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The Lessons, big things and little things, Part III

In Bible,church,Community,faith,family,Friends,Grace Seattle,Japan,leadership,mission,PCA,Prayer,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,prophet,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 by mstevensrev


sacred-heart-of-jesus with a pair of flame within it
At this post I want to make shift from the previous two I shared regarding the last few years of my spiritual journey. ¬†In the previous posts the mid-faith crisis I experienced was manageable because of a few light posts that were available to me over the four year period. ¬†These were far from mountain top experiences with God but rather as 2 Corinthians 12:9 encourages us, “‚ÄúMy grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.‚ÄĚ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” From these few cold glasses of water I was kept from throwing myself off a bridge literally, and I with this post I want to transition into sharing a few things that I have learning in the experience.

The Walk¬†and the The Wall¬†were completely necessary for me as they each provided insight into the God I have known since a young child, the God who I had studied about in Seminary, and yet the God who I had shaped so clearly in my image I hardly knew anything about at all. ¬†I love the Annie Lamott quote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.‚ÄĚ This quote is also a very good starting point for my first lesson, Big Things and Little Things. ¬†As we all know most profound lessons that we incorporate into our lives actually come from kindergarten. This one is no exception but it came from my daughter’s kindergarten.

My second daughter began kindergarten this year, and having been the first of our kids that went through Montessori preschool we were unsure how she would adjust to Seattle public school. Thankfully our concerns were without merit and she is thriving, most of the credit goes to her teacher, Ms. Pattsy Burgess of Broadview Thompson. ¬†One of the major lessons that Pattsy has taught my daughter, me and our entire family. ¬†The simple lesson is “Big Things and Little Things”.

go dog go 2

The assessment is fair that our family is a sensitive family that often has emotional responses to the situations life throws at us, this can often lead to a blowing out of perspective small situations because of our emotions. ¬†Early in this academic year my daughter explained to me that, “Daddy, your house burning down is a big deal. Losing your pencil is a small deal.” ¬†Of course I had to ask more and she went on to explain that Ms. Burgess began to ask her when she was frustrated or emotional in a situation, “Is this a big thing or little thing?” Often the big thing would be your house burning down, so pretty much anything in comparison is a little thing. ¬†A part of me was concerned that having a child consider her house burning down may have risk associated with it, but in my continued discussions with this wise six year old this never seemed a big deal, thankfully. So what was shared as a framework to help my daughter identify if her emotional response is in line with the situation has become a reminder for me as well. ¬†This is not to eliminate emotional responses or even call them wrong, rather it is an opportunity to calibrate to keep them in line with what is actually going on rather then spiraling into a world that is out of touch with the actual situation. ¬†Often it provides a good conversation with the younger two girls in our family when they are fighting, it just takes some of the spit and fire out of the situation.

Every human being on the planet has had their share of both Big Things and Little Things.  In my life the Big Things include suffering sexual abuse as a child, severe cycles of depression since middle school age, the deposition of pastor and dear friend during seminary at Grace Seattle (the church where my wife and I met), working over three years for a hypocritical conservative pastor who was unfaithful to his wife and family for more than fifteen years, and counseling a serial murderer as a first year pastor.  Each one of these Big Things in my life takes years of counseling and meditation to properly understand and remain human after suffering, part of my recent spiritual journey is recognizing that these are Big Things and to not live in denial of the impact that just one could have on a single human life much less a marriage or family.

Another point to share is the event that caused me to lose my ordination and ultimately leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was actually a small thing.  In the past few years sharing it I almost felt embarrassed.  My family was almost broken apart and we left the church because  Grace Seattle, where I was serving as a ruling elder, did a terrible job of firing the worship pastor.  Churches and business hire and fire all the time, to someone outside that church or outside the church at large it would be confusing as to why it caused such an impact on me and my family.

The first point I had to reflect on was, did we overreact?  I have come to peace that we did not.  Admittedly I am an sensitive emotional person and as I stated before this can lead me to making Big Things out of Little Things.  This is the reason for a time I would be embarrassed talking about the situation with people, I was still exploring the option that I had overreacted.  Unfortunately, I did not overreact to a Little Thing rather this Little Thing exposed a Big Thing far worse then simply firing a worship pastor.

