Archives for category: second-generation

In the NBA, there are many different players that make up a championship-caliber club. These days, a team needs more than one marquee superstar to get over the hump. Take Kobe Bryant — arguably the greatest talent in the league today — and his Lakers squad. Sure, Lamar Odom is talented and they have several important role players — but it was this year’s acquisition (read: outright theft) of Pau Gasol that has rocketed them back into the upper stratosphere of the NBA elite. Factor in the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a genuine star and we might see Showtime 2.0 for the next couple of years. Even Michael Jordan could not have enjoyed his great championship run without Scottie Pippen.

However, truly successful teams need much more than superstars. Every team needs role players — e.g., 3-point sharpshooters, defensive hounds, etc. While being a solid supporting cast member might not be ideal, there is one type of label that many NBA players seem to loathe: energy guy.

McSweeney’s defines energy guy in the following manner:

Varejao is what hoops experts commonly refer to as an “energy guy,” a player whose job is to grab key offensive rebounds, track down loose balls, and take charges (often, in Varejao’s case, by “flopping”). Praising this style of play, whose inhibition so contrasts with the fluidity and improvisation of star players like Varejao’s teammate LeBron James, makes the Bill Walton do-gooders feel that they are teaching America’s youth a more ethically sensible version of how to play basketball. I say, Don’t limit their dreams!

For many players, the energy guy label implies that they make up for their lack of inherent skill with lots of effort — as very vocal supporters from sidelines, hyperactive rebounders or pests who annoy the other team’s star. Ronny Turiaf of the aforementioned Lakers has been doing everything he can to shed the “energy guy” label this year — despite the fact that his post-dunk dances from the bench are extremely enjoyable.

From my experience, many first generation Korean immigrant churches are a little bit like the NBA in their attitude — pastors want to be the marquee superstars, while doing everything in their power to avoid being role players or energy guys (I suspect many other churches experience something similar, but I haven’t been a part of them).

The system is setup so that it is very clear that the senior pastor is “number one” and everyone else is probably around #247 or so — existing only to do number one’s bidding. What person in their right mind would stay on as an associate in such an environment? The negative force to leave and either assume a senior pastorate elsewhere or startup a new venture is too great.

Also, this flawed ecclesiology completely ignores an individual’s particular gifting and sense of calling. I have seen many “administrative” pastors in first-gen Korean churches who were completely disorganized — totally incapable of balancing scheduling and facilities needs, office work and all the other behind the scenes things admin people are supposed to do. It’s just a stepping stone, a desperate clinging, to the dream of becoming number one. And someone who believes they are called to serve youth or children as more than just a quick stop to something bigger and better? Give me a break!

On top of all this, the idea itself, that the pastor is somehow the “boss” or “star” of anything, is utterly repugnant to me. This goes beyond the negative professionalization of ministry. In the first gen setting, it’s more about patriarchy, filial piety and a barely-masked “pastor as shaman” attitude.

So… in other words, there is no room for role players in most of these churches. Being anything other than the superstar is so utterly demeaning and unsatisfying that only a masochist would stick around as a role player. And yet, there must be some people who have been called to a vocational ministry other than senior pastor in this setting — while it might not sound like a great “career” path, perhaps some people’s unique gifting and calling equips them particularly as an associate pastor of some kind (or even a *gasp* lifetime youth pastor).

I think most first gen immigrant churches would benefit greatly from having an “energy guy” or two on the staff. Right now, there is a culture of suspicion in many first gen churches — if an associate gains too much popularity, the senior pastor either forces them out because of insecurity, or that person leaves of their own accord because they feel they would do a better job anyways. How different things would be if there would be staff members who were not looked down upon as being “less skilled” than the senior pastor-type, but who believe in the vision and can wholeheartedly and energetically support the church, genuinely cheering on the success of others and revitalizing the efforts of the entire community.

Over the last couple of years, I have done a lot of soul-searching (as most of us in vocational ministry will do) about what my role in the church might be. Like many of my peers who have served in first-generation Korean immigrant churches, I have become more convinced that I do not have a place here because I simply do not understand the church in the same ways as most first gen pastors. The next great task, that I have been wrestling with nonstop for awhile now, is not just ruling out what I think is a wrong approach, but developing what I think might be a more healthy ecclesiology and sense of ministry and where that might take me.

