Tag Archives: jeremy lin

Death to the Hyphen, Part 1

A great conversation on the Missional Architects’ Facebook group was had last week regarding hyphenated-identities and our Christian identity. Ironically it related to some of the hype that Jeremy Lin generated because he was being characterized as an “Asian American Christian.”

Here was an initial comment by Joe Schimmels:

Joe Schimmels I was hoping for a cape crusader to save me from my ignorance. Let’s take Lin for example. Do we celebrate that he is an Asian-American who is a Christian (and that is pretty cool what he is doing and cool for the Asian community re: NBA). Or is he an Asian-American Christian as if we really need to give additional characteristics (and these can be divisive) to the new creation which supersedes any identity that I may have. In other words, how do we avoid the 1 Cor 3 scandal by honoring the Eph 2 reality?

  • I think I am trying to distinguish two categories here. One category is how we describe people: “He is Asian” or “German”, etc. The language is descriptive. The Bible does this in Acts 6: The Grecian widows were overlooked in food distribution. Luke is merely describing them. The other category is identity. Our identity is now CHRISTian. And you can’t add, tag, improve or modify this. This transcends everything which is what Paul addresses in Eph 2:11-22.
  •  So I think it is fair to describe Lin as Asian American who is a Christian but he cannot be categorically an Asian-American Christian as his identity.
     Jon Wymer I don’t buy the hyphenated thing period. Not taking anything away from the richness or significance of being African-American, Chinese-American, etc. As a white guy, I honestly feel sometimes like everybody is more valuable than me but I can deal with that in light of the righting of historical wrongs. We are a richer society for being a minority society.
    If I get what Joe is saying, I agree. There is no such thing as a hyphenated Christian. Meaning, in terms of Christianity I’m not saying there as being such a thing as “Chinese-American Christian.” In terms of being a Christian, shouldn’t Jeremy Lin be a model for all including young Christians of every ethnicity/race? I guess the way I see it is Jeremy Lin is both Chinese-American and Christian. Not to take away from either.
    It might help to think about this in terms of somebody like MLK. Would we herald him as an African-American Christian? That just puts me in categorical places that don’t make any sense. I would argue that he was an African-American who actively worked out Christianity in a complex and unjust racial context. He was Christian and he was African-American, but African-American is not an appropriate modifier for Christian. You are Christian or not, and that precludes every other modifier by it’s very nature.
    And so I jumped in…with a very verbose answer. But let me know what you think about this part of the conversation first. Peace.

People As Symbols

One word. #Linsanity.

Two words. Unexpected #Linspiration.

Three words. Asian American baller.

And after a week of media hoopla and six games’ worth heroics, we don’t really know him. Ethan Sherwood calls him boring. And now I get it. Jeremy is just a symbol. My Asian American brothers at Next Gener.Asian Church are going absolutely bonkers about him, asking what does #linsanity say about Asian American Male Sexuality and how this moment relates to the Civil Rights Movement, etc. But we’re looking at the projection, the image of the man, more than the man himself.

Symbols are really important. Every movement and memory has symbols associated with it. They become the post-it flags to the whole of the event. For instance, if I said, Reformation, your mind retrieves several symbols: a picture of Martin Luther with portly cheeks with a muffin top hat; John Calvin with a thin, gaunt face and magician’s beard, etc.

These buzzwords, clippings, and images help us remember significant parts of history. And they can change, but usually they are significant because they are not only significant in retrospect, they are significant now, in the present. And the funny thing is that people aren’t always aware of what is symbolically important in the now. We think we know, but we’re not sure. Some things get left behind or forgotten by the masses, but remembered by only a certain few. Sound familiar?

The Christian movement as a post-Judaic/post-rabbinical phenomenon was a blip. Remembered and propagated only by a few, one of the elements of telling the story was making sure there were tangible symbols to the faith. The crucifix; baptism; eucharist, fish, and shepherds, etc. These were all ways of distinguishing it from Judaism because the symbols were different.

