ON Scripture: Making All Others’ Work Possible

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“Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible.”

These are the words are found on the front page of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), the “nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women.”

Founded in 2007 by activist and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Ai-Jen Poo, NDWA works for the respect, recognition, and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers.

“Domestic workers care for the things we value the most: our families and our homes,” the organization states on its website.

“They care for our children, provide essential support for seniors and people with disabilities to live with dignity at home, and perform the home care work that makes all other work possible. …These workers deserve respect, dignity and basic labor protections.”

Many workers who provide a myriad of services on a daily basis face huge disadvantages, and are simply overlooked. In the wider population, they are some of the most marginalized among us. Jane M. Saks, the curator of Work in America, asks: “When did we stop valuing the worker? When did we stop valuing the person who does the job?”

We have lost touch with the deep significance of work by separating the dignity, creativity, and livelihood of work from the individual person. In today’s emphasis on consumer capitalism — results and products — we have forgotten the interconnectedness of all our work, and the way we are baptized into the human community and live out that baptism through participating in purposeful work with our hands and feet.

For many Christians, baptism signals a new beginning and a clean slate for life. It is also an entrance into the Christian faith, and participation in the work of the community.

Read the rest at Sojourners here.

Photo credit to Roman Kraft at Unsplash.

What It Means

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I continue to cry on and off throughout the day. Tears of sadness. Tears of betrayal. Tears of confusion at the kind of community it seems we live in now – or apparently, have always lived in since we stepped foot in this country as immigrants.

I keep staring out the window wondering, Now what? 

We lost something on November 9th. More than an election. Something – call it humanity, compassion, hope – faltered and perished, and something in me, too.

A friend came over last night. To be in a safe space, somewhere she didn’t need to worry about how people read her – Is she Latina? Is she Arab? Is she a citizen? Is she undocumented? Is she a student? Is she a worker? Somewhere she could lash out and vent, rage and despair over what this election means now. What this election means in terms of the people around her, yes, but also what it means in terms of how the country views her as a woman, a woman of color, a young woman of color. Perhaps, that she will never be good enough, smart enough, capable enough, or that she will be all those things, and that she certainly is all that, but that in the end it won’t matter because they will still choose a man, a white man, even if in comparison he’s completely incompetent, morally devoid, and psychologically unstable.

I despair with her, for myself.

I despair with her for all the ways I have felt this defeat, and probably will in the future. For all the ways I’ve been told I’m not good enough, I do not belong, I should go back to my own country. And then, for the possibility of our little Anna, only five years old, what does this mean for her? Not only the question of women’s reproductive rights, the right to choose, Roe vs. Wade, but for what we believe about women? What they can do? What they are called to do?

What this election means right now is that hate, misogyny, and bigotry have won out. What it means is that racism and xenophobia are given free reign to fully and totally express themselves. What it means is that the utterly superficial platitudes of unity and reconciliation are just tools of white supremacy to get everyone in line. What it means is that this country has said very clearly who belongs here, who is safe, who is one of “us.” What it means is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid for myself. Afraid for my family. Afraid for loved ones and neighbors who have been targeted by Trump’s campaign these last two years. I’m not afraid to say anymore that I am afraid of whiteness, and white supremacy and for all the blatant and explicit, all the insidious and hidden ways it exists and perpetuates itself.

But, what it doesn’t mean is that I will roll over or that we will go running for Canada (maybe, Pittsburgh, though). For now, I will keep on doing the everyday, and feign some semblance of normalcy for the children, and continue to be hopeful and optimistic about our lives. Driving them to school. Going to the store. Attending church every week. Sports practices, music lessons, hikes, and somehow, making what we do together as a family mean something, for it to matter. We’ll keep trying to teach and model love, acceptance, dignity, consent as much as possible. We’ll keep doing work that matters – loving and leading our communities, and showing them that it does mean something.

God help us, we’re up against a lot. 

But. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m not alone. That we’re not alone. And that I can help others feel that they’re not alone either. I can be supportive of local groups and actions, and be an active part of these collectives and coalitions, and reach out to those groups in our community that need to know that we’re here for them and with them. I can work, to make this election mean something else, mean something good and real. And the little ways I can with what little I have at my fingertips – telling stories, lifting up those stories of those in the struggle, those who are fighting for what is right, for humanity, for the dignity of those who are considered the least of these. I’ll set that table wide, and fill it overflowing with good things to eat and share, and cram as many people around it as possible. I’ll look people in the eye as I pass them on the street and expect to see the imago dei, the image of the Divine, and all the beauty and courage possible.

What it means, is that I’ll keep trying, keep believing, keep hoping. 

“Today I believe in the possibility of love;
that is why I endeavor to trace its imperfections, its perversions.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

ON Scripture: After Tragedy, How Do We Trust?

