Imagination: The Shaping of Reality

Trying to get to Narnia

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more mothballs?” she thought, stopping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I can be faulted for having a vivid imagination. As a child, I would have no problems reading stories about magical worlds late into the night. Dragons? Fairies? UNICORNS?!! These other-worldly creatures beckoned me to venture into a place that was incomparable to the usual trek to school with standard workbooks and bullies. That place was in my mind and yet, it wasn’t. The words I read painted images that were beyond anything I could normally experience as an Asian girl growing up in a small prairie city. Those words took me into worlds where misfits could be heroes and children could be powerful.

Of course those worlds also included evil and sinister motives. But good seemed to always triumph after a long perilous journey. These stories tended to involve a group of characters that were unlikely to cooperate if not for a common purpose or enemy. And because these characters were a hodgepodge of personalities, I could be one of them on this adventure. These stories took me in because I could see it, I could picture it in my mind as though it was happening to me.

Remarkably, it all began with a picture, according to C.S. Lewis, author of one of the most beloved children’s stories in western literature. Not a painted picture, but an imagined one of a faun bearing umbrellas and parcels in a snowy woods. That image launched an exploration that resulted in a series of books, which in turn invited countless readers – including yours truly – into the world of Narnia. This imagined story was so powerful that even after all these years Narnia has never left me. Last spring I placed my palm at the back of an old wardrobe in The Kilns, Lewis Close. I pushed – half expecting the slates of wood to give way to a forest. My friend and I laughed with mirth and a tinge of disappointment. Who wouldn’t want Narnia to be real?

That’s the drawback of imagination. Reality is never as beautiful or fulfilling as we imagine it could be. Reality is chaos and random, or mundane and pedestrian. Reality punches one in the gut from time to time, and leaves you gasping. Reality can drain you of energy with its demands and responsibilities. In these moments, my imagination can easily slip into fantasy when I want control or an escape. Fantasy is seductive and sweet, but leaves one feeling hungry and perhaps even angry when the illusion fades.

Without my imagination though, my faith and capacity for growth would have died long ago. Certainty would have ruled my thinking and would have told me that this is it. Life is just a series of happenstances that mean nothing and will never mean anything. Close the door and move on; run with the rest of the children.

Imagination makes me pause and consider another interpretation. With my imagination I can see reality being shaped or fitted into the arch of a larger story yet to be completed. Imagination is the ability to visualize a different view of things. Or perhaps it’s not ability at all but a divine grace because who can see beyond this world without the aide of something or someone outside of us? Perhaps this is what is meant by the “Christian imagination.” Christian imagination is hope-filled and generative. It’s looking beyond what the natural senses say are the boundaries to real life and believing that there is more. There is more grace, more joy, more love. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. I have found that prayer is the means to access that divine imaging. Prayer is that doorway where we are invited to step further into God’s reality that is far grander than our own.

Therefore, I’ll always keep reading and keep imagining the possibilities. Maybe there is a purpose. Maybe there is a hopeful future. Maybe there is a goodness that will win in the end. And maybe, should I ever come across another wardrobe, I’ll take a step in.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.


Old Post: A Changing Mind

It’s been a year since I’ve posted here. Not surprisingly, now that I’m off FB, there’s a growing desire to write more. Here’s an old post that was first published at Asian American Women on Leadership


I’m not getting any younger. My body protests with aches and discomfort from sitting too long or from sleeping in an awkward position. I don’t recover from physical activities as quickly as I did a few years ago. And my thoughts don’t seem to come as readily. Granted I have always been slow to formulate an opinion or response. I am one of those people who usually slap themselves with an “I should have said …” epiphany days after an altercation. But learning new things take a lot more effort now. Aging is a firm reminder that change is happening. For women that can often feel more like a sentencing instead a cause for celebration.

In my early thirties, my mind felt like it was being reshaped into another organ that couldn’t possibly fit in my skull anymore. I was immersed in theological studies and asked to learn subjects entirely foreign to my training as an engineer. Things like philosophy, history, and hermeneutics to name a few. Worse yet was being told that all they were all part of my Christian heritage. So why was I only learning about them outside of the Church? Why in graduate school was my first encounter with the language of sacrimentality or voices of women saints? And why did my brain feel like it was running a marathon — a three-year marathon – fueled by coffee, beer, and instant noodles?

