Arrival, Remembering

I.

April will be the four-month anniversary of officially living in Brooklyn on my own (I did spend 0-3 living here, but New Jersey has been my permanent address for much longer).

When I signed my lease, I didn’t realize that I was moving back to part of my history.

II.

 “How long have you lived in NYC?”

Answering that icebreaker question recently threw me off guard. Even though I’ve only had a New York address for a few months, it’s felt like I have lived here forever. How do you really explain in a sentence the not New Jersey, but also not New York life that I experienced for, about ALL my life?

III.

Before my grandmother’s dementia got really bad and she had to leave her Brooklyn apartment, we would visit her in this abnormally HUGE apartment (3 apartments in one, really). To Symphony the child, Ma Ma lived in a grungy, sketch part of the borough that we always travelled to via car. Usually, my parents would drive my sister and I to her place after church activities on the weekend, and we’d cross one of the bridges leading into Brooklyn and take the BQE to her neighborhood. I also recognized we were in her neighborhood by the Orthodox Jewish men walking down the street and the numerous churches we passed. Her building was this terrifying mask of steel, black people, and broken glass, and my sister and I were never left alone when we walked from where the car was parked into the apartment building. One year, we happened to visit during Halloween, and there was vomit and raw egg debris and pee in the corner of what always seemed to be the oldest elevator in existence (it had two doors).

My parents know New York + the five boroughs by streets and avenues, and not neighborhood names. Telling them the name of the neighborhood I found an apartment in made zero sense, which was fine. I’m pretty sure Prospect Park-Lefferts Garden was made up by real estate people back whenever they were revitalizing the neighborhood anyways. If you’re old school, landmarks are more useful to remember how to get places and not Google Maps. When Dad helped move me into my apartment and we drove down Flatbush Avenue towards my neighborhood, he commented that I lived “pretty close” to where Ma Ma lived.

IV.

The feelings Inside my grandma’s apartment was warmth and grainy old Chinese dramas that were constantly playing and Chinese cooking and “vintage” furniture, and also this very old exercise bike that Harmony and I liked to play with. Ma ma was the only one I knew who had 5 bedrooms and two bathrooms (one that I was always afraid I’d clog).

Ma Ma’s apartment was a contrast to her surroundings: the suspicious looking neighbors (all, coincidentally black), the youth that always just hung around the lobby, the nasty odors assaulting the senses.

V.

Living in Lefferts-Garden feels like a paradox.

Even during the Stressful Apartment Search of Fall 2015, I wrestled with the tension of being a gentrifier. I knew that no matter what neighborhood I would choose to live in, simply by my age + economic buying power, it would pretty much be a done deal, I was a hipster gentrifer. I was ranting about gentrification and the overabundance of hipsters in Chinatown ALL. THE. TIME. Who was I, to do the same to another neighborhood in NYC???

…..

Real talk: the only Chinese people I really see around my neighborhood are the ones behind the counter at the Chinese-American fast food joints. Most of my Asian (East or South) sightings occur once in a blue moon. Or in the nearby coffee shop (disclaimer: coffee there is delicious…).

Walking down the street, whether it’s my overactive imagination or reality, whenever I see locals so much look at me, my thoughts jump to what runs in the their minds, “oh look at this bitch who doesn’t belong in this neighborhood and is causing my rents to go up.”

Am I exaggerating? Maybe people are a lot nicer than I give them credit for, but to be honest I don’t blame them (see 1 2 3).

VI.

“Gentrification has a lot more to do with rent-stabilized buildings and racist landlords breaking the law than it has to do with building new buildings,” Thomas told Truthout.” – Truthout, 2014

I hate gentrification because it hurts people. It overlooks, oppresses, destroys, and pushes out.

Gentrification sees one skin color and labels them have nots, sees another color and labels them haves.

Gentrification is the opposite of listening and hearing humans’ stories.

Gentrification does not say I see you, I hear you, you are loved.

Gentrification is capital gain, profit earned on pushing people out of the homes they’ve lived in for 20 years, homelessness, and you don’t belong in this neighborhood because you don’t look like “success” and extra income.

VII.

My church has partner with the LoGOFF movement the past two years to learn about social justice in the everyday that Jesus exemplified. Their mission: transform consumers to stewards. There, the concepts I had been in tension with were synthesized into these four pillars:

Pray: bring people, places and powers that are vulnerable exploitation and could/do exploit others to the Jesus because He is able to set us free.

Partner: with places where vulnerable people we meet may receive the services they need.

Purchase from businesses, restaurants and services online and in-person where we are able to invest in freedom and not exploitation of people and the planet.

