Monday, November 26, 2007

21 Shoeboxes and Alternative Church Sundays

I live in the suburbs where we desperately need Jesus. Teaching our children about the world through the lens of our privileged world is difficult to say the least.

During our church homeless period, we periodically took Sundays to "home" church with lessons from various news clippings to spur on the conversation. Over the summer a colleague on InterVarsity staff alerted us to an exhibit downtown. Doctors Without Borders was setting up a refugee camp in the heart of the city, and we took the kids to do church at the exhibit. Instead of sitting in pews that Sunday, we stood in line talking to the kids about starvation, war and basic needs. It was one of our best Sunday experiences yet.

Last year the kids each filled a shoebox for Operation Christmas child, and having the kids help purchase and collect things for three shoeboxes was a good experience. We bought things they would want (I kept saying, "If you think it's a junky toy and you wouldn't play with it why would you give it to someone else?") and then talked about how we probably would have had more shoeboxes had we planned ahead.

So for the past year we collected the shoeboxes from every pair of shoes we bought - 21 boxes to fill. (Even though Bethany's feet grew two full sizes I was still horrified.) We brought along a friend and the kids thoughtfully selected flashlights, hair pins, small toys, soap, etc. and we filled and wrapped and talked. It's not the solution. It's a step.

We live in the suburbs where many of our neighbors never have to worry about having enough toys or soap for their children. We live in the suburbs where many neighbors are working like crazy to keep up with their neighbors, living paycheck-to-paycheck with a smile on the outside. We desperately need Jesus more than we know it.

What are some of the things other suburbanites are doing to connect their families with God's heart for the world?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat

Halloween was never a pagan holiday for me and my sister. The Korean church I grew up attending did not have discussions about sponsoring an alternative Halloween event. It was an American holiday, and we were going to do our best to fit in. Never mind that it seemed like a huge waste of money to be giving away candy to strangers. Celebrating Halloween became part of the bi-cultural fabric of our family.

I remember long nights walking the streets of what is now the edges of Chicago's Koreatown wearing plastic masks that are now banned in many schools and eating candy along the route. This before needles and razor blades in chocolates, before the Tylenol scare, before hospitals offered to x-ray bags of candy, before trick-or-treating became a daytime event.

My favorite costume was my Jeanie costume - as in "I Dream of Jeanie". It was a plastic costume with a plastic mask. I thought I was Jeanie who died and woke up in Candyland. Perfect. The icing on the cake was getting to the best three-flat in the neighborhood. You know, the one that gave out chocolates or packs of gum. (I actually didn't mind the pennies because 10 pennies meant a stop at the corner store on the way home from school. I never did like the popcorn balls, though.)

What was your favorite Halloween costume? And what was the best door in the neighborhood to knock on?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reflections on a Weekend as Queen

Stepping into leadership was easier for me in high school. I'll have to psycho-analyze myself some other time, but it seemed appropriate to run for student and class council, to put myself in the ring for section editor, to try out for the pom pon squad.

But stepping into leadership as an adult involves a lot more second-guessing, more internal conversations between the voices that say, "You can't do it! You shouldn't do it! You should do it!" It's very loud in my head sometimes.

So when the women's conference planning committee members were asked to consider what we might enjoy doing I sat silently. It doesn't seem appropriate to volunteer myself for this or that, or to say, "Hey, I think I'd really do a great job doing such and such." It's more appropriate to simply sit, listen to what others want to do, and do what no one else wants to do.

There were some thoughts, some louder than others, running through my head during that meeting. I think Sharon might have noticed me sitting there making funny faces as I struggled with this internal conversation and she threw my name in the hat for emcee.

I felt my response to her invitation to lead later required a written note of apology and thanks - sorry for sounding like an idiot as I dismissed her suggestion, and thanks for seeing something in me that I wouldn't dare consider.

So I spent this weekend as the self-appointed queen/emcee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Midwest Cluster Women's Conference. I shared from upfront how when I and others in IVCF think of an emcee we think of Greg Jao - a dear friend and mentor of mine, and how that terrifies me. And I shared about the anxiety I was experiencing as I stepped into that upfront role. Seriously, who wants to be compared to a Greg Jao or an Auntie Jeanette? Because honestly I didn't like how I was comparing myself to them so how I could I bear being compared to them by others.

I decided that Greg's santa hat was a great idea, but that while I would gladly borrow the idea I would need to make it my own. I look better in a tiara than a santa hat.

I decided about two minutes into the conference that I was more afraid of what God might say to me than what I might say from up front.

I realized that I still stumble for a response when someone asks me to step into leadership, but that I've also learned how to accept compliments with more grace and gratitude than before.

I was reminded that being open to what God is doing in my life is both hard and amazing. My body still aches from exhaustion. My heart and soul are still restless and eager to process what God was revealing this past weekend.

And my tiara will have a special place in my happy green office to remind me to be open, sensitive and courageous for such a time as this.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What a cute baby! Guess who it is. Duh.

Apparently it's the tradition at school for 3rd graders (and now 6th graders at the middle school) to get to know their classmates by sharing some facts about themselves posted alongside a baby picture.

