Rice Pudding and Other Cross-cultural Adventures as an Outsider

I eat a lot of rice – white, brown, sweet, wild, steamed, fried, with Spam, and with kimchee. It’s “just” rice, rice cakes, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice porridge. When I buy rice it is not in a box. It is in a 20# bag, which I empty into my rice dispenser. The rice cooker (mine plays a song) takes up precious countertop, right next to the toaster oven and the coffee grinder. I have spoons for serving rice.

But until Sunday I had never had rice pudding, and I didn’t know you could eat it with lingonberries. The occasion was my church’s 35th anniversary. My family has been there for at least 5 of those years. The festive, celebratory mood was obvious, and knowing that my church has been such a key place for so many throughout the years continues to give me hope that I too will feel a deeper sense of belonging in the years to come.

But I get impatient, and I get cranky. And I wonder if it’s OK that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week for Christians because on Sunday I really felt like the best I could do was eat and leave. I had to ask what “that dish” was, which I learned was rice pudding. I recognized the salmon and the ham & rolls. Thanks to my mom’s days at Motorola I recognized versions of broccoli salad and jello salad. And thanks to Ikea my boys and I recognized the meatballs and lingonberry as well as the blue and yellow. I felt like a guest at my own church.

I’ve been told by others that I am not alone, and that it takes time. But when you are in the moment(s), time is not what I want to give.

It was a homecoming for many, but it was another cross-cultural adventure for me. I felt so outside inside of my own church, and I am still wrestling with how I as a regular attender can engage well when on most Sundays my family and I stand out.  Our traditions are not part of the present or the past, and we are still trying to find our way to places to impact the present and future. I don’t want to get rid of the rice pudding or meatballs, but I really do think potstickers and seaweed would go well with the salmon.

Because it is in the breaking of bread (or breaking out the rice in its many versions) and in the act of fellowship amongst sisters and brothers in faith we should find that the differences matter because there is space to delight in the variety, creativity and abundance that is from God. Look around. God doesn’t paint all the leaves one shade yellow. Our differences don’t define us; our Creator does.

But that’s easy to say when no one is there to point out the differences and say “we celebrate God’s goodness this way, with this food, with these people”. At the last church we were a part of, we wrestled with the same issue. The church was started specifically for second-generation Korean American youth who were growing up in immigrant, Korean-speaking churches. (And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, please ask for a longer explanation because I would welcome that.) The youth grew up, got married to Koreans and non-Koreans. We had children. We celebrated milestones with kimbap, Korean-style wings, jjap-chae, and dduk. And we assumed everyone would know what it all was and would enjoy it because that is how we all celebrate. And we were wrong.

And so I take a deep breath and discover that rice pudding is OK (better with the lingonberries) though I prefer rice cakes or the meatballs. Because the idea of creating an inviting and welcoming space isn’t limited to Sundays and a church.

They’re not racist. They just don’t know.

My sons, ages 13 and 10, spend two evenings each week on a golf course because I parent out of my own personal brokenness, which includes an acute awareness of life experiences and skills I was not exposed to growing up. Tennis lessons. Skiing lessons. Swimming lessons. Golf lessons.

Check. Check. Check. Check. (My daughter got the first three. She escaped golf because she has immersed herself into the world of dance for the past few years though it’s not completely out of the picture yet.)

One of my goals has been to expose my children to things I didn’t do and at one point or another felt like I had missed out on. This all despite the fact that I also wrestle with my own personal prejudices against sports like tennis and golf because they have in one way or another represented privilege and access to opportunities and networks my parents and I did not have.

So it did not surprise me to see a very diverse group of participants on our first day at the course – diverse meaning White or Caucasian children were in the minority. Golf, whether you are in business or in medicine, more if you are male but increasingly so if you are female, is one of those “life skills” that also translates into opportunities and networks that non-White communities continue to learn about and enter into.

(And wouldn’t you know that in the crowd of parents one of the other Asian American parents and I recognized each other after having last met about seven years ago!)

But I was a bit annoyed when I found out my sons were asked the following question by a young Black boy on the putting green:

“Are you guys related to Bruce Lee?”

My sons know me, and they have had their many questions about race, ethnicity and culture answered even when they didn’t know there was a question to be asked. They have been encouraged to recognize and value both similarities and differences. So C quickly qualified the young boy’s question with his own response:

“Mom, don’t worry. He wasn’t being racist. He just didn’t know. Bruce Lee isn’t even Korean, right?”

