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.

Learning & Leaving – Reflections after reading “Honoring the Generations:Learning with Asian North American Congregations”

One of the earliest photographs taken of me and my parents is of the three of us in front of Chicago’s First Korean United Methodist Church. I grew up in the Korean/Korean-American immigrant church. It was at church where I took Korean language classes. Where I learned Korean folk dancing. Where we spent many Christmas Eves waiting for Korean Santa to show up while many of us were dressed in our Korean dresses and Sunday best, and where we spent New Year’s Eves to the smells of rice cake soup and the sounds of four wooden sticks being thrown up in the air in a lively game of yoot. Where I learned to say the Lord’s Prayer in Korean before I knew it in English. Where I learned to sing hymns and read the liturgy in Korean before I would learn the meaning behind the words.

But also learned about leaving. Elders’ meetings going on for-e-vah. Phonecalls. More meetings. Angry words. More angry words. Churches splitting, leaders resigning, families leaving.

My husband and I left the Asian American church about seven years ago after a series of cultural and generational differences that lead to our decision to bless the mission of that particular church by leaving it. The decision was one of the most difficult and painful to make because it pulled at our identity as a Christian Korean-American family longing to integrate the very best of what we had gained from our immigrant church experience into our “grown-up” lives.

Every now and then the Asian American church pulls at something, tugs at my heart, hits a nerve just under the surface. I wonder what, if anything, my three children are missing out on by not being a part of an Asian American church and youth group. I wonder how different my circle of friends would look like if we were still a part of an Asian American church, how our Sunday afternoons would be spent, and what a small group Bible study would be like.

And then that wonder turns into a hint of longing for what was once familiar, and that is exactly what happened for me as I read Honoring the Generations:Learning with Asian North American Congregations (M. Sydney Park, Soong-Chan Rah, and Al Tizon, editors; Judson Press 2012).

The stories of cultural and generational conflict and misunderstandings resonated deeply with me. I found myself nodding not to sleep but in agreement and affirmation, as if my nod would be felt by the authors and collaborators. Our ANA church history (is your church an art museum or a hospital? p.88) is important to understand and know, not just for those of us who lived and live it but for all in the Church. I found myself nodding because even when I wanted more (would it surprise you if I said I wanted more from chapter 6 on women and men leading together?) I hoped that non ANA church leaders would pick up the book and learn.

Some of the chapters provide more concrete steps for ministry practitioners to take to help move ANA ministry forward. Others leave more space and ambiguity. My personal preference tends to want more concrete steps – something I can either agree with and implement or something I can disagree with and move on.

The book is divided into two main sections covering the ANA church from a generational perspective and a ministry issue/strategy perspective. Each chapter covers a different topic, and each chapter is written by a pair of authors who are using information and stories gathered from a group of ministry practitioners and scholars. In true Asian American form, collaboration takes the lead in shaping this book.

Readers may find this approach, this collaborative voice, both informative and frustrating. If you’re not familiar with the ANA church the stories will be new and informative, and they may be frustrating because they don’t fit in your paradigm and experience. Creating new categories aren’t easy when they are someone else’s story, particularly someone else you may have considered as “White” as Asian Americans have often been seen by the majority culture.

But for me it was like singing a hymn in Korean. It tugs at my heart because the hard memories continue to soften with time, and there is a longing to continue learning despite having left.

Full disclosure: I received an e-copy of the book for free from the publisher post-release to read and review for my blog.

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.

My Mental Caricature of a Conservative Complementarian

I love to jump on the bandwagon as much as the next blogger, and this bandwagon is just begging for attention.

Over at The Gospel Coalition is an interesting and alarming post about sex and subordination. Much of the anger and written response is to the following excerpt from Douglas Wilson’s Fidelity:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

Now with all the snark I can summon: I can’t imagine why anyone would be alarmed by that sentence, especially if it was written by an intelligent white male conservative complementarian/theologian/prolific author and speaker.

I am not offended by that statement because I am egalitarian. I am not offended by that statement because my husband honors and cherishes me by encouraging me to exercise all of my gifts in teaching and speaking inside and outside of the home to impact both men and women, boys and girls.

