The Vitamin L Diary: It’s Not Hidden. It’s Ignored, Excused, Shameful, and Silenced. No More.

No more.

Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.

The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.

University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.

A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.

It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?

SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.

Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.

My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.

I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.

Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.

I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.

We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.

We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.

We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.

We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.

We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.

We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.

And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.

#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas

#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin

#IAmBeyond hiding

#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face

#IAmBeyond the model minority myth

#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away

 

 

 

 

Biblical Bible Stories, Children’s Songs and Art

Do you remember the Sunday School song? Rise and Shine?

Chorus:

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!
Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!
Rise and shine and (clap once) give God your glory, glory!
(Raise hands to shoulder level and sway back and forth.)
Children of the Lord.

The Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
“Get those children (clap once) out of the muddy, muddy!”
Children of the Lord.

So Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky.
Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky.
Made it out of (clap once) hickory barky, barky.
Children of the Lord.

The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies.
The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies.
Elephants and (clap once) kangaroosies, roosies.
Children of the Lord.

It rained, and poured, for forty daysies, daysies.
Rained, and poured, for forty daysies, daysies.
Nearly drove those (clap once) animals crazy, crazy.
Children of the Lord.

The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy.
Sun came out and dried up the landy, landy.
Everything was (clap once) fine and dandy, dandy.
Children of the Lord.

Now that is the end, the end of my story, story.
That is the end, the end of my story, story.
Everything is (clap once) hunky dory, dory.
Children of the Lord.

Let me ask you. Is that song biblical? Is it true to the text? Are we corrupting scripture, or worse, corrupting the minds of impressionable children leading them to believe that the ark was made of hickory barky, barky and fail to fully explain that God didn’t really tell Noah to get the children out of the muddy, muddy but only specific children (specifically Noah’s own three sons and  their daughters) to let the rest of the children drowny, drowny? And what about the next chapter in Genesis that talks about the seven pairs of every clean animal? I don’t remember learning about those in Sunday School.

What are we Christians so afraid of? Are we afraid that an artist’s creative take on Noah’s story will prove God does not exist? Are we afraid that God cannot bring good out of what seems to me an odd lot of Australian and British fair-skinned pre-Babel people who make a strong argument for vegetarianism? Don’t we believe that all good, ALL GOOD, comes from God, and that MAYBE conversations about people’s honest doubts and questions about God and faith are good?

I haven’t seen “Son of God” in part because it didn’t capture my imagination, which is precisely what Scripture does to me. But the trailers for Noah captured my imagination and let it run a bit wild until opening night. The movie wasn’t perfect as far as movies go. Hollywood continues to disappoint me in casting all-White casts when there is no reason to do so, especially when covering Biblical territory. However, the movie did address some of the real questions about human nature and the push and pull between good and evil. The movie connected God’s original intent in creating humankind in His image and giving dominion (not the pillaging of) over the earth and the destruction humankind brings upon the earth.

And the movie tackled the crazy notion of God’s regret so deeply troubling Him enough to put the blueprints of a massive escape pod for a select few into the ears of Noah. That right there frightens me and makes me wonder what does that even look like, feel, like, and sound like? What does a man and his family experience when faced with both God’s regret and grace? And the movie let me imagine a little more, ask a few more questions, talk with our sons about God’s judgment and grace.

Honestly, if we Christians were this worried about biblical inerrancy we might want to tackle some of our favorite contemporary praise songs that double as love songs to a personal Jesus. And honestly, some of the most popular “Christian” art – movies, music, kitsch – is, um, bad. How many pastors have quoted secular business books in sermons about leadership? How many Christian Contemporary musicians are packing in the non-Christian crowds? How many praise concerts are churning out believers making recommitments at every stop? Instead of running away from culture, shouldn’t we be shaping it, creating it, leading it?

And just in case you need a little more swaying to consider watching the movie (catch a matinee or wait until it’s in the second-run theaters, but I think it’s worth seeing it on the big screen) take a walk over to Jen Howell’s blog. She’s a writer and producer in the mainstream entertainment industry AND she is a Christian.

