Learning About Leadership and Social Networking=New to Twitter @mskathykhang

This is my guest post for Angry Asian Man, a dear friend and someone I respect deeply. I’ve appreciated his advocacy for Asian Americans, his humor and his ability to manage pop culture fame and humility. You can follow his blog or @angryasianman, where I have finally joined the ranks of Twitter @mskathykhang

I’m on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don’t worry. While I’m away, I’ve enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here’s Kathy Khang and her half-read book review of Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li.

I grew up believing that taking advantage of the very best education money and hours of studying could get you was the key to the Asian American dream. There’s no doubt a strong education remains key but an Ivy League degree isn’t the only key. The world of social technology – the development and use of – is changing the way leadership and social power works.

So I was thrilled to pick up a copy of Charlene Li’s fairly new book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. In the business world, the gurus are by and large men of a paler shade. It’s been said of novelists that they subconsciously assume the race or ethnicity of their readers and characters. If you read enough leadership books, you may say the same about those authors as well. Just add gender to the mix.

Readers of AAM know full well the power of social media. Stupid slogans on t-shirts (A & F) may never have gained national attention had it not been for the power of social media. As a reader of AAM, I’m no dummy. When I saw vacation Bible school materials and a Christian leadership book using stereotypical images of Asian Americans it was an easy call to open leadership. My own personal networks are limited, but spreading the word through AAM and later Facebook and Twitter made sure people understood rickshaws and ninjas should not be used in Jesus’ name as a cute selling point.

Full disclosure. I’m not done reading Li’s book, but it has received strong reader reviews as well as positive write-ups in CIO, Management Today and Harvard Business Review. And a little thing I loved right off the bat was she dedicates the book to her parents and in the introduction compares balancing openness and control to being the parent of young children. Great leaders know where they come from and bring authenticity and integration. Can’t wait to finish reading Li’s book.

Kathy Khang blogs at More Than Serving Tea and loves her job as a regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.

Mom’s-eye View of High School: Hey! You’re Asian!

Elias is eight and still trying to figure out what it means that his tae kwon do black belt certificate reads citizenship as “American” even though he knows he is Korean. Korean American. Hyphen optional.

So when a random high school girl came up to him and his fellow Cub Scouts at the home game and asked to take a picture (imagine hearing high-pitched voices: “Look at the little boys in their uniforms! Ohhh! They are sooo cute!!! Oh my god! I wanna picture!) he shied away and then joined in on their rock star moment….

“Hey! You’re Asian! Stand next to me!” said the boldest of the bunch, an all-American/Asian American teenager. She gently, with the bubbly enthusiasm only contained in teenagers, nudged Elias over to her side.

I had been at the football field for almost two hours already having watched Bethany dance with her poms squad, cheered on a friend’s son playing defense, chatted with another pom mom, watched the marching band do their thing and Elias and the Cub Scouts raise the flag.

And honestly hearing that girl scream, “Hey! You’re Asian!” was the least surreal moment of the evening for me. Her observation put me at ease because it simply confirmed and affirmed what I was feeling and seeing and thinking that night.

There really aren’t that many of “us” out there, and even for that young girl she noticed. It mattered. She found a connection, no matter how superficial it may seem to you or others. It was the closest thing to “jeong” – the Korean concept of deep sympathy and connection shared with others – I had experienced all night.

And with a flash and a photo op she was gone.

If You’re Looking For a Great Speaker Consider Inviting…

Me 😉

OK. That was awkward.

Why? Because that’s bragging, and the only bragging I grew up with was hearing my parents brag about other kids and hearing other parents brag about someone else’s kids. There is no “us” or “we” or “honoring the family” in self-promotion. Even when I’ve thought I toned it down by talking about God’s call on my life and my ministry when years and years ago I was asked to share about my job with InterVarsity I was told by a church leader that he was surprised and disappointed in me for only caring about myself.

The message has been to wait for someone else to promote me if that person, who is more credible, respectable, connected, etc. chooses to do so. Is it fair? That used to be the rhetorical question.