Registration for SDAALC 2008 is now up and running at!

If you’re in the San Diego area, it will be well worth it to join us on the weekend of April 4th-5th. Thanks to the generous support of L2 Foundation and local churches, registration is extremely affordable.

I’ll be giving a seminar on Asian Americans and Postmodern Culture. I will be focusing on the unique intersection between postmodern culture and Asian American identity (so, Derrida and Foucault fans/foes please go easy on the philosophizing!). Hoping for an engaging and productive conversation…

sdaalc-card.jpgTo the left, you can find the postcard I designed to help advertise SDAALC (I tried linking a hi-res version, but it didn’t seem to work). All of the proceeds from the conference will go toward Love146, a group “working toward the abolition of child sex trafficking and exploitation through prevention and aftercare.”

While I know very little about the graphic novel world (Didn’t we used to call them comics? I kid, I kid… please direct all angry fanboy mail to my publicist), I was very excited to read about American Born Chinese.

In ABC, the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award, Gene Luen Yang tells the story of three different characters: a Chinese American boy, the Monkey King and “Chinkie” – not the Bay Area ska-punk sensation The Chinkees, but a character amalgamated from exaggerated Chinese and Asian stereotypes. It is truly disturbing to hear that some people have actually told Yang they think that the Chinkie character is “cute.”

NPR has put together a great audio slide show of selected panels from ABC, in which he talks about his background as an author and the social/historical setting of this book. Watching the slideshow of panels from ABC and hearing Yang’s narration transported me back to my days of growing up in a predominantly white school. In particular, his words about struggling with his shame over his parents’ culture struck a familiar chord with me. I’m not sure what it is, but graphic novels such as Persepolis or Maus are able to evoke emotions in a way that other media cannot.

While this book deals specifically with the Asian American experience, there is something universal in the themes of dealing with shame and discovering identity, as Yang expresses at the conclusion of his narration. You can find a longer interview with Gene Luen Yang on the Bryant Park Project here (click on the “listen now” link near the top of the page).

** Edit: Looks like NPR is on a roll here — Terry Gross interviewed Adrian Tomine on Fresh Air today about his graphic novel, Shortcomings, a story about race, identity and love. Check out the interview with Tomine here. A New York Times review from November 2007 says:

Unlike the more playful graphic novelists who influenced him, Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World,” “David Boring”) and the Hernandez brothers (“Love and Rockets”), Tomine isn’t given to flights of surrealism, rude jests or grotesque images. He is a mild observer, an invisible reporter, a scientist of the heart. His drawing style is plain and exact. The dialogue appearing inside his cartoon balloons is pitch-perfect and succinct. He’s daring in his restraint.

A note of disclosure: I am a big fan of David Crowder’s work. My wife and I once took a couple of college students and drove two and half hours from northern Jersey into the wilderness of Long Island to attend one of his concerts. Like many others, I was thoroughly impressed with their last release A Collision — for its epic scope, indie rock ramblings (and extra long titles!) and for the circumstances under which the album was released (the album as a response to death, just as the band lost their close friend and pastor Kyle Lake).

The highly anticipated follow-up to A Collision (if we skip over B Collision, the ’06 EP of B-sides and other miscellany), Remedy, was released on September 25th. Though I understand the sentiment behind CCM Patrol’s review of Remedy — and I definitely appreciate their honesty (and, often, bluntness) in reviewing much of the music that is released in the Christian market — I was certainly not disappointed with this album.

Reviews are highly subjective. In fact, part of the fun of reading reviews is vehemently disagreeing with them (and later grumbling about what a bunch of cultural Philistines those reviewers are). As Marko wrote in his review of Remedy, when I listen to this album, I picture myself singing this in company of those who love the King (to borrow a Crowder phrase). One of my most powerful times of worship in the context of singing along with other people happened several years back at one of the Thirsty conferences. DC*B was leading their version of Thank You for Hearing Me, and right at the moment in which the distorted guitar kicks in (if you’ve heard the song, you’ll know what I’m talking about), thousands of earnest worshipers lifted their hands in unison. So, you will not read an impartial, detached, “pure” review of the album from me — it is virtually impossible for me to separate the experience of listening to the album from the experience of being there.

