04/22/15

Is He Just Rude or Oppressing Me?

Here’s the Facebook post that started all this.

 Ok I need my FB community to weigh in on this. Tonight I had the privilege of attending a performance by the Dance Theater of Harlem. Amazing! By far the most diverse crowd I’ve seen in Portland. Almost a third African American. As I sat waiting for the show to start, an older white man asked me to take my hair out of the bun that it was in because it was high and blocking his view. Before I share my response I’m curious how others of you view this interaction and what lens you would use to interpret it.

 

Since my fabulous FB community did weigh in- I decided to write out a more thorough response than could fit in FB comments.

 

Lens #1- The dude just wants to see the stage.

I get this. I was at a play last week and the women sitting next to me was holding the program on her lap and the stage light was glaring off of it in a weird way. So I politely asked her to put in on the floor. She did. I was no longer distracted. I believe this was part of what was going on.

 Lens #2- My hair is less political than a Black woman’s hair

My first thought, after feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed by his request, was to be glad that he hadn’t made the request of a Black woman. I was in a theater full of Black women, wearing their hair natural, or in braids that were in buns much larger than mine. White people commenting on Black women’s hair is racially, politically, socially, and historically charged. I was annoyed, but sort of glad it was me instead of one of the women around me. Cause having a white guy tell you to change your hair, as one of the only Black folks in Portland, while you are waiting to watch the Dance Theater of Harlem is NOT where it’s at.

 Lens #3- Cause he’s a man.

The women he was sitting with were clearly embarrassed by his request. They were laughing and I could hear them whispering “He asked her to take down her bun.” I don’t think that a woman would have asked me to do that. One, because a woman understands that another woman has put some time and energy into her appearance, and asking her to change it while she is in a fancy theater is pretty rude. But also because it assumes a type of power that women typically don’t exert over each other directly.

 Lens #4- Intersection- Thank you bell hooks

One of my FB friends asked why I made a point of describing his age, race, and gender. I included that he was an older white man, because I believe it was the intersection of those identities that made him think he could ask me to take down my hair. Try to imagine a young Black man asking an older white woman to change her hairdo. It wouldn’t happen. The man’s request reflected privilege and it affected how I experienced it. If an elderly Korean woman had told me to take down my hair, I would have experienced it differently. Context matters.

Do I think he was trying to “oppress” me? Not intentionally. But did he act out of place that was both rude and privileged? Yes. And I’m left processing the interaction, while he is enjoying the show- without the obstruction of my bun.

Because though I was surprised by his request, I was caught of guard and just acquiesced. And then I spent the rest of the night trying to articulate why it bothered me so much.

I would have felt self conscious pushing back, and that would have made me feel embarrassed. I’m direct when I’m talking about other people’s oppression. But I turn pretty indirect and Asian American in my communication when I feel personally offended. Do I wish I was different? Do I wish I had had some sassy response in the moment? Sure. But that’s why it’s feisty thoughts- where I have time to put things in writing. Not feisty improv comedy that fights racial and gendered micro-aggressions.

In the big picture this is not a terrible interaction.

But when you add that to the older white guy in Starbucks who made weird slanty eyed gestures and asked me what I was from

And then you add that to the seminary class where the 8 (mostly white) guys talk non-stop for 2 hours, as the 4 women in the class sit silently.

And then you add that to the man who called me the other day and mansplained my job to me.

And then you add that to the consistency with which older white men in Christianity talk to and about ethnic minority women with a condescending and patronizing manner.

Then it becomes something more than just a rude guy at the theater.

When people tell me that I’m making something out of nothing- I want them to understand it’s a part of a much larger experience, not just an isolated incident.

But if my response to this man is really strong, I get interpreted as crazy and inappropriate, because people don’t see the buildup of multiple other “isolated” interactions. And getting dismissed only drives up the crazy.

Would love to hear more of your experiences with this type of thing.

And here is a photo of the bun of oppression. Thought much less cute than how I had it at the theater.

IMG_0962

 

 

 

03/31/15

Sacred Space, Black Lives Matter, and Unhappy Korean Mom

Most of the time, when I hear the term sacred space, I envision a church or a place of worship, a space set aside. But recently the term has taken on new meaning for me. And as I have journeyed this last year, engaging with issues of systemic racism, Black Lives Matter, children trapped at the border, and my frustration and heartbreak at the ways Christians interact with these issues- the term has taken on new meaning.

I was at a conference a couple weeks ago and it was about two in the morning. I wandered back to my room after a full night of catching up with friends from around the country. My roommate was not back in the room. I knew the wise decision would be to go to sleep. I was leading worship, I needed to rest my voice. But after wandering aimlessly around my room for a few minutes I decided to go find my roommate.

I only had 12 more hours before I would return to my new hometown, where I am still mimages-193aking friends and feel lonely a lot of the time. I could sleep then. So I shuffled downstairs to the hotel lobby in my sweats and wandered into a room where my roommate and some other folks were hanging out playing spades and dominoes.

We sat around telling jokes and making fun of each other. I was just watching people play. At one point I was invited to play dominoes, but I play like a first grader and I could tell that there was a level of strategy happening that I did not have. (Stay in your lane, Erna. You will look like a fool if you pretend you can play at that level.)

At one point the conversation turned to a more serious topic. It isn’t my story to share and this isn’t the space to do it. But an African American friend shared his experience of a negative and racially ignorant interaction. He shared his experience and his story- we all responded in different ways. Personally my jaw dropped, I was shocked, I was angry, I was mortified. Everyone kept playing cards, playing games and some video games with sites like http://overwatchsrpros.com/guides. Some focused on the playing. Others took time to express frustration. A few of us pondered an action plan. In the midst of it we kept making fun of each other and laughing. There were also raised voices, indignation, laughing at how awful the situation was. More people threw out ideas for response. We sought the wisdom an elder that was in the room. It was 4 in the morning and I didn’t know it, but I was in a sacred space.

racist-video-SAEWithin hours of leaving that conference the Ferguson report was released. I am in the midst of reading it now. Then Tony Robinson, another young black man was shot in Madison, Wisconsin. Then the heinous SAE video was released. And then the video of Martese Johnson- a young black man being thrown to the ground outside of a bar was released. There was barely time to grasp the heinousness of one thing, before the next thing happened. I could barely learn the name of Tony Robinson, before I was grieving the hatred being spewed out of the mouths of some young fraternity boys.

