Reflections on Mental Health and Asian American

Recently, I attended an online conference titled, “Mental Health and Asian Americans: Context and Strategies for Faith Leaders” hosted by the Center for Asian American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary. I am still processing my emotions. If it was a physical conference, I would have invited you to a beer to process it together. Writing this blog is my virtual invitation. I share what I’ve heard and felt — no claim to objectivity — hoping that there’s resonance here, creating space for your own voice.

  • Just to have a conference with the words “Asian American Christians” and “mental health” in the same line was like pulling out the planks from a boarded window and letting light and air in. The monster we feared in the dark didn’t materialize. The room’s a mess and there’s a lot of work to do, but now we know what to do. Fear does not paralyze us.
  • Asian Americans experience higher rates of mental distress (44%) and serious mental illness (6%) but have some of the lowest rates of treatment for mental health issues. Of course, because for a long time, I never saw myself as having mental health issues. What causes this gap between the reality of mental health issues for Asian Americans and the denial of that reality….. [please continue reading at Presbyterian News]

Why Church? Do we still need the American Church?

….So, “Why church?” That can be a scary question, because there’s a chance that we might find out that we’ve been running in the wrong direction.

Paul, was furiously persecuting Christians with conviction he was doing God’s work. In mid-stride of his furious determination, he gets knocked down by light and Jesus asks, “Why do you persecute me?” Paul is struck blind so he can see that he was always blind.

That “why” question made him question everything he did with his life, and that is scary! I mean, who wants to question his whole life? What organization wants to question its whole purpose?! We are afraid of “Why?”

Leslie Newbigin, a missionary and theologian who warned that the greatest missionary crisis is the Western civilization, was consulted by a church to aid in their revitalization. When he met the elders, the first question Newbigin asked: “Why does this church exist?” The leaders looked at each other the way people look at each other when they are asked, “Anyone like to close in prayer?” Then an elder uncomfortable with the silence answered, “to help its members.” Newbigin replied, “If this church exists for its members then it should close its doors.”

Why should PCUSA continue to exist? Protestant churches are….
(continue reading at Presbyterian Today blog)

Go Back Home!

On July 14th, 2019, our president tweeted to American citizens, “Go back home.” 

I’m Korean American. I came to America with my parents as a seven-year-old and I’m familiar with those taunts. They’ve been hurled at me multiple times in various forms. I want to share two of them.  

The first one happened when I was middle school. Our family just bought a house in Little Neck, New York. It was our first house and we were very proud. Owning a house was the most powerful symbol of the American dream. Undergirding the symbolism was the fact that we had recently become legal residents, so…

(continue reading at Presbyterian Today blog)

Poems Read at Synod School


When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. – John 21:9

Peter dives into the icy morning waters of Galilee,
his broad sunburned chest so full of regret,
he could not get to the shore fast enough.

The ashen sky giving way to blue,
when he finally reaches the shore,
the sea weighing on his shirt and beard.

Peter wipes the salt off his eyes and walks
to the small fire waiting for him
and when he sits he cannot remember 

the words he rehearsed if given the chance
to set things right. How does one begin
making amends with a friend you denied?

He hears the water rubbing the pebbles,
the robin returning to the cries of her hungry
chicks, and his lung catching breaths.

Then the friend gives Peter a fish, a skin
crisped into a deep sliver, deciphering 
the new day’s light. His lips wade the temperature, 

then tears off the flesh enfleshing 
the nourishment of the deep sea.

For a moment,

he forgets 

his guilt,

knows only 

the full-bodied pleasure

of a fish perfectly grilled,

over an open fire,

on a spring morning,

with an old friend.

This story of Jesus finding Peter to ask about Peter’s intention, and especially this detail of Jesus preparing a breakfast while waiting for Peter and his friends to return to shore with their catch, is the tenderest scene in the Bible.

I’ve Lost my Grandpa’s Marbles

I’ve lost my keys,

I’ve lost my glasses,

I’ve lost many a sock,

which eventually meant the whole pair.

I’ve lost my marbles,

the one my grandpa gave me,

the one he played with as a kid,

a Korean peasant orphan,

when Seoul was still dirt and a village,

which he kept in a silk pouch,

embroidered with a gilded dragon,

which he stole from a yangban,

which was his only possession,

which he gave me when

he immigrated to America,

after-which he lived just two more years,

and he tried to discipline my tongue to say,

sa-rang, so-mang, na-ra, no-rae, see,

to which I told him, I have no need for your Korean,

after-which he taught me to play marbles.

