I have a confession to make: I’ve not been a huge fan of the Jeremy Lin craze.
While at first this seems like a harmless, no-big-deal sort of thing, after I’ve reflected over the past few days, God’s shown me more of the poor condition of my heart. And I’m embarrassed that I let that happen.
Initially, yes, I too was blown away by Lin’s sudden success–more because as a first-time starter in the NBA his stats were unusual (I’m a retired Fantasy Basketball-er) and he continued to perform at an extremely high level! And though I definitely noted his Asian Americanness and appreciated commentary on the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” I could feel myself refuse to identify with this part of his story. I would not allow myself to feel any pride in the fact that Lin’s Asian heritage was shedding any light onto the collective Asian American story. I even joked that Lin actually wasn’t breaking any stereotypes within the Asian American context: he went to Harvard, he’s excelled in athletics, he’s a good son… etc.
Then a completely separate event showed me that what was coming out of my heart and mouth regarding Lin and his success was cynicism and denial.
An Asian American friend gave me some word suggestions as I tried to formulate some sentence on my prayer letter. Though they gave me some, they seemed confused. In my ignorance and idiocy I teased them for not understanding what I was asking. Later, I found out that they felt hurt because of my teasing and also because my teasing brought to the surface an insecurity of theirs regarding their grasp of English.
As soon as I heard of their experience, I felt deep remorse. But it wasn’t just for them and for the pain I caused them. I started remembering how my mother told me she was teased for not knowing English and interactions where friends would comment on my dad’s accent, and I felt I had to agree even though I never thought he had one. My friend shared how they felt for their own parents and how they may have been teased or taken less-seriously because of their understanding of English. And the experiences of people asking me how I learned to speak English so well, or when kids in school used to ask me how to speak Chinese and I felt the pressure to lie and make up sounds to make them leave me alone felt so real again.
These very real memories and painful situations ARE a part of my story. Though I may not have directly experienced them all, they are instances that I share in as I choose to love my parents and love my friend. And though my heart desires redemption, I instinctively went to denial as the way to give the pain less power. By being cynical, I believe I become “untouchable” and “unfazed” by those types of experiences. But I realized that if I deny that those painful experiences matter, then I deny any chance of redemption and healing. I deny myself the possibility of forgiveness and growth, as well as deny others the possibility of understanding and reconciliation.
A ministry partner recently told me of their excitement about Jeremy Lin. And I’ll never forget how she looked when after I said, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool what’s been happening to him.” Her eyes, very serious, her lips, trembling as she said, “No. It’s about time people knew what it’s like to be Asian American. You’ve grown up in a different generation, where there are more of us now. But in my life and your parents lives growing up, people didn’t want to hear our story.”
I’m sad and incredibly sorry to say that I was so careless. And that I disguised my carelessness as being phlegmatic. I’m sad that I chose to serve myself and the “bliss” of ignorance instead of sharing in my friend’s journey… his parents’ journey… my own parents and grandparents’ journey… Lin’s journey. I’m sad that those experiences are present in my own life too and that we still have so far to go for those misunderstandings to become real arenas of dialogue and redemption.
But I’m grateful for grace through Jesus Christ forgiving me that allows my friend to forgive me and allows me to forgive myself. I’m grateful for the pioneering of people like my parents and that ministry partner. And I’m grateful too for those experiences as they continue to teach me how I need to love and suffer with others. But most of all I’m hopeful for God to heal. I’m hopeful for His Kingdom to continue to be established on this earth… within the Asian American community and beyond. And ultimately hopeful for when there will be no more tears… nor pain… and the former things will have passed away… (Rev. 21:4).