I think often times we get mixed up and think that the beginning of the journey is the moment that we have arrived at the destination.
During college, I accidentally joined a campus ministry. I showed up to the wrong event and signed in before I realized where I was.
I tried to be part of the ministry, I really did. I attended their gatherings on a regular basis for about a month because I wanted to find and belong to a community of similar-minded folks.
But I couldn’t.
There was too much of the “turn or burn” mentality.
And everything, and I mean everything, came down to accepting Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. That was the end game. That was the goal of the ministry. First to accept Christ as Savior then go and help others accept Christ. New converts were urged to go make converts and so forth. It was like a spiritual, religious pyramid scheme.
It never sat right with me because, okay we accepted Christ. Now what?
This was the beginning of the journey and somehow it was confused to be the destination. There is so much more work to be done after our conversion experience.
I know this isn’t the clearest and best of segues, but before 2008, my religious context had been in Immigrant Korean churches and only in that context.
Since 2008, I’ve been serving in predominant anglo churches.
For a good chunk of time (post 2008), I was a double minority in all district gatherings I attended. I wasn’t white and I was young. I was surrounded by older and white folks.
When you’re the only one of your kind, you notice it.
Even if, for whatever reasons, you don’t notice you’re made aware of it.
“You’re so young. Have you even graduated from college?”
“Wow, you speak English really well.”
“I’m so glad that you speak English. I was beginning to worry that it would be difficult for you to be my pastor if you didn’t.”
“Korea? Yea, I’ve been to Korea. I fought you guys in the war!”
Being in the Korean church, it sort of served as an insulation to the “real” world outside of church.
We were so focused inwardly.
We talked about church growth, but it meant reaching out to other folks who look like us and think like us and share the same experiences we had.
We would gladly welcome the non-Koreans who had interest in our culture, or let’s be real: infected with the “yellow fever” but no real, concerted effort was ever made to reach non-Koreans.
You do your best to honor your family’s name.
You do your best to excel in school.
You do your best to be a good Christian. Which in many of our context means be the best church goer/member you possibly can.
Anything that dealt with the non-Korean world, we politely ignored — sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. It wasn’t our problem, you know?
It’s the byproduct of being so inwardly and self focused.
Of course, we’d volunteer to help serve the homeless at local rescue missions. And we’d go to Mission Trips to Mexico or other destinations. But that was the extent of our outreach.
Spending majority of my faith life in that context, both as an attender and pastor, moving to an anglo church was a culture shock.
I was now forced to pay attention to the world outside of the Korean context because there was no Korean context.
Going from Hawaii to Orange County, I once found myself -once again- in the role of the token minority.
Since 2008, when I brought up topics about race or the lack of minority representation, I can’t tell you how many of my colleagues responded with, “Oh. I don’t see color.”
Majority of the “colorblind” colleagues were white.
It’s a phrase that’s been grating more and more as time has gone by.
I’m hoping to come a place where I never have to hear that phrase ever again. Because not everyone has the opportunity to be colorblind. It’s easy to ignore the color of your skin if the majority of people around you share the same color.
Chances are, you’re not solving racism, but simply ignoring it.
Over the past year or so, my eyes and heart have been opening up towards justice issues — particularly in issues of race — more aggressively in the previous months thanks to this guy.
I’ve kept mum — mainly because I know nothing about anything. And I fear misspeaking. And when it comes to issues of race, everyone is tensed and wound and ready to spring forth with defenses and accusations.
But that’s just an excuse for not standing up or speaking out. Silence is part of the problem, isn’t it?
As important it was to acknowledge my silence over such issues throughout my adult life, it was just as important to acknowledge and understand the privilege I have, even as a minority. Being a “model minority” (which is an issue in of itself), I’m afforded privilege in society that many do not have.
It is part of this privilege in which I can choose to remain silent; choose to speak up; choose to partake in justice issue; choose to ignore; — I get to choose how I may move forward; how to participate in society. And that is one form of privilege (of the many) that I have.
The thing about reconciliation that I’ve come to realize is that we may mistake the first step of that journey as our end goal.
We may think that reconciliation is building relationships with those who may not be of the same race.
So I’ve made friends with people who may be marginalized. Now what?
That can’t be it, can it?
It seemingly absolves us from being accused of being insensitive towards certain issues and people.
How many times have we heard the sentiment:
I’m not racist! My best friend is black!
I’m not homophobic! I have lots of gay friends!
Although, a lot of times, we use that phrase as a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card to say something inappropriate.
The path towards reconciliation begins with relationships. That’s the first step, not the destination. It is seeing you as my sister and my brother that begins the journey towards reconciliation. It is loving you as my neighbor that I may, not only begin to understand the struggles you may face but to walk with you. In this walking with you, I may begin to discover that there are polices, regulations, laws, procedures, and things on a systemic and bureaucratic level that needs to be addressed and changed. Reconciliation means that those we are trying to “reconcile” with will receive the same benefits and justice that we may take for granted.
That’s why saying things like, “I don’t see color” is more damaging than reconciling.
It’s on the same pendulum swing of “racism doesn’t exist.”
In the words of Bomani Jones:
I’m not hear to be sanctimonious or point fingers or what not. I’m thinking out loud on the things that I’ve been wrestling with.
I know that many of my fellow Asians can relate to the fact that we appreciate and enjoy and be immersed in hip-hop culture. And that we simply choose to or fail to understand the struggle and plight that comes with that culture. We move with the beats and rap along with the likes of Kendrick Lamar but don’t understand the struggles those words came from. Or simply choose not to. I love the beats. I love the lyrics. Thanks for going through those struggles so that I may consume your art.
What I now know is that I can’t be a passive member of society.
I know that I can’t sit and read books about justice and pat myself on the back for filling up on knowledge. That knowledge is only meaningful if I can apply it; practice it.
Silence and passivity only perpetrates injustice. I end up becoming part of the problem if I choose to decide that issues of injustice doesn’t effect me or my world.
I have no idea what I must or need to do. But the words of MLK Jr. has been seared into my heart in the past month:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.