Thursday, July 24, 2008

Epiphany from Guyville

I found the article on Liz Phair (LA Times, 6/22/08 , "Liz Phair's Ambivalent Return to 'Guyville'") fascinating for a variety of reasons. It recounts the reaction many women did and still have to that seminal post-feminist record, but also the backlash and accusations toward Phair since then, in many cases by those same women, for "selling out" and desiring more pop and mainstream exposure. Equally riveting is Phair's own assessment fifteen years later, adding that when she listens to "Guyville" now, "My heart goes out to the person I was."

But there was a comment written by Times Pop Music Critic Ann Powers (who wrote the story) that in particular caught my attention, an epiphany of sorts, about how I see, and how I see Epic.

Powers writes, "What Phair and the rest of the world didn't expect was just how many women would hear "Guyville" and think, hey, I live in a man's world too, and it's a problem. In situations where equality is assumed but men still dominate, women occupy a strange space between the center and the margins. They can express opinions, but they're not dictating the terms of the conversation."

I'm not so dense or blind to realize that it is a man's world still, and that is a problem. What struck me is that even in a community like Epic where we are trying to remedy gender inequality both internally and in the world at large, I had still missed something important. Though unconscious of it, I realized that I was mostly giving women what is akin to expressing their opinions. And to be fair, I do really want to know what they are thinking and feeling. But that is still a far cry from making space for and encouraging women to dictate, inform, and influence what we talk about (our agenda) and how we decide to talk about it (the process).

There's no doubt that there is much inequality at Epic and men still dominate (the illusion of equality is not assumed here), but I thought we were also making some headway. But this quote made me step back and reassess, at least as far as this was concerned. For all my so-called progressive thinking and sensitivity about such things, I feel ashamed that I had fallen so short in this case of valuing and empowering women in our midst. I had failed in letting them be equal partners in showing us the way forward. Somehow I thought giving everyone an opportunity to share their opinion was empowering, and to a degree it is. But I suppose that's part of the problem. It is only a degree, not a shift of power. It is one thing to ask women for their opinion no matter how sincere, quite another to allow them to dictate the content of conversations and determine the way we should have them.

This was not for a lack of want, I don't believe, on my part. But I had functioned with a sizeable piece missing (some may say it's my brain!) from my viewpoint and pragmatism. In that way, the article has changed the way I'm beginning to see, and hopefully, act, too.

I'm not there yet, but I've begun to quote Ann Power's comments to women and asking them to share with me how true that viewpoint is or is not from their experience. And I've enjoyed every minute listening to their stories, their reflections, their feedback, their suggestions. I've begun encouraging women to suggest to us what it is they think we should be talking about and how exactly we should go about having those discussions.

As I think about our church board and our community as a whole, I have a feeling that there is a good probability that we would talk about different things at Epic and talk about those things differently if women determined too what it is we should be discussing and the best way(s) to have those discussions. I have a hunch that the women would produce a different kind of agenda. And then maybe we'd also be a different and better kind of church community because of it. And maybe, just maybe, at least here at Epic, our man's world would be less a man's world and more equally a woman's world, and we would all be the better for it.

To read the full article click here

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mission-Tiki Drive-In

There's always a couple of things we try to do each year, mostly for nostalgia-sake, like going to Dodger Stadium, Disneyland, or camping in Yosemite, things Dorene or I did when we were growing up. It's just such a wonderful feeling to now share them with our own kids. One of those nostalgia walks is to take in a movie at the drive-in. The Mission-Tiki in Montclair (I know that sounds far, but from Diamond Bar it's actually pretty close, about 15 minutes away) and is one of the few still operating. It's also safe, relatively inexpensive, and best of all, they show first-run movies. The kids get in their PJ's, we pack up some snacks, roll out the sleeping bags, and pile into the back of the 4Runner. Last night we saw Wall-E. Pretty amazing considering hardly any dialogue (the movie that is). If there's a message (and there usually is in these Pixar films), it's as Joni Mitchell says, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." So appreciate and take of what you have. I felt like we did that in some small way last night. On a side note, the other thing I kept thinking while watching the movie was that Eve sure looked like she could be an Apple product (future or otherwise), like the iEve. No wonder Wall-E falls in love with her!

Annie Premiere

This summer, our little thespians are in the sold-out Stagelight Family Production of Annie. Here they are for the opening gala party (Allison won the "gypsy coat," given to two outstanding cast members!) and the after-party [with friends, and Charis with big brother Jarron). We're proud of them!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coldplay Opening Night

Quite a day yesterday. Stood in line for four hours for an iPhone (something I said I would never do). All the time wondering, "Doesn't anyone work? It's Monday morning!" But once I got in line, I was committed. Partly because I was desperate too (Water damage ruined my phone a few weeks back and I lost everything!). As four-hour lines go, this one went by faster than I imagined (maybe just a rationalization for being insane) mostly because of the tight community I had built with complete strangers around the shared misery of unrequited love.

