05/25/16

Where are my Asian American women heroes?

imagesIn the last few years there has consistently been stories about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Black people only win Oscars for playing slaves and maids, never modern day characters of complexity and agency. Asian American men are never love interests, hence #StarringJohnCho. Lupe Ontiveros, a Latina actress, has been cast as a maid over 150 times. On the other end of the spectrum you can get a movie made about a white man with a dizzying amount of variety- badass scientist on Mars, hilarious sarcastic action hero Deadpool, earnest and sexy lover of the truth Captain America who fights billionaire genius inventor white man Iron Man, emotionally broken white man vigilante that dresses like a bat versus sincere and earth saving alien that always manifests as a white man. I’m just listing the lead characters of some of the top grossing movies of 2016. You can also get a movie made about a white guy who is in love with a blow up doll, who is a serial killer, a mobster, a lonely widow, just about anything. The stories we tell, reflect something of who and what we value. It can be easy to dismiss the deeper reasons for this conversation about representation. It can seem superficial. And as a woman of color, sometimes I have a hard time putting into words the impact it has on me, because I’ve never known anything different.

About a year ago I had the chance to meet an artist at a conference in Memphis. It was Bay Area, Korean American artist Dave Kim. I was intrigued. I come from the generation of Korean Americans where everyone was supposed to play the piano and be a doctor, dentist, or lawyer. So meeting Korean American visual artist was a little bit like seeing a unicorn, I was intrigued. I asked to see some photos of his art and he showed me photos of his paintings and a mural he had painted in the Bay Area.

This is the mural.

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And then he explained. The mural tells the story of Yu Gwan Sun, a Korean freedom fighter. On the left side she is young, with her friends. On the far right she faces death for her cause. She was an organizer of the March 1st Movement, a protest against the occupation of Korea by Japan. She became of symbol of Korea’s fight for freedom through peaceful protest.

Here is a video of Dave putting up the mural.

I was so taken aback by this Korean American brother who, would not only paint the story of a woman, but of a freedom fighter. I had never in my life experienced that. A woman of my ethnicity, from my culture, who lived passionately for justice. I have never heard my own story told back to me. I have never heard it told by someone who thought it was worth their time, and energy, and creativity to tell. I didn’t realize how much this had impacted me until I was talking to someone else the following day. We were all chilling in the lobby after teaching our seminars and I introduced Dave to someone new and I began to talk about his mural.  As I described the mural, I teared up. I was crying in the lobby with strangers. And I had to pause and figure out why I was feeling so stirred. I had never seen someone else say, a woman like you, a Korean woman like you, with the passions you have- that is a story worth telling.

Either woman like me are totally absent from stories, or we are prostitutes, masseuses, or martial artists or the wives of white hipster. Ironically the reality of this was pressed home when I was back in Memphis a few months later.  A young man walked up to me and said “You look like that person in the Rush Hour movie.”

I was confused, I look like Jackie Chan? “Which one?”

“You know, the masseuse.”

The only Asian woman’s story he could draw from when he saw me, was that of a  masseuse/ prostitute.

YURI KOCHIYAMA

A couple days ago my FB feed was filling up as Asian American friends posted Google’s image13220816_10153596005353372_8171781156352047127_n of the day, which depicted Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama. It would have been her 95th birthday. Born in Southern California, imprisoned in the Japanese internment camps, she and her husband eventually settled in New York where they raised their six children. She was one of the few non-black people deeply committed to the Black Nationalist movement. She met Malcolm X in 1963 and joined The pan- Africanist Organization of Afro American Unity. And she was present in the Audubon Ballroom when he was assassinated.

pic4I had heard of her a few years ago, but I will be honest, she didn’t really register. As much as I can articulate the way that our history has centered on white men and has dismissed, minimized, and erased the history of people of color, especially women of color, I am still colonized in my mind. And the fact that I had never heard of her, made it hard for me to believe she was really a person of import. Her story surfaced again a couple years ago when she died. And again, I felt like she couldn’t count. If she was really a role model, I would have heard of her before now, right? But then seeing her on google the other day, she finally registered in my conscious. It took hearing about her multiple times.  And there was something validating about seeing her on the google search. As dumb as it may sound, a mainstream voice was telling me she was important and worth knowing impacted me. So I looked up more about her life and I was so inspired.

