Calling all Asian Americans to speak up about Ferguson?

This has been a disturbing week for America in the news as we’ve seen the unfolding events in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

My reading of the events is that his death was wholly unnecessary (as I do nearly all gun-related deaths) and a deadly expression of a jacked up system that has been sinfully embedded in our national DNA for much too long. Since then, I’ve seen protest break out into the streets, calls for more transparency from the police, calls for the intervention by the UN, and calls for White pop stars to speak up. And then, I got “interrupted”…

First by this by a friend and fellow pastor whom I love I respect:

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And then this, by one of our denomination’s superintendent’s, whom I also love and respect. The blog post Greg shares is written by a Korean American, on The Unacceptable Silence of Asian American Christians in Response to Ferguson:

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The first post was jarring and convicting. It led me to allude to Michael Brown in my most recent sermon on Politics, although admittedly not by name. But the blog post really stopped me – especially the title. But this time, in a negative way.

I’ll be honest, I am pretty new to the public conversation about race. Just check out my previous posts; more people care about my thoughts on being a father of three than on my musings on race and identity. I’m also pretty new to a deeper understanding of the disturbingly unique experience of being Black in America. So rather than keep my thoughts to myself out of fear and shame, I thought I’d put them out there in hopes that the collective wisdom of the internet can teach me something (don’t laugh).

The short of it is I was very uncomfortable with the “The Unacceptable Silence…” blog. I know, boo-hoo, I was made to be uncomfortable. But let me share why:

  1. As an Asian American, the public conversation about race feels irrelevant to me. There I said it. I’m not saying it is irrelevant, but the dominant language, categories, and history don’t really include people like me. When I think “race conversation”, I think Blacks and Whites. And by most accounts, so do those who write about race in America (or at least those who get posted on Facebook). Don’t get me wrong, I am not insensitive to the pain Blacks feel. Last year, a young black man was shot across the street from our church by a police officer. I went to the vigil, on behalf of our church, to hear their stories and to stand with our neighbors as they grieved without answers; it opened my heart and my eyes. But I also left more convinced that the Black experience in America is unique. Even with the plethora of racism that my family and my kin have faced here in America, it stands in a category that is quite separate from being kidnapped, beaten, trafficked, sold, families rendered, and then systematically discriminated against to boot. Understandably, the Black-White relationship has been the dominant narrative. But that narrative has left me feeling somewhat outside of the conversation. Every time I read Ta-Nehisi Coates, I get it, but at the same time, I don’t get it. Get it?
  2. My experience of being Chinese American was less about violence and more about deep psychological insecurity. Just read American Born Chinese. It is the funniest and most sympathetic telling of my racial and ethnic story here in America (is it unacceptable that Blacks have yet to pick this book up in droves?). The short version is that I didn’t grow up fearing White people, I grew up wanting to be like them. Meanwhile, my parents implicitly taught us that we must work hard to be better than them. There were two racial boogie men in our family: the stereotypical dangerous black man, and the stereotypical lazy white teen. We feared the former, but feared becoming the latter.
  3. To hear that our “silence” as Asian Americans is “unacceptable” feels not only forced, but makes me feel disrespected as an Asian American. Why is our silence unacceptable? This is probably not the intent of the author, but the impression I get is that, of course we should join in the collective suspicion on White authority.  Of course we should stand in solidarity over our collective experience of racism. But see, that is not my story. That is not even the shape of my story. And to suggest that I have any reason to feel the same way that Blacks do when their Trayvon Martins and Michael Browns get shot feels offensive – not just to me, but I can’t imagine how that is not weird to Blacks. I do not teach my three boys to be suspicious of the police, when we see police officers we stop to ask if they have any stickers for my boys, and I do not see my sons when I see Trayvon or Michael. The relationship that young Black men have with the police or dominant society is categorically different than the relationship that my boys have with them. Now, would I grieve if Michael was my son? Of course. But the rallying cry in the blog is not based on parenthood, but based on being a racial minority.
  4. What I appreciate most about my friend Gail’s post is that what moves, angers, and disturbs me about Michael Brown’s death – it doesn’t come primarily from being Asian American (although, I’m sure there is some of that). It comes from the compassion of being a fellow human being who has felt helpless before. It comes from the ability to colorfully imagine Michael Brown being one my son. But most importantly, it comes from being a Christian – who in the pattern of Jesus, is called to not only care about injustice, but to care about the injustices suffered by people who have very little in common with me. Just read the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a subversive racial story that ends with Jesus telling people like me: Go and do likewise. I am in no way saying that race has nothing to do with Michael Brown’s death. I’m just saying it’s hard for me to see what my race has to do with it. But I’m not so sure how much that really matters in light of the teachings of Jesus.
  5. I feel pretty convicted about what’s happening in Ferguson. I guess I could re-post stories and thoughtful commentary. I just haven’t come across too much that doesn’t just feed into the overly simplistic racial picture that we already know exists. Honestly, posting about injustice on Facebook – it’s tired and tiring. Give me a better way, and I’ll do it.

These are my honest thoughts. I’d love to hear yours. If you think I’m off-base, let me know. I want to learn.

“Is my skin brown because I drink chocolate milk?” (Ch. 3 Reflections: The Early Years)

This post is long overdue – life got busy.

I love the question which opens this chapter, a question Tatum’s daughter once asked her:  “Is my skin brown because I drink chocolate milk?”  Hearing kids talk about race is fun and sometimes even subversive.  My kids have never referred to their friends as White, Black, Yellow, or Red – because, it turns out, none of us are actually those colors (except Brown).  Race, I’m reminded, is a social construct.  Another example:  I just polled my three boys; oldest says he’s Chinese, middle says he’s English, and youngest says he’s Spanish (I asked him why, Because I look Spanish.)  But these humorous conversations with kids about race remind me that while kids certainly have some wrong-headed ideas about race, so do we as adults.

