Sunday, December 19, 2010
What Christmas is All About
By Jim Liebelt
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
One of my favorite Christmas television specials of all-time is A Charlie Brown Christmas. In the cartoon, Charlie Brown wrestles with the true meaning of Christmas in the midst of a world that seems overloaded with commercialism. First appearing in 1965, the issues Charlie Brown grapples with ring just as true today as they did over 40 years ago.
In one scene, Charlie Brown is so frustrated, he yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” To answer, Charlie’s friend Linus steps out onto the auditorium stage and recites the Christmas story straight from the Gospel of Luke. It seems so simple. Yet today, many people celebrate the holiday for a lot of reasons, and some have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, like family traditions, a day off from work, a time of gift-giving, Santa Claus, parties, and so on. Commercialism and materialism is a part of the fabric of Christmas celebrations in our society. It’s easy to forget that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
Jesus, to Thee be
all glory given;
Son of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord.
(from O Come, All Ye Faithful)
Make this one of your best Christmases by choosing to make the birth of Jesus the primary motivation for your celebrations.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
A few weeks ago I went to a high school career fair for Asian American students. During one of my interactions I was explaining to a parent and child what social workers do and all the arenas that social workers are involved in. At the conclusion of this conversation the father says to me, "We have engineers in the world. Social workers are just a waste of resources." When I shared this story with people in my life who have a good grasp of what social work is, they all said, "How ignorant!"
Being ignorant isn't always a bad thing. It just means that there's more to learn and we don't know everything yet. I must say that there is a difference between ignorance by choice and simply being ignorant because of a lack of awareness.
Currently, I'm interning at a counseling program at an agency. Most of what I've gotten to do is marriage and family therapy. It's amazing to getting to learn more about human nature and in particular, the nature of intimate relationships. Amidst my experiences I asked someone close to me what they thought about counseling and therapy in general. This person responded by saying that counseling is good and all but it works for some people and not for others. In fact, this person didn't believe it would work for him. I found this person's response curious because the haunch that I had is that his perspective about counseling is very problem-based. Asking for help would be a sign of weakness and surely there are no problems big enough in this person's life that would warrant professional intervention at a mental health level.
I believe this sentiment to be true across many Asian American minds. Seeking help for mental health is definitely the opposite of "saving face".
Previously, a family friend was telling me about mental health concerns regarding her child. Her child was seeking counseling and had been seeing a therapist for several years. This family friend denied observing improvements in her child and couldn't wrap her head around why it was beneficial for her child to see a therapist. She talked to her child everyday and her child poured out her problems to her. In this experience she felt very strongly about her ability to counsel her child rather than a professional. In fact, she felt more qualified than the professional to provide counseling to her child.
Initially I responded very professionally, as an advcoate of counseling. I said that the difference between a counselor and a family member is that with a counselor, he or she can be objective. Her child has no obligation to please the counselor or do or say things that she thinks the counselor wants to hear. Additionally, she doesn't have to consider that what she says will significantly worry the counselor (excluding harm to self or others of course). A parent has a certain responsibility for the child and a level of worry that comes with that role. A child is aware of this position and I would dare to say that certain things are omitted from any unofficial counseling that is done in a parent-child relationship. Generally, there are things that children don't tell their parents and even less information is divulged if it's known the parent will worry excessively or suffocatingly try to solve the child's issues.
After sharing my little blurb I could see in this family friend's face that she was not buying a word I said. So I stepped back and thought about what was going on in this interaction. It wasn't so much that she didn't believe in therapy but the thing she seemed to be stuck on was the stigma associated with counseling. She could obviously see that the help she was offering her child wasn't working and her child was continually going back to wanting counseling. Something about counseling was holding her back from accepting her child's wishes. When I came to that epiphany, I asked the friend if she felt like counseling is for people who are crazy. On that note something connecting for her. In a roundabout way she affirmed my inquiry.
I proceeded in another direction. When we're physically unwell, we go to the doctor for a remedy to help us function better. This practice is accepted. Your body is sick, you get help from a professional to assist you in getting better if what you're doing on your own isn't working. Likewise when your state of mind is unwell, we can also seek a remedy to help us function better. It sounds bad but when your mind is sick, you get help from a professional.
