What can I say?

I find myself emotionally overwhelmed by the news of recent events at Virginia Tech. I am not sure why I am so affected by this. Perhaps it is that I work on college campuses and know intimately how much brokenness lies just under the surface of people who are among the most privileged in the world and who churches routinely ignore except to consider what benefit they might derive from their attendance at services or their usefulness in tending to the younger children in the congregation.

What can I say to something that happened just across the border in a neighboring state, on a campus not terribly dissimilar to that on which I labored for so many years endeavouring to be salt and light and trying to pastor people like the kid who was the gunman.

How is it that I am so deeply affected when he is not from “my community” except that I have come to feel it is my community in some way. Having immersed myself in the Korean American context for nearly three years, I resent the fact that so much is made of his “resident alien” status as if that somehow explains it all. I cringe inwardly in much the same way I do when a Black person commits a crime and I know that all Black people somehow bear the stigma because we share the color. I don’t like the subtext, the subversive narrative that is developing which attempts to explain the inexplicable by implying that this is somehow connected to his “Asianness” and by implication the somehow intrinsic “foreignness” of any Asian person makes them automatically suspect. I wish they wouldn’t keep bringing up his ethnicity since it seems incidental. Others talk about this as well, better than I have.

I feel sick in my stomach for the parents who, if they are like most Koreans, probably go to church even if they aren’t Christians and undoubtedly feel intense pain at the loss of their son coupled with overwhelming shame that their son would do this. I cannot imagine what it must be like.

I am angry and ashamed of my desire, when I hear things like this, for it not to be a minority. I am angry that when a White kid does these horrible things, the story is always of his or her typical normal upbringing and even thought peopel wonder why, they never wonder if it has anything to do with their race.

I think of my students, many of whom are 2nd or 1.5 generation Korean Americans, and I think of the ones who suffer from depression, who just can’t seem to get it together academically, who struggle to be at home at the university and so seek solace with other Korean Americans. I think of how they must feel, or even if they feel anything at all or even allow themselves to. I can’t imagine what I would say in that situation. DJChuang has much more to say on this.

Perhaps I have come to own this people as my people, so that I am hurt with them though I cannot even fully enter into that hurt.

Author: elderj

I was born the fourth child and third son of godly parents in Nashville Tennessee. After leaving home for college I got involved with InterVarsity, then graduated with a degree in finance. After that I got a masters in history. Nowadays I spend too much time reading, writing, thinking, and occasionally doing my job.

3 thoughts on “What can I say?”

  1. like you, i’m trying to sort through the layers of emotions, thoughts, and pain.

    i’m reminded of romans 12.15 – “mourn with those who mourn…” and this is a time to mourn with our country.

  2. Thank you for sharing these personal and powerful thoughts. You have given words to what so many of us have been wrestling with throughout the last week.

    I want to let the grieving know I stand with them — not because I am Korean American or Asian American, but simply as another human being. More than that, I want them to know that, in the midst of the horror and brokenness, that God stands with them, weeps with them, carries them. I wish we didn’t have to spend so much time thinking about Seung Cho’s racial background, or that members of the Asian American community would fear backlash or feel defensive or somehow responsible for his actions.

    Even if we assume the media has good intentions (and that can be a pretty big “if”) in pursuing the “Why?” questions, I think you are right in pointing out how the underlying implication that what happened is somehow related to his “Asian-ness” only further alienates the Asian American community from the majority culture. It shows how far our nation still has to go in the journey of racial reconciliation, that anytime a person of color commits a crime that it is either pinned on the entire community or is somehow directly because of that person’s ethnic background.

    I am have been surprised and saddened to see so many Asian Americans, and members of other racial/ethnic communities, across the blogosphere (myself included), who reacted to the news of this tragedy with not only grief but that sinking feeling of hoping that it was not a member of their own community.

  3. hey joshua..thank you for posting. i thought about you this week knowing that your relationship and ministry with the asian american (and particularly korean american) community runs deep. even though you feel you cannot fully enter into the hurt, as a fellow human being (and an ethnic minority) – based on those facts alone, you can. we are all in mourning. particularly those of us in campus ministry can identify with our fellow staff who are ministering night and day to students, praying with them, shepherding them, and comforting them with the truth of the comfort only Jesus can provide. i don’t even work with students directly in our ministry, but i’ve felt the emotional weight of this week as i have felt the call to answer from our department and that communal identity of being an asian american (and only half at that!). the best thing about communal identity is getting through difficult times as a community. and whether your community be culturally-based, ministerial-based, or humanity-based, the power of pray and gathering together in community is a strong and comforting feeling. peace be with you, brother.

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