Yoga, Praise Nights, Harvest Celebrations, Christmas Trees and Easter Eggs

Every now and then on late-night television a commercial for Time Life music collections sends me back into the 70s, 80s or 90s. Or the commercial makes me want to plan a romantic night with my husband or remind me of how I drowned in relationship (or non-relationship) drama in my youth as the commercial hawks a collection of love songs. But the one commercial that wigs me out the most was the one for Christian worship songs. (This is the newer version. The older version was shorter but weirder, IMO.) The shots panning the homogenous crowd, eyes shut, arms raised high, waving and swaying while the band/worship team/song leader belts out lyrics about the “blood of Jesus” or “the lamb that was slain”.

Do I look like that when I’m blissed out for Jesus in church? (Not at my current church.) Do we Christians really look like that when we are “worshipping”? Do we really look like we are at a rock concert but instead of lighters we wave little candles that are recycled for use at prayer vigils and Christmas Eve?

It’s weird. But so is dressing up like a superhero and knocking on stranger’s doors asking for candy. Or putting up a plastic tree and decorating it with more plastic and synthetic materials so that we can put piles of presents underneath it. And then break out a birthday cake for Jesus. Or filling up plastic eggs with candy and spreading them out on the lawn and having masses of children collect them, grab them. hoard them like they’ve never seen so much candy (except when they saw that much candy on Halloween).

What makes one tradition “Christian” and another “not Christian”?  Why do some Christians think it’s OK to put up a Christmas tree but not OK to go trick-or-treating? Is it the Star of David ornament we put up on top of the tree that makes it OK even though historians can connect evergreens and the use of them in non-Christian traditions? Is dressing up in costume OK and getting free candy OK so long as you don’t go door-to-door but you go to the big church in town? Is beating up on another man OK so long as you are a Christian and you let everyone know God is on your side but practicing yoga is not because it is demonic? Is it OK that my sons are second- and first-degree black belts in an ancient Eastern martial art and my daughter dances to pop music? And if it isn’t then would it be OK if my sons started watching Christian MMA and my daughter danced to Christian contemporary music?

Sometimes I don’t get my own people, which is nothing new since I am still “getting” myself.

Perhaps its the blessing of growing up tri-cultural – Korean, American and then Christian Korean American. Growing up we adopted many “American” traditions – Halloween, Sweet Sixteen celebrations and  my personal favorite, the “I’m 18 so I am an adult” tradition. We also held onto many Korean traditions – bowing to our elders on New Year’s Day and eating very yummy rice cake soup and celebrating the first 100 days of our children’s lives. And then things become a “new and improved” version of both – having our children participate in the dol-jan-chi or fortune telling on their first birthdays (with a pastor to pray for the meal), having Santa come at our Korean immigrant church Christmas Eve services (our Santa was Korean, why isn’t yours?), having a big fat Korean American wedding where a cavalcade of pastors bless the married couple who wear both the Western wedding attire and then switch into Korean wedding attire and perform a blessing and fertility ceremony.

Now that I think of it, Christian Korean Americans might be dancing with the devil. Maybe we should stick to having dollar dances and throwing bouquets and garter belts.

There is a constant ebb and flow to our adaptation of culture and faith and practices that embrace and honor both but ultimately requires wisdom, discernment and a good dose of Christ’s humility and love. If I avoided everything, every situation, every topic that the Western Church deemed unChristian I’m not sure I could remain in this world but not of it.

Where have you drawn the line?

Will You Be Watching the Wedding?

I am not getting up at 3 a.m. to start watching the pre-show, but I will be watching Prince William marry Kate Middleton at some point during the day thanks to the dvr. And then I most likely will watch it again later in the evening with some friends. And I hope to laugh and giggle and learn a little bit about my friends and their weddings and marriages and share bits of mine as well.

Do you remember Lady Diana getting out of the carriage? Her head and feet with her hand reaching out for balance peeked out … and her dress kept spilling out, yards and yards of shantung silk all wrinkled but royal. She was getting ready to walk down the aisle to meet the Prince, if not her prince, to become a princess. I remember thinking that was the longest train I would ever see and I did dream and wonder what my own wedding would someday be like.

Here in my happy green office sits a tiara. I did not wear it in a beauty pageant or in my wedding. I wore it as the emcee to an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship women’s conference. Our speaker preached out of the book of Esther, and my shtick was to wear the tiara when coming up to make the sometimes awkward but important transition between prayerful silence to logistical announcements by paying homage to the story of Queen Esther, whose story I often heard spun more like a fairy tale than the story of deliverance and courage that it actually is.

The story of Queen Esther is one I go back to at least once each season because it makes me reconsider beauty, tradition, identity and courage. It makes me consider how we can read Esther’s story as a fairytale of an orphaned girl finding her place in a palace as queen or as a harsh story of a young girl winning a place as a concubine whose husband may or may not choose to acknowledge her.

Under all of the pomp and circumstance of this royal wedding are rules and traditions, beauty and glitter and the things beneath it all that aren’t so brilliant or beautiful but must have its place. And, in its circus-y, over-the-top way it is something I want to see and take in. I suspect it will be just as beautiful and simultaneously broken as the first royal wedding I saw, just as it was even in my own wedding.