Again and again my mind has wandered back to that room at four in the morning. It has become a sacred space, a place where I could be with people and we could all be sad and upset about something without having to explain. Be angry, but still be laughing. Be acknowledging pain, but still be teasing each other in fun. Be naming an injustice, and forming a plan, but be fed by each other’s company. It looked like playing cards, it was actually holy ground.

Part of what makes this journey hard, the journey of fighting for justice, peace, and shalom, is the sense of isolation.

I called a good friend the other day, as I was reflecting on a painful interaction. I said, “Just tell me I’m not crazy. Tell me that I’m right to be hurt.” She said, “You’re not crazy.” That’s all I needed. Because when you’re in pain, and there are so many messages saying that you shouldn’t be, you start to feel crazy. We need a community where we don’t have to explain our pain, but it is acknowledged and seen and grieved.

When I first started followiIMG_1840ng Jesus more seriously in college I decided to spend the summer after my sophomore year at the Los Angeles Urbana Project learning about God’s heart for social justice, the poor, and the inner city. I had no idea the way that summer would change the trajectory of my life.

But in deciding to go, I was deciding not to come home for the summer. This upset my Korean immigrant mother profoundly. Asian culture values obedient children. And now there was a new voice in my life, Jesus, and I was being obedient to Him and that put me at odds with my mother. Not coming home for the summer communicated disobedience. And to make things worse, the choice to spend the summer in the inner city, working with recovering drug addicts and prostitutes, terrified my mother who had come out of poverty. She repeatedly told me, “I didn’t spent years working 15 hour days to send you to private school so you could go back to being poor.

That summer was the start a 10 year period of persecution and tension from my mother, where she repeatedly threatened to disown me. She eventually cut me off financially. When I came on full time staff with InterVarsity, where I had to fundraise my salary, she forbid me from reaching out to our friendship or family networks because she was ashamed that I was begging for money.

The fall after I graduated from college and was interning with InterVarsity I was invited to a conference for Asian American staff. It was an amazing experience. The most precious thing that happened was that they brought in another staff’s parents. In front of the group stood an older Japanese American couple. They were parents to Collin Tomikawa, an older brother who is still on staff today.

These kind, beautiful, Christian parents said, “We know that many of you are paying the cost of not having your parents blessing.”

And let me explain, in ministry we pay different costs, we pay in different ways, we pay for different things. For an Asian American person, to live outside of their parent’s blessing, is one the most painful costs there is. And it is not paid in one moment, but a longsuffering that often goes on for years.

Collin’s parents saidL574AgHG-Aerial-View-Wb, “For those of you who don’t have your parents blessing, we want to offer ours. We want to stand in their place until a time when they can bless you. We want you to know that we are proud of you and the work you are doing. That it is important. And we bless you. We bless you.”

We were invited forward to receive blessing. And all of us who came forward took off our shoes, because we were on holy ground. And most of us were on our knees weeping- because we were paying a cost that most of our fellow staff did not understand or even see.

And we received their blessing.

That was almost 20 years ago, and to this day remains one of the most sacred spaces I have ever been in.

I believe deeply in working for truly whole and reconciled multi-ethnic community where people are profoundly affirmed in who God has made them and everyone labors in love cross culturally, cross class, fighting all systems of oppression that deface the image of God in others. But it can be sad and heartbreaking work. It has been this year.

And I realize that to sustain, I need sacred spaces. Where there is grief, laughter, community, and vulnerability. Where others will let you know you aren’t crazy, because you don’t have to explain why you are in so much pain.

And so to my friends in the room at 4am, and to the brothers and sisters that wept with me on floor almost 20 years ago. I thank you and I honor you. In the name of Jesus, you sustain me.

 

02/17/15

Lady Leader, Baby Maker

Last week I wrote about my experience as a Christian Lady Leader that has chosen not to have kids. And I have to say, I was really bowled over by the encouraging and thoughtful responses. So many women wrote in with vulnerable, honest, and encouraging responses.  It was a great moment of online community.

This week I wanted to look at the experience of Christian Lady Leaders with kids who have chosen to stay in ministry. I asked some of my potent Lady Leaders friends to share the ups and down of staying in ministry as a mom. I’ll let them speak for themselves. I’ve included their reflections below. All these women are in their 30s to 40s and work for Christian non-profits.

 

 Lady Leader 1

When I was pregnant with #1, my supervisor told me to consider working less than 30 hours a week because preacher_medium_poster-r95b95e109a52432f8b1eebf0bf7d50fc_wad_8byvr_324our joint fundraising was not that great. It now strikes me that no one had that conversation with my husband or with us together. 
I also had a conversation just this week where someone in positional power over me said that they assumed I was just a mom who wanted to stay involved, instead of someone who wanted to lead, grow, or develop. 
On the positive side, having supervisors who are women and have kids has been the best thing for me the two times in my career it happened. There was less need to explain or defend myself, and their wisdom was appreciated. I also like hearing from Dads on staff about their personal lives with their kids and the ways they carve out time to be involved and even play video games with them with the use of csgo boost online. It gives me more freedom to feel like we are all in the same stage of life and trying to do our best with ministry and family calls.

 

Lady Leader 2

When I’m on vacation camping with a tent from Survival Cooking, people will ask, “Who’s taking care of your kids?” I think they are doing it to be nice, but to be honest, I don’t think the guys get the same question. It kind of puts the women leaders in a bind. You feel like you have to say that you have a fantastic childcare arrangement, otherwise you’ll get judged. You don’t want to say “I couldn’t figure something out, so I paid my school extra money to watch them…”

A lot of women drop out of leadership because they just get overwhelmed. I think mentors know a lot of the heart questions for leaders:il_430xN.92021261

What is your calling?

What’s your gifting?

How’s your soul?

Choose faith instead of fear

But not a lot of mentors know the questions of the heart of a leader/mom:

How do my two callings as a mom and a leader intersect, compete, add to each other?

