Fresh off the Boat: Very Superstitious?

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This episode deals with the number “4”. The show starts with Jessica working to sell a property for her real estate firm, owned by former rival Ashley.  Her boss gives her the task to sell a  house on 44 West 44th Street.  Only a small problem surfaces: the number “4” in Chinese sounds like the word for “death”.  In Huang household, they aren’t allowed to pronounce “4” even in English.  Louis, the rational man (great stereotype), proclaims, “Every generation gets less superstitious”.  I suppose he means that every generation becomes less superstitious as westernization takes over.  In real life, the matter isn’t that simple.

 

 

Contrary to the stereotypical mystical, mysterious, mythical and superstitious oriental, the number “4” deserves more explanation than that of the show.  “4” sounds like death in the Chinese language, especially in the Cantonese language.  Behind such a superstition is the entire phenomenon of the Chinese language that has nothing to do with superstition.  “Death” is something no one wants to talk about, not even if you’re white and western.  More important than this obvious unpleasant, unavoidable and unspeakable fact of death is the tonal nature of the Chinese language.  Unlike the western languages, Chinese languages can have anywhere from five to seven tones (or maybe someone can correct me and tell me there’re more).  Since Chinese is a tonal language, its cultural expression of concepts come not in the pronunciation but the tone of the character.  To merely see “4” as a superstition misses part of the point.  The point is that in every culture, there’re taboo words or symbols.  “4” symbolizes the tonal expression of the Chinese culture.  The concepts are in the tone.  To have too much fun with the number “4” is just a social faux pas.

 

 

If we compare the simplistic explanation of the Chinese superstition of the number “4” with the way superstitious numbers occur in the West, we’ll surely find that the West often is more and not less superstitious in this regard.  Think about “13” the unlucky number and the combination of Friday and 13.  That’s an unpleasant thought.  Many explanations go into why these are unlucky numbers but none of them explain too well what the superstition is about.  It’s simply an unfound fear.  At this stage, we probably should at least remove the blindfold over our seemingly rational eyes to see our own western superstitious being worse in some ways because there isn’t even a linguistic phenomenon associated with it.

 

 

I’m writing this post for Christian readers.  I think it’s important to know a culture and language before assuming anything about a culture.  What we do know about superstition is simple.  Superstition is just a way to explain otherwise unexplainable fears and realities.  How we express that isn’t simply superstition.  How we express it is simply cultural.

 

 

Another implication of such a show is that we can so easily have blind spots.  Many of us assume that the “other” (those who look, speak and live differently from us) is more superstitious.  Many of us tend to think of ourselves as superior and intelligent, much more so than the “others” anyway.  We should always remover the beam from our own eyes so that we can see whether there really is a splinter in the “other’s” eyes.  Cultural blind spots die hard, but die they must.

 

 

Oh, the story has a happy ending.  Jessica sold the house with the number “4”. Who’s afraid of “4”?

My Christian Times Interview on Yoder’s Trespasses

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Soon after the breaking news of the apology from Mennonite denomination on John Howard Yoder’s trespasses, HK Christian Times conducted an interview with me.  Since the interview has to be cut short due to word count, here’s my full response to all the questions.

1) What do you think about the present apology of the Mennonite denomination? What impact does it have in the US?

Since this has been an open secret in American Christianity, the response hasn’t been overwhelmingly shocking.  Most people would say, “It’s better late than never.”  His suspension of ministerial credential in the early 90’s already acknowledged all of his trespasses, but it’s harder to get rid of his academic credentials unless academic institutions also follow strict guidelines of sexual harassment.  During that period of American history (back in the 60s to the 80s), sexual harassment policies were in their infancy.  At the very least, the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries discussed the inconsistency of his writing and his life and whether they should still use his work back when all this happened. The delayed apology does lessen the pain of the victims, but I would say that they had taken the necessary steps within the church denomination to deal with the situation way back when all this broke (especially after victims threatened to protest). I think the final step of apology is necessary and should’ve been done sooner.  The delay is definitely a problem because it isn’t just about defrocking him from his ministry to keep him from victimizing more women in the future but apologizing to his victims of the past to bring them closure.

