When Life and Death and Life Get in the Way

My grandmother Hee Soon Shin passed away this evening at 5:45 pm. She took her final breaths surrounded by two of her children, one of her sons-in-law and two of her granddaughters. She lived a full 91 years in two countries and several cultural shifts. She left this side of heaven with the same grace and strength I have always associated with her.

She was a widow before she hit her 40s, during the Korean War, with five young children in her care. Shortly after her husband’s death, she lost a daughter – an aunt I had never heard about until I was already a mother myself. She never remarried. I asked her once why she never remarried. She smiled, quickly covering her sweet grin with her right hand, and said in our mother tongue, “It’s not that I didn’t have the chance. But I had children, and I didn’t know if any man could love them like their own. Besides, I had already been married. Why did I need to do that again?”

My sister and I were sitting bedside this evening, urging our own mother and aunt out the door so they could run home, change out of their church garb, and return having prepared themselves to keep vigil. We had spent the day together, at one point in the hospital laughing as we noticed my grandmother was being kept company my mother and her two daughters – three generations of women born into varying degrees (if there is such a thing, truly) of patriarchy. My grandmother’s breathing had already slowed, but as they left my mother and aunt paused to say another goodbye. We noticed my grandmother’s breathing continued to shallow and slow. The stillness, another breath, another pause, another breath, another pause longer than the first.

I suspect my mother is still holding her breath. Waiting.

My grandmother was always a lady. I remember watching her wash her face, a painstaking ritual of cleansing, rinsing, refilling the sink with clean water to rinse her face again. She moisturized religiously, patting, never rubbing, her face. She massaged her neck and hands. Her hair was always cut and styled, her clothes tailored and pressed. She always covered her mouth when she laughed. Fortunately for me and my sister, we inherited some of those genes, though I suspect my tendency to smile and laugh with a wide opened mouth and wild hand gestures are a product of culture and recessive genes.

She came with me and my mother to get tattoos. It was actually a multigenerational field trip of vanity – my mother and grandmother having their eyebrows tattooed while I had my eyeliner, top and bottom, done in between nursing Bethany who came along in her car seat. I will never forget the four of us sitting over steaming bowls of rice and soup after having needles poke ink into our skin. Three of us with eyelids and brows puffy and shiny from the assault staring at each other, laughing over what we had just done, looking at Bethany sleeping in her carseat. Four generations of Korean (American) women who would share creased eyelids and a love for fashion, makeup and style.

She often vacillated between staunch traditionalist – especially thrilled that her first two granddaughters (me and my sister, the only children of her oldest surviving daughter, would give her five great-grandsons), and moments of almost-feminist – supporting my decision to keep my maiden name legally and professionally. She worried about my career ambitions getting in the way of taking care of my husband and children, but she would often tell me how blessed I was to have a husband who loved and respected me for and encouraged me to pursue those very ambitions.

I was supposed to leave for California Tuesday morning for a trip to speak at Pepperdine University’s chapel service Wednesday morning. Those ambitions that often conflicted both my grandmother and my mother (who am I kidding, those ambitions conflicted me!) brewing and developing and growing through writing and speaking and following God’s call and opportunities…instead of speaking to college student’s about the pain of being an outcast and alone and the grace, belonging and power of Christ I will be grieving, remembering, and learning. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve figured life out, life changes.

My grandmother lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Korean War, and martial law. She lived through the death of an infant child, her husband, and a daughter all before immigrating to the United States. She was one of “those” people who never learned the language beyond a very, very polite, “I don’t understand. No English.” and yet she remained the matriarch, setting right her three daughters and son and their spouses; four granddaughters and four grandsons; and three great granddaughters and six great grandsons.

She and I didn’t meet until I was in elementary school, after my tongue had lost some of its Korean fluency. Over the years, my tongue spoke less and less Korean, but I understood her fierce love for three generations, each generation speaking and knowing less of her world yet still connected through blood and faith.

It’s way past my Lenten bedtime, but as I finally make my way to sleep I will remember how my grandmother taught me about self-care, grace, and strength. I will wash and moisturize my face. I will rub lotion into my hands. And I will rest in my Christ’s love.