Malcom-X-Yuri-Kochiyama-time-magazine It hurts me to see the way that misogyny and white supremacy have seeped into my own thinking. It hurts me that I would devalue someone that I should identity with deeply. Malcolm X has been one of my heroes since I read his autobiography in high school. To realize that an Asian American woman had been there, doing the work with him, it stengthened me. This last December, at a conference where I was leading worship,  I had a chance to stand with my African American brothers and sisters and add my voice and heart to the cry that Black Lives Matter.

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And it changes me to know that I follow in the footsteps of an activists like Yuri Kochiyama and Yu Gwan Sun.  So I thank you Dave, you introduced me to Yu Gwan Sun. And I thank you Google, cause you validated an important story. And thank you Yuri- for being a pioneer. Its not lost on me that it was two pieces of visual art that moved me forward in my process. Artists- keep using your art to be prophetic, to affirm, validate and expand the stories we are telling. We need you. Our country needs you. That kid in Memphis needs you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

01/14/16

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11/4/15

We Need More Disruption

Here’s a special glimpse into my marriage. In the first few years we were married, whenever I was upset about something- we ended up having two fights- the thing I was originally mad about, and my husband’s dislike of my tone of voice when I brought it up. After having some version of the same fight over and over again- I agreed, I would bring things up “nicely.” I would use a gentle tone of voice to bring up what was bothering me. So we tried this method for a while.

I would bring it up nicely.

Nothing.

Bring it up again.

Nothing.

So then I would be pissed- and I would bring it up again- in my angry voice.

And he would say, “Hey, you said you wouldn’t use that tone of voice.”

“You don’t listen when I use my nice voice.” And I would list out the times I had brought it up “nicely” and his lack of response. “So you can’t tone patrol me if you don’t respond to my nice voice. It’s actually you- that requires this tone of voice.”

This reminds me of how White and Asian Americans respond to the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

141213170300-08-protest-1213-ny-horizontal-large-galleryI hear white and Asian American Christians bothered by the disruption- stopping a freeway, interrupting a Bernie Sander rally, marching the streets.  The critique is, they seem angry. They are disruptive. It is uncomfortable. It is annoying. And my answer is- yes. Yes they are. Yes it is. But you wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice, so this is what it takes. Interruption is what is takes to get dominant culture to even consider change.

White America, and frankly that portion of Asian American that is flowing with the dominant culture’s worldviews, won’t listen to “nice tone.” I spent the last few days in St. Louis filming activist, theologian, preacher, and worship leader Michelle Higgins. She talked about the fact that most activist consider interruption and disruption a last resort. They have tried phone calls, letters, meeting with local leaders, and community organizing. But when that doesn’t work, when it doesn’t get people’s attention, you have to interrupt. They used “nice” methods to seek change. Too bad, nobody would listen.

1211084 I know I don’t like being interrupted. I understand our general dislike of interruption. Even in conversation it’s annoying. But that doesn’t make it wrong. White America hates all forms of disruption and interruption to its normal life.

Take the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists peacefully, non-violently, and calmly interrupted lunch
by sitting at a counter. They were greeted with hateful slurs, had food poured on them, and were surrounded by angry mobs of white people. They were interrupting the most mundane thing- lunch at a diner. And in the most peaceful way possible- sitting in silence. And white people lost their damn minds about it.

Lets remember- Black Lives Matter is a message to non-black people. Black people know it. They are trying to interrupt the normal flow of life to get everyone else’s attention and say- our lives, our bodies are treated with violence. Will you wake up and care?

And the repeated answer is- no.

No we will not.

For systemic racial change to happen- cities, neighborhoods, schools, and organizations need to be interrupted.

They need something to stop the normal flow of life. Because normal life is racist.

I understand disruption and interruption are never comfortable. So is police brutality. And Black children being shot. And Black children being handcuffed. And Black people being treated with violence.

Jesus actually used disruption all the time. Look at his life and ministry.