For me it’s not about fairness anymore because I get too emotionally hooked right there. I want to move the conversation to understanding leadership. Leaders, and I count myself in that broad category, need to have a level of self-awareness – our strengths, our weaknesses, our blind spots, our junk, our humanity, our passions. You get the picture. That also means understanding our influence. I am still learning, but in the meantime I have been blessed by advocates who understood and did not shy away from relational, influential leadership as a way to bring diverse, new voices into the fold, mine included, even when those voices aren’t proven on the big stage.

So I was recently asked by web strategist DJ Chuang if I’d be willing to start a list of Christian Asian American female leaders who would be great resources for other leaders, churches, conferences and organizations who are sincerely and actively looking for what I would call “new to them” voices and leaders for conferences, strategy meetings, etc. Because I can’t be the only one who is tired of hearing “we didn’t know who else to invite/ask/promote”.

Just for starters…

  • Jeanette Yep
  • Donna Dong
  • Young Lee Hertig
  • Melanie Mar Chow
  • Nancy Sugikawa
  • Nikki Toyama-Szeto
  • Kathy Khang
  • Hyepin Im
  • Laura Cheifetz
  • Helen Lee
  • Christine Lee
  • Asifa Dean
  • Christie Heller De Leon
  • Tracey Gee
  • Ella DeCastro Baron

This is not an exhaustive list. I need your help. It’s pretty clear to me where some of my blind spots and limited networks are. Who would you add? If you’re not sure, who do you know who might know? Step up. Speak up. Advocate and lead, my friends. This certainly needs to be a longer list…and I’ll add links in between “Mommmy?” requests from my homefront.

It’s Not Racist or Sexist. It’s Complicated.

Bestselling author Anne Rice recently announced that she “quit being a Christian” but remains “committed to Christ”. Leave it to an author to parse her words in a way that would have the world a twitter. What followed was a flood of responses and reactions, including a thoughtful post by an acquaintance of mine, fellow blogger and co-founder of One Day’s Wages Eugene Cho.

The line that caught me and others off-guard, perhaps, was this:

First of all, I am a fan of Anne Rice. In fact, I don’t know of many people that dislike her. She’s a phenomenal writer and additionally, she’s gotta have some Asian genes in her. She’s 68 and ages like no other.

He has gotten some flak for that statement, and has since posted a public request on his blog for feedback asking readers to chime in: Was this racist or sexist?

I don’t think it was either. Eugene was trying to be funny. Some people thought he was funny. I just thought: “What the heck does her appearance in comparison to her age have to do with any of this?” And for the record, I do think there is a difference between noting Anne Rice’s appearance and age and connecting that to a possible Asian genetic connection in a post about her comments on religion and faith and someone noting Steve Nash (or whoever) must have a Black genetic connection because of their skills on the court (this is another question Eugene raises). Comments about Nash’s race point to the stereotypes about Blacks and athletic prowess. I’m not sure how Rice’s appearance has anything to do with her as an author or religious commentator.

It’s different because I don’t see how looking younger than you are relates to Rice’s appeal, success or current religious affiliation matter, but comments about race, basketball and the NBA can easily go to a deeper conversation about race, power and credibility.

Oops. I stand corrected. I guess it is similar because it’s all so very complicated.

I am a Christian Asian American woman who walks this ever-moving fine line in a field that sometimes connects titles, degrees and gender to credibility and access, in cultures that value age, experience, honor, beauty, youth, power, service, humility and self-confidence. I have been disrespected, ignored and shut out because I am am not a man, and in some cases, all within the Church, because I am not an Asian American man – young or old. I have served alongside and sometimes simply served Christian men of all shades who have significantly less life and ministry experience than I have because I am not a “Mr.” or a “Rev.” and I don’t have or am not pursuing an MDiv so the easier category for me is Mrs. (though I prefer Ms.).

It’s complicated and confusing. Doesn’t our Asian culture revere and honor elders or is it only male elders in general and a certain type of female elder? In Asian, American and Asian American culture don’t we also obsess over youthful appearances (yes, vanity and ageism affect both men and women, but watching advertising alone would lead me to believe that men should worry about ED and women should worry about wrinkles)?

