Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dataclysmic Disappointment

I love the OKCupid blog. Christian Rudder, an Harvard alum and dating site founder, writes  about the three "D"s of data, deception, and dating.  One of my favorite posts is this one from 2009, which connects data, deception, and dating with on another issue I'm passionate about - race. I'm fascinated by how we're walking contradictions when it comes to romance. We don't do what we say and most of the time, we're not even fully aware of the type of people we're attracted to (or repulsed by).

So when I heard he was coming out with a book I was pretty excited and finally got a copy from the library. The official title is Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)

Wow, it was a disappointing read. The book is about self-deception and how big data now allows us to measure the precise distance between our public and private persona. It succeeds in broaching the topic but unfortunately it's a shallow dive. Here are two observations:

1) The book does not contain much about dating: Rudder gathers data from facebook, twitter, all the major social networking sites. And the stuff is somewhat interesting but most of it is not about dating. And the stuff that is about dating he's already written about in his blog. The only difference is that his insights from the book are longer, more rambly, and less humorous.

He has a unique writing style and I wanted a deeper look into the dating stuff and more interesting observations about the self-deceptions people engage in when dating. Everyone fools themselves when it comes to romantic relationships. Why not dig where there's plenty of gold left?

For example, his first chapter titled "Wooderson's Law" concerns how a woman's attractiveness  a man peaks at age 22, regardless of the age of the man. That means a 50-year old man and an 18-year old man both find 22 year old women the absolute hottest. Women, on the other hand, are more assortative in regards to age. According to Rudder's OKCupid data, a 55-year old woman finds a 46-year man to be peak hotness. 

The way this works in reality is that as men age, they will message younger women - not quite as young as 22 but with a progressively increasing age gap. 28-year old men will send the most messages to 24-year old women and 44-year old men will send the most messages to 35-year old women. 

This is not news to anyone who is modestly familiar with the dynamics of today's sexual marketplace. Worse yet, this disparity in how attractiveness works between men and women was already explored in the teaser articles that accompanied the book's release. The book doesn't add much except a little more pontificating. 

Likewise, the second chapter is about being interesting in order to attract people of the opposite sex. The ability to trigger polarizing reactions reap great benefit in terms of message response rate. The idea is not to be "meh" - the failure to elicit a strong emotional response from others. A woman with blue hair or multiple body piercings stands out a lot more than a woman posing with a cat or a dog. This makes sense when you think about the sheer volume of profiles people have to scan but I was hoping for something more. 

Chapter four is pretty lame in terms of exploring new ideas. The argument is that marital strength correlates with how embedded your personal networks are. The more friends you have in common between you and your spouse, the stronger your marriage is. That is just not that interesting. Correlation is not causation, blah blah and it feels like common sense.

2) The book does not have a unifying, compelling theme: Most popular nonfiction (anything by Malcolm Gladwell, the Freakanomics series) is  both nerdy AND interesting. That is extremely challenging to do. This book illustrates how difficult it is to pull of well. What makes Gladwell so popular is that he's able to weave a coherent, enthralling narrative out of seemingly unrelated people, ideas and fields. The Freakanomics series takes specific behavioral science principles and applies them to real-life situations. In each of those books, there's a unifying theme and the authors make it interesting. Unfortunately, Rudder does not succeed in Dataclysm. 

The latter chapters concerned how dating sites and twitter have changed how we use language and what that illustrates about who we are. It didn't relate very much to dating so I tuned out. 

The best chapter in the book is called "The Confounding Factor" and it's about race. It's a more extensive exploration into insights that Rudder began in his blog. He simply adds more data from other dating sites but the conclusions are the same. The net is Asian men are like Black women - the opposite sex does not find them sexy or appealing. I don't need a book to tell me that. 

The only mildly interesting insight was that being Asian,  Latino, or Black plus white instantly makes you more attractive to the opposite sex. Being a half-white, half-black women garnered a 24% boost in attractiveness from white men (vs. being black alone). Being a half-white and half-Asian guy provided a 32% boost in attractiveness from white women (vs. being Asian alone). Wow. I will tell my kids to marry white people for the sake of my grandchildren.

