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.








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.







Sacred Space, Black Lives Matter, and Unhappy Korean Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we received their blessing.

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

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

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

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



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.



Dear Asian American Pastors- Preach on Ferguson this Sunday

Our country is in turmoil. The internet is swirling with both insightful and hateful dialogue. The streets are swirling with courageous young activists and idiots looking for a fight. For the most part people have responded predictably- conservatives feel vindicated, liberals are outraged, the Black community is grieving, the White community is feeling guilty or gloating. Most will turn to mindless consumerism after Thanksgiving and move on. But come Sunday there will be an opportunity for spiritual leaders across the country to offer interpretation, leadership, and insight into this moment. My fear is that Asian American pastors will also respond predictably by choosing to remain silent or unengaged with a “Black issue” or one that appears politically controversial. May it not be so!

Here are some reasons you should consider changing your sermon for this Sunday.

 Preach on Ferguson this Sunday because it is advent. You may feel hindered because it is the first CognietSunday of Advent. Shouldn’t we be kicking off a season of children singing carols and decorating the sanctuary? But what could be more appropriate than to address violence, injustice, and the death of a young man? Jesus was born under the terrorizing leadership of Herod, which led to the murder of a generation of baby boys. Infant Jesus had to flee in terror to another country out of fear for his life. You may feel uncomfortable addressing pain and violence from the pulpit, but Jesus chose to live through it. Great hope birthed in the context of fear and violence is true to the advent story.


Preach on Ferguson in order to educate the congregation and yourself. You may feel afraid and unsure because you do not have a lot of experience or understanding of issues that affect the Black community. That’s OK. Use this moment as an opportunity to learn. There is a vast amount of excellent writing being put forward in this moment. Model being humble and teachable. Show that being engaged with the pain and suffering of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is always right. Don’t send your congregants on missions to countries that are far away without cultivating compassion for the brothers and sisters down the street.

The church is a central part of the Black community as it is in the East Asian American** community. What we share in Christ, the fact that we are family, should stir compassion and engagement. It doesn’t need to express itself in a particular political voice. Scripture holds us to a high standard in terms of caring for other believers. Shouldn’t that care extend beyond the ethnic confines of our own congregations? Black bothers and sisters are in pain. Shouldn’t we seek to understand why?

Preach on Ferguson out of gratitude and to honor the sacrifice of the Civil Rights Movement. The Immigration Act of 1965 was put into place as an extension of the Civil Right Movement. Most second 7546-004-7F54297Cgeneration Asian Americans came here through the door that was opened by our African American brothers and sisters. To be able to enter this land, because of the courageous fight of African Americans, and then turn our backs on them once we are here is ignorant and ungrateful. How many times are the Israelites told to remember the work of God in setting the Israelites free from slavery? Remembering is a frequent command of Scripture. We need to learn and remember our own history. Remember that God worked through the courageous and long suffering activism of the African American community and that it bore fruit that has blessed the Asian American community. Remember!

This is a moment for the Asian American church to wake up. We must find our voice and form a theology that reflects who we are. We are a people who understand courage, sacrifice, and solidarity. And refined by Jesus, we will step out of ethnocentrism and silence. There is a place for silence. There are times when silence can be courageous, prophetic, and transformational. But this is not that moment. I hope that my brothers and sisters in the pulpit will lead the way towards engagement. Don’t let the fact that your congregation does not typically engage these issues silence you. The pulpit is a place for leadership. The pulpit must speak to blind spots and cultural weaknesses. East Asian culture and hence East Asian American culture is ethnocentric. Redeemed Christian Asian American culture should repent of ethnocentrisms and live into the reality that all people are made in the image of God.

Lastly, know that saying nothing about Ferguson communicates just a much as a preaching on it. Know that choosing not to engage or interpret or lead reflects a certain set of values. Liz Lin does a great job of talking about cultural values that can keep us silent in these situations. But let’s not pretend that silence is neutral. In these moments silence speaks as loudly as words.




*I’m using Ferguson as short hand to refer to

  • the killing of Michael Brown
  • the ensuing protests and activism
  • the recent decision not to indict Darren Wilson
  • to sum up the conversation on racial profiling and militarization of the police
  • to reference the call to value the lives of Black people and acknowledge the systemic injustice that they are facing in the United States.

