02/17/15
business-woman-and-baby

Lady Leader, Baby Maker

Last week I wrote about my experience as a Christian Lady Leader that has chosen not to have kids. And I have to say, I was really bowled over by the encouraging and thoughtful responses. So many women wrote in with vulnerable, honest, and encouraging responses.  It was a great moment of online community.

This week I wanted to look at the experience of Christian Lady Leaders with kids who have chosen to stay in ministry. I asked some of my potent Lady Leaders friends to share the ups and down of staying in ministry as a mom. I’ll let them speak for themselves. I’ve included their reflections below. All these women are in their 30s to 40s and work for Christian non-profits.

 

 Lady Leader 1

When I was pregnant with #1, my supervisor told me to consider working less than 30 hours a week because preacher_medium_poster-r95b95e109a52432f8b1eebf0bf7d50fc_wad_8byvr_324our joint fundraising was not that great. It now strikes me that no one had that conversation with my husband or with us together. 
I also had a conversation just this week where someone in positional power over me said that they assumed I was just a mom who wanted to stay involved, instead of someone who wanted to lead, grow, or develop. 
On the positive side, having supervisors who are women and have kids has been the best thing for me the two times in my career it happened. There was less need to explain or defend myself, and their wisdom was appreciated. I also like hearing from Dads on staff about their personal lives with their kids and the ways they carve out time to be involved. It gives me more freedom to feel like we are all in the same stage of life and trying to do our best with ministry and family calls.

 

Lady Leader 2

When I’m traveling, people will ask, “Who’s taking care of your kids?” I think they are doing it to be nice, but to be honest, I don’t think the guys get the same question. It kind of puts the women leaders in a bind. You feel like you have to say that you have a fantastic childcare arrangement, otherwise you’ll get judged. You don’t want to say “I couldn’t figure something out, so I paid my school extra money to watch them…”

A lot of women drop out of leadership because they just get overwhelmed. I think mentors know a lot of the heart questions for leaders:il_430xN.92021261

What is your calling?

What’s your gifting?

How’s your soul?

Choose faith instead of fear

But not a lot of mentors know the questions of the heart of a leader/mom:

How do my two callings as a mom and a leader intersect, compete, add to each other?

Are they compatible?

Which is my higher calling?

How will I know if I’m messing up one or the other?

Will I make a choice I will later regret?

Will my kids be ok if I make this choice?

I made a point to travel with each of my kids the first year of their life. 
If the meeting wouldn’t accommodate my kid, I didn’to-OLD-MAN-CONFUSED-570 go. I was trying to be prophetic in some circles. For example, one group said “We want more women and younger people involved,” so I brought my infant to the meeting. I wanted to communicate, “If you want more of us, this is what we look
like.” I got crazy reactions from the men of a certain generation! “Is that a BABY in there?” they would ask. My daughter would be asleep in an ergo, buttoned over my “work clothes”.

 

Lady Leader 3

No one gave a thought to childcare at chapter camp because the wives usually came up to watch the kids. But since I don’t have a wife, let alone a stay-at-home-mom wife, I raised questions about cost, exceptions for primary child-care providing spouses, family housing, etc. The same went for staff meetings and conferences. 
I have had to ask to be excused from leadership meetings because they run during my kids’ spring and winter breaks, and ministry does not trump time with family. 
Rarely do I hear of men making those same choices. There are a few, but by and large, it’s the women.

B - baby in the Bar
I’m not shut down on purpose, but there are so many informal times of networking after hours. How do you do that if you have children at the meetings? Childcare is only for the “official” sessions, but we all know so much happens over dessert or wine.

How have I been encouraged? I have been blessed by a few incredible male supervisors who didn’t have a clue and were humble enough to ask for help. I had some key female friends who have been there for me when it takes every fiber in my being not to scream at the men and non-parents in the room. And I have an incredibly supportive husband and flexible children who want me to keep on keeping on.

 

What Caught My Attention

These are just some of the thoughts that my friends shared. But they reflect a lot of common themes. This quote also stood out.

“People say no for you to various opportunities because they assume you are in over your head

and can’t handle it. I might be in over my head, but I would like to say no for my own self.”

I realized that coworkers, supervisors, and congregants make a lot of assumption and decision for Lady Leaders with kids. And these actions may go against the articulated position on women in leadership. I know that I am guilty of assuming that moms are not as interested in developmental opportunities. It’s only as close friends have navigated this journey that I see how much Lady Leaders long to be seen and taken seriously, in the midst of the chaos of young kids.

I realize that supervisors have a lot of power to set culture for good and bad.

  • Supervisors assume that moms don’t want to be developed anymore.
  • Supervisors assume that it’s the woman that will decrease her hours.
  • Supervisors say they want mom’s there but don’t provide child care.

On the other side supervisor cans be advocates, be proactive about childcare, and continue to develop and invest in Lady Leader moms. I’ve seen examples of this in my organization.

I also realize that we still have very traditional views of parenting. When a man in ministry has children, nobody asks him any questions about childcare when he travels. In fact, there are very few expectations on him as a parent. The role of pastor’s wife  assumes that along with a full time minister comes a stay at home wife that will carry the burden of childcare. (This deserves its own post.) We still assume a dad is “babysitting” when he takes care of his kids

In reading these reflections I hear women with great passion for both leadership and their families. But who often feel isolated and different as they try to navigate the ministry world as moms. None of them questioned their ability to be both a mom and leader, but encountered lots of people who assumed they couldn’t do both.

I would love to hear from more of you Lady Leaders with kids. What do you wish people knew about your experience? What advice do you have for those of us that are working with you?

And final word- let me praise the Lady Leader Moms that led me in my earlier years. I had no idea what you were juggling and what a prophetic and complicated choice you were making. Much respect you and your pioneering ways.

