Satan and the System: Injustice in the Global Textile Industry

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Every Christmas, we have to think about the kind of goods we buy.  Not much after Christmas is the outcry over textile industry and all of its unsafe practices in the third-world.  I have friends in the textile industry.  Some of them are very good Christians who try their best to make sure their business practices are just.

 

I’ve also been writing articles on Revelation for the HK Christian daily, Christian Times.  It seems that we’ve made Satan so irrelevant that we no longer see him and his work in our everyday life.  But he does work in mighty and disturbing ways through the imperial system established by powerful people.  In Rev. 12-13, Satan’s work was manifested through the two beasts.  Some traditional churches try to see these beasts in the EU or some other entity.  As Scripture functions like analogy, I prefer to see these beasts as systems represented first of all by Roman power, now manifest in every part of history. The moral is not to identify ONE particular power as the anti-Christ (e.g. Obama comes to mind for the conservative Christian).  The moral is to identify all such satanic powers and expose them.  The wisdom behind John’s vision surface in the climax of his vision at Rev. 13.18, the economy hegemony of such a power that affects buying and selling.

 

Back to Christmas shopping.  Our household has been trying to take advantage of the sales so that we won’t have to spend so much the rest of the year.  Discussion comes around on jeans.  We’ve discovered that more expensive fabrics are probably manufactured in more humane ways.  The problem is, we also want to save money.  So, instead of getting a cheap pair of Calvin Klein, maybe I need to get a pair of Diesel or True Religion.  The poor would end up buying cheaper products made without humane treatment of other poor workers in different countries.  The problem of poverty doesn’t just plague the poor.  It plagues the middle class like us also.  The only people who aren’t plagued by such a problem are the truly rich folks who control the trade of these products.

 

When reading the Bible and especially Revelation, the wisdom of the book doesn’t lie in the superficial reading of a verse here and there.  The wisdom comes in the broad narrative that exposes the satanic forces hurting the entire humanity.  The force doesn’t have a singular figure. Rather, it has a system with real people sitting up top.  Everyone else is a victim of the system.  Many middle class Christians may not agree with me because they too can afford to fork out for a pair of True Religion. To them, I would ask, “Have you ever ridden in a Rolls Royce where you don’t have to worry about how much to spend on a pair of jeans or on your kid’s college tuition because you make multiple millions of USD a year?”  Will you ever, through honest hard work, get to sit in that Rolls Royce and have that kind of money?  Most of us will answer with a definitive “No”.  The satanic system has its elite.  It will continue to eat up the rest of humanity.  In many places, it already is.  In HK where I teach, the city is owned by four major real estate corporations.  When one of the local Catholic fathers called out this fact in colorful language, even the Catholic church had to apologize to one of the corporate bosses Li Kar Sing, in fear of reprisal.  In Tibet, Chinese real estate moguls bought up most of the land in its capital Lhasa and renting to Tibetans with outrageous prices.  These are just the more blatant ones.

 

As Christians and as leaders of the church, we may find ourselves feeling helpless.  It is difficult to fight the system but we should at least be aware that Satan exists in such systems. We need to call out the evil and think about what to do.  The status quo was never an option in the Bible.  Neither is it an option now.

 

PS. Some of the stores such as H & M, Tommy Hilfiger, or Marks and Spencer use Better Cotton Initiative products or fair trade cotton products. These stores probably deserve our support more than other stores. Of course, this is only a small part of the big puzzle.

Navigating the PC World: Political Correctness in Christian Communication

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With the situations of Charlie Hebdo and Margaret Cho about which I blogged previously, we are forced to reckon with political correctness (henceforth “PC”) in our own pulpit ministry. Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to have an opinion about this or that and some confidently and at times, offensively, speak on variety of subjects.

 

Many people automatically say that they’re not PC when they speak their version of the straight truth.  Reality is much more complicated.  How can we be sure that we’re not being offensive jerks versus being non-PC truth speakers?  Here’s the litmus test.

 

The offensive jerks usually haven’t participated in the issue about which they speak.  They could be speaking about race or political freedom without ever being a participant in either.  For example, when I wrote about the Rick Warren Red Guard controversy, many of his (mostly white with token privileged Asian) fans just say that I’m being PC, and by speaking up against me, they’re not going to go by the PC rule of society.  A small problem surfaces.  The same critics haven’t even read a book on the Cultural Revolution, and certainly, many of them don’t understand the Chinese (and in many cases, Asian-American) culture at all.  Sure, they might have a token diffident Asian friend who’s too afraid to call them on their prejudice, but that doesn’t qualify them to criticize or make a comment on my culture.

 

The non-PC truth speaker is different.  S/he has participated in the issue on which s/he speaks.  Such speakers speak with authority.  Why do Cornel West or Cameron Carter speak plainly about race?  It’s because they’ve worked in a system that discriminates against their people all their lives.  It’s really very simple.

 

The litmus test is simple.  Participation is the key. In other words, unless a person has participated, that same person is not really qualified to address the issue. Not all opinions are valid.  In this internet age, we’d do well to remember that when we speak on the pulpit, lest we’d be discounted for our opinion.

