The screen door swings open by itself,
and memories come out to haunt,
I don’t quite know why,
I’m remembering the summer of the fireflies,

of the smell of freshly cut grass,
Daddy just mowed the lawn,
the sweat upon my brow and lip,
because of the just-set, hot summer sun.

Why is it a place with a straw field that I always remember?
A looming house, a boy I don’t really know,
memories that may not be my memories,
I’m running across the field with a stranger.

But that’s kind of how Kentucky feels,
in my memory it doesn’t feel like my own,
it was someone else’s story my mind set out to steal,
and it’s only now I’m making that known.

But the memories take me back,
to a brick, one story house
nestled on Coltneck Lane,
how could I forget?
This really may be my story,
that place once held my name.

I learned how to ride a bike,
on the gentle decline of a church parking lot,
Daddy’s encouragement and grasp, my guide,
As I tentatively moved down that slope.

Momma dressed us up for Easter in matching dresses,
the tulips beamed too in the front yard photos,
we went to a neighbor’s house for supper,
and I ate at least two dozen dumplings.

I wore my dress-up clothes around the house,
I read around a racetrack,
I didn’t have a care in the world,
I definitely rocked that bowl cut,

This was me almost 20 years ago,
happy and carefree,
I had a little southern drawl,
I went to Trinity Academy.

And then the screen door slams shut,
the fireflies disappear,
it’s getting late,
and the heat feels too much to bear,

I wake up in another chapter,
a cold yet familiar place,
the sweat has dried upon my brow,
my memories erased.

The table.

Tables come in all shapes, sizes and materials. In some cultures, there is a short table on the floor and everyone gathers around it on a bamboo mat to eat. Some cultures use spinning tables at certain meals so that everyone can share the food easier. When we can afford it, my roommate and I need a new kitchen table because we want to be able to host more people. Tables are for gathering and sharing food, stories, and life together.

Today at church, we sang one of my favorite songs, called “The Table.” There are a few reasons why it’s one of my favorites — firstly, I love it because of that image of tabling, or feasting with the Lord. One of the verses says, Come all you weary // Come and find // His yoke is easy // His burden light // He is able // He will restore // At the table of the Lord. There is rest, restoration and rejuvenation at the Lord’s table.

I love tables because I love food. And I love that the image of gathering around the table is one constantly used throughout Scripture. In the parable of the great wedding banquet, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. The king invited those esteemed guests and members of the royal household, sending servants to check on them and make sure they were coming, but they refused. The king had prepared the best food he had available, his oxen and fattened cattle, but the guests turned down his invite and one of them even mistreated the servants that were sent to him.

Reading this now, I’m like, why would you pass up (what at that time seemed like) an amazing feast?! But they did. So the king told his servants to go out and gather people from the streets to come eat and celebrate, because the food was ready but the guests were not. Sometimes v. 14, “for many are invited, but few are chosen,” is debated, but I want to focus on the idea of feasting at the table as an image for the kingdom. We are invited, and it’s a free and beautiful invitation to come eat! It is free because of the free gift we have been given in God through Jesus, which we symbolically celebrate around the communion table in Eucharist too. Because of what has already been done and prepared for us, we are invited to come gather, as the chosen and invited ones, around the table for a delicious meal.

One reason why fall is my favorite season is because of the food. And that the flavors, the colors, and crisp, cool air, I find, bring people together. After our church service today, where we sang that song, we gathered for an autumn potluck together and laughed, caught up, shared stories and ate around communal tables. Everyone was encouraged to bring a fall dish, and flavors like pumpkin, apple, squash and caramel tickled and warmed my senses. I was so happy; we were all so happy to be gathered around tables eating together.

That this is an image for the kingdom of God is so beautiful, so accessible and so identifiable. Everyone likes to eat, and most people like to gather with other people. Most people like to be invited to things. I know I can often do a better job of being a warm, inviting, and welcoming person — sometimes as an introvert, it is easier to want to eat alone or not start up a conversation with someone new — but it’s important.

The image of gathering around the table also brings in this idea of belonging, our place, our invitation, and our importance to the dinner party. In a world of competition, envy, deceit, hustling and genuine struggle, I have to remind myself everyday that I bring something important and unique to the table. Maybe it’s a similar dish as another person, maybe I look like another person, but I am unique and it is important because it is me. And God made me, and each of us uniquely and especially ourselves. This sounds so cliche, and it’s not in an “I’m so different and special” or “more different and special than other people” kind-of-way, it’s more to help me (and you) recognize our own individual value and worth at the tables we feast at.

Real talk is that I struggle a lot with wondering, is what I’m bringing to the table good enough or enough? Am I writing enough, am I thinking enough, am I dreaming enough, am I doing enough?

