The Search for Asian-American Worship

Wanted to share a piece that I had the chance to read by Russell Yee. Make the worship yours…and ours.

by Russell Yee, Oakland, California, USA

    From Chinese Around the World, #185 (June 2004),
    Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism, Hong Kong, pp. 85-90

In 2003 the first Chinese church in America marked its sesquicentennial. San Francisco’s Presbyterian Church in Chinatown was founded in 1853 and continues active ministry with Cantonese, Mandarin, and English speaking congregations. In a century and a half, Chinese-American believers have now multiplied across the nation. In 1996, one study counted 158 Protestant Chinese churches in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. Meanwhile, many Chinese-Americans can be found in Asian-American churches alongside Japanese-Americans, Korean-Americans, and other Americans of Asian descent. And Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans have come to dominate many campus ministries. For instance, the students in the University of California, Berkeley chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are overwhelmingly Asian-American.

God has been gracious from generation to generation to call Chinese-Americans to Christian faith and ministry. Nevertheless, despite this considerable history and heartwarming vitality, there remains a critical missing piece in Chinese/Asian-American Christianity. That missing piece is an “indigenous” form of Asian-American worship.
In Asian-American congregations (which I will use to mean both the English-speaking congregations in bi/trilingual Chinese churches, as well as the all-English speaking churches with mostly American-born Chinese and others of Asian ancestry) if you close your eyes on Sunday morning, there is often little or no way to tell you are in an Asian-American church. There is no Asian-American Christian music. There are no particularly Asian-American ways of gathering, forms of prayer, styles of preaching, customs for the Lord’s Table, or central themes in spirituality and discipleship. By and large, worship in Asian-American settings is a slight variation of majority-white culture, theology, and worship.

By contrast, consider what African-American Christians can look forward to each Sunday morning in any of the tens of thousands of Black churches, from a tiny storefront churches to historic landmark churches to newer suburban megachurches, and everything in between. In Black churches there is a fully-expressed, fully-embodied worship experience, with Black Gospel music, call-and-response in Black prayer and preaching, fully-felt ways of gathering and being fully present together, and a strong use of biblical themes (e.g., the Exodus, the Promised Land) and phrases. In Black worship the suffering and the hopes of centuries of African-American experience are fully expressed and fully offered to God. When I have had Chinese students visit Black churches for the first time, they are always amazed at the sheer energy, power, and joyfulness of Black worship. In many ways, African-American worship (in its myriad of expressions) is the crown jewel of American Christian worship, the fullest and most powerful expression of Christian worship among any of American’s races and peoples.

Jesus said the most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In other words, we are to love, serve, and worship God with all we are. Surely all we are includes the racial, cultural and ethnic aspects of who we are. While we have long ago accepted the Reformation principle that worship should be in the language of the worshipers (whether English, Cantonese, or whatever) in many ways we have not taken the further step of cultivating ways for Asian-Americans to bring their whole selves into worship. Let me give some examples.

A major theme in the lives of many Asian-Americans is the strain and discomfort of being bicultural—neither fully Chinese nor fully American. (Of course, what “American” is changes over time—there was a time when the Irish here and when Jews here were not really considered “American.”) I myself am 3rd-generation Cantonese-American. I don’t speak Cantonese and so cannot walk into a Chinese restaurant and order in Chinese. But meanwhile, I’m considered “ethnic faculty” in some of the places where I’ve taught. In my classes, the Asian-American students rarely raise their hands to speak, even though they know the American educational system values individual initiative and individual expression. (The American population is about 75% extroverted personalities and American culture is famously loud.) I know of fully-qualified Asian-American pastors who have not been considered for ministry placements in majority-culture churches.

Where are the songs that speak to this deeply-felt social uncertainty and marginalization? Where are the forms of prayer that work specially well for reserved, introverted personalities not given to fluent, extemporaneous spoken prayers? Where is the “voice” in worship that I can recognize as my very own?

