Turning 21, Again

I am taking a trip of a lifetime next month. My daughter called me up and asked me if I would meet her in Paris and could we tack on Iceland.

“YES!” I screamed with no hesitation. “Oh, wait. Hold on. Let me talk with Dad (my husband, her dad, not my dad).”

I’ve never been to Europe. My miles and money went to Paris a few years ago for Bethany’s study abroad, and I have all sorts of ridiculous fantasies about traveling abroad and a clean bathroom and a perfect paper planner. Her question, while it could’ve waited for a few days, felt pressing, urgent, and important. I didn’t ask my husband. I told him. I told him our young adult daughter asked me, her mother, to meet her in the City of Lights, and I told him I wanted to go.

So we said yes.

But getting to yes also meant making some other decisions about how this almost empty nest stage of life would be, what needed to stay and what needed to be let go. Before deciding on this trip to Paris was one other decision to be made that had been hanging around like the last dumpling at an Asian gathering. I didn’t want to touch it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Asian American/Canadian Lounge at Urbana18. Y’all know exactly what I am talking about.)

Before saying yes to Paris, I knew it was time to say yes to a different invitation into uncharted waters. I said yes to leaving InterVarsity. My last day will be February 15.

Milestones are a chance to shift

This month my staff career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA turned 21 years old, barely legal and ready for new things. I sent out the following words in an email to a few colleagues after I had given official notice:

There has been a cost that I no longer want to carry, do not feel called to bear, or have the influence to change – a funding system that was designed for white men in a completely different cultural context, the human sexuality rollout that left our LGBTQ staff vulnerable and inconsistently asked for belief and behavior, and an affirmation of women in leadership that falls short of calling the Church to do the same. 

As I’ve wrestled with those concerns I’ve also sensed that it’s simply time to leave and explore options to write and lead in another context. I do not have another job lined up except for the two yoga classes I teach on Thursdays. I am asking God what the invitation is for this next stage of leadership and life with the privilege of stepping away from IVCF without a plan.

I tell people I am a product of InterVarsity’s training and development – my deep love for scripture and manuscript Bible study, a commitment to mentoring and discipling, integrating my values into action. IVCF has been one of the few spaces in the Church that provided a Korean American married mother an opportunity to learn and be mentored by the likes of Jeanette Yep, Lisa Espinelli Chin, and Paul Tokunaga. I can only hope I will have left staff with a fraction of their wisdom.

I don’t know

That’s still my answer to the question, “So, what’s next?” I do not have a job lined up. I have not talked with an agent or a head hunter. I’m looking for a new spiritual director, preferably a WOC. I’m looking at the first three months as a sabbatical and, in some ways, a detox and untangling of my identity from an organization I’ve been a part of as a student, volunteer, and then employee for almost half of my life. I don’t know what’s next in terms of employment, but that’s OK.

For having worked most of my adult life in ministry I am finding that question funny because in it is an implicit request for certainty, and as a person of faith the older I get the less certain I am and the less certainty I require. My children are young adults. They have taught me that humility, failure, and uncertainty are essential and critical in parenting. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years, and that friendship and relationship has taught me the same. We screw up on the daily, and more often than not I am not sure how we will fare the “till death do us part” part of our vows.

I don’t know what my next job will be. I know that uncertainty is a privilege and one I do not enter into or carry lightly, but I am carrying it.

Yes, I’m scared

No, I’m not totally OK with all of this uncertainty. Why do you think I am still searching for the perfect paper planner system (right now I’m loving my very basic bullet journal)?? I am a planner. I like making lists and checking off to-do items. I love setting goals. I love the friendships and community I have had the honor of being a part of on staff, and I will miss seeing colleagues who have become friends. I’m scared of losing friends and losing a sense of identity. I sat on making this decision for a LOOOOOOOOONG time, in part, because of the uncertainty and the privilege to say, “I’m quitting” without a plan to replace that income. It feels incredibly selfish, and as the daughter of immigrants all you know and are told is about the unselfish sacrifices our elders made/make for us to live better lives.

And just to drive the point home even my parents were worried about my non-plan even though for the past 21 years they haven’t been convinced that working in ministry where you are required to raise your own salary is a real job that one could really quit. How do you quit a job that isn’t a real job? See? It’s weird.

But I quit, with some financial planning because I’m not that selfish or stupid, and I’m scared. I’m scared my dreams are too old or faded. I’m scared I’ve become risk-averse and practical. I’m scared my imagination is too limited. So why did I quit? Because I’m scared of being stuck because of my fear.

My Dear Readers, are you stuck? Are you scared of staying stuck? If you could “do” anything or make a career change what would you do? If you’ve taken that scary leap of faith, what advice do you have for us newbies who are free falling?

Tidy Up, Dear Christians

For all the various takes on KonMari (Kondo Mariko is her Japanese name), I am left wondering about what we as Christians haven’t been taught well in our church buildings with multipurpose spaces, cafes, and bookstores that is coinciding with this cultural moment. Why do we have so much stuff? Why are we or people we know getting rid of garbage bags full of things from one room of my/their home I/they don’t need, I/they don’t fit into, and that don’t spark joy?

Lovers and haters note that Kondo has hit a nerve around our stuff and our preoccupation with stuff, the accumulation of it, and the purpose of the stuff we surround ourselves with. Christians are not immune from that preoccupation even though we say and have heard that we can’t take our stuff to heaven (or our church buildings, for that matter) and yet the Christian industrial complex pumps out stuff, most of it geared towards (white) women sold to us at (white) Christian women’s conferences by (white) Christian women. There are several (white) Christian women who have built lifestyle brands around shabby chic, reclaimed wood decor, and statement jewelry, none of which we can take with us to heaven, and even as I look around my home I wonder what if any of it is about bringing about joy let alone bringing about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven unless we think heaven will be a cross between Ikea and Magnolia.