75 Years a Slave & Why I Watch the Oscars

Lupita Nyong’o danced with Pharrel like the royalty she is. Her genuine joy, surprise, and awe after hearing her name announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress award made my heart swell. Her walk up the stairs, spreading the pleats of that incredible dress like a fan was the way to work that dress.

And it was an incredible moment in history.

It was 75 years since Hattie McDaniel, fondly or reluctantly remembered for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind, became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was barred from attending the movie premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, GA. McDaniel and her escort sat alone at a segregated table apart from the film’s other stars. Yes, she sat at the “coloreds only” table.

So, it didn’t escape notice during the conversation that ensued in our home that despite it being 75 years later, the role was that of a slave. Nyong’o understood the power of her role when she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Her role doesn’t take away from her award or from the power and beauty of her performance (yes, I did watch the movie, and, yes, I recommend it).

Other Black female winners included Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001), Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’Nique for Precious (2009) and Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011).

Hmmmmm.

Yes, these women voluntarily took these roles. Yes, McDaniels, Spencer, and Nyong’o knew they were playing slaves. Yes, Berry and Mo’Nique knew they were playing impoverished women. That leaves a ghost medium and a backup singer.

Seventy-five years between Mammy and Patsey, and the range of prime roles for Black women (never mind other women of color) seem rather, um, limited. What will it take, how long will it take for women of color to gain the experience, the networks, the audience to be offered the roles that so easily go to the likes all the women of non-color who dominate the awards circuit? How long before Asian and Asian American women are even up on the the big screen and littler screen in leading roles that are human beings? Please don’t name the five roles that are out there. Are there even five?

But why bother actually wasting five hours of my life when clearly I see and experience all of life as an Asian American woman and am going to notice these things anyway?

1. Because, despite a raging headache that pounded the back and sides of my brain, I am a sucker for fashion I can’t afford and would never buy even if I could afford some of it. I love the drape of a well-tailored dress or tux. I appreciate the aesthetic of fashion, and though I firmly believe the Fall of Humankind lead to all sorts of ick I am grateful we have moved beyond fig leaves, fur & leather.

2. Because the Oscars bring together the brokenness of this world together with the thing I believe God intended humankind to “do” – the creation of culture.

3. And because I also am an artist, the wife of an artist, and the mother of three artists. In my household five resides several writers, an aspiring screenplay writer/director, a dancer/choreographer, a seamstress/designer/styler, a photographer, a future master Lego builder, a satirist, and a comic book author. We are Christian home that continues to wrestle with what it looks like to be in this world but not of this world. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves by being neighbors who also watch things so we can have easy small talk and be neighbors who know what’s going on this world through a Christian lens, shaped by our Asian American immigrant experiences. We read (meaning two out of the five of us read without it being assigned) books, we get a paper newspaper and several magazines, we watch the news, etc. We shop at the mall, at the resale shops, and at all garage sales possible. We are first-world Christians desperately trying to live and be light by not hiding under a rock or bushel but by finding joy because we have the privilege and the opportunity to do so in incredibly easy but intentional ways.

So we sat together in the family room with the big screen tv and we watched, learned, and taught.

The five of us stayed up enjoying the likes of U2 (has anyone else noticed Bono can’t dance), Pink (I loved that dress!!), Idina Menzel (or Adele Menzeen, according to John Travolta, ugh), and Pharrel perform. (Pharrel, if you or your people are reading this, I have a daughter and two sons who can work it for your next multi-generational dance party.) We engaged them in critique and asked them about their observations. They noticed the plastic surgery and we talked about the world’s view and standard of beauty for men and women. We laughed when we all thought Jared Leto kind of looked like Jesus from the “Son of God” movie. We asked the kids which child would get the family to the Oscars. We cheered when the boys said they wanted to work their creative magic together. We cheered when our daughter mentioned choreographers can win Emmys. We all reacted to the Chevy commercial featuring Asian American children creating a movie by pointing at Peter, husband and dad, who made movies as a kid and still dreams about writing a screenplay. We noticed they cheered and recognized themselves and our family in a CHEVY COMMERCIAL but have never had that opportunity in an American sitcom or movie because obviously writers, casting directors, and producers don’t take race into consideration.