** I transition to using just Asian American instead of East Asian American through the rest of the post because East Asian American becomes cumbersome to read. However, I acknowledge that this article is speaking primarily to the church serving second generation East Asian immigrants. My hope is that in learning to engage these issues, we will also learn to engage with our Southeast Asian brothers and sisters.  As  East Asian Americans we have often distanced ourselves from building community and caring for the needs of our Southeast Asian family. I simply couldn’t address the diversity of the Asian American experience in this post.




Crisis Driven Racial Reconciliation

For some Christians, crisis situations like Ferguson stir in us a sense that we should take some sort of action. Should we talk about this at church on Sunday? At least say a prayer? We don’t want to take sides or get too political, but maybe acknowledge what’s happening? But once the crisis is over, what ongoing action is taken? And more importantly, how is the value being walked out, lived in, taught on, trained, and integrated into the community? How is it being addressed systemically and organizationally when there isn’t a crisis?

Typically is is not being addressed at all.


We love to hold a value for multi-ethnicity, but we don’t actually want to do much more than that. We look around and feel good because we can count a few ethnic minorities in the room. We have a few “social justice” types and “race minded” types and feel good. Essentially we do just enough to alleviate guilt so that we can stroke our egos and say “Yes! We are not like those ignorant Christians over there. We hold the value.”

Holding a value for multi-ethnicity is the equivalent of being willing to do something “in your heart”. Whenever I teach the section of Scripture where Jesus says “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Almost everyone comes back with, “He doesn’t mean actually do it. You just have to be willing to in your heart. You just have to be willing to, if he asks you.”

This argument is weak sauce.

Imagine if I saw my husband hooking up with some other woman in a bar. Of course I’m pissed and so I confront him. “What do you think you’re doing? Are you cheating on me?” And he answers, “Erna, don’t get so excited. I am cheating on you, but in my heart I would be willing to be faithful, if you asked. So it’s cool. I totally hold a value for fidelity, in my heart.”

Obviously this response would not work. I don’t care what values he holds or can articulate. I am interested in him living out these values in practical actions that I can see EVERYDAY. I don’t give a crap about what is “in his heart” if he doesn’t keep it “in his pants.”

So lets loop it back to all of us multi-ethnicity value holding people. What are we doing to actually live the value? Are we addressing systemic issues? I work for a para-church organization and everyone who works here has to raise their own financial support. There is a great post that elaborates on the ethnic bias of this model.

Working with Black Campus Ministries I can attest to this reality both anecdotally and through the sum of 15 years of watching the majority of potential African American staff fail to make it into the ministry. It is not for lack of gifting, passion, character, or sense of call. It’s the pool of donors that they have to draw from. It’s the financial resources of their networks and home church. When I came on staff I could lean into my parents to cover me in emergencies while I lived on my $800 a month salary. But what if I hadn’t had that? Not all our African American students come from lower income families- but some do. Like me, many are first generation college graduates. Our model exhausts them. This year I supervised a young White woman who got fully funded for ministry in 6 months of fundraising. I know veteran Black staff that haven’t been fully funded after 8 years in this ministry.

Throwing more money at it can help, but it isn’t enough. There is an entire system that needs to be addressed. But there is no crisis to draw attention to these issues, just the slow ongoing attrition of potentially amazing spiritual leaders that couldn’t raise their budget. There is no crisis that addresses who is not in the room. There is no front page headline that forces us to see the ethnic minorities who tried to be a part of our communities, but grew exhausted from being isolated, or by being everybody’s “first Black friend,” or disheartened that they were the only ones ringing the bell for change. There is no news camera for rooms of Christian leaders that stay painfully mono-ethnic. There is no march for Christians that are painfully uninterested in the systemic dehumanizing of those who bear the image of Christ in the form of young Black men. There is just heart and soul numbing comfort in being able to say- we hold the value.


The only crisis that does happen in our circles is that sometimes someone gets angry. Sometimes an ethnic minority person gets fed up with the pace of change, gets tired of being token. They get tired of being the reason everybody feels good about themselves. And one of two things happens. All the nice Christians panic- “Ahhhh someone is angry at me. Let me sooth them as quickly as possible. Not because I really hear what they are saying. It’s just that my ego is terribly uncomfortable with this anger. So lets make it stop.” Or they get dismissed. “ You’re just an angry ethnic person. You are irrational, reactive, not mature in Christ and lacking in self control. I don’t have to listen to you.”

