Author: Jonathan Ng
Saying Bye to Aloha’s Whitewashing
Why Hollywood continues to think it’s a good idea to cast white people to play the role of Asians and Asian Americans is confounding. I mean, I’m glad that Emma Stone’s character in Aloha, Allison Ng, shares my last name. At least people will finally get a chance to learn how to pronounce it (if you’re wondering, Stone’s character apparently helps here: “It’s ring without the r”). But that withstanding, have we really progressed so little, Hollywood? Did the offensiveness of Charlie Chan not catch your ears decades before?
To his credit, Director Cameron Crowe has issued an apology to the litany of responses regarding his casting choice of Emma Stone to play the character, Allison Ng. I only wish he arrived at his cultural ah-ha moment earlier. It would have saved him the bad PR and several critical reviews of his movie.
Asian American history is nuanced yet powerfully compelling, sometimes subtle but always worth discovering and retelling. Our history gives voice to the experiences of immigration, identity and cultural adaptation and preservation. It includes the stories of global icons, like the Filipino boy who rose from abject poverty to success in the international boxing scene. It also resides in the lives of lesser-known individuals who live in our midst, like the Chinese-American grandmother I met last year who grew up in Tennessee and navigated her ambiguity during the largely black-white polemic of the Civil Rights Era (she also happens to have one of the thickest southern accents I’ve ever heard). The more recent emergence of hapa voices add to the diversity and richness of what constitutes Asian America, reminding us to safeguard ourselves from making others into “Others.” This brings me to why I am so disappointed at Aloha.
Cultural research cannot fix the screaming omission of a people. While I admire Crowe’s willingness to learn about Hawaiian culture and history and applaud him for partnering with Hawaiian communities, no amount of research can replace representation. Through its actors, a movie always take on a certain form, regardless of motivation. Iron Man would not be the same if comedian Jim Carrey played Tony Stark. He just doesn’t fit the part. Carrey could try to play the role against the backdrop of meticulous, director-driven research, but he would still not be the right fit for Iron Man’s comic book persona coming to the big screen. So also Emma Stone, a white actress, cannot convincingly play the part of Allison Ng, a hapa who is 1/4 Hawaiian, 1/4 Chinese and 1/2 Swedish. Form matters. And so do people.
Casting aside, some say Crowe has done a respectable job of representing aspects of Hawaii (caveat: I probably will never fully know since I have no plans to see the movie). I believe he falls woefully short. If representing Hawaii was what he was after, choosing a nearly all white cast did not position him well for achieving that goal. Instead, Crowe reinforced the practices of whitewashing in Hollywood that continue to ignore the multi-ethnic America we live in.
Save the $12 friends. We don’t just need better story-telling, we need better forms of story-telling. We need more accurate depictions of our experiences, our cultures and our peoples. And Disney if you’re wondering, we don’t want a white Mulan.
Why Worship is Connected to #blacklivesmatter
“This worship is so distracting.” Ironic and surprising, it never occurred to me that in the very act of worshipping God, the worst parts of my heart would be revealed. Judgmentalism. Ignorance. Even my own cooked up version cultural imperialism, complete with my Asian American preferences. And all this from someone leading in ministry and accustomed to multi-ethnicity and diversity.
Connecting the Dots: Worship and #blacklivesmatter
Throughout this year, the #blacklivesmatter movement has highlighted systemic issues of injustice while also raising urgent questions and concerns that we must address together. The loss of life has pained me, and the issues that have emerged have catapulted me on a journey of reconciliation. I have marched with activists and communities in Austin, prayed for God’s justice to renew our land and mourned with others over the senseless loss of life. All of these activities suggest that I stand together with my Black friends and for the cause of justice. But my move to LA revealed otherwise.
One recent Sunday, when I was visiting a church and worshipping in community, my focus subtly turned from God’s glory to my comfort. Seamlessly and without circumstance, this change was not even noticed at first. It was unmeasured, unquestioned and remarkably ordinary. Then, as quickly as that mental switch had occurred, I found myself entertaining thoughts both familiar and foreign to me: “This worship is so distracting.” “How come they can’t play some other songs?” “Maybe I should go somewhere else.”