The truth is, I may never know the answers to those questions but I will know what it feels like to have truth in the midst of those questions — the truth that God created me and invited me to the table. The most important question is, will I accept that invitation? Will you?

Be still.

Every week at church, my pastor, Scott, segues into a prayer time in our liturgy by encouraging us to “in the stillness of our hearts, offer our prayers and concerns to God.”

Yesterday was the first time I heard that and was somewhat struck by the fact that my heart was NOT still. Relationally, vocationally, emotionally, spiritually, my heart and mind are in turmoil right now. Especially in moments of prompted stillness, or when spending time in the morning journalling and reflecting, I am more than ever reminded of how un-still my heart and life really is. I understand it could just be a nice-sounding way of moving us into prayer, reflection and inward contemplation. Maybe encouraging us to still our hearts as we move into this time, if they aren’t already there. Yesterday, I was simply struck by my heart’s anxiety and I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to meditate on Psalm 46, where the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God!” is used, a command God gives to be still — because He is God. But where does that statement of stillness come from and in what context is the psalmist quoting God here? I was curious. Our lives are not expected to be still already, they are expected to still in light of knowing who God is. Or something like that.

Let me expand on some of my thoughts and reflections (coming from a slightly more stilled heart), after examining this more closely.

Psalm 46 is a pretty beautiful poem of praise to the God of Zion/Jerusalem who is present with his people there (historically, God was believed to inhabit the temple with his chosen people in Zion/Jerusalem). Vv 2-3 describe a tumultuous, entire earth-shaking earthquake, and God’s presence, his refuge and strength in the midst of that chaos and fear — which those of us who were in the LA area the past few days can really relate to. Two days ago, during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Ridgecrest, I was listening to some live music in Pasadena. The band was introducing a song titled, “Firm Foundation,” about standing on solid ground, trusting and hoping in higher and stronger forces than ourselves — as the ground literally began to shift and shake underneath our feet. It was probably the most visceral reminder I could’ve had at this time of the fact that God is God and we are always on solid ground, always in the midst of refuge and strength when we are in his presence. In the midst of an earthquake, the truth of God remains the truth of God. The reminder of that fact through song was pretty prophetic and beautiful.

The psalmist here, in the midst of a cosmic-sized earthquake, reasserts his faith and hope in God. God is both the God of the heavens and cosmos, but also God who resides in Zion/Jerusalem among his people. As the poem continues, we see that God is in the midst of the chaotic and unpredictable forces of battle and war as well. That’s where the statement, “Be still and know that I am God” appears — in the middle of earthly wars and battles, God is there and he is above it all (“exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth” vv. 10). He is not only sovereign, exalted over it all, but he is with us, with the life of the community in the midst of it (vv. 11).

The stillness that comes with God’s power and presence can be in the midst of cosmic disaster or war, but it is a reality for the depths of our hearts. In our deepest, darkest doubts, fears, questions, anxieties and pain, that’s where God’s stillness reigns. These tumultuous images of war, chaos and disaster rendered by the psalmist could be his realities in the Near East of the time — and that was where God was present and exalted and where he was reminded to “be still.” Today, we are experiencing earthquakes and wars too; pain, anxiety and fear is persistent in our world today, but the love, presence and stillness of God persists as well.

That call to “in the stillness of our hearts, offer our prayers and concerns to God” from my pastor is not a request to still the actual realities of our lives — sometimes, we just don’t have that power. The call is to remember this God described and praised in Psalm 46 and throughout the scriptures, this God who is exalted in the midst of our pain, suffering, disaster and war. The chaos of life will continue; the depths of our hearts and minds may continue to be in turmoil and anxiety, but the peace, the stillness of God reigns nonetheless. What we choose to proclaim and believe in the middle of our anxiety is what matters — will we choose to cling to a stillness and ever-present hope that has power over it all, even when it feels as though we are powerless?

That is trust; that is hope; that is in what we could hope to find stillness.

References for Psalm 46 taken from:

Brueggemann, Walter, and W. H Bellinger, Jr., Psalms. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.


Waiting upon things is so difficult — any human would probably attest to and agree with this. This post comes out of a current story of a season of life of waiting. We all know it feels bad, hard, anxious and painful, but what can we do about it? Is God listening to us? Is it okay to not always be tangibly “moving forward” in our lives? What do we do when we feel a little stuck?

