All posts by Kathy Khang

Easter for Those of Us Who Left Church

We left. We left death and pain. We left behind our Sunday best. We left behind childish beliefs for adult-sized questions. We left. But now it’s Easter Sunday. What is Easter for those of us who left church?

The prayers and Bible verses we had memorized without context and question were the secret handshakes and slogans of belonging. The passing of the peace meant peace only there, in that moment, in that space because war continues to wage outside.

We were told to take the seat of the hero, the savior, the all-knowing, the judge and jury, and for a while we took the seat until we started asking questions about the limits of God’s love, about pronouns for God who was not human, about passing the peace inside and why we couldn’t cry for it outside.

Some of us left for good, but some of us, myself included, stayed near. We didn’t leave and hide like the male disciples did after Jesus was crucified; we stayed near like the women at the cross, bearing witness to the abuse, the cover-ups, the lies, the deception, the limited love. Some of us grieved out loud and shook our fists at the pews and doors that were supposed to be an invitation but turned out to be the boundaries. Some of us grieved quietly holding close what was left and wondering what was to come of our loss. We all grieved. Some of us are still grieving. But what do we do with that grief on Easter, we who left church?

It’s years into my grief, and I’m still reluctant to go back inside the buildings I left. But I still think about Jesus. This Easter I thought about Jesus. I thought about Jesus with his scars leaving the tomb, a place and symbol of death and rot.

Easter for those of us who left the church is a reminder that we have done the same. We left the death and rot. Our grief will not have a hold on us forever, and we will find life and hope again. All because we left.

Birthing a Book

Indian-fusion dinner to celebrate Book Launch Day!

My Dear Readers,

I gave birth to a book this week. Loving Disagreement: Fighting For Community Through the Fruit of the Spirit “hit the shelves” Tuesday. (And if you see the book in the wild, as in on an actual shelf in a physical store, please snap a photo and send it to me!!)

It was weird because my friend and podcast co-host Matt Mikalatos birthed the book with me, and we just met IRL in August when we recorded the audiobook baby.

It was weird because the last time I birthed a book it was 2018, and so many people said Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up was timely. Apparently things have only gotten worse or didn’t get significantly better because the same is being said about Loving Disagreement: Fighting For Community Through the Fruit of the Spirit.

It was weird because this week has been one of deep divisions, pain, suffering, disagreement, and war – Ukraine and Gaza. I want the celebrate the book, but it’s been a quiet path to hold joy and grief in tension and publicly. Matt and I don’t like that there is an immediate pressing need for our book, but that is not a reason to celebrate.

I’m sure I’ve shared this before, but the work of writing a book finishes long before the physical book arrives. The final edits were turned in months ago, followed by a few quiet weeks before the marketing and publicity push.

The social media landscape has been completely different with each book I’ve authored. More Than Serving Tea was published in 2006 during the time of blogs and when older folks had not yet pushed young people off of Facebook. Twitter had just launched at that point so when Raise Your Voice came out in 2018 publishers were looking at a potential author’s “platform” – the number of followers and maybe the size of the mailing list of your blog. It’s 2023 and Twitter is history but platform is still a thing, even if blogs have now given way to Substack, Medium, and other ways writers can connect with readers. That too has been weird. I am on social media more than the other four members of my family combined, despite the fact that three of those four are in their 20s. 

Launch day was really just another day with the privilege of teaching yoga and an inbox that will never hit zero. I took a walk because the sun was out. I’m pretty sure I did some laundry, and I didn’t post anything on my socials. I liked and maybe shared some posts, but for the most part I was organizing my feelings and thoughts around some words about me and my writing (and about my co-author and his writing, but mostly about me), the impact of those words, and discerning what God’s invitation is to me as I enter into a loving disagreement with all of the power dynamics and emotions and assumptions you can imagine.

That has been the weirdest part, My Dear Readers – to sit with my own words and those of my co-author and the Biblical text as we try to model what we just wrote about. The writing is never the hardest part.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.

 

 

 

Jury Dury and National Parks

I got my first county jury summons a few weeks ago, and my reaction was one of excitement and dread. Since becoming a naturalized citizen, pledging my allegiance and paying literal dues, I’ve tried to take the privilege of citizenship seriously and not take it for granted. I vote, work as an election judge, trained to register new voters, and try to stay informed on local, national, and global policies as best I can without sending me spiraling. The jury summons, believe it or not, is icing on the cake, another chance for me to see how part of the sausage, so to speak, is made. 

I’ve seen over the years many of My Dear Readers and others on the interwebs post about their dread and disdain for receiving similar summons. The possibility of losing time and income doesn’t motivate anyone, and it’s also not a privilege just anyone can take on. A jury case could last days or weeks, and I know very few people who could afford that kind of time off. I can’t afford that kind of time off. The system reminds us that it is a literal DUTY for all citizens to prepare to fulfill and while no one wants my opinion, my opinion is that system SHOULD make it financially viable for ANYONE to fulfill that obligation. YES, the system is broken, imperfect, and biased but also we can work to change the system while the system chugs on. Easy? No. Change is not easy. Systemic change is not easy, not linear, not this or that.

My request for a change of date of service due to prior commitments (non-refundable tickets to our annual family vacation) was approved quickly via the county website. I thought it was interesting that part of our vacation, as it has been for the past few years, included a visit to one of our country’s national parks. This year we had the privilege of hiking and visiting Yosemite National Park. Yes, we chased waterfalls and were rewarded with stunning views and cold mist. 

The first national park was Yellowstone, established by Congress in 1872, putting land in Montana and Wyoming under federal control for  use “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. The US currently has 63 areas with “national park” as part of their official name, but technically there are more than 400 national park sites that fall under the broader national park system. And let us not forget that this entire nation is established on stolen land. There are 27 Indigenous Tribes associated with Yellowstone. Depending on where you live, getting to a national park isn’t easy or affordable. Land set aside for public use (and preservation) in theory is wonderful because it’s for everyone, citizens or not – an OPPORTUNITY.  However, everyone can’t get to a national park. Again, the system is broken, imperfect, and biased. It also is a beautiful concept adopted globally as a way to protect and preserve land for public use.