Cloaked in the shadows of my heart, I soon came to realize that I did not appreciate certain expressions of worship. As someone committed to a biblical vision of diversity, this was both ironic and difficult for me to accept. I didn’t like seeing myself as someone perpetuating marginalization. Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter that I believed myself to be respectful and appreciative of other forms of worship. In that moment, all my convenient and self-realized niceties were exposed. And there beside them laid a seedbed for injustice, racism and disunity. How did I get here?
Worship: Disintegration or Prophetic Witness?
The tendency to make sense of the world pushes us to categorize differences. Chinese/Korean, Black/White, Vegetable/Fruit. Whether in worship or in life, it’s human, and it’s normal. (For some solid reading on this, check out Christena Cleveland’s book, Disunity in Christ.)
Categorizing, however, rarely stands alone. It latches onto other thought patterns, like meaning-making or jumping to unfair assumptions, and becomes a powerful source of disintegration. In worship, when I choose to disassociate from the unfamiliar and gravitate towards my “normal,” I am asserting that my style is better and more authentic. At this point, worship becomes self-centered. And anytime worship becomes self-centered, it reinforces corporate disintegration, not just through our (non) participation of praise but also between our lives and in the ways we view each other as less-than.
Our churches must not succumb to the disintegrating tyranny of self-centered worship. Instead, we must begin to see Sundays as an opportunity for us to participate in the familiar and unfamiliar patterns of worship.* Diverse worship is a source for transformation. It is an invitation to enjoy our differences and acknowledge the beauty, pain and redemption that are captured within our unique worship styles. Diverse worship is also an act of prophetic witness. It bears testimony to the day when #blacklivesmatter is no longer chanted, when microaggressions are no longer experienced and when systemic injustices are no longer in power. Diverse worship points to the day when God’s kingdom has come and Christ has renewed all things and all peoples.
But what about that distracting song?
“Still, that worship is distracting.” Granted, maybe that worship is genuinely distracting. Not every form of worship glorifies God (e.g. the golden calf was clearly not a good idea). But what if that distracting worship was actually a foretaste of God’s kingdom? What if it revealed that our cultural styles of worship were more than something to be consumed? What if that distracting worship served as a signpost for God’s very heart for “a multitude of people…from all tribes, tongues and nations”? (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). Worship is a litmus test for our actual values for multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation. As you invite His Spirit to search your heart, I hope you will discover, like I have, that there is much room to grow. The journey of racial reconciliation is always an ongoing, iterative process, and worship serves as a means to creatively pursue it in community.
The Fruits of Diverse Worship
Engaging in diverse worship transcends my preferences for church. It is a call to recognize my myopic entitlement, to die to my self-preservation and to glorify God through the different gifts of worship. It is a call to listen for the voice of God resonating out of every culture around me. It is a call to see beyond my world and into the world of others, where #blacklivesmatter. To engage in diverse worship is to answer the call for reconciliation and to see the other as infinitely valuable and worthy in Christ.
- InterVarsity Video, Diverse Worship Matters
- Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ
- Michael C. Hawn, Gather Into One
*While worship in its full sense involves a lifestyle, I am primarily writing to address worship in song.
Why I’m not a Fan of Mother’s Day
I am not a fan of Mother’s Day. At least not the way it is typically done. Don’t get me wrong – I love my mom and will be forever grateful for her. On Sunday, I will still call her and celebrate her. You should, too. But Mother’s Day is not high up on my list of favorite holidays for a couple of reasons:
- The Other: Aside from my distaste for its commercialized veneer (yes, I know I need to spend $ in some way, but how are you going to charge me an extra $24.99 on top of your regular delivery fee for a bouquet of flowers?!), I know that Mother’s Day can be difficult for many people who have lost mothers or experienced emptiness or abandonment. These realities, of course, do not mean that Mother’s Day needs to be scrapped. Instead, it must be reimagined. There are so many incredible mothers around the world and in our lives, and they should be thanked and joyfully celebrated. But we also need to recognize that this day can bring up memories of pain and suffering for others. I think of friends who have lost their mom or their grandma this year or grew up without a mother. How can we honor those who have experienced loss, barrenness and motherlessness, even as we express our heartfelt gratitude to our mothers? In many of our settings, it may not feel appropriate to take the time to acknowledge these other narratives on Mother’s Day. And yet it is absolutely needed if each of us is to fully participate in community. Our call and our example to engage in other-ing comes from no one else but our God, who radically “others” when he sends Christ into our world and pursues you and me. What might it look like to put on Christ during Mother’s Day? Giving voice to the other side of Mother’s Day honors the multi-faceted experiences of our humanity while also celebrating our moms.
