Being cool is not cool

Alrighty…so this was floating around in my head when I wrote the last bullet in my Nov 2 entry. So I ask readers to consider that Nov 2 entry as background to this. The questions I asked myself there were the questions I kept asking myself as I wrote this.

So…

One of the problems I see in the Korean-American church in Southern California (I don’t know if it’s true in other regions or states) is a general closedness to newcomers. When I was a kid, it would make me feel lonely and out of place. I didn’t know a reason for it; it was just the way things were. But now that I’m a bit older and have had a chance to observe and ponder things, I think I’m ready to write about this. I don’t want to over-generalize, because I know that these problems aren’t unique to the KA church, but man, it frustrates me so much in a way that doesn’t frustrate me in other settings within the body of Christ. I want to bring it to light, so we may be more aware of it.

I think it’s interesting that a lot of Korean churches have welcoming teams. At KCM it was called inreach. At the non-Korean churches I’ve visited over the years, there is no such thing because they don’t need welcoming teams! Everyone is already welcoming. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a welcoming team because it means that we acknowledge that there is a problem there, but that’s the point. There is a problem. I recall my time at the majority-white Campus Crusade for Christ at USC, I don’t really remember feeling lonely at the general meetings. People were always open to meeting new people. I was at a pre-finals Christmas party my freshman year off campus at someone’s house, and even though I felt “small” (everyone was older than me), I felt welcome. I got to meet and talk to people whom I had seen at general meetings but had never “actually” met. At KCM, on the other hand, there would be people I saw often because of all the events we had, but I never ended up talking to them, if even just a handshake and “Hi, I don’t think we’ve ever actually met. My name is…” I’ve had to be the one to do that a couple times. And even then, the response wasn’t always warm. This is sad.

A lot of my brothers and sisters in the faith have good intentions and want newcomers to feel welcome but just don’t realize that in large group settings, there are so many people to catch up with that unless they make an intentional effort to welcome newcomers, it won’t happen. It’s not that they’re mean. It’s just what happens when there’s a lot of people. Visitors end up falling through the cracks.

But it’s not just a closedness from the “inside.” Sometimes even outsiders can be closed off. Rather than go out and meet new people, they show up with their friends. I remember one time at KCM when I was a senior, I went around before the meeting began and found a new person sitting by himself. I think he was a freshman. I introduced myself to him and tried to strike up a conversation. His answers were terse and showed that he wasn’t as interested in meeting me as I was in meeting him. Turned out he was just waiting for a friend to show up, a friend who was also a first-time visitor. And once his friend came, he pretty much stopped talking to me. I shrugged it off then, but now, when I think about it, it was a great example of just how childish many Koreans are. What’s wrong with going somewhere new alone? Are we so afraid of talking to new people?

In college, I was always humbled when a person older than me made an effort to get to know me because even though I didn’t really have much to interest them, even though all I could tell them about were my GEs and intro economics classes and dorm life, things that were old news to them, they still wanted to have a conversation with me. It was about me feeling welcome, not them necessarily getting anything out of it. And even when no one did introduce themselves to me, I would go out and introduce myself rather than leave right after and mope about how I didn’t feel welcome. We all just need to grow up.

You see the same behavior in non-Christian Korean social gatherings. My brother has been trying to make friends in KSA in order to witness to them (I am proud of him for having this burden on his heart and for making an effort despite his fears), and he told me that when he first showed up to a KSA event, which was at a restaurant, no one talked to him. He was one of a few new people and nobody said anything to him. They just kept talking to their little circle of friends. He took the initiative and introduced himself to the people sitting around him, which happened to be mostly girls. He never got a chance to meet any guys. They were all too busy trying to be cool.

Guys like this are not cool. They are cowards. I can expect this kind of thing to happen outside of the church, but, sad to say, I find it in the Korean church as well. I’m not sure exactly why. I think ultimately it just boils down to pride. People are too much of a coward to leave their comfort zones and care about others, to make them feel welcome and loved. People seek approval and recognition from their peers, and once they have it, they’re not going to leave their safe zones. They hang out with the same people ALL the time. There is nothing wrong with having a few close friends that you love to hang out with, but when it means that you close yourself off to others, that’s being selfish. Maybe another reason is that it’s just taking a while for the gospel to really infiltrate the passive mindset we’ve adopted from our culture. The white Christians I knew in college tended to be more warm and hospitable to strangers. I believe they learned a lot of that from how they were raised by their parents. I think as the new generations start to grow up within the Korean church, we will begin to discard those un-gospel-like vestiges of our culture. Maybe one reason is that the Korean community in Southern California is so localized that we just don’t know what it feels like to be an outsider. Many Koreans are so attached to their high school buddies that they close themselves off to meeting new people in college. People who came from out of state to USC were forced to make new friends. Koreans from So Cal had it so easy. They already knew a ton of people, so they stayed within their bubble.

I’m realizing that a lot of people in the KA church who would consider themselves extroverts are actually very passive. In college, I used to feel jealous of those who, to me, seemed to have a lot of buddies, those who had friends to joke with and stay up late with. I was sometimes even a little jealous of the people that had a lot of comments on their Facebook wall and profile pictures. Now that I know some of them better, I don’t care much about that anymore. Underneath their seeming social comfortableness I see mostly passivity and childishness. And pride.

I am mentally tired from writing this. When I write something like this, I never feel fully satisfied. I know that it’ll be out there for a long time for people to read and comment on, and people will disagree depending on where they’re at in their walks (cf. bad worship song entry). And sometimes I will wonder if I could have added this or that or written something better. But sometimes I just have to call it quits and hope that as I call this problem out, somehow some part of it will resonate with readers and it will open our eyes so that we would be more aware of our sinful tendencies. Because at the core, I don’t think this is just a cultural thing. It is sin.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. how funny,
    i’ve been meaning to blog on the same matter, among other things. i agree with your points, obviously, since we’ve talked about it in person. it all comes down to pride.

  2. Posted by Hyerim on March 29, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    Haha this is a really late response… but I really like this post. I think, though, that complacency or even maybe fear play as much of a part as pride. You mentioned the guys being cowardly… I agree, because many times we’re doing just fine with what’s immediately surrounding us and not willing to push ourselves for more. I’m 100% guilty of this as well :( But good post.

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