Howell takes it from the eye of the artist as prophet, and as one whose writing and speaking voice has more than once been called “prophetic” I do not think of that label lightly. Prophets and prophetic messages were rarely the ones who got the standing O, but in her post she writes:

There is an idea among some Christians, which I am almost certain originates from Exodus 31 and 35, that there’s a link between the calling of an artist and a prophet, and that the artists are the modern day prophets. God has long used the artisans, united with Him through the act of creation, for His purposes. It appears to me that He hasn’t stopped yet. I realize that this idea may seem like over-spiritualizing, so let me unpack some of the thinking on this. The idea is basically that artists (musicians, filmmakers, writers, etc) have the ears of the culture in the way that the Old Testament prophets had the collective ear of their culture back in the day. Both have had unique positioning to inspire heart change through mass communicated messages. In the Exodus 35 passage, God fills the artisans with their gifting to build the temple, so there’s also a correlation between artistic ability and God. In the Exodus passages, the gifts of artistic workmanship are accompanied by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

I loved that Rise and Shine song as a kid in Sunday School, but I don’t want to stay that kid forever.

I Want to Be Average for Jesus – Moving Beyond Mediocrity

In this world of participation awards and ribbons, it’s easy to think we are all special. Yes, I tell the kids they are all special in God’s eyes and mine, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs or gets an award. There is a little bit in the movie “The Incredibles” that I love about everyone being special which means no one is special.

But as a Christian what does it mean to do our best? Do we really want to be average for Jesus?

I’ve been toying round with the writing thing since I was in 2nd grade. I have the journals to prove it. I didn’t think twice about publishing my writing as a journalist. Blogging is writing but not the same – no editor, my audience is my “own”, etc. The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for The High Calling website, a wonderful collection of resources founded on the belief that God cares about our work.

Please take a quick glance here and then jump on over to the full piece, Moving Beyond Mediocrity: You Are Worth It. I would love your comments here or there and invite you to explore The High Calling.

What kind of Christian thinks she can be excellent?

Eventually, I had to take a long, painful look in the mirror. Somehow I had twisted pursuing excellence, even receiving excellence, into arrogance. I had told myself I wasn’t worth excellent love. In refusing to be loved, though, I had twisted my husband’s gifts into a hurtful refusal. And though I had convinced myself I was being humble, a good steward, the truth was, I was being arrogant and selfish. I was not living fully into the gifts and skills God had given me. I was telling God the talents he gave me were not worth pursuing, not worth honing and sharpening, not worth my time and effort.

Instead of receiving humbly the gifts from my husband as well as from my God, I settled for a less-than-average love and life.

 

Hearing and Speaking “Ching Chong”

I am always a bit stunned and saddened to hear children speak Ching Chong, especially when they do it in the presence of their parents without fear of being corrected or stopped.

The other day as we were trying to enjoy a windy 65-degree day at the beach we could not but overhear three families sitting in front of us discuss the uselessness of spending time to learn a second language. As if on cue, one of the kids started in on the Ching Chong with at least one other child and one adult chiming in. Gotta love those everyday racist experiences.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of having to bite my tongue when really what I want to do is approach the offending parties and explain to them how ignorant, short-sighted, and limiting their attitudes and action actually are. I sat there, staring at my husband while practicing mindful breathing when in reality I wanted to say as they passed by, “Oh, how good you Engirsh and Ching Chong speak. Almost perfect for Haole like you. Welcome to America.”

As you can see, I need Jesus because I have practiced this conversation for too long.

The irony is that language immersion programs and second language programs are growing because America continues to slip behind not only in math and sciences but also in its ability to train multicultural, multilingual skilled workers.

The irony is that I grew up bilingual, lost much of my Korean language skills as I immersed myself in my academics, learned enough Spanish to help my kids through high school Spanish, and hated the way my parents spoke English with an accent when I was younger.

It was bad enough that I looked so weird compared to the beautiful, popular girls at school and church. It was hard knowing that my home smelled weird because of the pickled, fermented cabbage and radishes and that I probably smelled weird, too. It was humiliating and terrifying to walk home, ride the bus, walk the halls knowing that there were boys and girls who threatened to beat me up, screamed obscenities at me, and made elementary school worse than it needed to.