Talking to our kids about race isn’t easy.  Some parents fear that by introducing the conversation so early, they are raising questions and concerns that before didn’t exist.  Even for patently racist parents, they know that they must speak about race in hushed tones, or at least behind closed doors.  And yet passing on values about racial & ethnic identity and relationships to our children is vital, even if it happens non-verbally.  I am convinced that there are a few places where we can see where our real values are.  One is how we use money.  The second is how we raise our kids.  As a Christian, it’s almost cliche to talk about people who are Christians – until it comes to their money and their children.  But this an untenable position before a Jesus who told his disciples:  “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt 19:14).

There are some stark differences though between Tatum’s world and my world.  First, I am not Black; while I am a racial minority, there is something categorically unique to the stigma associated with being Black in America and something unique to the relationship between Blacks and Whites.  Second, it seems like I live in a much more diverse neighborhood than Tatum does; where I live, Whites are as populous as Latinos, Filipinos, Chinese, and Indians; White normalcy seems to be more prevalent in her neighborhood, or at least at her children’s schools.  Third, my kids already come home with messages about racial inclusion and equality–unsurprising given the racial diversity among their teachers.  And for these reasons, I don’t naturally feel as nervous about my kids growing up as Chinese-Americans as Tatum does with her kids.  This doesn’t mean that there is no racism in our neighborhood–there is, but not of the character Tatum writes about.  At this stage, they don’t perceive that they are worse off or that they are weird because of their looks or their Chineseness.  They don’t think they are yellow because they drank “too much” (insert yellow colored drink).  In fact, they would be happy to bring their Chinese soy milk or yogurt drinks to school with a level of confidence that would have put my 3rd grade self to shame.  As far as they are concerned they are as different and as similar as their friends who are Armenian, Filipino, Caucasian, etc.  At least for now (or more accurately, as far as I know.)

Tatum advocates that FIRST, we should be happy to accept children for where they are at developmentally (often making broad generalizations, e.g., about one’s consumption of chocolate milk).  SECOND, we as adults need to watch how we unconsciously transmit messages about race to and around our kids (do we mention someone’s race unnecessarily?  especially in a pejorative way, or to express surprise?).  And THIRD, we should help them develop a critical consciousness (e.g., using racial stereotypes in media as simple entry points to teach them).

At this point, as a parent, I find myself emphasizing three things with my children which overlap, but slightly differ from Tatum:

  1. ACCEPTANCE:  Like Tatum, I accept where my kids are with respect to their understanding of race and ethnicity.  After that one conversation, I have never asked my kids what race their friends are.  When they describe what’s unique about their friends, only once or twice have they ever referred to skin color; all other times they’ve referred to their hair color or curliness, their height or size, their raspy voice, and (when pressed) if it is a girl.  I want to learn about their world as they see it.  And even when my youngest insisted that he was Spanish because he looks Spanish (what does that even mean?), at this point, I see no reason to correct him.  Because at this point, self-discovery is just too fun and fluid.  The stuff my youngest says is wrong almost half the time.  And rather than spending all my time correcting him and stifling the joy of discovery, I delight in seeing how he discovers things about himself.  But with my older son, I do find myself correcting him because he’s old enough – but I always do it in a way that steers his understanding of the truth rather than making him feel embarrassed for being so “ignorant.”  We laugh a lot when we talk about race, ethnicity, gender, or outer space aliens — and I hope, learn a lot too.
  2. IDENTITY:  Clearly, two of my boys have identity issues (but who doesn’t?).  But that’s the freedom they have at this age.  But what does it mean to be Chinese-American?  I resonate with this question, because I am Chinese, and yet I’m not.  I look Chinese, yet I don’t speak Chinese.  I have Chinese family values, and yet I am also a Western individualist.  I cook and eat Chinese food, but pretty much every other cuisine as well.  My kids are the same.  Unlike my grandparents, I don’t feel the need to preserve their Chinese-ness, and yet I want them to have a sense of what it means to be Chinese-American, especially in the diverse environment that they are growing up in.  Recently, I’ve been reading through with my boys Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, a marvelous graphic novel that approaches the Boxer rebellion from the Traditional Chinese perspective and the Catholic Chinese perspective.  There’s also lots of gods, and magic, and knives, so my boys love it.  I also read Yang’s American Born Chinese with my oldest – and to my surprise, he understood it’s meaning, despite not growing up wanting to be like the cool White kids.  What I love about these stories is that they are both Chinese and Western.  Yang offers a narrative that not only bridges those two worlds and their histories, but also brings the tensions to surface.  I am resistant to the idea of imposing what it means to be Chinese-American on my boys, and story provides the freedom for them to discover that for themselves with some narrative anchors.
  3. JUSTICE:  Particularly out of my Christian convictions, I want my children to grow up being sensitive to anyone or any group that is being ignored, bullied, or singled out in a pejorative fashion–regardless of the social marker.  I regularly ask them if there are people who no one wants to play with, that everyone laughs at because I want them to be the first to be their friend, to include them.  Race has generally not been something I have specified as a reason to rile them to action, again, because they have not brought it up as a reason.  More often, it will be because someone is smelly, or weird, or dumb, or mean (do these labels track with race, gender, or socioeconomic status?  maybe/maybe not).  A good friend of ours has a son who is autistic, so that is also on my radar.  As they become more race-aware, you bet it will be a more intentional conversation.

