Excerpt from “Can Churches Separate Mental Illness and Shame? Rick Warren confronts one more “last taboo.”” – cover story in Christianity Today by Christine A. Scheller (3/31/14):: “In some Asian populations, we know there are not even words for therapy or suicide…”
Language shapes culture. I’ve also heard it said that language and culture are intricately connected. Another dimension of that came to light recently as I listened to this NPR TED podcast episode, Does The Subjunctive Have A Dark Side? [transcript] – where a portion of a TEDx talk delivered by a 2nd-gen Vietnamese-American explained how the absence of a subjunctive mood with verbs in Vietnamese (and by inference, Asian languages), resulted in a huge difference in how they experienced life, for himself and his 1st-gen Vietnamese dad.
I had to find the full talk and here it is. Watch that TEDxDirigo talk Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive by Phuc Tran::
The video is worth watching in its entirety. (For those that read faster than they listen, the full transcript of Phuc Tran’s talk is posted at racialicous.) I’ve excerpted keen insights below (and emphasis added are mine):
… I remember talking to my dad about the subjunctive, and because he wasn’t a native English speaker, he didn’t understand all the nuances of the subjunctive. “Listen, Dad. You can say something like ‘If it hadn’t rained, we would have gone to the beach.’” And his response? “That’s a stupid thing to say. Why are you talking about something that didn’t happen?”
… The subjunctive mood allows us to look into the future and see multiple, highly nuanced possibilities with just a little sprinkling of could’s, would’s and might’s.
… I didn’t know it then, but I was pondering things that my parents couldn’t ponder at all because of the English subjunctive.
… So what happens if a language doesn’t have the subjunctive? What if a language can’t express the idea of something that could have happened? And what if that language were Vietnamese? For my father, there were no alternate realities… There was just what happened and what didn’t happen. There were no sustained moments of contemplating what could have been for him because Vietnamese didn’t allow it.
… For my parents’ survival, however, this lack of the subjunctive was fundamental to their resiliency. They were able to provide for me and my brother, able to find the strength to do what needed to be done in part because they didn’t expend psychic energy on what could have been.
… There I was, hovering between two very different worlds: Vietnamese with its stark indicative, and English with its mirage of the subjunctive.
… The subjunctive helped me envision what I could be; it allowed me to be creative and to entertain crazy visions of “what if.” But as I unpacked all those possibilities, I also fell prey to the dark side of the subjunctive, the idea of “should have.” The idea of what “should have” didn’t improve my present or my future–it clouded my ability to see what actually was because I was fixated on what wasn’t.
… The subjunctive allows us to innovate, but it also allows us to become mired in regret. The indicative does not allow us to imagine at all, but it does allow us to talk about ourselves and our experience in real terms…
Can you relate? For decades I’ve worked at bridging communications between first-generation and second-generation Asian Americans, attempting to better connect with my own parents, as well as for my work with ethnic Asian churches. Not only are language and culture tightly connected together, so also is my personal identity with them, and all of that shape how I see the world and experience life.
As it is with any cross-cultural comparisons and contrasts, the temptation is to pick what’s better and what’s worse in each culture. Don’t fall for that. Different cultures are just that, they’re different. And depending on the context, some cultural artifacts work better in certain situations. Cultivate the cultural-savvy to navigate in our increasingly-diverse multi-cultural world.
Aside: This is the nomenclature I’m using for Asian Americans. First-generation refers to foreign-born Asian Americans that immigrated to the USA after age 12. Second-generation refers to both foreign-born Asian Americans that immigrated under age 12 and of course all native-born Americans of Asian ancestry. Age 12 is not a magical number of changing worldview, but from my life experience, that seems to be the inflection point for which culture holds the greater influence on one’s identity.
Leadership in the Asian American church and ministry context requires you to stay sharp and keeps you on your toes. One of the best, and highly-valued, ways of doing that is through formal education. When you successfully graduate from this D.Min. program, you’ll have the title of Doctor, just like Dr. Rick Warren, Dr. Tim Keller, and Dr. Ben Shin; they too have Doctor of Ministry degrees.
