Battling my imposter syndrome

Over the past three months, I’ve been busy transitioning our Grad and Faculty ministries to on-line platforms in anticipation of a challenging new academic year. But, I’ve also had the privilege to talk and teach about anti-Asian racism and Asian American history and theology.

I’m not comfortable promoting my work or myself. Some may think that the diversity of experiences I’ve had would boost my self-confidence. Actually, the opposite is true. It’s not really humility, either. Since the trauma of leaving theological education and the academic community fifteen years ago, I’ve wrestled with “imposter syndrome” in almost everything I’ve done.

But reconnecting with my academic peers at last year’s American Academy of Religion meeting, being invited to re-engage anti-Asian racism by the Asian American Christian Collaborative and the Alliance of Asian American Baptists, and having a chance to provide a reflection for the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary has renewed me spiritually and intellectually. I still don’t like seeing or hearing myself on video, but what the heck. I need to hear the advice that GFM gives to grad students and young faculty when facing imposter syndrome – trust God because he has placed us in these stations of life for a bigger purpose. And, for me, the larger purpose is giving voice to Asian Americans and reforming Christianity to face its global and multi-racial future. So, here is a little bit of my passion…

I. Having my academic work mentioned as recommended summer reading!

I’m grateful that some of my academic publications were referred to by Dr. Jane Hong in Melissa Borja’s blog, “Asian Americans and American Religion: Recommendations for Your Summer Reading and Fall Syllabi.” The field of Asian American religion has really expanded since I was active in it. I’ve been focused on a history and theology of Chinese American Christianity project, but working with Grad and Faculty Ministries has justified re-entering the wider field.

II. Giving a video devotional for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Fuller Theological Seminary’s Asian American Center invited me to give a reflection on Panethnicity and the Bible for their Centered Blog. Three other scholars also shared their devotionals during AAPI heritage month. Please have a look at the blog!

Panethnicity and the Bible

III. Addressing Anti-Asian Racism during the coronavirus pandemic

The Alliance of Asian American Baptists invited me and Katharine Hsiao to discuss racism against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rev. Florence Li, National Coordinator of Asian Ministries at American Baptist Home Mission Societies hosted the conversation. Katharine discusses how Asian American Baptists are responding to reports of anti-Asian racism. I provided a historical overview about how anti-Asian attitudes and ideas permeated American society. Something that I hope to share more is about how Christians have been complicit with racism and how some Christians have also fought against racism. Each generation of believers have a choice to make.

Rev. Florence Li interview about anti-Asian racism during COVID-19

Here is a short interview with Kwok Pui Lan on “Why I signed the AACC Statement” for the Asian American Christian Collaborative. It was hastily organized, but I was blessed to re-connect with one of the leading Asian theologians of our generation!

A conversation with Dr. Kwok Pui Lan

I also was on a panel at U.C. Diego’s Asian American InterVarsity chapter with Jenn Louie (InterVarsity’s California Central Valley Area Director). We discussed the effects of Anti-Asian sentiment and some practical ways to respond to it. Thanks, Zach Wong, for inviting me!

We now resume regularly scheduled programming…

Asian Americans Documentary – initial thoughts

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I’ve eagerly anticipated the new Asian Americans documentary that aired on PBS the last two days. I viewed the previews and promoted it heavily among my friends. And I was not disappointed.

Asian Americans is a five hour patchwork of intriguing personal and family stories woven into a long, complex and rich history. Under the shadow of white supremacy in U.S. history, various Asian Americans have struggled to survive, fought for civil rights, and refused to be silenced. The documentary’s dominant meta-narrative is that of heroic Asian Americans who battled racial exclusion and marginalization to prove that they are Americans. Thus, resilient victims, vocal social activists, conscientious political leaders, achievers and celebrities who reflected on their Asian American identities were the given the most attention in this documentary.

One of the participants in a post-air watch party wondered who this documentary’s audience was. Many thought that it was primarily for Asian Americans and questioned whether non-Asians American would be much interested. I agreed that Asian Americans would be most interested in the documentary. It resonated with me and many of my friends who can identify with the experience of being marginalized and silenced. There were many cathartic moments in the documentary that left me in tears: the devastating impact of the World War II concentration camps on one Japanese American family, the trauma of the Southeast Asian refugee experience, or the all-too familiar images of Vincent Chin’s grieving mom. Indeed, the recent surge of anti-Asian racist incidents in the wake of COVID-19 is a visceral reminder that anti-Asian sentiment, despite recent Asian American progress, lie just beneath the surface, waiting to be sparked. So, yes, this documentary is an important reminder to Asian Americans that despite our “breakthrough” (the title of the final episode), the hard fought victories of the past can be easily snatched away.

