Why Virtual Church Services Should Be the New Normal

Suggesting churches should drop online services as we move into the third year of the global pandemic is ableist AND racist.

It’s a matter of accessibility for ALL people, including the complicated issue of whether or not a congregation can afford to have a physical space and/or resources to livestream a church service. It’s a matter of not only opening physical doors that often go locked during the week but also creating and imagining spaces without doors, at the very least, different doors, so that all can enter and exit. It’s a matter of addressing the reality that the Church and the pandemic are GLOBAL and not just situated in the U.S. or North America and not just around the comfort around a theology enmeshed with white supremacy.

I don’t like teaching virtual yoga or preaching to a screen

I am a yoga teacher, and March 2020 impacted yoga studios in similar ways to churches. Our “audience” had always been in person, sometimes uncomfortably close to the person next to us. Honestly I found myself moving my body much more in yoga studio than in church, and for the talk around embodiment being about physically being in a room together the most movement I often experienced in a white-centered church service was the passing of the peace (I hate that part, TBH), the occasional swaying from side to side and awkward clapping or raising of hands during musical worship, and communion if the congregation was invited to walk through the center aisle to receive the elements.

In the yoga studio everyone is invited to move together, breathe together, rest together. We turn, twist, invert. We balance and sweat. We listen to our bodies and our breath. Sometimes, students linger and ask questions about a posture or a cue, and they mill about not unlike fellowship time in church spaces.

But back to March 2020 when the world felt like it stopped and so many of us learned to use and hate the word “pivot”. Pastors and yoga teachers learned the intricacies of a virtual space and how to translate community into a virtual space. What I would argue is that as a yoga teacher I learned more than the average church pastor or worship leader about translating embodiment not only of individuals but of a community into a virtual space and how to maintain that over time.

In June of 2020 as the “racial uprising” caught the attention of media, I started a virtual yoga space just for BIWOC because that’s the community I saw being most impacted and in need of something I could create. I thought that space would last a few weeks, a few months tops. We still meet weekly, most of the women who come to class I’ve never met in person. We have established rituals and expectations. We have cried together and created a space to talk or type or sit in silence. We have seen each other’s backgrounds – bedrooms and living rooms, and watched children and pets and housemates walk into the room. Everyone is free to turn off their cameras, and I am learning how to guide this incredible group of BIWOC while keenly aware of our diversity – size, ability, age, mobility, etc. We will never be in a physical space together and yet there is community.

Community is embodiment.

There is an “I” in embodiment but that’s not the point

Embodiment isn’t limited to our individual bodies and the sharing of physical space, especially as people of faith, Christians who believe God’s love and care for the universe and humanity transcends time, space, and our understanding. As Christians we say we are the body of Christ, in fellowship with our siblings across the globe, but if we cannot ever be in their physical presence does that make that fellowship less than what one might experience in person? If the Church and church is to love God and our neighbors as the New York Times op-ed author Tish Harrison Warren writes (and I agree), how can we possibly love our neighbors if churches shut the virtual door?

Let’s be clear. Choosing a place of worship has always, ALWAYS, involved a degree of personal preference. Let’s not kid ourselves, my Dear Readers. Denominations. Style of musical worship. Location. Convenience. Sound of the preacher’s voice (yes, we checked out a local church and I could not handle the preacher’s voice.) Children’s ministry options. Time of worship service. (And again, there are so many parallels to how students choose a yoga studio but I digress.)

And for people of color our choices have always been limited because of WHITE SUPREMACY that was built in to the foundation of the United States AND the churches established in this country. For the disabled the choices have always been limited. For those on the margins of what is deemed “normal” and “good” in the world we live in and most often in the church, OUR CHOICES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN LIMITED. 

So to point to the virtual door that was opened out of necessity should be seen as an opportunity for church leaders to pause and reflect. Who walked through your virtual doors who would never have been able to walk through your physical doors? Are we not worthy of being your neighbors because you met us through a screen? 

The body of Christ in wine and stale crackers

At some point in the global panini, my virtual community started sharing photos of what they pulled together for communion. It was a beautiful table of elements that reflected the body of Christ in one of the most embodied ways because it reflected individuals and families, what they were going through at the time.