If you’re parent, it’d be great to hear what’s on your mind when it comes to conveying messages and values about race to your children.

Reflections: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – Ch.2

The author Beverly Tatum does something interesting in this chapter.  She dives into the complexity of identity – but not merely to understand ourselves better, but as a possible path to understanding each other across the racial conversation.

Who we are, Tatum suggests, is not so straight-forward.  We are multi-dimensional–e.g., I am a young, Gen X, middle class, Chinese Christian heterosexual male.  But how we view ourselves is also a product of a multi-faceted process.  A la Erikson, how we view ourselves results from this back and forth process between observation and reflection:  All day long, I intuit what you think about me, I observe what is considered normal in the world, I observe what the world thinks about people like me — and I reflect, react, and internalize those things.  So identity isn’t just this innate quality, rooted merely within myself – it is also located within my social context.  How I view myself as a young Chinese man in 2013 America is very different than as a young Chinese man in 1013 China.

One of the biggest components of our self-perception, Tatum says, is our membership in either a dominant or subordinate group.

One of the interesting things she notes is that when she asks people to describe themselves, White people almost never introduce themselves as White, while people of color almost always indicate their color or ethnicity.  The reason is because when we are in a dominant group, we tend to take that element of our identities for granted.  When the external world already privileges this aspect of my identity – the harmony is so great that it falls back into my unconscious.  On the other hand, when we are not in the dominant group – we know it.  And we’ve all been there:  when I walked into a room of all women, all well-dressed people, all tall people, etc.  This experience of being “other” is so pronounced, that it tends to be the part of our identity that we become most aware of.

There are at least seven categories of “otherness” commonly experienced in U.S. society. People are commonly defined as other on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and physical or mental ability. Each of these categories has a form of oppression associated with it: racism, sexism, religious oppression/anti-Semitism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, and ableism, respectively. (p. 22)

The reality, though is that most of us belong to both dominant and subordinate groups.  I am subordinate because I am Chinese, young, and (in our area) Christian (curious, in her area, it’s an advantage).  But I am dominant because I am male, well-educated, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, and once again, stunningly good-looking.

But to return to the contrast between dominant and subordinate groups – it’s pretty stark.  Because the dominant group, by definition, sets the rules, defines what’s normal.  Everyone else “is labeled as defective or substandard in significant ways” (p.22).  An example that I run across frequently has to do with study habits/value of education.  I’ve heard of people who bemoan how Asian parents for being “too strict” and putting “too much pressure” on their kids.  Meanwhile, it’s insinuated that Blacks are “lazy” or otherwise less intelligent.  Think about what is being said here. The implication is that Whites are neither too strict nor too lazy, they are, as we learned from Goldilocks:  Just right.  In any case, this is an example of the dominant group seeing what is “normal” as merely a reflection of themselves.  (To be fair, my family was quite insistent that I never become as lazy as anyone because in their cultural mindset – their way was not only right, but normative).  Another example is when men complain that women are “too emotional”.  Who defines what is the right amount of emotion?  The dominant group, which is men.

Of course, these are all stereotypes with only degrees of truth.  But when someone in the subordinate group bucks the trend, they are merely seen as anomalies.  That’s why Biden’s compliment to Obama was seen as backhanded:  “The first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” (read:  because normally you guys aren’t!).

But stuff like this shouldn’t surprise us, because most dominants are clueless – most think their experience is normative.  They literally have no idea.  But who can blame them when the culture and media all simply parrot back their views and values ?  Subordinates are familiar with the experience of the dominants because the dominants own the culture and the media, but rarely the other way around.  That’s why if you want to go mainstream, you often have to “whitewash” yourself:  Blacks lighten their skin, Asians change their eyes, Jews change their noses, etc.  You have to suppress your identity.

Of course, this makes many of us want to reject the dominant culture altogether – which leads to ghettoism.  The negative result, Tatum says, though is that it disconnects subordinates from the networks, skills, and resources that would otherwise help improve their plight — all of which are connected to the dominant group.

And so this where even earnest race relations have often fallen apart.  Earnest Whites can easily become discouraged by the charges of still being racist.  Meanwhile, people of color, are still angry by how clueless Whites continue to be.

From here Tatum says that the complexity of our identities can be an asset.  If you are White, she says it might be easier to understand the perspective of minorities by drawing on your own experience of belonging to a subordinate group — as a young person, female, person with disability, growing up poor, etc.  If you are a person of color, you might understand that cluelessness better if you realize you too are a clueless dominant — as a heterosexual, able-bodied person, a man, or some other kind of dominant person.  Tatum says of herself:

If I am impatient with a White woman for not recognizing her White privilege, it may be useful for me to remember how much of my life I spent oblivious to the fact of the daily advantages I receive simply because I am heterosexual, or the ways in which I may take my class privilege for granted. (p. 23)

In other words, perhaps the first step is to realize that both the threads of clueless dominance and helpless subordination run through all of us.  None of us are exempt or immune.

The thesis of this chapter resonates deeply with me as a Christian.  People often say that at the heart of Christianity is love.  Actually, it’s Jesus.  But yes, love is central.  But so is the belief that we are all sinners.  More specifically:  we are all victims of sin, but we are also all perpetrators of it.  I cannot decry the corruption of politicians without also being humble about the greed in my own heart.  I cannot turn my nose at Miley Cyrus without implicating my own pride and insecurities.  I cannot point at the speck in my brother’s eye without bumping into the plank in my own.