I believe that the stigma associated with mental health has historical roots and has many cultural underpinnings. Think about what society did with people who were "insane" in the past. We didn't understand mental illness so we locked people away. Given, many individuals who were institutionalized were pretty low functioning. It might be difficult to think about but depression is a mental illness. How many of us know someone who has exprienced depression? We've all seen the commercials right? Those commercials that talk about how depression affects everyone.
Think about it this way, mental health professionals are merely specialists that offer help when the mind is unwell. We go to cardiologists for heart problems, opthamologists for eye problems, so why not social workers or psychologists for mind problems?
A new thought that I'm learning about is the impact of culture on the diagnosis of mental illness. One of the concepts out there is that the U.S. is a mental illness imperialist. Western society is taking the western way of considering mental illness to countries where the perspective is different. This is an entirely different conversation for another time when I've gathered my thoughts about it.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A quote that describes me as a blogger and why I struggle to post more frequently:
"Epiphanies cannot be scheduled, but they can be invited."- Mary Pipher
I have many random thoughts while I'm driving and in recent weeks my random thoughts have been related to driving. The days that I'm more speed conscious (aka going the speed limit) I find that everyone else on the road has places to go and people to see so they speed past me or my favorite-- tailgate. On the days that the speed demon comes out I find that I am the only one that has a place to go and the car in front of me is going a snail's pace and the cars next to me are going the exact same speed as me which leaves me no room for escape.
The epiphany came when I was at a stop sign. There was a particularly nice, swift-looking car behind me for some time. With the dozen of stop signs leading to my route home, this vehicle was surely growing antsy with my 35 mph driving. The moment the road diverged into two lanes, Mr. Fancy car road-skid speedily past me leaving my little Honda coughing in its exhaust. In that moment I thought, "why are we so impatient?"
I blame the world for impatience. 100 years ago who would have thought about high speed internet or being able to call someone from a mobile phone? The concept of being able to FedEx something makes it easy for the procrastinator. You can email someone these days instead of having a letter sent by horse drawn carriage. You can tweet something and the world wide web will immediately know your thought.
I blame myself for letting the world lose its love. The place we live has gone from a culture of collectivism to individualism.
When I get cut off while driving I automatically shake my fist at the car as if its driver has wronged me. I can't remember the last time I gave that driver the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his mother is in the hospital. Perhaps she left the hair straightener on in her house. It's possible he got in a fight with his wife. What if she was late for her son's court trial?
A definition of love I heard in a recent sermon is, giving the benefit of the doubt. When you love someone, you want to give him or her the benefit of the doubt. But really, what an unnatural reaction that would be. In our impatience it is easy to blame, it is easy to think that we are justified. To that end are we just being selfish? How do we begin to think interpersonal rather than individualistic?
"Love is patient, love is kind." 1 Corinthians 13:4
Lets remember how to love again, be patient, and leave a little margin of time between places we need to get to so that we don't get caught in the web of impatience.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
There are a few reasons why I decided to intern in Hong Kong this summer. One of the academic and professional reasons is to be able to have a comparison between social services in the States versus Hong Kong which I’ve always thought of as an East meets West type of place. Along with that reason is my desire to better understand how the role of social workers in Hong Kong differs from the States. Another reason is to explore my cultural identity and how it will impact my work as a social worker in the future.
All of those things I mentioned above I am certainly learning about. Ironically, the thing that I’m learning the most about that wasn’t even really on my radar is my identity as a Christ follower. During my first week of work I asked a social worker at my agency whether or not lots of social workers in Hong Kong are Christians. The reason I asked this question was because every social worker I had met in Hong Kong up to that point was a Christian. The worker’s response was affirmative and another intern at my agency proceeded to ask whether she was a Christian to which she said yes. Immediately the worker asked if the intern was one and he said no. As the conversation progressed she asked if he had friends that were believers. He said plenty of people are in his program so the worker inquired again why he isn’t one himself. She openly asked how he could not receive Christ if he was surrounded by Christians. After all, wouldn’t he have experienced the Holy Spirit by now?!
