Steamed pork, wild sesame, cross-cultural preaching, and the Illuminati

My first blog of 2018. I’m really good at blogging. If you’re looking for an example, look no further. For those interested I’m listening to Lauren Daigle’s new album, Look Up Child, as I write this. I know nothing about her other than she apparently reemerged on the music scene recently and sounds a bit like Adele, and I think I read somewhere she’s a Christian. I peruse Amazon’s streaming music selection to see what I can listen to on my Prime membership and she was front and center featured. So far her music seems to carry meaningful themes, and she’s clearly an amazing singer, but it’s just not my jam. I’m from the bluegrass state, I’m minimalist in my music taste, just rednecks who’ve tied strings to a shovel to pluck at and sing with accents that nobody outside a 100 mile radius can understand suits me just fine. But I also really like trying new things, so I’m content for now. 

I’m rounding the corner to three-and-a-half years living as an American expat in South Korea. I don’t know that I’d say I have more to say than non-expats or those with otherwise “normal” lives, but I would say that living abroad provides a friction that makes you notice your life differently, and perhaps more, than those who do not. It’s like the difference between driving normally inside a car, and being tied behind the car with a rope and dragged on your hind parts. Both are traveling, but one is experiencing it….more, you might say. It’s not really that bad, but working cross-culturally is no joke. Sometimes it’s the challenge I signed up for, and I embrace it. Sometimes it’s the challenge that has been thrust upon me and I question everything. Often both are happening at the same time.

In many ways I’m enjoying life to its fullest. My wife and I live and work on the same campus. We’re both doing what we went to graduate school to do. We love foreign food and experiences. We really enjoy movies and Korea boasts some of the most innovative theater tech in the world. Last Friday we saw Crimes of Grindelwald at a ScreenX theater where the movie will get projected all the way around the walls of the theater during certain high-flying scenes. It was awesome though I was very skeptical when my students recommended it. The movie itself was a disappointment as it seems the narrative is getting a bit unwieldy and simply not making much sense. Hopefully Rowling will recover. I’m also getting a lot more opportunities to preach at international congregations here, and at English services in Korean churches, both of which I feel very honored to do. Last Sunday I preached at an English service in a Korean church. Lots of Cambodian and Thai university students attend as well. I take a lot of joy in communicating across cultures and then getting to have conversations afterwards where I learn a lot about how people think and process, and how we are all learning about faith in so many different ways. After church one of my wife’s colleague’s, his two sons, and a Korean church member went out for bossam, steamed pork, and kalguksu, a chicken and noodle soup. The bossam was covered in garlic and served with many awesome side dishes. The soup had wild sesame in it and had this incredible earthy flavor to it. It was great. 

In other ways the struggle of working everyday before a massive cultural gap, that I will never cross even if I master the language and get a visa that allowed me to vote, wears me down. My work involves Bible education and Christian spiritual formation. Just this week my seniors are in mental recovery after they have taken the Korean SAT, which is the closest thing to a god in neo-Confucian Korean secularism that exists. Many lives are sacrificed upon its altar. My units take a turn towards easy street this time of year because many of the near-graduates just can’t be bothered to give a crap about anything other than which university will welcome them into their glorious ranks. I created a new unit on the Ethics of Entertainment, which is aimed at forming a distinctive Christian way of thinking about the creation, consumption and worldview of various entertainment media. It has been quite a popular unit for the most part. Naturally, being in Korea, KPOP culture was considered and I asked what the students had been taught in their churches about how to engage culture. To my dismay a good number of them had been told that the Illuminati uses KPOP to control the masses and that that was why they should not listen to it. I paused, looked them each directly in the eye, and told them in no uncertain terms, that that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, and that it was no wonder youth are fleeing the churches in masses. I’m certainly no fan of KPOP. It’s shallow and empty like so much of pop culture around the world. But Christian leaders need to do much better than conspiracy theories and fear tactics to steer their youth in a wholesome and holy direction. My students were offended I disrespected their pastors, yet another great cultural error that will go against my permanent record, God and Confucius forgive me. It’s not all churches or pastors here, and it’s most definitely not just a problem in churches on this peninsula, but lazy thinking with absolutely no nuance is killing the church, and is pastoral malpractice in my opinion. This is but one example in my developing story here, and only the latest, surely not to be the last. 

Well, there’s my mental vomit for now. Daigle just started singing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus to me, the second to last song on this album. Her stock is rising in my music market. In many ways it’s an appropriate prophetic word to me in this season (and any season really). I can be a bit of a Puddleglum, and I need more Jesus at every turn. Whoever you are, I hope you found something I wrote useful and I wish you well. 

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