Lunch with the ‘Bros’

Sometimes, I feel like I’m on the show “Silicon Valley,” the fictional HBO show about “bro” life at a startup. To be honest, I haven’t watched the show. I feel like it would just be too painful and traumatic for me. A little too real. Like this lunch.

I like to keep in touch with former co-workers, so it’s typical for me to invite people to lunch just to catch up. This time, I invite two male co-workers – one white and the other Chinese-American – to a pho place near my work. All three of us have known each other for a few years, having worked for the same company. Just recently, we have all gotten new jobs and are transitioning to new work environments.

We first exchange information about what we do now. They ask me about my job which I describe vaguely as I never know what to say about what I do. But quickly, the conversation turns to people they know – other men – and how much money they’re making. It feels like an auction where people keep yelling out numbers to outbid each other. White guy shares what Mr. so-and-so is making. Chinese-American guy follows suit with someone he knows (another dude) with a higher salary plus better stock options. They go into excruciating detail – this guy they both know, who’s now a founder at a startup gets this type of funding, and the company’s projected to be successful in two years based on x, y, and z factors. This goes on and on as I quietly eat my pho, waiting for them to change the subject due to my (obvious) disengagement.

Good news is they do eventually change the subject, this time though they start talking about networking and who helped who get a great job at which company; and how they (all men) help each other advance in their careers.  It becomes clear to me they know a lot of people, mostly men, who look out for each other and will recruit and recommend each other when a prime position becomes available. They are all a part of this invisible, middle-aged men’s club.

The Secret of their Success

It’s clear from the conversation these men help each other get jobs. As they’re talking, I connect the dots in my head. When so and so got that job last year, it wasn’t necessarily because of his qualifications, it was because someone from the inside knew someone and personally recommended him to that person. Though there is nothing wrong with referring people to jobs, the difference here is the exclusivity. These men recommend other men from this small circle, and they do so for the top leadership jobs. And this isn’t a one-time thing, it happens over and over. Like the gift that keeps giving, they take turns referring each other.

This means those on the outside can’t get in, no matter how qualified they are. They’re not part of the club.

The Things that Matter

I say it’s often not just what we talk about, but what we don’t talk about, that reveals our values. They talk about what constitutes success for them: career advancement, excellent pay, and benefits. They compare cars and other investments (houses and education for their kids). But what they don’t talk about: their wives, community, and other relationships.

Back to Work

As we leave the pho place, the Chinese-American guy asks the white guy about his new car, a used Tesla.

“Do you want to see it?” the white guy asks, with more than a hint of excitement in his voice.

“Sure,” the other guy responds.

“No thanks. I have to get back to work,” I start to say, but realized they have already started to cross the street toward the car.

This must be what it’s like to sell one’s soul. These men have bought into lies about success, money and what matters. They have spent most of their working lives chasing after these things. They have hoarded treasures for themselves, excluding those who are not like them.

For the first time in a long time, I regret having lunch. I wish I didn’t know these things about them. Ignorance might have been preferable. I feel dirty – working in the same world and knowing some of the same people. I feel angry – learning about their circle, and the values that drive them. But most of all, I feel sad. Because this is not how it’s supposed to be.

The Invisible in the City

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I think the key difference in working downtown versus the suburbs is proximity. Buildings and structures are closer together; human beings physically share space. As I make the cold, wintry walk to my office, I walk alongside other commuters. I also pass by the homeless and marginalized on the street.

One day, one man in particular has a haunting sign: “This is what it feels like to be invisible.”

The man lays scrunched up on the ground, his arms covering his face. From his hands, I can make out he is dark-skinned. I want to stop, but like the other passers-by, I keep walking. I have to get to work. I never see the man and his sign again, but his words continue to haunt me.

Visible/Invisible

In downtown Seattle, poverty is very visible. It’s more visible than in Redmond – the suburbs where I used to work. Poverty encamps next to wealth. Seattle’s homeless crisis has reached a state of emergency, deaths continue to rise every year, and city officials struggle to agree on, and find, viable solutions to the crisis.