C was correct. Bruce Lee isn’t Korean, and the question wasn’t racist. The young boy didn’t know, and because of what he has and hasn’t learned and been exposed to about Asian Americans through school, community, church, media or family, he tried to make a connection between what he knew (Bruce Lee) and what he was currently experiencing (two Asian American boys). The boy was doing what anyone trying to make small talk might do when you are young or older and trying to make a new friend – find common ground. It wasn’t racist. The boy isn’t a racist. He just didn’t know.

But as I have sat and walked around the course for the past few weeks I’ve been wondering at what point do we move from not knowing to being responsible for what we don’t know. I have been the receiver of much grace and the giver of the same as people of different races/ethnicities/gender/faith find themselves making mistakes as well as being stupid, prejudiced and racist. I have found extending grace easier when the offender acknowledges the offense. It really becomes extending grace when the offender sees no offense.

So I’m still mulling over C’s response to an innocent question that on another day would have made my tired blood boil had I been the one being asked about my relationship to say Lucy Liu, but was tempered and amazed by C’s response, which was to simply tell the boy he wasn’t related to Bruce Lee.

And then they proceeded to sink a few golf balls.

Sa-I-Gu. April 29.

It’s been 20 years since the LA riots.

For me it was one of those “I will remember exactly where I was” moments – sitting in a hotel in Indiana after interviewing at a newspaper. I was a graduating senior, still waiting to get a job offer, collecting rejection letters (editing them in red and hanging them on the apartment refrigerator), and hopeful. For those of you old enough to have seen the riots unfold live, do you remember where you were and what you were feeling?

I watched footage of the verdict. The crowd’s response. I watched the footage of the beating and the rescue. I watched as a broken system cowered away from the angry protesters and left entire communities without “protection”. I watched the footage of looters begin to tear apart Koreatown, and I listened to news commentators talk about race relations in terms of Black and White.

And when I got back to campus a few of us from the Asian American Christian Ministry got together to pray and sit. There was one underclassman whose family owned one of those stores in Koreatown. We prayed with him as he wondered whether or not he should fly home, and whether or not there would be a store or community left by the time he landed.

And while Koreatown burned, so few of our voices and faces were included in the images, the public discourse, the whole picture. Perhaps the coverage was different in CA, but in the Midwest we were at the mercy of national news distributors and so much of the coverage focused on Black and White. Yellow was expendable, and not part of the problem nor the solution. We seemed expendable. And I felt ignored, and then I realized I wasn’t just sad and scared. I was angry.

It solidified my desire to be a journalist, and to be a different voice in some newsroom somewhere. It’s why I’m still so committed to challenging college and university students to consider how living out the Gospel in their everyday lives will help bring about God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is heaven.

Because April 29, 1992, was far from heaven.

A Case of “The Others” – Asian-owned Businesses in Black Neighborhoods

Why are so many dry cleaners owned by Koreans?

Why are so many nail shops owned by Thai or Vietnamese?

Why are so many donut shops/convenience shops owned by Indians?

Why do Asians and Asian Americans own businesses in Black neighborhoods?

Why are they taking our money?

Why are foreigners who don’t speak our language and disrespect us take our money out of our communities?

Are these stereotypes or archetypes?

I’ve heard all of those questions posed in various ways, most recently from Marion Barry, former mayor of D.C. and recent victorious incumbent in Democratic primary race for the D.C. council seat he has held since 2005. He celebrated as cameras rolled by saying,

“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

You can take a look at Barry’s twitter feed  and read the WP article to get a sense of how things unfolded. It’s typical. A politician/public figure says something offensive, people offended speak up, figure claims it’s taken out of context and apologizes (in this case Barry actually says, “I’m sorry.), tries to do what he/she should’ve done in the first place and put things into context.

But the context is complicated and entrenched in broken systems run by broken people and then communicated to the masses by more broken people (myself included) who are missing each other because, in some cases, they aren’t even talking with and being heard by one another. Creating “simple” dichotomies makes it easier – us against them, respect versus disrespect, rights and entitlements, etc.

I know this because as a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee I reported this story. A Korean American owned beauty supply store in a predominantly Black neighborhood became the target of a protest. Black community leaders wanted to know why Asian store owners were rude, didn’t employ anyone from the community, didn’t contribute to the community. Store owners didn’t want to talk.

