Softening My Skin in a Mud Bath

My apologies to those who landed here because they were searching for information on skin care.

Zondervan’s decision to remove Deadly Viper Character Assassin and Mike & Jud’s decision to shut down their website is heating up the blogosphere once again. I’m concerned about the way some of these posts and tweets could be read – tone is a difficult thing to express well in the anonymous electronic world. And as many of us have learned during the past three weeks, the blogosphere can run pretty fast and furious. Right now there is a lot of mud being slung in all directions.

But one theme that has appeared in a variety of places has been the call to those who were offended (pick me, pick me) to grow, get, have “thicker skin”. The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin, and I pray against that. Lately it’s been a daily prayer.

Literally speaking, skin is our largest organ providing protection, support and circulation (I helped Corban study for his science test). Healthy skin is able to do those things well. Unhealthy or damaged skin put the rest of the body in danger as sensory and circulatory abilities are hampered.

When I think of thick skin I actually think of dead skin that hasn’t been shed properly. The callous on my toe from those beautiful but painful new shoes. The gnarly cuticles that snag my most delicate sweaters. The tough skin on my elbows from resting on them too much when I have writer’s block. I scrub off the callous. I cut my cuticles (I know, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to push them back and put lotion on them to soften them.) I exfoliate my elbows. And then a moisturize like crazy to soften the skin so that it’s pliable.

I don’t want thick skin because honestly when I think of thick skin I think of elephants and their thick skin. Elephants are beautiful animals, but I don’t want to look like an elephant.

I don’t want thick skin because I do not believe God wants us to create a bigger barrier to feeling and engaging deeply with God and with one another. Our sinful natures make it tough enough. Adding more to the junk of our souls or covering it up with thicker skin isn’t going to help.

I pray for a tender heart and soft skin so that I can hear what God has to say to me, our community, our world in that pain. When someone offends me, brushing it off doesn’t allow for a sacred moment between me, the offender and God. Thick skin means I just “get over it” and move along. But what if God doesn’t want us to move on so quickly all the time? What if our attempts at getting over it just mean “it” never goes away?

There have been some nasty comments in reaction to the Deadly Viper situation – people assigning motive and intent, name-calling, etc. In some places it’s getting mean. If we all get a thicker skin I’m afraid we’ll never understand each other. And besides,ย Jesus didn’t tell people to get thicker skin. He didn’t tell the bleeding woman to stop being a victim and get over the social outcast thing. ย 

Issues of race, ethnicity and gender all involve tough conversations about power and privilege. I don’t like being called names. I don’t like being lumped together and being referred to as the “minority tail wagging the majority dog” (yup, that’s an actual comment on a blog). I don’t like being told to stop playing victim because I made some noise and the authors were the sacrifice (yup, that’s real too). But I suspect people who thought nothing of the initial outcry paid much attention because maybe they never had to. Maybe the anger and disbelief over the book being pulled and the authors shutting down the website has more to do with never having anyone tell them to get over themselves? See, it can get ugly and polarizing real fast. Thick skin will just keep us from going deeper.ย 

I’m not suggesting an over-the-top emotional response to everything in this world, but when the mud-slinging ramps up like it has our natural instinct is to duck…or throw more. But the mud has to land somewhere right? Maybe instead of ducking I need to sit in the mud a bit, get a little dirty and then let the mud soften my skin.


  1. Spiny Norman November 24, 2009

    Great comments, Kathy. I appreciate your musings on the spiritual and relational danger of having thick skin. It reminds me of some of Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancey’s writing on pain. They mention that pain in the body is an indicator that something is wrong and should be attended to. They speak against the pain-relief-industry in our country because it only helps people to not feel the pain. It numbs that pain. The connection I am making is that calluses are developed as a barrier to friction. Perhaps the idea is to deal with the friction as a way toward softer skin instead of building up calluses to numb us to the friction.

    • Kathy Khang November 24, 2009

      Spiny Norman,
      Nice. I like the idea of dealing with the friction.

      And the idea of feeling the pain instead of numbing is perfect. I remember talking with my labor-and-delivery nurse after Elias’ birth (who was also my LDR nurse and lactation consultant with Bethany). I was telling her that even though Elias was baby #3 and I was older, the recovery was so much easier. She commented on the fact that with Elias I was able to deliver with no pain meds – not even an i.v. drip for fluids, and that I was able to respond to my body’s cues.

      Now that’s not to say that every woman needs to give birth without meds or an i.v. drip. In general I’m a big fan of my muscle relaxant and a few pain meds post-partum with both Bethany and Corban were much welcomed and needed. I think you get my point ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. dengjosh November 24, 2009

    yuck, these comments on CT are really provoking…I almost wonder, are these Christians arguing with each other?

    I feel like the CT news update didn’t do enough justice to wrap around the entire situation; reading it felt like a pick-and-choose of big facts and statements. Maybe the author didn’t have enough time to soak it all in and write it out clearly.

    • Kathy Khang November 24, 2009

      What do you think of Catalyst’s post?