Sexual Fortress Made of Paper

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The church seems to have more bad news on sex lately than any other time.  I believe the internet has exposed a real fundamental flaw in the teaching on sexual purity in the church.  Famous names fall like flies. Bill Gothard, and Josh Guggar are among the most famous on this list.  These are extraordinary sets of failures that can only defined by the word “perversion.”

 

The common theme that joins such a thread is the teaching on an extreme form of sexual purity.  What this does is that it provides a smokescreen for unsavory activities behind the teachings.  The most legalistic teachings overcompensate to provide a cover for criminal abuse.  It’s really plain and simple.

 

What about those who fail in their marriages by moral shortfalls?  Countless fundamentalist leaders have fallen more in this area than the aforementioned perversion.  It seems that the problem with the moral shortfall has to do with the sense of naive invincibility.  Such teachings have built up such a fortress that the residents in it has a false sense of invincibility.  There’s only one small problem. The fortress is made of paper.  Invincibility breeds careless arrogance.  It’s always the problem of other people.

 

In dealing with this problem, one colleague reminds me that our biblical doctrine of human sinfulness ought to dictate our attitude in our possible moral shortfalls.  No amount of strictness can compensate for our carelessness.  We often like to point our fingers at King David who had practically violated all the ten commandments.  What we fail to realize that we could easily end up in the same boat.  None of us is immune.  The paper fortress of extreme purity can’t keep us from sinning. The only way to prevent moral shortfalls is humility, knowing that it can happen to the best of us.  Overcompensation isn’t the best security blanket against moral failures.

Sometimes, a broken power pole is just a broken power pole

A while back, A tornado just ripped through Oklahoma, killing one and injuring many others.   At least 1100 insured homes were damaged.  Since I had gone to the university there, I was quite concerned.  My university roommate and one of my best friends still lives there.  He was fine.

 

What struck me about this storm was one photo that got passed around that says “God is with us” with a snapped power pole hanging off some power lines that looks like a cross.  It never fails to amaze me how Christians are able to spiritualize every little sign that may resemble some object in the Bible.  This time, the cross got the call.  To the world, we just look completely silly, but somehow within church walls, it’s all OK.

 

Many Christians have mistaken fiction for facts when it comes to letting our faith saturate every part of our lives.  When it comes to a living faith, I don’t believe God is calling for us to see sacred objects and superstitious signs everywhere.  How do we know that power pole was a reminder by God that He’s with us?  Do we honestly need that kind of reminder?  The best reminder often isn’t some crazy pronouncement right after such a disaster.  Neither should we be pontificating on the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  The best way to make the faith a living faith is to practice our faith everyday.  In such a situation as the Oklahoma storm, perhaps the best way is to donate, or to send a mission team to help rebuild or to help a neighbor with a fell tree.  Superstition and subjective pronouncement does nothing for our faith.

 

Sometimes, a broken power pole isn’t the cross or a reminder that God is with us. Sometimes, it’s just a broken piece of wood.

Readiness or Laziness

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“I’m astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel …” Galatians 1.6

 

My PhD is in Galatians. I haven’t written about it for a long time. I ought to get back to writing something on it in the near future.  Quite a while back, a church was trying to invite an academic to be a speaker for a special weekend conference.  The church has had some history. In fact, it is one of the older churches in the town.  As a subordinate made suggestion for this speaker, the more senior leadership said that they didn’t think the church is mature enough to take such intellectual vigor.  This whole scenario probably occurs more often than everyone realizes.

 

Readiness is something quite tricky. When exactly is the believer ready to tackle hard questions of faith? When is the believer ready for some real meat?  I believe it all boils down to philosophy of what we can expect from the church.  Some people these days even propose that we really don’t need anything like this. All we need is something practical, “grounded”, and adhere to tradition. The problem is, “What is that tradition?” I used to work with youth a long time ago, after I first graduated from seminary.  Most youth groups are just programs to babysit teens.  The fun factor is the focal point.  I even saw one advert that says, “Lots of fun and some Jesus.”  When will the young people be ready for hard studies.  I suppose many leaders expect them to just “get it.”  The fact is, most teens never “got it.” They go to the university, drift away from church and never come back.  Some eventually “got it” and wondered why they didn’t get it in their youth groups.  A normal and healthy upbringing for any family is to prepare children to grow up. A normal and healthy youth group prepares the teens to face adulthood, and adulthood is not always pretty or fun; adulthood is tough.  In the same way, what is the church for?  A standard answer is that it is a place that builds up believers to grow into adulthood.  Will a lot of fun and some Jesus do the trick?  I doubt it.  Believers will NEVER be ready if they aren’t challenged.

 

Paul’s letter to the Galatians above expects the Galatians whom he left for a short while to have the ability to distinguish one kind of knowledge from another kind. Paul expected intellectual vigor in new converts.  I suspect Paul taught with intellectual vigor when he first conducted his mission.  How far off we are today in our churches in the way we approach faith?   We certainly talk about readiness. The fact is, people are never fully ready to become adults.  Many adults have the EQ of a teen (or below). That’s why we have so many relational problems.  In the same way, the spiritual journey of the Christian should start with strong intellectual nutrition.  No way should we use “readiness” as the excuse for laziness.  I propose that we don’t waste young believers’ time (and also that of the older believer) by teaching the fluff.  I propose that our church should be the hotbed for creating mature believers right off the bat.  This goes for our preaching and our Christian education program. I believe many churches need an overhaul, but the most important overhaul doesn’t come from the program level; it should come from the ideological level.  If more of us think like Paul and have higher expectations for our churches, we won’t be in the mess that we’re in now.