But I understood why they didn’t want to talk. Why they didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why they didn’t contribute.

My parents owned a dry cleaning business for years. My parents, who hold degrees in engineering and accounting, turned to small business ownership to help pay for college and weddings and to provide so much more. They didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why pay someone when my sister and I could work for free and my parents were willing to be there everyday (except for the two days off I remember they took for our weddings!).

A significant difference for our experience was that the dry cleaners was in the suburbs, but my parents experienced many cultural clashes in an effort to make a living and provide a service that was in demand.

Most customers were fine – pleasantries exchanged and business as usual, but there were plenty of customers who looked down on my parents as if they were uneducated foreigners. Few of them ever had to say anything because those of us who learn to be invisible, blend in, assimilate learn to read the looks, the tone, the small gestures because we learned to “speak” American even though we continue to be questioned about actually being “American”.

So I took that experience as the child of one of those Asian store owners first to my White editors and then to the Korean-American beauty supply store owners. The readers, the editors, the community leaders, the store owners and I all learned from one another.

We learned that we all considered each other as “the other”. We learned about how exchanging money – one-handed, two-handed, eye contact, a nod or a look – can be rude to one and normal to another. We learned that the owners were Americans, just not American-born. We learned that there was great pain and suffering in the community, and community leaders wanted participation, not handouts. We learned about cultural differences and expectations. We learned about prejudice, misunderstandings and misinformation.

I can only hope that Barry will take the time to learn that he didn’t just offend Asian who own dirty stores but offended Americans, some of us who happen to be Asian Americans. I hope we stop to learn about the corrupt, broken and racist systems and policies that limit Black entrepreneurship.

I hope we learn that life is more than Black and White and that we all need to develop cross-cultural competencies. All of us.

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?

That’s Not Fair! Too Bad, Kid. Chores Aren’t Meant to be Fair.

There are so many my children will quickly deem “unfair”. Sometimes the distribution of chores appears to be unequal, which they cry foul. Sometimes someone gets the last ice cream sandwich, which elicits similar cries. My response is a finessed version of “Life is not fair. My job isn’t to make life fair for you. It’s to give you tools to learn to deal with unfairness and to live lives that can help right the wrongs not just for yourself but for everyone.”

Usually it’s just: “Too bad. Life isn’t fair.”

But with summer vacation on hand (can someone explain to me why we can’t have year-round school?!?!?) there is more time at home, which means more opportunities to point out the inequities in life….such as chores.

I grew up with an understanding that “we” were responsible for keeping things orderly and clean. “We” mean the four of us – mom, dad, me and my sister. Rooms were clean. Shelves were dusted. Dishes put away. We weren’t perfect, but chores were just part of life, which is what I’m striving for.

There are many days when I wish I had a cleaning genie who would come weekly or bi-weekly to do what I hate doing – the bathrooms. Truth be told there are other things that I don’t want to give up that would allow me the luxury of hiring help. I don’t want to give up my gym membership, haircuts, etc.

And, I don’t want my kids missing out on important life lessons like learning to clean a bathroom or mowing the lawn. This is not a condemnation of those who have household help AT ALL! But I need all of the help I can get, and I am finding that chores is one of those things in the parenting tool kit that I don’t necessarily enjoy but can be very helpful. If chores are the most unfair things my kids experience in their young lives then they are still way ahead of the curve.

I’m trying to explain that in the best way possible, to tell them and show them and help them understand that they are blessed in different ways than most children of this world. They are not “better off” necessarily but they certainly have the material things. I’m afraid, I have been far more diligent in creating patterns and routines when it comes to the kids’ chores than I have in building in spiritual disciplines, which in the long run will help them wrestle with issues of injustice.

Everyone knows that every Saturday morning there will be a flurry of cleaning bathrooms and refreshing towels and linens, but I am realizing as my kids are getting older that the value for fairness and justice will have to come from a much deeper place and more intentional place than clean bathrooms. Right?

So help a mother out. Be the village it takes to help me and one another because someday my kids will grow up and may be in your path. What “chores” are your children responsible for and how have you built that into their value system versus their to-do list? What spiritual disciplines have you built in to their lives and how has that changed them and you?