This response makes me crazy.

Here’s another scenario from my marriage. I can speak with a pretty harsh tone when I’m angry. And this really bothers my husband, understandably. When I’m hurt or bothered I don’t speak vulnerable, my voice gets very focused and intense. So after several fights that didn’t go that well, I agreed that I would try to use a more gentle tone of voice in certain situations.

So I tried to implement the new model. I used a gentle voice asking him to change something that was frustrating me. Over the course of a couple days I asked nicely three times. And then I got pissed. And so I asked in my anger voice. And then he got mad… hadn’t I agreed not to use that tone of voice? Yes. But he wasn’t keeping his end of the bargain- to respond when I used my nice voice. He can’t demand nice voice and then take no action. If he only responds to anger voice, then that’s the one I’m going to use.

Back to multi-ethnic community. When someone gets angry, it gets read back onto them. That person is at fault for being angry. But what if another tone of voice hasn’t worked or brought change? Then maybe anger is the appropriate response. My friend Terrance wrote a great post on the appropriate place of rage in Christian spirituality and reconciliation. We have narrowed the scope of Christianity to one that is about niceness, and hence anger always seems inappropriate. Sorry- that’s not my Jesus and that’s not my Christianity. Sometimes anger is the only response that makes any sense.



Real reconciliation responds to crisis but isn’t driven by it. Real racial reconciliation goes beyond just assuaging guilt- it is proactive, prophetic, and well-led change. It does not depend on the anger of Black people, or the pain of Latino people to drive it. There is a commitment that does not require that minorities stoke the flame by being the ongoing agitators or voice of descent. Many nice Christian leaders “value muti-ethnicity” but are mostly concerned that nobody is mad at them.

When I speak about this issue, most leaders dismiss me by saying that I don’t understand the complexity of ministry. I understand that people leading communities and churches are juggling a lot of values. I’m not saying multi-ethnicity should be the sole value. I’m saying that it should be an integrated value. When we plan outreach events, evangelism, church retreats, leadership trainings- do we bring a lens to multi-ethnicity?

The Kingdom of God is a complex place. Jesus manages to express multiple values at the same time. He didn’t compartmentalize the Kingdom the way that we do. Somehow Jesus managed to combine racial reconciliation, evangelism, gender reconciliation, inner healing, leadership development, and mission into a single relationship-  his interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

We have to take initiative even without crisis. We settle for having people in the room or bodies on the margins. Should someone actually voice anger and frustration we try to quiet and sooth as quickly as possible without any real self -examination, and without any real change.

It has been six weeks since the murder of Michael Brown. What are you doing to proactively lead your Christian community into engaging real change? What are you settling for now that the crisis is over? Will it take another murder, another round of protests, for you to look around in surprise wondering- “Oh, is that still happening?”

It matters as much, if not more, what we do now.




The Unacceptable Silence of Asian American Christians in Response to Ferguson

I had a much more mellow post written. I swear that I did. But as I reflect on what  I think is right to say,  I know I need to make the point more strongly. As I scroll through my Facebook feed the vast majority of my Black friends and colleagues are posting and writing about what is happening in Ferguson in response to the murder of Michael Brown. There is grief and anger. There is pain. There is the frustration of having to explain to people AGAIN why this is upsetting. There is the pain that non-Black Americans don’t seem to understand why this is so upsetting. If you haven’t been following, then you can read up through these posts.

This is Why We’re Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown

 The Front Lines of Ferguson

If They Gunned Me Down

A small portion of my justice minded Asian American friends are posting on it and maybe one or two White folks. But for the most part my feed is alternating between repostings of articles on Ferguson and videos of cats and pictures of food. Others have already addressed the White community, and many Black writers have articulated the issues surrounding Ferguson better than I can.

When Terror Wears A Badge

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder 

The Police Are the Issue In Ferguson, Not Michael Brown’s Character

But I felt it was important to talk to one of the communities that I am most connected to:  Asian American Christians.

Why are we so painfully silent as debate and tragedy and grief are raging around us? Will any of our churches take time to pray for grieving families on Sunday- not only Micheel Brown’s family, but the family of John Crawford, a man that was shot in Walmart for holding a toy gun. Or Eric Garner, the father of 6 that was killed through the use of an illegal choke hold by police in New York.