And just in case someone is ready to pounce, I AM PART OF THE CHRISTIAN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. I am a published author promoting a book, side gigging sassy cross-stitching and bracelets. Part of my “brand” is that I often sport a t-shirt with a provoking message, and the other part of my brand can’t be copied because I bought the last blouse in the clearance section. I am writing because I am wrestling, and I hope my Dear Readers you are, too, whether or not you are KonMarie fan. I am also a neat freak but also a child of immigrants. There is no pretty way of drying my ziplock baggies that I have washed to reuse. There is no joyful way of saving every plastic container that can be reused rather than buying matching plastic food storage containers. Old towels don’t bring me joy but their stiffness and scratchiness help with exfoliation and absorption (I don’t use dryer sheets).

Kondo is Japanese. Her method is socially located in a country where space is limited and overcrowded spaces are giving way to tidiness, whereas here in the US an entire industry has emerged around people paying for additional storage to hold their extra stuff.  Haters go on about how ridiculous it is to pare down a book collection to 30 books, but as one who has several bookcases throughout my home full of books I will never read again how many of us are too afraid to admit the books make us feel accomplished, intelligent, and therefore safe and affirmed? No? Me neither. It’s not a judgment, but I will be honest. The books I surround myself with say as much about my intentions around reading as they do about how I perceive myself and how I want to be perceived. Who wants to talk with me about that and not just about how my bookcases look so much better having gotten rid of many of the books written by white men?

The same goes with the rest of our stuff. Does a tidy home say something about our interior lives? Do we believe a tidy home is inherently better and therefore a reflection of my interior life being…better? Tidier? Closer to an ideal? What does this love/hate around Kondo say to us Christians about our relationship to the physical world and its connection to our interior lives? Or does it? Instead of Christians bragging about the number of books they have gotten rid of or kept, I want to wrestle with our relationship to the physical. I think that is in part what Kondo is doing and that’s why it’s hitting a nerve, for better and for worse. I am afraid that once again the Church has abdicated some degree of responsibility to the “culture out there” as if we can’t taste a bit of our own hypocrisy as we sip our fair trade coffee in church-branded mugs.

Parenting in Paris

She has always used my body to support hers. Here I am, her footstool.

There was a time when I knew everything about my children. I knew their due dates before they were born, remembered their birth weights and lengths. Two were born in the morning. One arrived at 12:02 pm just to be special. I knew what they ate, when they ate it, which side they had last nursed, when their diaper had last been changed.

Do you remember the fear and shock when the hospital just sent you home with your newborn? We did it three times and couldn’t believe no one asked any real questions except about a car seat and then double-checked the hospital security bands, which we thought was funny because our kids are all Cheeseheads (born in Wisconsin) so they were the only Asian babies – a full head of dark hair that caused nurses and doctor to gasp each time.

So 8,451 long days that were also 23 short years later my daughter and I traveled through Paris and Iceland in what felt like a dream and master class in parenting a young adult child.

Some things never change

We shared a bed through the entire trip, and I couldn’t help but listen to her breathing settle into sleep, watch her move around until she relaxed. She was the same. The infant, baby, toddler, preschooler, little girl, pre-teen, teenager and now young woman all wrapped up in one – still sleeping deeply enough to have once slept through a microburst that tore through our neighborhood. My instinct to cover her and brush her hair away from her face remained.

But so did her instinct to brush away my hand and look at me ever so briefly with a mix of annoyance and familiarity. I want to push away anything and everything, even if it’s a wayward cowlick, to make her way easier, more open, better, and her instinct is to push for autonomy and discern her own preferences. It is her journey and story she will perhaps one day tell but of which I am a beneficiary of. After all, her learning to push away is what got us to Paris. She had been planning her own trip to Europe when she asked me if I would join her in Paris.

Parenting a young adult means knowing when to push even if it means getting that look and when to wait for that invitation to join in. It’s so much less about the kind of directing I did as the parent of a young child. We were the parents who didn’t ask where our children wanted to eat. They ate where we ate. We didn’t ask them where they wanted to go on vacation. They went where we took them. We involve them much more now because our children are older with preferences, limitations, interests that are more defined, but it’s still so hard to figure out where that line is and how to draw it. But being in Paris with our daughter I knew that these were lines she had drawn to include me as both mother and guest and what an honor and privilege that was.

Some things have to change

I love my own mother very much, but our relationship is different from that of mine with my own daughter. My mother and I still have language and cultural barriers, while my daughter and I have the advantage of having both grown up in the Midwest. I could never quite get my parents to understand the concept of school dances, and I’m still trying to explain to them what a prom-posal is. (Can someone tell me why this is a thing???) The impact of assimilation is palpable in my parenting. My daughter was my Snapchat tutor and helped me find a great deal on my flight to Paris with a different search engine. In my parents’ generation and culture of parenting the parent is always the parent, the advice-giver.

My daughter has spaces where she is the expert, the lead, and it was exhilarating, freeing, and unnerving to live it out in Paris. She had spent part of a summer in Paris as a student so she had a sense of the city, the subway, the places she wanted to revisit. She had a plan, and she asked me about my preferences and expectations. More often than not she was the one leading the way through the streets and subway transfers. It was disorienting enough to be in a foreign city, but to see my daughter as the one leading the way was beautiful. Mothers of little ones, hang on. The babies grow up into grown adults who will forever be your babies. Your babies change and have opinions and questions, preferences (thank goodness we both love baguettes, cheese, and red wine) that you cannot dictate. The time is coming. It’s amazing.

