Why 4Pointes is an Asian American church

Recently sat down to have a chat with Pastor Peter Lim about 4Pointes Church, located near Atlanta, Georgia.

4Pointes Church has a particular aspect that makes it different than most others of its kind. 4Pointes describes itself as an Asian-American church.

Most next-generation independent English-speaking churches that are led or planted by Asian American pastors describes themselves as just a church or a multi-ethnic church. Very few of these churches self-identify as Asian American churches, even though its leadership and/or its attendees may be composed of an Asian American majority.

Listen to our conversation about why 4Pointes Church calls itself an Asian-American church rather than a multiethnic church or community church.

(download m4a audio)

4pointes-church

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The Anamnesis of Ourselves

We Christians can be a forgetful people. We are perpetually future-oriented. This is fine, of course, because so much of the scriptures point to a future redemption, a not-yet reality where roads are gold, lions chill with lambs, and we hang out with Prince, Michael Jackson, and 2pac. But sometimes we don’t remember to, well, remember. And we forget that it was God who always seemed to preface his Old Testament commands with holy, dangerous reminders, invitations to recall slavery, oppression, and ultimately, redemption.

Indeed, when we celebrate Communion, we are also invited: Do this in remembrance of me. But this is a violent kind of remembering: we recall broken flesh and spilled blood, bodily memories relived and then consumed into our own bodies. It is holy when we remember. It is dangerous when we remember.

We who are Asian American also have violent memories of broken families and spilled tears, poured out for the sake of a different kind of salvation. And now we, the children of immigrants, live, study, work, and start families in remembrance of their sacrifice. But this is a silent kind of remembrance, one we are more apt to carry in our bodies than share with our lips. So we carry Korea, China, the Philippines, Cambodia. Which is another way of saying that trauma is incarnational and generational, which is another way of saying that we are a PTSD people. The great temptation, then, of diaspora, of exile, is amnesia. No one was supposed to be torn from the land like that and now, strangers in a strange land, we are faced with an exilic choice. But our forgetfulness stood not only to facilitate our survival but our thriving—the decision was easy. So we forget willingly: ditch the language, the customs, the clothes, and the traditions, all of which made us less attractive and less marketable. But when we forgot we also became less human. We who are the children of the exile must now put the pieces back together, or at the very least sweep the ground for breadcrumbs that can lead us home, whatever that is.

Unfortunately, our participation in the Christian faith only cemented our forgetting. Jesus became the agent by which our stories were often wiped away. At best, they were used as testimonies explaining the evil we escaped. At worst, our histories became tales of the demonic, stories that had nothing to do with God and with which God wanting nothing to do. The future took priority over the past; everything ahead was filled with light and rainbows, everything behind with shadows and abandoned buildings.

Even those of us who wanted to remember have found the language we possess for our forgetting and remembering rather clumsy. Phrases like “cultural and spiritual amnesia” don’t quite capture the complexity here. They imply that, at some point, what we have forgotten will simply return to us once our hippocampuses realize what’s going on. Within this framework, we also assume that there is a clear object of our forgetting, like keys we’ve misplaced or a face we’ve forgotten. But is it possible to remember something that we’ve never experienced? What kind of remembrance can take into account things that may not yet exist in our consciousness, the memories that lie dormant in veins and bones, soil and trees? What is the remembrance that makes us whole?

Robert Farrar Capon describes the theological term, anamnesis, this way:

Anamnesis [is] renewed knowledge, a re-membering, a re-cognition by the grace that raises those whom death has absolved…. He remembers our evil in grace as the only real thing it ever could have been. He takes away the flaming sword between us and our self-knowledge and brings us home to ourselves…. By the grace of [God’s] unaltered knowledge, see even the disasters of your history as the inexorable desire for the highest Good [he] always knew them to be. Nothing, therefore, is lost. Not a scrap of history.

In anamnesis, we are invited to re-member things as they truly are, as they exist in their reconciled state. We are invited to re-cognize the past with God’s hands in it, even if it seems that he was nowhere to be found. In anamnesis, we re-member our broken past, piecing it back together to imagine a more whole, just, honest now, a now that cannot change the past, but one that is inseparable from it, shaped by it, wounded and empowered by it.