The whole time the intern was so calm about this conversation. He didn’t appear offended or closed off to the conversation. None of the worker’s questions seemed imposing to him. Actually, I found the response on both ends really interesting.
I thought it was neat how the worker was so forward with her questions and so blatant in the way that she asked them. It was surprising how well-received this conversation was by the intern. So when I went to supervision, I brought this subject up with my supervisor.
For one thing I’ve never really discussed faith issues with a professor before or even in an academic setting (which is quite ironic because my being in social work has everything to do with my faith). In supervision I talked about how this conversation might have gone differently in the States. I think if the same situation happened at home, the Christian social worker may not have been as forward in her questions and the intern may not have been as open-minded. The attitude would probably be one that implies: what I believe is good for me but what you believe is good for you and we don’t have to believe the same thing.
Involving culture into the mix of this conversation (and by the way she’s not a Christian), my supervisor discussed Chinese culture. Generally, when Chinese people experience good, they want others to experience it as well. In fact, it’s not just that they want the other person to experience good but they want the others to experience good in just the same way. By comparison, I find that the continually emerging postmodern culture of the U.S. promotes a very relative attitude. What’s good for you is good for you but what’s good for me is good for me.
I think that as believers we can’t be the American way. Maybe I’m a really culturally traditional person or maybe I just want to accept the idea of it but I really buy into the thought that what we have as believers we should want others to have and experience that good in the same way that we do. I don’t mean that in an imposing way but I do think that we can be a little more excited and free about sharing the goodness in our lives.
This could be relevant to non-faith related issues as well. I don’t think it’s necessary to be so relative in certain circumstances. Sometimes it seems to create this atmosphere of caution and fear of offending people. On the flip side I can see that someone who isn’t as relative may be seen as narrow minded. As long as I don’t get beat up, offending someone isn’t so bad, right?
Thursday, April 08, 2010
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings everyday
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Last weekend I had the privilege of being a mentor for a youth conference called Peace Jam. The way that I've been describing the conference to people is that it's a global justice conference for youth. Throughout the year, youth that attend the conference have been developing peace-promoting projects in their communities. Some of the issues the youth focused on were things like Invisible Children screenings, integrated school lunches, raising awareness about child abuse prevention, homelessness, and many other topics related to social justice.
What was really neat about the conference is that the youth get to meet a real life Nobel Peace Prize winner! This years laureate was Shirin Ebadi who has spent her life fighting for human rights (particularly women, children, and refugees) and democracy. I was a total fan girl and took a picture with her.
Not only was the conference inspiring because Shirin flew half way around the world to attend a conference amidst persecution but the insight and selflessness the youth demonstrated really amazed me. It made an impact on me to hear about the desire that the group of high school students I got to facilitate had regarding social issues such as human trafficking and wanting to create change in the world. Some of these students have faced some pretty tough situations from death of family members and friends to enduring abuse from loved ones. It was quite impressive that despite the difficulties they encountered in life, these students were able to look beyond themselves for the greater good of humanity. In retrospect, I certainly was not that globally, socially, or others-minded as a 15 year old.
Many thoughts circulated in my mind throughout the conference and I really picked at the idea of peace and what it means. As I contemplated that surrounded by the sound of bickering teens I listened in on this conversation between a teenage boy and this guy that had tattoos all over his arm. The student asked the guy what his tattoos meant. He had some writing on this arm in German which had something to do with the Holocaust. Then I noticed a white rose on his arm and asked him if that was symbolic of the White Rose Society and he said that it was. If you know me then you know that the issue of getting a tattoo is a sore spot which I wont go into. However, in that moment I really appreciated that he tattooed a white rose on his arm. What I found refreshing about his tattoo was the fact that it didn't draw attention to him per se but to something greater than himself. I don't always feel that the power of a tattoo is used for that intention. For that reason I can respect that that guy I talked to had a tattoo and it was especially relevant since Peace Jam was about nonviolence and the White Rose represents nonviolence as well.
