminary, worked in a Presbyterian Church, married a Presbyterian, and even have a father in law that’s a retired Presbyterian pastor. Yeah… I got it now… I see!
So, my faith journey, where did it lead me? Ward Ave. Presbyterian Church. It’s dang good to be where I am! The churchy is perfect for me. I love the fishing holes, my kids love the space to run, and my wife is going to school pursing a Nursing degree. God continues to guide all of us and give us blessings all day!
When I was younger between the age of 21 and being ordained as a Presbyterian Pastor, I used to play poker with my friends and also play in any nearby casino. I would take $100 dollars with me go to the low stakes limit Texas Holdem table, play get a little more money and then start moving my way up to higher stake tables. Get as much money and come home. If I end up losing the $100, I just go home, no harm done.
One day was like no other day. I come to a Casino I know all too well, and they were holding a No Limit Texas Holdem tournament for $100. So I decided great! (I usually do well in tournaments) I got my chips took my seat and, ready, set, GO! The cards began shuffling and were dealt out. I was in the first position, normally a good place to fold, regardless of your hand, but I had 2 Kings! That is one of the best starting hands in the game! With a full table of eight people, that's pretty good! And then I decided to go ALL IN (which means, you put all of your chips in the middle). This was a dumb move in any possibility, I have no idea what compelled me to do so... like the Holy Spirit moving in me, to teach me a lesson? I was excited though and very confident that I'd win. At the time I was hoping that there were a couple of poor suckers and inexperienced players calling me with their losing cards. I stood up, all anxious, but confident, even talking a little trash, just trying to be annoying, just to get a call. Everyone begins to instantly fold, until one guy called me! Mano-Y-Mano!!! I remember right before showing our hands, I said, "The only thing that can beat me is..." The dude showed his hands, "POCKET ACES!" He had the best starting hand in the game. The most unlikely hand to show up in the mix of pocket Kings. What are the chances that would happen?! Well chances of repeating these hands would be a very low probability. I lost, grabbed my hoodie, and went home, I lasted not more than 5 minutes in the tournament. I was in the casino for less than 20 minutes. My night was over.
The reason I am sharing this story is about when is a time we gamble with our lives in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic. Well, my county has gone from red to yellow, which is awesome! But not much has changed for me. Two things I am considering highly, one, I am confident (holding pocket Aces felling) the other things I'm thinking about not so confident (holding pocket Kings).
Church and childcare. My church will open on June 7th if everything goes well. Our church is small, spacious and naturally we practice social distancing! We have masks ready, hand sanitizers, temperature readers, arranging seating, no singing, and a shorter service. I feel like I am holding pocket Aces, we can't lose, there is no doubt that if we do these measures properly, we will be safe. At the church we are safer than any grocery store you would go to right now. We have sanitized the church every week, everyone will be wearing masks, ushers will give out hand sanitizer, we have wipes at each pew, and movement is limited. You can't lose with pocket Aces when you play them right, and we are playing them right.
However, childcare situation. Going from red to yellow allows childcare centers now to be open. The risk is real here... You see at the church people will naturally sit down and stay in place for the duration of a short worship. Children will be all over the place running around, being kids. I tried to put a mask on my kids, Norah, who is five, and Benjamin, who is 2. Norah can have a mask on for about 2 minutes before she loses her mind, Ben, about 5 seconds the longest. Note: Kids are not required to wear a mask. My kids will be on the front line doing the most interacting compared to any adult. I feel like if I am sending my kids to daycare, I am like, holding pocket Kings... great hand to have... but not the best.
I have also hear that now, kids are getting seriously sick from COVID-19... I can't live with myself if my kids get sick and knowing that I could have prevented that. Also, lets just say, they get COVID-19, but are healthy, good, then they give it to me, fine, I'll be fine... but what about my church? I have to preach every Sunday, is my custodian going to be ok? My older congregation be ok?
What would you do? You want to go ALL IN with pocket Kings?
So... Being at home, not only have I been forcibly enamored by YouTube videos, since I can't do to much. Naturally I'd like to go fishing more often, but with the kids home.. well fishing needs to be limited, and also, everyone else is fishing... because they can't work... so it's hard to find places to fish from the bank. So instead of going out to fish, I've been watching people fish... and also listening to a lot of music.... a lot...
You will always find a few artists I will listen to a lot these days. I always listen to Bill Gaithers, Sam Cooke, Old Crow Medicine Show, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, and Roger Alan Wade. Those are usually staples in my playlist.
But throughout the years my playlist has become... different.. Umm.. like, a lot of different kinds of music. When I was little I never listened to Sam Cook, Roger Alan Wade, of anything country, folk, or gospel. But nowadays, that is what I prefer. But I still like the stuff that gave my love for music, such as punk, hardcore, ska, metal... but no pop music... never have... I dunno…
Maybe you guys are like me when it comes to music. Often times our taste of music changes because we grow up, we discover something new, we appreciate other stuff because our minds just kinda open up to other things.
So imagine how much you have also changed as well? Just take the time to think about how you have changed since you were a teenager to where you are right now? Maybe you got more stubborn or less stubborn more compassionate or less compassionate. How is it that you have changed? How is it that God has changed you, or how is it that God is continuing to change you. I can think of a ton of stuff that have changed in my life that have made me change the way I think, so I encourage you to take some time of reflection, because well... what else are you going to do when you are stuck at home!
As you can imagine, during this time of the stay at home order, I am spending a ton of time on the internet. I am doing work on the church website and Facebook page, not to mention doing work on virtual service filming and editing. Well because my eyes are glued on the computer and I get the chance to look up "stuff" on the internet. Well, one thing leads to another and I found myself watching a ton of videos of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) players embracing "the bat flip."
