Archives for category: books

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.

Anyone who has been in full-time vocational ministry in a church setting will know firsthand the knife’s edge of burnout and disillusionment.

In some ways, we respond to God’s call because we are open-hearted to his purposes, but it is that very open-heartedness that can leave us wounded, jaded, and burned out.

I am grateful that God, in His grace and wisdom, opened my eyes to see that pastoral work is about a whole lot more than preaching in front of big crowds very early in my ministry life. It’s certainly not wrong to have big dreams for God; we just need to be careful how we define “big” or “important” in the Kingdom.

One of my most powerful moments of “re-conversion” came as I dug into Scripture and saw God’s passionate heart for justice. Not the flavor-of-the-month activism that fills your social media stream, but the kind God declares in Amos 5:24:

Let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

This awakening to justice breathed new life into my relationship with Jesus and my heart to serve God and others.

The Gospel encompasses personal righteousness, but never at the exclusion of compassion or justice for others. The fullness of God’s Shalom, where Christ rules and reigns as King, leads to the flourishing of all people as God renews all of creation. Followers of Jesus are invited to participate in that mission of restoration and redemption, through our words, actions, relationships, and stewardship.

Way back in 2009, I heard the origin of the One Day’s Wages story at the very first Idea Camp (created, curated & hosted by Charles Lee).  There, I heard Eugene Cho tell the story of how his family, on a very ordinary pastor’s salary, had committed $100,000 toward the fight against global poverty. I marveled as Eugene shared, “We’re not asking people to do anything we’re not willing to do.”

From their very real personal sacrifice and leadership, ODW has become a powerful force for good, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” I am thankful for ODW’s partnership with Justice Ventures International, on whose Advisory Board I serve.

I have eagerly anticipated Eugene’s book, Overrated and, though painful to read at times (because of the level of self-reflection it requires), I highly commend this book to others.

A quick heads-up, though. Eugene is not passing out trophies to everyone just for showing up. He asks himself, and all of us — particularly in this age of celebrity causes and slacktivism — one sharp, insightful question:

Are you more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?

I appreciated Eugene’s pastoral reflection on justice as discipleship:

A gospel that not only saves but also serves;
A gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the one that ushered forth all that is good and beautiful;
A gospel that not only saves but ushers in the Kingdom of God;
A gospel that not only saves but restores the dignity of humanity — even in the midst of our brokenness and depravity.
This gospel is not just for us. The gospel is good news for all.

Eugene shares with honesty, humor, and grace. As a local pastor in Seattle, Eugene is keenly aware that justice is not about jumping on some kind of bandwagon. That sort of activism leads to burnout. However, when our eyes our opened to see God’s heart of and for justice, we are transformed in the process:

We need to pursue justice not just because the world is broken, but because we’re broken too. Pursuing justice helps us put our own lives in order. Perhaps this is what God intended — that in doing His work serving others, we discover more of His character and are changed ourselves.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book as a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” And, in the interest of full disclosure, I also purchased a copy of this book because I believe its message is that important. 

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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.”

Michael Gungor, writer of songs and melter of faces behind the umlauted liturgical post-rock musical collective Gungor, just put his arm around my shoulder and reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Figuratively, sure, through his just-released book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse: A Book for Creators — but the truth is no less real simply for the fact that I can’t name-drop him as a friend friend.

I suppose I was already predisposed to like The Crowd, given my fondness for banjos, harmonized guitar solos, and swelling strings (all of which Gungor has in spades), but I was not prepared for the gut-level response I would have from the opening pages in which Michael describes his burnout and the pain it caused the people he loved the most.

Before I go any further, let me recommend this book — for creatives of all stripes (musicians, visual artists, graphic designers), pastors, and church leaders — not for its ability to teach you how to write a killer worship anthem (although Michael could help you with that) or how to get your song onto Christian radio playlists (see Appendix 3: A Snapshot of American Christian Music for help with that), but for the way it ushers in the hope that comes alive when our eyes are opened and we realize our God is here.