No time to shop for wine or grape juice and crackers? Fine, how about sparkling water and chunks of a bagel? Or tea and some rice? Juice box and goldfish crackers? Coffee and gluten-free brownies? None of that was shared in person, and if our understanding of embodiment is limited to always sharing physical space then there was a whole lot of breaking church rules and theology in those virtual communion services.

I didn’t reach my hand into the plate of broken matzo that my neighbor in the pews had also just reached into. I didn’t breathe over the tray of non-recyclable plastic communion shot glasses with grape juice and pass it to my neighbor. I didn’t walk up the center aisle and receive the elements from a pastor or lay leader who could look into my eyes. I sipped my coffee and ate my danish as I watched others take the elements they were able to find in they pantries and refrigerators, an intimate look into their homes and lives. Did we not meet God in an embodied way?

Not all churches, Kathy

I’m not writing this to argue the minutia of why YOUR church can’t afford to keep streaming services or why YOUR church never got the hang of virtual church. Again, the reality is complicated because not all churches could afford their own buildings in the first place, let alone afford the technology to run a slick livestream service. The reality is very few churches ran slick livestream services period, wink, wink, and there is beauty in that. Dropped streams, being on mute, poor lighting all point to the challenges of embodied INDIVIDUALS doing and being something collective. It’s a different way of being embodied outside of a communal physical space but within the imagination of what could community look like when it’s not bound by walls and geography.

Opening the virtual doors gave churches an opportunity to see who wasn’t able to join in physically, even before the pancetta, and an opportunity to learn how technology could add closed captioning and allow individuals to turn up the volume or just follow the audio stream. People could join from their beds or backyards across time zones and man-made borders.

Some church leaders found virtual services as an opportunity to learn new-to-them technology – perhaps from younger congregants or congregants whose interests and gifts were in untapped spheres. Churches invited new voices to preach from the pulpit. How many times have we heard church leaders say they would love to invite diverse speakers as guest preachers but don’t have the funds? If you are still running a virtual service option you can still pay guest preachers well and skip the plane ticket and hotel. Fewer excuses, but maybe some churches want to keep that as an excuse? How many times have you as an individual wanted to hear from diverse, global voices but can’t get to that conference or buy all those books? Virtual services allow you to do just that.

I’m not suggesting churches do away with physical, in-person services, but this is a chance to rethink community to consider how our physical bodies and needs and the holy space of church can be one that works towards welcoming all to the table by creating new tables of virtual breakout rooms and physical spaces. If having a physical nursery is supposed to welcome families with infants into church as an option, why not keep the virtual sanctuary open because even when this pan flute is relatively under control we will still have siblings among us who would benefit from that virtual sanctuary and because they benefit WE BENEFIT. Without them we are incomplete.

Not all churches and not all people will want a virtual service, but what has been made clear is that there is a need and desire for this kind of creative access to church and it is embodied, just not in the way our limited understanding has conceptualized and executed it to date. 

Can the Church and church hear, see, taste, smell and touch that kind of community beyond the limitations of a physical shared space? Isn’t that part of the invitation for all churches and the Church? 

 

 

 

 

Ji-Young, KyoungAh, and the Assumption of Whiteness

I learned to speak English by watching The Electric Company, Zoom, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. Mr. Rogers, Big Bird, Count von Count, and the Twiddlebug family were my first tutors teaching me about self-addressed stamped envelopes, grammar, numbers, and hints of “American” life where adults had first names – Maria, Luis, and Fred – and moved about the world with an ease my parents and I did not experience.

My parents and I immigrated to the US in the spring of 1971, joining thousands of Koreans leaving a then-developing nation that was still rebuilding after the Korean War had left the peninsula divided with a US military presence that remains to this day. My mom had a few dresses made out the fabric gifted to her by her in-laws – Jackie-O-esque silhouettes with hemlines right above the knee. The US was the land of opportunities and upward mobility. I never saw my mother wear any of those dresses. My dad bussed tables at a Japanese restaurant and rode a bike to and from work. I was eight months old, and when I started kindergarten my primary language was Korean. 