Sour grapes? No. Yes. Sometimes. Sometimes very, very sour. And sometimes very, very nasty grapes that the Lord presses into new wineskins and makes into a wine worth savoring. There are many times I don’t want to be a Christian Asian American woman.

It’s complicated.

Superwoman Doesn’t Spend Her Morning In PJs

My superwoman outfit has been at the cleaners for a few years now, but every now and then I really, really want to see if it still fits. There is something particularly draining and yet sadistically energizing about taking on the world with a “I’m going to bake that cake from scratch and eat it with some organic milk and fair trade coffee while calendaring my family’s life on-line with a smile and a load of laundry in the dryer” attitude. Maybe it’s just me.

But I am not superwoman, though many of us try out of love for our children and family and friends and out of our personal brokenness. Deep down I want to exceed expectations because I want to be successful because failure can suck, especially when I see it on the faces of those I love most dearly.

So I was encouraged to read a friend and former colleague’s blog post on failure and success and how that plays out in real life as a wife/mom/grad student/campus minister. She has a full life, and she, like many of us, is wrestling with the fact that there are just some things she will never be good at or succeed at, let alone enjoy doing. She is sending her superwoman outfit to the cleaners, but, like so many of us, is trying to reconcile expectations (self-imposed and those of others on us), needs, wants, personalities, etc.

I’ve grown up with a bi-cultural understanding of success. The American Dream is a pull yourself up from your bootstraps narrative, but the American Dream for children of immigrants and particularly Asian immigrants involves extended family and ancestors. We pull not for ourselves but for those we left behind and will never see again, for those who are with us and for those who are yet to come. When we pull we drag with us ancient stories and family history. I pull the history of the Korean War and stories of families being separated and precious rice spilled into the dirt and a love/hate relationship to the West into the present filled with American and Korean values clashing still into the future where my children, nephews and nieces are just realizing they have dreams.

Success is not what I alone achieve for myself. It involves the entire family.

And failure is the same way. My screw up is not just mine but a mark against my entire family. When I screw up my living relatives and dead ancestors cringe and they don’t know why. When I fail it is not just because I didn’t study hard enough or practice long enough but also because somewhere someone failed to teach me the value of studying and practicing and perfecting. My failure is carried by my family as well.

So being superwoman is impossible. Who can fly with that kind of weight on her shoulders? Instead of fretting over the loss of superwoman, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out Mary and Martha and their friend Jesus.

One particular incident I’ve written about before is their interaction in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is doing what a good woman does – preparing for her guests, but her sister Mary has taken it upon herself to act like a disciple and sit at Jesus’ feet. I know a lot of us Bible teaching folk have used that passage to talk and teach about discipleship, but what if Jesus’ conversation with Martha about Mary isn’t just about the one big thing – the being a disciple of Jesus is the better thing?

What if it’s also about all the other things we have to choose? Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she gets to stop being the hostess with the most-est. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to eat the food she is preparing. He tells her that Mary happened to make the better choice and that will not be taken away from her. What if we make that one big choice – the being a disciple of Jesus thing – as we make lots of little, significant and seemingly insignificant choices. What would it look like if I considered which was the better choice each time I had a choice? One choice at a time.

I could beat myself over the head for the list of things I have already failed at this morning. Truth be told I’m sitting here in my pjs with a cold cup of coffee and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a laundry room that has immaculately conceived several loads of laundry. I don’t remember what my kids were wearing this morning so if they were late coming home I couldn’t tell the police officers what the kids were wearing for identification. I’m not sure one of the kids finished his homework. I know one of the kids did not have me sign a practice card. I have a ministry support letter that I needed to write a month ago, and two expense reports I need to file. I have a major training conference decision that had to be made last week. And it’s just TUESDAY!

But right now I am going to choose the better thing, and it is neither success nor failure.

Reasonable Suspicion

My college girlfriends and I had considered Arizona as a spot for a 40th bday bash, but I’m not sure we’d pass muster. We’ve all been questioned before. We’ve all been told one way or another that for some reason that surely has absolutely nothing to do with race, color or national origin that we just don’t look like we belong.