- Crutch: On a personal note, I am also discovering that Mother’s Day has become somewhat of a crutch for me, an easy calendar item to leverage as a means to express my love and appreciation for my mom. I don’t know about you, but I can tend to rely on Mother’s Day as one of the few days throughout the year when I intentionally serve and love my mom. And that’s only scratching the surface of my heart issues. If I were to pry a little bit deeper, I would find that on certain years, even mailing a card to my mom has been a perfunctory exercise: go to the store, fight the crowds congregating at the card section, select something sentimental, and then write my heart out, ending with a classic line like: “I hope on this day and every day, you feel celebrated for being the wonderful mom you are.” Hallmark and mom, cry your hearts out…. We need to love and celebrate our moms more regularly.
Uncovering My Story: At the risk of potentially sounding like someone who is being too hard on himself, I’ll be straight-up and say that I know I am not always the greatest son.
Simply put, I have recognized two things:1) My mom is one of the most gracious women I know and 2) I am really great at taking advantage of her grace. There are countless stories of how I’ve seen both of these realities. Here’s a more recent experience: One of my mom’s only requests over the past several years is that I call her once a week to say hi. Regrettably, I don’t have a great track record with her. When I make 1 phone call to her in a month, I feel like I’ve accomplished something significant . 2 or 3 phone calls, and I feel like I’m verging on the miraculous….and I only hit this number with my wife reminding me. Yet despite my slow progress over the years, my mom has always continued to believe in the best of me. She’s given me space, continued to pray for me and my wife and displayed an undeserved kindness and understanding towards me. But I should be clear here – my mom is no pushover. She will still get in a playful verbal jab at me once in a while (“lei mm gai dut ngo!”/you forgot about me), in which case, my heart will momentarily crumble with shame, only to be redeemed again when we come back around to share a laugh over our now familiar exchanges.
My mom is a picture of God’s incredible grace. As an immigrant to the United States, she has sacrificed more than I will ever know to raise me and my brother. Leaving the familiarity of her home, her language and her culture, she chose to bless our family in the most extraordinary ways. On this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my mom! Thank you for embodying Christ to me.
I am also aware that many do not share the same types of feelings and memories I have described regarding their mom or their experiences. To those who have suffered loss associated with a mom or motherhood, my prayers go out to you. You are seen and acknowledged, and more than anything else, God meets you in the midst of your own experiences.
Missional Crisis #2: Psychological Distance
“Most of us have experience with setting goals we never reach.” –Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
It’s no secret that many Christians today recognize God’s missional call in their lives. Yet something always seems to change in us when we leave our community gatherings and churches. It’s curiously routine how we can move from our Sunday readings of “Go and make disciples” into our Monday rhythms of “Get coffee, buckle down and survive.”
Why does this happen?
After I read this great post on goals, I started to think about what keeps me from living into what I desire. Almost automatically, I could name things that I desired to accomplish and yet often found difficult to achieve because of the psychological distance* that existed between goal and reality:
- Goal: Running 2-3 times/week; Psychological Distance: My bed, french fries and planning not to plan.
- Goal: Reading every night; Psychological Distance: My bed, Facebook and Fantasy Basketball
Take a moment and think about your goals. You’ll probably find some gaps that exist in your life, too. And it’s true – there is much that you and I can do to decrease the psychological distance that exists between our goals and reality, to create environments where we can better live into our goals (thankfully, I’m eating less french fries and getting out of bed now).
But psychological distance doesn’t just affect my personal goals; it affects my discipleship with Christ. In relation to mission, it is the gap between my perceived value for mission and my actualized value for mission.
