Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Will I Know It When I See It?

Tiger & Elin. Jon & Kate. Deadly Viper & some angry Asian Americans.

What does reconciliation look like? What’s the difference between “moving on” in a healthy way and exercising the privilege to walk away from difficult conversations?

All the buzz about Tiger’s return to golf  and Kate’s debut on the dance floor caught my attention not because I care about golf or hair extensions but because their choice to “move on” from their respective scandals has got me thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes, their lives were a circus before the scandals, a teeny bit different than mine. Peter is not a pro golfer, and I am not a model. Peter does not own anything Ed Hardy, and I don’t get followed by the paparazzi. They are celebrities, but they and we are human beings. Why wouldn’t they want to move on, heal, and, perhaps, forget? I would.

But is that reconciliation? Would it be enough to see Elin stand by her man at the Masters? (IMHO, no. It would not.) If not, what is enough? Can someone ever apologize enough? Ask for forgiveness enough? Be forgiven enough? And then is that reconciliation?

So the saga known as Deadly Viper isn’t exactly like Tiger and Elin and Jon and Kate, but when I think about forgiveness and reconciliation I can’t help but think about DV. There was a lot of ugliness and some hope. There were hurt feelings and misunderstandings. There were conversations and side conversations about actions versus intent versus past deeds done. There were divisions, sides taken, and allegiances. And it was in real time, on-line and public in a “you can’t take that back ever” sort of way. Relationships that started out broken between real people fractured in such a way that made me (and I speak for myself and no one else involved in the DV saga) wonder if we achieved the right end. I’m still wondering…

If, for argument sake, reconciliation for the two celebrity couples means restoring their marriages, what does reconciliation for those involved in DV look like? Is reconciliation necessary? Is it worth it? Who pursues it and how?

This is Our Story: InterVarsity’s National Asian American Ministries Staff Conference 2010

Here are some images from our national Asian American Ministries staff conference “This is Our Story“.

I’m still thinking about the conference and the significance of what we heard and saw and spoke of, and I’m still wrapping my brain around InterVarsity’s AAM history that began with Gwen Wong being hired in 1948.

1948.

I’m still thinking about the amazing legacy of women like Gwen Wong, Ada Lum, Jeanette Yep, Donna Dong and Brenda Wong who did more than blaze a trail for someone like me to follow decades later. Their legacy is clear and points in the direction I long for my legacy to follow.

I’m still thinking about how we label ourselves – Asian. American. Asian American. Indirect. Model Minority. Shame-based. Female. Working mom. Called. Leader. – and see ourselves through a different lens in order to see ourselves clearly.

I’m still thinking about the hymn that comes to mind when I think of the conference theme – Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance”. I learned that hymn in parts in Korean. And I’m thinking about how changing the lyrics from “my story” to “our story” makes so much sense in the Asian American context.

What is your story?

What Does It Mean To Be “Feminine”?

There is a great discussion going on about Mark Driscoll and the “chickified” male/church at the Jesus Creed. I’m running out the door so I’ll have to revisit topic, but I have blogged about  my concerns with similar thoughts on masculinity and femininity.

But controversy aside, I’m curious. I’m not sure who all of you are who read my blog, but I’d love to know how you would define, describe, live/seen lived out femininity? It can’t  be about lip gloss and twirly skirts, but sometimes we don’t push the conversation, the descriptors, the issues deeper than that, I’m afraid. What do you see in women that is a part of the image of God that is reflected uniquely in the feminine? Or is there such a thing? And does race and ethnicity play any role in how you’ve seen the feminine defined?

For you women, what about being a woman do you find joy or discomfort in? What about being a woman draws you closer to God or makes drawing closer to God more challenging?

Responding to Some Sojo Love

My post Asian≠White was cross-posted at Sojourners recently, and there have been some interesting comments that have popped up.

I’m really quite new to this blogging-for-an-audience-of-more-than-20 thing, so I’m learning on the fly about comments, author engagement and such. In the meantime, I decided to keep responses here on my site so as not to confuse myself.