I loved and hated being who I was. I fiercely loved and hated my parents for their broken English and flawless Korean. And I didn’t understand until at least a decade later that regardless of the Ching Chong American kids would use to taunt me and my family it was our very ability to speak in two languages interchangeably that put us squarely in the lead of the American dream.

My parents may speak with an accent but they speak two languages. Ching Chong be damned.

But like I said, I need Jesus.

I don’t need the American dream as much as I have needed to plunge into the pain of being an outsider and embrace my multifaceted identity as a Christian Asian American/Korean American working married mother of three in the suburbs as a gift to steward not for revenge or self-righteousness but for Kingdom purposes. I have continued to appreciate the gift of language(s) and culture, and while I struggle with the anger that too quickly bubbles up inside at the Ching Chong comments I also quickly fall into a deep sadness for those who do not see the diversity and beauty of all God’s people.

There is such a limited view of God if we only know Him through the eyes of one language, one culture. Just like meaning gets lost in the translation between languages, no single culture or language can fully express, explain, proclaim the fullness of who God is and what the Gospel is. We can get a glimpse, even a blurry yet beautiful picture but it’s not complete.

So I must also correct my image of those families, children and adults who think speaking Ching Chong is funny and harmless. They are not my enemies. They are the neighbors I am called to love, and if they can’t speak my language I must learn to speak theirs. Sigh. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor.

Which leads me back to those families on the beach. They are back today. Pray with me that my scowl softens and that maybe a day at the beach will be the perfect opportunity for me to stretch my multilingual skills.

Intention Isn’t the Point or the Problem

“I’m sorry if…”

“I didn’t mean to offend…”

“I didn’t intent to hurt anyone…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“I’m not racist. My best friend is (fill in the blank)…and I love eating (fill in the blank)…”

It’s not your intention. It’s how messages are received and interpreted in the present and later as history. If intention was the problem, sins of the father and mother like slavery and genocide wouldn’t be an issue because I’m told folks back in the day really, honestly, truly believed with no malice that White was right. And some slave owners were doing what was required of them to make a living, right? They didn’t intend to create an unjust, unequal system that generations later remains broken. Lots of harm, but no foul because they didn’t intend harm, right?

No. NO! Wrong! WRONG!

Yet the defense of  ignorant – if not racist, racially-insensitive, questionable, unwise, or just “interesting” – comments, reactions, behaviors, etc. often go straight to intent, as if that covers all sins.

Take for instance Madonna, who posted a photo of her son on Instagram with a caption using the “N” word. Madonna didn’t intend to cause controversy (though at this point in her career it can only help, right?) but that’s not the point. Who uses the “N” word as a term of endearment for her White son? What kind of endearment did she intend? What world does Madonna live in that has blinded her so completely from the racial, political, and cultural issues surrounding the “N” word and excludes her from paying the consequences?

She lives in a majority culture world that is changing and giving voice and space (or perhaps voice and space is being taken up) by those who are tired of being told that intent is all that matters.

How is this for a change: I know that some of the things I say and write will offend some of you. My voice, my perspective, my point of view, my tone may cause some dissonance, confusion, and defensiveness because it’s not what you expected, different from what you believe or see or feel. I know that sometimes we will agree, but I also know that sometimes you will be offended because sometimes I am going to call you out on your stuff. And, if you are in relationship with me, you will do the same.

As a Christian, I often am told in so many ways that my outrage over issues of race, ethnicity and gender should be tempered and quieted because my first posture should be of understanding and listening.

But as an Asian American woman, my entire life has been about understanding, learning, adopting, and adapting to the ways of the majority culture. I was born into a world that awarded me when I assimilated – when I untangled my tongue and learned to speak English at the expense of twisting my Korean tongue, when I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of rice and soup to lunch (but now sushi and pad thai are cool so we’re all cool), when I despised the smell of my home even though it was the only place to go when I was chased down the street by boys screaming, “Chink, go back to where you came from!”, when I learned to sing the hymns in English and stand respectfully in the pews.