He opens Luke with a teaching on being good news to the poor and it is well received. But when he gets particular and calls out the Jewish people on their own ethnocentrism and pride- they want to throw him off a cliff. He is interrupting their worldview and they don’t like it.

Jesus drives out the merchants - John 2:13-16

When Jesus interrupts dinner conversation by telling people they are being proud. It’s more than awkward. It interrupts what could have been some pleasant dinner talk.

When he overthrows the tables in the temple because they have blocked the court of the Gentiles, lots of business people would have been angry. It interrupted business as usual.

Jesus interrupted and disrupted all the time to get people’s attention and tell them to change. But we in the U.S. have castrated Jesus, and made him into Precious Moments Jesus, and we can’t believe that he was as passionate and disconcerting as he was.

Being interrupted is jarring and it requires humility. It required wanting to change and wanting to learn. It requires being confused and not knowing what to do, because you have to stop your normal habits.  It required not being derailed by criticism or insecurity.

Asian Americans and Interruption

I’ve thought for a long time that Asian Americans move away from the Black Lives Matter movement because interruption is extra uncomfortable for us. A lot of Asian American communication is about nonverbals. It is about not needing to say something. It is about saying something at a level 3, but the hearer knows it is really a level 8. And in our culture, interruption is incredibly rude- especially to someone older than you or in authority.

And here is the Black community- disrupting and interrupting. Here they are challenging authority. I think that it feels foreign us. I think we see protesters, we see their anger and the emotion, and we interpret it through our communication lens.

They seem too emotional.

Too angry.

Rude.

And they are making public spaces uncomfortable.

But we are missing the truth in the message, because we are uncomfortable with the method. We wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice. So it is us who requires interruption.

 

We Need More Disruption, Not Less

More churches need to be interrupted. Stop doing regular church every Sunday. Engage with the violence and injustice directed towards Black people in our country.

More Christian organizations need to be interrupted. Stop trying to care for people of color, while not having any people of color in leadership.

More Christian ministries need to be interrupted and take a prophetic stance about race and injustice, instead of staying silent because so may donors are white and uncomfortable with Black Lives Matter.

My own organization could use some interruption.

We say we value mulitethnicity, but have we let Black Lives Matter interrupt us? Have we talked about it with our student leaders? Did we incorporate it into our New Student Outreach in any way? Did we incorporate anything about multiethnicity into our Fall Conferences? Did we do more than pray for Black staff that are underfunded?

Or did we go on, business as usual, not being interrupted?

We may not like it. But frankly, I think we need more of it. More disruption. More interruption. Until justice and real change have come.

 

PS- Don’t worry- the hubby and I worked that dynamic out. In case you think we are tragically stuck in that dynamic 8 years later.

10/22/15

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.

08/12/15

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.

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11am

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.

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!

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.

7:00pm

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

08/8/15

Ferguson- a primer

As I have told people that I’m going to Ferguson for the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death it has raised a lot of questions.

Wait- which shooting happened there? Weren’t cops shot there? Didn’t Michael Brown attack the officer? So in light of that, I am providing a short recap ( full of my own editorializing) and framework to help us enter into reflection and engagement at the one year mark of the Ferguson uprising.

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner was approached by police for selling loose cigarettes on a corner in New York. Though chronologically this happened before Michael Brown was shot, thgarnerxx-4-webe story did not gain momentum until after the shooting in Ferguson.

For context, New York is known for its stupid and racist policy of stop and frisk.

Stop and frisk is an incredibly wide spread practice, used disproportionately on Black and Latino men, where people are stopped and searched and harassed by the police for no reason. This has never happened to me- as a member of the least likely to be harassed by the police demographic in the US- mixed white and Asian and a woman. But I believe the many Black and Latino men that have spoken up about this, I have watched videos of the practice, and it is harassment and dehumanizing and wrong. If it was done to rich white people in New York- the practice would have ended a long time ago. White people would never tolerate being handled by the police in this way.