The book is about how data reveals our own self-deception but I was hoping for more concrete ways to tell ourselves the truth, especially in regards to dating. After all, the reason I like Rudder isn't just because he knows data but because he applies big data analysis to dating. That's OKCupid's niche. And by departing from that niche, it was a significant let-down. Ultimately, Rudder's book is guilty of doing what his second chapter warned against. It became too common and not polarizing. Meh.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Getting out of the way

As a pastor, sometimes my job gets in the way of my job. My calling is to train disciples. One way I live out my calling by teaching the Bible. But somewhere along those lines, I must teach others how to feed themselves. That means I need to trust God's work in someone's life and allow that person the freedom to develop on his own. 

In October, I helped teach a conference about reading the Bible for life change. A woman in our small group commented that she had been taught by pastors for her entire life. She learned from them how to think about the Bible but never had the courage to attempt to interpret the scriptures on her own. This conference, along with a recent small group Bible study she participates in, were watershed moments where she felt confident enough to read and think on her own. She had been fed by another person her whole life but hadn't learned how to feed yourself.

Don't get me wrong - I don't believe the Bible is best studied alone - it's not. It's best read in community but as a one grows in maturity, a professional or "expert" doesn't have to interpret everything for you. It's important to equip people with certain tools but more importantly, to shape a culture where attitude is the most important element and there's freedom to make mistakes.

I know I contribute to this when I block others' growth through my good intentions. At times, I've chosen to participate solely in church events where Bible teaching is involved - as if I'm too important to for "non-spiritual activities". I set unrealistic expectations for first-time leaders and I'm overly critical and impatient when others lead - two behaviors that make it difficult for emerging leaders to grow and develop. 

What's at play here is the desire for pastors (and any member of a group or team) to be indispensable. I'm no exception. I want to be needed, necessary, and wanted. And few things are more central to a pastor's identity than having others depend on him to teach and interpret the Bible correctly. But since my mission is to make disciples, it means equipping leaders to lead on their own. It means laying down my desire to place myself at the center. So my ultimate calling, contra to my initial instinct, is to make myself dispensable.  

Thus the final step in leadership development is when leaders are released to live out the mission on their own. Jesus did that. Before he ascended to heaven, he sent his disciples out on training missions. He supervised, taught, and modeled everything they were supposed to do, gave them the Holy Spirit, and then he got out of the way.

Which makes my job somewhat strange. I work hard to initiate with people.I hang out and get to know others. I ask probing questions and challenge people spiritually. I try get in their way. But as people grow and develop, I'm supposed to work hard and do the opposite. But I find that getting out of the way comes less naturally. I wonder if those who are gifted at entering into mentoring relationships have a tougher time upon exiting (and if the converse is true as well). 

In any case, releasing people to lead has implications for every area of life. When I worked in high-tech, my favorite managers told me what was important and then worked hard to get out of the way. In marriage, I take care of our finances but I need to train and equip Judy with the basics, trust her to take care of certain tasks, and remove myself from her way. And lastly as a father, my job with my children is to interfere in their lives and then slowly and gradually get out of the way as they learn to think, analyze, and make decisions on their own. 

If your calling is to influence people, then your most significant step in training others may not be intervening but in getting out of the way. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

How my parents screwed me up

Recently I talked with my parents about my character issues. 

In the past year I decided my main flaws are pride and anger. I have a massive ego that follows me everywhere I go. And since I'm motivated by aggression and dominance, I also have a rage complex that seethes beneath the surface and sometimes explodes.

So I told them my hypothesis: You guys helped screw me up by neglecting to discipline me for my negative attitude. You punished me for outward behavior but never called me out for being disrespectful to you and to others. Focusing on the outward kept me from experiencing the full consequences of how my temper and critical spirit would, in the future, alienate me from others and make me miserable.

My parents agreed. My dad said that wasn't all they did to screw me up.

My dad explained that they had no idea how to raise me so they focused on outward behavior without understanding the heart. He said their biggest mistake was not letting me have a chance to express my emotions. He said he was very controlling and a terrible listener, never giving me a chance to explain myself. I now recall moments as a teenager that I tried to get him to understand my perspective and he literally would stop talking and walk away. I remember feeling incredibly frustrated every time I wanted to share something meaningful. 

