Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Toxic Shame

I have made a habit out of watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" while I eat lunch. Also, I just finished a paper on Asian Americans. So today, when there was this Chinese-American guy on the show, I couldn't help but to see the concept of "toxic shame" I read about pretty clearly. On the $25,000 question, he had a pretty good idea of what the answer was, but he ended up using his two remaining lifelines. The answer was what he thought in the beginning. When he won the $25,000, it seemed like he was more upset than happy, I think because he had wasted his lifelines. Meredith Vieira, the host, was basically comforting him: "You should be happy, you won $25,000!" Now, I think his reaction was understandable to an extent -- but after watching several episodes of this show (probably too many), his reaction seemed pretty abnormal. Usually the contestants are disappointed if they waste lifelines, but they get over it and are really happy -- sometimes to the point of being giddy -- when they win $25,000. It's almost as if he was preoccupied with the fact that he could have had done better -- not that that he had won $25,000. Toxic shame (a term I think first used by Pastor Ken Fong) is when we see our failures and mistakes not only as mistakes -- but as signs that there is something deeply wrong with us, that we are beyond redemption. We basically feel like we are the mistake. It comes off as humility -- but it's more of a false humility, a self-centered shame. The gospel is the paradox that indeed we are hopelessly flawed, yet at the same time we are completely loved and accepted through Christ by sheer grace. If we can't be happy when we win $25,000, how much harder is it for us to accept the immeasurable gift of grace?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Love Life

Okay, don't be weirded out. I'm not going to write anything that will make you uncomfortable (I hope). But for awhile, I've wanted to reflect on what I've learned about love -- specifically, romantic love. We've only been married for a year (on July 21), and so I still have A LOT to learn, but I think God has taught me a lot from teenage crushes to serious dating to marriage. I've been thinking about it again, since I was recently asked about my opinion on teenage dating, which brought back lots of memories of youth ministry, where this question was, and will always be the #1 most frequently asked question. There's two things that I'm pretty sure will be part of youth ministry forever: crazy, goofy, chubby-bunny-like games and dating questions.

There's too much to reflect on in one post, so I'll just start with my experiences in college. I have to admit I was pretty much on the look out for a future wife in college. I went to a Christian college, and I figured if I was going to find a suitable wife, what better place? For about two years of college, I was infatuated with one girl. In my mind, she was perfect. But looking back, I'm pretty sure I was really only attracted to her physically. But that one aspect clouded my mind so much, that I truly believed that she was nearly perfect in every way. I was infatuated but not very brave. I did manage to spend as much time with her as possible, all the while never expressing my feelings. I would define this as the ever-so-popular "let's hang out alot one on one but, we're not dating" stage. For me, this was basically an excuse to be a wuss: toy with the other person's emotions as much as possible to get what you want without taking any risks. Fortunately, I had roommates who couldn't put up with my non-action any more, so eventually they encouraged me to ask her to this big formal ball-type thing we did at Wheaton (long story...but it's basically a dance without dancing. Insert joke here.) And by "encourage", I mean that they actually dialed the number on the phone and gave it to me. But in any case, after that triumphant experience, I was convinced that I had to "take it to the next level", which, in our Wheaton subculture, meant having the "define-the-relationship" talk. Long story short, though I nearly attempted this talk, I aborted it because I found out second-hand that she was not interested in me "that way."

I was pretty devastated after that. I remember very distinctly sitting in my apartment in the middle of the night, wanting very badly to get as far away as possible from Wheaton. I wanted to take a train going anywhere. I wasn't even rejected face to face, but the sting felt like the worst rejection I've ever experienced. It wasn't just that I didn't get the girl, it was a deep, gnawing sense of worthlessness. I wasn't good enough for her...maybe I'm not good enough for anybody. I had such high hopes and I had a plan: fall in love and get married. With my hopes dashed, I felt like I was relegated to being a second-class citizen. Still never dated. What a loser. What's wrong with me? Looking for something that could help ease the pain, I popped in a Matt Redman cd. The words from "The Father's Song" seemed to be directed straight at me.

