Once, when we were support-raising missionaries for a Christian church planting organization, a funder wrote me and warned about our going down a slippery slope. Falling away, going down a slippery slope, turning one’s back and back-sliding–these were the worst … Continue reading
I am grateful to learn through experience and study about suffering, privilege, and the ways in which I miss out when my life is situated to buffer against pain. A 2nd article is up on The Table today, just scratching the surface and sharing some names that have been so helpful to me on this continuing journey. I continue to open up to the suffering of others and the vulnerability of this Kingdom walk, reliant upon the community and the Christ found in these margins.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to add to the resources at the Center for Christian Thought’s The Table. Here is the first article I contributed on the theme of Suffering.
I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.
I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.
Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.
There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health. –Courtney Martin
I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.
Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?
This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.
“…the insight of women whose hearts are attuned to the heart of God are silenced because so much of our ministry endeavors arise from a culturally derived false sense of masculinity…We are forcing a theological famine upon ourselves by ignoring the voices of women.” ~Soong-Chan Rah, Prophetic Lament, p. 64
I see hunger everywhere. And I find the malnourishment especially painful to understand, early in this adult life, as it thrives in this Church, this love of mine. To accept that conferences and services and studies led by men are for men and women, and those led by women are for women (usually ones with a ring on and a mortgage). To hear excuses made for men that would endanger the jobs and influence of women. It’s hard to know that a woman in leadership is still a living, breathing debate, and to constantly live where men and misinformed masculinity are the decision-makers.
Half of God is neglected when half His people are not at the table.
Adopting the roles of wife and mother has both sharpened my appreciation for being a woman and my sensitivity to the ways in which women are ignored and discriminated against, especially if they don’t fall into the privileged hats and stereotypes I happen to possess. I hurt with those who don’t desire to ever have these titles, or do but have not found or pursued them yet; I can see how living in the pressure cooker of churchy society often make both women feel out of place.
In my humble daily, I strive with others to set a different table and divest from such mean, narrow, Bad News culture. I long for the day we don’t have to apologize for being women. I’m encouraged and taught by so many doing similarly, mindful of God’s femininity and motherhood, of the voice and might of women in Scripture. As much as I hold men responsible for perpetuating or breaking down the confines around my gender, I also feel the burden and calling of putting forth a more cohesive and comprehensive image of woman.
We are uniquely qualified to speak as God’s children when we work from the truth of our experience on the sidelines. From the time we are labeled bossy when he is named leader, to the first time we are called a bitch for having a thought threatening to a man, to the observation that men are asked to pray and women to babysit, while the sermons rattling around in our heads have no venue. We remember the debut of our physical figures and the ensuing comments, hollers, and assault. We are aware of brokenness because we have been subject to it, with greater frequency and less recompense than the other gender. Women can be present and affected by another person’s pain because we have faced our own, and brought it before others and Abba God, again and again. The complexity of our bodies and our sexuality, our nuanced intellect and our God-given emotions, are qualifications and indications, not apologies and caveats.
The voice of women implores the Church, the Bride, to greater honesty and empathy. She calls the family to remember, to lament, and to a patient and inglorious resolve that introduces Jesus where we need Him most.
Women, you –we– are necessary to the task of love, the Shalom that calls. We still have the hard work of pushing, gripping one another’s hands, and screaming through the pain of bringing forth a more whole picture of Jesus to the world and one another. Because we have found God as Parent, and Good News in our own experiences, we can offer non-judgmental space for others who are hurting, who have made big mistakes, who are slow and disappointing or just completely different. We are great about embracing the cause. We are half of Christ’s body left here on earth and imperative to the Already and Not Yet.
The women I know have been the bravest and the quietest, the most overlooked and underpaid, the best qualified and the least promoted. Men, I ask you to share the pulpit and agenda, invite women to the team, and defer to their advice. Making space may mean moving aside. Listen. Copy their rhythms, ask God to make you sensitive to language and theology that excludes us. Repent of the assumptions made about us. Women, let’s share the mic. Bring a friend to the opportunity that’s been given you. Maintain vulnerability. Invest in each other’s stuff. Name bravely what is happening. Keep unlearning and repenting of the stereotypes and prejudices we have absorbed against ourselves and each other.
