Advice for the men who mentored me

I have worked for a predominantly white evangelical college ministry for 17 years. I love it. And I was often mentored and supervised by white men, which went well for the most part. They saw leadership gifts in me, encouraged me, and passed speaking and teaching opportunities my way. But they never talked to me about how male dominated Christian ministry is and how to navigate that world. And I don’t think they knew how deeply the intersection of being a woman of color would affect my experience as a leader. They were a great support to me as an individual, but they didn’t have a lens towards preparing me for the white male world of evangelical Christianity. So for all those brothers out there mentoring women of color, bravo! Here are some reflections that could help you invest in the next generation of women leaders even better. Men make up the majority of leadership in the church, especially those who are paid to lead. It is important that you mentor women, especially women of color. (Love Billy Graham, but it is actually OK for men and women to meet together.) And if you are a young woman leader, especially woman of color, here are things that I wish someone had told me, things I wish someone had talked about with me in my twenties.

And though it should go without saying (but the internet is a place of madness), I know that my experiences may not be true for all woman.

Men build careers and women pursue their passion

When I first became a student leader with InterVarsity, it all seemed so egalitarian. There were more female than male students on the leadership team. I was mentored by male staff, and their supervisor was a woman. When I graduated, a big group of us came on as interns at the same time. Gender did not seem to be a factor in our development. But by the time I hit 30, I noticed that a major divide had happened. Many of the men had moved up in management, gotten degrees, or were pastoring churches. And almost none of the women had made similar moves. And now that I’m 40 the divide is even more extreme. I realized that men had been building careers, where I had just been glad to pursue my passions. And I saw women around me doing the same thing. They leaned away from taking on more responsibility or bigger roles. They saw ministry as an opportunity to live out their values, but held back from promotion. This difference in attitude didn’t manifest itself in significant ways in my twenties, but it had major impact on trajectory over time.

Lift More Weight

I wish that someone had helped me see that Christian ministry is a very very male world and that I should be savvy, wise and strategic about that. I saw getting a degree or building intentional about building a career as ambitious and suspect, especially because this was ministry.

That is fleshly!

Ambition shouldn’t be a part of ministry life!

Trying to seize opportunities is ego driven.

Opportunity will come to me if I work hard and prove myself.

I wish that someone had helped me tease apart this perspective. I watched again and again as women held back from positions that they didn’t feel fully qualified for, and men stepped into positions that they had to grow into. I once heard an example about how men and women approach weight lifting differently, and I think it’s a good analogy for ministry. When it comes to weight lifting women will often lift less weight than they can, because they want to maintain good form. Men will lift more weight than they should, because they are willing to sacrifice technique. I see this in ministry. Women don’t think of applying for a job if they see any flat sides or shortcomings in their skill set. Many men are comfortable stepping into roles that they aren’t fully qualified for, but they have a powerful fake it ‘til you make it ethic. They can envision themselves in the role, because 99% of the time, the person who had it before them was a man.

I didn’t get a degree because I didn’t want to be a pastor. I didn’t have anyone help me work through the fact that I didn’t want to be a pastor, because as a 20 something Korean American woman, I simply could not envision myself in a role held almost exclusively by older Korean men. I wasn’t motivated to get a degree because I didn’t see its usefulness, there are such limited options in the church. But then again, neither of my parents went to college. They couldn’t tell me that sometimes a degree is an important part of the job you may want in your thirties or forties. And none of the men who mentored me knew to tell me that, as a woman of color in ministry, a degree would be crucial if I wanted to work anywhere other than InterVarsity. It’s so much easier for men to leave a parachurch organization and move into church ministry. Men get their degrees and write their books and gain influence outside of the organization, and that makes them look more appealing for in house promotion and outside hire.

The exception to this landscape of male leadership was African American women. The African American church is where I saw women preaching behind the pulpit, being head pastors, and pursuing higher education. I didn’t understand what I was seeing or how to get there. But I want to express gratitude to the African American women leaders who stood as models not just for their communities, but for a young Korean American woman as well.


Lastly, I wish someone had told me that the male ego is as much a part of the world of Christianity as it is every other field of work. This might seem absurdly niave, but I was so idealistic when I started ministry. (I love that about my twenties.) It never occurred to me that I would see Wall Street hustler like ambition from someone in ministry. For every humble brother (and I work closely with many) I’ve met, I’ve met some arrogant, self promoting men whose drive to be successful and “build a platform” far outshines their character or desire to serve.  I watched men be self promoting, inflating the narrative of their ministry, and disrespecting their peers and getting ahead for it! They got the job, they got respect, they became well respected.  I wasn’t sure if I should try to be more like them, or “stay true to myself” whatever that means. Neither are satisfying options.

Its More of an Issue Not Less

I don’t think my mentors could have told me, because I don’t think they knew, that gender dynamics become more of an issue over time, not less. Things are very relational on the ground, but as you move up, things become more organizational.  The upper levels of most ministries are men and that sets a culture. I wish men in upper management knew that they needed ongoing and more sophisticated training around race and gender.  I wish they knew  that the values that they held ten years ago and their good intentions are not nearly enough.


I was at a conference a couple years ago and I ran into a woman in the bathroom. She was very pregnant. We got to talking, because women’s bathrooms are an exciting place of dialogue. ( I’m joking.) She told me that she was a pastor of a church. I had to hold back from just grabbing her belly and emoting over her in that bathroom which casually had some great tiling work they did with this excellent information here. Though I didn’t say it out loud my brain was screaming “Good God woman! You are your twenties, you’re a head pastor, and you’re pregnant as all get out! You are a unicorn! The embodiment of something I never ever saw, and absolutely could never could have envisioned. You’re such a pregnant pastor. I love it!” I love that the generation behind her will have the picture of a woman pastor and mother. I am glad that both men and women will have experienced her leadership, and what she embodies.

I always feel like a late bloomer. And I don’t say that mournfully. I pursued music in my thirties, my masters in my forties. I’m the opposite of a child prodigy. Middle aged averagocity. I feel like my life can help take some of the pressure off. You really really don’t have to figure it all out in college or in your twenties. And it is my delight to share whatever wisdom and experience I can with younger leaders, that is what is fun about getting older. Lived experience really does count for something. I hope my lessons and experience can help the generation of leaders behind me. I’m already challenged and inspired by how they walk in a kind of freedom I didn’t have at their age.









A Reflection for Women of Color

I feel like Advent reflections are supposed to be sweet, something you could read aloud with The First Noel playing the background. But this week, I just want to yell! I want to sit down with every young woman of color that I’ve ever met and tell her, “Please don’t believe the BS that they have been feeding you at church!” Please don’t feel like they are doing you a favor when they patronizingly say, “Women can be good leaders too.”

Maybe even more toxic than the things they say explicitly, are all the things they say to your soul implicitly. Two weeks ago I preached on Luke 1 to a group of leaders, and the implicit audience was women of color: our lived experience, our theological tensions, our worldview was centered. However, the room was a mix of men and women, white people and people of color. Afterwards I ran into one of the WOC in the restroom and I asked how she was doing.

She said, “I don’t know what I’m feeling?…What is happening? …This is strange…I can’t figure out what I’m feeling.”

As we talked, we put together that this was the first time that she, as a woman of color, had been the implicit audience of a sermon. Decades of listening to sermons, and the implicit audience had always been someone other than her.

Every sermon has an implicit audience- it assumes a certain gender, race, and class experience, typically the same as the pastor. Since so many of us attend churches where the pastors are white men, or at least men, the implicit audience is almost always- not us. Sermons are framed around their lived experience, their point of view, their theological narrative.