It’s also scary. I’m sure none of my Dear Readers have control issues when it comes to parenting, but I do. I thought it would be easy to let go my tendency to pick up after my child when she was 23 but when you’re sharing a small space that messy suitcase spilling out over the floor is as annoying as the messy bedroom at home she will never sleep in permanently ever again. I thought I would know how to read the silence in our time together as intuitively as I learned to interpret her cries. Just kidding. I never could tell the difference between her hungry cry and her diaper cry.

But the chatterbox toddler who asked a million questions doesn’t always grow up to be the extrovert. Instead of wishing the questions would stop, I’m learning how to ask questions after I decide what it is I really want to know and understand about her young adult life.

It’s not easier. It’s different.

A wise older friend once told me, when I was in the thick of diapers and sippy cups, that parenting never gets easier. It just changes.

I felt that intensely as we tried to strike a good balance between being tourists and simply enjoying being in Paris. There were moments vaguely similar to those long days as I wondered if her silence was simply exhaustion, a need for introvert time, frustration with me, or hangriness. And then I had to remember that being the parent of a young adult means your child now has the vocabulary and capacity to answer questions. To be an adult. “I’m not ready for a meal, but I could use a snack. Do you want to keep exploring or join me for a snack?” “I’m fine staying here for another hour or so. Would you like to go ahead to the apartment?” Those were questions we asked each other. Mother to daughter. Daughter to mother.

And then came the goodbye. Somehow nine days that looked like more than enough time to spend together in Paris and Iceland snuck up on us, just like the long days sneak up into years that vaporize. The first day of school is both the best and worst day of the year for me as a mom who has had the privilege of working from a home office. The silence in the home after a long summer of a never-ending revolving door of children and their friends and their toys, electronics (my youngest son’s friends are known to bring their gaming PCs over for a night of gaming), socks, hoodies, keys, cars, drama, and heartbreak is both welcomed and lonely.

But when your child no longer lives at home, no longer has clothes in her bedroom dresser or closet the goodbye doesn’t get easier. It changes. I thought saying a mutual goodbye at the airport, where we were both headed to our respective homes would be fine.

It wasn’t easier. The tears welled up, and I took a deep breath. We both took a deep breath and said goodbye.

Split Second Decisions

Last week I posted a vaguebook request on my author Facebook page:

My Dear Readers,
I’d love your prayers. I am speaking two more times at chapel… I had something that happened at the first chapel that has shaken me up a bit….

There wasn’t enough time to elaborate but as a Christian brought up to believe prayer and the covering of prayer by your community is important I asked for prayer. I couldn’t type more. I couldn’t think about it too much because I wanted to cry, vomit, and scream.

Last week I was speaking on a Christian campus at the morning chapel services. I was preaching/speaking/talking using Mark 5: 21-33 as my text. I love this passage about Jairus and his 12-year-old daughter and the bleeding woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  I have part of the passage tattooed on my right forearm as a reminder of what Jesus does for this woman.

I used the words menstruation and menstrual blood because that why the woman was bleeding. As a woman who was taught to be ashamed of her body and the things it did in order to one day bring forth life just like Mary did for Jesus, I believe it’s important to be beautifully explicit. I joked that it was probably the first time a chapel speaker talked about periods. I didn’t get much of a laugh. Whatever, I thought I was funny.

But the call to prayer was because as I was wrapping up I talked about a few things that are broken in this country, things that break my heart and make me desperate for Jesus. I mentioned the mass shooting that had just occurred in Aurora, IL and the arrest of an 11-year-old boy in FL who had refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

That’s a lie!

That’s when things got tense.

I believe my wording was along the lines of: “An 11-year-old was arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. I don’t know what you thought about Colin Kaepernick, but an 11-year-old being arrested breaks my heart.”

And then a male voice from the audience yelled back: “That’s a lie. He made terrorist threats!”

I have never felt so unsafe as I did in that moment.

In a split second I had to:

  • decide if I would respond to the man. I did not. I paused, caught myself and went on.
  • decide if I felt safe enough to stay on stage or trust the school would remove me from stage if someone else felt like I was in danger. I stayed but learned someone had moved quickly to get to me just in case.

Two more times

And then I went back up and did that same talk two more times. But I did it differently because after the first time I was asked about the Florida boy’s arrest. I was asked how I was feeling and if I was ok, but the conversation quickly shifted to the news story and one response was to point out that technically the boy was not arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge. No, technically no one can be arrested for that because it isn’t illegal to sit during the pledge. But the point was indirectly made clear that the particular example was now in question.

I just wrote a book about raising your voice and speaking up about the things we are most passionate about, and I am writing this as an example of when I chose to back off. I decided that for the next two talks I would not use the example of the 11-year-old being arrested, in part because his refusal to stand for the pledge angered the substitute teacher. I decided that I could not count on the school supporting me, a paid outside speaker, if and when concerned students, parents of students, and alumni emailed the school.

I decided that even though the man yelling at me was lying (the boy in Florida did not make terrorist threats) I didn’t want or need to put myself in that situation.

But it got me thinking

I’m not sure what I said the next two times I got up to preach/speak/talk. I did not feel great or even good about what I said and how I said it. I was unnerved, shaken, and scared. I did not know where the voice was coming from or if that young man was going to approach the stage. It didn’t matter which school it was, which state I was in, what the laws are. I didn’t know.

As a woman of color who talks publicly about things that are considered political (Jesus should get under everyone’s law and order skin because he didn’t care the woman broke the law by being in public while she was bleeding and unclean), I am not new to controversy. For all of the public speaking events I have done I have never once asked about crisis protocol, but this experience got me thinking about what I need to be asking event planners in the future.