I grew up roadtripping to several national parks, mostly in the back of a station wagon or sedan and before seatbelts were legally required. My dad drove us through Acadia (I think my sister and I did some of the driving to this trip), Badlands, Glacier, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone. We never camped. My parents didn’t immigrate here from a war-torn and then-developing country to sleep in tents. We stayed in motels, not unlike the one in Schitt’s Creek – in rooms in need of attention and “quaint and charming small towns” just as white and not nearly as entertaining.

Since then I have visited eight more, seven of them with my children. My parents and I are from South Korea, and the Korean peninsula is about 1.4 times smaller than Illinois; they often talked about wanting to see as much of America as they could so most of those parks were part of a road trip involving both of my grandmothers, a station wagon, and a drive to Vancouver, Canada, and back. I remember driving into small towns feeling very uncomfortable and obviously being watched. My sister tells the story of me turning to someone who was obviously staring at the Asians girls in aisle two and telling them, “Take a picture. It will last longer.” I can neither confirm nor deny this memory, but my feelings as a child visiting the national parks were of adolescent indifference, fear of all the white people staring at us and our food (I know now our food – rice, jangjorim, Spam or Dinty Moore beef stew heated up in a hot pot, kimchi, and ssamjang was superior to the cold cut or peanut butter sandwiches), and wonder. There was a lot of wonder. America as a nation is imperfect and exhausting. America as a land is diverse and beautiful. 

My parents and I are also all naturalized citizens, while my husband and children are all birthright citizens. Our relationships to the obligations and duties of citizenship are different. I didn’t grow up going to the polls with my parents to watch them vote, and I didn’t see Peter go to the polls to vote very often before I became a citizen. As far as I know, my parents have never been to any kind of protest or demonstration, while I have participated in actions in both Seoul and Chicago, and I drove out with my daughter and a friend to DC to march with others. 

So when the jury summons arrived, I approached it as I have approached other duties and privileges of citizenship. I was grateful for quick approval to a date change, which required a few things. I had to call the Friday before my report date to see if I needed to be there first thing Monday morning. It turned out I did not, but by then I had already gotten a sub for my yoga class so I was out the pay. And then I had to call before noon that Monday to see if I needed to report that afternoon. I don’t have an afternoon class but that also meant keeping that afternoon open, and it turned out I did not have to report. And then I had to call again at the end of the business day only to find out that I would not have to report at all the rest of the week. 

That is why people hate jury duty. A day “on call” where only certain people can wait for instructions, make phone calls maybe while back at work, and wait to make another call just in case they are called for the next morning. While not as extreme as the process of naturalization, jury duty is actually a heavy burden on most people. I lost of day of work having given away my class to another teacher. My family will be ok but there are individuals and families who cannot afford that. Yes, people can get exemptions but you can only ask for so many exemptions.

Citizenship is such a fascinating idea, especially as a follower of Jesus who has been told by white evangelicals that my citizenship is in heaven therefore I should stop it with the race stuff. I will not stop with the race stuff because my focus isn’t on the afterlife but on God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. So that’s why I’m still rambling and mulling over jury duty and national parks. One is a duty by design and the other an opportunity by design, both require a level of privilege for participation. As a Korean American, fulfilling duty and taking advantage of opportunities is baked into my cultural story. I am here because my parents saw opportunity. My existence as an adult child of Korean immigrants is one of duty, and out of both has come a life of privilege connected to community. Maybe that is why this tension feels normal and right. But when I add the layer of faith and religion, it feels normal but so wrong. Why is it that so many aspects of citizenship in the U.S. and the kind of religious life some espouse require so much effort to deny others privilege and opportunities? Why does U.S. citizenship come with so few duties but the duties and opportunities cost so much more for those with less privilege? 

But one thing I’ve learned over the years in learning and unlearning is that giving up privilege isn’t the answer. You can use it to open doors, invite others in, burn down the doors to build new views. You can, with enough privilege, share the power and multiply it like fish and loaves of bread. So after I listened to the recording officially thanking me for my time and releasing me from appearing in person, I printed out a list of national parks not unlike when I print or read up on local candidates. Voting is a privilege, and I’m not just going to give it up. I’ll keep trying to learn how to use that little power and privilege to burn the right things down. Visiting the national parks is a privilege, and I’m going to see as much of this country as I can because God’s beauty is everywhere. Even here.

 

Tree pose in a tree.

30 Things I Learned During 30 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

Peter and I are about to celebrate 30 years of marriage. We are headed off for a week in Paris and London without the kids and without my computer. This is serious.

Here’s my list of 30 things I’ve learned during 30 years of marriage. 

