More Than Serving Tea


#Ferguson is More Than a Hashtag

I’ve been silent in this space because I do not yet have the words. The death of Michael Brown is still rattling in my heart in part because he was days away from college. My daughter is days away from college. She does not face the same daily threats to her humanity as young black men. We all live in a broken world. I get tired knowing it often seems more broken for some than others. And honestly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around dropping off my baby in a dorm and not seeing her at home until Christmas…and knowing Michael Brown’s mother and I shared some basic hopes and dreams for our babies.

But some of my colleagues have found the words, and I wanted to use this space for others I minister with through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have found the words that are still forming and fighting in my heart. I’m watching the news, following Twitter, and staying as informed as I can. I am trying to stay open, teachable, hopeful. Please come read with me, share with me words you are reading and struggling with. This isn’t about a hashtag.

“’When does something become true?’ When a black person says it, or when I white person says it or sees it?”

“Within 7 minutes of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I could go on facebook, google, twitter, cnn.com, and have all kinds of information available at my finger tips. Police statements and interviews releasing the name of the person responsible, what he was wearing, what weapon he fired, how many bullets were released. That was within 7 minutes. Within 7 days (10,080 minutes) of the death of Michael Brown, the only information available is the name of the police officer who fired the shot (and mind you, this was not released until 5 or 6 days later) and irrelevant video footage from an entirely separate incident involving stolen cigars and a frightened store clerk. This is a problem because information is power. And while the American public might not be entitled to full or even partial disclosure, I have to believe that the mother who lost her son deserves to have access to the information that will give her a picture of the final 20 minutes of her son’s life.”

Three Ways To Engage with Ferguson

“So to my non-black Christian brothers and sisters – maybe the point of honest confession and repentance is where we need to start. What’s the point of pretending to be better than we are. We are far more broken, yet far more loved by the God of Justice, than we know.”

“I got a text today from a White friend looking to understand more about the anger expressed as a result of the killing ofMichael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After getting into a pretty lengthy text response, I decided to reply via Facebook messenger so I could type the rest on my laptop. Halfway through that, I decided to share my response to him on my blog.”

As a white man, this begins with accepting one statement: “This is not right.”

“So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.”

“Confession: I am terrified of all conversations surrounding race and culture.”

“Prayer seems not enough. The problems are too big. In this tension, we become discouraged and wind up neither praying nor acting. Maybe we’ll “like” a Facebook post or retweet a compelling tweet. But without prayer or action, these well-intentioned yet vapid shows of support are meaningless.”

 

What posts have moved you? Challenged you? Made you angry? Made you cry? Made you reconsider your opinion or your actions?


Five Things This Parent Wishes Teachers Knew

Dear Teachers:

1. I actually love school supplies – fun pens, crisp paper, color-coordinated file folders with labels printed out on my label maker. (Bird!) However, I hate buying or trying to find those school supplies on the school-provided list. You know, the composition notebook of which my child will only use 10 pages during the entire school year. The three three-subject notebooks with plastic cover and non-perforated pages of which my child will never use all the pages. Or the specific brand of watercolors that are not found anywhere near this side of Middle Earth.

2. You may think the extra credit for bringing in extra boxes of facial tissue or extra disinfectant wipes is a great way to restock your classroom supply, but I would rather you offer extra credit for actual academic work. Make a request for the supplies or wait for that first wave of strep throat cases and then make the request. Timing is everything.

3. By middle school I would really appreciate not having to buy anymore markers or colored pencils. In fact, teachers who tell my children that their pencil case filled to the seams with a hodgepodge of colored pencils from years past will not do go on my naughty list. The same goes for teachers who tell my children that they need to bring a NEW notebook to replace the 70-page notebook they used last year (and by used I mean the first five pages of the notebook). The same goes for any recycled/pre-used school supplies I send with my kids. They should get bonus points for reusing!

3.5. I have a teacher naughty list. Read on because I have a nice list, too.

4. If my child speaks of you with respect, admiration and teacher-crush tendencies I will send homemade granola or the occasional baked treat because my kids desperately need teachers who “speak” to their minds, hearts, and character.