Breaking the Bondage of Entitlement

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“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:20-22, apostle Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians
As my family and I moved into our Paris apartment, our departing guests from North America informed us that the place lacks good curtains, and the bathroom definitely need an upgrade, but they added, “Although we aren’t used to this, you’ll have fun in Paris.” Right!

 

 

I travel a lot. Generally, two types of travelers annoy the locals the most: Mainland Chinese and North Americans. I’m going to talk a bit about traveling in Europe in this blog.

 

 

When the two annoying groups travel, these are the stereotypical ways they fail to respect and appreciate local customs and history. Here’re some tips to help blend in so that when we’re not the sore thumb that stand out among tourists.

 

 

First, don’t talk loudly in your own tongue. One of the most annoying thing is to listen to my fellow Americans give uninformed opinions about local customs. In one particular instance, I heard a trainload of Americans chanting “USA, USA, USA” as they passed the Statue of Liberty, probably not knowing that the giant statue sitting in NYC harbor was actually a gift of friendship from the French who have always been a good ally to the US. The chant was one of those moments that I felt the immense shame of being American. I notice that in most relatively classy places, it’s best to lean over to talk to your dining buddies instead of carrying on in English in the normal tone simply because hearing another tongue is annoying for locals. I was having tea in Le Train Bleu. I notice even the locals lean forward to talk just out of courtesy to the other diners. A toned down volume is the best way to go in public places anywhere.

 

 

Second, learn to speak some local language. If you can’t, at least try not to butcher its pronunciation. When we land in a place, we should at least know how to ask someone in the local language, “Do you speak English?” I find that most people are very friendly, to a fault, AS LONG AS WE ASK HUMBLY. A lot of Americans just go right up to people and start speaking English. I find that a lot of countries I visit, the locals speak some English. Many actually speak excellent English, almost without any accent (e.g. some Germans and French). I don’t patronize them by saying, “Oh, you speak such good English.” I just speak normally or maybe slow down a tad just knowing that they aren’t native speakers but please, stop butchering the local language. They show enough respect to speak to us in English, the least we can do is to try to speak their language. Sometimes, knowing that we’ve made the best effort would earn local good will. And for goodness’ sake, “thank you” in French is pronounced “meahk-see” not “mercy”. “Thank you” in Italian is “glot-zee” not “graaaacee.” Mercy me! Goodness gracious. In Spain, their “c’s” are like “th’s” if it’s between letters. For example, “garcias” (the Spanish word for “thanks”) is pronounced “gra-the-as” in Spain. This is different from the Mexican pronunciation of “gracias” with more of an “s” sound.

 

 

Third, learn to dress appropriately. This is a big beef with me. Most who can afford to holiday in Europe can afford to dress appropriately. We can always spot Americans because they’re hands down, the worst dressed tourists of the bunch. Typically, we dress in lousy Nike t-shirts that don’t match our equally lousy basketball shorts along with our odd looking sneakers (what the British call “trainers”). We then expect all the places to be casual. Usually, we stand out like TWO sore thumbs. In most establishments, people simply don’t dine in tank tops and t-shirts and sneakers. Rather, people dress in some kind of suit jackets or dressed shoes. Smart casual is the rule. It’s best to be overdressed than underdressed. No matter how bad off we are financially, if we can holiday in Europe or in many places in Asia like Hong Kong or Tokyo, we can at least afford to keep ONE pair of well cared for dressed shoes (as my buddy Keith the fashionista remarks).

 

 

Third, don’t expect others to take on our lifestyle. Every culture has expectations. In the US, restaurants have waiters that want to rush you in and out quickly. They want to earn money because time is money. Not so in Europe. In Europe, waiters give customers plenty of time to order. So, we have to adjust for more time to eat. Supper is serious business with Europeans. They don’t rush it. They dress up to meet with friends as an important social occasion. They don’t just get together to stuff their faces with high calorie junk they serve up in American restaurants. If we’re in a rush, we shouldn’t expect the locals to be in a rush also. They don’t have bad customer service. They just work at a different pace and define “service” differently because the locals value sitting down over a meal more than most Americans. There’re pluses in adjusting because waiters in France don’t come by to ask that intrusive question just to ask, “How’s your food?” In the US, that’s extremely annoying because we all know that the waiter doesn’t give a rip about how the food is. The US waiters often ask that question before we even dig into the first piece of the main course just to get that question out of the way. Not so in Europe. When they come by to ask, it’s usually after we’ve had a few bites. They notice details like that. Once again, different cultures, different expectations. We adjust to theirs. We shouldn’t expect them to adjust to ours.

