Accentuate the Positive

So what do you when you become aware of that small pea that you’ve been sleeping on? My gut feeling, which I’ve been carrying around with me for some time now, is that something is wrong with the ways in which Asian Americans understand and relate to our faith because we have pawned off our identity for the American dream.

With this rather brash hypothesis, it has left me very little room to operate in terms of what I view as positive in the current landscape of Asian American churches. This sounds rather pretentious, especially when I’m not in a major hub of Asian American activity – Atlanta, Georgia. It also sounds foolish coming from someone who’s working from a small sampling of churches and who doesn’t hail from a strong denominational/church background. My father was/is a pastor/church planter in the smallest of rural towns along the east coast of Florida. I’m also confessing that I’m a hack – I’ve never served a ministry of much consequence, I’m not a particularly moving preacher, and I have no track record of leadership to speak of, with the sole exception that my wife believes in me.

In essence, the more and more I blog, the more I realize that I am an idiot. When people ask me what gifts the Asian American church has to offer the body of Christ at large, my thoughts empty out as though someone had pulled the plug in a kitchen sink. When someone reads or hears my harangues about the void of Asian American worship, and they ask me what is should sound like or look like, my own silence deafens me.

Am I so filled with self-loathing that I can’t mention the positive about Asian American churches? Am I so critical that I cannot conceive of what could be?

I have so many questions and so few answers.

Last week, one of my colleagues in seminary, a recent Korean immigrant, looked me in the eye and said, “You know what the problem with the 2nd generation is?”

My engines started to rev. THE problem? I’ve got a truckload of problems…I started flapping my lips, but he waved me off.

“You don’t pray enough. You can criticize the first generation all you want and you’d be right. They have their problems. They have trouble living the Gospel, it’s true. Their lifestyles are a complete mess, I know. But at five in the morning, they still gather by the hundreds and pray. Their churches grow and they feed each other. They pray. The second generation needs to learn to pray.”

Kitchen sink again.

I repent. I got nothing. Dear God, I am at square one again. give me a heart for you and your people. I have not sought your heart enough. I have ignored the beauty that is right before my eyes. Show me and give me hope. Give me hope, give me a future, give me a home. Amen.

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Comments

  1. todd says:

    a friend / mentor sat me down this week and told me “your church isn’t really that radically different.” basically it was on this issue. We don’t pray much at all. For all the energy and good things we are doing, we forget to pray. Consider me challanged by your friends words as well. Thanks for this great, transparent post.

  2. Yes, good stuff, but at the same time we do need to continue to repectfully push back for the 1st Gen to be more reflective in their prayer regarding the ways they may or may not be prepareing the church well for the next generation. We all have our stuff, like you said. Sounds like some good conversation! Laters.

  3. Wayne Park says:

    ouch.
    Funny that’s the one thing EM’s won’t carry over are those morning prayer services…
    @Todd: it would seem that whatever ethnicity, the next generation thinks we are doing the next “hot” thing when in fact, like you say, it’s not all that radically different. We’re just as institutional, just as flawed, just another church (plant).. that’s what I’m realizing.
    Cheers..

  4. daniel so says:

    David — I totally feel you, brother. You often give voice to my everyday struggles. I have experienced such an incredible sense of connection with like-minded sojourners through your blog and others — and the more I read and get to know people, the more humbled I am. When so many faithful people are putting their lives on the line and totally living it, what does my little voice from my tiny corner of the world add to it?

    I don’t know if this is much consolation, but your ministry to me through this blog has been restoring, challenging and inspiring. Take heart!

    Re: the “2nd generation doesn’t pray” comment. Your friend is probably right about the 2nd gen’s lack of prayer. In the end, though, who ever really prays enough or, more importantly, in the right way? I don’t know your friend, but I have been on the receiving end of plenty of that kind of commentary — and it has often smacked of arrogance and condescension, as if the early morning prayer thing trumps everything else.

    There are plenty of reasons, other than laziness, that the early morning prayer model doesn’t make sense for many 2nd gen followers of Jesus (e.g., we don’t come from a direct heritage of Buddhist/shamanistic influences where waking before dawn to pray was already a norm, most of us don’t have jobs at mom & pop shops that open at 7am, etc.).

    Don’t get me wrong — I think early morning prayer is powerful. However, I disagree with the idea that it is the primary measure of the maturity or health of a church or the believers who make up that church. After all, how many people have faithfully attended 5am prayer every day for years but are miserable failures as parents? If we, as the nextgen church, could find a way to pray together in a way that is consistent and transformative, then I think something truly revolutionary would begin to happen.

  5. David Park says:

    thanks guys…let me throw a question back at you all.

    what is our inheritance as next generation asian americans? what would you cite as a real, unique strong point that we should keep and build upon?

  6. Wayne Park says:

    I was going to say “prayer” but I’m afraid to upset Daniel πŸ™‚ rowr!
    all kidding aside, I really relate to your initial gut level response. I just started on campus last fall and immediately was accosted by our local chapter of the “Korean expat-seminarian association”. Basically I froze them off, wanting to have nothing to do with them. After all, I am an enlightened K-Am, right?
    But afterwards I felt terrible, like I had been unduly rude, and like I had frozen off a part of myself, my people, my heritage. It was a sad feeling. What’s the big deal? I would’ve gained a few good hyungs, a few good free meals to Korean food… but for some reason I was so irritated…

  7. daniel so says:

    wayne — Ha! I love it… it sounds like I’m all anti-prayer πŸ™‚ I hope I don’t come across too negatively…

    David — I think that is a great question. I’m asking myself that all the time. I know I feel frustrated, I know this path isn’t a good fit for me (or for many others in a similar life situation)… but where are we going? What needs to die? What should be resurrected, redeemed?

