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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Culture, Justice, Poetry, Race

“I Can’t Breathe”

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I can’t breathe
The unbearable weight of history
Of subjugation, segregation, stop-and-frisk-ation
Boring down into my back
Crushing my chest
Strangling our souls
Let me tap Uncle
I will let you win
I will surrender my cig
If you will just let me breathe
Now beneath the weight of dirt
I’m waiting for justice

I can’t breathe
The loss of another
Son of a mother, a father, a brother
This shitty record is broken
Injustice rolls like a motherfuckin waterfall
Away with the noise of your songs
I can’t listen to the music of you harping on
Why won’t you just stop and frickin listen?
Now beneath the weight of your laws
We’re waiting for justice

I can’t breathe
I’m choking on these fallen tears
I can’t breathe
I’m exhausted from the fight
I can’t breathe
I’m holding my breath
Because if there is no Advent
There can be no justice
If there is no rising again
There can be no peace
Just the status quo
Holding up the weight of the world as we know
And we will be waiting for nothing

But as for me
I will walk
A prisoner of hope
Waiting for that sigh of relief
Waiting for justice

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Parenting

My son’s first schoolyard fight

UPDATE: Evan just told me that Jared walked up to him today on the playground. They shook hands. Jared said sorry. Evan said sorry. They went back to playing four square. Why can’t all our friendships be this simple?

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My 7 year old son, Evan, got into his first school fight yesterday. Like most school yard fights, it was mostly inconsequential. But it was a rite of passage for me as a father. (Why wasn’t this a rite of passage for him? Well, my son spars all the time — he is a scrappy but budding martial artist at our gym, Dragon’s Den.)

My first reaction, when my wife called, was disappointment and anger. We teach our kids not to fight (note: they’re always fighting each other). We teach self-control and good character. We teach peace. We teach them to be like Jesus. But rather than react, since he was emotional too, I asked him to write me a letter. “We’ll talk when Daddy gets home.” This is what he wrote me:

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If Evan is to be believed — and in this case, I do — the boy, Jared, was just your classic bully: a 3rd grader trying to intimidate a little 2nd grader.
(1) The altercation began the day before, on the wiley grounds of the four-square court; Evan tried to tell an adult but Jared, stopped him.
(2) Next day after school, he approaches Evan, “We are not dun fighting,” and jump kicks him. Evan side steps.
(3) My son tries to tell an adult again, the boy stops him, “Your so scared of fighting because you do not wont to get hert baby.”
(4) My son replies, “I do not wont to get in trouble of fighting.”
(5) Jared responds by kicking and attacking Evan.
(6) Evan gets into his fighting stance and engages (according to my wife).

The topic of fighting is hard. Especially if you lean towards non-violence as I do. On one hand, I want my children to grow up to be people of radical peace, not war, aggression, or revenge. On the other hand, no one wants to see their child get hurt. And then of course, there’s the carnal part I share with most dads:  If there’s a fight, I want my kid to beat up your kid (admit it, you do). So I knew that the my conversation with him was going to be pretty important. This is what we like to call a “teaching moment.” Through prayer and thought, I stumbled my way through the conversation, but here’s the gist of what I shared with Evan:

  • There will always be people like Jared. They have something to prove, you have nothing to prove. Mommy & Daddy already love you. God loves you. And you know who you are.
  • I am proud that you used your Kajukenbo (his martial art) for good. You side-stepped, you tried to leave the situation, you tried to reach an adult. You showed wisdom and self-control. That is a sign of good character, not that you are scared (he was more scared of getting in trouble for fighting, than fighting itself). Who you are on the inside is more important than what you can prove on the outside.
  • Mommy & Daddy still never want you to fight. But when someone traps you or forces you to fight, we are not there; you are. We trust you to make a good decision.

The conversation was hard. My son is still young enough to be cute, he has these huge Precious Moments eyes and when he shared about being forced to fight, he began tearing up. At that moment, I wanted to hold him. I wanted him to tell me about how he beat that kid up (I never asked, because who won the fight is not actually important).