5. Every year I pray for you because during the week there are many days you see my children longer than I will. Teachers and administrators like Ms. Johnson, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Umlauf, Mr. Studt, Mr. Ciskie, Mr. Lyons, and Mr. Benenfeld made an impact on me and my family, shaping me in profound ways. For a kid who was put into ESL in kindergarten, was bullied and teased all through elementary and high school, and couldn’t wait to get the heck out of town and never see some of her classmates ever again, it’s a hoot to be an author, paid public speaker, and minister. I pray for you teachers because any one of you  might be the teacher my children and I will talk about when my children send my grandchildren to school.

Thank you.

 


Three Weeks and Counting

I have been fighting a bout of insomnia by avoiding reflection. It rarely works, which is why last night I just sat there in silence with God to figure it out.

It’s deadlines.

I missed an end-of-July deadline for a devotional series (Romal, it’s getting done. I SWEAR!) I barely made the deadline for another blog (apologies to my family since we technically were on vacation). I had a moment of panic as the posting schedule for another site went up. Did I forget that deadline, too? No, I did not. I just completely forgot what I wrote about. I’m fairly certain I missed the deadline for my annual ministry plan.

I don’t work better under pressure. I just work. Knowing there is a set “end” puts the idea of a goal into focus, but sitting in that 2 a.m. silence it was deeper than those deadlines I heard God trying to get through my fearful heart. Summer ends soon, and so with some denial and regret I looked at the calendar on our fridge.

Two weeks from today my sons return to school as a high school sophomore and a seventh grader, both having adding inches to their height and a summer of video games to their enrichment. I hear my older son’s voice, and I don’t recognize it. I catch their reflections in a mirror, and I have to look harder to see their baby faces. But they will still wake up in their beds and leave those beds every morning unmade. They are still home.

Three weeks from today we will drop off my daughter at her freshman dorm and then drive away holding back tears and snot. I am going to guess that four weeks from today I will have met that missed July deadline, turned in a ministry plan, washed my daughter’s sheets, and closed the door to her room.

It’s so true. The days are long but the years are short. All those times I wanted to tell older women to stop telling me to appreciate the school years? I’M SORRY! YOU WERE RIGHT! I WAS WRONG! I DIDN’T KNOW! I WAS SO TIRED AND CRANKY! I can still physically recall the exhaustion, anxiety, stress, and numbness of those infant-baby-toddler-preschool, breastfeeding, diaper changing, sleep training, nap dropping, potty training years. The ridiculous stress, anxiety, and #firstworldprivilegedparentingprobs of standardized tests, class placement, team sports, friendship drama, GPAs, and socialization remain as we add on a new frontier of young adulthood and college student parenting. The conversations about drinking, drugs, sex, faith, relationships, and overall decision-making shift into a new space for our daughter and for us as parents, for me as her mother. The physicality of parenting – the late-night feedings, the diapers, the baths – shifted dramatically as they became more independent, and I regained healthier sleep habits until she started driving and then driving without the restrictions of a newly licensed driver because I was waiting up for her to come home.

Three weeks. Three weeks and then we will be the ones driving away to go home.

I know this is what I am supposed to do. I am so excited for her and proud of her. I know in my heart this is what it looks like to trust God, and that is what I’ll be counting on when we drive away and head straight for some restaurant in Manhattan for food, tears, a toast, and a prayer. I know that this is gift for her and for us, a continuation of the privilege of being a parent. I know she will miss us even if she doesn’t call, text or Snapchat within the first 24-72 hours of our departure. I know she will have moments of buyers’ remorse, and I will wish we had demanded she go to school closer. I know this isn’t the privilege of most young 18-year-old women and 43-year-old moms. I know that letting her go has been the point of all of this.

But where in the world did all that freaking time go?

Three weeks. I just never thought it would come so soon.

#flymysweet

 


Of Skin Whiteners & Spam

These are two of my favorite things.

These are two of my favorite things.

I just bought several cans of low-sodium Spam, and last week I used a paper facial mask for skin brightening/whitening.

Yes. I eat gelatinous meat by-products and I want to be white. Not really. Not at all.

I don’t want to be white, though there was a time when I did. I’m just vain and human. I am heading into my mid-40s, getting ready to launch my firstborn, wondering where all that time I thought I had went, and wondering when all those freckles and sun spots appeared. When the melancholy settles into that sweet spot next to gratitude and hope, I like to sit down for some self-care – some nail polish and a facial mask – or with some comfort food – a bowl of rice, a piece of fried Spam, and some kimchee. Sometimes I will indulge in both in the same night.

The funny thing is that both skin whitening and Spam have similar complex roots in human nature, culture, and politics.

