By Debbie Gin

Photo by manhhai

A clear memory from when I was in youth group has haunted me for four decades.  It wasn’t Thanksgiving, but when asked to share what aspect of the retreat we were thankful for, one by one, all the opbas and unnees (older “brothers” and “sisters”) expressed how much their parents had sacrificed for them to attend the gathering.  By the time we got around the large circle, we were all sobbing.

Such group catharsis isn’t unusual for youth retreats, but what’s been interesting for me is just how common such tearful expression about parental self-denial is among Asians.  I’ve also attended my share of Western, predominantly White retreats and haven’t seen much of this.  To be sure, I’ve experienced such group tears, but it was seldom about our parents and more about how we’d strayed from God.  I suppose it makes sense:  while all parents sacrifice for their children, Western norms dictate that parents help their kids individuate pretty early, and Asian norms assume that parents will always have a strong role in family decisions, which may affect how children perceive self-denial.

Parental self-denial has been a prevalent motif in my own experience.  As a child of Asian immigrants, growing up in an immigrant church, I saw sacrifice at every turn.  Parents, by choice, gave up prominent careers in their home countries to move to the “Beautiful” country, to become 7-day laborers in laundromats or liquor stores, so that their children would have opportunities they could never have had.

A friend has recently been teaching me Chinese root words to help me understand Korean vocabulary better.  I’m struck by how many phrases include mei or bu (“not”) to express something positive:  Mandarin’s  bu keqi (“you’re welcome”) or mei guanxi (“it’s okay”) are examples.  Korean language does the same.  Even though I, as a native English speaker, think of “denial” as a negative thing; I wonder if not knowing the Korean/Chinese language deeply keeps me from seeing underlying assumptions of self-denial as a positive thing.  Perhaps older generations will deny themselves anything they believe can be reserved for the next generation.

This notion of self-denial, already prevalent in complicated Asian value systems, finds a parallel in Asian church communities.  We’re familiar with the biblical precedent—denying oneself and following Jesus; sharing rather than hoarding wealth and material goods; generously caring for the poor, orphaned, and widowed (presumably at one’s own expense).  So, for Christian Asian parents, practicing self-denial is practicing righteousness.

All of this makes me want to be a better Asian Christian.  However, I have one hesitation.  What about when self-denial is asymmetrically experienced?  What if certain people groups have had to endure more than their share of having to deny themselves of basic human rights, while other people groups have not had to deny themselves as much?  Is the latter group somehow better and thus more deserving?  Surely not.  When women are unequally asked to step aside for the man’s chance to prosper or lead or make progress, or when systems are set up to keep those in black and brown bodies from advancing, this is when I actually see the other “side” of Scripture and Jesus’ example coming alive.  This is when I see the prophetic pushback to self-denial.  What I have also found in reading Scripture is that the prophets acknowledged that some people groups will experience self-denial because there’s sin in the world.  It’s in this context that the Bible encourages the prophetic voice, the voice that will speak truth to inequity and injustice.  Truth to a forced self-denial.

The Bible is beautiful in this way.  It speaks to sacrifice and self-denial and to prophetic equity.  May we not easily assume which parts are speaking to us.  May we not relate only to those passages that justify our own comfort.  May we learn both to practice self-denial and to speak prophetically.

Dr. Debbie Gin is Director of Faculty Development and Research at The Association of Theological Schools/Commission on Accrediting, the support and accrediting organization of most seminaries in the US and Canada.  She was formerly Associate Professor of Ministry at Azusa Pacific Seminary and Fellow for Faculty Development and Evaluation in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at Azusa Pacific University.  She and her husband currently live in Pennsylvania.

By Joy Wong

Photo by Tong Tuan Anh

As this month’s blog theme is “denial,” I looked up references to the word in the Bible. There aren’t too many. But this famous verse popped up: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16:24 NIV).

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By Ajung Sojwal

Photo by Daniel Arauz

I would like to think of myself as a reasonable, well-informed person who cannot and will not deny the evils of systemic racism. I also thought that the “Church” would never willfully perpetuate the evils of systemic racism; until a few years ago, when I found myself dumbfounded by the open declaration of a deeply racist belief from a high-ranking member of the clergy. At a meeting with the clergy person who had the authority and power to recruit and reject priests seeking a call, I was told of a black clergy colleague, “I don’t trust her, she is very dark.”

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By Angela Ryo

Photo by Jason Boldero

One of the encounters I’ve treasured the most comes from the Bible. It’s a no-name character who often goes by the title of the “bleeding woman” or the “hemorrhaging woman” because she’s been bleeding for 12 years until she touches Jesus. At the lowest rung of her society, she is only identified by her disease.

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Encounter: Warm Light

By Casey Iwanaga

Photo by Alexander Mueller

I was called to stand, stand in my shame and guilt in God’s light
I just wanted to run and hide in the dark
God’s light changed, from blinding to warm
He grabbed my hand as I turned to run
Just stood with me in His warm grace and love
Changing this unwanted, fearful encounter into a needed one
Full of acceptance and forgiveness
His warm light
A place I can stay forever

Casey Iwanaga is a junior at the University of California in Merced. Her father is a retired pastor currently serving as Chairman of the OMS Holiness Churches.

Photo by Dino Reichmuth
Photo by Dino Reichmuth

By Sarah D. Park

I grew up going to church retreats as a kid. I don’t know if this is a Korean church phenomenon, but it was normal to go up into the mountains to spend time with God once a year.

And the night before we had to go home, well, that was a special night. No cup ramen. No card games on the floor. The main sanctuary lights would be turned down low and the worship band would spontaneously begin to play moody background music. The youth pastor takes the stage, mic in hand and intensity in his gaze, calling out prepubescents to repent and cry out to their savior. Kids start falling to their knees, ugly crying into the carpet, scattered rows of small hunched over children shuddering into their tears.

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Encounter: Loneliness

By Diana Kim

Photo by Lenny K Photography

As a single woman in ministry, I have struggled with loneliness for many years, even considering and accepting it as a vocational hazard. There seems to be very few people I can truly be open and honest with, as my opening up to them can seem like venting and complaining (which, sometimes it is), and make me sound ungrateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. The pastoral hat I wear seems to hide the fact that I am human, capable of feeling lonely; perhaps it is because people often imagine pastors to constantly be with others that pastors suffering through loneliness doesn’t seem to be possible, or perhaps it’s because we are “one with God” that pastors are expected to never feel lonely.

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Photo by Alessio Maffeis

By Wendy Choy-Chan

The lie was that they could become like God, knowing good and evil. Little did Adam and Eve know that what they became was a twisted version of a monadic, exclusive god, with power and authority, but without communion, no more communion with the one true God and no more communion with each other.

And the lie continued. Cain killed to become the exclusive giver acceptable to God; the brothers sold Joseph to get rid of the exclusive beloved of their father, Jacob; Saul hunted down David to be the exclusive anointed king of Israel. The lie twisted the whole reality. Instead of a power that spread goodness and an authority that benefitted others, it was now a power that accumulated goodness for self and an authority that benefitted self. Continue Reading »

Subversion: God at Work

Photo by Chad Sparkes

By Tina Teng-Henson
Every now and then,
Jesus hijacks my heart
and captures it anew. Continue Reading »

Photo by Renaud Camus

By Young Lee Hertig

“Jesus rode into Jerusalem, announcing his kingship on a borrowed donkey.  He had no palace, much less a place to lay his head, and lacked a transportation.  This subversive king exorcised the temple, set limits on Caesar’s authority, publicly declared that a poor widow’s minimal offering was greater than all others, and redefined servanthood as beneficial for the needy rather than the benefactor.”[1]  Continue Reading »

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