Understanding Jeremy Lin: his Harvard buddies on his faith, friendships, and the occasional prank

I’m sitting in the middle of a long table, enjoying lunch with my small group after Sunday service. One of my friends asks sweetly, “Annie, did you know Jeremy Lin?” Suddenly, all other conversations cease and ten pairs of eyes fixate on me, waiting for my response. “Yeah, I knew him. We were both in HRAACF [the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Christian Fellowship]. But I didn’t really know him – we’ve spoken maybe a couple times.”

Photo courtesy of nikk_la.

It seems that Jeremy Lin is the unavoidable, ubiquitous conversation topic these days. I’ve watched with amusement over the last couple weeks as the most unlikely of fans have emerged from within my social circles. One of my good friends, literally the last person I expected to be starstruck with Linsanity, grabbed me by both shoulders and demanded quite seriously, “TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT JEREMY LIN.” My parents emailed my brother and me a YouTube video of a Jeremy Lin interview, then later giggled on the phone as they confessed they’ve been diligently watching his highlight reels, and had I watched the YouTube they sent yet?! “He’s amazing!” they chortled. My guy friends refer to Jeremy as “my boy,” while it seems every other girl is expressing her wish to date Jeremy. But I don’t need to tell you these stories; you and I are just as caught up in it all.

But through my own willing participation in the Linsanity, I became aware of how shallow our fixation thus far has been. We – both the media and individuals – seem to endlessly reiterate the same few basic facts we know about Jeremy: He’s Christian! He’s Asian-American! He went to Harvard! ...and repeat, with some tantalizing embellishment or another thrown in with reference to Tim Tebow or Kim Kardashian, as the case may be.

And with each new piece of information we obsessively consume and share, fueled by the escalating effect of social media, we further underscore and idealize Jeremy as an Übermensch of inhuman faith, exceptional intelligence, and clutch athleticism, while his humanity slips farther and farther away from our minds.
The truth is, Jeremy does represent movements much bigger than himself. He is at once the timely savior of a struggling franchise, a profitable posterboy for a rejuvenated league, a champion for the often-overlooked Asian-American population, and a provocative agent of change within a conflicted China. And, of course, he is making the biggest splash as outspoken flagbearer for the cause he has steadfastly and intentionally pursued – the advancement of the Christian faith. But though much of our initial interest in Jeremy stemmed from a basic shared commonality in one of these aspects of his identity, or his appeal as the protagonist of a Cinderella story to which we might aspire, we have since nearly forgotten that Jeremy is just a man after all.

Even the hype surrounding Jeremy’s faith can undermine his desire to share, and for us to perceive, it in its true form: a developing journey marked with exhilarating highs, deep lows, and the most formidable doubts as recently as the very present.

For those who have known Jeremy pre-Linsanity, this is a supremely exciting time with special sentimental meaning. It has also turned into a time of careful deliberation for us who bear the responsibility that comes with shared faith to compose responses with integrity to Jeremy’s own message to everything from the innocent questions of our friends to the aggressive demands of the media.
I happen to live in a house with the current staff of HRAACF, Victoria Lo (Harvard 2011 graduate) and Lue Qin (Harvard 2010 graduate), so I’ve observed first-hand how they’ve been handling all the requests from the press for some statement or another about Jeremy’s involvement with HRAACF. They held a long meeting to discuss how to respond out of a desire to respect and reflect Jeremy’s own response to media attention. Jeremy’s attitude has been one of admirable humility; he has become known for deflecting praise to his team and giving God the credit for his wins. So that has been Victoria’s and Lue’s focus and prayer as well: that in the midst of Linsanity, we would celebrate Jeremy, but ultimately follow his heavenward pointing example.

The same concern has been shared by Cheng Ho (Harvard ‘10), Jeremy’s close friend, roommate, fellow student-athlete, small group member, and longtime superfan. When I pitched my article thesis to Cheng, he revealed that he’s been wading through an absolute flood of interview requests from both American and Chinese media (he’s currently in Beijing working to promote the National Football League). Cheng has been extremely selective in responding, however, because he worries whether the big picture of Jeremy’s story, in which the gospel is so central, will be genuinely and faithfully conveyed.

But are we not already constantly made aware of Jeremy’s faith, inseparable from any mention of Jeremy himself? What more is there to convey with regards to this gospel? Haven’t we heard it all already, and then some?

While talking to a good friend of Jeremy’s who wishes to remain anonymous, I heard her speak the answer: “So far, Jeremy has been portrayed as this very religious, humble, unselfish person – all of which is true. But I just hope that this doesn't make others see him as unreachable, as someone they can't relate to. I find it somewhat amusing when the media portrays him as this soft-spoken, mild-mannered guy, because around his family and friends, he is outgoing, incredibly funny and sarcastic, very playful and social. And he definitely has swag!”

We discussed the possibility that the frenzy around Jeremy and his faith might serve to actually undermine his goal to point to God, as people begin focusing on him, or more accurately, the holy caricature we have come to identify as him. Perhaps the most significant obstruction to Jeremy’s own passion movement is nothing less than Linsanity itself. What if we could shed some light on the man himself behind the larger-than-life Asian-American Christian Harvard graduate hero? Perhaps understanding his fundamental humanness might help us realize that he is just like any other guy, full of nuanced character, quirky passions, and an abundance of hilarious college memories. And perhaps we would come to see that everything Jeremy is, is nothing more and nothing less than the earnest product of striving to practice his faith step by step through every moment in life.