March 20, 1988.

I am 5 years old.  It’s hard to say what grade I am in — preschool?  kindergarten? — because the school I attend does not have grades, or so I am told.  When I am not in school, I spend my time riding my Sesame Street tricycle up and down the driveway of my house in suburban Detroit and pestering Donny, the older boy who lives next door, to play with me; he relents only when his real friends are not around.  Occasionally, when we are reading before bedtime, I ask my parents for a little brother, like the ones I see drawn in my books.

I have no idea that in a few weeks, my parents will tell me that a brother is coming, and a few months after that, he will arrive.  I will spend a few uncomfortable days under the care of my grandparents, whom I hardly know, and at some point my father will pick me up to take me to the hospital and meet the baby.  When I arrive, my mother will be sitting up in the hospital bed, smiling at me, and hand me presents from my new brother.  One of them is a fat red pen that writes in 10 different colors.

Either because of the pen, or because this brother is the fruit of my requests for the past year, I will become instantly, fiercely protective of him.  When nurses arrive to draw blood from his toes and he cries out in pain, I start screaming as well, louder and wilder than he does.  I will be hysterical with rage, threatening the doctors and nurses with imprisonment at the top of my lungs.  My parents, for the first time experiencing life as the parents of two, will not know how to respond.

I have no idea that this baby brother will become my favorite thing in the world.  There will be times in the coming years when he will annoy me, when he will barge into my room when I want to be alone, when my parents will force me to take him to the mall when I go with my friends.  I will also bear the responsibility of being his second mother, teaching him to wash his hands after he uses the bathroom, acting as an intermediary between him and my parents.  But for the most part, my brother will be my pal, my confidant, my teammate.  We will share snacks, personality traits, inside jokes, tastes and opinions on most things.  We will sit across from each other at the dinner table, the first to read the other’s reaction in light moments and heavy ones, our silent side conversation continuing night after night.  In rockier times, he will be the person with whom I silently huddle, whom I seek out in the aftermath when my words have returned.  For all the people I will meet in all the years to come, he will remain the only one who knows what it was like to grow up in my family.

I am in the midst of perhaps the most formative year of my life to date.  My life is on the verge of cataclysmic change.  And I have no idea.


March 20, 1998.

I am 15 years old.  I am a sophomore in high school.  I have liked the same boy off and on for about 2 and a half years, suspecting at times that he is interested too, but with no reliable evidence.  I am newly obsessed with what college I will attend.  I have decided that I no longer want to go to Michigan, as I have for my whole life until now.  I want to study both theater and medicine, so at this point, I am most interested in Northwestern.  I still hate being Asian.  I have no Asian friends, save for YT, which is fine because I rarely encounter any Asians; when I do see them, on Saturday mornings at orchestra practices, I dismiss them as one-dimensional and regard them with contempt.  I read the Bible every Sunday for half an hour, as I have for about a year and a half, still not really comprehending what I’m reading but recognizing that it is of vital importance.

I have no idea that in a few months, YT will invite me to her new church and I will love it.  I will find that the Asians whom I snub on Saturday mornings are, to my surprise, really likeable.  I will stop hating my ethnicity.  For the first time in my life, I will make sense to myself, because I share things in common with this community that I’ve never shared with anyone else before.  I will meet people who will become some of my best friends and remain so decades later.  I will become a Christian, a choice that will permanently alter both my personal and professional trajectories.  Upon reflection years later, I will be unable to find a single part of my life that was not profoundly impacted by both this reconciliation with my racial identity and this decision to become a Christian.

I am in the midst of perhaps the most formative year of my life to date.  My life is on the verge of cataclysmic change.  And I have no idea.


March 20, 2008.

I am 25 years old.  I am in my third year of graduate school in clinical psychology.  I have a crush on an acquaintance from school; I know in my heart of hearts that we would not be a great fit, but I see no better options around.  I am in the midst of an existential crisis, as I have realized this year that I do not want to be a therapist, that I am in graduate school mostly because it is what my parents expected of me.  I am terrified that I have locked myself into a career that I am not enthused about when I have so many other interests.  I am exhausted from constantly changing hats, from spending my days running between class and research and practicum and all of the meetings that my role in the Psychology Graduate Union requires.

Desperate for relief, I am hoping to spend three weeks over the summer alone in Barcelona, writing and finding myself, in an eat-pray-love adventure of sorts.  Should I stay in graduate school, I reason, this will be my last hurrah before my clinical training goes year-round and I am indefinitely bound to my home outside Los Angeles.  My parents flatly refuse.  I am dejected until a classmate tells me a few days later that there is one spot left in our school’s annual summer theology intensives in Orvieto, Italy.  I race across campus to confirm this; the next day I return with my $300 deposit.

I have no idea that on this trip, on a bus to Siena, I will meet my life partner.  He will sheepishly ask if he can sit next to me, hoping to finish our homework assignment; I will allow him to sit but not to get any work done, because I am too busy regaling him with questions.  We will talk the whole way there and the whole way back, and a few days later we will do the same on a trip to and from Assisi.  He is kind, present, and centered, his responses thoughtful and measured.  Our bus conversations will turn into long nighttime walks around Orvieto, overlooking the Umbrian countryside; on our last night there, we will see red, white, and green fireworks in celebration of St. Peter’s Day.  When we return to LA and make our relationship official, I will be amazed by how easy it is, by how transformative it is to be loved unconditionally, by how this relationship makes me more at ease in my own skin.  Two years almost to the day after that bus ride to Siena, I will marry this man, declaring before family and friends that he is the best man I’ve ever known.  We will build a life together that will evolve its own language and culture, that will anchor us through moves and career changes, that will yield a new little life that brings us joy beyond measure.

I am in the midst of perhaps the most formative year of my life to date.  My life is on the verge of cataclysmic change.  And I have no idea.


March 20, 2018.

I am 35 years old.  I am a writer, adjunct professor, organization co-runner, toddler-wrangler — in that order, I tell people, though the reverse is probably more accurate.  No matter how much of the other three I do, I measure my professional success by how much I am writing, which is never as much as I want to be.  Because we live so far from our families, I am fairly certain that our days in the San Francisco Bay Area are numbered, and the cost of living here does nothing to dissuade me.  I have mixed feelings about parenting, but at two and a half, our son is the most delightful he’s ever been.  By day, I watch him fall in love with the world — squealing at animals and anything he finds cute, excitedly naming all the numbers and letters and vehicles he sees, saying words and phrases he’s never uttered before — and do impressions of him with my spouse at night.

I am 6 months pregnant with our second son.  If it were entirely about me, I would not have opted to have another child; our life is full enough with the one we have, whom I am crazy about, and I consider it highly unlikely that we would have another one this easy.  I am also grateful to finally be in a place where I can spend part of my time working and part of my time tending to the child, a place that took two years to reach.  But it is not entirely about me.  I want this boy to have a teammate, like the one I got when I was 5, like the one I still have as an adult.  My gratitude for mine has only increased with time, especially as I started a family of my own and began the reflection on my family of origin that this process often triggers.  There is no one else in the world with whom I can process what it was like to grow up in my family, who understands how my parents empowered me and wounded me, who appreciates their ongoing evolution in the same way that I do.  I want my son to have the same — someone to play and fight and learn to share with, someone to share secrets with, someone who can understand what it will be like to be raised in our home.  Thirty years after getting a teammate, I am giving my son one of his own.

He is in the midst of perhaps the most formative year of his life to date.  His life is on the verge of cataclysmic change.  And he has no idea.

The Unexpected Primary Caretaker

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics.

“I just love being with Spencer all the time,” she said as she crawled up the play structure, on the heels of the child in question.

I was at a neighborhood playground with a new mom-friend, our toddlers happily ignoring each other.  We had met at a preschool open house the weekend before.  Our sons were less than 3 months apart, we lived mere blocks from each other, she had an engineering degree from the prestigious university down the street, and she was a full-time parent.  Excited to find another high-achieving mom who spent a lot of time taking care of her kid, I got her number immediately.  I had so many questions for her:  I wanted to know how she made the decision not to work.  I wanted to know if she still had professional ambitions and, if so, how she was keeping them at bay while she raised her child.  I wanted to know if the same drive and intellectual curiosity that had gotten her that degree ever made it frustrating to read the same Elephant and Piggie book eight times in a row.  I wanted to ask her all the questions I’d been wrestling with for the last 21 months, questions that neither my working-mom friends nor my stay-at-home friends could answer.

Five days later, we were having our first playdate, and I was quickly learning that we might have less in common than I thought.

“I can’t imagine having another kid for at least three and a half more years,” she continued. “We’re just having so much fun.”

I looked at her as she animatedly chatted with her son.  Then I looked down at mine, furiously turning the steering wheel of the plastic car he was sitting in, and sighed.  I was in my eleventh hour of the day with him, and there were still two more to go before bedtime.

So much for a friend in a similar situation, I thought.  I could not relate to anything she was saying.


Until I had a child myself, I knew virtually no stay-at-home parents.  Both of my parents worked, as did all the parents of my childhood friends.  When they had children, the high-achieving folks with whom I went to high school, college, and grad school all took as much parental leave as they could before returning to the full-time jobs their educations had earned them.  I did not expect to be any different.