 

11/26/14
images

Dear Asian American Pastors- Preach on Ferguson this Sunday

Our country is in turmoil. The internet is swirling with both insightful and hateful dialogue. The streets are swirling with courageous young activists and idiots looking for a fight. For the most part people have responded predictably- conservatives feel vindicated, liberals are outraged, the Black community is grieving, the White community is feeling guilty or gloating. Most will turn to mindless consumerism after Thanksgiving and move on. But come Sunday there will be an opportunity for spiritual leaders across the country to offer interpretation, leadership, and insight into this moment. My fear is that Asian American pastors will also respond predictably by choosing to remain silent or unengaged with a “Black issue” or one that appears politically controversial. May it not be so!

Here are some reasons you should consider changing your sermon for this Sunday.

 Preach on Ferguson this Sunday because it is advent. You may feel hindered because it is the first CognietSunday of Advent. Shouldn’t we be kicking off a season of children singing carols and decorating the sanctuary? But what could be more appropriate than to address violence, injustice, and the death of a young man? Jesus was born under the terrorizing leadership of Herod, which led to the murder of a generation of baby boys. Infant Jesus had to flee in terror to another country out of fear for his life. You may feel uncomfortable addressing pain and violence from the pulpit, but Jesus chose to live through it. Great hope birthed in the context of fear and violence is true to the advent story.

 

Preach on Ferguson in order to educate the congregation and yourself. You may feel afraid and unsure because you do not have a lot of experience or understanding of issues that affect the Black community. That’s OK. Use this moment as an opportunity to learn. There is a vast amount of excellent writing being put forward in this moment. Model being humble and teachable. Show that being engaged with the pain and suffering of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is always right. Don’t send your congregants on missions to countries that are far away without cultivating compassion for the brothers and sisters down the street.

The church is a central part of the Black community as it is in the East Asian American** community. What we share in Christ, the fact that we are family, should stir compassion and engagement. It doesn’t need to express itself in a particular political voice. Scripture holds us to a high standard in terms of caring for other believers. Shouldn’t that care extend beyond the ethnic confines of our own congregations? Black bothers and sisters are in pain. Shouldn’t we seek to understand why?

Preach on Ferguson out of gratitude and to honor the sacrifice of the Civil Rights Movement. The Immigration Act of 1965 was put into place as an extension of the Civil Right Movement. Most second 7546-004-7F54297Cgeneration Asian Americans came here through the door that was opened by our African American brothers and sisters. To be able to enter this land, because of the courageous fight of African Americans, and then turn our backs on them once we are here is ignorant and ungrateful. How many times are the Israelites told to remember the work of God in setting the Israelites free from slavery? Remembering is a frequent command of Scripture. We need to learn and remember our own history. Remember that God worked through the courageous and long suffering activism of the African American community and that it bore fruit that has blessed the Asian American community. Remember!

This is a moment for the Asian American church to wake up. We must find our voice and form a theology that reflects who we are. We are a people who understand courage, sacrifice, and solidarity. And refined by Jesus, we will step out of ethnocentrism and silence. There is a place for silence. There are times when silence can be courageous, prophetic, and transformational. But this is not that moment. I hope that my brothers and sisters in the pulpit will lead the way towards engagement. Don’t let the fact that your congregation does not typically engage these issues silence you. The pulpit is a place for leadership. The pulpit must speak to blind spots and cultural weaknesses. East Asian culture and hence East Asian American culture is ethnocentric. Redeemed Christian Asian American culture should repent of ethnocentrisms and live into the reality that all people are made in the image of God.

Lastly, know that saying nothing about Ferguson communicates just a much as a preaching on it. Know that choosing not to engage or interpret or lead reflects a certain set of values. Liz Lin does a great job of talking about cultural values that can keep us silent in these situations. But let’s not pretend that silence is neutral. In these moments silence speaks as loudly as words.

 

 

 

*I’m using Ferguson as short hand to refer to

  • the killing of Michael Brown
  • the ensuing protests and activism
  • the recent decision not to indict Darren Wilson
  • to sum up the conversation on racial profiling and militarization of the police
  • to reference the call to value the lives of Black people and acknowledge the systemic injustice that they are facing in the United States.

** I transition to using just Asian American instead of East Asian American through the rest of the post because East Asian American becomes cumbersome to read. However, I acknowledge that this article is speaking primarily to the church serving second generation East Asian immigrants. My hope is that in learning to engage these issues, we will also learn to engage with our Southeast Asian brothers and sisters.  As  East Asian Americans we have often distanced ourselves from building community and caring for the needs of our Southeast Asian family. I simply couldn’t address the diversity of the Asian American experience in this post.

 

 

09/22/14
images-182

Crisis Driven Racial Reconciliation

For some Christians, crisis situations like Ferguson stir in us a sense that we should take some sort of action. Should we talk about this at church on Sunday? At least say a prayer? We don’t want to take sides or get too political, but maybe acknowledge what’s happening? But once the crisis is over, what ongoing action is taken? And more importantly, how is the value being walked out, lived in, taught on, trained, and integrated into the community? How is it being addressed systemically and organizationally when there isn’t a crisis?

Typically is is not being addressed at all.

HOLDING A VALUE

We love to hold a value for multi-ethnicity, but we don’t actually want to do much more than that. We look around and feel good because we can count a few ethnic minorities in the room. We have a few “social justice” types and “race minded” types and feel good. Essentially we do just enough to alleviate guilt so that we can stroke our egos and say “Yes! We are not like those ignorant Christians over there. We hold the value.”

Holding a value for multi-ethnicity is the equivalent of being willing to do something “in your heart”. Whenever I teach the section of Scripture where Jesus says “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Almost everyone comes back with, “He doesn’t mean actually do it. You just have to be willing to in your heart. You just have to be willing to, if he asks you.”

