Eugene Cho

defend, rescue, and fight for the weak – and do it with dignity

I’m sorry if this post depresses, discourages, or disturbs you. It’s not my intent but a reminder of the arduous work ahead for all of us.

It’s the day after…

The day after this nation (and many in the global community) celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We march, share inspiring quotes, and listen to compelling speeches.

It’s a feel good day.

But today is the day after – and the awareness of reality. A reality of certainly a better world from the days of Rosa Park and Dr. King but a reminder of  the long road ahead. Oh,we have a long way to go.  Anyone that wonders if racism still exists in America simply need to look at our incarceration and education system. Broken would be an understatement.

But it’s not just merely an issue of race or more specifically, Black and White. Rather, it’s about the larger issue of Strong vs. Weak. Perhaps, it’s always been about this dichotomy and it gets played out via the arenas of race, class, economics, gender, age, orientation, etc.

The question for us – as human beings – and especially as people after the heart of God as Christians is to not merely understand the heart of God but to pursue and do the heart of God.

I often wonder if those that are so eager to celebrate and applaud Dr. King actually read the same Bible that Rev. Dr. King read.

By this, I mean, do we understand how on so many occasions, God conveys His fierce passion for the widows, the orphans, the poor, the weak, the sick, the exploited, etc. Do we know that God takes sides?

We might not like it. We might not agree with the politics. We might want to hide from it. We might want to spiritualize it. We might want to theologize it, disneyize it…but this I know from reading the Bible and following the life of Jesus:

God takes sides of the weak

I know some of you will disagree with my usage of the word ‘weak.’ There’s something undignified about labeling people as weak and I agree but semantics and language aside, I guess that’s what I mean: We live in an unjust, unfair, and broken world where there are distinctions of strong and weak and the weak after often, if not always, exploited on some level or another. Why? Because we can.

One of the more compelling verses from the Scriptures that inform and transform my world view comes from Psalm 82:3-4

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy…

Two stories – an article and a video – recently came to my attention.  I’m aware there’s always many angles to a story but for me, they are stories and example of the strong destroying the weak. I’m not sharing these stories because the weak in these stories are Asian and as such, trying to elevate Asian plight. Nope, my point is much broader: Strong vs. Weak.

If there’s one thing you’ll read this month, I want to humbly suggest you read this article from the New York Magazine. It is a feature and the story of Private Danny Chen (1992-2011) – “He was 19 yars old, a scrawny six-four, and wanted nothing more than to join the Army…”

But things got bad:

The eight men later charged in connection with his death are all white and range in age from 24 to 35; they include one lieutenant, two staff sergeants, three sergeants, and two specialists. Members of this group allegedly harassed and humiliated Chen from almost the day he arrived at The Palace. They belittled him with racial slurs. They forced him to do push-ups with a mouthful of water, refusing to let him swallow or spit any out. And, on September 27, a sergeant allegedly yanked him out of bed and dragged him across about 50 yards of gravel toward a shower trailer as punishment for supposedly breaking the hot-water pump. He endured bruises and cuts on his back. Army officials told Chen’s family that although the leader of his platoon found out about this incident, he never reported it as he was required to. [read full article]

Read it. I dare you. I challenge. Please, I invite you. I don’t know what more to write but to share sadness and pain for the lost life of Danny Chen, the desolation of his parents, and the heinous behavior of those in power who preyed on his ‘weakness.’

Desolation for others who are bullied, beaten, and belittled – simply because they are “weaker” – however defined.

And then yesterday, I saw this YouTube video entitled, “Helpless Asian man attacked and jumped by 7 others behind school.” Apparently, this took place this past week in Chicago. I know that there’s always some context that’s missing but what I see is the (physically) strong attacking the weak and it is absolutely sickening and disgusting. If you watch this video, be warned of the extreme violence and language.

It’s the day after…and I’m discouraged. The world is so fallen and broken. Like, really broken.  And so perhaps, this quote again from Dr. King is especially appropriate for “the days after”…

“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

Yes, the feel good fuzziness of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is over. I’m reminded of the work before us – the work of mercy, justice, and humility; the work of reconciliation and restoration. The work of defending, rescuing, and fighting for the weak – and this work to be done with dignity.

We’ve got work ahead and so, I share a prayer once prayed by Dr. King with you all:

Most Gracious and all wise God, Before whose face the generations rise and fall, Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee for all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health, for food and for raiment, for the beauties of nature and the love of human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie, We are forever offered the high road and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see thee O God in these turbulent day when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eys, and power of endurance. Help us to work with rewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth, and for a brotherhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen.

If you’re reading this and read this far:

Thanks for your life, your work, and your commitment to the whole Gospel including: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy.” – and Let’s Do it With Dignity.

I’m honored to be laboring together with you.

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14 Responses

  1. matichuk says:

    Eugene, thanks for this. It is easy to get caught up in a vison of reconciliation ala MLK yet not see the real wounded and oppressed and the work of justice and racial healing that needs to be done. Thanks for calling attention to these stories and for the work you do.