From the dinner table to the conference table, from the pews to the platforms, your womanhood and way of seeing and being, is impactful; do not relent. You are commissioned and seen, encouraged to not neglect the gifts in you, named chosen, royal, holy, beloved.
I take heart in your sisterhood.
When I first became a mom, I was also in my early years of adulthood and vocational ministry. I had just graduated with a masters in theology, and as grateful as I was for the gift of a child, I also deep down felt a little cheated. Like I had let everyone down, like I was going in the opposite direction as planned. I was very young, and I had many ideals and intentions that seemed incongruent with being a mother. I careened into motherhood like I did other stages of my life, and as quickly as I could I resumed roles and responsibilities, out to prove that being a mom wasn’t the end of me. Mostly to myself. In doing so, I delayed forming a more congruent sense of identity, and fostered a belief that motherhood competed with a better purpose.
Looking back, I wonder if I spent too much time fighting against my role as mom, disliking the embedded stereotypes I felt defensive towards, as opposed to seeing this new part of my life as a conduit through which those ideals could manifest creatively. I wonder if I could have been a little easier on myself, a little more trusting of God’s work through me as opposed to relying on my effort. I am now seven years into my irreversible tenure as a mother and I’ve settled down a bit. I had a short, glorious reprieve from diaper bags, leaking sippy cups, and pack’n’plays. Now, we are a year into our third son, cherishing the good with the hard, a little less rushed, a little less pressured, and, honestly, a little less together.
I can tell you that being a mom has not become the definition of who I am but it has determined most of my waking and sleeping hours for the past 7 years. I can also tell you that, at the same time, it hasn’t been a death sentence to my ideals, my sense of calling, and my dreams. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you, yes you, that new mom, or the woman who had an unexpected, irreversible detour of any kind, are still on mission. I’m glad to report, even just 7 years in, that the socially-minded, justice-fighting, feminist, grown-ass Jesus-loving woman can co-exist with this honor of motherhood. That, as Donald Miller articulates in describing his friend David in Scary Close, maybe while life is declining “in earthly validation [it is] all the while ascending in the stuff that really matters.” You don’t have to become a mom to learn some of the things I’m learning. But you don’t have to not be one also.
I am writing against the doubts and shadows of despair that I myself still face occasionally. You know the ones: the flat one-liners that reduce us to who we are in relationship to one other person, or box in our dreams to a specific shape, size, and color. I’m writing to you from a fellow trench of deafening needs, long days, and short years. You are still you, and your heart for others is going to grow, not wither, from your station in the home.
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Women who are primarily labeled stay-at-home-moms in this blessed world routinely practice a very profound behavior: the act of invitation. She invites the tears of her children, the sighs of her husband, the stories of the cast of characters in her ever-growing community. She invites care when she is exhausted or confused, and help when she is sick. By nature of being a woman, she is vulnerable to surprise, cycles, changes, setbacks and regrouping. She receives people, in her physical space and her emotional depths. She reflects Trinitarian reciprocity and extends the hospitable nature of God as wife, mother, neighbor, friend, visitor.
As a woman translates her self into her leadership in the home, in developing familial and extra-home relationships, and in turn allows her self to be affected and matured through that role, she embodies a powerful combination of structure and adaptability. These are the crossbeams of a good invitation.
In family systems theory, boundaries, adaptability, and the permeability of family norms and rules is discussed. When a family dance is met with a new person through birth or adoption, or a crisis occurs in a particular person’s life, the system has choices. Does everyone’s life come to a screeching halt? Do family rules end up in the trash bin, never to be considered again? Does everyone except one person make sweeping changes, protecting a particular person’s rigidity? Does the family grow out of touch, strangers under the same roof? How elastic is the microsystem?