2) Yoder used research about sexual ethics as an excuse to vicitmize women and have sexual relationship outside of marriage. What do you think about this and what kind of environment would create this sort of ethos?

First, let’s make a clear separation between just having sex outside of marriage and sexual harassment.  We mustn’t mix up the two.  I believe the latter is more serious and harmful than the former.  You know a lot of famous public figures, Christian theologians even, are dire failures when it comes to keeping their marriage bed pure. Paul Tillich was a well-known philanderer.  Karl Barth’s relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum who had assisted his work indicates also another failure of his marriage with his wife Nelly Barth.  These failures however involve willing participants.  Many public figures easily attract women because of their appeal and charisma.  This however isn’t the same as what Yoder did.  Yoder did far worse. Second, let’s look at what Yoder did.  His life is a string of sexual harassments against women who might not have been willing participants (many weren’t).  We’re moving from mere sexual relationship outside of marriage into the area of sexual politics and power.  While the extramarital sex has roughly equal partnership with the two participants, sexual harassment has a one-sided power in favor of the predator.  Yoder was a serial harasser.  He was a predator.  His trespasses had nothing to do with just sex outside of marriage. His trespasses involve abuse of his power against the oppressed.  He had used his profession as his vehicle to satisfy his fetish.  The academic guild that enabled him to do this has created a power structure against the victims.  i call this star-power exceptionism.

3) Yoder wrote about the Politics of Jesus.  Dr. Vincent Lau sees him as someone great in creating a radical and alternative community such as the Sojourners Community.  How should we treat his work now that we know about his trespasses?

While the politics of Jesus had sided with the weak, Yoder has created a power structure that has sided with the strong, namely himself being a very famous scholar.  In practice, I wonder if he truly understands the very core of his own interpretation.  We all have blind spots, but his blind spot is more glaring than most.  His life is the demonstration that when we wish to judge the splinter in our brothers’ eyes, we need to ask whether we have a beam because the splinter and the beam are both wood but the degree of harm very between the two. I find it emotionally tough to separate the man from his work.

4) What suggestions do you have for sexual victims? What about the lessons we can learn from this situation?

Besides counseling and a healing community for the victim, I have no suggestion. I’m no expert in sexual crimes.  The church needs to learn a lesson though.  However, these unfortunate events haven’t always taught the church any lesson.  In our Chinese churches, there’re known sexual predators who are still ministering.  I’m not talking about failures in marriage. Those we can solve by repentance, counseling and even restoration.  I’m talking about something more serious.  Would we put molesters of children in close proximity to children? Would we make them creche workers?  No, so why are we allowing sexual predators against women to work in close proximity to women? Besides the very public events of sexual harassment, I’ve known some hidden ones where churches refuse to investigate their star speakers all, even if the churches have been told about the problem, because such speakers “bring people to the Lord”.  It isn’t just an individual failure. It’s a systemic failure of power structure protecting against itself.

Fresh off the Boat: License to Date?

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The show subtitled License to Kill is fantastically funny. I already summarized part of the plot from the previous blog post. I’ll talk more about it in this blog post. Little Eddie, the older boy with swag, has been trying his best to date Nicole, the pretty “girl next door”. The cheerful father Louis gives Eddie the simple advice to find out what Nicole’s interested in so that he can gain her heart.

 

One day, Nicole and Eddie found themselves in detention because Eddie found out that Nicole has been put into detention and he deliberately gets himself in there to be close to her. The conversation ensues that Nicole let out the most non-Asian value statement that she doesn’t need school anyway because she’s going to beauty school. One thing led to another, Eddie finally finds what interests Nicole: beauty school. Before we know it, Eddie is over Nicole’s place and getting henna tattoos on his arm and earring in his ear. This is just not Eddie the Asian swag king. Soon enough, his buddies notice the earring (I think the earring is pretty cool though). This is where the dad steps in. The dad reminds Eddie that he needs to figure out how to find common interest and retain his own identity.