Dare I say I wouldn’t have made it this far if I had not been such a good student of understanding and learning?

And yet over and over, I and others, who don’t have the luxury to be colorblind because we have paid the price for other’s blindness and whitewashing, are told to learn, that our taking offense is actually our fault, our lack of information and intelligence.

Christianity Today/Her.meneutics contributer Anna Broadway does exactly that in her recent piece, “Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling’s Elle Cover” when she tries to quell the outrage and educate the outraged.

“I can only imagine how much richer and more intelligent the conversation might have been were visual arts education more widespread.” (my emphasis in bold)

Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling's Elle Cover

I’m not as educated in the visual arts, but I do know the difference between Instagram and film, thank you very much. I bristle at the tone and the assumption that understanding the visual arts happens in some sort of cultural and social vacuum completely void of racial, cultural, ethnic, social and gendered impact and influence.

And seriously, (unless you are younger than I am) am I really the only one who would look at this series of cover photos and not start singing:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Sure, maybe it wasn’t the intention of the cover editor at Elle to let all the White women stand up and have both face and torso photoshopped into perfection and have Mindy cut down to a glamour shot. Maybe it wasn’t their intention to raise the eyebrows of more than one outraged critic to wonder why the one woman of color is the only woman whose photograph is not in color.

But at some point, the student observes and learns to question and speak. We see patterns and gaps. We see the repetition or the absence. And I don’t know about you, but some of us are tired of being told to forgive based on intent, to keep learning about visual art or about what other people intend.

I am all for learning but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to learn.

Help Me Help You Help Me Help Someone Else

I don’t know if God will provide $73,000, but since He has already provided about $47,000 why not go for it. Go big or go home, right?

I am a full-time minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, and I have the privilege of seeing God’s Good News reach campuses across Illinois and Indiana in culturally relevant and challenging ways with students, faculty, and staff. My focus is developing ministry to Asian American, Black, and Latino students as well as equipping our staff to effectively communicate the Gospel, develop student leaders, and develop personally in an increasingly multicultural world.

In order to do what I do, I also have the privilege of inviting others to join me by praying for me and by supporting my work through financial gifts and gifts-in-kind. Currently, ministry partners faithfully, joyfully give $47,000 annually to my budget.

Here’s the kicker. I’ve been on staff for 15 years, and while my potential salary has increased my real salary has not. Part of it has been my ambivalence and discomfort with raising additional funds. I tell myself we don’t “need” more money, but I have realized that the deeper reality is that I have not been comfortable believing I am “worth” that much money. Asking more people to consider joining my financial support team not only means InterVarsity believes I am worth a higher salary but that I believe my skills, expertise, and quality of work is worth a higher salary. Asking more people to consider giving financial support mean wrestling with my own personal demons of worth, need, materialism, covetousness, envy, greed, selfishness, etc. It can get ugly.

It also makes me wrestle with my core beliefs. Do I really believe God will provide? Do I trust God even when He doesn’t answer my prayers and meet my needs in the ways I want and hope for? If I believe I am called to this work, why isn’t God providing the financial support that is required of me? Should I trust God in a new way and look for another job that doesn’t require raising support? See? Lots of trust issues.

The other kicker is that while I enjoy giving, I don’t enjoy asking. Does that make sense? I love giving gifts of all sizes and types – a jar homemade granola, a quart of homemade soup, two hours of social media help, a last-minute after school pick-up, and a portion of an unexpected windfall. I love being able to support other organizations as well as individuals in various non-profit and ministry roles. Giving away money is fun because I know that money – my salary – came from God. Giving of my time is fun because I know every day truly is a gift, even the ones that involve yelling, parenting fails, and gnashing of teeth. Every month I see the names of my partners in this amazing work and the amounts they give, and I am amazed and humbled. And every month I get to do the same thing right back.