Policy is shaped based on the relationships and resources that God has gifted us with and we give back to Him in worship to reflect the Shalom He intended.

VIII.

I was waiting for a 2 train one Friday night back to my apartment when my mom texted me with the news that Ma Ma had passed away. As I have been processing her death these past few months, I’ve pondered on the duality that in the same time frame where she has left earth, I have arrived in her old stomping grounds and rooted myself into my own apartment lease, independence from my parents, and have a wide door of opportunities available to me.

There is a full circle, and more. I don’t have to carry self-hatred because of my hate towards gentrification. I can be okay with being part of gentrification in Lefferts-Garden and Crown Heights because gentrifier doesn’t make up my whole identity. In the tension of being a gentrifier, I can choose to be more. I can be transformed from gentrifier to community member that takes part in community transformation through seeing, through “LoGGING off.”

When I walk down the street to my apartment, I see.

I see the Caribbean bakeries, the guys on the corner, the endless churches – all with different pastors, and Chinese take out. In the same moment, I see the new coffee shop, the low-slung beanies, and flannel. I see the moms and dads rushing their kids to school. I see ALL of the dogs. I see and wonder if my grandma had taken the same Q train I take to work to her stop in Flatbush.

I see and remember. I see and ponder. I see and dream.

IX.

I have yet so much to uncover. Arrival is only the beginning.

RIP. February 2016. This post is dedicated to Ma Ma, who was fierce + independent + fun + dear. Even though we aren’t related by blood, her spirit is with me as I roam the streets of  Brooklyn.

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A Tale of 2 PK’s Part 3: The Church We Wish We Grew Up In: Faith and Social Justice

If you hang around the two of us long enough, you will not only hear conversations about our mothers or the latest family gossip, but often our conversations turn to the role of the church, particularly the Chinese-American one, in social change, how the Church has been complicit in oppression, what theologies inform our work in social justice, and what opportunities exist in the Church for creating change.

In this piece, we discuss why Symphony still has hope in the Church, while Joanna continues to serve as a skeptic and critic of the Church as a viable institution for bringing about social change. We explain our search for a theoretical and spiritual framework that engages the Church in social justice work and political engagement.

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A Tale of 2 PK’s Part 2: PKs Gone Radical – Political Education, Spiritual Formation, and Critical Consciousness

As a kid, Joanna used to always get annoyed when she was introduced as “Billy’s daughter,” instead of her actual name. That’s just one of the many side effects that come with being a Pastor’s Kid, also known as PK (Footnote 1). Growing up as a PK has its perks and its discontents. Even though we are from the same family and church for the most part, we have experienced our own unique experiences as PKs. We recognize that PKs are a special breed in the Church. In this piece, we discuss our childhood growing up as PKs, how that experience has shaped us into the women we are today, and how our journeys have differed.

Footnote 1: Pastor’s Kid: (noun) Definition – a child of a pastor forever, whether you believe in God or not. Individuals who are especially prone to spiritual and emotional trauma due to growing up in dysfunctional churches.

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A Tale of 2 PK’s Part 1: Perks and Discontents

Spiritual formation and political education are not often parallel paths of human development. For many reasons, we have had an unlikely journey that has led us to think about the relationship between faith and social justice. While we grew up in a middle class and conservative evangelical environment, we have come to understand and critique the implications of that upbringing, and particularly, to remember and understand our own privilege as Chinese Americans. We may have roots in the immigrant community, but we also had access to very expensive higher education.

Presently, Symphony is still active in the church while Joanna no longer participates. However, for the most part, we share our views on social justice and political engagement. We both seek to develop a critical consciousness about social justice, race, class, gender, and issues of oppression, but we did not fully develop that consciousness in the Church. Our church taught us to care for people in need, but it didn’t nurture us with a framework for how to translate faith into social and political action. We also have peers who we know who have not developed the same kind of political consciousness.  

So, what is that about? Was it the influence of education, friends, or something else? In this piece, we explore how our identities as PKs have influenced our perspective on social justice and how we developed a political and progressive ideology that informs both our spiritual formation and political engagement.

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the word that is truth

There is something poetic in the stringing of words that fit ‘perfectly’ together to form an arc, to form art and beauty, to create dissonance and musical serenades.

In the past few seasons I have written less publicly, but in private the ink seems to be never ceasing. Maybe my feelings have been to raw, too exposed of late to publish across such a open forum. But there is a power to seeing words pieced together, put out there for any to discover and connect with.

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There are all of these words in my mind that I see, but cannot yet write. I only grasp at the seams, knowing only the emotion and not the words to articulate.

