A Word from a Isaac K. Ahn

Isaac is a beautiful soul. He is a faithful member of the WCC family and senior at the College of William & Mary. He is also one of mine and Alison’s adopted students—a part of our family. I hope you will hear his heart. If you’re a member of the WCC family, I especially hope you will hear that causal and loose rhetoric like ‘chinavirus’ and ‘kung flu’ is anything but harmless. I’ll let Isaac explain why. Please, hear your brother in Christ. ~ Fred

To My Closest Friends at WCC,

It is a wonderful feeling to write to you and share some thoughts with you in a turbulent time. I know that this season has been incredibly difficult for many of you and know that my family and I are praying for God to do his miraculous work each day for His children that he so loves. It has been a five year gift full of surprises, joyous parties, and many warm hugs and I could not be more grateful that you have adopted me as your child.

To Fred, Allison, and Ian, Thank you beyond words for adopting a skinny, crippled, nerdy Korean adolescent into your family and nurturing him to befriend the unfamiliar faces, the cobblestone walkways, and the copious amounts of soda that you have at your disposal in this town of Williamsburg. You are my family and Ian, I owe you a game of Madden when I visit.

And to you church, thank you. Thank you for caring the burden of Christ’s love and spreading it throughout the community. You’ve done it remarkably for me and it should not stop. Your willingness to fight poverty, racial injustice, and historic levels of ignorance during the Covid-19 crisis is a right and worthy effort. Keep asking God for an open mind, then listen to the students, fellow brothers and sisters, elders, and children around you and see what you can do.

So many weeks ago, Fred asked me how the coronavirus adversely affects Asian American students at William and Mary. And seeing that I am one of many, let me share some thoughts on how a virus can affect Chinese and Korean students in particular.

First and foremost, I know I will always be seen as the foreigner in a largely white America. Yes, a smart foreigner who has his allegiance to this country questioned on a yearly basis and one who does not have the ideals of Western nonhierarchical Christianity running through his veins. I am always asked which Korea I am from as if that is some way to protect the safety of Americans distancing themselves from communism. And most frustratingly, I know coronavirus will make my ethnic roots weaker and force Korean Americans to be seen as lesser citizens in the places we are the minority. I imagine the same for my Chinese brothers and sisters. When the President of the Free World calls you a “foreigner” worthy of extradition to a country you left in your infancy, you realize that there is no home for you in this world. A house maybe, but no home.

Yet, Asian American racism is not a broad form of physical violence and verbal trash talk. It is highly dependent upon where you live and who you interact with and it becomes weaker the more north you go in the States. Most Asian Americans live in ethnically singular areas and create their own little sanctuary towns filled with Asian marts, schools, banks, and baptist churches. Yes, the Billy Graham speak is still palpable to us. We try to be a model minority because we know that is how we bring honor to our families.

In other words, there is little effort to seek equity and more effort to create a copy of our own heritage here in the States. Yet, this is also the biggest problem. When I entered Williamsburg, I knew my mental perspectives had to change.

No it really isn’t about physical features like small eyes or yellow skin, but it is more the fact that the story of Americanness has been shaped by its economic and political might. I as a Korean American have always felt dumber than, poorer than, more legalist than the enlightened Anglo American Jonathan Edwards stereotype, and thus have always tried to prove that I am worthy of my place in society. Yes, the precise feeling is that I do not have a home. And maybe this is why Heaven is more comfortable as an idea to me.

So it is the inability for a town like Williamsburg to see how different Asian Americans are that is its greatest weakness. I am not talking about political diversity, I am talking about value and moral diversity. Asian Americans struggle with the idea of personal freedoms, individualistic rights, and a professional world valued in dollars. We prefer family, respecting our elders, and sharing the wealth that is ours. It is not about performance metrics as much as it is about honor and shame. And the most shameful act is to speak another’s story as if you empathetically know something. In Asia, that is not advocacy, that is just an uninformed prideful fool who does not know his place.

