Thinking about the 818

After my trip to Israel, I spent a few days in LA to see my family and get over my jet lag. I had the good fortune to meet up with Erick Loh and Amy Lin Loh. Erick and Amy are friends from my time in college ministry at UC Berkeley. They attended UCLA, but we were part of the same larger ministry, so I would see them regularly. They had just finished their time in seminary in Kentucky and were going to start working with a church in the San Fernando Valley, where I grew up.

We met up at House Roots Coffee and had a great time sharing stories of the past few years. They shared about the church and their hopes for their future. Then they asked me a simple question, “What is the Valley like?”

I started to share about my experience in the Valley, about the comfortable suburban living and large Korean population. But slowly, I realized that my vision of the Valley was very narrow. I haven’t lived in the Valley since I graduated high school in 2005. Even when I was there for the summer in 2014, I mostly stayed at home. I don’t have a car, so it’s hard to get around.

I realized that I don’t know much about my hometown, about our history or culture. My experience of the Valley is pretty much just the northwest Korean-American part of the Valley, and maybe not even that. Even when I had a car, I didn’t do much exploring of my hometown. I mostly stayed home and played video games.

My plan after law school has always been to move back to the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s where my adult life is. That’s where most of my community is. Even when I flirted with the possibility of living somewhere else (e.g. Detroit), I knew that eventually, I would go back to the Bay Area. I would say “I’ve lived in the Valley and the Bay Area, and I prefer the Bay Area.” But maybe that’s just because I’ve lived in the Bay as an adult, and my vision of the Valley is still locked in high school mode.

It’s funny how talking about your hometown to someone else can help you realize how little you actually know about it. Would I ever move back to the Valley? Maybe. It certainly would be cheaper than the Bay Area.

And even though I hate driving, at least parking would not be a problem in the Valley. Parking spaces for miles.

This Easter

This Easter Sunday, I celebrate and I mourn.

I celebrate the life that Jesus makes available, both for me and for people all over the world.

My most meaningful experience in Israel was in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane. As our group took pictures at the peak, we heard music playing in the distance. We turned and saw a procession coming down the street. Trumpets blared and drums beat as the people waved palm branches. It was Palm Sunday! But they were celebrating on Saturday, since the Israeli workweek is from Sunday to Thursday. We drew closer to see who it was. The people wore casual, everyday clothing, although several of the women wore saris. They were a procession of Indian Catholics.

Our tour guide said, “2000 years ago, who would have thought that a procession of Indian Catholics would be here? So you see, Jerusalem and Israel are important for people all around the world.”

We walked in with the worshippers to the Church of All Nations, a beautiful chapel next to the Garden of Gethsemane. The church was packed full of worshippers. I stood there and marveled that even though I could not communicate with the people there, I could still worship together with them. The beautiful story of Easter is that through Jesus, God breaks down the wall of sin and death that separates us from Him and separates us from each other. We declare that death has no power any longer, for it has been swallowed in resurrection power.

And yet I mourn, for this Easter, we still live in the shadow of death.

Earlier today, a Taliban splinter group attacked a park in Lahore, Pakistan. killing at least 60 people and injuring 300. The jihadists claimed that they targeted Christians, who were enjoying an Easter picnic at the park. Many among the dead were children.

The attack in Lahore joins other recent attacks in Turkey, Iraq, and Libya, along with the larger attacks in Yemen, Belgium, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast. And this is just in the last two weeks. And this is just violent terrorist attacks. We see children poisoned by lead, families ripped apart by drug addiction, gang violence scarring whole communities.

What is the story of Easter in times like this? The story of Easter cannot be a trite or simplistic tale that wipes away these tragedies through magical thinking. The story of Easter is that the beautiful and wonderful kingdom of God has collided with a broken and dark world. The kingdom has won. And yet those who follow that kingdom must recognize that the world is dark indeed.

I don’t have the answers, and I really need to start reading for class tomorrow. I guess all I want to say that today, it’s OK to celebrate, and it’s OK to mourn. I will hope and pray that the better world that has been promised, the better world that is here, that this better world will come soon.

An Idea for a Restaurant

Article Three of the Constitution states that “the judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”
That’s nice and all, but what’s really great is how it opens up great possibilities for puns (pun-sibilities?)
I want to build a coffee and tea shop near the Supreme Court and name it “Article Tea”. Some menu ideas:
– Burgers and Frankfurters —obligatory
– Oberge-fala-fell wraps — Enjoy equal tahini under the law
– John Marshall-mallow pies — Goes well with “Mar-bled-bury pound cake”
– An-tuna-nin salad — Tuna salad as the founders would have understood it. None of this “fat free mayo” nonsense.
– Ruth Bader floats — A small portion that packs a huge wallop.
– Oral Argu-Mint milkshake — Super chunky! You can only go a few sips before you get a chunk of chocolate that causes you to slow down. Go too fast, and you may get a headache and question everything that you believe.
– Miran-Daquiri — Comes in a special commemorative glass that you can take into custody.
– Brandeis Cream Sundae — Tasty, but the ingredients are secret. You may even say that they are “private”.
-Brennan Muffin — Liberally loaded with oats, nuts, and raisins.
Any other suggestions?

