More Than Serving Tea


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the books category.

How To Take Notes Like a Rock Star

Leaders are readers!

But perhaps not all readers, just like leaders, are the same. My tried and true reading style used to involve a beverage of choice, a comfy chair in a room with some ambiance, and a highlighter. Yellow, pink, blue, orange. Books full of colorful lines, highlighting all of the pithy quotes that inspire.

And then I had kids. I stopped reading for pleasure (and sometimes for work) between 1995 and 2007. I read the details of medication dosages and researched vaccinations, but the days of a glass or mug of something with a great book faded as the highlighters dried out and were replaced with washable markers or bath crayons. I was the mother at my youngest child’s first day of first grade (cue Veggie Tales) who sang, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” because the baby of the family was finally in school all day.

Reading for pleasure came back slowly, but with this new season of life, reading, and leadership came a need for new highlighters. Enter friend, colleague, and mentor Greg Jao. Greg is a voracious reader. He is known to send protégés and colleagues copies of magazine articles or book suggestions that he has come across, and each one a gem. (Just in case you didn’t catch that, read the last sentence again. It’s a freebie.) And I asked him a few years ago about his note-taking methodology.

I’ve never read a book the same way.

In a nutshell, I still highlight but I hold both a pen and a highlighter. I grew up using chopsticks so it seems normal to me. Anything highlighted or underlined then gets cross-referenced in the front cover and blank pages of new book. I tend to rewrite the entire quote with the page number. That way you don’t need to flip through an entire book of highlights to find the quote you were looking for. Brilliant! I also write down my own questions or commentary, which is why I am often reluctant to loan out my books. (Bet some of you are wondering what I wrote in my copy of “Lean In”.)

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it has helped me process a bit more as I am reading, retain more of what I am reading (though anything would be better than what I can remember from those infant/baby/toddler years), and exercise my critical thinking skills.

What about you? How do you take notes while you a reading? And do you have a favorite brand pen or highlighter?

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Learning & Leaving – Reflections after reading “Honoring the Generations:Learning with Asian North American Congregations”

One of the earliest photographs taken of me and my parents is of the three of us in front of Chicago’s First Korean United Methodist Church. I grew up in the Korean/Korean-American immigrant church. It was at church where I took Korean language classes. Where I learned Korean folk dancing. Where we spent many Christmas Eves waiting for Korean Santa to show up while many of us were dressed in our Korean dresses and Sunday best, and where we spent New Year’s Eves to the smells of rice cake soup and the sounds of four wooden sticks being thrown up in the air in a lively game of yoot. Where I learned to say the Lord’s Prayer in Korean before I knew it in English. Where I learned to sing hymns and read the liturgy in Korean before I would learn the meaning behind the words.

But also learned about leaving. Elders’ meetings going on for-e-vah. Phonecalls. More meetings. Angry words. More angry words. Churches splitting, leaders resigning, families leaving.

My husband and I left the Asian American church about seven years ago after a series of cultural and generational differences that lead to our decision to bless the mission of that particular church by leaving it. The decision was one of the most difficult and painful to make because it pulled at our identity as a Christian Korean-American family longing to integrate the very best of what we had gained from our immigrant church experience into our “grown-up” lives.

Every now and then the Asian American church pulls at something, tugs at my heart, hits a nerve just under the surface. I wonder what, if anything, my three children are missing out on by not being a part of an Asian American church and youth group. I wonder how different my circle of friends would look like if we were still a part of an Asian American church, how our Sunday afternoons would be spent, and what a small group Bible study would be like.

And then that wonder turns into a hint of longing for what was once familiar, and that is exactly what happened for me as I read Honoring the Generations:Learning with Asian North American Congregations (M. Sydney Park, Soong-Chan Rah, and Al Tizon, editors; Judson Press 2012).

The stories of cultural and generational conflict and misunderstandings resonated deeply with me. I found myself nodding not to sleep but in agreement and affirmation, as if my nod would be felt by the authors and collaborators. Our ANA church history (is your church an art museum or a hospital? p.88) is important to understand and know, not just for those of us who lived and live it but for all in the Church. I found myself nodding because even when I wanted more (would it surprise you if I said I wanted more from chapter 6 on women and men leading together?) I hoped that non ANA church leaders would pick up the book and learn.

Some of the chapters provide more concrete steps for ministry practitioners to take to help move ANA ministry forward. Others leave more space and ambiguity. My personal preference tends to want more concrete steps – something I can either agree with and implement or something I can disagree with and move on.