 

 

Fourth, learn to listen and research local customs. Even admit we know nothing! “Back in China, we …” “Back in the US, we …” are two of the most annoying phrases I hear. Please, if you want to go back to China or the US so much, don’t come over. It’s imperative to research local customs. If we don’t know, instead of saying what we think, asking a question may be the best way to go. Say something like, “I notice you … can you explain why?” instead of “These people call appetizer entrée. It’s so confusing …” Say “What’re the in-season fashion colors” instead of saying, “These people dress funny.” How can we say OTHERS dress funny when Paris, Rome, Milan, Hong Kong, and Tokyo are the fashion capitals of the world? To them, WE dress funny (if funny dressing has any humorous at all). One big custom adjustment we have to make is the rhythm for dining in culture. In continental Europe, dinner is very late. Hardly any restaurant is open at 5 pm. People might also have later lunch. The rhythm is just different. Assume nothing unless you’ve researched the local customs. We should adjust to their vocabulary and customs. We shouldn’t expect them to adjust to ours.

 

 

Fifth, be friendly but not stupid friendly. One special characteristic of Americans is the “smile”. I’m not talking about the slightly shy smiley “bonjour” I say to my neighbors every morning. I’m talking about the stupid oh-look-I-found-my-puppy grin followed by “Hey, hello, how’re YOU doing?” Different cultures have different verbal space with strangers. Our superficial “How are you doing?” just doesn’t work with strangers in a different country. Honestly, how often do we even ask that to fellow Americans without caring how they’re doing? If you don’t believe me, try this. Next time, someone asks you how you’re doing, as a rule, say, “I’m doing really bad.” See what happens. We do theatrical friendliness as conversational fillers. Even our grin is often a non-verbal filler. Fillers don’t work for many cultures. Look for verbal and non-verbal cues that work. Observe, and turn off that crazy grin.

 

 

I think in order to travel well, we need to have this “off button” for our Americanism. We need to turn down our culture much more and that’s just basic courtesy. Tart tartare is better than humble pie any day. How does this relate to Christians?

 

 

One of the most influential Christian is the apostle Paul. Paul’s greatness came from his ability to adapt. He could blend into local culture even as a Jew (even without losing his Jewish distinctions). That’s why he had such a positive influence in the world. Many Christians can learn so much from Paul when traveling. Many Americans can learn so much from Paul. Paul was an ambassador for the gospel. He knew that in order to represent properly his gospel, he had to adapt to local cultures. In order to represent the gospel or our country, we too need to know when to push the “off” button on our own culture. Paul had a goal in mind, and that goal caused him to have flexible perspectives. With flexible perspectives, we buy ourselves potentials to have positive influence, sometimes even for the sake of the gospel.

 

 

As I moved into my apartment, I found out that the curtains were indeed a tad old, but the view off the street is spectacular (okay, I’m an urbanite. I love street views). Although our hot water tank didn’t work perfectly, our hostess was gracious in providing us immediate help for early move-in and for when we locked ourselves out of our flat. We also live in an area where we can access relatively affordable but excellent food. We can look at the beautiful architecture just outside our window knowing that our building is probably as old as the United States. These are things a perfectly new curtain can’t buy. Once again, everything is a matter of perspective.

The “Evangelical” Clique as Enemy of Truth

“One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’: another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas”; still another, ‘I follow Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1.12 (NIV)

 

Most would find my title off-putting.  Before you launch missiles and stones, read on.  A friend made a comment on Facebook after he heard a lecture from an evangelical professor about how scriptures are formed before they were canonized and how the formation and creation of those texts have meanings before the canonized scripture assigns some kind of churchly secondary meaning to these texts.  Straight forward enough! In fact, I’ve said this for years and in more recent years, I’ve built my reading of Paul off such a common fact.  These are really elementary principles.  So, jokingly, I asked, “How come they don’t accuse him of being an anti-Reformed heretic? I’ve been saying the same thing for years especially in my new construct of Paul.”  The answer from my friend is telling, “That’s because you don’t have the evangelical umbrella to protect you.”  Apparently, seeking and telling of truth aren’t enough.  We need an umbrella from the stormy fallout.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think we’re talking about a Mafia protection racket in the neighborhood in collecting protection money.

 

The above exchange really sums up the evangelical woes for recent years.  We’ve formed a clique that goes by certain party lines under the guise of ideology (notice I didn’t say “theology”. Go ahead, google and note the difference), whether it is five-point Calvinism or an antiquated model of inerrancy.  So long as we hang around with the right people saying the right spiritual jargons, we won’t be scrutinized. We have all become cliquish ideologues.  Truth telling becomes a celebration party of our cliques.  We love to party but we only party by the ideologies we set up.  Our party line becomes our ideology and then we read all reality with that ideology.  What if the ideology is inadequate?  When faced with that question, most would just shake their heads and walk away.  I think the problem with the above exchange is in the metaphor of protective umbrella.

