More Than Serving Tea


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In Times of Dire Distress

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“The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” The United States Flag Code

Maybe I am the only one wondering “What can I do?” as I watch and read the news. I have a lot of excuses. I can’t go to the protests tonight because my son has a concert. I don’t coordinate the church service and announcements so I can’t control what will and won’t be said. I’m on sabbatical so I won’t be a part of the conversations that I hope will happen between colleagues at meetings next week. But I hope I am not the only one wondering what can be, needs to be, ought to be done.

The videos are chilling – Eric Garner’s life is being choked out of him until he goes limp on the sidewalk and Tamir Rice being gunned down, the police squad door barely opening as the officer drives by. The images of protests and protesters being tear gasses and throwing canisters back at police armed in riot gear remind me of the summer I spent in Korea, marching in protests against US military presence. That was the summer I learned about wearing damp handkerchiefs near my eyes to help with the sting of tear gas and how to wet the wick of a homemade Molotov cocktail before lighting and lobbing. A few years later in a hotel room in Indiana after a job interview I watched protests and riots take over Los Angeles. Living with, wrestling with injustice day in and day out is a bit like a kettle of water just about to hit boiling. At some point, the water boils, the steam is released.

I have changed my profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook to a black and white depiction of the US flag hanging upside down. I chose that image after a friend posted a similar image with the flag code explaining the symbolism.

I became a US citizen in January 2010 after decades of wrestling with the idea of belonging. I immigrated the US in 1971. I was eight months old. I grew up identifying myself as a Korean American even though the American part continues to be questioned most often by white people. It isn’t enought to say I am from Libertyville or Chicago. How could that be when I don’t look “American” is the unspoken, underlying question. I finally decided to act upon the privilege to apply for citizenship and took the oath, pledging allegiance to the flag.

So as people marched in protest, I watched and read. And the image popped up on my Facebook feed. I changed my profile picture because as an American who at some level has chosen allegiance I wanted to show other Americans and Christians who know the power of symbolism that I am utterly disappointed and disgusted by a justice system picks and choses to define and apply justice. I changed my profile picture because the flag is something we see on a daily basis – in front of fast food restaurants and sometimes in our churches, but I don’t often think about the code governing its display. I changed the picture because if your world doesn’t feel like it has been or is turning upside down maybe you aren’t watching carefully enough.

We are in a time of dire distress. The lives of our black brothers and sisters remain in extreme danger.

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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.

 


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.

 


40 Days & Nights. Mostly Nights: A Lenten Journey

I am going to give up my nights, my night owl habits, and what I have often referred to as the most productive hours of my day.

Motherhood did not reset my internal clock to the rhythms of infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, etc.  because those seasons never had a set rhythm unless controlled chaos is considered a rhythm. I have never enjoyed the quiet before or during sunrise. I usually only see a sunrise if I was up all night. I love staying up past 1 a.m. when everyone else is asleep. I love the second wind and feeling of productivity when no one else is in my way.

Which is why I am giving up my night owl habits. I need to let go. Everyone needs a certain amount of sleep, and I certainly don’t get enough of it. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I stay up late to get more done, to write one last paragraph, read one more page, clean up one more spot in the house, respond to one more email, check off one more thing off my never-ending list of things to get done, many of which can and should wait.

And then I wake up after I’ve hit the snooze button too many times, feeling exhausted and already behind another day of producing, cleaning, emailing, multitasking purposefulness.

I am not that important.

The house is not that dirty.

Those emails (unless they are from my supervisors or colleagues and correctly have the RN: date on them) are not “DO IT NOW!” urgent.

The book will still be there.

Even as I sit here typing I am thinking and worrying about what isn’t getting done now and wondering how I can get it all done tonight.

No more afternoon coffee. No more burning the midnight oil. Less cranky Kathy, which is far less than what God has invited me to be. No more being too tired to actually be present to what God has for me.

May 40 days simply be.


75 Years a Slave & Why I Watch the Oscars

Lupita Nyong’o danced with Pharrel like the royalty she is. Her genuine joy, surprise, and awe after hearing her name announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress award made my heart swell. Her walk up the stairs, spreading the pleats of that incredible dress like a fan was the way to work that dress.

And it was an incredible moment in history.

It was 75 years since Hattie McDaniel, fondly or reluctantly remembered for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind, became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was barred from attending the movie premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, GA. McDaniel and her escort sat alone at a segregated table apart from the film’s other stars. Yes, she sat at the “coloreds only” table.

