Profound Belonging - Reservoir Church
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We Are Reservoir - 2023

Profound Belonging

Lydia Shiu

Oct 08, 2023

We’ve been in this series called We Are Reservoir for the last five weeks. Trying to share with you all, Who are we? What are we about? And especially, as every organization does, continuing to evolve and trying to figure out each season, what are we trying to be right now? Some of us have been going to this church for 10+ years and many things have changed, including the church name and even the vibe of the church. Some of us have joined in the last few years and religion, Christianity, and our world landscape has changed so much. So we thought it was a good time for us to re-share in this beginning of the new ministry year/ new school year, highlighting a few things about who we are. 

So Who Are We?

Well our Mission, we say at the top of our service every week: We invite everyone to discover the love of God, the joy of living, and the gift of community. 

As for our specific vision for this season in our church, through some visioning process we’ve taken as leaders, members, and staff and the board, in the last few years this is what we’ve come up with:

Reservoir will continue to become the Beloved Community we are called to be.

We wanted to anchor on this phrase “Beloved Community,” a phrase from the Civil Rights era rooted in biblical metaphor for a more just and equitable kin-dom. And we named five particular ways we believe our church is longing to more the Beloved Community. Like, HOW can we be a Beloved Community?

What does that mean? Here’s five ways we came up with:

  • Diverse and anti-racist.
  • Welcoming, and a place of profound belonging. 
  • Radically generous.
  • Empowering wholeness, love, and justice in people and communities, promoting whole life flourishing.
  • Innovating as a church in a post-Christian world, so that our ministry is less dependent on any one gathering but includes many life-giving new ways to experience and be church.

And so in the last five weeks, we’ve taken these five, 

  • Anti-racist.
  • Profound belonging. 
  • Radically generous.
  • Whole life flourishing.
  • Innovating

A bit out of order with week one, Steve talking about the ways in which we have stood on many of our enduring faith traditions and innovate what that looks like in this day and age. 

Week two Steve talked about what it means for us to try to be anti-racist, even as we live in systems drenched in historical racism, how it might look for us to become more and more anti-racist.

Week three Ivy told stories of some radical generosity she’s witness that gave us models and invitation to generosity, a sermon where afterwards I really wanted to print out “New Driver” Please Be Patient” stickers for us all (if you know you know).

And last week we witnessed Steve’s ordination vow renewal and with that an invitation to how our church can experience revitalization and whole life flourishing

And we’re wrapping up this week with our last intentional way we’ve named as to becoming a Beloved community: a church that is welcoming, a place of profound belonging. 

To talk about this, I’d like to read our scripture text from Matthew 12, where Jesus challenges the traditional notions of who belongs, who is important, who matters, uplifting the people out of their imagination of the way things are, into a NEW reality, a new way of being, a radically different system and methodology of belonging.

In light of Indigenous People’s Day I drew our text from the First Nations Version, an indigenous translation of the New Testament. It’s a new, 2021, translation quote,

“birthed out of a desire to provide an English Bible that connects, in a culturally relevant way.”

I share this translation as a way of honoring our topic at hand, Profound Belonging, in that centering contextualized voices in their own culture, they belong, they matter, especially in light of American Christian history. 

The Introduction to the First Nations Versions says this,

“Many of our Native tribes still resonate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonate in the hearts of Native people.” 

So let me read for us:

Matthew 12:46-50 (First Nations Version)

46 While [Jesus who is called] Creator Sets Free (Jesus) was speaking to the people, his mother and brothers were outside wanting to talk with him.

47 Someone noticed and told him, “Your relatives are here, waiting outside to see you.” 

48 “Who are my relatives?” he asked the person who told him.

49 Then he looked around the circle of people, lifted his hands toward his followers, and said, “Here they are! 

50 The ones who walk in the ways of my Father from the spirit-world above are my relatives–my mother, brothers and sisters.” 

“My mother, my brother, my sisters, my siblings. My grandma, my grandpa, my uncle, my aunt, my niece, my nephew.” 

I wonder if we believe that, about us?

What struck me as I began to tackle this topic of radical profound belonging, the first thing that came to my mind unfortunately is how much that wasn’t and hasn’t and isn’t the case in so many of our churches around the world. How faith traditions and churches have specifically excluded people, whole nations and groups of people, on the basis that they were not a certain way. And not just exclude but expel, excommunicate, exiled, eliminated, eradicated, executed in the name of faith and religion. The Christian history has quite a reputation for not implementing profound belonging, or implementing belonging but only if you do it our way, our style, our specific method. 

There are books on Mission, overseas mission, on how to spread the news of Jesus, evangelize, convert and make sure the faith sticks, by eradicating their culture, their primitive ways, their heretical practices. And the GOOD ones of these books on mission, actually tries to get at, how much more effective Christianity sticks if you actually USE their own culture to make it contextual and integrate rather than eradicate. 

In my current faith journey, one of the things that I’m unpacking is the way in which Christianity landed in South Korea and how Christian tradition has at times trumped over Korean traditions. For example, one of the traditions that Christian practices truncated is the tradition of ancestral worship. Now it was based on biblical texts like,

You shall have no other gods before me and all.