Vanity isn’t unique to Korea (my motherland), despite what we could infer from stories about a Korean golfer playing for Japan because she didn’t fit the beauty standards of her homeland or beauty ads asking women “Do you want to be white?”. I just think it’s easier for us Americans to look outside when it’s convenient. It’s called deflection. It’s easier to point out extreme examples in other countries and cultures than it is to look at our own culture’s jacked up standards of beauty and femininity because, face it, looking in the mirror metaphorically can be as frightening as it is to do it the morning after a rice and Spam bender.

Skin whitening exist here in America, but it is more often promoted as skin brightening – eliminating the freckles, sun spots, sun damage, and imperfections that actually come with being alive and aging. The whitening language is connected to class as well as race. I remember being told during my visits to Korea to carry an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun from damaging my skin; darker, tanned skin was associated with the lower-class farmers or outdoor shop owners. I suspect the stigma of darker skin only increased as Western culture influenced Korea. Oh the irony to be Korean & American where just 50 years ago the U.S. government passed and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the decades since then tanning beds, tanning lotions, and straight up “tanning” is part of looking healthy (by the way shades of orange does not equal tan nor does  it look healthy. It looks orange.). Think about it. We needed laws to protect and give full rights to women and people of color while white people want to be “tan”. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

American culture, in some ways, creates a level of dissonance as it could be construed as a collection of cultural appropriation with a dose of good old-fashioned creativity and varying degrees of separation and offense to the originating cultures. What isn’t American about celebrating our country’s birthday with fireworks?  Fusion kimchee taco trucks? Churches hosting Harvest Day celebrations? Communion wafers or chunks of white bread with grape juice?

It isn’t always clear to me what is the “right way” and how that is different than the “Christian way” or the “American way” of doing, being, eating, etc. In my experience, Spam was American (which meant “white” in my home) food tweaked to fit our family’s Korean sensibilities, served with rice and kimchee, rolled into kimbap, or thrown into kimchee stew. For goodness sakes you can buy it at chain grocery stores in the canned food aisle near canned stew and those little sausages NOT the “ethnic” food aisle! It slowly dawned on me in adulthood that Spam was American but not necessarily eaten by white Americans.

Spam arrived in my motherland through the Korean War and the U.S. military. Pre-cooked in a compact container, Spam was a fairly economical source of protein during wartime scarcity. My father has regaled us with stories about Spam, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and other wartime black market items. He probably thinks it’s funny his daughter still eats Spam but has gotten snotty about her chocolate. The kids can have s’mores with Hershey’s while I whip out the good stuff for mine. But my kids have had Spam musubi, and there is no shame. The blue can that releases its contents with a “splat” is iconic American though many of my white American friends have never had it because it wan’t necessarily good enough for home consumption but good enough to import elsewhere. Fine. I’ll take it. I am told that the Spam now produced in Korea uses higher quality ingredients and tastes differently but is just as prized as it once was. Tradition and nostalgia tied with grief, loss, scarcity, and displacement is a powerful force.

So how can I, as an Asian American woman wanting to dismantle and deconstruct the racial ties that try to define me use a skin whitening product? Because sometimes, I live into my privilege of not examining everything I touch, wear, eat, use, etc. to see whether or not the producers of everything around me were paid a fair wage, did not harm animals, did not contribute to an unjust war I did not agree with based on my religious beliefs. Sometimes I like a good bargain and the facial masks were buy four-get two free so I grabbed one of each kind. Sometimes I don’t want to fight every fight because there are so many things to be against and not enough time to be for something. Sometimes I just want to take care of myself with a facial mask and some comfort food and it not be a political or racial statement but rather a way of loving my family because a relaxed, centered, well-fed mommy and wife makes for a happy life.

Sometimes it’s more complicated and complex.

 


Camping and Crossing Cultures

I’m heading out Thursday to speak and learn at The Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC.

I’m not sure what I’m getting into.

I’ve been told by past attendees that I am in for a great experience – community, learning, sharing, faith, and so much more. I have no reason to not believe them, but let’s be honest. When I first heard about “the Goose” two years ago, I imagined a bunch of white faith-y, hipster-ish, slightly granola folks camping and enjoying it. For those of you who know me, you see where I’m headed with this. For those of you who are still getting to know me, I’ve been known to take my mani/pedi supplies with me to the Upper Peninsula when traveling there for student leadership training, and I once drove to Madison for staff training with my paraffin wax bath to treat some friends to a little pampering.  I was a Girl Scout up until junior high school, and I did go camping as recently as 1995. I sent my kids “camping” as in bible camp. And for some unknown reason we have a camping mess kit, which also in on my packing list for the Goose.

