Face Palming The Force Awakens’ Identity Politics

daisy-ridley-and-john-boyega-as-rey-and-finn-in-star-wars-the-force-awakensSpoiler alert. I’ve read many film reviews of latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, but my friend Jonathan’s critique is brilliantly written but funny and incisive especially in regards to the farcical nature of its diversity politics:

The lack of Asian characters in the first Star Wars films didn’t prevent me and my brother from enjoying the story, admiring the characters, collecting the toys, and re-enacting the epic lightsaber battles in our living room when we were young children. It was always the story of Luke, Han, and Leia that captured our attention. No amount of “diverse casting” can fix horrific writing and bad story-telling. I don’t see any Japanese crying that they can’t relate to Naruto because he looks more Danish than Japanese. And I certainly don’t hear any African-American men complaining that Dragon Ball Z’s overabundance of Asian-looking characters is a hindrance to their aspirations of one day achieving Super Saiyan-level strength. In the West, it seems “diversity” has now just become another item to check off on an every-growing list of criteria for socially acceptable media. But realistically, who among us is really so pedantic about such things like the proportion of races in each film such that we desire “equitable representation” over actual substance? Again, how is this anything other than making slaves of ourselves to a ridiculous idea?

Diversity for the sake of diversity is not the gospel. We do not find worth in having a contrived role in a polyester world. Jesus, whom we would now regard as a white man, died on our behalf as a perfect representative of all humanity. The disciples were also twelve white men. Jesus’ breakthrough on behalf of women and Gentiles came in the context of actual alienation, oppression, and marginalization. Skin color matters not because it brings out the full range of the visible spectrum but because there is an embedded history of injustice that accompanies our heritage. Fighting injustice certainly isn’t about asserting the superiority of woman over man in the manner Rey disparages Finn and how she is able to perfectly wield light saber the instant she picks it up. Likewise, Finn is the prototypical bumbling male who needs to be rescued by the female heroine.

I celebrate the ascent Jeremy Lin because he is a real person. He, by his own admission, is not a perfect basketball player. I identify with him as a Christian Asian-American man who is flawed and faces adversity like the rest of us but has managed, through the providential grace of God, to enjoy worldly success that most of us will never achieve. His story is real. But when I watch Star Wars, the storytelling is hampered by the CGI diversity in the same way a Michael Bay blockbuster attempts to distract us from the absence of plot with loud and vivid explosions.

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

Watch the Urbana 12 PANA Lounge Talks

During Urbana 12 (tri-ennial student missions conference), InterVarsity’s Asian American Ministries (AAM) hosted a Pan Asian North American (PANA) Lounge and platformed a speaker-series from leading Asian & Asian North American ministry leaders. Each talk was 8-minutes long, inspired by the short-form talks popularized by the likes of TED, TEDx, and Q.

One of the more provocative ones was Greg Hsu‘s intriguing talk, titled: “Asian North Americans: Divided by God?” or, more bluntly, “Why don’t non-Christian Asian Americans like our Asian fellowship?“

The IVCF AAM blog is posting a new video every day for the next 3 weeks. Watch them there >>

James Choung introduces the speakers-series and how Asian Americans can be redeeming our gifts.

How to have productive discussions about racism

What an impassioned discussion about race-based issues on ESPN’s First Take with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless after the ESPN headline incident where a racial slur was used and employees suffered severe consequences — one fired, one on probation.

While I agree this was a productive discussion on a sports television network, I wonder what it’d be like to have this kind of productive discussion in the Christian world / church context? Why is it so difficult to have this conversation that’s obviously much needed in American society at large, which in turns implies that it is at least just as necessary within the church?

And if an Asian American were at the table, in addition to the African American and Anglo Americans at that table, what would s/he have said?

post-tsunami order, asians in the library, and the multicultural church

there’s been more than one story talking about the calm and order in post-tsunami japan.  columnists are pointing out the lack of looting and lawlessness; kristof even prophesied the strength of japanese society when the earthquake hit.  the unspoken comparison, of course, is what happened five and half years ago in new orleans.  but the most memorable post-katrina quote, courtesy of kanye west, helps us understand why the social fabric of japan is woven differently:  “george bush hates black people.”

japan thrives because of its homogeneity.  and they’re not the only nations.  when the annual list of best nations is published, invariably, homogenous nations like denmark top the list.  and the challenge of the “other” has reached its breaking point all over western europe.  the leaders of germany, france, italy, and the united kingdom have all declared that multiculturalism has failed and is unwanted.

but america clings to the idea that our society is stronger because  of the melting pot salad bowl, or at least we say we do.  until the “other” starts to irritate us… like those asians in the library.