And it is a tradition that has been passed through Buddhist cultures, with like incense and all. But lately it’s made me feel disconnected to my ancestors, to my elders, to the dead, that lately, I wondered what it would look like to have a Korean Christian version of ancestral honoring, if such a thing exists. 

What does it mean to belong, to really belong, like family? Well what happens when for example two strangers decide to become family members like getting adopted or married. Well you might live together. Probably eat together a lot. You learn about each other, about each other’s upbringing, background, their worldview. And you try to merge the two different ways of doing things, and adapt to the other’s ways. 

On this Indigenous People’s Day weekend, I think about ways that I have been trying to make Christianity my own personal faith. That’s included decolonizing faith. What does that mean? It means that the Christianity that was through the white European culture lens, I have found sifting through that to find what’s helpful. From which I have very much been formed by John Calvin and Martin Luther and all and beyond that, really contextualizing and translating into and through my own culture has allows my faith to feel just a little closer to home, a little more familial, a little more my culture. 

Here’s what I mean. 

When I first saw this image of Korean Jesus, it felt silly. And then, it felt like Jesus was so close and that Jesus knew my world. I mean look at the windows around us. They are dressed and in the style of that artist’s known dear to heart culture and context. 

Here’s another one. 

Korean Nativity Scene and what I love about this one is that it’s not three wise men or shepherds, it’s her sisters, aunts, and girlfriends and mom friends showing up with food to the labor and delivery room. (Which I’d love for us to do with my pre/k pastor Aubrie going into labor probably next week. Ask me about her mealtrain). The presence of women, Korean women, showing up for Jesus just hits different. 

Last image, not my own cultural context but as an exercise-

How does it feel for you to see Jesus this way? 

Decolonizing my faith doesn’t mean getting rid of everything (which is what we’ll talk about in my Godly Play Spirituality class starting next week). Traditions, practices passed down from others, history helps but at some point you got to ask yourself-

  • Who is Jesus to you?
  • Right now?
  • In your life?
  • What would it mean for Jesus to be your family?
  • What would you share with him?
  • What would you show him from your life?
  • What’s important to you and who you are that you would incorporate Jesus into? 

Lately I’ve been trying out tapping into my own Korean indigenous roots, which just means like really really old raw ways of operating and thinking before democracy, capitalism, and cement came into picture. Not to say those things are bad, I love me a nicely paved cement sidewalk, but have you TRIED trail running?

I don’t know how it came to me, okay probably from comparative religion studies called doing yoga, a practice that’s been central to healing my body from trauma. I tap into Jesus when they say, thinking about a spiritual leader or grounding. And as I’ve been doing lots of yin yoga, which is like the you know the yin yang sign, yin is a bit more passive, feminine energy, I’ve been thinking maybe this is more of that not Jesus the victor energy but Holy Spirit presence and power that you only need to receive and lean into what God is already doing.

And then I realized, hey that yin/yang sign is literally the middle thing in the Korean flag. This way of thinking of energies working together to understand and be, it’s probably already familiar and in my blood. So I’ve started calling in yin spirituality and I’m Christian so it’s a Christian practice. And it’s been really nice to recognize and flow through life with this yin spirituality that’s made me feel both empowered and flow through life with a kind of trust, like the ground holding your up during shivasana or not pressing into your stretch but holding your pose for five minutes for your muscles to just gravity into flexibility and strength. 

For me thinking about Jesus, not as Daily Bread, but daily rice, a daily bowl of rice has been interesting. It’s warmer. It’s cozier. Because of my own affiliations to it. When I’ve practiced the Lord’s supper, communion with Soju or Makgulee (rice wine) and a little bit of rice wrapped in seaweed, I cried. It’s that feel of HOME. That feeling when you’ve been traveling for so long and eating unfamiliar foods and you finally get home and eat home food. 

Jesus was saying this is not just a religion or a system of belief, it’s about belonging. And that’s what we try to mirror in our membership, what it means to belong at our church, isn’t that you confess your faith in some particular way but you just simply say, I belong, I’ll bring some food to our membership meeting potluck. Jesus was like, don’t make this into just laws to follow, let’s be together and be with each other and here, you be my mother. You who are so different from me, let’s be family, let’s belong to one another. We don’t have to agree but let’s eat dimsum together. For me that’s what it’s meant to be family.

Even though this profound belonging is what we’re after, I realize it can be hard still. Many of us are maybe introverts, and have social anxiety. And even though a lot of us are grown ups, it can feel like a high school lunch table situation, where the cool kids hang out here and the remnants awkwardly dispersed. And I want to say to us the same thing I said at a youth group retreat once. My sermon title was, “don’t be cool, be warm.” 

Sometimes we get into analysis paralysis,

“should I do this, do they want me to do this, are they okay with me doing this,”

But I say to you, when you get a thought to text someone something thoughtful or a prayer, do it. Just say yes. When someone shares with you something hard, and you don’t know what to say, just lean into it, and say,

“do you wanna pray, like right now? Can I pray for you?”