That does something to our souls.

When the implicit audience of every sermon is male, it devalues us.

When white femininity is used to make us feel less acceptable, less beautiful, less a woman in God’s image, it silences us.

When every Bible commentary we’ve ever seen is written by a man, it dehumanizes us.

And when we turn to our ethnic communities, we often find cultural comfort, but deeply ingrained patriarchy. I want to gather every woman of color together and scream, “Don’t believe them when they say that you are less Asian, less Latina, less black if you question the patriarchy in your community!”

Don’t listen!

Don’t listen to that crap theology that says that our concern for our bodies, and souls, and children are political, but not spiritual. When the concerns for our survival are framed as an earthly concern, but the theological debates of white men are framed as lofty and important. Don’t listen to them.

Listen to Mary.

When the announcement of the new kingdom was made, the first person to explain it to us, and exegete the truth to us, was Mary. Mary interpreted her experience of God, and understood that it had significance beyond her personal story.

His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

In our churches, we are treated like theology by women is cute and secondary, or that it is dangerous because it is feminist. But the theology of the church in the United States has always been the theology of white male liberation. The theology of the church in the United States has always been a cancerous and twisted theology meant to justify the dehumanization of indigenous bodies and the genocide of Native people. When the government said, “Lets destroy the Indian to save the man,” cthurches stepped up and said, “Let us lead the way.” Denominations in the Unites States used the slave labor of Native children to their financial benefit. And they used their white male liberation theology to do justify it.

White male liberation theology is a theology that justified enslaving and torturing Africans, ripping mothers and fathers away from their children for generations and framing it as a kindness. It is a theology that didn’t want to talk about Jesus with slaves if it would make them think about freedom or threatened the economic system.

Founders of Black Lives Matter- Alicia Garza,  Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors

It is a theology that says that queer black women activists are a threat to this country and pedophile old white men should be its senators. This is a theology that has told us to revere the teachers of our own oppression. It has taught white people to be so blind to a systemic understanding of injustice that you can put them in front of a thousand trees, and they will be unable to see a forest. A million dead Native Americans, thousands of dead Black people- is nothing but a series of unconnected events. Their theology teaches them to see the world this way.

Don’t believe them little sister. Don’t believe them.

Listen to Mary.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

White male liberation theology legislates the liberty of white male bodies under all circumstances- there is no crime that they can commit on Wall Street that will put them in jail, but if you are black and you sold an ounce of weed, you should be in jail for life. If your white male body rapes an unconscious girl, you will get a few months of jail time. If your Native body fights for your land and water, you will be brutally attacked by the police.

Don’t believe them little sister. Don’t believe them.

Madonna of the North Inuit mother and child by H.G. Kaiser

Listen to Mary.

“God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down the rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled up the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”

When the kingdom of God centers the margins, it isn’t token, it isn’t charity. Zechariah is silenced, and Mary moves to the center and articulates the nature of this new kingdom. She exegetes her lived experience, her personal encounter with God, and what is happening to her body. This new kingdom flips everything upside down.  Those in power, those who are rich, those who are powerful- their time is over.

And in celebrating that it is Mary, a poor, illiterate, uneducated young woman who moves to the center and gives us the framing theology for the book of Luke, we must see her for the thinker and leader than she is.

Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson

But we don’t’ need to make her more than human. She doesn’t need to become a virgin for life or someone who never sinned. She does not have to be domesticated and docile, and perpetually letting one boob hang out in every portrait. She does not need to be sinless perfection. And she does not need to be minimized into just a vessel that carried Jesus.

The world does not know what to do with an actual woman who gives us theology AND raises a child.

Who partnered with God AND had sex.

Who understood that God is about lifting up the humble, and marginalized, and hungry and powerless, AND is sending the rich AWAY!

Even today. We make caricatures of women.

It is good to acknowledge that black women were the game changers in the Alabama election. But if we thank them because they saved “us,”but didn’t show up when they called us to say the names of

Sandra Bland

Rekiya Boyd

Sandra Bland

Charleena Lyles

Then we return to tired tropes of making black women’s labor all about helping white people. When we only want to exploit the narrative of their strength, we dehumanize them.

When Asian American women have almost no representation in the media, but an unbelievable amount of representation in porn, it shows that we are not seen as three dimensional human beings that exist outside of the male imagination.

When people have seen more photos of white women in Native headdresses than actual Native American women who are alive today doing important work on the ground, we continue the narrative of colonialism that all the Native people are gone. They are not.

Black women exist in the public consciousness, but to rescue white people.

Native women lead the way at DAPL protest

Native women are erased from public consciousness, but serve as costumes for others.

Asian American women exist for sexual pleasure.

Latina women exist as maids.

Don’t listen to these tiny petty narratives of who we are.

Listen to Mary.

Mary elevates us by being a model of faith, being a theologian, being countercultural. But she doesn’t elevate womanhood to something mythical and unattainable. And she will not be diminished and made trivial and small. She is enough, within the limits of her own skin. And it is with her I stand and await the birth of the Jesus, as they ushers in a new kingdom.

“Our Lady Mother of Ferguson”by Mark Dukes


























Advents is my favorite season of the Christian calendar and Luke 1 is my favorite section of Scripture. So I decided to create a series of reflections on Luke 1 for advent. This week will focus on Zechariah.

Luke often presents two people in a similar situation, but with contrasting responses.

Mary and Martha by He Qi

• Two rich men- one who walks away from Jesus, and one who gives away half of all he  has,and makes restitution to those he has wronged.
• Two men who go to the temple to pray, only one leaves justified
• Two sons- one runs away, one stays home
• Two sisters- one sits at his feet and the other prepares food in the kitchen
• Two people on a cross on either side of Jesus, one makes fun of him, the other
asks for forgiveness.




It is a compelling way to journey through Luke.

I want to look at the opening snapshot.

Two people get visited by an angel.
Two people are going to have baby.
Two different responses.

There has been 400 years of silence since the last prophet spoke. And his closer was a cliffhanger- “I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5) Those words were written 400 years earlier.

And then silence.

Release Date- Feb. 16, 2018

Think about how long it took for each Harry Potter book to come out.
Think about how long it is taking George R. R. Martin to finish the freaking Game of
Thrones series. (Correction from my nerdy husband- the series is technically called A Song of Ice and Fire.)
Consider the unending patience I am enduring as I wait for Black Panther to be in theaters.

It all feels like a loooooooong time. And each of those things has happened in the span of years, not centuries.

Suddenly, we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Like the country of Israel, they are familiar with waiting. He and his wife were an elderly couple, described as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” They had waited all their lives to have a child, and yet they waited in vain.

A visual to remind us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were old! (This Syrian Couple has a beautiful story.)

Zechariah is serving in the temple. There were about about 8,000 priest in Isarael at that time, divided into 24 divisions. Each division had 300 priests. The Abijah division, to which Zechariah belonged, served for a two week period each year and 56 priests participated each day.

Each day there were two services, and on this day, during this service, Zehcariah drew the lot. Many priests never had the privilege of serving in this capacity, and no one was allowed to do it twice. He would enter deeper into the temple and light the incense. This moment would be the pinnacle of his priestly career. Outside people would be praying for the redemption of Israel, he would enter and light the incense as a symbol of the prayers of the people rising up to God.

Suddenly an angel appears. ( Cue dramatic music!)

This is not a fat baby angel. 

Every time an angel appears in the Bible people, people are scared, because they were quite badass.

And Gabriel shows up with an amazing message.