I’ve looked all over

for those glass translucent worlds,

those swirling balls of yin and yang,

those tear-shaped drops of memories.

Perhaps it was inexorable karma,

to lose what was never his to give

or mine to receive,

or maybe it’s just the

fundamental law of discovery,

you never find what you seek;

stop seeking, and you will find:


          my keys, 

my glasses,

and my wife 

                          like Newton’s

gravity, the linchpin for his bodies

in motion and their affections,

which fell on him in the palm-sized ball

of an apple one fine picnic-morning,

so the story goes, though

never my socks, and i can’t

trust that paradox enough

to stop looking for my grandpa’s marbles.

there are other things

I’ve lost of such significance.

For example, I lost meaning,

             and innocence, 

and my cat.

Actually, I couldn’t have lost a cat,

since I never had one,

but it feels like I did, because tonight,

I long for the solace of my hand

running over a cat’s weight on my lap.

Can you lose something you never had?

Yes, love



Singing “Everyone’s Lonely” with my Korean Immigrant Mother

At this past Louisville Waterfront Wednesday concert (sponsored by WFPK, a Louisville Free Public Media radio station on 6/26/2019 ), I experienced several firsts.

A first: My wife performed live with a Rock band!

This happened, as these things go, because she happened upon the right group of people—joined Louisville Civic Orchestra as 2nd violinist a year ago—who happened to have the right connection: the conductor, Jason Hart Raff, who happened to meet the lead singer of Jukebox the Ghost, Ben Thornewill, at a children’s party where they shared their childhood dream of putting together an orchestra and a rock band. That serendipitous spark took two years of conversation and hard work—as these things go—to become an evening delighting the packed Louisvillian crowd.

A first: People screaming for a conductor’s baton.

Half way into the song “Somebody”  Jason threw his second baton to the crowd when he had relocated his first and favorite that had slipped from his fingers when he was conducting while jumping to the driving beat as any good rock loving audience would. He threw the baton with the charisma of a rock star and everyone scrambled for it as if Slash of Guns n Roses had thrown his guitar. Who knows? Maybe a girl caught that baton and the fever of conducting strings and winds—because Jason makes it look so freakin’ cool!—has been passed on and you will hear this story from her perspective 15 years later?

A first: my mother, who moved down from New York a week ago, was next to me at the front of the stage raising the roof, singing “Everybody’s Lonely.”

I would believe that my mother climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro before believing she would be rocking next to me. She is a Korean immigrant who 39 years ago left all the friendships she had invested in for 34 years in Korea, for a different future for her children. She understands English, but she laughs and cries watching Korean drama. She hums hymns when doing dishes and never heard of Coldplay or Maroon 5. And she has arthritis. But there she was dancing next to beer chuggers. She herself wasn’t drinking so I can’t credit the alcohol. Certainly, she wanted to wave to her daughter-in-law on stage. But it was also the music of Jukebox the Ghost, a sound that crossed boundaries of age and culture, though it’s a very particular American pop.

Their sound is a blend of Maroon 5 and Coldplay….(continue to Cultural Weekly)

Sexual Abuse & Ordination Exclusivity: Theology of Complementarianism is neither Theology nor Complementary

On February 6th, Pope Francis confessed that clerics abused nuns as sexual slaves. On February 10th , J.D. Grear, the president of the Southern Baptist Church, said in response to a report of 380 Southern Baptists facing allegations of sexual abuse from 700 people, “the abuses described in the Houston Chronicle article are pure evil” and that “it’s time for pervasive change.”[1] As important as these confessions and commitment from the highest office, a true “pervasive change” won’t happen until they stop justifying male-only leadership. When Pope Francis praised his predecessor, Benedict, for closing an order where the nuns were abused as “sexual slaves,”[2] Pope Francis exposed his worldview still deeply embedded in the system that led to the sexual abuse in the first place, that only men can be priests thus the only moral agent worth recognizing is the man who did something to rescue the women.

It isn’t few bad apples, or even a bad apple tree. The whole field is toxic with a theology that privileges men. Disparity of power is what festers sexual abuses.

