Eugene Cho

a letter to my son [a guest post]

More good news: I’ll be hosting some occasional guest bloggers that I believe will enrich the readers of this blog. While I don’t have a list per se, I hope to invite some folks whose voices (and words) I personally appreciate because they challenge, convict, minister, and resonate with me – and it’s my hope that they’ll speak to you in some way.

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Brian Bantum. His full bio is below but this post got me all teary-eyed for various reasons. It’s “a letter to his son.”

I’d be amiss not to mention that Brian also attends Quest, plays the bass on our worship team, leads one of our community groups, is married to a Quest pastoral ah-jim-ah, and just released his first book called Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity. I’m not posting his blog here because he’s a Quester, or because he gave me a free signed book, or because he’s way taller than me and might be able to take me…maybe.

It’s just a worthwhile read.

Here it is. Please read it and let me know what you think.———————————————————————————————

This is a letter to my son that I am not sure he will understand now, but it is one that I hope he will look back upon to give clarity to some moments of confusion and exclusion… But it is also a letter for a world that in so many ways wants something different but cannot imagine how it prevents those hopes from becoming realized.

To my beloved son,

You were only ten years old when you saw that American miracle, Barack Obama sworn into office as president of the United States of America. Innocence seemed to be reclaimed in that moment as so many heard, in the president’s oath, centuries of guilt absolved. “To a post-racial future!” some exclaimed, hopeful for a unity that seemed so difficult to grasp even in our so-called enlightened time.

And yet, two years later you have come to discover the true “curse of ham,” the refusal of  difference that ferments beneath the surface of every society, that reveals us all to be more savage than civil. You have now glimpsed just how much we humans thrive on difference, how we seek it out even in its most subtle forms (and that 7th graders seem particularly adept at it!)

But, as these realities seem to so often reveal, our present is never quite the simple repetition of the past. You, the child of a mulatto man and a Korean American mother, are the sum of many parts, places, stories and possibilities. In so many ways you encapsulate what many people hope for when they imagine a “post-racial” hope.

It has pained me so to see you discover that post-racial is, in sad fact, simply a poor recalibration of an awkward arrangement made long, long ago when there were only whites and coloreds. You have stumbled into a world where a few white boys will exclude you, call you black because you are not white, and a latino can call you a nigger without the slightest hesitation, his ignorance or his malice equally heinous crimes.

So here you are, in post-racial America.

This does not have to be the end of the story, the end of our possibilities. But you should know the world you have entered and what peculiar space you occupy. Welcome to the nebulous space of the inter, the in-between, the not quite, to racial ambiguity.

In the first twelve years of your life, the question of who or what you were was a pleasantry, a curiosity. But somehow the innocent question of your identity seems to have more attached to it than you realized. Not looking Asian enough to be easily absorbed into the Asian table, not dark enough to find a home among African Americans, and, as some have felt willingly enough to tell you to your face, too dark to be white. Welcome son, to the neither/nor.

You are not the first and not the last to feel the constriction of this space. In fact, you are now a second generation “in-betweener” and sadly the world some of us hoped would emerge, where the curiosity of the mulatto, the half-breed would be no more, here we are.

If left to ourselves perhaps we could hope for the space to become true individuals, to become our full selves apart from what others desire us to be or without the chains of cultural expectation.

But our world is not a world of endless possibilities and autonomous individuals. You and I are bound to each other. You and I are bound to those who refuse us and those who welcome us. All of these histories, realities, wellsprings of cultural achievement and tragedy flow through your veins, in your face.

You and I are people of the in between, people who cannot easily seek to be simply “who we are” because our “who” is inexplicable without these peoples. Our life is not our own. We belong to many peoples but above all we belong to God (of course you knew this was coming!) This makes us what some Christians have said, “foreigners in every fatherland, and in every foreign land, a citizen.”

If being post racial means anything, perhaps it is this, that we are always at home, and we are never home. If being a Christian means anything it is that we are always at home, and we are never home and because of this the exclusion, the refusals we so often endure are never the entirety of our lives.

Much much love,

Your father

Brian Bantum is Assistant Professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific University. He is author of Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Baylor University Press, 2010) and numerous articles on Christ, identity, and race. Brian lives in Seattle with his wife, Gail, and three children.

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4 Responses

  1. Art Gangel says:

    What a thought-provoking piece, Brian. Increasingly in my faith walk I’m being pulled into spaces of liminality; “threshold”-like spaces where there is very little settled, all possibilities exist, but very few answers exist as well.

    As a white American male, this trend puts me in a position I’m not used to – one very similar to the one you’re preparing your son for, one of not quite being at home in this world.

    Your article highlights to me that, as we continue to blend races in this country, it becomes harder to know who is “in” and “out” of my selected group from a racial standpoint, and easier to reject everyone who is not EXACTLY like me in every (externally observable) way.

    May those of us who are not forced into the margins by our race (or combination thereof) have the faith to move into them consciously, for there alone hovers the creative Spirit of the Sovereign Lord.

  2. Eugene Cho says:

    reading it again…and getting teary-eyed again.

  3. Ann F-R says:

    Brian, what your son & you experience within your appearance, so many of us experience in our hearts as pilgrims on a journey to our true home & heartland, with God. You expressed yours & our hope & our sorrow beautifully: “You and I are bound to each other. You and I are bound to those who refuse us and those who welcome us. All of these histories, realities, wellsprings of cultural achievement and tragedy flow through your veins, in your face.”

    While many of us may not be so visibly & immediately refused or welcomed, we share the pain & joy of broken humanity.

    I pray that the beauty in your loving & fathering words be revealed in your son & family! May each of you be blessed with faithful companions who love God & one another on this pilgrimage.

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As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer.

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