My Response to the “Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church”

I am not Asian-American.  So when I read the Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church I did not immediately rush to sign the letter.  It seemed to me impertinent to do so, not to mention presumptuous.  How can I sign a letter written from a community of which I am not a part, regardless of how strongly I feel myself to be in agreement with the sentiments expressed therein?

As I reflected further however, I thought of my children.  Well, my children are very brown — they look more ‘Black’ than ‘Asian’, but they are as fully Asian as they are Black and who are Asian-American, who understand Mandarin Chinese almost as well as English, whose kitchen pantry is filled with ‘exotic’ foods and spices used to make the yummy food that will always smell like ‘home’ to them, who, when they grow up, may be asked, depending on the setting, ‘where are you from?’,  or ‘what are you?’.  Because of how they look, they may miss some of the more egregiously negative experiences of being Asian-American, but that doesn’t change their heart.

I thought of my ministry.  The Christian fellowship I planted for Asian-Americans, the Bible study group I led for Korean graduate students, the 2nd generation English Ministry congregation I served for more the 5 years as the pulpit supply pastor and interim youth director, the Asian-American fellowship I served for several years.  I thought of their struggles and their triumphs, their fears and longings.

I thought of my Korean-American friend, the godfather of my eldest son, who feels equally at home pigging out at a soul food restaurant as at a Korean barbeque.

I thought of my wife, who really does have an answer to satisfy the curious who ask, ‘where are you from’ since she wasn’t born in the US and has lived a lot of her adult life outside of it, but who still deals with the assumptions and stereotypes that go along with her sex and ethnicity.

I thought of my colleague Kathy Khang who always seems to be in the thick of these things; pushing, advocating, pointing out — sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently, but always with a desire to see the whole body of Christ do more and be better.  I thought of many other friends, family members, colleagues.

And then I thought again about my sons.  My beautiful, biracial, bi (multi?) cultural sons.  Of course, it is not just about them.  But the connection to family brings the abstraction of the pain and frustration and futility that so many others talk about into concrete form.  That my sons will have challenges sorting out their racial / ethnic / cultural identity I have no doubt.  After all their father is a Black American from the southern US, their mother is a 1.5 generation Chinese-American with Malay roots, and they are currently growing up in West Africa.  Of course they will have challenges.  But for their sake, and for the sake of the integrity of Christ’s witness in the world through his church, I pray these challenges and burdens will not be added to by those same brothers and sisters in the church.

Advertisements

How is this fun?

I have just returned from spending some hours with folks from my church; not the regular EM crowd with which I hang out, but with the chongyonbu… roughly translated as Korean young adult group. They range in age from around twenty to about thirty four. Since I was unable to participate in our EM ski retreat (why we organize a ski trip is beyond me) and because of an engagement at another church, I missed worship. I decided on a whim really to visit their Bible study. From the Bible study we went on to dinner at a Korean restaurant, and from thence to coffee and hanging out at one of their houses. The conversation was carried on mostly in Korean, which didn’t really bother me.

The truth is that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite the language barrier. We managed, somehow, to have conversation about things, about life, to laugh and to joke together. It was surprisingly refreshing, although I was admittedly lost a few times. The few words of Korean I know combined with being an astute observer of body language and gestures took me only so far. Nevertheless it was fun.

What I find more challenging and indeed disturbing is the extent to which such interaction and camaraderie is a rarity in the EM. In just a few hours of very limited conversation, I experienced hospitality on a level that it took months to achieve in the EM congregation. Indeed in one segment of the conversation, I and other member talked about the perception some of the chongyonbu have of the EM as being inhospitable and cliquish. And all this time I thought it was just my experience.

Yeah, I know it’s different and all that, but sometimes I just wish the EM folks would stop whining and grow up.

Dilemma

I recently joined the staff of the Korean Presbyterian Church I’ve been attending for more than a year. It is a strange feeling being somehow “official” although I honestly know about as much about the inner workings of the church as I did when I first came there. Ironically, I’ve never actually joined the church, nor even am I an adherent to Calvinist theology or Presbyterianism. It is a mystery indeed.

