Trump is Elected: A letter to our church

Dear Great Exchange Church,

America is not the kingdom of God. And this election had reminded us of that.

I’d like to warn us of two dangers and offer a few thoughts on what it means to live under Jesus as king.

First, if your candidate won, you have reason to rejoice, but I caution against over-jubilation.

I came to Christ at a church that identified Christianity with a certain brand of conservative politics. And it was dangerous because it breeded hypocrisy, made us blind to injustice, but mostly because it caught us up in a narrative that if only we took America back for God, by voting for the right leaders or laws, then God would bless us or he’d make America great again.

This of course should have made us ask when did this country belong to God? When we slaughtered natives and stole their lands? When we enshrined slavery into the Constitution? Or when we preserved the subordination of women? Or when we excluded Chinese or interned Japanese-Americans? America is a great nation for a host of reasons, and has produced some truly great Christian leaders, but we should always be wary of selectively nostalgic tellings of history. And even if it was great, was it great for everybody or even most people?

In any case, this political view encouraged us to seek worldly power in order to make America into God’s kingdom (again). It is not. So if your candidate won, you may have reason to celebrate, but this man is only our president, he is not our king. And our hope is not in what we can make of this nation.

But for those who are dismayed by the election of Donald Trump, I also caution against too much despair, or too much “if only…” thinking. The Christian left on the face of it seems like a good corrective to the Christian right. But the error is the same, but instead of placing our hopes in a conservative America, it’s placing our hopes in a progressive America. If only we had enough social justice, or more progressive leaders or laws, then God would bless us. And the Christian left can be just as power hungry.

Being sad or angry is justifiable. But being overly dismayed suggests that our hopes are pinned too tightly to the politics of this world.

I do believe Mr. Trump poses a special danger to our country and the least of these. But we should not be surprised when our nation or it’s leaders disappoints us.

And if we needed further proof that we can’t place too much hope in our country’s politics: Without much notice, assisted suicide is now legal in California for the terminally ill – including those who are mentally ill. And the death penalty was reaffirmed by a majority of voters. Brothers and sisters, this is not what the kingdom of God looks like.

Does this mean then that we should withdraw from public citizenship and focus only on “spiritual” things? No. We should still engage our world to the best of our ability, but as people whose primary citizenship is in God’s kingdom, not America’s. We are called to live in this world well, incarnationally, but knowing full well we don’t ultimately belong to it’s leaders, or its politics.

So what does it look like to live under the kingship of Jesus in this nation?

1. Pray for President-Elect Trump and his Administraton.

2. Seek the Common Good. What’s good for all, especially the most vulnerable, will ultimately be good for you. Buck the political trends of fear and self-interest. Both Jeremiah and Paul taught us to seek the peace of our city because peace floats all boats. And peace promotes the flourishing of the gospel. And it’s an expression of loving our neighbor like good Samaritans.

3. Be a Prophet of Peace. The work of peace will sometimes call you to speak up, to take a stand, or even take action. Worshiping Jesus as King is dangerous business. Don’t be afraid. Do it peacefully. But be aware what kings have historically done to prophets.

4. Build the Church and Your Family. The early Christians of the Bible didn’t and most Christians today still don’t live in democracies. Most were and still live under persecution. Most had no access to the levers of political power. Let’s not be so full of ourselves. Building good or just societies are outside the reach of most Christians. We should do it. But our primary calling isn’t to build America but to build the church. Jesus said that our unity and sacrificial love is what will inspire social change. But unity and love is hard work, even harder when we have differing political views in a divided country.

And the same applies to our marriages and families. Don’t underestimate the power of a Christ-like marriage or making little rascals for Jesus.

Advent is just around the corner. And Advent means the coming of our King. Let’s prepare the way by waiting not for some president or some law, but by watching out for our King—and living like it.

Affectionately,
Pastor Brian

How Christians Should Vote

As a (non-white) evangelical pastor, it’s not uncommon for me to see stuff on my feed about “how Christians should vote.” But this is actually a strange and complicated question. Let me rattle off a bunch of reasons:

1. Voting was not even in the imagination of the early believers. Christians, like most people in those days (and most people today!) didn’t choose their rulers. Most people in history were slaves or peasants.