And our parents do not make it any better. Trust me, our parents think straight-As in high school is average and getting into an Ivy League school is the standard expectation. Failure is the worst title you can bestow because you have now become a laughing stock amongst your peers.

And that is why we feel shame when the coronavirus is called the “Chinavirus”. Shame that we are responsible (and trust me we will be the scapegoat before we know it), less than, stupider, and less worthy of equal treatment because we do not measure up to the brilliance of the Western world. Having a 3.6 GPA at William and Mary was bad enough. Now it is our fault for infecting the world. I am not a mosquito or a beast, and surely no sleazy sex addict, but I’ve been emasculated into one.

In 1854, Horace Greeley, editor of the New-York Tribune newspaper, wrote a xenophobic and racist editorial opinion supporting the popularly demanded exclusion:

The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.[2]

So WCC, when I am asked how WCC can help the outsider and in particular Asian Americans, I reply, “Tell us we are worthy of our heritage”. Tell us that we are good enough and that we aren’t crippled as Jesus did to the Samaritan women. And stand up for us when we are dining with you in Merchant Square’s restaurants and someone says “Who is that?” Put your arm around our shoulders like a mamma cub protects her children. And treat us with love like we matter as much as your own children would. And it is in this that people like me will gain the courage to fight the sin in this world. I am not asking for you to speak up on our behalf because you are not Asian, but I am asking for this church in all your courage and or obedience to Christ to give us a shot to be at being loved just as you are in Christ. And this happens when you invite us into the most sacred and guarded places of American society: Your homes, your picnics, your fishing trips and most of all your conversations. Acknowledge that we are different and embrace that. Jesus came for the Jews and the Greeks. He did not say that we had to surrender our ethnicity as Christians. I am a Christian just as you are. Born of different skin, palate, and language, but I consider it an honor to call you my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is really just that simple. Yet, when I walk around in everyday America I wonder how each person sees me. And for as much you all have loved me with unbelievable grace and love, my childhood insecurity keeps me wandering and pondering hoping to find some resemblance of a permanent home. Yet, I know I am a nomad and I guess some of you know that feeling all too well particularly in these times.

What I know is true is that our God doesn’t employ accountants, legal scholars, or judges to gauge our earthly accomplishments and allegiances. You and I won’t show honors that are pinned to our lapels and our beloved banknotes masked in trusts will never hide or replace our sins; rather, you and I will be judged by what we did with a man named Jesus Christ and how we either took him seriously or we did not. Nothing more and nothing less. The Book of Life is calling your name.

Look to the Cross.

~ Isaac K. Ahn

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The Gathering (guest post by Alison Liggin)

*Alison is a strong and courageous follower of Jesus. Her depth and thoughtfulness about our faith is reflected in this post. I hope you will receive it as I have. P. S. I’m thankful for the non-anxious presence of WCC these days who, like us, are learning that the common life and common good in Christ are the point of our gatherings. I look forward to regathering but I’m grateful we aren’t collectively anxious about it. ~ Fred

A few days ago I spent the afternoon on a beach reflecting with dear friends about our differing views of God. From childhood to adulthood, each of us had specific reasons for our feelings and opinions yet, by way of Scripture, had come full circle to see God through a more accurate lens. In essence, while our children wrestled in the water, we had “church.” We had “church” in its fullest sense: a community of believers gathered to share in life together. 

That afternoon on the beach garnered deeper reflection as I contemplated the Christian communities’ obsession with returning to a corporate gathering, or in some cases during this pandemic, not refraining from the gathering at all. Has Sunday morning become so embedded as the crux of our faith that we can’t possibly see an evening spent on a dock discussing ways to minister to others as being “the church?” Has Sunday morning become so embedded as the crux of our faith that we can’t possibly see an evening around a socially-distanced campfire with dear friends from our church family as being “the church?” Has Sunday morning become so embedded as the crux of our faith that we can’t possibly see birthday parades for friends’ children from our church family as being “the church?” Has Sunday morning become so embedded as the crux of our faith that we can’t possibly see an afternoon of slip-n-slides and water balloons with children from our church family as being “the church?” Has Sunday morning become so embedded as the crux of our faith that we can’t possibly see how to be the church Monday-Saturday? 

Yes, the corporate gathering is necessary. It was created to edify (enlighten and inform) and to share in the common good. However, if you use only the corporate gathering to “feed your soul,” then you have whole-heartedly missed the beauty of the corporate gathering. Sharing in the common good was the primary source of love and sacrifice in the days following Jesus’ ascension. And today, sharing in the common good provides meals for those who are sick, provides child care for a weary single mom, offers financial help to those in need, transports patients to chemo treatments, and sits with friends in the hospital. Sharing in the common good moves one another out of and into new homes, paints their kitchen cabinets, fixes their cars and toilets, accommodates food allergies, and answers midnight phone calls. Sharing in the common good prays for difficulties with misguided children, offers patience with one another’s quirks, and challenges one another to think deeper and be more culturally aware. Creating a life that shares in the common good is the point of our ecclesiastical commitments. By sharing in the common good, you are demonstrating Christ’s love to His creation. It’s the sharing in the common good that makes Sunday morning worth attending. 

For those who are beating down their church building doors and providing their own misinformed reasons for why their local church continues to meet online, what keeps you from “having church” on a beach or sitting on a friend’s back porch? Why does the local church have to reopen its doors against the advice of the W.H.O. for you to feel ministered to? What have you done to prevent being able to share in the common good with other members of your church family? At some point, each member of a local congregation has to take responsibility for its own lack…lack of connection, lack of community, lack of faith, lack of understanding. I have witnessed people leave their local church in search of a “better” Sunday gathering. And as expected, when life caved in, they were confronted with the notion that neither their hipster worship music nor their stance on women’s roles brought them dinner. Every example listed in this writing, I have either offered or received. It wasn’t the Sunday gathering that walked me through my mother’s death nor did it share in the pain of infertility and failed adoptions. The Sunday gathering didn’t care for my child while I had minor surgery nor did it sit with my husband during a hospital stay while I was out of town. The Sunday gathering didn’t offer support when I went back to work full-time, and it certainly didn’t say, “We stand with you” when our family took a stance against racial inequity and police brutality. It was the relationships that were cultivated outside of the Sunday gathering that supported us in that way, and those relationships, not the Sunday gathering, will continue to do so. 

Give your local church the benefit of the doubt. Is it possible that there’s a team of people offering instruction and consultation with the lead pastor? Is it possible that a survey was sent to every member of your local church, and now the staff is considering the needs of the majority rather than your opinion? Ask yourself why the Sunday gathering has become so important to your spiritual health that you can’t possibly function without it for a few more months. Reach out to others. Make a play date. Start a book club or a Marco Polo group. Ask a friend to pray for you or your family while being honest about what those prayers might be. Sit at the river with a friend. Walk a trail. Or host happy hour on your back porch. But for the love, do not lay your lack of “church” or community at the feet of the Sunday gathering. She was never designed to complete your life. Only to enhance it.     

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It Depends on Us

“Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10)
“Have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
“In humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
“Bear with each other” (Colossians 3:13).
“Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Colossians 3:13).
“Teach one another” (Colossians 3:16).
“Admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16).
“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
“Encourage one another” (Hebrews10:25).
“Do not slander one another” (James 4:11).
“Don’t grumble against each other” (James 5:9).
“Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16).
“Pray for each other” (James 5:16).
“Love one another” (John 13:34).
“Love one another” (John 13:35).
“Love each other” (John 15:12).
“Love each other” (John 15:17).
“Love one another” (Romans 13:8)
“Love one another” (1 John 3:11).
“Love one another” (1 John 3:23).
“Love one another” (1 John 4:7).
“Love one another” (1 John 4:11).
“Love one another” (1 John 4:12).
“Love one another” (2 John 1:5).

