Hearing and Speaking “Ching Chong”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But like I said, I need Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Intention Isn’t the Point or the Problem

“I’m sorry if…”

“I didn’t mean to offend…”

“I didn’t intent to hurt anyone…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

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

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

No. NO! Wrong! WRONG!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in Three Parts: Progress, Prep & Packing #flymysweet

Progress:

After almost a decade after having published a vacation Bible school curriculum titled “Far-out Far East Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son”, LifeWay Christian Resources president and CEO Thom Rainer issued an apology for the company’s decision to use offensive stereotypes in the materials. I wasn’t at the Mosaix conference where the video apology was shown but thanks to social media I heard about yesterday…

Rainer never refers directly to the Open Letter from Asian American community to the Evangelical Church, but folks closer to the decision have said that the letter brought the Rickshaw Rally controversy back into present-day discussions.

I’ve been laying low on blogging about the letter and the events that preceded the letter, in part, because I was just tired of emails asking me to withdraw my criticism, questioning my commitment to Christ, and accusing me of all sorts of shenanigans. Speaking out isn’t the most comfortable thing, EVEN FOR ME, but not saying something, not speaking out and drawing attention to the brokenness in the Church in those recent situations wasn’t a choice. And to hear that Rainer, who was not the president and CEO at the time of the Rickshaw Rally decision, chose to look back at the organization’s past, acknowledge the offense, and publicly apologize for it is reason enough to continue to encourage me and others to speak out. I’m writing this not as an “I told you so” but rather as a “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for humankind!” (Ps. 66:5)

As Asian American Christians, we have all sorts of cultural nuances and baggage that perpetuate self-silencing in the name of maintaining harmony and perceived peace. Sometimes that “peace” has been at the cost of identifying and celebrating the unique gifts and blessings our cultures bring to the diverse Kingdom of God.

The Open Letter and the many voices it helped amplify and release is progress. The apology is progress.

Prep:

So I should really be focusing on prepping for a set of national leadership meetings for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries. I have a book to finish reading and a few folks to contact about my visit to NYC. I also should be practicing my talk for the Q Focus: Woman & Calling event I will be presenting at next Friday, but I am still finishing the prep for my talk. (By the way, there is still some overflow space and streaming options.)

I’m anxious. I am trying not to worry about how I will do and focus on the message I have on my heart, the message God has been pushing and pressing into my heart and into the shredded margins of my day-to-day. I don’t think ambition is wrong. I think many of us are afraid of what ambition will do to us, bring to us, how it will challenge us in what we believe about and value in the world, God, and ourselves.

And I’m thinking a lot about ambition because my oldest has gotten her first college acceptance, and she has her first audition tomorrow. She has dreams, goals, hopes, and ambitions. She is a dancer. Dancers want to dance. My heart and mind are distracted by her ambitions, and as her mother, not as a speaker, I am trying to embrace the moment, face my fears, and prep, which leads to the third part.

Packing:

We leave in three hours or so to Kalamazoo. Bethany’s audition is for the dance program at Western Michigan University, and I am incredibly nervous. And I don’t have to do anything! And as I try to finish this post and make my mental packing list there is a lovely sense of convergence.

My daughter is a “good” student and she is an artist. Last year she choreographed a piece that took my breath away and left many in the audience reflecting on the power of dance. She doesn’t become a different person when she performs. She becomes more of who she is. And every time I tell someone she wants to major in dance she is breaking the model minority stereotype that doesn’t seem harmful or hurtful until you are the one either in the teeny, tiny box of what is acceptable or outside of that box being told you are failure. She hopefully will do with her art what I have been trying to do with mine – creating opportunities for progress, pushing fear aside, identifying God-given gifts as something to exercise and explore.

And just like that, it’s time to go.

What are the things you faced today?

When Your Kid Says Something Racist

Elias was four years old when he didn’t fully comprehend the racial slurs thrown at him across the hospital room.

The teenage boy in traction on the other side of the curtain was in pain but had refused to take his pain medication. How did I know? The curtain wasn’t soundproof. We could hear him complaining, arguing with his parents, moaning in pain, asking for candy but refusing to eat the hospital food (who could blame him). I learned from his mother that he had been in a horrible car accident. The young man was lucky to be alive after a bowling ball left in the passenger area of the car became a pinball upon impact.

Our families didn’t interact much except for exchanging knowing looks as we passed each other in the room or the hallways. They were focused on getting their teenager healthy and stable. We were doing the same with our four-year-old. We simply exchanged stories and then went to our sides of the room until the teenager decided to call my son a chink and suggest our family go back to where we came from.

I had asked the other mother if they would turn down the television that was on at the same volume it had been on all day long. Elias was exhausted having started fasting for a round of tests the next day, and Peter & I were spent.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind turning down the television volume a little bit? Our son is a bit restless tonight and the noise is making it difficult for all of us to rest.”

