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.

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Silence, Conflict, and seeing Red

Well, I’ve decided to come out of my blogging blackout to make a few comments on a situation that was started, stirred, and shaken on the internet. I recognize that this is only of interest to a very small group of people: evangelicals…. and even then, perhaps only of interest to non-white evangelicals.*

If you’re still with me and don’t know about the Rick Warren – Red Guard thing, start here and read this.

First, I would say that as a Chinese Canadian, I was a bit wary of entering into the fray. Warren is American… though he seems to have an international fan club going (which I assume includes a lot of Canadians).  I knew there would plenty of Asian American voices that would rally and protest. And, I really hate engaging in public conflicts because undoubtedly there will be ignorant, mean, and stupid comments. I allowed myself one snarky comment on a wall post of an Asian American theologian… but the snarkiness just wouldn’t be appreciated by those who don’t know me. Where’s the fun in that?

Second, I don’t know if I need an apology from Warren. I have no relationship with him. I don’t identify with him… at all. Except, he is part of the Church. Why I don’t need an apology from Warren is that among my friends, he’s either unknown or he’s not that important. That being said, Warren does have popularity. And with popularity comes power. People are drawn to popular figures because they want to see a bit of themselves in that figure. If that figure is liked (or is right) then we are liked (or are right). The danger of his carelessness was that it was teaching his fans, or giving permission to them, to be careless and culturally-ignorant. This hurts the Church. It hurts the Church for its witness. And it hurts the members within.

Which comes to my third comment. It makes sense to me that if I have offended a brother or sister (and I have done so), my first reaction is regret, ESPECIALLY if it was unintentional. Warren’s response has been curious. First denial, then after some pressure, an expression of gratitude (?) and back-pedaling, then after a great deal more pressure (like an RNS article) he finally issues a full-out apology… a little late and teetering on disingenuous.

But this whole conflict has been based on a number of assumptions. One being that everyone assumed that Warren was capable of dealing with open conflict, right now. I don’t know what’s going on in his life, how he normally engages in conflicts within his home or church, or what other stresses have been laid upon him. We expect him to respond as a person of influence and rightly so. But, what if he just sucks at open conflicts? It takes a lot of humility, self-awareness, self-confidence, and compassion. Any of us would be short of any of these at any given time. Fortunately, not every one of us have the responsibility of being a pastor and a public figure.

The other assumption that people (that is, Warren’s fans) are making, is that those who are offended by Christians, can’t be Christians. That says a lot about how they deal with diversity and with conflict. Frankly, it’s immature and delusional to think that just because someone disagrees with you that they have nothing in common with you. But we want to forget that though, it makes fighting easier. And if we all belong to the same team, who exactly are we protecting? Who gets to win?

It does irk me that the onus is placed on the offended party to reconcile. There has been so many comments made by people that went like: Why don’t you address him directly? Have you contacted him personally? How does this (public outcry) help build the body of Christ?

Um, why doesn’t Warren just apologize? Why don’t people take a few min to educate themselves? And why is voicing public hurt to a public offense NOT helpful to the body of Christ? I thought Jesus turned a few tables in his day…

My last random observation is that there is a cry from Asian Americans to be recognized and heard by the white majority, and particularly in the evangelical world. It seems that only way to operate in this system is to get angry enough to be seen and aggressive enough to be respected.

Which comes back to my earlier comment… I don’t know if I want to engage in this system. I don’t know whose acknowledgement I’m looking for. Maybe I’m spoiled by being part of a small church which quietly engages in grace, brokenness, and sin in our speck of the world. Maybe I’m fearful. Maybe I’m too Canadian (whatever that means).

Anyways… enough of this. There’s a sermon to tend to and a stomach to feed. More could be said later.

Later

*A friend has brought to my attention that I’m making an assumption that white evangelicals don’t or won’t care. Actually, I know that some of them do and some feel embarrassed by the whole mess. However, I intentionally wrote this to draw attention from white evangelicals who typically don’t pay attention to issues of cultural context but think they do. It was a passive-aggressive comment that wasn’t meant to exclude and perpetuate the same problem. I’m sorry if you took offense… if you did, you’re not the problem 😉