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???

Dear Mrs. Turner, I’d Love to Hear Your Voice

Dear Carleen Turner,

I’ve seen a photo of you walking with your son in his court appearance suit. I know you exist. Every child has a mother and a father, and it appears that you are involved in his life. I can only guess that you love your son just as I love my daughter and two sons. I can only guess that your heart is torn, conflicted, confused, angry, sad, afraid. I’m hoping you are like me – that you can love your child and want to scream at them with a ferocity that scares the shit out of them.

But I’d love to hear you, to read your words. Woman to woman. Mother to mother. Mother of a son to mother of a son.

I’ve read several posts by fathers about what they are telling their sons. That’s great.

But you and I are not fathers. We are mothers. We experience life differently as women, and here in what your husband called “20 minutes of action” is where you and I realize, I hope, that as mothers we also are women at risk of being seen as something, not even someone, to be possessed, penetrated, conquered, and disposed of.

What are you thinking? I want to know because I want to believe that as mothers we also share the ability to love our children, question our parenting, and continue to have a positive impact on our kids even when they make mistakes, even when they commit heinous, criminal acts.

I want to hear your voice because honestly I’m scared. You and I live similar lives in lovely communities that tell our children (and now I see that you have a daughter and two sons as well, at least from the photo I am assuming they are your children) they can become successful in whatever they set their eyes towards. Your son was close to that future, but did you know something was off? My sons are younger than yours but they hear the same messages. I want to hear your voice because maybe you have a word of advice? A warning? A regret?

Your silence is understandable. I’d be scared out of my mind and want to go into hiding, but he’s still your son. And honestly, your husband (I presume you are married) said some crazy stuff. Leave it to me to want you, the mother, wife, and woman, to clean up the mess left by two of the men in your life, but isn’t that what we find ourselves doing? Cleaning up the messes? Explaining the messes? Making the shit storm someone else left into a teachable moment?

Am I falling into gendered stereotypes? Yes. No. I don’t want to diminish the severity of what your son did. He sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. You and I are mothers but before we are mothers we are women. I want to hear your voice because you are walking in this space of tension that I am afraid of but shouldn’t be so naive as to think I am immune because of my zip code.

When horrible, criminal acts are committed against non-white people, we are almost required to forgive. Forgiveness by the survivors are commended. I want to hear from you in hopes you can flip the script and ask for forgiveness, to ask for what neither your son or husband can acknowledge is necessary.

Dear Carleen Turner, I’d love to hear you out before I write you off.

Before the Book Launch Comes a Million Waves of Doubt

  This is a rushed blog post because I don’t want it to run tomorrow. You know. April Fool’s. Or is it Fools’? Whatever. I don’t want to publish something tomorrow because publishing and getting a book published is no joke.

There are many avenues to self-publishing available and viable to those who choose that route. I am actually a co-author of a devotional that was self-published, and you are more than welcome to let me know if you are interested in buying a copy God’s Graffiti Devotional from me.

But the other book I co-authored with four other amazing women just entered its 8th printing. More Than Serving Tea is not going to be a NY Times best seller, though IMHO has more wisdom in it that some of the self-help stuff that makes that list, but as I posted a photo celebrating the fact that the book is still in print I was engaged in a short FB conversation with a friend about the lack of writers of color in the recent InterVarsity Press catalogue – the same publishing house that took a risk on and supported More Than Serving Tea.

The road to getting a book published is longer for some than others, and it is connected to privilege as much as it is connected to actual writing talent. It drives me berserkoid when Christian authors say things like, “God opened the door” because it’s weird how many more doors are opened for white authors. Just sayin’. I’m pretty sure God isn’t sitting in heaven waiting for more authors of color to pray, “Lord, open those publishing doors for me.” I am not saying that all white authors have those connections. #notallwhiteauthors I am saying that Christian publishers are still set up within the cultural norms that were established for and by white authors and readers and for their success and reading pleasure.

This post isn’t about all that needs to happen to dismantle that mess. I can’t do that in one post just like we can’t dismantle white supremacy in one post.