This argument is weak sauce.

Imagine if I saw my husband hooking up with some other woman in a bar. Of course I’m pissed and so I confront him. “What do you think you’re doing? Are you cheating on me?” And he answers, “Erna, don’t get so excited. I am cheating on you, but in my heart I would be willing to be faithful, if you asked. So it’s cool. I totally hold a value for fidelity, in my heart.”

Obviously this response would not work. I don’t care what values he holds or can articulate. I am interested in him living out these values in practical actions that I can see EVERYDAY. I don’t give a crap about what is “in his heart” if he doesn’t keep it “in his pants.”

So lets loop it back to all of us multi-ethnicity value holding people. What are we doing to actually live the value? Are we addressing systemic issues? I work for a para-church organization and everyone who works here has to raise their own financial support. There is a great post that elaborates on the ethnic bias of this model.

Working with Black Campus Ministries I can attest to this reality both anecdotally and through the sum of 15 years of watching the majority of potential African American staff fail to make it into the ministry. It is not for lack of gifting, passion, character, or sense of call. It’s the pool of donors that they have to draw from. It’s the financial resources of their networks and home church. When I came on staff I could lean into my parents to cover me in emergencies while I lived on my $800 a month salary. But what if I hadn’t had that? Not all our African American students come from lower income families- but some do. Like me, many are first generation college graduates. Our model exhausts them. This year I supervised a young White woman who got fully funded for ministry in 6 months of fundraising. I know veteran Black staff that haven’t been fully funded after 8 years in this ministry.

Throwing more money at it can help, but it isn’t enough. There is an entire system that needs to be addressed. But there is no crisis to draw attention to these issues, just the slow ongoing attrition of potentially amazing spiritual leaders that couldn’t raise their budget. There is no crisis that addresses who is not in the room. There is no front page headline that forces us to see the ethnic minorities who tried to be a part of our communities, but grew exhausted from being isolated, or by being everybody’s “first Black friend,” or disheartened that they were the only ones ringing the bell for change. There is no news camera for rooms of Christian leaders that stay painfully mono-ethnic. There is no march for Christians that are painfully uninterested in the systemic dehumanizing of those who bear the image of Christ in the form of young Black men. There is just heart and soul numbing comfort in being able to say- we hold the value.

ANGER IN THE FAMILY

The only crisis that does happen in our circles is that sometimes someone gets angry. Sometimes an ethnic minority person gets fed up with the pace of change, gets tired of being token. They get tired of being the reason everybody feels good about themselves. And one of two things happens. All the nice Christians panic- “Ahhhh someone is angry at me. Let me sooth them as quickly as possible. Not because I really hear what they are saying. It’s just that my ego is terribly uncomfortable with this anger. So lets make it stop.” Or they get dismissed. “ You’re just an angry ethnic person. You are irrational, reactive, not mature in Christ and lacking in self control. I don’t have to listen to you.”

This response makes me crazy.

Here’s another scenario from my marriage. I can speak with a pretty harsh tone when I’m angry. And this really bothers my husband, understandably. When I’m hurt or bothered I don’t speak vulnerable, my voice gets very focused and intense. So after several fights that didn’t go that well, I agreed that I would try to use a more gentle tone of voice in certain situations.

So I tried to implement the new model. I used a gentle voice asking him to change something that was frustrating me. Over the course of a couple days I asked nicely three times. And then I got pissed. And so I asked in my anger voice. And then he got mad… hadn’t I agreed not to use that tone of voice? Yes. But he wasn’t keeping his end of the bargain- to respond when I used my nice voice. He can’t demand nice voice and then take no action. If he only responds to anger voice, then that’s the one I’m going to use.

Back to multi-ethnic community. When someone gets angry, it gets read back onto them. That person is at fault for being angry. But what if another tone of voice hasn’t worked or brought change? Then maybe anger is the appropriate response. My friend Terrance wrote a great post on the appropriate place of rage in Christian spirituality and reconciliation. We have narrowed the scope of Christianity to one that is about niceness, and hence anger always seems inappropriate. Sorry- that’s not my Jesus and that’s not my Christianity. Sometimes anger is the only response that makes any sense.

 

REAL MULTI-ETHNICITY

Real reconciliation responds to crisis but isn’t driven by it. Real racial reconciliation goes beyond just assuaging guilt- it is proactive, prophetic, and well-led change. It does not depend on the anger of Black people, or the pain of Latino people to drive it. There is a commitment that does not require that minorities stoke the flame by being the ongoing agitators or voice of descent. Many nice Christian leaders “value muti-ethnicity” but are mostly concerned that nobody is mad at them.

When I speak about this issue, most leaders dismiss me by saying that I don’t understand the complexity of ministry. I understand that people leading communities and churches are juggling a lot of values. I’m not saying multi-ethnicity should be the sole value. I’m saying that it should be an integrated value. When we plan outreach events, evangelism, church retreats, leadership trainings- do we bring a lens to multi-ethnicity?

The Kingdom of God is a complex place. Jesus manages to express multiple values at the same time. He didn’t compartmentalize the Kingdom the way that we do. Somehow Jesus managed to combine racial reconciliation, evangelism, gender reconciliation, inner healing, leadership development, and mission into a single relationship-  his interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

We have to take initiative even without crisis. We settle for having people in the room or bodies on the margins. Should someone actually voice anger and frustration we try to quiet and sooth as quickly as possible without any real self -examination, and without any real change.

It has been six weeks since the murder of Michael Brown. What are you doing to proactively lead your Christian community into engaging real change? What are you settling for now that the crisis is over? Will it take another murder, another round of protests, for you to look around in surprise wondering- “Oh, is that still happening?”