At the same time, I wanted to train my son to deal with bullies. People make a lot about bullying today; I was bullied as a kid. But as parents and teachers, we need to realize that we’re not there to stop or protect anyone. And rather than only comforting him, I wanted him to learn from this altercation. And I wanted him to learn how to live real life. I wanted him to be respond like Jesus.

And lastly, I struggled but managed to have compassion on Jared. Because, to be perfectly honest, I know my son could totally take him on. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Evan gets beat to a pulp. What a close second? That Jared does. And despite my protective feelings, I don’t really want anyone to get hurt. I resist the zero-sum logic of If someone’s gonna get hurt, better your kid than mine. Violence is never that cut and dry. And I don’t want my son to grow up with that kind of blood (but mostly snot) on his hands. I pray and desire for peace, not just in the abstract, but even on the blacktop.

If your kids have ever gotten into a fight, I would love to hear how you dealt with it. Or if you ever had the chance to go back in time to talk to your younger fighting self, what would you tell him/her?

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Ethics, Politics, Race

Ferguson: Speaking as an Asian American + Christian

This has been a pensive week for me. Ferguson, MO has been on my mind. But more specifically, the ringing challenge of certain Asian American friends who have called the relative silence of their fellow Asian Americans unacceptable, saying we owe a debt to the Black community because of the freedoms we’ve all gained in their fight for civil rights. And while these calls have unsettled me, I have been mulling on their challenge. After all, wounds from a friend can be trusted, right?

At the same time, as a (recovering) news and political junkie, I’m keenly aware that not only are there many sides to a story, but stories are often used to persuade and politicize. This is not new. This is, in fact, the power of story. In fact, I daresay, there is no such thing as a truly objective story.

But thirdly, as I mentioned in my previous post, I am still testing out my voice in the public conversation on race. This is scary for me because I’m prone to not only be misunderstood, but also maligned. As a learner, my beliefs are still fluid. But not all will read my words this way. But in this spirit, here are some continuing thoughts:

I stand by my belief that the race conversation in America, continues to be irrelevant to Asian Americans. Again, I am not saying that racial reconciliation or racial righteousness is irrelevant to us, but the conversation, as it stands, continues as if we don’t exist or belong. We are, predictably, perpetual foreigners to the conversation. E.g., this great article: 10 Ways White Christians Can Respond to Ferguson is addressed to whom? White Christians, not non-Black Christians, but White Christians (I do understand the sentiment though, because White Christians have a unique responsibility in America because of their privileged race). But I think it goes deeper than that, because as Asian Americans, we don’t quite identify with the Black experience or the White experience. Our experience is Other. I think this is why I took such umbrage to the headline: The Unacceptable Silence of Asian American Christians in Response to Ferguson (I realize now that the title didn’t really reflect the actual blog post). Because I felt like I was being co-opted into a story, on the basis of my race – that never truly included me. And this is why, predictably, you see Asian Americans who sympathize more with Brown, others with Wilson, and many others who are Other: they got other things to do. And lastly, at least for me, when I think of race relations, I almost never think of Blacks or Whites – because both have been among the fastest shrinking populations in the Bay Area, my home base. E.g., I have a Black neighbor now, but before he moved in, the family living there was Ghanaian. The two White neighbors I had: a Lithuanian and a Brit. The rest are Afghan, Indian, Filipino, Guatemalan, Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese. The race conversation, re-ignited by Ferguson, isn’t really about this kind of world. The race conversation that is relevant to me is multi-cultural among equally powered peoples, not bi-cultural between unequally powered ones.

As Asians, we’re slower to speak up in general. You might think that is a stereotype – which of course, it is. But I challenge you to have a Bible Study with a equally mixed group of Whites, Blacks, and Asians. You might have one Asian who is always willing to speak up, but more likely than not, you’ll find that Asians wait longer before speaking, prefer to speak in turn or when they are called on, and may go through the whole study without saying much at all. We are less likely to be external processors, more likely to fear saying something that is wrong. And by the time we’ve figured out something worth saying, the group’s already moved on to the next question! We need time, we need space, we need to be asked for our opinion.

