Church, Culture, Justice, Parenting, Race, Spirituality, Theology

Review: At Home in Exile by Russell Jeung

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This is a truly unique book. And the best book I’ve read this year. Part memoir / sociology / theology / Asian corny hilariousness. It’s funny, it’s educational, it’s deeply moving.

Russell moves into and ultimately finds home in the Murder Dubs of Oakland. But it’s not a triumphant American superhero story. Nor is it a sappy romance about ‘the poor.’ It’s a complex, humble story about how he found community, identity, and ultimately Jesus in his mostly Cambodia refugee & Latino neighborhood.

It’s a story that asks: What if Jesus wasn’t as much an American superhero, but more like a Chinese Hakka exile (his ancestors)? What if Jesus was more like my Chinatown grandma than that powerful hipster pastor I’m always jealous of? He re-explores things like MISSION, JUSTICE, COMMUNITY, FAMILY & CALLING through this lens.

I finished this book richly proud of my Chinese ancestry, broken over the plight of disenfranchised non-model-minority Asians in the Bay Area, hopeful about what God is still doing through amazing yet mostly “invisible” people, but challenged to live my faith in a way that may run counter to the power and reward structures of our world.

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Culture, Parenting

Why the Stanford Rape Case is on People Like Me

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By now, most of you have heard about Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer & Olympic hopeful, who received a shockingly lenient sentence for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Her brave and insightful statement about the sentence is what first caught my attention. There is now a petition to recall the judge, who was also a Stanford athlete.

I’m not wise enough to know if recalling the judge is the right thing to do. Mob justice feels right, but it also make me wary. That decision is up to you (read debate by law profs).

But what I do know is that the situation, the case, and the future falls on people like me. And by me, I mean a man. By me, I mean as a father of three boys. And if you’re white, it triply applies to you. And the responsibility ahead is a lot harder than signing an online petition.

First of all, if I had a daughter, I’d spend as much time making sure my daughter stays away from college drinking as you’d want them training for jiu jitsu. Not because if you drink and you get raped it’s your fault; it’s NOT. But for the same reason I’d say stay away from any behavior that dramatically increases your chance of getting assaulted: 80% of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Staying away from college drinking as a woman is just good self-defense. (Update: I learned the woman was 23 and not a student, so would’ve don’t nothing for her. And again: rape is always 100% the fault of the rapist.)

But I don’t have a daughter. I have three boys. And I believe it is incumbent on people like me to raise boys that not only stand up against rape culture, but perpetuate a better, safer, and more dignifying culture; a culture that I believe Jesus exemplified among men and women. And he put the onus of perpetuating that new culture on those with power, those with leering eyes and erections.

Which is why I’m writing about this. Because it’s not just women who should be speaking up, but equally, men. And thank you, sisters, for speaking loud enough so our deaf ears can hear.

Which is why I feel doubly committed to raising boys:

…who know they are unconditionally loved by God and us — so they don’t feel the need to fill some void with power, sex, or accomplishment.

…who develop a strong, healthy, and holy masculinity — so they are aware of their power and use it for good and not their own pleasures.

…who live in a rich network of relationships with God, family, church, and friends — so they have help during their seasons of rejection and insecurity.

…who are self-aware enough and rooted deeply enough in the Jesus story — so they are able to at least have a chance against a media culture that now objectifies women 24/7 on every screen through Michael Bay movies, Snapchat, beer commercials, and pornography. Because as a person who came of age at the beginnings of hi-speed internet and smartphones — guys, it’s not a fair fight.

…who respect all people, especially women, in public and in private, as just a baseline level of morality.

…who hate cheap alcohol until they hit their 30s and discover tasty craft beer that is too expensive to get drunk on like their Dad did.

…whose anger is well calibrated with the anger of Jesus.

…who do the right thing like the two nameless Swedes did when they saw Brock on top of the unconscious woman.

…who, along with other women, preside over campus clubs, social groups, ministries, workplaces, homes, neighborhoods, and cities that exist for the safe flourishing of all, not just themselves.

And which is why I try to remain honest, humble, and broken about when I fail to exemplify these things myself as a man, husband, father, pastor, and public citizen — because I do fail — but humble enough so I can change and become at least what I pray for my boys to become. And like all parents, I pray that they will become more. For ourselves, for my wife/their mother, for your daughters, and for the glory of God.