This post is about full disclosure, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability so that you, my truly dear readers and folks joining me on this ride, get the whole story, which is more than a lovely IG post celebrating the 8th printing of a book that came out 10 years ago. In the publishing world that isn’t even a drop in the bucket. But I contributed to that drop and it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

So I’m writing this post to share with you a secret I have been keeping because this will help people who are dreaming to keep dreaming, others to start dreaming, and maybe others to support us dreamers.

I have a book proposal.

It’s public now. Usually authors don’t share that part. We share the reprint notices. We post photos of our contracts. We invite you to be a part of the launch team. I’m here to invite you into one of the scariest parts: rejection. I just sent the FOURTH version of my proposal to my editor today, the same day I got the 8th printing notice. I won’t lie. I’m hoping that was a good omen. But I won’t lie. I didn’t think I’d be on my fourth version of a proposal when I started the first version in OCTOBER. At this rate, my daughter will graduate from college before I publish another book. Before the launch is a million waves of doubt. Do I have enough for an entire book? Will I get a contract? Will anyone read the book? Will anyone actually LIKE the book?

One of the reasons this female author of color hasn’t been published again is because I am afraid. Rejection is part of the process, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys repeated rejection. Writing and all other art requires a degree of confidence, ambition, humility, and a sense of humor. It requires more things, but those were the first things that come up for me. As a soon-to-be graduating college student applying for reporting jobs, I kept my rejection letters on the apartment refrigerator numbered and complete with corrections in red ink. That was my sense of humor. But I kept applying and that is where confidence, ambition, and humility come together. You keep trying even though it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. You keep writing because you did get some good feedback. You write because that is what you know to do.

So I’m sharing the secret of my yet-to-be-accepted book proposal to invite more of you into this journey, so that more of us can silence the fear of rejection a little bit, just enough to sit down and write and put together a proposal that has to be revised. I’m letting you know that I’m trying because I think it’s in my DNA, the way God created me, and I’m not going to wait as if the immaculate conception could take book contract form. It’s not glamorous. It’s rather tedious. It’s not waiting for inspiration to hit. It’s sitting at a blank screen day after day after day.

I’m letting you know because some of you need to know you are not alone. Tomorrow is another day in front of a blank screen, and we will love most minutes of it.

The Stories We Embody

I knew what I was going to wear before I knew all what I would actually say from the stage. I knew I was going to wear the green dress.

A few weeks ago I asked you, my dear readers, via my FB page to pray and send good, healing thoughts as I lay in bed with a fever and a stomach bug the night before/morning of a speaking engagement. I had thought about posting an update but there was so much swirling in my heart and head. I wanted to breathe a bit, sit down, and then write about that gig.

The speaking opportunity was a first for me – to speak in front of 250-ish colleagues of mine at our triennial Asian American Ministries staff conference. I’ve been with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for almost 20 years, many of those were part-time on paper years as my husband and I made choices about childcare and careers. My career trajectory has been a slow and steady one, though based on recent years on social media it might look like I’ve “suddenly appeared” to receive invitations to speak and write. Well, I was here long before the internet. Seriously. I was a newspaper reporter before I was a blogger so writing has always been a part of who I am and what I do, long before blogging, FB, and Twitter. I am THAT old. Which is why this chance to speak in front of my colleagues was special. It was a first.

My talk was on extending our influence as Asian American women and men, beyond the student leaders we develop, beyond the campuses or spaces we work within. And as I spent time preparing and praying for that talk I kept coming back to what my presence would communicate as much as, and in conjunction with, my words. What would my physical body communicate and how does that connect with what my words would be?

If you are a woman of color, you may already have a sense of where I was going with this. There are so few positive images of us in the world, even fewer in certain spaces within the evangelical world I sit within. We are often the token, the one or two people of color featured alongside a slate of white speakers. One or two of us is usually enough, which can make it feel like a competition. I’m just being real. It can get hard to cheer one another on when it feels like there are so few opportunities for people of color, fewer for women of color.

So I kept thinking about what it meant to be the one asked to speak on extending our influence, and I kept thinking about my parents and the expectations, hopes, and dreams of success and stability they had/have for their now adult daughters. I thought about how it’s easy for me to slam their hopes for stability and The American Dream as a defense mechanism for adopting the privileges while condemning their motives. I thought about how it is easy for me and my generation to talk about the impact of white supremacy and the empire and assimilation to distance ourselves from the privilege we live in and embody.