It also got me thinking about imposter syndrome because in that moment of fear was also the fear that I had failed and couldn’t do the whole speaking in public thing even though that was exactly what I was doing. I told a friend of mine later that I felt like a failure, that as a WOC I can’t just be good enough or average. I have to be better than my best because so few of us get invited to preach/speak/talk that I feel like if I mess up event planners will be less likely to invite me again AND less likely to take a chance inviting another WOC they do not know or are less familiar with than, say, a white man or woman who has more platform than I. Does that sound absurd? This is what imposter syndrome operating in white supremacy sounds like. It tells me and other WOC that we have to actually be better than the average white woman or man to have a chance because we don’t get the same chances to build platform and audience.

It also made me angry. I have been asking for the past 10 years for an additional plane ticket to public speaking events so that I do not have to travel alone. I would’ve loved having a friend or my husband with me to pray with and cry with after this was all over. There were good people on campus with whom I could talk with, but no one I could just be completely honest and vulnerable with. I held it together like a professional Christian and waited until my husband greeted me at the curb and then I cried.

For all the conservative values around women and ministry and marriage, etc. you’d think I would’ve gotten at least one additional plane ticket in 10 years but maybe it’s because I’m a woman or a WOC with a smaller platform and less pull? Whatever. I’m still mad.

Welcome to the Christian Industrial Complex.

What’s next

The man was removed from the auditorium. I was told that it was swift, and I didn’t hear or see a commotion. I’m grateful. Rumor has it he was told that he should know better than to use the words “terrorist threats” these days in an auditorium, but the young man most likely would never be considered a terrorist, maybe a lone wolf at worst.

I’m grateful I’m safe and that he was removed without incident. I’m grateful he didn’t have a gun. I’m angry that I have to worry about this. I’m angry that I felt like my choice of words were in question and would not be supported. I’m angry that people may think this happened because of the specific campus or state. Nope. It’s all broken, it’s heart breaking, and it makes me desperate for Jesus.

This all came on the heels of my leaving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after 21 years of ministry. This chapel talk that shook me to the core was on the Monday after my last day with an organization that helped shape my leadership and confidence. The devil is a liar but a sneaky one at that.

I’m not sure what’s next. I do know there aren’t any chapel talks or public events until May. There is time to cry some more, rest some more, pray some more.

My Dear Readers, thank you for praying, for the messages, for the texts. Thank you to the students who reached out via IG. No, that man doesn’t represent the whole of your community but he does represent a part of your community. His community patted him on the back and will use it as an example. What will you do with that knowledge? How will you love and correct siblings like that? And for that matter, that man isn’t just on a college campus. He’s in our churches and communities. My Dear Readers, how will be love and correct them when some of us are put in risky situations? How will thoughts and prayers cover us?

Photographs, Microaggressions & Choosing Silence

“Take a picture. It lasts longer.”

I don’t remember saying this to the white strangers, but my younger sister swears up and down that this was my response to white strangers staring at us while we were on a family vacation somewhere in the U.S. There were so many times our family of four would pull up in the Oldsmobile to find ourselves clearly out of place. We were Americans but we mine as well have been purple because we always saw people stare as if they, the white Americans, have never seen people who looked like we did. And apparently during one of those stare-downs I made eye contact  and said, “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.”

My parents couldn’t afford plane tickets but they could drive us anywhere and so we did – Florida, Vancouver, Maine, and so many national parks. That also meant finding ourselves in places even less diverse than “home,” and decades before I would hear the word “microaggression” I had already cataloged a lifetime of them through the Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, and even Wall Drug. Maybe it was because my parents were stunning (and still are because Asian don’t raisin, which if you aren’t Asian you might not want to say out loud because some jokes and phrases and words aren’t yours to use) or because my sister and I were and still are stunning. But POC’s know when were are “the first” or one of the few. We know that look, that stare as if we ought to be caged animals in a zoo up for display.

It has happened when my spouse and I walk into a predominantly white space. It happened when my spouse and I were actually at a zoo and the white woman near us mentioned how interesting the Japanese snow monkeys were while trying to engage us in conversation by repeating, “Japanese snow monkeys” in slightly slower speed. It happened when we first moved into our current home. It happened yesterday when my friends and I were visiting the Quad Cities visiting one of “the kids” at college.

There were five of us, and we had just read on a historical marker about a public swimming pool in the area that would be opened to African Americans only to be drained and cleaned before being reopened to whites. All of this in the 1960s. It made me mad and sad and we talked about how things had changed and hadn’t and walked on at some point noticing that several people – white people – were staring at us, us meaning the two of us Asian Americans. M and I both knew it. We both saw it. We both looked at each other and finished each other’s thoughts out loud about being stared at, and we were both thinking about that phrase: Take a picture. It lasts longer. And we both knew it wasn’t safe to engage those people.

We chose silence for survival.

We did mention what was happening to the others. T asked if we would point it out if it happened as we retraced our steps to the car, and we said it wasn’t worth it because who knows what could happen.

I chose silence because I am not a brazen child but a grown woman in 2018 fully aware that one of the few things that have changed in the past few years is that there is permission and acceptance of public displays of racism and violence against POC. I am aware that engaging someone for a microaggression could actually put me and my friends in danger and in the public eye at fault if violence erupted.

We chose silence for survival, but as I wrote in Raise Your Voice there are other ways than your physical voice to raise your voice. So here I am back at the blog to remind my Dear Readers to keep fighting the good fight, open your eyes and remember when you get stared at like a caged animal in a zoo on display choose love. The older white couple, the younger white woman, the white man sitting alone all staring at me like you’d never seen beautiful, confident, strong Asian American women – you also are made in God’s image. I see you even though you cannot yet see me.

 

When a White Girl Wears Vintage “Chinese” Dress to Prom

There was a white girl from Utah who wore a “vintage Chinese dress” for prom. There was no indication on her post that she knew it was a qipao (Mandarin) or cheongsam (Cantonese). She wrote (and no, I will not link it here) that she found it at a vintage clothing store, was told by the store owner that it was vintage, and bought it because she liked it. She comments that it was an act of appreciation of the Chinese culture.