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Spirituality, Sports

Entering 2016 as a Loser

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UFC’s Jose Aldo, weeping in his locker room, after his crushing 13-sec loss. He was undefeated for 10 years until December.

As someone who only really started to get into both watching and playing a sport these last couple years, I’ve come to realize why athletes and coaches so often compare sports with life.

In the sports I watch, losing has been one of the predominant themes this year. In boxing, Wladimir Klitschko, who has been the reigning undefeated heavyweight champ for 10 years—lost in a stunning upset to Tyson Fury. In MMA, the invincible superstar Rhonda Rousey got taken to school by Holly Holm; longtime champ Jose Aldo was KO’ed in 13 seconds by Conor McGregor. And the championship Niners I grew up with are currently tied with the Cowboys for last place in the NFL.

Perhaps these losses speak so loudly to me because I have felt the sting of loss more than once this year. Not the losing of loved ones, as I know some of you have, but the losing of battles. Some of the losses are a little too personal to share, but suffice to say, they are battles I’ve lost in my work, in personal relationships, in my spiritual life, and in my journey to pick up boxing at the same age most boxers retire.

One of my favorite TV characters of all time is Coach Taylor, of Friday Night Lights fame. And in the midst of a 26-0 shellacking, Taylor gives this storied locker room speech to his team during halftime:

Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over.

When a new year comes around, we usually look for that fresh start. But as a wannabe athlete…and mostly as someone who is now squarely in my adult years, there are rarely true fresh starts in life. Nor should there be. You can’t push the reset button in between rounds or during halftime. In real life as in sports, you must continue to fight. And even once this fight is over, the next one is just around the corner.

And while winning and losing does matter, it is not what ultimately matters. Most athletes, especially in fight sports, will tell you that the real battle isn’t with your opponent; the real battle is within yourself. Will you lose yourself in the face of this contest? What will be revealed about your character? And even if you end up losing, will you let that loss change you for better, or for worse? What makes him a man is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. Even after we’ve left the ring or the field, this game is not over, this battle is not over.

And even if you ended up winning the game, it’s still possible to have lost…yourself.

As I enter into this new year, my losses are not far behind me. Some of them, I am still in the middle of experiencing. But the invitation that God has been giving to me at this threshold isn’t an invitation to a fresh start, but to keep fighting. And not just in the external battles of life; in fact, the invitation is more so into the internal struggle. Will I lose myself? Will I sacrifice my character, my values, or even my loved ones for the win? Or will I remain true? Will I grow? Will I allow the crucible of battle press and refine me to become the man God sent his Son to die for me to become?

With God’s grace, I sure hope so. We’ll see in 2017.

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Coates with his son Samori.
Parenting, Race

Reflection: Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Dear Sons,

I recently finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir, Between the World and Me. I expected to come into a deeper encounter with the experience of being black in America—and I did. But what I did not expect was to come into a deeper awareness of my love and responsibility for you.

See, Coates is a journalist and a brilliant writer. He recently won a Macarthur Genius Award. But this book, although a memoir, is written to not only to convey his story, but also his love for his one and only son. By birth, Coates was thrust into the chaotic streets of Baltimore, where even his loving, unreligious, but strict home were living legacies, the ongoing fall out of the subjugation of “black bodies.” He went to Howard University, a historically black college, and found a safe place to explore the full spectrum of blackness. Yet even there, was reminded ‘safe’ is a relative word when one of his friends—a young man who turned down Harvard for Howard, whose mother was Chief of Surgery, a man who was bound for success—was shot by a police officer. Coates met his wife at Howard too—another black person, similar but different from him. They travelled to Paris and experienced not only a sense of foreignness by geography, but also because of they were no longer viewed as especially dangerous or suspicious, i.e., black; he felt like a fish out of its water; and even if that water was poisonous, it was familiar. But then he had his son. Not born into the same chaos Coates knew when he was young. Yet he saw how his boy, born into a new era, could so easily be pushed aside. He saw how his son ran into his room to weep when he saw Michael Brown lying in the middle of the street on the TV. And Coates realized that as far as he’d tried to struggle and live well into being a black man in America, that he would not ultimately succeed if he did not pass the baton to this son whom he loved.