The hunt for the immoral abusers is on. Pope Francis says it is mostly found in “certain congregations, predominantly new ones.” Southern Baptists are quibbling on what churches to investigate.[3] While abusers must be brought to justice, trying to find cause in types of congregations or individual priests and pastor and their profiles is a misdirection. When you have “few bad apples,” then you don’t have to test the soil. But this isn’t just a case of abuse of power but an abusive power system of male-only leadership.  It isn’t few bad apples, or even a bad apple tree. The whole field is toxic with a theology that privileges men. Disparity of power is what festers sexual abuses. With privilege comes predatory acts. They prey because they know they can get away.

First, all the systems’ decision tables are chaired by men. Men will protect their own. They will produce and promulgate policies protecting their privileges, like the continued defense of male only ordination, and silence anything and anyone that questions the morality of that privilege, the cause of years of cover up of abuses. On occasion, they will throw one of their own to the “square” of public outcry when protection becomes impossible and too costly a liability. By publicly decrying the abuses they obtain a “moral higher ground” by which they justify the necessity of the current system that it can self-correct. It was, after all, the courage of Benedict that finally stopped the abuse, so what we need is such strong and just male leadership.

Secondly, male-only leadership creates a class in the church that is vulnerable, mainly those who are not adult males having no legitimate path to priesthood and pastoral authority. That vulnerability makes them easier victims because the vulnerable internalize their devaluation.

Protestant church uses the theology of complementarianism to legitimatize their system. It’s two main points are: 1-that male only leadership is about biblical authority and that 2-assignment of roles is not hierarchy (Catholic church has its only rules of theological justification, so they have a more complex set of arguments, but they really boil down to the same fundamental points, but I will deal only directly with the theology of complementarianism).

I want to address the two fundamental points of complementarianism.

The first point is about legitimacy. Legitimacy is the spine of any authority, the foundation of any systems. This is why racism produced numerous pseudoscience’s, from evolutionary biology to psychology, on the supposed natural hierarchy of races; this is why the Catholic Church created the Donation of Constantine, a forged imperial document where Emperor Constantine transferred the authority of Rome to the Pope. Legitimacy wields authority over minds and hearts. Complementarianism roots male-exclusive control on divine mandated order. People who write papers and give talks on the rightness of complementarianism on biblical and church tradition grounds might do it with the sincerest intention and conviction but it’s a theology that is as much a forgery as Donation of Constantine, except here they put the authorizing order not on human pen but divine pen. Their reasoning reads as ridiculous as the pseudoscience on race. For example, even their methodology of arguing on biblical authority is fraught because no church’s practices are all grounded on biblical authority. We do not practice everything our ancestors did in the pages of scripture. We are highly selective, and our filters barely conceal our agendas. For example, one argument for male ordination is that the twelve apostles were all men. But why stop there? Why not also imitate their way of life? They were itinerants without salary. So maybe all pastors should travel and live off the kindness of the locals? Or why not the number twelve? Maybe all ministry boards should only have twelve?

The second point is really a public relation move, a woeful one though they try to pull it off as philosophy. They say male-only leadership is about function and role and not about hierarchy of being. Now, role, by its definition is temporary. Roles in complementarianism is permanent. There isn’t a time when a woman can get ordained to preach, lead a congregation, or administer the eucharist. If a role is permanent than it is a hierarchy.

A March 11th, 2019 New Yorker article reported on the sexism in the world of sushi chefs. Some men walk out if they see a women sushi chef behind the counter no matter how many starts the restaurant got on a culinary magazine. And you are more likely to see non-Japanese man behind the sushi counter than Japanese woman. Male sushi chefs have litany of pseudoscientific reasons for why women shouldn’t stand behind the counter. Yoshikazu Ono, the son of a famous Tokyo sushi chef, Jiro Ono, gave the following rational in Wall Street Journal for why women cannot make good sushi chefs: “because of the menstrual cycle, women have an imbalance in their taste.”[4]

I share this because we don’t know the water we swim in, and we don’t know how ridiculous our practices are until we can see it in another setting. The parallel between the sexist practice of not wanting women behind the sushi counter and some Christians not wanting women behind the pulpit is difficult to deny. I know many Christians who walk out of a sanctuary if a women goes up the pulpit.

The descriptive label this school of theology claims for itself, “complementarianism,” is misleading. It’s a euphemism preposterous as calling the five-year-old child dead from a bombing “collateral damage.” Complementarianism is not the complementing of sexes. It’s sexism. Complementarianism is a bully theology and it isn’t the gospel.

