in a recent conversation with a newly acquainted friend, we discussed the validity of the asian-american church, to which he said, “that’s not as interesting to me as the immigrant church.” when asked to elaborate, he said, “well, i don’t consider you asian-american, i just consider you american. you speak english like me, you know this american culture like i know, you don’t even have an accent, david. i mean, what makes you asian? what makes your church asian?”
my heart started to race a bit, “you think i’m american then? because i didn’t have the same experience as you did growing up, i can assure you that. and i certainly had plenty of reminders – whether it was the food i ate, the language my parents spoke, or the fact that there weren’t many other kids that looked like me growing up in Oklahoma.”
“kids are like that everywhere. i was the fat kid with glasses and i also was reminded of that daily. if it’s not your physical features, it’s something else, you can’t tell me that distinguishes your experience from mine.”
“what? being asian, i think, is a little different from being fat with glasses. it’s not like you can know what’s going on in an all-korean church being fat with glasses. i think you’re too quick to overlook my cultural baggage.”
“you don’t think i have cultural baggage? i’m a Southern white boy, what do you know about my culture?”
“fair enough, but it’s not like you have first-degree access to your mother culture. i can walk in and out of both worlds. quite honestly i don’t think your jump is as big to make.”
“OK, i grant you that…but my point is this, the korean-american church is not unique in being lost in its identity. it’s happening to everyone. everyone in our generation is re-evaluating this thing called ‘church’. we don’t want our parents’ church. our parents church doesn’t speak to us. it’s not relevant and they’re dying by the dozen. this is not a korean thing. this is an everybody thing. this is about relevance. if the korean-american church does not prove to relevant, than it will die. you’re in marketing, you know this better than i do.”
from a marketing standpoint, he was right. but i wasn’t sure if this wasn’t the sounding of the death knell for the asian-american church.
the conversation continued to cultural distinctness and whether or not asian-american churches worshipped in a way that was distinct like african-american churches were. was there a cultural distinction? what would it be? prayer? preaching? intellectualism?….what would it be? if there is nothing, then is that it? do we melt into the pot of colorless faith?
what exactly is it that we bring to the table?
asians in the business world have been infamous for the ability to imitate, then innovate, is that the road we’re taking here as well?
do i take the western church culture that was bequeathed to me, analyze it for its inefficiencies and turn into a humming evangelical engine with less management and fewer errors? how do i incorporate the church culture of my immigrant parents redeemed from shamanistic and ancestor worship rituals with its eastern worldview and notions of honor and face?
we sing the songs of hosanna, integrity, and maranatha. we sing like they sing. we preach like they preach. we look like our parents who know nothing of the sort. we pray like something in between. and we act like something in between. do we believe something in between then as well? and will we stick with the faith long enough to find out what else is before us?