Total Pageviews

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


A few days ago I posted to Roblog and got to messing with the settings. Apparently I found the setting for "suck" and turned it all the way up, because no one, including myself, was able to access Roblog.

I had tons of emails asking where it went. (I figure that since emails don't have any weight, I can just assume that each letter weighed between 3 and 5 pounds, plus I couldn't really separate out the bits that weren't about Roblog or all the address stuff, so it was easily a ton. Maybe even two if I use a bigger font.)

I figured it was just my computer, so this evening when I saw all those emails (OK, OK, it was like four!) I decided that I had better do something. So I went to my "Settings" page and tried to figure out what the heck went wrong.

I couldn't figure it out, but I fixed it. This is somewhat typical of how I "get things done" and "fix things". For example:

When I was in my early teens, our family had a t.v. set that had quit working. I asked for and got permission to take it apart, and had a great time seeing what kind of stuff is inside a t.v. And somewhere in the middle of it all, I discovered that it was working again! I was quite happy with myself, and asked if I could keep it in my room, a first for me. My parents agreed, probably having some kind of premonition of what would happen.

I believe it was the same day, if not the next. I was working on something else, and the t.v. was on. I set my drink down on top of the t.v., and it fell over, flooding down into the back vents, and bringing with it a wave of destruction. The t.v. made some cool noises before I unplugged it, and my room smelled like burning electronics for the next couple of days. I figured that it wasn't worth the effort of taking it apart this time, because I didn't have whatever tool that is you use to remove cola from a fried transistor.

Ok. That story started out being an example of how I get things done, and ended up being a brutally honest glimpse of how I get things done. That's it. I hate blogging.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Latest Sermon

Late last year I was talking with one of my former students, Junghyun. She was in my classes at Kosin University, in 2001 and 2002. She always did her best in my classes, even though her English was not the best of my students. She was one of the few students who actually came to my office from time to time just to chat. The other thing that set her apart is that she was raised in an orphanage. In fact, she still lives there, though she will move out at the end of this year.

She graduated a couple of years ago, and has been working. Before this year, I met her a couple of times a year to have dinner and talk about life in general, but this year we've met more frequently. This is because when I met her late this past winter, she asked me for a favor. She wanted me to write and deliver a sermon in her church, while she gave a simultaneous translation.

There are a few things in this request the import of which many of you will not understand without a little lecturing. So now is the time to break out the spit-balls, cell phones and whatever other nonsense you get into when the teacher goes all pedantic on you.

I am not a pastor. In the States this would not get in the way of me delivering a guest sermon, but in Korea things are a bit different. Most Korean churches and church-goers are very chain-of-command oriented. One aspect of this is that Pastors give Sermons, and non-pastors don't. The mindset is such that when people heard that I regularly (once a month) delivered sermons (at our previous church), they assumed that I was a pastor. Even after explaining that we didn't have a pastor, and that preaching duties fell to the members who felt called to do so, it was hard for many Koreans to accept that kind of blurring of the lines. And to visit a strange church and give a sermon. Me, a non-pastor. There was a lot of pressure to be good.

There was also the pressure of the translating part. Simultaneous translation is one of those things that looks easy, but is actually the mental equivalent of juggling knives, flaming torches and kittens at the same time. The reason it looks easy is that the only people who do it in public are those who do it very, very well. I am sure that all of you agree that Horyon's English is good, even excellent. She's a fantastic student. Even though she disagrees with me, I know that her English has improved the entire time we've been together. It sometimes seems to get worse to her, especially when she's tired, but the people who don't talk to her regularly all testify that there has been steady improvement.

My point is this: Horyon is scared of simultaneous translation. She wants nothing to do with it. Small bouts of it while my parents were here tired her out quickly (I'm sure Maxine had nothing to do with that!), and when she has to go back and forth between Korean and English it is very easy for her to spit out funny mixes of both languages.

Junghyun was a good student, but nowhere near Horyon's level, and for something like this it was very important to do it well. So I decided that we had to do this in a manner most uncharacteristic of me: well-planned.

In the future, if a former (or current) student asks me to do something like this in Korea, my first response will be "Thank you for asking, but no." I like to think that before this incident I would have said "no" to most people, but undoubtedly the same ego that pushes me to Roblog would have pushed me to say yes.

But for Junghyun's reasons, I couldn't say no. As I mentioned, she was raised in an orphanage, which paid for all of her schooling expenses, including that degree in English Language and Literature that she received from Kosin University, where I was one of her professors. She wanted to show her family at the orphanage how grateful she was for her education, and how it hadn't been wasted. She decided that the best way to do this was by giving a simultaneous translation of an English sermon given by a foreigner at the church connected to the orphanage.