In Los Angeles, buildings are designed or renovated with an earthquake in mind. The techniques engineers use to mitigate damage to the structure given a seismic crises are mind-blowing to this onlooker. And useful for the ideas of family systems and missional women. There are a variety of technologies but what I found most interesting are the innovative ways in which engineers equip a building to be flexible, and move in counterbalance to the earth’s movement. Rigidity is not reinforced; tension cables, swinging masses, steel tendons, rubber bearings, shape memory alloy…any of these may be the ying to the earth’s yang. To think that our ever-changing beautiful LA skyline is invisibly fluid, absorbent, and responsive.
It occurs to me that in so far as a woman equips her self to be responsive, yet stable, to the larger world, whether the bassinet beside the bed, or the neighbor everyone else calls crazy, she accomplishes the holy task of making room for the Other. In a spontaneous and unglamorous act of allowing her day (not to mention her night) to be run by a pre-verbal life-sucking bundle of joy, or in visiting the lonely with a front carrier and a curated portfolio of puree pouches, she is practicing divine invitation. As she becomes practiced at changing her plans to host a school playmate, inviting an unlikely guest to the Thanksgiving dinner, or promoting her home as a place to drop by unplanned, she demonstrates to her children, her self, and her community that perfection and predictability are not the priority. She acts subversively to the isolating American norms of privacy and refusing liability. She calls to the carpet the evangelical idol of the nuclear family unit and the consumerist approach to making a home.
When a family system is moderately cohesive, and moderately adaptable, it achieves a flexible structure, a retrofitted connection. Family boundaries are neither rigid nor transparent but permeable. So it is safe for a crisis to arise in or out of the home; the system will hold. It is okay for someone to have an autonomous thought. The connection is not threatened. The dance will change. The change can be painful. But the building does not fall down. It is safe to go to this family with a need. It is appreciated when a guest invites their friend to the party. The children remain the children; the adults remain the adults, but the home is not a bunker. It is a port.
As a missional mom, it’s life-giving to me to continuously and awkwardly sort out how to use my home, my errands, my little realm of supposed control, in a reciprocal manner. I ravenously watch other women who have achieved these maneuvers. A dream that has birthed from the labor of motherhood is to instill an attitude of invitation in my family. My default as a mom is structure, preemptive organization, lists, and routines; these are my Ritalin. (I’ve been known to tape a newsletter-like document to the car dash when my husband and friend road-tripped with our oldest two kids. Because control.) But as a player in the larger mission of God’s upside-down economy, with creative agency instilled by our Creator, I’m compelled to counterbalance that structure by subjecting it to interruption.
The biblical account reinforces this idea of holy invitation, and dynamic family structures. Ruth and Naomi come to mind. Ruth, though she was the guest to Naomi’s family and land, opened up with her pain and adopts and attaches in response to calamity; their family dance shrunk and continued. In the Law, YHWH makes multiple considerations for guests and foreigners, establishing that even when His chosen people were a specific nation, that those boundaries were absorbent. His expectation was that they remember who they are and be responsive to the needs and guests around them (Deuteronomy 10:12-22). Structure and adaptability. Their family feast of booths included the visiting Levite, the servant, the sojourner, the fatherless. Permeable family lines. Jesus demonstrates innovative family makeup, and a hospitable heart always. Stopped on his way to bigger things, tending to basic needs of thousands, positioning his earthly mother to be cared for by his best friend. The culture of our faith is a radical hospitality. The sermon of our Gospel is simple invitation. Our realm lies strategically within this call.