But I have to admit the greater highlight ended up being Coldplay on the opening night of their worldwide tour. Dorene and I sat straight back in Loge 1, pretty decent seats at the Forum (but the picture doesn't do it justice...OK, great phone but still junky camera apparently).

I've taken to their new album with Brian Eno, different themes, less falsetto, and was curious what kind of cocktail this would create with the rest of their songbook. If Chris Martin's comment out of the blocks ("This is our first concert since we became a new band") served as any clue about the direction of their tour (and career), the band left no doubt as they subsequently worked through six of the opening eight songs from their newest release Viva la Vida! including "Violet Hill" and the title track. It was not only a gutsy move to make a statement with their newest and most accessible singles that early in the show, but it was also an indication of where they were hanging their hat. It paid off.

I've had the pleasure of seeing each of their previous tours. This show, anchored by the new songs and considerable soul-searching between albums, has translated into a more layered sound, the music more textured and substantial, the presentation more ethereal and advant garde. Martin's voice was noticabely stronger and better and more confident. Even the old favorites like "Trouble," "the Scientist" and "Fix You" seemed to go through a reinterpretation in the new framework. Giant mood balls hanging from the ceiling, paired with the darker tones in the lyrics, resulted in a sometimes psychedelic, even beatlesque feeling in the arena, hinting at the more troubling times in the world outside.

Still they wouldn't be Coldplay without the soaring athemic attempt to inspire and connect with the audience as good-natured, self-deprecating, everyday blokes, something that makes Martin an especially endearing frontman. The new stuff still works in an arena, and the band's choice to join the crowd in the "cheap seats" at one juncture for "Yellow" and "Death Will Never Conquer" was a clue we had turned a corner for the evening. As the confetti fell over the crowd during "Lovers in Japan," simulating cherry blossom petals falling delicately from heaven, Spring had arrived at the Forum. When the band led out with joyous resolve in the finale "Death and All His Friends," Coldplay left you with the sense that whatever doubts or demons may exist, hope is there too, for them as a band, and also for us.

Lars and the Real Girl

Finally saw this movie, it's been sitting on the top of my TV for a week after my friend Kevin at Solidarity recommended it. But it was Mike Itagaki's comment during our board meeting that the film was not unrelated to what we're trying to do at Epic that really piqued my interest. It's a great film, alternately funny, heartbreaking, and sweet, sometimes in the same moment. The premise sounds strange and perverted, but the story is not really about a man's obsession with a sex doll (really!), but about a community loving someone back to health. Mike was right, it is a fable for Epic.

Friday, July 4, 2008

My New Best Friend

I was in Dallas in early June. I had the privilege of being invited to the inaugural Asian American Pastors Community facilitated by Leadership Network in partnership with the L2 Foundation, an organization committed to development of next gen AA pastors. [I laugh, because I've apparently been doing 'next gen' ministry for about 20 years now, except that the people remain in their 20's but I keep getting older! Why is that?]

The commitment to this thing is two years, a commitment I realize now is as much to the rest of the guys as it is to the process of leadership development.

If you know me, you know I'm totally cynical about conferences in general, and meetings with pastors in specific. So as we gathered for introductions, I was already feeling a bit skeptical about the whole thing when it came my turn to speak, and I said as much: "I'm grateful for being here, but I hate these things..." Right after I said it, I thought, "Crap, this sure is a nice way to make friends in a hurry!" I immediately regretted saying what I did, which was exasperated by the fact that for the next hour or so, people kept coming up to me to make sure I was OK, that I wasn't going to jump out the window or something.

Because of my response, however, the facilitator asked me to comment on the festivities we were about to begin that morning, as I stared at the long list of topics on the white board that promised to make our ministries bigger, better, faster, stronger. I was honest, I admitted I needed to give the process a chance, but that I also preferred that we just share our stories, and trust that from relationship, we would really resonate with some people and the "agenda"would emerge from friendship, mutual respect, and trust.

Well later, one by one, the other pastors came up to me and said that they appreciated what I said about being cynical. Apparently I was in good company. One of those guys was Brian Kim from Newsong NOC. We joked about how terrible it was that our churches were barely 100 yards from one another but it took being in Dallas to have a decent conversation.

Actually, Brian and I had lunch when Newsong moved into the college auditorium down the street two years ago. We crossed paths again at a Solidarity event, but that was about the extent of our interactions.

So after reconnecting, we sat down for lunch together. As soon as we got our food, I felt led to ask him about the long-distance relationship between our two churches. Was there any desire/expectation from him that we would be partnering in anything? I knew I hadn't initiated from my end.