The assignment goes something like this: Did you cry a lot as a baby? Did you sleep a lot as a baby? What was your favorite baby toy? etc, etc. Please bring a baby picture sealed in an envelope with your name on the envelope. Photos will be returned when we are done with the classroom project.

The photos are posted alongside the blurb of information, but there are no names. The idea is that each child must guess at the identity of the baby based on the baby picture and the information.

When my daughter did this in 3rd grade she was the only Asian American in the class; she is the only AA in her 6th grade life skills class. From what I can tell so far, my son is the only one in his class this year.

So I don't want to be hyper-sensitive and find racism in everything. There are not many redheads in my son's class so that would be an easy one, unless the redheaded child didn't have much hair as a baby. My daughter didn't come home traumatized that everyone identified her photograph with little to no discussion. And my son is the one who still doesn't understand why a classmate would come up to him at the playground yelling "Chinese eyes" since he isn't Chinese.

Yet the fact remains we live in a highly racialized society and culture.

There is a part of me that cringes at the assignment and some of the messages it may send unintentionally. There is an underlying assumption that the baby pictures will look similar enough that there is an element of surprise and competition. There is also an element of competition and pride for the kids - "It took the class "x" minutes to figure out which picture was mine."

For my daughter, her friend "E" from Kenya, and my son there is no element of surprise.

Unless the photo I send is the one where they are so bundled up you can barely make out a face.

Here's the kicker for me. My daughter is doing this assignment for her life skills class. Personally, I can think of several other life skills these new 6th graders need to learn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rice & Seaweed in the Thermos

I love my children. I am just very grateful for the local public school system.

All three kids are off to school (though Elias shed a few tears today, causing a few other moms to cry for him), and we are trying to get into a new rhythm. The boys and I walk to the elementary school, and Bethany rides off on her bike to the middle school. Depending on the morning, Peter joins us or waves as he drives off.

And when we're lucky, everyone has remembered their backpacks, homework, and lunch boxes.

The novelty of the school lunch wore off fairly quickly, so we've had to get creative. What will they joyfully eat in the 20 minutes (!) they get for lunch? Bethany and Corban got smart. They asked for leftovers in a Thermos. Every now and then the leftovers are recognizable to friends - meatloaf, mac & cheese, spaghetti. But more often than not, leftovers involve sticky white rice and some sort of marinated meat or fish. Even better are the fragrant soups full of oxtails, seaweed or radishes.

Having been the brunt of much teasing and ridicule during my childhood (we were the 1st Asian American family to move into our suburban school district), I must admit that I worry a bit that bringing seaweed soup would create some social difficulties for my children. One might argue (and believe me I have tried) that cheese has a pretty pungent smell. But kids know cheese. They even get processed cheese food in a can. But seaweed?

Why God why? Maybe it's the four weeks of seaweed soup I ate post-partum with each of my children to help my recovery and breastmilk production (thanks, Mom!) that they love it so. Maybe they like the shades of green and the opacity of the broth against the glimmer of the Thermos.

The first few times Bethany or Corban take something "new" for lunch I try to be cool. I don't ask them whether or not their friends wanted to know what was in their lunch. I don't ask them if anyone commented on the odors released when said Thermos is opened. I just closely monitor the contents of the Thermos when I do the dishes.

I was genuinely surprised when the Thermoses would come home empty. Maybe some rice (sorry, Mom) stuck to the bottom, but pretty close to empty.

I guess the thing that I feared most - that their friends would make fun of them and their food choices - doesn't matter to them because it hasn't turned out that way? I know friends have asked, and made a comment here and there. Maybe Bethany and Corban are so hungry that rice and seaweed soup is better than cardboard pizza with fruit cocktail cups? Maybe they don't care what other people think? Maybe they are more comfortable in their own skin than I give them credit for?

Having children forces me to deal with my stuff, the old stuff from years ago that has spilled into my 30s. Their worldview and understanding of being Asian American forces me to deal with my understanding of Asian American so that I don't freeze myself in time much like my parents' generation did.

Next time: Thoughts on the "Guess whose baby picture this is" game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is this how West is different from East?

When you get caught doing something wrong, really, really, hurt other people wrong, what do you do? How do you respond, and how do you feel about yourself?

Here in America a car salesman gets caught sending flowers to his girlfriend because the florist sends the bill to the house...where the salesman's wife sees the receipt. His reaction? He sues.

In China, the head of a Chinese manufacturer linked to the lead-tainted Sesame Street toys kills himself.

Again, I know that these are extreme examples that are complicated, but I think it was my own reaction that was rather unsettling.

When I heard about the company CEO's suicide, I could understand it. I wouldn't follow in his footsteps, but I could see how his train of thought might have gone.

It's not just guilt. It's not just the financial hit. It's the shame. My cousin, "Denise", and "Chris" - they all felt the shame and couldn't silence the demons.

When I heard about the salesman suing the florist, I couldn't understand it at all.

