UrbanFaith.com earned honors in three categories at the 2012 Evangelical Press Association Convention in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The convention was hosted at the Focus on the Family campus, May 9-11.
UF won fourth place in the General Article (medium length) category in the Higher Goals Contest for the submission “Is LeBron the NBA’s Samson?” by Jelani Greenidge. We also won a fourth-place award in the Devotional category for the article “Forgiving Kim Jong-Il” by Helen Lee.
Finally, UrbanFaith earned the top honor in the Awards of Excellence for General Digital Media. This is the EPA’s highest award for general websites. Here’s what the judge had to say about us: “This site simply stands out. Its story selection, writing, and focus on being current gives it the edge over all the other entries.”
The Evangelical Press Association is a professional organization of some 300 Christian magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and content-rich websites in North America. The annual convention in May brings together evangelical journalists, writers, and other media-related professionals for a time of training, networking and encouragement. Each year at the convention awards are given out in various categories.
UrbanFaith is grateful to the EPA for these honors, and we look forward to faithfully pursuing another year of journalistic excellence.
HE GOT GAME, TOO: Knicks guard Jeremy Lin drives by Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant at Madison Square Garden on February 10. Lin Scored 38 points, and the Knicks defeated the Lakers 92-85. (Photo: John Angelillo/Newscom)
Even if you do not follow professional sports, you have probably heard that there is a whole lot of fuss going on about someone named Jeremy Lin. He’s the 23-year-old New York Knicks point guard who has transformed from last man on the bench to the team’s savior faster than you can say “Linsanity.”
A man of committed Christian faith, Lin has attributed his successes to God and directed all accolades towards his fellow teammates, prompting television commentators to dub him “the humble hero from Harvard,” which by the way is an unlikely source for professional basketball players. Born in Los Angeles, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, Lin experienced success at the high school and collegiate levels, yet was not drafted by any NBA team. Instead, he bounced around the league until he finally landed with the Knicks late last year.
Just a little over a week ago, Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch and wondering if the Knicks were going to keep him on the team. But as injuries whittled down the Knicks’ roster, Lin’s number was called against the New Jersey Nets on February 4th. He scored an improbable 25 points, started in the next four games, and repeated the seemingly impossible by scoring in double digits each time, including 38 points in a prime-time, nationally-televised performance against Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.
It’s an amazing, Cinderella-esque story. Some have even made parallels between Lin and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow due to their shared Christian beliefs as well as their improbable success. But what truly sets Lin apart in his profession, besides his Ivy League education and unexpected rise, is his Asian American background.
Judging by the frenzied response of the Knicks’ multiethnic market of fans, it doesn’t matter that Lin is Asian American. Most see him as a superhero, swooping in from out of nowhere to save a seemingly doomed season. Others may be thinking he’s winning despite being Asian American.
But, make no mistake about it, Lin does mean something particularly special to those of us in the Asian American community. I have not seen Asian Americans galvanized in this way for anyone before Jeremy Lin. Not Barack Obama, not Tiger Woods in his pre-scandal days. If Asian Americans formed a political party, Jeremy Lin would clearly be the uncontested nominee for president.
The role of Lin’s ethnicity in this extraordinary narrative cannot be ignored. Coaches and scouts were quite likely unwilling to give Lin a chance purely based on his ethnicity. Phil Taylor wrote about Lin in SI.com, “I knew on some level that part of the reason Lin was so quickly dismissed was that NBA people had a hard time believing that an Asian-American could play point guard in the NBA.” It’s a testimony to Lin’s tenacity and faith that he refused to accept the reality that he saw around him. He had never seen an Asian American man play in the NBA, but he stayed fixed on his goal of being a professional basketball player, even when no one else was giving him the chance.
People have been describing Lin’s breakthrough as a “Jackie Robinson” moment, and perhaps one of the eventual results of Lin’s success is that in a decade or so, we’ll start to see more Asian Americans in the NBA. But what I find fascinating about “Linsanity” is how the Jeremy Lin story reveals racial and ethnic differences amongst us and illuminates assumptions that still persist.
