Key Series: Why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans

Read this insightful series by DJ Chuang about why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans. It is a powerful introduction to many of the conversations we have here at Next Gener.Asian Church.

As DJ writes in his initial series post:

All to say that our American society needs more Asian Americans to be Asian American. It is to say that at this state of the union, we have too few. We certainly don’t have too many. We’d do well to have a few more to stand up and represent. We’d do well to think through and have more robust conversations about what it means to be Asian Americans. We’d do well to allow the richness of our Asian American’ness to overflow and not hide it under a bushel.

The disclaimers DJ writes at the outset are, alone, worth the price of admission:

Continue reading

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As untouched as the turn signal in an Asian woman’s car

The title of the post probably makes absolutely no sense to you, but once you see it in context I’m sure you’ll understand it. Some of you may even chuckle about it. However, I’m not sure it’s the laughter that I would find offensive. Most-likely, it is the fact that people still have the perception that it’s funny because it is rooted in truth. Before I get to explaining this further, let me take you back about 40 years. Let me share with you a tv commercial from the 1960’s about a baby that wants to eat some glape jerr-o. Again, you probably don’t get what I just described, but after watching the video below you will:

Was it funny? Was it offensive? Are your feelings neutral about it? Continue reading

Going against the establishment

I’ve found myself going against the establishment most of my life, but only recently coming to realize it. As much as I have done things differently, it’s always been with the goal of becoming the establishment. It pains me today to say that, but I realize it to be true.

  • I worked hard to make money so I could dress like you.
  • I drove a Mercedes, a Lexus, a BMW so I could be respected by you.
  • I owned a big, new house in the suburbs so I could live next to you.
  • I learned your language so I could converse with you.
  • I became oblivious to other people’s pain so I could laugh with you

In the end, I feel ashamed of myself. I was not me, but instead I was a yellow version of you. You were the carrot being dangled in front of me, yet I never realized I had an appetite for carrots.

  • When I was like you, you respected me.
  • When we shared the same dreams, you encouraged me.
  • When we partied and got drunk together you shared stories with me
  • When I parked my car in your neighborhood, you envied me.
  • When I made lots of money you helped spend it with me.

Being in a position of power and privilege feels really great! Every luxury is at your disposal. People drool all over themselves when you offer them your scraps. Everyone wants to be like you. However, there is always a price to be paid for such privilege. For me, that price was indifference. At the time, running with the haves made me care little about the have nots. I started with nothing, to gain all that was mine — and now it’s mine so go out and live the American dream and become a have yourself, rather than trying to take away what I worked so hard to get.

Can you relate to my story? Whether you are privileged to have or unfortunate to not have, you understand this story well. Even if you’re crawling up the ladder of success and in transition on the way to having, you get the story. However, if I make the topic about race rather than money, do you still get it? Consider my perspective as a Japanese-American growing up in California and re-read those points above one more time. Don’t think about money, but think about race in American culture. Does something get lost in translation? It shouldn’t, but I know it will.

    It all comes down to three things: money, power, and privilege.

When one has power and privilege, money is not necessary. If someone had no money, but had beauty and celebrity, you would want to know them. You would want what they have. Money will come to them. When one has money and privilege, power comes their way quickly. Wherever money and power are together, you can obviously see where they automatically gain privilege.

Look at someone like Tiger Woods. At the time of this writing, he is amidst some scandal regarding infidelity. He has lots and lots of money. He dominates the golf world which gives him power. He gets in bed with women who are not his wife because this gives him privilege. Seriously, if Tiger Woods didn’t have money and power, would we be hearing of how he slept with 7+ mistresses and how they all kept it secret? No, he’d be just another black man judged for being a player in a world of player haters. His mistresses wouldn’t have kept the secret, because their chance for privilege or power would come from exposing him to the public.

The establishment has dictated the rules of the game. Either be born of privilege like us, or somehow gain money and power. Otherwise, we are forced to take our game somewhere else.

You know what, I played your game. In grace, I ran to your crumbs and hoped that my gesture would get your attention. That you would see me standing at your feet savoring your scraps and possibly invite me up to the table with you, even if it were just for one meal. In the end, you dropped your crumbs to the floor, made sure I came for the feast of scraps, then picked up your plate, locked me in the dining room and moved out of the house never to look back on me again. You, my friend, are someone of privilege who now has power. Yes, money is coming to you. Don’t you worry. When you play the establishment game you always win. You can’t help it. It’s in your genes.

I don’t want to play the establishment game any more, no matter who I offend. I’m not on that team anymore. I am not like you. It is not in my genes. My hard work should not be so you can take advantage of me and parade me around as I honor you by being like you. It’s time I realize who I am, not who you want me to be. Playing with you isn’t playing to win, it’s simply winning. The game is fixed, the deck is stacked, the bets have been recorded.

In reality, I have come to learn that it is the have nots that are really privileged and the haves that are living in the unfortunate. Because as have nots, they are living in the world of reality and know who they are, while the haves are living for the sake of how others see them. As people of the chance to be haves, some days when you look in the mirror you have no clue who you see.

Is Francis Chan…

… on his way to becoming the next Rob Bell? (Sorry, couldn’t resist tipping my hat to the last NG.AC post about Francis Chan. You know which one.)

Flannel, the folks behind the Nooma series (featuring Rob Bell) are launching another DVD series called We Are Church featuring Francis Chan. From their site (you can read the full post here, and watch a short clip of Francis talking about it):

…you might already know that Nooma was the beginning of a much bigger vision – a vision that encompassed working with many highly creative speakers to communicate the way of Jesus to the world.