I have heard so many songs, Listened to a thousand tongues, But there is one, That sounds above them all...The Father’s song, The Father’s love, You sung it over me and for eternity, It’s written on my heart... Heaven’s perfect melody, The Creator’s symphony, You are singing over me, The Father’s song...Heaven’s perfect mystery, The king of love has sent for me, And now you’re singing over me, The Father’s song.

The song is based on Zephaniah 3:17, which is part of a prophesy of how God will redeem his people: The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. In that moment, I felt God's gentle song of love over me. It was as if he was saying, "don't you see? What your soul is longing for, what it craves...only I can give it to you. Hear my song. I'm singing it over you." In the cross, God substituted himself for me. Not because I deserve it, or because I'm "worthy." But because I'm worthless, because I'm faulty, inadequate, and cowardly, he sent his perfect son in my place so that I could be his child. So that his perfection and status could be mine. So that the God of the universe, my creator, who knows all of my hidden flaws could call me his beloved, accepted child. There is now no condemnation. How could I chase after the approval of a girl to validate me? How could I chase after the approval of the world to validate whether I was a "loser" or not? And how could I chase after marriage as the all-encompassing goal of my life?

I have heard so many songs, but there is one that sounds above them all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Summer TV

I don't want to take away from the great reflections and insight Ben shared in his last post, so if you haven't read our blog in a while, please read that post before you read this one! I had the privilege of reading the entire paper and really enjoyed and appreciated Ben's observations and assessments. It will be interesting to see how God helps us work through those issues in our ministry.

On a lighter note, we have become engaged in a handful of summer TV shows while our regular shows (The Office, American Idol, SNL, etc.) are on hiatus:
  • American Gladiators - I loved this show when I first watched it back in the early '90s. It came on right after Saturday Night Live, and I would frequently stay up to watch it as I rushed to finish my Sunday School homework (which I had procrastinated on earlier in the week). So we were pretty excited when it came back earlier this year, and again in May. The added trash-talking by the Gladiators can be somewhat annoying (especially from Wolf), but I do like the new and old events, as well as the enhanced storylines of the contenders - e.g., best friends, fellow cops, people who have had significant weight loss, newlyweds, a 52-year-old woman, a few people with disabilities, etc. It gives the contenders more of a human side rather than just people running around in spandex suits. Anyway we are always excited to watch AG, and it certainly provides a bright side to Mondays.
  • America's Best Dance Crew - We thought it sounded a little silly when we first heard about it, but then watched the finale of the first season and subsequently a marathon of the first season and were hooked by the time Season 2 started. The dancing really is great and incredibly entertaining. Ben's favorites are Super Cr3w and Supreme Soul, while I am rooting for (and voting for) my hometown SoReal Cru. Another thing is that this show features Mario Lopez as host and JC Chasez as one of the judges, which is a small bonus for me as a huge Saved by the Bell and *NSYNC fan.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond - We have both watched this show from time to time in reruns, and never watched it when it was originally airing, but now we watch reruns nearly every night during dinner (alternating between that and the Saved by the Bell reruns on The N). Some people might find it frustrating - and understandably so - but we find it funny and often quite insightful on life and relationships.
  • Wipeout - This one and the one below are not quite as important for us to catch as the top 2 on this list, but they've also provided some significant entertainment. It's almost like AG but more comical and with lots of falling down, water, and falling down into water. Since I was a baby I have always gotten big laughs out of people falling down (as long as they are not seriously injured or anything), and this show has made me laugh to tears at times.
  • I Survived a Japanese Game Show - Japanese game shows are pretty amusing by themselves, so we thought this was worth a shot. It's about a bunch of Americans in Japan who have to live together and compete on a Japanese game show while also trying to avoid elimination and win a large cash prize. The Japanese game show competitions can be pretty funny, and my biggest critique is that I wish they would spend much more time on those activities than they do on the drama among the participants about who likes/dislikes whom and who is going to get eliminated. But I guess if we want more Japanese game show activities, we should just watch a Japanese game show. Hey, whatever happened to that show called Sushi TV on the TV Guide Channel? (Actually, what happened to the TVGC? Does it still exist?)
For the record, in the midst of these shows, we still DO get all of our schoolwork and other activities accomplished, so don't worry!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Asian American Pastoral Leadership

