Archives for category: asian american

It’s September, yeah, but Asian August forever and ever… 

For someone who is not a fan at all of rom-coms, I thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians — and, apparently, so do well over $100 million worth of other ticket buyers. Mindy Kaling expresses so much of what makes CRA great here and here and here and here and here (for reals, Mindy, use the thread feature!).

However, I found myself identifying more naturally with David Kim, the father character played by John Cho in SearchingAs Director Aneesh Chaganty put it so well in this great live podcast episode of It’s Been A Minute:

In most films with Asian American actors, Aneesh said, “You usually have to explain — what is the Asian hook? Like, why is this family Asian?” But in Searching, he said, “there’s nothing about this film that explains it.”

That an actor of any race could have played the lead, John added, is precisely the point. “The fact that it doesn’t have to be an Asian-American film makes me want to claim it as an Asian-American film,” he said.

Also, key takeaway: No vlogging. Ever.

Semi-spoiler alert: Does that intro rival Up, or what? I sort of wish I had been given an emotional heads-up beforehand!

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On top of all this, having smart, tenacious, faithful, talented Asian American friends who also happen to be authors sharing much-needed insight & guidance? You can read my review of Adrian Pei‘s fantastic book, The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realitieshere.

I’ll post a more robust review soon (hopefully!), but for now I’ll say this: Kathy Khang is the real deal and Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up reflects her authenticity and passion. Particularly in this surreal age in which we live, silence is not an option for people of good faith and good will. As Elie Wiesel says, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

 

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I thought I’d resurrect the old blog for a couple of books written by friends, both of which I highly recommend. Let me start by saying that in The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities, Adrian Pei crafts a compelling vision for leadership that the church needs today.

As an Asian American follower of Christ, I’ve experienced the often-harsh dissonance between the vision for diversity that many churches, organizations, and ministries proclaim on paper and the reality of living out that vision with purpose, love, truth, and grace. Many of us have been burned by the “Benetton ad” effect of organizations seeking only cosmetic diversity (i.e., trying to find “one of each” for a “diverse” group photo, which is then placed on the cover of the next brochure — but nothing actually changes in the culture of that organization). Others have felt the frustration of tokenism, being “given” a seat at the table only to discover that their voice is consistently discounted. And, that’s not to mention the toxic brew of racist microaggressions, blatant discrimination, and backlash for pointing out injustice (e.g., “Why can’t you take a joke?”) that many of us face.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The point is: this is hard work. This is exhausting work.

However, particularly for those of us who believe that a diverse church who reflects the joy and creativity of Jesus is a beautiful, credible witness to our divided, broken world — and that this is a glimpse of the fullness of redemption on the way (Revelation 7:9-10) — this is essential work.

That’s why I’m thankful for Adrian’s voice. The Minority Experience is a thoughtfully-researched, clearly articulated vision of how organizations can take steps to lead change in diversity. His wisdom earned in the trenches of leadership will strengthen any organization that is serious about initiating change around diversity.

I deeply appreciate Adrian’s willingness to display honest vulnerability in sharing his own minority experience. He speaks from his life as an Asian American, but I believe his insights will be relatable to and have implications for people from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

This is definitely one of those books where I have so many bookmarks, margin scribbles, and highlighting marks that it’s almost easier to show what I did not note than what I did. Turning around a big ship can be overwhelming; through The Minority Experience, Adrian helps us chart a new course.

Every once in awhile, my lovely wife and I will bust out our Lord of the Rings special-edition DVDs (no, not Blu-Ray. We’re old-school like that) and immerse ourselves in the epic world of Middle Earth.

Funny timing, then, that we recently finished a viewing right before a set of events unfolded that would remind me that—as much as I’d like to be Aragorn or Gandalf—I’m more like one of the Shire-folk. But there is great honor in learning to fulfill our small part of God’s Kingdom work: after all, some of the greatest Kingdom work is accomplished through the unnoticed and overlooked.

As Galadriel tells Frodo in the midst of his fear:

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future

I am truly thankful for the leadership, tenacity, truth-telling, and grace of leaders (many of whom I’m blessed to call friends) such as Kathy Khang, Helen Lee, Ken Fong, Sam Tsang, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Bruce Reyes-Chow, David Park, and many, many others.