That's right. Christian orphanage, connected to the sermon-receiving church. Not a big church, either, but a dedicated one. Her translation was to be a sort of graduate recital which her entire family would attend. How could I say no?

So last winter we started talking about how to do this, with the idea of doing it at the end of winter vacation. (The fact that I am writing about this in October should give you some clue as to how that plan evolved.) I asked her to choose a scripture, because I figured that since she was the driving force for this event, and it was her church, she should have some say in the direction of the thing.

She told me that one of her favorite scriptures was Revelation 3:15-16.

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, –neither hot nor cold, –I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

And I said, "Yeah, I've heard that one. I'm sure it will make a good sermon." I wasn't sure because I knew about the passage, I was sure because if someone feels strongly about a passage, there is a sermon in it. That's why you don't hear many sermons on the bits in the Old Testament about how many silver candle holders there were in the temple. It's not stirring stuff.

But this was stirring stuff, indeed. Very strong language, that spitting-out-of-the-mouth stuff. So I told her yes, and got to work on it.

I ended up opening the whole passage, from verses 14 to 22, because as I read, I quickly realized that this was in fact a letter to a New Testament church, telling them that they had gotten soft, and to shape up or ship out. And while it doesn't bother me very much to annoy people by saying true things, the idea of going into a strange church and implying that God wants to vomit them out was just not very appealing. ("Vomit" is actually a better translation than "spit". Look it up in a commentary if you don't believe me. That's where I found it.)

Opening it up to more than the two verses she chose gave me a lot more flexibility, and, in my opinion, kept the focus where John wanted it: on God's mercy and love for even the worst of us.

I've decided to post the whole sermon separately, so that you can see my (sort of) finished product. Check that post if you want to see that level of detail. I have just finished cleaning up the formatting, and it was interesting for me to see the difference in writing style between that and what I usually write for Roblog.

The sermon itself went very well. That morning we went to Horyon's parents' church so we could leave Maxine with them. We figured it would be a lot of traveling, too many new people, and a completely unknown situation. Not ideal for bringing the baby along. We left early enough that we could get some lunch before the 2:00 service time. Even after lunch, we still managed to arrive 15 minutes early. Not bad for going someplace where neither of us have ever been. Junghyun and I ran through the sermon one time before the service, with Horyon listening in. I think Junghyun was pretty relieved to have someone check her work. We cleared up a couple of minor points, and went on in.

The praise team was working hard. And loud. The kids there were really into it, but for me it was just loud singing in Korean with no words anywhere for me to follow along. Nice enough, I suppose. Then the leader prayed, and invited us up to speak.

We got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but soon we got our rhythm, and it started to work. I even through in a couple of extra clarifying bits that weren't in any of the drafts I had given Junghyun, but she picked them up just fine. By the time we got to some of the stronger bits in the last quarter, we were getting a few "amen"s from some of the crowd.

I have to tell you, it felt pretty good. There is definitely something in my personality that enjoys being in front of a crowd, making them understand my ideas, and perhaps getting them to think. I enjoy being a teacher, and at some point God will very likely push me into the ministry, since the subtle hints don't seem to be working so far.

After the service, Horyon talked with one of the senior members of the staff. She thanked us for coming, and asked if we knew any foreigners who would be able to come back on a regular basis, to work and play with the kids. We have passed that message on, and hope that one of the groups in our church will decide that God has called them in that direction: South-West.

I want to conclude this post by thanking Horyon for supporting me through this effort. Back when I was doing a sermon once a month, it was usually a week worth of pushing me, encouraging me, and occasionally kicking my butt. This one lasted longer than Maxine spent in the womb. There were times when we both wanted to give up on it, but Horyon doesn't give up on me easily. This one was a real learning experience for both of us, and God used it to touch our lives and strengthen our faith. Thanks for going through this with me, Honey.



Judgement and Mercy

This is the sermon I mentioned in my "Latest Sermon" post, together with the Bible verse it is based on. I figure that some of you may not have access to a Bible where you check Roblog, and that from that group most of you won't bother to search for it on the internet.

The sermon itself is broken into very small paragraphs, which is not my usual writing style. This is because the sermon was written first as an outline. Usually I don't (I should say "didn't," as it's been a while since I've done this regularly) write more than an outline. The more words there are on the paper, the more I look at it, and the less I look at the people listening to me. And I've always been impressed with ministers who could preach without notes. I figure that I'm not gonna get there without a lot more practice, and a lot more time to devote to it. But perhaps some day.

Anyway, I hope that this is still meaningful on the page rather than out loud.

