So yesterday I wrote about the realization that I had become an “ahjumma”. Despite what you think, I’m cool with it. No really. It’s OK.
But comments on my FB page are proving that some of my girlfriends are not so ok with it. It’s all in good fun, but has got me thinking about womanhood and how hospitality and service carry both the brokenness and the redeemed parts of my culture and faith.
My childhood connections between the acts of service I often saw the ahjummas performing were more often than not fond memories – very little baggage. My mother and her friends were in the kitchen at church or at home. Nothing more, nothing less. But as I aged how I perceived their place and those acts of service changed and became less positive (or even neutral) and more negative. Service became less about hospitality, mutual submission and loving my neighbor but more of being put in one’s place and being subservient or less than a real leader. As a young woman, my place was to be in the kitchen, in the nursery, in children’s Sunday School, with my mother, in the shadows. I associated those places and roles rather negatively, mainly because those were the only roles open to me.
And being the kind of young woman I was, I bristled at the idea that somehow my breasts and uterus limited my abilities and worth. My understanding of what service and submission and leadership and worth transformed and redeemed by Jesus was very limited, and in the end I did not want to become one of “those” submissive and weak women.
But the laughter I shared with my girlfriends over cake and rice cake was hardly borne out of weakness. We chose our place – to stand willingly and lovingly beside and behind another friend to do for her what needed to be done for her guests. We weren’t the young girls who needed our mothers to tell us it was time to cut the rice cake. We were the women who simply knew. Our acts of service were both a blessing to her and to us, and that was borne out of knowing who we are before doing what we do. We may not want to be called “ahjumma” but I am beginning to think that how and why we serve marks some sort of rite of passage for us into womanhood with a unique expression of that womanhood as Asian American women. Just a thought I’m lingering within…
Perhaps that is part of the transformation I am still going through, managing the push and pull to love others through my acts of service precariously balanced against the tiredness and bitterness of serving others who do not appreciate all that I am doing for them. I am both Mary and Martha – mentally wanting to sit at Jesus’ feet while simultaneously creating a checklist of things to do. I am worried and distracted, independent but still bound to my parents and children, faith and culture.
I don’t know if gender roles are very different in the Taiwanese context or just in my upbringing… but for some reason hospitality and serving/preparing food and tea especially were always seen as places of honor… perhaps as the deacons who “waited on tables” in acts 6… and as a male I was always encouraged to serve food and tea and I saw a lot of prominent older male figures (professors, pastors etc) do the same for family and guests — though their fruit-peeling skills were usually subpar compared to the women. I still derive a lot of joy from hospitality.. .though I understand it’s def different for me as a male from a slightly diff context because for me it was never seen as an outward symbol of entrenched gender subordination.
Euojin definitely enjoyed the irony the first (one?) time I served her tea. I’m actually a pretty big tea junkie and have a lot of loose high mountain teas from Taiwan.
Awesome to hear about your serving, laughing, and taking joy (maybe honor?) in being able to serve your friend in that context!