Updated: Feb 28
If you’ve not seen the video of part 1, nor read it, read this first: kingdomrice.org/post/juneteenth-and-new-relationships-part-1-of-2
Chinese Interrogation and Poems of Lament
I’ve been blessed with a good dose of webinars and podcasts about Black Asian solidarity, the bridge building that happens on the street level. But I don’t read or hear many examples that break down how these are formed over the long-haul among communities. What Kirk and I developed interpersonally and professionally needed to extend well beyond us. Among the larger body of SF’s sacred spaces, God has given me many connections to Chinese Immigrant churches. I’ve taught, preached, and led retreats in dozens of them plus I’ve regularly contributed articles and talks to local Chinese historical exhibits and books. But more than me (to be honest), Kirk is one of the most, if not the most connected African-American man in the historically black neighborhoods of San Francisco. That’s not to compare, but just to say that between me and Kirk, we have tons of connections between Asian and Black communities, in particular Christian communities. How can we steward these connections for the sake of Asian Black solidarity?
Let me name a few threats to solidarity before I share some of the long-term tactics we’ve employed to build solidarity. First one that comes to mind is something I picked up from the Asian-American history class I took at New College in Berkeley, something I’ve long suspected, and that’s this. Asian-Americans don’t see ourselves in the slavery narrative. (to be honest, I don’t remember if it’s Asian-American Christians, or just Asian-Americans without looking up my notes…but I suspect the sentiment is the same). i.e., lack of a sense of shared history. And the complement is a threat, lack of vision for a shared future. Commiserate to these observations are narrow views of who “neighbor” is. Antidotal perhaps, but in the dozens of Asian churches I’ve preached in, the default view of neighbor is someone who goes to one’s church. Again, antidotal, but I have a wider sample size than most, and there are historical and theological reasons…and that brings me to my last point. Theological frameworks that most churches in the West subscribe to lead to postures that don’t make space for a shared history and vision. I can think of more, but this post isn’t about the threats, but solutions we’ve been employing on the ground.
lack of knowing who is our neighbor
shared history, we don’t see ourselves
lack of biblical framework
Entering the US, Europeans via Ellis Island vs Chinese via the “Rock of Tears”
What I present here took place over the last two years and counting. These are not ideas, but brief summaries of what we’ve been doing in the trenches over the past couple of years.
Black and Asian faith leaders are vulnerably bringing peace to each other’s community. This is the example given in the two videos in the link above. Sure, anyone can take the first step, and from experience, it’s often NOT the leaders. But when leaders do take the first step, the influence can be greater; there’s often more vulnerability on the line. It’s not enough for leaders to just think about the idea, read some books, preach a few sermons, have a program, webinar, or even lead a march. All those things can contribute, but they can give the false impression that work is being done for the long-haul, much like studying the Bible can give the false impression of heart integration work. Kirk’s done all those things I named, and all these things can be done without vulnerably reaching out to another. Again if you have not yet, watch these two videos, at 1.5x speed if you want via the link above.
Members of each community are immersing themselves in the other communities, experiencing each other’s story through all the senses. There have been some great documentaries of Black and AAPI stories produced lately, like ones on PBS. But from experience, someone can watch those programs, hear the plight of its people, but e.g., still see Chinatown from a largely consumeristic lens when they walk its streets. Ideally, the very senses we use to experience neighborhoods like Chinatown need to be exposed to different pathways apart from the consumeristic default. In the immersions I’ve led of Chinatown, this is why I don’t allow anyone to eat during the immersion, nor visit the famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Instead, I want people to experience the story of Chinatown from a more vulnerable posture through all the senses. The same is true when Kirk leads people through his traditional Black hood, or when other associates lead people through the Tenderloin, or through the Haight-Ashbury. Nobody knows SF’s traditional Black neighborhoods more than Kirk. PLus, he is one of hte most recognized characters in SF’s former West Harlem or Bayview. I can’t walk a block with Kirk without him being stopped multiple times. He’s connected to the supervisors, educators, pastors, and the mom and pops. Likewise, there are very few people in Chinatown who can tie its narrative to God’s Kingdom, KR being one of them. The fact that Kirk and I can speak first hand from experience and from a Kingdom perspective is important because both stories can ultimately find shared history AND a shared vision through the biblical narrative. Chinese aunties and uncles have now been immersed into the Bayview, and Black aunties and uncles have been immersed into Chinatown. They are learning not just each other’s stories, but how each story finds itself in the story of the Kingdom. We’ve taken thousands through these stories by now.