I am offended because I am a Christ-follower who understands and takes into consideration the historical as well as the modern-day implications of using those words in a public forum. I am offended because I cannot read between the lines and assume the best of intentions when the words are from someone so learned and lettered. I am offended because as an Asian American woman whose gender and ethnicity come into play whether it is in the here and now or in the kingdom yet to come, those in power use words to put people like me “in our place”.

And my place is apparently to retake my ESL class, according to the response by Wilson:

Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class. A third option — the one I think pertains here — they could surrender the a priori notion that I must be crammed into their mental caricature of a conservative complementarian.

Certainly I have again misunderstood Wilson’s intentions. Surely he didn’t mean to make fun of those who did not grow up with English as our first language. I realize that my role as a woman may be called into question by other believers, but at the end of the day we can all love Jesus together so long as it is with flawless English grammar. Correct?

I grew up in a complementarian world with shades not of grey but of Korea. They were the mothers and fathers of my peer group who sincerely believed that though the matriarch ruled the kitchen at church and at home and school (on Sundays), it was the role of men to teach anyone older than 13-ish about God and other important things. Math, reading and other things that would get us to the Ivy Leagues could be taught to us by women.

Much of my journey with faith and with faith in Jesus has been to reconcile and put into context the cultural patriarchy I grew up with alongside the deep faith and faithfulness that I ultimately embraced. But apparently my mental caricature of a conservative complementation wasn’t completed until today.

Gahmsah hahm nee da.

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.

Thoughts on Leadership While the Nail Polish Dries

I love nail polish. It’s a low-commitment, low-cost vanity/beauty splurge that when used properly forces me to slow down and not do a whole lot. Which is why I am typing slowly and not moving my feet right now – pink on the toes and a french mani.

And when life slows I can breathe, pray, think and reflect.

Tonight I’m thinking a lot about leadership – the privilege, the joys and the costs. In a matter of a week’s time I saw how God was using me to develop a new generation of leaders (Pacific Northwest Asian American InterVarsity students, YOU ARE AMAZING!) and how God was still buffing and shining the rough edges of my leadership. There were moments of fear and confidence, of joy and anger, of front-door leadership like “fill in the blank with a Biblical patriarch) and back-door influence (Ruth, Esther, Mary, the Samaritan woman, the bleeding woman, the servant girl, etc.).

All while rocking lavender nail polish (last week’s color), telling funny family stories about rice cookers and kimchee refrigerator, and wearing a bra, which apparently is still enough of a novelty that as I head into the final week before I speak on leadership fails at the Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Leadership Conference next week, I reminding myself of how important it is to remember God created me and knew me before I was even born as 1.75-gen Korean American Christian woman, let alone a wife, mother of three, writer, speaker, yoga junkie and nail polish addict.

Gender or ethnicity doesn’t trump my identity as a Christian, but they are integrated, enmeshed in blessed and God-ordained ways and in broken and needing Jesus’ redemption ways, because Christians are not meant to be eunuchs. Embodied. Gendered. Which for me means wearing a bra and the great option of many nail polish colors. My seasons or micro-seasons of leadership are acutely tied to my physical state – pregnant, post-partum, nursing, PMS, exhausted from the gift and plain old work of raising children, peri-menopausal, and all of that is tied to my gender. And my embodied, gendered life is also wrapped and engrained with the values and mores of my Korean ancestors with a clashing or enhancing palette from my American host. How can that not affect, change, impact, enhance, and challenge my ability to lead?

It does. It’s not all negative, and I’m not surprised…unless I meet and talk with someone who has never considered her/his leadership through their cultural/racial/gendered lens.

What lessons have you learned about leadership, your own and that of others as well as how you are perceived and how you perceive others? Need some time to think? Do your nails.

 

 

Happy unEqual Pay Day

By the time most of you read this, working women across America will just be starting to earn their wages for 2012 because until Tuesday, April 17, we were working hard to catch up to what men earned in 2011.

Did you catch that?

Women who work outside of the home had to work 15.5 months to earn what men earned in 12. That is bad math, my friends. And it makes me tired.

“Happy unEqual Pay Day”. 

Woo hoo.

Part of my working-for-pay-mom weariness is that during the past few weeks another wave of the Mommy Wars erupted over comments made by and responses to comments made by a politician’s wife, pitting women against women – those who work for pay outside of the home and those who don’t, a.k.a stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs).