On the other hand, my mom said we would argue all the time; taking turns needling, cajoling, threatening, and intimidating each other until one of us got our way. I usually won unless she was in irrational-crazy-b**ch mode (I did, after all, get my temper from her). She said my dad and I were deeply concerned with how I treated my younger brother, who was the unfortunate victim of my arrogant rage outbursts, but they were completely clueless about how to address it. I remember when I was around 10 years old they set a New Year's resolution for me - "don't make your brother cry", which is a pathetic metric.

Lastly my dad commented that their poor parenting did not cause my judgmentalism since my personality is predisposed towards being critical but it did made the tendency worse. I agree. It seems I can't blame everything on my parents. 

My parents did not become Christians until I was around fourteen. And their transformation in character, like many of ours, was not immediate. I assured them that in spite of their ignorance, they were pretty good parents. I never doubted that I was loved; I was just confused about what love looked like.  


1) Anger is a violent response to pain. My failure to emotionally connect with my parents coupled with my aggressive nature made me an angry and vengeful person. I want to attack other people and myself. My ego, equipped with the energy from of hurt, forces myself on others in order to get approval and affection.

2) Pride + Anger = Judgmentalism. I have the perfect disposition for a Pharisee. I get a chemical boost from looking down on and judging others. I'm also the older brother in Luke 15. He experienced tremendous pain from failing to obtain the approval he so desperately wanted from his father. He thought he could earn it with outward, righteous behavior. Thus, I want to control people the way my parents attempted to control me. When pride and anger are given free rein during childhood, it is damaging to the child and others. 

3) Everyone is screwed up. I am not alone in pride and anger. We are all spectacularly messed up in unique yet similar ways. So parents, don't worry - you cannot screw up your children. It already happened when they were born because we are products of the fall. The shipwreck is real. Our job is only to point to the guiding star.

4) Jesus saves. And not just in an after-life sense. After we talked, my mom marveled at the difference God has made in their lives. The fact that my parents and I could have this conversation in a calm, reflective, even affectionate tone, speaks volumes about how far they have come in Christ. My parents began following Jesus when I was a teenager. It was too late for my childhood but I am tremendously grateful for what God has done in and through them until today. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Barriers to Authenticity

People say authenticity is important until they are called to be authentic themselves. Donald Nwankwo writes about barriers to authenticity but I think he really means vulnerability - the courage to share weakness. Below are his reasons on why we don't want to be fully authentic with others about who we are and our struggles and weakness:
1) A misplaced sense of identity: Sometimes one might feel that their Christian identity is directly tied to their Christian reputation. So for this one, to risk authenticity when it does not portray a positive status is to risk their reputation, which in turn threatens that identity. In other words, unless they appear as authentic to model, they fear they won’t belong. Therefore, they will work hard to protect this identity. The remedy for this category is a renewed sense of identity that derives from Jesus Christ, His work, redemption and continuing grace and sustenance. One is in God’s family because of what Christ has done, of course, combined with the fact that they have accepted God’s mercy and put their faith in Christ. 
2) Fear of vulnerability: To be straightforward, this is fear of judgment, criticism and condemnation from others, especially fellow Christians. When one is within a community where judgment is quick and criticism sounds smart, it could send the members of the community into an authenticity spiral which looks something like this – Because there is a rigid expectation, everyone is forced to put up with the expected. And because everyone else puts up with the intense expectation, it takes a lot more guts for one to admit their real struggles. And if no one else admits theirs, everyone else continues under that front. For the most part, the remedy to this is intentional effort on the part of the community to build an environment where people feel safe to be open about their real lives and struggles. In other words, an environment where people feel safe to be authentic to self. Along with this and over time should come growing courage stemming from a safe feeling on the part of the community members. 
3) Ironical seeker-friendliness: I have seen some fellow believers who honestly want to be either evangelistic or missional. However, they tend to think this way about it – nobody is going to want what I have, unless I can somehow show that what I have is ‘superior’. In principle, that logic is correct. However, they go on to deduce that this ‘showing of something superior” is equal to portraying to people the type of life they should crave. A life that is all together – peaceful, blessed, loyal family, etc. Well, to begin with, the risk is heightened in the case of getting busted. But the irony also is that people outside actually tend to better respect Christians they know to be open about their own struggles, and yet known to clearly pursue a life of faith in their Savior. The remedy for this is to keep showing an unwavering desire to grow in the life of faith, while not denying the attendant challenges of life along that path. Maybe, even using that tension and their testimony to demonstrate God’s involvement in our very messiness could be of real value to the seeker’s deep questions. 
4) Outright pride: Some are simply too proud to admit their struggles and shortcomings. This might be tangential to the first point on this list. The sad irony for this one is that this person takes pride in being a Christian – the very life that calls one to humility. The remedy for this is humility, repentance and surrender to the cross of Christ. 
5) Sheer tendency to overspiritualize: Some believers tend to spiritualize most things and sometimes even impose those inclinations on others, thereby not always coming across as practical. The maturity that comes over time, with proper teaching, and growth in the experience of the Christian life and faith will often take care of this and do the shaping that is necessary.
#1 and #2 are particularly poignant for Asians - we value face and face is inextricably tied to identity. Personally, I relate most to #2 and #4. What is peculiar about me is I probably place too much emphasis on vulnerability as missional (opposite of #3). Finally, my biggest barrier to vulnerability is fear of non-response. I'm motivated by people responding to me - negatively or positively. Perceiving that my sharing will fall on deaf fears or be met by silence, is a source of great dread.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stuff Asians Like: White Supremacy