  1. Marriage isn’t good or bad or even the ideal because people aren’t good or bad and we are never the ideal. We are complicated and nuanced and so is marriage. 
  2. Sometimes you go to bed angry because sleep is important. Staying awake angry won’t solve things, especially if it’s the same thing that’s been festering over and over. Go to sleep, and find a therapist.
  3. If you’re so angry you can’t stand the sound of your spouse’s breath, you or your spouse should sleep in another room.
  4. Because of #3, invest in a comfortable couch or guest bed. Better yet, buy that king size bed so there is space for the days you’re not angry but just need space.
  5. Love isn’t a feeling. It’s a verb. It’s action. Action takes work. 
  6. I am not lovable when I’m hungry. My dad gave Peter this advice when we left for our honeymoon: Feed Kathy and she will be happier.
  7. Do your own inner work. Your life partner isn’t your therapist, even if that person happens to be a therapist. Mine is my dentist and can actually fix my teeth but isn’t responsible for brushing and flossing my teeth. 
  8. Which means you can’t fix your partner. You can’t love them to mental health. You can make a way for them.
  9. For all the US reality shows, this society is not built for healthy marriages. It is built for whitewashed fairytales. 
  10. It’s ok to want and create fairytale moments. Look, as you are reading this post, Peter and I are flying off to Paris. FAIRYTALE. But the moment is fleeting because the reality is that I have a sinus infection with lots of congestion. We are flying economy, and I am super proud that we bought roundtrip tickets under $500 each. Make sure the moment is grounded in reality.
  11. My friend Tricia asked me what I like about traveling with Peter, and that was a great question. The lesson? Friends who ask you about your marriage keep you honest and real. (I like traveling with Peter because he is up for just about anything and we enjoy trying things the other person is really excited about.)
  12. You don’t have to like the same things, but you should be respectful of each other’s interests. Peter used to run and train for races. At some point I asked him to reconsider the hours he put into training or pay to take care of some of things he was in charge of around the house. I spent a lot of money on scrapbooking supplies, and then when Peter saw the end products he didn’t question the investment. 😉 
  13. You can teach a dog new tricks. I am the dog. (I was actually born in the year of the dog.) Because of Peter I have learned to drink beer, watch a variety of genres of film, and tolerate some classic rock. 
  14. You don’t have to do everything together all of the time, but find things you do enjoy doing together – not things you have to do like the dishes or laundry but things like going to the library and browsing aspirational reading and viewing or occasional trips to a thrift shop. Yes, those are things we like to do together.
  15. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does provide access to healthcare, housing, food, etc. and those early years of marriage were full of stress as we were paying of student loans, credit card debt, and failing at saving. This is related to #9. 
  16. Growing up in church and an immigrant home did not set me up well for a healthy understanding of sexuality and the role of sex in a healthy marriage. Sex is more important than is preached about and less important than it is preached about. It’s not a dial you turn on at marriage.
  17. Menopause really messed up my sex drive. Perimenopause messed up my sex drive. Having children messed up my sex drive. 
  18. Good sex in a marriage is important, and “good” has to be agreed upon between partners. That said, the “in sickness and in health” part really comes into play with sex so it helps to shed purity culture notions of sex and get creative and playful and, if you have young children, quick. Good sex is mutual and sometimes you take turns. You can also take matters in your own hands, or each other’s. 
  19. My spouse doing the dishes is not foreplay. Folding laundry isn’t a turn on. Peter vacuuming the one carpet we haven’t isn’t sexy. If that’s your thing, awesome, but it’s not mine anymore.  
  20. All that talk about sex is really about communication. Over communicate. Conversations in my head do not count. 
  21. The big and little things matter, but you can only hold them against your spouse if you’ve communicated them and agreed to action. I can’t be angry at Peter for not doing “x” for my birthday if I have not told him that is what I would like. I learned this by being angry at Peter for not reading my mind. This is expanding on #19. 
  22. Learn to apologize AND repair. You can say you’re sorry but words don’t matter if the behaviors and actions never change. Sometimes the apology comes years later, but even then we have to decide if we will work together to repair the harm. 
  23. Learn to let go. I got tired of making the bed so I started making my side of the bed. Now we each have our own blankets, and it’s what it is. 
  24. Stand your ground. I thought I was being helpful when I would reorganize Peter’s closet or tidy up his office. It was not, and he told me so. I tried for a few years to convince both of us he was wrong. I was wrong. He just makes sure his closet door is always closed. 
  25. Small gestures count. Peter put the kimchi in a small dish and made Shin ramen for me the other night. 
  26. Big gestures count. A few years ago we made it to Mount Rushmore because Peter REALLY wanted to see it. Many of you can guess how I feel about that place but it was super fun to watch him take it all in. (If you’ve never been in person, it really is something. 
  27. MUTUAL respect in public and in private is important. 
  28. I still close the door to the bathroom even though I know he can hear everything. It’s just a me thing.
  29. I am glad I kept my “maiden” name, and I still love getting junk mail addressed to Peter Khang because the patriarchy is still hard at work. 
  30. Time is very weird. I can remember so much of our wedding day – the cake topper went awol and we didn’t know the guy who caught the garter, and I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. I’m so grateful we made it to 30 because if I’m honest I wasn’t always sure we would make it. But here we are, Peter. Here we are. I love you. 
Feeling cute. Might delete later.

Boys, What Do You Want To Eat?

That was the refrain last week as I vacationed with my sons. They are both in their 20s. Their voices dropped into manhood years ago. They packed shaving cream and razors instead of their blankies and stuffies. They needed the extra leg room the free upgrade into exit rows afforded us. And they needed to eat, and I needed, well, really wanted, to feed them well.

My Dear Readers, there is nothing quite like watching your loved ones enjoy food. Wait, am I the only one? Do you love watching your loved ones eat? I don’t know what it is. I have always loved watching my kids eat – the delight of new tastes they enjoy, the looks of “I don’t enjoy this”, and the look of satisfaction at the end. I love it all. The pickiest eater of the three will try just about anything so the possibilities are endless. (So parents of young ones tired of chicken nuggets, don’t worry. They get new tastebuds, and be prepared. Those new tastebuds like it when the parents pay for a good steak or hazy IPA.)

In my mind this was a trip about feeding their stomachs, and it was. We were in LA so the minute we were in the rental car it was off to eat. We ate cheesy kalbi jjim, marinated pork belly + beef, kkal gooksu, Japanese curry, handmade mochi, taiyaki aisu, okonomiyaki, and a good old-fashioned brunch with pancakes and hash browns.

But food is also about comfort and provision, about love and time, about honoring and learning preferences, about sitting and listening. 

It was time to get to know my sons and the men they are becoming.

They take up space and make space

When the kids are little, their stuff takes up space. I remember the days/weeks/eons of trying to corral their toys and books and stuff into cubbies and shelves to be safely accessible and slightly esthetically pleasing. 

But one child moved out more than five years ago. One lives and works remote from home; he took the dining room for his office. We coordinate schedules because we share a car and make each other coffee. The last one is in his third year of college so most days are spent he spends 3/4 of the year on campus. Gone is the clutter of toys, replaced by adult bodies moving about in the same space toddlers once occupied.

So spending 24/7 for a few days with just my boys meant being in each other’s way (one budget hotel room with two “queen” beds and one bathroom) and having a chance to just watch how they made space for each other and me, waiting to walk to the elevator and the car, waiting to enter a restaurant or to get to the door. 

The older son took a work call, and it was fun driving with E riding shotgun, whispering and using facial expressions and hand gestures that finally gave way to playlists and commentary.

Different eyes

I think I was watching them more closely because I know that time like this is rare. I love and like my grown children, and so far they like spending time with me. The kids have cleared social and work schedules to spend a week together for a family vacation on top of being together for Christmas. I don’t know how long we can keep that up and how in the future significant others and partners will join in on the Christmas Day movie or invite our kids to join their family traditions. But for now, I’ll take it all in.