 

In many ways, this little innocent episode of puppy love has a lot of profound implications for society and even church. The first implication of this episode is how value systems are so different between people when they come together. IF they’re from a different race, the complication gets worse. As an Asian, I can see the shock of most Asian parents when they hear that Nicole is going to forgo the university education for beauty school. Now, there’s nothing wrong with beauty school. In fact, my wife’s niece works for Vidal Sassoon. Forgoing a university education is a big deal however. Value systems are often different perspectives that people hold very dearly to. These systems may not be inherently moral or immoral, but the high value people ascribe to such systems can give it a hint of morality.

 

The second implication is anecdotal. The show whitewashes the severity of interracial dating in that area of the world. I think the show does so because it’s a sensitive and potentially offensive subject that doesn’t fit the comedy genre well. Although I didn’t grow up in Orlando, I grew up in Florida. My own experience tells me that it’s incredibly difficult for an Asian male to date people of a different race because of simple racism. Now, I’m not saying just because you date someone of a different race, you’re no longer racist. There’re people who are unaware of their own racist tendency even though they’re open to date people of a different race. Here, I’m talking about something much more straightforward. Back when I was a kid living down there, people simply don’t date people of other races. The precise reason why the show whitewashes this problem shows that just having a show about racism doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the show itself is unwilling to address racism directly. When I lived down there, I’ve been told to “stick to your own kind”. I’ve had black friends marrying white women whose families refuse to endorse the marriage and attend the ceremony. The list can go on, but that’s the Florida I knew. Perhaps things have changed, but I’m fairly sure that the time period of the show still has a lot of racial tension down in Florida. Such is the irony of show business because after all, it’s trying to get as many viewers as possible. If the show is being too “judgmental”, then it no longer entertains. This begs the larger question of whether comedy is indeed the best way to address serious issues. We shall wait and see.

 

The third implication is on dating relationships. Eddie who chased Nicole loses himself in the process. I’m very happy to see the father jumping in and giving fatherly advice. In many ways, the best teachers about relationships are parents. I know many parents who find talking to children about dating and sex to be awkward, but either way, the children will get their information somewhere. If parents don’t give them advice, they’d be getting advice from equally inexperience peers. The dad in the show does show good role modeling for Eddie who eventually has a more positive outcome to his pursuit of Nicole. These days, the parents’ roles are changing and quite often, the parents are the butt of the joke in comedy shows. I’m glad in this instance, the dad acts as a good role model to Eddie and his advice is practical and sound.

 

The fourth implication is also about dating. When we look at Eddie and Nicole, we can’t help but seeing a relational transaction. Eddie goes to great length to get Nicole’s affection by trading his swag in for henna tattoos. In our churches, many of young people who want to get married often complain that the church or whoever isn’t doing enough to help them find the mate. I want to push back on that complaint. No one can help anyone find the ideal mate. No one can even give general advice on relationship that will “work” 100% of the time. It’s up to each individual to figure out that courting someone is a transaction. It isn’t necessarily going to be fair transaction all the time. The pursuer might have to give up something to land the prey, so to speak (certainly, I don’t like using hunting metaphor but hunting is what most beginning dating endeavors look like). At a certain stage however, the transaction becomes more and more even. Perhaps, each party might be willing to give in 50% and so on. Yet, that’s a long way from marriage. The road to marriage is this kind of tricky dance. Eventually, the giving to each other will arrive closer to 100% because marriage is about 100% commitment to each others need, thus making the transaction ideally even. I should know because my wife and I have been married close to a quarter of a century. We’ve had our moments and certainly, we don’t always give 100% each other 100% of the time but we both know that 100% is the ideal we’re shooting for. This little episode shows that every couple should understand what stage of relationship they’re in. For those single people who don’t ever think they can give 100% to another person, they’re going to have a hard marriage.  There’s nothing your church can do for you, no matter how much you complain.  Little Eddie has a long way to go.  Nicole might even have a longer way to go.