It matters as much, if not more, what we do now.

 

 

08/16/14
ferguson-hands-up

The Unacceptable Silence of Asian American Christians in Response to Ferguson

I had a much more mellow post written. I swear that I did. But as I reflect on what  I think is right to say,  I know I need to make the point more strongly. As I scroll through my Facebook feed the vast majority of my Black friends and colleagues are posting and writing about what is happening in Ferguson in response to the murder of Michael Brown. There is grief and anger. There is pain. There is the frustration of having to explain to people AGAIN why this is upsetting. There is the pain that non-Black Americans don’t seem to understand why this is so upsetting. If you haven’t been following, then you can read up through these posts.

This is Why We’re Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown

 The Front Lines of Ferguson

If They Gunned Me Down

A small portion of my justice minded Asian American friends are posting on it and maybe one or two White folks. But for the most part my feed is alternating between repostings of articles on Ferguson and videos of cats and pictures of food. Others have already addressed the White community, and many Black writers have articulated the issues surrounding Ferguson better than I can.

When Terror Wears A Badge

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder 

The Police Are the Issue In Ferguson, Not Michael Brown’s Character

But I felt it was important to talk to one of the communities that I am most connected to:  Asian American Christians.

Why are we so painfully silent as debate and tragedy and grief are raging around us? Will any of our churches take time to pray for grieving families on Sunday- not only Micheel Brown’s family, but the family of John Crawford, a man that was shot in Walmart for holding a toy gun. Or Eric Garner, the father of 6 that was killed through the use of an illegal choke hold by police in New York.

My mind turned back to last summer where I led a group of Christian college students into responding to the Trayvon Martin verdict. I took a group of mainly Asian American and White students through a journey where they could have compassion and grieve over what had happened. We taught them to care about what the Black community was saying, instead of ignoring it by saying “that’s a Black people problem.”

That type of response, “It’s a Black problem” deeply troubles me as a Christian and when spoken among Christians.  I encountered it again this summer. I led 50 students who were living in the inner city for 6 weeks for an urban project. The crisis of children crossing the border was making headlines and we began a conversation: what is a Christian response to this situation?  We also looked at the issue of mass incarceration and systemic injustice against Black men. But suddenly, a group of students that had started the summer by saying that race was not an issue for them, couldn’t stop using race as an excuse. I’m not Latino, so that’s not my issue. I’m not Black, so I can’t relate.

This excuse bothers me. I’m not a Black man and I have never been harassed by the police, but I can use my mind and imagination to figure out that if I was stopped and harassed by cops repeatedly with no just cause- for example, under New York’s now defunct stop and frisk policy- I might feel angry, scared, powerless, and like the system was against me. I could read thoughtful articles that help me understand.  (This article by  Questlove broke my heart ) No, I haven’t experienced it, but as a human I can understand emotions that are common to all people. For some reason, Christians, who have never experienced human trafficking or the sex trade can muster a lot of  compassion for these issue, but then stay oddly silent and distant on the issue of police violence against Black men.

We don’t see the image of God in these young men. We don’t see their beauty, intelligence, and human dignity. So many of these men are actually just boys. But we don’t see. I remember when Brittany Spears and Destiny’s Child came out. Everyone saw Britany spears as a teenage girl, but everyone viewed Beyonce as a grown woman- even though they were the exact same age. We look at white and Asian youth and see youth that needs to be protected. We look at Black youth and see adults, or worse: just “other,” not people we can relate to.

Jesus heals blind people repeatedly in the gospels. And these healings function, in part, as parables for the spiritual blindness of the people around him. Asian American bothers and sisters: we are blind. We aren’t seeing the pain of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus repeatedly healed lepers, who were numb to pain. They too are a parable. Asian American brother and sisters: we are numb to systems  of injustice around us.

It troubles me that the church is so central to the Asian American community- especially the Korean American community – and the church is so central to the Black community, but the two have so little unity and compassion for each other. We claim to believe in the same God, and the same Savior who adopted us all and made us family. If we are family, then when one person mourns and grieves, we all grieve. It’s a dysfunctional family that ignores the grief of another family member, or even worse says “Your grief is not real.”

So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.

 

First- it’s not a Black problem- It’s a mothers and fathers losing their babies problem.

I don’t have kids. But I think about it through my relationship with my Godson.

IMG_8282

He is 16. When he got teased in junior high I would lay in bed and have to walk myself through the legal ramifications of hurting the small children that were making him so sad at school. Because his pain was upsetting to me and it hurt me, because I love him. In two years he will be the same age as Michael Brown and getting ready to go to college.  In two years he will not be a dangerous threat that needs to be gunned down. He will be a young man, who sometime acts like a boy and sometimes amazes me with his courage as a man.  He will be stepping into adulthood in a wonderful and precious way. If he were to be killed, unarmed, one night by a police officer. You can believe I would absolutely lose my mind with grief, with anger, and with a cry for justice. A few days ago I was trying to explain to his 10 year old sister what was happening in Ferguson. I said, “If Auntie Erna had a son and a policeman hurt him for no reason, what do you think Auntie Erna would do? She said “ You would rip his face off.”  So a ten year old gets it- why don’t we get it? Someone hurts a child you love- you get angry, you take action, you grieve. And yet many in the Asian American Christian community watch these protests and hold them at arms length, as if they can’t understand the response they are seeing.

Why are we so numb and oblivious to the grief of our brothers and sisters? If we, Asian American Christians, really believe that we are one family in Christ, then we must respond accordingly. We must respond with compassion and grief at the loss of life.