Psychological distance (PD) is what exists between our Sundays and our Mondays. PD prays about God’s mission and then fails to recognize how God is pursuing a friend experiencing turmoil or need. PD agrees with the sermon yet remains significantly silent in the workplace and with our peers. PD agrees with the Spirit of God in us but then practically lives into the spirit of this age – comfort, success, wealth.
So what’s the remedy? Jesus. Jesus is who we need (the Sunday school answer lives to see another day). In Scripture, we see that Christ’s mission doesn’t begin and end on Sunday. Jesus brings about redemption everyday. He crosses gender and cultural lines to talk with the Samaritan woman; he enters into the world of a tax collector (someone who was despised among the Jews) and shares fellowship with him; he heals a crippled man and forgives him his sins; he works out our salvation on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus ushers the kingdom of God into the lives of men and women everyday, and he invites you to participate, to join with his activity in you and around you.
As you sense Jesus moving his mission forward, what are some things you can do to: 1) decrease your psychological distance from mission and 2) increase your awareness of Christ? Here are a few thoughts to get you started!
Decreasing PD from mission:
- Pray for those who are in your life (family, friends, co-workers, peers).
- Discover proactive ways to love and serve another person in Christ. And then do it. Write it into your calendar, schedule it with your friend.
- Invite conversations about faith and God with others.
Increasing awareness of Christ:
- Create rhythms of prayer throughout your day to ask for God’s perspectives. A short prayer like this can help recenter your life to what Christ is doing in you and around you: “God, help me to know Christ. Help me to see what you are seeing, to go where you are going and when appropriate, to speak what you are saying.” As we look to Christ, the danger is that we can think that we are somehow supposed to emulate Jesus. We make Jesus into an exemplar after whom we model our lives, when the call to follow Jesus really begins with Christ in us, transforming us.
- Read Luke 10:1-10.
- Respond to God’s word by living it out in practical and contextualized ways.
Our life in Christ already resonates into Monday and the rest of the week because Christ himself has gone beyond Sunday. Let’s join him!
*Psychological distance is a phrase that comes from social psychology and the Construal Level Theory (CLT). I’ll leave it to my wife and other counselors/psychologists like her to provide a more robust definition than the one I’m providing, but roughly speaking, psychological distance describes the gaps that exist between our abstract thinking and our concrete realities.
Missional Crisis #1: Entitlement
Mission dies when entitlement lives. When Christians feel entitled to the best and the brightest, there is little room for God’s mission to grow and thrive in us.
How can we share the Gospel with more intentionality? How has the Spirit of God uniquely called you to embody a costly discipleship? When these questions are pursued wholeheartedly in Christ, they can turn your world upside-down. Over the recent years, there has been an upswing in the church’s focus on mission. Conferences have rallied around mission, books have been published on creating missional culture and small groups have re-imagined themselves as missional communities. It’s been encouraging to see a renewed focus on God’s call to our neighbors and the nations. But beneath the surface of all our missional talking points, I wonder – how many of us are actually living in life-on-life, real-time, Gospel-centered relationships? How many of us actually care?
One of the greatest dangers within the North American church is our sense of entitlement. Entitlement kills God’s mission from being fully embodied in your life. It robs you from faithful risk-taking. It renders you immobile. It staves off any real response to Jesus. Entitlement, or I-want-ism, shifts your focus from Jesus to self. And when that happens, the results – probably all too familiar to you and to me – are both devastating and sad. When Jesus ceases to be the Caller in our lives, we not only lose sight of mission but also worship, community and faith. Without Him, we begin to make futile attempts to reclaim calling and passion as we desperately cling on to our sense of entitlement to great messages, better worship sets and an ever-growing appetite for more knowledge, all of which can functionally leave us with little room for real discipleship. Instead of simply responding to Matthew 28:18-20, entitlement thrusts us into a cycle of consuming more “stuff” and makes us the center of the Gospel. Under the deceptive guise of preparation or growth, we’ll spend time on a missional study of the Great Commission, unpacking the nuances between sovereignty and free will. We’ll jump from church to church and ministry to ministry, taking in what we like but never really committing to the local body in worship, community and mission. We’ll go to this year’s mission conference and hear the same things we heard last year. We’ll look for the next great sermon or talk. We’ll even take the time to train others in what we’ve downloaded into the reservoirs of our minds yet have never actualized as tangible, experienced knowledge. All the while, Jesus’ call remains, beckoning us to abandon ourselves for the sake of joining-in with God’s kingdom coming. Will you GO?