Is there something redeeming or worth redeeming in such shame? Is there something redeeming or worth redeeming in personal rights and entitlement?

Lord have mercy on us all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Yellow at the pool

Are you what you read? Or better yet, does the book you're reading say something about you?

I realized I must have looked rather unfriendly, or at the very least a bit too serious to be sitting at the pool smelling of sunscreen, with this summer's collection of titles: Yellow, Living on the Boundaries, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, Crucial Confrontations, The Opposite of Fate, The Woman Warrior and Grace Eventually.

Now some of you are wondering how in the world I had time to read as much as I did. Well, I read at night and in the afternoon I get to read at the pool.

Now some of you are wondering why at the pool. Thanks to my frugal parents, I hate running the a/c during the peak hours of 12-4, which means I feed the kids lunch and we head out to the pool so I can maximize the benefits of having an annual pool pass. (It really is cheaper than running the a/c.) I get there early, grab a seat under the big umbrella, and because my kids are older it's safe to watch them from the concrete pool deck as they spend vast amounts of time submurged in chlorinated water.

I've made a few very unscientific observations:
Most days I'm the only "yellow" person around. Tans not included.
People are more likely to talk to me when I am not holding a bright yellow book titled "YELLOW", even if I am reading the book with a smile.
People are most likely to talk to me when I am struggling to keep the sunscreen from ruining my copy of Real Simple or People magazine.
My books are too serious for the pool.

Well, the pool season is almost over, but I still have a few good weeks of reading left.

Any recommendations? What are you all reading? What does the book say about you?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Boundaries, enmeshment and justice

A friend recently had 20 young people stay at his house. He had about 10 hours notice before they descended on his 2 bedroom home. A group of young people from the garbage village needed a place to stay. He received a call at 11:45pm that night. What could he do?

We were talking about this at lunch. His repeated attempts at trying to draw healthy boundaries with the leader did little good.

I'm beginning to wonder if boundaries are the luxury of the middle class. Is there such thing as boundaries when you're doing justice work?

I've wondered about boundaries, Asian American families, and Christian discipleship. What therapists call "enmeshment" is a common occurrance in Asian American families. Is it an issue that we need to fight against in the Asian community. Or is family therapy culturally bound.

What some might called "enmeshed" has great characteristics. There's a wonderful sense of involving everyone, and a corporate identity that is a healthy antidote to a narcissitic individualized model. But it has its problems too.

From my limited vantage point, it comes across as parents who are very upset at a young person's decision. A lot of emotional pressure lands on the young person to comply to their wishes. I've heard extreme cases of threatening suicide unless a young person changes their plans. More common examples are sleepless nights, extreme anxiety, etc. Are the young people just clueless and self-absorbed? Or is the older generation enmeshed? Both?

Is this just how things get done in Asian American households? What's the Christian response?

What's cultural? What's Christian? What's do we embrace and what do we work against?

Monday, May 21, 2007

AAs on campus making news for their numbers

Here's an article looking at the rise of Asian Americans
in Christian fellowships. This topic seems to have hit
the mainstream media about 10 years ago and continues
to make news.

MTST's Christie Heller de Leon is quoted in it.

Evangelicals build flock on campus At Cal, Christian groups find ...
San Francisco Chronicle - San Francisco,CA,USA
At Cal -- which now has among the highest Asian American attendance in the nation at 43 percent of undergraduates -- InterVarsity was predominantly white ...

Making Right a Wrong or Going Green With a Touch of Rebellion

What would you do if someone in authority told you couldn't do what you knew to be the right thing? Is it better to obey the authority or disobey the authority and do the right thing?

My daughter considered the options and opted for the latter.

She's grown up with computers, cellphones and recycling. The first two have become necessary evils in my world, but recycling has become a practical way for the entire family to care for creation. We started composting last year and recycle everything we can. The schools have recycling bins, and encourage the staff and students to recycle as well.

But when there are special lunch days (when you can order a sub sandwich from a local shop), you are not allowed to carry anything out of the lunchroom unless it's in their lunchbox (which they don't have since they ordered their lunch for special lunch day). So on those days, hundreds of recyclable bottles get tossed away.

Except one bottle. Bethany said she asked the lunchroom monitor if she could carefully carry the bottle to the bathroom to dump it out to recycle in class. She was told she couldn't even though she explained why she wanted to do what she wanted to do. She told me she thought about it and figured it was better to sneak the bottle out the lunchroom and recycle it.

We talked about her taking the issue up with her teachers and principal and finding ways to make special lunch days fun for the kids and better for the earth. We talked about how she felt unheard and dismissed by the lunch monitor. We talked about trying to honor God, and I told her how it's exciting to hear how thoughtful she is about the day-to-day things (we'll ignore the state of her room right now),

But was she right to sneak the bottle out of the room for the sake of going green? What rules have you broken in order to do what you thought was right?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Four Eyes and No Bridge

So where is a girl to get a hip pair of glasses with nose pads?!

My daughter is beautiful - inside and out. She has these crazy dimples that look like we poked her with a pencil and this infectious giggle. She also has great hair that takes a day to dry.