And in watching we continued to push ourselves and our children into the risky business of being in the world but not of the world. In many ways, it felt like an extension of Sunday worship as my heart, mind and soul continued to wrestle with the commandment to love my neighbor as myself when this world keeps telling me I am invisible.

 

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? 

 

 

Me, Ambitions, Q & What Happens When You Get What You Secretly Hope For

When I was in high school I wanted to grow up and be a journalist. I wanted to write for a major metropolitan market daily and be a section editor by the time I was 30 years old, to be precise.

I imagined what life would be like, considered the possibilities, didn’t rule out marriage or children but tried not to worry about it too much. I did the internships, collected the clips & recommendations, and utilized the career center like a boss. I was disappointed at the rejection letters, and then I started collecting them & correcting them for errors. I posted the rejections and numbered them. My apartment-mates agreed with me that editors who misspelled words on rejection letters weren’t worth working for, and those same apartment-mates greeted me at the airport celebrating what would be the first of two job offers.

And in all that time I never doubted my ambitions were part of my faith journey. Following Jesus meant dreaming, trying, failing, dreaming some more, and stewarding the gifts and talents I knew I had. There was always doubt, but there was always faith. I also knew that my ambitions were never completely my own. My parents and I immigrated to the US when I was eight months old. My life as the child of recent immigrants would never be “my own”, and I understood that before I understood what giving my life to Jesus meant. Sacrificial living is part of my Asian American DNA.

But somewhere between the age of 21 and 43 the doubts went deeper. Was being ambitious selfish? Could a faithful Christian woman still claim ambitions? How could I reconcile surrendering my life to Jesus and pursue my ambitions? The books I have read on leadership, discipleship, and parenting have all mentioned goals and achievement, but for some reason it began to feel less safe, less feminine, less godly like Mary and more like Martha to be ambitious.

Somewhere along the way my voice changed, and somewhere along the way I recognized the difference….and I didn’t like it. But to find your voice can be dangerous because you have to choose things and take risks and speak. Sometimes it has been clear as day; some opportunities were a “no” without a doubt.

But some opportunities are the ones we secretly hope for. Some opportunities are the ones I secretly hope for. The hopes are secret because who in their right mind tells anyone, “I’d love to be the speaker at a conference”? I don’t. Well, actually I do. Indirectly. I have a page on this blog with testimonials, my schedule, and my contact information. I’ve been told I should have a speaker request form plug-in. I’ve secretly wanted to speak at conferences, churches, and retreats.

A secret ambition becomes reality next month. I’ll be one of 12 presenters at Q Women & Calling next month in NYC. Well, how was that for burying my lede?

I’ve been waiting to write about it because:

  1. I got caught up in writing about Asian American stereotypes and evangelicals;
  2. Elias, Corban and then Bethany all took turns coming home with different germs;
  3. my day job keeps me busy; and
  4. I am terrified. And that’s OK.

I’ll be speaking on ambition with a voice that I pray is mine, embodying my Asian American Christian woman/friend/wife/mother/daughter/sister/neighbor thing. So as I finish prepping, fretting, and prepping some more (18 minutes is not a lot of time for a woman who grew up in a Korean American church) I would appreciate hearing from you.

What, if anything, is wrong with ambition?

How can Christian faith and ambition co-exist? Or can it not?

What are your secret ambitions? What keeps you from pursuing them?

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

Rick Warren’s Response & Mine

I slept on it.

I closed my eyes, rubbed some essential oils into my scalp, took many deep, cleansing breaths, and finally went to sleep.

The questions were still there when I woke up, suspended in my mind and heart like the cobwebs in my dining room. What does it really mean to extend grace? What does it mean to apologize? What does reconciliation look like in a case like this? Why hasn’t the dance studio sent Bethany’s dance class history? Do we have enough milk? Crap, I didn’t wash Elias’ cross country shirt. Should I have just stayed out of this Rick Warren mess? What will my boss think?