2. Not only did Bible-time Christians not have the right to vote, most were persecuted; the opposite of political power.

3. Around 300 AD, when Christians finally got political power by some wacked stuff that happened to the Emperor Constantine (He saw a vision of the Cross leading him into battle—which, guys, the cross was how Jesus was killed, not how he will kill others! Hence: whacked), the Church lost its identity and we ended up with fancy clergy and churches and crusades. That’s why people became monks, to disconnect from the system.

4. There are really just two types of passages in the New Testament (NT) that speak about the rulers.

4.1. Those that ask us to pray for peace and live lives of peace. You can tell these guys were living under hostile governments. The idea is: If there is peace for everyone else, there will be peace for us and peace for the gospel to flourish.

4.2. Those that are critical of rulers for being cocky, oppressive, and persecuting. But even for these people, the idea was never “vote them out of office”, because, again, that didn’t exist. Instead, prophets wrote poems for the people to recite that promised these rulers would one day meet their Maker. Most Christians believed that justice was out of their hands (they had no power), but that the God of Justice would one day make things right.

5. The NT never thought about how to establish a Christian society (whereas the OT did, a Jewish one). The NT was about strengthening a viral network of tiny little living room societies, called churches, who were a part of something much bigger: God’s Kingdom.

6. The clarion call of the NT is not whom we should vote for, but simply that Jesus is Lord. And in a world that said Caesar is Lord, it’s no wonder the early Christians were deemed disloyal and even unpatriotic.

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With the above in mind, I think we need to be much more humble and honest about the reasons for our vote.

Christians, most likely, you are voting the way you vote because of where you live. Or because of the media you consume. Or because of your demographics. Or your education. Or just because you’re liberal, moderate, or conservative. Not purely because of the Bible. If I’m honest, that’s true for me. Check it.

We are just as prone to voting for self-interest as anyone else. Check it.

At our best, we vote as an expression of loving God and loving our neighbors. But in reality, it’s not always that clear which is the more loving choice.

And there’s always the law of unintended consequences. Politicians lie. Or discover governing isn’t like campaigning. Or laws look different in practice than on paper.

I believe we should take our votes seriously. I believe as members of a democratic society, we should do our best to build a better society. I believe we should debate. And I do believe (collectively), our votes can make a difference. But as the late Rich Mullins once sang, “O, we are not as strong as we think we are.”

So I believe, if we want to take a biblical perspective, these three things remain:
1. Pray for peace and live like it
2. Love your neighbor like a Good Samaritan
3. Seek God’s Kingdom first

Review: At Home in Exile by Russell Jeung

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This is a truly unique book. And the best book I’ve read this year. Part memoir / sociology / theology / Asian corny hilariousness. It’s funny, it’s educational, it’s deeply moving.

Russell moves into and ultimately finds home in the Murder Dubs of Oakland. But it’s not a triumphant American superhero story. Nor is it a sappy romance about ‘the poor.’ It’s a complex, humble story about how he found community, identity, and ultimately Jesus in his mostly Cambodia refugee & Latino neighborhood.

It’s a story that asks: What if Jesus wasn’t as much an American superhero, but more like a Chinese Hakka exile (his ancestors)? What if Jesus was more like my Chinatown grandma than that powerful hipster pastor I’m always jealous of? He re-explores things like MISSION, JUSTICE, COMMUNITY, FAMILY & CALLING through this lens.

I finished this book richly proud of my Chinese ancestry, broken over the plight of disenfranchised non-model-minority Asians in the Bay Area, hopeful about what God is still doing through amazing yet mostly “invisible” people, but challenged to live my faith in a way that may run counter to the power and reward structures of our world.

Entering 2016 as a Loser

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UFC’s Jose Aldo, weeping in his locker room, after his crushing 13-sec loss. He was undefeated for 10 years until December.

As someone who only really started to get into both watching and playing a sport these last couple years, I’ve come to realize why athletes and coaches so often compare sports with life.

In the sports I watch, losing has been one of the predominant themes this year. In boxing, Wladimir Klitschko, who has been the reigning undefeated heavyweight champ for 10 years—lost in a stunning upset to Tyson Fury. In MMA, the invincible superstar Rhonda Rousey got taken to school by Holly Holm; longtime champ Jose Aldo was KO’ed in 13 seconds by Conor McGregor. And the championship Niners I grew up with are currently tied with the Cowboys for last place in the NFL.

