Greetings from Seattle.
As of writing this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, envying all the rain that Seattle is getting and how people are walking around as if this is nothing new to them. Of course it’s nothing new. They get rain all the time. How odd it has been to see how green everything is compared to the browning lawns of Southern California. Maybe rain will come for us in SoCal. Hopefully sooner than later.
But I’m also sitting here trying to digest all that has happened today. Because something did happen to me today.
I attended Seattle Pacific University’s chapel today to hear Dr. Jonathan Tran talk about being an Asian American in the United States to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (#APAeverywhere). After the chapel, Dr. Tran was going to discuss about what the Asian American response should be to the Black Lives Matter movement.
I took a look around the folks who gathered to worship. It was the most diverse worship setting I have been in for a long time. And churches, if you have 2 Asians, 3 Hispanics, 4 African-Americans, and a 200 Anglos — I don’t know if you could qualify that as being diverse. That’s like saying, “I’m not racist, I have a black friend.” But I digress.
The praise band led the worship.
It was deep. And powerful.
It drew emotions from me that I wasn’t expecting.
At one point, the band started singing the chorus in Korean.
It was so unexpected.
What was more unexpected was how damn emotional I got.
I couldn’t continue on singing. I had to catch myself because I didn’t want to cry in front of a bunch of strangers. I was embarrassed at my emotions. Then embarrassed because of my overly self-awareness.
Something about hearing my mother tongue moved me in a way that I did not anticipate. The last time I got this emotional in worship was a week after I first failed my ordination interviews. We were at my dad’s church for a revival. The guest speaker began to sing a song (in Korean) and it deeply moved me, giving me a healing moment I did not think I needed.
There are obviously some deep scars I carry from the Korean church and some deep regrets of distancing myself from the Korean church. I deny the fact that I have any scars from the Korean church — because at times, I genuinely believe it. But I did not come out of it completely unscathed. This self imposed divorce from the Korean church is just that — self imposed. They don’t miss me as much as I may. They don’t need me as much as I think they do. But I love my people. And because I love them, I think our mistakes sting more; embarrass more; shame more; hurt more. No matter how much I may rail against them and criticize them, my identity is rooted in being a Korean-American. That is who I undeniably am. And I am awfully proud of my heritage, ethnicity, and identity.
Perhaps I forget that sometimes, and today’s worship served as a reminder.
Or maybe it was the fact that I was in a room full of people from different ages, life stages, experiences, ethnicities — yet we share a unique, common bond; different yet united — and the beauty of the Koreans and Non-Koreans singing “We exalt thee” in Korean then singing the same refrain in Japanese was beautifully overwhelming.
It’s amazing how different we really aren’t.
All of us in that room have experienced rejection; the difficulty of being a square while trying to fit into a circular hole and the strong desire to just fit in; we’ve all experienced shame and embarrassment; failure and brokenness; and we were all gathered together because we’ve also experienced restoration; redemption; love; grace; joy; hope.
And it’s a shame that our instinct is to focus on where we differ rather than where we converge.
We were in a room together, where we could hear one another’s experience and genuinely and lovingly say, “Me too, me too.”
My heart was overwhelmed by the strange warmness that took over.
And it was a beautiful and holy moment.
Thanks be to God.