There are sinners on both sides of the racial conversation.  As an ethnic minority here in America (but certainly not the world!) – it’s so easy to just shake my head at the majority.  I was recently talking with a friend about Rick Warren and also the Exponential Conference – and he said something that startled me:  Most white people just don’t get it.  That may or may not be true.  But the Cross of Christ reminds me:  I am a clueless sinner too.  This does not negate the sins of the majority.  In fact, I believe the Cross puts the onus on the dominant – not the subordinate; reconciliation and love, in light of Christ crucified, is always the ethical responsibility of the strong, not the weak.  But even so, the Cross still stunningly calls me to humility and patience.  Ponder this long enough and you’ll realize how offensive, yet radical this is.

Personally, I think the Cross takes us much further than Tatum does, but it seems promising that it’s in the same direction.  Because my interest in this topic is not to stoke racial animosity or pride – but in seeking racial righteousness in the Church, and peace in the world.

Reflections: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – Ch.1

I’ll admit that race & ethnicity is something that I’ve only thought superficially about.

This might be surprising considering that I was born and raised in a rather diverse neighborhood; my playground friends were Filipino, Chinese, White, Hapa, Indian, Vietnamese, and Japanese (for some reason never became friends with my Latino & Black classmates).  There was racism growing up, but there was also just friendship.  This might also be surprising since I am a son of Chinese immigrant parents.  Which meant that I led a dual life — outside the home:  an assimilated American life (albeit hodge-podge); inside the home:  a HK/Toisan family life.  Sometimes the transitions were seamless; sometimes it was awkward and embarrassing.  And lastly, because I pastor a predominantly Asian American congregation — and I also teach Christian ethics.

I can spend a whole post analyzing why this has been the case.  But it’s enough to say that over the past few years, I’ve been experiencing a shift.  A shift as a Chinese American within this world.  Within the broader circle of the American Church.  And shifts – that I attribute to God’s Spirit and the prompting from friends – within my heart.  My reading of this now classic book is part of catching up to this shift.

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Beverly Tatum, the author (and a psychologist & professor), begins with the provocative title:  Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?  I remember when I first saw this title, I was reminded of a recent time when I was talking with a fellow believer who is White – she not so subtly criticized our church:  Why aren’t you guys more multi-ethnic?  Why do Asians always stick together?  And that question both incensed me, but also made me wonder as well.  It is an honest question.

In the opening chapter, Tatum begins with a question one of her White students once asked her:  “Oh, is there still racism?”  She was startled by the naïveté.  But at the same time, it made her recognize that conversations about race and racial identity cannot begin unless we are able to ask honest questions.  Whites can often feel afraid or defensive.  Peoples of color (her term) can often feel angry, helpless, or also afraid.  So honesty is crucial.

But so is truth and clarity.  And the reality is that racism in our country is real.  Some of us just don’t recognize it because, as Tatum puts it, it:

Cultural racism—the cultural images and messages that affirm the assumed superiority of Whites and the assumed inferiority of people of color—is like smog in the air. Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in. None of us would introduce ourselves as “smog-breathers” (and most of us don’t want to be described as prejudiced), but if we live in a smoggy place, how can we avoid breathing the air? (Kindle 300-303)

So racism isn’t just “in” the individual – it is embedded into the relational and structural systems of our society.

Tatum begins by defining racism.  From David Wellman, she defines racism as a system of advantage based on race.  Meaning, it’s not just prejudice.  I found this point to be particularly profound.  Because again, racism is not just about how you and I view other people – also the system in which we live.  But also, racism isn’t just about prejudice – it is especially about how these prejudices consistently advantages one race over others.  The most telling example came from an article:  “White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”  The white female author, in the article, rattles off a long list of societal privileges that she has received simple because she is White – privileges she neither asked for nor earned:

Of course she enjoyed greater access to jobs and housing. But she also was able to shop in department stores without being followed by suspicious sales-people and could always find appropriate hair care products and makeup in any drugstore. She could send her child to school confident that the teacher would not discriminate against him on the basis of race. She could also be late for meetings, and talk with her mouth full, fairly confident that these behaviors would not be attributed to the fact that she was White. She could express an opinion in a meeting or in print and not have it labeled the “White” viewpoint. In other words, she was more often than not viewed as an individual, rather than as a member of a racial group. (Kindle  343-348)

Wow.  This immediately drove me to consider all the privileges that I have been unwittingly been afforded because I am male.  Yes, people may have prejudices against me because I am male (he’s such a typical guy) — but the system of our society, on the whole, does not advantage women/disadvantage men on the basis of sexist prejudices, but the opposite — almost every time.

Moreover, I have, for the most part, been unaware of how our society is set up for my advantage as a male (who is also well-educated, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class, and of course, stunningly good-looking).  Sexism that benefits me as a male is simply part of the smog-filled-air that I breathe.  Hence, only males can truly be sexist.

And this answers the understandably honest question:  Are only Whites racist?  Because most Whites abhor the image of Klansmen, skinheads, or Archie Bunker.  This question is usually understood as, “Are you saying all Whites are bad people?”  To which she says, of course not.  But she still says, provocatively, that only Whites can be racist.  And the reason goes back to the definition of racism.  Blacks and Latinos and Native Americans and Asians can and are prejudiced (trust me, we are).  But the system of our society does not offer preferential treatment based on those prejudices.  “Despite the current rhetoric about affirmative action and ‘reverse racism,’ every social indicator, from salary to life expectancy, reveals the advantages of being White” (Kindle  338-339).  This is where I plug, once again, comedian Louis CK’s brilliant bit on how he loves being white and even better bit on how great it is for his two White American daughters.  Anyone can be prejudiced.  But only certain prejudices lead to any advantage.  And people of color, instead of Whites, are almost always on the short end of that stick.