For one thing, Asian culture is collectivistic rather than individualistic, which essentially means that it fosters thinking such as “we’re all in this together,” and “what happens to you, happens to me.” When an Asian American reaches a particular level of accomplishment and achievement, we all feel the sense of sharing in his or her successes (and the reverse is also true, such as the deep shame many of us experienced after Seung-Hui Cho went on his murderous rampage at Virginia Tech).
In Asian American churches, adults go by the appellations “Auntie” and “Uncle,” further communicating to the next generation that we are all just one big family. Given Lin’s clear profession of faith, Asian American Christians in particular embrace him both as fellow ethnic kin as well as a fellow believer. He is a “brother,” in every sense of the word. And so when he does well, it reflects positively on the larger family of Asian Americans everywhere.
MORE THAN BASKETBALL: Jeremy Lin's significance as an Asian American athlete playing at the highest level of his game goes beyond mere sports.
But why do Asian Americans need the collective ego boost that is coming from one, singular professional sports figure? Aren’t they already considered the “model minority,” rightly or wrongly? Don’t Asian Americans easily assimilate into the larger culture, just like Lin is fitting seamlessly into his team of non-Asians?
Often when I write or speak about matters of race, I invariably hear questions like this, implying that we now live in a color-blind society, that racial conflicts are relics from the past. But I think the excitement that Asian Americans are demonstrating over Lin reflects the exact opposite: that racial and ethnic differences still matter a great deal. As Michael Luo reflected in the New York Times on his own thrill over Lin’s success, “It boils down to a welter of emotions from finally having someone I can relate to enter the public consciousness.”
If you think race does not matter in the 21st century, you likely have never been that lone ethnic minority walking into a room. Asian Americans (and other minorities) know and feel it instantly when they are the only non-white face in any gathering. We feel it whenever we walk into a classroom, a conference room, a coffee shop … a church.
To add further to our sense of marginalization even in the Christian subculture, when none of the role models presented to us in Christian contexts look like someone we can relate to, little by little we begin to doubt that our voices will ever be heard, that we are valued contributors, that anyone even notices we exist at all. If all we ever see in the pulpits, at the podiums, or on the covers of magazines and books are the faces and names of majority America, then those institutions and places of influence are missing a significant part of the American story.
Jeremy Lin gives us a great story that we can all rally around — America loves nothing more than an underdog tale. And the fact that Lin has gained such widespread, mainstream acceptance has filled Asian Americans with a collective sense of sheer, unbridled joy and pride. Lin’s popularity has suddenly given Asian Americans a gift we have not always experienced: acceptance, from a society that still mistakes us as outsiders.
Talk to any Asian American, and you will likely find that he or she has a story to tell about being on the receiving end of a racist epithet or some racially charged comment. Just the other day, I was speaking with a Korean-American named Susie who recounted a recent experience in a Wal-Mart parking lot. As she walked toward the store with her family, a pickup truck sped by with its passengers yelling “Hi-yaah!” at her and her family in a cartoonish mockery of martial arts screams. The truck then passed them, turned around, and returned for a repeat performance before peeling away. On the night of Lin’s incredible 38-point performance against the L.A. Lakers, I watched my Twitter feed spew comment after comment celebrating Lin while still regarding him as a foreigner. “So excited #jeremylin speaks solid English,” read one such tweet.
Jeremy Lin’s recent successes won’t wipe away all the years of racial stereotyping, all the ways that ceilings and misconceptions still block the paths of Asian Americans and other minorities in countless institutions, the church included. But shared appreciation for his extraordinary story is binding together both his fellow Asian American “brothers and sisters” as well as his fans from every tribe, tongue and nation. I don’t think the fact that Lin’s team is located in one of the most multicultural cities in the world happened by chance. Behind all the amazing events surrounding this young man’s rise is a deeper purpose, and I believe there’s way more to this story than just basketball.
FAREWELL 'DEAR LEADER': Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator who died on Dec. 17 at age 69, will be remembered for turning his impoverished country into a nuclear-weapons player. (Photo: Kcna/ZUMA Press/Newscom)
Since I am the daughter and my children are the grandsons of a North Korean refugee, the plight of North Korea is a frequent topic of discussion in our family. My sons are 9 years old and younger, but they have already formed strong opinions about the leaders of the nation that was once their grandfather’s homeland. Just a week ago, my 6-year-old prayed the following: “God please bless everyone, except Kim Jong-Il.”
When we asked him why he prayed in this particular way, he replied, “He’s a bad, bad man. I don’t love him. I hate him.”
It doesn’t matter how many times we try to tell them that God wants us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48). My kids don’t understand what could possibly motivate a man to ignore the suffering of so many people that he is supposed to be leading and caring about.
When I heard the news on Monday evening about Kim Jong-Il’s passing, I found myself shedding tears not of sadness but of anger toward him, toward his father Kim Il-Sung, and towards all those in power in a nation that invests more in its nuclear and military armament than in feeding its starving population. And I realized that I am much closer to my kids’ sentiments than I might care to admit.
I think of my father, who was 13 years old when he left his home country on foot, traveling with his own father and his brother in order to avoid being conscripted into the escalating conflict between the Communist-leaning north and democratic-leaning south halves of Korea. Their trip took 15 days and included a 40-minute harrowing venture across chest-high, freezing water to cross the Taedong River in Pyongyang at night. (You can view an amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning photo here of Korean refugees trying to climb across the remains of the main bridge over the Taedong. This was taken on the same exact day that my father left North Korea: December 4, 1950.)
When he departed from home that frigid December night, 61 years ago, my dad said goodbye to his mother who’d stayed behind to try to convince her brothers to also head south, and assumed he’d be back home in a week or two. But he never saw his mother again. Theirs is a story all too common amongst Koreans in my father’s generation; countless numbers of Korean families were personally affected or were close to someone devastated by the effects of the Korean War, which left behind a tragic legacy of separated or permanently altered families. Officially, the Korean War is actually still ongoing; certainly in the minds and hearts of the Korean people, this conflict and its far-reaching personal consequences have remained far from forgotten.
My dad, who just turned 74 years old, is pessimistic about the prospect of any type of positive change in North Korea. He tells me, “My main worry is for the people who are innocent victims, all those people who just happened to be born in North Korea and who live there. No other country wishes to unify Korea or engage in any risky attempts to overthrow the regime. This all means I won’t be able to see any bright future in North Korea in my lifetime. It’s so, so sad!”
I will be honest: I cannot conjure even a shred of remorse or sadness about Kim Jong-Il’s passing. Although he personally had nothing to do with the circumstances leading to my dad’s family story, in my mind he represents the very worst of mankind, and how its evils can deliver countless decades of misery into the lives of ordinary human beings.
There is a part of me that is even glad for Kim’s passing, if only because it brings the tragic story of the Korean peninsula back into present-day focus. Regardless of what we may think of North Korea’s past and present leaders, regardless of whether we are of Korean descent or not, we all need to be aware that the North Korean story is not just one of a seemingly endless reign of despotic rulers, but also of countless numbers of families experiencing decades upon decades of grief and sadness.
I am grateful for organizations such as Crossing Borders and LiNK, which are both involved in the dangerous and critical work of assisting and advocating for North Koreans refugees, and The Saemsori Project, which is helping to reunite long-separated Korean families. (You can see Saemsori’s interview with my father on YouTube here.) These organizations may not be able to do anything to ensure humane leadership in the post-Kim Jong-Il era. But the work they are doing has eternal value as they strive for North Korean refugees and immigrants to experience both freedom and family anew.
Meanwhile, I will strive to teach my sons that the best way to “love the enemy” in North Korea is not to embrace hatred, but to support organizations such as these, and to continue to pray and press toward a future in which the North Koreans there and abroad experience no more dying, no more crying, no more hurting. It may not happen in my father’s lifetime, or in my lifetime, or even in my kids’ lifetime. But one day, hopefully sooner than later, we know that the old order will pass away, in North Korea and anyplace else where tyranny currently reigns over liberty.
And as we pray for justice to roll down, may we never forget the millions upon millions who have suffered, lost, and perished along the way.
Helen is currently editing her father’s memoir about his life as a North Korean refugee living in the U.S.