And she was genetically doomed as both Peter and I are nearsighted. She finally failed the school eye exam so we went to get a full exam done having already predicted the end result - glasses.

She tried on half the store's inventory, vogueing every step of the way, and finally picked these very fun pink plastic frames. After about 30 seconds she realized they weren't going to work because they kept sliding down because the frames were designed with some other kind of face in mind.

Undeterred she finally found a cute black and red pair of glasses with nosepads - which after two hours of adjusting still don't sit correctly on her face.

The eyeglass tech person seemed rather annoyed and tried to end things by saying, "Well, she doesn't have much of a bridge now does she?"

Fortunately my filter worked because the thoughts didn't come out of my mouth but simply hung in the air in the invisible thought bubble: "And your point is?"

So, Bethany likes the glasses (and thankfully her nose) but hates that they don't actually fit well. We can't be the only ones. What have you all done to keep myopia from cramping your style?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Just Minding My Own Business

That's what I was doing - just minding my own business one day. I was dropping off some old clothes to the local Goodwill glad to finally get some clutter out of the house and happy to be able to cross another thing off my to do list. I was in my car pulling out of the parking lot when a middle-aged Caucasian woman motions to me that she wants me to stop to say something to me. Curious, I stopped and rolled down my window. She then says rather abruptly, "Yeah, hi, are you the one that's here to open up LA Nails?" Barely a hello, no recognition that she was interrupting me, and no explanation of why she asked what she did.

I was confused and thrown off guard for a moment, my brain was unable to process what it was that she was asking me. I had thought she was about to ask for directions or something and it took me a moment to register what was happening. It dawned on me that she thought that I was there to open up the nail salon.

She thought I was the manicurist.

I imagined how it probably happened - She had come, was disappointed that the shop was not open as it should have been, was about to leave, saw me and thought that she would be able to get her $10 manicure after all. I didn't understand why she would have thought that until I realized that it was because I was Asian American. I told her no and drove away sad that her main concept of an Asian American woman seemed to be limited to someone that does her nails.

It bothered me not because there's shame in working in a nail shop. But rather it bothered me because I felt like I wasn't really there. I am a whole person - with likes and dislikes, connections and relationships to other people, a history and a story. But all she saw was someone that looks like the person who does her nails. I guess that's the sting of a stereotype - it reduces you to such a small silver of who you really are. Like all Asians are good at math. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. But even so, there's so much more to you than that. When others don't see that or interact with you that way, it just serves as a reminder of how much distance there is left to go.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Resident Alien

I am a resident alien. My port of entry was Seattle, and my family was headed to Philadelphia. Our visit with extended family and friends in Chicago lasted a lifetime. But, I am still not an American.

Initially it was because of a misunderstanding. My parents had mistakenly been told that their application for citizenship would automatically include their child. Instead of citizenship I was issued a green card (which actually isn't green, FYI) and retained Korean citizenship.

But no one knew. Resident aliens aren't green. Resident aliens don't look a certain way, sound a certain way, act a certain way. However, I learned that Americans must look a certain way, sound a certain way because telling people over the years that I was from Chicago rarely sufficed.

Asian American sisters and brothers, you know what I'm talking about, right? It's the "Where are you from" conversation that must include an explanation of where you, your parents, grandparents, etc. are from since "Name your all-American city, town, village" couldn't possibly be the simple answer. Even though I had no recollection of being in Korea (I was 8 months old when I immigrated to the states), America couldn't possibly be my home.

The lesson was reviewed after the VTech massacre. Seung-Hui Cho was identified as a resident alien, an immigrant. He was not American. In very few instances was he even Asian or Korean American. Korean government officials apologized and sent their condolences. Even though Cho had left Korea more than a decade before, he was still Korean. Even though Cho had lived longer in America than he had in Korea, it seemed that America wanted nothing to do with him, his isolation, his darkness.

Well, apparently Pat Buchanan wants others to believe that Cho and my Korean American brothers and sisters are part of an invasion. His op ed piece scares me, angers me, exhausts me:

"Almost no attention has been paid to the fact that Cho Seung-Hui was not an American at all, but an immigrant, an alien. Had this deranged young man who secretly hated us never come here, 32 people would heading home from Blacksburg for summer vacation.
What was Cho doing here? How did he get in?
Cho was among the 864,000 Koreans here as a result of the Immigration Act of 1965, which threw the nation's doors open to the greatest invasion in history, an invasion opposed by a majority of our people. Thirty-six million, almost all from countries whose peoples have never fully assimilated in any Western country, now live in our midst.
Cho was one of them." Pat Buchanan, May 1, 2007

I am one of THEM. I am one of those 864,000 Koreans who have invaded this country.

Days after the shootings, I downloaded the INS application for naturalization. I began to fill it out, and I cried. I've waited years, hoping that South Korea and the US would offer dual citizenship because I am a daughter of both countries. My father strongly recommended I complete the application as soon as possible, but I couldn't. Maybe in the days or weeks to come I will...