 

Why do Christian truth tellers need a protective umbrella?  It is because the forces around us, even in the faith community circle, is polemical.  The question we need to ask is “Protection from whom?”  Usually, people go with the idea of “protection from what?” The usual answer is “Protection from heresies.”  The problem with a singular lens of viewing Christian spirituality and intellect isn’t that it’s wrong.  It’s just inadequate.  Faith isn’t all about a battle.  Faith isn’t all about the danger of the unknown. Faith, least of all, isn’t about fear, but we have plenty of fear.  The very reason why we need protection (either from “whom” or from “what”) is because we fear that we have no category to navigate life. We fear that we don’t have all the answers. So, we form protective gangs the way new immigrants form protective gangs in Chinatown or Little Italy etc.  We create a holy huddle from our fear. Soon enough, our ideology that we use to envelope us makes all of us ideologues.  Evangelicals read non-evangelicals (both Protestants and Catholics) using their own ideology instead of trying to see things from the perspective of others.  We become ideologues.

 

Once we become ideologues, our intellectual honesty will die a quick death.  Now, the problem of being ideologues isn’t limited to evangelical circles.  It can occurs in all walks of life.  What I find interesting is that we aren’t just trying to use our ideology to protect ourselves.  We find other ideologues to form our holy huddle to create terrorizing gangs against those who don’t want to be ideologues. I question all ideologues.  I don’t believe in umbrellas because I don’t always think that life is always a storm.  The very fact the ideologue needs an umbrella shows that he is insecure about his truth.  The fact he needs an ideological umbrella is not so much to be protected from the storm of the outside, but from the storm created by the illusion of his fellow Evangelicals that somehow that’s a storm.  For the man with the umbrella, everything looks like a storm. Yet, the same man often fails to ask, “Where is the storm from?”

 

In Chinatown, the recent influx of mainland Chinese immigrants create new social challenges for the old Chinatown crowd.  Many came from other provinces other than Canton.  These immigrants are low-level workers. Many are upstanding people living under less than ideal circumstances.  Some have form cliques and groups that come in form of gangs.  The new gangs are a headache because they don’t really provide protection from the white men or black men around Chinatowns all over the US.  They provide “protection” from their own kind. The protection money is what people pay to their own kinds who created the problem to begin with.  The threat is, “If we don’t get money from you, we can’t guarantee that ‘someone’ won’t burn down your store.”  That “someone” is often a thug INSIDE the gang.  THIS is the reflection of the evangelical protection umbrella.  We often create illusion that the threat is from the outside (and sometimes, we aren’t wrong), but many times, the threat is within our ranks.  Our holy huddle has become one big ghetto of our own Chinatown. When we start making faith a battle all the time, our imagery and politics will look more and more like the Mafia’s racketeering schemes rather than the vibrant resurrection faith we believe.  That’s the tragedy of our time.

 

If I were to rename this blog post, I would call it “truth murdered by the ideologue”, but someone surely would accuse me of being unloving.  At the end of the day, when telling the truth requires protection from ideologues, truth dies on the altar of an ideology.  Ideology isn’t the truth. It’s a caricature of half-truths, and that’s the pity of our faith community.

 

To qualify all of the above statements, I still believe in a lot of what evangelicals hold dear, but that’s besides the point. The very fact I have to write that qualifying statement in shows how far off we are from seeking the truth without an ideology.  One question remains, Since when did the Body of Christ operate like organized criminals? As far as truth is concerned, the ideologue has murdered it.

Missed Opportunities in the Safety Zone: Fake reform in Hong Kong

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The last two days feature one event that shapes my world, the world where I do most of my academic and ministerial work. I’m talking about the mysterious walkout by pro-China legislators in HK in a vote for a fake reform orchestrated by them that was to be voted down. I say “fake reform” because it was something that would allow people to vote ONLY Beijing-approved candidates instead of a free election as proposed before. To save their own blushes, these pro-communist legislators walked out of the legislature building instead of voting, suffering a landslide defeat. Mockery reigned for the moment, as China lost face. Some Christians even call this a miracle, an act of God.

 

Quite ironically, the eve before the vote, the three major Christian denominations, the Baptist, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Evangelical Free Churches, to which some of the pro-communist Christian legislators belong (yes, some of those pro-communist politicians are self-professed Christians), held a joint public lecture to address the politics mostly of the church about how to be harmonious with a little spillover rehash of separation of church and state. Most of the lecturers avoided a direct confrontation with the present political situation. Instead, they would talk about the need of peaceful solution. Okay I must admit Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi had already spoken on this.  No one needs to read the Bible to get that picture. Furthermore,  they distract by using red herrings by going conceptual instead of practical and by pointing to the past instead of dealing the present. They would talk insipidly about separation of the church and state, but not even in the right way because that whole phrase ironically was used originally in the US within the period when Thomas Jefferson was trying to give the baptists dignity and freedom to practice their religion. If we appeal to the concept, we should at least get our history right. Then, someone said that we should be certain that the Tiananmen massacre on June 4th, 1989, was definitely wrong. That’s like saying that the Holocaust was wrong.  Everyone knows that. Tell us something we don’t know! All these people did was an appeal to the vapidly safe option. Sometimes the church just needs to spell stuff out straight, like “This reform is a lie” instead of beating around the bush about church and state relations and other mind-numbing niceties. To call a lie a half truth is lying. To call a lie a matter of separation of church and state is lying. To call a lie something that is anything else is lying.

