tears

an epitaph for justice

And Jesus said, “it is not what goes into a country that defiles it; rather, it is what comes out of the country.”

maga

Hundreds of armed men stormed the government building. Shouts of joy and exclamation echoed the hallways with phrases such as “for the glory of God!” and “God wills it!” reverberating.

A spokesman for the militia members shared why they were there. “For too long, this country has been run amok by leftists and liberals who have no idea what they are doing. They have turned this beautiful country, a country that belongs to God, into a cesspool of corruption. We are doing the will of God.”

As he was speaking, another militia member walked by shouting, “DRAIN THE SWAMP” as others cheered in adulation.

Speaking to another militia member, he shared his concerns about the illegitimacy of the government. “Did I vote for this president? No, I did not. Many people who voted should not have the right to vote and the whole thing is a scam.”

Another man standing nearby with a large assault rifle shared his thoughts. “The gender politics that the liberals have been trying to use got me involved in this movement. And when I realized how much foreigners are ruining our country, I knew I needed to defend our way of life.”

Speaking to the spokesman again, he shared his concern with the misportrayal by media. “There has been so much fake news out there. People think that we are against equality for women, but I have a wife and daughters too. I’m not a monster. We just all want to raise our families with the traditional family values taught to us by our Holy Scriptures.” When asked about others who interpret the Scriptures differently, there was a simple response: “heretics.”

Holding up a cell phone and smashing it to the ground, the spokesman illustrated a crucial point for the movement. “This technology and liberal values have distorted our children. They have been seeking to silence us for too long, but we have now spoken. We are bringing law and order. We will drive out all the foreigners who are trying to destroy our way of life, by the will of God. #MakeAfghanistanGreatAgain!”

image

immortal cell lines, pray for us

Microscopic photos of HEK 293; MRC-5; WI-38

To the persons of aborted fetal cell lines – as Christ died to bring us new life, through your unjust deaths, you also have brought forth life. Your cells have delivered immunity for generations from a multitude of diseases and sickness. Persons of WI-38 (she, 1962) and MRC-5 (he, 1966?), through your stolen breath you have protected many from polio and measles. Person of PER.C6 (unknown, 1985), your clarifying sight has guarded against influenza; Person of HEK 293 (she, 1972), your kidney provides purifying hope against Covid-19. Pray for us, that we may be faithful with our lives and work towards the preservation and respect of all made in the image of God, from conception to natural death.

Henrietta Lacks, Smithsonian Portrait

Henrietta, as Christ poured out his blood for the healing of nations, your cells have been poured out for the advancement of healing of the human community. May we always remember your contributions with gratitude while seeking justice and merciful care for all. Comfort those who are sick, especially those who are uncared for or exploited by those empowered to heal. Pray that we will approach our neighbors and our community with respect and love in protecting our common health.

(Source: docs.google.com)

the great american worker short

Two facts that everyone can agree upon right now – a lot of industries need workers and a lot of people are not returning to the jobs they have had or even quitting. This has been true across industries, from the service sector to white collar jobs.

Some would have you believe that the pandemic and the boosting of the social safety net have created lazy Americans who no longer want to work. There have been three fundamental shifts that contribute to American workers collectively calling the bluff of companies and businesses.

1. Increased Social Safety Net

Admittedly, this shortage is only possible because of the various increases to the social safety net, from boosted unemployment benefits to the direct pandemic payments. The fundamental question is: without the boot of survival on the neck of American workers, how would people react? If they were working a job for survival instead of thriving, it should be of no surprise to anyone that they might want to change jobs. If they were working a low wage job with extremely challenging hours, why would they want to return?

2. Focus on Life

In general, most people who work jobs spend over half of their lives at wage work. The focus on jobs also discounts the many aspects of labor that people do (especially women and mothers) that are fundamental to society and the economy but are not recognized financially. Most people would agree that the most important aspect of their life is their family – yet historically, people have struggled to have the space and time to invest everything that they want to into these critical relationships. The pandemic hit a big reset button: life is not about work, life is more valuable than work.

3. Collective Action

In this past year, our individualistic culture has been rudely awakened to the importance of thinking and acting communally. Staying home wasn’t just about staying safe, but also to not spread Covid to others. Wearing a mask wasn’t that effective to protect yourself, but it was very effective at preventing spread to others. Racial injustice was not just a problem for some people, but it was a problem for all Americans. We marched, we sanitized, we voted. Even moments, such as when the average, everyday person bought stonks and wiped out hedge funds shorting businesses, highlight how Americans are beginning to reawaken to the power of collective action.

In Short

For too long, many businesses have collectively shorted American workers – now Americans are collectively holding out for better work/life balances and better benefits. The groveling of many businesses about American workers being lazy shows the mismatch in valuation of labor. If people aren’t willing to work for you at the pay you are offering, maybe it’s because your business model is broken and not because people are lazy. The hold has been working – wages are up, benefits are up, and people are reorienting their lives beyond survival. We must continue to organize together to demand that all people have the opportunity to live flourishing lives.

take off your shoes

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a wedding of dear friends. There are many things that I could say about the seeming lack of concern around safe Covid practices by many of the guests, but what stuck out to me most was this singular moment. The rehearsal dinner took place at a former rectory turned AirBnB. At the entrance, a large sign posted by the hosts declared a simple request: PLEASE TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES. To assist in this effort, the hosts also offered plentiful shoe covers that are easy to slip on. I saw that there were some people in the house already but I was confused that I did not see any shoes in the doorway. My wife wondered aloud if anyone had taken off their shoes and a bridesmaid walked by with a smile saying, “no, we all just kept them on.” Hearing the voices of our ancestors, we still dutifully took off our shoes and entered into the party as the only people of color.

This, perhaps, is one of the simplest examples of embodied White supremacy.

You may think that this is a silly and superfluous conclusion so I will help break it down:

  1. The hosts made a simple, non-confrontational, non-politicized request to take off shoes before entering into their house (which was exceptionally clean)
  2. The hosts provided easy-to-use shoe slip covers to make it even easier
  3. The White guests figured it was not a sign of disrespect to do what they wanted in someone else’s space

You may also know this fable from the plethora of stories of White American tourists trouncing over cultural norms in other countries. Or through the examination of American history towards indigenous people. However, the stories around shoes embody deeper meanings from my own personal experience as the son of Taiwanese immigrants.

Like most kids growing up, I invited my friends over. In my Southwest Ohioan case, my friends were of White Midwestern Evangelical stock. I loved hosting and throwing parties, running tangled LAN cables up and down stairs connecting computers and gaming consoles. As most Taiwanese households are trained, shoes must come off at the doorway. Visiting my friends’ houses, I would always take off my shoes and would be appalled at seeing them walking around with their shoes on. Understanding this cultural difference, I was always proactive in reminding my friends to take off their shoes before entering into my parents’ house — even sometimes putting up signs with big, bold letters as a reminder.

In retrospect, it never occurred to me that after years (some up to a decade) of coming over, I still had to remind some of my friends to take off their shoes. Given that those who forgot also often intersected with those bantering to me about my parents’ English or making various Asian jokes, I mourn that I never addressed the disrespect that they had for me or for my culture. That after a decade of friendship, they still couldn’t take the time to remember or respect this cultural norm clearly states something.

In Exodus 3:5, Moses saw the burning bush and God responded, “put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Why was this command given? The fire dwelling in the bush was the direct Image of God, as referenced by v2 as “the angel of the LORD.” The bush was a Bearer of the Image. As Gregory the Theologian noted, the shoes are a sign of death, that which was a result of the Fall from Eden. Thus, to be present even before a Bearer of the Image of God is to be on holy ground which demands respect, putting off one’s own way to enter into something set apart.

The inability to respond to a simple request as a sign of respect, after numerous reminders, is a clear sign of disrespect. To think that you can just walk into someone else’s space and do whatever you want is denying their dignity as a fellow person. That the slightest inconvenience to you as a guest is seen as an affront to you or treated with indifference shows that you believe you and your cultural norms are superior to those of your host. This superiority denies that this other person also reflects the image of God and claims that somehow your own image is a clearer reflection.

Many people are wondering what to do in response to the communal awakening and acknowledgement of AAPI hate and violence. I propose an easy first step — show some respect and take off your shoes before entering an Asian household. From there, you can move on to ever deeper layers of solidarity and mutuality. Disrespect in the small things, regardless of being through indifference or antagonism, is the ground cover in the forest of White supremacy.

mammon

who is mammon
but the beast who devours flesh
that which seeks
to deface the image of God

who is mammon
but the king of property
offering temptation
in exchange for fresh life

who is mammon
but the great objectifier
power to transform
life into meaningless bits

who is mammon
but the man who believes
that a piece of rock
is worth more than the thief who steals

depart from me
for I was hungry, and you said I was lazy and took away my food stamps
I was thirsty, and you poisoned my water with lead and gas
I was a refugee, and you built a wall to keep me out
naked, and you masturbated at my image
a criminal, and you demanded that I lay dying in the streets

parables: judas

Reclining at the dinner table with Jesus and other disciples, Judas saw a woman enter into the room. In shock, he watched as the woman annointed Jesus with expensive oil, worth an entire year’s wages. What a waste! Has this woman not heard anything of what Jesus has taught? What need is there for beauty when the Kingdom of God is at hand? Didn’t Jesus just teach about giving to the poor? How could He just accept this? We could have sold this and used the money for better things! Judas frowned with indignation.

Jesus looked over at him and then spoke to the room, “Do not judge her. The poor you will always need to care for, but I will not be with you for much longer.”

Judas rolled his eyes. Jesus and his mind reading again. You’d think he put his skills to better use than just sitting around.

As Jesus and the other disciples continued to dine and laugh, Judas grew more sullen. No one else seems to be understanding the message of Jesus and that He is the Messiah. How can we be caring for the poor if we aren’t rich? How can we be caring for the weak if we aren’t powerful?

A thought ocurred to Judas. Maybe I need to help Jesus fulfill His mission by putting Him into a position where He has to use His power!

Judas slipped off into the brisk night to find the authorities. Finally, the time has come. As he negotiated the details of how to arrest Jesus, Judas figured that he might as well get paid! This is the real Kingdom work that none of the other disciples are willing to do – plus we can always give some of this money to the poor, he thought as he walked off with thirty pieces of silver.


In the midst of darkness, Judas approached Jesus and his fellow disciples, greeting Jesus with a kiss and a wink, “Rabbi, now is your time! The Kingdom of God is here!”

Jesus smiled softly as the commotion of the lynching mob descended upon Him.

Judas watched in expectation as Peter drew a sword and struck a man – yet Jesus stopped him. 

Judas stood confused as Jesus was led away. Ah, I guess Jesus is waiting for a bigger crowd.

Judas followed Jesus to observe his trial before the Sanhedrin. Surely now.

A rising, anxious feeling began to situate upon Judas as he stood in the crowd that mocked Jesus before Pilate. This has to be the moment! Look at the size of the crowd. Now everyone will know of Jesus’ power.

As Jesus was crucified, each strike of a hammer into a nail brought Judas lower to the ground. A group of people around him mocked Jesus. “Surely, if He was the Son of God, He could bring himself down from the Cross!” Judas could barely watch, but the eyes of Jesus scanned across the chasm and found him, gazing lovingly at him with sorrow. Judas wept. Lord, is this not your time? Is the Kingdom of God not at hand?

white / male supremacy

Chanequa Walker-Barnes (adapting prior work by Andrea Smith) drew a framework on four pillars of White supremacy: Commodification, Extermination, Demonization, Indoctrination. Commodification is the process of exploiting people for their labor. Extermination is killing people or their cultural mitosis. Demonization is marking people as an other and enemy. Indoctrination is when people are forced to assimilate and adopt the supremacist culture. I posture that this framework can be more broadly utilized to reference any form of supremacy.

While many have drawn connections as to how White supremacy may have played a role in a White, Evangelical man (whom I purposefully refuse to name here) targeting massage parlors with Asian workers and murdering eight people, the murderer specifically gave his reason: “sex addiction.”

As a former and recovering addict, there are two clear things that are off:

  1. Anyone who has gone through any recovery program likely has heard of the 12 steps, the first being on acknowledging personal powerlessness over the problem. This man instead sought to enact power over others and blame them for his own failure.
  2. When Jesus mentions in Matthew 5 that “if your right eye” or “right hand” causes one to sin, it is better to cut it off than for the whole body to perish — he clearly is not instructing people to destroy others. Matthew 15:19 is direct: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”

Misogyny and toxic masculinity are just different sides of the coin of male supremacy (which seems a more relatable word than patriarchy which is used by scholars). Misogyny is how women are commodified, exterminated, and demonized. Toxic masculinity is how men enact misogyny upon themselves, refusing to acknowledge their God-given capacity for empathy and nurturing. Just as White supremacy is built upon a myth of “not a single drop of color” — male supremacy is built upon the lie that man is the exact opposite of anything associated with woman.

The White, Evangelical man? He had commodified women, either virtually or physically from his use of porn and seeking sex workers. He had demonized women, seeing them as the enemy and the source of his problems. Finally, he acted from the position as a male supremacist to kill women that he did know. It is not a stretch to see how his chosen venues of murder were also directly tied with having commodified Asian women, demonizing Asian women, and finally seeking to kill Asian women. There is no evidence that any of people killed were sex workers nor are all sex workers Asian (the latter being another conversation on the fetishization and exploitation of Asian women). After attacking three separate Asian massage parlors, his next move was to go to another state to continue his rampage on similar locations. Yet other, very explicit “porn industry” related businesses nearby were not targeted.

In many ways, as a Taiwanese American, feel numb to this violence and yet another sign to how white supremacy is a culture of death. But as a man, I also know that I have a role in dismantling male supremacy in myself and then in the world around me. Justice and healing always begins with ourselves.

St. Joseph, pray for us, especially men to serve and love as you did. St. Mary, pray for us, especially Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, the other four women who were killed, and any people who have been exploited for sex. Jesus, have mercy on us sinners.

the mother of creativity

The proverb is one many of us know: “necessity is the mother of invention.” Yet within this proposed axiom lies a darker truth – that chaos is what ushers forth creation. This myth is as old as human history, with the Enūma Eliš recounting how the desecration of Tiamat, a goddess and mother who represents chaos, gives birth to the creation of the heavens and the earth, the rivers and the stars. 

Yet in the account of Genesis, we see how creation takes place not because of chaos, but because of an outpouring of love. As the Trinitarian Creator spoke, “it was good.” Man was created not to serve the gods, but because God’s love overflowed to those made in His image. Soon after, of course, man created the first clothes. The need? They were naked. The cause? Having acted to separate themselves from their Creator. The means? Through destroying the life of a fellow creature to attempt atonement.

Alfred North Whitehead, an English mathematician and philosopher, wrote that “necessity is the mother of futile dodges.” What comes through “necessity” is not true creativity, but a shadow. Beauty and love are not born through chaos, but beget by Love itself. 

This truth is sadly non-resonant within the very communities that claim to follow the loving, creative God. A “dignity of work” is twisted into a “dignity of suffering, struggling to put food on the table while working multiple jobs, being sucked into a whirlwind of debt, living on the edge of chaos.” If man has no need, then would he not live a life of laziness? If man is not forced to work, then would he not simply be a drain on society?

This line of thinking strikes against the justice of God, who created with interdependence embedded into to the source code of life. We must rely upon the rest of creation for sustenance, we must rely upon one another for support, we must rely upon the Creator for salvation. It is only through this interdependence, this common love, this foundation of support that we are able to create further beauty. 

In our current era, the dignity of being must be made explicit. Human life is sacred, from conception to natural death and all the parts in between. We live in a consumerist, competitive world that thrives on chaos and sees it as a form of beauty (see the side hustle and the gig economy), but chaos only begets more chaos and death. We know its impact on our lives, our friends, our communities – how many GoFundMe campaigns have we seen for basic needs, including healthcare?

The time for an unconditional, universal basic income is now. Studies after studies have shown the efficacy of universal basic income in improving the quality of life, the quality of being for families, and especially children. From Pope Francis to Mitt Romney, leaders around the world see the value of unconditional payments for the common good. People don’t work more, they work better – choosing to try new opportunities or spend time on the things we really say matter but devalue financially such as caring for family.

Unconditional basic income begets the dignity of being. And this unconditional love for our fellow humans, our common humanity, will be the mother of new beauty and creativity.

a shared mythology

How does a country whose revolution, inception, and existence are intertwined with sin, do any good? How does a country whose mythology is built upon lies and misconceptions find a common story? Ibram X. Kendi proposes that denial is the “heartbeat of America.” And in eviscerating this denial, what remains? Or as the Aspen Institute asks, “who is us?”

We likely all know the oft-repeated slogans. No taxation without representation! A country of immigrants founded upon principles of freedom and equality. The greatest democracy in the world. In every lie, there is a kernel of truth. How do we begin to process that our revolution was for refusing taxes for national defense while trying to infringe upon indigenous land? Or that embedded within our Constitution is a clause delineating that Black people are less than human? Or that throughout our history we have sought to disenfranchise those who were deemed as others or to keep them out entirely or to violate treaties made with those who already resided on the land?

We are a country that both developed a vaccine for polio and utilize non-consensual cell lines of Black people and aborted children to develop new medicines. We are a country that stood against the rise of fascism in the world while fostering racism at home. We are a country that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” while passing the Chinese Exclusion Act. We are a country that has developed incredible technological innovation while devouring natural resources around the world to expand the bottom line. We are a country which has brokered peace deals amongst warring nations while having some of the greatest gun violence in the world on our own soil.

From all of this we can indeed find our common story – we are a country of innovators. Pioneers. Explorers. None of these facets are a moral good, and so often they have been twisted for demonstrable harm and evil. These qualities are also not exclusive to America, but they are the soul of our country. 

America is filled with so many generations of those who moved to start something new, to build a better life for their families. Too often, this has resulted in the erasure of cultures past – whether by oneself or systematic violence. As spoken by Dr. Jose P. Rizal, “A person who does not look back to where he came from would not be able to reach his destination.” We must never forget where we came from. We must never forget Whom we came from. Only from these points can we begin to take on the audacious task of building a true multicultural society that carries forward a culture of life for all of its people to the ends of the world. Despite all of the fallen nature of our country’s founders and foundation, this is our call: to be innovators of new and beautiful things rooted upon justice and mercy.