It usually goes something like this…

Someone trying to make conversation with me: “Where are you from?”

Me: Oh, I’m from (fill in the blank  – Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Portland, Phoenix, Flagstaff).

Same Someone: No, I mean where are you REALLY from.

Me: Huh?

Still that Same Someone: You know. Where are you FROM?

The only place I knew as “home”, as the place I was from, was Chicago. Why wasn’t that answer enough? Because I don’t look or sound like a Chicagoan? Just ask me to say “hot dog” and “beer”. I’ve got Chicaaahgo.

Being told in so many words in so many ways that you don’t belong, that you couldn’t possibly be from where you say you are actually from can make you reasonably suspicious of people who ask the “where are you from” question.

But now the “where are you from” question takes on an entirely different level of fear, intimidation and distinction. Will all American citizens living in Arizona or traveling through/in Arizona, as a precautionary measure and to be in full compliance will the law, carry proof of their immigration status? You’re not an immigrant so you don’t need to carry identification? Prove it.

One of the provisions in the Arizona law “requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.”

Help me understand what are the other things to consider in implementation? If the person speaks with an accent or can’t speak proper English, is that enough to raise reasonable suspicion? Jeez, I know plenty of folks who had better laminate their birth certificates or carry their passports if they are going to be in Arizona. How can you tell national origin by looking at someone, listening to someone?

I’ve been following the reactions to the new law, and the responses that confuse me the most are the ones that argue the only ones who are worried or angry or concerned about this law are probably illegal and already undocumented. Obviously, citizens who are here legally should have nothing to be worried about. But doesn’t the law apply to everyone? Anyone’s immigration status could come into question, but it’s not really “anyone” we’re talking about here. Not just “anyone” is going to have their immigration status questioned because not just “anyone” gets asked “where are you from?” more than once. Not just “anyone” gets pulled over in certain neighborhoods and communities. Not just “anyone” gets followed in certain stores. Not just “anyone”. Just those who raise reasonable suspicion. Right?

I am trying to make a reasonable attempt at understanding how this law will be implemented but I’m reasonably suspicious.

Why Can’t I Just Shut Up?

I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.

My parents did the best they could, teaching me to be appropriately silent first in the way children are supposed to be silent and then in the way young ladies are to be silent. Opinions are best left in the head, and simply naming my alma mater should be enough to gauge intelligence. Words, particularly spoken ones from my mouth, aren’t necessary. Besides, who would want their son to marry an outspoken, opinionated woman? Those traits aren’t high on the “myuh-new-ree” (daughter-in-law) list.

There are times when the properly trained Asian American woman-ness kicks into high gear, almost as if someone dialed me up to “11”. I can smile, nod, look like I am in agreement with whatever is being said and then walk away without a word. It happens, I swear.

My parents also knew enough to know that some things were irreversible. We were here in America, and one day (or almost 40 years) their firstborn would be an American. They struggled to keep the “Korean” first through language, dance, songs, food, worksheets and flashcards and hyphenated “America” by reminding me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or is the oil?

I suppose that is part of growing up part of a generation raised to be bicultural – Korean and American – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects.

So there are times when I get squeaky. The dial gets turned the other way, and I can’t shut up. The raging extrovert in me, the angry Asian American woman who is tired but clearly not tired enough to shut up comes out and I hate when that happens because I hate that I feel like I should apologize for bringing to the conversation a different voice, a different perspective.

I can talk about things other than race, gender or class. It’s not always about race or gender or class. But many times race or gender or class (or all of the above) are in play. And the other night it was soooo easy. We were discussing The Help
, and there are still hours of thoughts and questions inside my head. Last night was just a taste. Why couldn’t we have started out with something lighter like a Nicholas Sparks book? Bahhhh!

No spoiler alert here for those of you who are still on the library’s list for the book or in the process of reading it. You know that the book touches on issues of race, gender, class, friendship and love. And if you read this blog you know that those issues are what keep us here in this cyberspace.