The worship pastor and his family had been serving Grace Seattle for thirteen years when the firing went down.  They had served the church during the first major crisis where the pastor was deposed, and the original music created by this pastor was the only stability during the crisis.  The Big Thing that happened in the firing was he was no longer a member of the church or even a human deserving to be treated with dignity, rather this pastor  was a limiting factor on the future growth of the church and threat to the senior pastor and needed to be dismissed regardless of the impact on his family or his spiritual health.  This act was cruel and abusive, and I write openly on this because I was on the side of the perpetrator as an elder before I left the church. This was a Little Thing for the church that resulted in a Big Thing for a family, and as a leader who failed I need to publicly repent of these decisions I supported.

In reflecting on this situation and my experience in the PCA as a whole I realized there is another Big Thing.  As a denomination, organization or business the PCA has a fundamentally broken model in that they fail to value people. In my experience in and outside the church this is not unique.  Very few embody the words of C.S. Lewis,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

During my brief experience as an Elder in the PCA,¬†this failure has lead to regular acts of corporate abuse and deceptive harmful group think. Under the guise of being “balanced on Scripture” or “true to Scripture” the¬†PCA¬†abuses people if they are out of line with conservative reformed theology. It is assumed by the PCA that you are not even elect if you think differently then their narrow misogynistic modern view. Orthodoxy is dogmatic and completely violates the Biblical requirements for being part of the community of God as described in both the Early and Late Testaments. ¬†For those ready to battle me on this point, feel free but at least take a moment to read Scott McKnight’s recent post (by guest blogger Michael Pahl) that relates to what it means to seek “Biblical Christianity”. Scott’s guest blogger Michael Pahl writes in regarding the current WorldVision Situation but the depth of the divide described in the article I believe applies to my point, here.

At this moment I think it is important for me to share a part of my first post in this series, “I am on a new path where my thoughts will be appropriate to share with the world. ¬†There are some who know me that may read this post with concern or possible feel threatened that I am making a case against beliefs they hold close, if that is the case for you do not feel obligated to continue reading. ¬†Your friendship from afar is appreciated, yet I am not interested in arguing or persuading anyone of making this same journey if they are not open to it. ¬†So in short if you found this via Facebook instead of leaving nasty comments feel free just to unfriend me now, no hard feelings and I wish you many blessings.” ¬†So in short you can attempt to argue with me all you would like but I feel no obligation to fight anyone on any of the content of this post. ¬†If your goal is to correct me or start a fight my advice would be to unfriend me now, rather if you are open to discussion I long for that. ¬†Any defensiveness to protect a theological view is a Little Thing for me and I am focusing on Big Things. May God have the glory.

Also I think it is important to mention that I did ask the family of the worship pastor permission to use their situation as an example, they suffered through enough already related to Grace Seattle, and they said yes without names named.  In regards to the leadership of Grace Seattle or the PCA I did not ask their permission or allow them to review this post.  Since leaving Grace Seattle and nearly being excommunicated I have had no contact with the leadership of the church, I am essential dead to them.  The PCA on a denominational level perpetrated lies on why I left my ministry role in Oakland, CA at All Nations Church and have not contacted me since ripping my ordination during the last crisis at Grace Seattle. In the face of all the sin that both of these organization are perpetrating, I think their actions toward me are Little Things. My hope is through these prophetic words and the work of the Holy Ghost, repentance will come to all who have been involved in these horrible destructive actions and bring them closer to God. That would be a wonderful Big Thing.

Related to this kindergartener I am trying to raise with her two sisters in the church, it is really challenging yet our family has never left the church and God has not abandoned us.  As a parent I long to keep telling a story to my kids about a Big Thing, with all that has shifted and changed in my spirituality Jesus is the Big Thing.  Also I long to tell a spiritual journey story that allows them to see the beauty and pain of their spiritual legacy.  Only my oldest daughter was alive when I was a full time vocational pastor, the other girls have only known their daddy as a sales monkey, I long to tell all three a redemptive story that is a Big Thing.  But the legacy goes back further on both sides of their families, faithful Catholics and fundamentalist with cult like loyalty in their blood, a strange but sweet mix. All this is only a part of the wonderful lesson the God of the Universe has for this little tribe known as the Stevens, may the God of the universe give us the imagination for the big things that have been prepared in love for the world as well.