Are they compatible?

Which is my higher calling?

How will I know if I’m messing up one or the other?

Will I make a choice I will later regret?

Will my kids be ok if I make this choice?

I made a point to travel with each of my kids the first year of their life. 
If the meeting wouldn’t accommodate my kid, I didn’to-OLD-MAN-CONFUSED-570 go. I was trying to be prophetic in some circles. For example, one group said “We want more women and younger people involved,” so I brought my infant to the meeting. I wanted to communicate, “If you want more of us, this is what we look
like.” I got crazy reactions from the men of a certain generation! “Is that a BABY in there?” they would ask. My daughter would be asleep in an ergo, buttoned over my “work clothes”.

 

Lady Leader 3

No one gave a thought to childcare at chapter camp because the wives usually came up to watch the kids. But since I don’t have a wife, let alone a stay-at-home-mom wife, I raised questions about cost, exceptions for primary child-care providing spouses, family housing, etc. The same went for staff meetings and conferences. 
I have had to ask to be excused from leadership meetings because they run during my kids’ spring and winter breaks, and ministry does not trump time with family. 
Rarely do I hear of men making those same choices. There are a few, but by and large, it’s the women.

B - baby in the Bar
I’m not shut down on purpose, but there are so many informal times of networking after hours. How do you do that if you have children at the meetings? Childcare is only for the “official” sessions, but we all know so much happens over dessert or wine.

How have I been encouraged? I have been blessed by a few incredible male supervisors who didn’t have a clue and were humble enough to ask for help. I had some key female friends who have been there for me when it takes every fiber in my being not to scream at the men and non-parents in the room. And I have an incredibly supportive husband and flexible children who want me to keep on keeping on.

 

What Caught My Attention

These are just some of the thoughts that my friends shared. But they reflect a lot of common themes. This quote also stood out.

“People say no for you to various opportunities because they assume you are in over your head

and can’t handle it. I might be in over my head, but I would like to say no for my own self.”

I realized that coworkers, supervisors, and congregants make a lot of assumption and decision for Lady Leaders with kids. And these actions may go against the articulated position on women in leadership. I know that I am guilty of assuming that moms are not as interested in developmental opportunities. It’s only as close friends have navigated this journey that I see how much Lady Leaders long to be seen and taken seriously, in the midst of the chaos of young kids.

I realize that supervisors have a lot of power to set culture for good and bad.

  • Supervisors assume that moms don’t want to be developed anymore.
  • Supervisors assume that it’s the woman that will decrease her hours.
  • Supervisors say they want mom’s there but don’t provide child care.

On the other side supervisor cans be advocates, be proactive about childcare, and continue to develop and invest in Lady Leader moms. I’ve seen examples of this in my organization.

I also realize that we still have very traditional views of parenting. When a man in ministry has children, nobody asks him any questions about childcare when he travels. In fact, there are very few expectations on him as a parent. The role of pastor’s wife  assumes that along with a full time minister comes a stay at home wife that will carry the burden of childcare. (This deserves its own post.) We still assume a dad is “babysitting” when he takes care of his kids

In reading these reflections I hear women with great passion for both leadership and their families. But who often feel isolated and different as they try to navigate the ministry world as moms. None of them questioned their ability to be both a mom and leader, but encountered lots of people who assumed they couldn’t do both.

I would love to hear from more of you Lady Leaders with kids. What do you wish people knew about your experience? What advice do you have for those of us that are working with you?

And final word- let me praise the Lady Leader Moms that led me in my earlier years. I had no idea what you were juggling and what a prophetic and complicated choice you were making. Much respect you and your pioneering ways.

 

02/9/15

Christian Lady, No Baby

In many circles, being married without kids is no big deal. But being a member of Club Christianity- I run in circles that are  well known for being pretty old school in their take on gender roles. So I decided it was time to be open about the fact that I really love not having children. I talk about it all the time with my husband, but rarely with other people. Mostly because Christians seem kind of uncomfortable with it.

I’ve been married for almost eight years now and I’m headed towards 40. Not having kids is one of my favorite things about my life. But there is almost no context in which I can really express that. People who have kids feel very excited to share about that experience. But I always have this sneaking feeling that it’s not very Christian Lady of me to be so happy that I don’t have kids. This post is not some big ole Biblical apologetic about whether or not to have kids. Pope Francis already scheduled a phone call with me next week. This is just a personal reflection on being one of the few Christian Ladies that I know that has chosen not to have kids.

So let me start with why I like it.

The main thing I love about not having kids is the freedom.

The freedom in my schedule on a day to day basis, the flexibility in my life and in my finances. The amount of sleeping in readgirland cuddling time I have with my husband. The amount of time I save not fighting with my husband about chores and tasks regarding kids. (Cause we already fight about chores without kids.) I love that we were able to downsize to renting a room in a friend’s house and then to move to Portland with relative ease. I love that we are able to travel abroad easily. (Not financially, but logistically!) I love that we can go out on dates regularly with no thought to childcare. I love that we both have emotional energy to dedicate to our ministries. This year my ministry role changed and I travelled 5 out of 6 weeks. I never would have been able to do that with little ones.

I revel in being an adult woman, with a career, who is happily married with no kids. When I lay in bed each morning reading the news, attend grad school at the same time as my husband, and travel for my work- I enjoy it. I just enjoy the space that is in my life and the emotional energy that I have.

As I’ve thought about it- here are a few reasons why I feel discomfort about communicating that I enjoy not having children.

DISCOMFORT #1- AM I A BABY HATER?

Right after I tell people I don’t have kids, and that it is on purpose, I usually feel required to tell people that I do in fact like children. Why? Why do I do this? I’ve chosen not to have kids. Why am I reassuring you that I like them? Or on the flip, people feel the need to reassure me that I have some other maternal outlet. images-192

Why would it matter if I didn’t like children? It’s like I have to prove that I am not a heartless baby hater incapable of love. But maybe I am. Maybe I think most babies are ugly. Maybe I think children are annoying and tiresome and smelly. I’m not saying that is true. I’m just asking why it would be a problem. I’ve chosen not to have kids and I don’t work with them, so it’s odd that I feel the need to reassure people that I am maternal. I think that nurturing children is really connected to Christian femininity and it seems unwomanly not to like children.

DISCOMFORT #2- IS MINISTRY MY BABY?

People who know I’m in ministry feel the need to tell me that the students I minister to are like my children. Again- we have to find some way to paint me as maternal. And I think “No, they aren’t.” They are the people I lead. I love them. But as I tell my students allll the time- I’m not their mom. Nobody feels the need to tell men in ministry that the people they lead are their children. I work with young adults. I’m a leader. They aren’t surrogate children.

 

DISCOMFORT #3 – DO I HATE WOMEN

Two women fighting and screamingThe other reason I feel the need to assure people that I support my friends who have kids is  the weird dynamic in Ladyland where women hate on each others choices. Or rather, the assumption that a different choice equals judgment. Women who have kids and work are judging stay at home moms. Women who breastfeed are judging bottle feeders. Baby makers are judging non-babymakers.  I don’t know why we  waste time hating on each other. Men are finally letting us make own choices and we’ve decided to troll each other.

I’m pumped for you. Be pumped for me. I want you to nurse in public. I support your boob freedom. Support my womb vacancy. Let’s just high five each other about the dope choices we can all make.

 

DISCOMFORT #4- I DON’T VALUE PARENTING

Sometimes I feel the need to defend my respect for the role of parents. This is a subset of the “Am I judging you” discomfort. I believe in parents and the importance of parenting. And so I believe that if you don’t want to make kids a priority, if you don’t want to give them attention and energy- then for the love of God don’t have them. I don’t have kids because I take parenting seriously. And I don’t want to do it. So unless, or until, I feel happy and enthusiastic about rearranging my entire life and marriage to accommodate another little human, I shall joyfully proceed without kids.

 

DISCOMFORT #5- I MUST COME OUT AS PRO- EVERY FRIEND WITH KIDS

Subset of “Am I judging you” number 2.

I  feel required to say that I’m very supportive of my friends who have kids. I hear myself saying these words and I wonder what decade I live in. Why do I feel the need to say that?  Truth is- I am happy for my friends but it really kills their availability to hang out with me.  I get it that people are experiencing a life changing joy. As a friend, I celebrate with them. But do I need to be head cheerleader of the club?

 

DISCOMFORT #6 DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT LOVE IS?

There is also a belief that you don’t really know how to love until you’ve parented. True and False. I hear it all the time. You don’t know what love is until you’re a mom.  I do agree that there is a kind of love and sacrifice that is unique to parenting. But lets all agree that it’s pretty patronizing to say that people are fundamentally less loving and sacrificial if they haven’t had children. And we know a lot of people with kids who have managed to stay selfish jerks.

There are ways that parenting really shrinks your world and makes you less available as a friend and minister. I don’t think that anyone would argue that Mother Theresa didn’t know how to love sacrificially cause she didn’t have a baby. ( It’s always good to throw in a Mother Theresa example. It’s the counterpoint to a Hitler example.) Parenting teaches you about a certain type of love. Being committed to loving people when they aren’t your offspring also takes a certain type of character and commitment.

Let just all give each other some shout outs when we manage not to strangle the people in our lives and and manage to throw some  love out in the world.

 

So those are some the reasons I feel awkward talking about not having kids. I don’t feel any real oppression because I don’t have kids. My main experience is freedom. But I do feel a bit different and I do feel like I’m supposed to be quiet about the fact that I really like my life. So I’m sharing a bit of my life that I don’t often talk about. If you can be nice- feel free to share your thoughts with me.

09/9/14

Stop Watching and Sharing the Ray Rice Video

I hesitated for a bit. But it’s like any piece of gossip. I was curious. I wanted to see for myself. The video had so much buzz. How bad was it? Before yesterday I had never even heard of Ray Rice- not a huge NFL person. But I love gossip and I love a scandal. So I clicked on it.

After greater consideration I realize that watching the video was wrong. I regret it. And I suggest that if you haven’t watched it- don’t. And if you have- don’t share it. Here is why.

1)   It is Janay Palmer’s story. It’s her experience. It was a crime committed against her. She has not given us permission to consume it. In fact she has asked that we stop watching it. If it was a video of her being raped, would it be OK for us to watch it- just to make sure it was really bad?

2)   It makes her a victim again. Janay Palmer’s pain is being passed around as entertainment. All over the country many people, especially men, will gather around their screens to watch this scene. Loud exclamations as she falls to the floor. It will be consumed, with a woman’s painful story being exploited again and again. We don’t watch videos of child porn to be sure that is was bad. We understand that to watch those videos would be a crime. It would exploit those children who have already been victimized. We don’t want to consume the product of their exploitation. We don’t watch videos of women in sex slavery to be sure that the issue really merits our attention and that people who traffic deserve consequences. Why do we need to watch a video of domestic violence to be sure that the perpetrator has committed a crime and deserves to be punished?

3)   Even in the name of “awareness” passing around this video is exploitative. I know that people have been passing the video around with the good intention of raising awareness about the seriousness of domestic violence. But again, it puts others, and especially men, in power over her again. They are taking her story and experience, WITHOUT HER PERMISSION, and using it to educate. Even with good intentions, if the woman has not given her permission for her story to be shared, then you are exploiting her story and misusing your power.

4)   Yes, there is a racial dynamic. Our culture is notoriously numb to the pain, suffering, and victimhood of Black women. When any men, but especially white men, pass around a video of a Black woman being beaten and use it without her permission, they continue to engage with the story in a way that denies that Janay Palmer is a person deserving of respect. It perpetuates dynamics where White men set the parameters for how a Black woman’s story is told.

I regret my decision to watch the video and participate in this domestic violence porn. If you really care about the issue don’t post the video- donate to a shelter. If you really think it’s a problem- then address the problem, don’t perpetuate it.

Here is a link to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Give to them. Share that link. Get a real education. Read the stories of women that have CHOSEN to invite us into their story.

08/7/14

How Transition has been Kicking my Butt

After 20 years in beautiful, sunny, diverse Southern California, I am moving back to Pacific Northwest, to my husband’s hometown of Portland, Oregon.  Portland is a beautiful city blah blah blah. But right now I’m in the process of saying goodbye to a city that I love. I’m saying goodbye to relationships that began when I came here in 1993. I’m leaving the family that became my family when my mother nearly disowned me. I’m leaving the Korean American church that blessed me into ministry when my mother had cut me off from my Korean home church. I’m leaving the church that hired my husband as youth director and then became wonderful place of healing and growth and blessing to my husband and I. I’m leaving friends. I’m leaving a ministry context where I have deep trust and partnerships. So, I’m feeling some angst.

Here are some observations and reflections on this season of transition and stress.

 

1)   Get your inner life in order Girl- and apply lessons you’ve learned over the years!

In May, my husband and I had a wonderful time travelling through Europe. I had an amazing month of reflection and prayer. All the Christian inspired art really spoke to me and fed my soul. Flash forward just two months later and I’m a slightly crispy and very exhausted urban project director. Some of that is natural- leading an urban project for 7 weeks with 50 students is an all consuming endeavor. But a lot of my fatigue comes from the fact that I didn’t maintain my inner life disciplines of reflection, Sabbath, rest, and spiritual direction. I realize that I can maintain my inner life disciplines when I have no stress up until a medium level of stress. But when things crank up to level 7 to 10- I just let it all go. This season has revealed some weaknesses in my inner life.

 

2)   Erna- pay attention to you marriage!

I know that you probably think that  my marriage is made up of running in slow motion across flower covered fields and holding each other- just like people in the movies hold each other. But lets get real. There is no cuddling in a heat wave. TOO HOT! And as I have been emotionally depleted and tired from ministry, and my husband has been travelling to Portland for work in two week stretches, our marriage has taken a hit.

I had a chance to do some reflecting and I realized that our approach to high stress seasons is to just white knuckle through it and then try to get quality time on the other side.  But as my insightful husband commented- we really just have one tool in our tool belt- quality time. And when stress periods go for longer, we just empty the tank. This season has revealed a weakness in our marriage. We are starting to have good conversations about other tools that we can use in the MIDST of stressful seasons, instead of just waiting for them to be over.

 

3) Numb the pain!

I have known for a long time that I use food to numb out stress and anxiety. Also, I sometimes use a cocktail or two. And sometimes a combination of both. There is nothing like a taco run and some tequila to wash over late night loneliness or anxiety. This summer I met a fantastic woman named Jasolyn. She has become a huge inspiration to me in this area. About a year ago, Jasolyn realized that she had been numbing pain in her life through food and she courageously joined a 12 step program that helped her discover her food addiction. Over the last year she has lost over 100 pounds. But as I listened to her share-  it became clear that it wasn’t really about the weight. She talked about the difficulty of facing pain and really processing it. She talked about how scary it was not to numb out painful experiences or negative feelings, but to actually feel them for the first time. As I listened to her, I could see that I had been avoiding feeling sadness, loneliness, loss, and disappointment. I had been using food, and cocktails, and Netflix to numb it out. I felt so inspired by her courage. So much in our culture is about numbing out. And I don’t want to live in fear of my own emotions.   I want to learn from my friend Jasolyn’s courage and character.

 

Being under the stress of leading the summer urban project and getting ready to move has revealed some weaknesses in my life. I have tools and disciplines that get me through about a level 1 to 7 of stress. But as I have been in stress level seven, eight, and nine  – I have seen some weaknesses. Last summer I was incredibly proactive as I saw a stressful season approaching. I knew that I would be directing LAUP on my own- so I went totally vegan and eliminated caffeine and alcohol. I also saw my spiritual director weekly, had a prayer partner that I connected with every Friday, and sent out prayer requests every week. I felt totally present and focused during the experience. I poured myself out completely during the summer, but I felt so much better as I did it. So I have a positive and negative example to draw from.

I feel an invitation to go deeper with God and my character in this season. Anyone else out there feel me on the pain of transition? Tell me what you have learned about yourself in the midst of transition.

02/19/14

When Your Dreams Actually Come True

Sorry it has been a while since I posted! February 8th  was my EP release party. And it was AWESOME! It was the expression of many dreams coming true. Oh you want to see some pictures? Indeed! This is me… singing my #feistytunes!

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Seven years ago I had a tiny idea spring into my head “I want to do more with music.” That evolved into the more practical step of “I want to go to music school.” So I went part time in my work with InterVarity ( big decision) and researched schools, and in the fall of 2009 I went to music school. Three quarters later my husband decided to leave his job, and it didn’t make financial sense for me to keep going to school in the midst of that transition so I stopped. I started a cover band and played our first gig the summer of 2010. I did that for about a year as I wrote my own songs and in the fall of 2011 I started a band that helped me arrange my original songs. Spring of 2012 I played my own songs in public for the first time. Spring of 2013 I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign. And February 2014 I had the Release Party for that EP.

The show was next level- we had background vocalists, choreography, and even dancers! Over 250 people came- more than I dreamed. My dream of writing my own songs and playing them for people had come true. My dream of recording had come true. My dream of seeing dancers choreograph something to one of my songs came true. Playing for an audience larger than my immediate circle of friends came true.

 

And here are lessons I learned along the way.

 

1)   It mostly felt like hard work.

The word dream is misleading because it sounds like something that happens while you are sleeping. But the truth is that these dreams required making hard and practical decisions to pursue music in the midst of an economic downturn, hitting my late thirties, my husband changing jobs, and not knowing what I was doing. There was nothing dreamy about it. It required planning, sacrifice, feeling dumb, and risk.

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2)   Nobody Cared

As an artist you have to come to terms with the fact that nobody cares if you do your art. Nobody insisted that I make art. Nobody noticed when I wasn’t writing songs, or challenged me when my work schedule filled all my time and I stopped creating. Outside of the sphere of the super famous- nobody cares if you make art. Nobody cared except me and God. So the drive had to be internal and that can be hard to sustain.