One interesting phenomenon surrounding DC*B is their popularity among Asian American youth — Korean American kids, in particular. As Andrew Beaujon writes in his book Body Piercing Saved My Life (which I also recommend), “…for some reason its members don’t fully understand, the David Crowder Band is huge among Korean Americans. They were due to play a large Korean church in New York City a few nights later and had recently played for a mostly Korean crowd of eleven thousand in Los Angeles.”

I actually had a short email correspondence with Crowder, which included a brief discussion of their popularity with Asian American kids. DC*B puts on a high energy show with lots of goofy fun. I was at their concert in LA that Body Piercing mentions, and one of the highlights of the evening was when Crowder broke out his shiny red keytar and challenged the crowd to make a louder noise than the Neil Diamond concert in town. You have to love a worship leader than gets all up in Neil Diamond’s grill. In all seriousness, though, I believe it is precisely this goofiness, freedom and spontaneity that appeals to Asian American youth. At home, for so many Asian American teens, their value is in direct proportion to their performance. There is very little room to make mistakes — after all, Johnny Kim down the street plays first-chair violin, is president of his youth group, and won a governor’s award for academic excellence — and he does everything his mother tells him to do, and he’s waltzing into Harvard a year early… on a full scholarship, no doubt.

So, when Crowder urges these kids to whistle along and get a little undignified as they connect with our God who loves them just as they are, something deep within them responds. Remedy therefore is an appropriate metaphor for our community as well — despite the veneer of perfection and achievement, we are an awful mess on the inside. For too many of us, the internal pressure builds up until it explodes in rage, binge drinking, or worse. What a sight it is when captives are genuinely freed in the presence of the King!

Remedy is definitely simpler in approach than A Collision — no rock operas or postmodern parenthetical asides on this album. However, Crowder continues to write simple lyrics that are deceptive in their depth. Take this beautiful line from their reworking of O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, “There are so few words that never grow old… Jesus.” Or these words, from the title track:

Oh, I can’t comprehend / I can’t take it all in

Never understand / Such perfect love come

For the broken and beat / For the wounded and weak

Oh, come fall at His feet / He’s the remedy

Plus, how can you deny a worship album that features a track with the Nuge himself melting faces with his song-length solo in the background?

DJ Chuang gave a really great presentation at “The Gathering” this past week at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead. In his talk, Revitalizing Asian American Churches, DJ gave us the macro-picture of what’s happening with Asian American churches and he identified ways in which we might move forward in reaching the next generation.

DJ is a very refreshing and necessary voice — not only for the breadth of his research and the depth of his insight, but in his ability to bring people together. From my experience, Asian Americans spend way too much time trying to determine who is in or out based on our version of orthodoxy. In that paradigm, people spend more time straightening out the minutiae of their doctrine than in actually reaching people with the Gospel. Happily, the overall tone of this gathering was community-oriented and encouraging. In my prayer group, I was genuinely encouraged by the support of others who are a little bit further along in the journey of vocational ministry, including Sam Park over at Community Church on Holliston.

DJ shared some great insights about what existing churches can do to support the next generation of believers:

  • Encourage creativity
  • Raise up young leaders
  • Support church planting through prayer, people and funds

In particular, the idea of raising up young leaders spoke deeply to me. As someone who pastors students, I battle the Asian perfectionist tendency inside of me all the time when it comes to raising up next gen leaders. It’s hard to give people room to grow, to try new things out, to fail. There is often little room in Asian American families and churches for an actual learning curve — it’s often either be perfect or don’t even bother trying. Many Asian American pastors are perfectionists and micro-managers; not the best combination for raising up young leaders.

I have encountered way too many pastor-types who are maybe five or six years further along this path who refuse to mentor younger leaders because they themselves never received the mentoring they sought from first-gen pastors. I don’t want to operate from this kind of hurt. I don’t want to perpetuate this self-defeating cycle. I want to be someone who can help raise up next gen leaders. I might not have much to share, but maybe I can contribute to others so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single week.