But the documentary was also for a mainstream American audience. This is not just our story, but an American story. Rather, a revision of the American story that centers the narrative on a racialized people. Those who despise multiculturalism or bemoan the deletion of Western Civilization in the curriculum cannot escape the truth of the whole story of America. This is a truth that I’ve engaged in my scholarship. This is the truth of “The 1619 Project” that the New York Times featured last August to commemorate the 400 anniversary of slavery in the U.S. Namely, that the United States was build on the backs of people of color. Or more generously, America was built by people of color.

I spent much of my adult life trying to persuade Asian American Christians that this truth needed to be part of our theology and ministry. As long as American Christianity is complicit with perpetuating a narrative that centers on Euro-American heroism and leadership, we’ll never see how truly global Christianity has become. For example, Douglas Jacobsen notes that

When the twentieth century began, Christianity was still a predominantly European faith. Today, two-thirds of the world’s Christians live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. No other religion has ever experienced so much change in such a short period of time. Global Gospel (2015), p. xv

But, in the end, despite its efforts to speak a broader truth to mainstream Americans, Asian Americans is still quintessentially patriotic and doesn’t question the American dream all that much. I appreciate the nuanced and honest snippets that appear occasionally (e.g., the mystery of Buddy Uno, the Korean and Black conflict just prior to the 1991 Los Angeles uprising, the huge economic divide among Asian Americans in Silicon Valley, etc.). But the core values of equality, inclusivity, and opportunity drives the documentary. As one of the interviewees noted, “Asian American can become whatever they want to be.”

The one major shortcoming that I see in the documentary may be self-serving, but I think it is important. Religion is virtually no where to be found. Sure, Alex Koh talks about going to church in Koreatown before the 1991 L.A. uprising. Erika Lee nonchalantly equated being Christian with trying to quietly fit in to America during the 1950s. But the omission of religion, something that would be unthinkable in documentaries of African Americans and Latinx, continues despite more than twenty years of rich scholarship about Asian Americans and religion. The most obvious erasure, in my opinion, can be found in the discussion about Joseph and Mary Tape’s fight against the exclusion of their daughter from San Francisco’s public school in the 19th century. We are shown their protest letter that was published in a local newspaper. While the letter explicitly appeals to Christian values as a reason to include their daughter, that part was completely ignored.

Asian American studies is no longer as dogmatically anti-religion (though there continues to be a feeling that ethnic studies is hostile to Christianity, largely due to its association with Western colonialism. See Robert Chao Romero, “Towards a Perspective of the Christian-Ethnic Studies Borderlands and Critical Race Theory in Christianity,” Christianity Next (Winter 2017), pp. 45-66). Since the publication of the 1999 issue of AmerAsia Journal that was dedicated to religion, a generation of scholarship have highlighted the richness and nuances of AAPI religion. I wonder if any of the scholars who participate in Asian North American Religion and Cultural Studies group (ANARCS) at the American Academy of Religion or the Asian Pacific American Religious Research Initiative (APARRI) were consulted in the making of the documentary? If they were, the producers would have had to contend with Josh Padison’s important point:

religion was central to the formations of race and citizenship in the post-Civil War United States…Most studies emphasize economics in the development of race…Though the strength of such economic forces is undeniable, attention to the public and private discourses of the nineteenth century – the way in which Americans talked, wrote, and thought – shows the powerful ways religion shaped the day-to-day expression of those forces. — American Heathen: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California (2012), page 4

But, by erasing religion, intentionally or not, a very big part of the AAPI story is missing. Recent studies have revealed how religion (in particular, Christian faith) has provided inspiration, philosophical grounding, and the moral impetus for much of AAPI social activism. Religious institutions and facilities were often centers for assembling workers and gathering places for communities to organize. Religious leaders – Asian, white, Black, and Latino – joined, and in some instances, led campaigns for civil rights, Native Hawaiian resistance, immigration reform, and Japanese American internment camp redress.

Despite this critique, Asian Americans, is, to me, a remarkable achievement. We are witnessing a new generation of AAPI scholars, community leaders, artists, and workers who can build the United States of the future, a nation that will, hopefully, be more true its democratic vision. I especially pray for a new generation of AAPI Christians who will not only contribute to the common good, but, through their witness, also be the conscience of the nation.