 

3)   A Surprising Number of People Cared

On the flip side, as I stepped out and took risks I was often touched by who came forward to encourage me. Pursuing music in this way happened after I was married. This wasn’t part of the deal when my husband married me, but he has been the source of unending encouragement and support. When I launched my Kickstarter, I felt so nervous that it would fail and I would look dumb. But it ended up being a deliriously encouraging experience. I couldn’t believe all the people that came forward to support my first time in the studio. I was so scared each time I asked someone to be in my band- but I have ended up working with an amazing group of musicians. Oh did you want to see the band? Cause we just got new band pictures taken. Here you go!

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4)   Unexpected Returns

Through my work as a campus minister I have the joy and privilege of getting to know many many students and investing in their spiritual development. But as I stepped out as an artist I found a whole new way to connect with my students, particularly my students with artistic leanings. Suddenly a student was designing my album art. A former intern, that I had mentored in Black Campus Ministries and worship leading, became my songwriting buddy and background vocalists. A former student choreographed a piece for one of my songs. My growth and needs as an artist opened up a whole new way to relate to my students and it was incredibly creative and reciprocal and I was able appreciate their gifts in a new way.

 

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Album Art brought to you by Kayee Keek- Animation and Digital Arts major at USC and part of the InterVarsity group there.

 

5)   The Generosity of My Christian Community

There are a million stories about Christian community and all its shortcomings. But this journey has been a chance to experience an amazing side of my Christian family. People at my church gave to my Kickstarter and played my CD for their friends. The most unexpected people would tell me they had downloaded the EP or that they were excited for my release party. When I asked for help people showed up to help me set up and tear down for the release party. As a Christian minister I am often in  leadership and in the position of giving to others. This journey has made me needy- I have needed help, encouragement, support and I have been moved by all the people that have given that to me.

 

6)   Sometimes pursuing dreams is full of alone time

There were plenty of mornings where I would be sitting at my desk, trying to write a song, and just feel like it was all pointless and dumb. But I kept showing up to that stupid desk and that stupid blank piece of paper. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t fun. It didn’t feel dreamy. But that’s what it took.

 

7)   I needed to find ways to be inspired

Taking a class called the Artist Way helped me enormously. Reading books on creativity like Art and Fear. Visiting museums. I did better when I poured into my creative reservoirs.

 

8)   I learned to ask for help and promote myself

I write a lot about this issue in other posts. But as a woman, it took a lot of growth to put myself and my music out there and encourage others to partake.

 

I share these reflections because the idea that you “get a break” and your dreams come true, or that it’s someone else’s responsibility to come along and make your dream come true, can make you miss all the opportunities that can actually move you forward. I think this is true in many fields, but particularly in the arts. There is a myth that downplays hard work and plays up getting discovered. I’m sure getting discovered would be awesome. It seems like it’s working out for Justin Bieber really well. ( Too snarky?) But there is a road paved with hard work and perseverance that is gratifying and powerful as well.

And now I know more and my dreams are continuing to evolve. I want to write new songs. Better songs. Record again. Keeping the dream alive.

And here the song that we performed to kick off the EP release party. Its our cover of 25 Miles by Edwin Starr. I’m so in love with it!

 

25 Miles

 

 

 

01/30/14

A Gentle and Quiet Spirit Can Bite Me

I recently connected with a young woman whom I’ve known for a couple years. I watched her enter the Black Campus Ministries group  at her school as a freshmen and step into leadership as a sophomore and junior. She has been a critical part of helping the  group at her school grow. She is an passionate and gifted leader. We started chatting about a variety of things and at one point the conversation turned to the verse “ the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”  ( 1 Peter 3: 4) She had been reflecting on the verse and what it meant for her as a woman.

My first thought when I heard it  was, “Sure, I agree.”  Cause that verse is in the Bible. And I believe that the Bible is true. What troubled me however, was how this young woman was drawing on this verse as some sort of definition of being a woman.  It had been offered to her as a definition of being a good Christian woman.  I felt that inner feisty part of me wake up- and when I came home I just had to sit and write.

I don’t have a problem with cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit.  Well actually I do at times. But my point is that I don’t have a problem with encouraging this as AN aspect of following Jesus and AN aspect of being a woman. But what bothers me is when this is presented as the only qualities that a woman can possess and be a good Christian woman. It’s the kind of lame hermeneutics that gets Christians fixated on ten verses that address homosexuality- but brutally ignorant and silent in regards to over 2,000 verses on poverty and justice.

Why aren’t women taught a full picture of what Scripture teaches about women?

What does it do to an intelligent gifted leaderly young woman when the only picture of womahood she is handed is – it’s good to be quiet and gentle- and bad to speak up in church.

When Mary sits at Jesus’ feet along with his disciples. She isn’t being lazy. Martha isn’t just a busy body. Martha is extending culturally appropriate hospitality to her guests. But Mary is crossing a cultural boundary and sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning- just like the men.  And Jesus doesn’t stop her. When you think that even today in some parts of the Middle East, men and woman do not socialize or study in the same room- this picture of Mary is powerful and countercultural. So let me add to gentle and quiet spirit- a spirit that is so hungry to learn from the teachings of Jesus that a woman is willing to break through cultural norms and learn alongside men.

What about the Samaritan woman? She drinks from the living water of Jesus and becomes a bold evangelist that impacts her entire village with the gospel. So add to quiet and gentle spirit- a spirit so radically transformed by Jesus that she is willing to break all cultural expectations and boldly proclaim her testimony, become an evangelist, and partner with Jesus in reaching her entire town.

What about the fact the Jesus appears first to Mary after his resurrection and entrusts her with the responsibility of informing the apostles of His resurrection. At a time when women were not respected enough to testify in a court of law- Mary was entrusted with testifying of Jesus’ resurrection. So add to gentle and quiet spirit- a spirit so trustworthy and courageous that Jesus  entrusted her some of the most important news in the world.

 

And what about teachings that are instructive to all believers?

Go and make disciples of all nations

Lose life to gain it

If your hand makes you sin cut it off

Be servant of all

Give away your possessions

Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you

Obeying these teachings requires an obedient, courageous, disciplined, and counter cultural spirit.