I have not been the worst father, but I have not been the best either. It’s not fair to you guys that the person who is responsible for fathering you is still working out his own identity, his own insecurities, his own imperfections, his own demons. It’s not fair to you guys that Daddy isn’t perfectly selfless, that Daddy is still learning to be Daddy. I didn’t grow up on the chaotic streets of Baltimore, but I did grow up in confusion. I grew up in a loving Toisanese family, but felt embarrassed by them at school. I grew up in a world, that still makes me feel unwelcome. I look back with shame at how, in struggling to be an American teenager, I disrespected my hard-working immigrant parents and made them feel hurt and rejected. But, also unlike Coates, I found God, or better put, Jesus found me. And things have been changing. And the world continues to change too. But not that much. Even as an adult, even as someone who’s been following Jesus for over 20 years now, I am still someone who is just beginning to grasp the edges of self-knowledge, and far from self-mastery, and even further from Christ-likeness. Yet this is the Daddy you have.

There’s a part of me that wants to apologize. And I do. But what all of me wants to do is love you. And by love you, I do mean hug and play with you. I do mean teaching you ride a bike and run a route. But I also mean teaching you what I’ve learned about life, about being a Chinese-American Christian man. And ultimately to be better than Daddy. Because by default, you will be no better than me.

One day, you will read the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and you will at first think they are wise pithy sayings. But eventually you will learn that these are hard wrought lessons of a king to his sons, the future kings of Israel. And that’s what you are. You are my princes, you are the future kings of this world—even if the world will not have you. And I promise to not only father your strength, but also your mind, heart, and soul.

Coates with his son Samori.

Coates with his son Samori.

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Sports

Mayweather v. Pacquiao Newbies FAQ

Pacquiao v. Mayweather

SO YOU’RE WATCHING THE FIGHT! BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE WATCHING. HERE’S SOME HELP:

Skip to the bottom if you just want to know how to appreciate the actual fight.

What time will Mayweather & Pacquiao fight?
People estimate it’ll start around 8pm PST. It’s approximate because it depends on how long the undercards fight.

Where can I watch?
Either at a sports bar or HBO PPV or Showtime PPV. Boxing has a weird business model. But if you notice, it’s coming back to free TV! Not that you watched boxing before…

Why is this fight such a big deal?
Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao are widely considered the two greatest boxers of our generation. But they have never fought each other. After 5 years of teasing and disappointing boxing fans, they’ve finally agree to a fight.

Also, if Pacquiao wins, he will the first fighter ever to hold lineal championship in five weight divisions. But bottom line: whoever wins will be considered the greatest fighter of our generation.

Will this be the greatest fight ever?
Probably not. This will be the biggest money-making fight ever because of social media and more people having access to cable TV than ever–Floyd will earn $120M+, Manny $80M+. But despite Mayweather’s claim that he is TBE “The Best Ever” — few boxing aficionados truly consider him or Pacquiao the two greatest ever. Plus, this isn’t expecting to be a wildly entertaining or brutal fight. Floyd’s fighting style will probably not be entertaining for most casual boxing fans, since it is primarily defensive (Floyd is considered the greatest defensive genius of all time by many, however).

How do you win in boxing?

  • Knockout: You can win by KO or TKO (technical KO). KO is when you’re knocked down and you don’t get up before the 10 count. TKO is when the ref stops the fight, regardless of whether you’ve been KO’ed because it’s clear you can’t safely continue in the fight.
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  • Scoring: There will be 12 rounds. For each round, you win 10 points if you win, 9 if you’re the lose (according to the judges). You lose an extra point for each time you get knocked down. There are three judges and their individual scores are revealed at the end of the match. If you convince at least 2 of the 3 judges, you win. Occasionally, there is a tie. Many think this fight will “go to the cards” and that the scoring will be controversial. Try keeping score in between rounds; it’ll keep you more engaged.

Who is expected to win?
Mayweather. But it’s still expected to be a close fight. Interestingly, almost all those who’ve fought both think Floyd will win. But you’ll find experts and insiders on both sides.

Who has more to lose?
Mayweather. He is undefeated 47-0 and the higher ranked fighter. If he wins, he cements his place as the best pound-for-pound fighter. But if he loses, he loses that “0” loss record, and he’ll drop to #2.

Pacquiao is the second best pound-for-pound fighter, so if he loses, nothing changes and he’ll still be respected for taking the fight. But if he wins, he has the most to gain.