One specific theme in Asian-American Christianity is the tension between works and grace. We’re raised in families with a shame-based, Confucian sense of hard work, academic and professional achievement, financial self-sufficiency, and full attention to family duties and responsibilities. But the Gospel tells us we’re sinners (not model-minority high-achievers) saved by grace (not works) and called to live by faith (not self-sufficiency). A recent and important book on Asian-American Christian discipleship is titled, Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

Where is the theology and where are the sermons that sort out this intersection of duty and grace? Where is the sensibility about church attendance, ministry efforts, and Christian obedience that steers a clear path around mere shame-based works of obligation? Where is the spirituality in worship that incorporates a Confucian sense of responsibility to others and not just a western focus on individual faith and devotion?

Asian-Americans also live with a sense of uncertainty about our physical being and place. To look different from the majority-culture; to often be physically smaller than neighbors, classmates, and coworkers; to be raised in emotionally reserved families with few outward expressions of affection; to be raised to be unobtrustive and indirect; and to see few media images of people who look like “me,” these all contribute to inward questions of how I am to physically move and be present in group settings.

Where is the full vocabulary of physical gestures and actions that would give me a sense of full bodily presence and embodied action in worship? To sit still, quietly listening to a sermon (just as I sat still listening quietly at school), this I know how to do, and it is surely one expression of worship. But to have a sense that my body is fully active in worship—in a way proper to my culture and personality, in a way that does not require me to “act White” or “act Black”—where can I find this?

There are many other aspects of Asian-American experience that rarely or never make it into Sunday worship. Intergenerational conflicts, problems with Buddhist and Taoist family customs, interracial courtship and marriage, losing/rediscovering ancestral culture, self-consciousness in social settings, and food and table customs—these and so many other important pieces of our lives are parts of who God made us and therefore surely parts we need to be able to bring (whether as gifts or as needs) into worship.

In Acts 10, when God gave Peter the vision of the non-kosher animals he was to kill and eat, Peter could not fathom stepping outside his kosher, Jewish culture. But God wanted Peter to go to the home of a Gentile named Cornelius and share the Good News of Jesus with him. The voice from Heaven told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). In that verse, what is the “anything” that God has made clean? In this context, it is Gentile people living in Gentile culture (notice that Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, not Cornelius to Peter’s house). God wanted Peter to see that under the New Covenant, Gentile culture, including Gentile foods, manners, music, values, terms of greeting, ways of grooming and dressing, parenting approaches, and so forth, were now going to be a proper and worthy setting in which to serve and worship God. One no longer had to be culturally Jewish to be a believer. (Of course, in every culture there are some things that cannot be simply embraced but need to be redeemed or even possibly discarded, for example, Western materialism or a Confucian sense of unforgiveable shame.)

We need more ways of being culturally Asian-American in our worship. In March, 2003 at the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, we had a one-day conference on Asian American worship. We called it “Waterwind” (a reversal of “Feng-Shui” and an allusion to John 3:5) and we gathered 140 participants from 40 Asian-American churches. Afterwards, one participant wrote, “I especially felt encouraged when I heard, ‘Don’t apologize for your culture or ignore it.’” Another participant wrote, “What was most valuable was the sense that we are not alone.” For many, the highlight of the day was the six original composer-performed songs we heard. In their sharing and their music, these composers well expressed some of the particular struggles, longings, needs, and gifts of Asian-American believers. It was a rare and beautiful experience, since one so rarely hears such songs, and certainly not six in one time and place.

I’ve done a bit of songwriting myself to try to express something of this intersection between the Christian journey and Asian-American identity and experience. Here’s the first verse of “Never Not in Need of Grace,”

I work really hard and I rarely complain.
I try not to show it when I’m in pain.

I plan what I say, and I keep to my space;
But I’m never not in need of grace, no,
I’m never not in need of grace.
Please save my soul, not just my face,
I’m never not in need of grace.