Talbot Seminary (formally known as the Talbot School of Theology) launched its 3-year Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program with an Asian American Ministry Track last summer, and I was privileged to be invited as a guest lecturer last year and will be there again this June 2014. Dr. Ben Shin is the Faculty Mentor and primary instructor, and he’s engineered the program to allow for rolling admission by new students! This means you don’t have to wait 3 years for the next cycle of the D.Min. cohort to convene, you can enter the program any year!
The dates for this year’s summer residency is June 2-13, 2014 with a focus on Asian-American Leadership Challenges:
Asian-American leaders can expect particular challenges in ministry. These issues will be explored with the goal of preparing a proactive plan to overcome these challenges. This will include biblical training in conflict resolution, conducting a healthy staff, building a resource network for crisis situations, and developing a personal support system.
Application deadline is January 20th. Request free information @ talbot.edu/dmin/request-info/ to let Dr. Shin know of your interest and give me a call @ 949-243-7260 to get my unofficial no-pressure perspective about this program.
Overview, goals, and more details for this Asian American Ministry Track of the Doctor of Ministry program at Talbot School of Theology is @ talbot.edu/dmin/asian-american/ plus 6 videos of Dr. Ben Shin explaining even more. And one more thing, watch this video for first-hand stories from 3 of the first cohort’s students (Daniel Eng, Thomas Lee, John “JP” Park):
By the way, Daniel Eng re-energized his blogging after last year’s cohort at aapastor.com. Aside: popular and/or famous pastors with D.Min. degrees: Dr. Rick Warren, Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Ben Shin, Dr. Leith Anderson, Dr. John C. Maxwell, Dr. James MacDonald, Dr. Mark DeYmaz, Dr. Raymond Chang .. (others? add a comment)
Spontaneous combustion of ideas are so much more exhilarating than a predictable routine to me. And the conversations lit up my switchboard and I want to share one of them with you.
Yesterday I’m chatting over late afternoon tea with a couple of new friends from connections via Telos Ventures (and I’d venture to say you’ll be hearing more about them in the years ahead, or sooner) and the conversations overflowed to dinner from a gracious family’s hospitality. And there was something wonderful and cozy about being in a home instead of a restaurant. The chance meeting was quite a divine appointment, as that echoed the host’s devotional that morning.
I have greater hope for this next generation of Asian Americans than ever (and that’s where I want to give of my time and energy). I believe that being Asian American is more, not less, than being either Asian only or American only.
Being bicultural had been perceived as a liability, because it felt like not fitting in anywhere. Perception doesn’t have to define reality. Let’s reframe that.
In a fast-changing world that we find ourselves in with global travel and increasingly accelerating connectivity via mobile and social, bicultural means built-in agility to adapt into more contexts than someone monocultural.
And becoming culturally adaptable is not something you can acquire through the education of book learning or get training for. I’ve been pondering that it can only be developed through life experience. The ones that have to live in multiple cultures before age 21 will have innately honed skills via nurture that post-21 people will be notably lagging.
The wealth of life experience, educational attainment, and financial status of accomplished Asian Americans could in due time do so much more good than ever, a bigger dent in the universe, a bigger difference, a greater contribution, or whatever metaphor that calls out this percolating potential. Gaining for oneself is far less satisfying than giving of oneself for the blessing of many.
James Choung has noted this prediction:
Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe studied American generations as far back as 1584. Based on their findings, they took some guesses at what future generations would look like. … In their book Generations, they predicted that Asian Americans would be “a major cultural and intellectual force” by 2025 — like the German descendants in the 1880s and 1890s, and their Jewish counterparts of the 1930s and 1940s.
Listening to the churchm.ag podcast and this quote echoed out to me, “You don’t know your voice until you use it…” (Jon Acuff).. and with recent activities I’ve been thinking on how the perception of Asian Americans have been shaped by stereotypes perpetuated by traditional and mainstream media. (I’m tempted to call this controlled media vs. uncontrolled media splattered across social networks.)
I’ve listed some of the more active bloggers and voices in the Asian American Christian world in the past at: Top church blogs by minority leaders (2010), connecting with multiethnic church bloggers (2011), and women Asian American Christian ministry leaders. Now there’s a comprehensive list over at AsAmChristian Blogroll, compiled by Huan-Zung Hsu aka Ghozt Writer.