This is unclear work. There is no syllabus. With every additional birthday of my children, additional personality type to the mix, job change, heck, counseling session, this goal of permeable family lines is adjusting. And it’s incredibly inconvenient but it’s a small price for remaining a congruent, missional person. Ladies, this is not win or lose. This is not pass or fail. Your heart is too big, your life too short for that binary garbage. Mine is too. We are committed to our families and that requires different things on different days. We are also committed to our gift for invitation and inclusion. Finding that sweet spot where these are mutually beneficial is a moving target, but what a holy opportunity. Our homes, our emotional space, our maddeningly ordinary tasks, may be the skyline of hope and belonging another soul needs. Stoicism need not apply. Perhaps never before have we been so in touch with our own humanity and limitations as now, here. What a perfect time to extend an imperfect invitation.
It was once recommended to me to walk into a room and consider myself the worst sinner there. Not to paralyze or dismantle identity or purpose, but to deteriorate the pride and pretense, and diffuse the human condition of anger and judgment.
Social media is the room these days.
I raise my hand as the first among sinners in this room. I will say that I have done all the talking and none of the listening. I have engaged when I should have ignored or just watched. I have been condescending and used my privilege and power in unproductive ways. I have experienced the remorse that comes after speaking online, and after not saying a thing.
I confess this even as I brazenly share what I wish to keep in mind going forward (I know, I have some nerve…), because this environment isn’t ending anytime soon for most of us. And self-correcting, changing our minds and resetting is what keeps us human. I collect and share these things not as a teacher but a learner–humbly, acknowledging my blunders and gaffes. For some of you, this is too conservative advice; for others, you just wish everyone would return to their recipe sharing and crafts, me especially. For the two of you interested, here is where I am working from right now. I am still writing mid-way. This is the recipe I’m interested in and tinkering with and trying to crave.
None of these are original thoughts (obvious considering your unreliable source)…They are conglomerates of advice and note-taking and scripture and reading. Take what you will to your reflection in the mirror, or in the screen; lay whatever sticks before your God and test. I’d also like to hear your approach as we strive to live into this space with integrity.
7 Practices in Internet Hospitality
- Identify truth as holy. Any little blip of it. Celebrate the holy. Dwell on the holy. Proliferate the holy.
- Bear in mind your relationship with the person, and how much you value them. Affirm this if you can, whenever you speak. We are sensitive people, changing, reacting, hiding. Keep the humanity and personhood of the other in view. You may be doing all right today. Someone else may be at their worst. Don’t compare your best to their worst. Review your relationship. Get nostalgic about the other.
- Pray about a response. Name what you want to say or not say before the Lord. Ruminate if this is the Spirit prompting or permitting you, or if the problem is a tickling in your sense of identity or pride or fear. Consider the Beatitudes. Would speaking put you closer to one of the groups mentioned that are blessed? Would sharing align with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (Eph. 1:6-11)?
- Consider who has the least power, both in the conversation, and in the topic at hand. Give them extra room. Pass them the mic. Share their stories if you are speaking on their behalf. Accept that narrative or point of view and sit with it for a day or two. It may be packaged in something you could tear to shreds, or in a way you fundamentally disapprove of—the powerful get to walk away and define what is respectful, what is appropriate, how something should come up, and when something should end. Defer to the less powerful. Practice Jesus’ downward mobility. This is terribly uncomfortable and divine.
- Excuse yourself from the binary tug of war that says speaking is wrong, silence is right or vice versa. Turns out social media is a place where people have to share the Good News, be the light, fight the good fight, apologize, forgive, shut up, laugh and connect over tough stuff. Hospitality looks a lot of different ways and when we make space for another person, we make space for their approach and consider what responsibility and Love look like within that. We don’t control it. We ride it. We avail ourselves here to someone else. “Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves.” – Joan Chittister
- Self-assess your limitations. How is my anxiety today? Am I in a self-preservation mode? Is my conclusion already set? Does this person remind me of someone else that I have unresolved issues with? Do I believe I am an established expert about this and therefore have no space to hear, and, maybe would have been invited if wanted? Some other great questions from Christena Cleveland specifically:
- Am I believing the lie that if I don’t say it, it won’t be said?
- Am I believing a lie that this person is bigger than God?