Dreams of the City

Last fall, I had applied to clerkships with judges throughout the country. A clerkship is an excellent opportunity to build legal skills and develop a strong mentorship relationship with a judge. Clerkships are in high demand, and are very difficult to get. I don’t have the background that makes me a lock for a clerkship (so-so grades, not on journal, didn’t do moot court). But I figured it was worth it to apply.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to interview with a district court judge in Detroit. The interview went fairly well. I enjoyed chatting with the two clerks who are there now and with the judge. The interview was fairly laid back, and I was out in an hour.

Part of the draw of the clerkship was the opportunity to move to Detroit. The city has gone through tough times in the last few decades, with deindustrialization, population loss, and corruption. But the city has made a strong commitment to revitalization. As someone who is interested in housing policy, community development, and urban space, I was really interested in Detroit. Who is involved with the downtown revitalization? Who gets pushed out? I imagined living in Detroit: going to Eastern Market, riding my bike down Woodward Avenue to Midtown, learning how to find my place in the city.

Well, I got an email from that judge today. He thanked me for interviewing with him, but said that the position had been filled. So I guess I won’t be moving to Detroit after all.

That’s OK. It was a long shot. And it was nice to dream for a while. But while my future employment prospects are still in flux (although some gears are turning), I can continue to root myself here in Chicago, to invest into the dreams of my school, my church, and my city.

Watching for Elitism

I was waiting in line for a lunch talk at school when I started chatting with the person next to me. We talked about what we wanted to do after law school. She said that she had come to law school wanting to do public interest work, but now wasn’t so sure. She said that some public interest work can be pretty tedious, “like eviction defense or landlord-tenant law.”

Of course, the funny thing is that I spent last summer doing eviction defense at a legal aid agency. The clients I saw were all desperately poor. They were terrified of losing their housing, since they could well end up homeless. Every client had a unique story to tell, a saga of systemic injustice, broken relationships, bureaucratic callousness and poor decisions. Some had disabilities and couldn’t work. Some were victims of domestic violence. They certainly did not see their stories as tedious.

But the truth is, eviction defense can be frustrating. All work can be frustrating. The frustration is not why we do this work. We face the frustration because it lets us do what we really want to do: advocate for justice for our clients.

After the lunch talk, I thought about how elitism affects my thinking. Sometimes, a whisper of a thought creeps in: “I’m at the University of Chicago. I’m at one of the best law schools in the country. Our alumni go on to become partners at major law firms, business leaders, judges and professors. I’m too smart and skilled to do this kind of public interest work. Let someone from a lower-ranked school do legal aid. I don’t need to waste my talents on these lesser pursuits. My clients should be grateful that I’m giving up these other opportunities to help them.”

This line of thinking troubles me. True, I have worked hard to get to where I am. I have also benefited tremendously from factors outside of my control, such as the fact that both of my parents went to college and both worked steady jobs that allowed for a stable financial foothold for my family. Maybe it’s natural to feel this way, but I don’t like it. I don’t want to believe that I am inherently better than my colleagues and my clients just because of how I grew up or where I went to school. If I am to continue to do this work and serve this population, I need to watch for elitism in my own thinking.

What Kind of Music Do You Listen To? – “Well…”

Growing up, I hated the question “What kind of music do you listen to?”

A perfectly innocent question, right? But I felt embarrassed about my musical preferences. When asked, I would say that my parents mostly listened to classical music or oldies in the car. Mozart and Motown, Arias and Aretha, Symphonies and the Supremes.

I was embarrassed because my interests were pretty nerdy: I listened to a lot of video game music. As someone who grew up playing video games, the music struck an emotional chord with me. This was before Youtube, so I would go to vgmusic.com and listen to MIDIs of video game tunes.

The only concert I went to in high school was a performance of music from the Final Fantasy video game series (by Squaresoft, now Square Enix) by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The crowd was mostly college-aged (my brother Dale and I were the youngest people there). There was one guy who came dressed as a black mage, with the blue robe, pointy hat, and staff. During the intermission, I overheard someone say “When Aerith’s theme started playing, I got teary-eyed.” I, too, got teary-eyed.