But those issues are uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy to go from discussing our feelings about a book to how those feelings translate into real life when it’s all so new and we don’t yet know our similarities let alone our differences. But how could I not talk about how I see life in our town as being different but not so entirely different than what we had just read? How could I not bring up how the rules of engagement between the junior league women and their help are as subtle and dangerous as describing “suspicious” cars and their drivers in broad generalities? Don’t we still have subtle lines drawn and communicated about who belongs where? How could any of us read the book and not choose to be uncomfortable if not for one night?

Serving as a Rite of Passage and Mark of Faith

So yesterday I wrote about the realization that I had become an “ahjumma”. Despite what you think, I’m cool with it. No really. It’s OK.

But comments on my FB page are proving that some of my girlfriends are not so ok with it. It’s all in good fun, but has got me thinking about womanhood and how hospitality and service carry both the brokenness and the redeemed parts of my culture and faith.

My childhood connections between the acts of service I often saw the ahjummas performing were more often than not fond memories – very little baggage. My mother and her friends were in the kitchen at church or at home. Nothing more, nothing less. But as I aged how I perceived their place and those acts of service changed and became less positive (or even neutral) and more negative. Service became less about hospitality, mutual submission and loving my neighbor but more of  being put in one’s place and being subservient or less than a real leader. As a young woman, my place was to be in the kitchen, in the nursery, in children’s Sunday School, with my mother, in the shadows. I associated those places and roles rather negatively, mainly because those were the only roles open to me.

And being the kind of young woman I was, I bristled at the idea that somehow my breasts and uterus limited my abilities and worth. My understanding of what service and submission and leadership and worth transformed and redeemed by Jesus was very limited, and in the end I did not want to become one of “those” submissive and weak women.

But the laughter I shared with my girlfriends over cake and rice cake was hardly borne out of weakness. We chose our place – to stand willingly and lovingly beside and behind another friend to do for her what needed to be done for her guests. We weren’t the young girls who needed our mothers to tell us it was time to cut the rice cake. We were the women who simply knew. Our acts of service were both a blessing to her and to us, and that was borne out of knowing who we are before doing what we do. We may not want to be called “ahjumma” but I am beginning to think that how and why we serve marks some sort of rite of passage for us into womanhood with a unique expression of that womanhood as Asian American women. Just a thought I’m lingering within…

Perhaps that is part of the transformation I am still going through, managing the push and pull to love others through my acts of service precariously balanced against the tiredness and bitterness of serving others who do not appreciate all that I am doing for them. I am both Mary and Martha – mentally wanting to sit at Jesus’ feet while simultaneously creating a checklist of things to do. I am worried and distracted, independent but still bound to my parents and children, faith and culture.

We Have Become the Ahjummas

My girlfriend and I stood there first cutting the traditional birthday cake – the flour, sugar and egg variety –  and then cutting another traditional birthday cake – the sweet rice and sugar variety, laughing and perhaps delighting in what had become of us over more than 20 years of friendship. Another friend quickly joined us to help pass out plates of cake and mujigae dduk, understanding without ever being asked that she, too, had joined us in friendship and cultural tradition.

We started out as young ladies – “ahgashi”. Two decades filled with some experience, wisdom and grace have changed us. We have become the “ahjumma” – the older women who were always by our mothers’ sides, laughing and helping them through every church and family function.

The ahjummas were always there to help cut the fruit, serve the tea and help maintain and direct the delicate balance between managed chaos and mayhem. They knew to help, knew how to cut the fruit and dduk, knew to send leftover dduk with guests and to encourage them to take some food home. The ahjummas always seemed to know when to do these things without being asked, and I remember their efficiency as well as their hearts. They did these things out of tradition and learned expectations as much as out of love and respect for their friends and families. They just knew when it was time.

And as my girlfriend and I stood with knives sticky with cake, frosting and sweetened rice we realized we knew, too. We knew that there were things in our Korean American upbringing that we had not carried on into our adulthood – things we found too Korean to be easily transferred to our American lives or too American to transfer into our Korean lives. We also knew that we would never be able to, or want to, shake the impulse to come to another girlfriend’s side. We knew that our friend needed not just girlfriends but ahjummas to step in and help her daughter’s “dol” (a child’s first birthday) move from the pasta and salad and Korean potstickers and braised short ribs to cake and dduk without a word.