And, what chore would you avoid all together if you could? 😉

 

 

 

Moving From Fear to Faith to Belonging

Sometimes we agree to do risky things. I would have to say that agreeing to preach at my church on Mother’s Day was one of those things. Not only was I “Mom” I was “guest speaker/preacher”, and my church and I are still in what I would call the “pre-premarital counseling days” – we are getting to know each other after already having made an initial, mutual commitment to one another. But there is so much to learn about one another. And you, my lovely readers, know that I share quite a bit about myself and my faith. My preaching style reflects that, and I never know what God will do as people get used to the sound of my voice.

I felt very much in the zone this morning at both services, and was grateful at how I continued to hear God teach me thing about the passage. And the feedback was good, and I walked away grateful that God honored my faithfulness by helping many connect with God on this special day. Here is the script as I preached out of Mark 5:21-43.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am working on Mother’s Day.

To be frank, I am never quite sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. After I became a mother I became quite annoyed that only one day was set aside to celebrate my many accomplishments and contributions 😉

Yet, it’s honestly a tough time of the year. In fact, the entire month of May and the season of spring is fraught with complicated memories and emotions for me.

Thirteen years ago Peter and I welcomed spring with the grief of a miscarriage. I felt loss and a deep sense of shame that perhaps God was punishing me for my greediness. I already had a beautiful daughter. Friends and family tried to console me by reminding me of how lucky and blessed I already was with one child, almost taking away permission to grieve. Mother’s Day that year was complicated and I was afraid to hope for healing and for more children.

In 2005, we lost my mother-in-law, Rebekah Chang to kidney cancer and Mother’s Day that year was a bittersweet one as my husband continued to grieve his mother and I wrestled with how to properly grieve a MIL with whom I had had a tenuous relationship.

Spring usually marks a time of excitement in our home as school winds down and my kids look ahead to our annual trek to Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s training and conference center in the UP. Five years ago forever changed my relationship with that blessed place as in a matter five days Corban got hit in the head with a rock almost needing stitches; I threw out my lower back and was hobbling around as I lead evangelism training; my mother suffered a heart attack and was in ICU and then the final straw – a series of seizures (to this day unexplained) that put Elias on death’s edge. I left Cedar Campus having taught students to share the Good News of Jesus, wondering if God had abandoned me.

And ever since then, spring marked my annual anxiety and panic attacks and bouts of depression as my family and I begin to turn our minds towards Cedar Campus. Ever since 2006, May and the celebration of Mother’s Day has felt a little like holding my breath and waiting for the crashing wave to pass.

Last year, shortly after Mother’s Day I found myself in my kitchen overcome by a tearful anxiety attack recalling the events of five years past – seeing Elias seizing, Bethany surrounded by other staff kids her age praying with her and for us, Corban rushing towards the closing ambulance doors asking for one last hug and feeling nothing by mind-numbing fear.

Shortly after Mother’s Day last year asking God for strength and faith to face my fears and overcome the social taboos surrounding counseling and medical intervention and sought help from a counselor and my medical doctor to address my fears, anxiety and depression.

Mother’s Day is not easy. Some of you have lost your mothers. Some of you are anxiously awaiting a child. Some of the mothers here have lost children. And many women are not yet and may never be mothers. Some of you can’t for obvious reasons can’t be mothers. And for others, you have your own complicated relationship with Mother’s Day and spring. How can we hope and celebrate when the day-to-day realities don’t fit neatly on a greeting card?

This passage in the Gospel of Mark reminds us that Jesus’ ministry meant redefining categories and relationships and power. Jesus’ ministry is one of hope and healing where fear and dread have once lived. Here we see Jairus , a synagogue ruler, meeting Jesus out in the streets beyond the walls of the synagogue where he has authority, power and influence, falling at Jesus’ feet asking for Jesus to heal his “little daughter” who is 12-years-old. He asks for Jesus to place His hands on her, believing out of fear and desperation that Jesus’ touch is all that is needed.

But in the midst of this story comes along an unnamed woman, who from all that we can gather has no other family, no sons to speak on her behalf, no husband to represent her, no father to ask for her healing. She has been bleeding for 12 years, separating her from public life. Walking into public she must announce her condition yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no other is affected by her affliction. Hers must be a personal and separating suffering, but her actions mirror that of the synagogue ruler. She seeks Jesus out in public, but instead of asking for a face-to-face audience, the woman reaches out to simply touch Jesus’ garment. I wonder if she had known that Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter for surely in that time a true leader would show preference for a man and a male leader at that over a woman. But regardless, she reaches and immediately knows she has been freed. And Jesus knows power has gone out of him.