 

When we look at such a simple discussion by the church, we can’t help but to say that the free churches of HK have been standing on the safe side of the whole democracy debate. Leaders and even theologians skirt the issues instead of attacking them head on. Why? It’s because taking a real stand creates risks.

 

I have one thing to say to this situation. NOT taking a risk also creates risks. There’s no safety. Safety is an illusion. Risky situations are risky whether we take a stand or not. This is what some people fail to understand. Failing to voice out doesn’t just make our silence a political stance. Our failure also puts us at great risks. With such failure to voice out, the free churches of HK have missed an opportunity to witness against an oppressive system. Sure, many would excuse this silence by saying that they have interests and mission in China and that’s why they keep silent. Fine! Have they however thought of the home mission? HK, as a home to these Christians, also is a mission field. We fail our home mission by staying on the safe side of the political debate. We fail human dignity of the students who were abused during the Umbrella Movement. We fail biblical justice when we don’t denounce a government that hires thugs to keep order in the election or protest. Does the Bible have no answer about the problem of human dignity?

 

Jesus said to the disciples, “You will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria” in Acts 1.8. Being a witness in Acts had never been about keeping silent. Being a witness was about speaking into a real situation on the ground via the gospel of Jesus Christ. Silence is risky because it reeks of cowardice and ignorance. Silence is risky most of all because it violates the very nature of being a witness. Silence creates missed opportunity. Silence doesn’t create safety. It creates the illusion of safety. In this debacle, no one is safe. The perfect opportunity to tackle a situation head-on had passed in the luke-warm discussion the night before the vote. At the moment, many of the representative speakers of the three denominations look more like the German Church leaders during WWII than Barth or Bonhoeffer. Now that the vote had gone the way of democratic advocates, many celebrate, but these free churches should mourn instead because they had very little part in the discussion leading up to the vote. They don’t deserve to celebrate! The only question left for them would be, “How many more opportunities will we miss before the church becomes completely irrelevant to our world?”

 

For Christians to appeal to this event as a miracle, the event has to have enough church involvement whether in prayer or social action. The problem isn’t whether God is working in THIS or THAT event. God’s always working, though we probably don’t know what He’s doing up there. The problem isn’t God working or not or whether this can be deemed a miracle.  The problem is whether the church has done much leading up to this miraculous event. More important, the problem is whether Christians, especially Christian leaders, have been involved either by voice or by prayer or by action before all this took place. Some did, but many didn’t. Some were riding the fence so hard that I worry about their trousers.

 

Silence can’t save us all. In fact, silence in this case just destroyed us all because silence is equally risky. We shall not be silenced.

Tiananmen Massacre, June 4th Vigil and Imprecatory Psalms

This year’s June 4th vigil for the massacre of innocent students and medical personnel, the bloodiest and most unjust Chinese government action against its own people since the Cultural Revolution, has come and gone without a hitch.  The worst thing that happened was a burning of the Basic Law papers at the commemoration.

 

 

The event has evolved a little from the original purpose of the event.  Originally, it’s purely a call for justice for all the victims and their families.  It has since become a politically driven event with the mention of all sorts of misdeeds of the HK government. I continue to go to the Victoria Park even though I know there’re people with agenda there because I mostly support the agenda, but more importantly, because I don’t want to split off so easily from this big event into the splinter groups. I don’t condemn the splinter groups. I just feel that at this point, I can still go to the Victoria Park just to be in solidarity with local causes about social justice issues.

 

 

The most harrowing part of the vigil is the continuous videos of many of the victim’s families telling of continuous governmental harassment and even torture against them, even though such a horrible event happened twenty six years ago. China is a little child who is afraid of its own shadows.  Even unarmed citizens with good intentions can’t escape unscathed.  If this trend continues, the West has nothing to fear from this little big country (i.e., little in mentality, big in population and land mass). The next most harrowing part of the program is the recitation of the aftermath for the thirty seven families that stood up against the government because they lost loved ones.  Some were crippled. Others were imprisoned. Still others were/are tortured. Still, they can’t be silenced. The courage of such freedom fighters ought to encourage those of us in the West not to take our freedom for granted.  Freedom and human dignity aren’t simple pleasures until we lose them.

 

 

The final impression I had was the number of barricades being prepared for the event. By now, we must realize that most HK citizens are (overly) gentle souls. Instead of burning down and tearing stuff up, they clean up the park after the vigil and so on.  I understand that this is the first vigil since the Umbrella Movement, but why be so cautious and treat every one like a criminal. The real criminals are the ones ordering the desecration of crosses and churches.  The REAL criminals launder their money in the West. The REAL criminals wear suits and kill off opponents in the name of anti-corruption movements.  THOSE are the ones we need to fear. Watching this comical tragedy helps me to appreciate what the Psalmist says in Psalm 137.  This is the only appropriate prayer for the occasion.

 

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

 

May this scripture be fulfilled against the real criminal.  May the just God judge such wickedness.  Amen.