My mind turned back to last summer where I led a group of Christian college students into responding to the Trayvon Martin verdict. I took a group of mainly Asian American and White students through a journey where they could have compassion and grieve over what had happened. We taught them to care about what the Black community was saying, instead of ignoring it by saying “that’s a Black people problem.”

That type of response, “It’s a Black problem” deeply troubles me as a Christian and when spoken among Christians.  I encountered it again this summer. I led 50 students who were living in the inner city for 6 weeks for an urban project. The crisis of children crossing the border was making headlines and we began a conversation: what is a Christian response to this situation?  We also looked at the issue of mass incarceration and systemic injustice against Black men. But suddenly, a group of students that had started the summer by saying that race was not an issue for them, couldn’t stop using race as an excuse. I’m not Latino, so that’s not my issue. I’m not Black, so I can’t relate.

This excuse bothers me. I’m not a Black man and I have never been harassed by the police, but I can use my mind and imagination to figure out that if I was stopped and harassed by cops repeatedly with no just cause- for example, under New York’s now defunct stop and frisk policy- I might feel angry, scared, powerless, and like the system was against me. I could read thoughtful articles that help me understand.  (This article by  Questlove broke my heart ) No, I haven’t experienced it, but as a human I can understand emotions that are common to all people. For some reason, Christians, who have never experienced human trafficking or the sex trade can muster a lot of  compassion for these issue, but then stay oddly silent and distant on the issue of police violence against Black men.

We don’t see the image of God in these young men. We don’t see their beauty, intelligence, and human dignity. So many of these men are actually just boys. But we don’t see. I remember when Brittany Spears and Destiny’s Child came out. Everyone saw Britany spears as a teenage girl, but everyone viewed Beyonce as a grown woman- even though they were the exact same age. We look at white and Asian youth and see youth that needs to be protected. We look at Black youth and see adults, or worse: just “other,” not people we can relate to.

Jesus heals blind people repeatedly in the gospels. And these healings function, in part, as parables for the spiritual blindness of the people around him. Asian American bothers and sisters: we are blind. We aren’t seeing the pain of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus repeatedly healed lepers, who were numb to pain. They too are a parable. Asian American brother and sisters: we are numb to systems  of injustice around us.

It troubles me that the church is so central to the Asian American community- especially the Korean American community – and the church is so central to the Black community, but the two have so little unity and compassion for each other. We claim to believe in the same God, and the same Savior who adopted us all and made us family. If we are family, then when one person mourns and grieves, we all grieve. It’s a dysfunctional family that ignores the grief of another family member, or even worse says “Your grief is not real.”

So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.


First- it’s not a Black problem- It’s a mothers and fathers losing their babies problem.

I don’t have kids. But I think about it through my relationship with my Godson.


He is 16. When he got teased in junior high I would lay in bed and have to walk myself through the legal ramifications of hurting the small children that were making him so sad at school. Because his pain was upsetting to me and it hurt me, because I love him. In two years he will be the same age as Michael Brown and getting ready to go to college.  In two years he will not be a dangerous threat that needs to be gunned down. He will be a young man, who sometime acts like a boy and sometimes amazes me with his courage as a man.  He will be stepping into adulthood in a wonderful and precious way. If he were to be killed, unarmed, one night by a police officer. You can believe I would absolutely lose my mind with grief, with anger, and with a cry for justice. A few days ago I was trying to explain to his 10 year old sister what was happening in Ferguson. I said, “If Auntie Erna had a son and a policeman hurt him for no reason, what do you think Auntie Erna would do? She said “ You would rip his face off.”  So a ten year old gets it- why don’t we get it? Someone hurts a child you love- you get angry, you take action, you grieve. And yet many in the Asian American Christian community watch these protests and hold them at arms length, as if they can’t understand the response they are seeing.

Why are we so numb and oblivious to the grief of our brothers and sisters? If we, Asian American Christians, really believe that we are one family in Christ, then we must respond accordingly. We must respond with compassion and grief at the loss of life.

To this day Koreans and Korean Americans are still upset that Japan has not acknowledged the injustice suffered by many Korean women who were trafficked as sex slaves (often refereed to as comfort women) during World War II. We are upset that Japan hasn’t acknowledged the injustice done to our grandmothers decades ago. And I understand that. It is unjust and dehumanizing. So why can’t we muster compassion and sympathy for parents that are watching their sons being dehumanized and murdered today?