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My only quibble with Tatum is that while this is most definitely true nationally and even regionally, I have generally tended to think that our lives are most affected locally.  What is true in one enclave, ghetto, or barrio may not always mirror what’s true nationally.  I’ll just say it:  Blacks won’t do too well in Chinatown.  Latinos might not fair too well in the Hood.  But for the most part, I think her point holds true.  Even where there are areas where the local system consistently disadvantages Whites, it’s hard to imagine that they constitute a majority.  More common are places where Whites, while still comprising the minority, still hold the majority of the power, privilege, and advantage.

In any case, Tatum says this question misses the point.  The point is what will Whites do with racism?  She compares racism with those conveyor belt style walkways at the airport — by default, it moves you forward in a direction towards White advantage (i.e., racism).  So the question isn’t simply are you racist, but will you be actively racist (walk or run forward on the belt), passively racist (just stay on the belt, passively going along with things), or be actively anti-racist (move in the opposite direction)?  While I saw her point about Whites and racism, I found myself wondering where I stood along this continuum.  I think most of us, regardless of color, are just passive, period.  This is not good as a human being.  This is inexcusable as follower of Christ.

Tatum closes with a final distinction between racial identity versus ethnic identity.  Race is a distinction we’ve made up on the basis of physical criteria–usually color; race was also originally created in the service of oppression.  Ethnicity is a distinction based on cultural criteria–e.g., language, customs, food, shared history.  So, for example, our Asian American church (mostly Chinese, but includes Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and Vietnamese, and White) is predominantly mono-racial, but multi-ethnic.  A helpful distinction that I suspect will come up again.  I’m looking forward to the next chapter where she explores the complexity of racial identity.

I’ve been asked if I know Francis Chan. And the answer is: As well as I know Jeremy Lin.

Recently, there’s a been a spate of incidences that have made a number of us Asian American Christians feel…not 100% part of the Body of Christ.  And so in response, this open letter has been circulating (click to view & sign):

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Rachel Held Evans, a prolific Christian blogger, who is white, has posted this letter as well and has been asking Asians to share about their experiences.  Here’s what I wrote:

I’ve been asked if I know Francis Chan. And the answer is: As well as I know Jeremy Lin.

I’ve been asked why “you guys” only hang out with other Asians. Or what’s up with the “Asian invasion”. Which is such an interesting question from my now-enlightened white Christian friends.

I’ve been treated as the “Asian friend” (c.f., the gay friend, the black friend, etc.). It’s a little weird being a relational accessory. Curiously, I get this more often from my enlightened liberal friends.

I’ve had white friends demonstrate their faux-rage at how deeply offended THEY are at bigotry towards Asians. It’s great to have empathetic friends; but at times, it feels like they’re over-compensating.

Occasionally, it’s riled me up. More often, it offends or elicits a quiet eye roll. The reality is that if you are used to being the dominant culture – it’s hard to see the people and the world in any other way. E.g., I am a male, most of the time I am just enjoying my male privilege without a thought. This is why I appreciate Louis C.K.’s bit on how he loves being a white male – so honest and yet provocative.

So while I pray and seek dialogue for the sake of inclusion and righteousness, I realize that we need patience and the Spirit’s power – it’s hard to see past your own experience (especially if you’re used to being in charge).

I support this letter because it is honest, firm, and still loving. I’m not generally convinced it’s particularly Jesus-like to DEMAND justice and mercy; better to DO justice and mercy. And pray that the Spirit will use our Christ-honoring means to bring about a Christ-glorifying end.

Children: To have or not to have. Is that the question?

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TIME Magazine recently featured an article about couples who choose to go on without kids.  It’s caused quite a stir.

I’m sure I could weigh in – I am, after all, a father of 3.  But I think the article serves more interestingly as a sociological piece. Our world would seem so strange to the ancients – or even to those in developing countries.  Whereas they viewed children as a gift you hoped for, susceptible to early death, and also a means to economic security…we view children as a human choices made in our plan, objects of our medical-technological control, and a trade-off with our economic mobility.  This is generally true regardless of how many children we do or do not have.

In any case, I think you can have some pretty horrible reasons for not having kids – just as you can for having them. And of course, there are some pretty glorious reasons to go one way or the other as well. And still, there are those of us who have kids by ‘accident’; others who cannot no matter what we try (both instances betraying the modern notion that children are mere products of our will).

Seems to me that our station in life is important, but it’s not always clear which is inferior or superior. What seems most important though is, having found our station, how we choose to live within it. If we’re ever going to be judged, I suspect it will and should be for that.

This is especially true for those of us who are Christians.  The Apostle Paul teaches us that marriage is relativized in light of eternity (spoiler:  there will be no marriage in heaven).  Jesus subverts the sanctity of marriage, children, and family when he asserted that his family was not necessarily biological, but spiritual–i.e., those who do the will of my Father.  Our “life stage” (that whole concept is demolished not only in modern thinking, but in view of the resurrection when we should no longer assume that every single person should get married, or that every married couple should have children, etc.), or station in life, as the ancients called it, is a present reality and of real importance.  And yet it is not of ultimate importance.  That’s why Paul could have the guts to say something as blasphemous as, “Those who are married should live as they were not.”  If we were to follow that logic, we should also say, “Those who have children should live as they did not.”  Being married isn’t better than being single, nor is having children better than not (although – most people still would prefer to be married and have children; it’s natural).  What matters most is how, as a married person, or a parent, we give ourselves wholly to the Lord.