So is a headlamp (shout out goes to Sabrina who introduced me to the headlamp and has been known to be my twin).

Now, I do want to clear the air here. I am a suburbanite with a conscience. I make my own granola and pancake mix because it tastes better. I love resale shops, garage sales, and my church rummage sale. I repainted furniture and frames before there was Pinterest. I have a veggie/herb garden, and I don’t plant annuals. We have three rain barrels and two compost bins cooking up earthy perfection. We recycle like nobody’s business with more recycling than actual garbage that we cut back our garbage pick-ups. My parents taught me about reuse/recycle/repurpose before it was a thing. She used cloth diapers before there were pick-up services and before she owned her own washer and dryer. My dad could store just about anything in a Hills Bros. coffee can so he did. We used every page of every spiral notebook, and showers were taken military style. My mother gardened or foraged in the forest preserves because we couldn’t find certain vegetables and herbs in the “American” grocery stores and those were the days before HMart. And they still find paper towels extremely wasteful.

So I’m not completely outside of some creation care practices and homesteading because that actually comes natural to me from a different vantage point. It wasn’t a choice of luxury/stewardship but of survival. But there is something I don’t exactly know how to describe that makes the idea of being out in a more rural part of the country uncomfortable for me. Deeply unsettling and uncomfortable.

My parents wanted me and my sister to see and experience as much of America as we could on a budget so we drove. “We” meaning mostly my father, hopped up on caffeine (instant coffee made in the car with water we carried in jugs and thermoses). One summer we drove from Chicago all the way to Vancouver, Canada and back. Everyone in the car made it back alive. Through the years we saw Pikes Peak, Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Grand Tetons, the Smoky Mountains, Acadia National Park, Wall Drug and Disney World. They exposed me to more of America than all my history classes combined. And they were right when they drilled into my head that one day I would look back and appreciate those trips because I do, which is why we road trip with our three kids as well. We, too, are creating gilded memories, my dear readers, one mile at a time.

But another thing I remember, which is probably why the Goose is making me feel a bit uneasy, is that along every stop our family would get stared at. Not looked at. Not a glance. Not a friendly “oh, you’re a tourist let me help you” look. People of all ages would stare at us like we were monkeys at their circus. It didn’t matter where – in restaurants, gas stations, national parks, the motel pool, or the local grocery store. It happened much less on our trips to Niagara Falls (Canadian side) and New York City, but outside of those two trips I remember the looks we got.

My sister recalls the two of us roaming the aisles of a grocery store on one of our family road trips when I caught someone staring at us. Apparently, I looked over and said “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.” I do not recall this specific incident, but it sounds like something I would do. And while I know in my heart the Goose isn’t going to be a repeat of that, there is also a part of me that isn’t exactly sure or convinced it won’t happen.

So why did I agree to go? Because some of us need to keep building those bridges and crossing cultures even if it means packing a mess kit, your own linens, staying at a hostel, reconsidering footwear, and bringing a headlamp. Sometimes living out the Gospel and truly living into my identity as a Christian means being the object of a stranger’s stare, being asked “No, where do you really come from?” or simply going to a campground. I am also going because I want to challenge the many sisters and brothers of all shades who find that environment and culture home to consider what bridges they ought to consider building or cultures they ought to cross and what “traditions” are actually uninviting, unwelcoming to those of us who are too often reminded we don’t belong unless we conform or assimilate. I am going to see how open-hearted I can be and how open-hearted others are as well.

I’m just not sure what I’m getting into.

 


Dancing on Both Edges

I completely agree with #TakeDownThatPost and the request to remove an offensive and poorly written piece on leadership lessons from the perspective of an incarcerated  former youth pastor, aka a convicted sexual predator, recently published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. The anonymous author was given a broad, respected platform from which he compares his situation to that of King David. He refers to a “friendship”, spends several paragraphs throughout the piece explaining how his ministry continued to flourish, and describes himself as a youth pastor in his 30s who “began a physical relationship” with a student.

Interesting. I thought that was technically called statutory rape.