Both sons needed time in the morning to ease into the day. They both needed time to exercise and unwind. In another season of parenting, I would’ve pushed to get us out the door to get to one more place and see one more thing, but in this season that started during the college years I let them sleep, workout, fix their hair, and walk slowly. This world can be a cruel, grueling place. I saw them with compassion knowing Capitalism doesn’t all us to enjoy each other’s joy and rest.

They wanted to spend a good chunk of a day watching professional teams play League of Legends and asked if I wanted to join them at the tournament, a little worried about how I would spend my time and a little worried I would rush them. No rush. I said go ahead, had coffee with a friend, and then sat on a bench at the beach to watch the sunset. I know. A mother’s sacrifice. And when C saw two players in standing on the corner in Sawtelle, I asked, “Are you going to say hi and ask for a photo?” A mother’s gentle nudge to shoot your shot, even if it’s a moment of fandom. I’m smiling while typing this, remembering how my boys and their friends took in the random moment and played it over and over in the car with the photos to prove it happened…and I got to see it all, too.

I also watched them eat, trying to gauge if they had enough protein, offering up half of my egg or a chunk of tofu. “Did you have enough? Do you need more? Do you want this piece?” I asked at every meal, not with the eyes of a mom of little ones who cannot efficiently feed themselves but of a mom who will not have many more opportunities to be the one to take care of their needs and wants. Corban said I was doing it more than usual, and maybe I was. There is a bit of a juggling act as a Korean American mom of Korean American sons; my loving and caring should not be enabling man-baby behavior. I’m still learning how to mother young men to be grown men. IYKYK.

And so I listen to Corban and try to eat and listen to what my needs might be as well.

The years really are short

I tell parents of younger children time sped up when the oldest started high school. Before I knew it the last one was a high school senior and we were in a global pandemic. He was so moody and grumpy but weren’t we all? I’ve heard so many friends say that first year of the pandemic was so long and so recent, time bending in ways we don’t understand. That’s parenting. I swear I just gave birth but that’s impossible because I’m also post-menopausal. My joints remind me that my body did some crazy stuff but my mind says it was just yesterday.

But it actually was just last week my boys and I woke up in the same room, and I asked, “What do you want to eat today?” 

 

Playing the Name Game of Endorsements

My Dear Readers,

I have a book, written with my friend Matt Mikalatos, that hits the shelves October 17. The process of seeking endorsements – the blurbs on the back, inside, and sometimes on the cover – began a few weeks ago. A PDF of our edited but not typeset manuscript was sent/is being sent to leaders in the Church – progressives, conservatives, authors, pastors, organizational leaders, etc. Because our book, Loving Disagreement: Fighting For Community Through the Fruit of the Spirit, is about engaging in disagreements we are intentionally looking for people with a variety of theological and political views, representing the diversity of the Church. I suspect even I may be surprised at the endorsements because hopefully some will come from people I disagree with but believe in book. 

Recently the topic of book endorsements, particularly within Christian publishing, has come under scrutiny because of a soon-to-be published book containing dangerous theology and uncomfortably weird analogies was endorsed by several prominent authors and pastors. Their endorsements raised questions about those blurbs and the process of vetting both the book and the blurb.

I’ve written elsewhere about Christian publishing – how that process played out for me and how it could play out for other aspiring authors. I thought I’d add my one cent here about the game of endorsements.

It’s a business and a ministry and a business

Please remember that Christian publishing is still a business. Even if the publisher is the publishing arm of a non-profit, book publishing is a business. 

So when it comes to endorsements I have found it complicated. As an Asian American female Christian author, I am often asked if I would read a manuscript and offer an endorsement. When I first started down this road of Christian publishing almost 20 years ago, Twitter + IG did not exist. Smart phones did not exist. But that did not mean Christian authors weren’t building platforms. They were blogging and building email lists. They were speaking at conferences that kept getting bigger with more stage production and building email lists. So when five completely unknown Asian American women were getting ready to send More Than Serving Tea out into the world, we were asked to think about prominent Asian American church leaders and academics to give our book credibility and possibly connect us to more readers and networks.

In this recent situation I have been reading a lot of comments about how endorsements are an awful game and authors and readers shouldn’t play. I’m not sure how I can fully divest myself from the game when I am months away from publishing another book and waiting to hear from the more than two dozen folks we have reached out to for endorsements. I’m not sure how as a reader I can fully divest myself from not only turning to friends for recommendations but also looking at endorsements to see if others I respect have signed off on a book I’m thinking about reading. I’m not going to only trust the librarians’ or a pastor’s recommendations if the librarian or pastor doesn’t read books written by authors of color. As a reader, I look for endorsements from other authors and leaders of color, particularly women of color. 

But as an author, I have learned that the game is also networking. Don’t roll your eyes. We all do it. How else do you make friends? How do you find out about summer camps for your kids or possible job leads when you’ve had it with your current boss? How do you find a church in a new community? You lean into your network. And as an Asian American female author, my network and my own platform carry a different weight and carry me.

Let Me Explain and Ask a Few Questions

I know that many of you started following me back in 2016 after authors like Scot McKnight and Rachel Held Evans blurbed about More Than Serving Tea on their own blogs. Now I have no idea if those blog posts generated sales, but for me as an author their posts opened up networks. Scot and Rachel became  people I considered friends and allies. Scot taught me about honoraria and how to ask for what I deserved and needed. Rachel connected me to possible agents and gave an endorsement for my book Raise Your Voice. That came about as a result of the game.

But what I have found is that when I, as an Asian American female author, endorse a white author’s book I am offering a level of credibility. In the crudest way possible, my endorsement can be a stamp of Asian American approval. I have consistently turned down requests for endorsement from white authors I do not know. My priority is to endorse women of color, especially new authors, because the game wasn’t developed with us in mind. That is how I play the game. That is how I have chosen to leverage the little bit of influence and power I have and how I manage my time. 

I am also relying on my network of authors of color and white authors I know and trust to be the first ones I ask for an endorsement. Why? I respect them. Their words carry weight and influence. As an author I believe in my work and I want as many reader to buy and read my books. I will always write, but writing a book? That’s a different beast than writing for myself and for the love of my craft. Personally, I want my books to sell and while an endorsement alone doesn’t sell books, it is a stamp of credibility. I don’t know what other ways an author has to signal to potential readers that our words are worth a chance. What draws you into a book? A beautiful cover? A provocative title? Do you read the endorsements? If so, why? If not, why not? Short of reading the book, what helps you, My Dear Readers, decide to buy and read a book?

And one day I may make a mistake. One day my beliefs may change (many of my beliefs have changed since my first book). One day the beliefs of an author whose book I endorsed may change. I’m not sure how to handle that except to say that is part of the risk we authors take when we send our words out into the world. They are frozen in time and do not move and shift with us, which is why we keep writing and we keep reading.

Back to the Game

Some folks have commented that endorsements can be bought. No one has ever tried to buy my endorsement, and I have never tried to buy an endorsement. I can’t imagine making enough money off of a book contract to give some of it away to buy two sentences, but I can see how that might happen. While many Christian authors have gone the way of Substack and other platforms, there was and might still be folks who sell posts on their blogs and platforms. Some of the “guest posts” on other spaces might be paid for, and you will never know. So if we are going to interrogate endorsements, and I think it’s fair, let’s look at it all, including the platforms. Again, I’ve never charged anyone for a mention of their book or for the chance to post on my blog. But I know for a fact there are Christian authors who “share” their platforms for a price. 

Endorsements when done in a perfect world are written after the book is read and some of the outrage in this current situation involving a book about sexuality and the church is that endorsers may not have read the entire book. That is not my personal practice and I suspect many of us will make sure we spend even more time reading manuscripts before we write our endorsements, but I do have a request of you, My Dear Readers. Please consider how you also play into this game with your reviews (or lack of) and words on the interwebs. Did you love the book? Please tweet about it. Review it on Goodreads. Post a photo of the book with your pet. Ask your library to carry the book and then go check it out.

I’m not sure what if anything will change with endorsements, but I want to remind all of us that Christian publishing is still a business.

The cover. I love it.

 

 

Thoughts From Your Local Election Judge

I voted in my first presidential election in November 2012 after finally becoming a naturalized citizen in 2010. I think I started as an election judge in 2017. Where I live we get paid $10/hr, but I think I read somewhere we now get $12/hr. (My Dear Reader, you must know that no one is doing it for the pay. It’s a 16-hour day that starts at 5 am. This year that meant I got to see the start of the blood moon lunar eclipse, which felt oddly fitting.) It is both a privilege and an honor to serve as an election judge. I have the ability and privilege to take the day off, finding subs to teach my two yoga classes this year, and a reliable car to get to and from the polling place before and after voters come through. It also allows me to participate in “the vote” in a way the Founding Fathers never codified for women or for naturalized citizens and a privilege I can’t assume is protected. 

 

Two years ago when the former president of the United States amped up the rhetoric around voting, I experienced the result of that rhetoric – comments from voters about whether or not their votes counted,  questions about the voting machines, voters incorrectly assuming the ballot had their name printed on the ballot, etc., and I posted a few thoughts on my FB page.

 

As we await the final results of a few key elections across the country, I thought I’d pull those posts together and add in italics a few more thoughts.

June 30, 2022

Voters, learn about the rules governing elections. Illinois voters do not need to show ID at the time of voting because IDs are checked at registration. When you come to vote your signature is checked BY TWO PEOPLE. And then you are given a ballot, which is checked by TWO PEOPLE to make sure you got the correct ballot. (Illinois is an open primary so you can vote for either major party regardless of your personal affiliation. Those are the rules.) We are not checking your name and what party you are voting for. We are making sure you get the correct ballot because each site covers several precincts and different ballots.

 

The voter’s name is not on the ballot. There is no way for anyone to know how an individual person voted.

 

Ballots arrive at polling sites in sealed boxes. Each sealed box contains ballots specific to the precinct, and the ballots also come in sealed packets. Election judges are instructed to open packets as needed. All ballots – cast and uncast ballots are returned to the boxes and resealed before being taken back to the county clerk’s office.

 

The fun part? After the polls close, election judges have to account for every ballot. There is a record of the number of ballots issued, spoiled (voter makes a mistake), and cast. Again, there is no way to connect a paper ballot with a specific voter.

 

Nov. 5, 2020

Last week local county election judges were asked to come in to help process mail-in ballots. This year (2022) election judges were asked again to help process mail-in ballots but I was unable to make it work with my schedule.

 

Only official election judges can verify signatures. There were 10 computers and not always 10 of us to process ballots. We also were asked about party affiliation because the county clerk office wants to make sure it’s a mix in the room.

 

Some voters have a signature history from the DMV, etc., others do not. Rejecting a signature required three of us and our signatures on the physical envelope (there is no signature or name of the voter on the actual ballot, and at this part of the process we do not see the ballot). During a four-hour shift I could go through anywhere from 1,200-2.400ish ballots depending on how easily I could match signatures, etc. Out of a batch of about 1,200 ballots a judge on an unofficial average rejected 3 ballots, some of them because of a missing signature on the envelope.

 

None of the election judges I worked with over four days wanted to reject ballots. Sometimes it took longer because three of us, wearing masks, would hover around a single computer TRYING to find similarities between signatures so that the ballot cast could be counted because we all believed that if someone took the time to register, request, fill out, and return a ballot it was due the respect and time.

 

Those ballots didn’t get to us until the outer envelope was opened, scanned, organized by date, location of drop-off and receiving. After signatures are verified, ballots had to go have that envelope opened, ballots stacked and THEN counted.

 

Add the global pandemic, an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in many places, a postal service that had its own share of shenanigans.

 

It takes a long time, people. Be patient.

 

And besides, someone with power keeps telling his followers to count ballots in one place and stop counting in another place. I’m sure people are confused.

 

Nov. 6, 2020

Today more local county election judges helped process mail-in ballots. We are “volunteers” meaning we are not county employees. Rumor is that we are being paid $10/hr taxable. As a naturalized U.S. citizen who paid to go through the process my kids and spouse were born into, handling ballots is a privilege and sacred work.