Perhaps these losses speak so loudly to me because I have felt the sting of loss more than once this year. Not the losing of loved ones, as I know some of you have, but the losing of battles. Some of the losses are a little too personal to share, but suffice to say, they are battles I’ve lost in my work, in personal relationships, in my spiritual life, and in my journey to pick up boxing at the same age most boxers retire.

One of my favorite TV characters of all time is Coach Taylor, of Friday Night Lights fame. And in the midst of a 26-0 shellacking, Taylor gives this storied locker room speech to his team during halftime:

Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over.

When a new year comes around, we usually look for that fresh start. But as a wannabe athlete…and mostly as someone who is now squarely in my adult years, there are rarely true fresh starts in life. Nor should there be. You can’t push the reset button in between rounds or during halftime. In real life as in sports, you must continue to fight. And even once this fight is over, the next one is just around the corner.

And while winning and losing does matter, it is not what ultimately matters. Most athletes, especially in fight sports, will tell you that the real battle isn’t with your opponent; the real battle is within yourself. Will you lose yourself in the face of this contest? What will be revealed about your character? And even if you end up losing, will you let that loss change you for better, or for worse? What makes him a man is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. Even after we’ve left the ring or the field, this game is not over, this battle is not over.

And even if you ended up winning the game, it’s still possible to have lost…yourself.

As I enter into this new year, my losses are not far behind me. Some of them, I am still in the middle of experiencing. But the invitation that God has been giving to me at this threshold isn’t an invitation to a fresh start, but to keep fighting. And not just in the external battles of life; in fact, the invitation is more so into the internal struggle. Will I lose myself? Will I sacrifice my character, my values, or even my loved ones for the win? Or will I remain true? Will I grow? Will I allow the crucible of battle press and refine me to become the man God sent his Son to die for me to become?

With God’s grace, I sure hope so. We’ll see in 2017.

Reflection: Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Dear Sons,

I recently finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir, Between the World and Me. I expected to come into a deeper encounter with the experience of being black in America—and I did. But what I did not expect was to come into a deeper awareness of my love and responsibility for you.

See, Coates is a journalist and a brilliant writer. He recently won a Macarthur Genius Award. But this book, although a memoir, is written to not only to convey his story, but also his love for his one and only son. By birth, Coates was thrust into the chaotic streets of Baltimore, where even his loving, unreligious, but strict home were living legacies, the ongoing fall out of the subjugation of “black bodies.” He went to Howard University, a historically black college, and found a safe place to explore the full spectrum of blackness. Yet even there, was reminded ‘safe’ is a relative word when one of his friends—a young man who turned down Harvard for Howard, whose mother was Chief of Surgery, a man who was bound for success—was shot by a police officer. Coates met his wife at Howard too—another black person, similar but different from him. They travelled to Paris and experienced not only a sense of foreignness by geography, but also because of they were no longer viewed as especially dangerous or suspicious, i.e., black; he felt like a fish out of its water; and even if that water was poisonous, it was familiar. But then he had his son. Not born into the same chaos Coates knew when he was young. Yet he saw how his boy, born into a new era, could so easily be pushed aside. He saw how his son ran into his room to weep when he saw Michael Brown lying in the middle of the street on the TV. And Coates realized that as far as he’d tried to struggle and live well into being a black man in America, that he would not ultimately succeed if he did not pass the baton to this son whom he loved.

I have not been the worst father, but I have not been the best either. It’s not fair to you guys that the person who is responsible for fathering you is still working out his own identity, his own insecurities, his own imperfections, his own demons. It’s not fair to you guys that Daddy isn’t perfectly selfless, that Daddy is still learning to be Daddy. I didn’t grow up on the chaotic streets of Baltimore, but I did grow up in confusion. I grew up in a loving Toisanese family, but felt embarrassed by them at school. I grew up in a world, that still makes me feel unwelcome. I look back with shame at how, in struggling to be an American teenager, I disrespected my hard-working immigrant parents and made them feel hurt and rejected. But, also unlike Coates, I found God, or better put, Jesus found me. And things have been changing. And the world continues to change too. But not that much. Even as an adult, even as someone who’s been following Jesus for over 20 years now, I am still someone who is just beginning to grasp the edges of self-knowledge, and far from self-mastery, and even further from Christ-likeness. Yet this is the Daddy you have.