When you think of someone struggling through grief or a season of depression or just life hardship, just stop by and drop off a bag of chocolate, or flowers, or fruit. Just say yes. When we talk to each other at church, asking how are you to each other, ask a follow up question to them, “I’m good.” And respond by sharing vulnerably about yourself.

And then say, “what about you?” Be quick to connect people, “Have you met my friend Carol?” And include them into your conversation. Say yes to a thought/idea and start a ministry about something that you’re passionate about, with just one other person, whether it’s about climate change, or farming, dance, or whatever. This is how we create a culture of belonging by ourselves taking risks and vulnerability to lean in. Don’t be cool, be warm. Just say yes to the community as we have been saying.

Because you never know what one extended hand can mean to someone. And that’s what Jesus did over and over again throughout the scriptures. Reaching out to the most unlikely characters. He talked to stuck-up snobby rich folks (Nicademus, Zaaccheaus), called them in, he talked to nobodies and the lame sitting outside of the temple, too unclean to even enter the building, and brought them in. He talked with a lonely woman at the well. And touched lepers when he wasn’t supposed to. 

Like I said in the beginning, sometimes churches weren’t good at being welcoming or inclusive. And at some point because I felt judged or rejected, I had stopped going to church for years. And then one day I went back to church, just cause I was kind of depressed and I wanted something familiar. That day, I heard this story that I want to share with you today at a time when I was feeling especially lost. When I was in a dark place, isolating myself from even the few communities that I had some ties to, and really even from family, not really returning their texts or phone calls because it was too much to explain and come up with a good answer to, “how are you these days?”so I didn’t even stick around after church to do any small talk to lean into community there. And then I heard this story that really broke me open. I reached out to my old pastor for the story he used. The story is from Garrison Keillor, a singer, writer, speaker, about a girl named Lydia. 

“Lydia grew up in the staid Lutheran community of Lake Woebegone.  Lydia tired of it, tired of this narrow, conservative community, so she took off for New Orleans.  There she imbibed (uhm-BIBED) in all the revelry of that city, drinking, partying.  She longed to be precious and valuable to somebody.  She found a boyfriend.  They lived together; their own apartment.  She got a job as a bartender; he got a job laying on the couch watching TV.  She got tired of the parties eventually, and eventually she got tired of him.  All she longed for from that life of freedom didn’t really pan out.  Kind of humiliated, with her tail between her legs, she wrote a check out for a month’s rent for the apartment, slipped it under one of the beer bottles on top of the TV set, and while he was asleep on the couch she slipped out and headed back home to Lake Woebegone.  

She didn’t live with her folks; she found her own place.  She found a job in the local diner, but around town everybody regarded her as the checkered woman.  Everybody knew her story; it was a small town.  Everybody knew she was the girl who had gone off to New Orleans.  Everybody knew the way that she had lived.  She’d see them whispering about her, pointing at her as she walked by on the streets.  She went to her parents for Thanksgiving.  They ate turkey and polished off the pie, and when all the dishes were piled in the sink she made her way out to the living room away from everyone else just for a few minutes of solitude. 

There she found herself standing at the mantle in the house, just looking at the different family knick-knacks that she cherished from her childhood.  She suddenly came across a picture of her.  It was her high school graduation picture.  It was a different time in her life.  She looked so innocent, so clean, so pretty, every hair in place.  Then she noticed the strangest thing on the bottom of that picture in her parent’s house was a little label that had been glued on to the bottom of the frame.  The little label had been typed out on her father’s old Remington typewriter, and it only contained two words: “Our Lydia.”  Instantly she knew what they meant.  I mean how strange to be labeled in one’s own house, and yet Lydia knew the purpose.  Before the world and against all the whispers this was her father’s declaration to everyone who came into the house and knew everything about her.  “This is our Lydia.”  It was the “our” that meant so much.  Those three letters were as jewels to her, each a diamond to say that in this house our Lydia is treasured, she belongs to us.“

Just as this father claimed his own misfit daughter, God claims you God’s own. In God’s House, God has a label under your picture, Our Grace, Our Daniel, Our Matthew, Our Vivienne, Our Sophia, Our Micah, Our Karen … I really want to say all the names but I won’t creep you out any longer by saying your name specifically. God loves you. No matter who you are. What you’ve done. You belong. You belong to us. We love you. That’s the kind of church that I hope Reservoir will be.

Let me pray for us. 

God I’m wondering, what would it mean for each of us to really feel like we belong. Like we are your family and you God are our family. May we walk with you in our days, at our tables, in our homes, in our holiday celebrations, would you show up uniquely in our own tongue, in our own native language whatever that might mean for each of us. Thank you for showing us that you love us and know us through the person and work of Jesus. Would you give us that audacity to be your beloved child, and move through this world, reclaiming the broken, healing the sick, feeding the poor, with your power. And bind us to one another, as relatives, as a Reservoir family, show us how to be that, through your grace we pray in the precious holy name of Jesus, Amen.