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Laying down tracks

For those of you who have been reading NG.AC for the last year or so might know where I stand on issues of conservatism negatively affecting the Asian American church. And in a most real way, it’s taking a toll on me…

I feel pretty lonely, ecclesially speaking, but I feel guilty for it. And it might be the Asian conscience within me telling me to “put up or shut up” but I just don’t know where to turn to. Although I would feel more of a theological connection to a mainline church, I honestly feel no ethnic, emotional, and social connection to what is usually a mostly white American congregation. Although I would feel an ethnic, emotional, and social connection to an Asian American church, I don’t find much theological affinity with them.

I’ve made a decision in my heart to be steadfast in affirming and committing to a community that, at minimum, fully affirms women clergy and practices an open table. I want to be a part of an Asian American community that asks hard questions about faith, that wrestles with God like Jacob did. I want to affirm the wonderful traditions of my ancestors and the ancestors of my ancestors’ neighboring countries. I want to know how a God-incarnated poor Jewish man relates to my hyphenated-American identity. I want to collectively extend the arm of humble love and hopeful peace with our Black American siblings as there’s so much pain and mystery between our two peoples. I want to be a part of a community that embraces doubt, loss of faith, and emotional struggle as a part of the collective spirituality. I want my pastors to struggle with their faith before my eyes so I know that I can pastor them, and them me when I struggle. And so on and so forth goes the dream.

Looking around me in Atlanta, that leaves me with Asian American churches totaling zero.

NG.AC folks, tell me. Am I being too picky? Individualistic? Idealistic? Racially insensitive? Closed and unteachable? Too preoccupied with ethnic boundaries? I’m used to rebuke. I grew up with it. But I need some advice.


22 responses to “Laying down tracks

  1. Bill

    Wow great post and questions. Thinking you are fairly young. Too picky? Not sure wanting righteousness is being too picky. Now if you are seeking all of these things now, then maybe you are moving in that direction. Individualistic? Not sure how that is even on the table from what you posted. Idealistic? Don’t get that sense either as dreams of righteousness are powerful and needed engines. Closed and unteachable? That is your call as it asks questions about your soul – your Holy of Holies which isn’t open to those outside. For me, being what my dear friend from Korea in the college days called a half and half (born in Sendai and Dad was a GI – my Dad had to leave the Army because GIs didn’t actually marry the natives) and coming here at age 6 months, growing up in the totally white suburbs of Chicago, times could be a little hard. Not white and not really Japanese. But after many years, learned that hard times do shape you and with a soul being conformed to that God-incarnated poor Jewish man will let you grow and begin to see a little more with God formed eyes. Sometimes I think it a wiser way to not hold too tightly to the ways I think things should be – if I squeeze too tightly I will likely kill what I’m holding and besides Jesus said He wasn’t letting go. As well, He put me in this time and place, and while I would love to see all things made right, I am also aware that that is emerging, the Kingdom is here just not fully at this moment, and the real kicker is being able to be a part of the times and places that are emerging into that Kingdom. God speed in finding that place where you have a sense of joy and peace – thinking its a lot closer than you realize.

    • jadanzzy

      I’m 28. I guess that could be pretty young depending on how you look at it. I couldn’t even say that I’m going through a really hard time. I have people all around me that I do “church” with on a regular, non-Sunday basis.

      I have this deep-seated passion not only to find something for myself. I know that there are other Asian American adults who are just as frustrated and longing for something exactly in the way I am–here in Atlanta as well!. Just not sure what to do with it.

      • Bill

        My apologies if I came across offensive in any way regarding your age. In my experiences here in the Chicago area, I’m Japanese-American, and despite growing up without any Asian friends (there were none near me), from college on, that has been reversed. I have noticed a great impatience, not being critical here, on the part of youth (post college – lol I am a number of years past that), and to some degree, we Asian males seem to have a particularly stronger drive to do, to accomplish, to achieve, whatever. As a result frustrations come about, which can lead to assessments of arrogance or overly idealistic. My dear friend from seminary, a KA youth pastor a little older than you, and we spend a fair amount of time speaking of frustrations and patience, contentment (Pauline mainly), formation in growing relationship and such things. In time the Kingdom emerges and we do well to join in. Your idea of a church plant seems a more excellent way though please do not avoid some of those who are more conservative or reluctant which keeps us from become insular in our faith views. God speed brother.