Revelations 3:14-22

To the angel/messenger of the church in Laodicea write:

(14) These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. (15) I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (16) So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (17) You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (18) I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
(19) Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
(21) To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (22) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

This letter to the Church at Laodicea has two very strong messages. A message of Judgement, and a message of Mercy. A casual reader can see this, but a closer look reveals that both the Judgement and the Mercy are more extreme than we first realized. One reason we have trouble understanding is that we don't know the context. For example, from our scripture today, verses 14 and 15: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

It is impossible to understand this fully without understanding the geography of Laodicea, the city to which this letter is addressed. Laodicea is a very rich city, but it has a big problem: no fresh water supply nearby. And so they have two choices for water. The first choice is water from the city of Hierapolis, about 12 km north of Laodicea. Hierapolis is famous for its hot springs, like Onchanjang (the name of an area famous for, of course, hot springs) here in Pusan. The water is naturally hot, with lots of minerals dissolved in it. People believed then, as now, that water like this is good for your health.

The second choice lies in the opposite direction, from the city of Colosee, famous for its fresh, cold mineral water. In the days before refrigeration, a visitor to Colosee would remember the taste of that cold, sparkling water for the rest of his days. Very refreshing. But almost 20 km away from Laodicea in the opposite direction of Hieropolis.

Both sources of water are excellent, but in those days water was moved across long distances through stone pipes. By the time it reaches Laodicea, the hot water is no longer hot, but lukewarm, with a heavy, metallic taste to it. Not at all refreshing. And by the time the cold water arrives, it is no longer cold, but lukewarm. It has acquired the taste of dust and stone. Also not refreshing.

And so when Jesus tells the Church at Colosee that they are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, they know what he is talking about. And it's important for us to understand what he's talking about. Because the letters in the Bible are not written just for the people they're addressed to, they're written to us. That is why context is important, because their problems are our problems.

This particular letter is a good example, because it is so very general. For example, in verse 15: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!"
We know that the church is doing something, but whatever it is, Jesus is not at the center. Jesus isn't even on the edges. Jesus is on the outside. So their activities are not healing, "hot", nor refreshing, "cold." Lukewarm.

Then in verse 16, Jesus says, "I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Actually, a better way to translate that is "vomit". (I ended up cutting the previous sentence, because the Korean translation is not so ambiguous.) This church makes God feel sick to his stomach. God is completely disgusted with this church!

The worst part is that they don't even know it! In verse 17 it says that they think they are rich, when if fact they are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Not in a worldly way, but in a spiritual way. Jesus advises them that they should invest in God's treasures. Verse 18 reads: "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see."
Jesus says, "Gold refined in the fire" because Laodicea was a rich city, a banking center for that part of Asia. But gold of the Earth passes away, and Jesus wants them to store up spiritual wealth.

Jesus says, "White clothes to wear" because in the fields near Laodicea they raised sheep with a very fine, black wool. It was used to make cloth that was, again, famous in that part of Asia. White robes are used repeatedly in Revelation to show holiness and cleanliness, which are far more important than fine clothes.

Jesus says, "Salve to put on your eyes" because Laodicea was also famous for medicine, especially an ointment for the eyes. But spiritual blindness is a much greater problem than blindness of the eye.

Gold, clothing, salve. Jesus is telling this church that they need replacements for the very best things that they have, because it is all garbage!

There are seven letters in the first three chapters of Revelation, representing a broad range of churches and their problems. We need to realize that these letters are not just for the churches of that time and place. They are for us, too! Laodicia's letter is the least positive of the seven. The judgement is very harsh. Jesus has nothing good to say about them! We don't want to be this church! So why is it included?

The answer starts in verse 16, when Jesus says "I am about to spit you out." The grammar and words are very clear. It is not past tense, "You are finished." It's not present, "You are on your way out now." It's future, "You will be out very soon." No date given. In other words, there is still an opportunity to avoid this judgement!

And it gets better. In verse 19, Jesus says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline..." This incredibly harsh judgement is only one side of the coin. The other side is love. And not just any love. Usually God's love for his people is expressed as "agapay", which means "unconquerable attitude of benevolence and good will". But to Laodicea, the word is phileo: "The warmest and most tender affection." Warm, and tender. Affection. Not just the love of a Creator for the Creation, but the love of a father for his daughter.

But it gets even better! Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. Not the door of the unbeliever. Not just the door to your heart. The door of the Church! The Church that HE MADE! He humbled himself to death to make this church, and now he is humbling himself again to be let back in! In verse 20 He says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." And with the worst church of the seven, he will come in and eat! Just like family! Why is such a personal illustration being used for the worst of the seven churches?