At the pinnacle of Zechariah’s priestly career, an angel appears with the most amazing and exciting news. “Your prayers have been heard. You’re going to be a dad. And your son is going to turn people’s hearts to God.”

And Zechariah response, in this amazing moment is …………….. doubt.
“Ummmm… I’m too old for that. And my wife is old too.”

You can hear the needle scratching off the record.

And then the angel starts to talk trash.

“Zechariah. Bro. Do you even know my name? Do you know where I came from? Like, where I JUST came from?  My name is Gabriel. And I was recently hanging in the presence of the living God. Do you get what that means?  I have been sent from God to tell you some seriously good news. And now you need to shut up until the things you are saying start making sense.”

Cliff Notes-  Zechariah, shut up, until you stop talking crazy.

Have we really waited 400 years for this? All our expectations are set: a childless couple, the temple, a priest, an angel. This is the formula for a God thing to happen. For faith to be manifested. For leadership to happen. But Zechariah, the one we would expect to kick off Luke, does not respond with trust and faith. And as a result, the angel silences him.

The one that we think will be the model of faith in this moment, is not.

The one that has all the cultural markers of leadership, is not our faith leader.

The place that we expect to see a faithful response, is a place of doubt and mistrust.

Before we jump to Mary. We have to sit with Zechariah.

Because the first thing that Luke highlights is that the arrival of Jesus means that the ones that we think will lead, are not the ones. The obvious hero, will not be the hero.



It’s almost cliche how often I hear Christians say that we shouldn’t put God in a box. But every week pulpits are full of men. Not just in white churches. It is probably even more likely in an immigrant church, in an Asian American church, a Latinx church.

Every week we say, “Don’t put God in a box,” but then we expect God to speak through the exact same types people. From the exact same types of places. People with the exact same credentials. The people our culture has told us are leaders.The same people, with the same interpretations of Scripture, and the same narratives of faith.

Men with seminary degrees.

Older men.

Straight men.

White people.

Rich pastors with big churches.

It is the moneyed.

It is the successful.

It is the popular.

Advent says-

It isn’t men.

It isn’t those who are older.

It isn’t the seminary trained.

It isn’t white people.

It isn’t the rich.

It isn’t those who work at church.

It isn’t those who fit narratives of faithfulness.

It isn’t those who have all the markers of Christian leadership.

And in case you have any doubts about who people in the US look to for leadership. Here are a few lists.

Top 15 Christian Leaders in America

The Best Selling Christian Books of All Time

Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards

The State of Female Pastors ( Hint 90% are men)

Zechariah has all the right cultural and spiritual markers of faith.  But he has the wrong response, and he is silenced.

Advent is a disruption.

Leadership will be coming from elsewhere.

Something new is coming. Look somewhere new for faith.

It is time for those who have been at the center, to be quiet.















Language, Leaders, and White Supremacy

Language Matters.

In the work of racial justice in Christian contexts, I am most troubled when leaders do not understand or embrace the framework of white supremacy and specifically white supremacy culture. Once someone is responsible for organizational or institutional power in any way, they must rigorously embrace a theology that analyzes and accurately assesses power dynamics. Every leader should have three things

  • basic understanding of organizational dynamics. ( which I will address in my next post)
  • understanding of how white supremacy culture makes whiteness (and typically maleness) normal and neutral at every level.
  • humility to approach race as a pervasive system, not isolated incidents.

Does my organization/church/non-profit have white supremacy culture? 

Just ask these questions.

  • Is it in the United States?
  • Was it founded by white people?

Yes to those questions, then yes to white supremacy culture!

  • Bonus Round– was it started by white Christians? If the answer is yes, you now have extra strength white supremacy culture- in its extra strength formula- Faith Based White Supremacy

But wait you say…

  • They were well intentioned!
  • They were so nice to their kids!
  • We’re really diverse now!
  • They did that one thing, that one time, that was super racially prophetic!
  • Our publicity is full of people of color!

Doesn’t matter.

Bracey and Moore’s fantastic study entitled “Race Tests”: Racial Boundary Maintenance in White Evangelical Churches” puts it this way.

[W]hite institutional space is created through a process that begins with whites excluding people of color, either completely or from institutional positions of power, during a formative period in the history of an organization. During this period, whites populate all influential posts within the institution and create institutional logics—norms of operation, organizational structures, curricula, criteria for membership and leadership—which imbed white norms into the fabric of the institution’s structure and culture. Although the norms are white, they are rarely marked as such. Consequently, racially biased institutional norms are wrongly defined as race neutral and merely characteristic of the institution itself (e.g., “the appropriate way to act in church”), masking inherent institutional racism. Upon this tacitly racist foundation, institutional inertia and actors build a robust culture that privileges whites by vesting power in white leaders’ hands, populating the organization with white membership, orienting activities toward serving and comforting whites, and negatively sanctioning non-white norms.

And this white normativity (aka white supremacy culture) can be perpetuated by people of color, because typically only people of color who agree to maintain this white supremacy culture are allowed to move up in leadership. That is why there can be diversity and white supremacy culture in the same organization.

The focus on defining racism and white supremacy as extreme and isolated acts allows people to be undisciplined in their work towards racial justice. Naming and understanding that white supremacy shapes organizational culture at every level is a necessary step towards justice.

Language Learning

When I began my Masters program with the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies several years ago, I was inundated with language I didn’t understand and frameworks that were completely new to me. I was a Korean and white woman entering a space led by all Indigenous leaders from across North America.

I made an insensitive joke by calling someone my spirit animal.

I didn’t understand jokes, like when someone teased me for being “extra colonial.”

I didn’t understand the honor of blanketing someone.

What was smudging?

What did it mean to be a boarding school survivor?

And I had to catch up on years of conversation around contextualization and decolonizing theology.

I was disoriented and felt like an idiot most of the time.

But as someone coming in from the outside, as someone who benefits from colonialism and white supremacy, and as someone who is a settler on this land, it was (and is) my job to learn from Indigenous people about the systems in which I participate. My job in that space was not to reject the language of those who are most impacted. My job was to learn. Those who are most impacted by an injustice have the greatest clarity on how it works and should frame the discussion. I submitted to their language and the ways they wanted to frame the conversation.

Point #1When we are on the privileged side of any systemic injustice, we are blind to it. Part of the system is to limit our language and exposure to the injustice. Any kind of helpful participation requires learning. 


Indigenous people have been forced to live under the deadly confines of white supremacy for hundreds of years. They have been forced to use the language and frameworks created by those who were murdering them, exploiting them, and committing intentional cultural genocide against them. As Indigenous people seek their liberation, as they always have, they rightfully reject the language imposed on them by their colonizers, instead choosing their own language and analysis. Instead of pilgrims, I hear settlers and colonizers. Instead of progress, manifest destiny, and pioneers I hear broken treaties, exploitation, murder, and robbery. Missionaries are not lauded as heroes, they are often instruments of abuse, slavery, and exploitation. This is not the moment to say, “Well that seems a bit harsh, my denomination has the nicest missionaries.” My job is to learn and submit. My job is to be humble and let my understanding be changed.

Point #2The communities that are most impacted by an unjust system know the most about it. It is our job to learn from them. New language is an important part of moving towards justice and restoration. 


Normal and Neutral

These linguistic shifts are hard for white people because they have been taught to view their word choices as normal and neutral, not as a white supremacist framework that maintains their power. This language was hard for me, as someone raised up in evangelicalism, and discipled by faith based white supremacy. Saying white supremacy felt too harsh and conflictual, but I’ve come to see it as critical. Here are a few examples of how whiteness presents itself as normal and neutral in our language, but is actually an expression of power.