You have to know how important these symbols are and what they mean in order to understand how to hold their gravity in the present. Which is why the council of Jerusalem was important. That’s why Chalcedon was important. I wonder if these symbols have a limited effectiveness date. Not to say that baptism has limited effect (as a symbol), but in a pluralistic society that idolizes individualism and esoteric communities, I have to ask if traditional symbols are simply losing their effect because they contain less meaning. But I digress.

Here’s my point: Who and what are the symbols for Christian reconciliation in our midst? Jeremy Lin is on one hand, just a basketball player, who’s had a number of good games for an undrafted player. But the dimensions of Lin being Asian American and Christian have made him a symbol with some would say, missional and reconciliation capacity. In other words, suddenly the symbol has power that the man himself doesn’t have. People are impressed by the humility, determination, and even the faith of Jeremy Lin. The symbol at this point has the capacity to become an icon. And those that are partial to that symbol, meaning Asian Americans, 3rd string ballers, Ivy Leaguers, etc. suddenly can see where Lin’s life might be pointing and to whom.

This is why you need to look at yourself in symbolic terms. This is why your church, my church being monocultural, monoethnic, or whatever, it symbolizes something and you need to know what. It conveys a message that either supports or subverts what I say or how I live. People are not just people or projects or problems. Their lives are symbols. This is why photography and the visual arts matter, because sometimes we see in those symbols and in those images something far deeper and meaningful.

Christian reconciliation needs to be aware of the symbols we project. How much of it is co-opted by merely people of goodwill? What does it say when our churches are homogenous and seeking only to grow in a particular class or political persuasion or theological bastion? What does it mean when we keep our local neighborhoods at arm’s length? And if we are discovering so much about how shocked the League is about Jeremy Lin and how he persevered rather than wither away on someone’s bench, what does that say when we are a culture unfamiliar with perseverance and anonymity?

Four words: Knowing. God. Live. Differently.

You Speak English So Well

Person A says to Person B – “You speak English so well.”

This sentence and what it communicates can be very different depending on A and B. In other words (Marshall McLuhan), “the medium is the message”.

If Person A is an exchange student learning English from an American voice actor, person B. Then the statement comes off with a true air of respect. The statement acknowledges the command of the language and the speaker’s ability to enunciate and form the various sounds of the English language with such fluidity and competence. It is an affirmation.

If A is a native speaker saying this to B, a student of the English language, it could be a recognition of the hard work that goes into learning English not just as written, but spoken language. It acknowledges  English is a difficult language to learn and that B speaks it very well – as a student? relative to a native speaker? compared to other students? as opposed to another language? You speak English better than I had expected? OK, there is some ambiguity here.

If A is a White American and B is a Asian American, then what does that communicate? Well, it could be that A assumed that B was not a native speaker. Or that A knew something about B that would beforehand that would have indicated  B perhaps had a problem that would inhibit an ability to speak English well. And I suppose with the various waves of immigration to this country, it is probably not so easy to discern an Asian from an Asian American. How would you know visually someone should or would speak English well? This is where the intent and purpose of the statement cannot help but be lost.

But the statement, again depending on who the speakers are, can convey an expectation that wasn’t met, even if pleasant. And that statement divulges something about the way we look at each other. And in some cases and in some uses, it shows how we look down or up to one another.

What about this one – Wow. You’re really good at basketball!

That’s the one Jeremy Lin is facing right now. The first Asian American in 60 years to play in the NBA is getting some major minutes while playing for the New York Knicks. And the surprise here, again, while pleasant, belies that sense of dismissal and what Tim Dalrymple reprises as “The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.” The opening line of Dalrymple’s wonderful post, “Sometimes compliments are the worst insults.”

This is what gives people who challenge the stereotypes and media projections a chip on their shoulder. It’s what makes tokens tired and women resentful.

Here’s a lesson: Don’t assume the stereotype – Question it first. Remember that some compliments reveal that you think of yourself as the judge, not just an observer or participant.