Those years in theological studies were years of deconstruction and reconstruction occurring in repetition. Build up, tear down, and repeat. The paradigms I once held had been shattered but there was still a lot of debris to rummage through before anything new could be created. I knew that formulas for faith and salvation no longer satisfied a disillusioned person. But what will? Would I be able to put anything back together enough that can make sense of a diverse world, complex lives, and a frustratingly transcendent God?

The answer came slowly but positively. Words like “paradox” and “mystery” created enough breathing room for discussion and pondering. Time has afforded me ability to see how my theological thinking has shifted in surprising ways. What I once believed was universal was actually contingent on my context. What I once thought was inconsequential was actually essential to spirituality. What I once thought was dichotomous became a spectrum of colors. But the most remarkable shift of all is realizing that greater knowledge also meant greater love. It could have lead to conceit if not for community.

When the dust had settled, I found myself in good company. My friends were my teachers and my prayerful companions. Our shared experiences gave me consolation for the pain of loneliness and the grief of what was lost. Their stories gave me courage to receive who I was becoming. Their voices helped me to sing new songs and to remember a God who is eternally love.

In the English language, “heart” refers to both anatomy and the center of human emotions. Human thought is typically regulated to the brain or mind. In the Hebrew Bible, the word for “brain” does not occur anywhere. Instead we have words like leb translated as heart or mind. It seems that ancient wisdom did not separate the affect from the intellect and yet that’s exactly what we’ve done in western Christianity. In the Church the notion of loving God usually meant ardent singing and dutiful service. And in academics it meant the exaltation of the reasonable and rational. But where in the bible is love compartmentalized into either feelings or thoughts? Divine love is undivided. This is the aim of human love.

All this to say: my heart/mind, whatever you call the center of feeling and thinking, expanded and not collapsed. Ruins simply became material for a larger structure that allowed for deeper essentials of the Christian faith and broader scope for what is peripheral. This helped to me love God, his image-bearers, and creation, more — not less. Don’t get me wrong; this was a painful process mitigated only because I was looking for it. I was ready for change because what was taught to me before left me hungry and stunted. The dismantling of my tightly-held beliefs required grieving, grace, and the acknowledgement that this was what God wanted for me all along: to be transformed by the renewing of my mind i.e. to mature as a Christian.

We can never go back to our young, simplistic selves. The invitation is to keep loving Jesus with all that we got. Even when it means tired minds and aching backs, or a chorus of “alleluias” in the midst of rubble and dust.


Friendship: The Grace to Be a Spiritual Friend

“You and I are here, and I hope that Christ is between us as a third.”

Thus begins the opening dialog in St. Aelred’s classic, Spiritual Friendship. Written in the early 12th century by the highly reputable Cistercian abbot, Spiritual Friendship is a short treatise on the universal experience of human friendship and the value of relatedness through common affection and goodwill. Few would deny that friendships bring comfort, companionship, and courage to the afflicted and contented. Yet for all its good, true friendship is difficult to attain on this broken earth. Why is that? Why are good friends so hard to find?

Looking back on my short life, I can count numerous friendships that started off as “close” but now have faded over time and circumstances. And as I have aged, new friendships feel tentative and fragile. Gone are the youthful ideals of forging bonds that can withstand all the storms of life. Perhaps we have Facebook to thank for that. We can fill our social media feeds with acquaintances and strangers, buying into the illusion of tribal bonds based on common interests and political leanings. Sharing life is a news feed. Or perhaps in our busy schedules we have less energy and time to devote in knowing someone well. Or it’s the consequence of a transient society as people move from place to place. But that still doesn’t explain why making good friends, friends that are cherished in this life and in the next, can be an arduous task.

What makes a spiritual friend? According to Aelred, a spiritual friend is one whom you share a common bond with Christ. Spiritual friendships are the truest of friends that find their origin in divine love and are maintained by it. All others are deemed carnal or worldly and such are not real friends.  To differentiate, friendships ought to be tested for its trustworthiness and consistency. Loyalty is the “nurse and guardian of friendship itself,” and “proves itself a comrade in everything.” No matter if times are difficult or prosperous, friends are friends for its own good and not for what it can give. This undoubtedly weeds out the fair-weather friends, the friends of convenience, and the social-climber friends (particularly when they have surpassed your life station). So it would seem that friendships are formed through trial and, most bothersome, through time.