I’ve since expanded my musical tastes. I have albums by the Korean pop/electronica/jazz group Clazziquai Project (클래지 (Clazzi)|클래지콰이 (Clazziquai Project)), the alternative country singer-songwriter Neko Case, and my hometown heroes, Korean-American pop folk troubadors Run River North. That said, the song on my phone that I’ve been playing the most recently is “Bless the Lord”, off the album “Laudate Omnes Gentes” from the Taizé religious community in France (I listen to it during my times of spiritual meditation).

I’m still a bit shy when I talk about video game music, and probably wouldn’t bring it up in an interview or at a networking event. But I still listen to it a lot. I’ve lately been enjoying Insaneintherainmusic‘s excellent album of jazz renditions of music from Undertale, “Live at Grillby’s.” When I’m working, I tune into Rainwave. Right now, it’s playing “Noble Creature of Snow” by ansgaros from the “Mega Man X: Maverick Rising” arrangement album from OverClocked ReMix. Up for vote next are “Bean Ball” by Kazuo Sawa from Super Dodge Ball, “Sequence” by Chris Chudley from Geometry Wars 2, and “Top-Flight Mechanics” by Yuzo Koshiro (yes!) from Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3.

Looks like “Bean Ball” won. Nothing like a 1989 NES chiptune song built like a classic rock tune.

NPR-quality voice?

I was at a job interview today. For my job application, I needed to submit three letters of recommendation. As I was sitting down with my two interviewers, one of them said, “We were looking forward to meeting you in person, because one of your recommenders said that you have an ‘NPR-quality’ voice.”

It’s not the first time that I heard that comment. David E. Barta once told me that in a tweet. But other people have commented on my voice. Some have said that it’s “crisp” or “professional” or “soothing.”

When people mention my voice, they tend to mention my diction and pronunciation. I tend to articulate my words clearly, with minimal slurring. I’m not sure how I learned to talk this way. My brother doesn’t talk I do. My parents don’t talk I do (although they both have excellent English). None of the friends with whom I grew up talk like I do. It’s bizarre, really. Maybe my parents can share when I started talking this way.

Part of the character of my voice is also my choice of words. I am careful in choosing my words, sometimes too cautious. There are times in which my brain gets stuck in selecting the next word in the sentence, and there is a long pause while I try to get unstuck. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I try to get over it. And I’m learning that it’s OK to not have the exact right word. Language should make communication easier, not harder.

Now I’m wondering which of my three letter writers mentioned my voice. Or maybe it was all three?

Should I stop writing?

Sometimes, I wonder if I should stop writing.

I started writing as an outlet for law school. I wanted to find a way to express myself and put my ideas out there. I always wanted to write in a way that would be helpful to other people. I enjoy reading something thoughtful and well-articulated on Facebook.

But sometimes, I wonder if I have anything worthwhile to say. I wonder if my writing is preachy, condescending, pretentious. Is my writing valuable?

No one has told me to stop writing. Quite the opposite, actually. Many people have encouraged me to keep writing. But I guess I am my own worst critic.

After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to these conclusions:

1) I enjoy writing. I enjoy the process of reflection and putting my thoughts together. If it was up to me, I would keep writing.

2) Many people have told me how much they appreciate what I write. One person has said that my posts helped her to get through 1L year.

3) If people disagree with me, they can let me know. I’m always open to constructive comments that help me think through my perspective and improve my writing.

4) For some people, my writing may not be what they want to read. That’s fine. I read everything that people write on Facebook. And there’s always the Unfollow button on the upper right, for those who want to hide my writings.

I enjoy writing. I find it valuable. So I’m going to keep doing it, despite my self-imposed criticism.

Logic of Finals

Next week is finals week. Many students are stressed out, particularly the 1Ls. Some of them may be disappointed for their grades last quarter. They are committed to studying harder to get better grades this quarter. But does that logic hold?

Let’s approach this like an LSAT “If-Then” statement:

(A) “If I study harder, then I will have a better grade this quarter.”

This statement assumes that my grade is correlated with my effort. Input leads to output. But what about this statement:

(B) “If I take time to rest, exercise, sleep, and take care of myself, then I will have a better grade this quarter.”

This statement assumes that my grade is not a product of how much of the material I cram into my head, but how I prepare myself for a stressful day. Why should (A) be true over (B)?

Threshold issues exist, of course. I can’t do well if I veg out and don’t know the material at all. I also can’t do well if I study so hard that I show up to the exam completely exhausted and unable to focus.

But maybe neither (A) nor (B) are true. Maybe instead:

(C) “My grade is not within my control and does not dictate my future happiness. If I wish to be happy, then I will not worry about my grades.”