Caught in the In-Between

Hello readers, family, friends, whoever you are…Chrissy here – I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. And honestly, right now, thoughts and feelings are overflowing and yet words seem hard to come by. But I felt the need to put this out there, to share this part of my journey, in hopes of inviting others into the work, the journey, the process. At the same time, I do not want to draw away from the voices and the people who we need to be listening to the most right now. Black voices. So if your time and capacity is limited (I know it’s an overwhelming season), if it is a choice of whether to read this or something from a Black person, please go and watch, read, listen to and learn from Black people and Black stories. I will be here; this post will be here. You can come back to this another time. That’s okay. 

With all that said, what I hope to share here is a glimpse into my journey of learning what it means for me to be a person of color. And as someone who is neither black nor white, I’ve been struggling to figure out what my place is in all of this. 

To be quite honest, I have never felt comfortable describing myself as a person of color and have wondered if my experience really counts. I am learning, however, that I am not alone in this, and that there are people of color from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences who are also trying to figure out where they fit in this conversation that is often framed in binary terms. Perhaps it is because of this binary that it often feels like I have to choose a side. Asian Americans in particular are often cast as the “model minority”. And while I used to think this term was a compliment, I am realizing that it is actually quite problematic. 

Let me back up a bit. 

For those who don’t already know, I am a second generation Chinese American. My parents were born and raised in San Francisco and I was born and raised just across the bay in Oakland, California. And while I was raised with an appreciation for the diversity of the Bay Area, I now realize that this did not necessarily equate to an embrace of my own culture and ethnicity. In fact, it wasn’t until this past year that I was made aware of how I habitually try to minimize my otherness. You see, I have been on a journey of re-examining my ethnic experience, and I realized that becoming the model minority for me, meant learning to adapt and achieve according to (white) American standards. To become the model minority was to assimilate and (albeit unconsciously) to defend, uphold, and strive towards whiteness – which, in reality, is ultimately unattainable for people of color..but I digress.

My point is this: I am learning that no matter what, I am caught in the in-between. And although I have spent most of my life adapting to white culture, I don’t want to be a buffer or wedge, unconsciously defending whiteness, proving I can rise above other (darker) minorities. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the image of former Minneapolis police officer Tuo Thao impacted me deeply. A man of Asian descent with his back turned to the murder being committed, standing in between, defending Chauvin’s actions to the witnesses. 

Something broke deep down in the core of my being because I realized that too often I’ve turned a blind eye to the struggle of my Black sisters and brothers. Too often I have remained silent and hesitated to speak up or come to their defense. Too often, I have failed to truly engage and do the work because it felt too difficult, too overwhelming, too uncomfortable.

And so while I know that what happened with George Floyd is sadly not new, I became starkly aware of my place in all of this.

For too long, I have been stuck in neutral. And it is evident to me now more than ever that this neutrality is, in actuality, anything but neutral. My silence and inaction contributes to the continued suffering of the Black community. I must do the work of turning around and commit to actively engaging in the process of listening, learning and leaning into the discomfort, that I may be moved into action. Moreover, I am learning that this is a choice that I must make every single day. 

Black people don’t get a day off from being Black. Their everyday experiences reflect the realities of injustice that for too long has been accepted as the norm, just the way things are. But for those who are not Black, we must make a conscious effort to pull back the veil of privilege and learn to see things through the eyes of those whom society has pushed to the margins. Yes, this is going to be difficult and uncomfortable, but we must not give up or check out. How can we look away? How can we turn a blind eye? Lives are literally at stake. 

I know this is an overwhelming time. I know that there is a lot to take in and process. And I know there is a sense of urgency to respond and act now. But friends, we must commit ourselves to doing the work for the long haul. 

I also recognize that people reading this may be coming from a variety of different points along this journey. Perhaps, if you are newer to these conversations, there are things I’ve written here that caught you off guard or caused you to feel defensive. Perhaps you are further along this journey and feel like I haven’t said enough. I now know that I will always find myself in a space of in-betweeness. And so my hope is that from this space I might become more of a bridge rather than a buffer. 