"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Went on a retreat with my church last week and had some reflections about the experience. On Sunday we contemplated this verse:
"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." 1 Corinthians 16:13
A reflection on the verse I've been thinking about:
Be strong...strengthen my commitments
*Everyday is a celebration of our relationship with God
I read a post about Valentine's Day that impacted my perspective about commitments. Check it out here: Valentine
A while back someone told me that the secret to having a good relationship with anyone is that your commitment to one another continually deepens. I've often thought about what it means to deepen your commitment to someone so that blog post helped me reflect on it a bit. Something that I'm learning is that commitment is about being in celebration of that relationship each and everyday. We shouldn't simply rely on holidays set aside in the calendar to commemorate relationships such as Valentine's day to demonstrate your commitment. The intent of these holidays shouldn't be that they are a day to compensate for every other day you haven't celebrated the relationship. That translates to our relationship with God. What makes the relationship fulfilling is that we're deepening our relationship with Him each and everyday, praising and celebrating how amazing life is with him instead of relying on times like Christmas and Easter to "make up" for all the moments we've neglected to rejoice in the relationship.
I wonder if this idea is related to the issue surrounding why women generally like to be pursued in relationships. Women are relational beings. By that I mean that quality of relationships are often more important than the quantity of relationships. A big part of relationships is commitment. If commitment is demonstrating how valuable a relationship is to someone by behaving that way on a daily basis then "the pursuit" is part of the journey to commitment. It sounds like I'm referring to romantic relationships but even in friendships pursing each other is important. Who doesn't want to be celebrated?
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
For a really long time, my blog was titled a really random name from the old school cartoon on Nickalodeon, Doug. Now Joey is no more.
I've been thinking about changing the name for a while and the season of Lent got me thinking about it again. What stirred the decision was considering how the "Christian year" is divided into the seasons of Lent, Easter, Ordinary days, Advent, and Christmas. The church I use to go to got me reflecting about the ordinary days. They appear to be the most understated times of the year but just as critical as the rest. As a result, I've decided to revamp this old blog.
Since I returned to school this past fall, lots of thoughts have been flying through my head and that's kind of where they've stayed. The unfortunate piece about that is that there have been many things I've been processing and some of the other blogs I follow have planted a seed in me to write.
As this new season of blogging falls into Lent, I've decided to talk about it. This past week, I went through a lesson on Lent with my high school discipleship group. I found this terrific idea from RETHINK as I was preparing for the group. As a part of the lesson we created masks. It comes from the idea that masks often hide something. Essentially, we're all hiding behind something that we're ashamed of, dislike about yourselves, afraid that others will see, or what have you. The season of Lent is a time to shed those masks and live as who God created us to be and to understand His forgiveness and His love for us. The activity asked us to put words, images, colors on the outside of the mask that represents how other people see us/how we want others to see us. Then on the inside of the masks we paste words, images etc. that represent our doubts, fears, insecurities and the like. I encourage you to try it sometime. I think it can be a pretty powerful time of self-reflection and awareness.
A passage from the Bible that captures the idea of Lent for me is Galatians 5:19-26
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.What I find true in my life is that the majority of the time the "masks" in my life are there to hide "the acts of the sinful nature" or the calling of my flesh and humanity. Lent is this time of freedom where the covering is sometimes painfully peeled away so that we can live as we're intended to live through the fruit of the Spirit.
Lent isn't just about giving stuff up. It's about untying the things in our lives that allows the Deceptive one a foothold in our lives. It's saying that we will not be mastered by our bodies and that we are capable of choosing to live and be people who are full of "love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." The truth of the matter is, shedding the masks requires all of those characteristics of the fruit.
Friday, December 11, 2009
... That you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:20 (NIV)
The birth of Jesus reflects the truth that love is a choice and a commitment. You choose to love or you choose not to love.
Today we've bought into this myth that love is uncontrollable, that it's something that just happens to us; it's not something we control. In fact, even the language we use implies the uncontrollability of love. We say, "I fell in love," as if love is some kind of a ditch. It's like I'm walking along one day and bam! - I fell in love. I couldn't help myself.
But I have to tell you the truth - that's not love. Love doesn't just happen to you. Love is a choice and it represents a commitment.