These past few weeks I’ve often wondered what a local Church would look like if it took these commands to heart. What’s crazy is this is only about half of the ‘one another’ commands.

I’ve been asking myself:

What would happen with the joys and sufferings each member shared? What would happen to hard conversations and misunderstandings? What would happen to the expectations often held over another?

I bet the Church’s collective witness would be different as they held differences in tension as a “fellowship of differents.”1 I bet they would do the hard work of choosing to seek what is true, good, and beautiful in a society that denies truth, negotiates goodness, and deals recklessly with beauty.

“Make every effort”, Pastor Peter said, “to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

Life in God’s beloved community formed by the Spirit of Jesus the King takes effort. After all, grace may be opposed to earning but it is not opposed to effort. It takes cooperation with the Spirit of God working in, between and among God’s people.

Maybe I am sincerely mistaken, but the Spirit seems to assure a life-giving outcome if we take the “one another” texts, like the ones above, as commands rather than suggestions.

Pastor Peter goes on to say,

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:5-11)

What would it look like if a local Church took these commands to heart?

It depends on us.

1 I owe Scot McKnight for this terminology.

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The School of Denial

Denial has always had a few schools located in the God’s Kingdom. I know, because I’ve taken many classes there. It has employed many pastors, politicians and political pundits as its teachers. As fellow graduates of the School of Denial, these teachers are trained to offer rational, philosophical, sociological and theological explanations that are convincing and compelling. A false narrative of innocence is told in light of what we see, especially when it comes to the “isms” of society. Invitations to indifference and apathy are extended.

A diploma of Denial is gladly received upon graduation in to a life of unrealized complicity to the reign of sin and death, from which we were rescued. The poor are politicized; racism is denied; religious certitude is paramount; the two-thirds world goes on mostly ignored; loving enemies is optional and situational; sexual preferences and orientations are threatening; freedom and hope is built upon nationalistic realities and promises that lead down various paths of entitlement.

The truth is I am an alum of the School of Denial. I have the diploma hanging on the wall of my heart. Occasionally I find myself returning for continuing-ed classes. But the longer I live in the reign of God’s Kingdom and allow the Sacred Text that bears witness to King Jesus confront my life, and do so in community, the more my denial turns to awareness and complicity to compassion. When I don’t allow the Sacred Text to confront my life I choose to manage the confrontation based upon my comfort level. Denial schools me once again.

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The Renewal of the Historic Triangle Covenant: We Want to Breathe Rally

It was an honor to participate in this important Rally for Greater Williamsburg. The number of neighbors in attendance on June 7, 2020 approximates 800. I am grateful for all who spoke, the civic leaders, religious leaders, the police Chiefs of Williamsburg and James City County and Sheriff of York County, and Virginia legislative leaders. I am especially grateful to Pastor Corwin Hammond of CBC World Ministry for his invitation to offer a word to my White brother and sisters. I am thankful for his friendship and leadership.

The renewal of the Historic Triangle Covenant of Mutuality, Inclusion and Understanding with the African American Community was an important moment in our city. It will continue to bring our community together and create accountability for us all. My invitation to speak included a request to speak mostly to my white brothers and sisters in attendance.

I share this speech here because of the number of requests I’ve received.

As a man and Christ-follower who is still learning about the implications of my own personal formation in white supremacy, and about my unconscious bias still at work in subtle ways, writing this was important for me. I wrote it with much trembling, prayer and at times, tears. I pray it is helpful.

Here is a video of the speech

Here is the text.

Dissent is not disloyalty. 

Love of truth and love of country should go hand in hand. We are a country whose foundation was laid upon the political, economic, and religious system that formed a larger racialized cultural system built to uphold White citizens and press down Black citizens. The roots of our nation’s laws, structures, and institutions grew deep into this soil. The seeds of all beliefs, values, and family systems formed by every man, woman and child were scattered along this ground.