The other night, I was babysitting for two kids, a different family than I wrote about last — these kids are a 7 and 8 year old girl and boy in Santa Monica. Their parents had told me that they could stay up til they got home, I didn’t need to put them to bed, so I had braced myself for a loong evening of rambunctious games and running around. Which is exactly what it was. I began to notice their impatience early on while playing games with them — they’d continually ask me questions and as I was trying to figure them out, they’d repeatedly ask the same question in a crescendo-ing tone. It was pretty annoying and I found myself repeatedly asking them, “pleeaase, be patient as I figure it out.” Seething a little bit under my breath, I’d pretty quickly determine the answer, just to be bombarded with more questions and way more energy than I was prepared for. After awhile of the impatient questioning and my repeated pleas to please be more patient as I figured out the rules of a new game and how to explain to us all, or as I went to get us all water, or as I figured out how to deal with a tiebreaker … I realized that this was a learning opportunity and insightful experience for me as well as for them (hoping that my encouragement to be more patient in some way had an affect).

I’ve found myself currently in an ongoing season of restlessness, anxiety, questioning, doubting and stasis, in many ways. I have so much I want to do and figure out and sometimes it feels like all I’ve been doing is waiting to start something. I find myself longing for God’s presence, peace and action in my life, because waiting puts us as humans in a weird position. We’re out of control and dependent on other forces to make decisions. The power isn’t in our hands; if it was, we’d take action and get the outcome we want ourselves. We would answer the questions we’re asking about the rules of the game ourselves. Waiting brings up issues of trust and faith because when we cannot control an outcome, how will we live in the present and how will we interact with the One who has that power?

Reflecting back on the way I responded to those kids’ impatience made me think about the way I’ve been talking to God lately. What does God think when I feel restless and anxious in my waiting? When I really want something and I ask for it impatiently? I doubt God gets annoyed like I did with the kids when we ask for the same things over and over in increasingly impatient ways.

For those of you, like me, who may feel stuck and static in seasons of waiting and expectation, I hope you’ll be reassured that God does speak to us, interact with us, and move among us. But most of all, God loves us and is with us. I don’t know how you experience God’s love and presence, but I hope that in your moments of anxiety and difficulty, wrestling and questioning, stasis and stuck-ness, that you will in some sense, experience solace. Maybe moments where we seem to most lack control over our lives can point to the fact that anything that is achieved or that happens is God and not us.

I want to leave you with this prayer from a book of Walter Brueggemann’s, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, that my mom gave to me and I’ve been meditating with lately. This one spoke to me because sometimes we pray and try to listen but are distracted. May we have clarity and may we be in a “listening mood” in order to hear well.

Your command is garbled

We imagine you coming into the barracks with your insistent demand. We imagine you addressing the sun to “move out,” the sky — “let there be light,” the sea — “stand back.”

We imagine you addressing us, each of us and all of us with your order of the day. We imagine … but the din of other commands, of old loyalties and unfinished business and tired dreams cause us not to hear well, not to listen, not to notice, and your command is garbled.

So come again with your mandate, with the clarity of your imperative. We listen, because we know in deep ways that your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Come among us, because we are yours, and ours is a listening mood. Give us ears and then hands and hearts and feet for your good news. Amen.

Big lessons from little kids’ books.

I’ve been nannying some kids for the past month or so, a 3 year old boy named Dylan and 5 year old girl named Ellie, who are hilarious, wild, crazy, sometimes really obnoxious and mischievous, but normally just a lot of fun and I’m learning so much from them. It’s true that I often think, “this isn’t my real job” or “what I really want to be doing long-term,” and it definitely isn’t. But in the meantime, this is my current reality, and so I’m investing in it as much as I can and truly learning a lot.

For example, the kids are half Korean, half Taiwanese, and both they and their parents have taught me a lot about Korean culture and food. I had a great conversation with their dad the other day about his childhood in Brazil and then his move to the US and the struggles he had learning English and connecting with other Asians because he identified more as Brazilian than Taiwanese or American.

But the big thing that struck me last week came while I was reading some books to the kids.

Lesson one came from The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It looked like a nice book to read to Dylan before a nap; it has a pretty, green cover and I had fond memories of it from childhood. Has anyone read it recently? Warning that, if you’re anything like me, there’s a high chance it’ll catch you off guard and make you cry. A brief recap … this tree and this little boy become friends; the boy climbs the tree, plays in its branches, etc. As the boy grows up and moves away, the tree misses him and still wants to be his friend. But the boy comes back in need of bigger things from the tree, like a house and a boat. And the tree continues to give and give, and the boy continues to age and need more. And then it gets to a point where the tree can’t give anymore to the boy, and that’s kind of the end of the story. The boy is off living his adult life, full of change, growth, emotional hardship, etc. and the tree remains behind but is always the one giving in order to sustain the friendship and the boy’s needs. It was pretty heartbreaking to read this story again in my adult life, and to realize how uneven and unbalanced this giving – receiving friendship between the tree and boy is. What type of message does that communicate to kids?

