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  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

Luke 10:29 “And who is my neighbor?”

I’ve been meditating on the increasing divisiveness we see in the world around us. For all of human history, people formed groups that fought each other for control of resources. In that context, it’s really important to be able to identify quickly who is a member of your group and who is not.

I recently came across Roger Sperry’s fascinating work on split-brain experiments. After the left and right hemispheres of a brain are severed, one can show different images to each brain (the left eye feeds info to the right brain, and the right eye to the left brain) and the two hemisphere’s can’t communicate with each other. If you ask the person to describe what they just saw, they will describe the input to their left brain because that is where language processing resides. But if you ask the person to draw what they just saw with their left hand, they will draw a different image, the one shown to their right brain (which controls the left hand). What this means is that two different parts of the brain believe that just saw two different images, even though they are part of the same body.

Let me repeat. Two different parts of the brain can believe two different things at the same time, even though they are part of the same body.

Now from a spiritual perspective, what distinguished one group from another historically was what one believed. “I believe in this god, you also believe in this god. So we’re part of the same body. Let’s treat each other well. That guy believes in a different god. He’s not part of our body so let’s treat him less well.” We see a lot of this dynamic in scriptures as well, particularly in the old testament where God wanted to make sure the Israelites were holy (which literally means “set apart”). And while I believe God continues to care about holiness, I also wonder if how holiness manifests is also undergoing a change that started thousands of years ago.

We know that the two most important commandments in all of scripture are to love God with everything you’ve got, and to love your neighbor as yourself. When a religious leader asked Jesus who would qualify as his neighbor, Jesus replied with the parable of the good Samaritan. A man gets robbed and beaten half dead. A priest passes by on the road without helping. A Levite passes by without helping. Then a Samaritan passes by and takes care of the victim at great expense to himself. The first two men are Jews, part of the same group as the man. The Samaritan is part of a hated out-group. (Watch The Chosen to see how hated they actually were.)

Who are we to love? Who are we to treat as extensions of our own body? Who qualifies as a neighbor when you are told to love your neighbor “as yourself?”

I feel Jesus makes it pretty clear here that it has nothing to do with having the same beliefs. God still cares about being set apart, but I wonder if that has more to do sharing love than sharing beliefs. The standard of the world is to love those who are like you, who are part of the same group as you, who believe the same things you do. So to be set apart or holy in today’s context is to depart from the ways of the world and love those who are not like you.

“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”

Lord, there are so many debates out there and I’m so tempted to get involved in so many of them. I believe you celebrate our differences, but are saddened when people feel “othered” because of those differences. Help me to honor others as extensions of my own body, even when are different from me. Thank you for the ultimate example of true love. In your son’s name, Amen.

  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”

So the other day I went to a new salon, and my hairdresser introduced himself as Marlon.

“Hi, I’m John. Nice to meet you.”

Marlon had long curly brown hair, and spoke and dressed in a somewhat effeminate fashion. There’s a lot of that in California, so I didn’t think twice about it. After laying out a roadmap for the haircut, we got to chatting about life, and the conversation turned to my old band, The Ally.

“Where did that name come from?” Marlon asked.

“Well there’s an author named Carlos Castaneda who went to experience drug-induced psychedelic journeys with native Americans in Mexico. One type of spirits he met were called Allies, and they didn’t have a prescriptive way of looking at the world. They didn’t care about morals. Whatever you were trying to do, they would try and help you with that. We wanted our music to help people without judging them, so that’s where the name came from.”

Marlon got really excited by that. He had a masters in spiritual psychology, and had his own fair share of psychedelic experiences that worked into his own music. He shared his dream of incorporating opera into a jazz vocal style and relayed that he was preparing to apply to Juilliard. I know how incredibly difficult it is to get into the program, so despite the background conversations about a more alternative spirituality, I asked Marlon if I could pray for him.

“Oh my yes! I would so love that!!”

Marlon looked up, closed his expectant eyes, and grabbed my shoulders with both his hands. When I pray for strangers, sometimes I’ll lay hands on them, but this was the first time I’ve had one lay hands on me! I prayed protection over his application process and for God’s peace and presence in the midst of it all. As I prayed, I realized that I had been using “he” to describe Marlon in prayer, but it dawned on me that maybe he was transgender. So I started to stumble and pause in my prayer here and there, taking the time to replace male pronouns with Marlon’s name.

“And I thank you for everything you’re doing in his… uh… I mean… in Marlon’s life…”

After I said Amen, I looked up and Marlon was tearing. In a choked up voice he said “I’ve had some terrible, terrible things happen to me in my life. But I believe in God... I do. I believe he’s real. Thank you so much for this.”

He asked me about my spiritual background, and I told Marlon about how I’d also experienced some terrible things in my life. How I’d been bullied, and how it drove me away from church and a relationship with God, but how I’d come back to it all after realizing how much he’s always loved me and pursued me.

“Well I know you’re leaving town, but if you’re ever back I would so love to go to church with you.”

“Oh my goodness I would so love that. Let me get your number!”

So I passed him my phone, and Marlon entered his number and his real name… Marla!

To this day I don’t know if Marla is gay, trans, or just big-boned. But I know that she is beautiful in her own way, and that God loves her very much. I believe in knowing scripture and having a viewpoint on what’s on God’s heart with regards to holiness. But increasingly I’m wondering if loving others manifests more of heaven on earth than debating theology.

Dear Lord, thanks for the opportunity to minister to Marla. These sorts of moments excite me so much. Bless her and show yourself powerfully in her life so she may come to have a deep, intimate relationship with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

John 11:23 “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’”

A couple weeks back I met a really inspiring gentleman named “Ol’ Skool”. After introducing myself I asked him about his story. He replied (and I paraphrase)

“I’m a rapper and back in the day, my group Abstract Mindstate, we were one of the hottest acts in the Chicago Hip Hop scene. I eventually got burnt out being an artist and it didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere. So I went and worked with Kanye as the head of A&R for his record label.

It’s been over a decade that I’ve been working on the business side of the industry. I had no hope whatsoever that I’d ever be an artist again. But then one day out of nowhere, Kanye calls me and tells me we need to bring back Abstract Mindstate. And I say to him ‘you telling me the world needs some forty something year old rappers right now? You crazy!’ And he says to me

‘That’s EXACTLY what the world needs right now. You are going to save lives and inspire hope.’”

Mr West produced and featured on the duo’s record. They’ve produced a documentary about the story that will feature at Sundance and major film festivals around the world. Not to mention the upcoming world tour…

When I heard the story I felt overwhelmed and immediately thought of two men… my dad and Lazarus. See when it seems like there’s no hope, God always has a greater plan.

Lord, thanks for your reminder. Every setback is a setup for greater favor. Your hope… is EXACTLY what the world needs right now. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us as we head towards 2022. In your son’s name, Amen.

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