If Pope Francis wants to stop the abuses of women (and minors), and if J.D. Grear wants a pervasive change, the most important action both can take is to open ordination to everyone. It won’t instantly remove gender inequity, but it lays the groundwork for that path. And for us in the church, though we hope for this change, we shouldn’t wait for all-male tables to open the doors. We should elect women elders and invite women to our pulpits. We don’t need permission when Christ has already demolished all barriers.





Death Silences All

Poem written in memory of Mike Miller and Robina Winbush at the Service of Bereavement
Death silences all.
Even the most eloquent life falls at the end of a breath.
Every sentence eventually arrives at a period.
Stories have a deadline or run out of pages.
The symphony plays its finale, the music can’t go on,
and the vibration of the cello string fades.
Death silences all.

Death stuns us into silence
When a sentence midway in expression suddenly halts,
When a line comes to an enjambment
When the light suddenly goes off
And the musical  never gets to its denouement.
These unsuspected stops stun us into silence
For we come to realize
That every life is a parenthesis.

Death silences the living,
For what words can sum up a life that was more than their works,
More than their faiths, more than their words
And stories they told others and themselves.
The mystery of a soul is too deep for any words to sound.

Death silences the living,
For what words can console those whose ribs are now gutted,
Their days now emptied of a life that was spectacular and mundane,
sighs and laughters, jealousy and love, mess and beauty.
No words can carry the weight of an absence.

Death silences all.

But there is one
that shattered the silence of death.

It's heart drumming against the chest’s door
and sacred breath spilling back to its two earthy chambers
is sent journeying through the canal
where spirit is shaped into sound
and the Word speaks,
"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
The Word speaks to the wordless weeping of people knowing the silencing of death.

Then the Word speaks a word,
takes just one breath to say it,
a name,
old and common in morphology
But new with every person awakened by its invoking.
A name,
a word defined by the named
A melody that accommodates a whole symphony.

The name shapes the lips of the Word that shattered the silence of death,
And the name reaches out through alone-ness
the way a father holds a daughter's hands
the way a mother welcomes her son into her body
the way a lover’s lips press the lips of the beloved
The way a rabbi calls his disciple.

The Word that broke the silence of death calls,



When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. – John 21:9

Peter dives into the icy morning waters of Galilee,
his broad sunburned chest so full of regret,
he could not get to the shore fast enough.

The ashen sky giving way to blue,
when he finally reaches the shore,
the sea weighing on his shirt and beard.

Peter wipes the salt off his eyes and walks
to the small fire waiting for him

and when he sits he cannot remember

the words he rehearsed if given the chance
to set things right. But how does one begin
making amends with a friend you denied?

He hears the water rubbing the pebbles,
the robin returning to the cries of her hungry
chicks, and his lung catching breaths.

Then the friend gives Peter a fish, a skin
crisped into a deep sliver, deciphering

the new day’s light. His lips wade the temperature,

then tears off the flesh enfleshing

the nourishment of the deep sea.

For a moment,

he forgets

his guilt,

knows only

the full-bodied pleasure

of a fish perfectly grilled,

over an open fire,

on a spring morning,

with an old friend.

SpiderVerse tells the Christmas Story better than the Church

Into the Spiderverse, the newest Sony cartoon flick, “proclaims” anyone can be Spiderman; you don’t have to a man to be a Spiderman (say hello to the coolest ballet-inspired teenage girl, Spider-Gwen, and to inclusive language to fit this new reality) or American (Penni Parker is Japanese, fluent in Japanese, English and mech), or even a human being (ever heard of Peter Porker?). So, then it goes without saying that Spiderman doesn’t have to be White. How can you not root for Miles Davis, a mixed-race pre-teen whose voice cracks every three syllables, a product of Brooklyn, snacks on physics, a damn good graffiti artist, and whose adolesecent coming-of-age identity journey has been complicated with becoming the newest Spiderman?

So Spiderverse and the world have embraced the weird (at first only) and beautiful truth that there are many diverse (so different that it can get weird) Spiderman origin stories! Meanwhile, American Christianity insists on one story for Christmas, and it’s got to be a “White Christmas,” i.e. a White infant Jesus. Put a Black infant in the creche, and evangelicals will trash it as unhistorical (oh the irony!) while liberals will pull at the fraying wool of their reindeer sweater and whisper “Jesus was brown,” but what he’s really feeling is the discomfort of Jesus who is not white (just as the mainline liberals love people of color as long as they don’t join their congregation and start changing things). The JJ Abram’s Star Wars trilogy was trolled for poisoning the purity of the Star Wars mythology by peopling it with Asians and blacks; Imagine the backlash if Joseph looked like someone you would call the police on. Actually, you don’t have to imagine; just look at the American Christian history and media.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Spiderverse tells the Christmas story better than the Church. In fact, skip Christmas Eve and watch the visually stunning adventure of Miles Morales growing into his new identity — and his literal “leap of faith” into that identity scene with the rousing What’s-Up-Danger soundtrack beats Rocky’s Eye-of-the-Tiger scene by miles — and you will get a stronger/truer dose of the gospel.  

For one thing, Spiderverse gets the implication of incarnation. That eternity entered time is to say that the eternal can be found in any time (or dimensions in the case of Spiderverse). If a Jew can be a child of God, then so can a Greek who eats pork (sorry Spider-Ham). This is the gospel, the gift that continues to surprise Paul with every unwrapping, that in Christ, anyone can say “Abba!” (Romans 8). And watch out when the children of God are revealed, when all the God-people (Spiderpeople) come together, then the whole cosmos is getting rescued!  

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed ….that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8.19-21

Yes we are all Christ because we carry the divine spark in us; we are all Spider-person, or rather, little Christs, which, by the way, is what Christian literally means. Ethnicity, and any other categories we erect to exclude (racism, sexism, border walls), are not requisites to have your own origin story of how God chose you to be the friendly neighborhood “Emmanuel.” For Miles Morales, Gwen, Peter (and all the other spider-people) it was a radioactive spider. For us, it’s the Holy Spirit injected into our blood by Word and Sacrament. When Peter sees Cornelius, a hated Roman occupier, speaking in tongue (sticking on walls), well who can deny him an identity that is already his! Splash water (make him a web-shooter), he is one of us!  

“God became human and poor for our sake, to raise up our flesh, to recover our divine image, to recreate humanity. We no longer observe distinctions arriving from the flesh, but are to bear within ourselves only the seal of God, by whom and for whom we were created. We are to be so formed and molded by -Jesus that we are recognized as belonging to his one family. If only we could be what we hope to be, by the great kindness of our generous God!”

Gregory of Nazianzus, 4th century monk & theologian

In New Testament, we have two origin stories of Jesus and they can’t be reconciled, no matter the creative gymnastics of scholars. Luke and Matthew would get a good laugh at all the contortions we have come up with. The real problem is not that we have two origin stories, but that we don’t have more to show that we get it, the deep meaning of the Nativity. Any neglected peasant can be God! And just in case scholars come up with highfalutin mumbo-jumbo to dismiss this fact by saying there is Paul-gospel and then there is Jesus-gospel, we have it directly from the lips of Jesus that when we eat with the poor, hang out with the homeless, visit the prisoner, we will be meeting little Christs. So, Church! Tell the Christmas story with as many cultures/dimensions we have. And Christians, don’t forget to tell your origin story. You’ve got a neighborhood to save.  

Pilgrims, Turkey & Kimchee

A year ago, I was going through my parents’ photo album to put together a digital slideshow for my mother’s 70th birthday bash. That’s when I happened upon this photo.

This was our first thanksgiving in America. As you can tell from the photo, it was American through and through, from the 10-pound turkey in the center, to the basket of fruits stocked to teetering height. However, there is no kimchee (pickled cabbage) at this table. My youngest brother’s face is all smiles. Next to him is my younger brother, Daniel. Even at that age he was the most pious: Note the deep furrow creasing his youthful skin around his tightly closed eyes, proof of spiritual sincerity. He is a pastor today and the church he planted several years ago is keeping him busy. My mother’s fingers are not interlocked, but folded across each other, giving her posture more “femininity.”

My father is at the head of the table. He came to New York a year before us, so at the time of this picture it was his second year in the United States. He worked several jobs and saved enough money to get a rental in a fourth floor, walk up apartment. This was not his first Thanksgiving, but the first as a family in America. He was thankful to God for that blessing because he worked hard for it.

That leaves the boy with his back to the camera. That is me. I would like to say that I was in deep prayer like Daniel. Honestly, though, I have no idea.

While this photo fills out the details, I’ve never forgotten that meal. I remember that we all felt as if we were being initiated into the American community. After all, rituals mark membership.

And what ritual is more American than Thanksgiving?

Baseball and weekly visits to Kentucky Fried Chicken assimilated us to the daily habits of Americans, but this ritual was worth a photo shoot. This holiday, my father told us around the table, embodied the core values of America: faith, hard work, family and…. (continue to read at Presbyterian blog)