There’s a part of me that wants to apologize. And I do. But what all of me wants to do is love you. And by love you, I do mean hug and play with you. I do mean teaching you ride a bike and run a route. But I also mean teaching you what I’ve learned about life, about being a Chinese-American Christian man. And ultimately to be better than Daddy. Because by default, you will be no better than me.

One day, you will read the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and you will at first think they are wise pithy sayings. But eventually you will learn that these are hard wrought lessons of a king to his sons, the future kings of Israel. And that’s what you are. You are my princes, you are the future kings of this world—even if the world will not have you. And I promise to not only father your strength, but also your mind, heart, and soul.

Coates with his son Samori.
Coates with his son Samori.

What’s it mean to live with Hope?

 

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On Easter, I tried to give flesh to the idea of what it means to live in light of the Resurrection, aka Hope (listen here). The resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just some isolated divine magic trick. It was the first taste, first scent of what God has been promising us all along: the redemption of us all. One day, God will heal our wounds, erase our sins, reconcile our relationships, and reward us for our faithfulness. One day God will renew all of creation, and bring about a new creation ruled by worship, love, justice, and peace. One day we will all be resurrected.

But what about now?

I’ve been coming across a spate of “Dear Me” letters. Older, wiser people who write to their 16- or 25-year old selves. These letters are moving because only someone who knows you so intimately could write with such a compelling combination of deep love and incisive kick-in-the-ass. So it occurred to me, living in light of the resurrection is not only about living with the living Jesus “in my heart”, but also about living in light of the resurrection to come. So what if I fast-forwarded to beyond my 60s and 80s–but into my true glory years, in the resurrection? So here’s what I wrote:

Dear 35 year old Me,

I’m writing from the future. And I’m just dying to give you some advice. Just kidding, I’m alive again.

First, you’ve still got a lot more failure ahead of you. But God still loves you. And God will still raise you from the dead.

Second, it’s ok to relax to Netflix, but don’t waste your life on it. Learn how to enjoy life, not just to veg out. It’s good practice for eternity.

Third, it’s ok that loving people is hard. It’s worth it. And it’s not like you’re that easy to love either.

Fourth, tell more people about Jesus.

Fifth, don’t worry about changing the world. Just raise good kids. Make disciples. And love the poor in your neighborhood really well.

Yours,
Brian

Granted, a “Dear Me” letter has its flaws. Is it based on what Scripture tells us about eternity, or just my own fantasies? It’s still kinda self-absorbed (“Dear ME”). And honestly, do I really know what I’d actually say to myself?

But it’s been a helpful start for me. Because so much of what bogs me down is getting consumed in my present circumstances. So much of what makes me despair is fixating on merely what I am able or unable to do about my life or my world. Zooming out, WAY out, has turned out to be a much more helpful way of living in the present. What has helped you?

The Real War on Christmas

It’s that time of the year again when journalists, bloggers, and politicos debate over whether or not there is a War on Christmas. This is one of the humorous yet uncomfortable realities of living in a post-Christian pluralistic society. I happen to believe that there is a war. And I think it’s well captured in the picture above.

Yesterday, we had a worship service that some might call “wonderful”. Not least because it was closed out by our children’s choir. All our iPhones were out to capture this mildly chaotic/boldy cutest of affairs (one child had to make an early wailing exit because my son poked him in the eye). Because this is what we love as Americans. A Christmas that is cute, heart-warming, and involving children. The children were leading us to sing songs of Christmas.

But what was the story of Christmas, sung from the mouth of babes? A story whose central characters, whose key eyewitnesses were the likes of Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and Magi. Watch enough holiday TV and these guys get reduced to cute cartoon characters. But read the actual story and it’s a story that begins with the least believable, least reputable of characters. Mom was a rural pregnant teen. Dad, a disgraced church leader caught up in another sex scandal. The key eyewitnesses: the night-time office cleaning crew. The first worshipers?  Not the local pastors association, but a cell of Muslim imams. And the man who is supposed to save us from empire, terrorism, and ourselves? Not a man at all, but a bastard child. This is the story our children led us to celebrate.

But what’s the Christmas story that gets told on our TVs, malls, and (gasp) school musicals? A story that celebrates sentimentality and unbridled consumerism. As long as we can all cram our sinful selves into the same Norman Rockwell painting, then we can call it Christmas. We think this season is different, but it’s just a sanctification of the status quo.