So, it didn’t escape notice during the conversation that ensued in our home that despite it being 75 years later, the role was that of a slave. Nyong’o understood the power of her role when she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Her role doesn’t take away from her award or from the power and beauty of her performance (yes, I did watch the movie, and, yes, I recommend it).

Other Black female winners included Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001), Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’Nique for Precious (2009) and Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011).

Hmmmmm.

Yes, these women voluntarily took these roles. Yes, McDaniels, Spencer, and Nyong’o knew they were playing slaves. Yes, Berry and Mo’Nique knew they were playing impoverished women. That leaves a ghost medium and a backup singer.

Seventy-five years between Mammy and Patsey, and the range of prime roles for Black women (never mind other women of color) seem rather, um, limited. What will it take, how long will it take for women of color to gain the experience, the networks, the audience to be offered the roles that so easily go to the likes all the women of non-color who dominate the awards circuit? How long before Asian and Asian American women are even up on the the big screen and littler screen in leading roles that are human beings? Please don’t name the five roles that are out there. Are there even five?

But why bother actually wasting five hours of my life when clearly I see and experience all of life as an Asian American woman and am going to notice these things anyway?

1. Because, despite a raging headache that pounded the back and sides of my brain, I am a sucker for fashion I can’t afford and would never buy even if I could afford some of it. I love the drape of a well-tailored dress or tux. I appreciate the aesthetic of fashion, and though I firmly believe the Fall of Humankind lead to all sorts of ick I am grateful we have moved beyond fig leaves, fur & leather.

2. Because the Oscars bring together the brokenness of this world together with the thing I believe God intended humankind to “do” – the creation of culture.

3. And because I also am an artist, the wife of an artist, and the mother of three artists. In my household five resides several writers, an aspiring screenplay writer/director, a dancer/choreographer, a seamstress/designer/styler, a photographer, a future master Lego builder, a satirist, and a comic book author. We are Christian home that continues to wrestle with what it looks like to be in this world but not of this world. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves by being neighbors who also watch things so we can have easy small talk and be neighbors who know what’s going on this world through a Christian lens, shaped by our Asian American immigrant experiences. We read (meaning two out of the five of us read without it being assigned) books, we get a paper newspaper and several magazines, we watch the news, etc. We shop at the mall, at the resale shops, and at all garage sales possible. We are first-world Christians desperately trying to live and be light by not hiding under a rock or bushel but by finding joy because we have the privilege and the opportunity to do so in incredibly easy but intentional ways.

So we sat together in the family room with the big screen tv and we watched, learned, and taught.

The five of us stayed up enjoying the likes of U2 (has anyone else noticed Bono can’t dance), Pink (I loved that dress!!), Idina Menzel (or Adele Menzeen, according to John Travolta, ugh), and Pharrel perform. (Pharrel, if you or your people are reading this, I have a daughter and two sons who can work it for your next multi-generational dance party.) We engaged them in critique and asked them about their observations. They noticed the plastic surgery and we talked about the world’s view and standard of beauty for men and women. We laughed when we all thought Jared Leto kind of looked like Jesus from the “Son of God” movie. We asked the kids which child would get the family to the Oscars. We cheered when the boys said they wanted to work their creative magic together. We cheered when our daughter mentioned choreographers can win Emmys. We all reacted to the Chevy commercial featuring Asian American children creating a movie by pointing at Peter, husband and dad, who made movies as a kid and still dreams about writing a screenplay. We noticed they cheered and recognized themselves and our family in a CHEVY COMMERCIAL but have never had that opportunity in an American sitcom or movie because obviously writers, casting directors, and producers don’t take race into consideration.

And in watching we continued to push ourselves and our children into the risky business of being in the world but not of the world. In many ways, it felt like an extension of Sunday worship as my heart, mind and soul continued to wrestle with the commandment to love my neighbor as myself when this world keeps telling me I am invisible.

 


Help Me Help You Help Me Help Someone Else

I don’t know if God will provide $73,000, but since He has already provided about $47,000 why not go for it. Go big or go home, right?

I am a full-time minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, and I have the privilege of seeing God’s Good News reach campuses across Illinois and Indiana in culturally relevant and challenging ways with students, faculty, and staff. My focus is developing ministry to Asian American, Black, and Latino students as well as equipping our staff to effectively communicate the Gospel, develop student leaders, and develop personally in an increasingly multicultural world.