I also see how important it is for me to seek out the wisdom of those further along the path. I’m not talking about a formal mentoring relationship with a set schedule (who has time in their schedules for that kind of model these days, anyways?) but conversations, dialogue and lots of listening. I have been privileged to be in contact with many wise thinkers and leaders recently, and I am just trying to absorb all the wisdom I can.

Here’s to more gatherings like this one!

While we don’t want to overschedule our daughter, we have signed her up for a couple of fun activities this summer. She will be a part of our church’s VBS, of course, and a really cool day camp at SeaWorld later this summer — but today marked the beginning of this fun season. My wife and I tried to play it cool as we dropped her off this morning for the start of her two-week day camp (it’s still harder on us than it is for our daughter).

We like to interact with our daughter’s teachers. As people who have been involved in youth & children’s ministries for awhile now, we value the participation and input of parents. When we returned to pick up our daughter, the main teacher (out of three) greeted us with a big smile and said that our daughter had done really well. I was relieved to hear this; some of the older kids in the Pre/K group at church are pretty mean, and it has kind of given our daughter a complex about making friends. She is still a very friendly & outgoing kid, but this stress about not being able to make friends surfaces from time to time — resulting in huge heartache & frustration for us. A quick aside: if you find time to pray for us, this is the one thing that is constantly on my mind. My sincere thanks.

My relief was short-lived, though, as the teacher completed her thought. It went something like this: Your daughter did really well… I mean, her English is pretty good. It took me a second to realize what she had said. We explained that English is actually our daughter’s first language, because she was born here. The second teacher followed this up with, “Where are you from?” With wide-eyed disbelief, my wife responded, “Well, we’ve lived here in the States our whole lives, but our parents are from Korea.” The main teacher tried to brush it off with, “Oh, I could tell you were pretty Americanized, since your daughter brought pizza for lunch. Some kids bring those Hello Kitty lunchboxes with sushi, you know.”

A couple of caveats: I realize that they probably meant no harm. I’m sure they’re nice and all; just a little bit ignorant. I also realize that they probably don’t deal with many non-white people. This neck of the woods can be a little bit like that. I also understand that this is the world in which my daughter will be living for the rest of her life — I can’t shield her from ignorance forever.

Nonetheless, I am still extremely frustrated. This line of questioning — “Where are you from?” — reinforces the idea that of course we’re not from here. I mean, how could these Asian-looking faces be American, like the rest of us? Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t want my daughter to assimilate, to feel like she has to run from her Asian-ness or push it aside for the sake of fitting in. Later, if one of her well-meaning white friends says to her, “I don’t even think of you as being Asian,” I don’t want her to take it as a compliment. I want her to be very confident in who God made her to be. While alienation and self-hatred has been the unfortunate story for many Asian American youth, I don’t believe that it must be part of the equation — and I am hoping & praying that my daughter can be spared as much of this heartache as possible. So, when her teacher asks her, “Where are you from?” and thinks it is really funny when she responds, “San Diego,” perhaps you can see why that would bother me.

On a personal level, I am really praying that I would have a thicker skin about things. Sometimes, the intensity of my emotional reaction to these kinds of situations precludes any kind of reasonable, constructive, or appropriate response. I don’t want to live with some kind of chip on my shoulder — I don’t want to give ignorant people that kind of control over my life. And, in all honesty, I think I have been better able to handle these kinds of things — at least when they deal directly with me.

For example, I am usually pretty patient with older Caucasian people who ask, “Where are you from?” just because they come from another world (these teachers from today, however, are not old at all — thus compounding my frustration). I can very politely tell these people that I think I know what they’re asking, but that it is actually pretty rude to ask in that manner (and, if they ask why it is rude, I will explain the whole alienation deal to them). I’m not sure why our racial ethnic background matters so much to some Caucasian people — I don’t often hear them asking each other, Are you German? Irish? Dutch? If one must know, then it is marginally better to ask, “Where are your parents from?” although this still carries much of the same outsider-connotation with it. Probably, it’s best simply to ask the question directly: What is your ethnic background or heritage?

