More Than Serving Tea


It’s Easy to Forget Privilege When It’s Always Been Yours

I’m tired of reading blogs from my White Christian brothers about why they are choosing to vote. There. I said it.

I’m all for being a part of the democratic process, but it seems a bit odd to me that so many of these bloggers are coming from a position of power and privilege they themselves have always had. It seems a bit arrogant to choose something that was always theirs.

The way I see it, they had better vote. The vote of the White male is what finally allowed people like me – a woman, an immigrant, a non-native English speaker – to have the right to vote. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t matter. Neither did my ancestors, who immigrated here under quota systems developed by people in power for the benefit of the country and the powers-that-be.

And there still are people who have no voice, who have no right to vote, but they are directly impacted by the politicians, referenda, judges, and local officials as well as the “agendas and policies”. As a Christian who is new to the process, its a privilege and responsibility I don’t take lightly because it isn’t a given. I’m not American born. We are not post-racial America, and the fact of the matter is the church isn’t either. We are working on it, but we aren’t there.

Did you know that in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship and voting rights to Chinese Americans? Yup, they can build the railroads but they can’t vote.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified giving women the right to vote, but in 1922 the Supreme Court rules that a person of Japanese origin is barred from naturalization, effectively shutting Japanese men and women out from the democratic process. The same happens in 1923 to Indian immigrants.

In 1941, U.S. citizens of Japanese descent are rounded up and interned in 10 concentration camps here in America under executive order 9066. It isn’t until 1952 that first generation Japanese Americans have the right to become citizens.

In 1943 The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed, giving Chinese immigrants the right to citizenship and the right to vote, and in the same year Koreans in the U.S. are declassified as enemy aliens.

In 1946 Filipinos are granted the right to become U.S. citizens.

And all of these important moments in history did not include the voting rights of people like me. It’s easy to talk about whether or not you are going to vote when the privilege has always been yours without question.

So vote. Do your homework. Check out the ballot. Find out what your state or local bar association has to say about the judges who want to stay on those benches. Read the annoying brochures and check out what the entire article the candidate quoted actually said.  There are more than two names on the ballot for president, btw.

Yes, the political ads are annoying. The robo-calls are a nuisance. Turn off the tv. Turn down your ringer or shut the phone off for awhile. Ask your kids what they think of the process; I learned a lot by listening to what my three kids were hearing in the hallways!

I haven’t answered any of the phone calls from unknown phone numbers, but I did appreciate the one and only message left for our household. She was a community organizer getting out the vote for her candidate. She reminded me about Election Day and about the importance of voting as U.S. citizens – all in my native tongue.

How perfectly American indeed.

 

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I Saw Him Yelling So I Used My Voice

The guy was yelling at her so loudly that everyone in baggage claim area #4 watched them out of the corner of their eyes. He paused to point out the signage and how she had clearly bleep-bleep-bleeped it up. He seemed to grow taller and she continued to disappear into her already slight frame. I’m sure she wished the escalator would swallow her up while I hoped it would swallow him up.

Just a few minutes later as I head towards the platform to catch the train to remote parking I hear that yelling again.

There they were at the very end of the platform. The guy kept yelling and calling her names we tell our children are mean and shouldn’t be used. My heart was pumping as he kept yelling, flailing his arms, getting in her face and then backing off. I looked around and there were just a few of us at first, but after another three minutes a crowd was watching this unfold, keeping to the other end of the platform.

What would you have done?

Well, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just stand there. Sometimes, and this may have been one of those times, the voice inside my head filter doesn’t work. I couldn’t ignore the voice in my own soul that told me to use my little voice.

So I did. Never mind how angry I also felt knowing that there were several other potentially more menacing types on the platform – dude, put your ski bag down and walk over here!

I walked up to her, put my hand on her shoulder while making sure I didn’t leave my bags unattended lest I look like the crazy one, and I said, “Ma’am, are you OK? Do you need some help here? Are you in any physical harm?”

And then I gave him a quick look.

She said she was fine, and then she sat up. And he took a few steps back and quieted down a bit. And then she stood up, said a few words to him, and then she walked just past me so that I was physically in between them on the platform. One minute later he walked away in a huff, leaving her on the platform and presumably leaving behind his ride home.