So, here it is. If any of you, dear readers, have any interest in learning more about what I do as my day job so you can pray, learn, ask questions, give financially or in some other creative way, comment here with your contact info or email me at morethanservingtea “at” gmail “dot” com.  I suspect there are many of you out there who enjoy giving as much as I do.

Here is a link to my most recent ministry update letter.

Winter 2013 prayer letter

Giving Voice to the Korean Jesus

Last week I had the privilege and straight up crazy “am I really getting to do this kind of thing” of sitting on a panel with authors Rachel Held Evans, Rebekah Lyons, and Shauna Niequist during the Q Focus: Women & Calling event in NYC.

You can watch the Q Cast panel here. I haven’t watched myself yet. I’m not ready. But what I remember is making a passing mention of another set of Christian controversies that evolved over social media. I was talking about a certain megachurch pastor’s unpastoral response to concerns raised over a questionable Facebook post, the culturally insensitive video shown at a church planting conference, and the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church from a coalition of Christian Asian Americans.

It was about 30-seconds after my comment I realized that the audience may have had absolutely no idea what I was talking about because I, as an Asian American woman, am a different, new voice with a perspective and set of experiences just outside of what many in the room and over the internet may be familiar with. I have no set data points to prove any of this. It’s all based on observations of who was in the room, who knew each other in the room, etc. And this is not a play for accolades and affirmation. I know that I was an unknown voice for the majority of attendees. They had to read my bio and maybe google me to find out a little more.

Opportunities to be the different voice at a large conference, the imperfect woman who learned about Jesus through church lunches of marrow-rich soups, kimchi, and barley tea and hymns and the Lord’s Prayer sung and spoken in Korean and English, do not often come. It’s difficult enough for White women to be invited, which is why the issue of gender representation at Christian conferences is a tricky one personally. Q Women & Calling was unusual for me in that of the 11 women, 3 were women of color. (That seemed unusual to me. Correct me and let me know of other conferences that have that kind of representation.) When Shauna Niequist so beautifully and powerfully spoke about her mother’s legacy and journey, I was profoundly moved as Shauna talked about her mother, Lynne Hybels, finding her self.

I was also reminded of why different voices matter, even when and especially when it comes to encouraging people to trust Jesus, because finding our selves in a country, a community, or a church that looks, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels so different, and dare I say foreign, is a different journey. Ambition doesn’t mean selfishness. It often means survival.

And it was a moment of affirmation and reminder. To me, Jesus may have been blue-eyed and blonde in the painting, but He was Korean Jesus who didn’t mind the smell of kimchi and barley tea because He knew it wasn’t a way of hiding. Those were the things I tried so desperately to hide during the week. No, it was a way of nourishing our bodies and souls for a week of engaging in a world that didn’t always have time, a desire, or a need to get to know us and our different stories.

So here’s to celebrating the different voices and experiences we carry with a different edge. The first clip is from the remake “21 Jump Street” – watch only if you don’t mind swearing. The second is the incredible performance of friend and colleague Andy Kim on The Moth GrandSLAM: Taco Bell, Saving Souls and the Korean Jesus.

Found! 11 Female Conference Speakers at Q and My Voice

I was nervous. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. It’s one thing to meet some of your favorite authors (I got pictures with and autographs of Lauren Winner, Shauna Niequist, and Rachel Held Evans. #fangirl). It’s another thing to realize your voice will be heard alongside theirs, sharing space and time in real life.

Prepping to speak at Q Focus: Women & Calling last Friday involved prayer, study, journaling, yoga, prayer, red wine, outfit & accessory consulting, procrastination, and more prayer. The conversations I had with myself and with God were fraught with self-doubt, insecurity, anxiety, arrogance, confusion, and humility. And wouldn’t you know I was asked to speak about ambition.

