A post I’m sending to Emerging Women:
Moments of irony hit me hard…I think it’s because I subconsciously hold up my worldview like a blanket wrapped around me, these expectations and preconceived notions woven together tightly in my brain, so when something outside of my usual assumptions happens to me, it knocks me out cold and stays with me for awhile.
I grew up in a traditional Presbyterian home…culturally Korean on the inside, culturally attempting-to-be-American [whatever that means] on the outside. But, no doubt there was an undeniable hierarchy in the house, as well as at our church home. My father was the bread-winner, and my mother the homemaker, while at the church, only men were the elders, the leaders of the church, and certainly the pastor and any visiting preacher during the yearly weekend revivals. The women were always deacons, literally servants of compassion and hospitality for the church, which essentially meant they rotated bringing food, washing dishes, and cleaning the kitchen every Sunday after the fellowship lunch, and heading up the church bazaar fundraisers. This was my world, and I never gave it any thought until my dad attended seminary while I was beginning my undergraduate studies.
At the same time, as I reflect back, I remember it wasn’t so black-and-white, and there were little moments of contradiction that I brushed off, but kept on the back burner. My mother, solely responsible for taking care of the home, also managed a few stores, that is, businesses that they attempted to start up in various parts of the city during various parts of my childhood. Over and over again they would tell me their dreams for me were to enter into some kind of successful, public profession [medicine, law, education], but very little mention of marriage, family, and a home life. I went to a church service once where a woman preached that Sunday morning, and I was simultaneously repelled and enthralled by it. Perhaps these moments caused the little rips and tears that would make the entire cover almost completely unravel at the seams that one fateful day.
When I started my undergraduate studies, I had planned on going pre-med [I know, so stereotypical of Asian Americans, though actually a number of my Asian American friends are in medicine]. But I fell in love with the humanities courses I was taking particularly in the religion, English, history and philosophy departments. I was also involved in various ministries to high school and college students, and felt a tug towards church and ministry. But I would never have considered it in a million years until that one conversation with my father in the middle of my freshmen year. He was attending Princeton Seminary at the time and enjoying the classes and community with numerous women who were studying to also become…pastors. “Pastors??? But the Bible says that women are supposed to submit to men…and church leaders are just supposed to be only men; I can’t imagine a woman being able to do it!!!” I argued with him over the phone and we went back and forth.
And there’s the irony.
My father, the symbol of Asian patriarchy, was trying to persuade me, a woman, but a young girl at the time, that women could and should do much more in the church. My father argued for an egalitarian view on the role of men and women in the church, especially in the Korean church. He told me stories of how women had been leaders of the church for a long time, and many were elders in the Presbyterian church, and also becoming pastors all around him…and he admired and respected them, in fact, supported them. He reminded me that the first people to preach the gospel after Jesus’ resurrection were women! He was taking a class on feminist/womanist theologies…the same class that would impact me deeply some years later during my own seminary coursework.
“And, you can be a leader, too, an elder, a pastor, anything you believe God is calling you to be in your own life…” he said to me.
I know it seems a little cliche, a little after-school special, like too “you can be anything you want to be.” But for me, these words were truly radical. They turned everything upside down, in a frightening, but truly redemptive way…one of the first few tastes of grace for me. I can’t help but remember the words to a Christian song, though honestly I rarely listen to this genre of music: Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces calling out the best of who we are…I look back and see that was certainly the case here. And while I was left with bits and pieces of yarn, string, remnants of that shroud I had hung onto for so long, I realized that these pieces were an invitation to create and make something new because I was given the ability, power, and freedom to do and be something more… This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful…This is grace, an invitation…So here I am on the other side thankful for that one moment, and all the small inspirations in this journey that have helped me become more of me, a more faithful me, encouraging me to respond to God’s call courageously, and most of all, to share it…And I want to add to the beauty…to tell a better story…
[Lyrics from Sara Groves Add to the Beauty]