Saunas and Sheet Masks: A Theology of Self-care

We have made it to February, my Dear Readers! February! And for those counting days a little differently, it’s Day 12 of the Resistance (actually, it’s been longer than that but …)! It’s time to revisit (or learn about) self-care.

Setting snark aside, winter in the Midwest is challenging never mind being a woman of color. These are trying, difficult times. I know that some people have wished their Facebook feeds to return to the days of  cat memes and news about everyone else’s perfect families (there was one woman in the neighborhood but she unfriended me). But my feed has never been void of politics, challenging news, religious commentary, and the occasional crock pot recipe. Social media for me was never about escapism, but I think for some people it was and because things are hitting closer to home or politics and policies are finally hitting you in a new way you’re exhausted. For others, like myself, we have been exhausted for a very long time.

But we were not designed and created to stay in a state of perpetual exhaustion and anxiety. God did not spend a metaphorical six days of creating to spend the seventh day fretting. We need to care for ourselves – physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, psychologically not only to fight against oppression and injustice but also to simply be. Our healthy whole selves, I believe, are meant to be a testimony to God’s goodness even in times like these. Especially in times like these. Because more and more of us are waking up to the reality that there are real people and forces who do not want many of us, particularly people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims, to live, let alone flourish.

So, Kathy, what do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do for self-care?

I actually do a lot. You cannot work full-time, write on the side, help raise three children and not lose any of them on a road trip, stay married for what is now almost 24 years, love Jesus, and not do some level of self-care and not drop dead or hurt someone. And trust me, when I haven’t loved myself, respected myself I have hurt others. Ask my kids, my husband, my parents, my sister, my friends, my colleagues.

So self-care isn’t about spa treatments and weekend getaways, though those are AMAZING if you can afford them in time and money. Self-care isn’t about avoiding or numbing the pain. If I find myself roaming resale shops and the sale racks for no reason I know that I’m just trying to avoid dealing with myself and my pain. SeIf-care is restorative and preparation. Remember the year of beauty treatments Queen Esther had? I can’t help but wonder if that year also helped her be prepared to lead her people. So, on that note I think of self-care in three categories:

REST

Many of us are walking around sleep-deprived. I’m not talking about parents with infants or young children. I’m talking about all of us. We are also bombarded with information and glowing screens all the time, even the kiddos. Screen time isn’t restful, in fact, my own unscientific study of my friends’ Facebook posts recently have shown an uptick of people feeling more stress and anxiety from social media and wanting to take breaks. We need to rest. Remember, God took Day 7 OFF. Things to do for straight up rest include:

  • GO TO BED BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Lately I have been shooting for seven hours of sleep. (My kids are 21, 17, and 15 so I have other reasons to be up late and worried but sleep-training isn’t one of them.)
  • Take short naps if I need them.
  • Technology is my nemesis. I need to be better at getting off of my phone or computer at least one hour before I go to bed. Anyone want to be my accountability partner?
  • Nagging my spouse for years about his snoring. Turns out he has sleep apnea and now uses a CPAP machine. Very sexy. If your partner isn’t sleeping soundly chances are you aren’t either.
  • Cutting off caffeine at 3 pm but my problem isn’t caffeine. It’s the glass of wine with the evening news, which doesn’t help with sleep.
  • Readers. My eyes are older and turned against me last year and because I love to read, when the words started moving and growing fuzzy I gave in and bought some reading glasses to rest my eyes, which helped my headaches, which helped me sleep.
RESTORE

Once I had a better handle on a sleep pattern and rhythm (just like we try to do with our infants), needing rest wasn’t urgent because it was part of the routine. Feeling refreshed and restored is different than just getting enough sleep. I think of rest as turning off my engine. Restoration is filling my tank.