Poverty is visible, and yet this man feels he is invisible. I feel sad for the truth he shared. But I also feel stuck, not knowing what to do and how to respond.

These issues involve complex economic, political and social systems and structures. And if those most familiar with these systems and structures can’t “fix” the problem, what makes me think I can do anything?

I cannot know what it feels like to be homeless, but I know what it’s like to feel invisible, to not feel seen. It’s something I have experienced for years at work and in the church. It’s feeling excluded from what’s valued and valuable. It’s feeling cut-off from human connection.

Lazarus, Invisible at the Gate

In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of an unnamed rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Every day, Lazarus sits at the rich man’s gate, hoping for some compassion. Every day, the rich man offers none, going about his own way.  The story doesn’t specify how wealthy this man is, whether he’s a HENRY (High Earner Not Rich Yet), a millionaire/billionaire, or a 1 percenter. We do know he has more than Lazarus – way more. The story doesn’t say what caused Lazarus to be poor, but we do know Lazarus is not just depraved of resources, he also has no human connection.

In his book, The Great Chasm: How to Stop our Wealth from Separating Us from the Poor and God1, Derek W. Engdahl talks about the chasm between the rich man and Lazarus, between the wealthy and the poor. The chasm can be crossed but the wealthy will need to cross it. It’s not up to the poor to do this. “It was the rich man’s responsibility to go out and welcome Lazarus into his home. What this teaches us is that if we have the power to cross a particular chasm, we are obligated to do so since those on the other side likely do not have the same ability. We cannot wait for the poor to come to us.”

He warns against inaction. If the chasm isn’t crossed in this life, then it becomes permanent, for in the story, the rich man’s wealth has caused a chasm not just between him and Lazarus, but also between him and God for eternity.

Engdahl presents forming relationships with the poor as the way to cross the chasm. While I don’t disagree with relationships being key, I also think that the rich man should have seen Lazarus, not just as a beggar, but as a valuable part of his community – part of himself.  And if he sees only a beggar needing charity and ends there, then the relationship becomes a paternalistic one.

There’s a saying in Chinese: 自己 人 (our own people). It’s not a term used flippantly. It’s reserved for those we see as our own. Some cultures might refer to this as “family,” but family has a sacred connotation in Chinese culture, reserved primarily for those biologically related to us. However, the closest to this is calling someone who’s not family “our own people.”  It means we trust them. We connect with them. We see them as a part of ourselves.

What if Lazarus is the rich man’s “own people”? How will that change their relationship?

What if I see the poor and the marginalized as my “own people”? How will that change how I relate to them? How will it affect how I use my gifts, talent and resources? Who I fight for and the systems I try to transform?

The opposite of the man’s words is feeling seen, feeling visible. Seeing the homeless and marginalized as “my own people” is quite radical for me. And I will continue to grapple with what it means in the days, months and years to come.

References:

1 Engdahl, D.W. (2015), The Great Chasm: How to Stop our Wealth from Separating Us from the Poor and God, Pomona, CA:  Servant Partners Press

Hitting Pause

Six months ago, I left the company I worked at for ten years. Some days, I still wonder if it mattered I was there. I recall the hard days, the politics, the highs and lows of daily work. I remember trying hard to build relationships and friendships. But impact can fly – along with relationships. I struggle to make sense of the negative experiences. And I start to ask existential questions about the point of it all.

One of my favorite movies is “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.1” It’s about a couple who deeply love each other. But the relationship becomes painful and through a medical procedure, they decide to have the other person erased permanently from their memory. Though they no longer remembered each other, they somehow meet and find themselves connecting again. It’s fascinating to consider what the mind forgets but the heart remembers. People can’t be fully erased from our lives.

Leaving a long-time workplace is like leaving a long-term committed relationship. And just like relationships, I believe our experience in our workplace can’t be fully erased from our lives. This can be good, bad, or mixed, depending on the experience. But I also believe healing and renewal is possible; new experiences can replace the old.