So, in response to some of the comments on Sojourners:

Thank you all for reading. I’ve been reading Sojourners magazine off and on for a few years, ever since my then-supervisor decided he was going to rattle his entire staff team’s faith and understanding of the gospel. Thanks, Big Guns!

@ BlueDeacon – The separation between Asian and American is one of both culture and race/ethnicity. My parents see it from language and culture, but my father often reminds me that I am not American either.

@pcnot4me – You wonder if liberals ever just enjoy life. Hmmm. I guess you’d have to ask one. My liberal friends would say I’m too conservative. My conservative friends would say I’m too liberal. All of my friends would say I do enjoy life. I have a wonderful and complicated life. I have my moments, like when squirrels took over my attic or when my child was near death. Those moments are hard to enjoy.

@facebook-1363553490 – I wonder with you. I have no idea what the question about liberals just enjoying life and the thread that followed had anything to do with my original post. However, if any of the liberals reading the post feel like they should give more to charity, please contact me. I am still raising ministry support.

@NC77 – I do not know what % of AA are Christians. According to the US Census, about 5% of the national population is AA.

@Ballfour – You had several questions. I cut and pasted your comment so readers here will know what I’m talking about.

I have a few specific questions that come to mind from your article. I was hoping you could answer these:
1. What precisely is your “ideal” when it comes down to racial integration in churches?
2. Why would that make the church “better”? (Please don’t answer “because it would be multi-cultural” as that only begs the question as to why multi-culturalism in a church setting would be better).
3. Is there any reason you did not site the thousands of Korean-Christian and/or Chinese-Christian churches in the country that perform services in their native languages and reflective of their cultures? Do you expect them to adapt to hiring “whites” and adopting more “white culture”?

Honestly, I don’t have an “ideal” in mind. My point was to ask why is 20% the threshold and how does a number translate into cultural change. There is a great follow-up interview with David Van Biema, Time magazine’s religion writer and the author of the original magazine article I was reacting to, on UrbanFaith.com explaining a little more about the numbers and why Willow Creek’s numbers are getting the love and attention of Time magazine.

I have lots of feelings all over the map about multiculturalism and how that can and should look in various contexts. I am the product of the immigrant church where there was little to no multiethnicity (except for the occasional Moody Bible student who was hired to teach Sunday School. I do not expect all churches to pursue numeric multiethnicity but at some point in a church’s life I do believe issues of multiethnicty, race and a holistic understanding of justice needs to be addressed.

I did not write about those immigrant or 1st generation churches because that is not what the article is about. I was simply responding to the attention focused on megachurches. I do not expect those 1st generation churches to hire “white” or adopt more White majority culture because to some degree they already do having established themselves here in America. Anyone who has grown up in a 1st generation church will tell you that issues of culture and ethnicity come up because the children growing up in the those churches will face those issues – the classic generational culture gap, if you will.

But if a church publicly states its intentions to pursue multiethnicity, which is what Bill Hybels and WC has done, I do expect them to address not just attendance and membership numbers. I would argue that the culture has to shift, as sociologists would agree, and that the leadership has to shift. It isn’t enough to say that the congregation looks different if we agree that isn’t what we are talking about when we say “multicultural” or “multiethnicity”. Are there songs sung in different styles and languages and the gifts of those cultures and nuances of language addressed? Is communion always wafers and grape juice when rice cakes and tea could also help connect and express the connection between host and blood? Is it always a drum set or can there be a djembe or janggu? Can liturgical dance also draw from 1st Nations’ and folk dancing? We learn so much from one another, and that is why diversity is better. No one culture paints the whole complete picture of God’s kingdom and I am blessed through the diversity of God’s kingdom and creation.

Asian ≠ White

Articles like this make me want to celebrate and cringe. Change can be a very difficult, painful process. The desegregation of the church and a deeper and theologically rooted understanding of ethnicity, race and culture demands current systems, institutions and communities to change. I want to celebrate the steps taken at mega-churches like Willow Creek that acknowledge and recognize the world isn’t as White as their congregations have often been, but I can’t help but feel a teeeeeny bit annoyed.