Things I learned (some of these are things I have learned before but clearly needed a refresher course):

  • No matter how much you prepare, nothing can prepare you for a late-night call the night before a big “thing” letting you know your husband is in an ambulance headed to the hospital.
  • I am incredibly blessed by friends who say “let me know if you need anything” and really mean it.
  • The little things – a note in my luggage, texts and emails of encouragement from friends, a lovely meal with strangers who become friends, and brief FaceTime exchanges – mean a great deal more to me than I can express.
  • Honesty & vulnerability is scary, but they can break down barriers.
  • Female conference speakers do have to spend more time considering wardrobe options and ask about the mic. I wore a dress, which meant the wireless mic transmitter hung from the back of my neck. I also had to think about hemline length & shoes. Men always wear pants, so they don’t have to think about it.
  • You can never pray too much.
  • I am afraid of failure. I was especially afraid of failure because as an Asian American woman I often feel like one of the few non-White voices so my failure is not just mine but my community’s failure.
  • Despite 15 years of ministry experience and 20+ years of public speaking experience, I take note of how many speakers are non-White, and I still have to work through feeling like the token.
  • Conference directors having a tough time finding diverse voices should use the internet more often. At this event I found 11 female conference speakers, including three who are women of color.

Many of you dear readers have asked me if I was nervous, how I thought it went, what I wore, and in general what was it like.

I was nervous, until I actually got up on stage and started talking. For those of you who weren’t able to be there or see it live-stream (I was honestly annoyed that my husband paid to see me speak because I know there are plenty of days he can hear me for free and would rather not!), I got up on stage and tried to take a photo of the audience because the women were beautiful. It was such an incredible moment to look out at a room of women who were able to invest a day to spend with friends and strangers to faithfully seek out clarity and community. I am still thinking about how our world might change if everyone who was there in person or virtually took one more step towards God’s calling on their lives…

The talk went well, meaning it’s never as bad or as good as you might think. I did realize that I did not ask anyone beforehand to listen with the intent of giving me feedback. So, if you watched me speak, I WOULD APPRECIATE YOUR CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK! You can do it in the comments or email me at morethantea “at” gmail “dot” com.

With my daughter’s permission and approval I wore a grey and black patterned sheath dress with a black cardigan, a fun silver necklace, nothing on my wrists, stud earrings, and dark red patent pumps.

And walking into the room felt a little like what I have always imagined sorority rush might feel like (I did not rush because I had never heard of the Greek system, having been the first in my family to attend college in the U.S.). It was a bit like the 18-year-old me showed up for a few minutes – anxious, nervous, self-conscious, insecure, wondering what I was doing there. And then I found myself praying for God to bring “me” back – the 43-year-old me  who can acknowledge the brokenness with a different perspective.

To my delight, and no surprise there, I found myself simultaneously sitting at Jesus’ feet and in front of an incredible audience sharing from my heart and mind what God has been teaching me all along. And that will not be taken away from me.

How is God inviting you to sit at Jesus’ feet to find your voice and calling? What are you learning about yourself in the process? 

 

 

The Open Letter, How We Got Here & Where We Hope to Go

Sometimes we, meaning “I”, squash the little voice inside our heads and talk ourselves out of speaking up. Sometimes that is truly is the best thing or the right thing to do. But sometimes speaking up and speaking out is the very thing we need to do because in this case the little offenses are very much tied into the systemic issues that we are currently facing in our churches and in our country.

It’s easier to marginalize and ignore people if they aren’t one of “us.” It’s easier to welcome people into our sacred spaces but never allow them to have a voice in what actually happens in that space if they don’t have a voice or if that voice is foreign and strange. It’s easier to think we have all the right answers if we only surround ourselves with people who nod their heads in agreement.

Sometimes it’s easier, because there is a cost to speaking up and speaking out.

But in the long run there is a higher cost to pay by staying silent.

Anyway, somewhere in cyberspace I wanted to document some of the background and timeline behind the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church so after the weekend losses of my Chicago Bears and Northwestern Wildcats I figured now was as good a time as any because today, as we hunkered down at home with one child recovering from a bad cold and another child suffering through day four of the flu, I was feeling the need to ground myself again in why we started the letter.

Sometimes it’s an act of obedience.

On October 8, Christine Lee, assistant rector at All Angels Church, NYC, tagged me on a Facebook post about a skit at the Exponential Discipleshift Conference where two White men use fake Asian accents (which I refer to as speaking Ching-chong), mimicking Kung-fu or karate moves with “Oriental” music as the backdrop.

