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.

Book Club: Lean In With a Men’s Book Club

My problem with Sandberg’s “Lean In” is that men who should read the book, who need to read the book, may not pick it up because it’s for women.

Most of the leadership books I’ve read are men’s books – leadership seen and practiced through the lens of men & masculinity in a business world developed by and and for men. I read, interpret, contextualize, and adapt the material through my lens as a Christian Asian American woman. But I read them. Lencioni. Maxwell. Depree. Covey. Rath & Conchie. Collins. Gladwell. Their books aren’t touted as men’s leadership development books, but they are written through that lens. Any personal stories included in the text reflect it. Sometimes their acknowledgements reflect it. And if I wanted to get really nit picky about it I would say most of these business leadership books (and even the Christian leadership books) are written through the lens of White majority male culture, even as our country’s population makes a shift away from a single majority.

My experience as an author for “More Than Serving Tea” only confirmed what I had suspected for years. The book was written by women for women, but never meant to be exclusively for women. Male pastors told me they had recommended the book to the women in their churches though they themselves had never read the book! Why not? Because why would a male pastor need to read a book that might minister and connect with more than half of their congregation?

So it came as a bit of a surprise to be asked to be a part of a book club discussion on “Lean In” with a group of Christian men. Deep respect for Fred Mok, English pastor at Chinese Church in Christ – South Valley in San Jose, CA, who cold-contact emailed me.

“I found your blog through your book and noticed you’ve been reading through ‘Lean In’.

 Our church men’s group  (4-5 guys) is going to be reading “Lean In” as our next book and would love to have a phone or Skype interview with you about the book as part of our club. This would be a great opportunity to get a prominent Asian American Christian woman’s perspective on some important issues.”
We set a time, and the men sent me the following set of questions to get me thinking about what they were wondering.
1) One of your recent blog posts mentions self-promotion. This is a value vital to success in Western society. But as Asian American Christians, we are not subject to those values. What might it look like to honor our Asian American communal and self-effacing heritage and lead in Western society without the arrogance of self-promotion?
2) Based on your blog post about “If I wasn’t Afraid?” you talked about Sandberg’s motivation “comes in to nudge me back”. What does that mean? What do you need to be nudged back from? Did you mean nudged forward, since Sandberg’s emphasis is to motivate women to be more aggressive in their approach to getting ahead in the workforce? But, if you did mean “nudged back”, then what conflicts as a Christian women and mother is nudging you back?
3)  In chapter 1, Sandberg discusses gender stereotypes and how this starts with children. (For example, bottom of page 20 and following.) Certainly it has been cited for many years, the types of toys given to boys versus girls, and the examples of wood or metal shop versus cooking classes. What is your ‘take’ on this?  To what degree is nature versus nurture playing a role?
4) To what degree does the church cast women into stereotypic roles? Can you discuss any personal examples?
5) How does being married to an Asian American man make it more difficult or easier to take a seat at the table? [does being married to an Asian American man put you at a disadvantage from someone like Sandberg? Do we, as Asian American men, have more expectations for our wives]
6) If you were to give advice to your daughter about pursuing a career, how close would you hew to Sandberg’s party line to “lean in”?
7) What’s it worth from a kingdom of God perspective for women to experience increased corporate advancement [Sandberg’s goal]? 
8) In chapter 4, Sandberg writes about careers are more like a jungle gym than a ladder – but what’s driving jumping from one job to another? From this chapter, it seems like money. Get in early and get rich. She says she joined Google because she believed deeply in their missions. What’s that? How did that change when she jumped to Facebook?
Easy. Right?
What I walked away with was a deep sense that our time on Skype was an example of iron sharpening iron. It’s easy for me to pontificate and then pat myself on the back after I blog. I don’t do this for a living. I have a limited readership. It’s a platform but not really. I have some skin in the game, but I can disappear for the summer like I did.
But when one of the men asked me why women needed a voice at the table, why did it matter that women aren’t equally represented in various public and private arenas I had to stay engaged and talk with him. He was being honest and sincere, not belligerent or snarky in the way a tweet or blogpost could be construed. He thought it was good for women to be in politics and business, but he really wanted to understand why this book and the issue of gender equality was so important to me as a sister in faith.
And I had to take a quick breath and not put up my guard, not go on the offensive and charge into the conversation like I had been attacked, because I hadn’t. I had to remind myself this wasn’t a debate, but I could learn to lean in by listening to his question and his tone of voice and responded honestly and openly.
I said women may have more opportunities open to them now, but because we haven’t legally been allowed in the game as long as men there was some catching up to do. I mentioned that women’s suffrage had been legally secured less than a century ago, that women have not had the same access to education, and that women are still paid less for the doing the same jobs men do. I talked about the challenges women of color face – the ugly complexity of racism combined with sexism. And that I stressed that because we women experience the world differently we bring a unique voice, leadership, and influence.
I also had space to explain that there is a time and place for men’s groups, just like the very book club these men had formed, but that even in that space there was a missing piece as they delved into a book written through a lens with which they were unfamiliar – a woman’s voice and experience.
And right then and there I think there was a moment of understanding. We may not fully understand each other, and we may not even fully agree with one another. But we can really hear, listen to, and learn from one another.