and are things really different in the church?  rebecca kim chronicles how campus fellowships experienced their own white flight when asians started outnumbering them in her book, god’s whiz kids.  church growth experts have consistently warned that the pursuit of diversity compromises growing numbers.  even the utopian church of acts 2 devolved into alarming ethnic strife by acts 6.

but the Bible (well, it’s mostly the new testament) stubbornly clings to this idea that the church should be comprised of all people—gender, race, culture, sexuality, and class.  it would be easier to be monocultural, but the apostles’ solution was not to divide into a jewish and gentile church, nor was it to force gentiles to adopt jewish practices.  if we could just ignore those that don’t look or think like us, it certainly would be more efficient and effective.  but our crucified and resurrected LORD rarely seems to take that route.

“Get Over It”? Not So Fast…My Thoughts on the Deadly Vipers Controversy

We have a guest post today from Helen Lee, editor of the book, Growing Healthy Asian American Churches. Helen is an accomplished Asian American Christian woman we’ve admired on this blog before, as DJ Chuang notes in his interview with Helen a couple of years ago, “She is also cofounder of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, and formerly an editor at Christianity Today.” So when she sends us her input on the last week’s controversy, we post it. Plus, it makes a little announcement for how we see this blog growing…enjoy!

I’ve been following the recent controversy surrounding the book Deadly Vipers with great interest. Numerous people that I respect and admire have already made articulate, thoughtful, and thought-provoking assessments about the situation, and I have largely agreed with the sentiment amongst those, Asian American and otherwise, who felt the book’s haphazard use of Asian-related cultural symbols and the regretful choices of marketing strategies were in poor taste. I don’t really want to re-hash why; that seems like old territory now. But I would like to reflect on what I saw amongst those who did not seem to understand the outcry.

I read a number of comments in the blogosphere along the lines of, “I don’t understand what all the fuss is all about,” or “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” or more to the point, “Get over it!” And to some extent, I can understand those reactions. As much as we may try, it is impossible for us to ever fully be able to walk in another’s shoes. I will never know what it is like to grow up as, for example, a Caucasian male here in America. Or a black woman, or a even a Korean-American man. Of course there will be shades of overlap, some larger than others, but we can never really know what another person ‘s life experience is or has been.

That, however, does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to understand. And conversely, those of us who have felt misunderstood in some way must do more to explain our own cultural context and background better. We cannot assume that another person will automatically understand what it means to be Asian American or any other minority in America—and I use the word “minority” loosely, with the knowledge that it will not be long before there is no ethnic majority in the United States, Caucasian or otherwise. We cannot assume that every American company will automatically know what it means to be culturally sensitive to the broad spectrum of diversity present in our country and world today. Perfect cultural understanding is an ideal that may never fully be reached this side of heaven, which means that we all must be willing to show one another grace when we feel someone has wronged us in this area, as well as being quick to offer apologies when we make offenses, which we all have the capacity to do.

So in the meantime, because it could be a long way until the vision of Revelation comes to pass, when every tongue and tribe of every nation bow before the heavenly host in perfect unity, what can we do to further peace and reconciliation amongst those who possess vastly different cultural backgrounds? One simple and yet powerful answer could be this: we need to share our stories with one another with greater regularity, and simultaneously take the time to read and hear the stories of others who are different from us in order to help develop empathy and understanding across the various chasms which divide us, such as race, gender, and class, just to name a few. We particularly need to be willing to reveal our points of pain from the past, not for the sake of trying to bash others, but to provide a window into understanding our experiences that would not be there otherwise.

To this end, a small group of like-minded individuals, who share similar concerns about where to go from the DV controversy, has been in dialogue about creating a place where such narratives could be collected and shared. We’re grateful to David Park, who has offered this blog for this purpose, although narratives will be welcome from any voices, Asian American or not. The details are still being formed, so we’ll let people know at some future date when the site is ready for people to submit their stories. Our hope is that by creating an online portal in which people could come and share their own personal narratives about their cultural backgrounds and the various scars and triumphs they have experienced along the way, they can be encouraged by finding similar stories and seeing that they are not alone, or by educating others through their narratives. It has the potential to become a rich repository of experiences that could help us all become more culturally sensitive, whatever our background, because there is no end to the learning and growing we can each do in this regard.

To illustrate…if I say something like, “I found the promotional videos used by the authors of Deadly Vipers to be offensive for their insensitive characterizations of Asians”, that has one kind of impact. But if I tell you that when I was in college, there was a group of fellow male students (all Caucasian) who regularly called me “Heren Ree” with a mocking Asian accent (despite my protests) and labeled me the “dorm Geisha” whenever I’d bake a batch of cookies to share with my fellow students, that might give a little more insight into why I cringed when I watched those videos.