But what could be more anti-Christmas than the status quo? What could be more anti-Christmas than to silence the people of ill-repute in our society and our lives? The real war on Christmas isn’t the loss of freedom to utter the name of CHRIST in the public square (that’s something troubling, but different). The real war is the violence we do to Christmas by neutering it of it’s subversive power. The real war is giving the Christmas story such a whitewashing that it fits better in the annals of American mythology than the annals of Scripture. (In fact, wouldn’t it be truer to the Christmas story if we Christians expected more persecution each Christmas, not less?)

You want to fight back against the war on Christmas?

  1. Give up war. And hatred and violence; there was enough of that when Jesus was born. Practice humility instead.
  2. Tell the real story of Christmas. Give more credence to children, marginal characters & people of ill-repute. Spend less on those you already spend all your money on – and give more of it away. Contribute to justice, not just charity.
  3. Give more of your heart, soul, mind, and strength to Jesus. Because at the center of Christmas isn’t family, charity, presents, or peppermint lattes — but the one we’ve been waiting for, the one called Immanuel, the one who can save us from our sins.

“I Can’t Breathe”

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I can’t breathe
The unbearable weight of history
Of subjugation, segregation, stop-and-frisk-ation
Boring down into my back
Crushing my chest
Strangling our souls
Let me tap Uncle
I will let you win
I will surrender my cig
If you will just let me breathe
Now beneath the weight of dirt
I’m waiting for justice

I can’t breathe
The loss of another
Son of a mother, a father, a brother
This shitty record is broken
Injustice rolls like a motherfuckin waterfall
Away with the noise of your songs
I can’t listen to the music of you harping on
Why won’t you just stop and frickin listen?
Now beneath the weight of your laws
We’re waiting for justice

I can’t breathe
I’m choking on these fallen tears
I can’t breathe
I’m exhausted from the fight
I can’t breathe
I’m holding my breath
Because if there is no Advent
There can be no justice
If there is no rising again
There can be no peace
Just the status quo
Holding up the weight of the world as we know
And we will be waiting for nothing

But as for me
I will walk
A prisoner of hope
Waiting for that sigh of relief
Waiting for justice

My son’s first schoolyard fight

UPDATE: Evan just told me that Jared walked up to him today on the playground. They shook hands. Jared said sorry. Evan said sorry. They went back to playing four square. Why can’t all our friendships be this simple?

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My 7 year old son, Evan, got into his first school fight yesterday. Like most school yard fights, it was mostly inconsequential. But it was a rite of passage for me as a father. (Why wasn’t this a rite of passage for him? Well, my son spars all the time — he is a scrappy but budding martial artist at our gym, Dragon’s Den.)

My first reaction, when my wife called, was disappointment and anger. We teach our kids not to fight (note: they’re always fighting each other). We teach self-control and good character. We teach peace. We teach them to be like Jesus. But rather than react, since he was emotional too, I asked him to write me a letter. “We’ll talk when Daddy gets home.” This is what he wrote me:

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If Evan is to be believed — and in this case, I do — the boy, Jared, was just your classic bully: a 3rd grader trying to intimidate a little 2nd grader.
(1) The altercation began the day before, on the wiley grounds of the four-square court; Evan tried to tell an adult but Jared, stopped him.
(2) Next day after school, he approaches Evan, “We are not dun fighting,” and jump kicks him. Evan side steps.
(3) My son tries to tell an adult again, the boy stops him, “Your so scared of fighting because you do not wont to get hert baby.”
(4) My son replies, “I do not wont to get in trouble of fighting.”
(5) Jared responds by kicking and attacking Evan.
(6) Evan gets into his fighting stance and engages (according to my wife).

The topic of fighting is hard. Especially if you lean towards non-violence as I do. On one hand, I want my children to grow up to be people of radical peace, not war, aggression, or revenge. On the other hand, no one wants to see their child get hurt. And then of course, there’s the carnal part I share with most dads:  If there’s a fight, I want my kid to beat up your kid (admit it, you do). So I knew that the my conversation with him was going to be pretty important. This is what we like to call a “teaching moment.” Through prayer and thought, I stumbled my way through the conversation, but here’s the gist of what I shared with Evan:

  • There will always be people like Jared. They have something to prove, you have nothing to prove. Mommy & Daddy already love you. God loves you. And you know who you are.
  • I am proud that you used your Kajukenbo (his martial art) for good. You side-stepped, you tried to leave the situation, you tried to reach an adult. You showed wisdom and self-control. That is a sign of good character, not that you are scared (he was more scared of getting in trouble for fighting, than fighting itself). Who you are on the inside is more important than what you can prove on the outside.
  • Mommy & Daddy still never want you to fight. But when someone traps you or forces you to fight, we are not there; you are. We trust you to make a good decision.

The conversation was hard. My son is still young enough to be cute, he has these huge Precious Moments eyes and when he shared about being forced to fight, he began tearing up. At that moment, I wanted to hold him. I wanted him to tell me about how he beat that kid up (I never asked, because who won the fight is not actually important).

At the same time, I wanted to train my son to deal with bullies. People make a lot about bullying today; I was bullied as a kid. But as parents and teachers, we need to realize that we’re not there to stop or protect anyone. And rather than only comforting him, I wanted him to learn from this altercation. And I wanted him to learn how to live real life. I wanted him to be respond like Jesus.

And lastly, I struggled but managed to have compassion on Jared. Because, to be perfectly honest, I know my son could totally take him on. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Evan gets beat to a pulp. What a close second? That Jared does. And despite my protective feelings, I don’t really want anyone to get hurt. I resist the zero-sum logic of If someone’s gonna get hurt, better your kid than mine. Violence is never that cut and dry. And I don’t want my son to grow up with that kind of blood (but mostly snot) on his hands. I pray and desire for peace, not just in the abstract, but even on the blacktop.

If your kids have ever gotten into a fight, I would love to hear how you dealt with it. Or if you ever had the chance to go back in time to talk to your younger fighting self, what would you tell him/her?

Ferguson: Speaking as an Asian American + Christian

This has been a pensive week for me. Ferguson, MO has been on my mind. But more specifically, the ringing challenge of certain Asian American friends who have called the relative silence of their fellow Asian Americans unacceptable, saying we owe a debt to the Black community because of the freedoms we’ve all gained in their fight for civil rights. And while these calls have unsettled me, I have been mulling on their challenge. After all, wounds from a friend can be trusted, right?

At the same time, as a (recovering) news and political junkie, I’m keenly aware that not only are there many sides to a story, but stories are often used to persuade and politicize. This is not new. This is, in fact, the power of story. In fact, I daresay, there is no such thing as a truly objective story.

But thirdly, as I mentioned in my previous post, I am still testing out my voice in the public conversation on race. This is scary for me because I’m prone to not only be misunderstood, but also maligned. As a learner, my beliefs are still fluid. But not all will read my words this way. But in this spirit, here are some continuing thoughts:

I stand by my belief that the race conversation in America, continues to be irrelevant to Asian Americans. Again, I am not saying that racial reconciliation or racial righteousness is irrelevant to us, but the conversation, as it stands, continues as if we don’t exist or belong. We are, predictably, perpetual foreigners to the conversation. E.g., this great article: 10 Ways White Christians Can Respond to Ferguson is addressed to whom? White Christians, not non-Black Christians, but White Christians (I do understand the sentiment though, because White Christians have a unique responsibility in America because of their privileged race). But I think it goes deeper than that, because as Asian Americans, we don’t quite identify with the Black experience or the White experience. Our experience is Other. I think this is why I took such umbrage to the headline: The Unacceptable Silence of Asian American Christians in Response to Ferguson (I realize now that the title didn’t really reflect the actual blog post). Because I felt like I was being co-opted into a story, on the basis of my race – that never truly included me. And this is why, predictably, you see Asian Americans who sympathize more with Brown, others with Wilson, and many others who are Other: they got other things to do. And lastly, at least for me, when I think of race relations, I almost never think of Blacks or Whites – because both have been among the fastest shrinking populations in the Bay Area, my home base. E.g., I have a Black neighbor now, but before he moved in, the family living there was Ghanaian. The two White neighbors I had: a Lithuanian and a Brit. The rest are Afghan, Indian, Filipino, Guatemalan, Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese. The race conversation, re-ignited by Ferguson, isn’t really about this kind of world. The race conversation that is relevant to me is multi-cultural among equally powered peoples, not bi-cultural between unequally powered ones.