Who has time these days? And if they do they must not be all that productive. But everyone makes time for what they care about or what they are committed to. Even in an instant-gratification culture, one still has to devote the time to be immediately satisfied.  Friendship needs that time to grow, like proofing bread dough for that soft and flavorful texture. Time is what’s required, but who gives? And if one does have the time, as yours truly, then what gives?

The inevitable question we come to after some consideration of our friendships is whether we can pass the test ourselves. Who have I been a spiritual friend to? Am I a true friend in all times, good and ill? In all honesty, I think I’ve come to the sobering conclusion that I’m a deeply selfish person. The primary person that I want to see happy is me and I’m happy being an emotionally limited person. I would like to be a good friend to everyone, but I’m reaching that stage in life where in order for me to be a good friend to some I have to be a fair-weather one to others. I know others have done the same, which is a relief. But at the end of the day, when my usefulness to people wanes, I wonder who would be around to appreciate my friendship just for friendship’s sake.

Nothing in human life is hungered for with more holiness, nothing is sought with more utility, nothing is found with more difficulty, nothing is experienced with more pleasure and nothing is posses with more fruitfulness. Friendship bears fruit in our present life and in the next (Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship).

Now here’s a sobering thought: our earthly friendships somehow matter beyond our earthly deaths. This isn’t about being best friends forever, but how good friendships change who we are. How twisted, jaded and bitter I would be if not for my friends. How scornful, conceited, and smug I would be if not for being a friend to others. Instead I am bearing witness that the love of a friend changes everything; it changes our reality.

Finding good friends is hard because I have to be that good friend. Oh Lord, have mercy. I need grace to extend beyond my self-imposed limitations and to not buy into the lie that friendship uses up time, but to know that time was meant for real friendship.

You and I are here, and so is love.  May we give true friendships the time it deserves.


This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.


Overdue post…and epic failure

I never did get around to posting my new year’s contribution to AAWOL, and suddenly it’s Spring. Well here it is, on resolutions. The spoiler: my freezer is still full –  of mostly new things. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Here we go again…

It’s that time of year again. The beginning of the year when we feel the slate is clean and fresh. When we traditionally make decisions to improve ourselves and find the resolve to implement them. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions though, I fail every time: Lose ten pounds. Get fit. Spend less. Do my daily devotions. Blah, blah, blah. After so many failures I decided to quit making promises of self-improvement a few years back. Yet this year I found myself declaring a new resolution. A resolution that, unbeknownst to me while making it, is a “SMART” goal; It is specific, measureable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound. Hence all the elements that can guarantee success are there and I can look forward to feeling satisfied instead of guilt and disappointment.

My goal, simply put, is to use up or eat all the items in my kitchen freezer. Granted, I haven’t set a time frame, but I think it’s a reasonable goal to achieve in the immediate future. But isn’t this goal a bit….pathetic? Shouldn’t I expect more of myself? Will you, dear readers of AAWOL, judge me for a silly resolution of freezer-bag proportions?

Well, this decision isn’t so vacuous as you may think. First off, to eat everything in the freezer requires me to stop adding more things to the freezer. This goes against every immigrant-vein in my body. My ancestors taught me to save, to hoard, to never throw anything usable out, ESPECIALLY uneaten food. Using up these frozen morsels is to dig into my reserves and to live by faith that the good Lord will provide. Secondly, to clean out my freezer means thinking creatively how to use each item, which also means making an inventory of what I actually have. And if I know what I have, then I am obliged not to buy more of the same item (even if it’s on sale). So in one stroke I’m being creative, organized, and frugal. I’m simplifying my life one frozen pea at a time. Thirdly, eating food at home means less eating out. I’ve already had a friend over for dinner, which helped me get rid of soup broth, beet sauce, and a pork roast. I’m exercising hospitality, eating healthily, and saving money! Not bad for a lowly goal.

I do have a confession though. My inspiration for this resolution didn’t come from a place of deep prayer. It came about when I couldn’t add more things to my freezer. My initial thought was that my freezer is too small. Then I realized – this is ridiculous, I have things in here that I haven’t touched in over a year. Something had to change. The freezer was meant to store perishable foods so that they could be later consumed, not to keep mementoes of a bygone time. And so when a practice no longer fulfills the intended purpose, then one needs to re-evaluate that practice. The question is not: how can I put more food in the freezer but why do I have so much food?! As Simon Sinek would say, leadership needs to “start with why” not with the “how” or “what.” We’ve disastrously tried to simplify Christian living into a list of what to do and what not to do when all the while God is constantly engaging in the “why” of our lives.

