Trampled Under Foot

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In Shusako Endo’s absolutely-must-read novel, Silence, Fr. Rodrigues, an initially idealistic Portuguese monk, goes to Japan with his companion in search of a highly-respected monk thought to have committed apostasy. From his arrival in Japan to his reunion with the apostate monk, Rodrigues experiences a serious loss of the long-held notions of his faith as he witnesses the torture, suffering, and death of Japanese Christians who barely had a life to begin with. The triumphant, glorious, and powerful Christ does not provide him respite from all this, despite his pleas for help. This Christ is absolutely silent.

The Japanese leaders demand one thing to save these Christians from oppression. They demand Rodrigues to step on a picture of Jesus. Rodrigues is horrified by the thought of committing such an act before his Lord. However, it is the Christ of weakness, and not strength, that tells Rodrigues, “Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.”

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[This was a very difficult post for me to write. I am passionately opinionated, at times quick to denigrate, and ungracious with regards to those opinions, theologies, and ideas I find abhorrent. Thus, this post (like many posts) acts like a mirror, exposing my sin. Please keep this in mind, and please forgive my hypocrisy. Kyrie Eleison…]

This will most likely be the 5235th post on Deadly Viper since its birth in the consciousness of already self-aware Asian American Christians. And it was this controversy that birthed a new consciousness about being self-aware Asian American Christians for the first time. Even the flaws of gender stereotyping (an equal problem in this mess) quickly surfaced as an issue. And so began a power discourse.

This incident was necessary for Asian Americans. For much of our modern American existence we were (and still are) seen as the passive, obedient, and over-achieving patch in our multi-colored quilt. If the DV incident did one thing, it made known the fact that Asian American Christians need to be taken seriously as a contingent of the American Christian fabric (no, I don’t quilt). No longer would it be assumed that we would brush off–or even accept–stereotyping or generalizing of our complex cultures by the dominant majority. Or this is what we hope.

There is a fine line between power struggle and reconciliation when it comes to Christian dialogue. And Christians need to be uncomfortable with it. Christians on the left look at the Christians on the right with disgust. I am self-admittedly a left-leaning Christian. And I have looked at a bumper sticker that reads, “The Christian right is neither.with some level of haughty amusement. But when Christians on the left are saying that Jesus would endorse the public option, are we not playing the same game as our siblings on the right? Let’s face it. Christians on either side want a theocracy. The liberal Christians just deny it, while the conservative Christians would love one (which would ironically look like Islamic states). Let’s move a step further. Evangelism could be a discourse of power. Monthly session meetings to determine how to attract more parishioners could be a discourse of power. Zondervan’s marketing strategies could be a discourse of power. In fact, Christian marketing IS a discourse of power… and wealth!

What would Michel Foucault think of this?? I’ll stop lest my cynicism of truly believing “power equals knowledge” kicks in.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but think that Asian Americans, even in our need for this to happen, have won a battle for power, while Mike and Jud patch their wounds. But what else could’ve been done? Was this an exchange of power that needed to occur? I say, emphatically, ‘yes’ because we needed to fight back our stereotypes. But what stereotype of Christianity does this perpetuate? Do we say ‘Jesus is our glorious king!’? Could we say, “Jesus is silent like the silenced, impoverished like the poor, and stereotyped like us”? My emphatic yes finishes off with a wince, like a cheap scotch whiskey.

The call from our fellow brothers and sister is clear. Let’s move forward to reconcile with Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan. And not only reconcile, but partner in the kingdom. But if and when we do partner, let’s do it for the broken and silenced Christ. Because our attempts to correct our siblings may end up with a Christ that commanded the angels to destroy his enemies.

This entry is a power discourse.

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The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid,¬†and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

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It’s in the blood

While I am not Korean, I have been to South Korea 15 times from 1999-2004 on business trips. While I was a total foreigner in Korea and their culture was completely new to me, I did learn some things. For one, I learned that the stereotypes and prejudice my Japanese mom had for Koreans was unfounded. In fact, I came to recognize that most of her issues with Koreans was due to the elitism that many Japanese have. I also learned that instead of looking at commonalities, we as Asians tend to look at what separates us.

From my experience in my secular, atheist worldview I one day found myself a Christ follower and youth pastor of a Korean-American church. I led a monthly youth ministry of praise & worship nights where several local churches would bring their youth groups to in a spirit of unity. However, I went outside cultural lines and invited everyone. One night there were several teens there that were not Korean and the church that was leading the worship music sets were Hmong. Once one of the Chinese teens realized that the group leading were Hmong, she got totally offended and exclaimed that didn’t we know what the Hmong did to the Chinese? It was said quietly to her friends that brought her and I heard about it later, but I had to admit that I had no idea what the issue was. Hmong people reside in China and I had no idea there were tensions. Kind of like I had no idea beforehand that there were tensions in Korea between Koreans and Japanese.

While on one of my business trips I was in the car with a Korean business partner and were talking about something. It was in the context of something being Korean and I mentioned again that I was not Korean. He told me that I didn’t have to be, but that it was in my Asian blood. In other words, from his perspective there was something that united us as Asians, rather than separate us as Korean vs Japanese. I understood what he meant, yet in my own mind there was still a difference. Culturally Koreans and Japanese are different. Just as Chinese and Vietnamese or Thai and Filipinos. If we add Indians as part of being Asians then it gets even more diversified.