When the PC Train Missed the Stereotyping Track: Eddie Huang and Our Ethnic Discomfort

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Well, Eddie Huang finally did it.  He did it big this time on Twitter.  He did it so big that no less than the //

“You have lots of important things to say, Eddie, and I earnestly want to hear them — but misogyny simply cannot be one of them.”

Posted by Angry Asian Man on Thursday, May 7, 2015

“>Angry Asian Man had denounced his rap-like misogynistic language.  An article written by an Asian feminist graciously criticizes Eddie, and Asian rejoinders are dime a dozen.  Here’re some of Eddie’s offenses, according to his critics.

 

 

1) His overtly sexualized names for dishes in his restaurant raise plenty of eyebrows because they don’t only objectify women but also stereotype Asian American women.

 

 

2) He refers to black women as less desirable in the same way the stereotypical emasculated Asian males are undesirable.

 

 

3) He jests with several black feminists on Twitter who took exception to his alleged portrait of the undesirable black women.  He does so by asking them out (in jest of course).

 

 

I’m going to read Eddie as an exegete via rhetorical criticism.  Don’t let my fancy term scare you. What I mean is this. I’m going to look at Eddie not only as a person but his text (his book, his conversations, and his twitter) as a rhetorical device not just to see what he said, but to see what he did with what he said.

 

 

I suggest that many of my Asian American critics aren’t reading Eddie correctly.  I’m not saying this as an apologist of Eddie. I don’t know him. I’ve voiced my dissatisfaction and praise for the show FOTB in equal measure in the past blogs.  I just want to look at the recent controversy by exegeting what Eddie said simply because I exegete texts for my academic vocation. I read (not just biblical texts but non-biblical texts also) and write for a living. I also exegete people in my former ministerial vocation. Interpretation is important. This present post is an exercise in interpretation. Interpretations have implications for our ethics as Asian Americans, especially Christian Asian Americans.

 

 

I think we need to now look at Eddie from a Christian’s point of view (any non-Christian, you can look at him from a different point of view).  I want to look at him beyond his symbolic role as a person and how his rhetoric reflects that person.  We often mistakenly read public figures only in terms of their ideologies or what they represent to US instead of seeing the whole picture of how they represent themselves (via various posts and books written by such figures).

 

 

Now, I have no problem saying that Eddie’s rap personality is a bit bigger than life, and there’re times when his rhetoric crosses the line in rocking the boat. I’m not at all in favor of misogynistic language in either music or in our daily conversation (especially in our Chinese food menu’s).  I appreciate the concern of all those who lovingly or not so lovingly admonish Eddie’s vocabulary usage.  However, in this blog, I want to step back just a tiny bit to look at this whole outcry from a bigger picture. I’m going to look at this from only one way of how Asians react to this situation.

 

 

A question intrigues me.  Why are so many Asians so eager to distance themselves from Eddie in the fallout from his recent social media faux pas, besides not wanting to appear misogynistic and racist?   Eddie simply doesn’t fit. He uses hyperbole and sarcasm.  He uses over-the-top exaggerations in order to make his point.   Here’s the problem.  Many Asians aren’t comfortable with this kind of crazy usage of language. Instead, they read him literally (I mean, read him only one way).

 

 

Many who criticize him surely are well meaning. At the same time, Eddie’s hyper masculine persona doesn’t blend well with our perceived (and sometimes self-imposed) hypo masculinity.  Eddie is no girly man!  He’s wilding (to use his vocabulary) all the time.  Sure, he overstated his case many times over. Let’s face it, Asians don’t use hip hop language because we sure play real nice. We are, after all, a model minority. A model minority doesn’t incite; we harmonize.   Let’s interpret Eddie just a little bit though, not so much on what he says, but how he says it. He compares undesirable Asian males to the stereotypical undesirable black women.  What many miss is his irony because he isn’t saying that black women aren’t desirable.  He’s making a comparison between two stereotypes (i.e., the desirable black woman and the even less desirable Asian girly men).  Was his representation of black women and Asian men accurate? No, I think Alicia Keys and Halle Berry etc. are very attractive (well, okay, I think my wife is MORE attractive).

 

 

Whether you think Asian men are attractive, ladies, is up to you. I can’t comment on that. Was his representation of black women and Asian mane stereotype accurate? Absolutely! Just look at how many leading black women and Asian male are in Hollywood romantic drama in comparison to the predominantly white list of leading roles. Case closed! We hate being the perpetual foreigners and being strangers from a foreign shore. The bamboo ceiling in Hollywood is really low.  Eddie just points that out using the most outrageous (but definitely true) rhetoric, and that brings horrible discomfort to our cultural wound.

 

 

Granted, Eddie’s analogy is unfortunate because it is made at the expense of black woman stereotype (but not necessarily black women themselves), but he does so to move the conversation along on stereotyping. What Eddie is saying however isn’t that the stereotype is good. He seems to be saying the opposite, that the stereotype is bad.  His very jest of asking those black feminists out signals to me that he doesn’t find black women unattractive per se, but I think the irony is lost in cyber space knee jerk blog sphere. Why else would anyone ask someone else for a date unless that person feels that someone belongs to an attractive group rather than an unattractive group?

