Top Four Books I Read in 2013

As I lay in bed ushering in 2014 with a nasty head cold, I decided to share my favorite reads of 2013. It was not a year for fiction, which is unusual. I did my reading for learning this year and I liked it. So drum roll please- Erna’s Favorite books of 2013!

1) Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle


cvr9781439153154_9781439153154_lgFather Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, has been serving gang members in East LA since the height of gang activity in Los Angeles . This book is awesome because it humanizes an often caricatured group of people and it is theologically profound, without being academic and aloof. It will make you cry- but not in an annoying way, because the emotion springs from real substance.  Plus, he shares about the importance of providing jobs and opportunity for people coming out of gangs and prison. Many books on social justice are so academic I get the feeling that the author might run away from an actual person from the hood. Father Boyle is on the ground, but exegetes his context with profound insight and compassion. JUST READ IT ALREADY!


2) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

04-02leanin_full_600I consider this the second in a series- that started with Bossypants by Tina Fey- on modern day lady power. I kind of had to read Lean In- or I would have lost my lady leader street cred. It was great! It articulated a lot of dynamics that depressed me and gave some empowering suggestions. It’s odd, because I felt like I learned a lot as I read it, but when I was done I couldn’t tell you what I learned. I think I internalized a lot of it as I went along because it resonated on an intuitive level.

Here are two of ideas I’ve been referencing a lot.

1) Consider a job for its potential, not just where you start but where it could go. 2) Men tend to assume they can do a job, woman tend to be more reserved about putting themselves forward for a position until they feel very confident of their ability to execute it. Both of these ideas have helped me to take more risks.


3) The Next Evangelicalism by Soong- Chan Rah

Absolutely shocked that I liked this book because typically I cannot stand white dude evangelical chatty Cathy 61NI5tM4qsL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_theology. But this is written by one feisty ass Korean American professor man who says some SHIT! I mean the stuff he articulates about how the American church is a slave to Western ideologies is AWESOME! And he has so much attitude! Attitude with brains- and readable. Potent combination! I LOVED IT! Read this if you want a clearer understanding of syncretism in the American evangelical church. And read it if you’ve ever felt like there are too many white guys with  goatees talking like they know everything about Christianity. Or read it if you are that guy.


Here are some sweet quotes that had me yelling for my husband so I could read them out loud to SOMEBODY!


“If you are a white Christian wanting to be a missionary in this day and age, and you have never had a nonwhite mentor, then you will not be a missionary. You will be a colonist. Instead of taking the gospel message into the world, you will take an Americanized version of the gospel.”

“I believe that the real emerging church is the church in Africa, Asian, and Latin America that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I believe that the real emerging church is the hip-hop church, the English speaking Latino congregation, the second generation Asian American church, the Haitian immigrant church, the Spanish speaking store-front churches and so forth. For a small group of white Americans to usurp the term “emerging” reflects a significant arrogance.”


4) The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

I’m going to be honest. I haven’t finished this book. It is just breaking my heart. The depth of brokenness and injusticehome_book_cvr in our prison system and criminal justice system is so overwhelming I feel despair. I pick this up and read a few pages and try to untangle the complexity of the War on Drugs, the impact on urban neighborhoods, and the impact on the Black community and I just can’t keep reading. This book is prophetic, and informative, and absolutely to the core heartbreaking.





Well that’s it! Would love to hear your thoughts on these books or books you read in 2013 that impacted you.  Happy 2014!


What is Asian American Feminism?

This is a question I have been chewing on for a few weeks. I don’t have a fully formed opinion yet. I’m typically clear on my opinions, so it has surprised me how hard it has been to get a sense of voice and perspective on this topic. Hence, why I want to start writing on the topic. I hope that you will consider joining this conversation with me.

I started this post a couple days ago, but yesterday I found out about a great hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick that was started to open dialogue on this very topic. I’m a little intimidated to post in light of the trend. But isn’t part of feminism finding my voice? I have an inner angst that says I’m not academic enough to join this conversation, but that’s a fear I’m choosing to step through.