With the pride and felt need that ethnic churches must exist to serve first generation Asians coming to America, why does the ethnic church have such a problem with ministering to second and third generation Asians? If many second and third generation Asian-Americans are migrating into the predominantly white church, then what about those that stay in the English ministry of their ethnic church? Should we speak to us all having Asian blood that unites in some way and move forward collectively as a pan-Asian church or should we look to change the perspective of the ethnic church to better meet the needs of second and third generation people? Will we always have English ministries in the ethnic church, yet find some second and third generation people migrating and congregating with those outside of their own ethnicity?

How do you define church?

Before I address the question from the subject line, let me state this: I am not quite sure how the intersection of church and Asian-American culture can really exist in the same sentence. I feel as if I’ve killed off some brain cells pondering this question.

steepleHow do you define church?

Can we come to a clear consensus as to what church is so that we can then explore the context of church and faith from an Asian-American perspective?

When I spoke with Daniel So yesterday I began to wonder if our perspective should be the church focusing on Asian-American awareness and cultural issues or if it should be used as a way to compliment American culture at large from a third culture mindset, as Dave Gibbons discusses in his book The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership For A Third-Culture Church.

Should we be defending our right to gather as Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Hmong or rather should we be reaching out to other Asian cultures and inviting them to begin the process of being a third culture church? Can we be critical of the American church if we don’t first look to engaging other Asian cultures within our church settings first?

Again, the question to ask first is, how do your define church?

I’m no longer yellow…now I’m brown?

I just read something that disturbed me. I’m trying to determine why. As a Japanese-American pastor I have felt the need for a multi-cultural church here in Sacramento, California. Diversity is almost non-existent here on Sundays. When the workplace, schools, restaurants and malls have people of all races living together, why must Sunday be so segregated? So, when I saw an article in the July/August issue of Rev! magazine celebrating diversity in the church in America, I was kind of excited. It was encouraging news to me. The article cites that:

The big news is that white congregations in this country now have more Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans than ever before. Compared to a decade ago, fewer congregations today are 100 percent white.

On its own, that may be encouraging news. In combination with the title of the article, I am feeling kind of dirty. The title of this article celebrating diversity in the church is “The Browning of Our Churches.” I just went from excited and encouraged to disturbed and a little outraged.

After living much of my youth wishing I were white and about 6′ 5″ tall like all of my friends that didn’t get words of hate and violence directed towards them because they were in the majority, I have finally embraced the fact that I am yellow. Not only embracing this, but actually thankful that my experience isn’t the same as my white friends (nor my African-American or Hispanic friends). It gives me a different perspective as well as allowing me to see myself in a different perspective. As an Asian-American, I am not a pastor or church planter, but to some I am viewed as the Japanese pastor. Okay, I accept that. Now, after going through all of this I get to read in a magazine that I’m not yellow. Now you’re saying I have to be brown? I have to be blended in with other racial groups that aren’t white and conceived as living in one happy melting pot. <Insert sound of the needle on the turntable being screeched across the surface of the record> What? Did I just get my Asian taken away and replaced with the color of mud? You know, when you mix water and dirt together it forms a thick, goopy, non-descript brown goo. You can’t see the elements that went into it, all one sees is brown goo. Do I really want to be like mud? How did we go from melting pot–where distinguishable ingredients can be seen and tasted and combined to form something delicious–to mud?

The article cites multiracial Americans as the driving force behind the browning of American churches. Standing proudly as the token people of the mud are Tiger Woods, Vin Diesel, and Mariah Carey as contributors to the public’s acceptance of being multicultural in the church. Um, what public are we talking about here? The Caucasian public? Seriously, on any given day when I may think it might be confusing to people to see me–someone born in Osaka, Japan, adopted by a Caucasian Father and Japanese mother, and brought to California at the age of 4 while growing up in a country suburb where 99.9% of the residents were white–all I have to do is look to Tiger Woods. Not only are people confused by his appearance, but at times he seems confused about who he is. Everyone wants a piece of Tiger and look to him as a representative of their heritage. Now the American church wants to embrace him as their poster child for what a great job they are doing at attracting different races of people into their white church. Woo hoo! Oh yeah…sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but I have not been in any conversation (ever) where people have looked to Vin Diesel or Mariah Carey as representing people of color or multiracial.

Of course, Dave Gibbons and Newsong are dragged into the mix because they are not a white church. Newsong is cited in “The Browning of Our Churches” as the largest church in the Evangelical Covenant Denomination, which I challenge the accuracy of. However, rather than share the merits of how Newsong is reaching Asian-Americans and that they have diversity on their leadership team, it is being used as a glorious example of how a church in a denomination founded by Swedish immigrants can be predominantly non-white and how there is hope that the American church can become more multicultural too. Why didn’t they cite an example of Tim Keller and how the congregation at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC is multicultural and predominantly Asian? I guess you can’t use a token white guy in an article about being multicultural.

For the first time in my life and in my ministry I am starting to get what all the discussion is about amongst Asian-Americans and the American church. When we strive to be in unity and all working together as the body of Christ, it is a beautiful thing as it is what heaven will be like. However, when we as non-white people are used as a sign that we are blending in and being less-distinct and more homogeneous that is where I have to draw the line. For the first time I am drawing the line rather than trying to walk both sides. I feel as if I am becoming less confused.

When we are being invited to worship in the American church, yet are being played according to their rules, I take issue with that. When the American church invites diversity into the congregation, yet has Caucasian leadership and allows no voice to the people they are trying to reach, I take issue with that. When it’s more about being multicultural because it is cool to be multicultural, rather than being multicultural because you want to celebrate diversity , I take issue with that.

Today I take a stand. I refuse to be brown for the sake of conforming. I am yellow and if you want me to come to your party, you’d better give me a valid reason. Invite me because you want to hear my voice and know my struggles, not because you want to make me a statistic and show me off to your less-multicultural church friends.