To this day Koreans and Korean Americans are still upset that Japan has not acknowledged the injustice suffered by many Korean women who were trafficked as sex slaves (often refereed to as comfort women) during World War II. We are upset that Japan hasn’t acknowledged the injustice done to our grandmothers decades ago. And I understand that. It is unjust and dehumanizing. So why can’t we muster compassion and sympathy for parents that are watching their sons being dehumanized and murdered today?

Think of Jesus and his compassion on the widow at Nain. He saw her grief. He saw the implications it would have on her life to lose her son.  And he responded with compassion and action. He didn’t say, “I’ve never been a woman,” “I’ve never been a widow,” “I’ve never lost a son, so I don’t relate” He could see grief and pain, and he responded with compassion.

It’s not a Black problem. Parent losing their beloved children is a human problem.

Second- I am grateful to Western Christianity for a lot of reasons. Missionaries came to my mother’s village in South Korea when she was a child and introduced my aunt and my mother to Jesus. I grew up in church in part because of their influence. And I’m grateful for that. However, Asian American Christianity has adopted some jacked-up aspects of White American Christianity.

  •   We view everything through an individualistic lens.  In contrast, the majority of Scripture is addressed to communities, people groups, and countries. But we read it completely individualistically. This makes us blind to issues of sin beyond individual sin. We don’t see sin in systems, and communities, and countries.
  •  Our view of justice is to give a man a fish. As Asian Americans we have a value for charity – we tutor, we hand out food, we give clothes. But I believe we had adopted a broken Western view of justice and service. There are three lenses: (1) give a man a fish or (2) teach a man to fish. But if the pond has a giant wall around it? Then (3) tear down the wall. We have locked into “give a man a fish,” which makes us feel good about ourselves, but doesn’t address problems at their root. And it doesn’t address our own version of White savior Christianity.
  • We pretend to be colorblind while using the church to reinforce our ethnocentricism. The Asian American church played an important role serving second and third generation Asian Americans. But it has become a context where Asian American Christians never encounter or interact with believers of other ethnicities. And it has made us ignorant. It has made people of other races caricatures and instead drawing from each others cultures- we’ve grown isolated and ignorant to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s time to change- or, in Christian vernacular,  to repent.

 

I understand that as Asian Americans we are still figuring out our place in these dialogues. Historically these issues are rooted in Black and White dynamics and I respect and understand that. But compassion is never wrong. Getting educated is never wrong. Fighting injustice is never wrong. Mourning with those who mourn is never wrong. Repenting of ambivalence is never wrong. Let’s start there and learn as we go.

Let’s engage. Lets have compassion. Let’s address this in our churches and small groups. Lets show up to protests and vigils and prayer meetings. Lets learn, sit at the feet of Black leaders, and Black Christian leaders, and the Black community.

Let us mourn with those who mourn. Asian American Christians,  let us learn to cry out for justice for all.

 

 

 

 

 

08/13/14
IMG_8436

As I Leave LA

I feel pensive, and nervous, and sad and grateful as I sit here on my last night in Los Angeles. I came here the fall of 1993- 21 years ago. My dad flew down with me to drop me off at Scripps College- a tiny women’s college of 600 students. I arrived in LA in the throws of biracial identity angst, disillusioned with the Korean immigrant church, not sure what to do with my Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, and insecure about my ability to succeed in school.

My experience of falling in love with Jesus through the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship absolutely changed my life. Discovering Jesus in Mark study, being loved on by upperclassmen and mentors, having passionate and committed Christians model discipleship brought so much joy to my life! I learned about racial reconciliation, social justice, giving Jesus Lordship over my dating life, my money, and my family. I came alive and discovered a Christianity that I could actually be passionate about.

After college, in the midst of persecution from my mom, I experienced financial provision, inner healing, and deliverance. I was broken of my selfish only child ways by my Oxy staff team- thanks and sorry! I was given a sister, brother, mentor, home, and children through the Schaupps- a family that I have lived with for 11 of my years in Los Angeles. InterVarsity gave me a chance to grow as a young woman leader. I was taken seriously and learned to actually put my value for multiethnicity into action on campus.

I got to reconnect with quite a few Oxy alumni at my going away party on Saturday.IMG_8371 It brought back so many fond memories of staying up late working on talks, food fights with milk and salsa, writing dramas for evangelism outreach events, and coming home to students in my living room. For the seven years I lived in a house across the street from Occidental I never owned a key to the house. We got to live a life of total hospitality. I would come home to students I had never met sleeping on my sofa because there was a party in their dorm and someone had told them they could come to my house. My staff partners and I would throw an event at 7pm, clean up, and then throw a late night study break at 10 pm. Then we would head onto campus for late night prayer. Our lives were crazy, exhausting, passionate, and inspired.

Leaving Oxy in 2006 and getting married in 2007 marked a new phase. Marriage was a gift of laughter and a partnership where we helped each other’s dreams come true. I went to music school and started a band. I fell in love with a new group of students at Harvey Mudd and Scripps. My gifts got more focused and I found myself leading the Los Angeles Urban Project and serving more explicitly with Black Campus Ministries.

I love the passionate and unselfaware girl that left Seattle for Los Angeles. I had no idea the gift this city would be to me. I had no idea that Jesus would use people here to love me and lead me and help me grow. I had no idea that I would fall in love with the city- I love South LA, Eagle Rock, my Korean American home church, and the suburban white church where my husband worked.

Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the gift of You. Thank for the gift of this city. Thank you for the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Thank you for community, discipleship, mission, joy, life, laughter, and friends.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning. And I am sad to go.

IMG_8465

Last sunset in Los Angeles. This is the view from my front porch. 

