Asian Heritage Month
Earlier last year, Raymond Chang went to Walmart.
It was his first trip out of the house after he and many other Americans had started self-quarantining to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Soon after he walked into the store, two women looked at him, and one pointed at him and said, “Oh, there’s another one,” he recalled. He glanced around at the other people nearby.
“I was like, What other one?” Chang said. “You go through this mental checklist—Am I the only guy? No, there are other guys. Am I the only one wearing a mask? No, there are other people wearing masks. I looked around and said, Oh, I’m the only Asian.”
Chang, who is Korean American, had been hearing about the uptick in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, but he never expected to be the recipient. He had grown up hearing racist jokes about Asians, but as an adult these incidents had become less frequent.
Weeks after the episode at Walmart, he was sitting in his front yard in Chicago on one of the first nice days of the year. A truck passed by, and the driver [yelled a cutting slur from his window.]
This time, Chang was concerned.
“At that point, I’m like, He knows where I live,” Chang said. “He feels emboldened enough to curse out the window at me while he’s driving. I don’t know if he’s capable of violence, but now I’m worrying. People have had rocks thrown through their windows; businesses have been vandalized—all those things come to mind.”
Chang’s experience is among thousands of incidents of racism directed at Asian Americans since the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in the US… Incidents have included verbal harassment, threats, spitting, vandalism, and even physical violence. These attacks are not relegated to the US and there has been a growing number of attacks against people of Asian descent in North America with an alarmingly high number of incidents here in Canada.
When Chang, a campus minister at Wheaton College, saw these numbers, he started talking to others about their experiences. He soon learned about another troubling trend within his own Christian community. When Asian American Christians told their predominantly White church leaders and fellow congregants about their experiences, some were dismissed or even ridiculed. This spurred Chang to action. He helped found the Asian American Christian Collaborative, a new group that aims to give Asian American Christians a platform to discuss issues of race and racism in a faith-based context and to challenge the broader Christian community to adopt an antiracist posture.
“Racism lives as much inside of the church as it lives outside of the church,” Chang said, “because we’re not doing enough work to address it.”
It is sentiments such as this why it is so important that Parkminster commits to the ongoing work of anti-racism. We need to talk about it – like we are doing in Pop-up discussion groups and at Council and committee meetings and even on Sundays. We need to act on it – through letter writing, education, speaking out individually and collectively and more.
These words drafted in a statement by the Asian American Christian Collaborative speak to the importance of this work: “Faithful Christian witness requires anti-racist work, and silence only perpetuates the sins not addressed,” the statement reads. “This includes going beyond shallow acknowledgement of the most obvious incidents of racism to taking responsibility in confronting the longstanding tendencies of people to discount and dismiss the realities of racism. It also includes addressing the disbelief and disobedience of your constituents who continue to ignore members of the body of Christ who are in pain and under threat.”
We are poised this moment on a significant precipice; a chance to acknowledge the systems that have and continue to oppress and a hope of a new day for all of us. In larger terms, we are a people hungering for a time of transformation and hope for our country, for our world. We want to move from despair to hope, a witness to the common good and a truly compassionate mission in the world.
Our gospel lesson today is a stunning story for the season of Easter. How often have we (consciously or unconsciously) communicated the message that those who don’t look, think, worship, live, speak, work, love, and practice like us do not and cannot belong? How many times has the Spirit invited us to a “wilderness road” of faith for an encounter that might convert us to an authentic post-resurrection ethos and hospitality — only to have us resist and turn away?
The Beatitudes of Jesus offers us the best we can imagine about our hopes and where we are going. The Beatitudes challenge us to be people of justice on deeper levels.
The Beatitudes remind us that we are blessed in difficult times – and not only blessed – but we are children of God, beloved and held. In turn, we are asked to practice forgiveness and peace, to hold our tongues from words of hate and to learn the art of living with each other in community.
There is so much at stake for many of us these days. Some of us are so anxious we can’t watch the news; others can do nothing but watch TV and doom-scroll our way through social media. It’s a scary and a powerful time for all of us.
How remarkable that the Beatitudes offer us a blueprint for living and the reminder that we are blessed by God, as all the saints have been held and blest. Moses, Amos, Jeremiah, Micah, Dorothy Day, Rosa Parks, St Stephen, Sister Claire, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Malcolm X, all those who lived their lives for something that outlasted their own life and who passed on the gifts of justice, compassion, and righteousness to us.
Blessed are you who have worked and keep working against the systems of racism that exist in our society.
Blessed are you who have opened yourselves up to the challenging and sometimes painful work of recognizing white privilege.
Blessed are you who have prayed for peace and an end to injustice.
Blessed are you who put your faith in God and work tirelessly for a new day for your children and your children’s children.
Blessed are you who desire to be agents of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
The work that we are doing collectively and individually around anti-racism is important and ongoing. We will make mistakes. It will not be easy. There may be times when it’s difficult and uncomfortable. But carry on.
Carry on. Even when it seems impossible. Even when the work is hard. Even when the world around us feels out of control. It is in these times, that I remember the words of one of my mentors. Whenever I have despaired in my life or felt unusually helpless, I have always called my dear mentor for some advice and maybe a little pep talk. Through the years, he has used catchy phrases to sum up his basic position, that all will be well, even if it doesn’t feel that way. I’ll never forget his words to me when I was going through hard times and felt discouraged. It sort of sums up the Beatitudes for me. He would say,
KEEP ON KEEPING ON! You are a child of God.
Today dear friends, be of good courage! As we do the work of anti-racism, keep on keeping on. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of the good we would do in the world. We are held up by those we love, here and those departed. Let us pray and continue the work for peace, justice, and right relations on this day and all the days of our lives.
Thanks be to God. Amen.