In order to do what I do, I also have the privilege of inviting others to join me by praying for me and by supporting my work through financial gifts and gifts-in-kind. Currently, ministry partners faithfully, joyfully give $47,000 annually to my budget.

Here’s the kicker. I’ve been on staff for 15 years, and while my potential salary has increased my real salary has not. Part of it has been my ambivalence and discomfort with raising additional funds. I tell myself we don’t “need” more money, but I have realized that the deeper reality is that I have not been comfortable believing I am “worth” that much money. Asking more people to consider joining my financial support team not only means InterVarsity believes I am worth a higher salary but that I believe my skills, expertise, and quality of work is worth a higher salary. Asking more people to consider giving financial support mean wrestling with my own personal demons of worth, need, materialism, covetousness, envy, greed, selfishness, etc. It can get ugly.

It also makes me wrestle with my core beliefs. Do I really believe God will provide? Do I trust God even when He doesn’t answer my prayers and meet my needs in the ways I want and hope for? If I believe I am called to this work, why isn’t God providing the financial support that is required of me? Should I trust God in a new way and look for another job that doesn’t require raising support? See? Lots of trust issues.

The other kicker is that while I enjoy giving, I don’t enjoy asking. Does that make sense? I love giving gifts of all sizes and types – a jar homemade granola, a quart of homemade soup, two hours of social media help, a last-minute after school pick-up, and a portion of an unexpected windfall. I love being able to support other organizations as well as individuals in various non-profit and ministry roles. Giving away money is fun because I know that money – my salary – came from God. Giving of my time is fun because I know every day truly is a gift, even the ones that involve yelling, parenting fails, and gnashing of teeth. Every month I see the names of my partners in this amazing work and the amounts they give, and I am amazed and humbled. And every month I get to do the same thing right back.

So, here it is. If any of you, dear readers, have any interest in learning more about what I do as my day job so you can pray, learn, ask questions, give financially or in some other creative way, comment here with your contact info or email me at morethanservingtea “at” gmail “dot” com.  I suspect there are many of you out there who enjoy giving as much as I do.

Here is a link to my most recent ministry update letter.

Winter 2013 prayer letter


Giving Voice to the Korean Jesus

Last week I had the privilege and straight up crazy “am I really getting to do this kind of thing” of sitting on a panel with authors Rachel Held Evans, Rebekah Lyons, and Shauna Niequist during the Q Focus: Women & Calling event in NYC.

You can watch the Q Cast panel here. I haven’t watched myself yet. I’m not ready. But what I remember is making a passing mention of another set of Christian controversies that evolved over social media. I was talking about a certain megachurch pastor’s unpastoral response to concerns raised over a questionable Facebook post, the culturally insensitive video shown at a church planting conference, and the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church from a coalition of Christian Asian Americans.

It was about 30-seconds after my comment I realized that the audience may have had absolutely no idea what I was talking about because I, as an Asian American woman, am a different, new voice with a perspective and set of experiences just outside of what many in the room and over the internet may be familiar with. I have no set data points to prove any of this. It’s all based on observations of who was in the room, who knew each other in the room, etc. And this is not a play for accolades and affirmation. I know that I was an unknown voice for the majority of attendees. They had to read my bio and maybe google me to find out a little more.

Opportunities to be the different voice at a large conference, the imperfect woman who learned about Jesus through church lunches of marrow-rich soups, kimchi, and barley tea and hymns and the Lord’s Prayer sung and spoken in Korean and English, do not often come. It’s difficult enough for White women to be invited, which is why the issue of gender representation at Christian conferences is a tricky one personally. Q Women & Calling was unusual for me in that of the 11 women, 3 were women of color. (That seemed unusual to me. Correct me and let me know of other conferences that have that kind of representation.) When Shauna Niequist so beautifully and powerfully spoke about her mother’s legacy and journey, I was profoundly moved as Shauna talked about her mother, Lynne Hybels, finding her self.

I was also reminded of why different voices matter, even when and especially when it comes to encouraging people to trust Jesus, because finding our selves in a country, a community, or a church that looks, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels so different, and dare I say foreign, is a different journey. Ambition doesn’t mean selfishness. It often means survival.

And it was a moment of affirmation and reminder. To me, Jesus may have been blue-eyed and blonde in the painting, but He was Korean Jesus who didn’t mind the smell of kimchi and barley tea because He knew it wasn’t a way of hiding. Those were the things I tried so desperately to hide during the week. No, it was a way of nourishing our bodies and souls for a week of engaging in a world that didn’t always have time, a desire, or a need to get to know us and our different stories.

