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.

11822550_943656832360402_534587742321122885_n

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

04/22/15

Is He Just Rude or Oppressing Me?

Here’s the Facebook post that started all this.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 Lens #3- Cause he’s a man.

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

 Lens #4- Intersection- Thank you bell hooks

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

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

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

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

In the big picture this is not a terrible interaction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0962

 

 

 

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.

 

02/17/15

Lady Leader, Baby Maker

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

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

 

 Lady Leader 1

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

 

Lady Leader 2

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

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

What is your calling?

What’s your gifting?

How’s your soul?

Choose faith instead of fear

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

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

Are they compatible?

Which is my higher calling?

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

Will I make a choice I will later regret?

Will my kids be ok if I make this choice?

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

 

Lady Leader 3

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

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

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

 

What Caught My Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

02/9/15

Christian Lady, No Baby

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

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

So let me start with why I like it.

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

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

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

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

DISCOMFORT #1- AM I A BABY HATER?

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

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

DISCOMFORT #2- IS MINISTRY MY BABY?

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

 

DISCOMFORT #3 – DO I HATE WOMEN

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

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

 

DISCOMFORT #4- I DON’T VALUE PARENTING

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

 

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

Subset of “Am I judging you” number 2.

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

 

DISCOMFORT #6 DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT LOVE IS?

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

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

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

 

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

11/26/14

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.