And then the internet blew up. She got a ton of followers. White woke people called her out. Asians thanked her. Asians told her, “BOOOOOO!” Asian Americans said they don’t care. Asian Americans said, “BOOOOOOOOO!” White people said people of color look for things to be offended by.

Good golly. It’s only Tuesday. Fullish moon anyone?

I have a lot of thoughts because cultural appropriation is complicated because it cannot be discussed separate from the social construct of race and how non-white bodies are policed, commodified, objectified, and regulated. Cultural appropriation also cannot be discussed without addressing the impact of colonization (historic and present-day), internalized racism, and social location.

Again, I’m not going to provide all of the definitions because I blog for free and you can Google it.

This is not an exhaustive post, but here my thoughts after a morning yoga practice (where I am also having lots of conversations about cultural appropriation) and half a cup of coffee.

“She can wear whatever she wants!” screams of, wait for it, western white privilege. Yup. There are many of you who are upset that people are upset. There are many people out there in the interwebs upset that people are upset. You believe no one has the right to be upset about what an individual white girl chooses as an individual to her prom let alone face the public consequences and backlash should she choose to post it publicly on Twitter. There are so many people telling me I have no right to be annoyed because it’s her right to wear what she wants. What? She posted the picture on TWITTER. Yes, she can wear whatever she wants AND be prepared for the consequences.

The consequences for a white girl wearing a qipao to prom are different than when an Asian or Asian American woman/girl wears a qipao in public. (Notice, Asian is not the same as Asian American.) Again, the girls writes that she found the dress liked it, so dammit she was going to wear it. Do you know what happened when I, as a teenager, wore my hanbok (tradition Korean dress)? I didn’t even have to post it on the internet because it didn’t exist back then. People to my face and to my back and called me lots of names and none of them were, “Hey, she looked beautiful in that dress that honors HER OWN CULTURAL HERITAGE!”

And, as my wise friend Cindy Wang Brandt wrote on a mutual friend’s FB post: “If I went to prom wearing a qipao, I would experience racism – Asian women are fetishized and stereotyped. The high cut on the thighs would make me subject to perverse associations because of that fetish. A white woman wearing it is just a cute schtick.”

I’m also reading comments from white people who have family or friends or some connection to ASIA or China (y’all know Asia is a continent and not a country, right? Just like Africa is a continent and not a country.) and that’s why it’s ok to wear a qipao. Sure, your family lived as expats (also a privileged term) and you love the culture. Cool. Take note that you are also consumers of the culture and do not have to pay the price and face the racism when you wear that qipao here in the US. Yes, it’s getting better, but no it’s not really that much better. It doesn’t matter whether or not I ever wear a hanbok to honor my own cultural heritage. I still get asked where I learned my English and where I am really from because even though I am a US citizen who wears yoga pants religiously I am not seen or approached as an American.

Non-Asian and non-Asian Americans say they wear clothing or eat food or collect art or cultural kitsch in appreciation but get all defensive when asked how exactly is eating at Panda Express or the local Chinese restaurant appreciating culture? I actually asked  the white girl who wore the qipoa to prom on her Twitter feed if she knew anything about the style of the dress (Don’t forget fashion is often political.) or what her Chinese or Chinese American friends thought about her dress choice. If you are going to claim appreciation, you better do some homework. Don’t throw “cultural appreciation” out there as if to equate consumerism as the same. It isn’t the same thing though related.

Don’t forget colonialism. I am always amazed and amused at how the US education system fails its people on the daily. One commenter (never read comments, never read comments) wrote about her grandparents living overseas, etc. My grandparents could not just come over to the US to live here for a bit for work and then go back. Immigration laws and restrictions actually limited the number of people from Asia because we weren’t desirable until the flow from eastern European nations slowed down. White business people, heck even missionaries, can go into another country with limited understanding or fluency of the language and still manage because of the economic and political force the US traditionally has wielded. My grandmother? She was told to learn English. I’ve been told to stop speaking my foreign language in public.

And then there is the “if people in other countries are wearing jeans is that cultural appropriation?” line of commenting. No, it’s not. Appropriation involves power. When my cousins in Seoul wore western-style clothing it was considered modernization. Why? Because only backwards people don’t wear western clothing. Again, it’s the impact of colonization. Non-western countries adopt western cultural practices, adopt new technologies, westernized clothing, learn English on top of their mother tongue, in order to compete globally. Think about the recent summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-Un. They wore suits. Kim’s suit had a Mandarin-style collar, again politically-influenced fashion, but they both wore suits. For those of you who watched beyond the handshakes and crossing of the border, you saw men wearing traditional clothing specific to the type of occasion. As if people in the US don’t make fun of Kim as some sort of emasculated communist puppet, imagine if he and President Moon appeared wearing hanbok. No, most of you wouldn’t have had a cultural appreciation moment.

Things are slowly shifting with more school districts adopting language immersion programs alongside ESL programs, but we here in the US generally don’t see a need to change and learn. We just take what we want and call it appreciation.

Also, and this is another blog post entirely but sometimes POC will fall in line and say stuff like this ok because of internalized racism. It happens in all communities of color. We approximate whiteness in different, destructive ways.

Michael Eric Dyson writes in Tears We Cannot Stop,“The ventriloquist effect of whiteness has worked brilliantly; black mouths moving, white ideas flowing. What your vast incuriosity about black life keeps you from knowing, and this is heartbreaking to admit, is that we black folk often see ourselves the same way you see us.”