I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself (as this book challenged me to ask myself), are you just taking from your friendships and from others, or are you giving as well? Are you finding balance with yourself and in your interpersonal relationships?

Self-care is really important too. Are you being refilled and replenished as you give to others?

The second book that made me think a little bit last week was actually just a children’s Bible storybook, so a very simplified version of Bible stories with pictures designed for toddlers. It wasn’t anything about the stories themselves or the way they were simplified that got me thinking, but it was the fact that the writers left out completely Jesus’ death and resurrection from the story and skipped right from his birth to his ascension into heaven and then the book ended. Likely they left it out because it’s a gruesome and sad part of the story that Jesus was crucified, and it’s hard to put that in a little kid’s book. You also can’t talk about the resurrection without talking about the crucifixion, so that part couldn’t be included either. It really made me wonder in that moment how I was taught about Jesus’ death when I was a child. Was it mentioned in Sunday School and at what age did I start hearing that part of the story? I can’t remember, honestly.

I was helping the kids get ready for a Good Friday service at their church a couple weeks before encountering the Bible storybook, and I remember Ellie, the older girl, asking me why they had to go to church “not on a Sunday and at night?” and I wondered, “hmm how do I say this well to her?” I said something about having to remember the whole story of Jesus and having to honor Good Friday before we can celebrate Easter. But I didn’t give her the whole story or mention death, I don’t believe.

Why did I, in that moment, and why do we as Christians, shy away from talking about hard or difficult things or including parts of the story that may prompt our kids to ask us questions that we can’t answer? As parents, I’m curious how you talk to your kids about death and the tougher parts of Bible stories.

I wish, as a kid, I had been told more often (and I had seen others in my life saying more often) that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

I’m learning so much from these little ones, and they’re not even my own children; I’m only with them for four or five hours a day. It’s incredible how inquisitive, adventurous, funny and intelligent they are. I think they (and all children in our lives) deserve the most authentic and thoughtful storytelling experiences we can give them at their age. It’s just not good enough to leave out the death and resurrection of Jesus in a Bible storybook. That’s the most important part of the story, of our story. Today, as an adult, I’m afraid or hesitant to ask hard questions sometimes, or to be honest and transparent with my thoughts and feelings. It could be totally unrelated to the way these topics were broached in childhood, but if it is at all related, I wonder, why are we modeling to our children anything other than complete honesty and trust? Especially when it comes to the Bible and telling the story of God truthfully.

Minimal living.

A few days ago, a friend recommended to me the Netflix doc, Minimalism, and watching it really got my head spinning, as good documentaries often do for us. It was created by the two founders of The Minimalists, who in 2010, launched a nationwide, large-scale movement stemming from their personal journeys away from corporate, high-paying jobs and toward the pursuit of minimalist lifestyles. It is a challenging yet compelling message that they offer, to leave unnecessary possessions, fancy cars, homes and jobs, in exchange for fewer material items but more overall meaning and significance in the things that they do have and in the relationships and non-tangible things that they value most. Their movement offers books, lectures, films, a podcast and more, and I’d highly recommend looking into it!

As a person who has never valued objects that much, and who finds myself in a transitional and mobile stage of life where I don’t own a home or necessarily have strong ties to physical possessions, it is not that difficult for me to consider giving things away and living on less than I do. That being said, I do have a lot of shoes and really need to clean out my bathroom vanity too. I feel a little more motivated to do so after watching this, which is good. What struck me most about this doc, however, were the social, moral and spiritual implications that it posed (this is solely my interpretation, not necessarily the intent of the filmmakers).

The questions that it leaves me with, and that I want to examine are these:

How can minimal living encompass our mental, emotional and spiritual space as well as our physical possessions?

How can decluttering our lives and hearts reveal our devotion?

I saw the minimal lifestyle championed in this film as a metaphor for discovering truth. Let me explain. Minimal living, in essence, requires cleaning out the parts of our lives that distract from what truly matters to us: our families, friends, vocations, passions, purpose. It is a means as much as an end; the significance is in the process as well as the result. We are shaped and formed as we discover what it is to live with less, what we can do without, where our priorities lie, what we cannot do without. This could be paralleled to the spiritual process of being refined and strengthened in our faith journeys, perhaps even a process that could run alongside a physical cleansing of our worldly possessions. In Malachi 3:2, God is described as “the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap, He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.” The decluttering process can be spiritual as well as material, and through it, the re-prioritization of goods and values can allow God to do His refining work within our hearts.

Additionally, when we remove excessive physical objects in our lives that are vying for our attention, we create physical, mental, emotional and spiritual space for other things to take their place. The truth is that, as capable, well-developed and sophisticated as we are in multi-tasking in this day and age, as humans, when we are devoted to one thing or a few things, we cannot be as devoted to others. Our attention can only be truly concentrated in a limited number of compelling objects, people or causes. It’s a fundamental fact of our existence. So, I interpreted the movement toward getting rid of physical objects to be a moral statement about elevating in importance our devotion or attention to other things instead. The question therefore becomes: in what do we place our devotion if it’s not our material possessions?

Taking the spiritual parallels one step deeper: I’m reminded here of Jesus’ cleansing(s) of the temple in the Gospels, where he overturned moneychangers’ and vendors’ tables and demanded allegiance to his Father (Mt. 21:12-17, Mk. 11:15-19, Lk. 19:45-47, Jn. 2:14-16). His anger toward the desecration of his Father’s house into a marketplace illustrated a few things: 1) The temple was holy; it was a place of worship of God alone; 2) The temple represented communion, access and forgiveness, where people were accepted without barriers (key point of Jesus’ anger was that Gentiles were being swindled by moneychangers, inhibiting their access); 3) Again, the temple was holy, and it represented more than a physical building; it was Jesus’ body, the church. If you’re tracking with me, this biblical story is sort of a perfect parallel to The Minimalists message made spiritual, because the cleansing or decluttering of the physical space of the temple was a metaphor for something much greater, the reorientation, cleansing, refining and purifying of peoples’ hearts and the church. There was distraction and clutter in the way of people (especially Gentiles in this case) freely accessing and worshipping God in the way He had intended, and Jesus was infuriated by this.

This reorientation of our priorities and cleansing of our homes (and hearts) is incredibly spiritual if we want it to be. Decluttering can be more than a socially conscious action to live lightly (although that is exceedingly important in and of itself); it can also be a spiritual statement in allegiance to God and his ideals of love, care for our earth, and acceptance of its people. In resisting idols of wealth, power, status, etc., we are aligning our hearts with His. I truly believe that when we resist consumerism, capitalism, and cycles of production and consumption that exploit people and our environment, we are making a spiritual statement that we align with Our Creator and His ideals of justice, peace and love.

Joshua, one of The Minimalists’ founders, encouraged viewers if they decide to get rid of possessions, to think through each item, and only keep things that are necessary or serve a tangible purpose that we could articulate and justify. Way easier said than done, I know. I wonder if we can go through this process spiritually too. Can we recenter and refocus our thoughts on things above? Can we invite God in to purify, cleanse and declutter our souls too? Can the material, physical process of cleaning out our home propel forward the spiritual process as well?

Sometimes this looks like it did in the film for the founders or like it did with Jesus in the temple: a force ravages our lives and we are confronted head-on with our priorities and what is getting in the way of focusing on them solely. There is a distinct moment where we come to the awareness that we need to make changes. Sometimes, however, and I can speak from my own experience here, there isn’t going to be a drastic moment of realization or truth where we know exactly what we need to do. A lot of changes are gradual, incremental, and filled with indecision and hesitation, and that is okay too.

I think (and I’m taking my own spiritual liberty here) that we can be patient and forgiving with ourselves too, open ourselves up to change, refining, purifying and decluttering, but still take it slow. Again, the transformation is as much in the means as it is in the end here; a lot more could be changing for us or being refined within us than we may realize. Can we start by opening our imaginations to what we may need to do to either begin or propel forward this process?

Of freedom.

Caught in between
worlds, cultures and faces.
Where do I find myself?
But lost
within a notion of who I have been
conditioned to believe
that I should be.

Shapes, colors, details, bone structures,
have torn the world apart,
have told us who we are,
have told me that I cannot decide for myself.

But when I do decide,
what do I say?
Who am I to know now who I want to

My face is not my culture,
it is not who I am.

But when I am free,
to act on something deeper
than my tiny nose, almond eyes and black hair,
am I ready?
Do I know what my freedom means,
or what it can do?
How do I find something that has always
been missing?

I need to construct, to redefine, to revert
and subvert
that which has been constructed for me.
Freedom is in this power
to discover and create.
Can we look beyond?
Can we look within?

To discover
that we are a human race
never meant to be defined by borders,
shapes, colors, frameworks, details or faces,
but by qualities
of love,
of creativity,
of compassion,
of discovery,

of freedom.

The Truman Show, RBG and changing unjust realities.

It’s amazing how movies help me process ideas and make connections. Recently, I’ve realized how many classics I need to still see, and so have been trying to catch up. Movies have the power to transport us to alternate worlds, help us put into words what we cannot ourselves, or empower us to envision scenes that we wouldn’t be able to construct from our own realities. Movies inspire and particularly for me, help in making connections between ideas or concepts that may otherwise remain separate and unrelated.