But when my husband and I started talking about having kids, I found myself considering a different path.  I was trying to start a second career (really a fourth and fifth career, but who’s counting these days), building a caseload of career consulting clients and starting to write in earnest.  It wasn’t the best time professionally to have a child, but my circumstances did offer the possibility of caring for a baby by day and working by night.  Not to mention that our nearest relatives were 2,000 miles away and I was not, at that point, making enough to justify the cost of child care — which, in the San Francisco Bay Area, rivals the coronary-inducing cost of housing.

On top of the practical concerns, I was curious about what it was like to be a primary caretaker.  When I was three, I told my parents that I wanted to do every job in the world for 10 days — doctor, McDonald’s cashier, mother — and that statement had proved surprisingly prescient.  Even after working in three different fields and dipping my toes into two more, I wanted to know what it was like to be a full-time parent, at least for a little while.  And frankly, it sounded refreshing to go from juggling too many things for, oh, my entire life to having only one focus every day.  So I decided that I would be the primary caretaker, and after taking a month or two off, I would start writing again and seeing a few clients in the evening and on weekends.  No big deal.  I didn’t know anyone else who had this kind of arrangement, but it seemed like it could work for me.

Not surprisingly, things turned out to be far more complicated in reality.  The first year was a blur of naps, feeds, and diaper changes — one in which I ended up getting very little work done at all.  After the one-year mark, though, my energy started to return.  I started writing again.  I started speaking again.  I got a job teaching about race and sexuality.  One of the pieces I wrote helped spawn an organization into which I was excited to pour my limited time and energy.  The little mental space I’d been able to clear out after a year of parenting was quickly filled — and then some — by work.

The remarkable thing about this transition is how much better I felt after I resumed working.  To no one’s surprise but mine, I loved working again.  I was energized in a way I hadn’t been in more than a year, and not just because I was sleeping more; I was buzzed from checking things off my to-do list and making things happen.  I was less bored when my son and I went to the playground for the second time that day or read There Is a Bird on Your Head! nine times in succession, because I had other ideas percolating in the back of my mind and other things to look forward to.  Paradoxically, I was a better parent now that I had other things going on in my life; I was more satisfied overall, and when I was with my kid, I was more present and more intentional.

Not to say that life was perfect.  For all the energy and meaning it gave me, having more things to do meant more stress and less sleep.  There were moments, like when my son initiated a fifth lap around the block, when I wished I could be using that time to write instead.  He was constantly changing, and whenever one of these changes took place — in his nap schedule, in his activity level, in the sudden advent of tantrums — my work life had to be reorganized in turn.  And the boundaries between work and childrearing were hazy at best; I went from chasing him through the house in the morning to writing emails during his naps to chasing him around the block in the afternoon to grading papers when he went down for the night.  My weekdays were sometimes 18 hours long, and my weekends — time when I would ideally be resting more and spending more time with my family — were often no different.  When working only evenings and weekends started to feel unsustainable, I had to decide if and when to start child care; then I had to decide how much, weighing how much I could justify on my variable income against how desperate I was for relief.  Two mornings of daycare a week soon became three, which soon became four.  The balance between work and childrearing was, and still is, constantly being reassessed and renegotiated.


I’ve looked for other parents — mothers especially — who can relate to these struggles, whose experiences I can learn from.  But they’ve been hard to find.  Nearly all the mothers I know who also love work returned to their full-time jobs after a few months of maternity leave.  They have offices to go to, set work hours, regular interaction with adult coworkers.  Their situations aren’t perfect either — they have to deal with leaving their kids with caretakers before they feel ready to, in many cases; guilt for not spending more time with their children; sadness that they miss milestones; the sense that their kids are growing up too quickly.  They have their own set of parenting baggage, one that’s entirely different from mine.

Meanwhile, most of the mothers I meet during the week have chosen not to work.  They do not have the same professional angst that I have, the stress of pent-up ambition, a constant longing for more time and space to work.  They wrestle with isolation and boredom, and if they have any qualms about not working, it’s guilt for not getting more out of their education.  But, as my new mom-friend illustrated, that guilt is usually dwarfed by the satisfaction they get out of being with their children all day.

I can’t relate to that either.  Make no mistake:  I love my son more than life itself, and he’s filled my life with more love and unbridled joy than I ever thought possible.  But being with him 24/7 is not my dream.  I am not creative when it comes to finding things for us to do.  I do not enjoy scouring mom groups for fun outings or Pinterest for new crafts and projects; I do not get excited about finding new storytimes or playgrounds to visit.  His toddler tantrums are more exhausting than anything I’ve ever experienced, including anything that happened in his first year.  I love that he wants to hold my hand and spend time with me, and I love that I get to spend hours of every day within tickling distance of him.  But I also love the work I do and the meaning and purpose it gives me.

So I find myself in an unusual situation:  I’m a parent who loves to work but spends much of her time childrearing, without a traditional job, an office, or consistent work hours.  I’m a mother who does not feel like time is going too fast or that her child is growing up too quickly because I get more than enough time with him.  I feel like mothers like me are out there, especially in the economy we live in, where freelancing and gigging are (for better and for worse) on the rise.  But so far, these parents have been hard to find.

I understand that I’m lucky to have this set of problems.  Having flexible work hours is a gift.  Having the option of not working full-time is a gift.  Feeling like you have too much time with your child is a gift, because it means that you’ve gotten enough, and plenty of parents would kill for that.  I am lucky.

But I also wish I had a few parents in my life who are in the same boat, who fit in neither with traditional working parents nor the stay-at-home crowd.  Who’ve had to constantly negotiate and re-negotiate the lines between work and childrearing.  Who know what it’s like to have the unusual wish that they had a little less time with their kid and a little more time to work.


A few weeks later, my new mom-friend and I were texting each other, trying to schedule our second playdate.

“Are you free Thursday or Friday?” I asked.

“Possibly Thursday. I have a job interview!” she replied.

I laughed.  My first reaction was cynical:  What happened to the emphatic claim that she loved being with her son all the time?  Did she get an opportunity that she had never considered before, one so perfect that she was willing to disrupt all the fun they were having?  Had she been she trying to convince me?  Had she been trying to convince herself?

Then came a more gracious thought:  Maybe she and I have something in common after all.

Still a Progressive Asian American Christian, Now a Lot Less Lonely

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics.

I sat in a plastic chair in the fluorescent-lit conference room, leaning on the small tablet desk attached to my seat.  The chairs were arranged in a circle around the edge of the room, filling one by one as people trickled in.  Eighteen.  Nineteen.  Twenty.  I could hardly believe it.

It was the first San Francisco Bay Area meetup of Progressive Asian American Christians, an online community I had inadvertently helped to start.  Less than two months prior, I had written a piece about how lonely it is to be a progressive Asian American Christian.  At the end of it, I linked a then-empty Facebook group that a new friend of mine, Lydia Suh, had created.  It would be a place, I imagined, where people who resonated with the piece could go to see that other people like them existed — where they would see a bunch of profile pictures and feel validated and maybe post the occasional article.

Neither Lydia nor I expected what followed:  Three hundred people joined the group the day after the piece went up; less than six weeks later, we had two thousand.  But it wasn’t just the numbers that surprised us — it was the energy and enthusiasm that these folks brought with them.  They immediately started sharing their stories, discussing controversial topics, asking when we could start meeting in person.  The first meetup took place a month after the group started (in Minneapolis, impressively enough); within the next three months, eight more cities would start their own.

On this sunny Saturday afternoon in February, on the fourth floor of an office building in the city, the first Bay Area meetup about to begin.  As I watched people rolling in — peering around, introducing themselves, finding seats — I noticed an unfamiliar feeling in my chest.


Over the last six months, friends have regularly asked me what it’s been like to co-facilitate this online community, which now has over 3600 members.  I tell them the truth: It’s been amazing, one of the most profound and meaningful things I’ve ever been a part of.  It has also been wildly stressful.

The amazing part is easier to grasp.  Some people in the group have said that they finally have a space where they feel at home — where they aren’t on the margins, as they are in their conservative Asian American churches or in their predominantly white progressive churches.  A few folks who stopped going to church because they were tired of not fitting in anywhere have told us that this is the first spiritual community they’ve had in years.  One person shared that after years of Christians telling him that his views on women and gay people weren’t Christian, he had resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t.  He Googled “asian liberal christianity” in a last-ditch effort to see if there was any place for him.  My piece came up, which led him to the group and showed him that he isn’t alone in his convictions.  Another person started a subgroup solely for Asian American LGBTQIA+ and questioning Christians, which, I’m told, has been life-giving and life-changing for its members.  Responses like these have been overwhelming and humbling.

And there are countless smaller moments that are also deeply meaningful.  People post photos of meetups in Boston and DC and Philly where they shared their stories and discussed what it looks like to live as a progressive Asian American Christian.  People share vulnerable questions and experiences and the community rises to meet them, offering empathy and validation and solidarity.  People have thoughtful, nuanced discussions about everything from Israel and Palestine to Hollywood whitewashing to why they continue to identify Christian in a time when so many Christians espouse ideas that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.  People say how much they’re learning from the group, how they wouldn’t be able to have these conversations elsewhere, how the group has empowered them to be more vocal in their real-life communities.  It’s an honor to witness these exchanges, to know that a space I helped create is making a palpable difference in the lives of the people who are in it.

But running the group is not all sunshine and rainbows.  Neither Lydia nor I anticipated the amount of time that it would take in our already-full lives.  Moderating alone is a significant time commitment, let alone planning in-person meetups and a national conference, applying for grants, building a website, incorporating a non-profit.  We receive a good amount of feedback from people we’ve never met, some of which is thoughtful and tactful, some of which is less so.  And it’s incredibly difficult to maintain boundaries with a group that runs 24/7 and is almost immediately accessible, no matter where I am in the world.  Most of the time, it chugs along just fine on its own — but every now and then, something or someone in the group will demand immediate attention, and it’s almost always when I’m on a walk with my toddler or sitting down to dinner with my husband.

And then there’s everything that comes with navigating a space on the internet where most of the people don’t know each other in person.  Tone can be hard to read online and people come to the group with vastly different experiences, personalities, and contexts, so innocuous conversations can turn combative in a matter of moments.  I sometimes see comments that are less than charitable and make me cringe.  And on the rare occasions when something in the group blows up — say, if someone posts something offensive — intervention is rarely straightforward.  Even when the moderating squad has a clear sense of how to respond, which we don’t always, there’s usually a case to be made for why we should do things another way.  So we drop whatever we’re doing to furiously text each other about what to do and we do it, knowing that our decision will be disputed and some people will likely end up feeling aggrieved.  This comes with the territory, but that fact makes these situations no less stressful in the moment.

But the trickiest part of facilitating the group is trying to create a space where people at all different stages of the journey feel welcome.  “Progressive” is a relative term, after all, and what’s progressive in one context may be charmingly (or less charmingly) quaint in another.  For some, even asking whether women can be pastors or whether same-sex relationships might be okay is enough to be deemed a heretic in their community, especially if they’ve only ever gone to Asian churches.  For others, these questions are a distant memory, if they were ever on the table at all.  Some folks in the group wonder why reproductive rights are still up for discussion in a group with a progressive label; others, who perhaps have never encountered pro-choice Christians before or heard a Christian argument for reproductive rights, worry they’ll be shot down for asking questions.  At various points, people at both ends of the spectrum have been frustrated, and Lydia and I totally get why.  And we recognize that it’s a tall order to be both a space where progressive Asian American Christians can talk freely, where we don’t have to explain or defend ourselves, and a space where people who are still working out these issues feel safe to ask questions.  We want those folks to be privy to our conversations, to hear perspectives that are rarely seen or heard in Asian American Christian communities, because that’s how progress is made.  Most of the time, I think we manage to do both.  But that isn’t always the case, and those moments are the most stressful of all.

At those times, Lydia and I do whatever we need to do to take care of ourselves.  And then I return to the group and see lovely things happening — people connecting, sharing their stories and talking about important issues, learning from each other.  I read sweet messages from people sharing what the group means to them, offering words of encouragement, volunteering to help however they can.  I chat with the new friends I’ve made in LA, in Boston, in London who understand not only the things I care about but also the experiences that brought me to this point.  I see people having the transformative experience of finding a place where they belong, and it is sublime.  And then I remember that all the time and energy and stress is worth it.


Thirty-five people showed up that Saturday in February, driving in from as far as San Jose and Vallejo, an hour in either direction.  The only agenda item was to share your story:  Why are you here?  Why do you identify as a progressive Asian American Christian?

We went around the room, pausing occasionally to make room for a latecomer, and the stories were captivating:  Stories of growing up in conservative immigrant churches in California and Texas and Illinois, experiences that awakened them to some kind of injustice, finding themselves at odds with their communities.  Stories of not fitting in in Asian American churches or in progressive churches.  Stories of working as lawyers for refugees and homeless people, as teachers and pastors and social workers, as graphic designers and educators about food justice.  Stories of coming out to unsupportive, condemning communities; of starting organizations so that no one would have to go through the same experience.  Stories of being fired from Christian organizations for being LGBT-affirming.  And above and beyond, stories about wanting to find a decolonized, authentic Asian American Christianity that isn’t just a haphazardly-applied version of white evangelicalism.

As the stories flowed, the unfamiliar feeling in my chest started to expand, spreading through my torso and down my extremities.  And as it warmed my arms and my feet and my toes, I suddenly recognized what it was:  I felt like I was home.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find the Progressive Asian American Christians Facebook group here.  We’re also hosting a national conference in San Francisco from June 16-18, where we’ll be talking about everything from social justice and activism to mental health to feminism; you can find details and register here.

I Get the Hype About Grandparents Now

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics.

“Bear, we have to go inside.”

My son pulls at my hand.  His tug is insistent, surprisingly strong for someone who isn’t yet two; when I refuse to comply, he pulls harder, his legs in a textbook tug-of-war stance.  I counter his weight with one hand as multiple Target bags hang from the other.  I do not have the wherewithal to make the walk around the block that we often do after coming home.

Nor do I have the time.  It’s almost 4.30, and we have a date.  After struggling for a few moments, I pull out my ace:

“Yei-Yei and Nai-Nai want to talk to you.”

Suddenly his arm goes slack.  He drops my hand and runs to the front door, patting it insistently as I fumble for my keys.  We enter the house and I fetch my laptop.  As I sign onto Skype, he claps his hands and looks eagerly at the screen.

Seconds later, my parents appear.  “Hellooooo?  Hiiiiiii!” my mom exclaims, waving with both hands.  “Hello, Bear!” says my father.  “Goochee goochee!  Moochee moochee!”  He turns his index fingers into horns and pretends to charge at the screen.  My son squeals with delight.

And so our call begins, just as it does every Tuesday and Friday at this time.  My parents and my son entertain each other as he shows them his new tricks and they make silly faces at him.  I sit on the couch and watch them, quietly marveling at the relationship they’ve formed in just 21 months with 2,000 miles between them.


Much of my amazement stems from the contrast between their relationship and the one I had with my grandparents.

Mine lived in Taiwan, halfway around the world, in a time when that distance was far more difficult to traverse.  It was practically impossible for my grandparents to be part of my everyday life; there was no FaceTime, no Skype, no text messages, just long-distance phone calls that, at $2 a minute, were too expensive to make frequently.  (One 30-minute call a week would set you back over $3,000 a year.)  My mother compensated for this however she could.  When I was a baby, she would audio-record me cooing and laughing and mail the tapes to her parents; two weeks later, after the tapes finally arrived, they would tell her how much they loved them and ask for more.  Later, she would make my brother and me write them birthday and New Year cards in Chinese, even though she would have to compose them herself and show us how to write each character, even though it would have been much easier to write them herself.  She did everything she could under the circumstances to bring our lives together.  But for the vast majority of time, their lives did not intersect with mine at all; my grandparents felt almost theoretical to me.

When our lives did intersect, communication was always a problem.  Mandarin was my paternal grandmother’s fourth language and my distant second; things weren’t much better with my mom’s parents, who spoke it exclusively.  Trying to tell them about my life only got more frustrating as I got older and it got more complicated, so I compensated by talking with them less.  Our phone calls were perfectly summarized by Aziz Ansari’s character in Master of None — “Hi!  Good!  Bye!”

When we did get to spend time in person, it always involved a drastic upheaval in our lives. Because it was so time-consuming and expensive to fly from Taiwan to Detroit, where my family lived, my grandparents would visit for a month at a time — first my maternal grandparents, then my father’s mother.  During these months, everything in our home would change:  The language we spoke, as my parents shifted to speaking only Chinese and required my brother and I to do the same.  The food we ate, as one grandmother took over cooking responsibilities and the other brought her own requests.  Our routines, as we spent our weekends at the Gucci counter at Saks Fifth Avenue and our Thursday nights at Old Country Buffet.  (Both of these trips were for the same grandmother.  She contained multitudes.)  Our chain of command, as one grandmother felt the liberty to tell me what to do and the other did the same to my mother.  None of my grandparents spoke English and none of them could drive, so when they were with us, they were additional charges for my parents to care for.  During these months, the focus would be on them, the respected elders and the guests in our home, instead of on me, where I preferred it.  Being the child that I was, I did not appreciate this shift, nor the sense of being displaced in my own home.

On top of all that, we were such wildly different people.  Generation gaps can already be hard to cross for grandparents and grandchildren who live in the same country, even the same city; when you add radically different cultures and histories into the mix, they can feel insurmountable.  One of my grandmothers came of age during the Chinese Civil War, when her family decided it was safer for her to get married and flee the country than to stay and attend college.  She got the last seat on the last flight out of Manchuria before the Communists took power.  She raised four children practically alone as her husband, an army general, spent months at his post.  Their entire neighborhood had only a single television.  Meanwhile, my other grandmother was the daughter of a businessman’s second wife at a time when the Japanese occupied Taiwan and polygamy was still common practice.  She spent her childhood watching her mother jockey for attention and resources — “for love,” my father says — with two other wives who had children to fend for.  This was her world until she was 18, when she entered an arranged marriage.  She would bear four children and bury her husband by the time she was 34, the age I am currently.

Me?  I grew up in the suburbs of the most powerful country in the world, in a house with as many televisions as people.  My mother outworked and outearned my father, almost all of my classmates were white, and my biggest frustrations were casual racism and the fact that my parents ordered so many toppings on our weekly trips to Pizza Hut.  My grandparents and I had virtually no experiences in common.  Even if communication weren’t so hard for us, I am not entirely sure what we would have discussed.

So when my friends would talk rapturously about their grandparents — these mythical creatures who would bake cookies with them, fill their Christmas stockings, take them on trips to Florida — I simply could not relate.  I cared about mine, of course, but if I were honest, they felt either nonexistent or intrusive, depending on the time of year.  I spent much of my time with them waiting for them to leave so my life could return to normal.  In hindsight, I recognize this as selfish; perhaps things would have been different if I had been 25 instead of 7, if I had more compassion and understanding of cultural differences and appreciation for our strange circumstances.  But I was a child, and I was not yet capable of such things.


Needless to say, my parents and my son do not have nearly the same hurdles that my grandparents and I had.  They have so much less distance between them — linguistically, geographically, culturally.  My parents speak fluent English.  While they live in another state, we’re able to fly to each other multiple times a year.  At this point, my parents have lived in the US twice as long as they lived in Taiwan; they have iPhones and Instagram, and they love In-n-Out burgers and getting samples at Costco.  They will understand my son’s life in a way that my grandparents could not understand mine.  Their presence in his life will never feel unusual.  And thanks to the glories of the internet, they get to see our normal, everyday life — reading books, pushing cars, crawling on furniture — for a few hours every week.  These are luxuries that my grandparents could not even fathom.

And I finally understand why my friends talked about their grandparents with such awe and wonder.  My parents (and my in-laws, I might add) are incredible grandparents.  They think everything my son does is amazing.  They buy him everything my husband and I won’t buy him and feed him everything we won’t feed him.  My dad once saw a commercial in the early ‘90s, not long after his own son was born, in which a grandfather took his grandson to McDonald’s for a milkshake.  He held onto that image for 25 years, and now he takes my son to get milkshakes almost every day that they’re together.  Every day!  And my nutrition-professor mother doesn’t even mind — she encourages it, in fact — because she sees how happy it makes both of them.  For them, grandparenting is the victory lap of parenting — they get to enjoy all the best parts and then return their grandson to us for discipline and diaper changes and midnight feedings.  They get to be the good ones, the fun ones, all the time.  This is awesome for grandparent and grandchild alike.

It never bothered me before that my grandparents and I barely had a relationship; I did not know what I was missing.  But now, when I see my son build a tower of blocks and look to my laptop screen for applause — applause that my parents are all too happy to provide — I see what could have been.  I wish now that my grandparents had been a part of my daily life.  I wish that I had the experience of enjoying my time with them, of being excited to see them and sad for them to leave.  I wish I had a set of cheerleaders who thought everything I did was spectacular and reminded me of that all the time.  And I wish I could have really known them.  My grandparents were survivors — of war, of immigration, of poverty, of patriarchy.  They were strong and strong-willed, traits that I can trace directly from their DNA to mine.  I wish I could have appreciated that while they were alive instead of only in retrospect.

I can see my mother going through a similar process.  She and my father are deeply and appropriately proud of the life they’ve built for themselves in the US, but her one big regret is that this life made it next to impossible for her children and her parents — four of the people she loved most in the world — to know each other.  I see her recognize this loss more profoundly the longer she knows my son, as she experiences a relationship that her parents did not get with her children.  Every moment that she has with him, whether trivial or profound or both, is a reminder of what her parents did not have.  They were victims of bad timing: They had grandchildren in the 50-year window after moving across the globe became common but before technology made long-distance communication easy and cheap.


One thing from our relationship simultaneously comforts and saddens me:  I know, and I knew then, that my grandparents loved me deeply.  If I ever said that something my grandmother cooked was good, she would make it every day until I could barely stomach it.  The first time I visited Taiwan, I had taro ice cream for the first time and liked it; every morning after that, she walked to the corner store in her neighborhood to see if any had been delivered and bought out the entire stock if it had.  On the same trip, my grandfather set up a place for me to write and games for us to play — ones that did not require us to talk, ones that he always let me win.  Years after he died, I came into possession of piles of stamps he had collected for me while he was alive in case I ever developed an interest.  In hindsight, these glimpses into their fondness for me are heartbreaking; we had so many barriers between us, and yet this tenderness still squeezed through.  I can only imagine what else my grandparents would have done, what else we could have experienced, if we had even one less obstacle to contend with.

In the absence of almost all of these obstacles, I can only imagine the kind of relationship my parents and my son could have.  I watch him laugh at the laptop screen as my mother balances a small bear on my father’s head.  I can’t help but think about how incredibly lucky they are — and how lucky I am to be able to witness this.

The Loneliness of the Progressive Asian American Christian

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics. It was later picked up by the Huffington Post.

For a long and formative time in my life, the Asian American church was my home. I came to faith at 15 in the high school ministry of a Chinese church. This was the place where I started to grasp the idea of a gracious God who loved me unconditionally; it was also where I came to terms with my Asian American identity, something I had been bitterly fighting for a decade. It was the first Asian American community I’d ever been a part of, and for the first time in my life, I felt normal. I now had friends who innately got how I interacted with my family, how I thought about school and college and the future — all the experiences that made me so different from my peers at school. I felt seen and accepted and understood, both by God and the people around me.

In college, I was part of a Chinese American campus fellowship — but as the years went on, I started to notice a disconnect between my friends there and me. I was beginning to care a lot about race, politics, current events, feminism. No one at my fellowship discouraged me from pursuing these things, but for the most part, they weren’t interested in discussing them either. Whatever the reason, when I wanted to talk about those issues, I mostly had to look elsewhere.

And then I went to grad school — a clinical psychology graduate program that was housed in a seminary — and my whole world got blown open.

I took theology classes and learned that the context in which each part of the Bible was written is crucial to understanding the text and applying it appropriately to our context. I hung out with students from a whole spectrum of Christian traditions — most of whom were not Asian — and saw the myriad ways in which they practiced their faith, many of which did not look like mine. I heard theological ideas that were way edgier than my own, espoused by professors who took their faith seriously. I learned more about power and privilege and the systemic nature of racism in this country. I sat with dozens of clients and heard their stories of pain and trauma and resilience and hope, and I realized that all of us have far more in common than not and everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. I finished grad school with a completely different understanding of my faith than when I started. It was no longer just about Jesus as my personal Savior and helping people like me; it was about Jesus as a revolutionary who came to set the oppressed free (Luke 4.18), and it was about using my voice and my privilege on behalf of those who don’t have those things. Following Jesus was no longer primarily about my individual relationship with him; it now meant continuing his work of embracing and advocating for the marginalized and fighting injustice.

I’m grateful for how my faith transformed during that time. But it came at a cost: Early on in my graduate career, I started to find it difficult to be in Asian American churches. They still felt familiar and comforting in some ways, but the messages that I heard, both from the pulpit and the congregation, rarely acknowledged the things that were becoming central to my faith. There was, at least in the communities I visited at that point in time, little mention of injustice or how to Christians should respond to it. Aside from musicians in the worship band and the occasional Scripture reader, I almost never saw women up front. If LGBT issues were ever raised, it was to reiterate the notion that homosexuality was unacceptable. Almost invariably, I left Asian American churches — once the places where I felt most at home — feeling like I didn’t belong.

As I looked for churches that were a better theological fit, I ended up in ones that were predominantly white. For the most part, I haven’t minded being in the racial minority; it’s an experience I’m used to, having grown up in the Midwest, and I value diversity and having friends of all kinds. But there are times when it wears on me — when I wish that connecting with my Christian community was as effortless as it once was, that I didn’t have to explain so much about myself or my experiences. I wish, sometimes, that I were a little less alone.

Being a progressive Asian American Christian can be lonely — because for us, finding a Christian community often means having to choose between shared theology and shared experience. We can join churches that match our ideology, which are usually predominantly white or black. Or we can join churches that mirror our cultural experiences, which are often silent — if not actively oppressive — when it comes to women, other people of color, and LGBT folks. Finding a community often means making a choice between integral parts of ourselves.


It’s no secret that Asian American Christianity tends to be conservative. Asian immigrant churches are especially so, and since 92% of Asians in America are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, most Asian American Christians have spent serious time in these communities. The conservativeness of these churches stems from several factors: For one, they generally maintain the social mores of their home culture, which are usually more conservative than broader American culture on every front, from clothing and appearance to interactions with elders to dating and sexuality. Then you add the immigrant mentality of playing everything very safe and going out of your way to avoid trouble; you also mix in the conservative views of white American evangelicalism, upon which Asian churches draw heavily for resources (books, curriculum, etc.) and general direction for how Christians should respond to political issues and current events. You end up with communities that can be even more conservative than the typical white evangelical church: they’re vehemently pro-life and anti-gay marriage, and they may also perceive questions as challenges to authority and forbid high school dating.

So if you’re in an Asian church and you start to think that, say, women should have the same rights and privileges as men when it comes to doing ministry and church decision-making, you may find yourself at odds with the people around you. While many Asian countries have made strides in this area, patriarchal values still permeate Asian cultures to varying degrees, and these values can shape how Asian clergy interpret the Bible. Though I don’t have hard data, I would bet that the majority of Asian immigrant churches don’t allow women to hold the same leadership roles than men do. I would also wager that many churches targeting American-born Asians, while somewhat more progressive, don’t either. (And many of the ones that do in theory, I suspect, have no female pastors in practice.) So if you’re at an Asian church and you come to the not-so-radical conclusion that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men in a church context — since we now have the same access to literacy and education that men do, which was not the case when any part of the Bible was written — your perspective may not be warmly received.

And if you’re in an Asian church and you start to think that, say, black people experience more police brutality than other groups do and maybe Christians should talk about that, you may again find yourself at odds with the people around you. Asian Americans are often silent on issues of racism for a number of reasons: the cultural value of harmony, an immigrant mentality of looking out only for yourself, anti-black racism in both Asia and America, a belief in the model minority myth. This tendency can be especially pervasive in Asian churches, where fear of disrupting the community can make individuals especially reluctant to bring up issues that could be controversial. And since Asian cultures tend to be more hierarchical than Western ones, church leaders may cherry-pick verses about obeying authority to invalidate the idea that the police or the government might ever be wrong. So if you want to talk about systemic injustice at an Asian church, you might not find many willing conversation partners, and you might be silenced altogether.

And if you’re in an Asian church and you start to think that, say, LGBT folks should be allowed to have the same relationships and rights to marriage that straight people have, and should be allowed to participate fully in all aspects of the church even if they’re out, you may really find yourself at odds with the people around you. If Asian churches aren’t totally sold on women, it’s not surprising that they’re even farther behind when it comes to LGBT issues, which are taboo both spiritually and culturally. “There isn’t a Korean church in America with a non-traditional view of marriage,” an affirming Korean American pastor once told me. I can’t think of any Chinese or Taiwanese churches that do — or any East, Southeast, or South Asian churches, for that matter — though I would love for both of us to be wrong. (If you have a counterexample, please let me know — I’d love to hear about it.) The only predominantly Asian American church I know of that’s engaging these issues at all is Evergreen Baptist Church LA, but even they don’t have an officially affirming stance. So if you’re at an Asian church and you start to think that LGBT people should have the same rights as cisgender heterosexuals, you may find yourself alone on the issue, if not rebuked for thinking so. (And that’s if you’re merely an ally; if you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, the ramifications of being in these communities are infinitely greater, and all the more if you come out.)


To be clear, I don’t think Asian churches are bad. They understand and are uniquely equipped to meet the needs of their communities — this is especially true for immigrant churches — and they provide a respite for people who have to spend the rest of the week constantly crossing cultural barriers. But for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned, it’s not hard to see why progressive Asian American Christians often find themselves unable to participate in these communities.

The next step for many of us, then, is to find other churches that care about these issues. But these communities are usually predominantly white (or predominantly black, though these churches are rarely progressive on LGBT issues), and that can carry its own baggage. It can be hard to be the only Asian American person around, or one of only a few, both because of how you stand out and because you have to do so much more work to be heard and understood. You no longer have cultural experiences in common; the shorthand that you can speak in Asian American churches doesn’t translate. You may find yourself having to explain a lot — about your family, about your culture, about what your faith looks like — to people who have no firsthand experience of these things. The fear of being misunderstood, or of misrepresenting an entire culture, or of having to defend how you do things is real and exhausting. And it can be hard to be in a community where you don’t see your own experiences reflected in any part of the worship or the liturgy or the leadership. It’s easy in spaces like these to feel like you don’t belong.

And some of these progressive communities, for all of their rhetoric about supporting black lives and standing against injustice, don’t really know how to talk about race or how race and racism affect their members. Some of these communities think they get it because they say the right things but don’t actually see how pervasive whiteness is, even within their own walls. So the progressive Asian American Christian may find themselves feeling alone and even alienated, again, this time because of their cultural identity.


So to summarize: I feel out of place in Asian American Christian spaces, though I can’t overstate the impact they’ve had on my life. And while I’m grateful for the progressive Christian spaces that I’ve had — the fact that I have access to any is as gift, as I know they’re hard to find in some parts of the country — I often feel out of place there, too. In my most cynical moments, I’ve wondered why I bother trying to participate in any of these communities and why I continue to pursue this faith at all. But at the end of the day, I can’t get away from the fact that at the core of my convictions about justice is my belief that we’re all created the image of God, who values each of us wholly and equally, and my belief in Jesus as a revolutionary who came to dignify every person and to level the hierarchies that our societies create. Try as I may, I can’t escape those things. My progressive values and my faith are inextricably intertwined.

So I stick around. And while I love diversity and inclusion and having friends of all stripes, every now and again, it would be nice to have a place where I didn’t have to choose between people who get my theology and people who get my experiences. And I know that people who get both are out there. I know a lot of them, actually; I made a list, and what started as a trickle became a flood. But we’re scattered all over the place, both in terms of geography and the churches we attend. My one-on-one interactions with these folks are normalizing and life-giving; these meals and coffee dates are now my spiritual home. But we don’t really have places to connect more broadly.

And I know more of you are out there. Some of you are lucky enough to attend churches like City Church San Francisco and Vox Veniae — exceedingly rare places that are progressive and have sizeable Asian American contingents. You’re fortunate to have a community where you don’t have to choose between the two. I get why you’re there.

Some of you are sitting in the pews at Redeemer and Pacific Crossroads, at New Song and GrX, in the English ministries of the immigrant churches where you grew up or where you work with students. Maybe you quietly ignore the church’s stances about women in ministry and LGBT issues or their silence about racial injustice because it’s nice to have friends whose stories are similar to yours. I get that. Or maybe, in spite of your ideological differences, this church is still the best option among the ones you have available to you. I get that. Or maybe you’re trying to do the incredibly difficult, admirable work of creating change from within. I get that too.

Some of you, not feeling like you belong at progressive churches or in Asian American ones because you can’t be fully yourself in either, don’t go to church anywhere. I get that.

And some of you affirmed women or other people of color or gay folks but saw no place for that in your church — or, worse, were reprimanded for doing so — so you left the faith altogether. I get that. If the only options I knew of were to dignify all people or be a Christian, and these options appeared to be mutually exclusive, I probably would have chosen the former too.

I know you’re out there, and I wish we all could meet somehow. I’m not arguing that we necessarily need progressive Asian American churches, though I’d be stoked to know that one exists. But it would be lovely to have spaces where we didn’t have to choose between shared theology and shared experience; where we could connect with people with similar stories; where we didn’t feel the need to turn down the volume on either our ideology or our cultural experiences. Where we could be fully known and fully understood every once in a while. Where we could feel a little less lonely.

If you’re interested in such a space, here’s a start: Join the Progressive Asian American Christians group on Facebook, curated by Lydia Suh, a pastor at City Church San Francisco. We’re still figuring out what the group is, but at the very least, it’s a place to know that we aren’t alone.

Photo credit: Diana Chen

Goodbye, InterVarsity

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics.

I arrived at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2000 as a naïve, eager 17-year-old. I spent my first week on campus doing the standard litany of Welcome Week activities: getting as much free food as possible from all the student organizations hosting events, traveling everywhere in a pack of te, going to see if fraternity parties lived up to the hype. College was the best.

And then classes started, and I quickly learned that college was not the best. College was a lot of work. More importantly, college could be incredibly lonely, especially for a new freshman. I had plenty of friends on campus from high school and my home church, but they were all busy doing their own thing, taking their own classes, starting their own lives. I was meeting tons of new people, but you could only go so deep in a few weeks. I’ve never enjoyed drinking, which ruled out a significant amount of weekend activity. I remember climbing into my lofted bed on a Saturday night in September and listening to the sounds of people walking and laughing outside my window, heading south on State Street toward Sigma Chi; I pulled the covers to my chin, folded my hands on my chest, and blinked into the dark. I had never felt more alone.

The first six weeks of college were hard. But then a remarkable thing happened: I went to a dinner hosted by Chinese Christian Fellowship (now Asian InterVarsity), one of the three InterVarsity chapters on campus. I’d been attending their weekly events, trying to figure out how I fit into this mass of people with whom I had at least two things in common, but nothing had really clicked. On this particular evening, though, a junior named Kelly invited me to sit with her and a handful of other freshmen I had never seen before. We clicked. These girls became my small group and my closest friends on campus. They were the ones who turned college around for me.

CCF became my spiritual home on campus. Though I would eventually roll in a lot of different circles, CCF was the hub, the center to which I always returned. My CCF friends were the ones who consoled me after breakups and with whom I had deep conversations about meaning and purpose; the ones with whom I went karaoking, drove to Canada to get dim sum, went up north at the end of every school year; the ones with whom I sat in dazed silence in Couzens Hall on the afternoon of 9/11. And not only did I love my CCF friends, I loved what InterVarsity stood for. A week-long training on racial reconciliation opened my eyes to the reality of systemic inequality and completely transformed my understanding of race and justice. There were campus fellowships you could join if you just wanted to have a lot of fun, and others if you wanted intense emotional experiences, but IV prided itself on being the one that encouraged you to intellectually engage with the campus and the world around you. IV wanted you to think, and for someone who was just starting to see how interesting and complicated and beautiful and terrible the world is, it was a great place to be.

InterVarsity’s impact on me didn’t end after college: My old staff worker helped me get me my first job after grad school. When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I befriended a number of IV staff, some of whom contacted me out of the blue, because of what we had in common: Our commitment to racial and social justice was deeply rooted in our Christian convictions. I had never seen Christians so deeply committed to advocacy and activism, nor have I met any since. And though I had diverged theologically from IV on a number of issues since college, I was proud that it was one of very few evangelical organizations to affirm Black Lives Matter and that many of the people at the forefront of the BLM movement in the Bay Area were IV staff. These folks were the real deal.

And then it all came to a screeching halt.


Last week, Time reported that InterVarsity is asking all of its employees that do not accept a traditional view of human sexuality, as outlined in a position paper, to resign. Staff members who express disagreement and do not voluntarily resign will be terminated.

I first caught wind of this news last year from a friend on staff, Susan*, who told me how IV was circling the wagons on the issue of sexuality and her days with the organization were probably numbered as a result. Around the same time, the child of another IV friend, Ginny, began the process of coming out as transgender. On top of all of the personal ramifications of this transition, Ginny had to worry about whether her willingness to accept it would cost her her job, especially in light of these circling wagons. She ended up keeping her job, at least for the time being; her higher-ups told her that they would treat her child’s transition as though it were a behavioral issue and not penalize her for it. The reprieve was short-lived, though. In July of this year, IV’s interim president and president-elect emailed supervisors to notify them about the implementation of the new policy:



Ginny was fired in September, one of three staff workers from UC Berkeley that have resigned or been terminated since the start of the school year as the result of IV’s ultimatum. Susan, who is still with the organization, tells me that more resignation letters from Bay Area staff are coming, and her own is likely among them.


The shocking part of this story is not InterVarsity’s view of sexuality. Progressive as it may be in some respects, at the end of the day, IV is still an evangelical organization. The shocking part is their decision to expel all employees who disagree. Jonathan Merritt, in an excellent piece for The Atlantic, aptly summarized the situation: “It is not extreme to hold the conservative Christian position on marriage and sexuality. But it is extreme to think that those who don’t, but are otherwise committed to your mission, should be fired.”

IV’s move is especially surprising to me for several reasons. First of all, InterVarsity views itself as a missions organization with the aim of reaching students for Jesus. The decision to force out supporters of a marginalized group is completely counterproductive to that mission. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus choosing to hang with prostitutes, tax collectors — people ostracized and viewed as sinful by the religious establishment. If Jesus were around today, I am 99% sure that he would be kicking it with LGBT folks. But instead of choosing Jesus’s MO, InterVarsity has chosen to side with the Pharisee and condemn those who fully embrace the marginalized. Not a good look for an organization trying to encourage discipleship and Christlikeness.

Second, as I alluded to earlier, InterVarsity has always prided itself on being the thinking Christian’s fellowship. Multiple perspectives are welcomed and valued (at least aspirationally, if not always in practice); this is especially evident in the organization’s emphasis on racial reconciliation. So the fact that IV would choose to fire all of its employees who do not hold a particular belief — one that is well outside the bounds of its doctrinal statement, and one that is widely contested — is astounding to me. It’s a surprisingly totalitarian move from an organization that claims to celebrate a diversity of opinion.

And then there’s the selective application of the stances in their position paper. The document also says that divorce is sinful, but divorced people are not being asked to voluntarily resign. And if they’re asking anyone who supports LGBT relationships to leave, then anyone who’s attended the wedding of a previously divorced person should also be asked the same. But no, apparently that’s all fine; it’s only disagreement on this specific part of the paper that merits termination. (The paper itself is also confounding at several points. For example, in the discussion on sexual identity, it claims that “sex is not the ‘big deal’ that our society has made it to be” — yet sexuality is the only issue that has ever warranted a staff-wide purge in IV’s 75-year history.)

And then there are all the practical debacles. InterVarsity didn’t have to reaffirm its stance on this issue, and even if they did, they didn’t need to fire everyone who disagreed. They could have required affirmation of their position from new hires while keeping their existing employees who are doing good and fruitful work. But they chose to take these steps anyway, and they’ve invited a ton of terrible PR in the process. Divestment campaigns are underway. Conversations have started about beginning a new campus organization that welcomes students of all sexual orientations. And in this day and age, what 18-year-old wants to be a part of an organization that is so hostile not just to LGBT folks — i.e., their hallmates, their friends, their siblings — but also those who affirm them? I wouldn’t. So in one swift move, IV has successfully terminated good employees, alienated donors, opened the door for competition, and put off the very students that they exist to reach. From an organizational standpoint, this decision is baffling.


After posting the Time article on Facebook, several of my staff friends from other parts of the country were quick to reach out. One told me that she has people on her team who disagree with IV’s stance, but none of them are being terminated or resigning. The process seems to be playing out differently in the Bay Area than elsewhere, several said. But these reassurances are empty; it does not make me feel better to know that some stealthy LGBT-affirming staff are staying on elsewhere because they or their supervisors are keeping their mouths shut. It doesn’t change the fact that the organization has chosen to take these actions, and it does nothing to help LGBT students, because these staff workers need to keep their positions quiet in order to keep their jobs. I don’t understand how this don’t-ask-don’t-tell situation is supposed to be satisfying to anyone — least of all the higher-ups, who, in their email, sound pretty keen on smoking out dissenting voices.

I’d like to think that so many more staff people in the Bay Area are leaving because they have more integrity. That may or may not be true, but a more likely reason is that the issue is just more salient here than it is elsewhere. Bay Area staff workers work daily with queer students and queer leaders. It’s easy to keep your mouth shut on this issue when you lead a chapter in the Midwest or the South, where social stigma is more likely to keep students closeted. It’s much harder to do that when you work with out students every day. The dissonance between the organization’s stance and your reality is simply too great.

One thing that my staff friends from other regions did assure me, though: No one they know is happy with the policy, even those who hold traditional stances, and no one thinks the process has been executed well. All of them lamented the wreckage and pain that this disaster has caused and will continue to cause. It’s a small consolation. And the apparent disconnect between the people on the ground and the people at the top seems to point to yet another organizational failure.


I was surprised by how heavy I felt in the wake of the Time story, given that I already knew about the policy and had seen some of the fallout up close. Part of it was seeing the reaction, particularly from Christians who identify as LGBT and their allies; part of it was also InterVarsity’s response, which was convoluted at best. Shortly after the article’s release, they responded by saying that the piece was wrong; they have no official policy on how their employees feel about civil marriage. Their rebuttal was almost comical, given that this was a semantic error and no one was upset about the organization’s stance on civil marriage equality. The outrage was about the organization’s actual stance — that all same-sex relationships are immoral, and anyone who disagrees needs to leave — which the article accurately described and is far more concerning. IV went on to say that they are taking their stance in an effort to uphold the dignity of all people, which was also hilarious, because their position is a clear affront to the dignity of LGBT people, and this seems apparent to everyone but them.

Things didn’t get really galling, though, until the end of the response: “Within InterVarsity and elsewhere, there are LGBTQI people who agree with this theology, at great personal cost.” I’m still shocked by how tone-deaf this line is, because the great personal cost borne by these LGBTQI people is the result of the message that InterVarsity is trumpeting. These folks have given up the hope of ever having the kind of intimate companionship to which their heterosexual peers are entitled — because organizations like IV demand this as a condition of acceptance. And that’s just the beginning: Some are filled with anxiety that someone might find out about their sexuality, that they will be rejected by their loved ones, or that God will condemn them to hell. Some are depressed because they think they have to be alone forever. Some have been subjected to the abuse of so-called “reparative” therapy, which is opposed by every major medical and mental health association in the country. Some contemplate suicide because they believe that they’re defective — and far too many have followed through. So much of the suffering that LGBT people endure is caused by Christians — even well-meaning ones — who tell them that something is wrong with them, that they are less than, that they are not entitled to the full range of human experiences. So by invoking this suffering in their response, it felt like IV was attempting to garner sympathy for itself by pointing to the pain of the people whom they are oppressing. And that was appalling.

And then, perhaps limited by the bounds of Twitter or perhaps seeing that they had nowhere to go with this line of thinking, the response ended with “We are learning together.” This line feels especially rich in light of the aforementioned email sent to staff, in which IV leadership states, in no uncertain terms, that they will not budge on this issue. Also, it’s hard to believe that you’re interested in learning when you’ve forced all dissent either out of the organization or underground. As Merritt notes, “You cannot engage a conversation when you’re frightening or even firing your partners in that conversation.” So much for learning, then.

The following day, in a longer response, InterVarsity reiterated that LGBT people are welcome in the fellowship — but I have a hard time imagining why an LGBT person would want to be a part of it. Judging from its position paper, IV seems to recognize that sexual orientation isn’t a choice, which is what science and the experiences of the overwhelming majority of LGBT people tell us. So essentially, IV maintains that God would create you a certain way and then deny you the right to the most intimate and meaningful relationship a human being can have. That is completely at odds with my understanding of God as 1. entirely good and entirely loving and 2. an inherently relational God (three-in-one, heyo) who created people in God’s image as relational beings who are fully human only in the context of relationships. The God that IV implicitly describes is not a God that I would be interested in if I were an 18-year-old gay college student, nor one that interests me as a 33-year-old heterosexual adult.


Thus, my relationship with InterVarsity is coming to a sad end. I doubt the organization will feel my absence, but for me, this means saying goodbye to a place that’s influenced so many aspects of my life. I find it astounding and heartbreaking that IV is choosing not only to send such a hostile message to a group of people who are already at the receiving end of so much hostility, but also to cut off those who embrace them fully. And I’m just an ally; I can only imagine what this might feel like if I identified as LGBT.

Goodbye, InterVarsity. You were a wonderful home to a lonely freshman 16 years ago. I’m sorry that you’re choosing not to be for so many others.

Are you an InterVarsity alum who’s unhappy about the purge?  You can sign a petition here.

* Name has been changed to protect their identity.

Becoming a Mom Transformed My Relationship with Mine

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics.

Every now and then, when I’m on the phone with my mom, I’ll mention something that I’m not looking forward to doing. Going to the DMV, perhaps, or needing to initiate a conversation that has the potential to be unpleasant.

My mother will respond: “Well, you just have to do it.”

“MOM,” I’ll say, rolling my eyes heavenward, immediately reverting to the 16-year-old version of myself. Obviously I have every intention of finding a dentist, I’ll say in a huff; I’m simply commenting that I’m not looking forward to it. I do not need to be reminded or convinced that it needs to be done.

“Okay,” she’ll say, in a way that I can’t quite read. Has she heard me? Does she really think that I’m considering not taking my car to the dealership for a safety recall? I don’t want to tell her that a more helpful response would be “Oh, that stinks” or “I don’t like doing that either.” She’s my Asian mom, after all, and I’m not sure how she would receive that kind of direction from anyone, let alone her child.

In hindsight, I think I subconsciously expected these conversations to increase after I had a baby. The world of new parenthood, I was told, was full of doing things that are tedious and unpleasant but need to be done anyway. I imagined that when I talked with my mom, three time zones away, about how I was doing, I would be hearing a lot more “Well, you just have to do its” and doing a lot more eye-rolling.

That I have yet to hear this refrain once, nine months in, is testament to how much has changed between us.


My mother is not a person you would describe as touchy-feely. It makes sense, given her history: She’s from a culture that has little tolerance for indulging one’s emotions — or even articulating them, really. Her own mother fled mainland China when the Communists took over — she was pregnant with her first child — and raised four kids mostly on her own while her husband, an army general, was away at his post. My mother came to this country as a young graduate student and worked her way up to full professor and chair of her department while raising two children, co-authoring over 100 publications, and co-founding a company on the side. One does not accomplish all of this if they’re easily sidelined by their feelings in the face of struggle. And she was not: Growing up, the one time I saw her cry was the morning she learned that her father had died after heart surgery in Taipei. We were in a hotel room in New York City; she was seated at the desk with her head in her hands, and I was lying in bed, peering at her over the comforter, uncertain how to give her privacy when our whole family occupied a single room. A few hours later, all four of us were riding the elevator to the top of the World Trade Center, our sightseeing plans unchanged. My mom was noticeably quiet and I’m sure she took in nothing of what we saw that day, but the fact remains that the greatest loss of her life to date didn’t stop her from taking her family to do what we had traveled to New York to do. Clearly, this is not a woman driven by her feelings; her feelings are in a suitcase in the trunk somewhere, to be released only on her terms, should they ever see the light of day. The phrase I most often use to describe her is ruthlessly practical, which might be the polar opposite of touchy-feely, and I’m only half-joking when I say it.

Don’t get me wrong: My mom is not a robot. She’s warm, kind, and generous, someone who smiles and laughs readily and often, who will always put out too much food when you visit. But not surprisingly, my mother and I have never had a relationship marked by long heart-to-heart conversations over steaming mugs of tea. Our relationship has always been good — she’s always wanted to know about my goings-on, and I’ve almost always been happy to share them with her; we’ve had countless long conversations about everything from colleges and majors to politics and celebrity gossip. Though we haven’t lived in the same time zone for over a decade, we’re consistently in touch through phone calls and emails and texts. But historically, if a boy broke my heart or some serious friend drama went down, she wasn’t the first person I would call. Or the second, or the third. It’s not just because she told me when I was eight that I wasn’t allowed to date until I was in college, though that certainly didn’t help; we just didn’t operate at that level. For those needs, I went to my girlfriends, who more than sufficed.

When my feelings did come up in conversation, I sometimes got the sense that she didn’t know what to do with them. I remember walking through the Diag one evening as a senior in college, telling her how much I loathed working on the thesis I had elected to do and how I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest so much of my final year into it. “Just do it,” my mother replied, with more than a hint of exasperation in her voice. When she was a senior in college, she was preparing to move across the Pacific, to a country she had never seen, to get a PhD in a language she barely spoke. She did not have time for the angsty hand-wringing of her privileged second-generation daughter.

We had another iteration of that conversation years later, near the end of my graduate school career, when I told her that I didn’t like being a therapist and planned to leave the field after the graduation. “What are you going to do?” she asked, her voice marked by not sarcasm or shame but confusion. She and my father hadn’t had the option of disliking their fields of study; not only had they been assigned those fields based on their college entrance exam scores, but they were also immigrants in a country where they had no safety nets. They had to make their jobs work, emotions be damned.  Entertaining feelings about their professions was a privilege they did not have. I, on the other hand — I had the luxury of these feelings, thanks to their hard work, and I had them in spades. I could practically see a DOES NOT COMPUTE screen flashing in my mother’s brain as it tried to make sense of my words.


So when it came time for me to have a baby, these were the kinds of responses I was expecting. I knew my mom would be a fantastic grandmother — she loves babies, babies love her, and she had been dying to join all of her friends in the grandparent ranks — but I was less sure how she would be with me.

She and my father came to visit for a month after the baby was born; she was a ruthlessly practical godsend. She did not ask for permission to help or suggestions for how she could be useful — she just went to work, cooking multiple meals a day for my husband and me, finding a mop and cleaning our kitchen floor, sparing us the energy of having to ask for anything or provide instructions. (It was one of the few occasions in my life when my family’s relative lack of boundaries was a gift.) When those tasks were done, she held and cooed at her grandson, which made her the happiest I’d ever seen her. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for her presence and everything she did that the mere thought of her leaving would bring me to tears — a rarity, as I am my mother’s daughter. Our farewell at the airport was the soggy mess of Lifetime movies. This was unusual, to say the least, but I wasn’t sure if something had shifted in our relationship or if this was all simply the result of the hormones coursing through my veins.

On one of our first phone calls after she left, I told her that the baby had started spontaneously shrieking at night. “It might be gas, but I can’t be sure,” I said, listing off all the ways I could try to alleviate a problem whose cause was anyone’s guess. I knew that a “Well, that’s just the way it is” response was possible, but this issue was taking up a significant amount of my headspace, and she was perhaps the only person in the world who cared about my son’s bowels as much as my husband and I did. I braced myself for the kind of unintentionally unsupportive answer I had come to expect.

But instead, on the other end of the line, I heard a sigh. “It’s frustrating,” she said. “You don’t know why he’s doing this, and you can only use trial and error to see if anything helps.”

I literally stopped in my tracks. A validating and empathetic response? Who was this? What happened to my mother, queen of the don’t-think-don’t-feel-just-do school of thought?

And that response proved not to be a fluke; almost every time I’ve told her about something parenting-related that’s been challenging or frustrating, she hasn’t rushed to offer solutions or indirectly told me just to deal with it. She’s listened, she’s sympathized, she’s shared similar stories from her experience. After decades of talking about everything but our feelings (and fumbling with them when they occasionally surfaced), she’s handling mine with aplomb, in ways that my old clinical psychology professors would approve.

I’m not entirely sure what caused the change. Maybe it’s because after 32 years of wildly different experiences, we finally have one in common. As engaged as she’s been in my life up to this point, she hasn’t been able to fully relate to being the only Asian kid in class or high school dances or feeling ambivalent about research. The transcendence and exhaustion of motherhood, though — that she knows intimately.

Maybe it’s because she’s learned how to be a better listener. Her friends, all grandparents themselves, advised her to approach this new phase of life not as an expert but as a helpful support. Perhaps she took their wisdom to heart.

Maybe it’s because I’m giving her more of a chance to support me. Not unlike the woman who raised me, I tend to keep a lid on things that trip me up, but now that my life is a neverending stream of new experiences and second-guessing, I don’t have much else to talk about. Perhaps she’s seeing these opportunities and rising to the occasion.

Maybe it’s because we both love this little person so profoundly, in a way that few others do, and that shared love has allowed us to connect on the deeper level that eluded us before. I suppose it makes sense that our love for this child would bring us together in a way that, say, my dissertation or our shared fascination with the royal family could not.

Maybe it’s because having a grandchild has changed her. A few months after he was born, I got an email from her that ended with this: “I found my productivity is low lately. Then I just realized that I spent so much time looking at the baby’s pictures and videos. This little guy really captures our hearts.” Maybe this baby isn’t just the kryptonite to her workaholism, previously undaunted for decades; maybe he’s also allowed her to access her feelings in ways that she didn’t or couldn’t before.

Maybe it’s because having a baby changed me, so that I have a far deeper understanding and appreciation for the work of mothering a child, and I want to talk about it with the one person I think might understand it too.

Whatever the reason, this change in our relationship has been the biggest surprise of parenthood so far. I wasn’t thrown by the depth or intensity of my love for my son, nor the depth or intensity of my sleep deprivation; though I couldn’t know exactly what those things would feel like in advance, I had been given ample warning. But little did I know that the greatest surprise of motherhood would not lie in my newest relationship. It would be in my oldest.

In Response to Opponents of Gun Control

This piece originally appeared on The Salt Collective, a now-defunct online magazine about culture, faith, and politics.

Umpqua Community College.

WDBJ in Virginia.




And that’s just the last 3 months.

So for real now — can we talk about gun control?

Every time a mass shooting occurs, the same chain of events unfolds: One group of people brings up the need for gun control, citing the alarming (and increasing) frequency with which these events are taking place and the slew of data indicating that gun control is an effective way to reduce gun deaths. Gun rights advocates respond with their usual litany of reasons why gun control is futile or somehow un-American. No meaningful action is taken. And then another shooting happens, and the cycle begins again.

Two things about this pattern concern me: One, how desensitized it’s making us to mass shootings, and how much more devastating each one needs to be in order to even register on our radars; and two, how gun rights advocates are able to shut down conversation about gun control — and thus prevent any kind of change from happening — given that their arguments are full of questionable logic.

I’m not sure what I can do about the former. But regarding the latter, I’d like to take a moment to respond to the arguments I hear bandied about every time we see a tragedy like the one that happened last week:

“Today isn’t the time to talk about gun control. Today is about the victims.”

Yes — we need to take lots of time to mourn the victims and the unfathomable losses that their families and their communities have incurred. However, the worst way to honor these lives would be not to talk about gun control. Because if we don’t, then their deaths will have been in vain. The best thing we can do to honor them is to do everything we can to prevent the same senseless tragedies from happening again.

“Second Amendment Second Amendment Second Amendment.”

Let’s look at the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

And let’s look at the context in which the Second Amendment was written:

– The Second Amendment was based on the English Bill of Rights from 1689, when there was no police. Arms, then, were necessary for self-protection.

– When the American Bill of Rights was passed, Americans were concerned about maintaining militias should they need to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. Understandable, given the events of their recent past.

– At the time the Bill of Rights was written, guns shot bullets only slightly faster than you could throw them. We’re talking muskets and bayonets. Automatic assault weapons were completely beyond the scope of imagination.

So we can see how things are a little different now. Ergo, I have a very hard time when people insist that they have the right to bear arms for no reason other than that they’re American and the Constitution says they can.

Are you part of a militia? No? Huh.

You claim you need it for self-defense? Okay, but can you make a compelling argument as to why you would need an automatic weapon to do that?

I’m waiting.

And can you give me a good reason why someone who’s been convicted of a violent crime or who has a serious mental illness should be allowed to own a gun of any kind? “Because they’re American” looks pretty flimsy in light of the things we’ve seen in the last three months, let alone the last three years. Nothing in the Second Amendment suggests that the Founding Fathers wanted guns in the hands of people who weren’t fit to wield them.

Another thing that puzzles me about Second-Amendment-thumpers is the false equation of gun control with banning guns altogether. According to a Gallup poll from last year, only a quarter of Americans support an outright ban on handguns:


However, according to a Pew Research Center poll from 2013, the majority of Americans support background checks; preventing those with mental illness from buying guns; and banning semi-automatics, assault weapons, and high-capacity clips:


This is what people are after. Regulating guns is not the same as eliminating them. And frankly, if you’re a gun owner and you don’t have any criminal history or mental health issues, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, so why are you so adamantly opposed?

The “because it’s a slippery slope” argument isn’t very strong, because if that’s your reason why we shouldn’t regulate guns at all and the opposing side has a staggeringly high (and ever-increasing) body count, including dozens of children, to support their position… your stance is pretty hard to defend, isn’t it.

The “because the black market for guns will explode” argument is pretty weak too, because most people aren’t advocating for a total ban on guns, which significantly reduces the demand for a black market.

And the “because cars kill people, and we don’t ban cars” argument is also flawed, because 1. As I said before, most people aren’t arguing that we should ban guns altogether and 2. There are lots of regulations regarding who gets to drive a car and how they’re allowed to drive it. We have things like speed limits and seat belt laws, we require people to take a test in order to get a license, and we revoke the licenses of people who no longer have the faculties to drive one safely. Not to mention that, as Nick Kristof pointed out last week, cars themselves are also regulated to make sure they’re as safe as possible for the driver and everyone in the vicinity. Also, cars aren’t designed for the sole purpose of inflicting harm, as guns are. So there’s that.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

This is a curious thing to say, as it’s hard to deny that guns make it infinitely easier for people to kill other people. Case in point: There was another incident of mass violence in China on the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting, where a deranged person went to a school and stabbed 22 children. Terrifying. But how many of those kids died? Zero. How many kids in Newtown died? Twenty. So the argument that gun control is futile because people would just use knives or axes instead is pretty flawed. You can do infinitely more damage with a gun than you can with a knife or an ax. It is ludicrous to pretend that guns don’t make incidents like this infinitely worse.

I get that some people say this to mean that we need to deal with mentally unstable people who wield guns. Which leads me to the next argument…

“Gun control isn’t the issue. Mental health treatment is the issue.”

As someone with a doctoral degree in the field of mental health, I am completely behind increasing funding for mental health services, increasing access, increasing awareness, increasing education, increasing resources, increasing everything under the sun when it comes to mental health. And you cannot overlook the fact pretty much all of the perpetrators of these mass killings have had serious mental health issues. But I’m not sure why people think that mental health treatment will completely solve the problem, for a few reasons:

1. You cannot force someone into treatment unless they’ve committed a crime. Thus, since many of these shooters had no prior criminal history, there was no way to force them to seek help before they started shooting. And even if you could, anyone who’s ever worked with a court-mandated client will tell you that mandated treatment is rarely effective, because in order for change to happen, the client has to actually want to change.

2. Even if you did increase awareness and availability of mental health services and decreased stigmas and all the other barriers to treatment, the reality is that many people who need help won’t seek it. This is especially true of people with issues like antisocial personality disorder, which is disproportionately prevalent in perpetrators of violence. Individuals with ASPD demonstrate a blatant disregard for the rights of other people, no empathy, no remorse, and no interest in changing. So even if you were to increase the awareness and availability of mental health services, the likelihood of someone with ASPD seeking treatment is slim. And on the off-off-chance that someone with ASPD did seek treatment, there are zero known treatments for the disorder that are effective.

So if you’re saying all we need to solve the problem is to increase mental health awareness and services, you’re mistaken. The people who we’re most concerned about are the least likely to seek treatment or to have treatments that even work.

“If more people had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened the way it did.”

This argument is especially perplexing. The problem isn’t that guns are too available, but that there aren’t enough guns? So UCC professors, in addition to worrying about teaching and overcrowded classrooms and budget cuts, should also have to worry about students carrying weapons and learning how to wield them themselves? And keeping guns in the Sandy Hook classrooms would have been a good idea? That would’ve made them safer? Right, because nothing bad ever happens when guns are kept around small children.

This argument is especially galling to me because the data is clear: The more guns a society has, the more gun deaths they have. The relationship holds when you compare states and when you compare countries. All of the evidence we have indicates that having more guns makes us less safe, not more.

“The shooter was already breaking a law by bringing a gun onto school grounds.”(This was not the case at UCC but was at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, UCSB, and Seattle Pacific University.)

Let’s talk through the implications of this argument: That because a shooter breaks one law about bringing a gun onto school grounds, we should stop trying to enact other laws that keep this dude with a gun away from schools and this dude away from guns in the first place. That we should stop trying to put more barriers and checkpoints between this dude and a gun and a school. That any attempt to make it a little bit harder for this dude to get a gun is futile.

This is ridiculous.

All of this to say: It’s mind-blowing to me that what keeps us from being able to reduce the number of these completely preventable tragedies is a lot of terrible arguments. (And fistfuls of NRA money, I suppose.) And what’s even more mind-blowing to me is that many of the people who make these arguments are Christians who seem far more concerned about their freedom to carry a weapon (which is nowhere in the Bible, as far as I know) than the safety and well-being of their neighbors (which is certainly in there) and building a healthy and flourishing society (that’s in there too).

I’d like to think that we’re better than that as a nation — that we wouldn’t let bad reasoning and powerful lobbies keep us from doing what we need to do to keep each other safe. I’d also like to think that one of these days, all of us would finally come to our senses and realize that we need to do something — but I’m not seeing either of those things. And that keeps me up at night, because the longer we go without doing anything, the less likely it is that anything will be done.


For more, I recommend Adam Gopnik’s “The Simple Truth about Gun Control” and Jeffrey Toobin’s “So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?” — two New Yorker pieces from 2012 that are, sadly, every bit as relevant now as they were then.