  • When white people read a book and see, “a man walked across the street.” They will assume that that person is white, unless they are told, “a Latino man walked across the street.” White people think of them themselves as people, not white people. The power of being the norm. 


  • White people label European art as fine art, and the art of Indigenous people as fit for the anthropology department. The power to categorize and label, the power to rank oneself as superior.


  • White theology is simply theology, everyone else’s theology must be categorized as feminist theology, black theology, mujerista theology. But lets be real, white theology is really the theology of white male power. The power to name one’s own experience as the Truth. 


  • White worship music, white preaching, white church services, white social activities are all viewed as the norm, not a cultural choice.  The power to label one’s own culture as normal and comfortable and Christian. 


  • When white people say “Let’s wait for all the details to come out,” they perceive themselves as more objective and neutral in situations of injustice, but it is code for, “Lets keep things the way they are.” The power to disguise racism as objectivity. 


  • When white people say, “those activist are too angry/disruptive/ungrateful/disrespectful.” It is a way of saying, “Our acceptance of systemic oppression is normal and neutral and should be maintained. Unless resistance is pursued within unachievable parameters of our creation, it is not valid.” There is further discussion of this topic in the article “Waiting for the Perfect Protest.The power to stifle and reframe resistance 

And it goes on and on, what is labelled as leaderly, professional, emotional, and appropriate are embedded in white assumptions.

Point #3- White supremacy culture trains people to use language that positions whiteness as normal and neutral. White people wanting to control the language used to discuss racial injustice is a manifestation of white supremacy culture.  



There are many resources that define white supremacy culture, so I won’t unpack all of that here. Google is your friend. But here are a few quick resources.

This chart can help organizations and churches evaluate where they are on a spectrum and appropriate next steps.

Once an organization has located itself along this continuum, it can use a tool like the one below to articulate how white supremacy culture is at work in the organization.


This list by Jones and Okun  expands on several specific dynamics that I see at play in many organizations that have a value for diversity but don’t engage with white supremacy culture. Workshopping how these dynamics marginize and silence people of color and reinforce white power is a worthwhile exercise for leaders. They close their list by explaining

“One of the purposes of listing characteristics of white supremacy culture is to point out how organizations which unconsciously use these characteristics as their norms and standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards. As a result, many of our organizations, while saying we want to be multicultural, really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms.”

 They highlight

  • defensiveness
  • quantity over quality
  • worship of the written word
  • paternalism
  •  and fear of open conflict,

as a few aspects of white supremacy culture in organizations.


What about relationships? 

This image belongs to an EDM band called Lets Be Friends.

I often hear that white supremacy language closes the door on relationship.That is nonsense. It simply changes the dynamics of relationship. In my last post, I discussed how the racial reconciliation model allows white people to shape the parameters, pace, and language of the conversation and hence the nature of the relationship. When members of the dominant culture are willing to acknowledge systemic and institutionalized injustice by using the language of white supremacy culture, they are saying, “I am interested in a relationship where I have to learn and where I agree that the problem is systemic, pervasive, institutionalized and steeped in power dynamics.” For many people of color, encountering members of the dominant culture who understand white supremacy and have done real work to decolonize their thinking and theology, makes friendship much easier. It signals that we could have a friendship where I won’t have to spend half my time convincing you that my lived experience is real and valid. And I won’t have to spend the other half of my time walking your sensitive and defensive ego through the baby steps of awareness.

I grew up steeped in white supremacy culture, language, and theology. I too am on a journey to liberate myself from these frameworks. I was trained to believe that white theology was the best theology. I was taught to minimize the power of systems and amplify my intentions. All of us are steeped in white supremacy culture in one way or another, and must labor to become free of it.

Understanding and dismantling white supremacy culture isn’t the final vision, but it means that we are starting in a similar place in terms of diagnosing the problem. It means that POC don’t have to fight the same fight every time a racial incident comes up, or at every organizational decision point. By accepting white supremacy culture, leaders acknowlege that every hiring decision, choice about funding, or musical choice for gatherings, is located in white supremacy culture and if not actively addressed will, by default, center whiteness. It means that everyone in leadership must get training on what has already been accepted as a pervasive issue. It means we can move towards shalom, or beloved community, or the Kingdom of God together, with greater truth, justice, and healing.







































Why I Stopped Talking about Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking about White Supremacy

Recently people have asked me, “Why isn’t talking about white privilege enough, why white supremacy?” There is an obvious discomfort with the term by white and Asian American people. The one exception to that is when things like Charlottesville happen. When people march around with Nazi flags,

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

most folks I know feel comfortable saying, “I’m not down with that.” Which is a pretty low bar, but ok. However, when the term white supremacy is used for anything less obvious than tiki torch wielding nazi flag waving people, lots of folks get uncomfortable. Most of my crowd was taught to use the terms white privilege and racial reconciliation. Here is why I no longer focus on them and instead teach on white supremacy.

When I first learned the term racial reconciliation in the early nineties, I found it very helpful and exciting. I was passionate about issues of race and justice, but had never heard those things discussed in Christian circles. Suddenly there was a Biblical basis and communal energy towards this value. When I came on staff with a Christian non-profit I was taught that racial reconciliation consisted of a three strand rope- ethnic identity, inter personal relationships, and systemic injustice. Though the focus was almost always on the first two.

Beginning with the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman and gaining momentum with the murder of Michael Brown Jr. in the fall of 2014, Black Lives Matter revealed the limits of the racial reconciliation model espoused by many evangelical organizations in nineties. Watching white Christians and POC submitted to whiteness respond again and again with

– denial of systemic injustice

– disregard for the lived experience of black people

–  silence in the pulpit

– a deeply ingrained superiority regarding issues of race

– a fixation on intentions over outcomes

I had to ask why those discipled by the racial reconciliation framework were so ill equipped to engage, learn from, and respond to a movement focused on systemic and institutionalized racial injustice.

Bad Theology

            The term racial reconciliation serves the dominant culture, it serves white people and those who align with whiteness. The term reconciliation is relational in nature. And though relationships are important, it is anchored in white theology’s pathological individualism.

Jesus died for my sins.

Jesus went to the cross for me.

I know the plans He has for me.

Though there is a place for the individual in theology. White theology, in profound syncretism with American culture, has distorted the Bible to be solely about individual redemption. So it is blind to the reality that when Scripture says, “I know the plans I have for you.” The you is plural and addressed to an entire community of people that has been displaced and are in exile. All Scripture has been reduced to individual interactions between God and a person, even when they are actually between God and a community, or Jesus and a group of people. As a result, white theology defines racism as hateful thoughts and deeds by an individual, but cannot comprehend communal, systemic, or institutionalized sin, because it has erased all examples of that framework from Scripture.

Secondly, white Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology. As each individual images-11reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story. They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt. For the citizens of the most powerful country in the world, who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself as Israel and not Egypt when it is studying Scripture, is a perfect example of Disney princess theology. And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society- and it has made them blind and utterly ill equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.


Pontiac Michigan Men pray at a Promise Keepers meeting at the Pontiac Silverdome

            All of this put together creates a profoundly broken theological framework. It explains why people love a photo of a cop hugging a black person, but dismiss claims of systemic racism in policing. It pretends that injustice is resolved when individuals hug. This was actually something that people were encouraged to do at Promise Keeper events in the nineties- go find a black person, hug them. It confuses white emotional catharsis with racial justice. The two are far far far from each other. BLM insists on addressing systemic issues, and white Christianity is pathologically individualistic. And since white Christianity is also characterized by a lack of humility, it is not prone to learn from POC, who would clearly be the experts on issues of racism in the church.

