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By Diana Kim

Photo by K-Screen Shots

As I drive around, I notice more and more bumper stickers and car ornaments that have me cringe: flags that say “F*$& Biden” or have a blue stripe on an American flag representing “Blue Lives Matter,” ”Trump 2024” bumper stickers, and window decorations that spell out in caricatures “My Right to Bear Arms.” For a split second I think, “What if I tore up that flag?” or “What if I ripped off or scratched out that sticker?” But then I remember that it is our American right to post and say whatever we think or believe – freedom of speech constituted by the First Amendment. 

While we have freedom – freedom to decorate our cars however we want, to say whatever we want – this freedom has been warped. We justify targeting, hurting, and attacking those who have a different opinion as an act of free speech. We justify being vulgar and crude, hostile and aggressive towards others with our ability to exercise freedom of speech. Misogynists justify saying degrading things about women as free speech. Xenophobes justify hateful remarks against immigrants as free speech. Racists justify claims for segregation as free speech. Hate speech / violent speech is accepted because of this freedom. Laws are in place so that civility can exist, and yet the laws are manipulated to justify incivility. What we do in the name of freedom has become uncivil.

How can we justify hurting, degrading, dismissing, and oppressing others as an exercise of freedom? When freedom is exercised to limit another person’s freedom, is that true freedom? Violence – in word and deed – has become so normalized that we don’t even flinch when people are harassed or attacked. The internet has countless forums where anonymous individuals spew hate-talk: men declare themselves to be the superior gender and demand that feminists kill themselves, white supremacists freely articulate that non-whites are beneath them and should go back to where they came from, gun enthusiasts claim that victims of gun violence deserve to die because they are weak. They hide behind a screen and utilize their anonymity to express all this hate as a means of exercising freedom of speech. 

Is this an act of civility?

We live in a world where incivility is normalized, nay justified, by the exercising of basic human rights. 

Diana Kim is a pastor of a local Korean church in Torrance, CA. Her primary goals in serving are to teach and equip the next generation to be passionate for Jesus and to live out His passion and care for the world. Diana is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary and is majoring in Christian Ethics. Her current research area of interest is Asian American feminist ethics.

By Wendy Choy-Chan

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

I have had someone claiming they wanted to “speak the truth in love” to me. Yet, their “truth” was some rules that they demanded me to follow, and their “love” was conditioned on me submitting to them and their rules. I experienced no truth or love from them. 

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By Emi Iwanaga

Photo by Greg Dunlap

“From the time you were very little,

you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling,

people who have talked you into talking,

sung you into singing,

loved you into loving.”

—Mr. Rogers

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By Tina Teng-Henson

Photo by ~jar{}

To be honest, I sometimes find it difficult to speak my mind, truthfully, honestly, living where I do in northern California. When we moved here about 10 years ago, I wondered, are people just more superficially “nice” or more concerned with being politically correct – that they seem never to disagree with me? Or I hypothesized to myself that the region seemed to be so shaped by a counseling-informed culture of active listening that people I interacted with seemed to only reflect back what they first heard me say. Everyone basically agreed with me, everywhere I went. 

This was strange, coming from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I had gone to Harvard College and stayed on for several more years on staff with InterVarsity. Opinions, perspectives, viewpoints varied – widely, constantly – and it was perfectly fine to have one’s own opinion. In fact, to disagree with others was so normative, it was expected! To think critically was how we all operated. It was how we came up with the best solutions to the common problems we all faced. It was how we problem-solved our ways into accord and into common cause. How did I end up in this very non-judgmental, almost uncomfortably civil context? And how would I survive? 

Ten years later, I’m glad for all that I’ve learned here in northern California about how to get along with other people. My husband would probably say that some of my rough edges coming out of growing up in New York needed some polishing after getting sharpened over a decade in Cambridge. But it’s funny. I met a friend at a park in my city a few weeks ago – and after a brief conversation, we realized: we’re both from the northeast. No wonder we get each other. There’s common ground we share in our straightforwardness, willingness to be vulnerable and desire to simply say what we think! 

How refreshing it is to have someone tell you what they really think – even when it isn’t what you might expect! “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips!” as it says in Proverbs 24:26.  It’s refreshing; it’s intimate. It awakens greater freedom to speak my mind and share my heart. 

This makes me think of an Advent lectionary passage I wove into a sermon a few years back in which, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). I would love to see both those actions enacted more in daily life. 

I’ll confess that my favorite movie genre, which my husband rarely seems up for (it’s okay, I still love him), is a fun romantic comedy. Some of my favorite moments as a pastor have been watching two people fall in love over the course of time and helping them get married! I just officiated a post-Covid in-person wedding celebration this past weekend of two friends who met through us. Honestly, God matchmade them – but we were so privileged to watch it unfold. 