What's a bat flip? This is a bat flip...
I hope the guy on the on-deck circle is ok, because that bat is comin right at him! LOOK OUT!
Beautiful right? I am not much of an MLB fan, but I do watch it occasionally, and in the USA, bat flips are seen as disrespectful and "unsportsmanlike." Really? why? Are we really worried about hurting someone's feelings? In the United States, if you did a bat flip, you are most likely going to be intentionally hit with the baseball at your next at bat.
But I can't really seeing this as disrespectful, I merely see it as entertaining for the fans and a way of expression from the baseball player. And it's interesting to me because in the United States in which we embrace individualism and self expression the most out of any world country, but in baseball, everyone must act the same, even if you annihilate the baseball 500 feet over the right field wall. You are supposed to act like nothing happened. yet in Korea, who boosts conformity in everyday social interactions, but yet in the KBO players can bat flip away! I have even seen bat flips happen when it's not even close to a homerun, but whatever, I love it.
I don't think it's about showing off, but about having fun. I think in the USA we are so darn concerned about hurting other people's feelings so much we forgot to have a little fun. I dunno.. I don't have any theological reflection onthis, just a social insight. I hope you enjoyed, and maybe if you go out and play baseball with some friends, just know, it's ok to Bat flip away!
Orchid Huff tells me, when you have a plan, God laughs. How true, but I don't think we should interpret it as if God is making fun of us, or that God is trying to put us down. I think that God is laughing at our plans, because He know sometimes our plan will not go as planned, and it is important to laugh about it, instead of being frustrated.
Earlier this week I went fishing with the rare intention to bring home a delicious trout to eat. I never bring home any fish to eat, because I don't feel like messing around in filleting fish when I could just get it at the store. But I thought, why not? During this coronavirus pandemic and the stay at home order, I thought well what if I did some "essential" traveling to "catch" my food for the day.
PA trout regulations are that you are allowed to keep 5 fish that must measure at least 7 inches in length. No prob bob! Most of the stocked trout are 7 inches and over, I have never had trout before, and I know I can catch them... so I made a plan. I went out searching for STOCKED brown or rainbow trout. I went on the internet to see where they stock these fish and I eliminated every trout stream that had native trout. (I just don't feel right eating a thriving native trout) I picked a day that I could take my day off, put a block of 4 hours on that morning that I could fish, I figured I would only need about a couple of hours to catch my 5 fish (I know sounds arrogant).
First place I went to took me about 2 casts before I hooked up! And it was a really nice sized rainbow trout. and then I lost it! It pulled my hook out right when I was about to grab it with my hand... gone. Me, livid... Soon after that I tried a couple of times, but that fish ain't comin' back. So I casted in different areas, and got bites, but no hook ups. Changed my lures a few time and finally got a hook up! I pulled it in... and it was dang tiny man! Brown trout yes, legal size... not even close. And it is was native! This stream is not supposed to have natives trout, only stocked trout… I thought... SO I decide to find a new spot. Drove to a new location and started fishing. Then I got a bite, and got a hook up! But guess what... it was also too small to take home and yet another native trout?!
Native trout are tough to get, but that day, I kept catching native brown and brook trout, all less than 7 inches. I don't get it, when I am trying to catch a native trout I never can, always catch ones that were stocked. But when I am trying to get stocked trout, apparently, I catch native trout.... what?! I thought to myself, God I had a plan man! I was supposed to go, catch stocked trout over 7 inches to take home and eat..., what the heck happened? Then... God laughed...
Sometimes our plans don't work out the way it's supposed to, but that's life. No matter how much we prepare, how much time we spend on the execution of the plan, there will be times which the plan just falls apart. God laughs because in order to move on from our failures, we have to laugh. And I believe that God never wants to take us too seriously, and God doesn't want us to take ourselves too seriously either! God laughs because He knows that He has provided something more for us, better for us, even though we may not realize it at that moment. So next time a plan doesn't work.. laugh with God.
Ever wonder the Frozen song, "Let it Go" that Elsa sings is about the COVID-19 Pandemic? Let me explain....
So, I have been thinking about this because my little girl, Norah keeps singing this in our house, ALL THE TIME since school has been shut down due to the coronavirus. I never paid attention to the lyrics, until now... get this...
"The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of ISOLATION
And it looks like I'm the queen."
Hmm... you see where I am going? Stay at home order represents our "kingdom of isolation." "Mountains," reminds me of Central PA. "not a footprint to be seen" again meaning not many people going outside during this time. And I guess my little girl Norah sees herself as a queen? How is this song not supposed to be about us?!
Then the rest of the song is all about how Elsa can't contain who she is, and her frustrations at being outcasted, or in other words, "isolated." Then, of course Elsa, say, "Let it go..." Yup... she wants to break out. Totally understand that. As a matter of fact I think Else would e joining the people protesting in Harrisburg!
Well, what can we do? We wait and wait and wait. Looking outside wondering when it will be safe again. I think we all have that little bit of Elsa inside of us, ready to say... "Let it go."
I just know once the stay at home order is lifted, "I am blasting that "Let it Go" song out the car and out of the house, everywhere I go. " I don't care, what they say to me...." Yeah I might get some messed up looks singing this while fishing... again, like the words of Elsa, "I don't care, what they're going to say... let the storm rage on!!!!"
Hey this is Rev. Brian Choi's random thought throughout my week. Most of this stuff, will probably be about family, church, fishing, music, movies, food, whatever I think of, hopefully it will have some sort of theological reflection (maybe).