      • Josh Deng November 24, 2009

        a couple thoughts, very off-hand:
        1. This post seems to me more well-rounded than the CT post. I appreciate him putting up links to very different facets of the whole issue (Jenni’s post is a new one for me, very interesting).
        2. I also appreciate him giving the call to address “cultural insensitivity in the Body of Christ”. If anything it makes one more aware when a potential culturally sensitive situation arises.
        3. Even though the authors are painted somewhat as the victims (for which, I’d love to hear from them some more insight on their heart and their humility), I also appreciate what I think is a legit statement of his: “But I recognize the offense & concerns as valid.” This rubs much better than CT’s article: “Rah called for an apology on November 3 on his blog because of what he perceived as insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.” The word “perceived” doesn’t quite do it for me.

        Jenni had a good point when she quoted the Bible on how we should approach a brother who sins against us; I think less noise in the blogosphere could have made for a better, more humble approach to Mike and Jud. Alas, I also understand the reasons why this would explode so quickly, as there is some history with Christian publishing and racial offense.

        That’s all for now! Thanks for listening, and please keep us posted if you hear about any followup with Mike/Jud/Zondervan. I think there is still more of the story to go.

        • Kathy Khang November 25, 2009

          Thanks for dropping by. I’ve seen your name pop up elsewhere in connection to DV, and I appreciate you commenting.

          I do not believe this was a private offense between two brothers. While I did not agree with Soong-Chan’s decision to post a private e-mail exchange on his blog, it does bring to light what happened when this was handled privately. Soong-Chan has apologized for that exchange. But there was the brother approaching a brother, and it really didn’t work out.

          This wasn’t a private/personal sin committed by one (or two) against another. This was a book/curriculum/website/movement. That’s public. And because of it’s public platform, a ton of good has been the fruit of it. That has been acknowledged over and over publicly. No one is disputing that (although to be perfectly honest, the comments made by some DV supporters on other blogs has me wondering how the takeaway from lessons on radical integrity and grace become “you need to get over yourselves” and “stop playing the victim”). But I’m glad that my church won’t be able to pick up the DVCA curriculum in its original form.

      • Josh Deng November 24, 2009

        great post, by the way! Ever since I’ve been married I understood more and more the idea that God doesn’t want us to be thick-skinned. I like it!

  3. Jon Ido Warden November 24, 2009

    Thanks for your thin skin Kathy and sharing the effects of it on your heart to us. You have shown us your inner process with your emotional honesty through this whole journey. That transparency is a kind of leadership that is rare and invaluable. Thanks again in giving that gift to us who watch and listen.


  4. t-hype November 24, 2009

    I love how the (Catalyst) writer says some Asian people were offended, like, cuz you know, NO ONE else could possibly have been offended by the embarrassing display of buffoonery that was in that promo video.

    It’s kind of like how black america (13% of the population) voted Barack Obama into office.

    Thanks for sharing your heart.

    btw, the Deadly Viper boys are moving the show to something called, “People of the Second Chance” and that sounds like something worth getting behind. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. t-hype November 24, 2009

    For some reason, my [/end sarcasm] marker disappeared behind the Barack Obama comment, but I’m sure sure you caught that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Kathy Khang November 24, 2009

      Consider it “caught”, t-hype! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Amber November 25, 2009

    Love this post, Kathy! As a massage therapist, I can tell you that thick skin is a pain in the…well…hands, actually. ๐Ÿ™‚ It is really really difficult release tension in the body when thick skin is present. To analogize, I will use initial caps and repeat: It is really really difficult to release tension in the Body when thick skin is present. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Hannah November 28, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this, Kathy! I have always felt that I was too sensitive and not thick-skinned enough (which makes it painful to be a female minority often times, eh?), but right now I’m feeling very affirmed from the insights you shared in your post. I appreciate how you used the analogy of actual skin to theologize about this need to “engage deeply with God and with one another,” I felt it was beautifully and gracefully done. It was like cool, soothing, and moisturizing lotion for a patch of dry, flaky, itchy skin (hehe, sorry that is kinda gross now that I read it, but oh well ;D) Blessings!

  8. Melody Hanson November 29, 2009

    Beautifully expressed.

    I too pray for “a tender heart and soft skin so that I can hear what God has to say to me, our community, our world in that pain.” Too often we just plod along ignoring the world around us. Our cultures ‘get over it’ attitudes come from ignorance and an unwillingness to ‘walk in another’s moccasins’ or even imagine for a moment what it is like to not have all that power and privilege from birth.

    “When someone offends me, brushing it off doesnโ€™t allow for a sacred moment between me, the offender and God.”

    Those sacred moments show us that we are alive. That we are open to the spirit.

    Thank you for these reflections.

  9. eliseanne November 30, 2009

    Bless you, Kathy, for still wanting thin skin through all of this.

    I struggle with reading harsh blog comments/posts that don’t leave room for dialogue but give an air of arrogance, however unintentional it may be. I feel a need to write back, especially as a white woman to be in solidarity with people of color and responsibility to speak to my own people.

    But the lack of space for dialogue in most of those kinds of posts turns me off. I dont want it to become a shouting war, or for the person to have more opportunites to write and respond and get angrier or say meaner things. Sometimes I just want to ignore those posts so that I dont fuel a fire, or say something to stupid to make it worse, hoping that they will just go away.

    I think there is space for people who disagree or have concerns to speak, if there is space for listening and understanding.

    I just dont know how to foster that when someone turns that off. This post from you is so encouraging, thank you.

  10. […] From, “Softening My Skin In A Mud Bath”: The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is […]

  11. […] passed along a blog by kathy khang, an up-and-coming blogger in the asian american christian world (and a friend of my old roommate […]


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