And I thought of my mother’s green dress. She had the dress made from fabric she received as a wedding gift. She had different pieces made in anticipation of moving to America, party clothes for the life of milk and honey promised in America. The green dress and matching jacket sat in a silver trunk in my mom’s closet for years untouched. I never saw her wear it, and there are no photos of her wearing the party dress. America, it turns out, isn’t a party.

I took the green dress and have worn it over the years to the parties my parents’ sacrifices and “selling out” to the American Dream afforded me. I’ve worn it to friends’ weddings and to my swearing-in as a citizen of the United States.

I knew I was going to wear the green dress before I knew all of the words I would speak that night. I knew the story of the dress and my wearing the dress would do what words alone could not. Extending my influence never started with me. It started with the dreams and hopes my parents and ancestors carried and passed on, imperfectly but with love, to me. I knew wearing the dress meant expressing my femininity in a way that was completely authentic to who I am as an immigrant Korean woman. I knew wearing the dress would allow me to embody past generations, an opportunity to allow my mother’s story to extend beyond my memories. I knew wearing the dress gave me an opportunity to remind the men in the audience even invitations to speak are still designed for men because where in the world does a woman wearing a dress hide the mic pack?

Words are important, sisters, but so are the ways we embody those words.

thanks to Greg Hsu for the photo

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.

How To Build Your Platform. A Gentle Warning.

Isn't this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What's wrong with you?

Isn’t this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What’s wrong with you? These are my favorite, but I do wish I had bought both patterns of the same shoe because these are so comfy.

 

Now that I have your attention…

I’m not exactly sure on how to build a platform, and by platform I do not mean shoes or a stage. I know shoes, but I am not a carpenter. I am talking about social media platforms, and there actually are experts out there. It’s a thing. Just google it. The experts talk about platform, branding (which I associate with advertising and cattle, but that is another topic for another day), messaging, consistency, etc. I occasionally read about building a platform because I have promised a certain editor or two book proposals multiple times, and book proposals in today’s market require some knowledge or understanding of platform. The experts KNOW. I’m not sure but I have some thoughts and warnings.

  1. Just because you have traffic doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. Deep down we all get a rush knowing the traffic on your blog ticked up or a tweet was retweeted, etc. Admit it. If you can’t admit it, you’re not being honest. And if you’re not being honest, then you will never be able to handle reality which is traffic does not equal your best content. My highest traffic posts involved some megachurch pastor who never communicated with me personally. Those posts were not my best content. Those posts were not examples of my best writing. IF you are just looking to increase traffic write about sex, Game of Thrones, megachurch pastors, or sex.
  2. Just because you don’t have traffic doesn’t mean you’re bad writer. Some of my best posts are the ones that sit there and are read quietly by my dear readers, who don’t number in the thousands but more in the hundreds. In fact, yesterday there were only 42 readers on this blog. I have less than 300 people following my blog.
  3. When you write from your heart, pray while you write, edit, and before you hit “publish”. And keep praying. Much of what I write about hits at the intersection of gender, faith, race, and ethnicity. It’s not everyone’s “thing” but it is the thing that God has compelled me to write and speak about. That intersection is what catches my heart and keeps me up at night because it affects the way I heard and hear God. It also makes people upset, angry, defensive. Racism and sexism are touchy subjects amongst the church-going crowd. If you are writing to build a platform, I humbly suggest you reconsider your motives. Writing for an audience is soul-bearing work. It’s work. It’s a discipline. Just like praying.
  4. Engage with your readers not your critics. My dear readers are thoughtful. They respond with open hearts and honest questions. Writers should engage with their readers. However, when my stats go through the roof because I’ve written a controversial post or about something that became a controversy I get crazy comments and crazier personal messages that demand I repent, retract, kowtow, etc. Am I judging those commenters? Yes. Those commenters usually are not regular readers and their comment is a critique. I let my readers respond to them. That’s right. Let your readers engage with your critics. If your readers are like mine they are thoughtful and sharp, and they will call out a troll when they see one.
  5. If you are serious about building your platform you have to be committed to writing consistently. This is where I offer advice I have heard but have not taken. I am not building my platform. I write when I want to write because this isn’t my livelihood nor is “writer” my primary vocation. However, I have been putting much more thought into being a better, more consistent blogger for my own development as a writer and for my readers who deserve more than a post here and there every few weeks.

