An Old Pregnant Lady and Her Knocked Up Cousin

We heard about Elizabeth at the beginning of Luke, but now we finally meet her. And she is a site to behold.

She is well along in years. It’s hard to know exactly what this means, but people place life expectancy at that time around 60 to 70 years. So maybe Elizabeth was in her late fifties or early sixties.

Older parents stand out. I know this because my father was sixty when he had me. And he was constantly being mistaken for my grandfather. Older parents are a little disconcerting, defying your intuitive sense of how things should be progressing.

Elizabeth looks ready to be a grandmother, but here she is pregnant.

It is odd.

And unexpected.

And maybe a little awkward.

I imagine that because she is older, she isn’t one of those women who is carrying her pregnancy like a tiny basketball taped to the front of her body.

I imagine she has gained weight in every direction. She cushiony, fat, old, and very large.

When her very young, unmarried, and knocked up cousin arrives at her home, something amazing happens. Her son begins his ministry from her belly. He leaps in her womb. John the Baptist is doing his work of announcing Jesus in utero.

And then Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and starts talking in a LOUD voice.

Before we get to what she says. I want to dwell on this image.

Elizabeth defies every expectation placed on women in the church.

Older women in church are supposed to disappear, and be nice, and quiet, and bring cookies.

Not Elizabeth.

After five months of seclusion, in order to express gratitude and worship to God, Elizabeth emerges, with her big old belly, and unapologetically takes up space with her body and her voice.

She creates community for her young cousin.

And these women begin to interpret their lived experience, exegete their own bodies, to create a theology that announces the new thing that is happening.

Maybe people thought Elizabeth should be quiet, her husband has been silenced. Zechariah is struggling, and his ministry has been put on hold. He is benched. Isn’t it her job to supportively stand silently at his side?


She is loud.

She takes up space with her giant, old, pregnant body.

With her loud voice.

With her opinions about what is happening to her and to Mary.

She is LOUD. She has things to DECLARE.

I repeat this, because everyday, in thousands of ways woman are told that we must be a very particular type of feminine when in Christian spaces. We must be white women. We should be smaller. Younger. Want spa themed women’s retreats. We must want to be married. We must adore motherhood. We must be careful of the male ego. We must not be too loud.

In disgusting and pervy Chrstiains spaces, we are told we are there simply for the sexual pleasure of our husbands ( school of Driscoll). Or that we must contain anything feminine and leaderly about us ( school of Piper). Or we should elect a predator to office, beause he will vote prolife. And that dirty old man’s reward will be that he can rape that child once she’s 14 years old.   (School of Roy Moore, current school of Republicans.)

We are told we are a means to an end. We are told we can teach women, but not preach the pulpit. We are told that our bodies, our breasts, our butts are too feminine, too sexual, too problematic. We are told that we are a problem if we show cleavage, but also if we wear a hijab.

We are told that we should be more like white men, in our teaching style, our speaking style, our leadership style, our values. We are told to put part of our identity on hold to makes others comfortable.

And this opening snapshot in Luke says that all of that is garbage.

This old woman and this teenage girl are our first snapshot of community. And they are in beautiful and unapoligetic community with each other and the living God. Mary explodes into a theological reflection on what is happening, and later Jesus expands on those themes in the Sermon on the Plain.

These two women at the center of the story, creating a  community of those typically silenced and unseen in theological and spiritual spaces, as Zechariah sits silently in the margins. How can a kingdom that kicked off with such a radical vision of liberated womanhood, go on to perpetuate such antiquated patriarchal misogyny?

I don’t know, but it needs to stop.

Elizabeth is taking up space with her big old elderly pregnant body.

And she is taking up space with her loud voice and prophetic declarations.

And she is creating an affirming and safe space for Mary. A community of women who defy respectability politics, expectations for religious women, and who are drawn to the center of the story by God.

And this is one of the opening images of the Kingdom of God in Luke.

This is the kingdom that we are waiting for during advent.

One where the elderly are not forgotten.

One where the young are not dismissed.

One where women are not silenced.

One where marginalized women exegete their lived experience to create theology in community with each other

Below are four women of color, that inspire me by resisting with their lives, bodies, and ideas. (Clockwise from top left.)

Nanaia Mahuta– New Zealand MP, first woman in parliament to wear a moko kauae, the traditional Māori chin tattoo.