As befits an indirect, self-effacing culture, this song makes no overt reference to anything Asian—no mentions of rice, chopsticks, black hair, or the Pacific Rim. But it nevertheless expresses something particularly needful and true about my life as an Asian-American Christian.

While creating a body of Asian-American music for worship is perhaps the highest priority, there are many other directions in which we can explore ways to bring more of ourselves (and so experience more of God) in our worship.

Certainly there are customs and approaches to the Lord’s Table we can develop. So many churches are “stuck” on the peculiarly American use of grape juice and on ways of serving that emphasize individual devotion over shared thanksgiving. (I believe God gives us freedom to use whatever food and drink covey nourishment and sharing in a given culture. I cannot believe God want believers who do not ordinarily grow grapes and wheat to have to import foreign foodstuffs to celebrate Communion.) I would be very interested in hearing from any of you who use Asian-specific cultural forms for Communion, whether it is in the food and drink, or ways of setting and serving the Table, or ways people partake.

There are also visual arts for worship: banners, tapestries, furnishings, paintings, and sculptures that can express our particular cultures. Ways of gathering and seating. Uses of sound and silence. Ways of praying that “work” for characteristically self-conscious introverts. Ways to incorporate Asian festivals like Lunar New Year. Fully-Christian rituals for honoring ancestors. The needs—and opportunities—go on and on.

In John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, he says “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.… The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it” (Revelation 21:24, 26). “Nations” is ethne, perhaps better translated “peoples.” And what would the glory and honor of the peoples be but their lives, cultures, music, art, stories, languages, leaders, and maybe even their food, enjoyed there together at the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb? May God give us each and all the grace to cultivate forms of worship and ways of loving and worshipping him with all we are, so that we can honor our Lord as much as possible when we are finally gathered with believers from all other times and places–including a place called “Asian-America.” v

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Comments

  1. Joseon_Illin says:

    Perhaps more will express their experience through rap?

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/05/10/korean.rap.ap/index.html

  2. I believe Mr (Pastor?) Yee is heading in the wrong direction by insisting on maintaining the ethnic ghettoization of the church. We should be seeking to cross boundaries and move past the ethnic divisions to see ourselves as the children of God; not Caucasian, Black, or Asian – a new people. I find it peculiar that he pulls the verse from Revelation but ignores Rev 7:9. Are we all going to be lined up according to our ethnic traditions? Be blessed.

  3. Reyes-Chow says:

    Thanks for the intriguing post as always. I DO NOT believe that what Russell is advocating is “ghettoizing” the church, but rather for communities to understand and manifest their particular cultural context in the church.

    I think there are two ongoing issues: one, when we ignore authentic Asian American culture, the default always seems to be pretty “bland” white, colonial worship. Yes a generalization, but as one who has worked with MANY MANY MANY Asian American churches, i do not feel this is an exageration.

    Two, because of the absence of a very clear “Asian American” sound or feel unlike Latin or African American traditions, I think we are more likely to see “Filipino” or “Thai” or “Indonesian” styles that are more distinct.

    Broke my rule about the length of comments, but oh well, my two cents ;-)

  4. David Park says:

    Joseon, interesting point. I wonder when does our excursion into hip hop culture become a forfeiting of our own voice? Does the format matter? Is it content only?

    I find it fascinating that the musical genre itself can be a statement that in some ways, prohibits us from saying the next thing.

    Pastor Warren, I think it is because we are embracing ourselves as children of God that we can appreciate more fully how God made us to be, that is to say, Asian in heritage. When you say that we should be seeking to cross boundaries, I would agree with you in the apostolic sense, but when we speak of something as personal as worship, I do think that Yee brings up excellent points of seeking our intimate response. Worship is something very nuanced, personal and collective. For instance, I don’t think a white person could have written a “spiritual”, just as I don’t believe a Hindu turned Christian would write Handel’s Messiah. I don’t think of ethnic diversity in worship as ghettoization, but rather to exercise authentic response to our savior. While we won’t line up according to ethnic traditions in heaven, it is still clear that those distinctions will still be there.