I've had lengthy conversations over the years about how our identity as Christ-followers should or should not be qualified by our ethnic or racial identities, how loving Jesus means it does or doesn't matter that we are gendered beings. I am first a Christian, a Christ-follower, a sinner. I am a resident alien to this country and to this world.

But does it matter that I am a Korean American woman?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Book and Art Highlights

"It looks like they are eating sushi at the last supper!"
I was meeting in the home of my pastor and he corrected me, "They
are eating sushi." We went on to discuss the Japanese artist who
worked with predominantly Christian themes in a traditional folk
art medium. The imagery, the Asian symbols, and MY FOOD
on the table before the Lord and the disciples. Suddenly, I felt connected
to the last supper in a way that my views of "The Last Supper" in
the Art Institute in Chicago never did. The European
masters made the last supper their own by giving the disciples anglo faces,
and putting loaves of bread (instead of matzoh). Here was an Asian artist doing
the same thing...and I was struck again by the power of image and art.

This morning, I opened a book to the silkscreened image:
"Junia mistaken as Junius.' And then I started to cry.

It hit me, so suddenly, the personal nature of the academic debates.
The image showed a woman, with flowing hair, fully feminine, in the fetal
position, locked up in the hollow sculpture of the head of a man.
The image captured the person behind the academic debate for me.
And for the first time, I heard the debate of "Is Junia a man/woman?"
from Junia's perspective. What would it feel like to have someone question
my gender b/c of the things that I accomplished?

Some book recommendations.
"She Has Done a Beautiful Thing for Me"
by Anne C. Kwantes
A collection of bios of Asian Christian women and women working in the Asian context.
Strengthens the historical record of the spiritual legacy of Asian women.

"Remembering the Women"
Women's stories from Scripture for Sundays and Festivals
This is a collection of the scriptures in which a woman plays a role.
It's a very nice, and handy reference as well as being a helpful devotional
guide. There's a very interesting article on gender and the omission of
women's stories in the liturgical readings.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

This morning, the phone woke me. "Did you hear the Virginia Tech shooter was Asian?"

The first phone call I received in my office this morning, "Let's pray for Virginia Tech, but
also that there will be no backlash against Asians."

As I read the newsposts, its striking to me. I was searching more facts about what happened,
explanations, analysis. But I also felt a bit nervous about how race would be brought up, and what it would be used to support.

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that most of the journalists mentioned that the man from South Korea was a resident alien. It might just be accuracy from a journalistic perspective. But as a man who immigrated to the US in the mid-90s, I wonder what they were trying to say.

I was a bit upset that several of the articles went to the Department of Homeland Security and cited their data as "His point of entry in the US was..." It felt like they were tracking the port of entry for a terrorist--as if "people from this country don't do these types of things." Somehow, I felt like a stranger in my own country. Perhaps I'm being a bit sensitive--but I feel a strange identification with the young man. It's the whole, "What will they think of us (Asians)?" mentality.

The JACL and the Asian American Association of Journalists have highlighted this. Here's a statement from the journalists.

“As coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting continues to unfold, AAJA urges all media to avoid using racial identifiers unless there is a compelling or germane reason. There is no evidence at this early point that the race or ethnicity of the suspected gunman has anything to do with the incident, and to include such mention serves only to unfairly portray an entire people.

“The effect of mentioning race can be powerfully harmful. It can subject people to unfair treatment based simply on skin color and heritage. “

This morning, I'm filled with sadness for this young troubled man. I'm also grieving for the students on the campus who went to bed not knowing that was their last night. I'm grieving for the parents who cannot get the information and answers that they need. And for a campus that is stirred up, cloudy, and soaked in this violence.

But I'm also very sad for Asian American men on the campus. And I wonder what it is that they go through. If I were to walk, for one day, in their shoes, would I be strong enough to absorb what they go through on a daily basis?

Lord, have mercy on us all.

Asian American Women's Workshop

This weekend I went to "Origin of our Dreams" the Asian American Student Conference. Christie Heller de Leon was speaking (with Paul Tokunaga).

In the afternoon, I lead two workshops: one for Asian American women, and another for others ABOUT Asian American women.

The first session we discussed the accessories for life that our families, our campuses, society, and friends give us. In some ways we work hard to acquire the accessories for life that we think we'll need for the future--a specific degree, certain job experience, a significant other that reflects the life we want to grow into.

The second session had a pretty dynamic discussion. The men had a lot of questions to ask--it sounds like there's a lot of mystery and a lot of bites from Asian women. I appreciated the learning posture that so many men brought in. We talked about "what to Asian men do that makes the situation worse" and "How do you affirm Asian women--they get mad when I do, they get mad if I don't."

The thing that struck me is that so often, when we don't know what to do, we don't do anything at all. My exhortation to the guys was, "Try! Go out and get data! Each person is different, and you'll make loads of mistakes. Better to try and make lots of mistakes now, but be able to make educated guesses later."

I think there's a "curse of not-knowing" that paralyzes us from taking risks, especially in our Christian discipleship.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Success and failure after 30

While riding in a car with a few friends, the conversation jumped to every topic. We covered life, landscaping, love...but one comment sticks out.