- Am I remembering all humans are like grass?
- Am I confusing taking up my cross with placing myself as a martyr?
- Give and receive grace. What is your heart here? What is their heart here? Conduct yourself with integrity; there are no points. This is not debate class. Remember a time when you believed something wholeheartedly differently than now. Be prolific and sincere in your apologies and vulnerabilities; overlook whatever you can that is offensive and skip the vain defenses. Forgive yourself, and sit with the Lord to receive His forgiveness. Pray for the other person, the other pilgrim. Mercy is poured out each new day over us all. Grace is glory.
May the God of hope dwell within you richly.
I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.
While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.
Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.
The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.
Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.
Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.
Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.
And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.
Continue, sister and brother: forward.
“I do not understand. Where are you from?”
He was a scuba instructor and we were in a pool, about 90 degrees cool, on the east coast of Africa. His English was heavily accented in that clipped Kenyan cadence I never mastered. I was maybe 15. There were no other Asian tourists that I can recall but then again, I was technically a resident. And though I was racially Asian, I was ethnically white, with an increasingly amount of ethnic space under construction. Thus his confusion. He thought he knew me, and the words “adopted” “Nairobi” and “American” did not compute without further explanation. I thought I knew myself too, but that, I would learn, would never be the whole story.
I am adopted from South Korea. I was raised by and primarily absorbed the white suburban middle class culture of the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, I went to South Korea and the Philippines and I felt more at home in the Philippines. Soon after, we were headed overseas as missionaries, in a state of constant travel and transition until landing in Nairobi at age 13. I attended an international school there, the 2nd largest nationality there being South Korean. My white parents adopted my three youngest siblings, who are racially black but ethnically a blend of the international sub-cultures they lived in and white suburban middle class. For university I returned to the States but a region I’d never spent time in before: Southern California. I attended a school that was committed to promoting multi-ethnic awareness and was proud of its diversity in a crowd of Christian colleges typically monocultural. I struggled as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) reacclimatizing to the United States after formative years away.
Out of college I began living and working in the diverse urban center of Los Angeles that reminded me in many ways of Nairobi. I married a white man whose family has lived in the same white suburb for generations. I also attended a seminary that forced me to continue to interact with and study from people with different racial, ethnic, cultural and theological backgrounds, by text and in person. We became certified to foster and adopt through the county and took cross-racial and cross-cultural parenting classes. I am watching my younger siblings make the tough transition across the ocean that I did, in the opposite direction, still not matching their surroundings, racially or ethnically. I daily interact with people who have had completely different experiences than me, partly due to their familial culture, their economic and geographical history, and partly due to their race. I love my city and my family and I am a career student of the stories therein.
These are the bullet points to a lifelong continuing journey of learning about race and reconciliation.
I am no expert. I don’t hold any keys or any exclusive rights to this conversation; quite the opposite. I happen to like writing and talking. I make a lot of mistakes.
From walking through sewered pathways in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi to reading Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job to finding my heart ashamed as I realized deep, unfounded fear of another race in college to seeing the Gospel in new ways in the housing projects of Los Angeles, I am convinced that despite all my blindspots and all my mistakes, I will continue to learn from and talk about people with different levels of privilege than me. I am dead set on keeping in touch with the margins in this issue because I believe that Jesus is there and when I insist that the strangers to my life are strangers, I miss truth. I accept an under-developed level of compassion and understanding that will hurt my community, my siblings, the Church, and my own children. There is ample opportunity for this story-exchange and learning in today’s world; in tomorrow’s, it will not be optional.
It is my privilege that this is a choice. That I could choose to go through life without talking to people who are not white and not of the model minority race with which people secondarily attach me. It is a privilege that I grew up seeing leaders, authority figures, illustrated Jesus and the disciples, and heroes portrayed as the race I primarily identified with (though not the gender). Constant translation of pervasive icons and messages was unnecessary to me as a child because I so strongly accepted my white ethnic identity; my ethnic identity was normative and dominant so I did not have to be actively aware of my race or ethnicity. For others, translation and accommodations and making room for the stranger, the other story, the social norms that don’t correlate with your own identity and experience, are constant. That is called being a minority. And I tend to think that those who have been cognizant of their race and racial relations all their life have more to teach me about the subject than I them.