Fresh Off the Boat: License to Sell?

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The Taiwanese-American family is adapting nicely to their Orlando neighborhood. It’s time for the mom Jessica to venture out towards something she seems to be quite good at.  Since she has found out that she could easily sell a home through the combination of her charm and her pushy ways, she has decided to get her real estate license.  However, something always gets in the way of achieving their goals for this family. This time, it’s a harmless conversation Jessica has with this seemingly harmless woman at the licensing office.  The woman claims to be the real estate agent of the year with a lifetime achievement of selling some 300 homes.  Upon hearing that gigantic number, Jessica bolts from the office to eat her comfort food, an ice cream sandwich.  Not wanting to feel shame, she goes home pretending to have gotten her license only to have her lies uncovered by the neighborhood big-mouth Honey.  Her husband found out about this and confronts Jessica.  Her excuse is that she can never be good enough to be the best and if she encourages the children to be the best at what they do, how can she be their example?  300 homes are a lifetime away.  She can’t possibly beat 300 homes.

 

I’m unsure whether the show is trying to portray the Asian culture’s perfectionist tendency or just a general fear of failure that plagues just about every culture.  I suspect it’s a bit of both.  This picture analogizes any new pursuit. In Christian communities, this could involve serving in a new area volunteering in something that we’ve never tried before.  Many of us want the safety of our own lack of effort.  Success is not as desirable as the lack of failure.  We may be afraid of what others think about us if we fail.  We may be afraid of what we think of ourselves if we fail.  We want a nice, neat and undisturbed life.  In our churches, we often talk about people having the right talents or gifts doing the right services.  Sometimes the adverse result is that people are so afraid to fail that they fail in the worst way to discover what they’re capable of.  I think that’s the same feeling that plagues Jessica.

 

What does it take for people to venture into something new?  It takes grace, grace towards others and grace towards ourselves.  We need to extend grace towards others who fail, and at the same time, we need to confront failure in measurable ways.  We need to extend grace to ourselves.  We must remember that one thing is even worse than failure, and that is the lack of effort.  We must understand that success and failures are only by degree.  Neither define who we are, but they also teach us who we are.  In a healthy community, people extend grace towards failure. A healthy individual also learns to accept success and failure not something over which to gloat or to mourn but as life lessons granted by the Creator and the faith community.  Neither success nor failure is permanent, so long as we learn something from both.

 

For Jessica, the story has a happy ending as she overcomes her hangups and easily passes her licensing exam.  At one point, I was also wondering if her English is good enough to pass the exam, but surely, she was smart enough and passed with flying colors.  I wonder if our faith community will have such a happy ending.

Fresh Off the Boat: the Risk of Talent

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One of the most hilarious scenes of the FOTB episode is when the waiter Mitch quits the restaurant.  The dad of the show decides that he has to hire a new worker.  We have applicants of all kinds including a vegetarian.  Finally, they found a guy to help waiter the place. This guy is a handsome and intelligent cowboy who can charm customers by trick lassoing chairs. The place thrives because of this new hire.  This new waiter is also full of great ideas but this displeases the father who owns the restaurant.  Meanwhile, the incompetent Mitch comes over to visit.  The reason why Mitch quit in the first place is because he was hired by a rival restaurant for a bit more pay, but soon, he finds out that the new place is not what he likes. So, he visits to see if he can have his old job back.  His first job upon coming back is to fire the competent cowboy for the owner.