The book is divided into two main sections covering the ANA church from a generational perspective and a ministry issue/strategy perspective. Each chapter covers a different topic, and each chapter is written by a pair of authors who are using information and stories gathered from a group of ministry practitioners and scholars. In true Asian American form, collaboration takes the lead in shaping this book.

Readers may find this approach, this collaborative voice, both informative and frustrating. If you’re not familiar with the ANA church the stories will be new and informative, and they may be frustrating because they don’t fit in your paradigm and experience. Creating new categories aren’t easy when they are someone else’s story, particularly someone else you may have considered as “White” as Asian Americans have often been seen by the majority culture.

But for me it was like singing a hymn in Korean. It tugs at my heart because the hard memories continue to soften with time, and there is a longing to continue learning despite having left.

Full disclosure: I received an e-copy of the book for free from the publisher post-release to read and review for my blog.


Panthera Tigris Mother

Yesterday was a banner day for me. One of my sons feigned illness because he had not prepared for a test, and I (along with the full support of my husband) forced him out of his bed and eventually back to school.

“You are not sick. You are tired. Being a student is your job, and you are responsible for completing your work whether or not you are tired. Please do not complain to me about being tired when you disobey me at bedtime and do not get to sleep when you should.

You are going back to school, and you have two choices. You can go to school in your pajamas, or you can get dressed before you go. Staying home is not a choice you get to make.”

Yup. That was me. Feel free to use the speech in your own home.

And then later in the evening the same son and I spent time going over some music for a band lesson. Please note that he asked me for help. We sat there, and I corrected his posture before we went over cut time versus common time, grace notes and posture. We went over and over and over the lines of music, and I became the human metronome – clapping, snapping, humming, tapping. I pushed him despite seeing his eyes start to tear up because I KNEW HE COULD DO IT. And he did. So there. I was exhausted and then after a few hours exhilarated, with a touch of guilt because I could’ve (should’ve?) changed my tone a teeny, tiny bit and smiled a little more so I wouldn’t look so strong and scary.

But he did get that short piece in cut time, and he did get that piece in 6/8 time.

But this afternoon, he is back where he should be (at school and then at track practice, which my husband and I forced him to participate in) and I am taking a break from reading the overall program director manual for InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus/Timberwolf. It’s interesting reading if you are getting ready to welcome college students to a week of leadership and Bible training and have very little first-hand knowledge of the administration that goes into the week before the actual week.

But even the best manuals need to be taken in slowly, with feeling, and right now what I am feeling is the need to dialogue and discuss.

Back in January when Amy Chua, the Wall Street Journal and everyone else with a tiny piece of the internet platform jumped into the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother debate, few of us had actually read the book. We read the excerpt and commentary, wondered aloud about the mental stability of mother and children, wrote about success and achievement, compared Western to Chinese/Asian/immigrant parenting, and I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

My number finally came up, and now I want to know if any of you read the book. What did you like about the book? How did Chua’s story make you think about your parenting style or that of your parents? What made you read the book, and was it worth your time? If your children are older, do you have any regrets about not pushing or pushing your children academically, musically, spiritually, etc.?

If you, my dear readers, jump in, I will follow. I promise. Rawr.


Being American

Last night when I was reacting/responding to Maureen Corrigan’s book review (Peter said I looked like I was getting ready to sharpen my claws. I didn’t know I had that kind of look.) I couldn’t stop thinking about her line about being an American reader.

“But the weird fascination of Please Look After Mom is its message — completely alien to our own therapeutic culture — that if one’s mother is miserable, it is indeed, the fault of her husband and her ungrateful children. As an American reader — indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility’ — I kept waiting for irony; a comic twist in the plot; a reprieve for the breast-beating children.”

Besides being confused about her line about kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction I am wondering, quite honestly, what Corrigan meant by being an “American reader” because she and I both are just that.

Until college I grew up understanding that being American meant being White/Caucasian/of Eastern European descent or being African American, which was very different than White American but still American.

It meant apple pie (which I don’t recall actually making unless it was the frozen variety until adulthood) and baseball (which we didn’t grow up watching). It meant your ancestors were either connected to Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island. Being American meant no one asked you where you came from or where you learned your English or told you to go back to where you came from or to learn English.

So, while I know many of my readers tend to be a bit shy about commenting on the blog publicly because it can be a bit crazy out here I am asking all of you to comment, however brief it may be, to help fill out the picture of being American.

When you think of being American what comes to mind? Who do you imagine? What does being an American reader mean? How do Americans see things, experience things, communicate things?


Dear NPR & Maureen Corrigan: What the Frak is Kimchee-scented Kleenex Fiction?