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We are living in a world with no shortage of trauma each day. From floods to tsunamis, victims of gun violence and terror, refugees seeking to preserve their lives only to find themselves caught in wars and waves, we are constantly bombarded with the reminders of a relentless suffering experienced by God’s children.

Where can we turn to find assurance of God’s loving presence in our midst holding us in caring hands?

The words offered to us by Jeremiah in chapter 18 give us the famous image of God as potter. In this scenario God instructs Jeremiah to visit a potter’s house — as one biblical scholar notes, a common activity: “These pots were the everyday ware of a typical Judean household, serviceable, perhaps not perfect in shape or color, but useable by a family to hold grain or wine enough to sustain common life.”

There, Jeremiah observed the tedious work of the two wheels spinning together and the careful labor with the clay to create a useful vessel. How typical of God to lead a prophet to an ordinary sign to speak to something much more extraordinary for God’s people. And yet, what follows is a rather harsh interpretation of a God, who, like this potter remaking the vessel that has fallen apart in his hands, reworks the clay — seemingly callously kneading and pounding the material until it is malleable enough for the wheel once more. Likewise, God fashions the vessel with promises to “pluck up and break down and destroy” a nation or kingdom that does not turn from its evil.

This is not a picture of a God gently taking to clay to mold and coax it to the right shape, but a God that sees and does what is necessary to mercilessly rectify the situation at hand. If anything, one might feel discomfort and uncertainty in God’s power, and wonder if we are truly safe there. Can we find assurance of God’s good will toward us there in the very hands of such a willful potter?

Read the rest at Sojourners here.

Photo credit to Quino Al at Unsplash.

The Ways We Become Our Mothers

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I chopped my hair. Now, the kids say that I look like halmuhnee, their grandmother, my mother. It was inevitable, I suppose.

It's strange how often throughout the day my mother, and my grandmothers materialize before me.Click To Tweet

I will say something in a certain way, or feel my body in a particular posture or doing a gesture, and I can see in my mind’s eye my mother, and her mother saying or doing it, too, mimicking me. The way I stand or sit shoulders hunched or when I put on my makeup my face against the mirror or when I chase Ellis out of the house, like my maternal grandmother. The tone of my voice or the inflection in a certain phrase, most likely and usually about food. The edge to a screech when I’m losing it with the kids. The quiet and calm that overtakes me in a moment of chaos, like my paternal grandmother. The manic way I tackle certain projects – obsessive and focused, like my mother.

I look at my hands sometimes and see the same hands in old photographs like at the birth of my younger brother. My mother is sitting in the delivery bed clutching him swaddled in a light blue blanket as I sit nearby, a 2 year old buzzing with barely contained excitement at the camera. Whenever I look at this picture my eyes aren’t drawn to my bedhead pigtails or bright red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls. I see her hands because it shocks me how they look so familiar. They’re really my hands. I notice her hands all the time now, and remember looking at them once when Ozzie was born, and how much they’ve changed with the years, and yet still maintain such strength and tenderness somehow simultaneously.

It’s Mother’s Day, and I approach it with such mixed feelings. Before the twins were born, and when we were trying to get pregnant, I hated it – I hated the elevating and pedestaling of what was my lack and failure. On this side of it, I realize that many relationships with our mothers are imperfect (to say the least), and I admit that my own is fraught with disappointment and often frustration, and almost always guilt. Not only with my mother but with motherhood, in general, and with my own children, and especially my daughter. For all the ways I am grateful to my mother for everything that I know and don’t know of her sacrifices I am always regretful that I wasn’t somehow a better daughter or a better cook or a better housewife or a better student or a better everything. It’s not necessarily something she has put on me directly or explicitly, and yet, I know that it is something that was passed on to me, and I have a feeling it was passed on to her from her mother, and her mother received from her mother.

We receive so much from our mothers. The right way to smother huge napa cabbage leaves the kimchi mixture crouched down on the floor over the blue tub with our hands wrapped in thin plastic gloves or how to measure out the water with our hands for cooking rice. Hours of piano lessons or Korean language lessons, and how to fold the mandoo so the edges match up perfectly or how to scoop perfectly balled up cups of rice into the bowls. How to walk or how to speak or how to stand or how to respectfully call our fathers from their offices or the backyard that “dinner is ready.”

But, we also inherit their insecurities with their bodies and their skin, their struggles with the all too pervasive inequities and inequalities of work and childrearing, and all the questions of how to survive and love all the layers of motherhood.

We acquire their faith, too, and their resilience, their persistence, their songs.Click To Tweet

My mother would go about the house singing old hymns and sometimes that old-timey, operatic rendition of The Lord’s Prayer, belting them out, every verse or simply humming them, like a continuous meditation throughout the day. Everything – not only food, but the laundry, the small vegetable garden, the sewing, everything she touched and shaped – everything was leavened with this thick substance of faith – hefty and dense like the doughy rice cakes we eat for New Year’s day and on birthdays – permeated by a desperate hope for life and the periodic glimmerings of it as that life materialized in surprising ways.