Imagine walking in the crowd at the Taste of Chicago and asking those around you, “Who touched me?” That’s just silly. And the disciples thought so too, answering rather sarcastically, “You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Yet, the woman knows and just like Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet. She is trembling with fear. The crowd could easily turn on her, her presence in public alone is cause for punishment. Her physical condition, though healed, is unspeakable.

And while Jairus is waiting for Jesus to heal his dying little daughter, Jesus does that very thing. Jesus heals his daughter. His cloak has stopped this woman’s bleeding of 12 years and then reorders society, culture, power and position by calling out to this woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The suffering of 12 years of bleeding is over, but a woman in her situation during that time and culture suffered from so much more. Jesus’ healing and ministry is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. She is Jesus daughter, a woman no longer unclean and untouchable and alone, but claimed as family and recognized by this Jesus. She belongs because of her faith.

But wait. What happened to Jairus? Imagine being in his place. Are you impatient? Angry? Desperate? Yes? How many time have you or I thought that God was paying too much attention to someone else’s pain and not addressing your own? Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead but Jesus quickly turns to Jairus and tells him before Jairus can utter a word, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

After all, everyone has just witnessed this incredible physical healing as well as emotional and relational healing, but we all quickly forget how Jesus’ power and love conquers all divisions.

So he heals again. This time, the interaction is private with only Peter, James and John there in the presence of this family – father, mother, little daughter. Jesus is the one who reaches out and touches the dead girl’s hand. She, too, is unclean, just like the woman. And Jesus tells her to get up.

But sometimes the most important part of the story of transformation in our own lives and in the lives of the bleeding woman and Jairus and his family is the part after our encounter with Jesus.

Did the woman live as one of faith and one freed from her suffering and as a daughter of Jesus? How did Jairus and his family engage with those in the synagogue or the mourners who were crying in his home? Did those in the crowd welcome the woman who was no longer unclean into their community, and help her ease her fears and take away power from her personal pain? Did the mourners and those Jairus would later encounter in the synagogue play a part in releasing the secret by welcoming the 12-year-old girl and family back?

Before we walk away from this holy place this morning/afternoon, ready to take on the busy plans to celebrate and commemorate, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect. What will you do with your fears and faith? How will you or we as a body react in the face of another’s fear and faith? Are we here because we are ready to acknowledge our fears with our faith in Jesus and walk away freed of suffering or is it just one day of the week we set aside to acknowledge Jesus?

A Mother’s Rant About Racism & Reconciliation

Sometimes once is not enough. I had to watch the UCLA student’s video (former UCLA student?) several times because I don’t always want to believe what I see and hear. Did I really see this young woman speak on behalf of me, an American whose mother also taught her manners, and dissed me, an Asian who can speak English, Korean or Konglish (the mix of Korean and English so many of my peers have mastered) on her cellphone in a public place?

Ching chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?

And no, I am not going to link to it. Like I said/wrote about the Tiger Mother conversation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, please expand your circle of acquaintances, friends and Twitter feeds.

But in the world of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the UCLA racist rant can seem like old news, and in some sad, sad, discouraging, sometimes frustrating-to-the-core-I’m-so-pissed-off-and-tired-of-crap-like-this way it is so old. Alexandra, you aren’t the first. You certainly won’t be the last. It’s just unfortunate that you and others (and unfortunate for you and others) who have a limited understanding/definition/experience of what “American” is believe that you won’t get any push back from Americans just like you when you post crazy videos on YouTube.

Our words and actions matter and last longer than anyone told you or me or our mothers.

So while cooler and more thoughtful heads joined the chatter surrounding this latest racist rant pitting “us” against “them”, I had to think a little longer Ms. Wallace’s rant. She blames/attributes her understanding of American manners on her mother. Friends, when you are an adult, and here in America you are adult enough at 18 to vote, we should learn to stop blaming our mothers. And God help my kids if they ever do something this stupid and get caught by me. Never mind getting a bazillion hits on YouTube. God help me.

One of the gifts Asians cultures bring to American is a deep respect for our elders and a communal worldview. As an Asian American I needed about a month to get used to the idea of calling my bosses by their first names. Yelling out “Diane! Roger! Joanne!” across the newsroom seemed extremely disrespectful and disrespect was not what my mother – an American citizen – taught me. And if I was disrespectful, it would reflect poorly not only on myself but on my family and on my people – which in many cases becomes all of Asian America.

