Watching old episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway has got me thinking about puns:
For Weird Newscasters:
“Welcome to the 6 o’clock news. I’m your anchor, Nat Flixandchill.”

“I am your anchor, Owen Sdayswewearpink.”

“I am your anchor, Gunter Theinfluence.”
“I am your anchor, Carl Themenshorses.”
“Our top story: Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took part in an unorthodox fundraiser this weekend. The Majority Leader of the Senate was bobbing for orange peels in a barrel of pickle juice when he fell in. Although the senator was drenched, he managed to collect all the peels the barrel. As one eyewitness put it, the Mitch in brine saved rinds.”
For Greatest Hits:
“We’ll be right back with our broadcast of the annual President Reagan impersonation contest, America’s Next Top Ronald, in just a second.”
And more!
An artist in Burlington decided to create a life size replica of Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders using hundreds of pieces of bathroom linoleum. After collecting the linoleum into a pile, the artist started snipping into them with a pair of scissors. When asked what she was doing, she simply replied “A Bernie of a thousand tiles begins with a single snip.”

In Madrid today, dozens of people competed in the annual speech contest to win
a priceless Ming Dynasty urn. In the end, the contest organizers gave the prize for a speech given by Baldur Bronstad, a husky Norwegian lumberjack. When asked why his speech won, the organizers simply said, “The burly word gets the urn.”

“Welcome to the 6 o’clock news. I am your anchor, Cam Overhereandgivemesomesuga.

Our top story tonight: Kermit the Frog was spotted downtown at a charity event, decorating a giant float made in his likeness entirely out of small beans. Unfortunately, the charity had brought brown beans, not green, and the famous amphibian was taking time to paint each bean the proper color. When asked for comment, Kermit simply shrugged and said, “It’s not easy greening beans.”

Psalm 55

Psalm 55.

What I appreciate about the psalms is that they are filled with a complex range of human emotions. The psalms contain joy, honor, peace, discipline, fear, anger, disappointment, sadness. The psalms remind us of the fullness of human life.

In this psalm, the psalmist declares his horror and deep distress. He has been betrayed by his friend:

“Now it is not an enemy who insults me—
otherwise I could bear it;
it is not a foe who rises up against me—
otherwise I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man who is my peer,
my companion and good friend!
We used to have close fellowship;
we walked with the crowd into the house of God.”

The psalmist responds to his friend’s betrayal by calling on God to vindicate him:

“God, You will bring them down
to the Pit of destruction;
men of bloodshed and treachery
will not live out half their days.
But I will trust in You.”

I am fortunate enough to say that I have not experienced this sort of distress. I have not been betrayed in this way by a friend. But I can only imagine the heartache and anger the psalmist feels. His call for justice is understandable.

But I am also mindful of another who was betrayed. One of his followers gave him over to death. His friends abandoned him in his hour of need. One of his closest companions disavowed any connection to him. He was brought down to the Pit of destruction.

But he did not call for vengeance. He did not call for bloodshed. His own blood was spilled, so that he could bring reconciliation to all. He embraced his friends. He did not name them in their weakness, but called them into strength.

May that same spirit of forgiveness animate my life.

Psalm 54

Psalm 54:

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them.”

Who are my enemies? I don’t seem to have any enmity between myself and others. I’m a nice guy. Who are my enemies?

My enemies are those that oppose me. For the only person without enemies is the person that isn’t fighting for anything. If I fight for those I love, my enemies are those that wish to harm those I love.

Poverty is my enemy. Hopelessness is my enemy. Addiction is my enemy. My enemy is the poverty that robs communities of vitality. My enemy is the hopelessness that spurs young people to violence. My enemy is the addiction that corrupts the soul and decays the mind.

There may be people who set themselves up to be my enemies. There may be people who insult me, who despise me, who wish to do me harm. But people are not my enemies. Humans are not my enemies. For the Lord saw those who poured insult, derision, and violence, and saw the true evil behind their actions. He loved them, for He knew that they were not His enemies.

To love is to protect. To protect is to fight. To fight is to believe that a better world is possible.