Before he could answer, I admitted to him that Epic had just spent the last three years working so hard on having an identity, working so hard just to feel OK being Epic [and not Newsong, or Evergreen, or Mosaic] that quite frankly, I felt threatened that any partnership with Newsong might eat into that hard work. That's terrible, I know, but also very real. I felt bad about it, but that was the honest truth. Brian went on to share how on the flip side he was gun shy to initiate because of his experience with others when he did try to extend a hand. To others he told me, he couldn't just be Brian from Newsong NOC. He was always Brian from NEWSONG, as if there was a big behemoth behind him. I told him I needed to repent because that's the way I responded to him. He went on to tell me how much he admired Epic and what we were doing, which really meant a lot to me.

All I can say is that something happened at that lunch, I know for me, and I think for him. Something healing. Something good. I had found a kindred spirit.

Later that evening, after dinner, we hung out with two other guys from the conference at a cigar lounge in town (can I say that?). On the way over, I got to hear more of Brian's story, about his growing up in the 'hood, about his family, about his brokenness, about his way back to God, about his heart for people, hurting people, and his commitment to justice. I realized how much we shared similar experiences, similar hopes, similar values, similar perspectives. Plus he was just flat out a hilarious guy and fun to be with.

By the end of our time in Dallas, I half-jokingly told the rest of the group that Brian was my new best friend. Half-jokingly, of course, because I knew it was mostly true. God had done a healing in my heart. I knew that God might do something in our friendship and in our churches in our little corner of Fullerton.

All of this happened, I realize, because Brian and I shared not about our successes, but about our failures and struggles and doubts. It happened because we were able to get past assumptions to the real people we are. It happened, I realized, just the way I imagined it could when I put my foot in my mouth at the first session.

This past week, I rejoiced in knowing that part of the wonder of the Tony Campolo event was the event itself, this is obvious. But probably not so obviously, was the backstory of what happened a few weeks earlier that made it all possible. Thanks to Brian. Thanks to God.

[Thanks also to Leadership Network, the L2 Foundation, and DJ Chuang for a wonderful time in wasn't so bad after all =) It was great...appreciate you including me!]

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Yosemite Vacation

In mid-June, we took our summer vacation to Yosemite. It was our first trip ever to the Valley without our regular camping companions The Wong's, but they are expecting in September (so I don't blame them). It was nice since the kids got out of school a week earlier than most kids, and it was noticeably less crowded, the weather milder, the waterfalls full. We hadn't been here in four years, and with the kids that much older, they were able to help with the tents, hike on their own, ride their bikes, swim, and roast their own marshmallows. We spent the week enjoying being a family after a long school year, and for me, my reprieve before going "solo pastor" with Erin starting his well-deserved sabbatical. The vacation also ended up being just what the doctor ordered. I had been sick for over a month, and still not fully well going into the trip, but it is amazing what plenty of sleep, eating well, fresh air, and a little exercise will do. Of course, all it took was one week back on the job to have a relapse, but the vacation was a pleasant reminder of why we love Yosemite so much.

Evening with Dr. Tony Campolo

Last Sunday was a historic evening of sorts for Epic. We had the privilege of tri-hosting Dr. Tony Campolo for the night who spoke to us not only about God's preferential favor for the poor, but challenging us that God's true liberation is listening to the voices of the poor, of advocating for the poor, of allowing the poor to shape our national agenda because this is where and from whom God truly speaks and is speaking. To give our lives to this is what it means to live in the kingdom. He spoke in his typically animated way with plenty of impassioned spray (I know, I was in the front row!). Dr. Campolo surprised us by closing with his famous but beloved story, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!" which hearkened me back to when I first got introduced to his teaching as a college student in the early 80's. Having Dr. Campolo here on the campus with us was truly an amazing privilege.

The evening was equally celebratory because of the partnership between Newsong NOC, Wilshire Ave. Church, and Epic. I joked during the festivities that I really, really liked the partnership that was forming. Newsong got Tony, fed us, led us in worship, and got the program together, Wilshire Ave provided the facilities and childcare, and Epic? Well, we brought the watermelon!

Seriously, it was a terrific event, and was so fitting for the three churches to join together around the issue of justice and our common love for the City of Fullerton. I love, respect, and enjoy working with my friends pastors Brian Kim of Newsong NOC and Kirk Mackie of WAC. We plan on meeting soon about how to partner further together.

On a side note, I was thrilled to personally meet Dr. Campolo and get a chance to have him sign my book, "A Reasonable Faith" which I first read as a Fuller student in Dr. Ken Fong's class. This is where Campolo writes, "His humanity was the fullest expression of His deity. In Jesus, everything that God is was revealed and everything that a human being is supposed to be was fully realized and both of these were one and the same." When I handed him the book, he said, "Wow, this is an old one!" I told him, "But it's one the best you've ever written, Dr. Campolo."