Scripture-thon Day 3

I love how Paul starts Philippians 2 with a rhetorical conditional that “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy” 

I don’t know how the answer could be anything but Yes!

The story of Christ offers us the greatest encouragement in life – that no matter how messed up I am, he offers me new life (Romans 5:8). He’s also given us the Spirit of adoption – which is why we’re able to call out to God “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8: 15) And with both Christ and the Spirit comes affection and sympathy.

But recently, my loudest “Yes!” is to “any comfort from love”. 

Quarantine has taught me that food and sleep can only comfort me so much before I become a bloated loaf. It may look good on Instagram, but behind the camera the negative marginal benefit of each bite makes the snapshot of my memory one of regretful gluttony.

A single day of trying to find comfort by cooking/eating. – Tuesday, May 5

But the love is the only thing that always satisfies and never tires. 

While living in New York, the anxiety from work deadlines and news headlines worked to consume me. Locked up by myself in an apartment didn’t help much either. The existence of Zoom merely let me compartmentalize my smiles into 1-hour meeting blocks.

An empty JFK – taken while dropping off one of my last UTNY peers to leave NYC – April 9, 2020

I didn’t realize how lonely I was until I returned home to Austin. When I was quarantining by myself for 14 days in my apartment near campus, my mom brought me baozis from home.

We’ve heard about five love languages, but for me there would be a sixth – the love language of food. Biting into my mom’s baos, I cried from the comfort of my mom’s love. 

If the comfort from family is so great, I can only imagine how much greater the comfort from God is. His love surpasses all understanding (Ephesians 3:19), but just getting a glimpse of His love through those around me has already brought me so much comfort. I want to experience more of this love and He offers a way for me to do so – the promise that as we draw near to Him, He will also draw near to us (James 4:8).

Prayer Points

  • Pray for those who are feeling lonely right now to find comfort in God’s love. Pray that God works through people like family and friends to show them that they are worth so much more than their circumstances.
  • Pray for families that are quarantined together. Pray that close quarters brings family closer together instead of further apart.


Scripture-thon Day 2

Sunday marked the two week anniversary of the death of George Floyd. Over these past two weeks, I woke up to the reality that I’m one of the oppressors.

The first time I remember civic participation in my family was in 2016 following the “guilty” verdict of Peter Liang. Liang, who was an NYPD cop, was convicted for manslaughter after he shot a stray bullet that ricocheted and killed a 2-year old black girl. 

My mom took my little brother and me downtown to the Texas State Capitol to protest for Peter Liang’s acquittal. NBC quotes the Chinese-American community’s complaint that “Liang were white, he wouldn’t have been found guilty…They bully Chinese. It’s discrimination.”

Protesting at the Texas Capitol “Justice for Peter Liang” – Austin, TX – Feb 20, 2016

Four years later, with the killing of George Floyd, the Asian community awoke again with cries for justice. But this time, it was for the Black victim and not the officer. As I saw an Asian police officer who looked like me ignore Floyd’s pleas for help as he was choked by another officer, I saw my own complicity in racial oppression. I realized that merely because there is discrimination against us doesn’t justify us contributing to the discrimination against others. 

In the case of Liang, even though we may not have gotten acquitted like our white counterparts, we were still able to argue from a position of power – we were still alive. The girl who was shot was dead.

We live in a cultural social hierarchy, with blacks and latinos on the bottom, then Asians in the middle, and finally whites on top. However, as Asians, we shouldn’t pride ourselves in our high place in the pecking order, and neither should we climb over others to the top.

Rather, scripture tells of a kingdom where every tribe and language and people and nation will worship God, who ransomed us all. He created us all in his own image, and through Jesus Christ, he sees us all as his children. 

“Imago Dei” – Latin for “Image of God” – on my campus ministry, Epic Movement’s, Spring 2020 T-Shirt 

If there is supposed to be any hierarchy, it would be between a perfect God, and the imperfect, broken, sinful us. However, God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die and close the chasm between us and Him, and we are now guaranteed the same inheritance that Christ has – God’s eternal kingdom.