  • EXERCISE! This will also help the quality of your sleep. My favorites are walking, yoga, and kickboxing. Walking gets me outside into the fresh air. It gets me out of my head (I don’t always have my headphones on) and if I’m alone it’s my time to rant with Jesus. If I’m with friends, they are a stand-in for Jesus. Yoga has helped me connect my body awareness to my breathing. Kickboxing is great cardio, and I like to hit the bag.
  • Saunas and sheet masks are a given. I go to a Korean sauna monthly to sit in dry saunas and hot steam rooms. I go alone because silence is a good. I go with friends because friends who don’t care about seeing each other naked in the steam room are friends worth keeping. Sheet masks and general “spa” like things are about caring for my body as well as connecting with others. After the Women’s March it was sooooo good to be in a room with four other amazing Asian American women talking about the day, lying on our backs, moisturizing our faces, and delighting in each other’s company.
  • My tank needs 10 mg of Lexapro daily. No shame. My brain needs a daily adjustment. If you have healthcare, don’t get me started, GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR and make sure all your levels are where they need to be. I was worried I was falling into a deeper depression last year so I called up my doctor. Turns out I was anemic.
  • Spend time in community. When I am in a funk, the last thing I want to do is go out but it is often the thing I need to get myself out of myself. Invite friends over for dessert. Take lunch to a friend. Talk with other people. Be around other people.
READY (to go)

Like I said, this isn’t about spa treatments. This is about taking care of yourself because it’s not just about you. What is God inviting you to do, to become? I think of President Barack Obama’s chant, “Fired up? Ready to go!” I think of Jesus telling the disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” or the angel telling the women at the tomb, “Come and see…go quickly and tell…”  I love moisturizing my skin, but our beautiful strong bodies are meant to go. How will you be ready? This is where I feed my heart, soul and mind.

  • Read. Do the work of feeding your mind. Read authors of color. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read poetry and young adult novels. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts if you don’t have the time to sit and read. (But remember, we always have time for the things we make time for.)
  • Use both sides of your brain. Look at art, listen to music and then make some art and dance to the music. Resistance takes work but there has to be joy and hope…and laughter. So tap into the joy and hope otherwise what are you fighting for?
  • I’m a Christian so I pray. I miss praying with friends so I’ll need to do that again/more. I pray aloud and silently. I write my prayers. I walk my prayers. I breathe my prayers.

So help me and each other out, my Dear Readers. What self-care practices do you keep or want to try? How can you help others practice self-care?

Marching While Asian American

I feel sick to my stomach. Walls. Immigrants. Refugees. Native lands. Silencing federal agencies. If any of My Dear Readers think they are going to be OK because, you know, God is in control, let me gently suggest you read the Bible. There is hope and deliverance but there also is a lot of suffering. We don’t get to skip out on the suffering because we go to church or are documented citizens. I’m also sure that Enoch is the only one lucky one who was “taken up”.

With that, I’m going to write about marching at the Women’s March on Washington. I’ll probably write more, but it’s in process. Thank you for indulging me.

First, me checking my privilege:

  1. I was able to be away from home Thursday-Sunday with little financial impact to my family, including carpooling with a dear friend the ride to and from D.C. from my safe little north suburb of Chicago and staying with friends while away.
  2. This was only my fourth protest march in the US, and I’ve never been arrested. (A little known fact: I marched against US military presence in South Korea as a college student where I learned about tear gas, exiting protests when things look a little iffy, and how to make and throw a molotov cocktail. My people know how to protest.)
  3. For now we live in a democracy where we have the right to protest. I have the energy and the cultural value of swallowing suffering. I didn’t have to worry if my wheelchair or cane would be problematic.
  4. I’m not a black or brown woman whose mere presence can threaten some #notallwhitewomen.
  5. As an Asian American woman I am often perceived by some #notallwhiteowomen as “safe” and quiet and practically white, practically invisible. I’m not. Because of that some but not all black and brown women don’t know what to do with me. I get that. We all have some learning to do. I do not experience the physical threat black and brown women face. WOC, however, all experience a dehumanizing through hyper-visibility and invisibility that as a Christian grieves me to the core. I’m still learning.