Think of Jesus and his compassion on the widow at Nain. He saw her grief. He saw the implications it would have on her life to lose her son.  And he responded with compassion and action. He didn’t say, “I’ve never been a woman,” “I’ve never been a widow,” “I’ve never lost a son, so I don’t relate” He could see grief and pain, and he responded with compassion.

It’s not a Black problem. Parent losing their beloved children is a human problem.

Second- I am grateful to Western Christianity for a lot of reasons. Missionaries came to my mother’s village in South Korea when she was a child and introduced my aunt and my mother to Jesus. I grew up in church in part because of their influence. And I’m grateful for that. However, Asian American Christianity has adopted some jacked-up aspects of White American Christianity.

  •   We view everything through an individualistic lens.  In contrast, the majority of Scripture is addressed to communities, people groups, and countries. But we read it completely individualistically. This makes us blind to issues of sin beyond individual sin. We don’t see sin in systems, and communities, and countries.
  •  Our view of justice is to give a man a fish. As Asian Americans we have a value for charity – we tutor, we hand out food, we give clothes. But I believe we had adopted a broken Western view of justice and service. There are three lenses: (1) give a man a fish or (2) teach a man to fish. But if the pond has a giant wall around it? Then (3) tear down the wall. We have locked into “give a man a fish,” which makes us feel good about ourselves, but doesn’t address problems at their root. And it doesn’t address our own version of White savior Christianity.
  • We pretend to be colorblind while using the church to reinforce our ethnocentricism. The Asian American church played an important role serving second and third generation Asian Americans. But it has become a context where Asian American Christians never encounter or interact with believers of other ethnicities. And it has made us ignorant. It has made people of other races caricatures and instead drawing from each others cultures- we’ve grown isolated and ignorant to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s time to change- or, in Christian vernacular,  to repent.


I understand that as Asian Americans we are still figuring out our place in these dialogues. Historically these issues are rooted in Black and White dynamics and I respect and understand that. But compassion is never wrong. Getting educated is never wrong. Fighting injustice is never wrong. Mourning with those who mourn is never wrong. Repenting of ambivalence is never wrong. Let’s start there and learn as we go.

Let’s engage. Lets have compassion. Let’s address this in our churches and small groups. Lets show up to protests and vigils and prayer meetings. Lets learn, sit at the feet of Black leaders, and Black Christian leaders, and the Black community.

Let us mourn with those who mourn. Asian American Christians,  let us learn to cry out for justice for all.







As I Leave LA

I feel pensive, and nervous, and sad and grateful as I sit here on my last night in Los Angeles. I came here the fall of 1993- 21 years ago. My dad flew down with me to drop me off at Scripps College- a tiny women’s college of 600 students. I arrived in LA in the throws of biracial identity angst, disillusioned with the Korean immigrant church, not sure what to do with my Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, and insecure about my ability to succeed in school.

My experience of falling in love with Jesus through the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship absolutely changed my life. Discovering Jesus in Mark study, being loved on by upperclassmen and mentors, having passionate and committed Christians model discipleship brought so much joy to my life! I learned about racial reconciliation, social justice, giving Jesus Lordship over my dating life, my money, and my family. I came alive and discovered a Christianity that I could actually be passionate about.

After college, in the midst of persecution from my mom, I experienced financial provision, inner healing, and deliverance. I was broken of my selfish only child ways by my Oxy staff team- thanks and sorry! I was given a sister, brother, mentor, home, and children through the Schaupps- a family that I have lived with for 11 of my years in Los Angeles. InterVarsity gave me a chance to grow as a young woman leader. I was taken seriously and learned to actually put my value for multiethnicity into action on campus.

I got to reconnect with quite a few Oxy alumni at my going away party on Saturday.IMG_8371 It brought back so many fond memories of staying up late working on talks, food fights with milk and salsa, writing dramas for evangelism outreach events, and coming home to students in my living room. For the seven years I lived in a house across the street from Occidental I never owned a key to the house. We got to live a life of total hospitality. I would come home to students I had never met sleeping on my sofa because there was a party in their dorm and someone had told them they could come to my house. My staff partners and I would throw an event at 7pm, clean up, and then throw a late night study break at 10 pm. Then we would head onto campus for late night prayer. Our lives were crazy, exhausting, passionate, and inspired.