  2. Jung-Hoon says:

    But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, NASB)

    Eugene, thank you for the post. I think you made the point when you said the world is so fallen and broken. There is nothing new under heaven. Human beings have always been like this. Some may want to insist that America now is less racist than it was in MLK’s days. But I would have to disagree with them. The only difference I see is that people have now all learned how to hide their ever blazing racist perspectives as if they do not exist while all were blatantly exhibiting their white-supremacy or racist views back then.

    The situation has not gotten worse, nor better — it has always been this way: Every human being is a racist for “man looks at the outward appearance.”

    There is no hope of progress. There won’t be any progress in human nature. But I once again commit myself to the holy fight for “the whole Gospel including ‘defending the weak'” You may want to ask why. I commit myself for that not because it will bring us any progress, but just because that’s what God wants us to do even though the future still looks gloomy. (The LORD who looks at my heart, not my Asian appearance, is my only hope and joy.)

    So, Eugene, please take courage!

  3. Maia says:

    My 14 year old brother showed me this video last night and it was hard to watch the whole thing. He saw it on FB from a friend’s profile. Didn’t even know what to say to him. He asked me, “Why are they doing that? He is asking them to stop and they keep going, are they just doing this because he is Asian?” I didn’t even know what to tell him. How do you labor against this kind of random cruelty and heartlessness? How do you explain to a 14 year old that people are just plain evil? If I can’t even process it how can I help him process and RESPOND? Don’t feel much like a laborer, just super sad and angry at the same time. Putting the prayer above on my fridge, not much but hopefully it can help my attitude and my ability to respond.

  4. Terri C. says:

    The YouTube video has been removed. Maybe it’s for the better but I hope the story continues to push us to act against bullying and violence.

  5. Helen Lee says:

    So appreciate you taking on this topic, Eugene. We all need to be mindful of doing just what you suggest, standing for the weak, and how unbelievably tragic that Pvt. Chen and also Lance Corporal Lew were both Americans seeking to serve their country and abused by fellow countrymen. Stomach-turning and tragic. Did you see this article below by Jeff Yang? I thought he also did a good job highlighting the issue that confronts many young Asian Americans today. We still have quite a ways to go before we are “free at last.” But continuing to raise the issues is one way we get there. THANK YOU.

    http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/opinion-what-the-deaths-of-two-soldiers-say-about-anti-asian-bullying/?hpt=hp_c2&fb_source=message

  6. Eric says:

    I live in Chicago and I can tell you that the police do not believe the 6 on 1 beating of the high school kid was racially motivated (it is supposedly over a girl) but after seeing the uncensored video, I’m pretty sure the liberal use of the “n” word is evidence that they were trying to add insult to injury. Without taking anything away from the victims, I wonder about the bullies in each of these cases and how they should be dealt with. Violence and exerting power over the weak is such massive part of our culture in the US that we give revenge a term like “righteous violence” and enable it as a justifiable response. I formerly believed this and thought and felt that people who use nazi methods in conflict, (i.e. 8 on 1) should be taught a lesson through an individual beat down. I spent 12 years involved with various informal anti-racist groups that took the fight to the facists and I would never back down from racists or neo-nazi, educating them in the doctrine of “what comes around goes around.” We justified our actions because we stood up for the weak and helpless and we were effective. By forcing the oppressor into the position of the weak one, they become intimately aware of the fear and pain they afflict and sometimes, they change as a result of it. Most didn’t though.

    I do not practice this anymore because as a follow of Christ now, I know that God would not promote this type of behavior or actions. God’s great desire is seen in the image of the Kingdom of God where we love our enemies, forgive them and include them in our communities as a method of discipling them into the Kingdom. And this may be the great challenge for us as the church: can we invite, love and nurture these oppressors into our communities? I wish I could say definitively that if I saw a nazi walk into the church I am with that my first desire wasn’t to physically destroy them, but I can’t. What I can say is my second thought is always orientated to the forgiveness and grace God has shown to me, should be shown to them.

  7. peterwchin says:

    *sigh* i thought for sure that as asians broke more and more into mainstream culture, that these kinds of events would get less common. i don’t know if it’s just me, but they seem more prevalent today than when i was growing up. i guess that just goes to show that media exposure is not the same as real, personal, human exposure.

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One Day’s Wages

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Grateful. Still reflecting on the letters that I've received from classmates and students that have come before me and after me. Never imagined all that God would have in store for me. Lots of humbling things but in the midst of them, there were literally thousands upon thousands of daily decisions and choices to be faithful. That's what matters. Seen or unseen. Noticed or unnoticed. You do your best and sometimes you stumble and fumble along but nevertheless, seeking to be faithful.

Also, you know you're getting old when your school honors you with a Distinguished Alumni Award. Lol. 47 is the new 27. Or something like that. Here's to the next 47. In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove

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