But if we take Jesus seriously, we could even say, “Those who are single or childless should live as if they were not.”  Because our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our children aren’t biological but spiritual–those who do the will of our Father.  Even if I am single – by choice or not – I am called to belong to and sacrificially love God’s family.  Even if I am childless – by choice or not – I am called to care for “the least of these” and to make disciples, that is bearing spiritual children.  Being single or childless means a large measure of liberty (although with loneliness mixed in), but the question Jesus and Paul would ask us is:  What are we doing with that liberty?  Are we living for YOLO?  Or are we living for YHWH?  (please don’t roll your eyes).

And this is where we, as Christians, must diverge from the contemporary ideas about marriage, children, and family.  Our goal isn’t supposed to be personal fulfillment or self-actualization.  Having children merely to make us happier is as evil as not having children for the same reason; because while either path can make us happy, regardless of the path, we are called to service, not to self-gratification.  And children are not a means (or an obstacle – although Jesus says we adults can be one for them), they are human beings made in the Image of God, people whom we must continue to love and nurture even when their ability to make us happy diminishes.  And so as followers of Jesus, while I think we can weigh in on topics like these, the most important question isn’t IF we should do this or that, but HOW.  The goal isn’t personal fulfillment, but living wholly unto the Lord, offering our lives as living sacrifices to God – regardless of what kind of station we find our lives in.

For true peace of heart

For true peace of heart is to be found in resisting passion, not in yielding to it. And therefore there is no peace in the heart of a man who is carnal, nor in him who is given up to the things that are without him, but only in him who is fervent towards God and living the life of the Spirit. – Thomas à Kempis

Kant deplored inclination — either internal or external pressures on the will, and instead described the path to and from Reason, as the path to real freedom.

Kempis seems to somewhat share that analysis — that obeying our “carnal” desires (internal inclination) or things that are “without” (external inclination) weighs us down with disappointments and condemnation.  The path to peace, however, is not obeying Reason, but in obedience to the Spirit.

To the Enlightenment philosopher, Reason is what makes us truly human; therefore we need to shun all inclination and live as perfectly rational human beings.  To the contemporary individual, what makes us truly human is Passion (e.g., I should do what I ‘really want’ because my desires are inherently good, they come from who I really am, and unless I obey my passions, I will not truly become my true self).  But from the perspective of Scripture, what makes us truly human is the Image of God; and unless we can resist  our fallen inner desires as well as the external pressures to conform — and instead listen to the voice of God in whose image we are made, and in the example of Christ — who showed us what it means to be truly human — we will always be less than the people were were made to be.

3 Kids More Expensive Than I Thought?

In my last couple of posts, I wrote about having three kids.  And this just came out…

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) just released regionally-based adjustments on the Federal poverty line.  I don’t know much about the EPI; I’ll leave it up to you whether you agree with their definition of basic standard of living: “the income a family needs in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard by estimating community-specific costs of housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes.”

What really caught my attention was how much BIG the cost jump was to three kids versus the jump to having two kids.  For example, the cost of raising a family in the SF East Bay:

3 kids:  $92k
2 kids:  $75k
1 kid:  $69k

The difference between having two kids versus one:  $6,000.
Jump from two to three kids:  $17,000.  The EPI estimates it costs three times more.  

Now I generally ignore these sorts of things because people are always getting freaked out about whether or not they can afford to have kids.  Some people have a legitimate concern their.  But most people who read and write these sorts of articles can probably afford to have kids — they’ll just have to (*gasp*) make some sacrifices.

But what caught my attention was the massive jump from two kids to three.  That seemed rather incredible to me.  But then I reflect on our experience…

  • upgraded to minivan; literally could not fit 3 carseats in the back of our sedan
  • prolonged the number of years we needed childcare (my wife thereafter reduced to part-time, which in a sense is a “cost”)
  • we were blessed enough to already have a place large enough – but if we were in a 2-bedroom place, we could obviously make do with 3 kids, but an upgrade would certainly make sense (actually, with the massive dip in interest rates over the last few years, our housing costs have actually decreased).

Even with the above, I’m kind of scratching my head on this one…

How Do You Do It With Three Kids?

My previous post, inspired by Laura Meehan, seems to have stirred some interest.  Enough to somehow end up on Reddit.  Some have mistaken that I disagree with Laura; I don’t one bit.  I just wanted to fill out some of the positives to having three kids.  It is crazy hard, yet it also also crazy awesome.  But at the end of the day, you’ve got to choose for yourself — or you don’t choose, but you learn to roll with the punches.

In any case, given the interest in the topic, I thought I’d reprise an old post in response to the most common question my wife and I get asked:  How do you do it?

I like Laura’s answer:  There’s no magic.  It’s hard.  You mess up.  But you just do it.

My answer’s not all that different:  We work hard at it.  But more so, we’re incredibly blessed.

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How Do You Do It With Three Kids?

January 26 2011, 10:29 PM  by Brian Hui

 

Painting by Donny Hui, my brother.  No, we don’t have four kids.

The most common question/comment my wife and I get  is, “I don’t know how you guys do it with three kids.  How do you??”  And at first, since most people we knew were still childless, it was, frankly, an annoying question.  And it’s not because I mind the question, but the underlying vibe I got from most folks was that we’re crazy for having three kids; we’re freaks.  Or there was this sense that kids are such hassle, a burden, almost like asking how we could manage to have our lives so ruined.

But now that more and more of our friends are having kids, especially for the first time, the question sounds different.  It sounds more like true curiosity, maybe even a little bit of exasperated wonder.  And so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on “how we do it” — at least some thoughts that come to mind immediately.