I would like to speak to my white brothers and sisters for a few moments.

First, to my white brothers and sisters that share my religious tradition of the Christian faith, it is possible for someone to have their soul redeemed by Jesus, but still be caught up in a system shaped by sin. The brown-skinned Jewish Savior that we confess as Lord and King may take away our sins, but he doesn’t take our minds. We must do the work of liberating our consciousness and think humbly and deeply about our nation’s long history of white supremacy, anti-blackness, or state-sanctioned violence. The public murder of unarmed black citizens is our nation’s ancient legacy. 

Too many of us have, in the words of Dr. Cornel West, become well-adjusted to injustice and well-adapted to indifference. We cannot let our well-adjusted and well-adapted ways lead us to a willful blindness that schools us in denial.

Our refusal to believe what our fellow citizens, members of the same faith have told us, reveals our timidity.

When we do not say something we are saying something. 

I come from a tradition where there’s a belief that when God doesn’t have your attention He will disturb what does.

Protest, like the Blues, is the language of disruption. It is meant to disrupt the well-adjusted and well-adapted by disturbing the status quo. Protest gives voice to injustice and allows the suffering to speak. Imagine having to demand that your country stop killing you for hundreds of years, and being told time and again to be patient.2

After fighting through 246 years of chattel slavery, 89 years of segregation with the promise of equality without equity, and with most of those years fighting Jim Crow, then fighting the Neighborhood Composition Rule and Redlining, should we be surprised when our brothers and sisters of color say, “We can’t breathe?”

With 62 known hate crimes committed against Black Virginians in this last year, the highest in our state, should we be surprised when our brothers and sister of color say to us, “We can’t breathe?”

While being only 14% of the City of Williamsburg’s population but 47% of the city of Williamsburg’s incarceration, and hundreds of years of standing before and unjust legal system, should we be surprised when our brothers and sisters of color say, “We can’t breathe?” I wanted to share JCC and YC but the statistics aren’t readily accessible or available. Chief and Sheriff, it would be helpful to all of us if we could know the statistics. It would go a long way to include the community, as you’ve expressed.

White supremacy suffocates Black lives. White silence suffocates Black lives. White fragility suffocates Black lives. The language of, “You shouldn’t say white supremacy, white silence, and white fragility because you’ll turn people off,” suffocates Black lives. The White moderate mindset suffocates Black lives. A desire for tranquility and the status quo suffocates Black lives. Not listening to the pain, anger, and rage, suffocates Black lives. Not being willing to share in it suffocates Black lives. Being too afraid of losing a paycheck or your job suffocates Black lives. And if I am of the Christian tradition, and especially if I am a Christian pastor, weak gospel proclamation will suffocate Black lives. 

My white brothers and sisters, if we choose not to suffocate Black lives we will lose white friends. Some of us will lose family. But Ahmaud Arbery’s mother lost a son. Breonna Taylor’s family lost a daughter. George Floyd’s daughter lost a father. The parents of 14-year-old Emmett Till lost their son to a lynching in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. I think the least we can do is lose some friends. 

Now is the time we must join with others to live the protests we have marched embody the cause of this rally. Integrity will demand that we live the speeches we give and embody the social media posts we write. It won’t be perfect. It won’t be enough. 

But it will be something more than a momentary effort or meaningful word in a status. It will be an embodied commitment to faithful presence and participation in anti-racism action to break down the systems that uphold injustice and racism, and promote liberty and justice for all. It is the freedoms struggle brothers and sisters of color have so resiliently lived even til now. Let us be faithful. Let faithfulness be our witness.

Because Black Lives are worthy. Black Lives are beloved. Black lives are needed.2 Black Lives are sacred. Black lives matter. 

 1 I owe Pastor David W. Swanson for first posing this question publicly.

2 I got this phrase from a viral picture on the internet

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