 

When laughing at this entirely ridiculous scenario, we may ask why the dad wants to fire the handsome, loyal and competent cowboy in favor of the homely, disloyal and incompetent Mitch.  The answer is simple.  The cowboy is doing his job too well.  Instead of seeing the cowboy as an asset, the dad sees him as a threat. He’d rather have the lousy Mitch than the brilliant cowboy.  The show demonstrates the hardship of being in charge.  Healthy leadership doesn’t require the leader to know everything and have all the ideas.  Healthy leadership appreciates the superior talents in the subordinates.  This talented cowboy generated a lot of new customers because of his brilliance. He brings success. All good ideas don’t have to come from one source.  They don’t even need to come from the top.  At the end of the day, leadership requires character.  Leadership isn’t all about talents and great ideas.  It’s about the character that allows for great ideas by others and giving credit where credit is due.  The dad didn’t do this and his restaurant will once again stumble along with the silly Mitch who can’t even keep from knocking things over while trying to do his job.

 

Good ideas grow in an environment created by generous leaders with character.  That’s the bottom line.

Chasing the Cyberspace Ambulance: Pontificating about CY Leung’s Daughter

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Christians, especially famous Christian leaders, seem to think that they have the divine right to give their opinions on anything and everything.  Many try to stay as current as possible.  A while back, a friend describes this phenomenon as “chasing ambulance.”  The term originally describes lawyers chasing ambulance to get to the victim first so that they can be the first on the case to sue for money.  In cyberspace, there’re many ambulances to chase.  There’re many cases in society that demand the Christian response.  A while back, some Christians commented on how ISIS’s terrorism actually created unique opportunity for evangelism.  In a separate blog, I explained that such logic is “let’s bring forth evil so that good can come about”.  May it never be.  Dating 2004, popular preacher John Piper linked the issue of tsunami and God’s sovereignty in some tricky theological gymnastics that sends chills down many of our spines.  Most progressive Christians find this kind of craziness extremely annoying.  After all, this kind of unhelpful pontification is bad for the public stance of the gospel.

 

This week, the news brings us the case of the daughter of Hong Kong’s chief executive CY Leung, Chai Yan Leung.  She claims that her mother attacked her and called her a “stupid c…t” etc. and she has left her home.  Before she left, she also posted pictures of her heavily bruised legs that look like someone had practiced Muay Thai on them.  As a Christian father, this news breaks my heart, and I’ve been in prayer for her and her family ever since.  For those of my English readers who don’t know who CY Leung is.  He’s the chief executive of HK (equivalent to a prime minister position) who executed China’s policies in violating the civil rights of the HK people.  It was his governorship that had sparked some of the widespread protests in recent HK history.  Those who know me also know that I’m not at all fond of Mr. Leung. His disdain for human rights and religion certainly doesn’t sit well with me.

 

What I saw from responses to the demise of his daughter disturb me.  Here’re several possible response.  First, the psychological response.  With CY Leung being such a psychopath (and there’re many indicators that he is) and his abusive nature along with his wife’s fascist pro-China stance, it’s little wonder that the poor daughter is abused.  This is a good guess.  If the man runs his family the way he runs HK, the young lady doesn’t have many options other than rebellion.  Second, the allegorical  response, “We are Chai Yan”.  Some have said that CY’s daughter is like HK.  She’s abused and the people are rebelling.  She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t, much like the HK people.   I’m unsure what to say about this because she isn’t exactly like HK.  She’s a person.  HK is a group of people. It’s hard to bring the metaphor together, though there’re connection points.  You’re not Chai Yan.  Third, the theological response.   God must be punishing CY.  All I have to say is, You can’t read God’s mind.  Who knows?

 

I want to now compare these three responses to tsunami or terrorist response.  We’re very appalled by the tsunami and terrorist response precisely because our pontification makes our faith look like a moralizing mess.  Many of us want to think that these issues are part of the mystery to that question “where is God?” We hesitate to assign cause and effect or make them metaphors of some other profound morality.  I think we need to apply the same criteria even when we apply our responses to CY Leung, someone we can really hate.  But can we apply it to his daughter?  If so, is it too soon?