“Just had a Kathy Khang moment at Exponential conference. A humorous video abt church plant apprenticing ended in karate and Chinese accents. When I expressed my thots to one of the leaders, he explained it was a parody meant in good fun. When I said they would’ve never shown video of two white pastors pretending they were black “in good fun,” he shrugged and said, “maybe.” Sad that a good conference was dampened by this response.”

It’s important to note here that had it not been for Christine’s courage to find her voice in this situation and articulate her concerns both personally to a leader of Exponential and then publicly to others, that video may have made its way to yet another conference only to leave another group of attendees either laughing at the white guy speaking Ching-chong or others scratching their heads or, worse, feeling distance, frustration, pain, anger, or sadness because of the stereotypes used in communicating the content.

That same day Helen Lee and I exchange emails about what happened at the conference as we try to find others we know who might have been at the conference. Why find more witnesses? Why isn’t Christine’s story enough? Because I’ve learned from similar situations in the past that my intentions and credibility are questioned and scrutinized more than those of the alleged offender and his/her/their offense.  Many of the non-Asian American Christians connected to Rickshaw Rally, Youth Specialties, Deadly Viper, the Red Guard image and apology, and the skit at Exponential had people vouch for their sincere hearts, good intentions, and friendships with Asian Americans. Never mind that I may actually have more White friends than any of those people may have Asian American friends. The more proof I have the better. That’s the system, folks. It’s broken, but until we can really talk about the systems I try to play by some of the rules while I speak out.

October 9 – Helen Lee and DJ Chuang are reaching out to contacts they have with Exponential. In the meantime, Helen and I are emailing about the idea of a letter, a possible website to host the letter, names for a potential group to help draft the letter, and a brainstorming a list of contacts as potential signatories on a finalized letter while juggling homeschooling responsibilities (Helen), other work responsibilities, and family needs.

October 10 – A draft of the Open Letter is circulated amongst the grassroots committee. The committee also begins compiling a list of AA Christian leaders it would like to invite to be the initial signatories on the letter.

Exponential, with the help of DJ Chuang, also gathers some of its key leaders and invites Daniel and Jeya So to share their thoughts about the video and speak candidly about the power of stereotypes. It’s worth noting that in a room full of men, God used Jeya’s voice and story to speak powerfully to many present in the room. 

October 11 – Exponential issues an apology for the skit. The decision is made to continue with the Open Letter because it is less about addressing a single event but rather bringing attention to what has become an ongoing problem with the Evangelical church stereotyping Asian Americans.

October 14 – The Open Letter goes live on nextgenerasianchurch.com

October 15 – All sorts of social media and traditional media madness ensues and continues. Much of it is good groundwork being laid down for deeper conversations that are so needed.

We, meaning the Open Letter coordinating committee, have been asked if the letter is accomplishing anything along the lines of what we had hoped for.  My personal answer is YES. There have been many conversations with non-Asian American Christian evangelical leaders and the letter coordinating committee, as well as conversations happening all around the country (perhaps the world) about what God is stirring up. I am hopeful that the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Associated Baptist News coverage about the letter will continue to push the conversations deeper. Very, very, very early-stage brainstorming has begun about a possible gathering of the committee and other white evangelical leaders. I am hopeful.

While some may be uncomfortable with the very public nature of the letter, I believe it was necessary and the correct way to address what have been very public offenses and examples of stereotyping and cultural appropriation. These were not well-intentioned mistakes in a private conversation. These situations, regardless of intent, point to systemic and leadership blindspots. Private channels of connecting were being leveraged while at the same time the letter drew attention to repeated marginalization and many Asian American Christians are tired of being the punchline. And despite some of the harsh comments, I am hopeful.

And just in case you, here are some more voices who have joined in on the conversation about the Open Letter.

