Speaking From and In the Gap

I agreed to lead a seminar on parent-child relationships because for a moment I thought I knew enough about being a parent or a child to have 90-minutes of material. As the parent of a teenager and two tweens and as the child of two living parents I find myself more in the middle than ever before trying to speak to one “audience” and then another. I spend hours talking to students about how Jesus transforms our lives while I long to see that transformation happen faster and clearer in my own life as well as in the lives of my own children. And I’m certain my parents have moments when they are still waiting for some sign of change on my part, too. Forever the stubborn, strong-willed child even when I am now also parent.

Just last week I was teaching out of the book of Esther at the Asian American InterVarsity chapter at Northwestern University (hold your snickering, folks), and a student was asking me about my days as a Wildcat since we were in the building that was home to my area of study. He ended the conversation with a great line: “I was born the year you graduated.”

Thanks, kid.

So I’ve been sitting on this parent-child relationships seminar for about two weeks now and the one thing that keeps coming to my mind and heart is to give words of blessing and love because what keeps coming to me during my prep and prayer time is this overwhelming sense of displacement and missed messages. It’s hard enough as a parent who speaks literally the same language as a child. The biggest gap I often have to bridge with my daughter is a generational one. I don’t particularly like low-rise skinny jeans but I don’t have to wear them to understand them. In my day it was sweatshirts hanging off of one shoulder or really BIG HAIR. For my parents and for the parents of the students I often encounter, the gaps are language, generation, culture and values. I know God’s love always wins, but human love often misses with the best of intentions.

I’m not really sure where, if anywhere, I am going with all of this, but it’s been ringing in my heart for days now. In a culture that nurtures a sense of entitlement in a generation wrestling with delayed adulthood, these young adults aren’t as adult as another generation might have been and unable to find the help in the areas where they really are still young.

What do you wish you knew about your parents that would help inform you about where they are coming from? What do you wish your parents knew about you that you think would help them understand you? I spend a lot of emotional energy trying to figure out ways to connect with each of my kids, to tell them they are loved by me and their dad and by God in ways they can hear and understand it. But as the parent I am deeply moved when my kids figure out ways to connect with me and speak those same words of love into my life.

Children, you are deeply loved by flawed parents and by a perfect God. That’s what I hear when I’m quietly sitting in the middle of the gap.

 

 

Why I Would Never Claim to Be Superior, Especially As a Mother

For the record, I am not Chinese.

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article about Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior please expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. The article’s author Amy Chua is a Yale Law School professor (seriously?!) and my cynical side thinks she might be gunning for a spot during Oprah’s final season.

I’ve read and re-read the opinion piece several times and it’s a messy, mixed bag of emotions and thought for me. I am a not quite 1.5/2nd gen Korean American. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 8 months old and just last year became a U.S. citizen. I grew up wishing I was White=American and unsure of how to love and honor my parents and survive adolescence as a bi-cultural kid when so few understood where I was coming from and going home to.

Which is probably why Chua’s commentary is hitting a nerve with me and so many of my Asian American friends. Deep down inside some of what she writes about is true. And we know it. It is why so many of my Asian American friends understood with absolutely no explanation why I had given part of my advance check from More Than Serving Tea to my mother. It is why so many of my Asian American friends and I share a knowing laugh when we reminisce about our childhood memories. It is why my husband, daughter and I laughed at some of the recent “Asian” commentary on Glee. And it is also why so many of my Asian American struggle to fight against the stereotypes of the Model Minority because we are not one big monolithic math team. We are more than the sum of our musical and mathematical abilities but sometimes it’s a no-win game. We want to succeed because so much of the stereotyped American Dream experience is about success.

Which is why Chua’s piece hits a different nerve because there is something about the response from non-Asian Americans that bothers me. Chua’s piece is as much a statement about her specific, culturally-bound and sometimes broken parenting style as it is about a generalized American style of parenting. Defenders of the American/Western way seem to think that “their” style where everyone gets a ribbon for participation, perfect attendance, self-esteem or happiness is the better route to success and more happiness.

If I parent like a Tiger Mother (I prefer Dragon, wink, wink) I am abusive. If I parent like a stereotypical American parent my child loves her/himself but really too few will look at me and think “American”. As one who forever lives in the tension, we are all very broken people and parents. Whether it’s through the pursuit of academic excellence or self-esteem, extremes lead to idolatry. My children and their success or happiness is not the end goal, but I see that value played out regardless of race, ethnicity and class.