Leaving Oxy in 2006 and getting married in 2007 marked a new phase. Marriage was a gift of laughter and a partnership where we helped each other’s dreams come true. I went to music school and started a band. I fell in love with a new group of students at Harvey Mudd and Scripps. My gifts got more focused and I found myself leading the Los Angeles Urban Project and serving more explicitly with Black Campus Ministries.

I love the passionate and unselfaware girl that left Seattle for Los Angeles. I had no idea the gift this city would be to me. I had no idea that Jesus would use people here to love me and lead me and help me grow. I had no idea that I would fall in love with the city- I love South LA, Eagle Rock, my Korean American home church, and the suburban white church where my husband worked.

Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the gift of You. Thank for the gift of this city. Thank you for the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Thank you for community, discipleship, mission, joy, life, laughter, and friends.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning. And I am sad to go.


Last sunset in Los Angeles. This is the view from my front porch. 



When Loving People becomes JV

Making Money from Art and Making Money from Jesus

There are a lot of potential pitfalls for those of us in professional Christianity. I parallel it to being an artist. When I first started writing songs and doing music I was just thrilled to be creating. The creativity and artistic expression were the end goal. But then, when I started to try and make money from my art, to be a “professional” singer, it messed with the creative process.

Is this song what people want to hear?

These lyrics aren’t pop enough.

This sounds too much like  so and so and not enough like so and so.

Whatever the train of thought- the process was, at the very least affected and at the very worst tainted, by the desire to make money from the art.

Christian leadership often starts as a really beautiful overflow of something exciting and authentic happening in our lives with Jesus. It’s an adventure and there are so many new skills to learn and a passion to be a part of what Jesus is doing in people. Over time there is a natural transition to moving up the chain and becoming a supervisor. As someone in college ministry, our front lines ministry is college students. Gathering new freshmen and students that are curious about Jesus is typically the group we are working hardest to welcome and gather.  The community moves in concentric circles with core students, then student leaders, then interns and then full time staff. A team leader at an established campus can spend most of their time supervising staff and interns and maybe interacting with core student leaders. After 5 or so years in ministry we have often shifted to supervising staff and to roles that are more training and program orientated.

Now I believe in good training. Watching people throw all their energy and heart at something but with no strategy or training makes me crazy. And I do think that more experienced leaders should develop younger leaders. But…. there are some odd dynamics that sneak in.

When ministry is your job, over time your relationship with people becomes supervision. Supervision is really different than discipling and it doesn’t require love. In fact, love can come off as unprofessional and unnecessary. I deeply believe that Jesus invested in his disciples strategically- he focused on 12 people and then 3 and from among them 1. But he didn’t supervise his disciples, He invested in them deeply and loved them intimately in the mess of their sin and brokeness. He was in community with them. He was there when they had petty conflicts with each other and when their comparison issues came up. He loved them profoundly and sacrificially when they were being effective leaders and when they weren’t.

I’m Too Advanced to Love Messy People

As I move along in my leadership there can come an insidious little shift where I start to act like loving people deeply, loving messy people, loving sacrificially over the long haul, is not strategic. It’s sort of JV. It’s for younger leaders. The people we are called to serve become tools for our strategy. But the problem with strategy is that when people are the means- we have to wonder what has become the end.

Here’s the truth. We want to move away from loving people sacrificially and suffering with them in love because it’s hard, annoying, and will often break our hearts.  That’s what you find out. I have poured my heart and life into students who have at times been ungrateful, hateful, angry, and very publicly critical of me. I have loved and invested in people who have turned away from me in my own times of grief and suffering and been in cross cultural relationships where I have felt deeply misunderstood and unseen. I have invested in people who have left the group I was hoping they would lead. And I have made more mistakes than I can count as I’ve tried to care fro students under my care.

The other day my godson asked “How do you keep it from going to your head?” (In regards to being a role model and mentor.) I wanted to laugh. It went to my head for about two years- and then the limits of my heart, the power of my ego, and my own agenda were laid bare. My deep dislike for how messy people are and the deep investment people require surfaced. I found out that we can have a strategy, but when we work with people- the end game is helping people experience the powerful and loving reality of Jesus His truth and His grace. And that can and should sideline strategy.

Over time I wanted to back away from the front lines. Leave it to the young guns to love the young folks- I’ll just work with trained leaders who are ready to be supervised. I’ll coach. I’ll train. Very little heartbreak in any of those situations.

