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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One Day’s Wages

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Father, please bless and protect these Iraqi and Syrian "refugee" children that have already endured so much. Protect their hearts and mind from unfathomable trauma. Plant seeds of hope and vision in their lives. And as we pray for them, teach us how to advocate for them. Amen. "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." -  local Iraqi priest whose church has welcomed many "relatives" to their church's property

It's always a privilege to be invited into peoples' home for tea - even if it's a temporary tent. This is an extended Yezidi family that fled the Mosul, Iraq area because of ISIS. It's indeed true that Christians were targeted by ISIS and thatbstory muat be shared but other minority groups like the Yezidis were also targeted. Some of their heartbreaking stories included the kidnapping of their sister. They shared that their father passed away shortly of a "broken heart." The conversation was emotional but afterwards, we asked each other for permission to take photos. Once the selfies came out, the real smiles came out.

So friends: Pray for Iraq. Pray for the persecuted Church. Pray for Christians, minority groups like the Yezidis who fear they will e completely wiped out in the Middle East,, and Muslims alike who are all suffering under ISIS. Friends: I'm traveling in the Middle East this week - Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Make sure you follow my pics/stories on IG stories). Specifically, I'm here representing @onedayswages to meet, learn, and listen to pastors, local leaders, NGOs, and of course directly from refugees from within these countries - including many from Syria.

For security purposes, I haven't been able to share at all but I'm now able to start sharing some photos and stories. For now, I'll be sharing numerous photos through my IG stories and will be sharing some longer written pieces in couple months when ODW launches another wave of partnerships to come alongside refugees in these areas. Four of us are traveling together also for the purpose of creating a short documentary that we hope to release early next year.

While I'm on my church sabbatical, it's truly a privilege to be able to come to these countries and to meet local pastors and indigenous leaders that tirelessly pursue peace and justice, and to hear directly from refugees. I've read so many various articles and pieces over the years and I thought I was prepared but it has been jarring, heartbreaking,  and gut wrenching. In the midst of such chaos, there's hope but there's also a lot of questions, too.

I hope you follow along as I share photos, stories, and help release this mini-documentary. Please tag friends that might be interested.

Please pray for safety, for empathy, for humility and integrity, for divine meetings. Pray that we listen well; To be present and not just be a consumer of these vulnerable stories. That's my biggest prayer.

Special thanks to @worldvisionusa and @worldrelief for hosting us on this journey. 9/11
Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.

Today, I had some gut wrenching and heart breaking conversations about war, violence, and peacemaking. Mostly, I listened. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision having these conversations on 9/11 of all days. I wish I could share more now but I hope to later after I process them for a few days.

But indeed: Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.
May it be so. Amen. Mount Rainier is simply epic. There's nothing like flying in and out of Seattle.

#mountrainier
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#northwestisbest Took a train to Busan. Did not encounter any zombies but I was ready just in case.

Busan. First visit to this city (couple weeks ago) and was blown away by its beauty. Also, shocked that it has become the fifth largest containment port city in the world. That's a lot of import and export.

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  • Pray for Iraq. Pray for persecuted Church, minority groups (Yezidis) and Muslims alike who are suffering under ISIS: instagram.com/p/BZF2j6Ngrna/ || 2 days ago
  • "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." - a local Iraqi priest || 3 days ago
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