I suppose there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a pastor who has sinned in the technical, legal sort of way. But it isn’t a new story. It’s just that by and large evangelicals have let the Roman Catholic Church take the brunt of this one with the occasional pastor tripping into sin, falling into sin, failing morally, etc. IMHO the better story would be one of seeking forgiveness, restoration, and healing…from the victim and her family’s point of view. At the very least, the anonymous author’s piece – his tone, his choice of language, the piece’s structure, etc. – should have been vetted a bit more.

Seriously, how does a convicted sex offender – a man who raped a girl – get to publish a piece on leadership when Christianity Today (the parent title/company of Leadership Journal) ought to have been spending more time diversifying its bylined contributor pool, editorial advisory board, and editorial board?

Do I sound like I’m on the edge? I am. I am beyond disbelief when Christian publishers, convention organizers, church leaders say they don’t know where to find qualified writers, speakers, and trainers WHO AREN’T WHITE and a convicted sex offender gets to write about leadership after spending what reads like less than two years in jail with a possible 2015 release date.

 

Which leads me to the other edge I am dancing on, which is to call out those who are tweeting and manning #TakeDownThatPost social media fronts to take a look on over at CT’s Facebook page post on reparations. Where is our collective outrage and response to “our own” who are telling our black brothers and sisters to “get over” slavery? It’s one thing to rage against “The Man” and try to get a faceless entity like Leadership Journal to take down a post on something so “post-racial” as statutory rape, but apparently it is another thing to get in another commenter’s business and say, “That was racist.” But too often there is a smaller group of us dancing on both those edges because we have never lived in a post-racial America nor in a post-racial Church. My acceptance into broader American culture and Church culture has depended on my ability to play along and assimilate. However, I have known that my voice is welcomed when it’s token, when it adds the Asian American voice, when it is in solidarity with the majority, but when I call out racism I will be asked in the name of Jesus to remember that I am to put aside my ethnic culture and experiences and be a Christian first by my white sisters and brothers in Christ who do not think they have a culture to put aside. But they do. It’s the one that allows them to only pay attention to #Take DownThatPost and ignore understanding the Church’s tangled, dark history with slavery and systemic racism that dates even further back in history that continues to play out today.

I am a Christian. #ItsTimeToCallOutRacism

 

 
***In the hours after posting this, Christianity Today/Leadership Journal has removed the post and published an apology. Apology read, heard, and accepted from More Than Serving Tea.


How To Build Your Platform. A Gentle Warning.

Isn't this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What's wrong with you?

Isn’t this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What’s wrong with you? These are my favorite, but I do wish I had bought both patterns of the same shoe because these are so comfy.

 

Now that I have your attention…

I’m not exactly sure on how to build a platform, and by platform I do not mean shoes or a stage. I know shoes, but I am not a carpenter. I am talking about social media platforms, and there actually are experts out there. It’s a thing. Just google it. The experts talk about platform, branding (which I associate with advertising and cattle, but that is another topic for another day), messaging, consistency, etc. I occasionally read about building a platform because I have promised a certain editor or two book proposals multiple times, and book proposals in today’s market require some knowledge or understanding of platform. The experts KNOW. I’m not sure but I have some thoughts and warnings.

  1. Just because you have traffic doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. Deep down we all get a rush knowing the traffic on your blog ticked up or a tweet was retweeted, etc. Admit it. If you can’t admit it, you’re not being honest. And if you’re not being honest, then you will never be able to handle reality which is traffic does not equal your best content. My highest traffic posts involved some megachurch pastor who never communicated with me personally. Those posts were not my best content. Those posts were not examples of my best writing. IF you are just looking to increase traffic write about sex, Game of Thrones, megachurch pastors, or sex.
  2. Just because you don’t have traffic doesn’t mean you’re bad writer. Some of my best posts are the ones that sit there and are read quietly by my dear readers, who don’t number in the thousands but more in the hundreds. In fact, yesterday there were only 42 readers on this blog. I have less than 300 people following my blog.
  3. When you write from your heart, pray while you write, edit, and before you hit “publish”. And keep praying. Much of what I write about hits at the intersection of gender, faith, race, and ethnicity. It’s not everyone’s “thing” but it is the thing that God has compelled me to write and speak about. That intersection is what catches my heart and keeps me up at night because it affects the way I heard and hear God. It also makes people upset, angry, defensive. Racism and sexism are touchy subjects amongst the church-going crowd. If you are writing to build a platform, I humbly suggest you reconsider your motives. Writing for an audience is soul-bearing work. It’s work. It’s a discipline. Just like praying.
  4. Engage with your readers not your critics. My dear readers are thoughtful. They respond with open hearts and honest questions. Writers should engage with their readers. However, when my stats go through the roof because I’ve written a controversial post or about something that became a controversy I get crazy comments and crazier personal messages that demand I repent, retract, kowtow, etc. Am I judging those commenters? Yes. Those commenters usually are not regular readers and their comment is a critique. I let my readers respond to them. That’s right. Let your readers engage with your critics. If your readers are like mine they are thoughtful and sharp, and they will call out a troll when they see one.
  5. If you are serious about building your platform you have to be committed to writing consistently. This is where I offer advice I have heard but have not taken. I am not building my platform. I write when I want to write because this isn’t my livelihood nor is “writer” my primary vocation. However, I have been putting much more thought into being a better, more consistent blogger for my own development as a writer and for my readers who deserve more than a post here and there every few weeks.

