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!

Motley

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11/22/13

Women Pastors- I Just Couldn’t Picture It

I’ve always seen myself as a leader. But I never saw myself as a pastor. I assumed it was because I chose to work for a para church campus ministry and that I wasn’t drawn to church ministry. But as time has gone on I realize it was more complicated than that.

The real game changer was when male peers- men I had gone to college with, ministered with, was friends with began to step into pastoral positions. I felt like Scooby Doo- “Raggy? Is that roo?” How are my guy friends pastoring churches? It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could. But these were my peers. Suddenly my peers were in this role that I had never identified or connected with. Up until that point we had done the exact same ministry.  And now I had to grapple with the dissonance that I felt. I realized that though I believed in the Biblical basis for women in leadership I was uncomfortable with it in praxis. I was guilty of the same kind of subconscious male bias that I had experienced through others towards my leadership. I couldn’t picture myself as a pastor because I was woman.

Head pastors have always seemed like wooly mammoths- some other weird species. Growing up in the Korean Church, pastors were always older men. All my youth pastors, all my head pastors, even when I changed churches in high school and again when I moved in college, were always older white men. I simply couldn’t envision myself in that role.

But then my peers, my friends, became pastors.

I thought about their leadership. I knew that I could  lead as well as them.

I thought about their preaching. I knew that I could preach as well as them.

I thought about their ability to gather people. I knew that I could gather people as well as them.

I realized that I had never thought about pastoring a church because I couldn’t see it.

It was a position that seemed “other.”

But when my peers suddenly started stepping into these roles, I felt frustrated. Why did they feel so confident of their ability to carry that kind of leadership- but I had never considered it?

People talk about the need for role models and this may be the situation where I most identify with that. Last year I visited a friend who was attending a conference of Covenant pastors. She introduced me to her friends there, many of whom were ordained women working as head pastors and associate pastors in churches. It was like being at the world’s most amazing zoo- everyone was a sparkly unicorn. If I didn’t have some sense of social decorum I would have pet their heads and cooed.  “I’ve never seen one of you before. Lady pastors are neeeeeeat.” I was interacting with them differently because I was identifying with them. I wasn’t viewing them as people in a role far far away, I could see myself in them.

A couple weeks ago I was catching up with a couple girlfriends. And as I looked around the table I realized that two out of four of us were church pastors. Now even my peer women are pastoring churches. I felt so proud. Of course my friend Latina is the most bad ass picture of a pastor ever. As an African American woman from Detroit who cruises around LA on her motorcycle wearing head to toe leather,  she is in a category of her own.

Realizing that having so few role models has deeply impacted me I wanted to shine the light on some women pastors that inspire me and give me a picture to look at.

First I have to express gratitude to the African American church. I think that all of the first women pastors I saw were in the African American church. Black women have been pioneers in terms of being preachers, not only for me, but in this country.

bsm2012-whoweareLet me give a tip of the hat to Rev. Brenda Salter McNeil. As a student in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I was exposed to Rev. Brenda at Urbana Missions conferences and various other conference. She has amazing rhetorical style, theological depth, and conviction. She would preach on racial reconciliation, Jesus, purpose, justice in an exuberant and thoughtful manner. She is currently the teaching pastor at Quest Church in Seattle.

 

 

Reverend Alexia Savatierra is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and she rocks a collar- which is a whole other  alexialevel. She is a founding leader of the National Evangelical Immigration Table. What strikes me about her as a leader and speaker is the gentleness and clarity with which she addresses issues of immigration. She has helped build a coalition between Christian leaders of wildly different backgrounds. She has so many deeds done in the social justice world, but she carries herself with grace and kindness.

 

 

IkomaMotzkoReverend Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko was just installed as Senior Pastor at Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle. I emailed Jennifer out the blue a few days ago and she told me she had just become a pastor. It was special to see an Asian American woman my age stepping into this role.  I first met Jennifer when she was working on staff with InterVarsity. I felt inspired to see that she had pursued her M.Div. and then stepped into leadership of an Asian American congregation.

 

 

And just to leave you with one final picture. This is what a group of Christian ministers and pastors looks like.  This is me with the aforementioned group of friends. 1450959_10151936811894192_1717388789_n

From Left to Right.

Natalia is an amazing ministry planter. She has successfully planted multi-ethnic ministries at commuter campuses in both San Diego and Los Angeles.

Sandra is  a preacher, trainer, and worship leader. She currently serves as pastor of Grace and Peace Community, an urban church on Chicago’s west side.

Me- Leader, Singer, Social Justice and  Multi-Ethnicity specialist

Latina- aforementioned biker pastor who just became minster at Tribe in Los Angeles.

 

I’m excited that my generation is stepping into leadership in the church in ways I never saw growing up. I can’t wait to see what that will mean for the next generation.

PS- There was recently a bit of hubbub on the internet about not being able to find qualified women speakers, particularly ethnic minority women speakers for Christian conferences. Well, internet, here are seven great options.

 

10/15/13

Don’t be Sorry

I’m not a very good basketball player. But ever so often I’ll get out there and shoot around a bit. I always feel kind of self-conscious and every time I shoot the ball and miss, I apologize.

Sorry. Sorry, my bad.

A few years ago I was playing with a couple friends, and I noticed that one of the guys kept missing most of his shots. But he never apologized; he just took the ball and shot again. I started to compare my skill level with his- and noticed it wasn’t that different. But his assumption was that he belonged, and my assumption was that I didn’t.

I noticed this phenomenon again when I was in music school. I would be jamming with friends, or in a rehearsal, and when I made a mistake I would constantly apologize and make some sort of disparaging remark. I felt bad, cause it seemed like I was messing up more than the guys. But then I started to notice, the guys made mistakes too. But they didn’t apologize for it. They would just try again, or make someone explain it to them, or ignore their error until it was pointed out.

I’ve thought a lot about this phenomena since then. I see other women do this all the time- apologize, draw attention to mistakes. I’m often jealous of the male ability to plow right through. I realize that in certain situation I carry the underlying belief that I don’t belong – I don’t belong on the basketball court. I don’t belong in this jam session. So when I make a mistake it just reinforces this nagging insecurity. A mistake reinforces my fear.

Over time I’ve realized that there is a cost to this habit. I watch others address a mistake by learning from it. But I’m so self conscious about my mistake and throw so much energy into apologizing for it- I don’t learn and I feel afraid to try. I can’t separate my sense of self confidence from the skill I’m attempting, and it shuts me down.

I thought about this phenomena again as I was  reading good old Sheryl Sandberg’s book – Lean In. She talks about how women often feel like a fraud. Even very successful women will feel like they don’t belong in male dominated work situations. “Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their performance as better than it actually is.”

( Is it me or do Sheryl Sandberg and Tina Fey sort of look related?)

Tina and Sheryl

I would be curious to hear your own experiences with this phenomena. And what’s the solution? I’m pretty deliberate now about not apologizing. I often have an inner chant that says- “Do it like a white guy”  when I head into meetings or rehearsals. And honestly- it helps. But I’m not sure if I always have the courage to learn from mistakes.

And like most things- I wrote a song about it. Here’s my musical take on this phenomena. Its called Push Back. Its a rough recording, but the lyrics are in the video.

 

 

10/10/13

Why It’s Sad that I had the Best Summer Ever

I wrote this post several months ago- but didn’t have a place to share it until now.

This summer I am directing Los Angeles Urban Project, a really amazing Christian ministry that puts college students in the inner city for six weeks. We talk about Social Justice, and God’s heart for the city, and building relationships across class and race.

I’ve had a great time kicking butt for Jesus. I preached or trained at least 8 times during our orientation week. I’ve lead worship, trained leaders, and exposed students to a whole new side of Scripture and their Christian discipleship.

As I’ve stepped into this role I have been surrounded by a wonderful group of supporters. Kevin Blue- the former Director of LAUP, for almost 13 years, checked in on me during our orientation week. He prayed for me and came to speak for us in the midst of his busy schedule. Dennis Ortega, the Director of LAUP when I was a student, is currently on my leadership team. That’s right. The man that was directing the program when I was 19 years old, is now serving on the leaders team that I am leading. He has been encouraging, supportive, and helpful. My co –worker Scott Hall, who is not here this summer because he is on sabbatical, has texted me consistently with things he has heard in prayer for me.

I’ve felt affirmed, encouraged, and respected. And it’s sad. Because I realize this experience is extremely rare for Christian women in leadership. I have no war wounds coming into this role and I’ve experienced only affirmation and respect from my male co-workers and predecessors.

It’s also sad because I know that most of the students in this program will never hear a woman preach as much as they will this summer. I know that they will probably never see a Christian man in leadership joyfully pass positional leadership to a woman. They will not see male predecessors rally in encouragement for the first woman in a leadership position. But all that has happened this summer.

I have deep gratitude for the many men that have mentored me, trained me, invested me as a leader, and who now respect me as a co-laborer and listen to me preach, follow my leadership, and encourage me on the journey.

But it’s sad. Because this happens so rarely.

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Dennis Ortega, Chizu Shimizu, herself, and Kevin Blue