Anamnesis captures my family’s history, its brokenness and beauty, and reminds me that God has been there all along. God was there when my great-grandparents escaped to the hills to run from soldiers during the Cultural Revolution, God was with them in the village, on the boat, at Angel Island, in Chinatown, and God is with my grandparents now as they nurse the traumatic wounds of the immigrant experience. And God was with my family when we learned to forsake that history for a chance at survival.

The immigrant experience has always, without exception, meant death. Often it is not a literal death (though sometimes it is), but to tear oneself from the fabric of home is a kind of death. Displacement is a form of death. The loss of culture and language, whether in America or Babel, is a form of death. Anamnesis, unlike our cheap ways of remembering, does not overlook this pain. It does not rush to solutions or forgiveness or celebration. It isn’t afraid to run its hands over the wounds or to trace the path made by scars. At the same time, though, we, the people of Resurrection, have not capitulated to death. Instead, in the anamnesis of our stories, we dip our hands into it without fear, touching the wounds as excruciating, elegant reminders that redemption is real:

Jesus’ Glorious Wounds are the perpetual sacrament of the remembrance, of re-cognition of evil as good. They are the Cross and the Passion as the Resurrection holds them.

Though the Asian American experience is not uniform, as our friend Fred Mok is quick to point out, all of our families have a story, and the road is always paved with grace. So when I say that we need a kind of remembrance for things that we aren’t even aware of, I mean that anamnesis is an invitation to dig, to ask our parents and grandparents what home looks like, what growing up felt like, what their hopes and dreams were when they were torn from the land. It’s also an invitation to study Asian American history and discover that there is language for all this beauty and brokenness, and that good folks along the way have put up signposts in the wilderness. Ultimately, anamnesis is an invitation to see our Asian American histories and identities as wonderfully, reverently, unapologetically beautiful. It is an invitation to see Jesus in the mirror and to believe, against everything the world has told you thus far, that he calls you good.

Anamnesis is also deeply communal; our re-membering is not just to piece together our identities within ourselves but to participate in the reconciliation that Jesus brings between communities. In this respect, it isn’t just about my history, but it’s also an invitation into the re-membering and rejoining of histories that are, at first glance, not mine. Because we know that before the Lamb, in the re-cognition of history, all of our divisions, all the ways we have harmed one another under the assumption that some people just weren’t as valuable as others, will be revealed as the lies they have always been. Anamnesis compels me to re-member my relationship with the Other, recognizing that it is impossible to inhabit my full humanity until my brothers and sisters inhabit theirs. More specifically, I mean that Asian American flourishing cannot be separated from Black and Brown liberation. And our stories are inextricably linked in the anamnesis of American history. And it is this re-membering of communities that stands as a threat to the systems that continue to oppress, the Empire that profits from our forgetting, the currents of white supremacy that sweep our stories away beneath its heavy undertow.

__________________________________________

My church was founded in 1880. Just a few months ago I discovered that in the same year, California passed its Anti-Miscegenation Laws that outlawed interracial marriages between a white person (woman) and any “Negro, Mulatto, or Mongolian.” This law mirrored many others around the country that prevented marriages between whites and blacks but California’s had the specific goal of cutting off its Chinese American population. Of course, two years after that, America passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, letting us know, just in case there was any confusion, that we definitively did not belong here. No one has ever mentioned this at church. No one has ever connected the dots for us or said, hey, this was the social context in which our church was birthed, the soil from which we sprouted forth. Perhaps this was for our survival. Perhaps it was just easier this way. But 136 years later, we are deeply, desperately in need of anamnesis, the kind of remembrance that brings healing to the ways in which our church has been wounded by systemic racism, the kind of remembrance that reunites us with black and brown communities as we fight for this city. We need the Holy Spirit to help us piece back together our stories of resilience, power, and survival in the face of evil.

So every Sunday when we meet, we have an opportunity to perform the subversive act of telling the Truth of our Story, the story of an exilic people and a God who has never left or forsaken. Every Sunday is the Great Reminder: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Keep it dangerous. Set it apart as a day of Truth in a thunderstorm of lies. Jesus also invites us, “Do this in my anamnesis…” because this kind of re-membering came at a high cost. A broken body, a pool of blood, a traumatized people. Every Sunday we stand at the foot of the cross where scattered pieces are strewn across the ground and we are invited to remember, to kneel down and mourn, pick up each piece one by one, and begin.