Dear NPR & Maureen Corrigan,

What the frak is “kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction”? What does that phrase even mean?

Were you trying to be funny? (Fail.)

Were you trying to let listeners and readers know you “know” Koreans? (Fail.)

Were you trying to be clever and/or charm us with your use of alliteration? (Fail.)

And why, after a week of comments on the NPR website  where you take Kyung-sook Shin’s novel “Please Look After Mom” to task, has there not been a response from NPR or from you, Ms. Corrigan? Surely you would want to explain yourself and this misunderstanding. After all, you are just a critic who didn’t like the book, which you pointed out has sold 1 million copies in the author’s native South Korea and is set to hit the shelves in 22 other countries. Your opinion is just one of a million, and clearly no one at Knopf asked your opinion before claiming the U.S. rights to the translated version so I’m certain you would be sorry if you offended anyone even though that was not your intention. I’m sure of it.

So why not just come out and say it? You could probably cut and paste or adapt a version of the standard non-apology.

Or maybe you or NPR could come clean and and apologize because Ms. Corrigan your review did offend and continues to offend real people – not the fictional characters you clearly did not connect with in the novel. Some of us are actually American readers, by the way, who might even be able to bridge what appears to be a cultural gaping hole in your understanding of Korean/East Asian mother guilt, family values and shame even as you poo-poo the novel as “Korean soap opera decked out as serious literary fiction”.

You offend those of us “ladies” in book clubs all across America (I’m in two of those book clubs of American readers, btw) who read all sorts of books we like and dislike and suggest or read only because it was on the book club list which is our ticket to a fun night out, and not all of us would see the message of this novel as “alien”. (Couldn’t you have phrased that better? Maybe you tried “foreign” but perhaps that was too literal or obvious?) You offend me because throughout your review you allude to your POV as “an American reader” but I am an American reader and I “get” the message and nuances of this book by reading the excerpt. I am not an American woman (whose ethnic and racial heritage I do not know) who was “indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility’.”

I am an American reader who learned that taking responsibility meant a deep connectedness between my happiness and my mother’s, but I don’t want to wallow in the cross-cultural self-pity you describe. I am hoping you will understand that I just don’t get what you don’t get. This is a novel that you read in English but was written in Korean by a Korean woman who grew up in rural Korea and then moved to Seoul (!). The words were translated, but I’m not sure you want to do the work to understand the characters and their culture and their point of view or even get a deeper sense of the author’s voice, which is so obviously different than yours. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like “The Tender Bar” that much now that I think about it.

I can gather from your critique you are missing the things that make novels connect with its reader and thus earns its place on a bookshelf or top 100 list. Surely much in the plot and prose has been lost in translation because the words “mom” and “mother” don’t carry the same weight and meaning as the Korean words “uhm-mah”, “uh-muhn-nee” and “uh-muhn-neem”. Three words to describe the relationship between a mother and her child. Three. But you don’t get that because you, Ms. Corrigan, are an American reader as am I, but we read with different eyes, hearts and connections, and I’m trying to understand you.

So, let me ask my question in a different way.

Do you really think Korea’s Kleenex smells like kimchee? Because if you do you’re just silly.

Translation: Jung-mahl mee-chus-suh.


A Mission for Moms Free For the Courageous (and 1 book if you are game)

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers who commented, tweeted and linked this post. Thanks to a handy, dandy random number generator “Between Worlds” has won a copy of  “The Missional Mom” by Helen Lee.

Things I learned in adulthood but didn’t expect to learn:

  • Pimples do not stop just because wrinkles move in.
  • Peer pressure does not disappear just because you leave high school.
  • Becoming who you were meant to be can be just as difficult as an adult as it was as a teenager.
  • You don’t lose yourself when you become a mom, even if there are moments like you might just drown.

That last lesson is an ongoing one (I suppose all of them all if I were to be honest). There are shelves of books to remind us that parenting, and specifically motherhood, is THE most important job a mother could have. It comes with or without Christian-ese about blessing, calling, heart and spirit. We talk about guiding and nurturing the future leaders of the world. We read about the studies of how a mother’s time working outside of the home can be damaging, be linked to childhood obesity, contribute to childhood delinquency and the general moral failure of the world.

So here in America, and even in the American Christian church, it’s easy to believe that being there for our children is a mother’s highest calling.

But is it?

“The calling and mission God has for us remains unchanged once we become wives and mothers.