 

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The (free-range) Chicken Theology of Work

In art,Bible,church,Community,culture,design,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,food,Friends,Fun,Japan,Localization,mission,movies,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 11, 2012 by mstevensrev


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My theology of work is forever changing and evolving, and one place that I journey with others on this path is at¬†Kiros, once or twice a month depending on my travel schedule I attended the breakfasts meetings they put on where they often have a speaker share some perspective on living out their calling as a Christian in the marketplace. ¬†As a side note I also had the¬†privilege¬†of speaking to the group last March, if you want to check that our it is¬†here. ¬†This last Friday Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary provided one of the best talks I have heard on the topic, his stories had us rolling on the floor, his theology was simple enough a child could understand while making thoughtful people think, and his love of the scriptures came through as everything was driven by the text. ¬†The premise of Richard’s talk was very simple, you have been called by God to your work and you have the opportunity to examine that calling in this life to better understand your ‘responsibility’ to live out that calling in your fullness.

There were so many rich stories to share but my favorite was one Richard shared about a friend who is a chicken farmer who examined his role in the plan God has in raising chickens on his farm. ¬†There is a tension when you come to farming or the role animals have on this earth and the tension is this: Animals are not people and animals have not merely been created to serve our purposes. ¬†Another way to say this is a chicken won’t write Shakespeare, but a chicken is not merely a piece of meat. ¬†Therefore this farmer thought deeply about the theology of raising chickens. ¬†He came up with this, “God wants every chicken on our farm to have the opportunity to strut his/her chicken self infront of the other chickens.” In that theology I hear echos of the local farm movement as described to me by¬†Mark Canlis, that the goals of these farmers is to have their cows (or other animals) only have one “bad day” in their life. ¬†That day would be the day they are slaughtered. Though the image Richard provided me was so much more winsome because I see in my mind that chicken strutting around, rather than focusing on the bloody chopping block.

This can be a helpful premise for chickens, but I propose that people cannot think deeply about these issues because we don’t recognize that we have been created to strut the glory in which we have been created, theologians refer to this as being created in the image of God.¬†Marianne Williamson was famously quoted in a speech by Nelson¬†Mandela, she says,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.¬†Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.¬†It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you¬†not¬†to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The knee jerk reaction people, especially from my theological tradition have, to this kind of thinking is that we are sinful therefore pride and arrogance must be guarded against. This warning is fair but it sets up a false choice between¬†humility¬†and glory. ¬†Jesus lived in the fullness of God and yet was extremely humble. ¬†He accepted all people as equal, he did not use them as means to an end, the only part I would add to our¬†responsibility in the area of humility is that we recognize that we are wrong intentionally because of bad motives and unintentionally whereas Jesus did not have this struggle because he was God…he was perfect. One friend of mine says, “I’m wrong 50% of the time, the hard part is that I don’t even know which 50%, but God is making me better.” ¬†Live out in the glory that you have been created in, be quick to acknowledge when you fail at it, and in gratitude acknowledge that the source of every good gift in your life is not your own but rather a gift from God.

The question that Richard’s (free-range) Chicken Theology brought up for me is, how do you apply this in the darkest valley’s of your career and work? In the past two years before my current job I walked through a few of those valleys, the struggle of broken promises that would not reward me for my work, getting fired, and having a job where I felt lonely and hopeless. ¬†How do you strut your stuff in those circumstance? I asked the question and Richard’s answer was twofold as I understood it, in thinking about it I think there may be at least third option as I understand it.

Richard said first your current circumstances may be preparation for the next step.  This rang true for me because I look back on the last two years and acknowledge that I would not be currently living in such glory without all that I had gone through.  The experience humbled me, gave me fearful experiences that I persevered through, and provided tangible knowledge that assists me daily in my current job.  Learn everything you can if you are going through a hard time, examine your character, life and work for there could be something on the horizon you are completely unaware of that will be a blessing.  This answer provides hope, but the truth is like a chicken we are completely ignorant if our future date is the chopping block.  And yes I know that even for the child of God the chopping block is not the end of the story because there is greater glory beyond, but I still find this answer a part of the overall answer rather then complete.

The second answer Richard provided is that your vocation could be less then the sum total of your calling. ¬†Our callings are greater than our work, I sell therefore I am a salesperson yet I am a father, husband, churchman, and the list goes on and on. ¬†Perhaps your work is merely a platform that provides you the freedom to pursue the other callings in your life with greater glory. I have met many people in my life that this is the circumstances they live in, they are lawyers but their passion is to see the gospel forwarded in particular countries in the world like China. ¬†The short side of this answer as complete is that we were created in a garden where all aspects of life were intended to work for God’s glory, so when we set create an arbitrary distinction between our work life and home life, for instance, it is impossible to live as God intended…as a whole person. ¬†I know for me personally when my work life was hopeless it was very difficult to enjoy my time at the park with my children, most of my conversations with my wife were in tears clouded by depression. ¬†This is why I contend again that work as a platform merely for the rest of our life falls short in allowing us to live gloriously.