There's no doubt about it, attraction is uncontrollable and arousal is uncontrollable. But attraction and arousal are not love. They can lead to love, but they are not love. Love is a choice.
You must choose to love God; he won't force you to love him (Deuteronomy 30:20). You can thumb your nose at God and go a totally different way. You can destroy your life if you choose to do that. God still won't force you to love him. Because he knows love can't be forced.
And this same principle is true about your relationships: you can choose to love others, but God won't force you to love anyone.
Regardless of our religious beliefs, I still think that love is a choice and that 'falling' in love is not a ditch. Rick Warren put that statement in humorous yet poignant terms.
Not too long ago I watched the Korean drama, The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. The only caution is to watch it when you have time because it's like Pringles, once you start the fun don't stop. Anyhow, the drama really left an impression with me. There were things that definitely frustrated me about the show. Not just the fact that with most Korean dramas you want to yell at the characters for being so moronic but there were particular elements about love that disturbed me. On the other hand, I found the drama refreshing.
Beyond Coffee Prince's ability to reminisce elements of a youthful love, what I really like about it is the choice that the main characters make to love each other. Unlike many romantic comedies that have a hubbub of drama that ensues before the characters ultimately live happily ever after, this show doesn't simply end at the happily ever after. In fact, after that point in the story, there is a turn of events.
*spoiler alert* Not only do the protagonists in the story choose to love each other but they do so by allowing each other to grow. In fact the male character encourages the female character to grow as a person by letting her go. That, I think, is what love is really all about. This element in the story reminds me of something I read in The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck. I haven't read the entire book but I've skimmed bits and pieces of it. One part of the book had particular influence on me. Basically, the author says that as a therapist one of the things he hears from his clients frequently is that they are in love because they cannot live without the other person. Peck finds this logic to be a misconception and describes it instead as "parasitism, not love. When you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual. There is no choice, no freedom involved in your relationship. It is a matter of necessity rather than love. Love is the free exercise of choice. Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other."
So instead of a cliche love story about two parasites, I liked Coffee Prince a lot because it touches on the idea of love as a choice. Hopefully, that was some food for thought. Now, go watch it!
Friday, August 21, 2009
I've been thinking about time. One time in high school while volunteering in Houston I recall praying before a meal at a homeless shelter. The person that was praying started out that prayer by saying "Thank you God for this day that we will never live again..." That moment has stuck with me for the last seven years.
Everytime I think about that prayer I consider what it means for me to have the chance to live today.
"For everything there is a season and...
for every activity under heaven its time...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;a time for mourning and a time for dancing...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing...
a time for silence and a time for speech."
I was on the phone with my mom today and before we concluded the call she said "okay, goodbye, I love you." It might appear commonplace for a parent to tell their child she loves them but when she said that it caught me off guard. What got to me was the fact that she took the time to tell me that sentiment. When I called her again later in the day I made it a point to tell her I love her because it was important to me that she knew how I feel. In that moment I was grateful that I got the chance to tell her that.
So I thank God for this day that we will never live again.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
so every year i try to think of some practical resolutions to make. this year i felt like i was learning a lot about making space in my life so that my schedule wouldn't be packed back to back with stuff to do. i was reading somewhere about making margins in your life in order to have more time for rest and for God. so i thought to myself it'd be important to make margins in my own life.
have you ever experienced a day that you didn't have anything specific planned to do but you end up doing a million things? there's just some driving force of our cultural that leads us to fill up our lives with time. guess i shal see how this margin resolution works out in 2009.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
"Whose affection do you value more, hers or the others'?"
I just finished reading the children's book Star Girl. There's this interesting flavor to the book that I really enjoyed about it. I'm not much of a reader anymore but I remember when I was a kid, reading was like watching a movie. I could see the images of the characters in my head and I would linger on their every action. When I read children's books now, it's not quite that simple anymore. Children's books make me think.
That quote above was from Star Girl. I really liked that quote. The quote brings back a lot of memories from growing up. Whose affection did I value? Whose affection do I have now? Have they changed?
I think that when we know who to value in life, everything else falls into place because we live for that person's or peoples' affection.