 

06/12/14
images-172

When Loving People becomes JV

Making Money from Art and Making Money from Jesus

There are a lot of potential pitfalls for those of us in professional Christianity. I parallel it to being an artist. When I first started writing songs and doing music I was just thrilled to be creating. The creativity and artistic expression were the end goal. But then, when I started to try and make money from my art, to be a “professional” singer, it messed with the creative process.

Is this song what people want to hear?

These lyrics aren’t pop enough.

This sounds too much like  so and so and not enough like so and so.

Whatever the train of thought- the process was, at the very least affected and at the very worst tainted, by the desire to make money from the art.

Christian leadership often starts as a really beautiful overflow of something exciting and authentic happening in our lives with Jesus. It’s an adventure and there are so many new skills to learn and a passion to be a part of what Jesus is doing in people. Over time there is a natural transition to moving up the chain and becoming a supervisor. As someone in college ministry, our front lines ministry is college students. Gathering new freshmen and students that are curious about Jesus is typically the group we are working hardest to welcome and gather.  The community moves in concentric circles with core students, then student leaders, then interns and then full time staff. A team leader at an established campus can spend most of their time supervising staff and interns and maybe interacting with core student leaders. After 5 or so years in ministry we have often shifted to supervising staff and to roles that are more training and program orientated.

Now I believe in good training. Watching people throw all their energy and heart at something but with no strategy or training makes me crazy. And I do think that more experienced leaders should develop younger leaders. But…. there are some odd dynamics that sneak in.

When ministry is your job, over time your relationship with people becomes supervision. Supervision is really different than discipling and it doesn’t require love. In fact, love can come off as unprofessional and unnecessary. I deeply believe that Jesus invested in his disciples strategically- he focused on 12 people and then 3 and from among them 1. But he didn’t supervise his disciples, He invested in them deeply and loved them intimately in the mess of their sin and brokeness. He was in community with them. He was there when they had petty conflicts with each other and when their comparison issues came up. He loved them profoundly and sacrificially when they were being effective leaders and when they weren’t.

I’m Too Advanced to Love Messy People

As I move along in my leadership there can come an insidious little shift where I start to act like loving people deeply, loving messy people, loving sacrificially over the long haul, is not strategic. It’s sort of JV. It’s for younger leaders. The people we are called to serve become tools for our strategy. But the problem with strategy is that when people are the means- we have to wonder what has become the end.

Here’s the truth. We want to move away from loving people sacrificially and suffering with them in love because it’s hard, annoying, and will often break our hearts.  That’s what you find out. I have poured my heart and life into students who have at times been ungrateful, hateful, angry, and very publicly critical of me. I have loved and invested in people who have turned away from me in my own times of grief and suffering and been in cross cultural relationships where I have felt deeply misunderstood and unseen. I have invested in people who have left the group I was hoping they would lead. And I have made more mistakes than I can count as I’ve tried to care fro students under my care.

The other day my godson asked “How do you keep it from going to your head?” (In regards to being a role model and mentor.) I wanted to laugh. It went to my head for about two years- and then the limits of my heart, the power of my ego, and my own agenda were laid bare. My deep dislike for how messy people are and the deep investment people require surfaced. I found out that we can have a strategy, but when we work with people- the end game is helping people experience the powerful and loving reality of Jesus His truth and His grace. And that can and should sideline strategy.

Over time I wanted to back away from the front lines. Leave it to the young guns to love the young folks- I’ll just work with trained leaders who are ready to be supervised. I’ll coach. I’ll train. Very little heartbreak in any of those situations.

 The Suffering Love of Jesus

But I keep going back to the suffering love of Jesus.

I was recently at a church that has an incredible mosaic of Jesus. His arms are outstretched and in the center of His chest is a gold heart- with what looked like flames coming out of it. After a couple opportunities to meditate on the image- I realized that the heart was surrounded by a wreath of thorns. This image is commonly referred to as the Sacred Heart – hence the name of the cathedral – Le Sacre Couer.

I was struck by the truth of that juxtaposition- at the center is Jesus’ heart burning with love- but surrounded by the suffering thorns. This is what is means to follow Jesus and it is at the center of who He is. And I think it is dangerous for Christian leaders if  we begin to drift away from this center.

There is a place for supervision, training, and strategy. But I believe more and more deeply that at the center must be a commitment to love. Sacrificial Love. Deep Love. Whole Hearted Love.  And if our ministry jobs have shifted to training and supervision, or writing and strategy, then we must find relationships where we are loving deeply and sacrificially. I know that I need it. My ego and my character need it. I don’t have some easy answer to the intersection of professional Christianity and sacrificial love- but this has been my recent meditation and I’m sharing it with you for your consideration.

 

 

 

 

 

03/6/14
images-158

Phases of Inner Life Awesomeness and Lameness

I keep having similar conversations with my friends and students- so I wanted to write down some themes I’ve seen emerge in terms of inner life development. These phases of inner life growth are not scientific and I don’t think that everyone goes through them. But I have gone through all of them and have seen many of my students and peers walk through them, so I thought I would share.

Hey- What’s a Quiet Time?

At some point a Chrsitian finds out they should try to have an inner life and a regular personal prayer time. And for some reason it gets called a quiet time. Or Q.T. as really Christian people call it, because Christians love weird lingo that others don’t understand.

Usually it entails a little handbook that gives you a reading for everyday of the year ( for example Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest) or the discovery of journaling and doing something like ACTS ( from Bill Hybels Too Busy Not to Pray). I made a few attempts at this in high school, but really began in ernest in college.

If you haven’t moved towards this, then let me suggest that you try.  We need to learn to show up to Jesus on a regular basis if we want a relationship with Him.  And as much as we love a shortcut and wish there was a buzzfeed lifehack list for inner life growth- we just have to learn to show up.

 

Listening Prayer or Holy Crap- He talks back.