 

 

A more serious issue still is Eddie’s ambiguous role as the Asian American representative. The critic who calls Eddie out in a blog points to Eddie’s enjoyment of seeing himself as a representative of Asian Americans while saying that he really can’t speak for all of us. Well, does he represent all of us or not? I saw the Bill Mahr show on which Eddie made those remarks. He seems to be saying, “You make me some kind of representative and I enjoy that, but I really don’t speak for all Asian Americans.”  Fair enough.  We MAKE Eddie into this ideal and we want our unwilling Eddie to stay at that ideal, but Eddie is just being his sarcastic self. He’s the wilding Eddie. He isn’t just an angry Asian dude; he’s a wilding Asian dude. He’s the Asian hip-hop dude!   To get a fuller picture of Eddie, we should read his book carefully. The Eddie of the book, the relative real Eddie (at least on paper), is quite different from our ideal.  When Eddie complained that the show didn’t represent his life fairly and that there were some family problems, many Asians automatically pointed to the issue Eddie with his parents (the word “abusive” came up several times).

 

 

Many AA’s have a love-hate relationship with their family, especially with the first generation immigrant parents. Whether Eddie’s parents were problematic parents is quite a different issue, but many second generation clearly want to read their own experience into Eddie’s complex family relationship.  Sure, there were some first generation and second generation tension in the book. Eddie’s dad’s real old school and didn’t hesitate to put the fear of authority into Eddie when Eddie stepped out of line.  But there were also happy moments when Eddie was incredibly proud of his dad for being the guy who had swag and proud of his mom for being intelligent and strong in her own immigrant parenting experience. Parenting is a complex thing.  So is the Asian family. Yet, many second generation AA’s focus on the negatives. Why? We love to stereotype our parents (who obviously lack understanding of the “American” culture which we love so much) because sometimes such a move is therapeutic. The only problem is, Eddie’s memoir isn’t simplistic. Neither is it a caricature or a stereotype. It has more flesh than the bony sound bite popular media allows Eddie.  Most who haven’t read the entire memoir shouldn’t really go into judging Eddie’s parents so that they can feel better about themselves.  An autobiography isn’t the best therapy tool.

 

 

IF we say that Eddie doesn’t represent us, why do we get on his case like he does? IF we say that Eddie represents us, aren’t we going against the whole idea of “we don’t want the model minority stereotype”? Perhaps, in making him represent us originally, he has brought us “shame” (well, shame is such a sensitive and important concept in Asian America). Eddie sure broke the model minority mode.  We get on his case because we can’t have Eddie representing us and say these things. Because the FOTB show somehow represents our very best effort at prime time TV, we need to get on the case of Eddie who inspired the show. We only have a slight problem.  Eddie clearly doesn’t want to represent us Asians.  In fact, we have two problems.  We can’t hang on to our anti-model-minority cause while forcing our unwilling representative Eddie to conform to the model minority stereotype.  What do we want?  Clearly, we can’t have your cake and eat it too.  We can’t make Eddie represent us when he fits our model minority mode, but when he doesn’t or when he fails our model minority stereotype, we throw him under the bus. The problem is that in the Asian culture, representative politics are deeply ingrained. How many times do we grow up hearing our elders telling us that our self-identity is in our 5000 years of history?  Probably more times than we care to admit.

 

 

As human beings, we often see things in terms of ideologies.  We see wars between one ideology against another.  We see the black versus the white in conflicts.  Life is full of grey however.  Human factor often cause this shade of grey.  Rhetorical moves are greyer still. Eddie is going to be what Eddie claims to be.  He doesn’t want to represent us though he loves to use his voice for the causes of racial equality and AA’s.  In seeing this case, we have to understand the importance of treating people as human beings instead of ideologues. People and ideals are two different things.  As Christians, we need to break out of our own racial ideological bubble.  We need to think pastorally.   How do we see things pastorally?  Instead of trying to deny our overseas Asian culture having no impact in our present Asian America, we need to call out when we make those representative political moves. We need to own up to our deeply ingrained cultural knee jerk reactions as uniquely ours.

 

 

In reality, representative politics are dead, but we simply don’t know it. The objections against Eddie come from a very overseas Asian reading of Huang’s work.  Our desperate attempt to be “Americans” can’t save us from our blind spots that originated from our ancestral culture (namely, representation politics).  We need to examine whether such a way of reading reality is healthy or Christian for AA Christians.

 

 

Where does Christianity fit in this whole mess because obviously just radical and self-hating detachment isn’t an option?   A simpler lesson we can gather from Eddie’s recent episode is the way rhetoric works both in our public speaking and in social media. Sarcasm is best served sparingly. Irony is often lost on many who lack the cultural navigation tools. Instead, many can easily misread irony. I know this advice is strange coming from me because I’m a terribly sarcastic person in my public speaking, but I’m working on it.  Some of us who read this blog are preachers. We’re still constrained by our PC culture to avoid certain analogies, however valid or clever the analogies are. This would impact the way we use illustrations and the kind of illustrations we choose. Sarcasm and irony are hard to control. They wild! The wild beast of rhetoric can break out of the cage unexpectedly and the aftermath isn’t worth our cleverness. Once the beast gets out, it’s hard to rein it back in.

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