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Of late, I have been thinking about the Word that is Truth. Why must Truth be conveyed through the written form. There is something about words that root and ground us — whether typed in the dimly light shadows on a smartphone or written across the pages of leather bound journals — words that are seeds of truth so when planted firmly into the good soil, blossom forth fields of wildflowers, strong oak trees, and every beautiful flora under the sun.

So when the Word became Flesh and the Incarnation burst forth on this earth, the power lines shifted. The words-seeds finally sprouted and brought forth new life into what was dead before. Have you felt the power of words? Have you let them move you? Have you felt the power lines shift? Have you seen the chance for better, for hope, for light, to dream?

Show me the words, for I cannot see

Let me dream new stories and imagine

Truth to rise up.

“Can I have some change?”

He was shrouded in the dimly light street outside the dumpling store I was hurrying towards to satisfy my famished stomach. I spotted him, as I spot all the unmentionables on the street, with a heavy heart, but life called and all I could do was walk onward.

The shop was quiet when I ordered my 5 dumplings for two dollars meal. Quite the steal in New York, getting delicious ‘homemade’ hot food for under $5. Then again, it’s Chinatown and you can’t beat Chinatown prices. I swung out of the shop and strode down the street so I could get to church as soon as possible and satisfy my stomach. He gave me a half-hearted call  as I walked by.

Can I have some change for a meal?

At first I kept walking. I do not really stop anymore for anyone who asks for change or food or anything. Seeing people ask and beg and plead day in day out wears on your soul — then the compassion fatigue strikes and what can one do but keep walking? Better to to feel guilty than to have an empty wallet right?

The split second passed as those thoughts flashed through my mind, and this night I decided to turn around, for once. Our interchange was brief. I told him to get something to eat with the meager amount of cash I had in my wallet, and he cheerfully pulls out a pair of takeout chopsticks to says that he’ll be able to use them tonight. I laugh and wish him a good night, and walk onward.

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Maybe we will meet again and I’ll ask him how his dinner was that one night a random girl made a human connection with him.

I write all of this not to gloat about my compassionate heart, but to reflect on how privileged I am. I have the ability to give out of excess and abundance, and not my lack-of. As I have been praying the prayer of learning that it is better to give than to receive, I still am unable to give for the sake of giving — and I find myself still giving out of guilt. Guilt of privilege, guilt of winning the DNA and demographic lottery, guilt of simply having so much.

Answers I have none, but in the seeking I hope that I am at the very least loving the broken hearted and least of these in a way that honors the Father. I pray that my heart of giving can move from a guilt driven motivation to one that seeks to give because we are all sons and daughters, and that my abundance is also your abundance, and there is something powerful to taking all that we have and offering it up to the Lord. In practical ways that walks out the prayer, ‘your Kingdom come | your Will be done | on earth as is in Heaven‘.

Word on the Street is a blog column that aims to “echo the rawness found on the street, showcasing the real in the day to day”. Among other things. I haven’t written one of these in awhile, thought to throw this one up.

Be brave, my lionheart

I. 

I’ve been ruminating over a mantra my friend Bethany told me over one of our ‘catch-up-on-life’ phone calls.

Brave people do scary things.”

Not that the phone conversation was the first time I heard of the idea to be brave, but that day it struck me in a new way. She phrased bravery in a way where bravery isn’t “being,” but simply to live out our lives as brave people. Instead of bravery being the action — bravery is what describes us as human beings.

II.

The opposite of bravery is fear.

III. 

These days I am constantly reminding myself to keep fighting. To press on. To live bravely. To let the act of overcoming and victory rule my life and not fear and inaction. Some days I lose, and some days I hold steadfast.

V. 

Being part of the current young adult generation, there seems to be all this outward and inward societal pressure for us to succeed, overcome, be movers and shakers, history makers and the like. I have found myself wrestling with whether my desires to “live up to the expectations of my generation” equates bravery. It seems like there is all this unnecessary emphasis on changing the world, whatever that may mean that we have forgotten to teach our children how to be brave and fight for the spaces and people that are within reach. There are slow shifts — but I find that I have been spending the past two+ years re-learning what it means to fight, to exude bravery, to make choices that may not make much sense, but to trust that there is hope and a purpose. The greatest lesson I have learned is change does not need to be in tens, hundreds, or thousands of people that I affect, but being able to affect just one person’s life is enough. If I can empower another person who is a brave person that does scary things …. that is power & change.

VI. 

1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear …”

If brave people stand up against fear, could that mean brave people also love fiercely? It is risky to love. It is risky to live a life where bravery conducts the course of our actions and not fear. Fear is comfortable and easy. But in bravery there can be an endless path to opportunity and life.