So here’s to celebrating the different voices and experiences we carry with a different edge. The first clip is from the remake “21 Jump Street” – watch only if you don’t mind swearing. The second is the incredible performance of friend and colleague Andy Kim on The Moth GrandSLAM: Taco Bell, Saving Souls and the Korean Jesus.


Me, Ambitions, Q & What Happens When You Get What You Secretly Hope For

When I was in high school I wanted to grow up and be a journalist. I wanted to write for a major metropolitan market daily and be a section editor by the time I was 30 years old, to be precise.

I imagined what life would be like, considered the possibilities, didn’t rule out marriage or children but tried not to worry about it too much. I did the internships, collected the clips & recommendations, and utilized the career center like a boss. I was disappointed at the rejection letters, and then I started collecting them & correcting them for errors. I posted the rejections and numbered them. My apartment-mates agreed with me that editors who misspelled words on rejection letters weren’t worth working for, and those same apartment-mates greeted me at the airport celebrating what would be the first of two job offers.

And in all that time I never doubted my ambitions were part of my faith journey. Following Jesus meant dreaming, trying, failing, dreaming some more, and stewarding the gifts and talents I knew I had. There was always doubt, but there was always faith. I also knew that my ambitions were never completely my own. My parents and I immigrated to the US when I was eight months old. My life as the child of recent immigrants would never be “my own”, and I understood that before I understood what giving my life to Jesus meant. Sacrificial living is part of my Asian American DNA.

But somewhere between the age of 21 and 43 the doubts went deeper. Was being ambitious selfish? Could a faithful Christian woman still claim ambitions? How could I reconcile surrendering my life to Jesus and pursue my ambitions? The books I have read on leadership, discipleship, and parenting have all mentioned goals and achievement, but for some reason it began to feel less safe, less feminine, less godly like Mary and more like Martha to be ambitious.

Somewhere along the way my voice changed, and somewhere along the way I recognized the difference….and I didn’t like it. But to find your voice can be dangerous because you have to choose things and take risks and speak. Sometimes it has been clear as day; some opportunities were a “no” without a doubt.

But some opportunities are the ones we secretly hope for. Some opportunities are the ones I secretly hope for. The hopes are secret because who in their right mind tells anyone, “I’d love to be the speaker at a conference”? I don’t. Well, actually I do. Indirectly. I have a page on this blog with testimonials, my schedule, and my contact information. I’ve been told I should have a speaker request form plug-in. I’ve secretly wanted to speak at conferences, churches, and retreats.

A secret ambition becomes reality next month. I’ll be one of 12 presenters at Q Women & Calling next month in NYC. Well, how was that for burying my lede?

I’ve been waiting to write about it because:

  1. I got caught up in writing about Asian American stereotypes and evangelicals;
  2. Elias, Corban and then Bethany all took turns coming home with different germs;
  3. my day job keeps me busy; and
  4. I am terrified. And that’s OK.

I’ll be speaking on ambition with a voice that I pray is mine, embodying my Asian American Christian woman/friend/wife/mother/daughter/sister/neighbor thing. So as I finish prepping, fretting, and prepping some more (18 minutes is not a lot of time for a woman who grew up in a Korean American church) I would appreciate hearing from you.

What, if anything, is wrong with ambition?

How can Christian faith and ambition co-exist? Or can it not?

What are your secret ambitions? What keeps you from pursuing them?


The Open Letter, How We Got Here & Where We Hope to Go

Sometimes we, meaning “I”, squash the little voice inside our heads and talk ourselves out of speaking up. Sometimes that is truly is the best thing or the right thing to do. But sometimes speaking up and speaking out is the very thing we need to do because in this case the little offenses are very much tied into the systemic issues that we are currently facing in our churches and in our country.

It’s easier to marginalize and ignore people if they aren’t one of “us.” It’s easier to welcome people into our sacred spaces but never allow them to have a voice in what actually happens in that space if they don’t have a voice or if that voice is foreign and strange. It’s easier to think we have all the right answers if we only surround ourselves with people who nod their heads in agreement.

Sometimes it’s easier, because there is a cost to speaking up and speaking out.

But in the long run there is a higher cost to pay by staying silent.

Anyway, somewhere in cyberspace I wanted to document some of the background and timeline behind the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church so after the weekend losses of my Chicago Bears and Northwestern Wildcats I figured now was as good a time as any because today, as we hunkered down at home with one child recovering from a bad cold and another child suffering through day four of the flu, I was feeling the need to ground myself again in why we started the letter.