You see, respect isn’t an American value, but how it is shown, communicated, displayed looks different to different Americans. Alexandra’s rant in tone and choice of words was a wonderful example of White privilege – assuming her POV is the majority POV because she is American and the “hordes of Asians” saying, “Ohhh, ching chong, ling long, ting tong, ohhhh” couldn’t possibly be American because they are not her.

So when the hordes of Asians and Asian Americans and Americans responded with a resounding “STOP THIS KIND OF CRAP”, Alexandra and other Americans just like her were genuinely surprised.

Perhaps there is where we can take steps to reconciliation.

Alexandra was speaking her mind. Her individualistic, post-modern Millennial, White American mind. Maybe in her worldview Americans, and maybe even those of us Americans of Asian descent, were supposed to get the joke.

But many of us didn’t think it was funny and responded in a collective voice, granted some angrier than others. As one of my friends puts it, we as in the “royal we” or the communal collective what-you-say-reflects-and-has-an-impact-on-all-of-us voice, we Americans who see things differently than Alexandra responded.

We have a lot to learn from each other. A lot. There were many responses that were mean and ungracious and only added more fuel to the ugly fire of racism. There were many conversations that took place that lacked American manners and so much of this controversy lacked Christian grace. There were videos made in response that made me laugh and then made me wonder how much more difficult and out of reach reconciliation will be when technology is used only to define the differences without helping inform us of how those differences matter and bridge us together.

But I guess that is where technology and even mothers fail. We need Jesus to help us make the leap from recognizing God-given, God-blessed differences from our sinful nature that uses gifts of culture to destroy and bring down others. We need Jesus to help us move from simply demanding justice to seeking reconciliation.

It makes me pray for wisdom because my own three children who may one day publicly do or say something that they mistakenly believe I taught them to do have only known this type of fast-moving technology, communication and connection.

So my gentle correction to Alexandra would be that I, as one of your aunties (because in my America everyone close to me and my family becomes a brother, sister, auntie or uncle), go to one of the Asian American friends you mentioned at the beginning of your video and ask them why your words were so hurtful to so many of us Americans.

That’s why it took me so much time to respond to what seems like old news. I was hurt. I was pissed. I was tired. And, I wanted nothing to do with “those Americans”.

Alexandra, you can’t be one of “those Americans” to me if I am honest and serious about seeking both justice and reconciliation. I’m your auntie, and if you are still confused about what happened, you can e-mail me.

Here is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries official response to the UCLA student’s rant inviting us all to consider both justice and reconciliation.

And here is another great post covering White Privilege, Color-blindedness and the Model Minority.

A Little Star By Your Name

We have been at our church for almost three years, and we still do not have a star beside our names. Granted, it took us several months before we felt like we should have a church directory and then another few months to notice the stars. Technically, they aren’t stars. They are asterisks, but a star evokes sweet memories of attendance charts and shiny gold star stickers. Stars meant you were special. You counted. You’re in. You’re a member.

Church membership is still a fairly “new” concept for me. I grew up in church, but from a child’s perspective membership meant being in long meetings where elders argued with other elders. I’m sure there were other things involved in membership, but no one at church never emphasized or brought up the idea of membership. We were always the “kids” for whom the Korean-speaking “adults” were building the foundations of the church so that one day the kids would take over. The problem often is that the adults never see the kids as adults and the transfer or sharing of power and responsibility never really happens, IMHO.

Peter and I actually can’t remember exactly how we became members at our last church. It was a church that I had attended throughout college, and we returned to it after we had moved closer to home and had our first child. Maybe I had been grandfathered in and then Peter was voted in after the church set up a more formal structure with by-laws, vision statement and website. What I remember were the meetings and many conversations about plans, budgets, and proposals. I do remember throughout a series of meeting involving our pastoral staff, positions and salaries, I grew increasingly aware that I had finally become an adult in a church. The budget, how people’s offerings and tithes – some sacrificial, others afterthoughts and all God’s – were being used, saved and stewarded mattered and members were being asked to prayerfully consider the matters at hand. When a family asked for their child to be dedicated we, the members, pledged to participate in the spiritual development and nurture of that child.

After leaving that church almost five years ago, our goal was not church membership. Our goal was to find a place where we could rest, heal, and hopefully fall in love with Jesus’ bride – the Church – again.