Some of you/ us may wonder if there is a need for an Asian American feminist perspective. Often we are clumped with white women in discussions of gender and power. But that doesn’t make sense to me. That doesn’t speak to the immigrant experience and the cultural influences of the countries our families emigrated from.  Most people do not include  Asian American woman when having discussions about Women of Color. We are invisible in many of these conversations and it seems time for that to change,

As Asian American women, we can learn from white feminism, but our connection to Asian culture means that our experience of gender and power and culture is different than white woman. We can learn form Black feminism, but we are not impacted by systemic class and race issues in the same way as Black women. ( Not to say that poverty and racism are not issues in our community.) I think that Asian American women and Latina women have a lot of shared experiences. And when facilitating conversations about race I have found Asian American women and Latinas are surprised by how much they share in common: traditional gender roles, the treatment of male and female children, immigrant experience, language issues, and duty to family. Sadly, there are very few bridges to conversations between our two communities. Since feminism is about giving women a voice and validating their story- I think it’s important that Asian American women step into their own feminist narrative.

These are some of the recent incidents and experiences that got me chewing on this topic.

– Why are there so many ads for Asian women giving massages? Every time I pick up Pasadena Weekly there are multiple pages dedicated- not just to massage- but massages given by Asian women. Places with very “Oriental” names and lots of references to Orchids. How is this fetishization of Asian American women still so prevalent in our culture?

– The multiple articles talking about Asian American women in the world of online dating. Here’s an example from Elaine Dove on Jezebel. 

  • The ad that said I was Asian generated approximately 80 responses in about 6 hours, after which Craiglist struck the ad as being a fake. Many if not most of the responses started with something like, “I love Asian” (I’m not kidding) or “Asian women are so sexy.” The content and feel of the responses was overtly sexual and made specific reference to my race as part of the appeal. Keep in mind that none of these ads contained a photo, so for all these guys knew, I could be a dwarf with missing teeth. But, apparently, being Asian is its own draw.

– Katy Perry’s performance on the American Music Awards.

– That piece of crap song Asian Girlz

– Watching the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. This hashtag was an awesome conversation about the way that mainstream white feminism overlooks the experiences of Black women, particularly intersections of  race, class, and gender. But as I watched the conversation progress, I felt like such an outsider. I had to wonder- what is the voice and perspective of Asian American women?

– I work closely with social justice issues and issue of race and multi-ethnicity. The academic conversation ignores the presence of Asian Americans almost completely. Of course I emphatically support a focus on Native Americans and Africans Americans as we talk about US history and issues of systemic injustice. I care deeply about what is happening with immigration- particularly as it affects the the Latino community. But immigration is clearly not just a Latino issues.The question keeps coming up. “Where are we in these conversations? Where is the voice and perspective of Asian American women?”  I know I’m here- near the conversations, but not in them.

So here are some of my first thoughts on Asian American Feminism.

I want to be in the conversation. I don’t want to watch White and Black women having a conversation on feminism. I want in. I don’t want to watch White and Black people have a conversation about race. I want a voice in the conversation. I don’t want to watch the Latino community speak about issues of immigration. I want Asian Americans to find the courage to speak up on the issue of immigration.

I don’t want to talk about the city, talk about social justice, engage with issues of poverty- and then get dismissed like my ethnicity is not important or told that it’s the same as the white experience.

I am not a geisha, a delicate flower, or a woman dying to meet the needs of her white Saviour. Can we move passed this ignorant hyper sexualized view of Asian women where we exist to meet male sexual desire?

Can we expand our views of Asian American women beyond newscaster, prostitute, masseuse, dragon lady, and war bride? Can we stop being the quirky sidekick friend whenever we are cast on TV shows?

Can we start talking about what it means that East Asian Americans have such a strong presence on many college campuses.

I am right here, and I’m tired of being dismissed, like the only thing we have to offer is a massage, some karate, or being a good listener.

Following #NotYourAsianSidekick I see other important themes emerging.

– The shame surrounding mental health in our communities

– Always being perceived as outside and foreign

– Giving voice to marginalized Asian groups, particularly SE Asians and Indians

– Underrepresentation in mainstream media

This conversations has additional layers as I look at it from a Christian perspective. White evangelicals so often view Asians as a mission field, and ignore the thriving and growing presence of the Asian American Evangelical community and the leadership we could offer. Traditional gender roles in the immigrant church are stifling to female leadership development. The vision of leadership among American evangelicals is loud, white, verbal, and  male. We are often shorter, sometimes smaller, our culture doesn’t validate being so verbal, and we are women. So put it together. What drives me nuts about the view of Asian American women as quiet subservient non-leaders is that the majority of Asian American women I know are crazy potent leaders. They are opinionated, strong willed, often loud as hell, and incredibly passionate leaders. There is a huge distance between the truth of the Asian American women I interact with and how the world sees us. And the church can be as ignorant and closed a place as the rest of the world.