My girlfriend and I stood there laughing and grateful because we knew whom we had become.

Zondervan’s Next Steps

Stan Gundry, executive vice president and editor in chief at Zondervan, is the one and so far only person to respond to the e-mail I sent out earlier this month. Now, I’m not naive about business, PR and marketing. The DV incident could have been a lot uglier, but it didn’t get nearly as ugly as it could have gotten. But for the grace of God…I’m grateful for Mr. Gundry’s and Zondervan’s response sent to me March 19.

Yes, Kathy, I suppose it seems that Zondervan has gone silent since the events of last November. But we still are focused on the issues raised at that time. Here is a quick overview of what has been happening at Zondervan and of the direction in which we are headed.

  • Our President/CEO, Moe Girkins purchased copies of The Next Evangelicalism by Professor Rah and made it required reading for all members of the Zondervan Leadership Team. The book was the subject of major discussion at our January Leadership Team retreat with action items identified to assure that we do not make the same or similar mistakes again in the editing, design, and marketing of any of our products. In terms of the visual presentation of our titles from all product groups, procedures are in place to consult with a cross-section of representatives of appropriate ethnic groups to assure that visual representations are ethnically diverse and that we avoid caricatures and stereotyping that are offensive or demeaning of members of any ethnic, national, or socio-economic class. Our editors and publishers as well are giving appropriate attention to these issues.
  • In January, Professor Rah gave an address at the Calvin College January series. Moe Girkins and I attended the lecture, and at least two other highly placed people at Zondervan were in attendance. Moe and I were also invited guests to the Luncheon with Professor Rah after the address. We had a brief but cordial private conversation with him there, as well as taking part in the round table discussion over lunch. We think this laid a good foundation for future discussions and consultation with Professor Rah and other Asian American Christian leaders. A high priority for me and our publishing team is to follow up with Professor Rah in Chicago in the next 2 or 3 months.
  • Just two weeks ago, Moe Girkins met Bing Goei at breakfast event here in Grand Rapids at Cornerstone University, and last week, she was the special guest of Mr. Goei and his wife at the “First Annual Asian Gala.” Over the years we feel we have done a good job of networking with the African American and Latin American communities. But honestly, Asian Americans have not been on our radar screen, but this sort of thing will now be a high priority for us.
  • We acknowledge that Asian Americans are not well represented among our employees, and in the current economic climate, new and replacement hires are at a minimum. Nevertheless, rectifying the under-representation of Asian Americans is a priority for us, and as we establish relationships with Asian American leaders like Mr. Goei, we are asking them to refer to Zondervan qualified Asian American individuals who share the Zondervan mission and values.
  • While Zondervan has a good track record of publishing African American authors and a very active Spanish-language publishing division (Vida) that serves Hispanic authors, Christians, and churches in North, Central, and South America, we acknowledge that we have not given sufficient attention to searching out and providing a publishing platform for Christian leaders and potential authors in the Asian American community. We already have and will continue to take steps in the immediate future to rectify that situation.
  • With the shift of the center of gravity for evangelical Christian world from the “North Atlantic ” English-speaking world to the “Majority  World,” we believe that our publishing program also needs to reflect this kind of diversity. We want to give Christian leaders in the Majority World a platform and we in North America need to hear their perspective on our common faith and on the issues of the day. We continue to  actively search for Christian voices to publish from the Majority World, with a number of significant projects signed and in the “pipeline.” Perhaps you are already aware of the Hippo Books imprint we share with a consortium of African publishers, publishing Christian African scholars and leaders, and of the Africa Bible Commentary, a one volume commentary on the Bible written entirely by African evangelical scholars. We have similar commentaries under contract from other parts of the Majority World, and we are exploring the possibility of more.

Kathy, thank you for your interest. Our on-going goal at Zondervan is that who we are and what we do will better reflect the diversity of Revelation 5:8-10 and Galatians 3:26-28.

Stan Gundry

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief