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.


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.


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.


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’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.


The opposite of bravery is fear.


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.


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.


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.

What?! You’re not a New Yorker?

night views. blessed to be in this city.

A photo posted by symphosanna (@symphosanna) on

Living in the outer suburbs (or the 6th borough) of a huge metropolitan city puts me in an interesting position. Growing up travelling literally between NJ & NYC has greatly shaped my identity, habits, and how I see life. For many from Jersey, there is this awkward tension/desire to affiliate yourself with NYC instead of proudly being from NJ. For the most part, these people go to the city for cultural attractions, shopping, and the newest trend (cronuts, Smorgsborg, etc etc). In my case, it has been a bit different. Growing up for the past 11ish years, I have spent most of my weekends in the neighborhoods around my church in Chinatown. I have spent many bored afternoons walking the streets of Lower Manhattan, exploring the ins and outs of all the surrounding neighborhoods. A lot of my friends’ families have lived in their apartments and neighborhoods since their families immigrated here. I have my go-to places to eat/drink/shop … yet I am an outsider. But when I bring out-of-town friends to NYC, I can blab for hours about where we should go.

It is quite hilarious when friends will say, “What?! You’re not a New Yorker? I did NOT realize you live in New Jersey“. How do I do? Here are three ways you can also mesh yourself into the New Yorker identity!

  • When lost, do not stop in the middle of the street to look at your smartphone. Remember to always screenshot your Google Maps directions before embarking on your NYC adventure.
  • Actually, NEVER stop in the middle of the street to look at anything. New Yorkers are ruthless in walking around those who do that, but you never know when someone might decide to be extra rude and give you a hard shove.
  • Spend time on side streets. Instead of walking down 42nd Street and Broadway, walk two avenues west or east and explore the outskirts of high-tourist destinations. You’ll be surprised to find some hidden gems.

It is an interesting paradox to be in. But for now I will relish the positives of a suburban home and nature while getting to work, play, and serve in an amazing city!

New Jersey. New York. Love ’em both. Continue reading