Asian Americans pretend to hate white supremacy but watch what they do not what they say.

According to Christian Lander, liberal white people like camping, graduate school, marathons, sushi, diversity, facebook, and posting Yelp reviews. If you wrote a book about stuff Asians like, 99.9% would be exactly the same. The only unique entries might be pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, and animé. Outside of those things, Westernized Asians like precisely the same stuff white people do.

This makes it difficult to determine exactly what Asian American culture is. African Americans, by contrast, have black culture. Their names are different. Their clothing is different. Their music is different. Black people have historically black colleges. Black people have black role models.

Asians have Jeremy Lin and no colleges they would want to attend. Because in most areas of life, Asians imitate what white people do.

Westernized Asians follow white standards of beauty. Asian guys want bigger muscles like white guys. Asian women do better in Western mating markets because skinny is king. Asian guys would date white women if they could but since educated white men prefer Asian girls, Asian guys are happy to stand second in line.

Educated Asians also enjoy working for white people. This allows them to avoid conflict, autonomy, and risk. That's why Asians prefer lucrative but stable, unexciting professions like law, engineering, accounting, and medicine. They can go to work without a fuss and afford more outdoor performance clothing and sushi.

Asian American Christians are no different.  They go to white churches with white pastors and sing music written by white people. And those that attend Asian churches follow white Christian culture as well. They also sing to Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman and listen to white pastors' podcasts while their pastors go to seminaries with white professors to study theology written by dead white guys.

Despite conventional wisdom, it is appropriate for Asians to enjoy white supremacy. After all, Asians are the ethnic group that reaps the greatest benefit from the white ruling class. Educated Asian immigrants and their children thrive in the United States because their traits are valued here. The white meritocracy favors groups willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of achievement. Asians are better at being white than white people. Asian kids in California score higher on the standardized tests written by white people than white kids do themselves. 

The reality is the white meritocracy functions on merit to a far greater extent than any Eastern society can boast. In the US, if you work hard, you can be successful and make a name for yourself. In Asia, if you work hard, you might get to eat and have shelter. Asian Americans may complain about workplace discrimination but it's nothing compared to the cronyism and corruption of the rest of the world.

Asian immigrants get this. They owe a tremendous debt towards Western civilization. The reason Asian Americans even have language to discuss discrimination is because individual rights, democracy, and equality were championed by white people. After all, the world runs better when the pale face is in charge. Just ask Africa. 

But liberal Asian Americans pretend to hate white supremacy because it's cool to hate on white people (#checkyourprivilege). In the end, educated Asian Americans enjoy white supremacy because they can have the best of both races. They get the majority of white perks without the hassle of having to rule the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The best thing about the Chinese church


That's it. The Chinese immigrant church attempts to replicate the extended nuclear family of one's ancestry. It is the most redeeming aspect of the Chinese church in a nutshell. 