    Bruce, I can’t believe you left such a long comment on the blog. I feel so close to you now, like we could be friends :P

  5. A well thought out point. A few foundation questions-

    -Does a church oriented to a specific culture along ethnic lines give up too much in terms of it’s missional efficacy?
    eg. can a puerto rican church in little saigon have any meaningful ministry to the community?

    -Does a connection to my ethnic identity constitute a gateway for spiritual ebullience? Are we really just talking about personal preferences that in actuality have little to do with spirituality? Put another way, if I do not adopt an ethnic-centered faith, is my faith deficient? If so, my bi-racial kids are in for some confusing days ahead.

  6. David Park says:

    emergingtruth, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer any of the above great questions, but in my naivete, here are some of my initial thoughts.

    In terms of the first question. I think church has at least two primary functions, to call out and to send out. The process of calling out is to heal, empower, enable, reconcile, grow, etc. It is Christological first, as from that, we can develop a healthy notion of missiology, then of ecclesiology (ideally in that order). The process of sending out is more of the missional aspect. I believe that it may be difficult to have a single local church embody all these aspects, but that a key mistake is to establish believers in the “work” of the church rather than the intimate aspects of who Christ is and what he delivered us from and what He is delivering us to do. This is actually where I feel the ethnic church can be most helpful. In terms of the sending out part, you are right to point out how absurd a Puerto Rican church in Little Saigon would be in terms of effective ministry. But my point is still that if the Puerto Rican church can equip the Hispanics in the area to see who Christ made them to be, they will in turn, in their apostolic growth, reach out to the people around them.

    You’ve asked the second question before on your own blog before and I wrestle with this one a great deal as well. I don’t know if I would call my faith ethnically-centered, but because I believe some of my sins are culturally-specific and I must marvel at the ways in which the gospel went halfway around the world to save people like me, I’m inclined to fall in love with the Jesus who is not Western. And while that sounds obvious, I don’t think it is growing up in this country. Does that qualify as ebullience? Perhaps. I used to find the notion of ethnic churches as extremely limiting, fear-based, and xenophobic. But now, I wonder if it can be a vehicle to address cultural sins, gifts, and identity. I think it has little to do with my personal preference, as I was fine going to a “multi-ethnic” (not really) church before, it has everything to do with understanding who God made me to be.

    I don’t think one’s faith is deficient if one doesn’t go to an ethnic church. In fact, I think most (if not all) ethnic churches don’t leverage their specific callings anyway (you’ve pointed that out many times in your own blog). But I hear you on your last point as my own children may grow up quite confused. But at least their parents will have a healthier and deeper understanding of where they come from without self-loathing.

  7. Almost incidentally, emergingtruth and David Park have stumbled on a very interesting issue for inter-racial Christian marriages. Are we simply to assume that a multiethnic church is best for the children?

    For those who buy into the mono-ethnic church paradigm, how then should the biracial kids be raised? Or should a conscious decision be made to go to a monoethnic church, e.g. a predominantly white church, or a predominantly Korean church?

    Interesting issue, somebody should do a more indepth look into it.

  8. e cho says:

    foremost, i’d say ‘worship’ – both in expression and incarnation – is the most important thing.

    i’d also say that our expression of worship can be both beautiful and idolatrous.

    when we speak of ghettoization, who’s ghettoizing who? there’s certainly conversation to be had for ethnic churches and the dangers of insularity but if that’s such a big concern…leave YOUR church and join the OTHER churches. it’s really simple as that. i have no idea who pastor warren is so please excuse if i sound rude.

    many folks want the Kingdom view of churches but w/o counting the costs of what they may cost them…

    peace out.