But first a couple caveats.  First, I don’t think we’re heroic for having three kids — so there’s nothing self-congratulatory going on here.  My grandma had 7 kids (that survived) and emigrated with her whole family out of communist China to Hong Kong and eventually here to the States.  That’s heroic.  Second, what follows is descriptive and not prescriptive.  And now on with the show…

We both come from families three.  So it might seem a lot to some people.  But it feels perfectly normal for us.  Weirdos like us can be surprisingly well-adjusted when we think we’re perfectly normal.

We have loving & helpful parents who live close by.  The difference this has made cannot be overstated.  My sister-in-law’s family, for example, lives far away and they don’t have anything close to the support system that we do; so it’s much harder.  Also, our parents love taking care of our kids.  A few of my friends have parents who prefer not to babysit; that also makes it harder.  Now, this doesn’t mean we just drop them off and subcontract out our parenting to them – – although my mother-in-law does help babysit during work hours.  But we do spend a fair amount of time with them.  And whenever there are multiple adults around, caring, feeding, bathing, playing with our kids is always much easier.  And of course, during the rare times when we do need to run an errand or go on a date, we have the grandparents to depend on.

We’ve created pretty efficient routines.  No, not everything is color-coded, pre-packaged, or automated.  But between getting-the-kids-ready-in-the-morning rituals, getting-out-of-the-house rituals, to washing-them-up-and-putting-them-to-sleep rituals, my wife and I have our roles pretty down pat (sometimes there’s still hiccups).  And they also know that if they slow things down, they’ll get in trouble.

Our kids are flexible sleepers.  They can sleep anywhere; they’re not too fussy about that.  They can also sleep late if we’re hanging out with friends (although less so now that Caleb’s in school).  It’s not that we “trained” them, but we’ve always just brought them along and I guess they’ve always just been used to it.

I am half as strict as Amy Hua.  Which means I am strict as hell.  Three isn’t freakishly large, but three is still a crowd.  And we’ve put a lot of discipline into the front end of their childhood so that all the basics — cleaning up toys, eating together at the table, washing up, going to sleep, listening to voice commands, etc. are mostly down (keyword:  mostly).  And once we had the basics down, home life (and even life outside the home) isn’t nearly as frenetic as it could be.

I employ crowd control strategies.  There’s two of us, three of them.  Much of the time, there’s one of us, three of them.  And if we were to try to chase down, or get the attention of each child one at a time, it’d be nearly impossible and we’d go nutz.  So I’ve found ways that I can get all their attention at once and can corral them all like cattle.  I’ve figured out how to have fun with all of them at the same time — whether it be wrestling, going to the park, story time, etc.  And for much of the time, if one person gets in trouble, they all get in trouble.  Yeah, that latter one sounds unfair…because it is.  But it also teaches them the consequences of fighting, trains them to negotiate and resolve things on their own, reinforces their bond as brothers, and most of the time, it really is everyone’s fault.

We still value each child and know what makes them tick.  No, we don’t go on special outings with each child like Jon and Kate did — although I did take Evan to DC this fall.  But we know when someone needs a hug, a break, or just some extra attention.  We know what their favorite foods and activities are and we’ll eat and do those things together; an added bonus to that is that they learn to enjoy those things with each other.  We know what they’re afraid of, the things they can and cannot do.  And while we have common expectations across the board for all our kids, we also know that there are just some things that are peculiar and probably unbendable about each child.  Why is Caleb so competitive, Evan so moody, and Dylan so fat?  We don’t know, that’s how God made them.  And we love them as they are and work with what we have.

We are lazy.  We admit it.  We use the TV, Netflix, Wii, iPod, iPad, etc. when we’re too tired or when they get too MMA with each other.  We also have a DVD player in our minivan.

Everyone has a role.  Running a house is like running a business.  And since I’m Cantonese, I am a firm believer in child labor.  So whether it’s cleaning up, setting up the table, fetching things for mom & dad, kitchen prep, or simple laundry, we keep them involved in the family chores.  It teaches them responsibility, but we also just need the help.

We hang out mostly with friends who are good with our kids.  This wasn’t a conscious choice.  But we’ve always thought of ourselves as a package.  So if you like hanging out with our kids, can be patient with their volume, and like playing with them too — well, we’re gonna naturally be that much more likely to invite you over.  It’s more fun to hang out with you and, to go back to the adult:kid ratio, the more (helpful) adults around, the easier it is on us.

We genuinely believe children are a gift to be received with wonder and gratitude, not an intrusion into our lives.  I know that sounds way holier-than-thou.  Maybe it is.  But if your primary disposition towards kids is that they’re troublesome, require too much sacrifice, etc…well, obviously having more kids feels that much more of a burden.  But even though they can be a handful at times, we don’t think that they’re in the way of us leading a happy, meaningful life.  Kids are not the antithesis to our dreams.  At the same time, our kids in and of themselves are not the objects our dreams.  My wife and I got married, dreamed big, and our kids are just along for the ride.  We just have to make more room for them.

The grace of God.  At the end of the day, my wife and I were mostly naive about having kids.  We never thought it would be daunting, and so maybe for that reason, it hasn’t felt daunting.  But it’s probably mostly because God has always given us everything we’ve needed — beginning with the first, then second, and now the third son.

So, You Would Like to Have Three Children: A Non-Rebutting Counterpoint

LAURA MEEHAN AT THE SHORT-WINDED BLOG recently wrote a rather exasperated yet hilarious post about the ardors of having three children.