    I think Wayne might be onto something. Even as a totally Westernized 2nd gen type, I have experienced and treasured the “hyung/noona” culture of the 1st gen. In terms of building community, that sense of someone (even a stranger) being a brother or sister who looks out for you, takes you out for meals and shows you the ropes is so valuable. If that culture could be established beyond the bounds of our shared Korean-ness, then maybe we would be creating deeply hospitable (in the biblical sense) communities.

  8. elderj says:

    double ouch… As an inside-outsider I resonate with your friends comments. If anything the 2nd generation excels at complaining, though I am being intentionally hyperbolic. It is true that the 2nd gen must learn to pray, but quite honestly prayer, as with many other things, is sorely lacking when there isn’t much sense of need or dependency on God.

    I mentioned in a meeting Sunday that it is easy to complain when all one has to do is show up, when whether we give or not, the lights are on, the pastor is paid, and the sound equipment is provided. What is often most lacking from my albeit limited perspective, is any sense of real urgency about relationship with God, which for the 1st generation is measured (probably wrongly) primarily in terms of church activity and involvement. The lack of urgency breeds a type of angst ridden complacency that is paralyzed by its own dependency on the work and spirituality of others.

    What is most frightening, and perhaps could be motivating, is the reality that unless there is some change, the 3rd generation will grow up entirely divorced from their ethnic/cultural identity as Koreans AND from the faith. The idea of Nero fiddling while Rome burns comes to mind, though in the case the fiddling is more aptly described as endless hand wringing over how the 1st gen got it all wrong, while the fire is the reality that kids are growing up with no real sense of die hard commitment to church, passionate prayer, or Bible memorization – the things the 2nd generation decries but which probably was their salvation – are important at all

  9. David Park says:

    double ouch indeed. as one who excels at complaining, i find that most of it is directed at fellow 2nd gen-ers, not as much 1st gen. granted i feel we’ve inherited some dysfunction, but i think therapy is more important at this stage than finding out exactly what the korean war did to my parents’ psyche. the fact is, the 2nd gen is already divorcing ethnic identity and faith…we don’t need to get to the 3rd gen to figure that out.

    my concern is this, we are trying to fix a car while it is in motion, and i would like to think that self-criticism is a manner in which we alert people in the car that we’ve either got to stop the car and fix it, get off, or get more people involved in the fixing process. the speed at which the car is moving and the fact that it is moving rather aimlessly or wherever the church market economics drive it are what bother me. but i have been letting those things bother me more than on my knees. that’s the conviction i face. i blog and complain much more than i pray and for that i repent.

    commitment in this day and age are too hard to demand without acknowledging that consumerism has changed the notions of commitment. informed commitment is better than uninformed and unexamined commitment. and uninformed unexamined complacency are not the same as informed complacency. however, i concede, they look remarkably similar.

  10. daniel so says:

    Elderj — Thanks for jumping in with your insights. I feel you completely here — your observations are spot-on, from my personal experience.

    I think a lot of this is particularly raw for me right now because we’re smack in the middle of trying to relaunch/repurpose our EM here (thus, some of the frustration). As I have told some of our leaders, the last thing San Diego (or the rest of the world) needs is *another* EM that does the same old thing. And San Diego certainly doesn’t need a complaining EM pastor-type… that’s why I’m very thankful for this conversation at this point in my life. I desperately want to find a new and better way forward.

    Our EM is just like any other right now: some members show up at their convenience for who knows what reason (it’s not even guilt at this point), others point fingers and blame the 1st and/or 2nd gen, while still others long for something more. Many people have come and gone, some live in the glory days of the past, others are surprised that there’s still an EM here.

    I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around the possibility that an EM could be a missional, redemptive community. So many of us get stuck (whether in apathy, complaining, or whatever) that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that it is possible.

    But, as David’s been asking, there must be something about being 2nd gen Asian American followers of Jesus being planted in this particular community that God can use to reach the broader culture for the sake of the gospel. Otherwise, it’s better for us to shut down and send the members of our little community elsewhere.

    I’m holding onto the hope, though, that with creativity, prayer and hope something new is possible.

  11. Wayne Park says:

    missionaries. I think that’s why God sent us here. A friend once taught me, “much has been given, much is expected”… our ancestors had naught but rice. We drive 2 cars and live in American-made homes. Time to become missionary. Sometimes I look around at my predominantly white town, and the fringe elements of meth-heads, illegals, minorities. I wonder what in the h I’m doing here. Maybe that’s the question for asian-America today.

  12. elderj says:

    Wayne – I think you’re on to something, and there is definitely a strong missions concern among many A-A college students, which seems to be unfortunately not mirrored in the churches they attend. The challenge is to water that seed of concern for missions into a sustainable identity as a church. Even the most complacent among my EM peers gets excited about the prospect of missions involvement.

    This kind of focus could bring together a positive stewardship of resources (money, education, etc) and of cultural experience (living in two cultural realities) and provide a raison d’etre beyond getting a free meal each Sunday. I’m feeling inspired now!

  13. Josh says:

    This title rings in my heart like no other. Isn’t that what life is all about? Love, exposing the good instead of the bad? I like it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] What’s Wrong With Asian-Americans In The Church Today 13 04 2008 As per a dialogue going on over @ Nextgenerasianchurch.com […]

  2. […] by elderj on April 14, 2008 Thanks to Wayne Park and also to David over at Nextgenerasianchurch for spurring my re-engagement with the questions of the integration of faith and culture, […]

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