Russell M. Jeung, Ministry Partner

May 11, 2020
Russell JeungOne of my ministry partners, Dr. Russell Jeung, has been very busy lately. As the media covers reports of increased anti-Asian attacks in the wake of the corona virus, Russell has become one of the most interviewed and quoted experts. He is the Chair of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State and since March, his team has been tracking reports of these incidences.
     It’s no secret that Russell is also a committed Christian who devotes as much time to his church community as he does to his scholarship and social activism. In fact, he is a living example of a Jesus follower who brings every square inch of his life under the Kingdom of Christ.
     Two years ago, Russell led a workshop at InterVarsity’s NorCal Faculty/Staff Conference. This year, he donated to the same conference a bunch of granola bars made by Beautiful Day (beautifuldayri.org), a refugee agency based in Rhode Island. When the conference was cancelled because of the COVID-19, he diverted them to City of Oakland’s Turning Point Community, a response to homelessness.
     Russell is one of the leading sociologists of Asian American religion in the United States. His most recent work is Family Sacrifices: The Worldviews and Ethics of Chinese Americans (2019) which he co-authored with Seanan Fong and Helen Jin Kim.
Family SacrificesA large part of our friendship have been as colleagues in academia. In the late 1990s, Russell was a part of a cohort of doctoral students who started the Asian American religious studies network. Unlike the previous generation of Asian American theologians who are based in mainline Protestant seminaries (see Jonathan Tan’s Introducing Asian American Theologies (2008), this network was based in university religious studies departments. Russell’s dissertation was published as Faithful Generations: Race and the New Asian American Churches (2005). Because Russell and I both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was easy to connect and talk about our mutual scholarly interests, such as the intersection between Asian American studies and religion (and Christian faith, in particular). When I no longer had an academic platform, I’ll always be grateful for his willingness to remain connected. Our mutual concern for Asian American churches and ministry made it easier to stay in touch.faithful-generations-cover
     Indeed, Russell’s involvement with the ministry of community organizing was how I first met him. In the mid-1990s, while I was on faculty at Denver Seminary, I helped start Christians Supporting Community Organizing (CSCO), a group that encouraged Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Holiness churches to join faith-based community organizing groups (though CSCO no longer exists, its website of resources is still available at http://www.cscoweb.org). At the time, Russell was part of At Home in Exile Coverteam that organized impoverished Southeast Asian refugees in East Oakland. Russell’s commitment to biblical social justice and empowerment of the poor has always inspired me. He turned down an offer to a stable faculty position on the East Coast in order to remain with his community in East Oakland (this was before he went to San Francisco State). Fortunately, Russell has shared his story in At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors (2016). I encourage you read it!
     I’m grateful for his support for my ministry with InterVarsity, but even more thankful for over twenty-five years of friendship and collaboration. I look forward to many more years of Russell’s leadership in academia, social justice activism, and Christian ministry!

2019 NCFSC 22 Russell Jeung

Russell Jeung leads “Navigating As a Person of Faith in a Secular, Anti-Colonialist Academic Settings” workshop.

2019 Ministry Highlights

2019 was an incredible year. It was evident to me that God’s Spirit is moving among graduate students and faculty in the Pacific Area. Much appreciations to everyone who has been supporting us through prayer and finances!

Join my Ministry Facebook Group and view the Christian Graduate Students in Nor Cal and Hawaii Facebook Page for more highlights and photos! My ministry updates are archived here.

Tim and Shinwei Lin

Shin Wei Lin completed her grad studies in law at U.C. Berkeley this summer

Here are brief highlights from 2019:

  • We appointed 3 new staff and 2 campus volunteers
    — Darren Hsiung (U.C. Berkeley, campus minister)
    — Michele Turek (Area Field Operations Director)
    — Howard Chang (U.C. Davis, volunteer staff)
    — Prescott Bliss (Stanford University, volunteer staff)
    — Kaia Wang (Stanford University, campus intern)
  • New faculty and grad student ministries at University of Hawaii – Manoa
  • New ministries at U.C. San Francisco
  • Renewal of grad ministries at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, and U.C. Santa Cruz
  • Formation of Stanford University GFM strategic growth team
  • Faculty Ministry Collaboration with Pacific Region – identified seven new faculty ministry opportunities
  • 2019 Nor Cal Faculty/Staff Conference in Sacramento (Richard Mouw, keynote speaker)
  • 2019 Grad Winter Conference: “Going Deeper into the Trinity” (Wendy Quay and Bruce Hansen, speakers)
  • Inter-Campus Grad Student Leaders retreat
  • Evangelism webinars for grad student leaders
  • New ministry partnerships with Luke Christian Medical Missions and S.F. Chinese Alliance Church

Tim 2019 Ministry Snapshot

Please continue to pray for our Area Team as we prepare for 2020!