Jesus is recreating a people for Himself from those who are near and far away, from every tribe, nation, culture, ethnicity, and language.

This is our story to tell the world:

A better story of hope, redemption, life, salvation, justice, beauty, and truth in a diverse church that reflects the creativity and joy of Christ.

Recent events have reminded us how far we have to go in that journey, but that there is always hope.

I invite you to join with pastors, doctors, professors, artists, students, missionaries, attorneys, editors, accountants, counselors, moms, dads, and friends and raise your voice and sign this open letter to the church, to commit yourself to racial reconciliation, understanding, and forming a more credible witness to a broken world around us.

As I mentioned, I have felt quite Hobbit-ish in the midst of all these heavyweights. Most days, all I want to do is be the best husband and dad I can be, provide for my family, and live into our calling here in our little corner of the world in San Diego. My role in this story has been quite small, but I know that it is important not to give up—to lift my voice for my family, our church community, for Asian Americans, and for all people so that the world will know how great a Redeemer Jesus is.

I am incredibly thankful for my lovely wife—a profoundly gifted pastor, church leader, wife, mom, and reflection of the humble love of Jesus to the world. In many ways, it was her voice that became a sort of holy tipping point for one particular conversation with our friends from Exponential. As she shared her story, the doors of empathy and understanding opened.

It is no mistake, I think, that God used her voice to speak powerfully to a group consisting mostly of men. Like my friend Eugene, I also support women in all levels of church leadership. I believe this is the faithful reading of Scripture and, from my experience, the story the church needs to share with the broken world around us: God is unleashing His dreams through all of His daughters & sons, just as He promised so long ago.

As this conversation moves forward, I look forward to the unique leadership of brave, godly, and strong women (as well as the voices of my brothers in Christ).

Friends, your voice matters.

If you need to be reminded, I encourage you to read Connie Zhou’s story. Perhaps some of you will see yourself reflected back. Or, even if you are coming from a different place altogether, you will benefit from hearing her voice.

As the Church, may we plant and cultivate communities who are radically committed to loving our actual neighbors with the transforming love of Jesus.

Sigh.

Yesterday, to his Facebook and Twitter streams, Rick Warren posted this update:

Warren

Let me preface this by saying I have, from a distance, lots of respect for Rick Warren. By all accounts, he seems to be a humble, authentic pastor who is investing in the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Rick and his family to re-enter public ministry life after losing their son to suicide and, unimaginably, have some of his enemies even rejoice in that tragedy. I can understand being sensitive to criticism during a time like this.

While ignorance shouldn’t give anyone an automatic free pass, I can even understand how Rick would not understand why this Red Guard propaganda photo is so terrible. I think it’s hard for anyone to know world history for cultures different from themselves Dr. Sam Tsang educates all of us regarding the atrocities the Red Guard has committed [h/t: Kathy Khang].

If Rick took the time even to glance at Dr. Tsang’s article, he would realize the depth of this mistake. 40 million people died in the Great Leap Forward. Countless others were tortured and killed by the Red Guard in ways that I cannot even bring myself to type on this page.

I think what hurts — as a fellow pastor and brother in Christ — is Rick’s response to those who were offended by this post:

People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!

So now anyone who laughed at this joke is a true “disciple” and anyone who was hurt is a “self-righteous” Pharisee.

Wow.

This incident has followed what has become an exhausting, predictable cycle:

  • Incident: Rick posts this photo and status update.
  • Response: People are, rightfully, hurt and offended.
  • Overwhelming backlash: The offender digs in, becoming defensive; supporters come out, claiming that the offended are “not real Christians” who need to “get over it” or “get a sense of humor.”

For many Asian Americans, the daily experience of racism is akin to death by papercut. While many of us have experienced our fair share of blatant racism and discrimination, often it is the compilation of a lifetime of small racist incidents that causes the most damage.  Dr. Sang Hyun Lee explores this damage powerfully in From a Liminal Place.