However, when it comes to my daughter, my father-bear instincts kick in big time. I held back today because I don’t want to bias these teachers against my daughter just because they might perceive me as being some uppity Asian person.

Despite protests to the contrary, ignorant and racist attitudes persist today as systemic and institutional issues.

Remember the Skit Guys controversy from a little while back? I don’t mean to dredge up the past — certainly, the response of Youth Specialties, Marko, and the Skit Guys themselves showed that something good could come out of a bad situation. But, judging from the response of many people both at Marko’s and the Skit Guys’ blogs, we still have a long, long way to go. Some highlights:

Part of humor is laughing at ourselves. I hope we don’t become so sensitive that you guys can’t even minister. You guys characterize pastors, janitors, deacons, blondes, Christians, girls, boys…and all of those on purpose. And I love it! Is an Asian character not supposed to speak with an Asian dialect? I have not read the skit, but…at this rate you’ll be writing more apologies than skits.

Well, I have read the original skit and, though it might be pointless to try to help this person understand the underlying issues here, there is a world of difference between poking fun at a Caucasian pastor/janitor/blonde, etc. and laughing at the Engrish-speaking “oriental” buffoon, who clearly is not from here and does not, and could never, belong.

Or how about this little gem:

I pray that you don’t let this discourage you because in today’s society everyone is offended about something. God has truly blessed you two with the gift of ministry through comedy. I have seen you 3 times at the International Church of God Youth Conventions and you were awesome. Just remember that satan will use anything or anyone he can to try to keep us from glorifying God and spreading his Word. Just keep doing what you are doing….showing the love, mercy and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ through the gift of christian comedy that he has given you!!!

Right, right… now I see — It’s the fault of uppity people of color that they are offended by blatant, degrading racial stereotyping. And speaking out for justice is obviously satanic. Our God (the same One who said, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” and commanded His people, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt”) would clearly not approve of this.

I’m really hoping this works out.

Serving in a Korean American church creates a strange sense of both being intimately connected and profoundly disconnected from the first-generation (1G) congregation. At times, I experience almost a sense of extended family when I spend time with the 1G congregants. For example, over the past several Sundays I have been playing tennis with a group of 1G families. Usually, we will end the evening by sharing a nice meal together (pho, even!). At the same time, in my ministry to second-generation (2G) students there is a deep sense of disconnection. The only time anyone seems to notice the youth ministry is if there is a major problem (or a cluster of heavy boxes to move). Other than vague notions of raising “good Christians,” there is no sense of purpose or mission when it comes to the spiritual formation of these 2G students.

In this third installment of this series of thoughts, I would like to continue to engage some of the thoughts Marko shared here at his blog. His third observation about Asian American youth ministry centers around the idea of integrating youth into the overall life and ministry of the church. As Marko notes, this isn’t really a choice for most AA youth ministries — whether we like it or not, we exist as the lopsided little 2G ear, attached to the larger 1G “Mickey” head.


Most of the churches I have served have at least attempted to organize some kind of ministry to families. Unfortunately, though they have had good intentions, these attempts ultimately failed. Perhaps the most frustrating of these programs were the ones we called “family” ministries but did not integrate a holistic sense of cross-generational ministry. For example, unless we count being in relatively close physical proximity as being a meaningful inter-generational ministry, it is wrong for many of the churches I have served to call their programs “family” retreats or “family” worship services. In my experience, at these retreats there are usually completely separate worship & activity programs set up for each group and at these worship services the 1G parents often refuse to sit with their 2G children.

I applaud the attempts of a couple of forward-thinking 1G senior pastors I have known who have tried to break through this kind of thinking. Unfortunately, they have encountered seemingly insurmountable walls when it comes to the actual practice of cross-generational ministry. For example, attempts at integrating both 1G and 2G language and culture into one worship service usually makes it very long, and not particularly meaningful for either group. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and in the end, no one is happy with the result.

After a couple of frustrating attempts (and numerous complaints), the natural tendency for churches is to stop trying. It’s easier to walk away than to work through the awkwardness.

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