Bad History

            Racial Reconciliation assumes an innocent reading of history. This is a term I learned from theologian Justo Gonzalez. An innocent telling of history is foundational to maintaining unjust and racist systems. When have white people ever been in just relationship with black people? During slavery? During Jim Crow? During the War on Drugs? What are we RE-conciling? It pretends that there was a time when everything was fine, we just need to get back there. However, that idyllic time has never existed.


White high school students cursing black students during the integration of schools. Montgomery, Alabama, 1963

Even when the civil rights movement is taught, it is framed as a discussion of the courage of black people. Which is true, their courage was amazing. But why did they have to be so courageous, what were they facing? The rage, racism, and violence of white people. Rarely is the profound hatred and resistance of white people taught. The evil of white people is downplayed, or minimized, to a few racist exceptions in the South. But white people, all across the United States, resisted any move towards racial justice with fury, rage, and violence. Our history never tells the true story of whiteness.

In her brilliant book on the Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson describes a riot that broke out  in Chicago, in 1951, when a black family attempted to move into a white apartment building. After being driven from the apartment, white people destroyed everything they owned, and over the course of the next day the crowd grew to over 4,000, eventually burning down the entire building. White people would rather burn a building than see black people live there. Or looking to the West coast “When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926…Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle, the worst part is that no ones even bothers to get an 80 Gallon air compressor for their cars. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.” (Matt Novak)

And hence, white people don’t believe it when white racism is pointed out in the present. They’ve been told a fairy tale about themselves. Even when the history of POC is told, white violence is erased, and the consequences of historical injustices is minimized. White people do not connect themselves to history, once again because of pathological individualism. They simply want a friend in the present, with no acknowledgement of the past or present injustice.


White Comfort

            Racial Reconciliation centers language with which white people and its allies are comfortable. Racial Reconciliation moves at the pace that whiteness dictates. It focuses on making sure white people don’t feel guilty, but not on the systemic disenfranchisement of black, Latino, and Native people. It will talk about redeemed white identity without teaching about white supremacy. It will lament but not repent with action. It is comfortable with POC being displaced and paying significant mental and emotional tolls for the work, but asks little to nothing of its white people. It is profoundly anxious about white discomfort, and is always trying to control the narrative.

            In the racial reconciliation model POC are commodities.  People of Color exist to teach and educate whiteness. When white people are ready to learn, POC must share their story, our pain is for consumption. Whiteness listens, feels superior to other white people who aren’t as “woke,” but does not change. Recently, I talked with a twenty four year old African American woman. She shared that she was  expected to learn her job with a ministry, educate her peers, educate her supervisors, and educate up the line to leadership with twenty years more experience than her. While those leaders congratulate themselves for their openness to listening, they never wonder why there are no people at their own level of management to teach them. And the 24 year old white guy, her peer, is left to simple learn his job and carries none of that responsibility and exerts none of that emotional labor. This is the Racial Reconciliation model. But if POC become angry, frustrated, tired of this dynamic, they are labeled as uncommitted to the cause, immature, or not a right fit. When that 24 year old realizes this dynamic is exploitative and wrong, her leaders can’t believe it, they had the best of intentions.

The Racial Reconciliation model perpetuates white privilege because the pacing is centered on the dominant culture, the language is white centered, and the implicit audience of teachings and content is always the dominant culture. In the racial reconciliation model, POC are expected to show up whenever the topic of race is addressed, even though the implicit audience is always the dominant culture. The time is not really FOR people of color, but they must be there to validate that “real” work is happening. Again POC are a commodity.

            The role of POC in Racial reconciliation is to feel grateful, be loyal, educate ( but nicely, and without anger) and conform to white culture. People of Color are to bring just a sprinkle of color- without ever pressing for deeper cultural, organizational, or systemic change. POC must always “trust their leaders” and be satisfied with intentions over outcomes. Whiteness controls the narrative at all times. And let me state for the record, one does not need to be white, to be working for whiteness.


White Privilege

The term white privilege can be helpful, but it is still located in pathological individualism. It assumes that issues are resolved by how an individual white person handles their privilege. Hence, it cannot be considered a term that is sufficient to address or resolve organizational or systemic white supremacy. It can not dismantle white supremacy culture in a denomination, organization, or church. It is useful, and it is real. It is often a first step for people of privilege. It is important that they realize that they participate in unequal systems, even unintentionally. However, it is not enough for anyone in a position of leadership or influence.

Shifting to the term white supremacy, and understanding that it means more that flag waving Nazis, is a move away from pathological individualism. It puts responsibility on white people to stop supporting white supremacy versus putting the responsibility on POC to educate and provide diversity. Racial Reconciliation often views POC as the problem that needs to be solved. White supremacy locates the problem in the right place. Racial Reconciliation, because it is so preoccupied with the good intentions of whiteness and its allies, considers POC leaving sad, but no reflection on them. In the canary in the mine analogy- the death (departure) of POC, particularly Black, Latino, Native, and SE Asian people is sad, sort of confusing, but is really an indicator that the bird was just

canary_art22 not a good fit for the mine.

White supremacy says- “HEY! That bird died cause your well intentioned mine is toxic. It is on you, it is on the mine, to stop being toxic. It is not on the canary to become immune to deadly fumes.”

The term white supremacy labels the problem more accurately. It locates the problem on whiteness and its  systems. It focuses on outcomes not intentions. It is collective not individual. It makes whiteness uncomfortable and responsible. And that is important.







When are Black and Asian American People Gonna Talk?

Today, on the drive back from being in the woods, I opened up facebook and apparently it was Jesse Williams day. Dozens and dozens of people were reposting his speech from the BET awards. The second I got home I watched it, multiple times. How did he deliver so much fire in such an understated way? (And was he chewing gum?) His speech was amazing! It deserves to be talked about and engaged with on many levels. It was awesome!

In the sea of Jesse Williams posts, the Very Smart Brothas write up, and Shaun King’s reflections on Justin Timberlake‘s tweet I saw another post. I follow this fabulously angry and militant Filipino brother on FB, his page is titled Love Life of an Asian Guy and he had a RANT about a performance at the BET awards that used Geishas and ninja swords and “Asiany” clothing. After trolling the internet for a video of the performance I watched a very out of focus video that someone filmed off their TV, they use with the best blue tooth transmitter you can find online. It was stuff like this.



I was glad to see that some black folks on twitter had commented on the misuse of Japanese cultural imagery and felt the dissonance of celebrating blackness while exploiting Asian tropes and stereotypes.  There is a lot of frustration with white artist who appropriate from black culture, so it saddens me that none of the organizers thought that this tired stereotype might be inappropriate at the BET awards. The whole incident brought me back to a questions I’ve had for a long time.



This is under a bigger question of when are people of color going to start talking to each other, but let me start with just these two communities.



We can’t start talking without doing a little housekeeping. I believe that as Asian Americans we should care about the institutionalized and systemic oppression of black people in our country. Particularly as Christians, it troubles me when Black folks show up for their community and Asian folks show up for their community, but we don’t show up for each other’s communities. When we see each other as the enemy we simply reinforce white supremacy. And what we have in Jesus is supposed to bring us together. And even though a lot of evangelical Christianity is being a racist, misogynistic, homophobic circus right now,  I still actually believe that what we have in Jesus should bring us together. When we, as Asian Americans, align ourselves with the model minority myth in any way, we are aligning with white supremacy and anti-blackness.