For my fellow writer/speaker friends and readers out there, what have you learned about building your platform? What words of advice, warning, and encouragement can you give?

 

 

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”.

Make Good Choices: The Parent Edition

This weekend marks my first prom as a parent.

Dress shopping for my daughter was easier than expected. I will take full credit for spotting the dress and encouraging her to try it on back in February and then ordering the correct size on the spot. It was thrilling and bittersweet to see my 18-year-old baby girl coming out of the dressing room with the confidence, grace, and beauty of a young woman.

Hopefully there will be no ogling by men. Grown men.

Now, I’ve been searching the inter webs for comments or a response from the young woman’s parents or the prom organizers addressing the specific allegations – that the young woman’s dress was cause for concern and she was dancing in a provocative manner. If, dear readers, you find something, please let me know.

But in the meantime, let’s take our blindfolds off. Shall we? The young girl isn’t the problem. Her dress isn’t the problem. Her dancing isn’t the problem.

We grown-ups are the problem. Why?

When other grownups need to write policies that regulate the length or style of clothing that generally apply to girls there are some of us who think some of those policies ought to be common sense. And then we realize if it were truly common, written policies wouldn’t be in school handbooks and then require signatures. Take the following excerpt for example:

School Dress Code and Student Appearance

Student dress and grooming are basically the responsibility of the student and parent. While respectful of individuality, the staff and administration of — feel certain guidelines are necessary for the successful operation of the school. Under the guidelines of promoting a positive educational setting, the following rules of dress and grooming have been established:

  1. Dress which is extreme, exhibitionist, or of immodest fit or style to the extent that it interferes with the instructional process will not be allowed. Fishnet shirts, see-through blouses, spaghetti strap tops, and clothing that expose a bare back or midriff cannot be worn to school.
  2. Coats, jackets and snow boots are not appropriate classroom attire.
  3. Headwear is not to be worn inside the building unless it is a “Hat Day”.
  1. Articles of clothing with suggestive or inappropriate slogans, weaponry or acts of violence, and/or depictions of drug and/or alcohol use are not allowed in school.

I’ve not recently seen fishnet shirts, but it was a style in the 80s so don’t be surprised. And that bare midriff thing keeps coming back (and it didnt look good then so why would it look good now?).

When we grownups think that regulating clothing choices is a solution we need to remember objectification of girls happens across the globe, even in cultures and countries that require women to be fully covered from head to toe. We grownups forget that excusing boys for being boys tends to allow those boys to age but never mature. We grownups add to the complicated message when we cross that line between staying in shape and being fashionable and trying to go back to our gilded youth and live vicariously through the vocabulary or closet of our teenagers.

MILF and DILF are not compliments. It’s the other side of the same coin as the ogling dads, people. And it’s gross and INAPPROPRIATE.

We grownups are the problem when we make decisions that put other children in danger. What kinds of decisions?

We would also like to alert parents to a law that states, adults who rent hotel or motel rooms for underage drinking parties risk fines and possible jail sentences. Parents arranging such parties are also liable for any accidents caused by students as a result of attending this type of party. (From a note to prom parents at a certain high school but certainly not the only school needing to remind parents to be parents.)

I’m not dumb. I know teenagers drink. I tried it in high school. I didn’t have the tolerance for it like I do now, and I was far more terrified of the consequences. I think the fear and respect for authority my parents instilled in me kept me out of some fun but definitely out of more trouble than was worth that missed fun. I just don’t think adults – PARENTS – should be turning a blind eye or allowing this to happen because it isn’t better that your kids and their friends get smashed in your house. No. It’s illegal.

So, as I head into this prom weekend as a first-time prom parent I find myself back in high school with the same mindset that made high school miserable but got me to a healthy adulthood.

Make good choices, parents. Make good choices.

I had to go to prom because I was the junior class president. I'm sure I told you that I was that over-achieving kid in high school. I wasn't lying. Tea-length teal dress. A geek, but a stylish one. Got it from my mom, pictured here with me.

I had to go to prom because I was the junior class president. I’m sure I told you that I was that over-achieving kid in high school. I wasn’t lying. Tea-length teal dress. A geek, but a stylish one. Got it from my mom, pictured here with me.

 

When Life and Death and Life Get in the Way

My grandmother Hee Soon Shin passed away this evening at 5:45 pm. She took her final breaths surrounded by two of her children, one of her sons-in-law and two of her granddaughters. She lived a full 91 years in two countries and several cultural shifts. She left this side of heaven with the same grace and strength I have always associated with her.

She was a widow before she hit her 40s, during the Korean War, with five young children in her care. Shortly after her husband’s death, she lost a daughter – an aunt I had never heard about until I was already a mother myself. She never remarried. I asked her once why she never remarried. She smiled, quickly covering her sweet grin with her right hand, and said in our mother tongue, “It’s not that I didn’t have the chance. But I had children, and I didn’t know if any man could love them like their own. Besides, I had already been married. Why did I need to do that again?”

My sister and I were sitting bedside this evening, urging our own mother and aunt out the door so they could run home, change out of their church garb, and return having prepared themselves to keep vigil. We had spent the day together, at one point in the hospital laughing as we noticed my grandmother was being kept company my mother and her two daughters – three generations of women born into varying degrees (if there is such a thing, truly) of patriarchy. My grandmother’s breathing had already slowed, but as they left my mother and aunt paused to say another goodbye. We noticed my grandmother’s breathing continued to shallow and slow. The stillness, another breath, another pause, another breath, another pause longer than the first.

I suspect my mother is still holding her breath. Waiting.

My grandmother was always a lady. I remember watching her wash her face, a painstaking ritual of cleansing, rinsing, refilling the sink with clean water to rinse her face again. She moisturized religiously, patting, never rubbing, her face. She massaged her neck and hands. Her hair was always cut and styled, her clothes tailored and pressed. She always covered her mouth when she laughed. Fortunately for me and my sister, we inherited some of those genes, though I suspect my tendency to smile and laugh with a wide opened mouth and wild hand gestures are a product of culture and recessive genes.

She came with me and my mother to get tattoos. It was actually a multigenerational field trip of vanity – my mother and grandmother having their eyebrows tattooed while I had my eyeliner, top and bottom, done in between nursing Bethany who came along in her car seat. I will never forget the four of us sitting over steaming bowls of rice and soup after having needles poke ink into our skin. Three of us with eyelids and brows puffy and shiny from the assault staring at each other, laughing over what we had just done, looking at Bethany sleeping in her carseat. Four generations of Korean (American) women who would share creased eyelids and a love for fashion, makeup and style.

She often vacillated between staunch traditionalist – especially thrilled that her first two granddaughters (me and my sister, the only children of her oldest surviving daughter, would give her five great-grandsons), and moments of almost-feminist – supporting my decision to keep my maiden name legally and professionally. She worried about my career ambitions getting in the way of taking care of my husband and children, but she would often tell me how blessed I was to have a husband who loved and respected me for and encouraged me to pursue those very ambitions.

I was supposed to leave for California Tuesday morning for a trip to speak at Pepperdine University’s chapel service Wednesday morning. Those ambitions that often conflicted both my grandmother and my mother (who am I kidding, those ambitions conflicted me!) brewing and developing and growing through writing and speaking and following God’s call and opportunities…instead of speaking to college student’s about the pain of being an outcast and alone and the grace, belonging and power of Christ I will be grieving, remembering, and learning. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve figured life out, life changes.

My grandmother lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Korean War, and martial law. She lived through the death of an infant child, her husband, and a daughter all before immigrating to the United States. She was one of “those” people who never learned the language beyond a very, very polite, “I don’t understand. No English.” and yet she remained the matriarch, setting right her three daughters and son and their spouses; four granddaughters and four grandsons; and three great granddaughters and six great grandsons.

She and I didn’t meet until I was in elementary school, after my tongue had lost some of its Korean fluency. Over the years, my tongue spoke less and less Korean, but I understood her fierce love for three generations, each generation speaking and knowing less of her world yet still connected through blood and faith.

It’s way past my Lenten bedtime, but as I finally make my way to sleep I will remember how my grandmother taught me about self-care, grace, and strength. I will wash and moisturize my face. I will rub lotion into my hands. And I will rest in my Christ’s love.

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