It upsets me to my core when intelligent, courageous, gifted young women are given a picture of being a woman that essentially sounds like a version of a Disney movie. You are waiting to be told you’re beautiful, rescued by Jesus, after which you will sit quietly near a candle with your journal, and your spirituality will be analogous to a spa experience at all times.

I don’t need a spa like spirituality. I am out there everyday trying to help the next generation love Jesus, love the Bible, engage cross culturally, and experience deep inner healing from almost incompressible sins committed against them. I am preaching counter culturally against consumerism, materialism, and upward mobility- a prophetic gospel of downward mobility and sacrificial love for the poor. In response to Jesus’ love and in the name of Jesus, I am preaching, leading, training, praying, and pleading with the body of Christ to engage cross culturally. My spirituality is rigorous, vigorous, rough and tumble, and requires courage, love, passion, and vision. I need to go to the spa when I’m done kicking ass for the Kingdom.

There is a place for gentleness and quietness. And there is a place for so much more.

I’m fierce in my love for truth.

I’m passionate in my commitment to my students and staff.

I’m honest and bold in my struggles with Jesus.

And I believe that that is also of great worth in God’s sight.

We paint such a dishonest picture when we tell women that all that is valued about them is quietness and gentleness. And the church is notorious for grasping at outdated and stereotypical images of feminity and womanhood.

We truly misrepresent Scripture, Jesus, and the Kingdom of God when we present a narrow and edited definition of Christian womanhood that clings to an old school Western archetype of what is feminine. It is glorious to be made in the image of God. Let his glory be reflected in its fullness.

 

 

 

01/13/14

Lady Leader Problems- Wardrobe Edition

A couple weeks ago I was officiating a wedding. It was blast! But it was such a conundrum figuring out what to wear. And in talking with other women preachers there are a series of wardrobe issues that men don’t have to think about, but are a part of every women’s speaking experience.  So here are a series of issues that women preachers must consider.

 The Preaching Bra– Though I am ardently committed to spreading the word on the importance of a well fitting bra, this is not about that. This is about the fact that no woman preacher wants to “smuggle grapes” when she is preaching. This is my friend Ana’s way of describing nipples showing through a shirt. There are already so many gender issues to consider when preaching and in Christian circles anything that reminds people that you have breasts is a crime. Nipple shadow while preaching is to the Christian context what Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction was to secular world. So step one is making sure you are wearing a hefty bra that will not let anything peak through.

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Women who have recently smuggled grapes.  

No dude is pondering nipple issues when picking his preaching outfit. Because there are essentially two things that men preach in. ( I’m not going to get into different cultural takes on this issue in this post.)

Casual Preacher Guy  and  Formal Preacher Guy

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I’m amusing myself by using Mark Driscoll and Joel Olsteen  as my examples. 

 

Next up- Pants suit or dress?  This is for more traditional preaching context such as churches and conferences. I don’t feel this ponderous when preaching at the average InterVarsity Large Group meeting.

Pants suit. The problem with this is that it’s easy to look a bit maculine. And looking butch is almost as great a crime as nipple shadow in traditional contexts. You want to be authoritative, but not masculine. Feminine, but not girly. Dressing for preaching requires threading a LOT of needles. And especially as a younger woman, a pants suit can feel like being David in Saul’s armor. ( Love how I just made an OT reference in the midst of a post on lady fashion.) Plus I’m scarred by how much flack Hillary got  for all her pants suits. But  pants with a blouse can be an option.

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The skirt suit is also a possibility. But that makes me feel way over 40 and  like a Republican candidates wife. And I’m not rich, I’m in ministry, so I don’t have a budget for a beautifully tailored outfit.

 

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And you want to be age appropriate. Not too old and not too young.

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Sorry Joyce Meyer- you went too casual and too young.

 

So lets say you pick a dress. But when wearing a dress there are a variety of factors. It can’t be too frilly or dressy- it needs to be professional. How short is too short? Will you be on a raised stage? Will people in the front row be able to see up your dress? Should you wear panty hose? Is this pump too dressy, too flashy, too “I’m superficial and into the flesh?”

And a final consideration- to show arms or not to show arms. If people can be scandalized by Michelle Obama showing arms, you know people in the church can too. I felt like it was important to cover my shoulders when officiating ( no gripe there, I’m down with dressing conservatively for that context.) But finding a dress that covers your arms and doesn’t make you look like a nun is… difficult.

Now of course a skirt and blouse are also an option and it’s a good option for the following reason.

Mysoginistic microphones.

Lets say you have chosen a professional, conservative, but still stylish dress of some sort. You have made the decision about how much arm to show and put on your preaching bra. And then the sound guy hands you the microphone and tells you to clip the battery pack to your waist. Sorry hombre, I’m not wearing pants. I have no place to clip this thing. You gaze into each others eyes trying to make it clear that you think this is the other persons problem to solve.

If you have gone with a blouse and skirt  or blouse and pants option there is always the awkward decision of where to place the microphone. If you rock anything larger than a C cup it can feel like a lapel mic is a device created to draw attention to your bosom.  If you’re wearing a silk blouse, the mic will flop around and there will be lots of awkward swishing noises. You will look down at the mic, and then you and the congregation will all be gazing at your bosom- a beautiful analogy for resting on the bosom of the Lord.

And even if you pick the perfect outfit. What about sitting down?

Recently I attended a conference where all the men preached- standing up. But then when two women speakers came out they brought out two comfy living room type chairs and the women sat. I have a lot of problems with this approach to speakers. Men stand and preach truth. Women sit and have little Jesus chats. But that’s beside this particular point.

Lets say that you have been chosen to be on a panel. A dress that is great when you are standing becomes a suggestive, leg revealing, skank festival when you sit down.

Suddenly this

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Looks like this.

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Sitting on a stool is tricky. You have to cross your legs if you are wearing a skirt just to make sure that you don’t pull a Britney Spears panty flash. But when you cross your legs, suddenly that tasteful dress is up on your mid thigh. HARLOT!

And if you’ve got any upper thigh cottage cheese issue, you will spend the rest of the time trying to tuck your thigh and ass fat back under your leg- in the name of Jesus.

There are a lot of other issues on this topic; ethnicity, jewelry, hair, shoes, and modesty.  But this is my first pass. Do you have any lady leader wardrobe issues? Tell me about them!

 

12/16/13

What is Asian American Feminism?

This is a question I have been chewing on for a few weeks. I don’t have a fully formed opinion yet. I’m typically clear on my opinions, so it has surprised me how hard it has been to get a sense of voice and perspective on this topic. Hence, why I want to start writing on the topic. I hope that you will consider joining this conversation with me.

I started this post a couple days ago, but yesterday I found out about a great hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick that was started to open dialogue on this very topic. I’m a little intimidated to post in light of the trend. But isn’t part of feminism finding my voice? I have an inner angst that says I’m not academic enough to join this conversation, but that’s a fear I’m choosing to step through.

Some of you/ us may wonder if there is a need for an Asian American feminist perspective. Often we are clumped with white women in discussions of gender and power. But that doesn’t make sense to me. That doesn’t speak to the immigrant experience and the cultural influences of the countries our families emigrated from.  Most people do not include  Asian American woman when having discussions about Women of Color. We are invisible in many of these conversations and it seems time for that to change,

As Asian American women, we can learn from white feminism, but our connection to Asian culture means that our experience of gender and power and culture is different than white woman. We can learn form Black feminism, but we are not impacted by systemic class and race issues in the same way as Black women. ( Not to say that poverty and racism are not issues in our community.) I think that Asian American women and Latina women have a lot of shared experiences. And when facilitating conversations about race I have found Asian American women and Latinas are surprised by how much they share in common: traditional gender roles, the treatment of male and female children, immigrant experience, language issues, and duty to family. Sadly, there are very few bridges to conversations between our two communities. Since feminism is about giving women a voice and validating their story- I think it’s important that Asian American women step into their own feminist narrative.

These are some of the recent incidents and experiences that got me chewing on this topic.

– Why are there so many ads for Asian women giving massages? Every time I pick up Pasadena Weekly there are multiple pages dedicated- not just to massage- but massages given by Asian women. Places with very “Oriental” names and lots of references to Orchids. How is this fetishization of Asian American women still so prevalent in our culture?

– The multiple articles talking about Asian American women in the world of online dating. Here’s an example from Elaine Dove on Jezebel. 

  • The ad that said I was Asian generated approximately 80 responses in about 6 hours, after which Craiglist struck the ad as being a fake. Many if not most of the responses started with something like, “I love Asian” (I’m not kidding) or “Asian women are so sexy.” The content and feel of the responses was overtly sexual and made specific reference to my race as part of the appeal. Keep in mind that none of these ads contained a photo, so for all these guys knew, I could be a dwarf with missing teeth. But, apparently, being Asian is its own draw.

– Katy Perry’s performance on the American Music Awards.

– That piece of crap song Asian Girlz

– Watching the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. This hashtag was an awesome conversation about the way that mainstream white feminism overlooks the experiences of Black women, particularly intersections of  race, class, and gender. But as I watched the conversation progress, I felt like such an outsider. I had to wonder- what is the voice and perspective of Asian American women?

– I work closely with social justice issues and issue of race and multi-ethnicity. The academic conversation ignores the presence of Asian Americans almost completely. Of course I emphatically support a focus on Native Americans and Africans Americans as we talk about US history and issues of systemic injustice. I care deeply about what is happening with immigration- particularly as it affects the the Latino community. But immigration is clearly not just a Latino issues.The question keeps coming up. “Where are we in these conversations? Where is the voice and perspective of Asian American women?”  I know I’m here- near the conversations, but not in them.

So here are some of my first thoughts on Asian American Feminism.

I want to be in the conversation. I don’t want to watch White and Black women having a conversation on feminism. I want in. I don’t want to watch White and Black people have a conversation about race. I want a voice in the conversation. I don’t want to watch the Latino community speak about issues of immigration. I want Asian Americans to find the courage to speak up on the issue of immigration.

I don’t want to talk about the city, talk about social justice, engage with issues of poverty- and then get dismissed like my ethnicity is not important or told that it’s the same as the white experience.

I am not a geisha, a delicate flower, or a woman dying to meet the needs of her white Saviour. Can we move passed this ignorant hyper sexualized view of Asian women where we exist to meet male sexual desire?

Can we expand our views of Asian American women beyond newscaster, prostitute, masseuse, dragon lady, and war bride? Can we stop being the quirky sidekick friend whenever we are cast on TV shows?

Can we start talking about what it means that East Asian Americans have such a strong presence on many college campuses.

I am right here, and I’m tired of being dismissed, like the only thing we have to offer is a massage, some karate, or being a good listener.

Following #NotYourAsianSidekick I see other important themes emerging.

– The shame surrounding mental health in our communities

– Always being perceived as outside and foreign

– Giving voice to marginalized Asian groups, particularly SE Asians and Indians

– Underrepresentation in mainstream media

This conversations has additional layers as I look at it from a Christian perspective. White evangelicals so often view Asians as a mission field, and ignore the thriving and growing presence of the Asian American Evangelical community and the leadership we could offer. Traditional gender roles in the immigrant church are stifling to female leadership development. The vision of leadership among American evangelicals is loud, white, verbal, and  male. We are often shorter, sometimes smaller, our culture doesn’t validate being so verbal, and we are women. So put it together. What drives me nuts about the view of Asian American women as quiet subservient non-leaders is that the majority of Asian American women I know are crazy potent leaders. They are opinionated, strong willed, often loud as hell, and incredibly passionate leaders. There is a huge distance between the truth of the Asian American women I interact with and how the world sees us. And the church can be as ignorant and closed a place as the rest of the world.

My friend, Sarah, a potent ministry planter, talks about the fact that people literally look over and past her when she walks into a room of Christian ministers. Being a short Asian American woman puts her outside of white America’s leadership paradigms. They literally don’t look at her.

These are just opener thoughts. But even as I write I can feel my thoughts growing clearer and bolder. I’m excited to see where this goes. I’m very excited to see the conversation on twitter continue. Join me- I would love to see a broad community of Asian American women and others take this conversation to new places.