Last Friday was a great example of that.

I was introduced to The Truman Show for the first time (checked a classic off the list!) and was immediately engrossed in Truman’s distorted reality and his journey from discovery of a false identity to complete rejection and rebellion against the system which had placed him as a star in his own reality TV show. Shrouded in humor, lighthearted banter, personable characters and happy neighborhoods, at its core, the movie is existential, deep and haunting. Truman is basically stuck in a reality that is everyone else’s but his own, constantly watched by zealous viewers around the world, lied to and deceived from birth by the people seemingly closest to him. His fate has been scripted by people he has never seen or met, who hold ultimate control over everything from what he eats, to where he works, to whom he marries.

In the middle of the movie, the producer, Christof, this metaphorical God-figure who oversees Truman’s life, says in regards to Truman’s situation and his coming awareness of reality, “We accept the reality of the world as it is presented to us.” Deep, right?!

Okay, before I elaborate on that quote, let me fast forward in my own evening to the second, seemingly completely different movie I saw that day, the newly-released must-see, On the Basis of Sex, a biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Firstly, shameless plug for this film — it is powerful, inspiring, informative and provocative. It opened my eyes to a movement of men, women and youth for equality against a discriminate legal system that I had no idea existed. And, apparently, it is helping me make broader, very important social connections.

Basically, RBG, depicted skillfully by Felicity Jones, is one of the most brilliant women ever, who excelled in both Harvard and Columbia Law, taught gender law passionately at Rutgers when denied other employment opportunities that she was more than qualified for, cared for and worked alongside her husband, a skilled tax lawyer himself, raised a daughter and son, and fought tirelessly for gender equality throughout the course of this film. In a quintessential speech in a Colorado courtroom where she was representing a man who had been penalized on the basis of sex for caring for his mother, she delivers a remarkable speech about social change. In her speech, she talks about various laws and cases that brought about social changes, and the pressing need for new precedents and laws to fit a new era. While the opposition wants stasis and stability, out of fear of change and what that will bring to a male-dominated system, RBG and her husband advocate for incremental, step by step change that is needed for a new age.

Now, hopefully this isn’t too much of a jump, but with the premise of this film in mind, I want to return to that quote from The Truman Show, because herein lies my main connection. The basis of that quote is the idea that humanity accepts blindly the norms, structures, systems, realities, institutions, etc. that surround us, maybe on the premise that we are either powerless, lazy, incompetent, unmotivated, whatever, to address or change them. For Truman, there were incredibly active and formidable forces keeping him from changing his reality, so I didn’t see this statement as a remark on any laziness or paralysis on his part to take action, but more of an umbrella statement about the human condition and our tendencies.

For whatever reason, it is comfortable for us to resist change. Or maybe not to resist it, but simply to ignore its possibilities. We are afraid; we’re apathetic; we’re lazy; we lack the foresight to take risks and trust in the unknown outcomes. We cannot often envision futures beyond what we know in the present, or what we have experienced or seen.

This may be the case for menial daily instances like cleaning our room, doing chores, cooking dinner, to larger personal situations like changing a career path, leaving a job or moving abroad. But the idea that we are immobilized or apathetic toward changing larger social things that we know are wrong, unjust or oppressive is very interesting. Why do social systems remain the way that they do — why historically were there hundreds of laws prohibiting women from doing certain jobs and requiring them to live by certain procedures, or preventing African Americans from having equal opportunities and rights as white people? What does it take to uproot a system? Why are we so afraid of change? And why do so many people feel helpless to change things?

Hopefully, you’re starting to see some of the film to social connections that I’m trying to make. Funny how two disparate movies brought up similar questions. My main goal here is to raise the questions that can help us think, and leave you to answer in your own varied contexts.

I now want to bring in a spiritual component to these ideas of social change, resisting structures, confronting norms, and not living within the reality of the world as it is presented to us. The truth for Christians and for my own journey is that Jesus lived both within and outside social systems. He was a Jewish man who in one sense inhabited a human body and died a real and painful death, while in another sense being completely God and effectively subverting and resisting all forces and structures of power and oppression that he came into contact with. The Gospel, as people of Christian faith believe, is not a comfortable reality or something that just fits into a modern or prescribed worldview. We have to notice differences, unethical structures, and step outside the boundaries of what is normal or comfortable to us in order to take action and make changes when we are confronted with them.

The ways we choose to do this depends on the situation and our context, but the truth is that social change, ethical decisions, movements that serve and help others, justice on behalf of marginalized or oppressed peoples, creation and culture care, etc. are not just realities that are presented to us (often reality stands in opposition to them); we must act to propel them forward. This is a biblical and theological precedent as well as a historical one. We are called to take creative and just action and participate in God’s kingdom here on earth, being moved by things that move God’s heart.