"Success has nothing to teach a man after 30...."
We were talking about spiritual formation theory. My friend, Henry, a man in his 40s shared about some of the lessons and choices he was making. We talked about ascending and descending and spiritual journeys. And then this comment about success came out.

I've been thinking about it a lot and wondering what it means. Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense. But what does it reveal about the formation of non-whites or women? For Asian American women, for female Christians, is it success or failure, or stagnation that God uses to speak and shape us in this middle season?

I wondered about success and its connection to self-doubt. Tracey covers self-doubt well in her chapter on leadership. I continue to be surprised at the prevalance of self-doubt among many women leaders. How does God work with us in our self-doubt, and what does he use to shape us into people who understand the power of God? Is a ministry success part of understanding, for women, God's it connected to the self-doubt that most women leaders experience. Or is it something else?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spiritual Self-Esteem

I working on some material for a women's luncheon. The topic is "spiritual self-esteem" which is sort of an interesting topic. It seems to merge a couple the "Christian" side of me and the "western" side of me, but I wonder what role self-esteem plays in the Asian context.

As I've been wandering around in various gender/culture/faith circles discussing issues raised by the book, I've had a growing conviction that its important to have men engaging on this issue. Our book often gets quickly relegated to the area of "women's ministry". I'm glad that its there, but Kathy raised the question, "When will people look at the issue of gender as a church health issue?"

One of our recent discussions "Navigating gender sub-cultures in your congregation" moved the gender discussion into a safer zone for both. I've felt more freedom talking about the subject of gender in academic settings. However, I'm still not sure how do you talk about gender dynamics in a church setting that doesn't marginalize or make people defensive.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Asian Pacific American Book Festival

Nikki and I will be attending the Asian Pacific American Book Festival in May. If any of you are going to be in LA in May, please come! It looks to be a really interesting event with APA authors from all walks of life. I'll be on a panel with other APA authors who deal with spirituality.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Origins of our Dreams

The IVCF Pacific Region will host an Asian Pacific American Student Conference on April 13-15, 2007. The theme is "Origin of our Dreams." We will look at the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis and explore the themes of dreaming big for ourselves, the community, and the Kingdom. The conference speakers are Paul Tokunaga, Asian American Ministries Coordinator for IVCF/USA and Christie Heller de Leon, UC Davis Staff Team Leader. Check out the website: for more details. Registration deadline: April 2

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Check out this video from Dove:
It shows the transformation of a "normal" model into a billboard.

I love the line, "Not even supermodels look like supermodels." The part where they show the digital transformation of a photo was so interesting. I knew that photoshop was amazing, but it's interesting to see how the dramatic adjustments of the face create the ultimate beautiful face.

I've appreciated Kathy's definition of beauty in the chapter on sexuality in the book. She describes physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of beauty (ie. compassion) that is so helpful.

"How beautiful are the feet of them that brings good news."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Crying like a 7-year-old girl with a skinned knee

So, what does it mean when a man starts out by saying, "I cried like a 7-year-old girl with a skinned knee?" I'm really asking this. I've actually been asking this of many people ever since I saw a blog post start out with that line. I've been asking men and women, Asian American and not and my very unscientific poll shows women rolling their eyes and saying, "What?!" and men rolling their eyes and saying, "So what." Again, very unscientific. There were a number of men who did respond by saying, "What?!" and they all either work with me or, at least in one case, is married to me.

Having had to parent both a 7-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy I can attest to the fact that both cry like mad when they skin their knees. The only difference is when the child (girl or boy) is told by the parent/authority figure to "stop crying". Have you ever skinned your knee? I'll never forget watching an acquaintance tell his son to "stop crying like a little girl". I made a mental note that afternoon to pray for that young boy's future wife.

It's a little comment, which on my "good girl" days I can let it slide. But I'm growing weary of being a "good girl". I love crying, connecting my soul and body to actually act out what it is feeling, experiencing. I want less to be "good" and want more to be "true" to the woman God intends me to be.

Now pass me a bandaid and some tissue, please.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Failure, shame and the color green

For those of you who've read the book, there are a few references to the death of my mother-in-law. After she died, my husband and I opened up our home and invited my father-in-law to move in with us. Let's just say I learned quite a bit about myself, about my father-in-law, about my husband, and about how you can take the man/woman out of Asia but you can't take the Asian out of the man/woman.

To help all of us make the transition, we emptied out what had become our family's favorite room - a room off to the side of the main floor that served as the previous owner's home office. We moved in my FIL's king size bed, a dresser, desk, bookcases, etc. to bring a touch of home and privacy.

Short of building a new master suite downstairs, it was the best we could do. And then we did the best we could do. I did the best I could do.

But at some point, the expectations (preparing separate Korean meals when the kids wanted spaghetti) and the realities (that I could barely get the spaghetti on the table, never mind the brown rice and kalbi-tang) collided. Peter and I realized that this was not a long-term solution.