Book Club: Lean In & the Dilemma of Self-promoting

“A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.” Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In” p. 8.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to get past the introduction.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t understand the real world in high school though I was desperate to get there. High school can be/was a difficult place for those not in the “in” crowd (though not even some of the cool kids back then would be able to fit into Abercrombie’s sizing, IMHO). But I had a few teachers (and a few friends) who saw this late-bloomer for what she was – full of potential.

The speech team coach asked me to stop by after school to talk with me about my future. He told me there was no future for me if I kept trying the Dramatic Duet event, but he had an idea. He heard me give a class council speech, and he wanted me to compete. I needed a lot of help, but he saw potential. And I drank that forensics punch like it was water in a desert. Where did that get me? Scholarship money and the confidence and skills to speak in front of a crowd…and get paid to do it.

Potential worked fine in high school, but in the real world women need more than potential to get that promotion. Women need deeds done.

Apparently I start a step behind by being a woman.

And for fun I will throw down the race card. I suspect in many places I take another step back because I am an American of Asian descent. (SPOILER ALERT: Sandberg does not directly address race and ethnicity in her book.)

Having a mentor, advocate, and sponsor will help, but all of those are easier to come by if you are a man. And once a woman has managed her potential, connected with a mentor, advocate, and/or sponsor, and started accomplishing things you finally have a chance.

See?! I’m already feeling internal tension, and I’m just writing about the introduction?!?!

Because somewhere along the journey where we all, men and women, need to self-promote. How else will anyone know what you are doing, what your accomplishments are? But what do you do when you’ve been taught and told to do the exact opposite? Christians need to be humble. Asians are taught not to put yourself above others. Modern women grew up being told all sorts of things, often conflicting things about what makes you a “good” woman. Asian American women may not be valued as much as men within their own families as well as within the culture. Asian Americans are told not to stick out, stand out, brag, or boast. As a Christian Asian American woman, any combination draws a short stick.

So…what say you, fine readers? How have you experienced this in your professional life? Have you known men to be promoted on potential while you need to wait to accomplish? How have you developed your potential into accomplishments?

I’ll add more, but you go first.

 

 

Power & Submission: Be Not Afraid

I’m being interviewed tomorrow by the media team at a conference I am speaking at – New Awakening 2011, and I’m being asked about my journey as a Christian leader. I have some thoughts brewing, but I would love to hear/read your thoughts on the topic of power and submission.

We don’t always do a great job of talking about either power or submission, especially when you mix in issues of race, ethnicity, gender and faith. As a Christian Asian American woman I can’t help but bring in those angles and issues. It isn’t “just” leadership/power. It isn’t “just” submission.

It’s complicated. It’s loaded. It’s important. And there aren’t enough “safe” places to talk about the issue. If we can be gracious, perhaps this little corner of cyberspace could continue to become one of those places where we don’t have to be afraid.

So, what do you think when you read this question:

(M)any women are rising up and taking estimable positions in today’s world. In your perspective, how can Christian women balance practicing power and submission?

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.