That’s me in the middle.
Besides almost dying from cholera when I was one and getting my hand crushed by a large, steel door when I was three, the rest of my early childhood in Korea was mostly a time of innocence and fun. I do have that one memory where my mom is pumping breast milk for my sister into what seemed to me at the time a large basin, but I’m still not really sure what to make of that image, whether it traumatized me or simply surprised me. But other than that, it’s hard to recall anything remotely negative. All I see is a skinny, Korean boy playing in the stream trying to catch frogs and tadpoles; hiking and exploring the hillsides and woods (we visited the shigol [countryside] often); waiting around the corner, listening for the man with the pull cart to ring his bell so that I could buy and devour a newspaper cone full of bundaegi (roasted silk worm pupae), which, at the time, was by far the most delicious thing on the planet (today, I can’t go near the stuff); feeding cute, fluffy, yellow chicks with rice grains; throwing a hammer at my grandfather’s head; and running away from my three uncles after pouring a bucketful of soapy water into the well, our main source of drinking water (they had to empty the entire well and wait for the next rain to replenish the supply). Of course, I only remember bits and pieces, but from those fragments and the stories my folks share with me, it seems that I really was a rambunctious, happy, little kid who, unlike the current me, actually loved to dance. Continue reading
In this post, my friend and colleague Dr. Hue-Sun Ahn (pronounced Hae-Sun) shares about an experience with racism in the professional world of clinical counselors and psychologists. I’m sure many readers will resonate with her story as racism is still systemic across most professional disciplines. Continue reading
It happened sometime during my years in junior high. I still remember it being a dark and dreary day. (Talk about a hackneyed beginning. Please forgive. ;p) I forgot why our family was on the road, but I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be in the car anymore. What made things worse was that our family was hungry. Not hungry in the sense that we were starving as a family, but hungry because it was time for dinner. But even this type of hunger makes things unbearable for me and those within my “killzone”. (My wife learned this lesson early on, the hard way.)
Anyway, I remember finally stopping somewhere to eat dinner. My dad parked the car, and the rest of us quickly followed him into the restaurant shielding ourselves from the drizzle.
I’m not sure which restaurant it was, but I can still see vividly the entire encounter unfold before my mind’s eye. My dad is walking up to the long, well-lit counter, he places an order, and then pulls out his wallet to pay for the meal. Continue reading
I don’t know why I was in Center City Philadelphia on that particular day. But I do recall it being an especially beautiful spring day and that I was waiting for a bus to take me back to campus. I wasn’t really in a rush, so instead of jumping at every bus appearing over the horizon, I took the time to soak in the sun and let my mind wander as I stood in the bus stall. I remember closing my eyes, and thinking, “Nothing can ruin this day.” I probably also had the conviction that I would skip all my classes that day, which added a pinch of euphoria to my emotional state.
That’s when a man’s voice jolted me out of my serene stupor. “Excuse me,” he said from behind me. “I hope I’m not bothering you, but are you Korean?” Continue reading
Very few seminary campuses compare to Princeton Theological Seminary in terms of sheer beauty. Anybody who’s visited the historic institution knows this. In fact, I heard through the grapevine that Miller Chapel was mentioned in Martha Stewart’s list of most beautiful places to get married. I haven’t been able to verify this, but I can easily see how it could very well be true. (The wife and I got hitched there.) Not enough can be said about the architecture, the greens and the surrounding area. The place looks absolutely gorgeous year-round. (Click on pics to see more photos.)
One place that typically gets overlooked in terms of aesthetic appeal is the Mackay Campus Center, especially the dining hall. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The tall, wide windows at the end of the hall let in copious amounts of sunlight and give students excellent views of the changing seasons as they eat, chat and study throughout the year. It also has two levels and massive chandeliers noticeably held up by only three or four large screws. We used to comment that if those things fell, they would kill half of the student population. I have many fond memories of that dining hall.
Unfortunately, it is also in this setting that I had one of my more memorable racist encounters. We don’t normally associate the modern seminary with racism, especially fairly liberal ones like Princeton (though certainly a spectrum of conservatives, moderates, and liberals are represented); however, racism is alive and well even there. Continue reading
My first schoolyard fight occurred in the 7th grade during a lunch recess. I was attending Memorial Middle School at the time. The yard itself was rather large. As you can see in the picture, it included three softball/baseball fields, a large intervening field connecting the three diamonds and a blacktop. Clearly it was impossible for teachers to keep track of all the kids, and the students knew this. So, quite often, in hidden corners and far-off tree lines, kids would engage in make-out sessions, look at porn magazines (no internet/wifi back then) and so on. This is also why my first fight was able to break out and last as long as it did. (By the way, to orient yourselves as to the point of this series of posts, it might be helpful to read at least the first half of the first entry.) Continue reading
I’m going to do a series of posts titled “Memories of Racism, Memories of Grace.” As a Korean-American, I have faced much racism. I want to use this series to relay some of those experiences. But rather than rant about the injustice of racism, I hope to take a memoir-like approach where I describe the experiences and how they shaped my life.
You will find that while the racist encounters I describe in each post caused me significant pain and scarring, they were also the “source” of much grace. This was something that I could not have anticipated when I was young, but over the years, as I grappled with the many bitter memories, I found that they forced me to plumb the depths of not only my own heart, but also the heart of humanity in general. This wrestling helped me to better understand myself as well as those around me. And when I combined this knowledge with my faith, I discovered that there is a way to weave those racist encounters into the narrative of my life so that they produced understanding instead of tribalism, empathy rather than bitterness and wisdom over blind retribution. In other words, experience and faith helped me to find ways to redeem the evil within and without to produce grace and hope. I have not always succeeded, of course. But I have found that it is indeed possible. In fact, as a Christian, this type of redemption should be the dynamic thread running through all of life’s moments. Continue reading