 

As the daughter of a public figure, life must be so hard for her.  Many see the glamorous side from her Facebook or Instagram where she hangs out with the likes of Paris Hilton, but do many see the real her?  Behind social media is this scared little girl.  She has nothing to do with HK politics directly.  She’s just someone’s daughter possibly coming from an abusive background, and she simply can’t choose who her parents are; she’s born into this family.  It’s unfair to pontificate on her misfortune, I think.  She isn’t our rhetorical channel.

 

Am I saying that we as Christians, especially as leaders and preachers, shouldn’t talk about relevant reflections on contemporary issues? By no means!  Theology and faith ought to be relevant.  What’s the difference between relevance and chasing ambulances?  The difference is in context and timing.  When there’s no direct correlation between our reflection and the event, we’re reading reality out of context. We’re using the wrong channel to broadcast our rhetoric.  The issue here is family that goes beyond political differences. That’s as bad as reading a text out of context.  It’s just hijacking an event to push our agenda.  Domestic abuse happens on both sides of the political aisle.  If we want to talk about how the government intrudes on the family, perhaps just directly dealing with education is better.  We aren’t ideologues.  Our political lens shouldn’t color everything we read.  We should be truth speakers, not sophists.  One friend pointed out to me that people are looking for answers.  Sometimes, we’re too eager to give answers.  Sometimes, the best answer is to remain silent.  Answers don’t have to come in words. Answers can also come in an exemplary life of wisdom.

 

What about timing?  Just like when the ambulance’s job is to deliver the patient to get treatment, chasing it to get business may not be the best tact.  Timing is everything, but the quickest knee-jerk response isn’t.  I think in this age of cyberspace, most of us can use more time to reflect.  Our knees can take a bit of rest from jerking, and a bit more praying.  Being late to the party isn’t the worst thing that can happen.  Entering the through the wrong door certainly is.

 

Above all, pray for Chai Yan!

Fresh Off the Boat: Spirituality of Diversity?

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I’m going to write on and off about my reflection on the Fresh Off the Boat series simply because I really enjoy the show.  I watch it as a routine with my family every Tuesday night so that we can have meaningful discussions about our status as racial minority in the US.  In case you haven’t watched the show (and you live outside of the US), it’s a simple comedy showing the cultural difference between the races in the US through the eyes of one Taiwanese-American family.  It’s based on a book by Eddie Huang, a restauranteur in the NYC area who came from an immigrant family. I plan on reading the book soon. Although the real Eddie Huang had written a serious memoir with some humor in it, the show isn’t supposed to reflect on all the content of the memoir.  The show was only inspired by the memoir.

 

This week, we have Eddie the little ABC (i.e. American-born-Chinese, commonly known in the West Coast and East Coast as “ABC”) kid going to school and being forced to meet his new classmate who is also Asian.  I said “forced” because it was the principal’s idea to introduce Eddie to one of “his people.” (i.e. people who look the same).  Eddie finds out that this new kid isn’t anything remotely like himself.  While Eddie loves rap, this kid plays classical music.  While Eddie dresses in hip t-shirts and jeans (much like my little son Ian), this kid dresses in a jacket and slacks.  The humor was not lost on my own two kids when they both shouted “Heck, no!” as soon as they saw this other kid.  To make matters worse, this new kid is adopted by a Jewish family and has a name Philip Goldstein.  The difference creates a lot of comedy of errors.

 

The comical part starts with Eddie sitting in the principal’s office, this time, not for fighting or for some normal teenage prank but for meeting his new friend Philip.  The principal knows that this is going to be awkward and doesn’t want to appear racist.  So, he calls the teacher to send Philip in. The trouble is that the teacher has a lot of Philip’s in the class. Which Philip?  Of course, it’s the Philip who would get along with someone named HUANG!  Eddie immediately latches on to the situation and spouts something along the line that the principal only wants him to meet his new pal because Eddie himself is ethnic Chinese. Out of embarrassment, the principal tries his best to play off the awkwardness.  Of course, just to prove his own non-racist diversity-senstive claim, the principal took a picture with BOTH Chinese kids.  We laugh. We get it!