That being said, no matter where you are in this journey – whether you are well versed or newer to the conversation, whether you think we agree or not –  if you have any thoughts, questions, feelings, reactions, whatever, and would like someone to process with, I would be more than happy to talk and process with you. Especially those who know me personally, please don’t hesitate to reach out, drop a comment or message me personally. We need to dig in and do the work and have tough conversations together. I don’t have this all figured out and I’m certainly not an expert in this, but I am trying my best to listen, learn, and show up. I hope that others may walk this journey with me. 


The 405 and Human Sinfulness

As a resident of Southern California, I have had the unfortunate experience of having to drive down the 405 freeway on multiple occasions. 

For those of you who don’t know, the 405 is one of the busiest freeways in Southern California. The 405 splits from the 5 in the Northern part of Los Angeles and runs down to Orange County, where it reconnects with the 5 freeway. 

This 72 mile stretch of freeway is awful. 

I have not had to travel the 405 very often, but every single time I do, it is a terrible experience. Something I learned about this awful stretch of freeway, is that there is an ongoing joke amongst Southern Californias that its name, the 405, is because you only go between 4 and 5 miles per hour. 

Convinced that it was merely a joke, my naivety was soon confronted with the disturbing reality that it is, indeed, not something to laugh at. 

My younger brother graduated from UCLA not too long ago, and when he graduated, my family went down to help him move out of the apartment that he was living in. We had gotten an AirBnB in Buena Park to stay for his graduation. We decided that it would be prudent to pick him and his stuff up from UCLA around 2PM on a Thursday. Lo and behold, it was probably one of the worst decisions my family has ever made. 

From UCLA to Buena Park is 40 miles. It took 3 hours to complete our journey. 3. Hours. 

The 405 is an awful freeway. 

So what does this have to do with human sinfulness? Great question. 

This is an idea that I have had for some time. My recent experience on the 405 finally gave me the best metaphor to describe the thought that has been brewing. 

Here’s the thought; human sinfulness can be boiled down to the pursuit of self as opposed to the pursuit of others. 

What I mean is that all human sinfulness is about turning away from God and seeking after your own self interest and neglecting to care for and seek the good for others. =

Let’s take the Ten Commandments as our first example. Six of the ten commands are seeking after the welfare of others. Honor your father and mother (#5), do not murder (#6), do not commit adultery (#7), to not steal (#8), do not bear false witness (#9) and do not covet your neighbor’s possessions (#10) are all others oriented. 

These commands are enacted in response to the devastation that human sin had brought to the interpersonal relationships of humanity. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in Genesis 3, it was done so with the presumption that “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (v. 5) The way the serpent tempted them was with the promise that they would be like God. The serpent played into the false promise of individually focused prosperity. 

In other words, the fundamental lie the serpent used to trick Adam and Eve was that God was holding out on them and they could do something about it. If they only focused on themselves, then they would be like God. 

When we believe that God is holding out, then we start to think that the only way to truly take care of ourselves is to focus entirely on our own individual happiness and welfare. We neglect caring for others and begin to see their welfare and our happiness as mutually exclusive. It creates an atmosphere of self-focus that leads to suspicion of others’ motivation. 

It is toxic. 

So how does that relate to the 405? 

The fundamental problem with the 405 is that it is constantly bogged down in traffic. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, there will always be some part that is snarled in traffic. But I think traffic on the 405 (and any other freeway for that matter) is indicative of human sinfulness because traffic itself is caused by individuals who have come under the belief that their time, their destination, their agenda is more important than anyone else on the road. 

Studies have shown that traffic can be caused by one single car that is weaving/speeding on a freeway. The ripple effect of ones decision to drive recklessly has unforeseen repercussions that can stall a freeway for hours and miles at a time. 

It boils down to being self-focused. 

Self focus tells us that our time is more important than others. The only way to get to the place we are going is to make sure that you are going faster than the other people on the freeway. They are the ones holding you up. They are responsible for your misery. It is their fault. If you take that mentality and multiply it by the thousands of drivers on the road, is it any surprise that traffic is the byproduct? 

Merging is another way of seeing human sinfulness at work. Merging on and off the freeway is an example of something that creates headaches for everyone. People are slowing down to get off the freeway, while others are speeding up to try and move to a faster lane. You have people who have waited until the last second to swerve over and exit. You have people who refuse to let others get in front of them. There are a number of factors that make merging on and off the freeway a nightmare for most drivers. 