And I have to add that this is a young woman wearing a dress with a slit that rides up to her boy-short panty line. I like to think I am all for female empowerment and feminism, but many of us know that if a black or brown girl (heck, even an Asian American girl) wore a dress with a slit that high people would be calling her names that rhyme with bow and thut because issues around race and ethnicity intersect with gender.

So, what do you think? Have you ever worn a qipao or thrown a Cinco de Mayo party? Have you ever dressed up as a geisha or though Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles was hilarious? Is there anything you’ve done that you now see as cultural appropriation? What made it shift from appreciation to appropriation? Or maybe vice versa?

 

 

 

 

 

25 Things I’ve Learned During 25 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

I know you have been waiting a year for my new list. I toyed with the idea of simply adding #25 to last year’s list of 24 things I’ve learned during 24 years of marriage, but I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t look at last year’s list. I’m just sitting here across the desk from my groom (Bahahahahahaha! No, I don’t ever call him that. He was my groom 25 years ago. Today he is my husband, spouse, +1. We put a ring on it so no more bride and groom unless we are referring to the Church and Jesus or we are around white Christians.)

Peter and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a day off. We might even go buy some towels because we still have towels from our wedding shower. They are thinner, unlike the two of us, but just like us they have absorbed so much in the past 25 years. We also took a cooking class together on Sunday where he learned to separate a yolk from the egg white and practice/learn knife skills. I learned you don’t always have to stir the pot because sometimes too much stirring ends up steaming the food instead of browning it. That is definitely something I need to do some more thinking about…

We met in November 1992. We got engaged on December 26, 1992 with about 100 friends and family exchanging gifts in the Korean tradition. We then got married in front of a gathering 10x that size. From the time we met to the time we were married was just over six months. I’ve learned so much.

  1. Sometimes you have to go to bed angry because you have to go to bed and go to work the next day.
  2. Commitment is a lot harder when neither of you are changing in the same way at the same time.
  3. It’s easy to criticize the parents-in-law when neither of you are a parent-in-law.
  4. You learn a lot about yourself and about your spouse when you take on DIY home improvements.
  5. Our taste buds change as we get older, and for us that has meant he has always liked beer and I now like red wine, bourbon and whiskey.
  6. Our sex drives change as we get older. I’m premenopausal and have barely any sex drive. He is not premenopausal.
  7. Despite changing sex drives, the most difficult thing about having sex is working around the schedule of teenage children. They stay up so late!
  8. Your spouse doesn’t have to be your best friend. If your spouse is your best friend, lucky you. I mean that. But that won’t make or break your marriage.
  9. Try to find things you enjoy together and bless the differences. I just don’t see the point in paying to run, but I make awesome signs and ring a mad cowbell. I also don’t see why you need multiple bowling balls but he also doesn’t share my desire to  overcome my fear of being upside down and learning to handstand. Mutual respect.
  10. Even after 25 years we can’t read each other’s minds. Instead, we try to practice over- communication: I dramatically unplug the little fragrance things in his car vents because they give me a headache.
  11. Work on your own shit. Seriously. Marriage won’t fix you, and you can’t fix someone else.
  12. Sometimes I actually can read his mind. It freaks him out every time, and I revel in it.
  13. Be playful. A friend gifted me a life-size Rose Tico cut out and I put her by the kitchen light switch in hopes it would scare the bejesus out of Peter. It did. For several days. This morning I came down and he moved Rose, but it did not scare me. I’m moving her tonight. He is going to pee in his pants!
  14. Maintain your friendships. My best friend from college and I used to joke that we would outlive our husbands and move into a retirement community together like a Korean American Golden Girls. We are serious. I love Peter but it is special to have friends I’ve known longer than Peter and I have been married.
  15. Maintain good couple friendships. We are truly blessed to have neighborhood friends  where the husbands genuinely like each other and no longer need the wives to set up  daddy playdates. We also learned that none of our husbands went to prom and all of the women did so there’s that.
  16. If you’re the praying type pray for each other. I grew up in a culture that encouraged singles to pray for their future spouses with little instruction on how prayer would change, let alone last 25 years. Yes, there can be things you are praying about for 25 years and celebrating answers to prayers of 25 years!
  17. If you have children and are hoping things will get easier in marriage as the children get older or, in our case, start leaving the nest. The problems you don’t address in your marriage don’t leave with your children. They stay. Across the table at breakfast or dinner when it’s just the two of you.
  18. Have each other’s back and dreams. He wanted to run a half marathon, and then a couple more, and then a marathon, and now maybe back to a 10k. YES! Run! Stay healthy because I selfishly don’t want to be a widow. Me? I want to write and speak at events across the country AND go prepare for my midlife crisis by wanting to get certified as a yoga teacher. He says, YES! buys me coconut water so I stay hydrated during training at a hot yoga studio, rubs my feet after I get home from the airport with puffy feet.
  19. There is no perfect marriage. Even the bible is lacking in perfect examples. So don’t beat yourself over the head if you don’t cook meals together. We have done just fine with divide and conquer. I cook. He cleans. I wash. He folds and irons. He puts away the towels, I rearrange them the right way.
  20. Buy a king-size bed as soon as you can afford to or have space for.
  21. If your spouse tells you that you snore, you snore. Get checked for sleep apnea because snoring can be a strain on your marriage and on your heart.
  22. Just like with anything, learn to ask for help – help from each other or for your marriage.
  23. Look into each other’s eyes and tell each other, “I love you.” Emojis and texts are cute. Handwritten notes are lovely, even with horrible handwriting (his). Eye contact is severely underrated.
  24. Learn to apologize.
  25. Love is a verb. (It’s also a four-letter word in the very best way.)

 

Happy anniversary to us. Peter, I love you. Here’s to the next 25.

--------------- This is us on our 24th anniversary, celebrating Corban's senior night for gymnastics.

————————————— This is us on our 24th anniversary, celebrating Corban’s senior night for gymnastics.