Even my FIL felt the tension as he was used to being more the center of the family. Here in Libertyville the center of the family is always moving. One day it's Bethany getting ready for her ballet classes. The next day it's Corban and his lost lego piece.

My FIL has moved in with my sister-in-law. He tells people he would rather live in Chicago but he didn't want to be a burden to me. Yes, I physically cringed when I first heard that.

But, Peter and I are trying to move beyond unhealthy guilt, balance it with love for my FIL, and live.

So the room that was once the "tv room" and then became "halabujee's room" is becoming "my office". Peter and I tore out the ugly blue carpet to find a hardwood floor that needed some love. Peter lovingly sanded, poly-stinky-stained it, painted the trim and then last night helped me with the first coat of Pepper Grass green, eggshell finish. It was the first time I spent more than a few seconds in that room since the end of last year when we moved the last of my FIL's things out...

My office is now very green - vibrant, rich, full of hope and a little weird.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Northwestern University

Come join us in Chicago. Kathy Khang and I will sit on a panel looking at the women and religion sponsored by Northwestern University.

Southern Cal Visit

We're just returning from a series of events at Azusa Pacific University and a reception in Los Angeles. Asifa and I attended a couple of days of events including a couple of classroom visits. Tracey and I sat on a panel with a couple of women from "Asian Amerian Women on Leadership". It was a great discussion.

During the day, I appreciated the questions that students raised. We had an honest conversation about modern-day racism and challenges of media stereotypes. A professor in social work, a Latina, made the connection that the discussions between the various racial groups have a lot of overlap. She's thinking about adding the book to her curriculum.

Yesterday morning, Mission Year President Leroy Barber informed me that they are including the book as part of their training curriculum.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Study of Asian American Women Work/Family Balance

I am an assistant professor of Women's Studies at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, and am conducting a study on how Asian
American women balance work and family responsibilities. If you or someone
you know
would be available to participate in survey for this study, it would
greatly contribute to understanding the challenges and concerns of
this understudied group of women and their mothering and work

The study is supported by an American Association of University Women
Postdoctoral American Fellowship, a grant from the Institute of Asian
American Studies at UMASS Boston and a research leave from UMASS
The survey will be completely confidential.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer any remuneration, other than the
satisfaction of knowing that your participation will potentially help
to raise awareness and facilitate workplace practices and policy
initiatives to better serve
Asian American working families. In addition, you may find the
itself enjoyable and useful for gaining a deeper understanding of your
own experiences and how they compare to other Asian American women.

At the end of the survey, you can enter your name into a raffle for a
$100 book gift certificate as well as provide your contact information
if you are willing to participate in a follow-up interview. Thanks
and best wishes!

Miliann Kang
Assistant Professor of Women's Studies University of Massachusetts,

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Here is an excerpt from a reader, Ashleigh. I thought she had a very interesting story, as well as very thoughtful engagement with the issues!



I had read More Than Serving Tea during exam week
(for the record/curiousity's sake, I'm not AA but white).

At the end of my first year of college I started asking a lot of questions about race, and though other people looked at me funny and told me to chill, I realized it would be completely hypocritical for me to want men to care about me and for me to not try to understand the minority experience and what it might mean for me as a white person. In the middle of the beginnings of this journey I found InterVarsity and realized that was a good place for me to explore these things further/step out in leadership. Nearly two years later, I'm my chapter's M-E Team Leader, out of all things!

Then this past semester it's been interesting to see things swing back the other way-- as I've learned so much about ethnic reconcilation and justice, I've seen a lot of places I need to forgive/heal as a woman and a lot of what I see as gaps in the leadership/scholarship on gender issues. (Everyone focuses on the theological debate, when I see a need for egals to move forward by also discussing more practically what gender rec and justice from a biblical perspective might look like in various areas and how what we've already learned about ethnic rec/justice might help inform that conversation.)

I'm still in the middle of this part of my journey, and I'm not exactly sure where's it's going to go. I've struggled a lot trying to understand how we should stand for truth, when that would make us a source of major disunity. In fact, I think Eph will be part of my journey in some way, though I'm not entirely sure how. But many days I struggle to understand how the church should stand against evil principalities and powers when so much of the church isn't at a pt of understanding/wanting to. Part of what I saw in Eph last week was that somehow unity and being above these powers aren't antithetical (just as, for ex, community vs. outreach isn't supposed to be a real conflict). But I'm still grappling with what all of this looks like for me as an indiv, for the parachurch, for the church, etc.


A collection of questions

At book discussions, readings and other Q&A, these questions stick out.

Why did you choose these struggles for Asian American women? Do Asian women in Asian countries have the same struggles?
Women in the Asian diaspora have an interesting dilemna. When their families immigrated, gender roles froze in time. If they immigrated in 1950, their expectations of what a Asian woman froze in 1950. In Asia, these gender roles continue to redefine and evolve in response to changes in the society. Gender roles are dynamic. But, for immigrants watching their young women deviate from these roles (1950s, 1970s, 1920s), changes usually equates "becoming Americanized". It goes both ways. I watch Christian churches in Japan that are frozen singing the hymns that were popular when their pastor came to the US to go to seminary. You can't blame the parents for wanting their young daughters to retain their culture. Our book tries to address and redefine Asian Pacific Islander is more dynamic and fluid terms.