Each community is learning how their OWN story ties into the Kingdom Story. Take FCBC for example. Many of their members grew up in Chinatown, in their housing projects and above its grocery stores. This group embodies the Chinatown story more than anyone else I know. But no one has ever tied their stories directly to the Kingdom story. For example, Chinatown’s “Family Associations” were absolutely necessary for Chinese who immigrated under a pair name. how might those associations act as metaphors of God’s hospitality illustrated in the Gospels, or in Paul’s travels? Just as there are endless metaphors illustrating beautiful, honorific aspects of the Kingdom’s, the many narratives of vices parallel the metaphors of darkness, hiding and shame of the biblical text. I’ve found that these parallels are rarely made. When I give space for those who grew up in Chinatown to tell aspects of their stories within the context of the biblical context, I’ve noticed a refreshing awakening…because rarely has anyone invited these stories to God’s banqueting table.
Learning the Biblical story outside of the traditional Western framework. This is a huge, multi-faceted endeavor that’s quickly growing in popularity as it should. But it will require a lifetime of learning. What most people have been given is a very Western-centric frame that gives very little room for the values and attributes I’m advocating for in this one post alone. These values include collectivism, shame, honor, along with patronage, reciprocity, and more. All these values and lenses resonate much more with the biblical world AND the majority world cultures of today. And of course, these non-Western lenses are more applicable to those in the West than ever before. Consider how the moral imperative has shifted from guilt to shame, how social media and the popularity of best selling author Brené have moved shame to center stage. Learning to read the Biblical story from a more collective lens will help you connect with non-Western cultures, but it’ll also help you connect with God better AND for the increasing role that shame and honor are playing here in the West. It won’t be an easy transition though. Though scholarship in the evangelical world is making more space for these issues, they are far from mainstream, which means it’ll be generations perhaps before it trickles down to pastors and to common church folks. This is why I started Kingdom Rice. We cannot wait for “more education” and better training to take trickle down. We need to deliver the application of these lenses to the very people in the trenches today…and that’s what we’re doing. Yes, there are a growing number of books, and courses that cover this. But at the end of the day, we need not just a reframing of the message, but a reframing of the messenger, to widen one’s imagination, to see differently. And this is why we need to train ourselves to read the Bible outside of the default Western lens.
We are learning our inherent biases of other people. confessing how we’ve seen them as unclean. Recent podcasts in this regard, especially ones by stop AAPI co-founder Russell Jeung, name the necessity to excavate one’s inherent biases that dictate how we see those different than us. There are few organizations I know if that do this work. Within Kingdom Rice, we’ve done this in retreats, conferences, and within our cohorts. In FCBC Christian Education classes I’ve led last year, we had a white board exercise where we named the possible way we’ve demonized others from our very language. In fact, the colloquial way we name others in Chinatown is literally “foreign devils.” We’ve all grown up to see others a certain way. We have led many to put these on the table in community settings. This makes space for confession and possibly repentance so that new pictures of the other can be put on.
We are learning to lament. Again, this is imperative for coalition building work, but also imperative for life. it’s no wonder that laments make up the largest category of Pslams. Kirk and I lament the fact that both our respective ethnic communities don’t make enough space for lament. I’m told that older black spirituals integrated lament, but the decades since have displaced this kind of lament. Similarly, I think about my forebears who immigrated here to the US, only to be held at Angel Island for interrogation for months and months…and how over 200 poems of lament have been discovered on the walls of the interrogation station. I.E. both our communities have historically demonstrated lamenting. At FCBC for example, we’ve used the laments on the walls on Angel Island along with the lament Psalms of the Bibleto make space for members across generations to write spoken word laments regarding the trauma in the community AND lamenting the ways we’ve other people.
Again, these are little snapshots of experiences that frankly are hard for me to put into words. I certainly did not, and cannot cover everything. If I receive other tested stories, I’ll edit to include them. Perhaps these words might spawn some imagination. From experience, to actually lead others through this requires of team of souls that have been healed up enough to not react, to not get stuck in anger, souls who are doing the hard work of sorting the good and bad of one’s family and culture of origin.
In summary, I’ve experienced that what makes the biggest difference in Black Asian solidarity are the leaders themselves, leaders pursuing self-compassion, healing, vulnerability, leaders displacing themselves vulnerably into spaces of “others.” I’ve certainly not “arrived.” In fact, I feel quite inadequate. But if I could speak for Kirk and others who are leading others to greater solidarity, the process makes space for the Spirit to enlarged our hearts. I am blessed to be on this journey.