But it gets even better than that! In verse 21 Jesus says, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." These lousy, lukewarm, worthless Christians can be taken up to the same level as Jesus himself! How can it be?

Because God's Judgement is always overcome by his Mercy and Love for us. When we are at our worst, pitiful, blind, naked, and we don't even realize it, God still loves us. When we refuse God's gifts, God still loves us. When we've shut Jesus out of our church, God still loves us. When we are so nasty and foul that God wants to vomit us out, God still loves us. And as soon as we repent, and let Jesus in, God's love for us if fulfilled.

I would like to challenge you, right here and now. Look at your church. (I used the name of the church at which I was preaching rather than just 'your church'.) What is your church doing? Is Jesus at the center, or has He been pushed out the door? I also want to challenge you to look at your life. Is Jesus in your life, eating with you, refreshing and healing with you? Or is He on the outside, knocking to get in? If Jesus is on the outside of any part of your life, the judgement is harsh. He's ready to spit you out. But it's not too late! He's knocking! Let Him in!

Monday, October 16, 2006

First Birthday Party

I'm going to tell you about Maxine's first birthday party, but first I'm going to explain why it has taken me more than two weeks to do so.

Things have been busy here, as usual, but I had one unusual assignment: file my taxes for the past three years. Yesterday I finally finished getting all the paperwork done, and today I was going to mail it, but I found that my computer at work was not up to the task of printing a modern (i.e. post-millenial) Adobe PDF file. In fact, I found that my computer at work was not even up to the task of installing the latest version of Adobe Acrobat (A.A.).

Granted, "Acrobat" is kind of a funny name for this program. When one thinks of acrobats, some adjectives that come to mind are "slender", "flexible", "entertaining", whereas the Adobe version of an acrobat is more like an old, fat, cigar-smoking, annoying Marlon Brando who you only keep around because he can damn well get the job done.

Anyway, tomorrow I will have to beg access to a computer in the main office, or perhaps go to one of the student computer labs, because we will be getting new computers soon (i.e. before the next millennium), and it's not worth the hassle of getting this one to cooperate. And there's nothing I can do about it here at home, so I am putting the final touches on this entry (which I started on Maxine's birthday) today. So back to the birthday party:

First of all, it cost us just a bit more than my average take-home pay for one month, not taking into account that our apartment is provided as part of my salary. I am not complaining, it's just that I enjoy irony. For example:

Usually when we go to a buffet, I pay around $70 and come away completely stuffed. This time I paid more than 20 times as much, and was hungry by the time I got home. Because, as the Hokey-Pokey puts it, that's what it's all about.

It was all worth it, though. I didn't eat much because I was moving around, talking to our guests, encouraging them to sign the guest book (like in the next picture) and making sure they all had enough to eat. We had a total of 80 people, I believe, with about a dozen of them being young enough that we didn't pay full price. Of course, I didn't eat my money's worth, and Horyon didn't eat anything. Apparently she was unable to play hostess while sitting down with the occasional plate of food. Also on the no-food-thanks list was Youngwhan, Horyon's brother. He took all of the pictures you see here, and was also unable to combine that with eating. It didn't help any that Horyon to move his stuff so that someone could use his chair, but as I demonstrated, creativity and determination can get one at least a couple of plates of food.
The guest book was included as part of our photo services (see the Birthday Photos entries for details on that). It was a hardcover book with photos facing blank pages that our guests could sign. Some of them just wrote their names, and some filled up half a page with words of wisdom and blessing for Maxine. It is a lovely souvenir, and a reminder of the friendships and family that we have here in Korea.

We had the party at Bexco, which is a huge exposition/convention center. It also happens to be where D.A. and I went for the Star Wars Exhibition. If you buzz over to their homepage you can see what it looks like, and if you dig a bit in their website you will find that "The Bexco is modeled after a seagull soaring to the east-south Pacific Ocean, combined with a cruise ship." Lucky seagull, being combined with the Love Boat like that.

Our party was actually at the Bexco Buffet, which I couldn't find anything about on their website. But to get there, you have to go through the front space, which is called:

"The Glass Hall, of light green double-glass,
is a unique and marvelous hall hallucinating
you are in an extensive three-dimensional space,
which is rarely to be seen in any convention
center in the world."

I wish we could have had the party there, because what party isn't improved by hallucinating that you are in 3-D? Instead we were stuck in our conventional 2-D space. On the other hand, by the time they started the birthday party portion of the event, I may have already been hallucinating, because I saw some things that I would not have been able to imagine without the assistance of substances used to alter the state of one's consciousness. I would never have dreamed up:
The Golden Cowgirl, or her cohorts, the two clowns with bottoms like that of baboons.
I know that you can only see one clown in this picture, but trust me, there were two. And it is an added bonus that you cannot see his bottom in this picture, or any of the pictures we have from the party.