This is all to explain that I do not consider myself an activist. I am passionate, articulate, ambitious. I am a Christian Asian American woman who has been married for more than 20 years and the proud, proud mama of Bethany, Corban and Elias. I am vain. I use eye cream religiously. I am tired. I am in need of a savior so I am deeply grateful Jesus volunteered for that job. I am a wife, mother, writer, friend, sister, daughter, neighbor, advocate. And maybe I need to add activist after all because I can’t drop this just yet. I want to bring some more clarity and understanding over why I chose to blog about the issue, keep up the post and images, and review it today.

Yesterday things exploded on the internet over Rick Warren’s post of an image of a female Red Guard member with the caption “The typical attitude of Saddleback staff as they start work each day.” Warren’s original post went up early Monday, September 23, on Warren’s official Facebook page. Within hours (my guess), readers posted both their concerns over the political and historic overtones of the image as well as their support for the attempt at humor. The FB comment thread was disheartening. There is nothing quite like watching your family’s dirty laundry aired out over FB, and that is what it felt like. There is no joy in showing the world that indeed Christians are imperfect, rude, and in desperate need of the very Jesus we tell everyone else they need.

But it’s necessary to air that out, because the truth will set us free or something like that.

So after all of the requests to acknowledge the mistake and apologize Dr. Sam Tsang got this response on his blog:

Thanks so much for teaching us! It was removed instantly. May God bless you richly. Anytime you have guidance, you (or anyone else) can email me directly, PastorRick@saddleback.com.

May the grace of Jesus be your experience today. Thanks again! Your servant, Rick Warren.
P.S. In 1979, Kay and I felt called of God to serve in China but we were prevented by the government at that time. I had already been a part of planting a church near Nagasaki, Japan where I lived in 1974. When our plans were blocked, we ended up planting Saddleback in California. 

Hold all comments for now. Just. Wait.

At this point the entire FB thread, along with the image, and the related Twitter post were removed. “Instantly” meaning 1.5 days later, but whatever. English is not my first language. Poof. Gone. The public discourse, which revealed so many blind spots in our North American evangelical mindset, disappeared. And Warren’s own public comments telling sincere FB followers to essentially get over it and adopt his sense of biblical humor disappeared.

Dr. Tsang’s response today is incredible. My heart tightens when I read it because I can’t hold my tongue with such grace and patience. And lucky for me and you, I am not a Yellow Man. This one ain’t my burden to bear. Wink.

When my husband and I hurt each other, or when my children and I hurt each other, we ask for forgiveness and we apologize. We also try, or are prompted, to explain what we are apologizing for. It’s not nearly as public as what happened with Warren and his faithful supporters, but it hurts, breaks trust, and requires some wisdom.

Soooooo. My little thing is that I don’t see an apology. It’s just semantics, right? Do you see an apology? Because I don’t. And I want to extend grace and turn a blind eye and all of those gracious Christian-y things, but man this is a crazy power dynamic. In my mind there are days when I think I’m a pretty big deal, but I’m not and my kids remind me I’m their favorite mom but I’m not a big deal. So when someone who is a big deal tells a bunch of people to get over it and allows his followers to do the same and lightning speed on FB. Well, that’s a big deal.

And because it all happened on social media, there is proof. BUT WAIT. NO THERE ISN’T. He took it down because …. I don’t know. Because Dr. Tsang was “teaching” him?

There is no public apology or acknowledgement of what the problem and offense actually was. Warren erased it, and along with it the proof. What could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to help his followers understand that leaders of international influence make public mistakes, don’t get the whole cross-cultural thing which is pretty important to missionaries, that he made a mistake, that he apologizes and asks for forgiveness and would they, his followers, who thought the whole Red Guard thing wasn’t a big deal, should do the same, has the appearance of a bunch of online activists shutting him down.

Fine.