I was given/made to take piano lessons, but I started dreadfully late – fourth grade, I think. Which, by the way, is when the public school system here starts band and orchestra. I remember my mother saying at least once that she wanted to give me and my sister a chance to learn the piano because she never had the opportunity to do the same as a child. So I often reluctantly learned to read music, play the piano and then the flute. As an adult I revisited music and realized my mother was right. I did regret quitting. My piano and flute skills aren’t where they could have been and where I would like them to be, but I am grateful for the chance to decide that now even though it was forced on me then. So there. It’s too late to call DCFS on my parents.

Academics were stressed because when you are the child of immigrants you don’t have the luxury of understanding the system, networking, interview skills, legacies and missed opportunities. Getting top grades, arming your college application with the very best of the very best, proving that being a hyphenated American/immigrant with parents who don’t speak flawless English doesn’t mean you are stupid or abused. When your family has given up everything to come to America mediocrity is not the preferred end result.

I was on poms, edited my school newspaper, served on the state board of education student advisory board, sang and danced in the high school musical, managed to get better than good grades and, despite the concerns of “Western parenting” advocates I’ve read in the comments sections of various blogs, have friends. I tell my daughter that had we been in school together I would have been her nightmare.

My parents didn’t forbid extracurricular activities, but they didn’t always understand them. Heck, my daughter is on the poms squad now and I don’t always understand it. But my parents emphasized grades, and with each fluctuation in my GPA came a wave of self-doubt. Do my parents still love me? Am I smart enough? Will my parents ever be proud of me?

Which is where the pendulum swings back. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, depression is the second leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women between 15 and 24, who consistently have the highest suicide rates among women in that age group. AAPI women over 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. Those are the type of top rankings we Americans don’t often talk about when evaluating the success of self-esteem programs at school. After Chua’s book it’s too easy to blame the Tiger Mothers who emphasized achievement but fell short on communicating love, support and respect but when are we also going to take a look at how public health services are failing a generation of Americans of Asian descent or how school programs that are meant to build up a student’s sense of achievement isn’t translating cross-culturally? My depression is as much nature as it is nurture. Chemical imbalances are real. And so cultural forces – American cultural forces that pushed me as much as Korean cultural forces. Solely blaming Asians parents for those statistics is irresponsible and short-sighted.

And to those of you who have thought, “Just wait until Chua’s daughters are older. Let’s see how it all pans out” in a judgmental sort of way do what I did and ask for forgiveness and extend some grace. God knows parenting is hard enough without having someone wait for us to fail.

In the end the article and flurry of comments and commentary makes me angsty because our definitions of success, superiority, achievement and happiness are so completely messed up and complex. I would be lying if I said that I don’t want my children to succeed, to live full and rich lives, to enjoy the very best of what God has to offer in life in all of the physical, emotional and spiritual ways but I know that it won’t always come in the ways I want to. I am angsty because I can’t help but think of the story of the prodigal son. I’ve heard so many sermons about the son who squanders everything to pursue a version of happiness but goes back to his father’s home because in the end home is where he thinks of. I wonder how the other son missed or misunderstood his father’s love and lavish provision as only belonging to the “less successful” son. The party and celebration and love and sense of belonging was always there for both of them but they both misunderstood success and love.

Instead of criticizing the style of parenting maybe we should take a closer look and critique the end goals we are hoping our children will achieve because the beginning and end for me as a parent doesn’t start, shouldn’t start with academics or achievements and end with worldly success and gain.

So how do we learn? I hope I learn from others. What have you learned from your parents and what are learning as a parent?

 

Is Blonde+Black > Everything Else? BTW Hindu Isn’t a Language

Wondering out loud, as an extrovert often does…is it my imagination or is the media (and perhaps the public) more concerned with:

  • the fact that Jackson, who is married to Chicago Alderman/Alderwoman/Alderperson Sandi Jackson, (and both Jacksons are African American) had a personal acquaintance flown in twice for a visit, and that said acquaintance has been described as female, blue-eyed, blonde and a hostess at a D.C. restaurant;
  • or renewed interest in allegations U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was hoping some fundraising prowess was going to move him up on the U.S. Senate seat replacement list;
  • or that Jackson, during an on-air radio interview in Chicago Friday, said that while he was in the room when, “two Indian fund-raisers began speaking practically in Hindu and that he didn’t participate in the talk or even hear it.”

Um, if Jackson didn’t participate in the talk or even hear the talk how did he know the two Indian fund-raisers spoke in Hindu? Oh, wait. Maybe because Hindu isn’t a language, therefore Jackson couldn’t hear it? Ugh.