For my fellow writer/speaker friends and readers out there, what have you learned about building your platform? What words of advice, warning, and encouragement can you give?

 

 


The Vitamin L Diary: It’s Not Hidden. It’s Ignored, Excused, Shameful, and Silenced. No More.

No more.

Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.

The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.

University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.

A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.

It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?

SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.

Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.

My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.

I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.

Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.

I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.

We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.

We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.

We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.

We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.

We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.

We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.

And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.

#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas

#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin

#IAmBeyond hiding

#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face

#IAmBeyond the model minority myth

#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away

 

 

 

 


A Book Review: Streams Run Uphill


I can tell stories upon stories about the challenges of women of color face as they minister as a vocation. One of the difficulties hinges on the idea of story as being a legitimate teaching tool. My personal experience has been that my stories, woven into a sermon, often are received as something unique to me and not something from which listeners can draw life lessons about faith and faithfulness.

I may share or give talks, but there often is a moment of hesitation before someone – and that someone may even be myself – will say I teach or preach.

But story is what scripture is. It is truth told through story – narrative, historic, poetic, and prophetic. Jesus tells stories as he tests the patience of the Pharisees, the crowds, and the disciples. We learn about Ruth, Esther, and Mary through their stories.

When teachers and preachers get up to do their thing in front of the congregation or in front of the conference, they use and tell stories to invite people into a relationship with God.

In doing so, in being faithful to the call to be vocational ministers, women of color face having to validate their story and their place in the bigger narrative in unique ways. Personally, I have not chosen that path fully as I have not felt the call to complete an advanced degree in theology or pursue ordination and a formal call to serve in the church. But I know intimately many of the stories I read in “Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with young women of color,” by Mihee Kim-Kort, Judson Press, 2014.

In fact the first page of the foreword made me stop with these words:

“The uphill struggle is not the result of their swimming against the will of the Holy Spirit. Rather, they swim uphill as they struggle to overcome the sexism, racism and ageism that are thrown before them as obstacles to God’s calling,” writes Marvin A. McMickle, PhD, president and professor of church leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

It’s an important word, perhaps for the many women who will pick up this book because they are drawn to the familiar stories, but more importantly for those who aren’t naturally drawn by kinship but because they personally have either thrown down the obstacles or have done nothing to remove them.

This book doesn’t need to be read by the women who are already living different parts of the stories in the pages. Those women, I suspect, are the primary audience for this book, which in its accessible format could be used as a guided reflection. Yes, those readers will find much-needed inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy. Yes, those readers will find their stories validated in a way only similarity can provide. Yes, those readers should read this book because so very few are written specifically to this audience.

However, if only those women who are already looking for inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy read the book, the obstacles will not be removed fast enough, in my opinion, for the need of another version of this book in the future. We women need more than validity. We need new advocates who are willing to read a book they personally are not drawn to, wrestle with their own complicity or apathy, and take small and big specific action steps to dismantle, destroy, and permanently remove the obstacles that force streams uphill.

This isn’t a book arguing for the ordination of women. This book presupposes clergywomen, but just because a denomination or church allow clergywomen doesn’t mean there actually are any. This book needs to get into the hands of church leaders who say, “We welcome any women (and women of color) to apply. Our doors are open.” This book needs to get into the hands of congregants who think similarly, even if it is about the diversity in their pews. Why? Because an open door doesn’t mean there aren’t any other obstacles to get through and feel like the door was open not by accident but as an intentional way of welcoming new leaders with new stories.