Or if I were to tell you about the time in sixth grade when my classroom teacher pointed out to the whole class that I couldn’t check the word “Caucasian” in the form we were filling out while everyone else could, and how much shame I felt as the eyes of my classmates peered at me in curiosity, as if I were some sort of circus exhibit…that might help to explain why it is hard to let go of feeling marginalized by the fact that I am of Asian descent, and why it took a long time for me to affirm and appreciate my own ethnic background. Those kinds of early experiences leave deep impressions and are not easily forgotten, yet they can flood your memories when you witness your cultural heritage being flaunted in inappropriate ways.

Or if I were to tell you that my parents have never affirmed my vocational gifts and leanings in the area of writing and publishing because it is not considered as a lucrative or respectable as being a doctor or lawyer, and that most Asian immigrant parents want their children to have the financial security and prestige that they themselves lacked while slaving away at menial jobs after entering this country, then perhaps it’s clearer why there is a dearth of Asian Americans in publishing to help inform editorial and marketing-related decisions, and that young Asian Americans need to be proactively encouraged and mentored (most likely from non-Asian Americans in the industry) in order to consider publishing as a career, since there are so few fellow Asian American role models to lead the way for them.

Or if I tell you that one of the first things I did when we were planning a move to our current neighborhood was to check the demographic breakdown of the local elementary school, to get a sense of whether my son would be the only Asian-American in his class or not; that my heart sank when I saw that despite living in a suburb of Chicagoland, this particular school had very few minorities at all, and that every day I feared t
hat he would get teased or taunted by other children who would label him “different” due to his ethnic background; then perhaps it’s easier to understand that even in this day and age of Obama, race matters, and it makes a difference in my daily, practical life and in the lives of my children.

Incidents such as the Deadly Vipers controversy are important to discuss and understand rather than dismiss, and perhaps these brief tales from my own life help in some small way to explain why Asian Americans reacted as vehemently as they did. Looking towards the future, my hope is that as we share our personal stories and gain a greater understanding of and sensitivity to one another’s cultural contexts, our posture and attitude towards those with different backgrounds from ourselves will be less adversarial and more compassionate. Less “get over it” and more “help me understand.” Hopefully that is something we can all agree on.

Is Francis Chan a sell-out?

Is Francis Chan a sell-out?

Let me backtrack to explain where this comes from.  I had the chance to attend the last day of the Orange Conference here in Atlanta.  The Catalyst people produce this conference geared for leaders of youth and children’s ministries.  Lots of NorthPoint people, lots of Southeast evangelical Christianity folk.

I arrived late to the morning session and slipped into the back of Gwinnett Arena, and the first thing I noticed is the sea of whiteness.  I’ve been to a good share of conferences:  Willow Creek, NPC, even a couple Emergent events, but this gathering of over 3000 people (my estimate) was easily 99% white.  When I had a chance to look at the conference guidebook, I saw that the ENTIRE planning staff is white.  (For a taste of what I saw, click here for the 2008 highlight video.  Chan makes a cameo in there.)

My problem isn’t with white people getting together like this; my problem is how oblivious people were to the monochromatic gathering.  And I base their ignorance on the language– both on stage in the general sessions and in breakouts.  The presenters do not hesitate to speak for the whole church, failing to acknowledge that they are really speaking for the white church in America.  This tendency to generalize their experiences betrays a lack of awareness that their skin color has shaped their faith.

Which brings us back to the opening question.  Francis Chan has been making rounds on the Christian conference circuit: Student Life, Catalyst, NPC, among others.  The underlying reason being he brings a touch of diversity (he even admits this in an interview).  The problem is he’s not yellow!  When we long for diversity it is to see GOD’s activity in a different context so that it might challenge our faith.  I’m not doubting the truth of Chan’s messages or teaching; just reading the synopsis of his new book sounds very convicting.  But none of his theology springs from his life as an Asian-American; I haven’t read the book, but I used Amazon’s search function and couldn’t find one occurrence of “Chinese” or “Asian.”

I don’t really think he’s a sell-out; I believe Chan is living faithfully to what GOD has called him to be.  But I do think Chan is being used by white evangelicals to alleviate their unwillingness to engage race and faith.  Chan is welcome at these conferences only because his message could come just as easily from a white male.

Sometimes a little diversity is worse than no diversity.

Addendum, June 6: I take back some of the incendiary language in this apology.  Does that mean I should delete what has already been written?  I really don’t know.  Anyway, please read both posts before commenting.