Some want to argue this as a cultural and moral issue – whether or not women, and specifically mothers, working outside of the home, are “good” for children and society as a whole.

Others want to keep this to a policy issue – whether or not the government should be mandating or even guaranteeing rights and privileges.

And then those of us who fall under the broad banner of “Christian” may hold to varying degrees of how the Bible looks at all of this.

It leaves me tired. And sad. And angry. It’s not one thing or another. It’s not simple, even if you really, really, really want it to be simple because whether or not a woman (a mother or not) is working outside of the home, or whether or not you believe she should even be working outside of the home, she still needs to work longer and harder to earn the same average amount as a man.

And “she” isn’t just someone out there. “She” is the one typing this post and also many readers of this post.

It reminds me a bit of  what my parents and grandmother used to say to me when I was younger.

“KyoungAh (my real name), you have to work harder and do better than they do (Americans=White people) so they know you are the same as they are, even though you are better.”

This was while I learned in my Korean immigrant experience that as a Korean girl I had to work harder than the boys because no one would want a stupid, lazy, ugly daughter-in-law who didn’t go to a good college and learn how to peel fruit and serve tea.

And that was before I knew about unEqual Pay Day, which spans all degrees of melanin and should serve to remind all of us that the system is broken for all of us – men and women. As a Christ-follower, I continue to wrestle with what the Apostle Paul wrote:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I Cor. 12:26 TNIV

Last week I was grateful to gather at a table of leaders in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to talk about how leadership is impacted by both gender and ethnicity. These leaders, who all happened to be women, listened and shared about the complexity of growing in leadership being fully present as women of color. I realize that not all would include Asian Americans within the circle of women of color, but in this conversation we were. We all understood that even as we discuss “women’s issues” there is an additional layer, nuancing and gift of experience we bring.

We tried, if for only an hour, to listen, to suffer, to honor and to rejoice with one another.

So I’ll acknowledge my weariness, take a nap, and get back to it. And I invite all of my brothers and sister of all races and ethnicities to share in one another’s burdens and to imagine and perhaps share some thoughts, stories, ideas of what it looks like to carry this burden with one another.

Leadership #Fail and Other Fun Lessons

I’m actually better at talking about my lack of success than about my successes. It’s who I am – Christian Asian American woman. I was taught Christians are humble. I was raised in an Asian American home where we spoke and considered community over the individual. As a woman I learned that speaking up meant being labeled as Arrogant. Aggressive. Ambitious, other “A” words and just other words with negative connotations.

But talking about failure gets tricky. It means airing out dirty laundry. It means showing vulnerability and need and weaknesses. It means being honest and accountable.

And in my book it means being a leader.

Sometimes we are to be like the servant girl who twice calls out Peter as one of the disciples. The Apostle Peter, the Rock, denies Christ for a third time, failing to align himself and own his relationship to Jesus.

“Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:72 TNIV

We’ve all failed miserably, and there are many times I’ve failed and wept. Too many times I’ve wept because I got “caught” in my failure and not quite ready to deal with the consequences and learn from my failures. Finding out I’m human shouldn’t be, but too often is, unnerving.

Next month a group of incredible Asian Pacific Islander women leaders will gather in Los Angeles to learn from one another about Leadership Over the Long Haul. (Registration is still open, to both men and women, and it is going to be an amazing time. Think about it!)

And I have the privilege of speaking on leadership failures and success. Not hypothetical failures or case-study failures. My failures.

Sounds like fun, no? The trick is I have a time limit. The Lord is merciful!

What are some examples of your real-life leadership failures? What did you learn about leadership? About yourself? About God? About others?

Asian American Women: Your Experiences Matter

Asian American women, ages 18 and older, your experiences matter. Your stories matter.

I came across this in my reader and wanted to spread the word. I don’t know Pauline Chan but the topic of her study (the connection between social experiences and well-being) interests me, and it may interest you.

My name is Pauline Chan, a graduate student in the Counseling Psychology doctoral program at Boston College. I am a second generation Chinese American and am working on my dissertation under the direction of Dr. Belle Liang. The study focuses on the social experiences of Asian American women. The study has been approved by the Boston College Office for Research Protections Institutional Review Board (Protocol #12.172.01A).