Will there be rematch?
There is no rematch clause in their contract. Many people think if Mayweather wins, he won’t grant Pacquiao a rematch. But if Pacquiao wins, he will grant Mayweather one.

What are “undercards”?
Undercards are like the “show openers”. These are fighters who promoters want to give more exposure to. There are two undercards, each expected to be a blow out. But if you’re looking to see a knockout, tune in. The heavy favorites are Lomachenko and Santa Cruz. Undercards start sometime after 3pm PST.

Who are “Flomos” and “Pactards”?
Flomos is a derogatory name for fanboys of Mayweather; Pactards for fanboys of Pacquiao. Yes, boxing isn’t a politically correct sport. Mayweather’s last opponent is known as Marcos “Chino” Maidana because of his squinty eyes. Deal with it.

Why do people hate Mayweather so much?
Because he wants you to. He knows people will pay not just to see you win, but to see you lose. His ridiculously extravagant lifestyle and flamboyant ego is in part a marketing ploy. That, and he beats women.

Why is Justin Bieber walking in with Mayweather?
Some of life’s questions have no answers.

HOW SHOULD I WATCH TO MAXIMIZE MY APPRECIATION OF THE FIGHT?

  • Full contact chess: Many people only think a boxing match is “good” if there is a lot of punches exchanged. But boxing is about two things: hitting and not getting hit; not just one. It’s full contact chess. In the first 3-4 rounds, most boxers are testing each other, observing each other’s predictable patterns, learning each other’s tells, exposing weaknesses. When I punch, what do you do? What kind of punches are you most likely to throw at me? As the rounds progress, they will try to capitalize on these things. Look for how they adjust to each other round by round. Unlike most fights, we don’t expect these guys to tire out; their conditioning is excellent.
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  • Styles make fights: Fights aren’t only about who’s “better”, but also about styles. Mayweather and Pacquiao have very different styles. The most obvious: Mayweather uses “The Crab” or “Philly Shell”–covering his whole body; Pacquiao is a southpaw (left-handed). Mayweather is a defensive genius, throws less punches, but is very accurate. Pacquiao a lightning fast aggressor, throws many punches, and still lands a lot of them. Mayweather also has a reach advantage. Look for how Mayweather dodges/blocks punches–but also how he comes right back with a punch; we call this counter-punching. Look for how Pacquiao fires off punching combinations–quickly and from many different angles.
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  • Floyd’s secret weapons: Floyd is exceptional at popping up his left shoulder to “roll” his opponent’s punches off, and then returning fire with his right hand. Mayweather is also a master of evading punches in general–he has never been knocked down in his 47 fights*–so watch for his head and body movement. Many people think Floyd is just “running” or “riding his bicycle” but what he does no one else can do. Look for how quickly he is able to evade and block punches. His best punches: straight right hand, left jab to the body, left hook.
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  • Manny’s secret weapons: Manny is known to be lightning fast with both his hands and feet. This is why he is so fun to watch, even for casual fans. Notice how he moves in and escapes at different angles. Notice his punching combinations. His best punches: straight right hand, right hook, left uppercut. Notice how they share one strength: the straight right hand. Floyd’s straight right hand is known for its speed; Manny’s for its power.
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  • Center of the ring v. The ropes: Look for how the fight changes depending on whether they fight in the center of the ring (where they both can move) versus on the ropes (where one person has their back against the ropes). Mayweather often allows his opponents to take him to the ropes because he’s so good at defending and counterpunching. But Pacquiao is also amazing at peppering his opponents against the ropes with combinations from every direction; he’s so fast that his previous opponents have said it often felt like they were being attacked not by one, but by three opponents at once.
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  • Nothing beats watching though. So here are some highlight reels of Manny and Floyd’s “Greatest Hits”:
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Spirituality

What’s it mean to live with Hope?

 

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On Easter, I tried to give flesh to the idea of what it means to live in light of the Resurrection, aka Hope (listen here). The resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just some isolated divine magic trick. It was the first taste, first scent of what God has been promising us all along: the redemption of us all. One day, God will heal our wounds, erase our sins, reconcile our relationships, and reward us for our faithfulness. One day God will renew all of creation, and bring about a new creation ruled by worship, love, justice, and peace. One day we will all be resurrected.

But what about now?