My friend, Sarah, a potent ministry planter, talks about the fact that people literally look over and past her when she walks into a room of Christian ministers. Being a short Asian American woman puts her outside of white America’s leadership paradigms. They literally don’t look at her.

These are just opener thoughts. But even as I write I can feel my thoughts growing clearer and bolder. I’m excited to see where this goes. I’m very excited to see the conversation on twitter continue. Join me- I would love to see a broad community of Asian American women and others take this conversation to new places.










Women Pastors- I Just Couldn’t Picture It

I’ve always seen myself as a leader. But I never saw myself as a pastor. I assumed it was because I chose to work for a para church campus ministry and that I wasn’t drawn to church ministry. But as time has gone on I realize it was more complicated than that.

The real game changer was when male peers- men I had gone to college with, ministered with, was friends with began to step into pastoral positions. I felt like Scooby Doo- “Raggy? Is that roo?” How are my guy friends pastoring churches? It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could. But these were my peers. Suddenly my peers were in this role that I had never identified or connected with. Up until that point we had done the exact same ministry.  And now I had to grapple with the dissonance that I felt. I realized that though I believed in the Biblical basis for women in leadership I was uncomfortable with it in praxis. I was guilty of the same kind of subconscious male bias that I had experienced through others towards my leadership. I couldn’t picture myself as a pastor because I was woman.

Head pastors have always seemed like wooly mammoths- some other weird species. Growing up in the Korean Church, pastors were always older men. All my youth pastors, all my head pastors, even when I changed churches in high school and again when I moved in college, were always older white men. I simply couldn’t envision myself in that role.

But then my peers, my friends, became pastors.

I thought about their leadership. I knew that I could  lead as well as them.

I thought about their preaching. I knew that I could preach as well as them.

I thought about their ability to gather people. I knew that I could gather people as well as them.

I realized that I had never thought about pastoring a church because I couldn’t see it.

It was a position that seemed “other.”

But when my peers suddenly started stepping into these roles, I felt frustrated. Why did they feel so confident of their ability to carry that kind of leadership- but I had never considered it?

People talk about the need for role models and this may be the situation where I most identify with that. Last year I visited a friend who was attending a conference of Covenant pastors. She introduced me to her friends there, many of whom were ordained women working as head pastors and associate pastors in churches. It was like being at the world’s most amazing zoo- everyone was a sparkly unicorn. If I didn’t have some sense of social decorum I would have pet their heads and cooed.  “I’ve never seen one of you before. Lady pastors are neeeeeeat.” I was interacting with them differently because I was identifying with them. I wasn’t viewing them as people in a role far far away, I could see myself in them.

A couple weeks ago I was catching up with a couple girlfriends. And as I looked around the table I realized that two out of four of us were church pastors. Now even my peer women are pastoring churches. I felt so proud. Of course my friend Latina is the most bad ass picture of a pastor ever. As an African American woman from Detroit who cruises around LA on her motorcycle wearing head to toe leather,  she is in a category of her own.

Realizing that having so few role models has deeply impacted me I wanted to shine the light on some women pastors that inspire me and give me a picture to look at.

First I have to express gratitude to the African American church. I think that all of the first women pastors I saw were in the African American church. Black women have been pioneers in terms of being preachers, not only for me, but in this country.

bsm2012-whoweareLet me give a tip of the hat to Rev. Brenda Salter McNeil. As a student in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I was exposed to Rev. Brenda at Urbana Missions conferences and various other conference. She has amazing rhetorical style, theological depth, and conviction. She would preach on racial reconciliation, Jesus, purpose, justice in an exuberant and thoughtful manner. She is currently the teaching pastor at Quest Church in Seattle.



Reverend Alexia Savatierra is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and she rocks a collar- which is a whole other  alexialevel. She is a founding leader of the National Evangelical Immigration Table. What strikes me about her as a leader and speaker is the gentleness and clarity with which she addresses issues of immigration. She has helped build a coalition between Christian leaders of wildly different backgrounds. She has so many deeds done in the social justice world, but she carries herself with grace and kindness.



IkomaMotzkoReverend Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko was just installed as Senior Pastor at Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle. I emailed Jennifer out the blue a few days ago and she told me she had just become a pastor. It was special to see an Asian American woman my age stepping into this role.  I first met Jennifer when she was working on staff with InterVarsity. I felt inspired to see that she had pursued her M.Div. and then stepped into leadership of an Asian American congregation.