  2. i think part of the problem is being atlanta, actually.

    being in atlanta with you, i think idealism is particularly tiring because we lack a critical mass to do much in this very transitional stage between post-college and post-kids seasons of life. specific to atlanta, the sprawling geography of the city is problematic as well. but you’re not alone even if you’re lonely. and i need to remember that too.

    • jadanzzy

      i really think the options are stick with a more conservatively-leaning evangelical asian american church and filter, filter, and filter.

      or plant. with you. with danny yang. =)

  3. elderj

    Well, I’ve never been emergent, and will NEVER be Asian American (though I guess I could be AA by marriage.. is that possible?) so I’m the wrong person to ever attempt an answer. That has never stopped me before however.

    I think you are quite simply idealistic. The church, whether mainline or conservative, Presby or Pente, “ethnic” or majority, is nothing more than people. And people have a problem fitting into our ideal constructs. And yeah, you’re probably closed and unteachable and maybe a little bit arrogant too. So am I. You’re a person, so it’s to be expected.

    If you choose to plant a church you will replicate your own patterns of sin in the constructs of your church and someone will be dissatisfied and critique what you’ve done. And they will be right.

    So we live in the tension that what we believe should be and what we see are not evident.

  4. Pingback: The tension of being Asian American in church « Yellow Faith

  5. Thanks for your post, your honesty and thoughts are refreshing and appreciated!

    Some thoughts off the top of my head:

    -I wonder if your desires can apply to the American church at large, and not just the Asian-American church.
    -I wonder if being in Atlanta is indeed part of the problem, as David Park points out.
    -What would it take for Asian-American pastors to be open to listening to the felt needs of both the churched and the unchurched?

    • jadanzzy

      – It may apply to the American church at large. I suppose that’s why the emergent conversation tried (or is still trying) to play some prophetic role. Emergence has impacted me greatly but only left me pining for more as I wanted to translate that to the Asian American experience.

      – Atlanta may be a part of the problem. But it’s also ripe with potential.

      – In my untrained opinion, it would take a lot of Asian American pastors to recognize how much our conservatively-leaning culture influences their theology. I will be honest and say that there are too many Asian American pastors that made me wince and shudder when I think of the things they preach. I’m sure the opposite would be true…

  6. I like your struggle and Ishare your struggle in Canada. As a 1.5 generation Korean-Canadian, I always believed that hyphenated identity is unique, and today I am totally won over to this unique identity in North America.

    I believe that we are lonly and not accepted in either settings of K-NA or NA churches because we are unique. Our path is unique. The fabric of our faith is unique. I see this in many Korean-Canadian Christian young adults. They struggle and they want to fit in somewhere but cannot.

    I believe that we are pilgrims and pathfinders. I believe that in near future there will be our place to be comfortable. And yet, this “tension” (not problem), as Andy Stanley would call it, is quite healthy because it keeps us moving, reforming, and unsettling for the kingdom of God.
    I would like to bless u for this struggle. I hope and pray that the tension in us may allow God’s creative power to be shown.