I regularly speak with people who have zero children, or one child, or two children. And they tell me they might consider or would like to have three children. My first impulse, I will own, is to bark, “No, you don’t want three kids.” But that is not helpful, I know this.

Let me first say in her defense: Everything she writes is true. She writes about the juggling, the tiredness, the constant shouting, the unhelpful comments, etc. Reading her post made me realize that for those of us who have 3+ kids, our normal is most people’s crazy. And since I have 3 growing boys, I would even add to her list of demerits that we are soon approaching the day when our grocery bill will outpace our mortgage. Extracurricular activities and travel require gifts of creativity and frugality because everything is x 5. Eating out is rarely relaxing (even with our shameful use of electronic babysitters).

That notwithstanding, however, I think she gave short shrift to the picture of the beauties, the plusses, the shear awesomeness of having 3 kids. Again, not to negate what she said – but the pleasures of parenting x 3 are equally real, experienced in what sometimes feels like cacophony, but many times like harmony.

SO HERE IS MY NON-REBUTTING COUNTERPOINT. These are the reasons why I love being a father of 3, and why I think you ought to consider stop freaking out about it…and just…do it.

  • Band of Brothers – This is also because they’re all brothers and all close in age, but my boys are very close to each other. They love each other, they watch out for each other, and they do everything together. Sure they are constantly invading each other’s space (often times in each other’s faces), but it goes both ways: the same impulse to steal each others toys is the same impulse to crawl into each other beds. Because even at an early age, they understand that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. And what parent feels anything less than joy knowing that? . .
  • Every Part Belongs to the Body – Yes, the dishes and laundry and cleaning are NEVER truly done. An extra dishwasher and washing machine would hardly feel like a luxury (first world problems – I know). And what this means is that for my wife and I: We cannot do it all. But instead of being a point of exasperation and self-absorbed guilt, we see this is an opportunity to involve our kids even at an early age – teaching them that they have a role in the family. That family isn’t about you or me, but us. But in order for us to function, your help is not only appreciated, it is needed. So yes, raising 3 kids is a lot of work, but as they’ve gotten older, they’ve also grown more helpful. Just yesterday, my 4 year old cleared the floors, my 6 year old mopped the kitchen, and my 8 year old vacuumed the carpets – including the stairs! And that not only helps with the load, but it’s also formative. Learning to help out as early as 2 years old (all our kids are 2 years apart – no, we didn’t plan that) has taught them selflessness and responsibility. Which, looping back, benefits all of us in the home. . .
  • Buffer – Living in a full house actually means that there is more, not less social flexibility. We are a house of both extroverts and introverts. If one of us wants company, there’s always someone to hang out with. But if one of us wants to be alone, we don’t have to worry about leaving anyone alone; there’s always 3 other people to hang out with. There’s rarely a need to feel left out or overwhelmed (well, okay, when the 3 boys really start going at it, it can get overwhelming, but that’s when we just close the door – or I resort to one of my creative Chinese disciplinary measures). But come over and you’ll find that some hours are pretty raucous; but other times, each person is just playing quietly in their own corner of the house. And that works for us. . .
  • Babysitting with Ease – Especially now that they’re older, taking care of my kids (or asking others to) is fairly easy. Easy you say? Well, just watching 1 child can actually be pretty taxing – you can often times feel the pressure to keep them entertained and out of trouble. But with 3, that’s no longer the case. Sure, there are more mouths to feed and when things get out of hand – it compounds rather quickly. But with 3, they’re never bored. They entertain each other. I’ve had to watch my kids while working for a good chunk of the last couple months – and while it’s easier not having to watch them, watching all 3 has always been more preferable to only watching 1. . .
  • Moral Authority – Often times those with 1 or 2 kids will look at us and say stuff like, “I don’t know how you guys do it. I can hardly manage 1!” And then they go on to list all the things that make their kid/s especially difficult. And many times I just want to interject with some of my own thoughts (e.g., There’s no magic; we just do it). But usually I don’t. But it feels good to know that I could. And when I do — well, it’s not like I know nothin’. ..
  • Fun – Playing with my 3 boys is fun. Most board games are made for 4 people. Many video games can now accomodate 4. Two is sufficient for wrestling, but 4 is more fun. Riding bikes, going to the park, making pancakes on Saturday mornings as a group is more fun. Even telling jokes and funny stories over dinner is more fun with a laughing chorus of 5 versus 3 or even 4. For us, the more has truly been the merrier. . ..

SO, YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE THREE CHILDREN? WE DID. So did our parents. And we love the fullness of our families. Now obviously, I don’t think we should be flippant about having kids. Kids are a gift as much as they are a trust from God. And yes, parenting is hard – that’s just the way it is. But sometimes we make it even harder with our own bad press. Yes, kids are a source of stress and exasperation (c.f., Laura), but they are equally a source of joy and help. Amen?

NOTE:  Some people have mistaken this post as a rebuttal to Laura’s post.  Just to reiterate, it’s not.  This is a NON-REBUTTAL.  I completely agree with what she wrote.  Having kids is hard – having three is even harder.  I could probably write an equally long post documenting just some of my recent travails – especially since we’ve been sans babysitter for the last 3 months (i.e., working from home).  But while I think the stress and madness are real — so are the joys and, I dare say, benefits.  So please don’t read this as a rebuttal to Laura’s post, but in tandem.  I don’t expect everyone to agree (everyone’s experience is different), but this has been our experience, for both my wife and I.

Some people have also said that my kid are older and our experience gives them hope.  I’m glad for that.  It has definitely gotten easier – especially after our youngest got out of diapers.  Press on parents!  And if you wanna hear about how we’ve made it through these years:  I’ve written about that too.