Why do we consume so much? Why do we need to protect ourselves? Why do we fear people who are different? Why do I do what I do? Why did I make so much beet sauce? Some “whys” will take much more than a resolution to get to an answer. And sometimes the answer is not anything more than, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Which, it turns out, is not a bad way to start 2016.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.


Conversation with my dad

My father is a man of few words. Because we live in different cities now, our interactions have been reduced to short, simple sentences flung back and forth through cyberspace.

“ How are you?”

“ Still kicking”

“ Anything new?”

“ Same old, same old.”

I remember getting early morning car rides with my father to the inner city train station. He was heading to work, and I to the university. The rides were blanketed in that familiar silence. Some days I would try to spice things up with a question.

“ When did Grandpa first come to Canada?”

“ I don’t remember.”

“ What was it like when you came to Canada?

“ It wasn’t easy.”

Over the years, I’ve managed to draw out more of my family’s story from my father. But his silence has worked its strength as a barrier against unpleasant memories and painful losses. Downstream, life continued with adult children leaving home, grandchildren, and retirement. Why open the dam when there’s still plenty of fishing on a calm, tranquil lake?

When I was younger I had interpreted my father’s lack of words as rejection. He rarely said anything harsh, but neither did he say anything encouraging. Surprisingly, I never acted out to gain his attention. I had two older brothers to watch over me. However, brothers are a poor substitute for a father. So too, as I later discovered, are boyfriends.

But my father, with all his limitations as a fallible human being, also carries kindness. When my pet budgie suddenly died, my young heart broke. Unable to bear the sobbing of his eight-year-old daughter, he immediately purchased another budgie without saying a single word. His kindness also looked like working long shifts to feed the family, fixing up an old tricycle for my first bike, and teaching me how to use power tools.

I may have longed for a different father. A father that looked more like an 80s sitcom dad: white, funny, and physically affectionate. Instead I was given a sullen, Chinese man who never knew how to fully express himself and who never seemed fully content except when holding a fishing rod in one hand and a freshly-caught trout in the other.  I may have used the Heavenly Father as an alternative for my earthly father…. but I am too much like my Baba to deny the resemblance.

When I had decided to go into ministry I told myself I didn’t need my father’s blessing. I braced for his anger. While I didn’t get the verbal acceptance I secretly wanted, he helped load my possessions into his van and a rented trailer. He and my mother drove it for several days to set up their daughter in a new city, a city where she would eventually stay to work for the Church that he has distrusted all his life.

I can now say I never needed another father. He was there and he never left. Though I may still desire his approval for the work that I do, I no longer fear losing his love. I fear losing against time. In the years that I’ve been away from home, my father goes fishing a little less and moves a little slower. I think of that time in the near future when there will be no more fish to catch and no water to float on. Will that dam finally crumble? Or will we sit in silence with all the things we wish we could say?

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Getting Wisdom

Wisdom cries out in the street;
                        in the squares she raises her voice.
            At the busiest corner she cries out;
                        at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
            “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
            How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
                        and fools hate knowledge? 
                                                                 –Proverbs 1:20-22 (NRSV)

Ignorance is bliss, so they say. Watching the news while eating dinner can leave one feeling disgusted and nauseous. War, destruction, violence, hunger, fear… the list goes on. There are some things that I’d rather not know, some things that I’d rather not deal with.

Then there are things that we know that are pointless. Like why do some see blue and black and not white and gold? And which celebrity is dating who? Or what’s the latest video to go viral on YouTube? You know, thought-provoking stuff.

While discussing a sermon (ok, it was my sermon) on Proverbs 8, someone asked what our reaction would be to seeing a woman on the street, yelling to random people as they pass by, “How long, stupid, how long will you ignore wisdom?!” How many of us would hurriedly walk by or call the police? How many of us would actually pay attention?

It got me thinking, how would Woman Wisdom look to us today? A TED talk? A well-written article or a yoga retreat? Or would she look more like our mother or grandmother? Our sister or aunt? Our pastor or teacher? Our friend?