I provide that information because it appears to me, in the descriptions of Eric Garner’s interaction NBA-players-wearing-I-cant-breathe-shirtswith the police, that he is frustrated that police are harassing him again. In the course of questioning him, they decide to arrest him, and when he swats away the officers hand as he is putting on the handcuffs, the officer pulls him back and throws him to the ground using an illegal chokehold. Eric Garner repeated numerous times that he could not breathe. (This incident is why protesters use the phrase I Can’t Breathe.) The medical examiner found the chokehold, chest compressions, and poor health as the cause of death and it was ruled a homicide. Many felt that because the interaction was caught on videotape that the officers would be held accountable, however on December 3, 2014 a grand jury decided not to indict the officers.

Sidebar #1

Let’s all just stop and ponder if anyone believes that you should die for selling cigarettes on the corner.

Sidebar #2

Our culture has a presumed guilt when it sees Black people and presumed innocence when it sees patrick-killer-smilewhite people. Let’s do a little exercise.

Imagine this man was standing on the corner, selling loose cigarettes to some people. And when the police tried to handcuff him, he is angry and indignant and can’t believe he is being arrested and swats the officers hand away. Do you imagine this man ending up dead? Would he “deserve” it? What he had made a fortune betting on people losing their homes in the economic downturn? I use this example, because as much as people say they are colorblind, they assume, solely based on race that this man is an innocent and good individual. Even if there is evidence to the contrary.

Back to the timeline.

Several weeks later on August 9th Michael Brown was shot. There is video footage of him leaving a convenience store after stealing some cigarillos (which from what I can gather are mini cigars) He shoves a clerk out of the way and leaves with his friend. Now lets all stop and ponder for a moment if we really think that someone should die for that. Was it a smart move? No. Legal? No. Should you end up dead for it? No. He was physical, but he did not use a gun, nor did he beat anyone up. He stole some stuff from a mini-mart. Not a great decision, but not a violent crime.

Sidebar #3

michael-brownHe was also teenage kid trying to figure out what he was going to do after high school. He was hanging with a friend. He was not a monster, a demon, not the embodiment of evil. He was not invaluable as a human because he stole stuff from that mini mart. He was made in the image of God. And committed far less violent of a crime than King David and the Apostle Paul. White people have been very quick to dismiss the value of his life and I don’t see a Biblical basis for that.

Here’s a partial summary from wikipedia.

The entire interaction eventually resulted in Officer Wilson firing at him several times, all striking him in the front, with the possible exception of the two bullets fired into Brown’s right arm. In the entire altercation, Wilson fired a total of twelve bullets; the last was probably the fatal shot. Brown was unarmed. Brown was moving toward Wilson when the final shots were fired. Witness reports differed as to what Brown was doing with his hands when he was shot, but no credible witness said that he had his hands up in surrender.

 However, early reports said that Michael Brown was facing the officer with his hands up in a sign of surrender. Activists across the country then adopted the image of standing with hands raised as a symbol of unarmed Black people being shot by police.

congress_handsupdontshoothoward-hands-up

 

As shooting after shooting has continued over the year, as body after body has piled up, it has become painfully clear that black people and white people see the world completely differently. I really believed that white people would become more engaged and more concerned as the bodies piled up. But for the most part, they have not.

Here is my summary of how black and white people interpret these moments differently.

White people

Unless the person being attacked has no criminal record, an intact family, and is in the middle of singing Open the Eyes of my Heart- they are probably a thug. Which is a euphemism for bad Black person that probably had it coming. So we don’t need to be troubled or sad, cause that person was a bad person and hence their life was not that valuable. And somehow all black people can end up in this category. Where their lives aren’t valued. Also it doesn’t count as racism unless the officer is wearing a klan hood and yelling racial slurs. Because white people are always innocent unless proven guilty. And video, work history, and past acts of violence apparently don’t count as proof. Proof is demanded, and yet can never established.

There is a tiny circle and things are only racist if they fit inside this tiny circle of very specific circumstance.

Little Racism

 

 

Black people

Who, let’s just remember, were right when they spoke up about slavery being wrong.

Were right when they spoke up about Jim Crow being wrong.