Pacific Area Staff all

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Midwives Who Feared God, by Kosuke Koyama

01koyama.450“Midwives Who Feared God,” one of Kosuke Koyama’s biblical mediations speaks to me today. Professor Koyama (小山 晃佑) [1929–2009], one of the leading Japanese theologians of the twentieth century was known for his efforts to contextualize Christian faith in Asian. This, however, did not mean that he was uncritical of idolatry, as seen in this biblical reflection:

 

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From Kosuke Koyama, Three Miles an Hour God: Biblical Reflections (Orbis, 1979): 96-99

But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. — Exodus 1.17

‘Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. But the descendants of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly. They multiplied and grew exceedingly strong; so that the land was filled with them’ (Exod. 1.6,7). The Egyptians felt threatened by the increasingly powerful presence of the Hebrews. The king of Egypt commanded: ‘when you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live’ (1.16). The midwives disobeyed the command.

They feared God. They feared the invisible God. They feared the God who does not have chariots and army, fortress and palace, and political structure and economic supremacy. Against the visible presence of the king of Egypt, the midwives feared the invisible God. I am sure the midwives were afraid of the king of Egypt. But courageously they acted according to the higher principle of morality they knew. They knew that murdering the male babies at their birth as commanded is against the mind of God. They feared the king. But they feared God more. ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).

The king of Egypt was ‘fearless’ when he issued such a destructive command. A ‘fearless’ world, in this sense, is a dangerous world. Fearlessless can be the expression of complete secularism. The king of Egypt did not fear God. He was a ‘secular’ person in spite of all the rich religious symbolisms which surrounds him. How strange. The title Pharaoh means ‘the great house’. It means the one who lives in the Great House. No house can be a great house without the touch of some kind of gods. At his coronation an Egyptian king received prenomen. The prenomen of Rameses II was User-maat-Re, ‘Strong in the right of Ra.’ It was believed that the kings came from the realm of the gods. They were god-kings. Ra was the solar god. It was the king, the god-king, who made the Great House great.

Yet the mid-wives feared God rather than this god-king. In every society we need ‘midwives who fear God’.

This does not mean that we need ‘religious people’ or more religious organizations and systems. We need all kinds of people who ‘fear God’. We need economists who fear God, politicians who fear God, educators who fear God, doctors who fear God. We need social midwives who fear God. They do not have to be ‘religious’. They fear God. They stand against the power of the occupants of the Great House when they misuse their power. They midwives are ready to disobey the command. They may not be Christians. Muslims, Buddhists, or Jewish. They may call themselves ’secular’ and ’non-religious’…. But they fear God.

Secular people, we think, do not fear God. ‘Religious’ people fear God. But is this really so? How do we draw the line between secular and religious people? If it is true that only religious people fear God why do we often see that religious people are more arrogant toward God than secular people? Arrogant? Yes, in trying to domesticate God to suit their own religious taste. Instead of fearing God, they use God to their self-enhancement. ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get’ (Luke 18.11, 12). God is adjusted to man’s religious taste. How often God is ‘theologically’ tamed! It often takes theology – what a tragedy – to adjust God to man’s liking.

Are secular people free from this danger No. They adjust God to their liking too. But they do not begin their adjustment program with the introduction; ‘God, I thank thee….’. Their programme is simpler than that of the religious people. The ‘God’ they adjust to their own liking is the God of their own making. The God they make is predictably quite subject to their adjustment.

In every society we need ‘midwives who fear God’.

Professor Tadao Yanaihara (1893-1961), economist, sociologist, educator and evangelist, was a disciple of Mr. Uchimura Kanzo, the founder of the no-church movement in Japan. Yanaihara was critical about the Japanese government’s colonial policy in Formosa, Korea and Manchuria. In 1937 he was forced to resign his professorship at Tokyo University. He never stopped his studied criticism of the Japanese government for its flagrant brutality and oppression of the fellow Asian peoples. In particular he was critical about Japan’s imperialistic policy in Manchuria. After he resigned from the university, he began to publish his own periodical Kashin or Good News. Kashin was only one of the Christian journals which was critical of the government, continued its criticism all through the war years and into the post-war period.