Because, if Wisdom was a person, I would have to take time to get to know her. I would have to speak to her and have a conversation. Maybe I would have her over for a meal or share a cup of tea. I would have to listen to her story and tell my own. Maybe we will struggle at times to understand each other, but if love prevails, there will eventually be peace.

In Proverbs, the young Israelite men are supposed to call Wisdom their sister-bride and sit at her door. They are to choose her over all other enticing, seductive women. That’s no easy choice, especially when immediate pleasure is available. Can I blame those men for ignoring her? Especially when I would cross over to the other side of the street just to avoid a confrontation with Wisdom. She’s just so… intense.

Wisdom is like that good friend who asks difficult questions that you would rather not answer. Or that preacher who points out something you’ve forgotten about God. Or that mother who reminds you what you have neglected to do. Wisdom speaks. But who will listen? Who will pay the cost to answer her call?

Ignorance is bliss, but it is our eventual downfall if we don’t heed Wisdom’s voice. I’m on a journey to get wisdom — God’s wisdom. Lord knows I need her, because I often think I don’t. Thankfully, she delights in us like a mother with her baby. May we also delight in her.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

In Praise of Women

For the life of me, I cannot stomach watching shows like The Real Housewives of Some North-American City.

I find them odious and glorifying the worst in human relationships. Jealousy, envy, pride, and gluttony all mashed together in artificially constructed female fraternity. Please pass the trashcan. Other shows do marginally better in depicting “real” women’s lives. But if I pay attention, I do not often find stories of strong female characters relating well to other strong female characters.

I am also hard-pressed to find examples of female friendships in the bible that is not somehow connected by a father, husband, or son. There is no story equivalent to David and Jonathon, Elijah and Elisha, or Job and friends (I didn’t say they had to be good friendships). The closest would be Naomi and Ruth, the mother and daughter-in-law caught in a tragic loss. Their story tells of a friendship forged out of hardship. Yet their healing and restoration came through the actions of a godly man, Boaz, whom Ruth marries. I can’t think of a biblical story of two women, independent of husband(s) or son(s), who are friends. Can you?

From an early age I had developed close female friends, a fortunate thing especially when I had no sisters. I think my mother intentionally had me spend time with other girls so I would not feel isolated. I have always sought female friends because I knew I needed them. There is a particular group of girlfriends who are like sisters to me because they have known me for so long. But I have lost several female friends along the way as well. Some moved away, some grew distant, and some simply rejected my friendship.

It is a curious dynamic when women do not get along with each other. Sometimes it is out of personality clashes and difference in values. Other times, in my observation, it is out of insecurity and an unconscious tendency to compete with one another, whether it is for male attention, for success in careers, or for success in motherhood. We judge each other’s clothing or method of housekeeping. We compare and find that we are either satisfied with our own level of competency, or become dissatisfied…. and the race continues.

Why this sense of competition? Why can we not mutually admire and praise each other? Why can we not celebrate the goodness and uniqueness of the other? And if we are rooted in the love of Christ, should we not help each other to succeed instead of striving for ourselves?

Women are capable of incredible friendships and I lament that the stories we share from the bible often depict women at odds with other women. However, this is not surprising given the patriarchal setting of the ancient world. What is remarkable is the eventual rise of monastic communities of women bound by a shared devotion to Christ. In these communities, women worked together, taught each other, and were educated. They were also freed from unwanted marriages and family constraints. I have no doubt that every community, religious or non, had its share of conflicts and problems, but it is not often that we pay attention to healthy kinship between women.

Perhaps then I should express my admiration of women more openly. Like the friend who has fought cancer and survived. Or the friend who manages a household under financial constraints and the stress of raising young children. Or the friend who overcame trauma and illness. Or the friend who was vulnerable and asked for prayer. Or the many friends who have shown sisterly love to me. Simply put, in every situation of life, I have been blessed by remarkable women because of who they are and their friendship to me.

Upon further reflection, there is the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Young, pregnant Mary goes to visit her much older, pregnant cousin Elizabeth. It is an occasion of joy, of shared delight of what God was doing in their lives (by bearing a son). There is no bickering or comparison, but affirmation between these two women. They were drawn together by common life-circumstances, and maybe that is enough.