 

 

 

 

When Hashtags Intersect on #InternationalWomensDay

It’s #InternationalWomensDay – perfect timing to crawl out of my current winter depression/anxiety cycle and work out my fingers to celebrate my sisters!

A few weeks ago a group of my Asian American friends and I posted a photo of ourselves with a nameless white man to start a slow awareness campaign of the power of women doing gospel work. It was a tongue-in-cheek take at another conference featuring one black man in a sea of white men, and personally it was a moment to consider how much boat-rocking I was actually willing to do knowing that a photo like ours would raise questions about exclusivity because instead of all white men we were sharing a photo of all  Korean American women.

On the surface it can look like two sides of the same coin but actually it’s not that at all. We don’t exist on the same coin. White men (and women) still hold much of the power in the Christian Industrial Complex so comparing our motley crew to a promotional photo for a well-attended, well-funded, organizationally-backed and branded conference isn’t the same as our photo. I will mention, however, it sure was fun figuring out if we were going to do this and how we would pull it off because what are the chances that all of us would actually ever share the same space as presenters, speakers, and leaders?

The follow-up? Removing the anonymous white man (stock photo) to present this:

From L to R, back row: Helen Lee, Erina Kim-Eubanks, Erna Hackett, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Gail Song Bantum and front row: Sarah Shin, yours truly, Irene Cho, Angie Hong, and Jenny Yang. We are writers, authors, pastors, theologians, artists, worship leaders, ordained and not, activists, and incredible. We all love Jesus and do incredible work and ministry together for the gospel and because of the gospel. And we also recognize that while we don’t carry the same influence and power as some of our white sisters and brothers, we do have influence and the ability to elevate and cheer on one another.

My list of women to celebrate on this #InternationalWomensDay is long but for now I want to celebrate this short list of #WomenForTheGospel #WFTG #W4TG because we share both “han” and “jung” both of which I will have to explain later.

Who are you celebrating and elevating today????

 

 

Resistance Requires Sacrifice and the #RubyWooPilgrimage

I have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving today for the #RubyWooPilgrimage. It’s not that I’m not excited. I am. I am excited about being with an incredible group of diverse women from across the country to journey and learn together about the road women before us have traveled in order for us to be able to do this together. It’s an honor and privilege to take the time away from work and home while staying connected to both through technology.

But being a woman also means many roles with conflicting schedules and demands on my time. My emotions pull in opposite directions. This trip is no exception. Every time I leave my family there is a moment of hesitation.

Is this the invitation God has for me today?

Today also is my husband’s birthday. Birthdays are medium deals for us. We exchange gifts, go out to eat, share funny stories, and then eat some more. The celebrations tend to be a bigger deal for the kids, but even as they have gotten older the celebrations are more subdued. But they are important, and it seems so odd to be sitting in the airport (where, of course, the flight is delayed) instead of eating dim sum with Peter. And, right now, knowing that the plane I am supposed to be on hasn’t arrived at the gate doesn’t make the thought of Peter and our youngest sitting there, ordering shumai, sticky rice and pork, and egg custard tarts, make me wonder if this is worth it.

Today, God’s invitation is to be sad about missing my family and to hope for the journey to come.

I don’t know many of the women I am joining in Syracuse. Some of the women I “know” only through our interactions on Facebook and through one another’s blogs. This will be a reunion of sorts for many of us, and I am looking forward to connections made in real life. Others are complete strangers, only known to by their email addresses, and I am looking forward to connecting with more like-minded women.

But God’s invitation also is to be honest. I am tired. I am not sure about my capacity to build new relationships in the midst of what will surely be an emotional and spiritual deep dive into women’s history in the United States – and how our histories have sometimes meant oppressing one another. I am not sure how I am going to trust more white women and more non-Asian American women into my circle.

The white pundits and pastors keep saying that our world is more divided than ever, as if they are surprised. I am not surprised. I feel it everyday, as my own willingness to code switch dies. Four days on a bus traveling with a diverse group of women could be a little part of the solution, the beginning to bridging the gaps.

But in order to bridge the gaps we must be willing to name the gaps, the canyons that separate us as well as the reasons why those divisions were created.

We must be willing to name how they are being sustained, and honestly talk about what is at stake if we are truly committed to unity and healing.

Healing sounds lovely but it’s not easy.

Think about cancer. Chemotherapy kills the cancer, including some of the good cells. I’m not always sure if even I want to do that kind of all out attack on racism and patriarchy. What are the things I have come to benefit from in a broken system that may have to die in order for all of us to live?

But, I’m here (even though the plane still hasn’t arrived). I’m here because sometimes birthday dim sum can wait. The revolution may not be televised but I certainly want to be a part of it. So I’m here with my red lipstick, and all the hope and honesty I could pack.

This article was originally published by Freedom Road.



No Justice, No Peace of the Gospel Conference

 

My tweets and Facebook post brought down the Peace of the Gospel conference and this is the story. It’s not a new story, but it comes with some specific questions for all of us whether or not you are religious.

The Timeline 

I don’t actually have the time to sit at my computer and call out every Christian conference with a line-up of all white platform speakers. There are variations on the theme – all Black male speakers, all Asian American male speakers, all white female speakers, etc., but most often it is the sheer lack of ethnic and racial diversity on stage and in the planning.

So when yet another such conference was brought to my attention by a white male friend, let’s call him Brad, who actually had not noticed the all-white keynote speaker list, I was humbled by his reaction. Brad apologized for not noticing and asked what he could do. We both agreed that contacting the organizer(s) of the conference as well as any of the speakers would be a good start. Brad did his thing, and so did I.