Here is the shortest history lesson possible. It used to be that Chinese people were seen as the yellow peril,  dangerous outsiders that needed to be expunged, and with whom we should be at war. It’s the type of imagery and language most often used toward Muslims and people from the Middle East in our contemporary culture. There were violent lynchings and massacres of Chinese people during the late 1800’s. Asian Americans were the perpetual foreigner, hence the justification for putting Japanese Americans in internment camps. Think about that people- internment camps. But at some point they flipped the script, “You’re not the yellow peril, you’re our next generation of house slaves. If you never complain about white supremacy, we will say that of all the ethnics you are the best ethnics and we will let you work in the big house.”

The problem with this is, if we are the good minority group, then who is the bad minority group? Surprise- it’s black people! And we have to think about who is creating this absurd hierarchy in the first place. Surprise- its white people! And once again we are submitted to and accepting a system where white people get to rank  everyone in reference to each other and put themselves at the top. And we have said yes to this. Many of our communities have shamefully and willingly adopted a white supremacist based anti-black worldview. It’s the price of admission to get ranked above black people.


People of color are not marginalized in the same way or to the same degree. But we need to take responsibility for the ways we are complicit in each others marginalization. The most helpful tool for understanding this came from Andrea Smith and her three pillars of white supremacy.

3 pillars 2

The first pillar affects black people. The system is slavery- slavery can take on many forms- from actual slavery to mass incarceration. Before the 13th amendment the majority of people in prison were white, but Mass Incarceration has re-enslaved black people.  Capitalism is the driving justification for this commoditization and exploitation of black bodies.

The second pillar is Genocide, its vehicle is colonialism, and it impacts Native Americans. It is the narrative that indigenous people are gone, have disappeared, and it allows non- Native people to inherit Native land, resources, culture and spirituality. It lives on the myth that Native Americans no longer exist and hence all that was theirs can now rightfully belong to white people.

The third pillar is Orientalism. It exoticizes and “others” certain peoples and nations as an ongoing threat to empire and the only solution is war. This expresses itself in immigration policies, internment camps, and anti- Muslim sentiment. We must always be at war with this “other” to survive. Currently people form the Middle East are most often put in this category, and we have been in some form of war with the Middle East for decades.

I give all credit for this framework to my  Andrea Smith, whose work on this topic is fire and your should read it! ( And I don’t yet have a good answer for how Latinos fit into this framework.)

This framework lets us step out of the oppression olympics  and lets us acknowledge that white supremacy has impacted us in different ways, and the insidious thing is that we have said yes to being complicit in each others oppression.



The thing that is hard to for me to say is that in the last ten years, many of the most ignorant and painful things that I have heard about Asian people has come from black people. And on the flip, some of the most ignorant things said about black people have come from Asian Americans.

We have bought into white supremacist narratives of each other. And I’m so tired of it. And I’m so tired of all the conversations around race still revolving around white people. I want to have a conversation where people of color get in the same room and learn each other’s stories. A space where white people and getting white people to pay attention to us is not pulling all the energy.

I do not say this to minimize the need to dismantle institutionalized racism and call white people and white systems to account. But as long as we only address white people we keep them at the center. We need to hear each other’s stories, understand the ways that we have been complicit in each others marginalization. Asian American folks need to repent of the ways we’ve said yes to anti-blackness and been willing to profit from it. Black folks need to own that they have seen Asian Americans as perpetual other.

I can’t imagine what would happen if we were really educated on each others issues. But more importantly, filled with deep love for each other, and as a result showed up for each other. I truly believe we might be able to do some real work.

My dream is to create space for people of color to gather and enter into deeper conversation with each other. It is why I am so grateful for a time to be with women of color this fall. (You should come to the WOC gathering in LA!) How can we amplify each others stories? How can we mobilize for justice together? How can we dismantle racism together?





How a Trump Rally Restored my Faith in Humanity

Caveat- This post is not trying to explain or justify my POV as a WOC Christian activist. I’m not doing an apologetic about why Trump is bad news  (others have written plenty on that). Usually I try to define terms and explain my POV more. This is not that post. This is for those who already understand why I would go to a Trump rally to protest, specifically as an expression of my love for Jesus and my commitment to justice. And for those who understand my passion for multi-ethnic community.

When I arrived in Chicago three days ago I didn’t even know Trump was coming to town. Mostly out of curiosity and a bit on a whim I registered myself and my friend Terrance for the rally. Tickets were free.

Word spread among the crew I was with and more tickets were reserved.

The night before the rally I turned to Terrance. I had spent a portion of the day watching videos of black men getting punched at Trump rallies, the other portion of my day I spent reading a ricoh theta s review which I found very interesting.

Terrance is a friend, pastor, worship leader, active in Christian community development, and a spazz that makes jokes in the most serious of conversations. He is also an African American man.

“So Terrance- are we going to this thing to observe or to protest?”

“Erna- my body is a protest.”

I went to sleep meditating on that answer.

By two in the afternoon, the day of the rally, I was in a room with my fellow protesters.

I hadn’t realized that my friend Bethany had decided to attend. Bethany is a passionate social justice leader. She runs a program for youth, she’s a grant writer, Latina, and oh yeah- she’s 7 months pregnant.

The thought of going to a Trump protest with a Latina woman that is 7 months pregnant scared the crap out of me. I have been watching video after video of the hateful treatment of protesters. And have watched the shocking video of a man sucker punching a protester leaving a rally.

“Bethany- are you sure you want to go? Is it wise?”

Instantly- with tears in her eyes, total confidence in her voice “I..AM..GOING. I am second generation Mexican American. My great grandmother was Indigenous Mexican. My kids are scared. ( She was referring to the Latino youth she works with.) I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that I made them see our humanity.”

So that was the end of that conversation.


Praying before we leave for the rally

We discussed different possible disruptions. We had no idea what to expect in terms of other protesters. We knew there would be some outside of the event, but not sure how many would be in the rally itself. We prepared for the worst.

We assigned three people to Bethany and two of us to Terrance. We practiced blocking Bethany from people that might push her or shove her. We chose a song that we would sing. We prayed.

We were dropped off several blocks from the event and within an hour we were seated in the auditorium. There were far more people of color than I expected. I assumed most were not Trump supporters, but you never know. There were several yelling matches that broke out, and the atmosphere felt like a bar at 1am on a Saturday. People were gunning for a fight- just for entertainment.


Terrance and me at the rally

Soon two people were yelling at each other and it became clear that an entire section was college students from the school- there to protest. We all sighed with much relief. There were other protesters in the room.

As we waited, several snapshots that locked into my brain.

A group of 5 young Latino college students were walking around our area. And one young woman was carrying a sign that said- UNDOCUMENTED UNAFRAID

I teared up immediately.

There is no way, as an 18 or 19 year old, I would have had the courage to walk into a room of Trump supporters and hold up that sign. Shoot- I was afraid. Afraid for me, for Terrance, for Bethany. I was afraid for her.

There was something beautiful about her courage- saying I am here. I am a person. I won’t hide.

A few rows in front of me were a group of Middle Eastern college students. All of the women were wearing hijabs. One young woman had an hijab that was a US flag. Ever so often she would turn around and look back at the rows behind her. She was quite beautiful. Not only in the superficial sense, but the beauty of being herself. Bringing her body into a space where people have been encouraged to reduce her to a caricature. Courage and beauty everywhere.

I can’t recount every detail.

There were a few yelling matches. One black man in a muscle shirt ardently supporting Trump. One old grandma with a cowboy hat and head to toe flag outfit walking around yelling at the crowd.