Elder J on his bi-racial (multi-racial?) children

Dora – I especially love her last paragraph

Bruce is not an Evangelical

Rachel Held Evans who usually doesn’t like open letters

NPR’s Code Switch

The Orange County Register

An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church: I Am Not Your Punch Line

There are few things as exhausting, draining, and disheartening as family drama. I’m not talking low-level sibling rivalry over who gets shot gun all the time. I’m talking deep-rooted family issues that go generations back. That kind of family drama shows up in the most inopportune times in the most inappropriate places – at someone’s wedding or funeral, at the family reunion or while grocery shopping.

But when family drama shows up in the Church, it grieves me. It riles me up like nothing else does because it is in my identity as a Christian and Jesus-follower where I am all of who God created me to be and has called me to be – Asian & American, Korean, female, friend, daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, writer, manager, advocate, activist. The Church is and should be the place where I and everyone else SHOULD be able to get real and raw and honest to work out the kinks and twists, to name the places of pain and hurt, and to find both healing and full restoration & redemption.

So when the Church uses bits and pieces of “my” culture – the way my parents speak English (or the way majority culture people interpret the way my parents speak English) or the way I look (or the way the majority culture would reproduce what they think I look like) – for laughs and giggles, it’s not simply a weak attempt at humor. It’s wrong. It’s hurtful. It’s not honoring. It can start out as “an honest mistake” with “good intentions” but ignored it can lead to sin.

Fortunately, there is room for mistakes, apologies, dialogue, learning, and forgiveness.

When several of my friends shared with me their experience at a recent church planting conference, I had to remind myself that there is room even when actors in a video clip that is supposed to be about mentoring church planters digress into using fake Asian accents, whip out some fake kung fu (or is karate? Isn’t it all the same?), and play some “Oriental” music in the background to help ground the moment. I had to remind myself that not all of my fellow Asian Americans will think this is a big deal, the sword to die on, the hill to charge. Some might even think it’s funny. Some might laugh because that has been the most acceptable response.

I have heard non-Asian American church leaders, publishers, and authors explain that they didn’t know it wasn’t OK to make fun of the way my parents speak their second language or use a mishmash of “Asian” images because they are cool.

I’ve been told to stop using my voice so LOUDLY, which is pretty funny considering my blog truly does not have as many followers as any one of those church leaders, publishers, authors, conferences, etc.

I’ve been told “complaining” doesn’t further God’s purposes.

I respectfully disagree.  Leaders should know better, and when they don’t they ought to find mentors because that is what I’ve read in all those Christian leadership books written, by and large by White Christian men. And a lifetime in America has taught me that in America and sometimes in the Church, the squeaky wheel gets the grease even if I am the nail afraid to be pushed down. I am not complaining. I am pointing out a blind spot.

I am also remembering the first time my daughter thought she ought to have a beautiful doll with blonde hair and blue eyes because the dolls that looked like her weren’t beautiful. I am remembering the first time my son came home asking him why anyone would talk to him funny and then chop the air and say “ah, soooo”. I remembering the first time my son learned to pull the outer corner of his eyes to make “chinky eyes” and why that was problematic. And I am honoring the memory of those moments and of the lessons of love, courage, and forgiveness I had to teach my children in the face of playground taunts that can take root in their hearts.

The Church cannot be, should never be, a place and a people who make fun of others and perpetuate stereotypes that demean and belittle others’ culture, race, ethnicity, or gender. The Church can be funny, have a sense of humor, and have fun but not at the expense of other people. The Church should be creating culture, not using it as a weapon to put one group down in the name of Jesus. The Church should not be imitating culture for a cheap laugh. Those accents, martial art, and music used for the laugh? There are people connected to those caricatures and stereotypes.

My parents who speak “broken English” and with an accent are people created in God’s image.

My children whose eyes are brown and shaped a little different than the blonde-eyed models in stock photos churches are using to publicize their ministries are created in God’s image.

The martial arts, the music, the language that come from the country of my birth were created by the imagination, artistry, discipline of people created in God’s image.

So, if you are so inclined to join me and others in addressing this family drama of the Church, please consider reading this open letter to the evangelical church and signing it (don’t forget to verify your signature by checking your email). Spread the word. Blog about it. Tweet it.