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Me in process:

  1. The experience was better because of the 24 hours in the car with my friend Tina and my daughter. There was something about the adrenaline rush and crash, the expectation and the different experiences that filled in some blanks for me.
  2. The experience was better because I was able to prepare for, be present, and recover from the march with a group of Asian American women – my adult daughter, two former colleagues, and one current colleague who all have been a part of my journey for the past 21 years. (Add that to the list of privileges.)
  3. Why did that older white man feel like he could come up to my daughter and ask her to define intersectionality when he made clear he had seen it on other signs during the day? (I was so proud of her and her answer. If you don’t know what it mean, please Google it and know a black woman coined the phrase and developed the area of study.)
  4. From where we stood (for almost 6 hours) the crowd was sort of diverse. There were WOC present but my unscientific observation is that the diversity of the rally speakers was greater than than of the crowd. Again, I HAVE NO ACTUAL PROOF except for the SMALL FRACTION of the crowd I could see. But WOC were there, with our signs, with our friends and signs.
  5. When the Mothers of the Movement took the stage it seemed to me that many of the white women there had no idea who these women were and why we were asked to chant “Say Her/His Name”. Again, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m sorry. You don’t walk away and start marching because you’re tired of standing and listening to speakers when it’s the Mothers of the Movement.
  6. I wondered if Asian Americans would be represented up front. My friends and I joked that when ScarJo took the stage she might be the closest we get to a celebrity. I think she was. I was relieved to see Sen. Tammy Duckworth speak (she’s Thai American and a decorated war vet) and thrilled out of my mind to see my friend Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, took the mic wearing her “Not Your Model Minority” hat. Again, I found myself wondering if non-Asian Americans in the crowd understood the importance and implications of that phrase.
  7. The programming reflected a desire and need for representation but honestly we didn’t need to hear from Michael Moore, ScarJo, Madonna, Amy Schumer, and several other speakers. We didn’t because we hear from them when we don’t want to march. We meaning me/I.
  8. There is a lot of talk about how “peaceful” and arrest-free the marches across the country were. I’m not gonna play respectability politics. Reality is that with that many white women marching there was no way police were going to come out all militarized with riot gear like they did just the day before for the inauguration. However, I also wrote down the legal aid number in an inconspicuous place because I’m not white, because I protested against the U.S. government in another country, and because the government also has all my info, including biometrics because I went through the naturalization process. Paranoid? Maybe. But I can’t help but remember Executive Order 9066 and the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans especially under this current administration.
  9. I went because I could, and I also have many (many, many, yuge numbers) of friends who couldn’t go because of work, family, health, self-care but wanted to march or wondered if they should march or could march. I marched for them and for myself. Marching isn’t for everyone. Protesting by marching, chanting and carrying signs isn’t for everyone. It’s for me. I can’t represent all Asian Americans but I can show up as one Asian American woman.

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My personal action steps:

  1. Self-care. This is not about eating my feelings, avoiding the exhaustion and pain, or home spa treatments. It’s about making sure I am physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically healthy and well. It means drinking more water, sleeping, praying, worshiping, laughing, crying, reading, and exercising. It means recognizing my body is a temple but I can’t hire people to clean, maintain, and feed said temple.
  2. Sign up for monthly volunteer opportunities that will make an impact locally.
  3. I’m a Christian and I might even still call myself an evangelical, and I haven’t been to church in months because it has not been a place of hope. If you are a person of faith, stay rooted in a faith-community. I am finding myself missing communal worship and prayer.
  4. Making at least one phone call each day to a politician or organization involved in this mess. Today I called the White House Correspondents Association to ask them to stop reporting lies and “alternative truths”, aka lies.

Here is a sample script for the WHCA: “My name is —– . I am a resident of the —– congressional district in (state) and there is no need for a return phone call. I am calling to ask reporters to stop repeating the lies and alternative facts of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway. The American public deserves to read and hear truth, and if this administration is unable to communicate actual facts please stop quoting them.” Call 202-266-7453

So, I’m wondering. Did you, my dear readers, march? Why or why not? Are you glad you marched???

Everyday Dismantling #7 – Learn By Making Mistakes

How did you learn how to tie your shoes? To drive? To apply makeup or style your hair? To write your name in cursive? To read? To swim? To ride a bike?

Unless you are some freak of nature and succeeded in learning those life-skills in one single attempt, it took time. It took failure. In some cases, it took a combination of courage and humiliation. For example, I finally stopped perming my hair, and through the gentle coaching of a teacher/director I learned to give up dreams of acting and stick to public speaking as “me”.

So many of my dear readers have responded to my most recent post about a racist encounter in a public space with questions:

What should a bystander have done? What would have been the right response? What  were you hoping someone would do? What should I do when I see something like this happen?

But before I answer the question(s), I’ll do what I did before and throw it back to you, my dear readers.

Why are you asking these questions? Why do you want to know the “right” way to respond when witnessing a racist situation? What is the worst thing that could happen if you had actually been there and done something, anything?

I really wish there was one “right” answer so that we could teach it in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, coffee shops, and craft beer stores. I wish there was a line or a phrase that would’ve been perfect. I wish I could tell all of you that if someone had only done this or said that I wouldn’t have walked away shaken, wouldn’t have cried this morning at the sound of my friend Deidra’s voice checking in with me or this afternoon when Deb’s kind note arrived.

But there isn’t.

My dear readers, I can hear the fear of failure behind your question. Not all of you, but some of you. Maybe a lot of you. You are afraid of saying something wrong, afraid that you will come off as the arrogant white person, the white savior.

And you might come off that way because until you practice saying and acting out what you are learning in your heart and mind it may sound scripted, savior-ish, stilted. It may come out wrong or awkward. You may be misunderstood. You may make a mistake.

But you should do something, say something. It may not be met with overflowing gratitude. You may not even be thanked. (Brad walked away and I was trying to hold it together so I didn’t seek him out afterwards. I just wanted to leave. But just in case, Brad, if you are reading this, if you are the youngish white man in the polo shirt, I think it was blue, who stepped in, thank you. Thank you.) You may actually exacerbate and escalate the situation. You may fail.

But do something because your conscience, your soul, your heart and mind told you that in the presence of injustice and hatred and confusion people need to act, not just think, the part of justice and love and peace. You should speak up and speak out when you know something is wrong not because you want to be right or perfectly understood.

This is not my first rodeo with racism. I learned I was a chink and a gook growing up in Roselle, Illinois. I was bullied and harassed. I have been told over and over in so many different ways that I do not belong, and while EVERYONE can sympathize with that, NOT EVERYONE knows the personal pain of being told in so many ways over a lifetime that they do not belong in this country because of their race, ethnicity or religion (actual or perceived). This incident and all the others I’m referring to are not the same as not being picked for the dodgeball team or being in the cool crowd or feeling left out.

I was told to leave this country because Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners. My sons, who witnessed this and have told the story to their friends, will say, “We were told to go back to where we came from.” They took the white man’s comments personally.

There is some irony in all of this. Unless you are Native American/First Nations this here United States of America is actually not “OUR COUNTRY” in the possessive ownership sense. We citizens of the USA who lack Native blood are ALL IMMIGRANTS residing on stolen land. This really isn’t “OUR COUNTRY”, is it? Let’s sit on that for awhile, shall we?

But that’s not what that man meant. He didn’t challenge the white male cashier. He saw me and my sons and assumed his white privilege and did not hesitate to tell me to “Go back to your country.”

None of us can learn a new skill in one attempt. None of us. We all fail. We will make mistakes along the way. Silence is a mistake my family and I cannot afford.

Be willing to make a mistake. To fail. Practice in your head what you might say or do and maybe whisper it out loud right now as you finish reading. And then wait for it. Don’t throw away your shot.

 

 

 

This Is My Country

****No editing here. Getting this written down quickly because I am still angry, shaken, sad. You never get used to everyday racism.

No, I wasn’t wearing this shirt today, but the image fits. And if you don’t know about AngryAsianMan.com now you know.****

The older man walked up to the closed register next to me and looked at the wretched KFC/Pizza Hut menu at the travel oasis/rest stop near Elkhart, IN. He asked about the fried chicken hiding behind the greasy cough-guard. I wondered if he was going to do what I thought it looked like he was going to do, and I wrestled with what I would do if he tried to cut in front of the line. He stands with a curve in his back, pants hemmed too short and hair disheveled. He is older, if not elderly, with white, thinning hair. I can’t take the Korean out of me. We respect our elders. Should I just let him go? I just want to feed my sons terrible fast food, get back on the road and get home.

But he goes on, putting in his order and pulling out some money, and the cashier tells him there is line that he will have to join. The line is now about 8 people deep, not including me and my two teenage sons.

The older man, let’s call him Gerald, looks back at the line, looks at me and asks, “What do you need food for?”

I’m hoping he is joking, though he isn’t cracking a smile, so I respond as kindly as I can with a smile (I have now listened to Hamilton five times on this road trip and I can’t stop thinking “talk less, smile more”), “I need food to eat, just like you do.”

Gerald looks at me and my sons and says, “You don’t need food. Go back to your country and eat the food there.”

By the way, Gerald is white. I am not.

Oh, FFS.

My first instinct is to put myself in between Gerald and my sons who are 17 and 14 and both taller and bigger than I am, but I am their mother and I will always put myself between them and perceived danger.

Remember. There are at least eight people watching this unfold.

What would you hope you would have done if you were behind me in the line??? W??hat would you hope others would have done or said as they watched this unfold?

I wrote briefly about this encounter on my Facebook page, and everyone wants to know what I said, but I want to know if you have ever seen anything like this happen to someone else? And if so, what did you do? Did you say anything?

Because that is part of why I am still upset, unnerved, angry, sad, and exhausted. I am not told to “go back” every day in the literal sense, but many Asian Americans, American-born and immigrants, will tell you that we experience this “othering” often, especially here in the Midwest.

Non-Asian Americans of all shades often seem unable to “place” me in discussions on race because I do not fit neatly into the Black/White binary and Asian American history, art, literature, etc. are not always taught in American history even though “we” have been around for centuries here in the United States.

Which brings me back to Gerald and the silent line.

My response was to first step in between my sons and Gerald. My second response was to whip out my phone camera, but I didn’t catch him. What I caught was his face getting closer to mine as I told him, “I have money. This is my country, and there is a line.”

Eventually a younger white man, let’s call him Brad, steps in between me and Gerald and de-escalates the situation.

I am exhausted. In that 90-second exchange I went through the mental gymnastics of wondering what I could do to de-escalate the situation, how I could show the man Christ-like grace, if Gerald was some how mentally challenged, allowing age to be an excuse for his racist comment, wondering if anyone else was going to step in, hoping it didn’t escalate but not ready to stand down and behave whatever behaving means at that point, wondering what my sons were taking away from this experience, hoping they weren’t too embarrassed, embarrassed as we then had to stand there and wait for our food, angry that I felt embarrassed, tired that this was nothing new because it has happened to me since I was a child.

So here is a lesson for all of you, my dear readers, who have never been told to “go back to your country”. Now that you know this really happens here in the United States, how will you prepare yourself to step in? What will you do when something like this happens in front of you?

Remember, there were at least eight other adults in that line who said nothing.

 

Will You Be a Witness?

img_4294Tonight is the big night at the Republican National Convention. The Donald, the candidate so many thought wouldn’t make it through the primaries, will accept the party of Lincoln’s nomination. Sit on that one for a minute, especially if you are a Republican or grew up in Republican family.

I’m not going to pretend here. I’m not a fan. In fact, after watching Gov. Chris Christie whip the crowd into cheers of “Lock her up!” I realized that was as close to a modern-day lynch mob as I wanted to get. I truly expected an effigy of Hillary Clinton to appear somewhere in the middle of the arena floor.

But I want to encourage all of you to consider watching tonight. And watch next week. Watch it on C-SPAN or streamed without commentary if you are able to. Watch and listen. Open your eyes and your heart, and don’t let it all crush your soul. Find what gives you hope and cling to that because politics is not the answer. But ignoring what is happening in politics in our country also is not the answer.

Evangelicals, particularly the white ones, are getting a bad rap this election cycle, and I can’t say it’s undeserved. The rise of Trump’s candidacy is being connected to white evangelicals and everywhere on my social media feeds are white evangelicals crying out, “Not this white evangelical!”

But that doesn’t excuse you from paying attention and washing your hands any more than reminding me your grandparents didn’t own slaves or live next to any Japanese families who were interned excuses you from understanding and examining how history impacts currently realities. As Christians we cannot read scripture and say the history recorded in scripture and around the same time the Bible was written have no impact on our lives. How can we be so ignorant as to believe the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, internment, unjust immigration laws of the past have no impact on how our churches, communities, schools, and laws currently function? (I’ll have to write more on all of that later.)

Be a witness. Many of my friends and I have described this week to a train wreck that we can’t seem to take our eyes off of. We know it’s crazy. We know it’s scary. We know that maybe we should avert our eyes or take cover from a possible explosion.

I’d like to think that it isn’t self-hatred that draws us back or a cynicism too deep to unravel in a blog post. I’d like to think that I am watching because there is a responsibility to be informed.  I’ve been watching because I have friends and neighbors who are seeing something very different this week, seeing it through and processing it through a different lens and I want to be a witness from a different angle. It will be the same next week. I realize there are all sorts of privileges that are connected to being able to cease work and connect to a television to watch, but if you’re reading this blog you’re already there in that space of privilege. My dear readers, please use it.

Use your privilege to educate yourself. Read reports from different news sources. Watch tonight and again next week. Ask questions of friends who believe different things but also want the same things. Don’t rely on witty tweets (though mine are pretty funny) and memes. Watch. Watch and read. We need to be witnesses.

One More Sleep

One more sleep until #flymysweet comes home again. Our oldest child, the only one with her own hashtag, has been away for the month for a study abroad program. We’ve tried to support and develop the woman God has created her to be and become, and that has meant letting her go to do and be in spaces we couldn’t imagine.

I’m still getting used to that rhythm of joy and hope mixed with a touch of loss and sadness each time she leaves and returns home, knowing that one day she will have her own place to call home. There were three and then there were two. And then three again. Next year we will go from three to one.

One more sleep until we watch her unpack the familiar items (I have missed that skirt and scarf of mine) and listen to her explain the new items. She texted she is both ready to come home and wishing she had more time. I told her that was the sign of a good trip and a good home.

Home used to be with my parents and sister and the silence and noise that comes with an immigrant family, two languages, and two cultures clashing into a third. Home used to be there and now I am trying to remember when it became here.

One more sleep until the younger brothers can ignore the presence of their older sister, the one they asked about and wondered how she was faring in a country where she did not speak the language in a program where everyone was a stranger.

I’ve been thinking about the trip I took to South Korea during a college summer break. My parents and I thought it was sort of a going back “home” to the motherland where I could speak the language with an American accent but looked just like everyone else. We thought it would give me a stronger connection to my Korean-ness, and it did but not until the experience integrated with my heart, soul, and mind. We thought it would bring us closer as a family, giving me a glimpse into my parents’ home. It gave me a stronger sense of what it could have been. I’m hoping this trip has given our daughter a sense of what could be.

One more sleep until we are back together under one roof the way it has been but will probably not be for much longer.

We are helping launch her as much as she is helping launch us.

Thoughts on “The Making of Asian America” & What I Didn’t Learn in School

It’s still May, the month of my people, and I am late to the game with my thoughts after reading Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America.

If you are Asian American you should read the book. It covers generations of Asian, American history that will teach you what our school textbooks didn’t and what our family stories couldn’t due to gaps in language, culture, information, and access.

If you aren’t Asian American you should read the book. It covers generations of American history that will teach you what our school textbooks didn’t, mainly that Asian Americans have been a part of U.S. history since the 1500s.

For example things I didn’t learn in school:

  1. During the Japanese internment the government enacted a loyalty review program where draft-age males were asked if they would be willing to serve in combat duty with the US armed forces and if they would be willing to “swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America.” (p. 238) Our government incarcerated them and then asks them to prove their loyalty by using them in combat. (Oh, and why weren’t Germans rounded up and incarcerated?)
  2. U.S. Census data confirms Asian Americans are overrepresented on both ends of the educational and socioeconomic spectrum of privilege AND poverty. (p. 376)
  3. Did you learn about the Black Panthers in school? How about I Wor Kuen, the largest revolutionary organization aligned with the Black Panther movement.
  4. African Americans weren’t the only ones who were prohibited from giving testimony in cases involving a white person. Chinese immigrants and Native Americans also could not be believed. (p. 92)
  5. South Asians who had been naturalized citizens were also denaturalized in the 1920s. (p. 172)

I recall learning a little bit about the Korean Conflict, the Japanese Internment, and the Vietnam War. I don’t know about you but those were the units that made me a bit uncomfortable as one of the few if not only Asian American in the classroom when these were being discussed because when you’re one of a few if not the only one in the classroom people look at you like you were the reason America went to war when really America’s best interests were to go to war which included everyone in that room. And it was as if those history units gave the racist classmates permission to say ugly, unAmerican things to me.

The book made me stop to think about what I knew and thought I knew about my family’s immigration story and how that has impacted my understanding of who I am, uniquely and powerfully created in God’s image. It made me consider how I have too often been quick to judge my parents’ generation for a litany of wrongs without fully understanding the context of their journeys both here in the U.S. and “home” in the motherland. It made me think about how their stories and they themselves too are created in God’s image. Lee’s book reminded me that I ought to be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when it comes to understanding how my parents’ and earlier generations’ stories are also part of God’s story.

The book was also published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the very piece of legislation that made it possible for me and my family to immigrate to the U.S. in 1971. History I had not learned in school is what made it possible for me to read this book and write this blog in English while still connecting to my Korean roots knowing what it means to be an alien, a stranger in a foreign land even when I am “home.”

Towards the end of the book there were two quotes that comfort and challenge me as one who sits in the tension of privilege as a college-educated upper middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, married, and documented & naturalized citizen and racism and sexism I experience as a Korean American woman in Christian/evangelical circles.

“Historian Franklin Odo argues that the model minority label ‘encourages Asian Americans to endure contemporary forms of racism without complaint and to provide brave and loyal service above and beyond that required of other Americans.’…

Musician Vijay Iyer goes further: privileged and unquestioning Asian Americans have become ‘complicit’ in their acceptance of ongoing American inequality.” The Making of Asian America, Erika Lee p. 380.

For my dear Asian American readers, what are your stories of enduring, swallowing, dismissing, forgetting racism and how has that impacted the way you engage with contemporary justice movements? Do you see yourself as complicit in the ongoing American inequality? What are the ways in which you question inequality?

For my dear non-Asian American readers, what behaviors and beliefs might you need to reconsider as you learn about Asian American history and the ways in which the United States’ past greatness was built on racism? How might you also be complicit in the the ongoing American inequality? What are the ways in which you question inequality?

And for my readers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who share the intersection of Christian faith, how does Jesus challenge our understanding of persecution, persecuting, and systemic injustice?

 

 

Mental Health, AAPI Awareness Month, and Being All of Me

My college kid is home resuming a vampire’s sleep schedule for another week-ish and then off to her study abroad program in Paris. My high schooler is getting ready for his junior prom, which really translates into using my credit card and acting like I don’t understand the significance of this social event. He also has finals wrapped around Memorial Day weekend, which makes me want to swear. My middle schooler has checked out of school because he is “graduating” from 8th grade, and we made the mistake of telling him that 8th grade didn’t really count as a way to help him cope with all the talk about high school expectations.

I am so done.

But May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and May 10 was AAPI Mental Health Awareness Day. May is also host to Mother’s Day, which for some of you is Instagram worthy and for the rest of us requires deep breathing. May is my month. All of me. #intersectionality

I live in the Midwest so May being  the month of my people is cruel. May should be the peak of spring, but here it’s frost advisories, overcast days upon overcast days, rain that carried over from April, and a few days of glorious spring and “sprummer” – days that start like spring but then heat up to the 80s causing all tulips to bloom and wilt within a 24-hour period. I don’t know why May was selected for AAPI Heritage Month, but I’m not actually going to share any tidbits about AAPIs because we have Google.

Today is about being all of me. All of you. And how that can be simultaneously empowering and exhausting because when you are integrated and whole, you also have a sense of when things aren’t working, aren’t in sync, aren’t “right.” Right?

Today I was supposed to be somewhere else training great people to do important things that I am passionate about. But I’m not there. I’m here in my home office, in my pajamas because they are comfy and I don’t have to leave the house quite yet. I’m here because all of me – the Jesus-loving recovering Korean American child of immigrants perfectionist who swears and drinks a lot more than she ever did in her “younger” years, working mother of three who doesn’t have it all but has a lot, writer, speaker, coffee drinker – was given the permission to opt out.

So I did. I felt like a failure because the model minority myth is a tough one to remove. I felt like a failure because my own inability to manage my anxiety was getting in the way. I felt like a failure because aspiring Christian speaker writer types do not decline/back out of speaking invitations. I felt like a failure.

And then I didn’t. I woke up today looking forward to seeing updates from friends doing their thing and grateful I could do mine, unshowered in my pjs. And I want to let some of you, dear readers, know it’s OK. You can opt out of good opportunities. You can even opt out of great opportunities. Yes, some of them truly are once in a lifetime, while others may come around again.

Be you.

Be.

Before the Book Launch: (The First) Announcement

Don’t let this fool you. This photo was taken on the day I wrote this post.

Dear Readers,

I have an announcement. No, I am not pregnant.

I signed a contract. To write. A book. All by myself but not truly alone because we know writing is both a solitary and simultaneously communal act, with the prayers, support, and stories of my family and all of you!!!

This has been a 10-year journey – 10 years since “More Than Serving Tea” was published and the awkward beginnings of blogging. It also has been a decades-long journey as a former journalist who has journals dating back to 2nd grade. (“Dear Diary, I had a hot dog for lunch. It was a good day.”)

The book is about finding your voice and stewarding your influence well in a world that competes for our attention and energy. It’s about speaking up and speaking out honestly, truthfully, boldly. It’s not about building a platform. It’s about God’s invitation to all of us to discover how we are uniquely created in God’s image – imago Dei – and to live into that fully, which for me today has meant two video conference calls dressed professionally from waist up while sitting cross-legged in yoga pants and Minion socks with a sick teenager a room away texting me about nausea and the need for club soda.

Thank you for reading, for cheering me on, for commenting, and for sharing my words, my Dear Readers. I hope you will stick around for this part of the ride!!

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?

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