 

This show is a complete parody of our society.  Everyone has an assumption, and some assumptions are implicitly racist.  Some actions are laughably racist.  The whole idea of “let me introduce you to a new friend who looks like you and must be able to relate to you because YOU are so culturally different from US” is completely true.  In a white church, when there’s an Asian visitor, what do people do automatically?  They grab me and my family.  Now, I don’t mind meeting new people OF ALL RACES but do my white brothers and sisters mind? Of course they mind.  Well, maybe not every single one of them, but a lot of them do mind.  They want to offload their Asian visitors to us so that they don’t have to deal with them.  Sure, there’re few who actually do go out of their way to welcome them. Now, notice I said “go out of their way” because it’s abnormal to greet someone of a culture you perceive to be different.  Yet, are the differences really that much?  Are the assumptions right?  Not always. Frequently, the assumptions are wrong.

 

To grab me or my family to greet a native Japanese or Korean or even mainland Chinese with the assumption that we have cultural commonalities is an extreme form of ignorance.  I grew up in the American South. Not only do I know American culture. I know Southern culture.  That’s the culture that stuck with me, for better or for worse.  If you go to the South, you’ll notice that we’re about as far away from Japan, Korea or China as possible.  Just because I’m completely fluent in Chinese, it doesn’t automatically make me the White Castle hamburger fast-food stop for ALL Asian visitors.  My wife grew up in SoCal.  She’s about as SoCal as they come.  I don’t think she can live anywhere else other than the West Coast of the US.  My kids lived all over the world with me but they aren’t Japanese, Korean or mainland Chinese.  They hang around mostly non-Asian kids because we have a lot of non-Asian kids in their schools.  Assumptions can be silly.  Assumptions based on skin color are utterly misguided.

 

What can the church do moving forward?  First, the church ought to stop pretending like the principal in the FOTB show that it is diverse by appearing to be diverse (take a selfie with a minority!).  The principal took the pictures with the Asian kids and sending them to his ex-wife to show that he’s diverse may look stupid, but that’s what a lot of churches do every Sunday.  Stop pretending that we have no assumption or that we’re so “one in Christ” when our very praxis says otherwise!  Admit to the assumptions. Have an honest conversation and hear the other side. In fact, better yet, let “the other side” speak once in a while like a real human being.  Now, I’m not complaining about my pastor, to be sure, because he sure takes a lot of risks by sharing his pulpit generously with me, but this is not the way things often work.  Second, individual white Christians should befriend someone s/he assumes to be culturally different than the typical white culture.  Leave prejudices aside and just listen. Instead of saying, “Gosh, how I love Japanese food.  You people are so polite,” how about just listen.  Let them talk, and learn from them.  Shutting up is one spiritual discipline that can help us all.  This is what being a diverse church is like.  Don’t assume that they’re our minority project. Assume that they can become or already are an equal partner in the Body of Christ.  That means giving them space to participate and making room for them to have a strong voice.

 

FOTB may be comedic, but its message is quite serious.  The church can learn from such a show.

What Questions Indicate

I have by now given seminars about the Bible all over the world. Upon a wide sampling of my audience, I have come to one conclusion. The preacher influences how the audience thinks. I think this may seem obvious, but many may not see its implications.

 

When I get invited to speak in different churches or organizations, I try to research about the sponsoring body so that I can tell what kind of teaching the people are used to. I would listen to sermons preached in such churches to get a sense of what the church is about. What I find is consistent. The churches that have strong pulpits tend to have a more informed audience. The ones with preachers who fly by the seat of their pants do not. The former group tends to ask intelligent questions in the Q and A time. The latter group tends to ask question that indicates serious gaps in its intellectual development. And this has nothing to do with church size at all.

 

This leads to my conclusion that the preacher makes the church, but then I began to dig a bit deeper when I start to talk to many pastors who invite me. Some who invite me aren’t at all satisfied with their church. They have trouble with the church and its members and so on. Others thoroughly enjoy their pastoral experience. This leads me to another question for which I have no answer. Does the church make the pastor or the pastor makes the church? I honestly do not know, but I do know that the preacher does influence the way his audience think. So, be careful how you preach.