What they all have in common is that everyone is self-focused. Imagine for a second what would happen if drivers would become others-focused. Instead of having to fight your way on and off the freeway, you would simply glide in and out of the space provided by others. Instead of cars swerving over at the last second, you’d have people who patiently allow others to merge into the exit lane with enough time to exit. Instead of people speeding up and dangerously changing lanes to be in a “faster” one, you’d have drivers safely getting up to speed on the freeway and making their lane changes. 

I would go as far to argue that if everyone were others-focused, it would eliminate traffic for good. But again, human sinfulness is present in our everyday realities. And the unfortunate truth is that we are never going to experience a reality where everyone is radically others-focused this side of glory. There have been a few times where a kind person has let me merge onto the 405 in front of them, but they are just a small taste of sweetness in what otherwise is a cauldron of bitterness. 

Human sinfulness is caused by us being self-focused. When we turn the focus and attention on ourselves, then we ultimately neglect caring for those around us. When it becomes about our happiness, our pursuits, our flourishing, then we believe the lie that God is holding out on us and that they only way to truly experience the fullness of life is to take it for ourselves. 

That promise, however, only leads to bitterness, disappointment and disillusionment with the world around us. 

All this to say, I still hate the 405 freeway, but I now know that it has much more to do with the brokenness of humanity than it does my time or agenda. Traffic is a byproduct of brokenness because it comes from a self-focused perspective. As with all sin, it stems from thinking that the I is more important than the us. 

Jesus calls his followers to be radically others-focused. What that means is that if we are followers of Jesus, our lives are going to be radically different than the world around us. The way we care for people, the way we put others before ourselves, the way we allow people to merge on and off the freeway. All these things will define us as followers of Christ. 

– J

How a Jr. High Girl Made Me Cry

I cried a couple of weeks ago, and it was because of what a Jr. High girl said to me. It wasn’t mean, or rude or anything like that, but because she spoke a word of encouragement to me that I didn’t know how much I needed. As I sat in the dining hall of a retreat center, surrounded by hundreds of others, I shared a moment with this Jr. High student that left me with tears in my eyes. Read More »

The Hope of Advent

One of my favorite Christmas traditions has always been Christmas Eve candlelight services. Singing carols late into the darkness of the evening, watching the light of one small candle spread through a crowd, the glow of candlelight increasing as it is shared with each member holding a candle of their own. In these moments the words at the beginning of John’s gospel often come to mind:  

In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Every year, these actions and words intertwine and fill my heart with hope. Hope for a world full of light rather than darkness. I am reminded that the light is not overcome by the darkness, that the light will continue to shine. This light brings life to all people.

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Welcoming the Stranger

So much has been said about the caravan of migrants making their way north through Mexico the last few weeks that it is hard to keep track of all the facts. The way that the media, politicians and the president have portrayed this group of people has made it seem as though they pose an extreme threat to the safety of the United States. This “threat” is so real that the President has called up the armed forces to “secure” the border. Just so you know where I am going with this post, I am going to comment on how the military response to a humanitarian crisis is a disproportionate response and how (speaking from a Christian perspective) the gospel message is being threatened by the actions of the United States.

Firstly, let’s break down the response to this caravan. This caravan is making its way north through Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum in the United States. For most of the people, they are fleeing extreme violence, poverty and corruption in their home countries. Speaking from a United States historical perspective, this violence and political turmoil in Central and South America is directly related to foreign policies the U.S. has imposed on them for centuries. You cannot study U.S. history without seeing the detrimental policies that directly affected the governments of these nations. It is a matter of historical fact, not of political opinion. The United States is directly responsible for much of the political and social unrest in Central and South America. Again, it does not take a lot of digging into the history of U.S. foreign policy to see that the country is complicit in the unrest of these countries.

That being said, the migrants that are seeking asylum in the United States are fleeing the problem that America created in the first place. For us as a nation to deny them the chance at seeking asylum is a double insult. We can’t blame them for fleeing the circumstances that the United States created in the first place. As for the role of fear, too many of our American “leaders” have portrayed this caravan as detrimental to the safety and security of the United States. This has led to a number of American citizens being afraid of these people with no grounds for their fear. They fear the caravan simply because our “leaders” have told us to be afraid. It is easy to dehumanize someone if you remove their human agency. That is what is happening now. We are being told to fear this caravan and see them as a group of dangerous people who are seeking to do harm to the United States and not a group of people seeking asylum.