The other mother asked her son if it would be OK to turn down the volume as I walked to our side of the curtain. His response?

“No. I can’t sleep when that baby’s whining and crying. Tell that chink to shut up. They should all go back to where they came from. What are they doing here anyway?”

I waited for the other mother to correct her son, but she didn’t. She said nothing. Instead her son continued to raise his voice. She said nothing. Nothing.

So I did.

I don’t think Tiger Mother is what you think it means.

I walked over to the other side of the curtain and said to no one in particular, “I can’t believe this.” I left the room and headed to the nurses’ station where I asked demanded to speak with the shift manager to request demand  a room change. As I was explaining the situation, including the racist slurs, the other mother came down the hall asking me to understand her son was in pain and is tired and didn’t know what he was saying and that she didn’t know where he learned to say those things.

Full stop.

We are two days away from Halloween, and there are adults in blackface thinking Trayvon Martin is the perfect costume. They are posting photos of themselves dressed up like bloodied Asiana flight attendants and pilots. And when we see these adults doing stupid, racist things I know I am not the only one wondering ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! Don’t these people have friends who pull them aside and tell them in no uncertain terms, “THAT is NOT a good idea”?!?!?!?!?

But it isn’t just in that moment because those adults didn’t just decide a week before Halloween that blackface or wearing a name badge reading “Ho Lee Fuk” would be HILARIOUS. No, those adults learned long ago that those racist acts were OK, even funny.

Which is why I, as an adult, hearing racist slurs come out of the mouths of children, especially this particular 14-year-old boy’s mouth, and then NOT hearing his parent correct him bothered me so. I did understand the young man was in pain, which is why I was hoping he would take his pain meds. I did understand he was tired because my son was tired, too. I wanted to go back to where we came from – Libertyville, Illinois! But we were stuck in Ann Arbor because my four-year-old baby almost seized to death. I did understand. But I told the other mother that what I didn’t understand was how she could hear her son say things like “chink” and not correct him. I told her this wasn’t about the noise. It was about the racist slurs.

Again, she said nothing. It broke my heart because the other mother could no longer claim ignorance. She knew and said  nothing.

When your kids say something racist, you correct them or you stay silent and give them permission.

It’s not easy. Parenting isn’t easy. Talking about race and racism isn’t easy. But if parents and adults don’t say anything, don’t help lead and correct and answer questions, none of us should be surprised when adults show up at a Halloween party looking the part of a racist fool.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes it’s an act of obedience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dora – I especially love her last paragraph

Bruce is not an Evangelical

Rachel Held Evans who usually doesn’t like open letters

NPR’s Code Switch

The Orange County Register

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lessons From a Sunday School Song

Jesus loves the little children.

All the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

After the past few weeks, I’m beginning to believe we haven’t really learned much about one another beyond lyrics.

Imagine the little white child handing the black child a slice of watermelon while trying to speak Ebonics.

Or the little white child handing the yellow child a piece of wood while asking her to karate chop it in half while using an “Asian” accent.

Or the little white child handing the red child a feather while pretending to use a tomahawk and making “Indian warrior” noises with his hand on his mouth.

And all of this happening in front of the church during a Sunday service.

Never mind that so few of us, myself included, attend a church where that is the norm Sunday after Sunday (and where are the brown kids?). Just picture it.

It would be a little…um…weird…uncomfortable…awkward…inappropriate. How would you describe what you are feeling?

Now imagine all of these little children of the world growing up and showing up at church, and during the passing of the peace you watch a white person come up to me, an Asian American woman, and speak to me in a fake Asian accent.

What would your reaction be? What would you be feeling or thinking? Would you do anything? Should you do anything?

***Now, this exact scenario has not happened to me. At least, not yet. But who knows. The Church has a strange track record on taking one step forward and a leap backwards. Look up Rickshaw Rally – a vacation Bible school curriculum. Or Deadly Viper – a Christian leadership book and movement taken down by a small “online activist group”. Or…never mind.

After the past few weeks, I’m beyond feeling weird, uncomfortable, and awkward. Please, dear readers, don’t be afraid. Invite others to join us here. I promise, I may be angry, frustrated, hurt, and confused, but I won’t bite. I promise.

Thanks For Asking. I’m OK.

For those of you who told me to accept the apology, I can’t infer an apology just like people don’t become Christians through osmosis. And to my dear married readers, try saying “I’m sorry if you were hurt but…” and see how that goes.

For those of you who told me to extend grace because Warren’s son committed suicide several months ago, tragedy should be the reason one seeks wise counsel, not the excuse for unwise social media decisions. I live with depression and anxiety. I get it. I really do. But that doesn’t mean I can say what I want at home or publicly and not deal with any consequences.