Perhaps non-Asian American people would have a hard time understanding why “one little joke” could be so hurtful. Consider, for a moment, how many television shows and films rely on Asian stereotypes for cheap laughs (where, more often that not, the whole gag is “Look how funny and stupid that Asian person’s accent sounds!”). Off the top of my head:

  • Arrested Development (which is painful, because that show is filled with clever writers — why should they fall back on lazy stereotypes when they have so much material at their disposal?)
  • Turbo
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Saturday Night Live — particularly awful offenders, having their non-Asian actors practically get up in yellowface several times over the last couple of seasons.
  • Dads — which, apparently, built its entire pilot around the premise of racist (and misogynistic) Asian stereotypes
  • And on and on and on…

As a follower of Jesus, I want my life to count for what matters. I don’t want to get caught up in useless in-fighting, or sidetracked by nonsense. I am fully invested in the church community God to which God has called me — I want to unleash their God-given dreams in order to bless and serve San Diego and the world. We believe God has not given up on the world and that Jesus is calling us to cultivate better expressions of His love & grace to our neighbors.

However, although I am bone-weary over this kind of nonsense, this is a fight worth fighting.

Not for the sake of arguing someone else down, but to show the world that, yes, the church still makes bone-headed mistakes but our Redeeming King makes it possible for His people to see their mistakes, recognize how they’ve hurt others, and attempt to make things right. Jesus actually does change us.

I take Rick Warren at his word when he says he didn’t mean any offense. But that certainly does not excuse his defensiveness or outright dismissal of the many, many people who have been hurt through his actions.

We all have blind spots. I hope — and pray — that Rick sees what has happened and demonstrates true Christian humility. The world needs the better way of reconciliation and shalom that only Christ can provide.

photo 2

Even reading that title brings back painful memories of well-intentioned but, ultimately, misguided friends in my life who have tried to discuss race and ethnicity with me.

In true postmodern style, Bruce Reyes-Chow — who has been known as a pastor, techie, moderator, social media maven, and all-around troublemaker — launched this book through a successful Kickstarter campaign. And, since I pitched in to the Kickstarter (“First!” in old internet comment-speak), I was able to chime in regarding the question:

Why is it important to talk about race?

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I’m looking forward to diving into this book. It can be a difficult conversation all around, but if we’re going to see the future begin, then we’ve got to enter in.

As Scripture says in Revelation 7:9-10, our future looks something like this, with an incredible array of people, languages, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds worshiping Christ:

There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Photo Credit: Nikole Lim

On February 9, 2013, Richard Twiss — Taoyate Obnajin “He Stands with his People” — died, leaving an aching void not only for his family but for the Church, and the world.

My wife and I were only able to spend a little bit of time with Uncle Richard, but his life, ministry, and words left a profound impact on both of our lives. Uncle Richard was not only an advocate for First Nations peoples, but for all people. Though his personal experience with injustice was grievous — abuse of his family members and tribe at the hands of treaty-breaking colonial governments, Christians attempting to stamp out his ethnic and cultural identity all in the name of “Christianizing” him — he chose the path of grace and truth.

In his book One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made YouUncle Richard shares not only about the painful history of and sins committed against First Nations people in North America, but the ways in which God can bring beauty from the ashes of our burned out lives.

As we spoke this weekend about Uncle Richard, my wife described his impact on our lives: He demonstrated what it looked like to live a redemption-life — to celebrate who God made us to be, to see our ethnic and cultural backgrounds as gifts, intricately tied to who we are meant to be in Christ and to be redeemed for His purposes. When Christ invites us to His table, He doesn’t ask us to check our heritage at the door. Instead, He takes our broken lives into His hands, breathes life into them, and sets us free.

The Church is not better when we are all forced into some kind of Stepford homogeneity; we come alive for the glory of God when we represent the incredible, dizzying, difficult, beautiful diversity of the Creator together under the banner of Jesus.

That’s why, even now as Uncle Richard worships the One he so gracefully represented as he walked this earth, we know he’s joined that chorus of the rescued,

A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” – Revelation 7:9-10

You can read more about his lasting impact on many lives here.

