Earlier this month, both of my grandpa’s passed away. This is a tribute to the second one.
Dr. Peter Hsiao, or Ah-Gong (grandpa in Mandarin), was my mother’s father. The earliest memories I had of him were embedded in our annual Christmas adventures. Vague memories of long car rides from Salt Lake City, UT (1978-1982), and then long flights from Madison, WI (1982-1986) would culminate with time spent at Ah-Gong and Ah-Ma’s house in Torrance, CA. The times were sweet, with numerous memories with my siblings and cousins: building little kingdoms and rivers of dirt in Ah-Ma’s famed backyard garden, picking peaches from the tree on the side of the house, trips to Leco-Seco Park, afternoons on the sands of Redondo Beach, messing around with the foot-long skateboards with roller-skate wheels Ah-Ma got from one of her regular garage sale trips, doing numerous chores (sweeping, playing piano, math problems) for the reward of a few cents each chore, wandering through the huge Del-Amo mall, trips to Service Merchandise (remember that store?), camping out in Mike and Jelin’s backyard, trips to Jimmy and Kenny’s big house in Palos Verdes. Ah-Gong and Ah-Ma’s house was memorable as well: there was the sliding door that divided the living and family room, the extra TV in their bedroom with Japanese soap-operas constantly on, the pink bathroom with a drawer for a door lock and a toilet that never seemed to flush (thankfully the toilet has been changed since those days in the 80s), a layout that worked well for hide-and-go-seek in the dark.
And then there was Ah-Gong. In those early years, everything was about eating well (or else we’d go to Ethiopia!), which included meals with liver, clam chowder with veggies, and his ketchup/mayo dressing mix with iceberg lettuce. Later, the diet included salmon or white sea bass marinated with miso, along with the traditional plate of sashimi (usually a full plate of surf clams, yellowtail, or tuna).
But there was much more going on, much more. I never got it as a kid- I think it’s pretty typical. But there was love, a lot of love, being poured out in those moments. As I grew, this became clearer. I mean, who packs marinated salmon steaks for his grandchildren when they’re in college? What drives a man to never forget a grandchild’s birthday, sending a card every year? Bigger yet, who stays married with his bride for over 60 years, cherishing her with the same, if not more, devotion? What drives a man to give millions of dollars to the cause of Christ, to lend money to his children, to always have a red-envelop for the grandchildren on special days?
The moment of love most unique to me- all of us grandchildren have a different one of these moments, I believe- came during my seminary years. Having chosen a path that was unique to the family, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Ah-Gong. Not that he would unsupportive. But having been a successful doctor himself, when all of his children succeeding in the medical and scientific fields, I guess I just didn’t know. Or I didn’t expect him to be so involved with his love. Each time I was over, it seemed like Ah-Gong had something new to share about what He had learned, either from the Bible or from some Christian book he was reading. He would have his copy of Our Daily Bread next to his recliner, Bible open, eager to engage in a conversation with me. And he would have books on his shelf, typically biographies, there to share. In fact, he gave me a number of books, including my copy of Just As I Am (Billy Graham’s definitive autobiography), numerous monographs by Mother Teresa, and even a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness by the Dali Lama. Love delights on the other, taking on their interests and passions. Here was Ah Gong, father and grandfather to so many, taking time to delight in just one of many.
I know there is so much I never got to know about Ah- Gong. And I know there is so much I will never fully “get” about Ah-Gong’s life, including those amazing times of WWII history in the Pacific. I am thankful, though, that His great Savior knows about every moment and every moment of love. And I am glad that He has begun to receive His reward for it all.
Ah-Gong, thank you for your unending grace and love to all of us. We look forward to seeing you again.
On June 26, 2008, my father’s father (Ah-Yeh in Mandarin) passed away. Here is a tribute I wrote in 2006 on his 90th birthday.
One of the most vivid memories of Ah-Yeh was from my early teen years. I was sleeping over at my parents Tomich Road house, the one Sixth Aunt used to live in. I think Ah-Yeh resided there as well; I can’t remember it clearly. In any case, I was staying overnight, and made my bed in the family/TV room, somewhere on the floor.
I must have slept relatively lightly because at around 4am (from my guess at that time), I was suddenly aware of Ah-Yeh. He had woken up and was making his way to the back yard, passing through the family/TV room in the process. What was he doing? I can’t remember when I figured it out, but at sometime I realized his reason for going out – he needed to pray. And so my picture of Ah-Yeh, who he was, began to grow from here.
Prior to this, I can’t remember much, but I can imagine. In preparation for this essay, I spent some time looking through my old photographs of Ah-Yeh and our family. There was Ah-Yeh, in the early 80s, full head of dark hair, tan, and… I’m not sure. There was something deep in his eyes, some unspoken emotion. Perhaps it was from his years going through what the rest of us could never imagine: a world war, loss of a homeland, loss of a spouse, immigration. There’s a reason why the famed news anchor called those in Ah-Yeh’s generation the “Greatest Generation.” It’s true, it really is.
But the pictures changed. I don’t have a whole lot of them with me in San Diego, but the next set of photos of Ah-Yeh were, well, different. They’re from the mid to late 80s, when Ah-Yeh would purposefully not look into the camera. Instead, he would look away with a solemn, flint-like gaze. What was he thinking? More importantly, what was going on in his soul? Was he grieving and dealing with the radical changes going on in his life and family as time kept passing? Was there a dream forming through the brokenness and change he was going through, a dream born of the Spirit?
I don’t know what was going on in those pictures, but those photos remind me of something: Ah-Yeh was and is human. He was and is a human being like the rest of us, full of hope, hurt, desire, passion, and grief. It’s hard to remember this at times, at least for me, because grandparents (and parents) always seem like static figures- they’re the same day after day, year after year. But they’re not, and that’s the truth.
And that brings me back to this phase of being cognizant of Ah-Yeh, this phase that began one early morning on Tomich Road. Who is Ah-Yeh? He is a man, a true man, who has grown and matured with each passing season. He is a man, a true man, who has felt love and pain, life and death, youthfulness and age. He is a man, a true man, who is living a true life, a life of Spirit and flesh, a life of body and soul. And he will become a man, a full man, one day when his decaying body will be resurrected- perfect, invincible, void of all pain and sorrow.
Ah Yeh, thank your for showing us how to live. Keep on living- not just physically, but with your soul. I can’t wait to see you once again when the imperishable comes, and we finally get to see the One we’ve been longing for all these years.
Here we go. Gay marriages are officially “on” tomorrow in my state. There’s been a lot of talk, obviously, about it all. I don’t think I need to (or want to) go through my take on all the different issues on the table. I did want to contribute an article, however, that gave an interesting perspective, one that I don’t seem to hear too much. Here it is. Let me know what you think.
In my previous post, I noted the negative and sinful feelings that would arise from my “flesh” when dealing with Celebrity Christianity. In this post, I am not too sure if what I feel is morally sinful (you can help me figure it out).
As mentioned in my previous post, one of the things that really gets to me with Celebrity Christianity (in the West) is how we think that what we see is reality- the recognition someone gets is also the same recognition God gives to that person. In other words, if we as the Western Church think that a certain pastor/model/ministry is amazing, God thinks the same.
I want to nuance my concern in this post to the idea that many times, when we do this, we also give in to the fatal error that what is true of what we see here is true for the Church worldwide. In other words, when a Western pastor has a big ministry, publishes books, has iTune sermons, and gets the Western Church’s attention, we think to ourselves- “Wow, this is what good, proper, effective, and powerful Christianity looks like! ” Now, we don’t actually verbalize the next step because of our sensitivity to ideas of colonialism and imperialism, but my impression is that what we end up thinking from there, in the subtlest of ways, is that everyone, in every country, should have what this ministry has in some way, shape, or fashion. I may be wrong (and simply projecting my sinful flesh on others- I apologize), but this is what I feel.
I was reminded of this personally a few weeks ago. A friend of mine said that a seminary in Indonesia was thinking about inviting the two of us to go and teach there for a week. Exciting stuff, especially for a person who loves to travel (and who also struggles with ungodly recognition!). But as I thought about this, it dawned on me how utterly foolish the situation was.
According to my friend, this seminary was one in which every student had to plant a church before they could graduate. If you think about it, this is simply amazing, not because they have to plant a church, but because of the fact that they have to plant a church in Indonesia– a country that is predominantly Muslim, a country Christians are persecuted and die because of their faith, a country that is so not like the West (for info, see here).
And if you think about it, the idea of my friend and I being able to offer something to them is pretty foolish. I mean, sure we may have some insight into some organizational skills for church planting. But let’s get serious- who’s living the call of Christ in more real ways? Who’s setting an example? Who’s gonna have the bigger rewards in heaven? Who’s more equipped to teach about planting churches in our global world? I really don’t think it’s me or my friend.
So I’ve been absent for a bit on this blog. There are a number of reasons for that, many of which we don’t need to get into here. But one of the factors that have prevented me from posting has been my personal struggle with what I am calling “Celebrity Christianity”- a Christian faith that gets the accolades of other people. It comes about in a number of different ways, but more often than not it follows a pattern like this: I see a peer- a pastor or Christian leader of some sort- get the limelight of the Western church world, and feelings of lust (for that sort of limelight) and judgmentalism ensue. Now, it doesn’t happen all the time, thank Jesus. But it happens enough where I am disgusted with myself, and I cannot properly put myself before the public without wanting the glory only God deserves. (It should be noted that I am in no way criticizing my fellow peers who get these accolades. They are amazing people, and I am glad for who they are and what they do).
It’s a sad thing, though, Celebrity Christianity. Because as I’ve been thinking about it, I think Jesus sees things in a radically different way. I mean, it’s pretty blatant in some of his teachings, for example:
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matt. 6:1-4
God, I don’t want to be duped. Help me remember what reality is.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to sit in on the San Diego Board of Education’s monthly meeting. Our church, Ethnos, had been invited to become an official partner with Doyle Elementary School, and part of this meeting involved the acknowledgment and approval of all new partners, and so I was there. It was quite an experience, to see some public officials, whom I had elected, in action. It was neat, too, to note the racial diversity of the Board- Asian, African American, Latino, Jewish, and more. Oh, and I had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, something I had not done in quite some time (more on this below).
A regular part of the meeting involved an “open microphone time” where anyone in the public could come and communicate with the Board. All sorts of interesting issues were brought up during this time.
One in particular made the audience a little uncomfortable, from what I could tell. It was a Caucasian war veteran who went up and began to denounce the public school system for not doing a better job keeping African American youth out of prison. Most people thought he was “off his rocker.” In fact, after the meeting some people began to bring this up with me. I don’t know if their social background influenced there perspective, but I have a feeling it may have (they were WASP in their 60s).
“But the amazing thing is, you have a place to say these sort of things to public officials without the fear of getting put in prison. I think it’s actually an amazing thing. Just think about places all over the world where you can’t do this sort of thing,” I replied.
Which got me thinking about the Pledge of Allegiance, the Flag, and “the Republic, for which it stands…”
It may not be perfect, but there are some definite blessings to being a part of this Republic.
Not too long ago, I was distressed. My calling and vocation involve a lot of people work and care. It’s something I love for sure, and look forward to doing until my dying day. But there are times where… well, I’m distressed.
On this particular day, I was feeling a certain type of distress that I had not felt before. A lot of it probably came from a lack of being connected spiritually to Jesus. The thought crossed my mind, “maybe I should just leave this call, this vocation.”
While dealing with this, I decided to take my oldest, 2.5 year-old daughter out for a date (I had to bail on a hang out time we usually have, so I thought this was a good thing to do). We went to the mall, got some Ben & Jerry’s, held hands and walked around, talked about random things, watched a toy speed boat in the mall fountain, and… well, we had a great time.
And it hit me- wow, this is my first call, first vocation, in my journey of being a Jesus follower. Sure God has entrusted me to care for a spiritual family at the church I love. I would die for those people, I would. But my wife, and my daughters- there’s nothing quite like the calling I have to love and care for them.
Thankfully, after our date, God met me in a time of prayer and got me to a place of emotional and spiritual health concerning the mentioned distress. But I think He started His healing before that, through a bubbly two year old, excited about a date with Daddy.