The mission of God always goes forward because the mission belongs to the God of mission. But it will wither in our lives if we cater to entitlement and oversaturate ourselves with “Christianity’s best.” How many churches and ministries do you have to sift through for that perfect convergence of everything-you-wanted (but probably nothing-God-envisioned)? How many missional conferences do you need to attend until you’ll actually go? Missional gatherings are great; they’re meant to equip the saints. But equipping is always for the sake of something else.
What if we pursued something different? What would it look like for you to simply hear, know and respond to Jesus?
Know Christ, and surrender your sense of entitlement to live out His call.
Hebrews 13:12-13 (ESV)
12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
Photo Credit: Sharon Drummond
Identifying Blind Spots and the Asian American Letter to the Church
- I don’t like to be in the limelight. It’s not my natural inclination to engage in dicey conversations or involve myself in conflicts. Yet if I’ve learned anything over my short 28 years of life, it’s that there are some things where you just need to step in. Not doing so would only perpetuate further misunderstanding, brokenness and disunity with all parties involved.
- I cannot begin to express my admiration of Kathy Khang and Helen Lee, the two women who originally organized the open letter (Kathy is both a friend and a colleague). I am thankful for their leadership and their willingness to raise awareness for the sake of the church’s unity. It’s been encouraging to see what God is already doing. However, I also recognize that for some, certain parts of the letter have been difficult. More on this below.
Why this post?
It’s been a little over a week since this open letter went out. Before I keep going, let me put this out there: it is not the perfect letter, and it never will be. Connotations, tone, authorial intent and personal interpretation are a part of language, and these ensure that there will always be a level of subjectivity when it comes to writing and reading.
As a staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who serves Asian Americans, I added my signature early on. Since signing, I’ve wondered whether writing anything would be worthwhile. As I’ve followed many of the thoughts and questions that have proliferated since the letter’s release, it’s been apparent that there is no lack of public and personal opinion. My hope is not to add more stories or share about my own experiences as an Asian American to somehow either bolster the points the letter raises or argue against them. Instead, I write because this is an opportunity for us, the people of God, to grow together in Christ as one body with many different parts.
I didn’t sign up to bash Rick Warren. And it’s not even really about him:
I’ll be short and sweet here. This isn’t about Rick Warren. This is about a call for reconciliation and greater cultural sensitivity. Yes, Rick Warren slipped up with the image he posted. WIthout a doubt, his apology left some wanting. But he did own up to what he calls “my insensitivity.” Let’s not miss that in the midst of deconstructing the inner meanings of if-ology (which I admit has its very valid points; my wife seems to agree wholeheartedly). Are there places where I think more dialogue and reconciliation can happen between him and others who have emailed him personally? Yes. Can we all extend grace more abundantly to each other? Yes. Does it start and end with Rick Warren? No. His now deleted facebook posts represents a need for growth, but it’s not an isolated incident by itself. As the letter cites, there have been independent incidents that have happened in the recent past that signify a need for respectful dialogue in the Church – both locally and nationally, privately and publicly. As the Church, we are not culturally well-versed, and we cannot ignore this reality. To overlook cultural insensitivity is to refuse the invitation to respect and honor one another as one body united in Christ.
I signed up for reconciliation, dialogue and grace.
On the other side of conflict is the peace of God. The Gospel calls for peace, and that is why I’m in this mix. Christ calls each of us to live in grace with each other, even as we navigate something that can turn messy (and in some ways, already has) before it gets better. But real peace and unity are where Christ is leading us. So, while the letter’s language may not perfectly express my sentiments in every way, I do believe that it accurately conveys a need for the American Evangelical Church, of which Asian Americans are a part, to reconcile as we dialogue and grow together.