It’s happened before. Deadly Viper. Rickshaw Rally. I’ll even throw in A & F. But when evidence of the conflict is completely erased, it opens the door for a new narrative. It happened with DV and it breaks my heart (and sometimes makes my blood boil). That controversy wasn’t about a small group of Asians upset about Asiany things being used for the Gospel. That controversy was about Christians calling out other Christians for ignorant if not racist images and language being used in the name of Jesus. And this case feels strangely similar.  I love Jesus just like the authors of DV and the creators of Rickshaw Rally, but let’s be clear here. THEY WERE NOT THE VICTIMS. Erasing the proof without public acknowledgement and apology BY A PUBLIC FIGURE COMMITTING A PUBLIC OFFENSE opens the door for a new narrative. And from where I stand, those new narratives are not written by the Yellow Woman.

As of 10 am CST today there is nothing on Warren’s FB page that resembles an apology. He (or someone on his behalf, in which case he ought to acknowledge that) is still updating things – Saddleback Hong Kong launches next month. Hello?!?!?!? There are a few folks trying to bring the issue back by asking if Warren’s snippets of wisdom and encouragement about forgiveness include Warren himself. There are more than 23,000 likes on Warren’s message of forgiveness. Imagine if all 23,000 followers also understood the mistake he had made and read an apology?

See. Glass half full!

In the meantime, I wrote Warren an email last night and sent it to the address he shared with Dr. Tsang. For your reading pleasure, I am posting my letter to Warren. No, I haven’t gotten a reply from a real person, Warren or otherwise. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Did Warren apologize? Did I miss it? What would have been appropriate?

I need to buy some milk.

Do as I say?

Do as I say?

Beauty Pageants & Bible Stories

A former Navy reservist killed 12 and then turned the gun on himself yesterday, so why on earth am I still  blogging about racist comments directed at Miss America 2013 Nina Davuluri?

Because even things that don’t seem to matter can give me an opportunity to pause, learn, reflect, and apply to life. And everything I learned about beauty pageants I learned from the Bible before I watched my first Miss America pageant.

Felt-board Queen Esther became queen because her predecessor, Queen Vashti, refused her very drunk husband’s order to display her beauty to all the people, despite the fact that she was busy doing her own thing (Esther 1:11). King Xerxes and his wingmen/wise men decide she must be punished because if the queen can refuse to prance around in front of his drunk highness and his drunk friends then all women in the kingdom would assume they too could refuse their drunk husband’s requests. In order to put all women back in their place, a proclamation announcing the queen would be replaced and that every man should be ruler over his household (Esther 1:22) is sent to the entire kingdom “to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language”.

Esther becomes queen because she is beautiful and because she keeps her family background and nationality a secret. I don’t know what the Persian beauty standards were at the time, but Esther isn’t Persian. She is Jewish, and she hides it. And because she is beautiful she is rewarded. Sort of.

She wasn’t crowned Miss America. Miss America gets scholarship money, a national platform for a year for the cause of her choice, and the support and scorn of a country that worships and destroys all forms of beauty. Esther was crowned queen in title with no power, no platform. Would it be too crude to say she was a sex slave who was called into the king’s presence whenever it pleased him to see her? Or should I write “see” her? The kind had a type – beautiful virgins – and he liked to keep several around and name one queen. One day it’s Vashti, and then the next it’s Esther. It’s a man’s world, and it’s rolling with  beautiful women.

And that was part of the lesson I learned growing up – Queen Esther and Queen Vashti were beautiful, and there is a great deal of power and danger in that. You are set apart if you are beautiful. You are desirable if you are beautiful. And sometimes you have to hide who you really are to be considered beautiful. And then I learned all of that from the world around me, except that there were too many things I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t hide my “almond eyes” or flat nose. I couldn’t hide my un-American last name or the smells from my home. I couldn’t hide my brown hair and brown eyes. And as a little girl I played with dolls and watched beauty pageants – faces that never, ever looked like me or my mother or sister or aunt or anyone in my family. I was a chink and a gook and a jap. I was told to back to China, Japan, Viet Nam, but never Korea because most of my classmates had not yet learned of the Korean conflict. Even in high school I heard those words coupled with other profanity and saw words written on posters when I ran for class president. Some things you never forget because it’s important to remember. Kids are kids, but kids grow up to be adults to are examples to others…

Fortunately God does a lot of redeeming in my story and in Esther’s story. For Esther to find real power in her God-given identity she has to claim what she has hidden and denied. Her uncle, who once told her to hide her identity as a Jew asks Esther to use whatever power and access she has to speak out for her people, to speak out for what is right. Her uncle never says he was wrong, but he is asking to behave differently. She has to side with her people who are under threat of genocide, by defying the rules. She must risk death by approaching the king without being invited and hope he welcomes her, recognizes her (because it’s been more than a month since the king has seen this particular queen). She finds her voice, her identity, her power, and she speaks out against genocide, against the racist hate mongering, and she does it with strength and conviction and grace.