Dreams in Korean

It’s hard to imagine a time when I thought in Korean, dreamt in Korean. If you don’t speak a second language, you may have no idea what I’m talking about, but when you’re bi- or multi-lingual you may have the ability not only to translate language but also “think” and process the world in those languages. I am certain my parents do not dream in English, and at one point in my life my dreams were in Korean.

When I was in high school I spent part of a summer in Korea without my parents, and I remember navigating the streets of Seoul on my own without my cousins. There was a moment when I realized I was thinking in Korean instead of reading a sign and trying to translate it into English. I was THINKING and processing in Korean, even though the moment I opened my mouth to speak Korean my pronunciation would betray me. 

The chasm between my English dreams and my parents’ Korean dreams continues to grow, but every now and then I wonder what five-year-old me dreamt about. What did KyoungAh dream about in her Korean dreams?

The Default

My name is Khang KyoungAh – family name first, given name second. My sister, the only female cousin on my father’s side, and I share the second syllable – a generational marker that wasn’t traditional for girls. When my parents enrolled me in public school – Waters Elementary on the north side of Chicago – I became Kathy. Before we go on, my Dear Reader, I invite you string my names together.

Kathy KyoungAh Khang.

Wait for it.

Do you see it? Do you notice it?

A Black colleague of mine mentioned how he couldn’t understand why my parents would give me a name with THOSE initials. Is that what you were thinking?

My parents are Korean. They had a better grasp of the English language when they immigrated to the US than most US-born people will ever have of another language. But they are Korean. They gave me the name “Kathy” because the initial sound was similar to my real name. They gave me “Kathy” not to whitewash me. They gave me the name so I could survive in 1975. Sure, I wish that hadn’t been the case, but here in 2021 I’m still correcting people on the pronunciation (and spelling) of my last name while Timothée Hal Chalamet is totally ok. 

But back to my initials. I told my Black colleague that the world did not revolve around US history and that while I as an adult understood my initials, the assumption that Korean immigrants in 1975 should “know better” was equally offensive. The US is not the center of the world, but “American” history, “American” life is the default. I go back to this idea often in the anti-racism work that I do. Racism is not limited to the US, BUT as folx in the US we need to be humble and mindful about our own centering and assumptions.

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

Ji-Young is Korean American and loves to play the electric guitar and skateboard. She is the first Asian American muppet, and I have a lot of feelings about this. I’ve watched the video over and over – Ji-Young talking to Ernie. I am tearing up just writing this, BUT….

WAIT. A. MINUTE. Some of you, My Dear Readers, may be excited and cheering this on AND wondering if any of the other “human” muppets had racial or ethnic identities.

They did. The default, even on Sesame Street, is that unless otherwise noted the human muppets are white because whiteness IS NOT JUST ABOUT SKIN COLOR. White supremacy isn’t just about skin color. People of color can perpetuate the lies of white supremacy that make US history and present day the center of the universe. It’s about the way people operate (particularly here in the US for the purposes of this blog post), how you are treated, what is assumed about you and your family and where you are from and where you learned your English. I do not speak English with an accent like my parents do and YET PEOPLE STILL ASK ME WHERE I LEARNED TO SPEAK ENGLISH. I learned to speak English here in America. Duh. 

Yes, Bert is yellow and Ernie is orange (too much self-tanner, methinks). How can they be white, you ask? Because they are American and the default in the US is always whiteness. Think about it. Before colorblindness there was the “I don’t care what color you are – Black, white, purple” type phrases. “American” by default is associated with whiteness. Even on Sesame Street.

That’s why it’s a complicated big deal. Ji-Young has more in common with my children who are third generation, born with both “American” and Korean names with meanings that are drilled into them because for them the default will be BOTH/AND because being Korean American with each generation brings another level of beauty, complexity, similarities, and differences. Ji-Young tells Ernie how she can’t wait to share about her food – banchan, kimchi, and jjigae. 

It will take me more time to figure out and name all of these feelings but for now I can’t wait for Ji-Young to share some kimchi with Bert and Ernie. 

 

So You Want to Write a Book.

Get ready to die a little.