  7. Non-Asian American, outsider emic reflection. Meaning I’m white, well, English, Irish, French, Italian, Dutch, German, and Chickasaw Indian and formerly a Buddhist leader and scholar. Tension is life. When I read the original post about the “poor Jewish” carpenter and how does His life apply to ours, being the persecuted minority, Asian American or African American, I felt irritated. Same ole tune. Why is it that a Korean Buddhist leader can come to America as a student at UCLA and contextualize his message in 1960, consolidate lonely Japanese warbrides married to Caucasian American soldiers and mobilize them on the streets to share their “Buddhist gospel” in barely understandable English with zeal, and reach thousands of Americans from every conceivable background and build an organization of 500,000 members by the late 90’s? I’ve said this before to Ken Fong and I’ll say it again, I think that Asian American Christians don’t recognize their own powerful position in American society as a reforming and transforming movement. Look at how popular Buddhism has become. Many multiethnic Americans from Caucasian to African American to Hispanic American that looks at an Asian thinks they are Buddhist. We’ve been indoctrinated by the media from youth from David Carradine, “Grasshopper” to Bruce Lee to Jet Li to Yoda “trust the force Luke”. What a missed opportunity for witness. Because you have an Asian face you have a great opportunity to witness. Case in point. One of the leading environmentalists while attending George Washington University wanting to become a Tibetan Buddhist ran into a Bhutanese student and asked for her to share her faith. She apologized and shared, “I’m a Christian.” The perplexed environmentalist was beside herself and became a strong follower of Yeshua, the poor Jewish carpenter. Since then she has directly had opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Dalai Lama. Go figure. This October 2010, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan world will descend on Atlanta. What an exciting opportunity for you to be a sign post for thousands of disgruntled religious seekers who think that Buddhism provides the answers. You might just be the what Jim Eliot called a “Y in the road” for them as you point them to the Completed One, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

    • jadanzzy

      …I don’t really know how to respond to this…

      I always thought Buddhism got so popular because it was an exotic non-White antidote to a depressing and consumeristic Euro-American culture.

    • Ken Fong

      Thanks for dropping my name into this stimulating conversation, James!
      I was struggling with similar issues 30 years ago, wondering if my biography, my face, and my inner call to pastor Americanized AAs in an authentic, thoughtful and relevant way would ever come to pass. I was already a life-time Mainline Evangelical (Am Baptist) so I hooked up with another JA Am Baptist church in LA whose 3Gen pastor was and still is more conservative than me. We forged a partnership that last 18 years until he sensed that it was time for me to step out on my own, to pursue more of my passions. Nearly 16 years later, EvergreenLA has come a long way towards being the kind of church you envision.
      My advice to you and the other frustrated young NA AA ministry leaders who only see apathy, opposition, and lack of numbers: become the change that you want to see happen on the church. Embark on The Hero’s Journey with faith and courage. If my story is instructive at all, God will lead you forward even though you only have fragments of a map. You don’t need a perfect map. You only need a God-inspired vision of the future that is so compelling, so much better than what is, that you can only leave the known in search of the unknown. Along the way, you will meet the people you need and form alliances that are mutually beneficial. God will use the world as much to save you as God will use you to save the world. The Hero’s Journey will force us to confront character flaws like arrogance or
      All of this is my way of saying that we will only become influencers if we have risked it all in pursuit of our passions. Go on THJ and you will begin to see how much you don’t even know what you don’t know. God gives grace to the humble.
      Pick up”Deep Change” by Robert Quinn and work thru the personal and organizational questions. And come visit me in LA to see what God does when you suck it up and get lost with confidence.

  8. Johnny ⋅

    I relate. The journey can be lonely. My parents like many 1st gen. Koreans left their families to settle in the States, so I never grew up with any extended family around. Friends are important, but when you get older you realize how important family is. You don’t travel every year to specifically see your buddies in college, but family. I think in some ways this has affected me and probably some 2nd gen. Koreans when it comes to church. When I go to Korea I usually attend my mother’s old church, where four generations of her family have been worshiping. It was awesome, but, also, unusual to attend a church where I felt so rooted in, family-wise, that I never felt back home in the States. Differences in language and culture make worshiping together in the States difficult for 1st and 2nd. gen. KA and it’s kind of sad, yet inevitable, that after only one generation I attend a different church from my parents and my children will probably attend a different one, also.

    • jadanzzy

      It’s funny. When I go to 1st gen Korean services, I find it refreshing and even comforting, even though I’d most likely be on the opposite spectrum theologically.

      But when I go to Asian American churches, I just cringe and want out.

      Maybe we can collectively start by discouraging Asian American worship bands (which mostly suck) to stop being cover bands for Passion and Hillsong? *heh*

  9. My husband and I were part of an Asian American congregation here in LA for a few years and after nearly every Sunday service, we would talk about how we disagreed theologically with the sermon. After several months of looking for other churches, we found one that we like — New City Church of LA. It’s ethnically and socio-economically diverse. The lead pastor is Korean American. The theology and sermons are relevant to the times, and the pastor (Kevin Haah) is very authentic and real about his faith.