Why? Well, maybe it’s because the arctic blast in the Midwest makes me annoyed at everything because I forget how fortunate I am to have heat in a house full of food and warm clothing. And, I’m a bit prickly. How does a congregation that is only 20% minority count as being integrated? (The Time magazine article cites 20% as “the quantitative threshold of a truly integrated congregation”.) It feels like some odd application of the one-drop rule. Maybe someone out there can help me understand the significance of the numbers and specifically the 20% threshold.

And then if you read on in the article, there is this:

Call it the desegregation of the megachurches — and consider it a possible pivotal moment in the nation’s faith. Such rapid change in such big institutions “blows my mind,” says Emerson. Some of the country’s largest churches are involved: the very biggest, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Community Church in Houston (43,500 members), is split evenly among blacks, Hispanics and a category containing whites and Asians. Hybels’ Willow Creek is at 20% minority. Megachurches serve only 7% of American churchgoers, but they are extraordinarily influential: Willow Creek, for instance, networks another 12,000 smaller congregations through its Willow Creek Association. David Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame studying the trend, says that “if tens of millions of Americans start sharing faith across racial boundaries, it could be one of the final steps transcending race as our great divider” — and it could help smooth America’s transition into a truly rainbow nation.

Go back. I do hope I’m reading this incorrectly: “and a category containing whites and Asians”? Um. Are we, and I think Asian here means Asian American, lumped together in a category with whites?

I’m not White.

And my parents would argue I’m not Asian either.

Sometimes words and labels matter because assumptions are going to be made. Asians are not white. Asian Americans are not white. If we were, my answer to “Where are you from?” would never be followed by “No, I mean where are you really from? You know. Like where were you born?”

My prickly response here is to get us thinking, and to remind me to think, critically about the statistics, initiatives and innovations. What are we celebrating here? And how can we appropriately celebrate, re-group, look critically and then respond accordingly?

For example, if we stop too long in amazement over the racial make-up of the congregation we forget that the up front leadership at WC, by and large, according to the article remains white (the article does not mention gender). Where and from whom are the white leaders of churches like WC going to learn about the non-white experience? How will congregations that are 80% white experience multiethnic leadership if they never see it, hear it and submit to it at their own church?

Press “publish”. Holding breath…

Softening My Skin in a Mud Bath

My apologies to those who landed here because they were searching for information on skin care.

Zondervan’s decision to remove Deadly Viper Character Assassin and Mike & Jud’s decision to shut down their website is heating up the blogosphere once again. I’m concerned about the way some of these posts and tweets could be read – tone is a difficult thing to express well in the anonymous electronic world. And as many of us have learned during the past three weeks, the blogosphere can run pretty fast and furious. Right now there is a lot of mud being slung in all directions.

But one theme that has appeared in a variety of places has been the call to those who were offended (pick me, pick me) to grow, get, have “thicker skin”. The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin, and I pray against that. Lately it’s been a daily prayer.

Literally speaking, skin is our largest organ providing protection, support and circulation (I helped Corban study for his science test). Healthy skin is able to do those things well. Unhealthy or damaged skin put the rest of the body in danger as sensory and circulatory abilities are hampered.

When I think of thick skin I actually think of dead skin that hasn’t been shed properly. The callous on my toe from those beautiful but painful new shoes. The gnarly cuticles that snag my most delicate sweaters. The tough skin on my elbows from resting on them too much when I have writer’s block. I scrub off the callous. I cut my cuticles (I know, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to push them back and put lotion on them to soften them.) I exfoliate my elbows. And then a moisturize like crazy to soften the skin so that it’s pliable.

I don’t want thick skin because honestly when I think of thick skin I think of elephants and their thick skin. Elephants are beautiful animals, but I don’t want to look like an elephant.

I don’t want thick skin because I do not believe God wants us to create a bigger barrier to feeling and engaging deeply with God and with one another. Our sinful natures make it tough enough. Adding more to the junk of our souls or covering it up with thicker skin isn’t going to help.

I pray for a tender heart and soft skin so that I can hear what God has to say to me, our community, our world in that pain. When someone offends me, brushing it off doesn’t allow for a sacred moment between me, the offender and God. Thick skin means I just “get over it” and move along. But what if God doesn’t want us to move on so quickly all the time? What if our attempts at getting over it just mean “it” never goes away?