A Reflection on Thanksgiving and History

I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with friends here in Chicago. I had a lovely time of delicious food and good company. I am glad for the reminder to be grateful for the many wonderful gifts that I have. I am thankful for friends, for family, for purpose, for health, for community.
But I am also mindful of the troubled history behind this day. Thanksgiving remains intimately connected with the colonial history of the United States, a history that includes violence perpetrated against native peoples. I know people of Native American descent who refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving, due to the terrible history embodied in this day.
What I find striking is my own selective understanding about Thanksgiving. In some ways, I embrace my place as a part of the United States. I am grateful for the freedoms and opportunities this country has provided me. But when I consider the tragic moments in my country’s history, I find that I place distance between the country and myself. “My family came to this country in 1986! We don’t have any connection to what happened all those centuries ago!”
But if I am a part of this country, if I take part in the many blessings offered here, then I believe that I have a responsibility to its history. I have a responsibility to listen to those whose voices are not heard, to challenge injustices that remain in place, and to stand with those cast aside. I have a responsibility to rise above demonizing and shaming, and to call for thanksgiving at its proper time and lament at its proper time.
With that in mind, I would like to share this perspective on Thanksgiving from Mark Charles, a man of Navajo descent (h/t Marc Robinson). Here is an excerpt:
“Being Native American and living in the United States, it feels like our Native communities are an old grandmother who has a very large and very beautiful house. Years ago some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today our house is full of people. They’re sitting on our furniture, they’re eating our food, they’re having a party in our house. They’ve since come upstairs and unlocked the door to our bedroom but it’s much later; we’re tired, we’re old, we’re weak and we’re sick, so we can’t or we don’t come out. But the thing that hurts us the most, the thing that causes us the most pain is that virtually nobody from this party ever comes upstairs, seeks out the grandmother in the bedroom, sits down next to her on the bed, takes her hand and simply says thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house.”

History Lesson

Last week, I attended the first session of a seminar on Slavery and its Aftermaths. This seminar is hosted by Professors Abebe and Huq, and our group of 12 students met in Professor Huq’s home in Ukrainian Village. We were discussing a recent historical account of slavery in the United States, Inhuman Bondage by David Brion Davis.

We started the seminar by sharing what got us interested in the topic. One student mentioned that she had grown up hearing stories about slavery. People in her family had been enslaved, and those stories have carried on to her generation. She also mentioned that the version of slavery she learned in high school history class seemed sanitized compared to the stories that she heard.

Her comment got me thinking about how little connection my family has to the history of slavery in the U.S. My parents came to this country in 1986. No one in my family has any personal connection to the Atlantic slave trade, the Civil War, or Reconstruction. I did not grow up hearing those stories.

Furthermore, growing up in California, the history of slavery in the U.S. seemed somewhat removed. Of course, California has its own history of slavery, including the subjugation of indigenous peoples. Yet “U.S. Slavery” came across as something that happened in a distant time in a distant part of the country.

I wonder how this disconnection relates to how people in my community see the United States. Most Koreans (particularly of older generations) seem to see the U.S. in a positive light as protector and guardian. They view the U.S. through the lens of the Korean War, in which the U.S. supported the South Korean government. Certainly, there are difficult aspects of the U.S.–South Korea relationship, especially regarding the presence of the U.S. military in South Korea. Furthermore, I would be foolish to believe that all Koreans hold such a sanguine view of the U.S. However, my community lacks the same collective memory of injustice that my classmate described.

What I’ve learned from this experience is my need for humility. Because of my family history, I am prone to see the U.S. in a more positive light than my classmate would. I don’t think this is a difference in factual knowledge; I doubt that gathering more facts on slavery would change my disposition to the U.S., just as my classmate would likely not change her view in gathering more facts about the U.S.–South Korea relationship. But there is a difference between factual and personal knowledge. I must be humble and remember that other people have their own histories and their own perspectives.