Early last year, we committed to pursuing the larger vision and began a search for additional speakers to champion new projects.  The search process included wonderful conversations with ministry and seminary leaders, publishers, Christians bookstore executives, authors, pastors, and more that helped us identify well over 100 candidates… in the end, we felt God leading us to Francis Chan.

I have enjoyed the Nooma series with Rob Bell – the content, aesthetic, communication style and length (seriously, let’s keep our Bible study DVDs under 30 minutes!) have been a good fit for our church community.  I am looking forward to seeing what they do with Francis Chan, if they can capture the energy and passion of his live delivery.  Francis’ short film Stop & Think has a similar vibe (and clocks in at a very reasonable 15 minutes!) — a good sign for the future of this partnership with Flannel.  Stop and think for yourself below.

If this We Are Church series has a similar impact as the Nooma series, perhaps Francis Chan will become a household name in the way Rob Bell has. While I’m sure that’s not Francis’ goal — by all accounts, he is a genuinely humble follower of Jesus — I would love to see an Asian American find a platform like that to speak to both the church and our culture.

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?

A post-racial church for the next generation

Can a church become post-racial?” Efrem Smith tackles this question over at Theooze.TV:

The embedded video is a preview. Watch the full video at Theooze.TV, and see the discussion already going at the comment thread there.

Also see this response to this video was posted at the Storrs Community Church blog (the church is located in Storrs, Connecticut):

… My immediate response to seeing the question, “Can the church become post-racial?”, was one of frustration that we are bandying about the wrong word and at the wrong time, when every well-being statistic you can look at across the country shows extreme white privilege and a sizable racial/ethnic gap. This is not by chance. It shows up in almost every category. And its a direct result of slavery and our policy making and community building that favored Whites over anyone else. It’s most likely not intentional racism from anyone nowadays, but racial inequity nonetheless.

… The church is not separate from culture, but quite collusive historically. Hence, we see similar inequities within. We’re not talking about overt, Jim Crow racism (i.e., race relations), but rather the scaffolding in our communities, however unseen to some/many.

Is Francis Chan a sell-out?

Is Francis Chan a sell-out?

Let me backtrack to explain where this comes from.  I had the chance to attend the last day of the Orange Conference here in Atlanta.  The Catalyst people produce this conference geared for leaders of youth and children’s ministries.  Lots of NorthPoint people, lots of Southeast evangelical Christianity folk.

I arrived late to the morning session and slipped into the back of Gwinnett Arena, and the first thing I noticed is the sea of whiteness.  I’ve been to a good share of conferences:  Willow Creek, NPC, even a couple Emergent events, but this gathering of over 3000 people (my estimate) was easily 99% white.  When I had a chance to look at the conference guidebook, I saw that the ENTIRE planning staff is white.  (For a taste of what I saw, click here for the 2008 highlight video.  Chan makes a cameo in there.)

My problem isn’t with white people getting together like this; my problem is how oblivious people were to the monochromatic gathering.  And I base their ignorance on the language– both on stage in the general sessions and in breakouts.  The presenters do not hesitate to speak for the whole church, failing to acknowledge that they are really speaking for the white church in America.  This tendency to generalize their experiences betrays a lack of awareness that their skin color has shaped their faith.

Which brings us back to the opening question.  Francis Chan has been making rounds on the Christian conference circuit: Student Life, Catalyst, NPC, among others.  The underlying reason being he brings a touch of diversity (he even admits this in an interview).  The problem is he’s not yellow!  When we long for diversity it is to see GOD’s activity in a different context so that it might challenge our faith.  I’m not doubting the truth of Chan’s messages or teaching; just reading the synopsis of his new book sounds very convicting.  But none of his theology springs from his life as an Asian-American; I haven’t read the book, but I used Amazon’s search function and couldn’t find one occurrence of “Chinese” or “Asian.”

I don’t really think he’s a sell-out; I believe Chan is living faithfully to what GOD has called him to be.  But I do think Chan is being used by white evangelicals to alleviate their unwillingness to engage race and faith.  Chan is welcome at these conferences only because his message could come just as easily from a white male.

Sometimes a little diversity is worse than no diversity.

Addendum, June 6: I take back some of the incendiary language in this apology.  Does that mean I should delete what has already been written?  I really don’t know.  Anyway, please read both posts before commenting.

Eyes of the Beholder

Really enjoyed Eugene Cho’s post about slanted eyes. I’d been finding some videos on YouTube related to that very topic before the Spanish teams began all their affectionate displays for their quest in China. I wonder if they would have donned blackface if the Olympics had been in Kenya. Would that be considered affectionate as well?

Just so that we don’t take this too lightly, I just wanted to show you how profound this “affection” is..

And a trailer for a movie, “Never Perfect,” which I can’t post here, but is worthy of watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzV15eUEXcE

It’s crazy to see how much this physical characteristic that most Asians possess is so defining, and so hated by our own. How strange that through these almond-shaped eyes, we see our own eyes and deem them not beautiful. The very eyes that behold are to be corrected. You cannot mock us as much as we mock ourselves.

I thought also that it was strange that the Asian plastic surgeon said this eyelid surgery was akin to breast augmentation for White women. First off, this brings up a whole host of questions of where in the heck our ideals of beauty are coming from and why are women of all colors so enslaved by them. It was just the icing on the cake when she ends up having a White boyfriend who states that her eyes were beautiful before…wow. Who is her audience then?

And then of course, this surgeon wouldn’t want to threaten a mainstay of his income, would he? On top of that, he says that these women are not less Asian, which I suppose is true. But that’s a strange line of thinking isn’t it? How reductionist are we going to get? How much can we cut away and someone remain Asian?