Allow me to mention 5 bloggers who are particularly active and engaging during this season that I’m reading:
Peter Chin (peterwchin.com) -a Korean American pastor who is currently pastoring in a mostly African-American church in the very urban Washington DC. Peter’s very articulate in his blogging craft, and his educational background certainly helps. He’s had media exposure on the likes of Christianity Today, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR, Washington Post. And as a husband of a cancer survivor, Peter had drafted a manuscript to tell the story of his journey alongside of his wife’s battle while pregnant that took 3 years to find a publisher. I know his blogging pace will be competing for his time with urban ministry, family, and a book to write, but I love reading his perspectives.
Kathy Kahng (morethanservingtea.wordpress.com)- InterVarsity’s regional multiethnic ministries director, a contributor to “More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith” (InterVarsity Press), got recent media exposure for co-authoring (with Helen Lee) An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church on Cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church from Asian American Christians United. Kathy shared the back story at The Open Letter, How We Got Here & Where We Hope to Go. Kathy was also one of the speakers at the Q Focus: Women & Calling event. Kathy blogs with an acquired-taste blend of everyday life and pointing out issues.
J.S. Park (jsparkblog.com + jspark3000.tumblr.com)- a Korean American pastor in Florida making room for “.. the honesty we all long for and the grace we all need. You have questions: let’s work through the answers.” I love the dialogue he’s fostered. I’m guessing he gets a ton of questions submitted via his tumblr ask page and/or in person. Noticed that he just delivered an entire sermon in spoken word!
Vivian Mabuni (vivianmabuni.com)- a veteran campus ministry leader with Epic Movement and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade) and writing a traditionally-published forthcoming book about her journey as a cancer survivor. It’s already got a title = Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts coming April 2014.
Anonymous J Lee (anonymousjlee.wordpress.com) – an Asian American minister who started blogging actively to process his ideas out loud after attending the 2nd National Multiethnic Church Conference hosted by Mosaix Global Network. (I don’t think I got to meet him there, and if I did, I wouldn’t know.) I’ve enjoyed his refreshing candor and honesty to raise questions and perspectives that are rarely ever articulated. He’s blogging anonymously for certain reasons, and when/if he’s ready to reveal his identity, that’ll help fill in the gaps in his narrative that is currently only occasionally alluded to. His quote “.. articulating what Asian American Christians bring is hard.. we need some space to figure it out” prompted me to write this blog post (since he doesn’t allow blog comments) — and, yes, we need space, and time, and I believe social media affords us unlimited space to use our voices, if only more of us will. (I realize we all have other responsibilities and day jobs etc etc, and you know what, so do I..)
What other voices have you noticed lately that’s contextualizing an Asian American Christian life? (Notice my use of the word “contextualizing” to denote the bicultural/multicultural perspectives of those who choose to identify with the English-speaking multi-Asian social location, recognizing there are also many Asian American Christians that self-identify with Americans generically or solely with their specific Asian ethnicity.)
I was delighted to meet Jon Ido Warden earlier this year and receive a review copy of his self-published book, “Resisting Grace: Our Avoidance and His Persistence.” I confess that I have only read one-third of it, so what I can write is a book reaction and a first impression of the book overall, so you may consider this book as a resource for your life and/or for someone you know. How the author described the book on its about page:
Writing this book has been a five year process in my life. The book worked on me as much as I worked on it. Resisting Grace is about God working to bring about changes in our lives and we resisting it. It is about understanding what his grace is doing as well as understanding our resistance so as to learn to cooperate and experience greater works of grace. It’s about what is God trying to do in my life. It is about hearing him, being stirred by him, moved by him, stripped by him, filled by him, transformed by him. It’s knowing He wants to change you. It’s knowing change comes from him. It’s knowing it is not in formulas of self-helps techniques but in the dynamic power of grace that only comes from intimacy with a God who works within. It’s knowing why we resist him and how we can start moving with instead of against with such a good work of grace.