Actually, I wouldn’t have known about Jackson’s comment except for the fact that I read about it in this morning’s newspaper (the paper version). Until then, what I read and heard about primarily was that allegations about Jackson’s involvement in the Illinois U.S. Senate seat pay to play politics were back on and that Jackson wanted at least two private visits with his blonde, female friend who is a hostess. I heard that Jackson and his wife have dealt with this private matter and want it to stay private. Blah, blah, blah.

Yes, I have bone to pick. Several, in fact. Why does it matter that the female acquaintance is blonde and a hostess? Surely it isn’t meant at all, not even a teensy weensy bit to discredit her or make her seem “less”? It’s rather perplexing, actually. We live in a culture that worships young and beautiful (and often paler shades of beautiful) at all costs and then when you actually are young-ish and beautiful you’re the “acquaintance”. And it really matters if you are the white acquaintance of a black man (a la Tiger Woods).

But this recent scandal is almost perfect because it hits on race, ethnicity, culture, gender and religion. Jackson’s radio comment hit a nerve with me because so many conversations, as difficult as they are, are whittled down to Black and White. Hindu is not a language but a religion and a religion not limited to but connected deeply with India as well as other East, South East and South Asian cultures. Conversations about race get even more complicated when we add different voices, stereotypes, assumptions and blind spots and Jackson’s off-the-cuff comment about not hearing the conversation because the fund-raising power brokers in this case were of Indian descent and allegedly broke out in “Hindu” is a great example of that complexity.

The media would have us more ticked off that Jackson had a white female acquaintance than the fact that he, a U.S. Congressman representing a diverse population, made a rather ignorant statement about his understanding of diversity and culture.

At some point the media will talk with the female acquaintance and we will see more unnecessary photos of said woman in various stages of dress and less-dressed. In some circles of politically involved Evangelicals, there will be conversations about leadership and integrity and marriage all sorts of important “values”. And I will put money on at least a handful of us women talking about the gender issues in this story…but will we – politically involved or invested Evangelicals, men and women, of all races and ethnicities, dare embrace the complexity and messiness of integrating issues of race, ethnicity and religion into our conversations. After all, Jackson knew how to talk woman and blonde (and dare I say presumably white) but he couldn’t hear Hindu. Maybe he didn’t want to see it either and I terribly afraid so many of us out here don’t either.

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.

The Ultimate Insult? Call a Man a Woman

I am not a hockey fan. I am the wife of a long-suffering Cubs fan, and by marriage I have learned all I know about baseball, football and basketball from my husband. We are not on the bandwagon, but that Stanley Cup sure is a sweet piece of hardware.

But why, why, why does this sort of crap still happen? Why did the CHICAGO TRIBUNE think the best way to insult Flyers’ Chris Pronger was to photoshop a figure skating skirt on him and title the mock-photo “Chrissy Pronger: Looks like Tarzan, skates like Jane”? Is it because we really believe “boys will be boys” and “it’s all in good fun”? Aren’t women sports fans too or do they think stuff like this is OK? And as a former journalist I can’t help but wonder what the editors were thinking when this made it past the first section meeting.

Men and women are both human –  physically embodied souls and gendered in God’s image. That is no small thing in my book. We reflect something as humans and in our sexuality and gender of our Creator. What a horrible thing it is to know that girls throughout the world’s cultures are raised to know they are less than. They are worth less than the young boys who will carry on family names and wealth. They are worth less unless their bodies are used for the pleasure of others. They are worth less, and that has meant many girls grow up to be women who in some place in their hearts believe they are worthless.

So it breaks my heart and pisses me off to see a major newspaper repeat the same playground taunts I continue to hear to this day: don’t run like a girl, cry like a girl, throw like a girl, hit like a girl.

You Can’t Make Me But You Might Make Me Want To…Watch This

I tease my husband mercilessly about our obnoxiously large television that is mounted on the wall above the fireplace where a lovely family portrait used to hang. I should stop making fun of it because the tv paved the road to…a DVR – multiple shows recording automatically waiting for life to catch up to fantasy, sci-fi, reality tv, comedy, etc.

We all know that I watch LOST. (Finale party has already been scheduled, btw. If you live in Chicagoland, e-mail me for an invite.) But you may not know that I also watch Brothers & Sisters, Glee, parenthood and FlashForward. But that’s it. After those five hours of television have successfully recorded, I’m fine. We don’t always get to the show right away. We actually spent the dreary weekend watching Parenthood since we couldn’t do much in the garden.