Last week I received my annual royalties check from my portion of “More Than Serving Tea” (MTST from here on out) and from “Raise Your Voice” (RYV). I cannot tell you how MTST changed my life with deep friendships, an ocean of tears, and a mission to see Asian American Christian women’s voices to shape and influence the world. I am still in touch with most of the other authors, and four of us are part of a women’s group that met annually until the pandemic. We still marvel at the book that I kept as a desktop file titled “Project Snowball”. Why a snowball? We were told in so many words the book had a snowball’s chance in hell to make it to print and even then there was a question of how long it would stay in print. I still remember a male colleague, Asian American male (younger because in my culture that’s also important), told me the book would be irrelevant in a few years. 

The book was published in 2006, and last week I received a small royalty check.

But becoming a published Christian author killed my soul a bit. My Dear Readers, it’s a business. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s only a calling, an invitation from God. Yes, I have felt “called” to write, which is why I first became a newspaper reporter. I have kept a journal since the first or second grade. I have journals I have kept for each of my children since they were in utero. They are now 25, 22, and 20 and will receive those journals when I’m ready. Yes, I will write another book eventually some day in the future perhaps maybe. But Christian publishing is still a business.

Why are you telling us this, Kathy?

The royalty check last week and the signing of a new contract this week has me all in my feelings. (I have gotten very good at burying the lede.) I thought about the work put into both MTST and RYV – the emotional work before, during, and after, and the hours spent outlining, writing, editing, more editing, more editing, crying, apologizing for missing deadlines, and promoting. I thought about a recent thread on Twitter about the hurdles to getting published, and I wanted to thank all of you for your encouragement through the years when I blogged about my middle school children and being a Korean American Christian woman navigating ministry and evangelical/evangelical adjacent spaces. I wanted to thank all of you for SHOWING UP when it came time to promote and launch RYV. I wanted to remind myself that I didn’t do it for the money.

I really didn’t. Part of the problem with publishing as a whole, and I think Christian publishing specifically because it’s supposed to be Christian but it’s capitalism, is the lack of transparency. For example, I know my life looks super glamorous and amazing. I mean #jamvent and #snowglobe life on IG is pretty amazing, and my family is freaking beautiful. Writing and getting paid for my words is an honor, but it’s also work. For RYV I wrote about 30,000 in the final copy. I actually wrote many more words but many were wisely edited out, and there were several versions of every chapter. At the end of the day I earned about 18 cents per word. 

I’ll wait for you to do the math.

My new contract involves an amazing co-author and that person’s agent so the math is better because it’s half of a book, but again this is capitalism, My Dear Readers. I’ll be sure to share more details when we are ready.

But God’s economy, Kathy.

Publishers are still companies and corporations, and they don’t actually operate in God’s economy. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. To remind all of us that we need to keep imagining better, doing better when we can, and be aware of the reality. We can say God’s economy has room for all the books, but the reality is only so many books will be published “traditionally”. Publishers can only publish so many books (and with the current paper shortage it’s gotten even more complicated and frustrating), and they can only afford to lose so much money. 

And this is again where I thank you, My Dear Readers, for making sure RYV didn’t lose money!!!! Getting a royalty check means the book sold enough copies to cover the advance and get me royalties. That was what every single pre-order and sale since 2018 did. That is exactly what you want to happen as an author. It gives you a leg up when you pitch your next book because we all need to have numbers and followers and a platform. Again, Jesus doesn’t talk about platform. He talks a lot about loving our neighbors and enemies and the widows and orphans but he says squat about the number of followers and mailing lists (many of you have signed up for my non-existent email updates and that is why I keep your email, btw). 

As a Christian writer I keep God’s economy in mind, but I also need to pay the bills involving three kids who went or are currently attending college on student and parent loans. I keep in mind the privilege of writing and teaching yoga for a living and the cost of that privilege as an Asian American woman who recently was named in an email sent to my place of employment. Racism is everywhere including in Christian writing and publishing. Just ask any Christian publishers how many editors and decision makers are POC.

I can wait again.

But I still want to write a book.

So if you want to write a book and get it published traditionally you will need a few things. You will need a platform – followers on several social media platforms, an email list of people who willingly shared their emails with you for, in my case, non-existent additional material, and influencers who already have all of that who will vouch for you. If you are a POC you will need influential POC and influential non-POC who will promise to write endorsements, help promote you, etc. 