But silent are the stories of women who share life together beyond the realm of marriage and motherhood; these need to be told and remembered because they are still a part of the larger Story. They are our stories. If God is in the business of forming a people for Himself, then our character and ethics matter. How we treat each other matters because it is only in relation to the other that we can be kind, loving, gracious, and forgiving. The real reality, the Kingdom of God, resides in relationships, not least of these between women.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Faith and the Single Pastor

I’ve had several friends remark to me, “I’m glad I don’t have your job.” I take it as a backhanded compliment from people who have experienced enough of church life to know the demands and expectations placed on pastors. But having worked in secular industry and having friends in all sorts of jobs, I know that stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

However, there’s a particular kind of burden placed on pastors when they’re called to shepherd God’s flock. We are called to care for people’s souls. Before being a pastor, I’ve never had to consider the deep implications of spiritual formation in the life of a community. I didn’t have to address questions like: What kind of people are we shaping with the weekly practices of prayer, fellowship, and worship? What do we say when only men serve as elders or that the communion table is fenced off from seekers? What does it mean if a child never sees a woman preaching from the pulpit or only married persons as pastors?

Prior to being a pastor, I didn’t have to consider the impact of my words or the weight of my own spiritual health. It was much easier to separate the private from the public when I was in secular work. When your main work is to embody theology, however, there’s no hiding from who you really are. My identity, or the formation of my identity, becomes the pivot point in how I do theology and in how I care for others. In order to see the belovedness of people, and to invite them into relationship with God, I need to see my own belovedness to God.

So there’s no escaping from dealing with personal issues like my sexuality and relational history. I am a heterosexual, single woman. These adjectives can mean something. To some it means I am deficient and should be barred from leadership. To others it means that I am a threat to their marriage. To me, it means a mode of life that I had little control over but one that I’m slowly learning to navigate with.

It also means that I have a rare opportunity to effect change just by being who I am. For the children in my congregation, they will grow up seeing a single woman preach, pray, and lead a community. They will become teenagers who will think nothing of gender and marital status as qualifiers for ministry. They will become adults who will value men and women working together in partnership, rather than in competition.

Yet I still struggle with the loneliness and isolation that comes from being a pastor and being single. Whether it is to hold people’s stories in confidence, or to make unpopular decisions, or to live faithfully in a sexually-saturated society, I am learning that this calling has a price. God, in His grace, didn’t fully reveal that price to me at the start of my journey. I think I might have laughed like Sarah and found a wife, er… husband. Or maybe I might have taken to the high seas like Jonah and go on the run.

Do I still choose this road? Even when it becomes harder? Even when God never answers my prayers for a partner? Do I settle in for the long haul?

The answer lies not in making one vow, but making small choices day by day. In the words of Eugene Peterson, it’s to obey in the same direction while knowing that each day we are being preserved by God. There are days when I question my abilities as a pastor, and there are days when I can’t imagine doing anything else.  The truth is, every day that I am sustained is a grace and a gift. Especially when I can say in response, “I’m glad I don’t have your job either.”

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Let Me Be

There’s a passage in the gospel of John that has often been used to exemplify the compassion and righteousness of Christ towards his sinful followers. In John 7:53-8:11, we read the story of a woman caught in adultery. The religious authorities (a group of men) brought her to the temple courts where Jesus was teaching. By law, a woman such as her should have been stoned to death. Would Jesus condemn the woman or break God’s law? As usual, Jesus did nothing they expected. He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b, NIV). One by one, they left, having been confronted by their own hypocrisy. They meant to trap him, but Jesus stumped them and the woman was saved from certain death.

I was taught that we all are like this woman. Caught in sin, deserving of condemnation, but alive in Christ. And when it comes to judging others, be warned! Who are we to cast a stone when our own hands are weighted with guilt?

Lesson taught and received, so I thought – until I began to realize that I had internalized this story and made it my own. I am that adulterous woman (though I’ve never committed any acts of adultery). This is how the Church sees me. And I’m saved only by the good graces of Jesus when really I should be condemned for my seductive, feminine ways.

As I grew older, I learned that the stories of women in the Bible were far more diverse and interesting than what I was first taught; that “biblical women” weren’t just competitive mothers and unsavory singles (except Mary the virgin, but she was avoided because it was too Catholic to call her the Mother of God). There were women teaching men, women giving prophecy, women believing the Son of God well before any man did.