You can see some of our guests in the pictures.
I like this picture in particular, because you can actually see that we had some foreigners at the party. And of course, my buddy Earl was slugging back a brewsky. I should have known that if there were only one picture with him in it (and there was), he would be drinkin' (which he was).

There are many pictures of Korean friends and relatives, but these are the only two with my foreign friends. So if you came to the party and are waiting for a picture with you in it, you might as well stop waiting and start photo-shopping. Apparently Youngwhan had some troubles with his camera that night. I'm afraid that some of the pictures are very dark, and a lot of them are blurry.

Our home-movies came out fairly well, but I have no idea how to post a movie on here, and most of you are probably not interested in watching the whole thing anyway.

So as I mentioned, we had the Golden Cowgirl (as I dubbed her) and the baboon-butt clowns to spearhead the entertainment for the evening. They played very loud music, used a loud soundsystem for their microphones, danced around, and guaranteed that it would be a memorable evening for everyone involved.

Except for them, of course. Thirty minutes earlier I caught a glimpse of them doing the same exact show in an adjoining room. Apparently Golden Cowgirls and baboon-butt clowns are pretty popular. I wouldn't have guessed.

A key point of any first-year birthday party is when the guest of honor is given the opportunity to choose whichever item catches her eye. The item she chooses traditionally foretells her future. It was my job to explain for our guests in English what was going on.
We set in front of her a pencil (indicating that she would be an author or scholar), a bundle of string (long life), a cross on a necklace (ministry/mission field), a mouse (cat) (no, sorry, I meant computer geek. Wrong mouse.), a microphone (entertainer), and a stethoscope (manufacturer of medical supplies) (Sorry again, I meant "doctor"). Traditionally, parents also set out some money or coins, indicating that their child will grow up to be a greedy person. (No, sorry, it means they will MAKE a lot of money, not that they necessarily LOVE money.) We decided to pass on that one. We tossed around the idea of putting out a tiarra, indicating that she would grow up to be a princess, but decided that she had already pretty much accomplished that one.

Maxine chose the pencil. Perhaps because both of her parents have had jobs involving writing, perhaps because there was a cute helicopter-thingey at the end of the pencil. Only God knows what Maxine will grow up to be, and I doubt that God reveals His plan in this manner. Still, it wouldn't surprise me. She already likes books.

The most fascinating thing on our display was the microphone. I may have to just write about it in another post, because we still have it, and I find it to be strangely fascinating. It is a Hello Kitty microphone, and it doesn't amplify your voice. Instead, it has four buttons, and the head flashes in time to the sounds it makes. One of the buttons makes it play a song, and it cycles through quite a few before repeating. The ABC song, the one about Sippin' Cider through a Straw, Do a Deer, and one I don't know.

How about that. It only plays four songs, and I thought it played "quite a few before repeating." I'm telling you, this Hello Kitty Microphone is extraordinary.

Anyway, one of the buttons makes a cymbal sound, and one makes a buzzing/referee whistle sound. The fourth button starts a little conga riff. It cycles in just four beats, but it is strangely hypnotic. When I hear it, I can't help but tap my foot or sway to the rhythm. Cowbells, conga drums, maybe a little snare in there. The other little songs it plays are electronic beep songs, standard stuff for baby toys. But press the conga riff button and it instantly cuts to the conga riff, taking it to a whole new level. The contrast between the two can be shocking, and dreamlike in the way that events and objects in a dream are seemingly disconnected from each other.

But there's more. While it's conga riffing or playing one of the four other songs, if you press the cymbal button, it layers cymbal clashes on the main beats of the song. Ditto for the referee whistle button. It makes the kiddie tunes into harsh, clashing nightmare soundtracks that jar the nerves and make your teeth grind and sweat break out on your brow and you want to grab the damn thing and throw it across the room and then you hit the conga riff button and...

You're back in that hypnotic dance. Doo doot doot da-doo doot da-doot doo...

And as you read this, and wonder what the phone number is for the Korean mansion of rubber rooms and whether they understand English well enough for you to tell them where I live, I am wracking my brain for a way to upload these sounds to the internet, so that you too can be taken away from reality for a brief moment that lasts forever.

Doo doot doot da-doo doot da-doot doo,
Doo doot doot da-doo doot da-doot doo,
Doo doot doot da-doo doot da-doot doo...

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.