I don’t share this for pity. It was exhausting, but I LOVED promoting my book and getting my launch team together. I made maybe 100 bracelets and wrote notes. Every time I saw someone on my launch team post a photo, I cheered in gratitude and prayed for that person. 

But part-time marketing is not what I had in mind when I imagined being a published author. Even as I sit in the exciting privilege of having signed another contract, I am humbled and terrified.

I am a little hopeful because between 2018 and now there are MANY more POC and specifically WOC in the Christian writing sphere who have gotten agents, become agents, and signed bigger deals and sold more books! BRING IT ALL ON!!!! Just remember, and this is for me as much as it for you, not all of us will receive the five-figure deal with one of the big three houses. Many of us are happy and honored and smiling all silly while I type this to get what I/we get, but I will be honest. A part of me died with RYV. It’s humbling work. Thank you for being a part of it, My Dear Readers.

In honor of bad food appropriation poetry

Dear white man writing about Chinese food,
Did someone wake up in a bad mood?
Why are you so afraid you are behind the trend
When all along you, my white friend,
Are actually behind?

Brand new provinces don’t simply appear.
Your ignorance and privilege is showing, I fear.
Because when you write about “we” and the songs that “we sung”
It’s obvious you aren’t including me or the flavors on my tongue.
You write blindly white to white,
Talking about another’s food as if it was your right.
It’s as if you discovered Chinese food in all its glory.
Oh, I’m sorry. That was Columbus’ story.

#Columbusing

I must disclose, before I write any more prose
I am not Chinese. Don’t worry.
I am friends with some of “those” people,
And I love their food, too.
So I am an expert like you.

So expert to expert, may I suggest
The next time you take a moment to rest
Your fingers before you type your clever thoughts
On food that isn’t yours – ma po and dumplings aren’t your props
To wax nostalgic. You actually sound like a jerk.
Did you run out of real work?
How does a white man’s food fantasy pass
As print-worthy? Print-worthy my a$$.

#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

Some quick, unedited thoughts in reaction to tonight’s premiere (FINALLY) of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat because I want to know your thoughts. I’ll go first. (THERE ARE SOME SORT OF SPOILERS…)

  • I liked it. I thought it was funny. I like the kind of funny where I laugh out loud, and I laughed out loud. And my sons who are 15 and 13 sat down with me to watch both episodes and laughed, related, and repeated lines.
  • Constance Wu’s portrayal of the mother Jessica Huang was lovely. She loves her children and her husband, but she isn’t going to take things lying down. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t one-dimensional. Hmmmm.
  • There were as many “jabs” at white culture/people as there were stereotypes of Asian/Taiwanese American culture. White people food, white people bowing, white suburban SAHMs talking loudly, fast, and over anyone else alongside the grandmother who doesn’t speak English, stinky Asian food, and Chinese Learning Centers (CLC, which of course my sons thought meant College of Lake County). I grew up calling white people and their food “Americans” and “American food,” which to some degree still holds true in American culture.
  • There were so many moments that sent me back to childhood. The stinky food thing. My sons started reminding each other about “the time you brought insert-some Asian food-here” to school and what reactions they received. My parents sometimes still talk about how their clothes smell after being at Korean bbq restaurant. The CLC thing never happened, but the push to excel meant my parents MADE Korean language worksheets and photocopied academic workbooks (I couldn’t write inside of them because they would re-use the book for my younger sister or make new copies of sheets when I didn’t complete them correctly) for us to do OVER THE SUMMER.
  • Yes, some of those things that rang true border on stereotypes, which is probably why I read many, many comments about how the show was good but not perfect…
  • But WHY DOES THIS SHOW HAVE TO BE PERFECT??? Why are so many of us Asian Americans adding that caveat? How many shows are perfect? I get it. This is the first show in 20 years featuring a family that looks remotely like mine so there is a lot of pressure. The pressure is real in terms of the network, etc. but it isn’t real in that the “Asian American community” does not, should not carry the burden of perfectly representing our story because there is no one story. I understand the burden in so many ways, but again I want to be held accountable and hold others accountable. How might we be perpetuating the stereotype of the model minority by expecting, even daresay hoping, this show, this ONE SHOW, would perfectly represent a multicultural community? It can’t.
  • I’m grateful the show took on double standards and the word “chink.” I was caught a little off guard when it happened because you never get used to that, and why should we. But when the parents defended Eddie and asked why the other boy, who was black, and his parents were not in the principal’s office for using a racial epithet I said, “YES!” Now, I don’t know how many Taiwanese parents would’ve done that, but as a parent and as an adult who still hears “chink” thrown at me or my family I appreciated the call out. For the record, I didn’t punch back because I wasn’t going to start something I couldn’t finish. I swore back in Korean.
  • It mattered to my sons. I was surprised that they wanted to sit with me to watch it live because who does that anymore. But there they were laughing and following along. They both agreed it will go into the DVR queue and when asked why they liked it both of them said they liked seeing Asians on tv. “The Asians. They are like us.” Yes, they are.