There have been some nasty comments in reaction to the Deadly Viper situation – people assigning motive and intent, name-calling, etc. In some places it’s getting mean. If we all get a thicker skin I’m afraid we’ll never understand each other. And besides, Jesus didn’t tell people to get thicker skin. He didn’t tell the bleeding woman to stop being a victim and get over the social outcast thing.  

Issues of race, ethnicity and gender all involve tough conversations about power and privilege. I don’t like being called names. I don’t like being lumped together and being referred to as the “minority tail wagging the majority dog” (yup, that’s an actual comment on a blog). I don’t like being told to stop playing victim because I made some noise and the authors were the sacrifice (yup, that’s real too). But I suspect people who thought nothing of the initial outcry paid much attention because maybe they never had to. Maybe the anger and disbelief over the book being pulled and the authors shutting down the website has more to do with never having anyone tell them to get over themselves? See, it can get ugly and polarizing real fast. Thick skin will just keep us from going deeper. 

I’m not suggesting an over-the-top emotional response to everything in this world, but when the mud-slinging ramps up like it has our natural instinct is to duck…or throw more. But the mud has to land somewhere right? Maybe instead of ducking I need to sit in the mud a bit, get a little dirty and then let the mud soften my skin.

The Unseen Privileges

In the eight years I worked specifically with Christian Asian American college students, I knew that my gender would get in the way. I was not a pastor – youth, English ministry, college, women’s ministry or otherwise. I was not a seminary student. I wasn’t a pastor’s wife. I was a married women with a child whose husband was not in vocational ministry. I was weird. Colleagues would later call me a trailblazer, but to be honest most days I simply reveled in the complexity of my amazing life while simultaneously crying in frustration over feeling like the only thing being burned was me.

And how do you talk about the unseen privileges my male colleagues, and more specifically my Asian American male colleagues, benefitted from without sounding demanding, whiny or bitter? Believe me, I keep trying even though I’ve been called all of those things. Even yesterday as I was supervising a younger male leader he talked about a local pastor’s gathering he was invited to attend. In all the years I worked at the same campus I was never invited to those meetings.

What that leader is learning is that he has unseen privileges that give him credibility and access. He knows it. He sees it in some of the male students he is mentoring – young men who have told him they don’t connect with me as a speaker – and he and I trust each other enough to say it out loud. It’s not about content or quality of delivery. It’s because I’m a woman, and in the Asian American context we still have some internal conversations that need to be had about cultural patriarchy and how some cultural values are so deeply rooted that it will take time, prayer, faith and pain to work through them. 

Over the years I’ve had to learn what it means to lead out of influence, to have a voice in the conversation even when I am not at the table. I’m still learning, which is why this controversy over Deadly Viper Character Assassin is affecting me so deeply. I have been physically at the table in conversations with the authors and publishing executives, but I am struggling in what feels like an unfair choice but perhaps prudent choice. I’m just not sure.

I’m having a tough time shaking the gender piece of this curriculum that hijacks and then stereotypes Asian culture while creating a false dichotomy between the feminine and masculine and describes strength, integrity and leadership in hyper-masculine terms. If my culture is nothing more than a decorative background and kung fu fighting illustration then I am reduced to a stereotype. And if my gender and things that are girly are equated with weakness then I am silenced. Twice.

I’m not making this stuff up. Really. Thanks to logicandimagination I did a little hunting and found an online preview of the book. (On a side note, I’m hoping to get out this afternoon and visit the local Christian bookstore to look through a copy of the book. I can’t bring myself money to pay for a copy, but the credibility of my critique of the theme – based on the website, dvd previews, blog and online book preview – is being questioned because I haven’t read the actual book.) 