It is best because of the unity, harmony, devotion, and respect inherent to the family unit. Nothing I have observed in mainstream evangelical culture rivals the Chinese church's ability to cultivate a family atmosphere. Chinese churches place tremendous value on unity, harmony, and conflict avoidance. There are five aspects to how a Chinese church builds a family: food, communal worship, caring, size, and resistance to change. As one woman put it, coming into a Chinese church/fellowship group has a "homey" feel - it's like returning home.

The family that eats together stays together: Like many immigrant churches, Chinese churches host lunch immediately after worship service and everyone dines together as a family. Food is pivotal in Chinese culture and a special bond occurs when you break bread with others. Mealtime is as chaotic festive as any authentic Chinese restaurant (if the restroom doubles as a storage closet, it's authentic) and that's exactly how a Chinese family gathering should function. It's hard to over-state how important food is to Chinese people. People feel connected to being Chinese through the crazy stuff we eat. A woman in our church recognized my dad was from the same hometown in Guangdong because of a particular dish he brought to a church potluck. That's how diverse Chinese cuisine is. 

The family that worships together stays together: A Chinese church's mid-week activities usually occur on the same night. Even though there are separate activities for children, youth, and adults, everyone gathers under the same roof at the same time. It's frenzy of laughter, shouting, and children running around, like any raucous family gathering. Where a number of parents who attend a mainstream church will elect not to have their kids participate in their church's children's program, the participation rate of families in a Chinese church's children's ministry gets close to 100% and the youth group participation rate lags closely behind. If you grow up in a Chinese church, it's assumed you'll be part of the youth group. You're family and you don't have another choice. Consequently, if you go to the same school with kids from the youth group and your parents are in the same small group, and you go on a vacation together as well, you will forge lifetime friendships. You do everything with your church - they literally function as your extended family. I still keep in touch with members of my youth group even though we didn't attend the same high school.

The family that cares for each other stays together: Just like in a Chinese family, you don't have individual rights in a Chinese church. Anyone can give you unsolicited advice about what you should wear, who you should date, and how you should raise your children. In a true sense, we belong to each other and we exercise privileges in how interact with each other. My wife received a tremendous amount of advice through four pregnancies - all of it well-intentioned and some of it helpful. But once we had the babies, our church came through amazingly in providing meals and even childcare. It almost goes without saying the food was incredible. Our kids got to the point they could taste a dish and determine who the cook was.

The family that doesn't grow too big stays together: I joined a Korean immigrant church in college. It was also like family but there was a strong spiritual hierarchy that I never experienced in a Chinese church. I also noticed there was greater ethnic solidarity among Koreans than Chinese. Lastly, Korean American Christians had a passion for God that I never experienced before. This manifested itself in a militant focus to expand the kingdom in whatever way possible, including opening the church to other ethnicities. Korean churches have a unique commitment to missions and evangelism. They are not content with the family staying the same size. Not so much with the Chinese church. In contrast to the Korean church in the US, there are few Chinese churches with over a thousand members. Instead, in the bay area with hundreds of thousands of Chinese, there are hundreds of small Chinese churches. Our commitment is to retain the intimacy and familiarity of the family atmosphere. I wonder if it's because China is such a populous nation and so easy to feel anonymous, that Chinese desperately want to re-create a hometown sentiment.  My dad was an atheist when he started taking our family to church after we moved to Georgia in 1989. He wanted to meet other Chinese people and unconsciously yearned to replicate the Chinese family atmosphere. Chinese favor families not empires.

The family that doesn't change stays together: Most institutions resist change but the Chinese church is uniquely impervious to transition. A 6,000 year old culture is conditioned to withstand upheaval. Like any immigrant church, the Chinese church in America functions as a refuge for cultural exiles. That means most of its members are going to be conservative in their approach to assimilation. The role of the church is to retain cultural elements that immigrants do not want to lose. The Chinese church's resistance to change makes it an extremely stable institution. You always know your place and for better or worse, that place does not shift easily. 