Have always been a prophetic voice to white people about their own blindness and racism. And they have never been greeted with agreement until 50 years after the fact. White folks love to claim MLK now, but back in his day, white folks thought he was moving things along too soon, and too fast, and too radically.

Black folks see racism as a big circle. It is a web that permeates all of our society where white people are constantly given the benefit of the doubt (#crimingwhilewhite) and Black people are treated with suspicion and fear and often violence. They are speaking up about a giant circle- law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the war on drugs. ( If you haven’t read The New Jim Crowe- just do yourself a favor and read it so you won’t have to tell you kids 20 years from now you decided to stay ignorant during a significant time of change in our society.)

So the Black community saw the shooting of Michael Brown as inside the large circle.

 

Big Racism

I would sum up this year as white folks repeatedly saying – nope that does not fit in the tiny circle. And black folks saying- it’s in the circle. And the circle is big. And your ignorant self is in the circle too cause you’re so blind.

And all year long, as each shooting has happened, this conversation has been repeated.

Then it happened, in an awful moment. The most explicitly perfect example of the little circle happened. A group of Christians- pastors, community leaders, and the type of people who show up to mid week Bible study welcomed a weird white kid into their Bible study and prayer meeting. And when it was done he murdered them because he is a white supremisict and he wanted to start a race war.

So I thought- well at least White folks will have to put this one in the little circle. It’s racism.

Yup. That one was racism.

That’s troubling.

That wasn’t right.

But instead everyone focused on the forgiveness of the family members towards the shooter. Which is the family’s right to do. But actually distracted white people from the real issue. The Charleston shooting  not only should have been a perfect example of little circle racism, it pointed to big circle racism.  I mean, “good black people” had been murdered while racial slurs were being yelled. Maybe white people would have to actually listen when Black people said racism was still a thing.

But one of the deepest affects of white supremacy, is that you never let anyone tell you the truth about yourself. You never have to learn from a Black person that isn’t Oprah.

Syncretism all day long

The weakness of white reform theology is that it has been over informed by the Western secular value of individualism. It is completely syncretistic. This syncretism blinds white Christians to corporate sin. I understand white people not wanting to feel culpable for systemic racism. But, white Christians should be able to open their heart to this idea. Being a sinner is one of the foundational tenants of our religion. So when someone suggests you might be sinning, the answer should be “Sounds about right. Because I am in fact, according to my religious world view, a jacked up sinner.”

In addition the fact that the Bible is addressed to a GROUP of people almost ALL the time should help us. Entire countries, entire tribes, entire groups of people are called to account by God. And no, not every individual in that group was committing the sin, but Scripture is very corporate in its worldview. American Christians are not.  Syncretism at its finest.

After the shooting in Ferguson, activists rose up and organized and protested the injustice of the big circle of racism. And white people sent in the army to shut them up. And the activists didn’t’ give up, and they didn’t shut up, and they catalyzed a movement that is known as Black Lives Matter. And it is courageous, grassroots, and we should pay attention. I spent the last two days listening to Black academics and pastors and repeatedly called for a new theology and new view of church, that is formed by what is happening on the streets of Ferguson.

I am in Ferguson because I want to testify that Jesus was a revolutionary that would not have lived quietly in an ethnically segregated suburb attending an ethnically segregated church, turning a blind eye to the violence being done to black people across our country. I’m here because Black Lives Matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

08/3/15

The Parable of the Merciful Muslims

This is a guest post by my friend and co-worker Andrea Emerson. She shared it as a devotional reflectional to open a training I was leading a couple weeks ago for InterVarsity staff. InterVarsity is a Christian ministry to college students. We raise financial support to do our work, which we call ministry partnership development. These terms will be helpful in understanding her interpretation of the parable.  I deeply appreciated her contemporary take on the story of the Good Samaritan. Have a read and let us know your thoughts.

The Parable of the Merciful Muslims

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law?”

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied:

America has always been a deadly and dangerous place for our Black brothers and sisters. Publicized police killings of unarmed Black men and women in the past year have made this more obvious to those of us who have not lived their reality.

Last month after the slaughter of nine precious Black saints in Charleston the danger took a new, but familiar shape: Black churches began to burn.