I just finished my paper for my Pastoral Ministry class on the culturally specific opportunities and challenges for Asian American Pastoral Leadership. It was a great experience to write it. Here was my conclusion:

Asian American pastors find within the Gospel of Jesus Christ both affirmations and challenges to their cultural sensibilities. In our authoritarian hierarchies, we find both a recognition that authority and structure are needed and the abuse of authority to assert power, gain prestige, and neglect empowerment of others. In our collective identities, we find both an orientation to be others-focused and also a propensity for toxic shame and conflict avoidance. In our work ethic, we find both the biblical call to diligence and also an addiction to our self-effort. And let us not forget the American cultural strengths and weaknesses that are also engrained in us.

Writing this paper, I have discovered in myself many of the strengths and weaknesses described. I remember feeling a sort of “toxic shame”: I knew the reality of my sin deeply during my teenage years. Ever since then I have struggled with truly understanding and embracing the grace found in the cross. In my few years of ministry experience, I have always found myself emphasizing the need for vulnerability and brokenness: perhaps in reaction to the lack of vulnerability and the performance-orientation I’ve experienced in Asian churches. This year, my wife and I became members of a non-Chinese church (a first for me), and though the church is nearly half Asian American, interacting with other ethnicities in the church has forced me to deal with my cultural identity. I find myself becoming more timid around Caucasians, and even doubting my own call to ministry because of this. But I have realized that on one hand, I should not necessarily interpret my lack of aggressiveness in contrast with Caucasians as a sign of poor leadership, and on the other hand, I should not let my fear of rejection prevent me from “stepping up” and allowing God to work through me. Most importantly, it has reminded me to rely not on any of my gifts, but solely on the righteousness I have through Christ as the source of my self-worth.

As bicultural people, Asian Americans are often confused as to which culture they truly belong to. Many, deeply assimilated into Western society, have some level of animosity towards their Asian heritage. In my research, mostly from the Asian American authors, I observed noticeably more negatives than positives written about Asian cultural values (consequently, my paper also reflects this relative imbalance). Perhaps, as bicultural people, the failures and weaknesses of our parents stand out against the Western culture we have grown up in. But this also gives us the unique perspective to discern and embrace the best in both the Eastern and Western cultures. We must also guard against the tendency to react strongly to the weaknesses by merely going to the other extreme. As sinful humans, it is impossible to transcend our cultural trappings and leanings completely. Our only hope is not to find our identities in either our Asian or American cultures, but to “count all things as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8-9)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Missing Summer Missions

Happy 4th of July to all! Let's be sure to give thanks for the freedom that we enjoy in the U.S. I know I definitely take it for granted most of the time.

During the last two summers, Ben and I have led youth missions projects together, and now that it's summertime and our former youth group kids are leaving for this summer's project, I find myself missing those trips and reminiscing about those experiences. The Lord definitely worked in the communities we served, and especially in our own hearts through the challenges and successes we had and the insights we gained. While I do not miss the discomforts - such as sharing sleeping quarters and shower facilities with 10 or 100 girls, and doing hard labor in 90- to 100-degree weather - I do miss serving with and interacting with our high school students. We have many fun memories and valuable lessons from our times with you guys, and although we are not serving you in the same roles anymore, we hope for more fun times with you in fellowship and ministry in the future!

H2K6 group with our partner church

New Orleans group