I’ve been thankful for conversations that I’ve been having recently. They’ve been revelatory, challenging and grace-filled. One of those conversations occurred last night when I spoke with Kevan after reading his thoughtful post. It was a very honest and reconciling conversation, and in the end, it was encouraging to know that we both desired to see reconciliation happen.
The open letter is a call for reconciliation on all sides, and that includes those who may disagree with the form, content or tone of the letter. It is a call to forgive and reconcile. It is a call to identify blind spots. Rather than perpetuating the same cultural miscues and mistakes, we must learn how to appreciate, respect and celebrate the different ways God has created each of us. Throughout this process, people on all sides, Asian Americans included, will need to listen and learn with humility and grace.
Cultural blind spots abound in all of us. Let’s help each other identify and shed them. Here are a few that have popped up in my interactions:
Blind Spot #1: Cultural Insensitivity and Us vs. Them
Ironically, this was one of my own blind spots, and I didn’t recognize it until I started talking with others.
“Lastly, in many of these occurrences of cultural insensitivity, we have seen a tendency amongst white Christians to point out that they know Asian Americans who weren’t at all offended by what they did. So, the argument goes, this must mean that any Asian American who is upset is being overly sensitive.” (Open Letter)
In Christ, we are all united as one. As a signatory, I personally own that these few sentences could have been framed in a more culturally sensitive way to our white brothers and sisters. While I cannot speak for anyone else, I can see why some have been pushed away because of these words (which accurately describe the reactions of some white Christians – and other ethnicities, I might add – but certainly not all). I apologize, especially to my white brothers and sisters, for how this, even in context, was a generalized statement that unfairly lumped white American Christians together. Many of you have embraced multi-ethnicity and even stood with us. I ask for your forgiveness and your grace as the Asian American communities navigate how to talk about our experiences in constructive, gracious and Christ-centered ways. I know that the letter’s intention is to welcome dialogue and reconciliation as we raise awareness about things that need to change. As the letter clearly demonstrates, there is real hurt and pain; the cultural insensitivity in the Church and in the world cannot and should not continue. So if you haven’t already, I ask for you to join us in solidarity. Doing so acknowledges that we collectively need to learn to respect each other more on every side. As we navigate current and future conversations, let’s pray for greater cultural sensitivity and grow in mutual respect for each other in Christ.
Blind Spot #2: References to the Civil Rights Movement and MLK
Our narrative is different from the Civil Rights.
It’s fine for us to refer to certain aspects of history. I don’t have any problem with that. But one thing needs to made abundantly clear. Now and then are not the same. We are not talking about civil rights, hate crimes and the ugliness of calculated actions against Asian American communities. Our levels of experience are not the same as African Americans during that era, and we would do well to acknowledge this. As of now, I haven’t really seen anything overt in terms of a direct analogy, but as we continue talking, let’s make an effort to be wise and clear in our communication. MLK fought against intentional offenses and systemic establishments of inequality. Many of the initial miscues Asian Americans have experienced represent unintentional offenses and systemic blind spots. That means that people either didn’t know or weren’t culturally aware. Of course, this does not make everything okay, which is part of the reason for the letter. But the call for grace (and wisdom) remains.
What we do need to tackle are the subsequent responses (or lack thereof). These are very intentional, and they have been mixed between sincerity and dismissiveness, solidarity and insensitivity. (See Blind Spot #4)
Blind Spot #3: Private vs. Public
I recognize that there is a temptation here to dig our heels into the place that feels most comfortable and confine our “dialogue” to only the blogosphere, the private conversations or the public forms. But we cannot afford to relegate our conversations to only one space. The cultural insensitivities have happened on all levels, and like it or not, they are being talked about in public and private spaces. As a united Church, let’s press in together to grow in personal and corporate reconciliation. If you’ve only had conversation in one particular space, I would encourage you to go beyond it, and invite others to do so, too.
Dialogue on these levels are often not one-time, quick fix conversations. Inevitably, in the coming weeks and months, it can appear as if parts of the Church are bashing one another or living without forgiveness. For some, that may actually be true, and if that’s you, don’t settle in a no man’s land of bitterness. Rather, let’s value others above ourselves in Christ (Philippians 2). Let’s forgive freely and live full of grace. Let’s believe that we are for each other in Christ. And let’s remember: growth will take time, patience and effort from all who are involved.