I’m still writing about the racist comments that may have disappeared in the constant flow of tweets, FB statuses and 24-7 news outlets because the Miss America pageant, as outdated, bizarre and sexist as it seems, the idea is as old as time. It’s as irrelevant and sexist as it relevant and sexist, which is to say I have no idea how God might redeem the Miss America pageant, but it’s not beyond God to do such a crazy thing. I’m not particularly fond of nor a fan of the pageant, but honestly if I could have won thousands of dollars in scholarship money because of my beauty I would not have thumbed my nose at that chance. And according to a PBS documentary on the Miss America pageant, someone like me or Ms. Davuluri or Vanessa Williams couldn’t have participated in the pageant in its heyday anyway.

But now we are a post-racial society with a lame duck, second term African American president and a Miss America of Indian descent.

The racist comments thrown at a beauty pageant winner matter because even if the laws say we belong, our neighbors, the ones I as a Christian am supposed to love, are spewing hate. My neighbors, who may even claim faith in the same God and Jesus I do, are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors, of people who are using violent, ugly, racist language to remind me and millions of other Americans we don’t belong, are not welcome, are less than. Some of my neighbors are wondering why I’m spending so much time on Miss America when 12 people lost their lives in a shooting in Washington, DC.

It’s not either or.

You may not be on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist. There are racist tweets about the shooting in DC just like there were about the new Miss America. Did you hold your breath when you heard about the shooting and hope, “Please, don’t let the gunman be White.”? (If you don’t understand the question, just trust me. There were plenty of Americans, Christian and not, who were hoping that the gunman wasn’t Black, Brown or Yellow.) The gunman, the murderer? He was Black. Did you hold your breath when you heard about the new Miss America and think, “It won’t be long before the racist comments hit the airwaves.”? (Are you thinking, “Why would anyone think that?” Trust me. There were plenty of Americans, Christian and not, who knew this racist stuff was going to happen.) The pageant winner? She is Brown. You can be the beauty or the beast but in America neither is safe from the vicious words and hearts of some of my racist neighbors. You can’t win.

But this isn’t about winning anymore than Esther’s story is about winning. What I also learned in the Bible is that God invites the most unlikely people in the most unlikely circumstances to do the most unlikely things. So who knows what is to become of the Miss America pageant or Twitter or who will be the heroes and the villains in the next tragedy. Esther’s story is about speaking truth, stepping out in faith, fighting for justice, finding your voice, leaning on others, owning your power and space, even if you think it’s crazy, or not your place, or something you’re really not interested in getting involved in right now because it isn’t your thing like risking your life or your reputation or your time on something as little as few hateful, vicious words written in English about someone who is my neighbor.

Book Club: Lean In But Only If You Like Me

OK, dear readers. I don’t know about you, but chapter three was tough for me.  As if wanting to succeed and having ambition isn’t taboo enough, now we women get to really get emotionally naked and talk about likeability. Well, let’s get naked.

Sandberg dives in with some personal anecdotes to put flesh on the idea that cultural norms tend to associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities creating a double bind for women. If a woman lead, she’s basically screwed because if she comes off like a man then people don’t like her, and if she is nice people like her but she can’t get ahead or get anything done. (I know I oversimplified, but I’m not writing a book here.) I’d like to add that it is a double bind for White women. For women of color, there is a racial/cultural twist that adds to the complexity of the issue – it’s a braid.

If a Black woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Black woman.”

If a Latina raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Latina.”

If an Asian American woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that dragon lady.” I get to pick the description because this is me.

