Unintentional Invisibility

Unintentional Invisibility

Peter Lim     |     SEPTEMBER 28, 2018     |    6 MIN READ

It’s been a few weeks since I witnessed tennis sensation Naomi Osaka’s victory and trophy ceremony at the U.S. Open. Yet I’m still grappling with what took place and the feelings that I experienced.

In case you don’t follow tennis, Naomi’s grand victory was overshadowed by an officiating controversy between Serena Williams, Naomi’s opponent, and the chair umpire. The audience booed loudly in support of Serena during the game and subsequent ceremony.

So in the greatest moment of a young woman’s tennis career, Naomi’s eyes were filled not with tears of joy but with tears of agony. She even offered an apology for winning the U.S. Open!

I don’t know Naomi, who is of Japanese and Haitian American descent, but there are significant ways in which many Asian Americans and I can connect and relate to her narrative.

Perhaps that is why I resonated so viscerally with her in her tears.

Perpetual Invisibility

The part of the U.S. Open that pained me the most was the fact that Naomi was standing right there when the crowed hurled boos. She wasn’t in the locker room or outside the stadium. She on the platform along with everyone else, including USTA official Katrina Adams, who said, “Perhaps it’s not the finish we were looking for today.”

Somehow, even on the grandest of stage of tennis, Naomi became invisible.

“I felt a little bit sad because I wasn’t really sure if they were booing at me, or if it wasn’t the outcome that they wanted,” she said in an interview after the game.

What was lost in all this is that Naomi has lived in the United States since she was 3 years old. Lost in all this is that Naomi is as much American as any of us, even if she plays for the Japan Tennis Association.

So watching her tears, I could not help but feel that America was once again overlooking the Asian Americans by overlooking Naomi and her stunning victory.

One of the realities that Asian Americans experience in both subtle and explicit ways is the lack of visibility, including within Christian circles. When racial issues are discussed, the majority of of the conversation centers around black and white voices. Regrettably, the Asian American voice, (as well as other minority voices) is missing far too often from this discussion.

This past April, I took my staff to a national Christian conference in Atlanta. One plenary session was devoted to addressing the issues of race and racism in the church. Of the 8 panelists, all were black or white.

So where does our Christian faith intersect with the unfortunate cultural reality of being an Asian in America? Here are three realities of our faith that I hope will give you a foundation to stand on as Asian Americans.

1. You are Visible to God

No matter what transpires around us, God is our hope. Though I may appear to be invisible as an Asian American in my own nation, I am fully visible and known by my God.

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139: 1-5)

2. The Image of God Includes our Asian Ethnicity

I have very, very small eyes. At times I stare at the mirror and wonder, “God, did you have a shortage on big eyes?”

For other Asian Americans, perhaps they question their cultural heritage and ask, “Why?” But it is so important to know that before the creation of world, the Triune God declared, “Let us make humanity in our image,” and this includes our ethnicity.

Ethnicity is not a consequence of sin. Instead it reflects the fullness and the beauty of God. As Asian Americans, we reflect the image of God just as much as any other group.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

3. There is Power in Being In-Between

Asian Americans, like Jesus and Paul (1 Cor. 9:19-23) exist in a state of liminality, or “in between,” and that struggle can be used for God’s glory. A simple way to understand this is to borrow from the world of Christian missionaries and expatriates.

The term Third Culture was used to describe their children, who were generally white Americans who lived their formative years in foreign nations. These children never belonged to a specific culture.

Though they spoke language and understood the customs of the country they moved to, they never truly fit in because they were still considered by the locals to be white Americans. Conversely, because they grew up speaking a language other than English and with a different culture, they never truly fit in when they came back to America. They were altogether a Third Culture.

For many of us Asian Americans, because we grew up and lived in America, we truly never fit in with the culture of our mother country. Equally, though we are “Americans,” because we are Asian, we don’t quite fit in with the with the culture of the United States. Therefore, Asian Americans, can be considered a type of Third Culture.

But it is the space and place of liminality that gives Asian Americans the ability to empathize with others and truly be an ambassador of the Gospel. If we as Asian Americans fully embrace this third culture existence, it is exactly this that will enable us to be the light of the Gospel to our nation and society, thereby bringing a fuller visibility.

Visibility will require action. It will not simply happen because we wish it to happen or because we are frustrated that it hasn’t happened. It will require us as Asian Americans to embrace our ethnic identity.  It will require us as Asian American Christians to own the truth that we are wonderfully and beautifully made, just as God intended.

It won’t happen overnight, but it must begin today, with Asian American Christians, in our Christ-like liminal state, creating our own voices and exercising our voices in all the myriad of contexts God has placed us. To do so is to bring greater color and beauty to the Kingdom of God.

Peter Lim is a native of So Cal but his adopted hometown is now the ATL. He is the founding and lead pastor of 4Pointes Church, an Asian American/Third Culture church in Atlanta. He is husband to Sung-Ae and a father of two wonderful boys (Moses & Micah). Peter is an ordained minister who is a graduate of UCLA (1995) with a B.A. in Political Science and of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity (1999) and a Masters of Theology (2000). He is also part of the 22nd Class of Arrow Leadership Program and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.