What I think is particularly and specifically about this book is the context from which the text emerges. I’ve heard of Jon’s reputation and renown for his ministry and impact among Asian American Christians, a topic that I personally also have great interest, and he’s clocked in over 35 years in ministry both in the church and in clinical settings. Jon draws from insights from the Scriptures and his personal, professional, and ministry life (like most other Christian authors) but his voice is distinctly Asian-American (and there is no one Asian American context, but rather, many Asian American perspectives.) Jon is Japanese-American, grew up in the US, and has experienced first hand the cultural & identity struggles. Thus I find the book to be written from a contemplative and reflective perspective, with occasional allusions to a bicultural context; the majority of the book is written with our shared common humanity in mind and thus accessible to non-Asian-Americans also.
The word grace is a very powerful word, because it points to the power of God, the infinitely powerful God, but it’s kind of lost its meaning because the word grace is used differently by different Christians. We say we want amazing grace, but do we really? Do we recognize grace when it shows up? Jon helps us to see the power of grace at work by taking a closer look at our human tendencies to resist God’s grace, and gently helps readers to remove those hurdles and barriers by raising our awareness and kindly showing our blind spots. I think what’s most valuable is the book’s description of the 5 stages of grace: illuminating, awakening, determining, deconstructing, and empowering. Just as the 5 stages of grief (popularized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, adapted as 6 stages of grief by Pastor Rick Warren,) has helped so many through the intensive and essential process of working through loss, Jon’s 5 stages of grace gives a useful framework to guide others to experience life change by responding to God’s grace. (Granted, thus, and I’ll say, that, this book is not an easy read, think more Dallas Willard and less Francis Chan.)
Also want to mention that Jon Ido Warden is part of a team blog, the Slanted View, where they share reflections on faith, brokenness, culture and manhood from a Pan-Asian American perspective: “We are a group of men meeting to explore our stuff regarding faith, culture and manhood. We come from several Asian American cultures: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Philipino, Vietnamese, East Indian, Thai, Taiwanese.”
Aside: for those of you that are still reading to this point, I’m going to shift gears and share a personal commentary on my book-reading habits. The printed book is big, 265 pages in a paperback. I get more than my share of printed books to review, in the mail, because of this blog, and I’m no longer able to read nor review most of them, unfortunately. In this season of my life (and I can’t say how long these personal seasons last for me, but I can say that’s my current pace and phase of reading habit), the momentum of my content input is currently predominantly listening to podcasts, scanning social media via tweets and status updates, occasionally skimming blogs, reading ebooks on my Kindle app (either on tablet on smartphone), with printed books at the bottom of the stack. So to get my attention, at least in this season of my life, social media is best, digital media is second, and printed media last. All that could change in an instant. And that’s the nature of digital life in the 21st century. Change happens fast. What a contrast to grace, something that more often does its work slowly over time, with an occasional burst of dramatic transformation.
I will be speaking as a special guest in a college English class on Thursday December 5th, 9:00-10:15am in Sutherland 125 at Biola University (La Mirada, CA). I’ve been invited by Dr. Joshua Smith (Assistant Professor in the Biola English Department) for the “Race & Ethnicity in American Literature” course to share my experiences & perspectives, in his words: “… touch on what happened at the Exponential Conference, discuss the response to the incident by the Asian American believers and also the Christian community at large, discuss your leadership in reconciliation efforts, and segue into other important issues in the Asian American community that you think are relevant.”
[added 12/5/13] my slides for “Race & Ethnicity in Evangelicalism: an Asian American perspective” + raw recording of class audio (mp3)
I’ll be synthesizing my commentary from these articles I’ve published on my blog as well as on Ed Stetzer’s blog at Christianity Today, and make references to related items:
- Work in Process at Exponential West 2013
- Blogging at #mosaix2013 Multi-ethnic Church Conference
- At the Exponential blog: Exponential Addressing Asian-American Leaders’ Concerns
- An Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church (Oct. 13, 2013; NextGenerAsianChurch.com)
- Saddleback pastor Rick Warren gets reaction from Asian Christians (OC Register)
- My 3-part blog series at EdStetzer.com blog:
- 9 Things About Asian American Christianity: Asian Americans are accelerating in their role in participating and shaping the future of the American church at large
- Why Evangelicals Don’t Know Asian Americans: We have quite a way to go towards ending racial stereotyping in Christendom
- Ethnicity, Context, and Mission: A Brighter Future for the Church—DJ Chuang shares his thoughts on the future of the Church
I’m anticipating a robust discussion in the class, and I’ve heard several others will be visiting this session too. While I probably will not be able to livestream the session for a global conversation, I do want to invite your questions and comments here–add your comment below. One of several (or many?) questions I’ve heard floating out there is “what’s next?”