We are all creators. Those of us engaged in church work must be reminded of this again & again: We are called to build, rebuild, restore, redeem, and reconcile — to create, not destroy — in partnership with the living Christ all that sin has broken.

The common idea that there are some people who are creative and some who are not is a myth. So on some level, we are all artists. We are all creators.

In our little church community, we try to cultivate the God-given creativity in each of us for the cause of redemption. We believe that when we dream alongside our Creator, restoration becomes reality.

While “art” is notoriously difficult to define, Michael’s words sound a call to the Church to reclaim the God-given power behind it.

Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.

Throughout The Crowd, Michael injects these potentially heavy topics with humor and joy. From his first robot-crafted guitar to his description of  the (I’m still not convinced he’s real) stylings of The Emotron, Michael demonstrates a self-deprecating humor that is often missing from conversations about Art, Purpose, and Meaning.

The Christian music industry might play by “safe for the whole family” formulas but followers of Christ are driven by something much greater than fear:

In this story, my imagination is set free as it envisions the earth as part of the creation that will someday be set free from its bondage to decay. This is a framework in which one can anticipate the arrival of Beauty’s fullness. It is the anticipatory painting of a room that will eventually be lived in. It is the present feeding and clothing of those who are to eventually be clothed and fed. Art is not a distraction from human meaninglessness, but part of the burgeoning newness that gives our existence a hopeful and sacred meaningfulness. It speaks of incarnation. It is a future hope taking root in the present. It is a view that the Creator has not given up on his creation and an invitation to join the sculpting of creation’s dirt into something that God might breathe his very breath into.

Sounds a lot like something John wrote many years ago: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18-19

As we seek to love God and God’s people — particularly those of us who are called into various forms of church leadership — we must hold fast to hope. Otherwise, we will burn out, becoming jaded & cynical.

The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse is a gift to those of us who believe this is not the end, that God has not given up on the world, and that we’re called to reflect His boundless, creative joy in all of life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free as part of a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

As I’ve shared here before, the Idea Camp tribe has been such an important part of my life & ministry over the last couple of years. This collaborative movement of idea-makers has been a constant source of inspiration.

No, you’re not crazy if you think that it’s more important to work together for the Kingdom of God than to seek individual credit or accolades. This ethos of partnership, collaboration, and getting things done is rooted in the ethos of Charles Lee, the founder and glue behind the Idea Camp.

I’m grateful for Charles, who has been an encouraging friend and wise mentor to me (and many others)  in so many ways. I’m never surprised to see the caliber of people Charles is able to bring together. For example, check out the roster of speakers Charles has lined up for this year’s Ideation Conference in Chicago.


Today, Charles’ first book, Good Idea. Now What? hits the shelves at brick & mortar bookstores (and, of course, at various online retailers). Good Idea is filled with practical insights, both from Charles’ experience and from his vast network of social entrepreneurs — including Soledad O’Brien of CNN, Scott Harrison of charity: water, and Blake Mycoskie of TOMS.

Good Idea is written for two kinds of people. From the introduction:

1. The idea lover who is sick of just sitting on great ideas: These are individuals who recognize that their ideas may never come to pass without a strategic process and a developed skill set.

2. The idea maker who needs to refresh and reaffirm his or her understanding of the elements for implementing ideas well: No matter how experienced you may be, this book will be a good resource for sparking meaningful conversations about your ideas.

The world needs us to dream better dreams, but even more than that, to act on our convictions. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with Charles where I wasn’t encouraged, challenged, and/or inspired to action. I highly recommend Good Idea. Now What? and I’m excited to see the great ideas that get put into action as a result.

You can read a sample chapter here.

I met Dan King (perhaps better known as @bibledude) through the Idea Camp, a unique tribe of idea-makers who collaborate for good in their neighborhoods, and around the world. Dan’s love for his family and for the church to rise up and become the force for good that God intends stood out to me as we shared a meal together.

The title, The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter, captures the essence of what Dan seeks to do with this book — to move people from lukewarm church attending to passionately following Jesus to serve those He loves. For a more in-depth conversation on why Dan wrote this book and what he hopes to accomplish through it, read this interview I conducted with him for ChurchLeaders.com.

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