In the ten days after the massacre, first one, then two…no three…four, five, six….seven, eight.

Eight Black churches burned –  a deeply painful reminder that to be a Black American is to find no mercy. Both the Charleston massacre and the subsequent church burnings cry out to us that not even the buildings of the Black church, a pillar and sanctuary of the community since slavery, are safe.

Our country is a deadly and dangerous place for our Black brothers and sisters.

In the wake of these church burnings most prominent White and Asian-American pastors behaved as if they did not know it had happened. Therefore, it did not occur to them to include the stories of these churches, let alone an entire year of #blacklivesmatter stories, in their sermons or invite their congregations to give toward rebuilding efforts. They just kept going with their church’s business as usual, unaware of this gaping wound in the capital “C” church in America.

Then there were the InterVarsity staff workers diligently spending their summers working on ministry partnership development. They were aware of what was happening, so they posted Facebook statuses filled with the language of mourning and outrage. “Black churches are burning and Christians who aren’t Black don’t know or care! We can change that!” they thought as they hit ‘share’. But they never asked their ministry partners and supporting churches to make generous gifts toward the rebuilding efforts of the burned Black churches, let alone make a gift of their own. They were too busy finding partners for themselves.

But then another story began to circulate: Muslim charities were collecting money to rebuild burned Black churches. They decided to use Ramadan, a holy month in Islam marked by self sacrifice and giving to launch their special campaign. Their “Respond with Love” campaign website states:

“ALL houses of worship are sanctuaries, a place where all should feel safe, a place we can seek refuge when the world is too much to bear. We want for others what we want for ourselves: the right to worship without intimidation, the right to safety, and the right to property.” *

But maybe not every church burned because of a hate crime, some pointed out. Do they deserve all of this money. All of this attention?

The Muslims were undeterred. The director for one of the charities spearheading the campaign said, “It doesn’t matter to us how or why these churches burned down, we want to help our Black sisters and brothers get back into their houses of worship as soon as they can. Ramadan is a time of giving and what better cause to give to than one that rebuilds houses of worship where God’s name is constantly called, remembered and loved.” *

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the Black Christians and Black Churches?

Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”

I (Andrea) wanted to let myself off the hook. I was one of those irate InterVarsity staff who posted a link to an initial article about the Muslim charities. I wrote that I was almost certain the church where I’m a member would not take up an offering for this cause and how I felt a healthy sense of shame about it.

I was content to leave it at that.

But then a friend was curious if I planned to ask my church to take an offering. When I read his words I felt conviction: I am a supported missionary of my congregation, with the ear of the outreach pastor, and rather than use my position of power and privilege to bring awareness of injustice in the Church, I was content to let my position serve myself. I hadn’t thought to speak up. That is the real shame!

My friend invited me to choose the Jesus way and love with my actions. My outreach pastor is in Zambia right now, there will be an email in his inbox with an invitation to grab a cup of coffee and talk about what our church can do.


*quoted from:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/07/muslims-rebuild-black-churches_n_7747794.html

08/2/15

Why It Has Been Hard to Write

I have wanted to write. I have wanted to share reflections and in any way possible to support the Black Lives Matter movement. But I haven’t been able to write because it has been too exhausting and too sad. The moment I start to wrap my heart and mind around one incident- for example the violent and dehumanizing way a group of kids were treated at a pool party. Then another unarmed black man is shot by the police. I can barely wrap my mind around the explicitly white supremacist shooting of a group of Black brothers and sisters who were praying and studying the Bible together in their church, before a conversation about the Confederate flag derails the grief. I think the conversation about the flag is important, but it felt distracting from so many other things about that shooting. The way white people seemed unable to acknowledge that he was a white supremacist and that he was motivated by racist hatred. I was troubled by the way that white and Asian American Christians were so excited to talk about the forgiveness extended to the shooter, but not the racism that led to it.

I have felt worn out by grief and sitting with friends in their grief. Which to be clear, I consider an honor and a part of friendship. As they have stood with me in my loneliness in moving and my fears as I’ve stepped into a new leadership role. But grief is exhausting. And each time I, or my friends seem to just catch a breath, something awful happens.