I am writing to ask Asian American women to participate in my online dissertation research survey and to offer an opportunity to be entered in a random drawing for an Amazon.com gift certificate for participation in the survey (5 $20 gift certificates and 2 $50 gift certificates available).

To participate in the study, participants must:

  • Be 18 years or older, and
  • Self-identify as a woman who is Asian American or a member of an Asian American subgroup

In this survey participants will be asked questions about social experiences in different contexts, social attitudes, culture and well-being. Click here for the survey. The survey will take approximately 35-45 minutes to complete.

In exchange for their time, participants will be given an opportunity to enter a random drawing for an Amazon.com gift certificate when they have completed the survey. Participants who complete the survey will also be offered access to the results of the study once it is completed.

The survey responses are completely anonymous. Any name or email information given will not be linked in any way to the responses and will only be used for the purposes of distributing the gift certificates. Any individual demographic information will also remain confidential and will not be linked to any names or email addresses. Participation is completely voluntary and participants may withdraw from the study at any time.

As there are limited studies about the Asian American experience, all participant responses will be helpful in contributing to our knowledge about Asian Americans. It is my hope that the results of the study will provide insights that will help to improve the life experiences of Asian American women.

If you have any questions, please contact me at chanpa@bc.edu or 617-966-4001. You can also reach my dissertation advisor, Belle Liang, at liangbe@bc.edu or 617-552-4079. Thank you in advance for your help and your time.

Identity Formation & Barbie

I grew up with Barbie and her knock-off cousins. My sister and I had the townhouse with the elevator. The pool. The dream house. With all of the furniture. The remote-controlled Corvette.

The collection finally made complete after a family trip to the Motherland where, in the Itaewon shopping district, we found the perfect outfit for our blonde, blue-eyed and busty dolls – a Barbie-sized hanbok (traditional Korean dress). All Barbie needed was some major surgery, hair dye and contact lenses and she would look just like me and my sister on New Year’s Day.

So when my firstborn came of age I vowed to never buy her a Barbie. She received them as gifts and we did let her keep a few, including Mulan Barbie, and I even broke out my vintage Barbie Dream house and furniture.

I still have the dream house and furniture in the basement, as well as the Barbie hanbok. But hen again, there is a lot of other garbage in my basement.

Admittedly it is a love-hate relationship with Barbie because for all of objectification and stereotyping, she was a part of my childhood which included more friends who looked more and lived more like Barbie. And I wanted friends. I wanted to belong.

I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So when friends posted this link about an ‘adoption Barbie’ I needed a few days to digest it all. The doll has been around for a few years, but the conversations around adoption, identity, desire, broken cultural systems, cultural appropriation, family, assimilation, gender preferences, and citizenship are ancient. Take a look at the Bible and read about Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan Woman, the Bleeding Woman, and a host of other Sunday School classics with grown-up eyes. In many ways, as we
Americans open our eyes to human trafficking, we can see how the world has not changed in how it sees women and girls. We are a commodity that can be dispensed of or used for the benefit of others.

But our genuine desire to find ways to connect our personal stories and experiences can make the adoption Barbie seem rather innocuous of even helpful as a way to commemorate an adoptive child’s “gotcha day”.

My husband and I have been a part of three adoptions, vouching for our friends and writing letters for their case files. We have celebrated with many more friends who have journeyed years through adoption, some with unconditional support of their families and some with reserved support.

And as a mother of American-born Korean children I notice the abundance of blonde dolls and Caucasian role models.

Seriously. Why do you think I went out and bought a copy of Sports Illustrated?! Sports Illustrated?

JEREMY LIN!!!

Years ago I cried with a friend as I told the story of how my daughter wanted a doll with ‘pretty hair’, which I learned was code for blonde hair. I’m still waiting for an Asian American American Girl historical doll. I just don’t know how they would market Jade – the Japanese internment doll. (In my mind, Ivy doesn’t cut it. She’s just Julie’s best friend.)

So the adoption Barbie doll makes me a bit uneasy and leaves me confused. What do you think? Great idea? Weird idea? Savvy marketing? Opportunistic?

And how many of you still have a Barbie or one of her accessories from childhood?

No judging.