Nevertheless, I am on staff with the responsibility of preaching occasionally and teaching Bible study for the soon-to-be-renamed English Ministry of the church which, mercifully, does not include the youth group. I am not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into in accepting this assignment, but even more, I’m not sure that they know what they’ve gotten themselves into. Here’s what I mean.

Moksanim and I decided that we really needed to focus on the doctrine of church; ecclesiology. He wanted some guidance for the congregation in what it means to actually be the church and suggested Ephesians, but left it for me to decide. I decided upon Acts; the book that most fully describes the establishment and expansion of the early church. So far so good, right?

Right, until of course you consider the fact that the book of Acts is full of signs, wonders, miracles, prophecies, powerful prayers, and of course people being saved left and right along with a great deal of speaking in tongues and baptisms, none of which things give me the slightest hesitation, but quite honestly aren’t exactly standard fare in the Presbyterian church.

The challenge for me lies not in teaching around these nearly ubiquitous occurrences or somehow steering our discussion so that such issues are defused. It is rather that part of me would like nothing more than to see a great outpouring of the Spirit in a Pentecost kind of way, or at least a genuine hunger for God’s Spirit to be stoked in our EM. I am struck more and more by the seeming lack of any spiritual fervor in the congregation and more attention given to the technical proficiency and musical excellence of the praise team than whether or not people worship in Spirit and Truth.

I personally get excited when I worship, or rather when I consider and reflect on the Lord, worship springs up in me almost despite myself. I find it difficult to understand people who seem to have no such experience, appreciation or depth of feeling for God and who yet claim to be Christian. It is not that I believe that a Christian commitment or worship can be measured solely by a person’s outward or even inward emotional responses, but one would think that there would be something there.

There have been times after worship “concludes” (meaning we stop singing) and the guy comes up to take offering and give announcements. Sometimes I imagine what might happen if I just kept on worshipping; just stayed on stage with hands lifted and tears streaming (though I don’t typically cry in worship). Actually I know what would happen; everyone would continue to sit there looking bored out of their minds and then the announcement guy would come up as if we’d just finished taking an exam and he was assigned to read out the scores, but less enthusiastically.

Anyways, back to my point. What a neat corner I’ve managed to paint myself into by choosing to study and teach the book of Acts for I cannot with integrity avoid the issues or skirt them, especially when the church needs so much to be renewed, changed and transformed by the power of the Spirit. On the other hand, I would never want to through my teaching sow seeds of disharmony nor cause people to stumble.

But lest I complicate things too much, allow me to make it clear my chief concern is that many people in our congregation may not even be saved, nor really even know what it is to be saved. There may be little evidence of the Spirit’s work because the Spirit simply may not be present. That is the dirty open secret that no one will discuss. And because the ecclesiology of the church is so focused on the work of the Spirit through the word, it sometimes seems as if the expectation is that people can be preached or taught into the kingdom. All the while the Spirit of God is relegated to a subordinate role of somehow drawing the people that God has already decided will be saved, but we can’t know who those elect are, since it is a mystery hidden in God or whatever. In the meanwhile we expect people who may or may not be saved to somehow show forth the light of God to dying world and to be witnesses. Or something like that; I know I’ve got it all screwed up some kind of way.

Anyway, that’s the strangeness of it.

Cross Cultural Witness

I am just back from InterVarsity’s national staff conference, where I presented a seminar on cross cultural witness.

I’m still quite honored and humbled that they would ask me to present a seminar on this issue since there are many more eminently qualified people. The presentation is itself a reprise of one I did for the Asian American student conference this past fall, modified for staff interest.

In other news, I continue to grow in my own journey. Yesterday was my first official day as on “staff” at the Korean Presbyterian Church I’ve been attending for the past 18 months (has it been so long?). Stepping into the shoes of the theologically astute, well educated, published author and seminary professor who had been teaching our class is more than a little intimidating. I feel a great deal of internal performance pressure, because honestly I’m not too sure any of the other folks in the class fully appreciated the depth of Lim moksanim’s knowledge base.

Even more intimidating is the fact that we are studying ecclesiology, using the book of Acts. Scary, considering I’m a pentecostal at heart, teaching in a presbyterian context.