Confession of a Christian in the United States

Flickr photo: smokingloon

Originally posted on 01.24.13 on reyes-chow.com.

As I scanned my newsfeed this morning, I had another one of those, “No duh, Bruce.” moments.

Yes, I am a Christian.

Yes, I am a citizen of the United States of America.

As a Christian – I believe that we must love and serve one another: the stranger, the enemy, the prisoner, the poor, the outcast, the hungry and the oppressed. And while often falling short, I strive to live this daily – even to the detriment of my own wealth, comfort and station.

As a US Citizen – I believe that each of us has been “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” – even if this belief gives people the right to make choices that are not always in their best interest.

Add this one in the “easy to say, hard to do” file.

Reading story after opinion after post, each tackling important questions around mental health, war, immigration, gun control, abortion, marriage equality or healthcare, I was again reminded that I must hold in tension the commitment to live my Christian faith with the responsibility of being a citizen of the United States of America.

Like I said, “No duh, Bruce.”

This is not a comfortable or simple tension to hold and it would be much much much easier to compartmentalize my world pretending as if the two are always in state of blissful alignment and never in direct conflict. But with our country’s ideologically discourse seemingly at a constant boil, as we debate such complex and passionate issues, it is never a bad idea to remind myself – Bruce, you are first a citizen of the Body of Christ and then a citizen of the United States of America.

When such difficult questions before us as a country, I must constantly commit to being a Christian who happens to be an American and not the other way around. For if I confuse the two, my independent American sensibilities and the pursuit of my own individual rights will too often result in just the opposite being inflicted up those whom my Christian faith calls me to love and serve. If my citizenship trumps my faith, the pursuit of my own life, liberty and happiness will lead directly and indirectly to the death, oppression and despair for the stranger, the enemy, the prisoner, the poor, the outcast, the hungry and the oppressed.

Does this mean that I want the United States to become a theocracy governed by a less than unanimous understanding of the Christian faith, of course not. And are there times when my faith and citizenship align, sure.  The big takeaway for this Christian, who cherishes the opportunities to dialogue about the politics and policies of our country, is that I must be open to solutions to complex issues that might indeed infringe upon my own independence and personal gain so others may thrive. For in the end, our life does not belong to the United States of America, in life and in death, we belong to God.

Woe to me if I confuse the two.

Hope Italiano Lee, Candidate for Vice-Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

In an attempt to help folks get to know the candidates for Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have asked the Moderatorial and Vice-Moderatorial Candidates a few questions. You can find links to all of their responses HERE and you can follow most of the candidates on Twitter HERE. Thanks for taking the time to read their responses and please feel free to share this with friends, leave a comment or ask a question.

CANDIDATE FOR  VICE- MODERATOR w/Robert Austell
Hope Italiano Lee -  Teaching Elder, Peace River Presbytery
WebsiteTwitterFacebookLinkedIn

A snippet from Hopes’s responses in the 2012 Moderatorial Handbook:

There are wonderful moments that every congregation, regardless of size or location, can discover when they look at their neighborhood, their immediate community, and the world right outside their window and realize that they weren’t meant to be just a building, but the church…..and the church has nothing to do with even having a building. God has given us everything we need to be successful in ministry.

Knowing that being Moderator/Vice-Moderator will require a great deal of time and energy from you and your community, why give in this way to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

Having personally encountered the transformative grace of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit we simply cannot contain that Good News. Kirkwood is a church that has experienced that transformation, as ones who were written off by many and thought to be on death’s doorstep having gone through the loss of a long-time pastor, a failed interim, and the hemorrhage of many, many members. In the last two years, we have gone from that place into a place of health, vitality, and growth. So, when we were approached about giving in this way there was no question in the mind of any of the church leadership that as ones who have been met with the radical grace of God that we had an obligation to share such grace as a witness and encouragement to the PC(USA). We see this not just as a sacrifice for me, as the Pastor, my family, or Kirkwood, but for all of us together, as a gift of gratitude to God for the church.

If someone were to ask you, “Why should I bother going to church?” how would you respond?