So take Christof’s words not as reality but as a warning of what could be; strive to embody social change where it is in line with justice and truth; live within the bounds of earthly systems while trusting in divine, otherworldly realities.

My prayer, both for myself and for you as readers and friends, is that when you do feel immobilized or stuck within a reality presented to you that you know is wrong or you do not want, that you would be able to envision hope and change, both an eternal and everlasting hope, and simultaneously, a tangible and practical hope that meets you in your immediate need.

*Artist: Banksy, Title: Girl with Balloon

Crazy Rich Asians from a different Chinese-American perspective.

Who didn’t go see Crazy Rich Asians this weekend?! is the real question … as theaters in and around Pasadena were selling out as my friend and I were trying to book tickets on Sunday afternoon, and even after finding one we spent half an hour parking and barely got seats (as they were unassigned).

Obviously I didn’t come here to complain about the reality that is LA on a pretty consistent basis, but despite our temporary troubles, am happy and highly impressed that this movie has had such an incredible turnout.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to and most things I’ve read and heard have been extremely positive — it’s funny, the characters both have depth and are well-rounded, the main cast is entirely Asian and Asian-American, it’s creative, it broaches the theme of Asian-American identity in the midst of rigid and traditional Singaporean-Chinese wealth, and it raises questions of cultural, ethnic, generational, socioeconomic, etc. identity that challenges even those of different contexts.

Despite the backlash about the lack of diverse Asian representation, it does well at its limited goals. As a Chinese-American woman, it was empowering to see so many beautiful Asian faces on screen in a popular and desirable American context, and to see the way in which a version of the Chinese-American “rags to riches” story was portrayed. A girl (Rachel Chu) basically defends and reclaims her unique mixed identity and history as her very value and worth because of her poor, immigrant background is challenged by her boyfriend’s real estate tycoon mom and family.

All I could do in the theater was laugh and thoroughly enjoy this movie. At first thought, seeing Asian people on screen and hearing an adaptation of a very different story than mine was purely entertaining and barely personal. However, reflecting on it a little bit, and what the Asian representation questions and cultural identity questions it poses mean in a personal context, I realize that it hits me in an interesting way. As a Chinese-American adoptee, I can come into this story at various angles — on one hand, I identify with the backlash that complains about the lack of representation of other ethnic, cultural and/or economic histories of Singapore or Asia, because the story of adopted Chinese girls is almost never told. We are certainly Chinese-American too, but our story and history is completely different than 2nd-generation Chinese-American kids’ stories whose parents immigrated to America (like Rachel’s mom). I have yet to see our story told on the big screen in any way, shape or form.

The other truth and point of identification is that I can wholeheartedly identify with Rachel’s feelings of isolation and rejection by this Singaporean family because I experienced similar feelings (in different contexts) during my time studying in China. China is of course completely different than Singapore, and I was not trying to gain the favor of a wealthy family, but everywhere I went I constantly felt at the very least, out of place, uncomfortable, a too-tan, slightly overweight, wavy-haired, abnormal, non-conforming, maybe-Chinese person in the eyes of locals and natives (they really weren’t sure where I was from, and they didn’t hesitate to say it). On bad days I really let it get to me and I genuinely felt lesser than, completely rejected, disconnected, bitter and ready to give up. It was one of the hardest years of my life trying to learn the language and the culture of a people and a nation that I expected to connect with and be welcomed into — I saw more faces that “looked like mine” than I had at any other juncture of my life — but I had never felt more alone or isolated among them. So, if we’re tapping back into those feelings, I can empathize with Rachel’s frustration, questioning, and anger when coming face to face with cultural values that opposed her identity at its very core. I’m fairly confident, Asian-American or not, whether they were connected to our culture or ethnicity or not, that we have all felt similar feelings before.

I don’t want to give the end of the movie away, so I’ll just say again that the resolution of my story of cultural rejection will never look the same, but my own journey to a place of pride, reconciliation, courage and acceptance in my unique mixed cultural and ethnic identity is taking shape in its own way. I think that if we want to interpret the movie this deeply, despite its particularity, Rachel’s version of her story can serve as a symbol of empowerment and reclamation for people of mixed backgrounds confronting opposing forces, however those may take shape. This movie shows us that there are always two sides to the story and that both can show empathy and pride.

Go see the movie and let me know your thoughts!

Church, class, Chance the Rapper.

Church, a class on Race and Theology in America, a Chance the Rapper concert. This was my day yesterday. Why do these experiences matter, how are they similar and why should you or anyone care? It hit me about halfway through the concert last night, the remarkable parallels between these three very different places and spaces and the ways in which each one can dialogue with and learn from the other. Let me attempt to share my thoughts with you.