That was in mid-May when I invited my Facebook and Twitter community to contact the organizers of The Peace of the Gospel Conference for this blatant oversight, regardless of the specificity of mimetic theory. Peace of the gospel that doesn’t include people of color, especially indigenous voices, isn’t gospel peace. I am often asked, particularly by white allies, “What can we do to fight against racism and white supremacy in Christian spaces?” so I invited folks to contact the organizer(s) through the conference website and have their concerns registered.

It was unclear to me at the time who the organizers were. There were no names on the contact form so I filled out the contact form, heard back from their web person and then heard from Michael Hardin. He asked if I wanted to speak by phone and suggested a time. I responded asking for other options since the timeframe he initially offered up didn’t work for my schedule. I never heard back from him. I write this because this is not my first rodeo in raising my voice and trying to speak truth to power – Deadly Viper, Rick Warren, etc.

Every time I am asked why I didn’t handle things privately (try calling up Rick Warren privately), which assumes we are all on an equal, level playing field. Newsflash. The playing field was not created with equality and equity in mind. The playing field, even if we pray at it or read the Bible at it, was created with certain power dynamics in mind. A publicly advertised Christian conference does not allow for or require Matthew 18:15-17 treatment. However, when asked for a phone call I tried and never heard back. I have the receipts.

A diversity statement was issued. I tried to offer any help I was told in so many words that things were being handled. Cool.

And then I found out in September the conference was cancelled.

Why Now

So, I am not always known for my patience but I am growing in that area. Please take note that it is now the end of October. I found out about the cancellation in September because Brad contacted me about a disturbing email he had received about the cancellation. I am named in the email, blamed for assassinating the conference. I sat on this because I had never been singled out in that way and later realized that the email had been sent to conference registrants. I have no idea how many people received that email. All I know is that I didn’t feel safe. My posts about things like this often are public. My husband worries about that but supports me and agrees that this is part of what I am supposed to do, my “calling” in Christian-ese.

So I focused on editing and rewriting my book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.  Yes, it was time to do as I say.

I hesitated to include the email because Asian American Christian women aren’t supposed to be confrontational, etc. and being abrasive or accused of assassinating anyone or anything doesn’t feel good. However, I decided to include it because the words and context matter.

PeaceConference email

Take Note

  1. The Blame Game – Perpetuating racism and more specifically white supremacy is apparently never any one’s fault except for the people who dare to call it out. In the email there are two of us mentioned by name (I was Ms. Nasty on Twitter, not FB, but right now I am Pres. Virgin Islands because I think I’m funny). WE ARE BOTH WOMEN OF COLOR and we were blamed for the demise of a conference and personal ruin because we had the audacity to ask the question, “WHY in 2017 is a Christian conference only featuring white speakers?”
  2. Diversity Statements – Corporate America was the blueprint for the Church’s diversity statements because too many of us Christians wrongly believed the gospel is separate from social justice and diversity. Apparently Genesis, Acts, I Corinthians and Revelation to name a few books of the Bible don’t actually speak to God’s intention behind diversity in nation, tribe, people and language. In that vein, issuing a diversity statement means about as much as a New Year’s resolution. You can put one out there but let’s see where you are at in a few weeks.
  3. Power and Money – My husband and I have some money socked away for retirement, but I predict we will die before we pay off the loans we have taken on to help our kids pay for college. Never mind the embarrassing amount of credit card debt we carry. So it is worth noting that Hardin’s email includes financial details, details that are not my problem but remind us that even in the Christian conference world there is money to be made and lost. It truly is the Christian Industrial Complex and the sooner we are wiser to it all the sooner we can be more critical about the systems out there and our own personal finances. Hardin also writes about his faithfulness to a call to sacrifice but appears to be displeased with his current financial situation. I can relate to the tension of living faithfully and wanting a vacation, and I am not always faithful or excited about raising my salary through individual donors. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we can’t claim to be faithful to Jesus’ call, cry poor when you say you chose that life, and then blame two women of color without ever examining your own privilege and power.

Take Action

Justice and peace are not achieved by tweeting and posting but both can be activated from whatever space we inhabit. I hesitated to write anything about this because it is exhausting – spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust? I don’t know if there were others who received this email and are connected to me virtually or IRL. All I know is that only Brad contacted me and for that I’m grateful. This isn’t a personal fight. This goes much deeper to embodied faith and theology, integrity, and witness in public and private spaces and how what we do and say in different spaces do or don’t align.

So what does this have to do with you, my Dear Readers?

  1. The Blame Game – Please remember this actually isn’t about one person or a personal issue to be dealt with privately. How we chose to live out our personal beliefs in the public say more about us than about whom we claim to follow. If you received this email or know of others who are in this mimetic theory/theology crowd, how will you talk about the inherent racism and misogyny expressed in the fallout of the conference? When you see FB posts or tweets what will you do or say? Will you raise your voice or stay silent? Also, this isn’t a single incident. This will happen again. It probably happened today, and it’s not just conferences. Did you hear an offensive joke and let it go? Did you repeat an offensive joke and tell someone to get a sense of humor? Do you actually know why people are kneeling during the national anthem or boycotting the NFL?
  2. Diversity Statements – Words have meaning. Words are cheap. On a personal level you can say all you want, post all you want to look like an ally but at the end of the day your relationships and actions out there at work, at church,  when you’re angry, when you’re tired and the line isn’t moving fast enough, etc. will tell the truth. It’s the same with churches and organizations. All are welcome just means you opened the door. It doesn’t mean you made the doorway or what people encounter inside actually welcoming. Ask me how I know.
  3. Power and Money – Do you go to conferences? Read books? See movies? Before you plunk down registration fees take a close look at the speakers, and, if you can find out, the planning team, the leaders, etc. Do they represent your personal values? Do they reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God? Does the way you spend money align with your values?

Any other suggestions??? I could use some help here, and I’m still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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