As Asians, we’re slower to speak up in general. You might think that is a stereotype – which of course, it is. But I challenge you to have a Bible Study with a equally mixed group of Whites, Blacks, and Asians. You might have one Asian who is always willing to speak up, but more likely than not, you’ll find that Asians wait longer before speaking, prefer to speak in turn or when they are called on, and may go through the whole study without saying much at all. We are less likely to be external processors, more likely to fear saying something that is wrong. And by the time we’ve figured out something worth saying, the group’s already moved on to the next question! We need time, we need space, we need to be asked for our opinion.

Tensions exist between Asians and Blacks too. Wouldn’t it be great if in times of pain, we could just forget the past and just rally around one another? Yes, but that’s not how things always work out. Reconciliation is a prerequisite to community, and right now, there is still too much crap between Asians and Blacks. For example – and I don’t mean to throw my family under the bus here – but I grew up with a fearful and disparaging view of Blacks. It was rarely taught that explicitly, but when you see your parents lock the car doors enough times, pull you in closer enough times when a Black man walks down the street; you hear enough stories about criminal activity or lazy people – and they tend to always feature someone who is African American; you get told enough times that certain neighborhoods are “bad” because of crime, poverty, schools, and oh, there are a lot of Black people living there — eventually, you get the picture (thankfully, my parents no longer share these views — one of the benefits of actually having Black friends). It’s no secret among Asians that our community harbors deep racist attitudes towards Blacks. On the other hand, as some of my readers have pointed out, the experience Asians have had with Blacks has been disproportionately bad. In 2008, the city of SF found that a stunning 85% of physical assaults were Black-on-Asian. In 1992, Korean-owned stores were disproportionately hit by African-Americans in the LA riots — 45%. And in Ferguson, Asian-owned stores were also disproportionately hit. I pray for White-Black reconciliation. But I also pray for Black-Asian reconciliation.

We do owe a debt. Scott Nakagawa outlines “Three Things Asian Americans Owe to the Civil Rights Movement.” (1) The freedom to marry interracially, which Asian Americans are more likely to do than any other ethnic group. (2) The right to vote, which was won for all races. (3) The Immigration and Nationality Act which ended racist discriminatory laws against Asians. Many of us would literally not be here if it weren’t for the sacrifices made by Black Civil Rights leaders. At the same time, many of us have also benefited from White privilege as well (which again, is why we don’t fit neatly on one side or the other). In fact, those of us who’ve achieved any measure of success have often done so through paths well-worn by our White neighbors.

I still believe the Good Samaritan is the best paradigm for Christian response. Another thing that bothered me about Erna’s post was that, in the end, she appealed to our common humanity: “It’s not a Black problem- It’s a mothers and fathers losing their babies problem…a human problem.” That sounds compelling. But I do think it glosses over a crucial truth, namely that Ferguson is about race. And attempting to de-racialize Ferguson in order to appeal to our common humanity does violence to the reason people are marching on the streets (see more below). Moreover, as I mentioned in my previous post, while I can imagine losing my son and the grief I’d suffer – it’s a whole other thing to see my son in Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. That is a story and history my family and I have not lived.

But Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan doesn’t try to extinguish difference. It is based on the truth that our experiences and our previous animosities exist. God always begins with the world as it is, not as we wish it were. Jew v. Samaritan, Black v. White, Asian v. Black – it’s all there, it all sucks, but it’s all real. But Jesus teaches that in spite of these differences and past animosities, it’s not about who your neighbor is, but whether or not you are a loving neighbor. If you see your enemy beaten down on the side of the road, you don’t stop to check first who the guy is before you help; you just help! And then, of course, Jesus ate his own medicine on the Cross. Different histories and past animosities do not present a chasm too wide for Jesus’ cruciform love and the new kind of community he died to give birth to. If this is not true, the whole Christian story is not true.

To distinguish my conflicting feelings, I’ve found it helpful to parse Ferguson into three overlapping narratives: the legal narrative, the historical narrative, and the personal narrative.

The legal narrative is about the “facts” of the discrete event between Brown and Wilson, and specifically who was at fault: Why was Brown stopped? What words were exchanged? Did Brown assault Wilson? Why did Wilson shoot, and why six times? And with respect to the legal narrative, there are still too many unanswered questions. I also fear the politicization of this case might make facts harder to come by. This is also why many of my Asian American friends have had little to say. The grand jury investigation is just beginning, and I pray that the facts of the case will make things clear.