It was already 40 minutes after things were supposed to start when it was announced that the rally was cancelled.

It’s hard to explain what happened in the next 30 seconds, but my favorite thing was watching half the crowd go through some sort of transformation. I unzipped my jacket to reveal my protest shirt-the name of a dozen black men that have been shot by police. Like Clark Kent, white people who had been down on the floor, pulled opened their button up dress shirts to reveal “White supremacy is the enemy” written with puffy paint on t-shirts. Signs were pulled out of backpacks, coats, and pockets. A giant rainbow flag was unfurled and several young women waved it together. Everything people had been waiting to do once Trump was on stage exploded, as well as delight and triumph.

I’m clearly a sucker for college students. I’ve been in campus ministry since 1997. But I fell in love with college students all over again. Their passion. Their incredible courage to be themselves. Their willingness to bring their full identities into a space of hostility. To say “I will not be turned into the enemy or into a caricature.”

Ironically it may be the most diverse crowd I have ever been in. The spaces where I usually experience racial diversity, marginalize the queer community. The spaces where queer folks are centered, I don’t usually see Muslim people.

Everyone was chanting together together. First “Shut It Down!” But then “Education not Deportation” and “Si se Puede!”

It was a good night.

The size of the protest reflects the fact that organizers have been on the ground for a while in Chicago, especially in response to Laquan McDonald. I have to give the city credit for showing up. I was honored to add my voice to theirs for this one day.

We were bracing for hostility and to see the worst. Instead I saw something beautiful. Thank you Chicago. And special shout out to the students of University of Illinois- Chicago. You did it.



Addendum- Since I have seen a lot of news reports and FB comments describing the event as very violent. I will speak to what I saw. I was inside the Pavillion. So I can’t speak to the dynamics outside between 5pm and 7pm. Inside, I witnessed 4 to 5 scuffles as people waited for the event, a few very angry Trump supporters and a few angry protesters. Some people were just gunning for a fight. But overall I found the energy less tense than I expected. There were several scuffles after it was announced that the rally was cancelled. There was a very jubilant celebration by protesters in the pavilion after the cancellation. I thought the police were appropriate in their use of force, for the most part. I would not have described the night as violent. I would describe it as tense at multiple occasions.


The Power of Silence and the Power of a Yell

In August, I was in Ferguson Missouri to mark one year since the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown Jr. I was attending Rev. Traci Blackmon’s church and they were honoring some of the parishioners who had been serving faithfully behind the scenes for the last year. It was really beautiful. At the end of it one of the women came and stood at the front of the church.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

 It is our duty to win.

 We must love and support each other.

 We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

 She would call out one line and the congregation would echo it back. As each line progressed her voice grew louder. She finished the chant once and began again. Her voice was loud- yelling, which I rarely hear in church. And as she repeated the chant a second time- tears were pouring down her face.

By the time we got to the end of a second time we were yelling back at the top of our lungs. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS.

This was the first time I had heard this chant and came to learn that it is commonly used among activists at protests.

What moved me, and has stuck with me, was all the history and emotion and courage that was held in that chant and in that women’s passionate outcry.

Black women, who have led on the ground in BLM,  have been pushed to the margins of our culture in so many ways. By race. By gender. Often by class. Their voices were marginalized in the feminist and suffrage movements. Their voices have often marginalized in their own communities. Their sexuality has been fetishized and distorted. Their beauty disregarded. Their point of view repeatedly pushed to the side. I can not do it justice in a few sentences. But knowing that history, I was moved to see this woman cry out. To yell out. To demand to be both seen and heard in the midst of all that mariginalization- that was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of violence, systemic oppression, harassment and fiscal exploitation at the hands of the police and the justice system in Ferguson- to cry out, to not lose hope, to fight tirelessly on the streets for a year. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

To put her heart out there, to reveal the pain, the tenderness, the fatigue, and to renew a vow to continue in the work. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

The moment encapsulates some of what I find profound, beautiful, powerful, and courageous about the women leading on the ground in Ferguson and in other parts of the BLM movement across the country.

In my culture, and in much of East Asian culture there is another tool. And it is silence.

This is captured by a look that I see on the face of older Asian women. A pause, a moment with eyes closed, clenched fist, a breath in, and then steady onward movement.

I see this in the face of Japanese American women who were sent to the internment camps. Stripped of dignity, humiliated, caged. When they walked out of those camps, to rebuild lives, holding the pain of that experience- they walked in silence. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of my own mother, who spent many years as a caretaker to my aging father. Staying with him, when many said she should divorce him because he was too old. She spent much of her youth caring for an old man, in silent suffering. Keeping our family together for my sake. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of immigrant women like my aunt, who had respect and place in her home country, but day in and day out is treated like she is stupid and less than because she can’t speak English very well. The way she carries on- bearing and carrying countless indignities to give her children a better life. That is a powerful act of dignity and courage.

I share this reflection because I think that there is so much misunderstanding between the Asian American and African American communities- the two communities in which I am most vested. One thing we share is women of great dignity and courage who sacrifice profoundly for the next generation. And yet when Asian Americans hear the yell- sometimes they miss the beauty and sacrifice and courage behind it. And sometimes when African American women see the silence, they miss the beauty and sacrifice and courage behind it.

Someday I hope we will realize we could be sources of each other’s healing.

We will realize that neither group of woman is comfortable talking about their pain.

That we have let the heavy fog of white supremacy lay like a blanket over us and our interpretations of each other. That we have believed lies about each other.

Maybe as we choose to see each other as we really are and hear each others stories, the fog will lift.












Asian Immigrants and Black Lives Matter

Last week I had the pleasure of leading worship for Urbana- InterVarsity’s triennial missions conference. It was a fantastic experience. One of the highlights was a session where we led gospel worship and heard from local leader and activist Michelle Higgins. You can read a bunch of other posts about the ripples of that night. But at one point in the night, I asked people to respond to Michelle’s talk by being more open to listening to what people are saying through Black Lives Matter.

A few days later I was texting with my friend Christine, who is Chinese American. Here is the exchange.

IMG_4539  IMG_4540  IMG_4541  IMG_4542


This texting exchange felt significant, it put something to words that I had felt below the surface. In my last post I talked some about why Asian Americans are uncomfortable with disruption and protest. For those of us who had parents that came over after The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,  there is a shared experience. Many of our parents generation experienced great suffering in their homelands. My mother grew up on the tail end of the Korean war and ever so often I get small glimpses into the poverty and the pain. She’ll say things like

  • Your uncle doesn’t eat bean sprouts, because that’s all we ate when we were poor.
  • I had a teacher who paid for me to go to school. But then he could not help me anymore and I had to drop out of middle school and work in a factory.
  • I went to my brother to ask for a blanket, during the winter. Because winter is very cold in Korea. But he said he could not help me. And it hurt him so much.
  • When I came to this country people yelled at me to go back to Vietnam.

These moments are dropped in passing in the midst of other conversations. Sometimes with tears. But it seems like the pain is never really processed. And because so many others have a similar pain, it is dismissed.

And then the next generation has its own dance with stories of pain. I remember about 12 years ago, InterVarsity Los Angeles was focusing on issues of racial reconciliation. And there were some painful moments. But my friend Yii-Shyun and I had a hilarious and bizarre conversation comparing our suffering to that of our parents and grandparents. Statements like- “Grandma I know it was hard when you had to hide in a cave during the winter during the Cultural Revolution but.. I’ve suffered too… sometimes my staff partner doesn’t understand my culture.”