Grace Lee Boggs– American author, social activist, philosopher and feminist

Rigoberta Menchu– Nobel Peace Prize winning  K’iche’ political activist from Guatemala, publicizing the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous feminists

Angela Davis- a legendary American political activist, academic, and author






The Power of Silence and the Power of a Yell

In August, I was in Ferguson Missouri to mark one year since the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown Jr. I was attending Rev. Traci Blackmon’s church and they were honoring some of the parishioners who had been serving faithfully behind the scenes for the last year. It was really beautiful. At the end of it one of the women came and stood at the front of the church.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

 It is our duty to win.

 We must love and support each other.

 We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

 She would call out one line and the congregation would echo it back. As each line progressed her voice grew louder. She finished the chant once and began again. Her voice was loud- yelling, which I rarely hear in church. And as she repeated the chant a second time- tears were pouring down her face.

By the time we got to the end of a second time we were yelling back at the top of our lungs. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS.

This was the first time I had heard this chant and came to learn that it is commonly used among activists at protests.

What moved me, and has stuck with me, was all the history and emotion and courage that was held in that chant and in that women’s passionate outcry.

Black women, who have led on the ground in BLM,  have been pushed to the margins of our culture in so many ways. By race. By gender. Often by class. Their voices were marginalized in the feminist and suffrage movements. Their voices have often marginalized in their own communities. Their sexuality has been fetishized and distorted. Their beauty disregarded. Their point of view repeatedly pushed to the side. I can not do it justice in a few sentences. But knowing that history, I was moved to see this woman cry out. To yell out. To demand to be both seen and heard in the midst of all that mariginalization- that was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of violence, systemic oppression, harassment and fiscal exploitation at the hands of the police and the justice system in Ferguson- to cry out, to not lose hope, to fight tirelessly on the streets for a year. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

To put her heart out there, to reveal the pain, the tenderness, the fatigue, and to renew a vow to continue in the work. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

The moment encapsulates some of what I find profound, beautiful, powerful, and courageous about the women leading on the ground in Ferguson and in other parts of the BLM movement across the country.

In my culture, and in much of East Asian culture there is another tool. And it is silence.

This is captured by a look that I see on the face of older Asian women. A pause, a moment with eyes closed, clenched fist, a breath in, and then steady onward movement.

I see this in the face of Japanese American women who were sent to the internment camps. Stripped of dignity, humiliated, caged. When they walked out of those camps, to rebuild lives, holding the pain of that experience- they walked in silence. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of my own mother, who spent many years as a caretaker to my aging father. Staying with him, when many said she should divorce him because he was too old. She spent much of her youth caring for an old man, in silent suffering. Keeping our family together for my sake. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of immigrant women like my aunt, who had respect and place in her home country, but day in and day out is treated like she is stupid and less than because she can’t speak English very well. The way she carries on- bearing and carrying countless indignities to give her children a better life. That is a powerful act of dignity and courage.

I share this reflection because I think that there is so much misunderstanding between the Asian American and African American communities- the two communities in which I am most vested. One thing we share is women of great dignity and courage who sacrifice profoundly for the next generation. And yet when Asian Americans hear the yell- sometimes they miss the beauty and sacrifice and courage behind it. And sometimes when African American women see the silence, they miss the beauty and sacrifice and courage behind it.

Someday I hope we will realize we could be sources of each other’s healing.

We will realize that neither group of woman is comfortable talking about their pain.

That we have let the heavy fog of white supremacy lay like a blanket over us and our interpretations of each other. That we have believed lies about each other.

Maybe as we choose to see each other as we really are and hear each others stories, the fog will lift.












Women Of Color in Justice Work- We need this!

Recently I was invited into a very special opportunity, the chance to help plan a gathering for women of color (WOC) in social justice work. I was very excited. I have had serious fan girl status toward Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes since I saw her facilitate a panel at CCDA’s national conference last year. And then I got her book, Too Heavy a Yoke- Black Women and the Burden of Strength and my respect kicked up to the next level. She was heading up this planning committee and I was pumped. The whole planning team is amazing women doing amazing work.

But as I started to think about the gathering, I got stuck. It was hard for me to put into words the need for this gathering. And my job is putting things into words!

I knew I was excited to be with other WOC.

I knew it was needed.

But I couldn’t explain why.