All that said, why is it that sometimes in our closest relationships, we get away with being the most uncivil? I would never hang up the phone on a friend or colleague… but I will confess to hanging up on my dear husband in a fit of rage. 

Yet, much as I hate to admit that I do have my fits of rage, God in his graciousness allows my anger to surface my true feelings, my most honest thoughts – and John in his graciousness, hears me. He pays attention. He draws near. And he honestly answers me with his deepest thoughts, his reflections. An honest answer becomes a kiss on the lips. Love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss. 

In closing, I leave you with a closing thought from the Apostle Paul:

23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 

2 Timothy 2:23-26

This seems to be quite a direct way to tell us how to be civil, how to be gentle even when instructing others, and how to resist the enemy, who frankly loves to exploit every difference between us. These past few years have been exceedingly difficult and trying on families, churches, and communities all over this country and our world. In so many ways, I call us to look to the Lord, our God of grace and truth, to be the first and final word. Oh, how he loves us. How much he desires to guide and direct us. How much he forgives us. May we do the same, speaking truth to others, honestly, lovingly, bravely. 

Tina Teng-Henson is a wife and a mother, a minister and a friend. She is beginning spiritual direction training this fall and hopes to work on a DMin in a year’s time to process the last decade of church ministry in the Bay Area. She welcomes one-on-one conversations and opportunities to be in the word of God and to pray.

By Jerrica KF Ching

Photo by Allison Wildman

Until recently, I would never consider myself someone who liked being outdoors.  For the majority of my life, despite being born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and living there until I was twenty-two, I loved being indoors.  I moved to Oregon in 2014 and continued my appreciation for staying inside, give or take a few drives out to the coastline to spend time on beaches that were vastly different than the ones in Hawaii.  Occasionally there would be a hike or two I’d go on with my friends.  But if you asked me if I wanted to do something indoors or outdoors, I would almost undoubtedly choose something inside away from the elements.

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By Melanie Mar Chow

Photo by Cindy Shebley

“They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 

(I Tim. 6:18-19)

As a young Christian, I remember the following lyrics of the song, He’s Everything to Me:.

In the stars His handiwork I see,

On the wind, He speaks with majesty,

Though he ruleth over land and sea, what is that to me?

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By Angela Ryo

Photo by Loco Steve

One of my favorite seminary professors is an Old Testament professor, Dr. Hiebert, who loves the earth. Until I took his class in the first year of seminary, the relationship I had with God’s creation was based on Genesis 1:28 (NRSV): “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” We were created to have “dominion” over the earth and that meant we could do with it as we pleased. The original Hebrew verb that gets translated as “have dominion” in Gen. 1:28 is “radah,” which is often used in the context of ruling over enemies in the Old Testament.

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By Ajung Sojwal

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Two years ago, coming to terms with the situation of what I imagined house arrest might be like, I proceeded to convert one of the rooms in our house to become my office. I hung my prized print of He Qi’s Crucifixion #1 on the wall directly opposite my desk. As I write this, I see my cheap print of the magnificent painting with the folks crowding around the foot of Jesus’ cross. Every single person at the scene of the crucifixion seems desperate for something from Jesus; there’s even a prison cell floating behind the cross, with, of course, someone looking from behind the bars. Not a moment of peace even in his dying hours for one whose birth was announced with, “peace be with you.” With that frozen scene of violence before me I wonder what peacemaking means for me these days.

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By Casey Iwanaga

Photo by sammydavisdog

Peace

God is not an angry God 

He can be an angry father, a just disciplinary, a vengeful God

He doesn’t hold grudges or point fingers 

When we are angry He waits; 

waits for us to find peace within ourselves, 

waits until we want Him in our lives 

waits until we can be at peace with his will 

Peace comes when we can be okay with change and God’s involvement 

Not an automatic response from sinners who want their freewill and control 

The cost of freewill is God not in our lives 

The prize of God’s involvement in our lives is peace 

Each person gets to decide what they want more 

Regardless everyone ends up chasing that feeling; peace 

Peace can be costly or completely free 

Casey Iwanaga is a junior at the University of California in Merced. Her father is a retired pastor currently serving as Chairman of the OMS Holiness Churches.

By Sarah D. Park

Photo by Marianna Smiley on Unsplash

A few months ago, I experienced a conflict with a longtime friend, someone who I never doubted would always be a part of my life. We’ve had misunderstandings and disagreements before, but in this situation, for the first time, we could not talk our way through it. Instead, we took time apart from each other. For months, I walked around as if I had a hole in my body, my heart grasping at the empty space my friend had once occupied. I’d compulsively press upon the experience like a large discolored bruise, just to feel the ache again, confounded by a persisting “How could we get here?” Something so sure had shattered and my understanding of making peace had to change.

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