When Ryan first went to our local Costco with me, he left with a stark realization of his white-ness. Did it define who he was? No. Did it explain all of his behaviors, mistakes, idiosyncrasies and worldview thenceforth? No. But the fact that he had never been in a public place in the United States and been forced to think about being the only person of his racial background spoke to his racial privilege. This isn’t an indictment; this is a fact.
I speak and learn about race not as a victim or as an intrinsically conflicted adult TCK with adoption issues (both of which I’ve been accused of). I speak and learn about race as someone who has enjoyed a great deal of privilege and knows it. I do not feel guilty about that; I feel more informed about that than I used to be. That’s all. I wish more people would learn about this with me, correct me and listen to my limited stories. I wish that more of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be vulnerable and humble online and in person, sharing their stories, their questions, their fears, and listening in this arena.
I sincerely apologize to those that I have rubbed the wrong way in this journey for the things I have said and tones I have used that have inadvertently excused you from the conversation. I am truly sorry for the part I’ve played in separating us from connecting and engaging with this topic to the degree that your response has to do with me. I am not going to stop talking about race and listening to and highlighting the voices of the underprivileged, but I am hoping to do it better. I am new to this topic; for those who have not been racially or ethnically privileged, they do not have that luxury.
In international communities, it is normal to acknowledge race and nationality and celebrate the differences. It’s not the basis from which to understand people but it is a useful description that is not taboo. Current events in our nation continue to raise the issue of race relations, which are incredibly relevant and important to my family and local community. Yet this has struck a good/bad false choice in people that jars my heart deeply. I had forgotten, after many years in an international community, the academy and now in international Los Angeles, that debating racial issues could be an abrasive topic from the outset in circles where the very subject of race is politely avoided (out of often good intentions). I recognize that in bringing up solidarity with the race-based experiences of other races, I have threatened a white solidarity unspoken norm at times. As a result, I have been rejected from circles to which I used to belong. I can see my own past and current tendency with what has been termed “white fragility” in avoiding acknowledging any privilege or dominant influence my ethnic category has had on society as a whole. I almost daily recognize knee-jerk reactions against these hard, awkward conversations and situations in an attempt to make myself feel more comfortable and innocent. I get these postures. But I want to move away from them. And if this is a constant source of alarm and offense to you, perhaps we should unfriend and step apart for a time; I deeply hope to reconvene later.
At the end of my life, I hope that I was able to be a public learner–which is to say, a public, apologetic, messer-upper. I’ve said before that part of my purpose in this blog is to write part-way–to disclose weak and deconstructed parts of my journey in order to normalize and invite the secret struggles of others. Part of my purpose as a parent and older sibling is to show them why Jesus matters in every context and to model being brave and broken. This matter of race and reconciliation is of utmost importance to me and, I believe, central to an understanding of the Christian faith. For this reason, I’m willing to have awkward and fruitless conversations and go there. I’m okay with being publicly embarrassed and discredited along the way. I’ve accepted that I’ve made mistakes and I’m going to make more and I know that the people I need most in life are going to still track with and love me through those blunders.
I yearn for companions on this journey. Would you let me know if you are on this path too? I know that you are strong enough and there is courage in numbers. I love the black women who reached out to people with different hair and capitalized upon racial curiosity. I love that now that I live south of Koreatown, I am learning about my own hair for the first time! There is such freedom in talking about our differences, from hair to how we define respect. All I am saying is that I am listening to new accounts and it is changing my own to be more truthful. It is opening wider places of understanding and humility and while it is hard and frustrating, it resonates in my soul as right and He is near.