The best thing is also the worst thing: As with any culture, every positive aspect has it's corresponding dark side. The family unit aspect of a Chinese church is the worst because Chinese culture worships blood. Chinese people value kinship ties over other bonds. It idolizes the nuclear, biological family and all its accompanying pathologies - respect for elders, idolatry of parents and ancestors, the enmeshed family unit, obligation and duty, honor and shame, and worship of children. It's not difficult to recognize the fleshly elements of these qualities. I've spent a lot of my adult life bemoaning these negative aspects - the loss of individuality, shaming and saving face, the lack of privacy, the emphasis on tradition, the lack of evangelistic fire, and the emphasis on educational attainment and knowledge.

Gospel redemption of Chinese culture: On the other hand, many 2nd generation Chinese Americans like me often fail to recognize the value of our immigrant church upbringing. There's self-loathing because we can only see the dysfunctionality of what we've been through and our mainstream context does not know how to make sense of our church experience. I get it all the time - white people are surprised that I have an English-speaking ministry within a Chinese church. They have no clue what that might look like and their response makes me feel like my background is invisible. 

It's easy to feel ashamed of who we are. 

So without recognizing the positives of Chinese culture, many find themselves disillusioned or disconnected with their mainstream church experience.  It might be because we're accustomed to a form of family that is difficult to replicate in the mainstream American church. I've noticed that my peers have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to do just that - replicate the intimacy of the Chinese church family in other church contexts. I applaud the effort. But many more peers have simply not made the effort and flounder around, seeking to belong in some other family context apart from the church. Some rely on their high school or college group of friends, other have a network of relationships through work or common interests. And sometimes it's there and sometimes it isn't but I'm convinced there is no better context to reproduce a spiritual family than within the body of Christ. 

When Jesus saves us, he doesn't just save us as individuals. He saves us as a community. We enter into and become a new people. And contrary to what we might want, the gospel does not make our cultural background irrelevant. Rather the gospel redeems our culture into newness of life so that all the good aspects of our church culture are increasingly put on display and the broken aspects are healed. 

Our unique contribution to the body of Christ in North America: The power of the gospel means our cultural background as both Chinese and American is a unique asset to both mainstream and Chinese churches in the US. That means the diversity of Chinese cuisine and emphasis on Chinese hospitality is a unique gift to the body of Christ universal.

If you're part of a mainstream church (white culture), then your commitment to unity and harmony is both a blessing and a rebuke to the individualism of western Christianity. Your leadership and communication style might not be fully appreciated so don't sell yourself short. Don't be discouraged because Western culture does not place high value consensus building and group harmony.  You have much to offer if you're willing to invest in the redeemed community.

And if you're part of a Chinese church, then your individualistic mindset is a blessing and rebuke to the communalism of Eastern culture. You may simultaneously feel self-loathing and superiority because of your dual cultural citizenship. Learn to humble yourself and see the value of your context. 

Wherever you are, you are free to stop playing the victim and from feeling like a second-class citizen. Your hunger for home and your commitment to fostering community is a blessing to believers everywhere. Your love for family is a gift to the church.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Man Makes Man

Dedicated to all the men who have shaped and formed me over the years

Only steel forges steel in the smithy's store
              Where bellows blow and fan                    
The hammer strikes where iron burns bright give 
        Glory when man makes man              

Father's bond with son is fire-forged not
By blood but force and heat
Discipline fans flame and wisdom's thunder
Pounds sound in measured beat

A boy may declare himself fully grown
Thinks he's great, thinks he can
Yet boy needs furnace to mold his heart since
Only man can brand man 

Shall a tender flower wield the hammer
That batters steel to form?
Can a willow withstand the withering heat
Of the forge's scorching storm?

A woman's birth pain ends but a man's true
Labor is forging soul
The contours, the hewed lines of character
To shape is mentors' role

No man forms another on his own but
Each smith serves his design
Chisel, tongs, and bellows work as one while
Anvil with sledge combine

The fraternity of brothers join to
Unite as master guild
Where apprentices attain the higher craft of
One's purpose to fulfill

Male female alike emerge from the womb
Without woman who could stand?
So honor due our mother-roots but cry       
Glory when man makes man