What creates the "friends/enemies" dynamic for Asian Pacific Islander (API) women?

Asifa does a great job in a chapter talking about friendships for API women. She talked about the friendship (and enemy) dynamic. It's weird what a "communal" mindset will do. Suzy might be a close friend--but parents use that same friend to set up the "impossible" standard that you will never achieve. Perhaps you are the impossible standard that alienates your friends. Its a weird dynamic when friendships are personal but also communal.

My favorite quote on this: "Can't you be like _________?" (Fill in the name of your nerd cousin, valedictorian friend, or other mother appointed rival.) Phoebe Eng, author of Warrior Lessons

You do a good job of breaking down images and stereotypes. But images are so powerful and important. What image would you hold up for Asian American women to grow into, strive for?

Good question. Christie did a great job of describing the image--challenging in a respectful way, strong and cognizant of others, etc. But I continue to mull over this...what image would capture the strength and resilence that comes from surviving struggles.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Asian American Writers Congress to Set Groundwork for the 2007 Asian Pacific American Book Festival

Writers and Emerging Writers Are Encouraged to Attend Free Event at UCLA on May 13, 2006

Noted Asian and Pacific American (APA) authors, publishers and community leaders will gather to commence the first ever Asian American Writers Congress. The purpose of the Congress is to promote networks among APA writers, both emerging and published, and to set the groundwork for the 2007 Asian Pacific American Book Festival in Los Angeles.

The dialogue is open to the public and will take place at UCLA's James West Alumni Center on Saturday, May 13, 2006 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is a project of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and is co-sponsored by UCLA's Asian American Studies Center.

The Asian American Writers Congress will serve to gather these creative artists and also emerging writers who may not know how to effectively reach their readers. This free event will include speakers, a publishing panel, and a discussion with all attendees about their writing journeys. Input will also be solicited on how the 2007 festival can best promote literature either written by or about Asian Pacific Americans. Door prizes include books produced by the festival's advisory council members. Various writing organizations, publishers, and booksellers will have resource materials on display.

"APALC is committed to help Asian Pacific Americans participate in the democratic process, and that often begins with literacy," said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "Writers chronicle our experiences. We must encourage the telling of our stories-and that may take the form of memoir, poetry, literary fiction, genres like mystery and science fiction, and even cookbooks. APALC is excited to partner with the creative artists in our communities to reach our audience in new and fresh ways."

Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry


22nd Annual Conference

March 22-24, 2007

Union Theological Seminary, New York

3041 Broadway, New York, NY 10027

Religion and Politics in Difficult Times

The conference is for Asian, Pacific, and North American Asian women. The evening panel on March 22 (Thursday) is open to the public.

Become acquainted with the work of our leading religion scholars.

Think about and discuss your own ideas and work.

Participate in the Doctoral Seminar: for those in a doctoral program.

Network with other women.

Share your hopes and concerns.

Meet new sisters from all over North America.

Worship together in various traditions.

Learn new dimensions of religious work and leadership.

Speakers and workshop leaders include the following and others:

Anne Dondapati Allen

Rita Nakashima Brock

Namsoon Kang

Kwok Pui Lan

Boyung Lee

Unzu Lee

Regina Shin

Elizabeth Tapia

Seung Ai Yang

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Other places to get information about the book:

Upcoming Events

We recently finalized an offer from the Asian Pacific American Book Festival in Southern California. Please look for Tracey Gee on the panel of authors at the event on May 13th at the Japanese American Historical Museum in J-town.

This weekend, I'll be speaking at The River Community Church in San Jose. The River is a great, missional church that is trying to reach out to people in the city. Afterwards, the church is hosting a lunchtime discussion on "More than Serving Tea". The discussion will be geared towards women and men in the church community around what it means be or lead a group of Asian American women.

On Feb. 13th, some of the authors will be appearing at Azusa Pacific University. Co-sponsored by the office of student life, the women's center, and the Asian American students groups on campus, it will be a great discussion on issues raised by the book.

We hope to be on the Northwestern campus (Evanston, IL) in January or February as part of a discussion sponsored by the Asian American Student Affairs office.

Early on in the writing process, one of my friends asked if writing a book was a good vehicle for the material. In this age of media, internet, and visual arts, perhaps a play, a movie or music would be a better vehicle. But publishing a book has set the material in the language of the campus--books. And it's been generating good conversations about the topics of Asian women and faith on campus and beyond. One of the most encouraging "unexpected" items is that the book and these different events are drawing more and more people into the conversation surrounding gender/race/faith. If for no other reason, I'm glad more people are thinking and talking about it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

More than Serving Tea

This spot will be a place to foster discussion on the unique gifts of Asian American Christian women. It will also look at the intersection between faith, gender, and race.

Everyone is invited into the conversation. We'll share stories, and highlight upcoming and past events around the issues of gender, race, and spirituality.