I’m realizing that I had fallen into the trap that happens to most marginalized people: you believe the press. You believe the labels given by the powerful because those labels seem to make sense of your own powerlessness: Asians are the model minority? But of course we are, we’re successful and have perfect families. All of us! Asians are the foreigners? Yes, and we’re taking over your country! Asian women are lotus blossoms or tigers? Um sure, as soon as I fit into my size 2 dress that I’ve never owned and beat my non-existent husband and children into submission.

Labels also keep me, and others, from walking forward in the Church.  I shouldn’t be a pastor because I’m a woman and Jesus was a white male (actually a Jew but let’s not think about that). I shouldn’t be in ministry because Asians should be successful doctors, engineers, or lawyers. I shouldn’t be happy because I’m single and my supposed purpose and calling in life is to be a wife and mother.

Jesus knows better. Jesus, as our source of life, knows how incredibly capable, gifted, talented, and diverse we are. Jesus knows how incredibly akin we are as well.  He didn’t fall into the trap that would have kept him in his place. Instead he pointed out the common humanity between the accusers and the accused. By doing so he resisted the condemnation and labels we place on one another. He refused the labels placed on the woman.

He told the woman that she too could move on and that it was within her ability to live a life of fullness and love. She could live. She could be.

In the end, it’s still true. We are all like this woman… and we are all like those religious authorities. Labels, stereotypes, condemnation abound, but they don’t have to. They will end when we choose to resist and see each other for who we are.

We can all have life. We can be who we are in Christ. Let no one tell you otherwise, least of all yourself.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

[Edit: I messed up with the reblogging attempt.. so I did end up cutting and pasting anyways!]

Embracing our Grandmothers

Poh PohI did not know my maternal grandmother well. Come to think of it, I did not know any of my grandparents well. Both my grandfathers died when I was young, and language barriers kept me from conversing with my paternal grandmother, even though she was present throughout most of my life.

My mother’s mother, Poh Poh as I would call her, came into my life in the early 90s. She followed the path set by my two uncles as they both brought their families to Canada from Hong Kong. Until that point, I had no relationship with Poh Poh, and not much of one there after.

Again, language barriers did not help. I with my broken Cantonese could barely string together a sentence and she could hardly speak a word of English. But language was not the sole barrier. She treated my brothers and I like someone else’s family. We did not belong to her because we did not come from her sons. We came from her eldest daughter.

I knew and accepted that implicit rejection. I did not mind because I never needed her approval. She was Poh Poh; an eccentric old woman who loved Mah Jong, who at times drove people crazy, but was kind in heart and strong in will.

It was not until her recent death that I began to consider the spiritual and emotional impact of my grandmother. On the surface it would seem that there would not be much of one. She came from rural China. Patriarchy, ancestral worship, superstition were all parts and parcels of being Chinese. These were elements that influenced my upbringing but were eventually erased from my identity as I embraced a western Christ. I was so different from her, so foreign. There was no relatedness other than through blood.

But as I watched my mother struggle with her mother’s approval and acceptance, I realized that I have been carrying the same burden. We long for our mother’s embrace; we long to identify with the one who has shaped our meaning of what it means to be a woman. We long to stand in line with our foremothers who have endured tremendous hardship, suffered deep losses, and triumphed in creating beauty in midst of tragedy.

So I began to listen for my grandmother’s story and try to patch together what I knew of her and what I could understand. I used to feel disdain for her apparent ignorance and blatant favoritism towards male family members. But she was a product of her environment and so am I. Despite the differences, I began to appreciate her story and now I marvel at the distance between hers and mine. I have become so much because of the opportunities I have had here in North America. But if it were not for my grandmother, my mother would not be who she is. And if it were not for my mother, I would not be who I am.

A friend who is pregnant with her second child (a girl), shared with me that the baby is now just past the point where she has developed all the eggs she will ever have. Therefore, my friend is also carrying her possible future grandchildren. This thought floored me. It meant that at one point in my pre-history, I was in my grandmother’s womb.

Though biologically life seems to pass down through generations, spiritually the pattern is reversed. I was the first to become a follower of Christ, my mother second, and at last my grandmother who made a confession of faith on her deathbed. This is God’s redemptive power mysteriously at work and which continues to surprise me with hope. Hope that one day I will see my grandmother’s face again. Hope that I will see her and I will know her, and she will know me.  Those feelings of foreignness and distance will finally be erased by the common bond of God’s love and friendship. And without any need for more words, we will be embraced.


This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.