>It seems that every four years, I have this inner turmoil that is brought on by the greatest sporting event in the world. Growing up as the son of immigrant parents, I experience what most _______________-Americans (insert ethnicity of your choice) feel at international sports competitions be it the Olympics or the World Cup. Who do you root for? I’ve had friends ask me this hesitantly trying to be as sensitive as possible. They don’t want to make me feel un-American, yet they don’t want to just ignore my ethnic heritage. In fact, I think most _________-Americans feel this confusion, yet few will admit to it.
The tension is that in every way I am American except for the fact that my parents and thus my ethnic heritage are Korean. So as much as Korea is sometimes a mystery to me, I still feel this attachment to my traditions and my roots, and sometimes I feel as though my roots are what really distinguishes my journey from other Americans. So I root for South Korea. In addition, there is a communal spirit that being American misses. Maybe it’s because of the ‘melting pot’ nature of what it means to be an American vs. the homogeneity of being Korean, but there’s something so natural and life-giving being with other Koreans as you cheer (in distinctly Korean ways complete with timed rhythmic hand claps), dress in red, and celebrate together. Imagine a rowdy gathering for the Blackhawks as they won the Stanley Cup, but on a larger scale like a nation or a people group. That’s the connectedness and pride you feel when rooting for Korea whether or not other Koreans are in the room.
At the same time, I’m here in the U.S. It’s my life, and it’s my home. It’s more of a home to me than Korea will ever be (even having lived in Korea for just over a year), and so I cheer for the U.S. Perhaps there’s also a ‘rooting for the underdog’ allure that I like, but for whatever it’s worth. I cheer for the U.S. whether or not other Americans are in the room.
The tension comes when Korea plays the U.S! The last time that happened (that I can vividly remember) was in 2002 when the U.S. played Korea to a 1-1 draw. You can only imagine the turmoil I felt during that game. Let’s just say it was the most exhausting game I’ve ever watched – rooting for both teams.
This tension that I feel reminds me of my true citizenship. Paul speaks about it in Phil 3:20 – “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” All of this tension reminds me of the tension I ought to feel here on the earth. In reality, though I am a citizen of the U.S., I am a citizen of a heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that is moving forward and outward reclaiming land under its rightful king, inaugurated by its rightful Lord, Jesus.
It plays out like this: though I live in the U.S., I still have a tug for the Motherland. Though I live on the earth, I still have a share in the kingdom. I live on the earth, and in a certain existential measure, it IS home. So I work and take part in this world, rooting for its renewal and remaking all the while cheering and rooting for my deeper attachments. Every World Cup, I am reminded of this tension that while I live here, my attachment, my roots, are in another place, and I long for that place. I can’t wait for the day when the two become fully one with no more tension, no more confusion, no exhaustion!
Until then, I’ll keep wearing my Copa America U.S. Jersey, and my South Korea jersey…just not at the same time.