Thoughts from the Second City

Several weeks ago, I went to a Second City show with my friend Joseph Matthew Cancino​. Second City is an improv comedy group in Chicago, which has been the launchpad of some of the top names in comedy (like Tina Fey or Stephen Colbert.) The show we attended was a combination of improv and sketch comedy.

One sketch stood out in particular. It was set in a synagogue. A rabbi stood at the front, introducing a Christian missionary couple who were about to come up to say hello. Suddenly, the couple burst on stage, wearing bright curly blonde wigs, with a boisterous cry of, “Hellllloooo, Jews!!!” The couple started declaring how much they loved the Jews, “even though they only got half the Bible right.” They then broke into a catchy song and dance number. It was a hoot.

But as I was watching, I started thinking about the Christians that I know. Truth is, I don’t know any Christians that look or talk like this couple. The performance was a caricature, of course, but a caricature of someone foreign to me. The majority of the Christians I know have last names like Fong, or Lee, or Nguyen. Some of the Christians I know struggle with reconciling following God—which includes sacrifice and humility—with honoring their parents—who often demand strict obedience and economic stability. Some of the Christians I know struggle with the fact that they are the only Christians in their family, and in some cases the first Christians in their family’s entire history.

The Second City sketch depicted a caricature, one that may be familiar with the Midwestern audience in attendance. There were other such sketches too, including a sharp one in which a young boy reminisced over his “Summer for Jesus,” which started with picketing an abortion clinic and climaxed with setting fire to a mosque. I suppose the main thing I took away from the show was how my experience of what Christianity looks like is different from a mainstream American perspective.

One other thing stood out. The night that we went was a farewell night for one of the performers, John. He was leaving for Hollywood. He had played a pivotal role in the show, writing several sketches, including the two I mentioned above. At the end, after several cast members expressed their deep gratitude and appreciation, John came up to speak. He had prepare a few comments to read. He spent some time thanking his family, the members of the Second City cast and crew, and various mentors. Near the end, he started thanking his partner for his support and encouragement. As John spoke, he started tearing up, and said that after many years of busy late nights and time away, they would finally be able to go on dates and spend quality time together. Then  John said “And God…”, he paused, turned the paper over, and said “He’s not on here.” I suspect that there’s a great deal of history present in those short words.

Future plans

It’s November. In just about eight months, I will stride through Rockefeller Chapel for my graduation ceremony. Some friends have asked what I plan to do after I finish my JD. Although nothing is set in stone, here is my plan:

I intend to work with a civil rights law firm in San Francisco, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, on a 1-2 year fellowship. My project will work to reduce barriers to housing for people with criminal records. Individuals leaving correctional control face difficulties in securing access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. According to the California state government, in large cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, 30% to 50% of people on parole are homeless. Homelessness leads to greater risks of recidivism and re-incarceration.

I was drawn to this project because of its intersection of housing and criminal reentry. I developed an appreciation for housing through my experiences with the National Housing Law Project​ and LAF​’s Housing Practice Group, as well as the Housing Initiative Clinic at school. Housing touches on every aspect of a person’s life, and is a foundational need for all people. People in insecure housing remain at risky jobs or in dangerous relationships for fear of becoming homeless. In fact, I have experienced firsthand a different kind of housing insecurity. My family was in Northridge during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and I remember the strain on my family as we struggled with trying to find a place to live.

I became interested in criminal reentry from my summer at Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles​. As part of the internship, I read “Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle. Father Greg is a Jesuit priest who has worked in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. He focuses on formerly gang-involved or incarcerated youth who wish to leave the path of violence for a path of hope. I was moved by Father Greg’s description of the expansive compassion of God for all people, particularly those people that society demonizes as monsters or savages. I had the privilege of serving several clients at Father Greg’s organization, Homeboy Industries​. The work is not glamorous; it is difficult, painful, and arduous, but filled with great beauty.

Right now, I am waiting to hear back from various foundations to provide funding for my project. If I don’t get the funding, then I will not have a job, and will need to figure out a backup plan. I will confess that it is difficult to wait, particularly as so many of my classmates already have their jobs lined up with big private firms. But their stories are different from mine, and so all that I can do now is wait and pray.