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The Next Generation of Asian American Churches

The earliest post on nextgenerasianchurch.com was published on November 22, 2005.

Holy crap. That was over 10 years ago. Let that sink in…

There were two posts published that day, one titled, “The conundrum of the Asian American Christian” and the other, “The slow death of the Asian American Church?

10 years ago… How old were you 10 years ago? Let that sink in…

David Park, in the latter of the two aforementioned posts, asked,

do i take the western church culture that was bequeathed to me, analyze it for its inefficiencies and turn into a humming evangelical engine with less management and fewer errors? how do i incorporate the church culture of my immigrant parents redeemed from shamanistic and ancestor worship rituals with its eastern worldview and notions of honor and face?

we sing the songs of hosanna, integrity, and maranatha. we sing like they sing. we preach like they preach. we look like our parents who know nothing of the sort. we pray like something in between. and we act like something in between. do we believe something in between then as well? and will we stick with the faith long enough to find out what else is before us?

In 2015, I sat in Tim Tseng’s living room after a discussion on Amos Yong’s book, “The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora.” I was hoping that this book would offer some answers for my questions about Asian American Christianity, many of which were similar to David’s in the above excerpt. We had Amos Yong on webcam and we asked him to expound upon the state of the Asian American church and he disclosed to us, rather candidly, that he actually did not have much experience in the Asian American church. And I suppose it was then that it hit me – when we will find the answers we’re looking for?

Should we be at all concerned that in 1996—1996, Lord have mercy—Helen Lee discussed our Silent Exodus and in 2005 David discussed our Slow Death and in 2013 I asked why we all went to Reality SF? Should it be unsettling that we’ve been asking variations of the same questions for the past 20 years? Questions about liminality, questions about (both Eastern and Western) syncretism, questions about the longevity of the churches we grew up in, questions about honor, shame, and face. Which, if we are honest, are all questions ultimately about ourselves, our own liminality, our own longevity, our own shame, our own desires to find healing, to see our cultures affirmed, desires laced with fears and anxieties that we might disappoint Jesus if we “focused on race too much.”

Needless to say, Amos Yong did not answer my questions. And that’s no knock on him or the many other theologians who have taken up these challenges, but the academy has always felt too far away from the every-week experiences, the Sunday frustrations, the empty seats, the am-I-being-genuine, where-do-I-belong, where-did-I-go-wrong kinds of ruminations that haunt lay folks and pastors in Asian America on the regular.

But perhaps we have also capitulated to a skewed logic. Perhaps we have operated on the assumption that yes, not only do the answers to our questions exist, but when we find them, we will discover some kind of long awaited wholeness. I wonder if even that is part of a Eurocentric, dualistic, Platonic consciousness, a captivity to our inability to hold things, questions, ourselves in a state of perpetual tension. And I wonder if our wholeness may actually be tied up in the tying up of things, the courage to acknowledge the many questions we have about ourselves, our faith, our culture(s), and the God who purports to have hands mixed up in it, and to hold all of it together in one both-and. I’d hate to throw in a yin-yang reference here, so I won’t. But I think hope for us as Asian American Christians looks like coming to peace with the many different parts of our identities, of course always hoping, praying, fighting for healing and deeper understanding, but also accepting that everything isn’t at war with everything else, that Asian/American, lost/saved, honor/shame, 1st gen/2nd gen, can all be held in tension. But I get it–it’s tiring. And that’s why we need each other.

I think about myself, my own fears, questions, and contradictions. I think about folks that I’ve worked with, Korean Americans, Pilipinos, Cambodian Americans, recent immigrants, third-gen folks, south Asians, queer Asians, and I wonder about all the ways we feel at war with ourselves. What will the next generation of Asian American leaders look like? In what ways do we need healing from Jesus? In what ways will we bring some healing to the world? I wonder how we will even redefine what it means to be Asian American, or Christian.