I’m used to talking about issues of race, but rarely the intersection of race and gender. I’m constantly talking about social justice, but rarely my experience as a women leading out in social justice work. I’m used to talking about class issues, racial conflict, and leading groups into conversations around race- but never in a context where my experience as a WOC leading into these things is centered.

Even though I talk about intersectionality all the time, I realize I’m not very fluent in the intersection of race, gender, and social justice work in my own life. Dr. Barnes summed it up perfectly. This is what is on the website regarding the gathering this November 14th and 15th.

 To be a woman of color committed to racial reconciliation and social justice in the Christian church––whether evangelical or mainline––is to be a perpetual outsider. Many of us are culturally and theologically isolated in the spaces where we live, work, and minister. Our existence at the intersection of race and gender invites unique experiences, different from those of our White sisters and our brothers of all races. Sometimes those experiences include struggling to be heard and valued by the very communities and organizations that we serve. When the burden of isolation becomes too much, we are tempted to walk away from CCD ministry and give up on the vision of beloved community.

I do often feel isolated. People label me as liberal, but I think of myself as evangelical and trying to be Biblical.  I’m fighting to be taken seriously as a women leader in the church. But when I am in the pulpit, I have to be careful not to get “too racial”, or share my own racialized experience of the world because it makes white people uncomfortable. When I lead out in social justice contexts, I have many wonderful partnerships with men, but we rarely bring gender into the conversation. And I watch as women, who work in the hood, are undervalued because people want men to step up and lead.

I want to invite you to join me in Memphis Tennessee for a gathering of Women of Color in social justice work. Come for the entire Christian Community Development Conference or come for the 24 hour gathering for Women of Color. You can get all the info you need at www.ccda.org

I think it will be good for our souls and our spirits.


24 Hours 365 Days Later in Ferguson

This post is to let you walk through Sunday August 9th, 2015 with me. It is not a reflection on what I learned about about the BLM movement. That is still coming. But since I had the privilege and opportunity to be in Ferguson on the one year mark of Michael Brown’s death, I wanted to let you experience it with me, since what I saw changed me and it will help you get closer to the people that are leading this movement on the ground.

6:30 AM

It’s already warm, and very humid as I and several friends/co-workers arrive at the Canfield apartments. Pastor Blackmon, a local pastor who has worked closely with the local activists has invited clergy to pray at the Michael Brown Jr.  Memorial. There are stuffed animals in the middle of the streets, but otherwise it is a very ordinary street running between two apartment complexes. But it is also sacred, because the activists in this suburb ignited a national movement. It is a picture that the sacred and the ordinary often look exactly the same. The profound and mundane are intertwined.

As I look around the circle of about 90 people that are gathered. Half are Black clergy. The next IMG_2392largest group is white women clergy, many wearing collars and stoles representing mainline denominations. There is a small group of Jewish clergy. And then a mix of white men, a few local activists, a few people like myself who are visiting. There are queer leaders and activists.

I am painfully aware that I and my friend Amy are the only Asian Americans in the circle. There are no Asian American clergy or pastors here.

I am aware that there are very few evangelicals present.

IMG_2375We spend 20 minutes praying.

When we are done most people linger for a while looking at the memorial, greeting each other.

I hear someone say this in passing “Everyone here is on the margins. On the margins of the margins.” And that rings true. Women clergy are on the margins of the church. Black people are on the margins of our society. Even more, trans and queer black people are further on the margins. And this feels like church. A version of the Kingdom that isn’t full of fear, always drawing lines and pushing people out.

Rather dramatically and fittingly, thunder starts rolling over us, and giant drops of rain drench us as we walk back to the car.



Half our group is participating in a silent march in Ferguson, with members of Michael Brown Jr.’s family and the family members of other shooting victims from around the country.  You can read Sean’s reflections on the experience here. We arrive at Christ the King church which is pastored by Pastor Traci Blackmon. Out front there are 179 crosses, one for each person who has died in a shooting death in St. Louis in the last year. I heard her preach yesterday at the Black Scholars event, and she was amazing. I was looking forward to hearing her preach again and must confess I was disappointed when I saw another name on the church sign.

The choir began singing and everyone was wearing a shirt that read

Black lives matterIMG_2381

Black love matters

Black votes matter

Black church matters

This encouraged me. Beginning with the week that Trayvon Martin was shot, I do not attend church, or only attend black churches after a shooting. I can not bear to be in a house of worship that does not even address the grief and pain that is happening in our country.