A third option I want to propose does not answer the question fully either. As a matter of fact I sense that used incorrectly it could be the most damaging of the the options as it is the most deterministic and could create an undeserved heavier burden on someone already struggling. This option is the most Taoist or Confucius of the options, and because of that I think it is the most practical (in touch with how the world really functions and how our role relates to that functioning).

A documentary came out recently titled,¬†Jiro dream of Sushi¬†“by David Gelb takes a look at the work and life of Jiro Ono, a Michelin three-star sushi chef who, at 85 years of age, continues to work on his craft every day at his tiny restaurant in a Tokyo office building basement opposite a subway station entrance. His colleagues, his country, and at least one very knowledgeable food writer recognize him as perhaps the greatest sushi chef alive.” This description is taken from an article on¬†Lifehacker¬†by¬†Maximiliano El Nerdo N√©rdez. ¬†In the article titled Lessons We can Learn from Jiro Ono, Maximiliano encourages readers as his first point to fall in love with your work.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Deciding on your occupation is a challenge for we live in a society that provides the opportunity to live in reasonable comfort regardless of your job or if it is in line with your calling. ¬†The hard work is not finding a job, it is discovering calling…once your calling is discovered or rather accepted (if you are a Calvinist) then the path of occupation is more clear though it may be a difficult path. ¬†Part of my calling is as an evangelist, meant that for a time my occupation would place me circumstances to lead people to a similar vision of my spiritual practice though for most people I talked with they would not share the same vision. ¬†So I became a pastor of a church in Oakland, CA. ¬†The church had financial challenges from before I started there, attendance was poor, and it was in a city that was not necessarily supportive of the entire scope of work we were pursing. ¬†The path for me as an evangelist was not easy. ¬†Now that I am in technology services my calling as an evangelist has not changed, but the path is much easier in many ways, and the path still allows me to live out my glorious calling while dedicating myself in excellence to my occupation.

Today I want to encourage everyone, strut your stuff in front of us other chickens. If you are in a dark valley, remember your current occupation (or lack of occupation) could be a learning step, a platform for other work, or the place you have been given to dedicate yourself. ¬†Even as I write that I believe the answer is all three not merely one or another. ¬†When I worked in a church we began each service with a call to worship, and I would frame the call to worship and the entire service with these words, “The good news for those God loves is that he has the first word to us and that first word is always blessing. God loves you and has made you in his glory! The good news does not end there rather God has the first word and the last word. ¬†The last word of those God loves is also blessing, you have been delivered.” So regardless of your circumstance remember you have been created for glory and you will be delivered unto glory. Amen.

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>Microsoft Japan does well!

In Fun,Japan,Microsoft,Sinometrics on October 2, 2007 by mstevensrev

>Went to a Bellevue meeting of the Japanese-American Society where Darren Huston, CEO of Microsoft Japan spoke. Great job, if Microsoft’s future is conversation this guy is doing his part. He did a great job explaining the business climate for Microsoft in Japan. Did you know that they are the #1 brand in Japan? That’s pretty impressive considering Sony, Toyota, and other majorly popular Japanese Companies.

What surprised me is that in Japan their lifestyle tech is far more advanced than here, but according to Darren their work place productivity is far lower. It seems that Japanese business culture as a whole does not get how much technology can advance the workplace. Interesting. And very surprising to me.

Three other highlights: 1. He took a shot at Apple, saying that Japanese do not like person music players because they want to have all in one devices. I get it, but Microsoft need to not be so sensitive about Apple. 2. He spoke very favorably of virtualization to assist in Japan to help update some of the old server systems they have built on. 3. Made a plea for open systems in Japan. It seem 60% of the market is controled by 4 companies. His plea for open systems made me somewhat confused? Open for Microsoft, open source? Regardless it was interesting and made me want to know more. 4. Lastly ESL in Japan is the next big thing! A family is willing to pay 2K-3K a year to have a child learn English. Might be something to think about investing in.