I don’t know if we will find the answers to all of our questions. I think the path will be made by walking. I think we are longing for a theology that is lived, real, messy, experimental, and utterly rooted in Jesus. And I think our churches will be fine. My church just celebrated our 135th anniversary. Our Chinese American senior pastor just retired, we have an old white woman pastor in the meantime, and our associate pastor is Cambodian American. How’s that for complexity? Our hope as a church will be tied up the in the tying up…

I believe that the “next generation” of Asian American church leaders (not necessarily churches) will be defined differently than those on whose shoulders we stand. This generation, these times, demand a different kind of leader, a nuanced kind of discipleship.

I believe the next generation of Asian American faith leaders will be defined by their in/abilities to engage the following four points:

  • The anamnesis, or re-membering, of our collective histories,
  • Our relationship to whiteness and anti-blackness,
  • The inclusion of women, queer folks, and non-East-Asians, and
  • The collective power of our voices

Over the next several weeks (please keep me accountable), I will be writing a post on each of these points, hoping to shed light on just what exactly it may look like to inhabit the next generation of Asian American Christianity—whatever the heck that is—and how God might be reorienting us, not necessarily removing the old questions, but migrating them from our mouths and minds to our hands and feet.

I’m not exactly sure what David Park was thinking when he decided to create a website called “Next Generasian Church,” not only because I’m curious what the term “next generation” meant to him at that time, but also because I’m curious if “generasian” was supposed to be some kind of cool or hip term that would catch on. (It’s not and it hasn’t). I’ve only spoken with David once on the phone and he seemed like a pretty awesome guy, so I can only assume that he knew what he was doing. Nonetheless, we are presented with an opportunity. The next generation can merely be something that happens to us, but we also have a chance to make it into something we can walk into with intentionality. You may not agree with my assessments of where we’re headed (you can explain why in the comments!), but I think we all have some sense, no matter how small, that our histories are important, our parents probably shaped us more than we would have liked, our cultures are worth holding onto, and our God, through all of this, is so excruciatingly faithful. Ultimately this is why we do what we do, why we ask these silly questions again and again, and why this blog, with its cool name that will never catch on, exists in the first place.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:3,5

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Reparative Therapy and the Asian American Church

Summary: Making gay people straight is not the most important goal. Brian Hui (pronounced “Who-E” – one syllable) and I riff on the helpfulness of treatment efforts that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. We talk about celibacy and its relationship with the gospel. Lastly, we segue into how Asian American’s cultural emphasis on family and belonging can help heal the mismanaged sexuality we all suffer from. Plus: a seemingly random connection with Weight Watchers.

No catchy intro music and it took us 5-8 minutes to warm up but we did our first podcast!

Happy New Year!

 

Related Links:

Mark Yarhouse’s popular book  on homosexuality

Christopher Yuan’s website

Robert Gagnon’s website 

Mark Yarhouse’s blog

Notes: 1) I highly recommend Christopher and his mom Angela Yuan’s memoir – cover above. It is ridiculously good and touches on some of the ideas we talk about in the podcast. 2) My upload speed at church is SO slow and it makes me sound like I’m a call-in guest and not the host. I will be working on this.

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Christianity Today features on honor and shame in cultures

The March 2015 issue of Christianity Today had a cover story about the good news about shame,Christianity Today, March 2015 and that was followed by three featured articles at Ed Stetzer’s blog. Ed wrote [note: revised the grammar for better standalone flow here] —

Recently, someone approached me with a fascinating topic: the spread of the gospel in honor-shame cultures.

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, and executive editor of Christianity Today wrote a remarkable piece on the gospel and public shame.

Jackson Wu shared four keys to evangelism in an honor-shame culture.

Jayson Georges shared about social media and identity.

David Park hosts Next Gener.Asian Church and serves at Open Table Community in Atlanta, GA. David shares about the unity and reconciliation we must seek amidst honor-shame cultures.

Andy Crouch: The Return of Shame
From online bullying to Twitter takedowns, shame is becoming a dominant force in the West. Thankfully, the Bible is full of language about shame. It’s just that most Westerners don’t see it.

How to Minister to People Shaped by Shame
Honor and shame dynamics can shape everything from evangelism to fundraising to family relationships.
Interview with Joe Ho (InterVarsity) by Andy Crouch

4 Keys to Evangelism in Honor-Shame Cultures
Jackson Wu shares about how evangelism can happen in honor-shame cultures throughout the world.