Living on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I am struck by two things : (1) the incredible blessing and wonder of creation and (2) the phenomenal number of people who feel alone and abandoned. Both of these things lend themselves to the desire to go to church. Human beings need an outlet for expressing thanksgiving. You cannot stand on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and not be overcome with the awesomeness and creativity of the world around you. Who thought such a masterpiece up? Who put in the time and effort to arrange the sand and the waves just so? Church provides a way to begin searching for the answers to such questions and brings to light the extraordinary love of a Creator who not only gives life, but gives it abundantly with such beauty and grace. Through the church, we are given an outlet for praise and thanksgiving. Since we are the retirement capital of the U.S., there are many here who are literally alone in this world. We have found that sometimes the church is the only place where they experience the touch of another human being all week long. Many come because they are alone, but all leave knowing the love of Jesus Christ as it is demonstrated to them by the people of the church. As the weeks go by, those who have come out of curiosity and need, find that they are wanted, adored, and included in the body of Christ and then, in turn, want to share that with others who are lost.

Choose one item of business or issue that will be coming up at General Assembly and share your perspective.

I came to Christ through the ministry of the Beth-El Farmworker’s Mission, a ministry to migrants – some documented, some not. I’m also married to Sung, whose family immigrated to this country from South Korea when he was 2. For these reasons I’m strongly drawn to issues of immigration. Of interest to me is overture 12-02 from Grand Canyon Presbytery. I applaud Grand Canyon for bringing up an overture that was addressed in 2004, but has not seen adequate progress towards justice and ministry with immigrants. It is not enough for us to just make a statement and then walk away without following through. Florida ranks #3 in the country for cases of human trafficking. Some of those cases can be linked to undocumented female farm workers who, run a high risk of sexual abuse, unable to defend themselves for fear of losing their jobs or possible deportation. As a working mother, I cannot stand by and let other mothers have to make the choice between their dignity and their ability to feed their children. As a confessing Christian, I cannot close my eyes to the struggles of these families who work so very hard to give their children a better life. One of the issues that many of us don’t realize is that the average farmworker, is not likely to be able to cover childcare in addition to basic necessities of a family. This means children are often left to their own devices. The church can meet this need…regardless of language, political stance, or cultural barriers.

What are a few things that most people would never guess about you: interests, adventures or . . .?

I met my husband at the PC(USA) Y2K event in Indianapolis. Two months later, we ran into each other again when we were both called upon to serve on the Montreat Youth Conference Planning Teams. Even though we’d gone through the ordination process at the same time, in the same presbytery, we’d never met each other. Although we’ve been married 10 years, we still look back at our wedding day as a “theme wedding”, a collision between our Presbyterian heritage and a gathering of the United Nations. Our wedding was officiated by Sygnman Rhee, Roger Nishioka, and Jim Simpson (a Scottish pastor who ran through the terminal at BWI in full kilt to be on time for the wedding). Our bridal party was made up of people from 10 different nationalities, coming together from 7 different states. The rehearsal dinner was at a traditional Korean restaurant and the reception featured authentic Maryland cuisine. It was complete chaos, but so much fun. Since then we’ve had two children and we’ve learned that unlike many of our friends who have no idea what their children will look like, we can be certain that with our mix of Korean/Italian/Native American that our children will always have dark, dark hair, brown eyes, and a wonderful skin tone! As a family, our most favorite place to vacation is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire – this is because of the fresh air, the open space, and extremely limited cell phone coverage!

WILD CARD: Answer any question you want, one that someone has yet to ask or choose from some that have been asked here: http://bit.ly/KwiN07

Duncan M. asked, “I’m curious about the practical ministry experience of the candidates … How is your church doing in being/becoming a vital expression of the gospel in the context in which you serve?…”

Kirkwood has gone from being irrelevant to our community to being completely vital. There are many in our surrounding neighborhoods who depend on us to be there and count on us to be a part of the larger community. This radical transformation has happened in the last two years. We took a long, hard look at how the community saw us and realized that if our building was leveled, no one would even notice. So, we changed our whole vision for the church and we literally walked the streets around us, talking to families and individuals, companies, non-profits, and schools, and asking them about their needs. And we talked to our members about their perceived identity as a congregation. The end result was a brand new vision plan that the whole communal life of our church is centered around. Every ministry team considers the Gospel value of any activities that they are looking at before they are launched. Now, we are the first call that many schools, businesses, non-profit s, and neighbors make when they are looking to impact and effect change in our area of West Bradenton. We have launched a third service which is comprised mostly of the un-churched and we now know almost all of our neighbors by name – because they come to worship and other ministries.

Thanks again to all of the candidates for being part of this process. While we obviously hold all of the candidates in prayer throughout this process, please be sure to pray for their communities of service, their families and all who are supporting them during this time.

For all of the candidates’ links and responses click HERE or go directly to the individual responses: Robert and HopeNeal and TaraSusan andJamesRandy and Shamaine


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