Yes, Biola University is making room for multicultural topics like this in its curriculum. The course description for “Race & Ethnicity in American Literature” is:
The literary works of ethnically diverse Americans are the focus of this course, which examines some of the complexities of racial and ethnic identity as it is represented in this nation’s literature. While much of our readings will have been written by people of color, we will also explore texts by ostensibly “white” authors. Such an approach is motivated by the belief that topics of race and ethnicity are not simply the domain of people of color, but that as members of a larger community, it is important to understand areas of difference as well as our commonalities. One aim of this course is to increase our understanding and appreciation of cultural differences. Additionally, this course is intended to explore the process of racialization, specifically within the context of the Unites States. As we survey these readings we will put them into conversation with each other as well as with other texts from the cannon, considering what it means to study American Literature.
Many people find lists and selecting the best of the best because there’s too much information out there (and I say that to opt-out from that category for myself.) So, in response to a tweet, here’s a list of Asian American pastors that regularly preach and teach at their churches and particularly contextualize the Gospel for all peoples, those who are bicultural, interracial, and multiethnic (in contrast to some who may speak from a generic Gospel perspective, not that there’s anything wrong with that; listed in alphabetical order):
- Cory Ishida of Evergreen SGV evergreensgv.org/sermons
- David Park of Open Table Community (Atlanta GA) opentablecommunity.org/messages
- Eugene Cho of Quest Church (Seattle WA) seattlequest.org/view/sermons
- Ken Uyeda Fong of Evergreen LA ebcla.org/index.php/category/resources
- Kevin Doi of Epic Church (Fullerton CA) epicchurch.net/Talks
- Kevin Haah of New City Church LA newcitychurchla.com/sermons/
- Ray Chang of Ambassador Church (Brea CA) ambassadorchurch.org/media/
- Wayne Ogimachi of Lighthouse Christian Church (Bellevue WA) lighthouse2001.org/go/Current_Message_Series
This is a subjective list compiled in response to this tweet “[@brentonbalvin] who are some top Dricsoll, Chandler, Piper, -esque Asian preachers I should be podcasting?” and I welcome your comments and additions to the list too. (ed.note: I took his inquiry as one for Asian American preaching rather than Reformed preaching by Asian Americans)
There are many more good Asian American pastors serving their churches—see my list of next-generation multi-Asian churches; the list above are those that come to mind when I think of active sermon podcasts. This means to be listed, there needs to be podcast feeds that can be subscribed in iTunes and Android, as well as contextualizing Gospel to cultures. Also see my blog post: What about Asian American Preaching
We have a lot of learning to do and a lot of relationships to build, especially we as Asian Americans and we as the American evangelical church. Even with both having been around for 5 generations or so, the conversations and relationships between Asian American Christians and the majority-Caucasian evangelical church can be described as nascent, in so far as it relates to incorporating Asian American voices into evangelical leadership with their cultural perspectives, rather than assimilating Asian and minority voices into a so-called-colorblind evangelicalism (though some Asian American Christians are agreeable to the latter).
I anticipate I’ll be blogging and commenting on more of this in the coming weeks and months, as opportunities and time avail. 3 recent opportunities have invited my commentary about Asian American Christianity, thanks to Ed Stetzer, David Housholder, and Lifeway::
#guest #blog #post 9 Things About Asian American Christianity: Asian Americans are accelerating in their role in participating and shaping the future of the American church at large. at The Exchange, Ed Stetzer’s blog
#podcast #episode 5 Misconceptions About Asian-Americans on the Life & Liberty podcast hosted by Davide Housholder
#video #webshow Multi-Ethnic, Multi-Cultural Ministry with Elizabeth Drury, Mark DeYmaz and DJ Chuang on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer (air date: 10/14/13)
[update 11/14/13] Why Evangelicals Don’t Know Asian Americans: We have quite a way to go towards ending racial stereotyping in Christendom – my 2nd blog posts (of 3) at Ed Stetzer’s blog