A place that claims to worship Jesus, who was a victim of police brutality, but does not talk about police bruitality today. A place that claims to worship Jesus, who died with a racial slur hanging over his head, but does not talk about the value of black lives. I can not sit in fellowship there. To claim to worship Jesus, but ignore the systemic oppression and violence against His people. It is a sin. I can not sing songs in that place.

So to enter a sanctuary, where every member of the choir is wearing a shirt that affirms Black lives. I am already ushered into the Lords presence.

Then the sermon by Dr. John Dorhauer.  What can I say about a white man who absolutely shocked me by preaching on white privilege in the deepest, most radical, and relevant way I have ever heard. Who exegeted and expounded on the image of the lion laying down with the lamb in ways I had never considered or imagined. He did so without guilt, apology, or centering himself in the narrative. It is the sermon I have longed to hear, and frankly hoped to hear in my own organization, but never have. Brother John, as we started calling him, spoke to my heart, soul, and mind in a profound way.

Here are some quotes.

  • There is only one pathway forward according Isaiah 11, and it is the one chosen by the lamb
  • The lion’s only task- to ask the lamb what it wants and what it requires so that it will willingly choose to lay down with the lion.
  • White privilege must be laid down at the feet of the lamb.
  • The lion must give up its memory. Its nostalgia for its own power.

We end with a chant that I hear again that evening. A rally cry. A woman stands in front of the group and says- repeat after me. She yells-

It is our duty to  fight for our freedom

It is our duty to win

We must love each other and support each other

We have nothing to lose but out chains

And she yells it a second time, at the tope of her voice, with tears coming down her cheeks.





I am breathless by the time she is done. There is so much passion and commitment in the room. I am humbled. My heart is laid out before these everyday people that are on the streets daily, laboring for a new civil rights movement. And their complete commitment and devotion is inspiring and humbling. I really had no idea, the depth of commitment of the local activists.


We arrive at Greater St. Marks to hear Cornel West. The evening is opened by Rev. Osagyefo Sekou. (photo below) He is one of the clergy that has been leading on the ground in Ferguson.  He begins with a song

I hear my neighbor crying, I can’t breathe….   Sekou Boston keffiyeh

We’re calling out the violence of the racist police

We ain’t gonna stop until our people are free

Its a powerful opening.  He then gives an opening word and  introduces Dr. Cornel West.

Cornel West gets up and it is electric. He is passionate. He opens with,  “I’m not gonna take much time, cause the focus has to be on what’s happening on the streets. I’m not here to talk. I’m here to go to jail. ” He ends by calling the church out of hypocrisy and mediocrity and back to the prophetic.

When he is done I am breathless. It was a very short speech.  I’ve never wanted to chant someone 11873411_701936519933724_668913951796881565_nback on stage to make them keep talking. And he was true to his word. This is Rev. Sekou and Dr. Cornel West about to be arrested the following morning. They were at the St. Louis DOJ calling for expanded police reform.

After Dr. West a panel of amazing activists was sitting on the stage

  •  Rahiel Tesgamariam- follow her on Urban Cusp @urbancusp
  • Rev. Starsky Wilson  from St. Johns Church
  • Bree Newson- who removed the confederate flag from the South Carolina State house @breenewsome
  • Michael McBride- a Bay Area pastor that has been leading out on the west coast @pastormycmac
  • Rev. Leah
  • Pastor Blackmon- local clergy that is leading on the ground @pastortraci

Here they are after the event.


Please look up these leaders and learn about them and follow them on twitter. They are critical voices to this movement and the ones you should be learning from. If you say you care about this movement, then you must take initiative to self educate. You can watch the entire event here.

More than what they said- which was insightful. There was something powerful about seeing this group of Black leaders, women and men, queer and straight, clergy and artists- leading and speaking unapoligetically as Black people. It made me realize that in the majority of contexts I am in, Black voices and leadership are not centered. But more than that, Black people are not thriving, they are not in a healthy environment.

Even in my own organization, which claims to hold a value for multi-ethnicity, Black leader must always cater to the feelings of the dominant culture. Their voices and perspectives are never centered. Even when black staff gather on their own, it is to respond to something the organization has or hasn’t done, or to figure out how to survive an organization that is not about their flourishing.  I have an entire post dedicated to this topic coming, so I won’t expound on this. But the contrast was marked.

The room was an electrifying contrast to almost any other space I have been in. It was unapologetic and it was church in the truest sense. Unafraid. Not trying to push people out. Fighting for justice.

I and my friends turned to each other when it was over. “I’m ruined for normal life.” “How am I going to go back?” We just kept repeating these questions to each other.

We left to grab dinner, but the restaurant we stopped in on had already closed its kitchen. Word that things were getting rowdy on the streets had spread, and they were getting ready to close. Unfortunately, things took a turn and shots were fired between two groups of people who appear unconnected to the protests. There was an officer involved shooting of an armed man later in the evening.

We ended up at the Waffle House across the streets from the hotel, emotionally hung over from all we had seen and experienced in one short day. Beyond words. Feeling changed forever.

If you want to hear more voices, check out the hashtags #FaithInFerguson and #FergusonTaughtMe.









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.






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.



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.


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.





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.


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

images-148 images-147

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.


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.



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


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


Looks like this.


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!



Top Four Books I Read in 2013

As I lay in bed ushering in 2014 with a nasty head cold, I decided to share my favorite reads of 2013. It was not a year for fiction, which is unusual. I did my reading for learning this year and I liked it. So drum roll please- Erna’s Favorite books of 2013!

1) Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle


cvr9781439153154_9781439153154_lgFather Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, has been serving gang members in East LA since the height of gang activity in Los Angeles . This book is awesome because it humanizes an often caricatured group of people and it is theologically profound, without being academic and aloof. It will make you cry- but not in an annoying way, because the emotion springs from real substance.  Plus, he shares about the importance of providing jobs and opportunity for people coming out of gangs and prison. Many books on social justice are so academic I get the feeling that the author might run away from an actual person from the hood. Father Boyle is on the ground, but exegetes his context with profound insight and compassion. JUST READ IT ALREADY!


2) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

04-02leanin_full_600I consider this the second in a series- that started with Bossypants by Tina Fey- on modern day lady power. I kind of had to read Lean In- or I would have lost my lady leader street cred. It was great! It articulated a lot of dynamics that depressed me and gave some empowering suggestions. It’s odd, because I felt like I learned a lot as I read it, but when I was done I couldn’t tell you what I learned. I think I internalized a lot of it as I went along because it resonated on an intuitive level.

Here are two of ideas I’ve been referencing a lot.

1) Consider a job for its potential, not just where you start but where it could go. 2) Men tend to assume they can do a job, woman tend to be more reserved about putting themselves forward for a position until they feel very confident of their ability to execute it. Both of these ideas have helped me to take more risks.


3) The Next Evangelicalism by Soong- Chan Rah

Absolutely shocked that I liked this book because typically I cannot stand white dude evangelical chatty Cathy 61NI5tM4qsL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_theology. But this is written by one feisty ass Korean American professor man who says some SHIT! I mean the stuff he articulates about how the American church is a slave to Western ideologies is AWESOME! And he has so much attitude! Attitude with brains- and readable. Potent combination! I LOVED IT! Read this if you want a clearer understanding of syncretism in the American evangelical church. And read it if you’ve ever felt like there are too many white guys with  goatees talking like they know everything about Christianity. Or read it if you are that guy.


Here are some sweet quotes that had me yelling for my husband so I could read them out loud to SOMEBODY!


“If you are a white Christian wanting to be a missionary in this day and age, and you have never had a nonwhite mentor, then you will not be a missionary. You will be a colonist. Instead of taking the gospel message into the world, you will take an Americanized version of the gospel.”

“I believe that the real emerging church is the church in Africa, Asian, and Latin America that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I believe that the real emerging church is the hip-hop church, the English speaking Latino congregation, the second generation Asian American church, the Haitian immigrant church, the Spanish speaking store-front churches and so forth. For a small group of white Americans to usurp the term “emerging” reflects a significant arrogance.”


4) The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

I’m going to be honest. I haven’t finished this book. It is just breaking my heart. The depth of brokenness and injusticehome_book_cvr in our prison system and criminal justice system is so overwhelming I feel despair. I pick this up and read a few pages and try to untangle the complexity of the War on Drugs, the impact on urban neighborhoods, and the impact on the Black community and I just can’t keep reading. This book is prophetic, and informative, and absolutely to the core heartbreaking.





Well that’s it! Would love to hear your thoughts on these books or books you read in 2013 that impacted you.  Happy 2014!