 

 

Crisis Investigation and Growth

I’ve blogged about the integrity crisis of Christianity using football as an example.  Christianity is much like sports though.  Imagine every time a sports scandal breaks and the guilt is proven beyond doubt.  The investigation of the whole situation is  important in that it protects both the accused and the accuser.  The recent situation with the evangelist Yuen who is accused of repeated sexual misconducts is the best example of a muddled up followup with lawyer letter from the accused and a whole lot of silence of the lambs.  Now, he’s denied all charges but has taken a break (or maybe even quit) the ministry. All the people in his organization who depend on him for livelihood must now scramble to explain both his denial and his unexplained retirement.  Well, actually he has an explanation “so as to retreat in the Lord and seek renewal.” Why one has to quit his profession (imagine a doctor quitting his job?) “to retreat in the Lord and seek renewal” remains quite confusing. 

 

The lack of accountability and rampant misconduct aren’t just in religion. This stuff also happens in college athletics here in the US.  If we look at what happened at Penn State, the problem obviously goes beyond Joe Paterno. The entire system needed reform, and the investigation that exposed its flaws hopefully help all college sports to do better in the future.  I’m not saying that the investigation system is perfect, but there must be  a system not so much to punish only but also to restore and improve.

 

This is where Christianity as a religious system has failed miserably.  It fails because it has no such check and balance in place. It’s all about who’s got the most fans and who’s got the power.  As such, the powerful controls not just the system but also the investigation of its own scandal.  This  kind of conflict of interest is quite commonplace.  People are linked by networks of endorsement, ordination and business association.  When an investigation happens, these networks will unravel into a huge mess.  In such a case, what we see in growth in American Christianity is only artificial.  Its essence hasn’t grown because it doesn’t allow for plain and brutal investigation for all its wrongs.

 

Unless falsehood is exposed, our faith can’t grow. Neither can it thrive.

The Convenience Trap

I’ve been writing about integrity. Within the flawed system in which we operate, how do we keep integrity?

 

I get invited to different conferences to speak. In fact, that’s how I make a living.  For me, conference speaking is a business to sustain my livelihood and to feed my family.  It’s a fruitful endeavor that I enjoy almost as much as my classroom teaching and writing.  In this business of freelance speaking, I depend on networks.  As I do more and more speaking, the networks become more and more complex.  I get to find out more and more the dark side of ministerial business (as if I don’t already from growing up in a pastor’s family).  Probably the biggest lesson is that everything is political to a degree.  How do you keep your integrity in such a political situation?

 

I use the phrase “the convenience trap” to describe our temptation.  Let’s be honest, a lot of people befriend us not because they really want to be real life friends – they have plenty of those –  but because of the benefit they may gain.  Lest anyone thinks that I’m complaining, I’m not.  I also benefit from this system of “friendship.” It’s called networking.  I’m under no illusion that it’s anything other than networking.  How do I keep my integrity in check?  It’s hard.

 

I think the one lesson I learn is to avoid the convenience trap.  These days, my reflection is often to ask myself whether this networking is merely for convenience.  This is an important question to ask.  IF convenience is the criterion along with personal profit, then integrity is at risk.  A lot of people wonder why Christian celebrities fall.  My answer is because they too have fallen into the system and have become part of its machinery.  They too have fallen into the convenience trap.

 

These days, I’m no longer impressed with how large a conference I get to speak for or even necessarily the speaking fee (which is another book-length topic in itself).  Number is probably the least important thing on my mind right now.  I’m much more careful about the people who invite me because I don’t want to lose my integrity in earning a quick dollar.  Sure, my family needs to eat and I like to have some nice things in life, but you can’t buy integrity.  That should really be our bottom-line. When financial bottom-line takes over, our spiritual bottom-line will blur.  Money and power can numb the conscience, not just in church ministry or the business of church but in life itself.

 

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