This was game changer. Realizing that prayer is not the most boring one way conversation in the universe was incredibly inspiring. Being given tools to hear the voice of Jesus brought a kind of dynamic excitement to prayer that I had never encountered before. Until I learned about listening prayer, intercession seemed about as interesting as talking to my shoe. I had guilt that I “should pray more.” But I couldn’t conjure words to pray- beyond “Hey Jesus, you should do something about this…if it’s your will.” I got bored. But now I could listen to Jesus for direction and there was a back and forth. It’s already hard to have a conversation with an invisible entity- so it really helps it the conversion is dynamic and interactive.  I learned to see pictures, receive Scripture, and have a sense of guidance as I prayed.   GAME CHANGER!

 

Lordship and Sin

For most of college, a lot of what I heard as I journaled, had my daily quiet time, and practiced listening prayer was connected to getting sin out of my life and choosing into deeper Lordship. I heard invitations to fast from dating, to confess my lying, and to repent from comparison and critical spirit towards my best friend.

I became more sensitive to the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin- pressing me not to gossip about people, not to twist the truth, and cut off unhealthy romantic relationships. I grew more sensitive to the Holy Spirit challenging me to obey the Word- to share my car and open up decision of how I would spend my summer break.  Though challenging – it was awesome to have this type of connection to Jesus. It was intimate and dynamic.

 Disappointment

Disappointment always catches me off guard.  Often I don’t even know I have expectations until they don’t happen. And then I find out what an entitled person I am.

In college I had made a commitment not to date for a couple years. I assumed that at the end of that time I would date a close friend with whom I had had an on and off again interest. So when he started dating someone else just as my dating fast was coming to an end I went into crazy batshit mode. I was so disappointed and full of shock. I had assumed that my obedience not to date would lead to the reward of dating this great Christian guy. It didn’t mean that.

As I’m writing this I realize that disappointment deserves its own post. So I’m gonna keep on keeping on.  Suffice it to say- disappointment will take your inner life to spiritual school at a whole new level. I’ll dedicate an entire post to this topic.

Grow Up and Take Responsibility for Your Life

At some point- usually mid to late twenties-  all my friends and I went through a – “He’s not talking to me anymore” phase. This isn’t the Dark Night of the Soul kind of silence. I’ve come to interpret this season as the “grow the hell up phase.” At this point I had cleared most of the super obvious sin out of my life, and I had taken significant strides forward in Lordship and obedience. I was trying to make life decisions and seeking Jesus in prayer and hearing nothing. Over time I realized that Jesus had formed his character in me. And I didn’t need a specific word for each decision. My friend Jon Ball writes a great article about decision making where he uses a playground analogy. Jesus doesn’t care if you are on the slide, or on the swing, or in the sand box as long as you stay in the boundaries of the playground. Character that has been formed by Jesus should keep us within the right boundaries most of the time, from there we get to make choices about what we want to do.

I realized that I, and many of my friends, were afraid to make decisions because we didn’t want to take responsibility for the consequences in our own lives. Much easier to ask Jesus what to do and have Him tell us. Then we could sidestep the scary reality that we were going to have to make real adult decisions an take responsibility for those decisions.

In the way that you wouldn’t want to treat  a 7 year old child the same as a 2 year old, in our younger days of discipleship we needed lots of guidance and specifics. But we should have internalized those lessons into our character and Jesus lets us grow up.

 

Phase 2- Turns out There’s more

Now this is one that I wish someone had told me about ahead of time. Somewhere in my late 20’s I got empty. None of the old tricks were working. I was in full time ministry, a team leader, supervising full time staff and interns, teaching, preaching regularly, and leading multiple leaders teams. I kept thinking that I needed to go back to my first love. I had been so in love with Jesus those first few years in college. I kept thinking that that was what was missing. But I couldn’t get back there. I felt stuck and burnt out.

At one point I took a leave of absence and went to Tanzania for 3 months to work with AIDS orphans. The complete change of pace, change of context, and isolation were incredibly refreshing. But I still needed a deeper paradigm shift.

A couple years later when I finally was able to go on Sabbatical- I realized I didn’t need to go back. I needed to go forward, somewhere new. The spirituality that had gotten me this far wasn’t going to get me further. As a college minister I had already recognized the tendency to stagnate as I kept walking students through the same phase of discipleship. They were in their Lordship/ Sin/ and Listening phase. But I wasn’t. I was an expert at that phase of development and oblivious to my need for a completely new phase.

Also, I didn’t realize that I had lowered my expectations of God. I didn’t know that there was a whole new way of interacting with God. This season was full of painful searching and a sense of aimlessness.  I couldn’t read the Bible for the entire 6 months I was on sabbatical. And I couldn’t read one more evangelical book telling me to do something. I had spent the last 10 years doing something. My do something muscle was out of control. My ministry muscles were incrediably  developed. But I had kept using the same inner life muscles I had gotten as a 17 years old. They weren’t big enough. And I needed to bring some completely new muscles into play. On sabbatical I discovered a whole new spirituality.

Again, the main lesson of this season was that the spirituality that gotten me this far was not going to get me through the next phase.  I needed to make time and space to find something new. Many people find spiritual disciplines to be helpful in this season. Others find greater clarity through tools like the enneagram or vocational discernment, and many turn to contemplative disciplines.

For me- as someone who had basically started full-time ministry at 21 years old, I learned about a new way of interacting with God that was not based on the mission. It was based on being creative, being an artist, being the way the He had made me. Not every interaction with Jesus was about receiving ministry marching orders. Suddenly there was space for beauty and art. Not as a means to a missional end, but just to enjoy.  I didn’t think that I would repeatedly, over the course of my life, experience profound paradigm shifts in my inner life. I didn’t expect I would discover whole new ways of knowing God and being known by Him.  I didn’t have that expectation. Its sound obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t in the moment. Now I”m grateful. I feel more whole and integrated as a follower of Jesus.