Firstly, church. Recently, my church has started studying the book of Ecclesiastes together during our weekly Wednesday community group; a book that we as a corporate church do not often talk about, a book that almost didn’t make it into the Bible, a book that calls life meaningless and questions at its core the existence, purpose and will of God. But we are discovering together that there is joy in the midst of it too. I think Ecclesiastes is probably one of the most honest, reverberating and truthful expressions of the human condition. It is always timely; in the words of my pastor, it is like a “well-aged wine.” In the midst of all that is unexplainable, absurd, a chasing after of the wind, what is the point of living? We live in the faint hope that there is a purpose, but how and where do we seek it?

With those cliffhangers, let’s turn to my Race and Theology class. This class is blowing my mind and it’s only the end of the second week. I won’t go into all the details, but in essence, we are learning, reading and talking about the stunningly widespread, pervasive and insidious ways in which the church’s whiteness has created, magnified and perpetuated structural and institutional racism. It is halting how implicit we are as Christians and Americans (however you may ascribe to those identifiers) in the perpetuation of prejudiced, unjust social systems. How do we firstly recognize and understand the origins of these hierarchies and divisions? Where do we place responsibility? What does responsibility even mean or imply? How do we dialogue about it in a larger cultural and church context? Is a post-racial society possible? What are we working toward? Where is God in the midst of it? These are just a few of the countless questions we are examining and that are emerging from this class.

A couple hours later, I found myself with two dear friends at a Chance the Rapper concert at the Hollywood Bowl with a thousand of maybe the most diverse group of Angelenos that you’ll find together at once. I strongly believe that certain rappers, especially ones as remarkable as Chance, are instigators of incredible social dialogue and change, prophetic truth-tellers and cultural icons. With varying degrees of transparency and directness, they speak to the issues at the heart of a marginalized, oppressed, dissatisfied, unjust American experience that questions the existence of God and the goodness and purpose of humanity (ahem … Ecclesiastes). The realities of mass incarceration, structural racism, gentrification, racialized police brutality, gang violence, drug wars, inner-city poverty, etc. that those of us who live a privileged, white American existence simply hear about on the news, are embodied and lived experiences shared in such music. Music that we (white Americans) appreciate and enjoy. Music that allows us to connect with a story that is not our own. Now, does our vicarious enjoyment, if not inciting within us lifestyle change or any sort of action or further dialogue or thought, have any significance? Is it simply reasserting our privilege if we listen to these songs and go to these concerts, but don’t engage in the struggles and fights of the black or Latino community? Maybe. That’s a discussion for another time.

The point I want to make here is that no church service I’ve ever been to has attracted such a racially, ethnically, socioeconomically diverse group of people as a Chance the Rapper concert. Granted, some hip hop artists only propagate harmful messages that are unrelated to social commentary and justice in their songs and they are not the artists I am referring to. But Chance truly uses his position and pedestal to authentically, insightfully and creatively comment on realities of his experience and invite his listeners and fans into a dialogue and a vision of something different. A “vision of something different” that may not truly be all that different than what we want as a church or as a group of grad students learning and talking about racialized America.

As we, in our many different positions as churchgoers, Christians, students, businesspeople, hip hop fans, millennials, consumers, capitalists, blacks, whites, Asians, etc. struggle to understand the layers of race in our society and world and try to identify points at which to enter the conversation, it’s really important that we engage with cultural mediums such as film, music, literature, social media, etc. In a thoughtful and selective way, yes, but engagement is necessary, especially for the church, because we are trying to address questions of God and faith in a current cultural context. What would it look like for us as Christians to try and better understand the ways that God is at work in our wider culture, through art, film, literature, hip hop? What would it look like for us to affirm the narratives of communities by listening to their music and engaging with their stories in these ways? I know that I am always appreciative of the ways in which others’ stories also help me engage with my own.

Across time, geographic location, race, socioeconomics, cultures and mediums, we ask the same perennial questions. The writer of Ecclesiastes, my professor and classmates at Fuller, Chance the Rapper, pastors and Christians across the country, filmmakers and artists. Who is God? Where is God? Who are we? What is the point of humanity? Why is there evil and injustice? Will there be an end to the pain and suffering? Where are the answers? Where is the meaning?

Can we find unity and common ground through our questions? Can we ask the questions together? Where may it take us if we start trying?

“I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom. Don’t believe in kings, believe in the Kingdom. Chisel me into stone, prayer whistle me into song air. Dying laughing with Krillin saying something ’bout blonde hair. Jesus black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy. Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family. He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest. And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath”     — Chance the Rapper, Blessings