  9. e cho – it’s simple enough to find out who pastor war is instead of leaving intentionally dismissive and disparaging remarks; asking to be excused just magnifies your intention. Ghettoes are enclaves of similar people groups living deliberately separate from the larger culture and other people groups. Your accusative tone inferring that the larger culture forces this separation is without support. Ethnic enclaves are created by choice, not by force.
    Now, on to the church issue. Since you didn’t want to expend the effort to find out anything about me or my background or my family I’ll help you out, though I don’t think that a pastor such as yourself should be demanding the bona fides of others. I’ve pastored in a Korean church, ministered at numerous multi-ethnic events, and been a cross cultural missionary. I currently serve a multi-ethnic mission church here in the city. So tell me again how I need to leave MY church and go to THEIRS? How well integrated is your family?
    Your last statement is the ugliest assertion of racism I’ve ever had hurled at me. I have counted the cost of the kingdom ethic and I’ve paid an enormous price. My wife has been called and treated like a race traitor, I’ve been dismissed as a legitimate pastor due to the color of my skin, and my son’s been called that lovely Korean word for bi-racial children. How much more of a debt do I owe you before I can write what I wrote earlier?

  10. David Park says:

    pastor warren, if i might interject, i don’t think that e cho was attacking you personally, as you point out, he doesn’t know you. rather, i believe he was making general statements about how ethnic churches who are insular to check themselves and if need be, to go to other churches. if you’re pastoring a multi-ethnic church, obviously you’re already wrestling with these issues. and to e cho’s credit, so is he. as for e cho’s last statement, again, i don’t think that was meant for you, i think it was meant for those whom you would consider “ghettoized” by choice.

    It’s hard to tell sometimes with mere words, what the intonation is behind a comment, but knowing what i know about e cho, i’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

    i respect the challenges that you and your family have faced as a bicultural/racial family. as noted by cuttingtruth, that brings up a whole new dimension of complexity to identity and how the church contributes to healthy, Godly identity formation.

    one last thought, a couple of years ago, I would have agreed with your statement that ethnic enclaves are by choice, but now I can’t help but wonder if they are by design. Whose design? That’s where I think it gets interesting. More on that later…thanks for your comments.

  11. e cho says:

    david: sorry for leaving what could be perceived as a ‘racist’ comment on your blog. it’s not intended to be and can’t see why it’s perceived in that way but clearly it was read in that way, so i apologize to you.

    and pastor warren: i apologize to you.
    clearly, you’ve walked the walk much more than i.

    before i write anything that can perceived as dismissive and disparaging, i’ll shut it.

    peace to all.

  12. daniel so says:

    David — Thanks for highlighting this article. It was kinda long, so it took me awhile to get through it, but really good stuff ;)

    The last couple of paragraphs, in particular, are very thought-provoking for me. While I might not be down with a (tasty) sushi & sake communion, Yee raises some very important questions about how we might fully express ourselves in the way we sing, gather, sit and celebrate as Asian Americans.

    Perhaps the first step is to recover a deep sense of our identity (in Christ, of course, but also as the specific people God made us to be — including our ethnic/cultural heritage) — I think Bruce might have been getting at this with his point about there not really being a clear Asian American ethos/vibe. As Yee points out, we don’t need to hang paper lanterns from the ceiling or write lyrics about chopsticks and high kicks (a la Rickshaw Rally) — but perhaps we have not been expressing what is “particularly needful and true about my life as an Asian-American Christian” as much as we could.

    David and Eugene — God bless your humility & grace.

  13. elderj says:

    Wow… what a discussion had been provoked here. As I have been processing some of these issues in my own experience it seems obvious to me that what Yee is getting at is that the infinite translatability of the gospel has somehow failed or at least been short circuited in the AA context so that the worship is somehow less than what it could be. I doubt that this has happened by intentional conscious choice, but rather what has been absorbed is an unconscious acceptance of the notion that all things White and Western are somehow better than anything else.