I was sitting in my living room with a couple friends. And we had to stop and acknowledge that this year has been like no other. A never ending cycle of grief and anger and pain. As we are coming up on the one year mark of the shooting of Michael Brown, I’m committing to try and rally to write again.

Here’s why.

I have access to a group of people that may not engage with the Black community. But they will engage with me, and perhaps I can serve as a bridge.

My friends prayed for me and got the Scripture in Ezekiel 33. It’s all about being a watchman. God says to Ezekiel- If you speak up and warn people then you have done your duty, no matter how people respond. But if you don’t speak up, then you are accountable. So, I must speak up. I have opportunities to do that when I lead worship and preach, and in my daily life. Writing is one more way to speak up. I have learned in my work in multi-ethnicity that silence isn’t neutral- it is negative. You have to say something. So I want to say something in writing, while being thoughtful to keep Black voices and Black leaders at the center.

Here are two blogs I strongly suggest you check out by Black leaders/thinkers I highly respect.

Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Sean M. Watkins

I’ve come to the end of anger sustaining me. Not that anger isn’t a right response, but I’m hungry for something more. I’m having to dig deeper to stay engaged. And I choose to write because I don’t want to hide behind the privilege of disengagement. I have come to believe that hope is a spiritual discipline and that it is the fuel needed to sustain. I don’t mean a hope that leads to cheesy sayings that cause me to engage less with pain in the world. But hope that helps me stay engaged with the world even when it is breaking my heart.

Also, I’ve felt stuck because stories come and go before I can form my thoughts about them. But I’ve realized that even if it feels like facebook, and twitter, and the news have moved on, there is a place for deeper reflection that takes time. And it is important for me to complete my own reflections, even if momentum has shifted elsewhere. The Charleston shooting took place less than six weeks ago. It merits greater thought. Thoughts that I can’t sort out in 48 hours. And feelings that can’t be completed in 24 hours.

I’m heading to Ferguson later this week to participate in a series of events surrounding the one year mark of Michael Brown’s death. Do you remember the extreme and militarized response to the protesters? Do you Aftermath of Michael Brown shooting, Ferguson, Missouri, America - 18 Aug 2014remember the doubt that greeted the protesters? The assumption that the Black community was overreacting. But nobody thought that tanks was overacting? And after the Ferguson report came out- who let that real data change their minds? The report showed a constant and systemic harassment of the Black community. All of that was less than a year ago. Have we grown at all?

I’m going as a pilgrimage to mark a painful year. I’m going to sit at the feet of Black academics, Black leaders, and Black activists and learn from them. I’m going as a spiritual pilgrimage to say that, I believe, to be a Christian in the United States in 2015 means to care about this movement, join it, participate in whatever way is helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

04/14/15

Why are we always Peter and never Judas?

I was studying the opening chapter of Acts today. I’ve always had a hard time with the book. The stories don’t capture me in the same way as the gospels. But I’ve made this commitment to sit with the text until it stirs my imagination. So I sat there being bored until I got curious about Judas. I started wondering how the disciples must have felt about Judas. I don’t hear much discussion of Judus in the church. He’s usually cast aside as a two-dimensional character. But that interpretation isn’t satisfying. Judas was one of the twelve. Jesus stayed up all night discerning who to focus on and commit to for three years, and Judas made the cut.  He was personally mentored by the living incarnate God for three years. He was sent out on multiple missionary journeys. He cast out demons, he healed the sick, he preached the gospel. He received almost the exact same training as Peter. He had an intimate relationship with Jesus, sharing life on a day-to-day basis. So how can we dismiss him in such a perfunctory manner?

How did the discples feel about Judas? They must have been friends. They must have  grown to close. It’s always presented as if their feelings towards J6a00d8341bffb053ef00e54f45be3b8833-500wiudas were clearcut- he betrayed Jesus so we hate him. But it seems like their feelings about Judas would have been complicated. He is in every memory that they have of learning and growing with Jesus. He wasn’t pure evil incarnate all the time. He was just like them. So much so, that up until the night that he actually betrayed Jesus, he didn’t stand out as very different from the group.

When I first considered writing about this, I started from the perspective of Peter. What do you do when you’re leading a team and you lose a member ? What do you do when there is betrayal in a community? But I had to ask myself , why am I assuming that I’m Peter when I read a story. Why aren’t I Judas. Why do I always identify with the positive example? This really got me thinking. Why does everyone think they are Peter, and nobody thinks that they are Judas, because the difference between the two men doesn’t seem very clear to me. They both seem passionate. They were both committed to Jesus. Jesus saw something in Judas that made him worth making one of the twelve. I honestly don’t know if, when Jesus appointed to 12, He knew that Judas would betray Him. It’s easy to assume that he did in retrospect, but it seems like an awful waste of leadership development to spent three years with somebody, if they’re only purpose is to betray you in the end. That keeps our view of Judas two dimensional and I’m not satisfied with that anymore.images-196

I’ve heard many sermons where the preacher has identified with Peter. Often in self deprecating ways- “I’m loud and opinionated- like Peter!” or  “We are all tempted to deny Jesus- like Peter.” But still, they are identifying with the man that became the head of the church. So it’s a bit of a humble brag.

Lets have the courage to see ourselves in Judas. Especially those of us who would call ourselves “committed Christians.” Judas was a committed disciple of Jesus. Judas changed his whole life around so that he could be one of Jesus’ disciples. When Peter says “We have left everything to follow you.” Judas is included in that well. He paid costs in order to follow Jesus. You can’t fake commitment like that for three years.

Judas is challenging to me personally, because many believe that he was a Zealot. His surname, Iscariot, translates to Dagger. Such men carried daggers at all times, prepared to take action in pursuit of their desire to see Rome overthrown. Judas was political, he was an activist, he was passionate about his cause. All of this catches my attention because I am an activist and I long to see systemic transformation in my own country. So in that way, I am like Judas.

Judas must have been trustworthy because he was given charge of the money box. So he appeared responsible and integrous to his peer group. Perhaps this was a point of pride for him, he had a responsibility that the other men did not. But at some point he began to steal from the money box. So Judas is somebody who appears trustworthy and responsible and is entrusted with tasks by his peers, but has some hidden character flaws. In that way, I am like Judas

In addition, I’m not sure how his betrayal is worse than Peter’s betrayal. Both Peter 6a00d8341bffb053ef0133ec634d93970b-640wiand Judas betray their relationship with Jesus in his greatest moment of need. Both men regret it later. Peter is ashamed and afraid to be associated with Jesus and not once, but three times, he denies even knowing Jesus. Judas is no longer in agreement with Jesus’ picture of the Kingdom of God, so he sells him out. The consequences of his actions are greater, but is the content of his heart so different than Peters? I don’t have a good answer to this question, but I feel challenged by the presence of Judas and I don’t want to dismiss him is a two-dimensional character that can’t teach me anything. He is a humbling and challenging silent figure in almost every gospel story.

File_PassionMovie_JudasMy reflection this morning made me feel like I need to be more deliberate about learning from the “bad guys” of scripture. Maybe I need to think more about how I’m like Herod instead of assuming I’m like John the Baptist. Maybe I need to see how I’m like Saul instead of pretending that I’m like David. Maybe I need the humility to see how I’m like Pilate instead of Joseph of Arimathea.

My take away from this morning is that I need to have the humility to see myself in every character in the Bible.  I need to have the courage to see myself in the crowd that asked Jesus to leave after he cast the demons out of the demoniac.  I need to have the humility to see myself in the crowd that wants to throw Jesus off the cliff in Luke four. I need to see myself in the crowd that wanted to throw stones at the woman caught in adultery.  I need to see myself in the people that try to silence Bartimaeus as he cries out for Jesus to have mercy on him. I’m well trained in gleaning leadership lessons from Peter and Paul and trying to model myself after Jesus. Maybe I’ve been too proud to truly see myself in all the other characters in the Bible. And I think that is limiting my growth and my learning.

 

 

 

 

 

03/31/15

Sacred Space, Black Lives Matter, and Unhappy Korean Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we received their blessing.

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

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

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

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