It’s been a whirlwind of a month, and I can’t believe it’s already the end. I’ve been adjusting to changes in my schedule (i.e., the kids are out of school) and still recuperating from a string of traveling. Whenever I see friends nowadays, the first thing they say is, “You travel a LOT.” and I immediately reply, ”Well, yeah, but it’s not my normal… it’s just these past few months.” Looking back, however, I realize that it’s becoming more and more true! And then there were the headlines the past couple of weeks that just landed me in an all around funk. I felt overwhelmed and numb at the same time.
My most notable personal experience for many different reasons this past month was The Justice Conference. I must admit that I’m still processing everything that happened, because there were multiple events, circumstances, and experiences both in and out of the conference that were very pivotal for me. It was difficult to catch my breath, to be honest. You don’t have to look very far on blogs and social media to find analyses of everyone’s talks or a shakedown of who was or wasn’t there, so I won’t add anything more to that. But here I’ve pulled the most meaningful experiences for me personally. Each has a little blurb that might be of some meaning to you, I hope:
I saw people like me (YESSSSSS!)
In most settings where I talk about Christian Community Development or Justice or Worship (multicultural and/or reconciliation) I tend to be one of the few Asians in the room, or the only. It was inspiring to see Asian-Americans represented at The Justice Conference on multiple levels: the pre-conference had speakers such as Kathy Khang and Judy Wu-Dominick, the main stage featured Soong Chan Rah, Eugene Cho, and Jenny Yang, and I got to meet some really cool people like Suey Park (finally, after all this time!). I had a conversation with Soong Chan about raising kids while understanding their Asian identities in a multiethnic church, talked Asian perspectives on musical worship with Judy, met some cool Asian worship leaders, and had a full-on sleepover and shopping experience with Suey. Some of my Asian friends actually told me to seek their people (also Asians) out and at least meet them.
What really brought it home for me, though, was bumping into the college group from the Korean-American church I attended while I was in college, being shepherded by two old friends! Man, what would it have been like to be in college and think about Biblical justice? It really blew my mind and gave me a lot of hope about the next generation Korean-American church. I’m still unpacking why exactly this was so important to me, but seeing people like me at a conference felt like finding an oasis in a desert.
This was the highest level of worship production I’ve ever experienced.
I can say this to all of you since a lot of you are worship leaders. I told myself I’d never sing with a smoke machine, and here I was, with the lights and everything. There seemed to be 50 people backstage, tweaking things on computer screens or moving stuff around. Lots of head sets. All of this was actually really cool (checking out David Crowder’s gear was also pretty amazing). I can see the draw. I can see how easy it is to get caught up in it, and to those that are really passionate about doing things at a high production level it’s pretty exciting. I still get confused about where the line between good production and overproduction is, and it’s probably different for different people. It also goes to show how much money flows in and out of these things…
This conference is in a liminal space.
The audience at this conference was mixed and diverse in a number of ways. There were some that probably thought it was a little too liberal. There were others that contested it wasn’t sending a strong enough message. There were too many speakers that were this, and not enough of that. For instance, we had an intense race panel, moderated by Otis Moss of Trinity United Church in Chicago (a historic African-American Church) and with really prophetic messages by the panel members, and this was followed up by none other than Louie Giglio, pastor of a megachurch in Atlanta, who talked about justice on a more bird’s eye level. In fact, Dr. Cornel West opened the conference and Louie Giglio closed out the conference. You could say they’re opposites in the kinds of crowds that follow them and think like them.
In the Bible, one of the strongest messages during the early church was about being united in Christ. What does being united mean when you don’t feel so hot about the “other” types of Christians? What does being united mean when you don’t agree, or you feel like others are getting it all wrong? When you hear conflicting messages, or when you don’t connect what people are talking about to Jesus? And that to me was the gift of TJC – to see all kinds of Christians in the same room, dialoguing, wrestling, and hearing things they weren’t expecting. Judging each other. Being offended by certain people or conflicting messages. Calling people out. I’m sure there was a lot of exhaustion and exasperation in addition to the really inspirational moments. Yet we are all claiming to be Jesus followers and called to be united. It will be interesting to see what direction this conference will take in the future.
It was an honor to be there and serve on the worship team. I feel more strongly now than ever that worship and justice go hand in hand. Thanks to David Bailey, my partner in crime, for including me. Suey for keeping me company during my last few moments in Chicago. Mark Reddy and Sherri Meyer for their leadership and for showing grace and patience. The amazing and talented band members. We had fun in our little dressing room in the labyrinth of the back stage! And thanks to you for reading. I’d love to hear from any of you who were there about your experiences.