    As to why the AA has been unable to the point to develop such a worship and church culture as was developed in the Black church, I think the assimilationist mentality that immigrants often have may be at least partially the reason. The desire to minimize difference for the sake of not sticking out (or being further mariginalized and oppressed) is powerful, and although Black Americans faced the same temptation the realities of systemic, systematic oppression made that a non-option.

    As to the challenging question of interethnic marriage (particularly between White and “other”) it seems important to recognize that any minority person has a bi-cultural identity at some level, or is at least able to function biculturally as interaction with the dominant culture in dominant culture ways is really non-optional. For those in the dominant culture, especially males, even if they are married to a member of a minority group, participation in a minority context is always optional.

  14. w rachele says:

    Brothers and Sisters – My apologies for stirring things up with my different line of thinking. After reading further, I’ll keep my further ruminations to myself over at my site. God’s blessings to all of you and I hope that one day the divisiveness will stop and we will all recognize that our new identity is in Christ.

  15. David Park says:

    Pastor Warren,

    I don’t know what to make of your comment, as it seems that you feel that some of the discussion on this blog is too “divisive” to the body of Christ. I actually feel this type of conversation is more helpful for me to see how I can contribute to greater body while building bridges to other marginalized groups. You have a “different line of thinking” but I personally encourage you to dialogue and comment here so that perhaps we can shape one another’s thoughts more.

    As for assimilation, your post, http://loveacceptforgive.wordpress.com/2007/05/22/false-assumptions-of-the-interracial-couple makes it seem that your wife and son have zero-friction in leaving their mother culture, which they might not, but that experience is not necessarily true for all of us. As quickly as you came down on e cho for questioning your “bona fides”, I feel as though you are dismissing our voices and our experience that outright assimilation is not something attractive to us. Especially in light of the fact that the ‘dominant majority’ has reminded many of us that we are not part of it, although your openness to different ethnicities seems to be one of a welcoming posture, that is not consciously or intentionally shared by many. This goes back to a comment that I made earlier, that this division is sinful, not necessarily by choice, but by design. I believe there is an infrastructure of sin that we are working against and we need to have this conversation from the inside-out and the outside-in.

    The divisiveness will only continue if you keep your ruminations to yourself.

  16. Josh says:

    What an amazing conversation (aside from the incorporated tangent among the comments). God bless ya David for putting this up!

    I have just spent a week at Rockbridge with Intervarsity on a summer conference, where I participated in the worship track. We had three well qualified leaders that hit hard on multicultural worship throughout the week. I skimmed this post halfway through the week and it hit me that there is not a tightly defined definition of what “asian worship” looks like, at least within the musical worship realm. It kind of bothered me so I brought it up, seeing as it would be a perfect place to talk about it.

    The general response was agreement, and the loose conclusion that we came to was that I might just be living in the time where asian worship can be more clearly defined, perhaps even by myself. Of course I don’t know how I would go about doing that, but would any of you agree that the definition of “asian worship” might be more defined in say, 5 years or so?

  17. elderj says:

    i am at a loss for words, which is a rare thing for me, as I consider the ways in which my comments have been characterized. wow…

  18. e cho says:

    alright, i guess i sorta lied. i’m c/pasting a comment i left on brother warren’s blog…

    just food for thought to keep the dialogue going and to help david get to 50 comments on this thread…

    “please don’t take this as a direct comment to you. when we talk about issues of race, racism, and racialization in our church or in general conversation, we have to talk about ‘white privilege’ – particularly in the US and western context. it’s not an attempt to demonize white people since the root of racism and prejudice is human depravity. yet, with about 60% of the church that i pastor being part of the ‘white’ demographics, there are ‘anglo’ brothers and sisters within my church who get really upset. i have to remind them that the message that i’m trying to convey is not that they as individuals are racist but rather, we live in society with ’systemic racism.’ and in this systemic racism, we have to acknowledge that there’s such a thing as PRIVILEGE as males or as Anglos…

    I hope there are other options.”