Tensions exist between Asians and Blacks too. Wouldn’t it be great if in times of pain, we could just forget the past and just rally around one another? Yes, but that’s not how things always work out. Reconciliation is a prerequisite to community, and right now, there is still too much crap between Asians and Blacks. For example – and I don’t mean to throw my family under the bus here – but I grew up with a fearful and disparaging view of Blacks. It was rarely taught that explicitly, but when you see your parents lock the car doors enough times, pull you in closer enough times when a Black man walks down the street; you hear enough stories about criminal activity or lazy people – and they tend to always feature someone who is African American; you get told enough times that certain neighborhoods are “bad” because of crime, poverty, schools, and oh, there are a lot of Black people living there — eventually, you get the picture (thankfully, my parents no longer share these views — one of the benefits of actually having Black friends). It’s no secret among Asians that our community harbors deep racist attitudes towards Blacks. On the other hand, as some of my readers have pointed out, the experience Asians have had with Blacks has been disproportionately bad. In 2008, the city of SF found that a stunning 85% of physical assaults were Black-on-Asian. In 1992, Korean-owned stores were disproportionately hit by African-Americans in the LA riots — 45%. And in Ferguson, Asian-owned stores were also disproportionately hit. I pray for White-Black reconciliation. But I also pray for Black-Asian reconciliation.

We do owe a debt. Scott Nakagawa outlines “Three Things Asian Americans Owe to the Civil Rights Movement.” (1) The freedom to marry interracially, which Asian Americans are more likely to do than any other ethnic group. (2) The right to vote, which was won for all races. (3) The Immigration and Nationality Act which ended racist discriminatory laws against Asians. Many of us would literally not be here if it weren’t for the sacrifices made by Black Civil Rights leaders. At the same time, many of us have also benefited from White privilege as well (which again, is why we don’t fit neatly on one side or the other). In fact, those of us who’ve achieved any measure of success have often done so through paths well-worn by our White neighbors.

I still believe the Good Samaritan is the best paradigm for Christian response. Another thing that bothered me about Erna’s post was that, in the end, she appealed to our common humanity: “It’s not a Black problem- It’s a mothers and fathers losing their babies problem…a human problem.” That sounds compelling. But I do think it glosses over a crucial truth, namely that Ferguson is about race. And attempting to de-racialize Ferguson in order to appeal to our common humanity does violence to the reason people are marching on the streets (see more below). Moreover, as I mentioned in my previous post, while I can imagine losing my son and the grief I’d suffer – it’s a whole other thing to see my son in Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. That is a story and history my family and I have not lived.

But Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan doesn’t try to extinguish difference. It is based on the truth that our experiences and our previous animosities exist. God always begins with the world as it is, not as we wish it were. Jew v. Samaritan, Black v. White, Asian v. Black – it’s all there, it all sucks, but it’s all real. But Jesus teaches that in spite of these differences and past animosities, it’s not about who your neighbor is, but whether or not you are a loving neighbor. If you see your enemy beaten down on the side of the road, you don’t stop to check first who the guy is before you help; you just help! And then, of course, Jesus ate his own medicine on the Cross. Different histories and past animosities do not present a chasm too wide for Jesus’ cruciform love and the new kind of community he died to give birth to. If this is not true, the whole Christian story is not true.

To distinguish my conflicting feelings, I’ve found it helpful to parse Ferguson into three overlapping narratives: the legal narrative, the historical narrative, and the personal narrative.

The legal narrative is about the “facts” of the discrete event between Brown and Wilson, and specifically who was at fault: Why was Brown stopped? What words were exchanged? Did Brown assault Wilson? Why did Wilson shoot, and why six times? And with respect to the legal narrative, there are still too many unanswered questions. I also fear the politicization of this case might make facts harder to come by. This is also why many of my Asian American friends have had little to say. The grand jury investigation is just beginning, and I pray that the facts of the case will make things clear.

The historical narrative is the story of the Black community crying out: AGAIN? In the historical narrative, whether Brown assaulted Wilson isn’t the point. Because his death – as an unarmed young black man – is yet more proof that America is still not a safe place to be Black. And the fact that Brown’s body was left there in the blazing sun in public view for hours on the street, the fact that the local Ferguson police responded with such military-style force to protestors, the fact that facts have been so slow in coming, the fact that a number of voices have been so critical instead of supportive of the Black community’s response of pain – seems to confirm this suspicion. The historical narrative is bigger than the legal narrative. The historical narrative is why Ferguson has become iconic.