So I think of William and Kate a bit like a fictional fairytale version of love and marriage and weddings and a bit like the true story that we are all a part of. I want so much to believe William and Kate will make it and not bear the sins of their parents, and I want to believe that even in real life there is a bit of happily ever after.

So I will be there in front of the tv at some point with my tiara.

Will you? And why or why not?

Thanksgiving Turkey and Kimchee/Kimchi

Of all of the American holidays we adopted as we became a hyphenated family (Korean-American), Thanksgiving is the one that has evolved into a part of our family tradition. We have gathered for the occasional 4th of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day barbecue, days off of work making it possible but not locked into a tradition requiring scheduling around extended family and in-laws.

There is the story about  Mom roasting a duck because all birds wrapped in plastic look the same or memories of opening a can of cranberries but not having the foggiest idea of what to do with that ruby-colored gelatinous cylinder on a plate. We tried to set an American Thanksgiving table as best we could and then added the real fixings – white rice, kimchee, mandoo, jjapchae, bulgogi and smaller plates of more banchan. Sometimes there was water or sparkling apple cider or barley tea. We learned about pumpkin pie but didn’t complain if there was an unexpected plate of dduk.

Learning about “Pilgrims and Indians” was a part of my childhood experience though I don’t remember much except visiting my second grade classroom. We were moving to the suburbs and Miss Thompson was my teacher. Her classroom was decorated with turkeys made with pantyhose wrapped around wire hangers decorated with construction paper feathers. Moving from Chicago’s Northside to the western burbs was culture shock enough. Walking into a room full of stocking turkeys…well, I think I was just surprised to see pantyhose used as decoration. (Was I the only kid who grew up seeing her mother darn holes in pantyhose with some thread and seal the repair with nail polish?) What I would only later take in was that the feathers included written descriptions of the things my future classmates were thankful for. Turkeys=thankfulness. I get it!

Since then I’ve also learned turkeys=trots, bowls, platters, carving and a whole heckuvalotta work. Our family has never trotted or played football on Thanksgiving, but we know about embracing tryptophans. I have become the Thanksgiving host, and while I haven’t yet mastered the perfect gravy or dressing recipe I’ve tried brining and glazing my turkey (brining, definitely brining). The number of people at our table or tables changes from year to year, the amount of Korean food fluctuates (this year my kids are asking for mandoo, odaeng and curry to accompany the turkey) but there is a comforting and familiar rhythm to the afternoon and evening, starting with a crescendo of voices as family arrive and ending with a turkey-induced quiet and dessert over Black Friday strategies and lists.

We’ve never talked about the pilgrims or the Wampanoag Indians at our Thanksgiving table, but as I have spent quite a bit of time this year sharing bits and pieces of my family’s story – our journey from Korea to America and my journey from Korean infant to Korean American adult – I am reminded that there is a part of our family’s story and that of my Christian faith that resonates with being both the “other” and becoming and being the “hosts”, reluctant or not.

I suppose the way our dinner table looks, expressed on the faces, in the names and in the food, is a reflection of that American history  – “others” alongside the “hosts” trying to to understand one another and find a place at the table or a way to reconfigure the table to include both the turkey and the kimchee and the older American history alongside a more recent history.

It’s not a perfect history, nor is it a perfect turkey, but I am incredibly thankful.

The 40s Are Not the New 30s. I’m Looking Forward.

No, this is not a serious case of denial. I’ve had some time to work this thing out.

No regrets. That’s essentially what my Mom wrote to me in my birthday card to me this year. Written to me in Korean (yes, Mom and Dad, I am thankful that you made me do all of those Korean worksheets!), my Mom shared the wisdom of one who has been down this same path. She encouraged me to live life without regret.

Until I was about 20 years old I couldn’t wait until I was “older”. Elementary and junior high teachers asked me and my classmates, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” which lead to daydreams and funny diary entries.

In high school I spent most of my time wishing I was in college.

In college I had a lot of fun. A lot of drama, but a lot of fun. So I guess there were a few years of enjoying the present…with a watchful and sometimes impatient eye to what the future would hold.

My 20s were full of transition. College to career and then another career. Dorms to an apartment with three amazing roommates to an apartment all alone to our first apartment, second apartment and then first home. Singleness to marriage to motherhood to mourning.

My 30s felt a bit like a test run. I tried healthier habits. I tried to figure out a bit more about myself and my baggage and my legacy. I got a decent dose of what it meant to be a dutiful Korean daughter and Korean daughter-in-law and tried to learn a bit more about being a wife and mother. I tasted bitterness and sorrow, and I swallowed a few doses of each.

I made some choices to move forward and pledge allegiance and embrace both my identity and declare citizenship. I came to understand the darker, more anxious moments of my days needed more than an hour of cardio to give me a boost and stabilize things.

But that was literally yesterday. My 30s were wonderful and amazing and painful, but I don’t want to buy into the lie that tells us women that we’ve peaked in the decade prior. My memories may be gilded but my life isn’t.

Sure, today has enough troubles of its own, but I’m ready to look forward to today and each today after that.

Here’s to the 40s! Thank you 30s for preparing me for this next season!