OK. Unfiltered, quick, off-the-cuff thoughts to jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear from all of you, Asian and non-Asian American!!

  • Did you watch it? Why or why not?
  • If you watched it, what did you think?
  • What did you like the most? What made you cringe? Why?
  • What were the things you resonated with? What didn’t you understand or get?
  • Whatever else you want to add. 🙂

 

 

Of Skin Whiteners & Spam

These are two of my favorite things.

These are two of my favorite things.

I just bought several cans of low-sodium Spam, and last week I used a paper facial mask for skin brightening/whitening.

Yes. I eat gelatinous meat by-products and I want to be white. Not really. Not at all.

I don’t want to be white, though there was a time when I did. I’m just vain and human. I am heading into my mid-40s, getting ready to launch my firstborn, wondering where all that time I thought I had went, and wondering when all those freckles and sun spots appeared. When the melancholy settles into that sweet spot next to gratitude and hope, I like to sit down for some self-care – some nail polish and a facial mask – or with some comfort food – a bowl of rice, a piece of fried Spam, and some kimchee. Sometimes I will indulge in both in the same night.

The funny thing is that both skin whitening and Spam have similar complex roots in human nature, culture, and politics.

Vanity isn’t unique to Korea (my motherland), despite what we could infer from stories about a Korean golfer playing for Japan because she didn’t fit the beauty standards of her homeland or beauty ads asking women “Do you want to be white?”. I just think it’s easier for us Americans to look outside when it’s convenient. It’s called deflection. It’s easier to point out extreme examples in other countries and cultures than it is to look at our own culture’s jacked up standards of beauty and femininity because, face it, looking in the mirror metaphorically can be as frightening as it is to do it the morning after a rice and Spam bender.

Skin whitening exist here in America, but it is more often promoted as skin brightening – eliminating the freckles, sun spots, sun damage, and imperfections that actually come with being alive and aging. The whitening language is connected to class as well as race. I remember being told during my visits to Korea to carry an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun from damaging my skin; darker, tanned skin was associated with the lower-class farmers or outdoor shop owners. I suspect the stigma of darker skin only increased as Western culture influenced Korea. Oh the irony to be Korean & American where just 50 years ago the U.S. government passed and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the decades since then tanning beds, tanning lotions, and straight up “tanning” is part of looking healthy (by the way shades of orange does not equal tan nor does  it look healthy. It looks orange.). Think about it. We needed laws to protect and give full rights to women and people of color while white people want to be “tan”. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

American culture, in some ways, creates a level of dissonance as it could be construed as a collection of cultural appropriation with a dose of good old-fashioned creativity and varying degrees of separation and offense to the originating cultures. What isn’t American about celebrating our country’s birthday with fireworks?  Fusion kimchee taco trucks? Churches hosting Harvest Day celebrations? Communion wafers or chunks of white bread with grape juice?

It isn’t always clear to me what is the “right way” and how that is different than the “Christian way” or the “American way” of doing, being, eating, etc. In my experience, Spam was American (which meant “white” in my home) food tweaked to fit our family’s Korean sensibilities, served with rice and kimchee, rolled into kimbap, or thrown into kimchee stew. For goodness sakes you can buy it at chain grocery stores in the canned food aisle near canned stew and those little sausages NOT the “ethnic” food aisle! It slowly dawned on me in adulthood that Spam was American but not necessarily eaten by white Americans.

