Did Muhammed Ali Sway You To Be Muslim?

I’m going to put it out there that Muhammed Ali probably did NOT make you investigate Islam or look at it differently or even gain any affection for it.

Here’s why. He’s a boxing legend. Maybe the G.O.A.T. and you aren’t already Muslim and/or Black. He is “other” to you and remains an objectively “other.” And he was objectively a great boxer. And the general public could enjoy him for that and ignore his religious beliefs. If anything, his beliefs seemed like a huge distraction for the pugilistic fanatic. You had to care about who Ali was, not just what he did and what he projected, to be compelled to investigate what he believed.

It’s not simply an aside to say that Ali was a Muslim. He was a deeply spiritual and devout person. And he may not have had influenced you at all, but for a generation of young Black men, I think Muhammed Ali’s conversion to Islam in 1965 and his subsequent legacy made quite an impression. Why? Because to young Black men in the 1960’s, Muhammed Ali was not “other” to them; they could not be objective about this physically gifted, articulate, and charismatic figure who taunted his opponents in the ring and even the US government when they sought to draft him. Muhammed Ali’s faith spoke to them and made an enormous impression on a generation of African Americans in this country.

So when we talk about Jeremy Lin and how he has gained a platform for representing Jesus Christ, just recognize that my caution for him is that he stewards his Christian witness well, not for the masses and the adoring basketball fanatics, but for the young Asian American. Because the rest of the public will give him kudos for saying all the right things about giving credit to God and thanking his Lord and Savior, he is another Christian athlete who gets the stage, joining the ranks of Tebow, Kurt Warner, Tony Dungy, etc. But not to me. As an Asian American Christian male, I cannot be objective about Jeremy Lin, he  is not “other” to me.

And this is why I don’t want him to be the typical hat-tipping Christian celebrity athlete, because Asian Americans need a self-aware, community-conscious person who understands that his witness could sway Asian Americans who come from a different strain of faith ranging from ancestor worship to Zen; that he could speak to depression and suicide that goes on in our communities; that he could rally Asian American churches to get over their infighting and greed; that he could speak to the immigration issue and Asians might listen. And he might sway a generation of Asian Americans that would never darken the doors of a church. But in order for that to happen, Lin’s Christian witness must not be cliche, nor must he subscribe to being “a nice guy”. That would be an opportunity wasted. And from what I can tell about Jeremy Lin, he doesn’t waste opportunities.

Why Asian American Christian Love for Jeremy Lin is well, Idolatrous

Why Asian American Christian Love for Jeremy Lin is well, Idolatrous
by Russell Jeung on Sunday, February 12, 2012

I just wrote that title for hyperbole’s sake, but I do want to raise some issues.

Every Asian American pastor seems to be posting about Jeremy Lin on FB. The New York Times even just came out with an article about him as an Asian American Christian. He’s the Taiwanese Tebow!

Like Michael Chang, our last great Asian American male athlete, Jeremy Lin thanks God every chance he gets. Faith must play some factor in their success in overcoming stereotypes, because as noted sociologist of religion Carolyn Chen writes, “the sacred makes people utterly reorganize their lives for something outside of themselves.” By playing not just for themselves, but for God and His Kingdom, they have that much more motivation to do well and represent.

Asian Americans, and Asian American Christians (AACs) in particular, are “linsane” over Jeremy because he’s one of us. We can claim him, since he’s the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent in league history (I like how we have to identify his ethnicity specifically so we can know who can authentically identify with him).

Moreover, we embrace him because he’s overcome odds to start in the NBA. He’s endured racial taunts on the courts. He was stereotyped so he wasn’t recruited by the Pac 10. He got cut twice from other teams (Doh! Warriors!).

But c’mon, he grew up in Palo Alto and went to Harvard. That doesn’t really constitute being underprivileged.

What scares me more about AACs’ love for Jeremy Lin is that it may be based on idolatrous ethnic pride rather than genuine Christian fellowship. After all, how many of us really have prayed and shared communion with Jeremy Lin?

I’m reminded of when the children of Israel wanted a king instead of God. They wanted a real person in flesh and blood, somebody that they could call their own and follow. I hope we aren’t watching more Jeremy Lin on youtube than we are praying…

I also recall how Paul would rather boast about his weaknesses, not his strengths. We AACs seem to take pride in Jeremy Lin, because he’s famous, athletic and Asian. We’re happy that he’s winning, on highlights, and playing as well as the brothers. Yet I haven’t heard anyone boast about his weaknesses; where’s our biblical values?

And I think about how Paul wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our pride and boasting isn’t that we’re so great, but because God is gracious.

So if we are to boast in Jeremy Lin, it should be about his unselfish play and deference to his teammates. It should be about his humility before God and his desire to minister to the underprivileged. But it shouldn’t be about empty ethnocentrism or pride in man’s accomplishments.

If we are to identify and find solidarity with anyone, it should not be the powerful and noble, but the weak and oppressed.

[reposted with permission]

Jeremy Lin, The Civil Rights Movement, & The Empowerment of Voice

I am going to make some bold statements here, that you will probably think are crazy.  But hear me out.

First, imagine something with me.  What would it have been like to be part of the Civil Rights Movement in America?  To see the Washington Monument towering above, and hear the chants of the hundreds of thousands of citizens and leaders — African American or not, Christian or not — gathering together?

What would it have been like to be on the outside, to look on with interest, wondering whether to participate or not?

And what is it like, for those looking back on it now, wishing they had done more than just observe?  For those who could have been part of something bigger than themselves?

Continue reading “Jeremy Lin, The Civil Rights Movement, & The Empowerment of Voice”

Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak

Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak
by Russell Jeung on Sunday, February 12, 2012

I ain’t gonna’ lie. I’ve followed Jeremy Lin’s basketball career since he was at Palo Alto High. I was proud that the GS Warriors signed him. And when I youtubed the clip of his wicked crossover and dunk against Washington recently, I was gratified that an Asian brother could ball.

And yet, I’ve also been feeling vaguely uncomfortable with my man-crush on Jeremy. I think Asian Americans, especially males, are a little too linsane about him, and that should give us pause. Why are we so proud to see him succeed in the NBA? Are we so hero-starved, as emasculated Asian American males (EAAMs), that we’ll fawn over any slight success against whites and blacks?

Continue reading “Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak”

Love and Basketball (My Ode and Caution to Jeremy Lin)

I love basketball. I love it. I get all giggly inside when I get the chance to run with the guys, talk smack, point fingers, and “oooh” and “ahhh” with the rest of them. I love that the game can grow with however many people are there and people of various skill/effort levels can participate. It’s just one of those games/sports you can invite people to join in, even right in the middle of the game. It’s a great game.

But I have to admit, I’m terrible at it. Don’t have a reliable jumper. Turn it over like pancakes. Can’t dribble.  I just sweat a lot. Basically, I’m the equivalent of a human folding chair that players use to dribble around in practice. But what can I say, I love the game.

And now, though I’ve been watching him with hope and anticipation for some time now,  Jeremy Lin has struck the NBA like lightning. And suddenly this game  I love is now featuring this guy that could have been one of my youth kids, it could be one of my college friends, and in some fantasy world, it could have been me. Continue reading “Love and Basketball (My Ode and Caution to Jeremy Lin)”