Sometimes it’s an act of obedience.

On October 8, Christine Lee, assistant rector at All Angels Church, NYC, tagged me on a Facebook post about a skit at the Exponential Discipleshift Conference where two White men use fake Asian accents (which I refer to as speaking Ching-chong), mimicking Kung-fu or karate moves with “Oriental” music as the backdrop.

“Just had a Kathy Khang moment at Exponential conference. A humorous video abt church plant apprenticing ended in karate and Chinese accents. When I expressed my thots to one of the leaders, he explained it was a parody meant in good fun. When I said they would’ve never shown video of two white pastors pretending they were black “in good fun,” he shrugged and said, “maybe.” Sad that a good conference was dampened by this response.”

It’s important to note here that had it not been for Christine’s courage to find her voice in this situation and articulate her concerns both personally to a leader of Exponential and then publicly to others, that video may have made its way to yet another conference only to leave another group of attendees either laughing at the white guy speaking Ching-chong or others scratching their heads or, worse, feeling distance, frustration, pain, anger, or sadness because of the stereotypes used in communicating the content.

That same day Helen Lee and I exchange emails about what happened at the conference as we try to find others we know who might have been at the conference. Why find more witnesses? Why isn’t Christine’s story enough? Because I’ve learned from similar situations in the past that my intentions and credibility are questioned and scrutinized more than those of the alleged offender and his/her/their offense.  Many of the non-Asian American Christians connected to Rickshaw Rally, Youth Specialties, Deadly Viper, the Red Guard image and apology, and the skit at Exponential had people vouch for their sincere hearts, good intentions, and friendships with Asian Americans. Never mind that I may actually have more White friends than any of those people may have Asian American friends. The more proof I have the better. That’s the system, folks. It’s broken, but until we can really talk about the systems I try to play by some of the rules while I speak out.

October 9 – Helen Lee and DJ Chuang are reaching out to contacts they have with Exponential. In the meantime, Helen and I are emailing about the idea of a letter, a possible website to host the letter, names for a potential group to help draft the letter, and a brainstorming a list of contacts as potential signatories on a finalized letter while juggling homeschooling responsibilities (Helen), other work responsibilities, and family needs.

October 10 – A draft of the Open Letter is circulated amongst the grassroots committee. The committee also begins compiling a list of AA Christian leaders it would like to invite to be the initial signatories on the letter.

Exponential, with the help of DJ Chuang, also gathers some of its key leaders and invites Daniel and Jeya So to share their thoughts about the video and speak candidly about the power of stereotypes. It’s worth noting that in a room full of men, God used Jeya’s voice and story to speak powerfully to many present in the room. 

October 11 – Exponential issues an apology for the skit. The decision is made to continue with the Open Letter because it is less about addressing a single event but rather bringing attention to what has become an ongoing problem with the Evangelical church stereotyping Asian Americans.

October 14 – The Open Letter goes live on nextgenerasianchurch.com

October 15 – All sorts of social media and traditional media madness ensues and continues. Much of it is good groundwork being laid down for deeper conversations that are so needed.

We, meaning the Open Letter coordinating committee, have been asked if the letter is accomplishing anything along the lines of what we had hoped for.  My personal answer is YES. There have been many conversations with non-Asian American Christian evangelical leaders and the letter coordinating committee, as well as conversations happening all around the country (perhaps the world) about what God is stirring up. I am hopeful that the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Associated Baptist News coverage about the letter will continue to push the conversations deeper. Very, very, very early-stage brainstorming has begun about a possible gathering of the committee and other white evangelical leaders. I am hopeful.

While some may be uncomfortable with the very public nature of the letter, I believe it was necessary and the correct way to address what have been very public offenses and examples of stereotyping and cultural appropriation. These were not well-intentioned mistakes in a private conversation. These situations, regardless of intent, point to systemic and leadership blindspots. Private channels of connecting were being leveraged while at the same time the letter drew attention to repeated marginalization and many Asian American Christians are tired of being the punchline. And despite some of the harsh comments, I am hopeful.

And just in case you, here are some more voices who have joined in on the conversation about the Open Letter.

Elder J on his bi-racial (multi-racial?) children

Dora – I especially love her last paragraph

Bruce is not an Evangelical

Rachel Held Evans who usually doesn’t like open letters

NPR’s Code Switch

The Orange County Register