What I have seen time and time again, in my friends’ lives, in my own life, and the lives of countless others reflected in the Christian and secular media, is that we mothers often forget how motherhood intersects with the bigger picture of our primary calling and mission. Sometimes we replace our primary calling and mission by saying, ‘ Motherhood is my highest calling…'” The Missional Mom, Helen Lee

Our primary calling, whether or not we are mothers, is to be Christ-followers who love others knowing and living in the knowledge we are loved by God and to be His witnesses everywhere we are. Motherhood is just one context in which that primary calling can be lived through.

Which is why reading Helen Lee’s book was a relief. It challenged me, encouraged me and unsettled me in all of the good ways we need to be. Telling myself that my life is good because someone else’s life isn’t as good doesn’t compel or inspire me to reconsider my choices, but reading stories of women – mothers who love their children and want not just the easiest or nicest or best for their children but want was God wants for them – inspired me.

It inspired me to look past the boxes of photos screaming to be organized or framed or scrapbooked, to look past the various piles of artwork, homework and plain old work, to look at my family’s schedule and to ask God for wisdom to make the choices that actually align with the values I hold as a Christ-follower and not as a supermom.

Worldly martydom is easier than the daily dying to yourself that Christ calls us to. It really is easier to pore myself into being the best mother and lose sight of who God intended me to be and become in the context of my many circles of influence. It’s easier for me to be busy making sure my kids are happy than to take the time to direct myself and my family into joy and a spirit-filled life. Kodak moments are easier than a Christ-filled life.

So when you, friendly blog reader, find yourself in a quiet moment when you are wondering where you lost yourself choose the better thing and dare to ask God what might need to change in your life.

I have a copy of The Missional Mom courtesy of (and signed by) Helen to give away to one of you! How do you get a chance to win a copy of the book?

  • Post a link to this blogpost on your FB or blog for a chance;
  • Tweet a link to this post for another chance;
  • Leave a comment on this post. Ideas for comments: Why do you want this book? How has becoming a mother been challenging to you? Have you ever felt like you “lost” yourself after becoming a wife, or a mother (or a husband or father) and what was that like? If you’re not a mother, what are you most afraid of as you consider the possibility of becoming a mother?

Learning About Leadership and Social Networking=New to Twitter @mskathykhang

This is my guest post for Angry Asian Man, a dear friend and someone I respect deeply. I’ve appreciated his advocacy for Asian Americans, his humor and his ability to manage pop culture fame and humility. You can follow his blog or @angryasianman, where I have finally joined the ranks of Twitter @mskathykhang

I’m on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don’t worry. While I’m away, I’ve enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here’s Kathy Khang and her half-read book review of Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li.

I grew up believing that taking advantage of the very best education money and hours of studying could get you was the key to the Asian American dream. There’s no doubt a strong education remains key but an Ivy League degree isn’t the only key. The world of social technology – the development and use of – is changing the way leadership and social power works.

So I was thrilled to pick up a copy of Charlene Li’s fairly new book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. In the business world, the gurus are by and large men of a paler shade. It’s been said of novelists that they subconsciously assume the race or ethnicity of their readers and characters. If you read enough leadership books, you may say the same about those authors as well. Just add gender to the mix.

Readers of AAM know full well the power of social media. Stupid slogans on t-shirts (A & F) may never have gained national attention had it not been for the power of social media. As a reader of AAM, I’m no dummy. When I saw vacation Bible school materials and a Christian leadership book using stereotypical images of Asian Americans it was an easy call to open leadership. My own personal networks are limited, but spreading the word through AAM and later Facebook and Twitter made sure people understood rickshaws and ninjas should not be used in Jesus’ name as a cute selling point.

Full disclosure. I’m not done reading Li’s book, but it has received strong reader reviews as well as positive write-ups in CIO, Management Today and Harvard Business Review. And a little thing I loved right off the bat was she dedicates the book to her parents and in the introduction compares balancing openness and control to being the parent of young children. Great leaders know where they come from and bring authenticity and integration. Can’t wait to finish reading Li’s book.

Kathy Khang blogs at More Than Serving Tea and loves her job as a regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.


Did She Cross a Line?

If you haven’t read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (pepy3, where are you on the waitlist?) I humbly suggest you put your name on the library waiting list, borrow a copy from one of your friends or buy one if you’re the type who likes to own books. I finished the book last month, but it’s following my soul.

It’s a story about Southern African American women who work as housekeepers, nannies and personal chefs  and the Southern White women they worked for. It’s about each group of women and their communities, friendships, mothers and children, and the unspoken and explicit rules that governed their complex relationships across racial, socio-economic and even religious lines.