Blind Spot #4: Forgiveness and Reconciliation are Different
Let’s not confuse these two things.
Forgiveness is a gift we offer freely to others in Christ. We do so because Christ has freely forgiven us and calls us to do likewise (The Lord’s Prayer). It does not mean that we overlook the offense, or somehow downplay our hurt. Instead, forgiveness looks at the offense and chooses to love and accept the person unconditionally in Christ. When we choose to forgive, something beautiful happens. We not only free the one who offended us from our anger and desire to enact justice ourselves, but we also free ourselves from bitterness, self-righteousness and pride. We free ourselves from self-destruction. Or rather, Christ frees us. Regardless of any apology, forgiveness is God’s call for us. Sometimes, we may not be ready to forgive. More conversations may be needed before forgiveness happens. That’s okay. Yet, in the same breath, needing time and space does not change the fact that we are all called to forgive each other in Christ (Matthew 18).
Reconciliation is not forgiveness. Reconciliation includes forgiveness, but it’s not the same thing. Reconciliation is the process through which two or more individuals/communities progress towards renewed relationship, trust and understanding of each other. Reconciliation does not happen overnight, and often times, it can take months, even years for it to be fully realized. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the places where I pray we are going. May we, the Church, be people who have freely forgiven because of God’s forgiveness, but also people who are making every effort to pursue real peace and reconciliation through ongoing dialogue. As the people of God, we need to learn from each other. We need to listen. It’s a slow journey, but it’s always a worthwhile one.
As a brother in Christ, I’ve forgiven those who have been culturally insensitive. And just to err on the side of clarity, I was never angry or bitter towards anyone. As I’ve reflected on what’s happened in the recent past, I do not believe the videos, the facebook post and the Deadly Viper book were ill-intentioned. They were products of insensitivity or low cultural awareness. I understand that some of us cannot accept the apologies offered at this point, and ultimately that is your decision. But apology accepted or not, we are still called to forgive, just as Christ has forgiven us. We also need to raise awareness and graciously share our stories so that we can be understood – even as we come to understand others. Otherwise, nothing changes.
Forgiveness is not the final chapter; it points to reconciliation. So now, as the Church continues to dialogue, the process of reconciliation can begin. And it is happening! Our American Evangelical Church is growing in Christ because of how this letter is raising awareness and inviting dialogue. Together with the writers of the letter, I am hopeful. We can debate the forum and public nature of the letter, but the truth is we are seeing Christ renew his Church. Even if you may disagree with the method of the open letter, please don’t miss what Christ is doing in all of our communities.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. Would love to talk and grow together with you more!
A Journey in Missions, Pt. 2
Circa early 2000’s:
“Have you ever considered ministry?”
Excuse me, what? Of course I have. A few years back, the parking lot, sun blazing. It was really hot. No thanks.
Throwing the last pieces of drum equipment into their respective bags, I searched for the best way to respond. I mean, I didn’t want to offend the guest speaker for our winter retreat. Awkwardly, I looked up for a second. I guess it’s kind of an honor to be asked. But in my own teenage world of friends, fitting in, getting grades, running and eating uncontrollably because my metabolism was like rocket fuel, ministry was the furthest thing from my mind. So in my best attempt to be respectful while also seeming semi-interested, I muttered to him, “No, not really….why are you asking?” Great strategy, put it back on him. As I was busy congratulating myself on a well-played hand, he said a few things. After a few moments, he finished up. Right on cue, I said thanks and walked off, wondering why this guy, who I just met a few days ago, would ask such a substantial life question. I bet he probably said something that would’ve been helpful when I asked why. Maybe I should have paid attention. But I mean, I’ve got my whole life in front of me. I haven’t even graduated from high school yet, and I’m just trying to enjoy my winter break. So I side-stepped his question and trudged through the snowless fields of that Texas retreat center, the ground’s dead grass crunching in cadence with my really cool Nikes. Time to get on the bus and head back to Dallas.