*Disclosure: I received a free preview copy of the book from the publisher for this review. No monetary gifts were offered in exchange for this very, very overdue review of “Streams Run Uphill”.


Make Good Choices: The Parent Edition

This weekend marks my first prom as a parent.

Dress shopping for my daughter was easier than expected. I will take full credit for spotting the dress and encouraging her to try it on back in February and then ordering the correct size on the spot. It was thrilling and bittersweet to see my 18-year-old baby girl coming out of the dressing room with the confidence, grace, and beauty of a young woman.

Hopefully there will be no ogling by men. Grown men.

Now, I’ve been searching the inter webs for comments or a response from the young woman’s parents or the prom organizers addressing the specific allegations – that the young woman’s dress was cause for concern and she was dancing in a provocative manner. If, dear readers, you find something, please let me know.

But in the meantime, let’s take our blindfolds off. Shall we? The young girl isn’t the problem. Her dress isn’t the problem. Her dancing isn’t the problem.

We grown-ups are the problem. Why?

When other grownups need to write policies that regulate the length or style of clothing that generally apply to girls there are some of us who think some of those policies ought to be common sense. And then we realize if it were truly common, written policies wouldn’t be in school handbooks and then require signatures. Take the following excerpt for example:

School Dress Code and Student Appearance

Student dress and grooming are basically the responsibility of the student and parent. While respectful of individuality, the staff and administration of — feel certain guidelines are necessary for the successful operation of the school. Under the guidelines of promoting a positive educational setting, the following rules of dress and grooming have been established:

  1. Dress which is extreme, exhibitionist, or of immodest fit or style to the extent that it interferes with the instructional process will not be allowed. Fishnet shirts, see-through blouses, spaghetti strap tops, and clothing that expose a bare back or midriff cannot be worn to school.
  2. Coats, jackets and snow boots are not appropriate classroom attire.
  3. Headwear is not to be worn inside the building unless it is a “Hat Day”.
  1. Articles of clothing with suggestive or inappropriate slogans, weaponry or acts of violence, and/or depictions of drug and/or alcohol use are not allowed in school.

I’ve not recently seen fishnet shirts, but it was a style in the 80s so don’t be surprised. And that bare midriff thing keeps coming back (and it didnt look good then so why would it look good now?).

When we grownups think that regulating clothing choices is a solution we need to remember objectification of girls happens across the globe, even in cultures and countries that require women to be fully covered from head to toe. We grownups forget that excusing boys for being boys tends to allow those boys to age but never mature. We grownups add to the complicated message when we cross that line between staying in shape and being fashionable and trying to go back to our gilded youth and live vicariously through the vocabulary or closet of our teenagers.

MILF and DILF are not compliments. It’s the other side of the same coin as the ogling dads, people. And it’s gross and INAPPROPRIATE.

We grownups are the problem when we make decisions that put other children in danger. What kinds of decisions?

We would also like to alert parents to a law that states, adults who rent hotel or motel rooms for underage drinking parties risk fines and possible jail sentences. Parents arranging such parties are also liable for any accidents caused by students as a result of attending this type of party. (From a note to prom parents at a certain high school but certainly not the only school needing to remind parents to be parents.)

I’m not dumb. I know teenagers drink. I tried it in high school. I didn’t have the tolerance for it like I do now, and I was far more terrified of the consequences. I think the fear and respect for authority my parents instilled in me kept me out of some fun but definitely out of more trouble than was worth that missed fun. I just don’t think adults – PARENTS – should be turning a blind eye or allowing this to happen because it isn’t better that your kids and their friends get smashed in your house. No. It’s illegal.

So, as I head into this prom weekend as a first-time prom parent I find myself back in high school with the same mindset that made high school miserable but got me to a healthy adulthood.

Make good choices, parents. Make good choices.

I had to go to prom because I was the junior class president. I'm sure I told you that I was that over-achieving kid in high school. I wasn't lying. Tea-length teal dress. A geek, but a stylish one. Got it from my mom, pictured here with me.

I had to go to prom because I was the junior class president. I’m sure I told you that I was that over-achieving kid in high school. I wasn’t lying. Tea-length teal dress. A geek, but a stylish one. Got it from my mom, pictured here with me.

 


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