On the Mind of the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Jung-Chul Lee

Apr 19, 2024

This weekend, I’m away at the Episcopal Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Leaders Retreat at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. A day in, it has already been a wonderful time.

The Episcopal Church is woefully behind most Christian denominations in terms of its racial diversity–the second least racially diverse denomination in America–and nowhere is that lack of diversity more evident than in the lack of AAPI representation in its leadership. A recent PEW Research poll highlighted that the Asian-American population in the Episcopal Church is a “null set”–a number so low it is statistically unregisterable. What that means, for most AAPI Episcopalians, is having to live with a profound sense of “otherness” in a place–namely, the church–that should feel like home. That is a hard reality to live with on a day to day basis. But being here offers a different sort of experience–a space of belonging.

It has been healing to share stories of our shared experience, and find that, though we are few, we are not alone.

Those of you who know me at all know that I can talk forever about questions of racial justice and identity, and especially, how Asian-American identity can and should inform those questions. After all, I wrote my Ph.D. on those issues! However, today, I’m wondering a little bit more about the spaces–the times or the places–where you all have have been made to feel “other.” The Asian-American experience is unique. The feeling of being “outside of belonging” is not. And as I’ve been exploring my own experience–and in particular, how that experience has impacted my relationship to God and the church–I couldn’t help, as your pastor, but wonder about how that’s been for you.

Our speaker–the Rev. Dr. KyungJa (KJ) Oh–began her talk on Thursday morning by singing a song. I wonder if I can share it with you. She sang it for us three times, inviting us to join her as the tune became familiar.

How could anyone ever tell you you were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you you were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle

How deeply you’re connected to my soul

The last time we sang it, she invited us to imagine God was singing these words to us. And I can tell you, there was not a dry eye in the room….

I don’t know what your particular situation is. I hope you have never felt the pain and the grief of exclusion or rejection. My guess is that you have. My guess is that there have been times in your life when a person or a people made you feel like you or some part of you was not loveable. My guess is that you know what it’s like to feel like you have to hide some part of yourself to be accepted. I imagine for some of you that this has even led you to hate those parts of yourself. And I wonder how that has impacted your identity and your relationships–especially, your relationship with God. I wonder if you’ve ever felt like what you have to bring is just not good enough, and that true intimacy–an intimacy that connects to your deepest, darkest, or most hidden parts–is beyond the realm of possibility.

If that’s you today, then beloved of God, hear the good news of the Gospel. The God who created all things also knit you together in your mother’s womb, and declares that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13-14). You are beautiful. God has in Jesus Christ taken all the brokenness of sin and death into his own body on the cross, and now declares: You are holy, you are whole. (1 Thess. 5:23-24; MSG). And the God who is love (1 John 4:7)–perfect love–has, through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out his own love into our hearts so that we may love as God loves (Rom. 5:5). Your loving is, quite literally, divine–a miracle.

God made you, God sees you, and God knows you–every part of you. And God loves you–every part of you.

You are fully known, and fully loved–even to the deepest part of your soul.

And you are not–you are never–alone.