She and I got on the same train car, and she explained that she couldn’t find the right pick-up area. She went on to explain she got lost and that she was tired. She was trying to get her bearings straight after a verbal assault, and I again put my hand on her shoulder and told her that no one had the right to call her all the names that he did so that he could feel better about himself. And then she cried.

It’s been a slow ramp-up to Christmas. Maybe it’s the lack of snow. But that encounter at the airport so very late Sunday night made me think about Mary and how in a time when the world around her and the circumstances she found herself in could have rendered her voiceless she found the courage to use her voice and proclaimed God’s mercy and power.

I saw that guy yelling, telling one woman that she was stupid and silencing others with his anger. I didn’t yell, but I learned to use my voice.


Power & Submission: Be Not Afraid

I’m being interviewed tomorrow by the media team at a conference I am speaking at – New Awakening 2011, and I’m being asked about my journey as a Christian leader. I have some thoughts brewing, but I would love to hear/read your thoughts on the topic of power and submission.

We don’t always do a great job of talking about either power or submission, especially when you mix in issues of race, ethnicity, gender and faith. As a Christian Asian American woman I can’t help but bring in those angles and issues. It isn’t “just” leadership/power. It isn’t “just” submission.

It’s complicated. It’s loaded. It’s important. And there aren’t enough “safe” places to talk about the issue. If we can be gracious, perhaps this little corner of cyberspace could continue to become one of those places where we don’t have to be afraid.

So, what do you think when you read this question:

(M)any women are rising up and taking estimable positions in today’s world. In your perspective, how can Christian women balance practicing power and submission?


A Little Star By Your Name

We have been at our church for almost three years, and we still do not have a star beside our names. Granted, it took us several months before we felt like we should have a church directory and then another few months to notice the stars. Technically, they aren’t stars. They are asterisks, but a star evokes sweet memories of attendance charts and shiny gold star stickers. Stars meant you were special. You counted. You’re in. You’re a member.

Church membership is still a fairly “new” concept for me. I grew up in church, but from a child’s perspective membership meant being in long meetings where elders argued with other elders. I’m sure there were other things involved in membership, but no one at church never emphasized or brought up the idea of membership. We were always the “kids” for whom the Korean-speaking “adults” were building the foundations of the church so that one day the kids would take over. The problem often is that the adults never see the kids as adults and the transfer or sharing of power and responsibility never really happens, IMHO.

Peter and I actually can’t remember exactly how we became members at our last church. It was a church that I had attended throughout college, and we returned to it after we had moved closer to home and had our first child. Maybe I had been grandfathered in and then Peter was voted in after the church set up a more formal structure with by-laws, vision statement and website. What I remember were the meetings and many conversations about plans, budgets, and proposals. I do remember throughout a series of meeting involving our pastoral staff, positions and salaries, I grew increasingly aware that I had finally become an adult in a church. The budget, how people’s offerings and tithes – some sacrificial, others afterthoughts and all God’s – were being used, saved and stewarded mattered and members were being asked to prayerfully consider the matters at hand. When a family asked for their child to be dedicated we, the members, pledged to participate in the spiritual development and nurture of that child.

After leaving that church almost five years ago, our goal was not church membership. Our goal was to find a place where we could rest, heal, and hopefully fall in love with Jesus’ bride – the Church – again.

Since then we have slowly gotten gotten the hang of things here at what/where/whom we now call “our church” – the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“debts” and “debtors” not “trespasses” and “trespass”), stand to sing the “Doxology” after the offering is taken, the awkward “Passing of the Peace”, etc. We’ve gotten to know a few folks and even completed the pre-membership class. But we never took what I suppose is the next step.

We initially waited because we didn’t “feel” like we were really part of the church. Our kids were finding friends much faster than we were, but isn’t that usually the case? The barriers, excuses and awkwardness in the transition between complete strangers becoming acquaintances becoming friends have grown for me over time and age. We tried to “feel” our way through serving and putting ourselves out there in the front, the narthex, the behind-the-scenes – music, drama, dance, magic tricks and coffee, and we have come to this place where we are willing to sit in the tension of knowing what we hope for – deep friendships and rich community that overflows – is not quite where we are at…yet.

So are we ready to make the plunge and become members? Do we want to become, should we become, is it time to become members and gain more, risk more, invest more and be responsible for more than a star by our names?