Our New Virtual Face: Reflections on Social Media and Identity
Jayson Georges reflects on the ways in which social media can tempt us to believe one of the oldest lies in history.

Dogs and Honor-Shame Culture: Unity Amidst Brokenness
Amidst honor and shame culture, we must pursue restoration and unity above all else.
David Park

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Saved by My Refugee Neighbors

Oak Park Santas 2-1

Here’s my essay recently posted on Christianity Today’s “This Is our City” series.  It offers snippets of our twenty years of urban ministry in Oakland, about which I’m writing a spiritual memoir. You can read the story here.

This is an excerpt about my Mien neighbor:

Faithfulness over Effectivenesss

While it is tempting to romanticize the kids and our communal life, the city’s violence born of inequality and structural racism has worn on me.  Over 2,000 individuals have been murdered during my time in Oakland and I have witnessed my share of shootings.  Even when we organized our neighbors and won a housing lawsuit that rebuilt Oak Park, the new apartment layout unintentionally eroded our sense of community. I had to move because of federal rental guidelines, and the families preferred to remain inside their enlarged units.

When the issues of our city appear too daunting, I likewise retreat and focus on my own personal life, where I have some semblance of control. After leaving Oak Park, my wife and I purchased a home two blocks away, and we built gates to keep out the city’s dangers. But, fortunately, our refugee neighbors continue to knock at our door to teach us kingdom values.

When we got our house, I borrowed a rototiller and cleared weeds in our huge yard. After an afternoon of hard toil, I gave up; all I had readied was a small plot 5’ by 10’.   The next day, I was surprised by a small, turbaned lady sitting up in our apricot tree, like Zaccheus.  Yien Saelee, a grandmother who is Iu Mien, was hacking branches.  She had seen that the lot was empty and came to start a garden with my permission. I agreed, but doubted her strength to do the work.

To my surprise, though, she returned with two other grandmothers, each armed with only a small machete, and cleared the entire yard.  They planted the Native American Three Sisters– corn, squash, and beans—and soon, my family received locally grown, organic vegetables to meet our daily required vitamins.

Yien later joined our church’s “Young Family” cell, which paradoxically came to include five grandmothers.  As we shared and prayed together, I learned more of her story.  During the Laotian Civil War, she had lost three sons—child soldiers fighting with the CIA—and her husband was assassinated.  Moving to our Oakland neighborhood as a refugee did not make her life much easier; she remained poor and constantly felt fatigued.  Her step-parents’ spirits tormented her such that they made searing burns on her arms.

After being resettled in Oakland, Yien became a Christian when God revealed himself in a dream to her.  Since then, she claims, “My heart is light now because I no longer have to bear the burden of the spiritual world; it was too heavy.”  Not only did she pray for us and support her own local Mien church, but also she regularly taped gospel songs to be sent to Laos.

In spite of their advanced years, Yien and her fellow grandmas collect aluminum cans and hawk their produce to supplement their scant disability benefits that were almost cut by welfare reform. Her sense of social justice isn’t about asserting her rights, but taking responsibility for others.  Always chipping in for our water bill, she states simply, “I’m happy for the opportunity not to starve.”

When my father passed away, Yien, her back bent from osteoporosis, took the time to stand with my family in our grief.  Despite our communication and cultural barriers, her unceasing prayers  and faithful presence comforted me.  Growing up with privilege, I came to expect to make my mark and to effect social change in Oakland.  Unfortunately, our neighborhood has not been transformed despite our church’s best efforts.  If anything, its persistent poverty reflects the growing inequality in our nation.

Yien models for me another way to make one’s mark.  The servant who is faithful is the one who enters the joy of the master. The persistent widow who prays boldly is the one who receives justice.

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Top 15 blog posts over the last quarter

Top Asian Americans on YouTube
Jeremy Lin & Asian American Male Sexuality
Is Francis Chan a sell-out?
popular Asian American musicians on YouTube
The model minority myth is a lie.
List of Asian American Christian Bloggers
Beauty Is The Beast?
The Search for Asian-American Worship
Article: The Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907
Why Churches Split: A Family Systems Explanation
Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak
West Coast vs. East Coast Asian America
Jeremy Lin, The Civil Rights Movement, & The Empowerment of Voice
“A Silent Exodus” Leads to Freedom
The Ties That Bind Must Break

 

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