  19. David Park says:

    Josh, as you can see, there is a lot of debate about whether or not Asian American worship as a real construct within the church should be or not. So where it will be 5 years from now, actually depends on where God leads individuals like yourself and myself.

    Ultimately, our worship should be an honest reflection and response to who God is and the story of his grace to us. For instance, Miriam’s song after the crossing of the Red Sea is something particular and special to the Hebrew nation. African-American gospel music — particularly the spirituals are songs that NEVER could have originated from the European experience; the burning question for us is…what is our response? Is it Hillsong? Integrity? Maranatha? Passion? Is our song the same?

    On the one hand: Is our response nuanced to our collective 1.5-2.0 generation experience? Should there even be a response that is unique since we went to the same schools, hold the same jobs, etc.? And if there shouldn’t be, then yes, I’d agree with Warren that the assimilation is complete and we should just melt into the pot, and if Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan compete in the Olympics for the USA, then maybe we should too quit playing the game as though we are different.

    On the other hand, we are in the unique position of interfacing our mother cultures to our father faith, and that might be a wonderful place to explore how that sounds and breathes in this place that likes to program discipleship. We might be criticized for not drinking the Kool-Aid, but that might be because they’ve never tried Bacchus-D or Pocari Sweat or all that other stuff!

  20. gar says:

    pastor warren wrote:

    “Ghettoes are enclaves of similar people groups living deliberately separate from the larger culture and other people groups. Your accusative tone inferring that the larger culture forces this separation is without support. Ethnic enclaves are created by choice, not by force.”

    I have a difficult time agreeing with this statement because history has shown a very loose interpretation of the word “choice”. It’s ironic we’re talking about the word “ghetto”, because the history is often associated with Jewish communities in Europe – whose “choice” about where they could live was often be killed / persecuted / harassed… or live next to other Jewish people. Oh, and I doubt the Jewish ghettoes of Nazi Germany were ethnic enclaves of choice either, unless you like your “choice” being dictated to you by the barrel of the gun.

    Other historical examples: “Indian” reservations, Chinatowns, the intentional concentration of African Americans in inner city public housing units.

    Yes, ethnic people just love “choosing” to live together… =/

  21. Faheem Qaiser says:

    “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing from the Word of God”(Romans, 10:17)
    Dear Brother in Christ,
    Greetings from Pakistan.
    I am Fahim Qaisor from Pakistan . I have studied your web site, and I found it the most wonderful site to get right to the True Word of God. I found that all your material is full of knowledge concerning development of religious faith. Living in Pakistan we Christians is to face many obstacles to get the access to the Word of God. Most of the people in Pakistan are not capable to understand the English language. It’s because our national language is Urdu. My suggestion for you is to create your material in my language of Urdu and Punjabi also. It will bring lots of blessings of the Word of God for the Pakistani and Indian Urdu and Punjabi speaking people. For that purpose I as a translator will bring your material into Urdu languages and into Punjabi language as well. Although it will take your low expenses as well, as fund for the Word of God to reach out to the deserving people. As a translator I will take the expenses that will be spending just for the Word.
    “There is nothing more precious than to red and listen the Word of God into your own language.”
    Sincerely,
    Fahim Qaisor (Pakistan)

  22. jay says:

    excellent article by russell
    faces faith in the lord in the asian american context, esp the asian american identity which even apart from church represents a complicated issue why dont more people address this race specific faith issue with such penetrating rhetoric? one thing i note is the segregation of em in asian churches – sort of a subculture – where these ethnic influences are openly shared, but you’re right, no characteristically asian american songs, the one russell composed above is real cool. also, if a church is to be a corporally hospitable environment to worship, a certain degree of ethnic or cultural attachment even if only in a nostalgic sense or in cultural pride for american born asians is inevitable. again i’d love to see more articles on this, keep it up

