Archives for category: family

An already wonderful Beirut song beautifully reimagined by Kishi Bashi for a string quartet.

Songs that speak this deeply to me inevitably turn my thoughts toward the music of our worship as followers of Jesus. We don’t need soaring chorus/delay-soaked electric guitars to create anthems of longing, beauty, and connection (although I’m certainly not opposed to tipping our hats to The Edge’s guitar electronic-wizardry).

Also makes me think I should’ve stuck with violin past middle school.

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And, just for reference, the original by Beirut:

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.

A number of years ago, when I responded to God’s call to full-time vocational ministry, I willingly abandoned other lines of work that would have been much more financially stable (in particular, in the fields of consulting and marketing).

At the time, being young, single, and idealistic, it wasn’t too much to sacrifice financial gain for the sake of the call. Today, as a husband and father, it would be a significantly more difficult decision. Not because I believe in serving God any less, but because there is so much more at stake.

Over the last couple of year, I’ve been serving in a church, editing part-time online, and hustling for whatever freelance design gigs I can in order to make ends meet. As ‘Ye says, I had to did what I had to did ’cause I had to get. Please don’t misunderstand: I will joyfully sacrifice my time and comfort in order to provide for my family.

However, this has not left much time for self-reflection, particularly about big-picture or long-term dreams that God has put on my heart.

I want my life to count for the Kingdom – to see the oppressed set free, the lonely set in families, and for freedom songs to be sung in Jesus’ name anywhere and everywhere. When these God-dreams slam into reality, though, they are delayed and I can feel stuck. I get the feeling many of us feel that way.

It’s not always dramatic tragedy that sidetracks us but, often, a low-grade dissatisfaction with things as they are (and an unwillingness to change course).

My friend Marko offered up this compelling insight recently:

You don’t lack the ability to make the decision; what you lack is the willingness to make the wrong decision.

Leadership in faith is seeing what is not yet, but one day — by the grace of God — will be.

Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of changing things up: These are dream-killers. Thankfully, we are not left alone in this fight:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. – 1 John 4:18

It’s time for different outcomes. And that means different approaches — both to the big-picture and the mundane, everyday business of faithfulness.

I had an insightful conversation with my daughter recently. I grew up with so much fear, and I want her to be free of that burden so she can be everything God dreams of her becoming. We were discussing failure and risk, and she said to me:

The pain of failing only lasts a little while. But the lessons you learn from it stick with you for a long time.

Here’s to not getting stuck, but driving ahead through the fear — and failure — in grace and love.

The statistics can crush us, if we let them sink in.

Every year, over 3 million people die from water-related disease. 

Every day, water-related disease claims the lives of 5,000 children under the age of 5, or roughly one death for every 15 seconds that pass.

Over 800 million people around the world do not have access to clean water.

I do not want to live in a world where kids die for lack of access to clean water.

As a follower of Christ, I firmly believe that God’s heart aches for the suffering.

It has been a dream of mine for several years to participate in a well-digging trip. This past summer, I was privileged to lead a team from our church community in partnership with Living Water International to dig a well for a community in need in Granada, Nicaragua.

I love the work and ministry of LWI. Through clean water projects, LWI shares the living water of Jesus to bring the true hope that changes everything.

On a personal note, there are very few things as satisfying as collapsing into bed at night, completely exhausted from giving it all for the Kingdom.

This Kingdom of God is near: In the hard work of digging through the mud and hauling pipes, in the laughter of speaking broken Spanish with giggling kids from the neighborhood, in newfound friendship working side-by-side with local community members.

I learned so much from Jorge, the leader of the Rivas LWI team. His patience and humor helped guide our team through a week filled with plenty of challenges. From a ministry perspective, I deeply appreciate LWI’s approach of training, equipping, and consulting with local leaders. Rather than showing up with all the answers from an outside perspective, I believe effective and God-honoring ministry is founded upon a posture of humble listening and genuine partnership.

We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with LWI. We’ll be sending a team to Guatemala this year, and another team to Nicaragua next summer. It’s a privilege and joy to be a part of God’s redemptive work in world, to share the living water of Jesus and a cup of cold water in His name to those in need.

Monsters Calling Home is a phenomenally talented group of Asian American musicians from the Los Angeles area. My family has been listening to their EP since I caught them live at UCSD for a LiNK benefit concert.

I hear echoes of Arcade Fire, Stars, Local Natives, and Beirut in MCH’s sound (which I’ve been using to try and reprogram my daughter’s proclivity towards certain kinds of awful, soul-stealing pop music. Don’t get me wrong: I love me some Since U Been Gone, but some of these easy-listening barefoot acoustic guitar crooners are a bridge too far.), and yet a unique sound all their own.

The other day, as we were driving to school in the morning and singing along to the MCH track Growing Up, my daughter and I had a great conversation about faith, courage, and what it means to pursue God’s dreams for us.

From Growing Up:

I used to close my eyes to what stirred under my bed
Now they’re open wide to the monsters in my head
Instead of claws they whisper lies, sinking fear in quiet steps
So I will fight in the light till i give my final breath

My daughter asked me about who was whispering lies, was it Satan? Is Satan the enemy we have to fight? Yes, yes, the devil means to steal and destroy, but we don’t have to be afraid. Jesus has conquered sin and death and He intends to restore everything that is broken in this world.

We then talked about what might be whispering in our ears to distract us from living out God’s dream for the world. My daughter: Temptation? Maybe like if you’re going to give money for something important and you see a really cool shirt and want to buy it instead?

Then I asked her if she thought it would always be easy to follow God’s dreams for our lives. After a thoughtful pause, she replied, “No. It won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for Noah. God wanted him to do something great, but it was hard work and people laughed at him. He might have been discouraged, but he did it.”

I pray that my daughter never loses the fight in her for Christ’s healing in this broken world.

She completed her third-grade science fair project recently: “Can the sun’s energy be used to purify water?” She diligently set up the experiments, took careful notes, and crafted a colorful and informative trifold board display.

But what she was most excited about was helping those affected by the world water crisis — the one billion people who don’t have access to clean water, the millions who die every year from water-related disease, and the countless children who cannot get an education because they spend so much time getting water (which is often dirty, anyways). I don’t know if she’ll become a scientist, but I’m so proud that she was excited to run this experiment in hopes of helping people.

She passed out over 100 information cards as part of her report to her schoolmates, with links to Living Water International and charity: water with ways her friends could join this fight.

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Check out this video for Growing Up, from Monsters Calling Home (and catch them on tour if they’re in your neighborhood). It’s a feat of indie-magic to make LA seem dreamy!

A Place at the Table 

During this Lenten season, our church community has been journeying through A Place at the Table, by Chris Seay.

I love the heart behind this movement: That our fasting would draw us near to God and join us to His redemptive purposes in the world.


Fasting

A few words about fasting that I shared with our church (for more, you can visit our church community’s site):

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that has been practiced by followers of Christ from the beginning of the church. In fasting, we withdraw temporarily from food — a good gift from God — to remind ourselves that God Himself is our soul’s greatest hunger.

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