In order for you to read this blog correctly, you must know some facts about me. Here is what you need to know:
My name is Nathan Jin Lee. I am 24 years old. I am a third-generation (depending on how you define it; my parents were born in America but my grandparents were not) Chinese American male. I do not speak any Chinese. I grew up in Daly City, a suburb next to San Francisco, filled with working class Chinese and Filipino people, a theater, and fog. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2011 with degrees in psychology and social welfare. Before Cal, I attended a Catholic high school whose mascot was a small, violent leprechaun. I was generally a sheltered, overachieving kid that never had to work too hard for anything.
My parents grew up in San Francisco: my dad in Chinatown, my mom in the Mission district. They met at church. They used to be very involved in church. They no longer attend church. My dad is a therapist and my mom is a psychology professor. My grandparents were immigrants from Southern China: blue collar, hardworking, frugal, sometimes abusive, always shaming. We recently moved to Millbrae, a relatively affluent suburb with a lot of upper middle class Chinese people, many of whom followed similar life paths as my parents. By most metrics, we have made it in American society. I am beginning to identify the costs it took to get here.
After I graduated from Cal I moved to Chicago. My neighborhood was almost entirely black and lower class. I worked at a homeless shelter for men. I attended a black Baptist church. For the first time in my life, I lived with people who weren’t Asian. I didn’t realize how different realities could be until I met them.
In many ways, I am my parents. I am Daly City and San Francisco and UC Berkeley and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep. I am social work and psychology. I am Chinese and I am American and I am Chinese-American and I am working class, middle class, and upper class. I am Chicago, I am East Garfield Park, I am New Landmark Missionary Baptist and I am First Chinese Baptist. I am Nathan Jin Lee, and this is my story.
Every post I write on this blog will point back to this story and the God who chooses to involve himself in it. This is only a fraction of the story, but I hope it gives you a bigger picture of who I am, of the narrative I speak and live from, of the web of history, joy, mess, and brokenness that God breathes life into every single day. You may not agree with every thought I have, but at the very least, realize that nothing of who I am or what I say happened in a vacuum. The Gospel was not an anvil dropped on my head or a blanket that covered my faults; it is a tree that pushed its roots into the very core of my being; it embraces every good, beautiful, ugly, and dirty thing about me. My faith may not look like yours because it grew out of the soil of a very different story. God has always been involved in this narrative. And as the narrative continues to change and grow and expand, so will my understanding of Gospel.
I am afraid that every time I write, I will be reduced to my ideas. I am not my ideas. No one is their ideas, no one is their beliefs, and no one is their values. Because underneath all those things is a story, an experience, a place, a family, a relationship, a brokenness. Regardless of how much I may love or resent someone’s beliefs, I must acknowledge that if I take the time to look through those beliefs, I face another messy, broken, wounded, dream-filled, just-trying-to-find-their-way human being made in the image of Almighty God. Their beliefs are informed by the stories that, yes, God shaped, formed, and has given them. Especially now, when ideas come a dime a dozen, filling the facebook airwaves with pharisaic declarations about right and wrong, the Kingdom of God always sees and cuts through stories.
To share ideas is cheap; they require of us no intimacy, vulnerability, or humility. But to share the stories underneath it all—the frightening, joyful, and messy things that make us who we are—that comes at a cost. Not all of us have the language or the courage to do it. I’ve definitely run away from it too many times. So instead of broadcasting our ideas and opinions, let us commit to telling our stories. And then let’s live those stories in the fullest, richest, and most courageous way possible. Because everyone can write a blog, and there are definitely people who are better at it than I am, but no one else anywhere in the history of any time has my story. To tell it again and again in a society that is persistent in its lies, that profits from my forgetting, to remind myself of who I am and the God who made me, well that might be the most dangerous, subversive, messy, humanizing thing I could ever do.