I spent months learning to enjoy God, without a task to execute. I learned to be present to nature, to dreams, to the quiet quiet voice inside of me that wasn’t trying to prove anything through ministry. I experienced God as a woman and as feminine. I experienced invitations to be creative and not just productive. It was new, and different, and so life giving. And now I sense that I may need some new muscles again. But I’m still figuring that out. At least now I know to expect these shifts, even if I don’t know what they will be.

 

Well those are some thoughts.  I would be very interested to hear your own reflections and experiences on this topic.

 

 

01/13/14
images-155

Lady Leader Problems- Wardrobe Edition

A couple weeks ago I was officiating a wedding. It was blast! But it was such a conundrum figuring out what to wear. And in talking with other women preachers there are a series of wardrobe issues that men don’t have to think about, but are a part of every women’s speaking experience.  So here are a series of issues that women preachers must consider.

 The Preaching Bra– Though I am ardently committed to spreading the word on the importance of a well fitting bra, this is not about that. This is about the fact that no woman preacher wants to “smuggle grapes” when she is preaching. This is my friend Ana’s way of describing nipples showing through a shirt. There are already so many gender issues to consider when preaching and in Christian circles anything that reminds people that you have breasts is a crime. Nipple shadow while preaching is to the Christian context what Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction was to secular world. So step one is making sure you are wearing a hefty bra that will not let anything peak through.

th_197043425_ShaniaTwain_walk_of_fame_190_122_497loimages-145images-146

Women who have recently smuggled grapes.  

No dude is pondering nipple issues when picking his preaching outfit. Because there are essentially two things that men preach in. ( I’m not going to get into different cultural takes on this issue in this post.)

Casual Preacher Guy  and  Formal Preacher Guy

images-148 images-147

I’m amusing myself by using Mark Driscoll and Joel Olsteen  as my examples. 

 

Next up- Pants suit or dress?  This is for more traditional preaching context such as churches and conferences. I don’t feel this ponderous when preaching at the average InterVarsity Large Group meeting.

Pants suit. The problem with this is that it’s easy to look a bit maculine. And looking butch is almost as great a crime as nipple shadow in traditional contexts. You want to be authoritative, but not masculine. Feminine, but not girly. Dressing for preaching requires threading a LOT of needles. And especially as a younger woman, a pants suit can feel like being David in Saul’s armor. ( Love how I just made an OT reference in the midst of a post on lady fashion.) Plus I’m scarred by how much flack Hillary got  for all her pants suits. But  pants with a blouse can be an option.

rMgjM70

The skirt suit is also a possibility. But that makes me feel way over 40 and  like a Republican candidates wife. And I’m not rich, I’m in ministry, so I don’t have a budget for a beautifully tailored outfit.

 

images-151

And you want to be age appropriate. Not too old and not too young.

images-150

Sorry Joyce Meyer- you went too casual and too young.

 

So lets say you pick a dress. But when wearing a dress there are a variety of factors. It can’t be too frilly or dressy- it needs to be professional. How short is too short? Will you be on a raised stage? Will people in the front row be able to see up your dress? Should you wear panty hose? Is this pump too dressy, too flashy, too “I’m superficial and into the flesh?”

And a final consideration- to show arms or not to show arms. If people can be scandalized by Michelle Obama showing arms, you know people in the church can too. I felt like it was important to cover my shoulders when officiating ( no gripe there, I’m down with dressing conservatively for that context.) But finding a dress that covers your arms and doesn’t make you look like a nun is… difficult.

Now of course a skirt and blouse are also an option and it’s a good option for the following reason.

Mysoginistic microphones.

Lets say you have chosen a professional, conservative, but still stylish dress of some sort. You have made the decision about how much arm to show and put on your preaching bra. And then the sound guy hands you the microphone and tells you to clip the battery pack to your waist. Sorry hombre, I’m not wearing pants. I have no place to clip this thing. You gaze into each others eyes trying to make it clear that you think this is the other persons problem to solve.

If you have gone with a blouse and skirt  or blouse and pants option there is always the awkward decision of where to place the microphone. If you rock anything larger than a C cup it can feel like a lapel mic is a device created to draw attention to your bosom.  If you’re wearing a silk blouse, the mic will flop around and there will be lots of awkward swishing noises. You will look down at the mic, and then you and the congregation will all be gazing at your bosom- a beautiful analogy for resting on the bosom of the Lord.

And even if you pick the perfect outfit. What about sitting down?

Recently I attended a conference where all the men preached- standing up. But then when two women speakers came out they brought out two comfy living room type chairs and the women sat. I have a lot of problems with this approach to speakers. Men stand and preach truth. Women sit and have little Jesus chats. But that’s beside this particular point.

Lets say that you have been chosen to be on a panel. A dress that is great when you are standing becomes a suggestive, leg revealing, skank festival when you sit down.

Suddenly this

images-152

Looks like this.

images-154

Sitting on a stool is tricky. You have to cross your legs if you are wearing a skirt just to make sure that you don’t pull a Britney Spears panty flash. But when you cross your legs, suddenly that tasteful dress is up on your mid thigh. HARLOT!

And if you’ve got any upper thigh cottage cheese issue, you will spend the rest of the time trying to tuck your thigh and ass fat back under your leg- in the name of Jesus.

There are a lot of other issues on this topic; ethnicity, jewelry, hair, shoes, and modesty.  But this is my first pass. Do you have any lady leader wardrobe issues? Tell me about them!

 

01/1/14
cvr9781439153154_9781439153154_lg

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

BEST BOOK I READ IN 2013!

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!

12/16/13
question-marks2

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.