We Asian Americans need to be more Asian

I’ve been thinking a lot lately (again!) about the context of my being Asian American and how that relates to any ministry I may involve myself in. In particular, this is in response to the blog series Why We Need Asian Americans to be Asian American by DJ Chuang. DJ makes some solid points in his blog series, but I still feel like so many Asian Americans have varied perspectives.

I am immediately drawn to the mindset of society during my youth when I heard things from Black Americans that called out those Black citizens that chose to speak fluently and work (and live) in a predominantly White society. They were deemed to be too White or not Black enough. At the time, the majority of White America was a huge majority, so unless one intentionally segregated themselves amongst only Blacks, there was no choice except to be in a mostly White America. Do Asian Americans feel a similar conflict?

As Asians in America, do we have a responsibility to uphold our heritage and cultural norms for the sake of other Asian Americans? If not, have we disappointed and shamed other Asian Americans? Should there be such a thing as Asian pride?

I guess my main question is aside from the exclusively Asian churches–such as Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. where English is in reality a second language–should there be a distinction between those Asian Americans that minister to mostly Asian Americans versus those that minister in diverse or predominantly White contexts? Must we choose?

Asian American faith survey results

I just stumbled across asian-nation.org and saw they had posted results from a 2008 study on Asian American faith. I was very surprised to see that only 10% of us Asian Americans are considered to be Protestant Christians!

Would you agree? Do you feel the survey accurately reflects the Asian American faith community? If it is accurate, what reflection does this have upon the church?

Here’s a link to the entire results of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey: http://www.asian-nation.org/docs/aris-2008.pdf

The tension of being Asian American in church

By: Dave Ingland

Saw a very open post from Dan Ra at the nextgenerasianchurch.com website this morning that really resonates with me. In it, he mentions:

I feel pretty lonely, ecclesially speaking, but I feel guilty for it. And it might be the Asian conscience within me telling me to “put up or shut up” but I just don’t know where to turn to. Although I would feel more of a theological connection to a mainline church, I honestly feel no ethnic, emotional, and social connection to what is usually a mostly white American congregation. Although I would feel an ethnic, emotional, and social connection to an Asian American church, I don’t find much theological affinity with them.

He then questions whether or not living in Atlanta is a stumbling block for him finding a church community that would be a good fit for him. Unfortunately, I believe that Asian Americans all over the United States feel exactly as Dan does. If such a church existed, I think we’d all have heard about and would then have some active model to follow and discuss.

Ra continues with:

I want to be a part of an Asian American community that asks hard questions about faith, that wrestles with God like Jacob did. I want to affirm the wonderful traditions of my ancestors and the ancestors of my ancestors’ neighboring countries. I want to know how a God-incarnated poor Jewish man relates to my hyphenated-American identity. I want to collectively extend the arm of humble love and hopeful peace with our Black American siblings as there’s so much pain and mystery between our two peoples. I want to be a part of a community that embraces doubt, loss of faith, and emotional struggle as a part of the collective spirituality. I want my pastors to struggle with their faith before my eyes so I know that I can pastor them, and them me when I struggle. And so on and so forth goes the dream.

As a former church planter in Sacramento, CA my experience was different than I had expected. I tried to start a community very similar to the one that Dan Ra describes seeking. However, my intent was never to attract Asian Americans. We ended up being exclusively Asian American. It did not work. What started as a dream and vision to reach people far away from God through our openness and transparency soon became something mainly about Sunday worship and how we could build critical mass so that their Asian American friends would want to come visit and eventually connect. They wanted something different and had hoped I would bring it to the 2nd & 3rd gen Asian American community. I gave in and tried, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through my experience I left feeling like not only was my dream for a community of real people seeking conversations about God and faith, and how to love God and love others more practically, but that Asian Americans don’t seek this. They had to be distinctly separate. As my journey has placed me in a similar path as Ra’s I find my tension being in that I want to see–and be a part of–a community much like he describes, yet at the same feeling like celebrating culture and ethnic identity must play a role in this. My dream has become convoluted and even more difficult to see realized. Yet, for some reason, I have hope that somehow like minds will verge and something will begin drawing us together. Where, when and how are questions I cannot answer at this time though.

Square peg in a round hole

By: Dave Ingland

It’s taken me a long time to come to understand this, but no matter how much I feel like I fit in with anybody and everybody, I miss being able to connect with people of my heritage. People that look like me, think like me…understand things without them needing to be expressed in words like me. There is something inherent in each of our cultures that we just know on an instinctual level that others just cannot.

I constantly go in through the out door and out through the in door when it comes to my thoughts on multiculturalism within the church. It’s because I am seeking my own inner being of who I am and why. The question why can be broken into subsets such as:

  • Why do I look and feel different than those I’ve been called to worship with and minister to?
  • Why do I feel like somedays I have nothing to offer others of my ethnic background within the context of the church?
  • Why do people want me to be a part of their congregation, yet speak to me in a generic white American cultural context?
  • Why is it that most days I feel like a square peg in a round hole?

I’m on a contemplative path with no clear epiphany in sight. I know many others feel the same way. What has been your process? Does being Asian in a predominantly white church feel comfortable or uncomfortable to you? Should any of this even matter to me?