In the following weeks, though, I couldn’t shake off the question. It was like those words had made landfall on my imagination and were now moving further into my comfortably constructed life (Well, really it was more my parents who had constructed it. I was just basking in it.) Then, the second wave came crashing in. Prayer times were littered with snapshot visions of ministry and what could be. Uninitiated conversations about calling kept happening with people I respected. It almost seemed like my youth pastor and the leaders were all colluding together to execute some sort of masterful, step-by-step plan to ask me the ministry question each time I saw them (I got so paranoid that I even asked one of them if they were somehow in concert with each other. They weren’t). And finally, the kicker. During that time, I wrestled with a lot of different parts of Scripture. Chief among them were John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” and Mark 8:34 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
At some point during those two months, I slowly began to learn how to surrender to Christ and deny myself. Jesus was showing himself to be far better than anyone or anything in my life. I wouldn’t say that I was saying “yes” to ministry or “no” to ministry. Looking back now, I don’t think I even knew what ministry really was (that’s another post altogether). I was simply learning how to follow Jesus, the Faithful One who was and is my life, my strength and my eternal hope. In this satisfying surrender, I started to meet with the God of mission, this Hound of Heaven, who pursues me in Christ and reveals His heart to me.
It’s surprising how a few words, strung along together into a question, can so radically affect us. God’s words are different for each one of us. No matter who you are, what you do or where you are, God is present and speaking to you. As you meet with Him, what are God’s words for you? Where might his voice lead you? What is his call for you today? Don’t just listen. Respond. Only then will you know Him as the One who says, “Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home. Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat-and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet-
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
Now of that long pursuit,
Comes at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy Earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me.
Strange, piteous, futile thing;
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting;
How hast thou merited –
Of all Man’s clotted clay, the dingiest clot?
Alack! Thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee, I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms,
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home –
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
– Excerpts from “Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson
Photo Credit: “Hound of the Baskervilles” by Bialy
A Journey in Missions, Pt. 1
I grew up in a Chinese church in Dallas that supported missionaries. Every year, we would have a missions conference, and families serving in China or India or some other seemingly remote place in the world would come to share about what God was doing overseas. One Sunday, when I was still in middle school, a missionary came and shared his testimony with the church. I’m sure everything he said was great, but my mind was somewhere else. All I could think about were the difficulties this guy and his family had to endure. No nice bathrooms, no $2.99 Cici’s pizza, no air-conditioning… and their kids probably didn’t have recess… (clearly, my middle school sensibilities about difficulty were very far-ranging and insightful). After the service ended, I distinctly remember walking out to the back parking lot of my church. The sun was blazing that day, slowly baking all of those Toyota mini-vans, Honda Civics and occasional BMWs that were nestled next to each other in neatly organized rows. Beads of sweat started to form near my forehead. It felt like the temperature was already climbing close to 100 degrees again. Wiping those first droplets off with my hand, I started to make my way back inside. Need air-conditioning, now.
But for a moment before I entered the church again, a thought registered in my mind. Why would anyone ever go on missions?
Lost in my thoughts, I swung open the door. Suddenly, a gust of cold air rushed past me. I walked in, doing my middle school version of cost-benefit analysis. Not a lot of money. No cool toys. And I think the guy mentioned needing to raise money. So lots of costs, but what were the benefits? I couldn’t think of any that day. So as I rounded the corner and saw a few of my friends, I said to myself, “I’m never going to be in ministry.”
Photo Cred: Eddy Van 3000
“One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.”
As the start of a new year student ministry begins, I’m reminded of how it’s so easy for me to approach ministry and life dualistically, as if the two were somehow disassociated from each other. Ministry can suddenly become so external to my life with Christ. I can serve, meet new students, invite people to respond to Christ and lead teams – and never once experience how Christ is meeting me and my community. But when I retreat or step back from ministry, then I can experience Jesus. Then, I can take out my cup o’ joe, journal a little bit and interact with Jesus in my constructed and self-determined space. And yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s air-conditioned and well-lit, with some soft background music.
Oh how much I yearn to meet with you more, Jesus. Would you break down these boundaries and usher me to behold and know your Presence, the very Presence who dwells inside of this body, this temple.