This is my story with this collective story of our country called race and ethnicity. This is why I care and why I keep talking about it. May our lifelong pursuit of wholeness (shalom) bring us ever closer to each other and our Creator.
“And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? ’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
One of my sons has a very fluid concept of time, which must be very resilient in order to survive life with me. While I’m like “Did you say 4:12pm or 4:15pm?” BECAUSE IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE, he is under the impression that all things that have happened are in the category of “Yesterday” and all things that will happen are in “Tomorrow.” So even if this morning we went to the doctor, based on his emotional departure from that event, it was probably yesterday. And if he is seeing a picture of himself getting his first bath, that too was yesterday. So basically, it’s like he is from another planet.
This incorrect vernacular is a lot like grief.
Sometimes the yesterdays seem so far away like memories indistinguishable from photographs, and other mornings we wake up with our heels feeling the toes of what has been. The past can suddenly smash right up against the present like there was a wrinkle in time and it is tiring and it is real. I can be transported to the year one of my siblings began medicine indefinitely as I’m giving my own child his new indefinite dose and I am a wreck of compulsive web searching and ineffective self-soothing tactics. I can look at an empty eggshell blue dresser or a birth or adoption announcement and well up with tears a minute after thinking “I’m really at peace with our family right now.” Welcome to crazy town.
As our new realities have settled in the last four months since things were officially hopeless at clearing our name and things officially different with employment and schedule and things were officially undetermined with Asher’s seizures and prognosis, it is hard to not get swept up in the urgent, mindless chaos of it all. It’s hard to not give in and get numb and dodge all the feelings and disappointment and questions. It is hard to not get shifty-eyed around the yesterdays that haunt us.
More than ever I have been aware of the ways I distract myself from sitting and listening to the Lord. Meanwhile He has seen it fitting to give me many examples of people who do rest at His footstool and who don’t, and how those people are different–how what they are doing is different and how who they have become is different. I guess I am in a state of motivated reluctancy when it comes to mindfully subjecting myself to His presence (detect the rub?). Because the floors are dirty and an hour of work would be so productive right now and writing cannot happen any other time and coffee, no a nap, even a show, would be restful and help me face the rest of the day. While all these things are good, they fall short. They can all be grace, certainly. But when I engage them to delay the reality of my relationship with God, however awkward it feels at that moment, they are misplaced. And they don’t help with the grief at the end of the day and at the beginning of those days in which the past is giving the present flat tires.
When I do slow and sit, I find myself praying for courage to do so and to face Today, let alone Tomorrow. And I find myself crying. And also comforted. The last four months we have found ourselves in touch with a new level of our humanity and who better to comment on that than Creator, Sustainer, Triune God. They who help us distinguish between the false and true self.
There are so many effective ways to deny the Lord the mic. Tasks for Him, conferences, good spiritual books, deep conversation, Bible studies, heady writing, new nifty ways to organize Bible reading and prayer, list making, poetic journaling, even sermon podcasts and worship music. I’m seeing in my own life that never were these things stand-ins or stand-alones, and in our society in which time is of the essence, maybe I should be much more reluctant to engage these options if my own attentiveness to the Word and the Voice of Truth have not led me there in the first place.
Because probably too often I have participated in these things when my soul needed Him and my culture readily offered these as substitutes.
No one’s interested in legalistic ultimatums. I can’t even follow a meal plan. But today, I’m admitting and offering this: our grace-initiating God wants to lovingly handle both our yesterdays and our todays and I know I’ve been in danger of avoiding Him with both in the best possible ways. I’ve missed out on opportunities to have His company in my grief and face my humanity with the One who loves humans the most. This has made the todays too unpredictable, the yesterdays too unwieldy. And time keeps marching on.
Let’s put aside the highlighters. Take out our earbuds. Close the hardback books and wait to commit to that new great thing. Let’s sit and allow Him to quiet us. Hear our breathing, let down our shoulders. Let’s read the ancient text and withhold our own comments. Hold out our yesterdays and see Him today.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.