Sandberg doesn’t have to fight the stereotypes of geishas, those waitresses who can’t speak English,  those nail techs at strip mall nail shops who speak in their foreign languages that make English-only-speaking customers worry if they are being made fun of (maybe for once it’s not about you), “I love you long time”, petite & subservient women who cover their mouths when they giggle. Sandberg isn’t straddling multiple cultures in the same way most women of color have to do, and if she does I wish she had included that in her book.

Her suggestions for overcoming the likeability issue is to own one’s success (p. 44), substitute “we” for “I” (p.47), and emote and quickly get over it (p.50). Again, easier said than done.

Let’s tackle emotions because I have a lot of them at any given moment. My dad says I wear all of my emotions on my face the moment I feel them. My mom has always joked that I am the crybaby of the family. When my younger sister was in trouble and getting disciplined, I would be the one crying.  That being said, I still cry a lot and I’ve struggled with processing emotions appropriately.

Getting over it quickly isn’t always possible nor do I believe it is the best thing to do in all cases. Yes, sometimes it’s better to take a breath and carry on. Earlier this summer during a fabulous road trip to the East Coast another driver did not appreciate my reminder that the left lane is for passing and shared his ill-manicured middle finger with me, and I responded in kind. I really should’ve just muttered under my breath about the rules of the road and moved on.

But sometimes as a leader, as a friend, as a parent, I have the opportunity to take a breath, name the emotion, connect it to what is going on for me in the conversation. I can help others by explaining what may be obvious to me but confusing to the person watching me: I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, etc. and it’s difficult, confusing, hurtful, etc. And then instead of hijacking the meeting by addressing my emotion, I can release the meeting to move along with the understanding that this is where I am coming from. It may slow things down, but in a world where we are often misreading each others’ cues – whether it’s through email, tweets, Facebook posts, or in face-to-face conversations, I believe we actually do need to name those emotions more and more.

So after my older son called me out on my expression of anger and frustration, I explained to him that I was ticked off and frustrated but that I shouldn’t have flipped off the other driver. I should’ve been satisfied with honking my horn and flashing my high beams.

Sandberg goes on to say that women need to own their successes and essentially speak in more communal terms when it comes to succeeding, at least in the business world.

Asian Americans who have a grasp of their mother tongue or culture experience the stark contrast between White American Western individualism and their cultures of origin. My Korean name does not start with my given name. It starts with my family name, my last name first because it isn’t about “me” or “I’ but about “we” and “us.” When you go to a traditional Korean restaurant you may have your “own” main dish but all the banchan – the side dishes that fill the table – are meant to be shared.

The feedback many of us Asian Americans have heard is that we are not assertive enough, we don’t self-promote and talk about our successes. But as an Asian American woman if I get into a shouting match and match tone and posture with a male colleague during a simulation in a leadership seminar, I get a talking to about my anger, aggression, and emotion, even if I try to get over it it comes back in evaluations and folklore. The male colleague does not.

Women don’t shout and point fingers. Asian American women certainly don’t shout and point fingers. And Christian women of all shades don’t shout and point fingers.

So what’s a woman to do?

I do think that as women we need to better own our successes whether they are in the business world, in our communities, in our churches, in our homes. I think the wins are important to name, recognize, and celebrate not just for ourselves but for us, our friends and family. And we, as Christian women of all shades, need to bring an end to the Mommy Wars. There is too much in current pop culture that wants to chip away at love that endures and success that brings us closer to “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” that can easily get lost as women argue about of working outside of the home versus working at home by focusing on our families. Success in our workplaces, in our friendships, in our marriages are worth leaning in to achieve, and I do believe that can come for both men and women in both the secular and the sacred.

What does that look like practically? For me it has meant owning my skills and talent for writing. I’m still figuring out some of the major details, but in the meantime I’m learning to say things like, “I am an author” without giggling. I am also making time to write for fun, to improve my craft, and to make some extra money while writing about things I am passionate about and believe furthering the conversations will bring us closer to kingdom come.

So what do you think? How difficult is it to own your own successes? Has success cost being liked? Do you like this post? Do you still like me?

🙂