The historical narrative is the story of the Black community crying out: AGAIN? In the historical narrative, whether Brown assaulted Wilson isn’t the point. Because his death – as an unarmed young black man – is yet more proof that America is still not a safe place to be Black. And the fact that Brown’s body was left there in the blazing sun in public view for hours on the street, the fact that the local Ferguson police responded with such military-style force to protestors, the fact that facts have been so slow in coming, the fact that a number of voices have been so critical instead of supportive of the Black community’s response of pain – seems to confirm this suspicion. The historical narrative is bigger than the legal narrative. The historical narrative is why Ferguson has become iconic.

And lastly, there is the personal narrative. This is the story most of us overlook (but to which Erna rightful directs us) – which is that beneath the political and social narratives, there is quite simply, a mother who has lost her son; a community has lost one of their own. And the legal facts are completely irrelevant. I have boys of my own, and I can’t imagine how losing a guilty son is any better than losing an innocent one. Loss is loss. Death is death. There is also the story of Officer Wilson. Journalist are trying to dig into his background, but we really have no idea what is going on in his heart and his mind:  fear, anger, guilt, confusion, regret, peace? In any case, I can’t imagine life being very easy for him anytime in the near future. And I hope against revenge.

So how do I think we should respond as Asian American Christians?

  1. Learn. Some other places have suggested books. That’s a steep first step for something that might be new to us. Begin by just reading quality news and blogs.
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  2. Check your latent racism. I’m not suggesting that we haven’t been recipients of racism too in the Black-Asian dynamic. But as Christians who live under the Cross, which is purported to have dismantled the dividing wall of hostility between racial/ethnic enemies, it’s not about what the other community has done, it’s about what Christ has done. That’s not enough for reconciliation, obviously – but it begins there. Otherwise we just perpetuate it.
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  3. Mourn with those who mourn. I have a few Asian-American friends who can truly empathize with the Black community. For the rest of us, let’s not be disingenuous and pretend we do. Facebook is full of enough posers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand. Most of my Black brothers and sisters, when it comes down to it, are asking not for more analysis but compassion. Two sources that have helped me:
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    This official statement from the African American leadership of our denomination, The Evangelical Covenant Church. It’s not just PR mumbo-jumbo. It’s real-talk with a glimmer of real hope.
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    This video from the Washington Post & The Maynard Institute. Probably the most eye-opening thing I’ve seen that connects Ferguson to the historical narrative.

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    Pray: “Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
        though I call for help, there is no justice. ~Job.
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  4. Talk. One reason that I’ve been relatively silent is that no one ever bothered to ask me what I thought. This is one reason why I’m blogging out loud. And one reason we spent a huge chunk of time learning and praying about this at our church this past Sunday. And while the fruit has been varied, it’s been good. The most common response is that most people have “heard of” what’s going on, they haven’t had time to really look into it – and now they will. Others have responded with tears. The most meaningful response was from one of our church kid’s ministry workers, who is Ghanaian-American teen; she has two older brothers and came up to thank me for sharing about Ferguson and leading us to pray. Seriously, that made my week.
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  5. Advocate with God & Man regarding Ferguson.
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    So much is yet to come, and most of it is beyond our control. A 2-month long grand jury investigation has begun. Let’s pray for truth.
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    While protests are dying down, we should all be distressed by the violence shown by both sides. Many younger demonstrators, in particular – and many outside groups don’t share the enemy- and peace-loving ways of their forefathers. Even the Ferguson authorities have acknowledged that much of the violence is coming from non-Ferguson residents. I’m so thankful for experienced civil rights leaders and the churches in Ferguson who have been doing their best to advocate for peace. Let’s pray for peaceful protest.
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    Most – on both sides of the political aisle – believe that the various police authorities have much to repent for in response to this situation. Many are alarmed that local police forces now have hand-me downs from our Afghan military units. But imagine trying to maintain peace and order while fearing for your life. Let’s pray for the policing authorities.
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  6. Advocate with God & Man regarding all expressions of injustice. As news cycles work, before long, Ferguson will fade into the past. While I do not share as grim of a view of our nation as some do–e.g., I think most minorities are happier to live in the America of today than the America of 50 years ago–I do believe that sin and injustice are stubborn weeds. God hates sin in all its forms. So with the energy and influence we’ve been given, let’s do what we can to pray, vote, advocate, and rally for a more just and peaceful society. And let’s always remember: our means must always reflect our ends.

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world
as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected,
and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared,
and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures
live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice,
and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.