But what else is out there worth watching? What are your top recommendations? Could there be anything else worth coveted space on the dvr?

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.

Earth Day 2010: Does Going Green Matter?

It has mattered for my soul. Through the years I’ve slowly, very slowly, been urged, nudged and sometimes forced to consider how my many choices make an impact in the world, the community, my family, my soul.

Lights off. Buying less. Set the thermostat. Some of it is habit. Dad always, always reminded us to turn the lights off and the water off and the a/c off and the heat off when possible. You’re not in the room. It doesn’t need a light. You’re brushing your teeth not the sink? Turn off the water. How hot is hot enough to run the a/c? It’s cold? Put on a sweater and a pair of socks. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it or use it.

It was a good foundation to think about all the new things to think about. Lightbulbs. Recycling. Reusable shopping bags. Rain barrels. Compost bins.

It has made me consider how I am connected to the earth in a physical and spiritual way. I am not a formless soul floating and flitting about. I am embodied, living and breathing in contact with and in relationship with the earth. I do not believe the earth has a soul in the way you and I have a soul, but I believe that the earth and I am formed and created by the same God. We are connected by our Creator, and the whole creation does cry out. Out my window I can see some of the earth’s cries in shades of green, brown, white, yellow, pink, red, blue, and purple.

It matters because every week my church family and I pray,

“Our Father who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

May my actions be not in response to cultural and social trends but to my God. Amen.


Blogging, Tweeting & Other Forms of Communication/Self-Promotion

I’ve been asked a number of times why I don’t “tweet”. To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s been fun blogging and trying to build time in each week to write a few posts. Gaining readership and seeing comments has made the moments of blogging drudgery worth it and incredibly fun. And, yes, it gives my ego a little boost.

Which is why I’m thinking about tweeting and spending a bit of time thinking about the dangers to my soul.

It’s that little voice inside my head – the self-doubt – that is met with equal voice and footing by another voice – the ego.

I need both to dance inside my head with some degree of balance and a good dose of Jesus. I am not the center of the universe and my words -whether through blogging, tweeting or speaking – cannot change the world. But I am part of the universe, and my words can do powerful things for good and for really, really bad.

Which is why I’m still thinking about tweets and whether or not it will be just another fun thing that God begins to use to shape me (which is what has been happening with the MTST book and then blog).

To tweet or not to tweet? Do you think Jesus would have tweeted? (JUST KIDDING!) Do you tweet or blog? Why or why not? Obviously you read blogs. Do you follow someone’s tweets? Why?

Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez

On Monday, April 19th, the 9 justices of the U.S Supreme Court are scheduled to hear arguments in the case of the Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez.  InterVarsity is among a large number of organizations who have filed 34 amicus (friend of the court) briefs in this case.  The justices’ decision will majorly impact campus ministry.

That’s why 17 other organizations and 13 state attorney generals have urged the justices to make a ruling that protects the rights of religious groups to set their own membership and leadership requirements. The ruling will either allow these groups to operate the same as all other campus organizations, or it will allow state colleges and universities to deny recognition to Christian groups on their campuses.

Please pray for this critical ruling!

Here is an interview by journalist Tim O’Brien with Leo Martinez, dean and acting chancellor of the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and the defendant in this case, and Greg Baylor, attorney for the Christian Legal Society.

I’m not a lawyer (even though my Mom still wishes I would go to law school) but I scanned through a few of the amicus briefs for both sides of the case. This case begins with the Christian Legal Society but the impact of the case would be felt by religious organizations with further implications on all organizations. The Christian Legal Society wants its voting membership and leaders to be Christians and abide by certain standards. That’s just Christians wanting to force their religion on everyone, you say. Well,  if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Martinez and stop Christians from forcing their brand of religion on everyone it will, in effect, be telling Muslim, Jewish and all other religious organizations that they no longer have to be recognized by public colleges and universities.

It’s easy to pick on Christians. Some of us in God’s name have done horrible, awful things that have nothing to do with God. Admittedly we can often make it pretty easy to pick on us. But imagine if an Asian American student group at a public university or college, a group with no religious affiliation, denied a White supremacist a leadership role because she/he was a White supremacist. Inclusivity can only go so far, and this is where this case gets dicey. Where and how will we define freedom and public and justice?

So even if you don’t pray, this is worth thinking and reading about…

Here’s an update on the case…looks like there are many, many more questions that need to be asked before the justices will be able to rule.