 The Suffering Love of Jesus

But I keep going back to the suffering love of Jesus.

I was recently at a church that has an incredible mosaic of Jesus. His arms are outstretched and in the center of His chest is a gold heart- with what looked like flames coming out of it. After a couple opportunities to meditate on the image- I realized that the heart was surrounded by a wreath of thorns. This image is commonly referred to as the Sacred Heart – hence the name of the cathedral – Le Sacre Couer.

I was struck by the truth of that juxtaposition- at the center is Jesus’ heart burning with love- but surrounded by the suffering thorns. This is what is means to follow Jesus and it is at the center of who He is. And I think it is dangerous for Christian leaders if  we begin to drift away from this center.

There is a place for supervision, training, and strategy. But I believe more and more deeply that at the center must be a commitment to love. Sacrificial Love. Deep Love. Whole Hearted Love.  And if our ministry jobs have shifted to training and supervision, or writing and strategy, then we must find relationships where we are loving deeply and sacrificially. I know that I need it. My ego and my character need it. I don’t have some easy answer to the intersection of professional Christianity and sacrificial love- but this has been my recent meditation and I’m sharing it with you for your consideration.







Phases of Inner Life Awesomeness and Lameness

I keep having similar conversations with my friends and students- so I wanted to write down some themes I’ve seen emerge in terms of inner life development. These phases of inner life growth are not scientific and I don’t think that everyone goes through them. But I have gone through all of them and have seen many of my students and peers walk through them, so I thought I would share.

Hey- What’s a Quiet Time?

At some point a Chrsitian finds out they should try to have an inner life and a regular personal prayer time. And for some reason it gets called a quiet time. Or Q.T. as really Christian people call it, because Christians love weird lingo that others don’t understand.

Usually it entails a little handbook that gives you a reading for everyday of the year ( for example Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest) or the discovery of journaling and doing something like ACTS ( from Bill Hybels Too Busy Not to Pray). I made a few attempts at this in high school, but really began in ernest in college.

If you haven’t moved towards this, then let me suggest that you try.  We need to learn to show up to Jesus on a regular basis if we want a relationship with Him.  And as much as we love a shortcut and wish there was a buzzfeed lifehack list for inner life growth- we just have to learn to show up.


Listening Prayer or Holy Crap- He talks back.

This was game changer. Realizing that prayer is not the most boring one way conversation in the universe was incredibly inspiring. Being given tools to hear the voice of Jesus brought a kind of dynamic excitement to prayer that I had never encountered before. Until I learned about listening prayer, intercession seemed about as interesting as talking to my shoe. I had guilt that I “should pray more.” But I couldn’t conjure words to pray- beyond “Hey Jesus, you should do something about this…if it’s your will.” I got bored. But now I could listen to Jesus for direction and there was a back and forth. It’s already hard to have a conversation with an invisible entity- so it really helps it the conversion is dynamic and interactive.  I learned to see pictures, receive Scripture, and have a sense of guidance as I prayed.   GAME CHANGER!


Lordship and Sin

For most of college, a lot of what I heard as I journaled, had my daily quiet time, and practiced listening prayer was connected to getting sin out of my life and choosing into deeper Lordship. I heard invitations to fast from dating, to confess my lying, and to repent from comparison and critical spirit towards my best friend.

I became more sensitive to the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin- pressing me not to gossip about people, not to twist the truth, and cut off unhealthy romantic relationships. I grew more sensitive to the Holy Spirit challenging me to obey the Word- to share my car and open up decision of how I would spend my summer break.  Though challenging – it was awesome to have this type of connection to Jesus. It was intimate and dynamic.


Disappointment always catches me off guard.  Often I don’t even know I have expectations until they don’t happen. And then I find out what an entitled person I am.

In college I had made a commitment not to date for a couple years. I assumed that at the end of that time I would date a close friend with whom I had had an on and off again interest. So when he started dating someone else just as my dating fast was coming to an end I went into crazy batshit mode. I was so disappointed and full of shock. I had assumed that my obedience not to date would lead to the reward of dating this great Christian guy. It didn’t mean that.

As I’m writing this I realize that disappointment deserves its own post. So I’m gonna keep on keeping on.  Suffice it to say- disappointment will take your inner life to spiritual school at a whole new level. I’ll dedicate an entire post to this topic.