For those of you who told me I was too sensitive, making this personal, didn’t get the joke, need to learn to laugh at myself, tell that to someone you actually know and love the next time you hurt them. See how that works for you.

For those of you who told me I was being unchristian, ungracious, unforgiving, I am not so sure your comments to me and fellow bloggers reflected your values.

For those of you who pulled out Matthew 18:15-17, read that passage again and then read this. It’s not the application you thought it was because it’s not always about you.

For those of you who told me I was ruining the name of a great leader all I can say is…really? That’s not what this is about. At all.

For those of you who said it wasn’t fair to target such a prominent pastor, why not? Does prominence and power mean a free pass? Does being a pastor mean you get a free pass? Does the person you hope will gently correct you not need gentle correction?

For those of you who told me to be a Christian before an Asian American, please consider how you are putting your White evangelical privilege into textbook use.

No, it’s not the gracious, sweet, calm voice of reason you thought you might hear/read. It’s the gracious, sweet, calm voice of reason from a different vantage point, a different place of power and experience and life.  Facebook isn’t a private conversation. The interwebs are not private offices. Television interviews and magazine articles are not the face of someone hiding from public opinion.

And while I am at it. My family and I are OK. Thanks for asking.

I Emailed Pastor Rick Warren & There Is No “If”

This is it, I guess.

This is it, I guess.

I guess this is it. This. Warren has apologized.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. Reconciliation comes with time and more often than not at great cost. This is no picnic or attempt at building a reputation or platform at the expense of someone else.

A wonderful opportunity to engage publicly, because that is where this whole thing started, on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission, in the Gospel, was missed. Poof. Context, words, forum, influence matter. They are not “secular” things we Christians need not worry about. Jesus knew his audience, context, words, power of place and space. (If you’re not sure about this, I would be thrilled to walk you through a manuscript study of the book of Mark.)

For those of you just tuning in, please start here and then I would suggest going herehere or here. This is Day Four, and in social media time that means you are probably late to the party. Here is a quick synopsis.

  1. Monday morning Rick Warren posts an image of a female Red Guard with the caption. “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
  2. Hours later there are many, many Facebook posts by people concerned about the use of the image, evoking the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, and trying to connect that with a church staff’s attitude. There are also commenters rebuking people for communicating their hurt and concern over the image.
  3. By 8:30 am Monday morning, Warren responds with this: People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines – jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!”
  4. By Tuesday afternoon Warren’s controversial post, image and comment thread and tweet connected to that thread are erased, which is why I have chosen to leave all images and posts, and to quote directly when possible.
  5. Tuesday night I sent him a personal email so that I could Matthew 18 the situation.
  6. Tuesday night I received what appears to be a standard response indicating that there will be a response to me forthcoming. As of this morning (Thursday), there is not.

Automated response. I get it. I really do. I don’t have followers or a congregation. I have three kids. My automated response is, “In a minute.”

I am going to break this down for clarity sake because I and others who have been vocal about this have been accused of being un-Christian, mean, thin-skinned, sensitive, unaware of how much Warren’s ministry has done, racist, stupid, and all sorts of things we grown-ups hopefully are not teaching the children in our midst to call other children. I am breaking it down because sometimes, as a bicultural woman, I think I am being direct, but, because of multiple cultural influences on my language and approach, folks who lean more towards the Western culture find my Asian American tendencies indirect. Let’s break this down and put this puppy to rest. I’ve been here before. I suspect I will be here again. Every time I learn something new.

So, here is the dilemma. Do I think so highly of myself to think that Warren’s apology and reference to an email is actually about me? That is ridiculous. I know there were others who emailed him. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Warren is talking about my email, which I re-read. I never say “I am offended”. I had a lot of questions because I wanted to understand. I wanted to hear and open up dialogue because I didn’t understand Warren’s logic, humor or joke. I really didn’t understand why Warren’s supporters would then try to shut down those who were offended (and I include myself in the camp of those hurt, upset, offended AND distressed) by telling us/me to be more Christian like they themselves were being.

There is no “if”.  I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image and then Warren then told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated.

I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom.

When apologizing you do not put the responsibility of your actions on the person who is hurt, upset, offended, or distressed. You do not use the word “if”. You do not communicate that the offense was to one person when, in fact, it was not. You clarify and take the opportunity to correct those who mistakenly followed your lead. Your apology is not conditional on the “if” because you should know because you have listened, heard, and understood the person you hurt, upset, offended, or distressed.

A dear, wise friend offered this rewrite:

“I am truly sorry for my offensive post and the insensitive comments that followed. Thank you for teaching me what I did not know. I need to be surrounded by people like you, who bring a perspective and experience I lack, so I can continue to learn.”

Words matter.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. This was not a pissing contest. This was and still is a wonderful opportunity to engage publicly and privately on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission.