From Goodbye to Oh, Hell No

Yes. It was worth it.

Waking up two teenage sons at 4:15 am on a Saturday morning to stand in line at 6 a.m. with family, friends, and thousands of strangers for two hours in hopes of a ticket was worth it (mainly because we were lucky to get tickets). While in line we noticed a Starbucks...closed. Why?Standing in line for hours before getting through security to even get into the venue to hear President Barack Hussein Obama say goodbye was worth it. Standing butt to belly button (thanks Melissa for a more colorful version of that phrase) waaaaaaaaaaay back from the podium to be there in the standing room where it happened was worth it.

It was worth it because it was good for my soul to be amongst people who did not agree with everything done under Obama’s two-term presidency, but wanted to be there and together to see and hear not just Obama but one another.

It was good to share that with my husband, sons and friend Tina because we occupy different generations, genders, social circles, and sometimes belief. It was worth sharing stories with our closest strangers in line about why they were hoping for tickets or where they drove in from to attend #ObamaFarewell. It was worth being reminded that the apocalypse had not yet arrived.

It was worth being in the room when President Obama was announced and welcomed to the podium and the crowd, incredibly diverse and patient, erupted into applause and for some tears. It was worth having my older son Corban lean on my shoulder and ask me if I was going to get emotional and tell him that I was already emotional.

It was worth the small risk of not getting a ticket, not getting close enough, not seeing the President of the United States up close to experience live his loving, respectful comments about his wife, his daughters, his vice president. It was worth knowing my sons heard and saw Obama speak tenderly, respectfully and honorably about his wife, about his daughters, about his colleague and friend. It was worth it.

It was worth thinking back to Obama’s win in 2008, which nudged me to consider applying for naturalization. It was worth remembering my first vote in a president election was for Obama in 2012 and my first vote in a presidential primary in 2016 was for Hillary Clinton. It was worth thinking about the sinking feeling as the election results came in…oh, hell no. No.

The energy was celebratory, hopeful, eager and it made me miss church which has too often in the past few years left me wondering where was and what was the Good News. It made me miss fellowship and communion because President Obama’s farewell address felt a bit like fellowship.

It was worth it.

So one week later I’m headed off to celebrate democracy and the peaceful transfer of power by marching with my daughter, friends, and thousands of strangers in the Women’s March on Washington the Saturday.

This is not to throw shade at those not marching for whatever reason, but I owe it to my Dear Readers to explain why I am marching in an imperfect march. I am opting in because I also know many of my friends can’t. Maybe they will march locally but others won’t or can’t. They can’t skip work. They don’t have the energy. They aren’t physically able without assurance from march organizers routes are accessible. I am opting in because I want to support my daughter Bethany and she wants to support me. I am opting in because the three white women who founded the event almost found out too late about intersectionality, so some of my friends and I are making sure we bring our imperfect intersectionality. I am opting in because no matter what happens at the inauguration the day before, I will not stand for a leader, any leader, who thinks grabbing any woman’s pussy is locker room talk. I am opting in because I am my sister’s and brother’s keeper even when it’s inconvenient. I am opting in because my relative space of privilege as a heterosexual married woman means fighting for the civil rights of my LGBTQ neighbors. I am opting in because the Bible has taught me that trusting and believing in God’s sovereignty is not the same as sitting back and not doing anything.

Not everyone is called to protest, to march, to speak out publicly on Facebook and Twitter. Not everyone is called to be “that kind of activist” but I believe as Christians we are all called to act justly, to love mercy, and to live humbly in all of our spheres of influence and we can’t do that by expecting people to figure it out through osmosis.

I’m here for it all and it’s worth it.

Fall 2016 in Three Acts: The Color Purple. Hamilton. Allegiance.

Act 1: The Color Purple, black women, and art as worship

When in NYC I make sure I to make time to see my daughter and to see a show. Bonus points if she and I can go together and this time it was to see and listen to Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Holliday in “The Color Purple”. The final show is January 8 so if you have the time and $$ to see the show, do it. It’s worth it.

Despite #oscarssowhite, Hollywood and Broadway and creative spaces in between remain predominantly white spaces. Universal stories are portrayed through the acting, voices and creative direction of white people. Yes, it’s changing. Yes, I’ve heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, I’ve also heard of Shonda Rhimes. Yes, it’s changing AND there is A LOT of catching up to do.

When I am in new public spaces I tend to look around and observe who is and isn’t in the room where I happen to be. Unlike some people, I am not colorblind so I took note that the audience for the matinee was diverse with as many, if not more, people of color in attendance. Why does that matter? Because it’s easier to stereotype POC as being poorer, less-educated, less likely to attend musical theater, etc. than to ask “Why are not more POC making it a priority to see live theater?” when n reality it’s much more complex.

Back to the musical. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the staging of a story I had first seen on the big screen, but in the end I was left with the experience of having been at church. Some attendees were there for the spectacle of it all (like the white man seated on the main floor, center orchestra, who whipped out his cellphone to take a photo or video of Ms. Erivo singing like no one was going to notice. Ms. Erivo noticed, called him out publicly, and went on without missing a beat. Did the man not read the program or understand the announcement?) while others were there hungry to connect.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read the book or watch the movie. I highly recommend it because as we creep towards inauguration day it’s a good reminder of what history has demanded of black women – their strength, perseverance, bodies and hearts. I sat there thinking of the black women in my life who have graciously shared their lives with me IRL and through social media. The Color Purple isn’t a story about the magical negro who comes to save and touch the life of a white person. It’s the story of black women being themselves – happy, loving, angry, confused, hopeful, faithful, petty, and fully human finding themselves in their own skin and soul.

And it was in the voices of Celie, Nettie, Sofia and Shug Avery I went to church, which was important for me because it has been a long summer/fall without consistently being at church. The irony and subversive nature of non-black audience members giving the all-black cast a standing ovation for singing and dancing about the pain and beauty of post-slavery life in the South weeks before DJT was elected as #PEOTUS (#notmypresident) should not be lost. It’s exactly that tension that has made attending church regularly such a losing struggle as of late, but there I was, on Broadway, in church wrestling with God about injustice, violence against women, love, sisterhood, motherhood and the silencing of women, particularly black women not only in the church but in history.

If musical theater can communicate good news, what is the Church missing in its gospel expressions?

Act 2: Hamilton, white women, and subversive art

At a much higher price point was seeing “Hamilton” in Chicago with the family as part of our Christmas gift. As the children are in their teens and 20s stuff is less prominent on their wish lists. They don’t want toys. They want gas money. They want money for an extra plane ticket. They want a dog. They will never get a dog so we are now in the second year of going to see live theater together as part of Christmas. Lucky for them I sat patiently on two computers, one phone and one iPad to get through the online ticket queue.

The audience was less diverse though I suspect the commercial success of this production lends itself to its broader appeal in terms of ethnic/racial diversity and age. There were many, many more younger audience members who wanted to see U.S. history via rap battles and F-bombs. Other than pure commercial success drawing a whiter and younger crowd is my theory that Alexander Hamilton’s story, though actually one of an immigrant, bastard, son of a whore, is considered more universal than that of Celie’s. I would argue both tell important “American” stories through a specific social locations and constructs that are equally important, but a diverse cast that also includes white people rapping, stepping, and pirouetting is an easier sell even to my teen sons.

But again, I was drawn to the women. I wanted to know more about Eliza and Angelica – their sisterhood, their strength and resilience. I wanted to know how a woman forgives her husband not only for encouraging stupidity (the duels) but also for adultery. It also made me think of how ridiculous our collective sense of morals actually is as we saw the show after Nov. 8 and after the US watched Hillary Clinton be held accountable for her husband’s infidelity while Donald Trump’s three marriages and comment about sexual assault went broadly ignored.

I also loved Lin-Manuel Miranda’s subversiveness – casting of diverse actors to embody historically “white” people, using hip hop and rap to teach U.S. history, and choreography that includes classical, modern and hip hop dance to move not only people but inanimate objects (note “The Bullet” if you go see this show). Art is not just something to consume for comfort, and if you really consider this show it should bother you because it is beautiful and profane. It puts a mirror up to our telling of history and essentially tells us we are fooling ourselves.

Act 3: Allegiance, Asian American women, and Asian American art

There was an Asian American actor in Hamilton, but it wasn’t until the final musical theater experience of the year where my family saw a full stage/screen of faces that looked similar to mine. We took the boys to see a filmed production of the stage musical “Allegiance” at a local theater. Again, this is part of our commitment to our children to give them experiences and exposure to the arts, especially when the story is told by and through the lens of other Asian Americans.

The Japanese Internment isn’t a lesson I recall spending much time on in U.S. history, and my children remember learning about it but briefly. It’s taught in a similar manner as the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. It was a very bad thing that happened but it’s over so let’s get over it. Surely the U.S. government and its true citizens would never let something like genocide, slavery or the incarceration of its own citizens because they looked like the enemy ever happen again…unless it was absolutely necessary.

But until there is some sort of guarantee there will not be a Muslim registry ever, ever, ever there are a lot of lessons in Executive Order 9066. If you think about it, the internment/incarceration was a little bit like taking the things we should’ve learned from genocide and slavery but didn’t and then creating this new thing that waves its hand at the past from the train platform. If you look like the enemy it’s perfectly legitimate to demand you give up everything, including your humanity, for the greater good. You lose your home, your businesses, your humanity in order to prove your worth. And while you are at it, you will work for nothing with no promise of freedom.

And we will call it “camp” so it doesn’t sound so bad. I hear a lot of people really love going to camp.

This is why we took our children despite their lack of enthusiasm. We do not assume they will learn these things at school, connect these dots and apply them to our current situation. My husband and children are American-born citizens. Birthright citizenship for non-whites didn’t matter in the 1940s. That’s why seeing this mattered now.

My dear white readers, you cannot know the power of seeing the big screen full of people who look like you and your family when that is all you know. Hollywood and television. Children’s story books. Cartoons and super heroes. All white, though slooooowly changing, even when it’s a universal story about “America”. Television now has “Fresh Off the Boat” but there really hasn’t been anything on the big screen since “The Joy Luck Club” where our stories were also universal stories.

“Allegiance” is written, produced, and acted by Asian Americans and for me it was powerful because again it was the women – the story of Japanese and Japanese American women, whose stories have disappeared into the background, who kept the families together as well as organized and resisted despite being incarcerated with no due process. It was Kei, played by Lea Salonga, whose ghost connects the past life before and during the Japanese incarceration to the present where her brother Sammy, played by Telly Leung and George Takei, pushes away the memories. Kei lives in the generational and cultural gap by honoring her family while still learning to be the nail that sticks out in order to honor & protect her people and ultimately it is her choices that sets in motion an opportunity to remember and forgive.

And as we are days away from Christmas where my fellow Christians and I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am once again reminded that women and our stories cannot be relegated the background. We are part of the narrative.

 

 

What Are You Worth?

No one likes to talk about money.

I mean we/I like to talk about it in the abstract. We can talk about it in terms of statistics (Women’s Equal Pay Day) or generalities (tax brackets) but there is a degree of taboo in talking about the nitty gritty. Because of what I do (work for a religious non-profit where I raise my entire salary through donations) many of my donors know about how much I could make and some ask how much I actually make.

Raising your own salary does a number on your soul. Some of it is messy in a “I know this is holy work” way and some of it is just plain gross. When people decline to give or stop giving to my support, I’m not supposed to take it personally but sometimes I do. I’m supposed to trust that it’s all in God’s hands. Some days I believe that. Some days I don’t because the bills are in my hands. There are also other layers because of gender and culture. If you grew up in the Church, think of the missionary families you or your church has supported. My husband is not the one called to vocational ministry; I am. Now, who supports the family? See? Layers.

I think many of us have a complicated relationship with money and how it isn’t supposed to be everything but we know it’s something. As Christians we are taught that we can’t have two masters, but personally the interpretation and application of that gets even messier when we remember America’s sinful relationship with slavery, mastery, and money – the Church included. As the child of immigrants, money was a means to stability and safety in a way I could not fully understand as a child. I can still sense that tenuous relationship between faith and security when my parents express their disappointment in how little my job currently pays. I have to actively remind myself they aren’t disappointed with me. They are disappointed in a system that doesn’t pay me what they think I am worth.

Which has gotten me thinking about my side-gig. I am a writer and speaker, and I often get paid for those opportunities because they are also jobs. It is work to write and/or speak/guest preach/present/teach/train. More often than not, I get paid very little or am asked to do it for free.

Corporate trainers, corporate editors, pastors, teachers all get paid. It’s fairly easy with a few keystrokes to find out the salary range in the school district my children attend. I can ask friends what their churches pay their pastors. My friends who are in the hiring loop in the business sector openly share starting salary ranges.

It’s a little more awkward in the Christian speakers circuit. Yes, there is a circuit -many circuits that overlap, run parallel, etc. And it’s a business, which is weird because it is also ministry and vocation and calling and all sorts of spiritual terms that make it that much more difficult to talk about MONEY.

So, I am going to do something awkward. I’m going to talk about money. My money. (This is where I am getting ready to duck and to read/hear comments about how I should be grateful, how that is too much, how nice it would be to make that kind of money, etc. Deep breath.)

I have already heard all of those things. I am tired of being asked to do what I do for free because it’s ministry, because I am a woman and not the one supporting my family, because it’s for a good cause, or because it’s a great opportunity to increase my platform. I have been told that my going rate is too high, that I should take what is offered, that organizers were surprised I would ask for money, that I am not well-known enough to have a rate, etc.

My going rate for a day is $1500 plus travel, lodging, meals. I fly coach. I will drink instant coffee. I don’t have to check in luggage. I won’t, however, guarantee I will be wearing something with a waistband, a collar, or pockets (male sound people often don’t know what to do with me).

I have never received my going rate. And in conversations with many other WOC who do what I do, we often are grossly underpaid.

YES, I KNOW THAT MANY PEOPLE ARE GROSSLY UNDERPAID. That is not my point. I am talking about Christian POC and specifically WOC who are being asked to lead, preach, speak, train, etc. and are being asked to work, to do what our white Christian counterparts can’t do, but not being paid for it and being told to be grateful.

I have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years. I oversaw ministry involving 300+ students at a Big Ten university. My writing credits include a book, two devotionals, a contribution to a monograph, and five years of bylines as a newspaper reporter. As a 1.5 generation Korean American immigrant now in the sandwich generation who paid her and her husband’s student loans off so that we could now take on parent loans for our oldest child my lived experience may actually more “universal” than many white speakers.

Now, I set my initial going rate several years ago at $1,000/day at the advice of a mentor – an older, very learned, seminary professor, theologian, international speaker-type. He recommended no less because it isn’t just about the talk I’m being asked to give. He reminded me that it is my lived experience, expertise, time away from my day job and family, and preparation that needs to be considered. He told me, “Kathy, you are worth at least that per day.” He told me I might not get paid that much but that I needed to decide how much my time was worth. He also was honest and told me that as a woman of color I couldn’t be “good” like most white speakers, particularly male speakers. He told me that I had to be better than good because that is the unjust reality.

I knew the part about being better than good. That message was engrained in me by my grandmother and parents. The message was always “KyoungAh, you have to be better/smarter than Americans (translation: white people) because that is the only way they will see you almost as equal.

But the dollar amount? $1,000 a day? For doing something that I actually love doing? Something I’ve been told that I am fairly good (maybe better than good) at doing?

I was speechless.

And then I started asking around and realized I am worth that. Good grief. I am worth more than that, but again a good Christian Korean American with a uterus and breasts does not talk about worth in connection to money. The message, direct and indirect, is that I should be grateful for whatever comes my way like the birds of the air. The message is that I should be grateful to speak from my unique lived experience as a Korean American woman in ministry to speak/preach/train/teach/share from that unique lens because other speakers cannot because they speak from a universal lens.

I and many, if not most, of my sisters of color who do this work are now being told by the Church our stories and perspectives are needed because they are sorely and obviously lacking but we aren’t worth the same money.

Maybe if I hired an agent my agent could do the dirty/awkward work of negotiating speakers fees. Yes, many of your beloved Christian speakers have agents and there are agencies that represent many beloved Christian speakers. Most of those speakers are white men and women. #NotAllAreWhiteChristians but many of them are, and, yes, that is changing. And, yes, I have thought about hiring an agent (so if any of you agents are out there, feel free to contact me though I have also been doing some homework).

But that isn’t the magic wand to drive change. Change will only happen when several things start happening in different spheres at the same time with enough frequency to start forcing, encouraging, inviting change particularly as the Church and Christian conferences wake up to the racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity that exists in the world is rarely reflected on the big and smaller stages, platforms, podiums, and pulpits of our Christian world.

So let me offer a few questions for conference planners, folks who invite guest speakers to preach in their churches or at the church events, etc. to consider as they invite people like me, especially as they are looking to diversify the line-up:

1. What do you pay and offer to your “big name” speakers and consider what it means to pay fairly and justly? Do you negotiate honoraria the same with all of your speakers and worship leaders?
2. Consider what is the person’s expertise and experience worth because that is also what you are investing in and paying for. Many times I get asked to speak on the difficult topics of race and faith. There is a cost to being that person. If you don’t understand that, ask other POC, particularly women of color who speak, preach, lead worship and ask them.
3. If you are inviting someone to be a guest preacher: your church’s preaching teacher’s salary/# of weeks she/he preaches = a good starting point for a guest preacher.
4. Many conferences put a lot of good time, energy, and money into pulling off a “professional” event. Are you paying your professionals accordingly? If you are inviting them to be on the main stage, aren’t they all main stage speakers? Do you think of them as equally important but not pay them equally? Why not?
5. If you lack the skills to fix a leak in your home or building, would you ask a plumber to fix your bathroom for free and tell her/him to be grateful for the opportunity and chance to build her/his reputation? Then why are you asking an entire worship team to do something you can’t do for free?

And for my dear readers who are worship leaders, writers, or speakers, what other questions or suggestions do you have for those who hire, invite, and plan these conferences?

Grief & Gratitude

Sometimes the expression of an emotion has to catch up to the spiritual disruption. Grief is a very strange, powerful, exhausting emotion, and it didn’t really hit me until I opened my mouth and said the words on the phone.

“Someone very important to me died this morning. He has been my pastor since I was 15,” I said, requesting to be excused from a retreat I was to have attended addressing the connection between body and soul.

How appropriate that in finally saying the words I burst out in tears over the home-going of Rev. Robert D. Goette, good and faithful servant, pastor, husband, father, son, brother, uncle, spiritual father, lover of peanut butter, Bears fan married to a Packers fan, church planter, evangelist, leader, and friend.

Someone said Robert may now find himself bored because there is no one in heaven to share the Good News of Jesus with, but he is healed from the ALS that took him physically away from his family and friends bit by bit over the past 5 1/2 years. He lived longer than doctors initially expected, but that’s Robert.

Robert was a missionary kid to parents called to South Korea. By the time I met him (I was in high school) he was gathering groups of Asian American kids in the Chicago suburbs – mostly but not exclusively Korean Americans – for Bible study and fellowship. He and sometimes a few volunteers would pick up these kids to meet in the basement of a family’s home and meet Jesus in the form of a tall, lanky, blonde, soft-spoken white dude. Yes, Jesus was white in those years but strangely Korean because of his missionary kid experience. Robert had a unique perspective on and personal connection with the spiritual formation of Korean American children and youth – children of Korean immigrants caught somewhere between being the first and second generation in the U.S. also known as the 1.5 generation.

Me.

Robert understood that a generation of kids were growing up in the abundance of America with parents who had just experienced the aftermath of a war – the Korean War – and the political and social turmoil that followed. Robert knew that the language and cultural gaps  would widen, that Western churches were ill-equipped to welcome us (they were happy to rent their spaces so long as we didn’t smell them up too much with our food, which really was superior to donuts and coffee IMHO), and that Korean churches would lose us because of the very gaps caused by chasing the American Dream.

Korean pastors thought he was stealing sheep even though most of us sheep weren’t thrilled to sit in the pews listening to pastors preaching in Korean, couldn’t (or didn’t want to or were never invited to) go to the white church youth groups, or weren’t going to church at all. And I have no idea what his white pastor-peers were thinking as he slowly built the foundation of a church with a bunch of junior high and high school kids.

Surely some people thought he was crazy because junior high and high school kids are not the group church planters are going after. That is not the demographic strategic, trained church planters necessarily go after when dreaming of a strong core. Kids are flaky and unreliable. We don’t have an income let alone our own modes of transportation. We bring and create drama (we were K-drama before it was a thing). We are immature in ways our non-Korean peers were not because we also did not have parents who understood America.

Yup. Robert was crazy.

I’m so grateful Robert was crazy. His investment in my spiritual formation and the formation of a generation of Korean American kids is immense. He understood that my experience as a Korean American child of immigrants was going to mean life and a journey with God would have different turns and curves and bumps and that I would need a place with peers who spoke and understood my heart language – not Korean, necessarily, but a way of understanding and connecting and expressing what our non-Korean American peers could not understand, would never experience, but at some point would benefit from our articulation and expression of it. Robert knew the Kingdom of God needed my generation before most of us cared, and his faithfulness in investing, discipling, mentoring, pastoring, and evangelizing…well, even though it had been a long time since Robert could speak on his own I knew he was still Robert. Even when he ceased to be the senior pastor at Grace Baptist and then Grace Community Church. Even when Peter and I left the church. Even as we stopped seeing Robert and Julie, his wife, on any basis. Even as ALS took away more than Robert’s balance. Robert was still Robert. He was still a missionary, a church planter and trainer of planters, a husband to Julie and father to Jennifer, Emily, and Robbie.

And because Robert was faithful I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Before I knew what ethnic-specific ministry was, Robert and those who believe in Robert did it. They invested in a bunch of kids who grew up to become doctors, lawyers, pastors, investment bankers, traders, and designers. He followed us to Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Chicago – Circle Campus; bible studies on those campuses eventually became Asian American Christian Fellowship chapters connected to JEMS – Japanese Evangelical Missions Society and then later affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Yes, the very organization I work with. See?

There is so much to be thankful for, so much to remember.

Grief is a very strange and powerful emotion. I’m looking forward to being on the other side of it someday.

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Robert was one of three pastors we had presiding at our wedding. He also was the only one who spoke in English, the only one Peter could understand, and the only one who knew me. Robert didn’t mind being one of three. He understood the Korean family/church politics involved in planning the wedding of two firstborns and the son of founding elders of a church. Peter and I have been married 22 years, and we still remember the gist of what Robert said to us about respecting and cherishing each other.

Racism is Uncomfortable, Dangerous, Evil

These are uncomfortable times.

Racism, whether it is named or whispered or danced around like the elephant in the room, makes it uncomfortable mainly for white, majority culture people. It also makes some of my kin – highly assimilated, low-identity Asian Americans who do not care to rock the boat at all because a boat that doesn’t rock suits their American dream – uncomfortable. Racism forces the hand of people who want to live in a colorblind world while enjoying the benefits of a racist society. It looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you a racist?”

I am tired of making people feel comfortable.

I didn’t go to my majority white, majority culture church on Sunday because I didn’t want to sit and wonder if the Charleston massacre would be mentioned. I didn’t want to sit silently if the evil of racism wasn’t addressed. I couldn’t bear making other people comfortable by sitting through a service when in my heart I wanted to walk out (that’s how I felt after each of the non-indictment announcements). I didn’t find the nearest AME church to attend in a show of solidarity because I couldn’t bear seeing white people making themselves comfortable by showing up at a black church. These are not comfortable times.

Dear readers, please stay. Sit in the discomfort, even if it is not familiar to you. Sit and don’t wait for someone of color to make you feel comfortable. We are tired.

And read the following piece. It’s worth the time to invest in a little truth.

Dispatch from Charleston: The Cost of White Comfort

“I have reached across the aisle. I have broken bread. I fully believe we all need healing in these moments, and that night, the symbolism was clear: a white person and a black person holding hands in the face of horrific racial violence, singing songs of freedom. What could be more comforting?

But thanks to something I experienced the previous night in Charleston, I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.”

One Church, Many Voices

There is a beautiful liturgy that has been written as part of a movement encouraging churches to all across the country this Sunday, June 21, to participate in the One Church Liturgy written by the Imago Dei Community, as A Call To Worship for the tragedy In Charleston. People have been invited to use it in their churches and I do hope hundreds of pastors will see the liturgy and be moved to change their original plans.

I also read the liturgy and felt moved to add to it because I believe that is what powerful worship does. It moves us into deeper spaces with God and with one another. We are all in different places and spaces in both our spiritual journeys and our journeys of identity. It has taken all of my 45 years to embrace the intersectionality of being Korean, American, female, evangelical. In many spaces, those four identities do not belong together. When you add the layers of personality, skills, talent, and calling…well, let’s just say there are very few spaces that will claim me. When I read the original One Church Liturgy, my fingers spoke my heart because too often women like me, Korean/Asian American women who love Jesus have been told to be quiet.

Kathy, shhh.

So, I added to the original liturgy the names and words that came out and could not be silenced in my heart. This isn’t a better version. It is another version. It is one voice of many, and I believe that is part of the beauty and power and truth of the Christian faith. The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in unity and yet distinct. Three in one. It is the mystery and the beauty.

My friend Misuzu was the one who encouraged this exercise because she had her own personal movement to action as a result of the One Church Liturgy. I am grateful for her nudging and her words. They are sharp, and they need to be. She and I cannot worship this Sunday without naming the sin that has pushed us to this point. #Charleston wasn’t an act of violence against Christians. It was an act of terrorism against our black sisters and brothers. It was racism in the only way it exists – in violence.

Don’t be afraid to name it, even if it is in a whisper.

Racism.

Do not give the word the power that only belongs to God.

 

ANOTHER VOICE LITURGY

[Leader]

We stand before you today, oh Lord

Hearts broken, eyes weeping, heads spinning

Our black sisters and brothers have died

They gathered and prayed and then were no more

The prayer soaked walls of the church are spattered with blood

They welcomed the stranger and their neighbor with no questions asked

And yet he is enemy at the table, the face of racism, and he turned on them in violence

While they were turning to you in prayer

 

[All]

We stand with our sisters

We stand with our brothers

We stand with their families

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We stand to bear their burden in Jesus’ name

 

[Leader]

We cry out to you, oh Lord

Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning

The sin of racism is entrenched and entwined in the history of the American church

The sin of American exceptionalism has tainted the church in America

The sin of stealing a land that belonged to another has been written into our history and into our souls

The violence in our street, the violence we export has come into your house

The hatred in our cities and in our own hearts has crept into your sanctuary

The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple

The dividing wall of racism has crushed our brothers and sisters

We have allowed racism to change your Son into a blue-eyed, blonde man who helps win sports championships and protects America

Our silence, our apathy, our comfort has been complicit in this evil

We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven

 

[All]

We cry out for our sisters

We cry out for our brothers

We cry out for their families

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We cry out for peace in Jesus’ name

 

[Leader]

We pray to you today, oh Lord

Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, souls stirring

We pray for our enemies who often are our friends and families

We pray for those who remain blind to the sin of institutionalized racism and who persecute those who speak out against this sin

We pray to the God in whose image we all were created that we all would see the beauty in black, brown, yellow, and red faces

We pray to the God creator, who saw we were all very good, that we could see that truth in one another

We pray that you would transform our hearts and behavior to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you

We pray to the God of all Comfort to comfort our black brothers and sisters in their mourning

We pray that you would bestow on them a crown of beauty and protection instead of ashes and scorn

We pray that you in time would give them the oil of joy instead of mourning

We pray that you would give them a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

 

[All]

We pray for our sisters

We pray for our brothers

We pray for their families

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We pray for their comfort in Jesus’ name

 

[Leader]

We declare together, oh Lord

With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring

We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters

We will continue to learn about the evil that has found shelter in our country, in our churches, and in our families

We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table

We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them

We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven

We will seek to learn and listen as we have for too long been the experts while being the perpetrators

We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all

 

[All]

We declare our love for you, our Sisters

We declare our love for you, our Brothers

We declare our love for you, their families

We declare our love for you

We stand with Suzy Jackson,

Rev. Daniel Simmons,

Ethel Lee Lance,

Myra Thompson,

Cynthia Hurd,

Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor,

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and

TyWanza Sanders

We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism

We declare they do not grieve alone today

When My Heart & Body Bleed

11403502_10155810085305651_2271394680427765294_nMy dear black sisters, I am mourning with you. I am angry with you. I am angry for you. My heart and my body? Bleeding with you.

Last night my husband once again urged me to get some rest. News of the massacre in Charleston was just gaining traction, and the news junkie in me runs deep. Peter knows it. He married me knowing this was part of my DNA but that was before wi-fi, Twitter and iPhones.

I went to bed heartbroken, angry, and numb.

I woke up bleeding.

I am almost 45 years old, and I haven’t menstruated in years. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a period because I am on birth control to avoid getting pregnant and to manage my endometriosis, which ironically made it difficult to have a second child. I grew up like many women – a bit ashamed of what our bodies did. The bleeding woman was an outcast for her entire life. Menstruating women were unclean in biblical times. Our bodies were our shame. But finally, as a grown up woman, I love my female body. Admittedly I don’t miss having my period, but I am not ashamed of what my female body can and is capable of doing. When I think about Jesus talking about his body broken for us & blood shed for us, I think about my sisters whose bodies are broken and sometimes bleed monthly because of our bodies’ ability to bring forth life. Men can’t do that. They can bleed when injured, but never to bring forth life. Lord knows I do not understand it all but I do know that as a Korean American woman I am created in God’s image.

And though for almost a decade this body created in God’s image has not bled, today it is doing just that.

I’m sure my doctor might have a different explanation, but this afternoon after a second dose of pain killers and some time in prayer, mourning, and silence,  I came to this understanding. My body is doing what my soul is doing. We are bleeding. This latest act of violence, this homegrown terrorism rooted in white supremacy and our country’s sin of racism that started not with slavery but with the theft of a land that didn’t belong to “Americans” is making me bleed. Nine beautiful black people, six women and three men, created in God’s image, who gathered to worship and invited not an angel but a racist and killer in their midst, bled and died. He walked in unafraid because white people in this country aren’t the ones in danger in the streets, in the pools, in the churches. No one questioned his presence, and then he opened fire telling victims he was there to kill black people.

We should all be sick to our stomachs and bleeding.

This is not some weird “I am black in my soul” thing like some other woman we have given way too much time to. I don’t feel black. I feel very Korean American. I have felt the privilege of not being black. I also have felt the threat of not being white, of always being just outside of being fully American, fully human. I didn’t grow up in a historic black church but a historic Korean immigrant church where our loudest moments were in prayer meetings at the wee hours of the morning. This isn’t me being black. This is me knowing that the model minority myth is my people’s lie to survive as well as deny the racist reality in this country. This is me knowing when one part of the body hurts, grieves, screams out for justice my body does hurt if I allow myself to feel it, know it. This is me watching the news, reading Twitter, managing a kind of physical pain that has often sent me to the hospital, wondering what must be going on in the bodies of my black sisters who are experiencing the pain of the Charleston massacre in a different way.

My mother and grandmother taught me my body, my mind, and my heart are connected in ways American culture and Western medicine do not understand. Many Eastern cultures teach that our bodies can manifest emotional pain and trauma and so the value of swallowing our suffering for the sake of harmony and peace can also damage our bodies. My mother and grandmother made sure I ate beautifully-formed fruits when I was pregnant with my three children so that I would see and experience beauty during my pregnancy for my sake and for the souls of my children. When I would cry out of frustration and anger about one thing or another during pregnancy or while nursing my babies, my mother would tell me my anger and heartache would make my milk “bad” and hurt my baby’s digestion and temperament. Mom would say the taste of her food depended on how she was feeling or what she was thinking while she was preparing the meal.

My mother and my grandmother were right. They were right to teach me to know and name what is going on in my heart and soul and how the world around me was impacting me and my children. They were right to teach me to not numb the pain or the anger or the sorrow but to know how it will impact myself and others.

So for the first time in a long time I am bleeding because my body, mind, and heart have caught up with one another and know something I have tried to ignore for too long – in a country built on white supremacy no one is safe.

Playing the Critic: A Review/Reflection on Keys of the Kingdom

photo credit: "T"eresa

photo credit: “T”eresa

What happens when the pastor of a evangelical megachurch in Iowa commissions a mural from a lesbian artist from New York City?

Well? What do you think will happen? Is it a doomed binary between conservatism and liberalism? Is the scenario too contrived and limited to stereotypes? Does religion win? Or fail? Or both? Or does it sound like a bad joke?

Sometimes those are the questions that make for an unexpected date night for me and the husband so despite a blizzard warning set to go in effect around the second act we headed out to see Keys of the Kingdom (now playing at Stage Left Theatre in association with Theater Wit, Chicago, through February 15). If you’re local, you want to support the arts, you like proposing different endings or changes to plays/movies/books, and you have a little cash and time to spare this is one of those shows you might want to catch.

It’s not The Book of Mormon kind of laugh out loud irreverence (actually I am going on hearsay because we have not yet seen that musical) but I appreciated that playwright Penny Penniston thought enough of evangelicals and lesbians to create characters instead of caricatures. Ed, the evangelical megachurch pastor came across utterly sincere if not a little weird in his conviction and faith while being open to the possibility that God would ask him to do something that seemed outside of the rules of conservative behavior. Christians can be weird because some of the stuff we say and say we believe in and do in the name of beliefs can come across as weird. Irene was an artist who also happened to be a married lesbian. Her sexual identity and marriage are important to her personhood but are part of an integrated whole just like I am not “just” Asian American or a woman.

The evangelical v. the lesbian is what I would call low-lying fruit for misunderstandings, politicizing, and proselytizing; thankfully that was not what this play was about. I walked away appreciating that there were things Ed and Irene could not fully explain but believed in deeply enough that they were open to new possibilities, relationships, and risks. If only we could reproduce that in real life a thousand-fold. Imagine what could happen.

The story also touched on how even good intentions can fail miserably, and my mind automatically went to the missteps taken by fellow evangelicals and allies who echo Irene’s line and say, “I was trying to help.”

The response (and sometimes my response)? “That’s what a child says when they make a mess of things.”

In the myriad of misunderstandings, good intentions with bad results, and disagreements we agree will never be bridged but by a work of God, there is grace. I was thankful it made an appearance in this play. I’m hoping to make more room for it in my heart, my words, and my actions.

The play was a wee bit long for my taste, and you could hear noise through the walls (two other plays were running at the same time in this multi-stage theater. I would’ve changed the ending, shortened the play, and allowed for some time for the audience and the actors to interact because I kept wondering if Peter and I were the only evangelical Christians in the audience. What was everyone else thinking? 

Dancing on Both Edges

I completely agree with #TakeDownThatPost and the request to remove an offensive and poorly written piece on leadership lessons from the perspective of an incarcerated  former youth pastor, aka a convicted sexual predator, recently published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. The anonymous author was given a broad, respected platform from which he compares his situation to that of King David. He refers to a “friendship”, spends several paragraphs throughout the piece explaining how his ministry continued to flourish, and describes himself as a youth pastor in his 30s who “began a physical relationship” with a student.

Interesting. I thought that was technically called statutory rape.

I suppose there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a pastor who has sinned in the technical, legal sort of way. But it isn’t a new story. It’s just that by and large evangelicals have let the Roman Catholic Church take the brunt of this one with the occasional pastor tripping into sin, falling into sin, failing morally, etc. IMHO the better story would be one of seeking forgiveness, restoration, and healing…from the victim and her family’s point of view. At the very least, the anonymous author’s piece – his tone, his choice of language, the piece’s structure, etc. – should have been vetted a bit more.

Seriously, how does a convicted sex offender – a man who raped a girl – get to publish a piece on leadership when Christianity Today (the parent title/company of Leadership Journal) ought to have been spending more time diversifying its bylined contributor pool, editorial advisory board, and editorial board?

Do I sound like I’m on the edge? I am. I am beyond disbelief when Christian publishers, convention organizers, church leaders say they don’t know where to find qualified writers, speakers, and trainers WHO AREN’T WHITE and a convicted sex offender gets to write about leadership after spending what reads like less than two years in jail with a possible 2015 release date.

 

Which leads me to the other edge I am dancing on, which is to call out those who are tweeting and manning #TakeDownThatPost social media fronts to take a look on over at CT’s Facebook page post on reparations. Where is our collective outrage and response to “our own” who are telling our black brothers and sisters to “get over” slavery? It’s one thing to rage against “The Man” and try to get a faceless entity like Leadership Journal to take down a post on something so “post-racial” as statutory rape, but apparently it is another thing to get in another commenter’s business and say, “That was racist.” But too often there is a smaller group of us dancing on both those edges because we have never lived in a post-racial America nor in a post-racial Church. My acceptance into broader American culture and Church culture has depended on my ability to play along and assimilate. However, I have known that my voice is welcomed when it’s token, when it adds the Asian American voice, when it is in solidarity with the majority, but when I call out racism I will be asked in the name of Jesus to remember that I am to put aside my ethnic culture and experiences and be a Christian first by my white sisters and brothers in Christ who do not think they have a culture to put aside. But they do. It’s the one that allows them to only pay attention to #Take DownThatPost and ignore understanding the Church’s tangled, dark history with slavery and systemic racism that dates even further back in history that continues to play out today.

I am a Christian. #ItsTimeToCallOutRacism

 

 
***In the hours after posting this, Christianity Today/Leadership Journal has removed the post and published an apology. Apology read, heard, and accepted from More Than Serving Tea.

A Book Review: Streams Run Uphill


I can tell stories upon stories about the challenges of women of color face as they minister as a vocation. One of the difficulties hinges on the idea of story as being a legitimate teaching tool. My personal experience has been that my stories, woven into a sermon, often are received as something unique to me and not something from which listeners can draw life lessons about faith and faithfulness.

I may share or give talks, but there often is a moment of hesitation before someone – and that someone may even be myself – will say I teach or preach.

But story is what scripture is. It is truth told through story – narrative, historic, poetic, and prophetic. Jesus tells stories as he tests the patience of the Pharisees, the crowds, and the disciples. We learn about Ruth, Esther, and Mary through their stories.

When teachers and preachers get up to do their thing in front of the congregation or in front of the conference, they use and tell stories to invite people into a relationship with God.

In doing so, in being faithful to the call to be vocational ministers, women of color face having to validate their story and their place in the bigger narrative in unique ways. Personally, I have not chosen that path fully as I have not felt the call to complete an advanced degree in theology or pursue ordination and a formal call to serve in the church. But I know intimately many of the stories I read in “Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with young women of color,” by Mihee Kim-Kort, Judson Press, 2014.

In fact the first page of the foreword made me stop with these words:

“The uphill struggle is not the result of their swimming against the will of the Holy Spirit. Rather, they swim uphill as they struggle to overcome the sexism, racism and ageism that are thrown before them as obstacles to God’s calling,” writes Marvin A. McMickle, PhD, president and professor of church leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

It’s an important word, perhaps for the many women who will pick up this book because they are drawn to the familiar stories, but more importantly for those who aren’t naturally drawn by kinship but because they personally have either thrown down the obstacles or have done nothing to remove them.

This book doesn’t need to be read by the women who are already living different parts of the stories in the pages. Those women, I suspect, are the primary audience for this book, which in its accessible format could be used as a guided reflection. Yes, those readers will find much-needed inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy. Yes, those readers will find their stories validated in a way only similarity can provide. Yes, those readers should read this book because so very few are written specifically to this audience.

However, if only those women who are already looking for inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy read the book, the obstacles will not be removed fast enough, in my opinion, for the need of another version of this book in the future. We women need more than validity. We need new advocates who are willing to read a book they personally are not drawn to, wrestle with their own complicity or apathy, and take small and big specific action steps to dismantle, destroy, and permanently remove the obstacles that force streams uphill.

This isn’t a book arguing for the ordination of women. This book presupposes clergywomen, but just because a denomination or church allow clergywomen doesn’t mean there actually are any. This book needs to get into the hands of church leaders who say, “We welcome any women (and women of color) to apply. Our doors are open.” This book needs to get into the hands of congregants who think similarly, even if it is about the diversity in their pews. Why? Because an open door doesn’t mean there aren’t any other obstacles to get through and feel like the door was open not by accident but as an intentional way of welcoming new leaders with new stories.

*Disclosure: I received a free preview copy of the book from the publisher for this review. No monetary gifts were offered in exchange for this very, very overdue review of “Streams Run Uphill”.