Grow Up and Take Responsibility for Your Life

At some point- usually mid to late twenties-  all my friends and I went through a – “He’s not talking to me anymore” phase. This isn’t the Dark Night of the Soul kind of silence. I’ve come to interpret this season as the “grow the hell up phase.” At this point I had cleared most of the super obvious sin out of my life, and I had taken significant strides forward in Lordship and obedience. I was trying to make life decisions and seeking Jesus in prayer and hearing nothing. Over time I realized that Jesus had formed his character in me. And I didn’t need a specific word for each decision. My friend Jon Ball writes a great article about decision making where he uses a playground analogy. Jesus doesn’t care if you are on the slide, or on the swing, or in the sand box as long as you stay in the boundaries of the playground. Character that has been formed by Jesus should keep us within the right boundaries most of the time, from there we get to make choices about what we want to do.

I realized that I, and many of my friends, were afraid to make decisions because we didn’t want to take responsibility for the consequences in our own lives. Much easier to ask Jesus what to do and have Him tell us. Then we could sidestep the scary reality that we were going to have to make real adult decisions an take responsibility for those decisions.

In the way that you wouldn’t want to treat  a 7 year old child the same as a 2 year old, in our younger days of discipleship we needed lots of guidance and specifics. But we should have internalized those lessons into our character and Jesus lets us grow up.


Phase 2- Turns out There’s more

Now this is one that I wish someone had told me about ahead of time. Somewhere in my late 20’s I got empty. None of the old tricks were working. I was in full time ministry, a team leader, supervising full time staff and interns, teaching, preaching regularly, and leading multiple leaders teams. I kept thinking that I needed to go back to my first love. I had been so in love with Jesus those first few years in college. I kept thinking that that was what was missing. But I couldn’t get back there. I felt stuck and burnt out.

At one point I took a leave of absence and went to Tanzania for 3 months to work with AIDS orphans. The complete change of pace, change of context, and isolation were incredibly refreshing. But I still needed a deeper paradigm shift.

A couple years later when I finally was able to go on Sabbatical- I realized I didn’t need to go back. I needed to go forward, somewhere new. The spirituality that had gotten me this far wasn’t going to get me further. As a college minister I had already recognized the tendency to stagnate as I kept walking students through the same phase of discipleship. They were in their Lordship/ Sin/ and Listening phase. But I wasn’t. I was an expert at that phase of development and oblivious to my need for a completely new phase.

Also, I didn’t realize that I had lowered my expectations of God. I didn’t know that there was a whole new way of interacting with God. This season was full of painful searching and a sense of aimlessness.  I couldn’t read the Bible for the entire 6 months I was on sabbatical. And I couldn’t read one more evangelical book telling me to do something. I had spent the last 10 years doing something. My do something muscle was out of control. My ministry muscles were incrediably  developed. But I had kept using the same inner life muscles I had gotten as a 17 years old. They weren’t big enough. And I needed to bring some completely new muscles into play. On sabbatical I discovered a whole new spirituality.

Again, the main lesson of this season was that the spirituality that gotten me this far was not going to get me through the next phase.  I needed to make time and space to find something new. Many people find spiritual disciplines to be helpful in this season. Others find greater clarity through tools like the enneagram or vocational discernment, and many turn to contemplative disciplines.

For me- as someone who had basically started full-time ministry at 21 years old, I learned about a new way of interacting with God that was not based on the mission. It was based on being creative, being an artist, being the way the He had made me. Not every interaction with Jesus was about receiving ministry marching orders. Suddenly there was space for beauty and art. Not as a means to a missional end, but just to enjoy.  I didn’t think that I would repeatedly, over the course of my life, experience profound paradigm shifts in my inner life. I didn’t expect I would discover whole new ways of knowing God and being known by Him.  I didn’t have that expectation. Its sound obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t in the moment. Now I”m grateful. I feel more whole and integrated as a follower of Jesus.

I spent months learning to enjoy God, without a task to execute. I learned to be present to nature, to dreams, to the quiet quiet voice inside of me that wasn’t trying to prove anything through ministry. I experienced God as a woman and as feminine. I experienced invitations to be creative and not just productive. It was new, and different, and so life giving. And now I sense that I may need some new muscles again. But I’m still figuring that out. At least now I know to expect these shifts, even if I don’t know what they will be.


Well those are some thoughts.  I would be very interested to hear your own reflections and experiences on this topic.