The Box of Random Junk

When I left my old office, I somehow fit 10 years of random junk in one cardboard box. There’s the old Voice over IP phone – first generation – that only works with Skype for Business. A couple of cherished awards and handwritten notes. And the oldest swag I’ve kept from a job almost 20 years ago – a brain stress ball that says, “Smart is Beautiful. AltaVista.” Yes, I hail from the original internet. Some things are worth keeping, others – like the phone – need to be recycled. 

This box of random junk still sits in my garage, occupying space. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the random emotions I still have to sort through, that continue to take up space. Maybe it’s a gentle invitation from God to hit pause, before I move on like nothing’s happened. So I hit pause and ask myself the hard questions: 

What was great about the experience? What caused pain?  

Losing my Tribe

My tribe was the people I worked with. We shared a common language, identity and purpose. From Southern California to Washington, I had moved seven times in 10 years but through it all, I belonged to the same tribe. We spent a lot of time together at work and after work, and talked about career, work and the stuff of life. They had invited me into their homes. We shared in our struggles to be good parents. We celebrated when someone got a new job, and mourned with each other when someone got slighted.  

Leaving my tribe was a hard decision, but it was the right decision for me. It was time to leave.

After I left, some people I thought would reach out never did; others surprised me by their desire to connect and stay in touch. I had to come to terms with the reality that some relationships run deep, while others are shallow. But the harder thing to accept was I may never again belong to another tribe like this one. 

All that I’ve Left Behind

Ironically, because I left while my role was in transition, I didn’t really leave much work undone. But there’s work of a different kind I was doing. In my last two years there, I started to have conversations with different people about racial justice and gender equity in the workplace, and the systems in place that stifled the flourishing of women of color. Even though it was very costly for me to have these conversations, I felt like God was the one opening doors for me to have them. 

I often wonder about this important work – unfinished, undone.  I can’t see the impact of my work, if any. But I know just as the Spirit started the work through me, the Spirit will continue the work through others.  

Hitting pause has helped me sort through some things in my box of random emotions. In the process, I have found things I want to keep, things I want to shed. Great experiences and pain seem to come hand in hand.  

When I hit pause again, I will sort through the remaining junk. For now, I know I am keeping the brain stress ball.

 

References:
1Bermann, Georges (Producer), Gondy, Michel (Director), (2004) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. United States: Universal Studios.

 

A New Spirituality

My son starts middle school this year. Being future oriented, I have been anticipating his first day of school since the last school year ended. Mostly I feel anxious and fearful of what lies ahead.  I tell myself it’s a necessary part of growing up. It occurs to me – he’s not just entering a new grade, but a new stage in his physical, social, emotional and spiritual development. The tools and support he’ll need will be different.

My husband works with college students. As he kicks off the year with his campus staff who work with students at different universities, he tells them, they need “a new spirituality.” The old spirituality won’t work as they enter this new stage where white supremacists carry torches onto the college campus, and universities produce college graduates who believe women are inferior to men and feel compelled to publish a manifesto sharing why. His staff will need different spiritual tools and support.

The New Reality

In my post, “When Reality Bites,” I reflect on the shift to a new reality of “racism more overt, less subtle, more frequent, impacting more people.” This new reality is not just about individual racism, but about systemic racism – which is exponentially more powerful and damaging due to its scale and depth.

The people who lead others in this new reality will need to practice a new spirituality because the old spirituality won’t work anymore. It’s like using a probiotic to cure stomach cancer. This new spirituality needs to be stronger to fight against the advancing forces of evil present.

I don’t know exactly what this new spirituality looks like and what all the components are. I’d like to share three components I have been learning to practice in my own life.

Stay engaged. Engagement can involve listening, talking, debating and praying with others. For me, it has also involved speaking and writing. The creative process has given me space to first process and seek God more deeply, and then share with others.

Not talking about #Charlottesville doesn’t make white supremacy go away. Rather, it protects institutions and systems that want to deny, dismiss, or diminish reality. I believe it puts a heavy toll on workers of color who have to go to work and act like it’s ‘business as usual,’ while our pain has no place to go.

Remember what healthy looks like. Reading Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, made me realize how scarcely I’ve experienced health in the places where I’ve worked. It’s such a rare experience I have difficulty remembering what healthy looks like.

As people who lead others in this new reality, we need to remember scripture’s vision of healthy and just human relationships and systems. We cannot let the present lies, dysfunction and unhealthiness erase all memory. Remembering what healthy looks like will keep us from aiming too low and accepting the status quo.

Develop a rhythm of rest and restoration. Two months after I resigned from my employer of 10 years, I thought I had plenty of time to reflect and recover. But it wasn’t just my brain or my soul that needed to recover. To my surprise, my physical body was worn out from years of absorbing pain. It needed deep rest. It needed to recover.

Developing a rhythm of rest and restoration is more than just taking one day off a week for Sabbath. Sometimes, we need to rest for a long time before we feel restored.

Jesus’ Invitation

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (New Revised Standard Version).

Instead of reading this as a personal invitation like we’ve been taught by Western Christianity, I wonder how different the invitation sounds as a corporate invitation to those who labor in faith and racial justice.

“Come to me, all you who work for racial justice that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

If we come to him, Jesus promises to give us rest for our souls. May Jesus guide us in developing a new spirituality for such a time as this.

 

Crossing the Bridge to the Other Side

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“PEOPLE don’t like crossing the bridge to the other side. They stay on their side of the bridge, we stay on our side,” advised a local pastor years ago, before we moved to Washington State’s Puget Sound area. He added, “That’s just the culture, the way things are around here.”

Why do people prefer their side of the bridge? What is it about crossing a bridge that separates us from them?  What happens when we do cross?

Crossing the Bridge

For four years, I lived and worked on what’s called “the Eastside.” Two floating bridges connect the Eastside and downtown Seattle. I just got a new job and it’s on the other side of the bridge. Though only 10 miles away, downtown Seattle/South Lake Union feels like worlds apart from where I used to work in suburban Redmond. Tall buildings, narrow one-way streets, and the ever-present Space Needle frame the landscape.

I work in one of those tall buildings now – the one with no parking. I used to work 10 minutes from home; now my commute is a lot longer. Going to work now means a daily hustle to find a ride – a combination of bus, vanpool or crowd-sourced car pool.

Crossing the bridge is more than just a physical move. It means entering a new culture. At work, the people, the language, and the way things are done differ from where I’m from.

The Other Side

My new commute reminds me of crossing ethnic and cultural barriers. As the local pastor said, people prefer their side of the bridge. That’s just the way things are. What’s true for crossing a physical bridge rings true for people crossing ethnic and cultural differences.

I’m Chinese-Filipino-American. There are cultural things I prefer – like being understated, not showy. I value food and relationships –  usually together.  I honor those older than me and have always seen myself as part of a larger community.

The other side may not share my values, practices and experiences. Crossing the bridge that separates me from those of a different ethnicity and culture takes effort. It disrupts my routine.

But it’s more than just a physical inconvenience. It means engaging a different culture. My heart, mind and spirit have to be involved. Above all, I have to be open to this: my life mingling with theirs.

Why go to the other side? Why not just stay where I am? Why disrupt my routine? It’s far easier to stay with my tribe.

My Reason for Crossing

In college, I had the rare experience of being in close community with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. My campus Christian fellowship was not perfect, but we were deeply bound to each other, and to this day, many of us are still friends.

For me, it was like my soul experiencing a beautiful piece of intricate and expensive art, and I have since spent my life looking for or replicating the same piece of work. Most of the time, I fail. But beauty has a way of capturing the imagination and not releasing the soul from its grip.

Czeslaw Milosz’ poem, “One More Day,1” says this about beauty:

“And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil

Only beauty will call to them and save them

So that they still know how to say: this is true and that is false.”

I long to experience again the beauty of people from different cultures and ethnicities with deep, genuine love for each other.

When We Cross the Bridge

Since I started crossing the bridge, the best parts of my day are now my shared commute time with co-workers. Via vanpool or carpool, I enjoy mingling my life with theirs – getting to know new people, hearing their stories, learning what it’s like in their world. It’s very different than my old solitary drive to work.

I am amazed that my co-workers, too, have crossed the bridge. They want to know me. They don’t see me as an outsider. Rather, they see me as part of their tribe.

This is what happens when we cross the bridge to the other side. The potential to be a part of another’s tribe. Exchanging disruption and inconvenience for a different glimpse of humanity.

 

References:

1 Milosz, Czeslaw, “One More Day,” in The Collected Poems 1931-1987 (New York: Ecco Press, 1998)
Photo credit: “520 Bridge” by Stewsnews, flickr, 2003

Reconsidering Hope

Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, likes to tell stories. Haunting, real stories of children, women, those with mental illness, people of color, and the poor trapped in our broken system of justice in the United States. His March 2012 TED talk titled, “We Need to Talk About An Injustice,” has touched and influenced millions because of his stories.

As I listen to him speak on March 2017 at Seattle Pacific University’s Chapel Service, I expect him to end his talk by giving a practical call to action. Instead, he ends his talk with a call to Hope. He tells his audience to have hope. The hope he describes is not some flimsy emotion born out of ignorance or blind optimism. It’s a hope that can withstand the dark office of injustice, day in and day out, and keep working for change. It’s a force to be reckoned with because it refuses to give up.

Honestly, hope doesn’t come naturally for me. I can blame my environment. After all, I live in the birthplace of grunge and exist in a perpetual sea of gray. I can blame my generation. Gen Xers have the patent on angst. I can blame the situation we’re in as a nation. But really, I need to own my hopelessness as something I have internalized and have allowed to become a part of my identity.

But Bryan Stevenson has convinced me to reconsider hope.

What would hope look like if I allowed it to shine in the darkest areas? What can hope do?

Hope-rising

Despite the rise of more blatant acts of racism in government policies as well as in daily life, the anti-racist voices have not cowered or been silenced. From shows like Master of None telling stories written by and for people of color, to real-life heroic interventions in defense of women of color and Muslims in Portland, Oregon, racism is confronted courageously at all fronts.

Having hope means believing I am not alone in the work of racial justice. I am reminded of the story of Elijah in the Old Testament. In I Kings 18-19, the prophet Elijah felt like giving up after a showdown between him and the prophets of Baal. God comes through in a spectacular way and yet Elijah hides in a cave, fearing for his life, feeling like he’s the only one left who still worships YHWH. But God tells him there’s 400 out there who are like Elijah. They have not bowed down to Baal. He is not alone.

Hope in white spaces

I hesitate to share my thoughts here for fear of jinxing it. Seriously. But I. Will. Have. Hope.

For the first time ever, I have witnessed groups – not just random individuals – of white folks who want to take part in the work of racial justice. Some come from predominantly white churches, and feeling convicted, have formed their own groups within those churches to wrestle with and deal with race issues. Others belong to more ethnically diverse churches who want to get real and go deeper than Sunday mornings would allow. While mourning the racism of their people, they come, humble and willing to learn and do their part.

Having hope means believing that people and systems can change. Nothing and no one is beyond repentance and conversion. During a May 2017 interview1 following his talk at SPU, Bryan Stevenson said: “For young people of faith, believing things that we haven’t seen — that’s what defines who we are. Believing that we can create a community that is better at justice, better at equal treatment, better at overcoming racism and bigotry against the poor is essential — and then struggling to achieve those things — that’s the work.”

I know where hopelessness leads. I don’t know where hope leads. I guess I will start with this post, and take it one step at a time.

 

References:
1Lim, B, (Interviewer), (2017), “Just Mercy” Author Bryan Stevenson: What Christians Can Do About Injustice [Interview article]. Retrieved from https://response.spu.edu/2017/05/pursuing-justice-with-mercy-a-conversation-with-equal-justice-initiative-founder-bryan-stevenson/

All Work Considered

I recently left my paid work and find myself unemployed for the first time in more than a decade. It’s strange when people ask me what I’ve been up to, and my answer is, “Napping.” And instantly, if they’re older than 4 years old, they’re jealous. I can tell they value napping too, but sadly, they don’t get paid for it (or shouldn’t, unless they’re sleeping on the job). Napping isn’t really a “side hustle.”

Though I am well aware I need a job to pay the bills, I am also aware that there are passions and ways God has wired me that don’t fit into one paid position. But the demands of full-time, paid work can sometimes be so high, they ask for my mind, body and soul, leaving little to no room for anything else. And as a wife and a mother, it’s hard for me to justify spending valuable time and energy on something that doesn’t immediately and tangibly benefit my family or myself.

As I seek discernment and wisdom from friends on what to do next, some of the surprising themes I’ve heard include writing and speaking on the intersection of faith, work, and justice. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can produce a book overnight. I still need a paying job. And yet, what if this is what God wants me to do, not just for my own self-expression or fulfillment but as part of his kingdom work through me?

What if I need to take this work  – right now unpaid – more seriously?

My sister-in-law, Bree Hsieh, works for Servant Partners, a Christian organization that lives and serves among the world’s urban poor. She has lived for more than 15 years in the city of Pomona, a low-income suburb of Los Angeles. Bree works part-time as a publisher for Servant Partner Press; she is also a poet and an artist.

One of the ways Bree shares her passions with the people in her community is through art. Last summer, she opened up an Artist Studio, a wonderful place for people in the community, young and old, artistically-inclined or not, to come and create art. Bree spends hours in the studio for she, like her organization, believes beauty and creativity are signs of transformation – signs of God at work amongst the marginalized.

Bree says:

“A city is a large thing to change, as is an educational system, a political system, an economic system. And art, beauty, even creative thinking, are not the answer for everything broken. But by investing in these gifts and those called to steward them, we gain new roadmaps within ourselves. We carve out more thinking room, a clean imaginative place, more deeply reflective spaces, and an emotional drawing board, if not a blueprint, for how we all might all imagine possibilities: new systems, new places, ways to fill in our hearts’ cracked roads, and more helpful ways to pave clear paths through this lovely and rutted out world.”

Bree’s hope for the city is expressed through this simple studio. She inspires me to consider, what if, like art for her, writing might be something God has given me to steward.

Institutional racism is a large thing to change. We are still in the beginning, infantile stages. My writing is not the answer for everything broken. But I do increasingly see it as a gift God wants me to steward. By God’s grace, I can also see the possibilities amid all my doubts and fears.

I have a few pieces, but I don’t know all the next steps. I don’t know how to design a life that will accommodate paid and unpaid work. But where the Lord leads, I will follow.

What the Evangelical Church Can Learn from Tech about Diversity

The technology industry is not known for great diversity. A few years ago, top tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft started to publish their ethnic and gender diversity numbers publicly, in an effort to be more transparent. There’s usually a narrative to explain these numbers, along with initiatives for improvement.

The American evangelical church is not known for great diversity – especially ethnic and cultural diversity. There are pockets of ethnic-specific churches within denominations, which mostly account for their denomination’s diversity. Even aspiring “multiethnic” churches will admit they are still a work in progress. Individual churches don’t tend to disclose their diversity numbers publicly, or any initiatives to improve them, for that matter.

As an average evangelical church goer and as a 20-year veteran of the tech industry, I can see many similarities in the diversity landscape in both institutions. Both are predominantly white institutions with mostly white male leadership. Both exist in highly competitive environments where audiences are fickle. Both have increasing pressure to change and adapt or become irrelevant and die.

But being a resident in both worlds has allowed me to see some nuances. In the last couple of years, tech companies have accelerated their focus on diversity in almost every area – recruitment, programs and training and promotions to leadership – and have used their improved numbers as competitive differentiators. The evangelical church, on the other hand, has stayed pretty much the same or worse, declined in its focus due to the current political climate.

What can the evangelical church learn from tech when it comes to ethnic and cultural diversity? I’d like to suggest a few ideas.

  • Do the right thing, even with mixed motives. Tech companies are driven by their need to show profit to the Street, and at the same time, they need to demonstrate innovation and future growth in their strategy. To continue to innovate, tech companies need to attract and retain the best talent – and that talent pool is ethnically diverse. Moreover, the customers whose business they are vying for have more and more ethnic minorities in decision-making roles, thus also making it crucial that they reflect the diversity of their customer base. These forces drive tech companies to focus on diversity. In my opinion, motives don’t have to be purely altruistic if actions result in the greater good.
  • Create an open culture. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote attributed to the late management guru Peter Drucker. As tech matures as an industry, its culture has also matured to be less focused on the founders’ cultures to one that is more open to different cultures and different ways of doing things. Though this openness is slow to penetrate certain areas, there is nevertheless an opening, and in many places, the hole keeps getting bigger and bigger. This cultural change is more crucial than any strategy or tactic. It also creates a safer place for those who didn’t previously have a seat on the bus.
  • “Get the right people on the bus” is a key concept in Jim Collins’ classic book, Good to Great. One way to change culture is to get the right people in role that have the desired values. Make your speaker panel more ethnically diverse when they represent the company at conferences. Promote more people of color to visible and influential roles. Just having one person as a token won’t do much good. Using another saying: “it takes a village.”
  • Be prepared for some “losses” in the short-term.  As tech companies invest time and resources on their various diversity initiatives, “losses” come in the form of money, talent, and opportunity costs. People who have different values will choose not to work for, or do business with, these companies. Employees may question why certain groups are getting “preferential” treatment over others. And yet because collectively their peer tech companies (or competition) are doing the same thing, the short-term “losses” seem worth their potential future benefits. Time will tell but so far, the general perception seems to be that the long-term rewards will be worth the current costs paid.

Tech still has a very long way to go, but even as a cynic, I am encouraged to see a focus and a drive I haven’t seen before. I would love to see the evangelical church accelerate its focus on diversity and learn from some unlikely teachers.

When It’s Time to Leave

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A simple sign hangs on the wall of my favorite coffee shop: “Only Love Creates” – a quote from Catholic martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe. When I first saw it, I questioned its validity. It seems so exclusive, to attribute the work of creation to love. But every time I see the sign, its truth sinks in a little deeper.

Hate can’t create, it only destroys. And fear immobilizes. Love can’t help but create.

Love makes poetry, capturing words from blank spaces. Love makes music, hearing when silence speaks. Love makes a chair, inviting hospitality from pieces of wood.

Without love, the artist can’t create and the writer can’t write.

The Struggle

It’s hard to create when there’s hate around and we struggle to survive. For some this is physical survival. For others, it’s the soul that needs to survive. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. We come to a point where we have to choose: leave or stay.

 In 1984, The Paris Review1 asked writer James Baldwin why he chose to leave America for France. Baldwin responded: “It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge.”

Baldwin’s interviewer continued, “You say the city beat him to death. You mean that metaphorically.”

Baldwin: “Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

American society was in the thick of racial segregation and oppression. James Baldwin knew he needed to leave America in order to survive – as a black man and as a writer. Death and trauma surrounded Baldwin and he needed to get out.

I believe there’s a trauma to thrive ratio2 for creativity to take place. When trauma is too high and we struggle to survive, we can’t thrive, and therefore, can’t create. The heart feels on the edge, brittle; the mind feels unable to process and think.

Different things cause different people trauma. Tolerance for trauma also varies by individual and group. But when trauma becomes intolerable, it’s time to leave.

 The Boat

In Matthew 14, Jesus sends the disciples on a boat while he himself stays behind to pray. A mighty storm hits and the trained fishermen struggle to survive. In the midst of all this, they see a figure walking on water towards them. The “ghost” claims to be Jesus.

Peter immediately issues a challenge, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28, New Revised Standard Version).  Jesus says “Come!” and Peter gets out of the boat and actually walks on water! At Jesus’ command, Peter goes from struggling to stay alive in a storm to walking on water. He goes from barely surviving to thriving.

Peter gets out of the boat – that very familiar place – and does something totally insane. Because of this act, Peter experiences Jesus’ power in an incredible way.

Sometimes, we have to leave that familiar place to experience Jesus’ power in our lives.

Beyond Survival

I believe God wants me to not just survive – though that’s crucial; he also wants me to thrive. Surviving is different than thriving. Surviving is being alive. Beyond survival, thriving is like a plant that’s growing and flourishing.

Survival is having a job that pays the bills. Thriving means being in an environment where I am seen, heard and valued as a Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander woman. It means I see other people like me in the room, and I am not the only one. When I look around, I see others like me thriving at all levels of leadership. The systems and culture in place allow for my thriving, and the thriving of those like me.

During Baldwin’s years in France, he received love from kind and generous strangers and thrived as a writer. He later came back to the United States, his story brilliantly told by Raoul Peck in the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.”

There’s a time to stay; there’s a time to leave.

May we seek God in our staying or leaving for only by his love and power can we thrive.

 

References:

1Elgrably, J. (1984), “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” [Article]. Retrieved from The Paris Review on February 8, 2017.

2Ellis, C. F. (1996), Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

Interrupting ‘Business as Usual’

business as usual at airports

It was a typical Friday in January. I went to work, excited about the dumpling party we were hosting that weekend to celebrate Lunar New Year. I wasn’t really paying attention to the news, since it was Friday. Nothing happened on Friday.

The next morning, I happened to check my work email. To my surprise, there was an email from our Chief Legal Officer addressed to all company employees. The president had issued an Executive Order banning entry of refugees and immigrants from seven countries. Our Chief Legal Officer wrote that 76 of my co-workers and their families were impacted and that the company’s legal resources were committed to helping them.

A wave of immense sadness came over me. I thought of what it must be like for my co-workers and the many others who were stranded at airports, not knowing what just happened. The news showed people protesting at airports across the country. One picture in particular surprised me. Amidst the chaos, lawyers showed up at airports, lending their time to help those impacted. Lawyers whose weekends got interrupted, but felt compelled to show up in their weekend clothes, armed with their law degrees and experience, to help.

My People

On Monday, our company CEO and our Chief Legal Officer held an all-employee meeting, stating their commitment to help “our people.” They didn’t see the 76 and their families any other way. Our people. Other tech companies including Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google expressed similar commitments. Some of the best legal minds working at these tech companies brainstormed that week and came up with lawsuits, exception programs, and finally, an amicus brief that was submitted to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Executive Order interrupted ‘business as usual’ for these companies. But instead of passive compliance, I saw my industry resist and speak up against injustice. They even joined forces to appeal and petition, leveraging their combined bargaining power. The cynic would say it’s because of selfish reasons – talent recruitment, innovation, etc. Though businesses will have their self-seeking motives, there’s a difference in many of the statements made by the executives that speak to their experience and relationships with immigrants that have changed them. These experiences and relationships compelled them to act. Like our company CEO said, these are “our people.”

Not my People

On the other hand, I have seen a different response from people who say they are tired of seeing “political posts” in their social media feed. These aren’t the folks who are necessarily for the ban. These folks just can’t be bothered. They want their lives in a bubble of their making. They want a ‘business as usual’ life with no unwanted interruptions. Besides, these are not their people, why should they care?

They want their old lives back – before all the “political posts.” They want to go to church and not hear anything about the marginalized and the oppressed.

Where to go from here

Seventy-five years ago, there was another Executive Order that was unconstitutional, racist and unjust. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing the exclusion of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent to internment camps. On Bainbridge Island in the state of Washington, there’s a memorial for Japanese Americans with the inscription, “Nidoto Nai Yoni” – Let it Not Happen Again – a chilling reminder of the past, a warning for the present and future.

I believe God is interrupting our ‘Business as Usual.’ The American church has largely ignored movements like Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL, immigration rights. But time and time again, God interrupts our weekend plans, our dumpling parties. He shows us images of suffering, in hopes we would choose to be present and enter in. He brings the marginalized to our doorstep, in hopes we would choose to welcome them.

In the weeks, months and years to come, there will be more interruptions. Just like the lawyers that fateful weekend, we can choose to offer ourselves to help. We can choose to lend our talents – whatever they may be. Or we can give the gift of our presence. If we are open, there’s a part God wants us to play.

Let us not go through life ‘Business as Usual.’ Nidoto Nai Yoni.