The January 1940 issue of Kashin sharply attacked the brutality in Nanking. The army general Matsui who was responsible for the atrocity in Nanking was received by a ‘so-called Christian meeting’ with a standing ovation in November 1939. Yanaihara referred to this incident in this issue and accused the ‘so-called Christians’ for not demanding words of apology from the general. In June 1940 issue of Kashin he speaks of General Itagaki, the Commander of the Japanese Army in China, who said that Japan was helping to make China independent and that Japan had no intention of imperial aggression against China. Yanaihara pointed out that this was not true.[23] Professor Yanaihara’s Kashin did not speak only about ‘spiritual and religious’ matters. It addressed itself clearly and loudly to the events that were taking place in his day. He feared God. He was fearless because he feared God. He was in the tradition of the prophets of the Old Testament. After the war he was reinstated at Tokyo University. He became the president of the university for two terms, succeeding Dr. Nambara Shigeru, also a disciple of Uchimura Kanzo.

On Easter Sunday, 26 March 1967, The United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan) issued its Confession on the Responsibility During World War II. Let me quote the last three paragraphs of the Confession:

     The Church, as ‘the light of the world’ and as ‘the salt of the earth’, should not have aligned itself with the militaristic purposes of the government. Rather, on the basis of our love for her and by the standard of our Christian conscience, we should have more correctly criticized the policies of our motherland. However, we made a statement at home and abroad in the name of the Kyodan that we approved of and supported the war, and we prayed for their victory.
     Indeed, as our nation committed errors we, as a Church, sinned with her. We neglected to perform our mission as a ‘watchman’. Now, with deep pain in our heart, we confess this sin, seeking the forgiveness of our Lord, and from the churches and our brothers and sisters of the world, and in particular of Asian countries, and from the people of our own country.
     More than 20 years have passed since the war, and we are filled with anxiety, for our motherland seems unable to decide the course that we should follow; we are concerned lest she move in an undesirable direction due to the many pressures of today’s turbulent problems. At this moment, so that the Kyondan can correctly accomplish its mission in Japan and the world, we seek God’s help and guidance. In this way we look forward to tomorrow with humble determination.

I am not going to document here how the Kyodan approved and supported the war. The tragic chapter of the Christian church becoming obedient to the Japanese religion of Ra is now documented in the important publication Jinja Mondai to Kiristo Kyo ‘Shinto Problems and Christianity’.[24]

In 1978 a small book was published by Japan’s most prestigious Iwanami Publishing House. The book is titled Shûkyô Dan Atsu O Kataru or War-time Repression of Religions. Four of its six chapters describe the brutal destruction carried out by the Japanese government against religious groups other than Christianity. The government decided to demolish them because they were openly critical of the state ideology. These four groups (Omoto, Hitono-Michi, Shinkô-Bukkyô and Hon-Michi) are quite different from the biblical faith. On the basis of their faith they criticized the behaviour and philosophy of the powerful government. One chapter of the book is devoted to the Holiness group of Christianity. Here is a report on the cross-examination of Rev. Sugar: [25]

According to the Old and New Testament, which I understand is the basis of the creed you believe, all people are sinners. Is that correct?
Yes. All men are sinful.
Do you imply then the emperor himself is a sinner?
A humble subject I am… how should I dare to speak about the august emperor? I am, however, willing to answer the question. As long as the emperor is human, he cannot be free from being sinful.
Then, the Bible says that the sinners cannot be saved apart from the redemption done by Jesus Christ on the cross. Does this mean that the emperor needs the redemption by Jesus Christ?
With due reverence to the emperor, I must repeat what I said before. I believe the emperor needs the redemption by Jesus Christ as long as he is human.

Rev. Sugero feared God. He had a difficult life. He died in prison. When a human is elevated to the divine the storm comes. The majority of the people will not resist the storm. But some dare to resist. They will not ‘do as the king of Egypt commanded them’.

 


 

FOOTNOTES

[23] See Ienaga Saburo, Taihei-Yo Senso Shi (History of the Pacific War). Iwanuarui Publishing House, Tokyo 1968, p. 241.

[24] Jinja Mondai to Kiristo Kyo (Issues relating to the Shinto Shrine and Christianity) ed., Tomura Masahiro, Shinkyo Publishing House, Tokyo 1976.

[25] ibid., pp. 173f.

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