Spam arrived in my motherland through the Korean War and the U.S. military. Pre-cooked in a compact container, Spam was a fairly economical source of protein during wartime scarcity. My father has regaled us with stories about Spam, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and other wartime black market items. He probably thinks it’s funny his daughter still eats Spam but has gotten snotty about her chocolate. The kids can have s’mores with Hershey’s while I whip out the good stuff for mine. But my kids have had Spam musubi, and there is no shame. The blue can that releases its contents with a “splat” is iconic American though many of my white American friends have never had it because it wan’t necessarily good enough for home consumption but good enough to import elsewhere. Fine. I’ll take it. I am told that the Spam now produced in Korea uses higher quality ingredients and tastes differently but is just as prized as it once was. Tradition and nostalgia tied with grief, loss, scarcity, and displacement is a powerful force.

So how can I, as an Asian American woman wanting to dismantle and deconstruct the racial ties that try to define me use a skin whitening product? Because sometimes, I live into my privilege of not examining everything I touch, wear, eat, use, etc. to see whether or not the producers of everything around me were paid a fair wage, did not harm animals, did not contribute to an unjust war I did not agree with based on my religious beliefs. Sometimes I like a good bargain and the facial masks were buy four-get two free so I grabbed one of each kind. Sometimes I don’t want to fight every fight because there are so many things to be against and not enough time to be for something. Sometimes I just want to take care of myself with a facial mask and some comfort food and it not be a political or racial statement but rather a way of loving my family because a relaxed, centered, well-fed mommy and wife makes for a happy life.

Sometimes it’s more complicated and complex.

 

Voting:Responsibility or Privilege?

Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the  U.S. since the spring of 1971.

I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.

At the heart of my decision wasn’t the right to vote. It was an issue of integrity. As a writer/blogger/speaker who addresses issues of justice, culture, and faith I have a desire to understand and learn from others about policy and politics as it connects with living out my faith as an individual and as a part of a community. But it was one thing to talk about “the issues”, to take a stand, or to share my opinions. It was another thing to consider what responsibilities and privileges I had or could have at my disposal to steward well.

So next week will be my “first time” (I thought Lena Dunham’s ad was funny). This decision hasn’t been an easy one. Neither major party had me at hello. I am tired of my sons being able to repeat the script for multiple political ads. I do not believe Christians must vote with one party over the other.

But I am wondering if other Christians believe that Christian U.S. citizens must vote or should vote as a matter of stewarding the power and privilege they have in a process that impacts those who cannot represent themselves.

Will you be voting? Why or why not?

Thoughts on Leadership While the Nail Polish Dries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Did You Grow Up to Be What You Wanted to Be?

When I grow up I want to be a….

What did you want to be?

When I was much younger I wanted to be a teacher. And then I wanted to be a journalist. And then I wanted to be a section editor of a major metropolitan newspaper and win the Pulitzer Prize.

Somewhere along the way I figured out that I’m still growing up, even as a 40-something mother of three, wife of one, and there are many things I want to be when I grow up.

In the meantime, I am, among many other things:

  • a culture, management & leadership consultant and trainer
  • a public speaker
  • a writer, blogger, author

Friday I will be spending the day at Corban’s middle school for career day as a presenter. I don’t remember attending a Career Day at school as a child, but I do remember how I felt when Ms. Johnson, my high school English teacher, encouraged me to rework some of my poetry because she saw “potential”. I remember Mrs. Umlauf encouraging me to spend a week of my summer at journalism camp and learn the art of sports writing because she believed in me. I remember Mr. Studt asking me why I was wasting time on the poms squad when I could try out for the speech team. (I did both, so there.)

I also had parents who believed in me. They sat me down and told me that I shouldn’t pick one school over another just because of the financial aid package. They wanted to me chase the dream (Little did I know they also had a another dream of me writing for awhile, getting that out of my system and then going to law school. It was like a Korean drama/Inception kind of dream.)

I stopped and took a detour between “journalist” and “section editor”.

So help a presenter out:

What did you think you wanted to be/do when you grew up? And are you doing it? Why or why not? If you are, is it what you thought it would be? If you aren’t, what are you doing and how the heck did you get there?

And for those of us still growing up: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Asian American Women: Your Experiences Matter

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

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

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

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

To participate in the study, participants must:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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