And lastly, there is the personal narrative. This is the story most of us overlook (but to which Erna rightful directs us) – which is that beneath the political and social narratives, there is quite simply, a mother who has lost her son; a community has lost one of their own. And the legal facts are completely irrelevant. I have boys of my own, and I can’t imagine how losing a guilty son is any better than losing an innocent one. Loss is loss. Death is death. There is also the story of Officer Wilson. Journalist are trying to dig into his background, but we really have no idea what is going on in his heart and his mind:  fear, anger, guilt, confusion, regret, peace? In any case, I can’t imagine life being very easy for him anytime in the near future. And I hope against revenge.

So how do I think we should respond as Asian American Christians?

  1. Learn. Some other places have suggested books. That’s a steep first step for something that might be new to us. Begin by just reading quality news and blogs.
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  2. Check your latent racism. I’m not suggesting that we haven’t been recipients of racism too in the Black-Asian dynamic. But as Christians who live under the Cross, which is purported to have dismantled the dividing wall of hostility between racial/ethnic enemies, it’s not about what the other community has done, it’s about what Christ has done. That’s not enough for reconciliation, obviously – but it begins there. Otherwise we just perpetuate it.
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  3. Mourn with those who mourn. I have a few Asian-American friends who can truly empathize with the Black community. For the rest of us, let’s not be disingenuous and pretend we do. Facebook is full of enough posers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand. Most of my Black brothers and sisters, when it comes down to it, are asking not for more analysis but compassion. Two sources that have helped me:
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    This official statement from the African American leadership of our denomination, The Evangelical Covenant Church. It’s not just PR mumbo-jumbo. It’s real-talk with a glimmer of real hope.
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    This video from the Washington Post & The Maynard Institute. Probably the most eye-opening thing I’ve seen that connects Ferguson to the historical narrative.

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    Pray: “Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
        though I call for help, there is no justice. ~Job.
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  4. Talk. One reason that I’ve been relatively silent is that no one ever bothered to ask me what I thought. This is one reason why I’m blogging out loud. And one reason we spent a huge chunk of time learning and praying about this at our church this past Sunday. And while the fruit has been varied, it’s been good. The most common response is that most people have “heard of” what’s going on, they haven’t had time to really look into it – and now they will. Others have responded with tears. The most meaningful response was from one of our church kid’s ministry workers, who is Ghanaian-American teen; she has two older brothers and came up to thank me for sharing about Ferguson and leading us to pray. Seriously, that made my week.
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  5. Advocate with God & Man regarding Ferguson.
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    So much is yet to come, and most of it is beyond our control. A 2-month long grand jury investigation has begun. Let’s pray for truth.
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    While protests are dying down, we should all be distressed by the violence shown by both sides. Many younger demonstrators, in particular – and many outside groups don’t share the enemy- and peace-loving ways of their forefathers. Even the Ferguson authorities have acknowledged that much of the violence is coming from non-Ferguson residents. I’m so thankful for experienced civil rights leaders and the churches in Ferguson who have been doing their best to advocate for peace. Let’s pray for peaceful protest.
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    Most – on both sides of the political aisle – believe that the various police authorities have much to repent for in response to this situation. Many are alarmed that local police forces now have hand-me downs from our Afghan military units. But imagine trying to maintain peace and order while fearing for your life. Let’s pray for the policing authorities.
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  6. Advocate with God & Man regarding all expressions of injustice. As news cycles work, before long, Ferguson will fade into the past. While I do not share as grim of a view of our nation as some do–e.g., I think most minorities are happier to live in the America of today than the America of 50 years ago–I do believe that sin and injustice are stubborn weeds. God hates sin in all its forms. So with the energy and influence we’ve been given, let’s do what we can to pray, vote, advocate, and rally for a more just and peaceful society. And let’s always remember: our means must always reflect our ends.

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world
as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected,
and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared,
and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures
live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice,
and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

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