  23. Jay says:

    One more thing. Yes, when we see the Asian American Church, especially the English Ministry in Asian churches, as the center for faith, worship, LOVE, culture, home, hearth if you will, then for sure, the “Asian American” card is up in the air. As one person writes, the Lord of Asians is not necessarily the Lord of Asian Americans, who in turn is not necessarily the Lord of Americans – not literally of course – but with the implicit meaning that our worship style, expressions, lifestyle, perspectives, ethnicity are in a subculture that is neither completely Asian nor completely American.

    Yes, I am deeply pained by the fact that, even though there is no lack of Asian American churchgoers, and I live in a state with a HUGE Asian American Christian population, we have yet to come up with a significantly historical, emblematic, ethnic-specific worship theme(s), transnational or intercultural or intergenerational identity that is strong enough to attract passerby, not just to out strong sense of identity, but to the WAY in which we seek the Lord, and share that LOVE.

    Of course, this is really two topics in one – worship in the faith – and identity as Asian Americans. The church is an excellent arena for these two paths to converge, and I only hope that we do not waver.

  24. Jay says:

    “There are many other aspects of Asian-American experience that rarely or never make it into Sunday worship. Intergenerational conflicts, problems with Buddhist and Taoist family customs, interracial courtship and marriage, losing/rediscovering ancestral culture, self-consciousness in social settings, and food and table customs—these and so many other important pieces of our lives are parts of who God made us and therefore surely parts we need to be able to bring (whether as gifts or as needs) into worship. ”

    I like these points a lot. However, I don’t agree.

    There are pretty good ABC-OBC (American born Chinese – Overseas Born Chinese) seminars, at least in churches I know, that address parent-teen issues specifically in the intergenerational Asian and Asian American context, in the U.S. I know an ABC that even leads one.

    The Taoist and Buddhist traditions are usually shared when I am with new Christians, perhaps not so openly, but YES. And the elder Asian pastors DO mention this sometimes in sermons.

    It may not be addressed, but interracial marriages and courtships have made their way prominently into my predominantly black-eyed, black-haired, yellow-skinned (aka Asian) church, although less obtrusively than one might expect. (Some Asian-specific interracial dating was not even legal about 30 years ago, I’m sure some elders are still traditional and have a hard time with this, but YES, in church, we have a couple, they are pretty sweet, no pun intended :)

    As for one’s motherland, cultural heritage, ethnic identity, language and other parts and parcels of the Asian American ASIAN experience, we share that in fellowship a lot. We have varying degrees, from ones who came from Hong Kong at age ten, who speak a Chinese dialect daily at home, to those who are “bananas” with fluent English….. but we are just the way we are, and need not feel inferior for our relatively
    young identity.

    The last point DOES bug me a bit. It’s true, in the worship, I really don’t “feel” myself – I am an ABC, too, who understands and speaks a little Mandarin, but honestly English is my only forte – and it would be REALLY awesome if we the church – a place where we can share our vulnerabilities, weaknesses, confusion, brokenness, ethnic identity crisis, interngenerational conflict, AND build each other up, keep each other up, bear each other’s burdens, share intimate details of this godly life, keep each other in a godly walk, etc. – could lead in the direction of Asian American specific ministry. To not do so – and to simply “adopt” an ongoing worship theme – would be suppressing our truest expression.

    Nevertheless, we should really be GRATEFUL that the Lord has made us the way we are – without having to crave for something we don’t have in our “displaced” heritage – and yet feeling at home in the church.

    Now that question is, what is that truest expression?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Pastor Warren brought up some interesting issues in his comments here and on his latest blog post, I feel like it’s good to find myself back in that place of [...]

  2. [...] Park tackled some of these issues in his post, “The Search for Asian American Worship.”  I would love it if we could express something of our unique context in our music — [...]

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