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger shares a thoughtful, heartfelt post about Richard’s life and ministry, and how we can carry on his good work. “Victory awaits us all, if we stay on that justice path that Jesus made and which Richard walked so well.”

One of the toughest things to break free from as an Asian American is fear.

Not of spiders or heights, but of failure and what others might think.

When I was younger, I would stay silent most of the time when I would hear racist remarks — even if they were directed at me. As one of the few Asian Americans I knew growing up in the Mitten, it was easier to stay silent and not rock the boat.

Ethnicity is a Gift

After I became a Christian, though, God began to do powerful work to restore my sense of identity in Christ. Our ethnicity is a GIFT, not a burden for which we should apologize nor an inconvenience to brush aside. When Jesus redeems us, He makes us into the people He dreams of us becoming — ethnicity and culture and all.

Speaking out about racism is vital for the Church — which often ignores ethnicity for the sake of growth (see: the homogeneous unit principle) or because it’s uncomfortable (or, in the worst-case scenario, because we’ve already printed the curriculum and why can’t you just get over it already). The Church is meant to be a diverse community where each person counts, where Jesus Himself tears down ancient walls of hatred and division.

Fight the Good Fight

Last night, at my daughter’s school choral concert, the grade levels were performing different Disney songs. The Lion KingTangled… and then Mulan. Each grade was dressed up in clothes that reflected their particular film — animal prints and safari clothing for Lion King, etc.

For the Mulan performance, a Caucasian boy came out in one of those conical hats hats that are often used in stereotyping Asians (for example, in scare-tactic political ads). Now, of course I know that this young man wasn’t trying to be a racist and, to be frank, I wasn’t particularly offended. The choral director for the school is Asian American as well (which, in an of itself doesn’t always make things right. I’m thinking of many people’s excuse of “i have lots of Asian friends and they’re not offended by my racist words/actions.”).

My wife and I work hard to instill in our daughter a sense of confidence about who she is in Christ — including her background as an Asian American. We want her to be empowered to live as a both/and person (as opposed to be neither fully Asian nor accepted as fully American). We want her to be able to shake off the little stuff, but be ready to stand up for what’s right, particularly on behalf of others.

Ninjas, Again. Really?

However, there are times where we must speak up. That’s why I was glad to see there was some positive resolution to a recent discussion about something called Easter Ninja — an online event designed to help churches with their outreach.

Of course, I know that in today’s popular culture — particularly in social media circles — there are gurus, jedis, rockstars and, yes, ninjas around almost every corner. I understand that, in this context, ninja is meant to imply expertise, skill, and a certain amount of I’m with it cachet.

However, as an Asian American, I cringe when I see this kind of branding. Personally, I think of how many times non-Asians have come up to me making karate motions or “Bruce Lee” sounds, pulling back their eyes, etc. For people of color, it’s often not the major blowout racist events (e.g., a Klan rally against you in town) but the compilation of years of microaggressions that causes us to lose heart and grow weary. Like this.

I’m sure the pastor organizing the Easter Ninja event means well — reaching more people for Christ at Easter is a good and worthy goal. I’m sure he did not mean anything racist by branding his event in this manner. I’m thankful for voices like Soong-Chan Rah and Mark DeYmaz who communicated these important issues to the organizer of this event, and that the organizer was open to listening and growing from this discussion.

Moving Forward

All too often, in cases like this, we see the following pattern:

  • Offending incident
  • Response
  • Overwhelming backlash to the response

Learning to listen is absolutely vital. We all have blind spots, we all make mistakes. The question is: How will we grow through these missteps and failures? It’s good to have fruitful discussions after mistakes have been made; it would be even better not to make these kinds of mistakes in the first place. In the big picture of things, this ninja event wasn’t such a huge deal — however, it is important to create positive momentum for future occasions that are a big deal.

Hopefully, as the Church, we will move forward in the hard work of racial reconciliation — not only for Asians or Asian Americans, but for people of all races and ethnicities. If we are to be faithful to God’s calling, we must move forward in unity, celebrating our God-given ethnicities while joining together in worship and mission.