“Oh mom- I know it was hard when you barely had food and had to eat grass pounded with old rice and had no blanket for winter- but sometimes my organization doesn’t understand my biracial identity.”

Through humor and tears we were acknowledging that we carry the last generations pain with us- and it is not resolved. And it dwarfs our suffering. But we feel dissonance in our own life experience as well.Working on those organizational dynamics are important, but I want to focus on the unresolved suffering in our history.

There is a cultural value for absorbing and swallowing pain.

There is shame in revealing suffering or poverty.

There are very few acceptable cultural ways to ask about these past experiences. And even fewer ways to show compassion. ( Aziz Anzari actually does a pretty sweet job of tackling some of this in his show Master of None- episode 2)

Many first generation immigrants have painful stories locked inside. But some of the limits of our own culture lock those stories away and the pain is never healed. I truly believe that there is healing in telling your story and being heard with compassion, empathy, and kindness.

It’s not just stories from the motherland that are locked away. Many have misunderstood how painful the Japanese internment camps were to our Japanese American brothers and sisters, because so little of that pain was put to words.

But it was painful. It was humiliating and awful.

So we have very strong cultural factors that lock stories of pain inside. And the broader culture has interpreted this as meaning that we don’t feel pain and suffering as deeply as other people. I would suggest that part of why Asian Americans have a hard time hearing and showing compassion towards the story of black people in the US- is because they have shown very little compassion to their own stories. We have unaddressed pain and it makes it difficult to engage with another community’s pain.

This is where we need cross cultural community. Because an all Asian community will reinforce this cultural approach to narrative and pain. But sometimes another context, an outside voice, a different way can be introduced by an outsider.

As Asian Americans we need to find a way to present our pain and our stories to Jesus and to each other. I think our parents need room to share, lament, cry ( that really awkward painful cry of older Asian folks) and then actually process and receive healing.

And the grace we have received could become be the grace we extend.

Perhaps as we watch the black community seek compassion, dignity, and justice for its community. We can begin to do that for ourselves as well. And we can stand together with them. And hopefully they will stand with us. Since this is what is means to be Christian community.


We Need More Disruption

Here’s a special glimpse into my marriage. In the first few years we were married, whenever I was upset about something- we ended up having two fights- the thing I was originally mad about, and my husband’s dislike of my tone of voice when I brought it up. After having some version of the same fight over and over again- I agreed, I would bring things up “nicely.” I would use a gentle tone of voice to bring up what was bothering me. So we tried this method for a while.

I would bring it up nicely.


Bring it up again.


So then I would be pissed- and I would bring it up again- in my angry voice.

And he would say, “Hey, you said you wouldn’t use that tone of voice.”

“You don’t listen when I use my nice voice.” And I would list out the times I had brought it up “nicely” and his lack of response. “So you can’t tone patrol me if you don’t respond to my nice voice. It’s actually you- that requires this tone of voice.”

This reminds me of how White and Asian Americans respond to the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

141213170300-08-protest-1213-ny-horizontal-large-galleryI hear white and Asian American Christians bothered by the disruption- stopping a freeway, interrupting a Bernie Sander rally, marching the streets.  The critique is, they seem angry. They are disruptive. It is uncomfortable. It is annoying. And my answer is- yes. Yes they are. Yes it is. But you wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice, so this is what it takes. Interruption is what is takes to get dominant culture to even consider change.

White America, and frankly that portion of Asian American that is flowing with the dominant culture’s worldviews, won’t listen to “nice tone.” I spent the last few days in St. Louis filming activist, theologian, preacher, and worship leader Michelle Higgins. She talked about the fact that most activist consider interruption and disruption a last resort. They have tried phone calls, letters, meeting with local leaders, and community organizing. But when that doesn’t work, when it doesn’t get people’s attention, you have to interrupt. They used “nice” methods to seek change. Too bad, nobody would listen.

1211084 I know I don’t like being interrupted. I understand our general dislike of interruption. Even in conversation it’s annoying. But that doesn’t make it wrong. White America hates all forms of disruption and interruption to its normal life.

Take the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists peacefully, non-violently, and calmly interrupted lunch
by sitting at a counter. They were greeted with hateful slurs, had food poured on them, and were surrounded by angry mobs of white people. They were interrupting the most mundane thing- lunch at a diner. And in the most peaceful way possible- sitting in silence. And white people lost their damn minds about it.

Lets remember- Black Lives Matter is a message to non-black people. Black people know it. They are trying to interrupt the normal flow of life to get everyone else’s attention and say- our lives, our bodies are treated with violence. Will you wake up and care?

And the repeated answer is- no.

No we will not.

For systemic racial change to happen- cities, neighborhoods, schools, and organizations need to be interrupted.

They need something to stop the normal flow of life. Because normal life is racist.

I understand disruption and interruption are never comfortable. So is police brutality. And Black children being shot. And Black children being handcuffed. And Black people being treated with violence.

Jesus actually used disruption all the time. Look at his life and ministry.

He opens Luke with a teaching on being good news to the poor and it is well received. But when he gets particular and calls out the Jewish people on their own ethnocentrism and pride- they want to throw him off a cliff. He is interrupting their worldview and they don’t like it.

Jesus drives out the merchants - John 2:13-16

When Jesus interrupts dinner conversation by telling people they are being proud. It’s more than awkward. It interrupts what could have been some pleasant dinner talk.

When he overthrows the tables in the temple because they have blocked the court of the Gentiles, lots of business people would have been angry. It interrupted business as usual.

Jesus interrupted and disrupted all the time to get people’s attention and tell them to change. But we in the U.S. have castrated Jesus, and made him into Precious Moments Jesus, and we can’t believe that he was as passionate and disconcerting as he was.

Being interrupted is jarring and it requires humility. It required wanting to change and wanting to learn. It requires being confused and not knowing what to do, because you have to stop your normal habits.  It required not being derailed by criticism or insecurity.

Asian Americans and Interruption

I’ve thought for a long time that Asian Americans move away from the Black Lives Matter movement because interruption is extra uncomfortable for us. A lot of Asian American communication is about nonverbals. It is about not needing to say something. It is about saying something at a level 3, but the hearer knows it is really a level 8. And in our culture, interruption is incredibly rude- especially to someone older than you or in authority.

And here is the Black community- disrupting and interrupting. Here they are challenging authority. I think that it feels foreign us. I think we see protesters, we see their anger and the emotion, and we interpret it through our communication lens.

They seem too emotional.

Too angry.


And they are making public spaces uncomfortable.

But we are missing the truth in the message, because we are uncomfortable with the method. We wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice. So it is us who requires interruption.


We Need More Disruption, Not Less

More churches need to be interrupted. Stop doing regular church every Sunday. Engage with the violence and injustice directed towards Black people in our country.

More Christian organizations need to be interrupted. Stop trying to care for people of color, while not having any people of color in leadership.

More Christian ministries need to be interrupted and take a prophetic stance about race and injustice, instead of staying silent because so may donors are white and uncomfortable with Black Lives Matter.

My own organization could use some interruption.

We say we value mulitethnicity, but have we let Black Lives Matter interrupt us? Have we talked about it with our student leaders? Did we incorporate it into our New Student Outreach in any way? Did we incorporate anything about multiethnicity into our Fall Conferences? Did we do more than pray for Black staff that are underfunded?

Or did we go on, business as usual, not being interrupted?

We may not like it. But frankly, I think we need more of it. More disruption. More interruption. Until justice and real change have come.


PS- Don’t worry- the hubby and I worked that dynamic out. In case you think we are tragically stuck in that dynamic 8 years later.