And just to leave you with one final picture. This is what a group of Christian ministers and pastors looks like.  This is me with the aforementioned group of friends. 1450959_10151936811894192_1717388789_n

From Left to Right.

Natalia is an amazing ministry planter. She has successfully planted multi-ethnic ministries at commuter campuses in both San Diego and Los Angeles.

Sandra is  a preacher, trainer, and worship leader. She currently serves as pastor of Grace and Peace Community, an urban church on Chicago’s west side.

Me- Leader, Singer, Social Justice and  Multi-Ethnicity specialist

Latina- aforementioned biker pastor who just became minster at Tribe in Los Angeles.


I’m excited that my generation is stepping into leadership in the church in ways I never saw growing up. I can’t wait to see what that will mean for the next generation.

PS- There was recently a bit of hubbub on the internet about not being able to find qualified women speakers, particularly ethnic minority women speakers for Christian conferences. Well, internet, here are seven great options.



Frat Bro gives pretty awesome apology- Christian leaders take note

A couple weeks ago a very gross and pretty disturbing email from a Phi Kappa Tau brother at Georgia Tech became public. Matthew Peterson, the social chair, sent out an email giving step by step instructions on how to hook up with a girl at a party. The email included helpful bits of advice such as

“Here is how to dance: Grab them on the hips with your 2 hands and then let them grind against your dick. After that slowly alternate between just putting your hand across their stomach, but make sure don’t to go to high (keep it under the boob) or too low(dont try to finger her… yet). After a song, start putting your cheek on the side of her cheek. ALWAYS USE YOUR HANDS OR ARMS TO GUIDE THEIR DANCING in order to maximize your pleasure.”

“If the party is going good (a.k.a. there are a lot of open girls) try to escalate cause it’s awesome. Here is how to escalate: Try to twist her hips around to face you and dance front to front. FROM THERE THE OPTIONS ARE UNLIMITED!”

You can read the letter in it’s entirety here.  But trust me- you won’t be any better for it.

But the story took and unexpected turn. Several days after the letter went public, Matthew Peterson published a letter of apology. And it was pretty good. And I believed him. Which is saying a lot, since we’ve all gotten used to canned, crisis driven, media pandering apologies.

Here are a few snippets of his apology. ( You can read it in full here.)

“Misogynistic behavior is everywhere online and unfortunately, my attempt to ridicule it in an immature and outrageous satire backfired terribly and in a manner I mistakenly underestimated. In fact the “locker room” banter that characterizes this email was wrong in and of itself whether or not contained in a written communication. I am both embarrassed and ashamed at this dialogue and realize now that any sexual statement that is demeaning to women is never a joke.”

He goes on to say “I understand the magnitude and seriousness of this issue and the pain I have caused this community. I certainly have been forever changed by this incident. I have resigned as my fraternity’s social chairman and have proactively identified and implemented actions in consultation with the Office of Student Integrity.I know I cannot fix all the damage I have done, but I will strive to become a better man as I work through this episode in my life.”

Here is why I actually took his apology seriously.

– It was a proportional response. The length of the apology, his acknowledgement of the consequences of his actions, his acknowledgments of what he had learned, and his acknowledgement of dynamics that he had not taken into consideration reflected a genuine teachability and humility.

-He took responsibility for his actions and its consequences. He says he is sorry. Not-I had good intentions, so sorry if you are offended.

– He acknowledged that what he did was misogynistic and a misguided attempt at humor.

– He accepted consequences for his actions, stepping down from his position as social chair and taking ongoing steps to learn.

– In my estimation he appears genuinely remorseful and like he is learning and changing from the experience. ( I could be wrong, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here. )

I wanted to write about him because I like it when people defy expectations. I wasn’t expecting a frat bro who wrote a very douchey rapey email to come back with such a genuine and thoughtful apology. Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about apologies lately as I’ve watched the Asian American Evangelical community try to engage with Pastor Rick Warren about a comment he posted on his Facebook page. If you’re unaware of this fiasco I suggest you read up. But my thought has been- if only Warren had given a satifying apology from the start things would not have blown up in this way. There is currently an open letter from Asian American Evangelicals circulating on the internet. You can read it here.

Warren posted a very brief apology in the comments section of a blog. But I think that Warren’s apology was dismissed because it wasn’t proportional. His apology wasn’t proportionate to the level offense that had taken place. He didn’t seem changed, truly sorry, or like he had learned from the experience. In fact, he seemed dismissive. He didn’t take responsibility.