The fear is manufactured.

Now, zeroing in on what a “Christian” response should look like, I want to start off by calling out my fellow brothers and sisters who have been vocally in favor of apprehending and sending these migrants back to where they came from. The reason I want to call them out is because that opinion is influenced far more by political affiliation and not a Christ-centered response. If your allegiance is to the United States, then your response can be to exclude these migrants. But let us not pretend for a second that the mouth you use for praise on Sunday and the fear-filled rhetoric you say on Monday professes the same Lord. You cannot serve two masters. You have to choose who your allegiance is to.

I have been dwelling a lot lately on the role of the “stranger” in the narrative of Israel’s history. Deuteronomy 1:9-18 comes at a point in Israel’s history when they are on the cusp of entering the Promised land. The bruised and battered nation had been wandering for over forty years in the wilderness as they slowly made their way towards the land that God had promised their ancestors. They had grown exponentially in number and the burden of governance had become too much for Moses to carry on his own. The outcome of this population surge was to appoint wise leaders to help in the administration of justice among the Israelite people. When these men were chosen, Moses instructed them, “I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you.” (Deuteronomy 1:16) This charge to treat the foreigner among them reveals a major aspect of God’s purpose for Israel. By instructing the judges to judge disputes between Israelites and foreigners fairly, YHWH is establishing from the outset of Israel’s inheritance of the promised land that they are to administer justice and mercy to those who are not native born Israelites.

Similarly, in Leviticus 19, we have a further fleshing out of this command to treat the foreigner with dignity in legal issues. The Levitical instruction states “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Here we have a key rationale for why Israel is to treat the foreigner as one of their own. The collective memory of their Egyptian slavery serves as the empathetic baseline in which they are to receive and treat the foreigner living among them. The reason their slavery in Egypt is called to be remembered is that it was one of (if not the most) defining factors of Israel’s identity. What defined their experience in Egypt was that God’s mercy and righteousness led them out of slavery and into the promised land. It is this same mercy and righteousness that they are commanded to extend towards the foreigner among them.

If we are able to view immigrants, exiles and refugees as brothers and sisters, then their needs become our own. Their pain is our pain. Their protection is our protection. If this becomes our earnest longing, then we will truly be a church that will have “equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26) The immigrant, the exile, the refugee living among us are the ones that God not only cares for, but defends. The passages in Deuteronomy and Leviticus reveal that God’s intention for humanity is to bless it through the acts of justice and righteousness of God’s followers. There is no national boundary that negates the divine mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves.

If by chance there is anyone reading this that is part of the migrant caravan, I want you to know that I welcome you with open arms. My wife and I welcome you. Come in, have a seat, share this food with us and tell us your story. You are welcome here.

–  J

“You Didn’t Seem Nervous”

August was a month of firsts for me. It was the first time I ever preached a sermon and it was the first time I officiated a wedding. Both of those things were very exciting, but they were also a source of anxiety for me. I struggle with anxiety on a regular basis. Even though I have been going through therapy (which has helped a lot), I still struggle with anxiety. Anxiety is something that I have been so accustomed to, that on the outside, it may look like I am doing fine.

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Why is studying the lives of the saints important?

I have some exciting news! I started a theology podcast this week! It’s in addition to my theology vlog and is a way for me to dive into some theological questions in more depth. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

“Why is studying the lives of the Saints important? ” from Thursday’s Theology on Anchor:

The Parable of the Sower

What is so special about his parable? Why is it one of the most cited of all parables? Check out this week’s episode to see why this parable is so key to understanding the ministry and teachings of Jesus.

Just because you might be one type of soil, doesn’t mean that you can’t be cultivated. There is hope for those who are both rocky and thorny soil as well as packed dirt. Let the master gardener take you and make you into fruitful soil.

Thanks for joining us this week! Remember, theology doesn’t always have to be difficult, it is simply the study of who God is.

Links mentioned in the video:

Matthew 13

Last Week’s Episode

Anxiety & Mental Health – Thursday’s Theology Edition

After receiving such great feedback for my anxiety and mental health blog post a couple weeks ago, I decided to do a special episode of Thursday’s Theology dedicated to talking more in depth about my own experience. This episode dives deeper into some thoughts I have about mental health and why it is important to seek out professional help if you are struggling with anxiety or depression.

Thanks for tuning in this week!