I’ve been coming across a spate of “Dear Me” letters. Older, wiser people who write to their 16- or 25-year old selves. These letters are moving because only someone who knows you so intimately could write with such a compelling combination of deep love and incisive kick-in-the-ass. So it occurred to me, living in light of the resurrection is not only about living with the living Jesus “in my heart”, but also about living in light of the resurrection to come. So what if I fast-forwarded to beyond my 60s and 80s–but into my true glory years, in the resurrection? So here’s what I wrote:

Dear 35 year old Me,

I’m writing from the future. And I’m just dying to give you some advice. Just kidding, I’m alive again.

First, you’ve still got a lot more failure ahead of you. But God still loves you. And God will still raise you from the dead.

Second, it’s ok to relax to Netflix, but don’t waste your life on it. Learn how to enjoy life, not just to veg out. It’s good practice for eternity.

Third, it’s ok that loving people is hard. It’s worth it. And it’s not like you’re that easy to love either.

Fourth, tell more people about Jesus.

Fifth, don’t worry about changing the world. Just raise good kids. Make disciples. And love the poor in your neighborhood really well.

Yours,
Brian

Granted, a “Dear Me” letter has its flaws. Is it based on what Scripture tells us about eternity, or just my own fantasies? It’s still kinda self-absorbed (“Dear ME”). And honestly, do I really know what I’d actually say to myself?

But it’s been a helpful start for me. Because so much of what bogs me down is getting consumed in my present circumstances. So much of what makes me despair is fixating on merely what I am able or unable to do about my life or my world. Zooming out, WAY out, has turned out to be a much more helpful way of living in the present. What has helped you?

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Uncategorized

The Real War on Christmas

It’s that time of the year again when journalists, bloggers, and politicos debate over whether or not there is a War on Christmas. This is one of the humorous yet uncomfortable realities of living in a post-Christian pluralistic society. I happen to believe that there is a war. And I think it’s well captured in the picture above.

Yesterday, we had a worship service that some might call “wonderful”. Not least because it was closed out by our children’s choir. All our iPhones were out to capture this mildly chaotic/boldy cutest of affairs (one child had to make an early wailing exit because my son poked him in the eye). Because this is what we love as Americans. A Christmas that is cute, heart-warming, and involving children. The children were leading us to sing songs of Christmas.

But what was the story of Christmas, sung from the mouth of babes? A story whose central characters, whose key eyewitnesses were the likes of Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and Magi. Watch enough holiday TV and these guys get reduced to cute cartoon characters. But read the actual story and it’s a story that begins with the least believable, least reputable of characters. Mom was a rural pregnant teen. Dad, a disgraced church leader caught up in another sex scandal. The key eyewitnesses: the night-time office cleaning crew. The first worshipers?  Not the local pastors association, but a cell of Muslim imams. And the man who is supposed to save us from empire, terrorism, and ourselves? Not a man at all, but a bastard child. This is the story our children led us to celebrate.

But what’s the Christmas story that gets told on our TVs, malls, and (gasp) school musicals? A story that celebrates sentimentality and unbridled consumerism. As long as we can all cram our sinful selves into the same Norman Rockwell painting, then we can call it Christmas. We think this season is different, but it’s just a sanctification of the status quo.

But what could be more anti-Christmas than the status quo? What could be more anti-Christmas than to silence the people of ill-repute in our society and our lives? The real war on Christmas isn’t the loss of freedom to utter the name of CHRIST in the public square (that’s something troubling, but different). The real war is the violence we do to Christmas by neutering it of it’s subversive power. The real war is giving the Christmas story such a whitewashing that it fits better in the annals of American mythology than the annals of Scripture. (In fact, wouldn’t it be truer to the Christmas story if we Christians expected more persecution each Christmas, not less?)

You want to fight back against the war on Christmas?

  1. Give up war. And hatred and violence; there was enough of that when Jesus was born. Practice humility instead.
  2. Tell the real story of Christmas. Give more credence to children, marginal characters & people of ill-repute. Spend less on those you already spend all your money on – and give more of it away. Contribute to justice, not just charity.
  3. Give more of your heart, soul, mind, and strength to Jesus. Because at the center of Christmas isn’t family, charity, presents, or peppermint lattes — but the one we’ve been waiting for, the one called Immanuel, the one who can save us from our sins.
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