“And then there’s little old us looking like school girls with plaid skirts on, because we are unskilled and undisciplined in the area of character. We’re weaklings with rail skinny arms and toothpick legs.” DV, page 11, 

“So we are asking you to make a choice and a decision right now. We are asking you to go balls out with us and become warriors, fighters, and black belts in the art of integrity. For some, this might be painful. For others, this will simply validate your leadership choices and good decisions. This is the grand master challenge to conquer yourself. We want to party with Master Po! We are warriors in the making.” p. 21

School girls with plaid skirts? Really? And how the *bleep* am I supposed “to go balls out”? Yeah, that’s going to be painful if not impossible. I don’t have balls, thank you very much. What is that even supposed to mean? I asked my husband because he has balls, and he couldn’t believe his eyes. We both agreed. If any of our kids used that phrase they would know immediately that Mom and Dad were not validating their leadership choices and that using the phrase was not a good decision.

My husband acknowledges that he can choose. If he chooses to engage in the gender piece of the conversation and controversy he will be viewed as an advocate. He can choose to acknowledge that the denigration of women and Asian Americans is unjust, but the impact of the former is a few degrees removed for him – even as he can sympathize as a son of a woman, husband of a woman, father of a young woman. His unseen privilege is that he does not lose credibility even if he chooses.

How will my credibility be affected if I chose to ignore blatant sexism in order to speak into issues of race and ethnicity? How will my credibility be affected if I chose to ignore blatant racism in order to speak into issues of sexism?

I haven’t given up hope that there are ways to embrace the complexity and dive into it more deeply. I’m convinced that the more complex conversations will take longer and be more painful, but they have the potential to lead us to a deeper, integrated and holistic understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image. I’m just not sure if I’m too angry or not angry enough to see where a conversation like this could lead.

A Direct Plea to My Guests Visiting From Angry Asian Man

When I asked my longtime friend Angry Asian Man to get the word out about Zondervan’s Deadly Viper Character Assassins material, I had a funny feeling my little blog here would get some traffic. Let’s just say I felt very popular.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about you. You may never come back to my blog, but the Deadly Viper website, book, dvds, etc. are still out there with mostly random Chinese characters strung together as a “cool” backdrop to an audience that, for the most part, can’t even read Chinese. And here is something pulled from the website:

There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word literally means “self deception while deceiving others.”

Well, I don’t speak Chinese. I speak Korean and there is this funky Korean word – “Bah-boh”, which literally means stupid. This gimmick and marketing ploy is stupid & ridiculous. It’s a stereotypical mishmash of all things cool and Asian, and the connection between honoring culture and promoting character and integrity gets lost.

It doesn’t honor Asian culture. And as a Christian it doesn’t honor my Christ. I don’t want to see this stuff out there. 

So, to the thousands of visitors from Angry Asian Man, please, please, please let your Angry voices be heard. Personally I have learned a lot from Angry Asian Man and his readers – activists who recognize the injustices in the culture and carried out by the powers that be with a desire to bring about change. I am a Christian. I have not always connected my faith into that type of action and concern. I have been humbled by your energy, passion, commitment and advocacy in the Asian American community and beyond. I am grateful for those of you who haven’t given up on your Christian friends who talk about God but fail to care for the poor, the orphans, the widows right in front of our faces. I’m sorry for the many years I carried around my Bible as if that was the only action of love I could take.

Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah, Chris Heuertz, Nikki Toyama-Szeto &  yours truly – were on the conference call with authors Mike & Jud. Only four of us – Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah, Ken Fong & I – were on that conference call with executives from Zondervan. I believe Zondervan is committed to hearing the concerns. Please help them hear. We need more voices clearly articulating your concerns with both the ethnic/cultural issues and the gender issues. We are committed to further conversations with the authors and Zondervan, but the bigger systemic issues involving how a major Christian publishing house does not understand how this material is not just offensive but contrary to the message of leadership and integrity it hopes to communicate needs more voices at the table.

Please send your comments and concerns directly to Zondervan c/o

jason.vines@zondervan.com


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Step 2 & of Course More Deadly Viper

There is another conference call set up for 9 a.m. CST Friday, November 6, with Zondervan execs. Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah and I will represent.

What does Zondervan need to know/understand? What are the cultural and spiritual issues that need to be addressed in a profit-driven system?

Please discuss.

And previously scheduled was my trip to get fingerprinted. I got my study guide for the citizenship exam. I learned that I only have to study the questions with an “*” because I’ve been a legal alien resident for more than 20 years.

And I have to take an English test.

Stop laughing.