One thing that I’m still wondering about and thinking through is the author’s own admission that she has and had feared her narrative, particularly writing in the voice of African American women, had crossed “the line”. Clearly, the story she wanted to tell required multiple voices, but by her own admission she acknowledges that while our recent history used laws to draw the line some lines are beyond the scope of law and policy.

A few of us from book club took a field trip to see and hear Kathryn Stockett at a reading/Q and A/book signing earlier this week in Lake Forest. (A little shout-out to “M” who snagged a seat in the front, which meant she was one of the first in line to have her book signed and agreed to take additional copies belonging to Bedtime Stories members to be signed. “M” also asked a great question about the author’s own journey in understanding race and racism – much better than the question asked by the lady behind me who apparently thought there were no significant Southern voices after Eudora Welty from whom Stockett could draw inspiration from. I suppose no one has ever heard of Harper Lee or Zora Neale Hurston…) Anyway, Stockett briefly addressed the real-life complexity of the relationship between White families and their “help” as well as her personal concerns about telling a fictional story by assuming the voices of African American women.

It was slightly amusing and ironically appropriate to be sitting there in a room that was predominantly White and looked like a dress-rehearsal for a Chicos/Talbots/White|Black fashion show to hear Stockett talk about her teenage years when she, by her own admission, was naive and unaware of the rules of race and class even though she had been adhering to them in one way or another her entire life. It was just the way it was and there we were just the way it is.

But does it matter that Stockett is a Southern White woman who was raised by Demetrie, her family’s “help”, and is now telling a fictional Demetrie’s story? Were you worried as you cracked open the book or did it not even cross your mind to worry? Is there really a line and did she cross it by assuming the voices of Aibilene, Minny and Constantine? Was it too much? Or is it a line we should all be crossing?


Why Can’t I Just Shut Up?

I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.

My parents did the best they could, teaching me to be appropriately silent first in the way children are supposed to be silent and then in the way young ladies are to be silent. Opinions are best left in the head, and simply naming my alma mater should be enough to gauge intelligence. Words, particularly spoken ones from my mouth, aren’t necessary. Besides, who would want their son to marry an outspoken, opinionated woman? Those traits aren’t high on the “myuh-new-ree” (daughter-in-law) list.

There are times when the properly trained Asian American woman-ness kicks into high gear, almost as if someone dialed me up to “11”. I can smile, nod, look like I am in agreement with whatever is being said and then walk away without a word. It happens, I swear.

My parents also knew enough to know that some things were irreversible. We were here in America, and one day (or almost 40 years) their firstborn would be an American. They struggled to keep the “Korean” first through language, dance, songs, food, worksheets and flashcards and hyphenated “America” by reminding me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or is the oil?

I suppose that is part of growing up part of a generation raised to be bicultural – Korean and American – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects.

So there are times when I get squeaky. The dial gets turned the other way, and I can’t shut up. The raging extrovert in me, the angry Asian American woman who is tired but clearly not tired enough to shut up comes out and I hate when that happens because I hate that I feel like I should apologize for bringing to the conversation a different voice, a different perspective.

I can talk about things other than race, gender or class. It’s not always about race or gender or class. But many times race or gender or class (or all of the above) are in play. And the other night it was soooo easy. We were discussing The Help
, and there are still hours of thoughts and questions inside my head. Last night was just a taste. Why couldn’t we have started out with something lighter like a Nicholas Sparks book? Bahhhh!

No spoiler alert here for those of you who are still on the library’s list for the book or in the process of reading it. You know that the book touches on issues of race, gender, class, friendship and love. And if you read this blog you know that those issues are what keep us here in this cyberspace.

But those issues are uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy to go from discussing our feelings about a book to how those feelings translate into real life when it’s all so new and we don’t yet know our similarities let alone our differences. But how could I not talk about how I see life in our town as being different but not so entirely different than what we had just read? How could I not bring up how the rules of engagement between the junior league women and their help are as subtle and dangerous as describing “suspicious” cars and their drivers in broad generalities? Don’t we still have subtle lines drawn and communicated about who belongs where? How could any of us read the book and not choose to be uncomfortable if not for one night?


You Can’t Make Me But You Might Make Me Want To…Read This

I love a good book, and Wednesday night is “Bedtime Stories” – the book club my neighbor and I started. I’m hoping the name catches on. Anyway, we will be meeting to talk about our first book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which I’ll blog about later. But finishing our first book means needing to have suggestions for our next book.

We aren’t book snobs – any genre will do, and a book that has already been out for a few years is preferred. That way we have a better chance of getting it for everyone through our public library system.

So, which five books would you recommend and why?


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