I realized that just as Jesus leveled the ground between me and God, we should aim to level the ground amongst each other. Now that the Asian American community has turned its cry for justice from the accused cop to the killed black, we’ve fought for both sides in the racial tensions between whites and blacks. We should leverage our unique place at these crossroads to spark dialogue, seeing it as an opportunity to engage both.

In the case of Peter Liang, NPR describes Asian Americans positioned in the racial hierarchy as “both victims and also protected from some of the harshest types of racial discrimination.” This position uniquely offers us perspective of both the oppressors and the victims. So I’m praying that we bring these two worlds of perspective together on modern-day silk roads paved by both tragedies and privileges. Hopefully we’ll have some good conversations on the way. 

Prayer Points

  • Pray for guidance for the Asian American community as we grapple with our position and privilege. Pray that we see the truth that titles on earth are nothing in God’s eyes, but that He offers the same love and grace regardless of race. Pray for us to see others the way that God sees us.
  • Pray for the courage for different groups to engage in conversations together. Pray that the Holy Spirit works through these conversations to break down preconceived barriers and for us to know each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Scripture-thon Day 1

It is with both excitement and trepidation that I begin this Scripture-thon.

For the next 30 days, I’ll be sending out daily emails, with insights from scripture, reflections from my past, and applications of such realizations in my own life. 

I had originally envisioned this as a “daily dose of encouraging fun”, but the pressures of recent tragedies like the death of George Floyd and the relentless march of COVID-19 have made me realize that the reality of life on this earth is far from the “fun” I envisioned. 

However, the despair that we find in reality will force us deeper into seeking hope in something better. I hope that these emails will rather allow us to rejoice knowing that we have something greater that awaits us than any “fun” here on this earth.

This week, I’ll be doing devotionals on the book of Philippians, taking one chapter every other day. 

Philippians seems to be a timely book to start this journey with. Just as Paul was writing to thank and encourage the Philippian church – “I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4), I’m writing this email to thank you for supporting me as I embark on the Scripture-thon. I have already been so encouraged by the support that you’ve given me in my life, and I hope that I may be able to in turn encourage you through these emails.

I also hope to reflect on my time in NYC through these devotions (and also as a good excuse to share my photos :P)

NYC as seen from my apartment in Brooklyn – March 11, 2020 – 1 week before the start of the lockdown

Paul calls out in Philippians 1:15 that “some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love… the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition.” Since the tail-end of my time in NYC, I’ve been grappling with whether I was staying out of “selfish ambition.” 

At first, I stayed in NYC after I told myself that the early Christians stayed in the cities to care for the sick during plagues when everyone else was fleeing to the countryside. I tried to do as many things to help people in the city – actions like delivering food and groceries to the elderly.

Posing for a camera in a NYC grocery store to market delivery services for the elderly – March 19, 2020

However, I realized that I may have been seeking to make myself feel like I was doing good, as opposed to truly serving God. Perhaps I wanted to glorify myself in history like the early Christians who left a lasting legacy that ultimately legalized Christianity in Rome. My fear that I was trying to glorify myself as opposed to God is partially what brought me back to Austin. I didn’t want to live like a Pharisee, who was doing right on the outside, without truly being righteous on the inside.

However, Pauls’s realization in Philippians 1:18 that “in that every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice,” encourages me. Even if I was acting out of selfishness, I can hope that at least a little bit of my work serving the city during Covid-19 furthered God’s kingdom.

Now, as I’m back in Austin, I’m wondering how to use my time here. Paul writes that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) For Paul, it was a win-win scenario – if he died, he would have eternal life in heaven, which is far more enjoyable than earth. But if he lived, he would get to further God’s kingdom so others can also enjoy Christ. Paul eventually decides that he “will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” His continued plodding on this earth may have meant short-term suffering, but the long-term life that it gave others made it worth it.

After seeing God work in keeping me safe running around NYC during the height of COVID-19 and driving the 1700 miles from NYC to Austin, I realized that he is offering me another opportunity to serve him. Rather blindly running at the workaholic pace that I lived in NYC, I can use this time to reflect on how He wants me to follow Him. 

Downtown Austin as seen from West Campus – June 7, 2020

Prayer Points

  • Pray for strength and resilience in writing and sending these daily emails for the Scripture-thon. I’ve joked with someone that it might have been easier running a marathon and now not sure if it’s a joke.
  • Pray for those who are still in NYC serving the city. Pray that they will be fueled by the Spirit and find joy in loving the city.


Asking for a scholarship is hard

Every year the University of Texas McCombs School of Business offers its undergraduates the opportunities to apply for school sponsored scholarships. I’ve always found it hard to be genuine while also convincing someone to invest money in me. Here’s my attempt at it this year.

Since the dawn of creation, three attributes have won out over the course of human history – love, freedom, and hope. However, recent events threaten us with the apprehension that the world is turning instead towards hatred, fear, and despair.

Unlike natural disasters, these state of affairs are completely within our control. Each person has the capacity to pursue such virtues on their own, and furthermore, to push their brethren to do the same.

I am a naturally optimistic person and believe these virtues have won in the past and will continue to win in the future. We can see this play out over the past century with the end of colonialism in India, legal racial segregation in America, and apartheid in South Africa. Although movements take many people, they are started by a few – namely, in the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Nelson Mandela.

There is so much for me to grow in before I come close to the wisdom, composure, and sharpness of these figures. But the distance between me and them should only encourage me to work even harder to pursue an impactful life like theirs. Merely living with the goal of fulfilling a middle-class life won’t bear any lasting fruit. However, with the experiences that the privilege of such a life has offered me, I have the opportunity to use them for the good of others rather than my own selfish gain.

By interning at the Austin Mayor’s Office, I realized the impact that one person can have. I directly worked with John-Michael Cortez, de jure the “special assistant” to the Mayor, but de facto the man that knew everything about land development and housing from the bolts in the ground to the politics in the chambers. Through working with John-Michael, I learned to advance policies from an idea in my mind to actual structures in the city. After spending this past summer researching the benefits of increased access to affordable, accessible housing, I produced a study that garnered the decision this November for the City Council to pass an expansion of the University Neighborhood Overlay. There is now the potential for thousands more students to live in West Campus, as building height limits are increased by more than 50%.

This past spring, I studied and worked in NYC doing a finance internship managing the trading of mortgage backed securities as part of the UTNY program. While it offered a high salary and reputation, it produced more discomfort than enjoyment. I noticed how my coworkers looked forward more to heading home after a long work-week to spend time with their families than receiving their next bonus of a quarter million. I was afraid that my time in the city had gone to waste as I saw the dissatisfaction in a job that I once idolized. However, when the COVID-19 epidemic hit, I decided to stay in the city to serve, while everyone else was leaving. I used the savings from my internship to buy a van and started doing grocery deliveries to seniors around the city. The joy and purpose that I found in coordinating deliveries with churches and neighborhood organizations and the smiles I would see from the van window far surpassed any numbers I saw on my Bloomberg Terminal. After a sister in my bible study (now happening on Zoom) died from Covid-19, I realized that the most important things in the world are not dollars in the bank account, but rather the strength and intimacy of our personal relationships.

As I learn more about how to create change in this world, I hope to advance progress through the courageous creativity of an entrepreneur, the disciplined freedom of an academic, and the hope-filled heart of a believer. This scholarship would provide me the freedom to set myself free from the tantalizing grip of dollars. Rather, I hope to use every single dollar towards continued organizing and empowering of those that need it the most.

Droplets at the Finish Line

My most distinct memory of my childhood roadtrips are neither of the stops nor the destinations. Rather, what I remember are water beads traveling across the car window, and the relentless bidding I did for one to slide past the other.

My puritanical parents believed in the professional pursuit of technology, but not in the playful recreation of it. When I was deprived of the virtual world of slingshotting aviary friends across a field, I had the opportunity to explore the reality of gravity and wind resistance that determined which water beads rose and which water beads fell.

I moved out and started my own life, I saw the water and end the race with the stroke of a windshield wiper. As an adult, I’m preoccupied with driving and no longer take in the drive.

But now that coronavirus has turned my life into a picaresque roadtrip confined to the passenger seat. By letting God take control, I have the choice once more to focus on the beads.

Making a Pivot

When I’m lost in the day-ins and day-outs of life, sometimes something interjects and pauses the cycle for me to think. It was one of these moments that made me stop as I was rushing to a tour of the New York Performing Arts Library. I was desperately late because the subway train ahead of me broke down. And compounding that, I had gotten off at the wrong stop. But not wanting to be trapped again underground, I ventured onto the street, preferring a 20 minute walk over an unpredictable length of claustrophobia. Walking down the streets, I had my headphones in, blocking out the cacophony of city sounds, and my head down, staring at the route on Google Maps. But out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention, and I looked up. It was a funny sight. A little girl was standing on the street corner looking into a ballet dance studio, with her dad by her side. As her dad tried pulling her away, she stood her ground, her gaze remained transfixed on the dancers. The wall of windows revealed their gracefully synchronized motions, a sharp contrast to the pushing and pulling happening outside. But even as the sounds of the dad’s shouts pierced the air, she kept staring past the panes, fully immersed in the world of the dancers.

I had to fall back into the cycle, rushing onto the library visit. But looking back, I wonder what separated me from that little girl in front of The Ailey Studios. I wasn’t pausing for the dancers, and neither were any of the other commuters. So what was it, I wondered, other than a sense of social cues that it might be weird to ogle at a bunch of ballet dancers practicing, that trapped the little girl in her state of enchantment. She seemed almost lost, not geographically or intellectually, but emotionally lost to the moment. Rather than approach ballet through the aloof eyes of a college-educated man, what if I just stopped for a second and looked at ballet through the eyes of that little girl.

Evaporating Milk

They say that in order to truly understand ourselves, we have to look to our past. However, for some who are ambitious and driven, we only look forward, ready to fight for the next day. However, when the forces in front throw smoke grenades of uncertainty that cloud our view, we are fully blinded because we have forgotten how to turn our head to see the clarity behind us. We are lost, unable to orient ourselves, unable to retreat, and stopped in our tracks. Perhaps our only option is to curl into a fetal ball, a juxtaposition from the confident command we once had.

I started working in investment operations running alongside the bulls. On lunch breaks, I’d root on traders as they yelled “make me a deal for three quarters of a billion” to their broker. For my job, I didn’t worry if a number was off by a few million – I just needed to make sure our billions had the decimal in the right place. When I wasn’t waving a red cloth in front of the bull, I caught a ride on the back of one – it was less work than actually using my own two feet.

But you can’t ride a bear. The bulls turned into bears, throwing me off their back, ignoring bluffs and red cloths. I didn’t know how to fight, so I ran. However, bears run up to 30mph. I could only hobble, with my legs unaccustomed to walking on their own. I tried to liquidate, but what was once solid had already sublimated into thin air. They say that when we are attacked by a grizzly, we’re supposed to make ourselves as small as possible and play dead. And as I fetally curled up, I was trampled by the bears.

What is China Doing?

They are still trying to grow their strength and their reputation. 20 years ago, their greatest concern was how they were compared to the rest of the world. today, their greatest concern is how they seem compared to the rest of the world.

When we portray China as merely being concerned with domestic affairs, citing thousands of years of Chinese history being inward looking, we forget about the concept of “face.”

Face is a concept that encaptures pride and shame – how others see China.

Prior to the 1800s, this wasn’t much of a concern – the number of foreigners who visited China every year could be counted on fingers and toes – and the same applied to Chinese who visited other countries.

Yet with the rise of information technology, China is more interconnected with the rest of the globe. Alongside this connection is an acute awareness of other nations, and furthermore pertaining to the concept of face, an acute awareness of how other nations perceive China.

This rise in information interconnectivity has taken the concept of “face” from a personal to a geopolitical level. People start tying their national identity to their own pride and shame, and when that national identity becomes attacked, the hurt becomes very personal.

One word to describe me

Flag

A harbinger of hope – the image of the flag standing on Okinawa symboled a coming victory amidst the destructive war.

A rallying cry for others – they say that we are weak by ourselves, but a flag can turn one image, one person, into an unstoppable force for change.

A steady rock among the storm – when the winds blow strong, I stand stronger.

Hope’s Down Guns Out

No country is optimistic about its growth prospects anymore. China is becoming increasingly nationalistic, a distraction for the masses from its slowing GDP growth. France, the UK, and Germany are becoming increasingly xenophobic, blaming ills on the newcomers instead of the stagnant establishment. And the United State is becoming increasingly isolationist, with leaders promoting the erection of both physical walls and social ones for electoral victory.

The maintenance of peace is through optimism – when everyone can work together for a brighter future, the focus is on a collective mission rather than individual differences. The world order of 1980s through the early 2000’s represented this dynamic. Even the evil communists were welcomed into this vision for the 21st century – 1978 marked the start of China’s marketization under Deng Xiaoping and 1991 marked the end of the Soviet Union through Gorbachev.

There seemed to be a new era ahead – one that could be used to pursue human rights, freedom, and democracy. These are great pursuits, and many may take these as the mission in their life. But the end goal of much of humanity is ultimately prosperity – monetarily, intellectually, or spiritually. But when such good liberal values lead no more to prosperity, people search for an alternative. (see the UK’s revised economic outlook, the NYT’s account of the loss in intellectual freedoms, the Christianity Today’s blistering report on moral decay) This loss of prosperity (and further, hope for prosperity) has led to the belief that a radical, even anarchical, overthrow of the current institutions may lead to a better outcome for their lives.

Yet such beliefs divide nations and peoples. But most of the developed world’s political institutions guarantee a singular entity to govern and lead the country. Ultimately, it is in the leader’s interest to unite rather than divide the constituency they represent. In order for leaders to unite a divided nation, they must search for a common pursuit. In the era of growth and prosperity, this common pursuit are social and economic values. But when people lose faith in the very values that brought them the prosperity in the first place, leaders must find something else to unite a divided people. This makes a common enemy the most appealing alternative.

When people focus on the enemy rather than their own internal growth, true growth continues to be stifled. This leads to increased resentment of their own condition, and creates further animosity towards the enemy. The momentum that this cycle builds up amounts to a freight train that barrels towards war. Unless a superman-esque person or innovation manages to stop the imminent collision, war is inevitable. But war does not mean all is lost.

War is like a forest fire – it burns down the tall trees that impede growth and allow the undergrowth to flourish. The bureaucracy, regulations, and legalities that had formed structure and protective covering also impede new innovations to take root. If it takes either three months of regulatory paperwork or a number of bribes to get things done, burning it all down and starting afresh may be the necessary action .Otherwise, regulations only continue to accumulate, and barriers to entry only increase.

War burns down frameworks that debilitate rather than aid growth. Fresh industries are able to develop when such a when a country is united on a common enemy, and there is little room for bureaucratic plodding. In the midst of war, it may seem like hopeless loss, but when the ashes settle and dust clears, I may finally see the sun shining on me without the stifling canopies.

I am not for a forest fire that obliterates everything in its path. But many institutions and people are riled up beyond the capacity for controlled tree trimming. If I understand that such a fire would pave the way for a brighter future, I may enter the inescapably bleak now with an attitude of hope and courage.