 

Many of us were hoping ballot counts would be finalized, but most of us HAVE NO IDEA HOW TEDIOUS this process can be. Yesterday I wrote about the signature match process. Today I saw part of what happens next….

 

After the signature on the envelope, not the ballot, is approved by an election judge, the envelope has to be opened, the ballot physically removed, checked for valid write-in candidates (and tallied if such write-in is cast), initialed, and then stacked by batch for eventual counting.

 

The envelopes come in a batch, the same batch of envelopes when signatures are matched. Those envelopes were scanned together so that YOUR MAIL-IN BALLOT CAN BE TRACKED.

 

I went through two trays of ballots, I think less than 1,000. One of those trays required me to open each ballot. One tray had already been opened perhaps by a machine, an employee, or a paid volunteer who isn’t an election judge. Why by hand? A machine may tear through the ballot. What happens if a ballot is accidentally torn? It has to be re-cast by two judges manually. I saw one of those ballots, and it really made me sad.

 

I also had several military ballots, which also meant that batch had to be put aside so that the ballot could be re-cast on an actual ballot that could be scanned by a machine. That requires two people to fill out a ballot.

 

On election day we did not see a single poll watcher ALL DAY LONG. NONE.

 

Today there were more than a dozen poll watchers representing both parties. I was told that it was unusual. Thankfully I was working at a separate table that could be observed and was observed, but further away from a larger set of tables where at one point there were only 3 or 4 volunteers and more poll watchers.

 

Sidenote: I wore a t-shirt that read “He’s a racist. Me-2017” A county employee received a complaint about my t-shirt because it was too political, so I was asked to figure out a way to hide the words. I went to the restroom to turn my shirt inside out. I didn’t raise a stink because I truly went to help get legally cast ballots processed and counted. Again, I consider this sacred work. I don’t care who you voted for. If you went through the process of registering to vote, requesting a mail-in ballot, filling out said ballot, mailing or dropping off the ballot, your ballot should be processed and eventually counted. I took an oath to do that.

 

The Privilege of Isolation in the Age of COVID

 

A bowl of oatmeal topped with mixed berries.

My son promises me this is a single packet of instant oatmeal.

 

 

I’m supposed to be writing chapters about other things, but, My Dear Readers, what is procrastination if not diverting energy to other equally demanding endeavors? AND to do it whilst isolating, thanks to finally meeting Rona after all these years.

Rona is not nice.

Yes, five days in the master bedroom.

Day 5 of isolation is over – free of fever, feeling more like a cold than anything else, but still testing positive. The handy CDC quarantine and isolation calculator tells me that I can leave isolation but masked when in the company of other humans. The other humans I live with would prefer I stay isolated a little longer, which is totally understandable since my brain swab lit up like a Christmas tree.

Instead of breaking free, I am typing at my freshly dusted childhood desk that serves as a vanity in my master bedroom.

I came home Sunday evening with symptoms that came on fast and furious.

Monday morning I tested positive for COVID19 (Day 0). I promptly took over the master bedroom, which is bigger than some NYC studios so I’m grateful for the king bed (singles and couples, BUY THE BIG BED) and bathroom. The double sink vanity and my mirrored closet doors came in handy when I had a burst of energy two days ago; we keep cleaning supplies under every sink so I cleaned the vanity, the mirrors, and lightbulbs. 

The first 48 hours were the worst with fever and a sore throat I haven’t experienced since who knows when. I ran a fever for four days but I never had trouble breathing, never turned blue, which I often do when I am super cold (anyone remember Emmy’s wedding?).

This is the privilege of vaccination combined with upper middle income status. I am vaccinated with one booster. I actually got vaccinated earlier because I could take time off and volunteer with my county at mass vaccination sites in early 2021 when vaccines were just rolling out. That feels like a lifetime ago. Volunteers had early access.

And even though the boosters are widely offered, there are side effects so privilege means being able to have a buffer with work and time off if reactions require it.

Until you have COVID19 you don’t fully understand what “mild” means. Mild means you might not have any symptoms, you might experience what feels like a seasonal cold, or you might be really sick but not sick enough to require a doctor or hospital.

My innocuous posting online about isolating surprised me with the number of DMs from people commiserating privately with me because they had either already had the infection or were also sick.

For a bunch of folks who like to be authentic online I realized there is still a strange stigma about having caught the virus. 

No shame.

It’s a virus.

I think for those of us who rode the high horse about vaccination and masks are rather embarrassed to find our best efforts are just that. Nothing can fully protect you unless you never ever venture out.

Also, many of us stopped wearing masks in public. I did. I teach yoga. I teach yoga in a heated studio, and for months I wore a mask and then I didn’t because it was no longer required. I sometimes follow rules, and when there were no rules about wearing masks I took it as permission to save the good ones for the airport.

And to be perfectly honest I’m not sure when I’ve tested negative and have the stamina to return to teaching I will wear a mask when I teach because y’all can complain about wearing a mask but try doing it while cueing a one-hour power flow in a room heated to 90 degrees. Super not fun. 

We all take risks and sometimes we don’t calculate the risks correctly. And sometimes we take all the precautions and still nature takes over and reminds us that we cannot control everything. That’s right. Even here in the effing United States of America the most cautious of us cannot control everything, especially a global panini that dropped the collective “us” to our knees in the spring of 2020.

So if you are coconut positive or were and didn’t share it with your socials even though you share everything else, IT’S OK. I just want to invite us to figure out why we/you didn’t share your COVID status when you’ve shared your lunch, your black squares, etc. and to address the strange and inconsistent ways shame grabs a hold of us/you.

So how bad is it?

Day 0-2 were the worst. It was a combination of the flu and strep throat, and I haven’t had strep throat  in years. In fact, I haven’t been sick like this since before the spring of 2020 because masking, social distancing, and hand washing works.

I had a fever. My throat was raw and sore. I lost my voice. My sense of taste and smell remains intact. Food wasn’t the priority, but I drank water in hopes of soothing the incredibly raw throat. I drank ice water instead of hot tea, which goes against every Korean sensibility but I am not postpartum so ice water is allowed. I think.