Since then we have slowly gotten gotten the hang of things here at what/where/whom we now call “our church” – the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“debts” and “debtors” not “trespasses” and “trespass”), stand to sing the “Doxology” after the offering is taken, the awkward “Passing of the Peace”, etc. We’ve gotten to know a few folks and even completed the pre-membership class. But we never took what I suppose is the next step.

We initially waited because we didn’t “feel” like we were really part of the church. Our kids were finding friends much faster than we were, but isn’t that usually the case? The barriers, excuses and awkwardness in the transition between complete strangers becoming acquaintances becoming friends have grown for me over time and age. We tried to “feel” our way through serving and putting ourselves out there in the front, the narthex, the behind-the-scenes – music, drama, dance, magic tricks and coffee, and we have come to this place where we are willing to sit in the tension of knowing what we hope for – deep friendships and rich community that overflows – is not quite where we are at…yet.

So are we ready to make the plunge and become members? Do we want to become, should we become, is it time to become members and gain more, risk more, invest more and be responsible for more than a star by our names?

Keep It Simple, Stupid: Going Green

Over the years my understanding of the creation account has changed. I would picture Barbie and Ken doubling as Eve and Adam, and, maybe it had something to do with a series of Bible stories on tape that my parents bought for us, I always heard God’s voice as Burl Ives. (Imagine my shock when I watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. God was also Sam the Snowman.)

Some Sunday School teachers would emphasize the number of days while others would focus on things like Adam being created first. My mind would wander off and imagine dressing my Barbie and Ken dolls in fig leaves or animal skin.

Once in a blue moon a teacher would remind us that having babies is God-ordained by quoting Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Fruitful? Increase? Fill? (Insert very optional abstinence lesson here, which didn’t matter since none of our parents were ever going to talk about sex. I don’t even know the Korean word for sex, now that I think about it.) Check.

Subdue? Rule? Doesn’t that mean we can do whatever we want ‘cuz God left us in charge?

No. Subdue and rule doesn’t give humankind carte blanche over the earth. Left to our own devices we have some issues to work out. I’ve grown to understand that God’s mandate to us is not to rape and pillage the earth but instead to care and create.

Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth writes:

In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first phrase, “be fruitful and multiply” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations-nothing less.

I continue wrestle with this interpretation as much as I am grateful for it. It reminds me that I can stop having babies (thank you, Jesus!) and still participate in being fruitful and multiplying by helping develop the social world. It also makes me think about the natural world. As a Christian I can often be guilty of living in the not-yet – looking heavenward so much so that I lose sight of the life here on this earth God has given me.

So over the years my family and I have talked about what it means to participate in harnessing the natural world, so to speak. What does it mean for our family and the impact it has on the world/community/neighborhood around us? How can we make what can become so complex and beyond us (like building bridges) into something simple?

Well, we’ve tried a few simple things can slowly change the way we interact with the natural world to see how that changes us and our relationship with God and others.

We garden. It started out with some potted plants and then a raised bed with patio plants and then a smaller and then larger chunk of the grass that we hate to fertilize, water, mow and rake.

We recycle like crazy. Our village makes it easy with curbside collection in a separate rolling cart. We usually fill the recycling bin and our garbage bin feels left out.

We compost. Again, it’s easy for us. We have a very nice yard and some bushes that hide the ugly compost bin. The kids quickly caught on, and it’s fun throwing in dryer lint with the banana peels. No critter problems or strange smell. It’s a little bit of a pain in the dead of winter since that means sub-zero temps and snow/ice to trek through. A couple of times the lid was frozen shut.

We bought rain barrels. Again, this has been easy for us. We could afford to buy the barrels through the university extension office, and we have a gutters we can cut (well, Peter cut them) because we own our home. We have two barrels, not homes. I would get another one if I could figure out how to replace the chain link fence with a nice hedge of bushes for free.

We use a random unscientific combination of Craigslist, Freecycle, Goodwill and garage sales with the usual stores. You cannot believe how thrilled I was last summer when Elias came along with me to a garage sale and snagged a box full of legos and a box of Bionicles for a mere $10. Never mind that I need more legos like I need a hole in my head. He understood the art and skill of second-hand shopping!

Nothing new, complex or completely odd in that short but simple list. But isn’t that what makes it become easier? One step at a time? What are some of things that you have tried/are trying to harness the natural world and why are you doing those things?