    I say all this not to rub it in your face (here in LA, I realize we have a plethora of churches to choose from), but to say that such churches do and can exist. When we were deciding whether to leave our Asian American congregation, many people were trying to convince us that we would never find the perfect church, that we were asking for too much, etc. Indeed, I don’t believe that any church can be perfect, but at New City, we feel excited about where the church is at and where it’s going, and it’s a place where we would be eager to invite our friends. (We couldn’t say that about our last congregation.)

    I realize that such a church may not exist in Atlanta, but I do hope that you won’t give up your dreams and ideals! I do believe in such a thing as “holy discontentment.” Perhaps God is growing it for a purpose and a plan. –Joy

  10. Daniel W ⋅

    Hmm…. idealism? I think it’s good to have, but it can easily turn into pessisism and judgmentalism. Pessisism is just disappointed idealism.

    I was in Atlanta from 1996 to 2007. Back in 1996, there were only 2-3 AA churches. It stayed that way until the late 90s when the AA population boomed. Then it seemed like a new AA church plant happened almost every year – all of them stating the same thing… that they were out to fill in a gap amongst the AAs in Atlanta.

    I really cherish the AA churches back in the 90s and early 2000s. The AA churches were growing and momentum was building. Then the flood of new AA church plants happened and the AAs started church shopping and comparing every AA church with another. The larger AA churches lost their momentum and many of its leaders to these new churches. The Christian AAs became fractured and several of the church plants imploded. That left even more people disillusioned. Now, a LOT of AAs go to large megachurches to be anonymous or to the multicultural church of the month.

    As you might have gathered, I’m not really for church planting in America… especially Atlanta since it may have the highest church density in all the world. I work in a country that has zero churches – zilch. I think what might be healthier in the long run is to find a church and stick with it for the long haul – helping it grow and become the church you want it to be.

  11. Hi, thanks for the post, I’m a first timer here, so I haven’t had the time yet to visit your old posts .. After reading your post, and the comments below, I also wanted to share some thoughts ..

    I strongly affirm, first hand, that this loneliness that you feel among our Asian American, in my case Korean American, churches is legitimate. I also strongly believe that it is our, second generation’s, duty and calling to fulfill and nurture this very need. I am also absolutely sure that we are not the only ones, and there are many more like us.

    Just like you, I long for a place, and a community where we can be open and honest to ourselves, our hearts, and our intellect. A place where faith is an exciting, daring, and uncharted life long journey, and not merely unquestioned “belief” in checklist of ancient or medieval world view propositions.

    A place where when I find beauty in our understanding of origins of the universe, evolution of life, and its physics, just as I do in the mythology of Judeo-Christian Genesis stories and the metaphors of Jesus’s nature miracles, I won’t be shown the door out because I don’t take the “authority of the Bible” seriously.

    A place where when I stand up and struggle together in solidarity with women and the LGBT for equality in all facets of life, especially in the church, both in membership and leadership as ordained deacons, elders, and pastors, I won’t be labeled a “liberal relativist” and be quoted various cherry picked violent Bible verses used for oppression in the name of “Biblical Truth”.

    A place where when I express my respect and longing to learn from and see our God in and through other religious and cultural traditions of the world — from Islam to Buddhism to Native American religions, to strive together in mutual love and respect for coexistence and peace, I won’t be shown the 4 step program for “salvation” and be told that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that I’m misguided with a “false gospel”.

    I’m sorry to you and all your readers, if all this seems so cynical, like a caricaturization, and rant-like .. But I’m writing this in the mist of what one could call modern day “excommunication” .. Maybe I’ll look back at this time and realize how rebellious and arrogant I was, as a prodigal second generation Korean American son, or maybe we are in a time of a new birth .. or rebirth, or maybe a re-formation.

  12. Teknition

    This is the church that the deepest part of my child, my heart, and my brain wants… please fight for it, b/c ur not the only one who wants and needs it. U know im a phone call away to start laying one brick at a time.


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