The fever broke on Day 4. I now sound and feel like I have a cold that will morph into bronchitis. I am feeling waves of fatigue and headaches that make me want to cry (I have a very high pain tolerance, folks), but remember I also have the privilege of isolating.

I haven’t taught a yoga class in more than a week and probably won’t for another week or so. That’s lost income that I can afford. 

My adult-ish sons are home and feed me “son-sized” portions of food. Two days ago I called C and asked him if the bowl of oatmeal he had just left outside of my bedroom door was really only one packet of oatmeal. He laughed at me and promised it was just one packet. I’m not sure I believe him.

C eats two packets…along with two eggs and a cup of egg whites with spinach and smoked salmon and sometimes a side of leftovers so his sense of normal portions is…off.

I also have a husband who checked in before he left for work and when he arrived back home.

My son’s girlfriend made soup and mango sago so I love her the most.

Friends are texting funny and beautifully mundane snippets of life. I read two books. I wrote more than 1k words but not for the deadline I am about to miss. This is mild because the vaccine works.

But this entire time I kept thinking about friends and strangers and the more than one million people in the U.S. and the more than six million globally who have died as a result of this pandemic. People are still dying.

So it’s not that bad. But it is. It really is. 

29 Things I Learned During 29 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

This is our third anniversary celebrated during the global pancetta. It’s surreal to think that in April 2020 all three of our children were home perfecting our personal athleisure style, doing puzzles, and naively believing that it would just be a few more weeks of sheltering in place.

Today is our 29th wedding anniversary. We had a big fat Korean immigrant wedding with 1,000 people – friends, family, and church members with a buffet dinner in the church basement. He was 28 and I was 22. This year we can start making withdrawals from his retirement accounts. (Fortunately we don’t have to and won’t.) We were incredibly young and naive. It bothered Peter, but I often said I was young and stupid. It was true. Now I’m older and definitely stupid, and I know it.

I wrote my first list of this kind in 2013 to mark our 20th anniversary. The rules are simple. I don’t look at the list from the previous year. I sit down, and I write. I write what I learned about marriage, myself, and love.

THE LIST

  1. Sometimes being the sacrificial mother and wife is stupid and actually harmful.
  2. The finality of menopause is a lie. There are no more eggs in the basket yet I’m still hot-flashing and night sweating. It’s hard to feel sexy and attractive when your body suddenly feels like a burning house.
  3. Love is a discipline and a choice. 
  4. Saying “I love you” can be a lot easier than actually loving my husband. Hearing “I love you” isn’t as important as feeling loved by my husband.
  5. I’m grateful to be aging with someone.
  6. It took a lot longer for me not to care about farting in front of Peter than it did for Peter to not care about farting in front of me. Now we either don’t care or our hearing is starting to fail and we just don’t hear it. Yes, sometimes we still act like we are in middle school.
  7. We each have separate blankets instead of fighting over one. GAME CHANGER.
  8. I regret having waited so long to buy a king size bed.
  9. I’m glad we have the terribly produced wedding video. It took years before I could laugh at it and appreciate it.
  10. Money doesn’t make you happy but it sure is helpful.
  11. I have never regretted keeping my “maiden” name.
  12. I regret not going back to school.
  13. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you can’t still feel hurt.
  14. Purity culture really messed up the early years of our sex life.
  15. Marriage and parenting have a lot of similarities. There is a lot of deciding “is this the hill I want to die on?” moments.
  16. A coffee drinker and a non-coffee drinker can stay married.
  17. Peter can’t read my mind.
  18. Sometimes I can read Peter’s mind.
  19. It’s never too late to start therapy, get a mental health diagnosis, take a sleep study, get a CPAP, or start medication.
  20. You marry into another family and that means double the fun and double the baggage.
  21. Your spouse’s habits, hobbies, and interests can become your own. I now read and watch sci-fi and he likes to go thrifting. For a few years I stopped making the bed because Peter never made the bed. Then for awhile I just made my side of the bed. And then I just stopped. Now that we have our own blankets I have gone back to making my side of the bed.
  22. That probably means sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, I am the dog in the scenario. It also could be Peter and learning how to fold and put away the linens. 
  23. Having sex when the kids were little was challenging because being parents of young children was exhausting. Now, having sex is challenging because we are tired because we are getting older. Also, our 22-year-old son lives at home, and clearly I haven’t shaken off all the purity culture baggage.
  24. I’m not sure if streaming services have been a good thing for our marriage or a bad thing.
  25. Maintaining good friends – singles, couples, our “own” separate friends has been as important for me as my marriage.
  26. Over-communicate not only your needs/wants but also what you love and appreciate about your spouse in ways they can understand and receive.
  27. I really enjoy cooking and feeding my family until about Wednesday night.
  28. In my most honest moments, I wonder what it would’ve been like if I had gone back to school or gotten divorced when our silence was so loud or put my name in the hat for the job that would’ve required more travel and time.
  29. I still hope to grow old with Peter and be that old couple who holds hands on walks.
An Asian American woman and man wearing disposable surgical face masks while sitting inside a large stadium.

It seems appropriate that I share a photo of the two of us in masks. We were waiting to watch #RunMySon graduate.

Why Virtual Church Services Should Be the New Normal

Suggesting churches should drop online services as we move into the third year of the global pandemic is ableist AND racist.

It’s a matter of accessibility for ALL people, including the complicated issue of whether or not a congregation can afford to have a physical space and/or resources to livestream a church service. It’s a matter of not only opening physical doors that often go locked during the week but also creating and imagining spaces without doors, at the very least, different doors, so that all can enter and exit. It’s a matter of addressing the reality that the Church and the pandemic are GLOBAL and not just situated in the U.S. or North America and not just around the comfort around a theology enmeshed with white supremacy.

I don’t like teaching virtual yoga or preaching to a screen

I am a yoga teacher, and March 2020 impacted yoga studios in similar ways to churches. Our “audience” had always been in person, sometimes uncomfortably close to the person next to us. Honestly I found myself moving my body much more in yoga studio than in church, and for the talk around embodiment being about physically being in a room together the most movement I often experienced in a white-centered church service was the passing of the peace (I hate that part, TBH), the occasional swaying from side to side and awkward clapping or raising of hands during musical worship, and communion if the congregation was invited to walk through the center aisle to receive the elements.