Who am I? Why?

By: Dave Ingland

The issue of ethnic identity vs identity in Christ has logged many miles in debate. What value is our ethnic identity once we have found identity in Christ? Galatians 3:28 seems to answer that question for many:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

However, one question that remains unanswered after hearing the argument supported by the notion that we are all one in Christ Jesus, is this…If that’s true, then why do I look different from you? Why am I an Asian man living in America trying to wrestle with my identity and what its relevance is in the context of Jesus?

Sure, there are bigger and more profound questions facing the world today other than why I was created as an Asian-American Christian, but to me it’s a question–that once resolved–could lead to something exponentially powerful.

Let me pose this question to you: Who are you? Why?

As untouched as the turn signal in an Asian woman's car

The title of the post probably makes absolutely no sense to you, but once you see it in context I’m sure you’ll understand it. Some of you may even chuckle about it. However, I’m not sure it’s the laughter that I would find offensive. Most-likely, it is the fact that people still have the perception that it’s funny because it is rooted in truth. Before I get to explaining this further, let me take you back about 40 years. Let me share with you a tv commercial from the 1960’s about a baby that wants to eat some glape jerr-o. Again, you probably don’t get what I just described, but after watching the video below you will:

Was it funny? Was it offensive? Are your feelings neutral about it? [Read more…]

Going against the establishment

I’ve found myself going against the establishment most of my life, but only recently coming to realize it. As much as I have done things differently, it’s always been with the goal of becoming the establishment. It pains me today to say that, but I realize it to be true.

  • I worked hard to make money so I could dress like you.
  • I drove a Mercedes, a Lexus, a BMW so I could be respected by you.
  • I owned a big, new house in the suburbs so I could live next to you.
  • I learned your language so I could converse with you.
  • I became oblivious to other people’s pain so I could laugh with you

In the end, I feel ashamed of myself. I was not me, but instead I was a yellow version of you. You were the carrot being dangled in front of me, yet I never realized I had an appetite for carrots.

  • When I was like you, you respected me.
  • When we shared the same dreams, you encouraged me.
  • When we partied and got drunk together you shared stories with me
  • When I parked my car in your neighborhood, you envied me.
  • When I made lots of money you helped spend it with me.

Being in a position of power and privilege feels really great! Every luxury is at your disposal. People drool all over themselves when you offer them your scraps. Everyone wants to be like you. However, there is always a price to be paid for such privilege. For me, that price was indifference. At the time, running with the haves made me care little about the have nots. I started with nothing, to gain all that was mine — and now it’s mine so go out and live the American dream and become a have yourself, rather than trying to take away what I worked so hard to get.

Can you relate to my story? Whether you are privileged to have or unfortunate to not have, you understand this story well. Even if you’re crawling up the ladder of success and in transition on the way to having, you get the story. However, if I make the topic about race rather than money, do you still get it? Consider my perspective as a Japanese-American growing up in California and re-read those points above one more time. Don’t think about money, but think about race in American culture. Does something get lost in translation? It shouldn’t, but I know it will.

    It all comes down to three things: money, power, and privilege.

When one has power and privilege, money is not necessary. If someone had no money, but had beauty and celebrity, you would want to know them. You would want what they have. Money will come to them. When one has money and privilege, power comes their way quickly. Wherever money and power are together, you can obviously see where they automatically gain privilege.

Look at someone like Tiger Woods. At the time of this writing, he is amidst some scandal regarding infidelity. He has lots and lots of money. He dominates the golf world which gives him power. He gets in bed with women who are not his wife because this gives him privilege. Seriously, if Tiger Woods didn’t have money and power, would we be hearing of how he slept with 7+ mistresses and how they all kept it secret? No, he’d be just another black man judged for being a player in a world of player haters. His mistresses wouldn’t have kept the secret, because their chance for privilege or power would come from exposing him to the public.

The establishment has dictated the rules of the game. Either be born of privilege like us, or somehow gain money and power. Otherwise, we are forced to take our game somewhere else.

You know what, I played your game. In grace, I ran to your crumbs and hoped that my gesture would get your attention. That you would see me standing at your feet savoring your scraps and possibly invite me up to the table with you, even if it were just for one meal. In the end, you dropped your crumbs to the floor, made sure I came for the feast of scraps, then picked up your plate, locked me in the dining room and moved out of the house never to look back on me again. You, my friend, are someone of privilege who now has power. Yes, money is coming to you. Don’t you worry. When you play the establishment game you always win. You can’t help it. It’s in your genes.

I don’t want to play the establishment game any more, no matter who I offend. I’m not on that team anymore. I am not like you. It is not in my genes. My hard work should not be so you can take advantage of me and parade me around as I honor you by being like you. It’s time I realize who I am, not who you want me to be. Playing with you isn’t playing to win, it’s simply winning. The game is fixed, the deck is stacked, the bets have been recorded.

In reality, I have come to learn that it is the have nots that are really privileged and the haves that are living in the unfortunate. Because as have nots, they are living in the world of reality and know who they are, while the haves are living for the sake of how others see them. As people of the chance to be haves, some days when you look in the mirror you have no clue who you see.