It’s interesting that a frat bro made a better apology than a Christian leader. Especially when acknowledging that we’re jacked up people who sin and make mistakes is supposed to be a fundamental tenant of Christianity. I feel for Warren- I think he has no idea what is happening and how a single facebook post could have spiraled into such a huge public debate. I think it’s in the apology. Maybe this frat bro can teach us all something about how to set things right.


Don’t be Sorry

I’m not a very good basketball player. But ever so often I’ll get out there and shoot around a bit. I always feel kind of self-conscious and every time I shoot the ball and miss, I apologize.

Sorry. Sorry, my bad.

A few years ago I was playing with a couple friends, and I noticed that one of the guys kept missing most of his shots. But he never apologized; he just took the ball and shot again. I started to compare my skill level with his- and noticed it wasn’t that different. But his assumption was that he belonged, and my assumption was that I didn’t.

I noticed this phenomenon again when I was in music school. I would be jamming with friends, or in a rehearsal, and when I made a mistake I would constantly apologize and make some sort of disparaging remark. I felt bad, cause it seemed like I was messing up more than the guys. But then I started to notice, the guys made mistakes too. But they didn’t apologize for it. They would just try again, or make someone explain it to them, or ignore their error until it was pointed out.

I’ve thought a lot about this phenomena since then. I see other women do this all the time- apologize, draw attention to mistakes. I’m often jealous of the male ability to plow right through. I realize that in certain situation I carry the underlying belief that I don’t belong – I don’t belong on the basketball court. I don’t belong in this jam session. So when I make a mistake it just reinforces this nagging insecurity. A mistake reinforces my fear.

Over time I’ve realized that there is a cost to this habit. I watch others address a mistake by learning from it. But I’m so self conscious about my mistake and throw so much energy into apologizing for it- I don’t learn and I feel afraid to try. I can’t separate my sense of self confidence from the skill I’m attempting, and it shuts me down.

I thought about this phenomena again as I was  reading good old Sheryl Sandberg’s book – Lean In. She talks about how women often feel like a fraud. Even very successful women will feel like they don’t belong in male dominated work situations. “Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their performance as better than it actually is.”

( Is it me or do Sheryl Sandberg and Tina Fey sort of look related?)

Tina and Sheryl

I would be curious to hear your own experiences with this phenomena. And what’s the solution? I’m pretty deliberate now about not apologizing. I often have an inner chant that says- “Do it like a white guy”  when I head into meetings or rehearsals. And honestly- it helps. But I’m not sure if I always have the courage to learn from mistakes.

And like most things- I wrote a song about it. Here’s my musical take on this phenomena. Its called Push Back. Its a rough recording, but the lyrics are in the video.




Why It’s Sad that I had the Best Summer Ever

I wrote this post several months ago- but didn’t have a place to share it until now.

This summer I am directing Los Angeles Urban Project, a really amazing Christian ministry that puts college students in the inner city for six weeks. We talk about Social Justice, and God’s heart for the city, and building relationships across class and race.

I’ve had a great time kicking butt for Jesus. I preached or trained at least 8 times during our orientation week. I’ve lead worship, trained leaders, and exposed students to a whole new side of Scripture and their Christian discipleship.

As I’ve stepped into this role I have been surrounded by a wonderful group of supporters. Kevin Blue- the former Director of LAUP, for almost 13 years, checked in on me during our orientation week. He prayed for me and came to speak for us in the midst of his busy schedule. Dennis Ortega, the Director of LAUP when I was a student, is currently on my leadership team. That’s right. The man that was directing the program when I was 19 years old, is now serving on the leaders team that I am leading. He has been encouraging, supportive, and helpful. My co –worker Scott Hall, who is not here this summer because he is on sabbatical, has texted me consistently with things he has heard in prayer for me.

I’ve felt affirmed, encouraged, and respected. And it’s sad. Because I realize this experience is extremely rare for Christian women in leadership. I have no war wounds coming into this role and I’ve experienced only affirmation and respect from my male co-workers and predecessors.

It’s also sad because I know that most of the students in this program will never hear a woman preach as much as they will this summer. I know that they will probably never see a Christian man in leadership joyfully pass positional leadership to a woman. They will not see male predecessors rally in encouragement for the first woman in a leadership position. But all that has happened this summer.

I have deep gratitude for the many men that have mentored me, trained me, invested me as a leader, and who now respect me as a co-laborer and listen to me preach, follow my leadership, and encourage me on the journey.

But it’s sad. Because this happens so rarely.


Dennis Ortega, Chizu Shimizu, herself, and Kevin Blue