In the yoga studio everyone is invited to move together, breathe together, rest together. We turn, twist, invert. We balance and sweat. We listen to our bodies and our breath. Sometimes, students linger and ask questions about a posture or a cue, and they mill about not unlike fellowship time in church spaces.

But back to March 2020 when the world felt like it stopped and so many of us learned to use and hate the word “pivot”. Pastors and yoga teachers learned the intricacies of a virtual space and how to translate community into a virtual space. What I would argue is that as a yoga teacher I learned more than the average church pastor or worship leader about translating embodiment not only of individuals but of a community into a virtual space and how to maintain that over time.

In June of 2020 as the “racial uprising” caught the attention of media, I started a virtual yoga space just for BIWOC because that’s the community I saw being most impacted and in need of something I could create. I thought that space would last a few weeks, a few months tops. We still meet weekly, most of the women who come to class I’ve never met in person. We have established rituals and expectations. We have cried together and created a space to talk or type or sit in silence. We have seen each other’s backgrounds – bedrooms and living rooms, and watched children and pets and housemates walk into the room. Everyone is free to turn off their cameras, and I am learning how to guide this incredible group of BIWOC while keenly aware of our diversity – size, ability, age, mobility, etc. We will never be in a physical space together and yet there is community.

Community is embodiment.

There is an “I” in embodiment but that’s not the point

Embodiment isn’t limited to our individual bodies and the sharing of physical space, especially as people of faith, Christians who believe God’s love and care for the universe and humanity transcends time, space, and our understanding. As Christians we say we are the body of Christ, in fellowship with our siblings across the globe, but if we cannot ever be in their physical presence does that make that fellowship less than what one might experience in person? If the Church and church is to love God and our neighbors as the New York Times op-ed author Tish Harrison Warren writes (and I agree), how can we possibly love our neighbors if churches shut the virtual door?

Let’s be clear. Choosing a place of worship has always, ALWAYS, involved a degree of personal preference. Let’s not kid ourselves, my Dear Readers. Denominations. Style of musical worship. Location. Convenience. Sound of the preacher’s voice (yes, we checked out a local church and I could not handle the preacher’s voice.) Children’s ministry options. Time of worship service. (And again, there are so many parallels to how students choose a yoga studio but I digress.)

And for people of color our choices have always been limited because of WHITE SUPREMACY that was built in to the foundation of the United States AND the churches established in this country. For the disabled the choices have always been limited. For those on the margins of what is deemed “normal” and “good” in the world we live in and most often in the church, OUR CHOICES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN LIMITED. 

So to point to the virtual door that was opened out of necessity should be seen as an opportunity for church leaders to pause and reflect. Who walked through your virtual doors who would never have been able to walk through your physical doors? Are we not worthy of being your neighbors because you met us through a screen? 

The body of Christ in wine and stale crackers

At some point in the global panini, my virtual community started sharing photos of what they pulled together for communion. It was a beautiful table of elements that reflected the body of Christ in one of the most embodied ways because it reflected individuals and families, what they were going through at the time.

No time to shop for wine or grape juice and crackers? Fine, how about sparkling water and chunks of a bagel? Or tea and some rice? Juice box and goldfish crackers? Coffee and gluten-free brownies? None of that was shared in person, and if our understanding of embodiment is limited to always sharing physical space then there was a whole lot of breaking church rules and theology in those virtual communion services.

I didn’t reach my hand into the plate of broken matzo that my neighbor in the pews had also just reached into. I didn’t breathe over the tray of non-recyclable plastic communion shot glasses with grape juice and pass it to my neighbor. I didn’t walk up the center aisle and receive the elements from a pastor or lay leader who could look into my eyes. I sipped my coffee and ate my danish as I watched others take the elements they were able to find in they pantries and refrigerators, an intimate look into their homes and lives. Did we not meet God in an embodied way?

Not all churches, Kathy

I’m not writing this to argue the minutia of why YOUR church can’t afford to keep streaming services or why YOUR church never got the hang of virtual church. Again, the reality is complicated because not all churches could afford their own buildings in the first place, let alone afford the technology to run a slick livestream service. The reality is very few churches ran slick livestream services period, wink, wink, and there is beauty in that. Dropped streams, being on mute, poor lighting all point to the challenges of embodied INDIVIDUALS doing and being something collective. It’s a different way of being embodied outside of a communal physical space but within the imagination of what could community look like when it’s not bound by walls and geography.

Opening the virtual doors gave churches an opportunity to see who wasn’t able to join in physically, even before the pancetta, and an opportunity to learn how technology could add closed captioning and allow individuals to turn up the volume or just follow the audio stream. People could join from their beds or backyards across time zones and man-made borders.

Some church leaders found virtual services as an opportunity to learn new-to-them technology – perhaps from younger congregants or congregants whose interests and gifts were in untapped spheres. Churches invited new voices to preach from the pulpit. How many times have we heard church leaders say they would love to invite diverse speakers as guest preachers but don’t have the funds? If you are still running a virtual service option you can still pay guest preachers well and skip the plane ticket and hotel. Fewer excuses, but maybe some churches want to keep that as an excuse? How many times have you as an individual wanted to hear from diverse, global voices but can’t get to that conference or buy all those books? Virtual services allow you to do just that.

I’m not suggesting churches do away with physical, in-person services, but this is a chance to rethink community to consider how our physical bodies and needs and the holy space of church can be one that works towards welcoming all to the table by creating new tables of virtual breakout rooms and physical spaces. If having a physical nursery is supposed to welcome families with infants into church as an option, why not keep the virtual sanctuary open because even when this pan flute is relatively under control we will still have siblings among us who would benefit from that virtual sanctuary and because they benefit WE BENEFIT. Without them we are incomplete.

Not all churches and not all people will want a virtual service, but what has been made clear is that there is a need and desire for this kind of creative access to church and it is embodied, just not in the way our limited understanding has conceptualized and executed it to date. 

Can the Church and church hear, see, taste, smell and touch that kind of community beyond the limitations of a physical shared space? Isn’t that part of the invitation for all churches and the Church? 

 

 

 

 

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