As each year goes by I am amazed and a little horrified at the ways I am becoming my mother. For good and bad. Whether we know them or not, whether we are cognizant of it or not, whether we want it or not, something passes onto us, something connects us to that bizarre, but beautiful force that perpetuates humanity. For all that we carry, for all that we are forced to bear in our bodies and spirits, for all that we are to be grateful, I pray that I will become more. More thoughtful. More hopeful. More faithful. More alive. Perhaps this is the best Mother’s Day gift I can give and receive myself.

St. Margaret and Seeking Peace

I’m tired of being angry.

I’m angry all the time. Angry at the world. Angry at my (lack of) parenting skills. Angry at how little time there is to think or reflect or write anything meaningful. Angry at racism. Angry at the church. Angry at scarcity and shame. Angry at the copious amount of dandelions peppering our lawn, and one more thing on the to-do list for this suburban life. Angry at sexism. Angry at bigotry and prejudice, violence and oppression. Angry at my exhaustion.

I’m tired of being angry.

Since the twins turned 9 months old I’ve been on a generic form of Zoloft for post-partum depression. The dosage is much less these days since diet and some exercise, and of course, the occasional sleep, lunch with girlfriends, and massages help a great deal. But, it’s still there, like an undercurrent, a discordant melody, and I suppose, one of those realities that will remain in my life for a while. I’m always in recovery from something, I think, but I was reminded that almost anyone who is breathing is likely in recovery no matter what side of those steel bars you are on because maybe the fences around our houses are prisons in their own way. I’m in recovery from a handful of struggles and ailments – the latest being a depression that looks more like anger than numbness, and one that has seeped into so many facets of my life.

I’m tired of being angry.

But, some anger is good, I hear people say sometimes, anger can give you the fuel you need to do the work. To bide the course. To keep the steam going and stay in the fight. Anger certainly does that for me in some things but if it becomes inert and stagnant it turns into cynicism rather than something useful. And I think for me it’s come to a head lately.

Because I’m tired.

Not just the “I haven’t had normal sleep in over five years” kind of tired. Not just the “long run of the day is killing my feet I need new Brooks” kind of tired. Not just the deadlines coming out of my ears kind of tired. Not just the emotional and physical exhaustion of keeping up with the schedule of children – mine and college-aged. I’m tired of maintaining anger as if that is the only nourishment for this life. I’m hungry – seriously, on my hands and knees famished – for something else.

I’m longing for peace.

It’s constantly chasing me down especially these last couple of years, and lately it comes to me in snippets and morsels, like crumbs tossed off a table or scraps that have fallen off the kitchen counter. Like flashes of light on my periphery as I grope my way through the darkness trying to find a way out. Like the sound of a melody I once sang without even thinking about it but now I can’t remember the notes or words.

Thankfully, it’s persistent, peace won’t give up on me.

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A friend from high school sent me this lovely artwork last week. It was born out of dreams and stories, conversations and revelations about St. Margaret.

St. Margaret of Cortona came to me as I contemplated more intentionally working in spaces that provide not only hospitality, but also solidarity with those labelled homeless in our community. One such place is the Shalom Community Center, and as I’ve blogged already it has become a place for me to simply be and serve, to receive and learn. St. Margaret of Cortona is the patron saint of the disenfranchised and the marginalized, and she came to it after losing the love of her life. But she’s not the only one. St. Margaret of Scotland was a Reformer in her own right as queen of Scotland. She was faithful in her work and ministry through helping to enact numerous ecclesiastical reforms, being spiritually and religiously devout through attending church services and personal prayer, and finally, caring for the orphans and poor. The other St. Margaret is a bit more provocative but important to me – Margaret Cho. A rare Asian American female comedian I have grown to admire her moxie in connecting art and politics. She is unabashedly who she is – something so refreshing in light of the culture of our childhood upbringing. All these Margarets advocate for a bigger dream and another possibility, and reflecting on their stories has nourished my heart. And, this gift, this icon of St. Margaret stands as a guide.

I realize though that more significantly all these Margarets embody the possibility of a life lived in peace and in pursuit of peace, a life that is rooted in peacemaking, and what I am seeing as an expression of wholeheartedness. I want to follow in the way because this is the way of Jesus.

“Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in my life right now is knowing I am enough. Who I am is enough for the writing, the very periodic speaking and preaching, the parenting, the mentoring and ministering, the living. I try too hard to do too many things awesomely, I realized this last weekend. I think it made me see how much this stems from a fear of scarcity, of not being enough, and that ultimately, it is what fuels my anger. Living in pursuit of wholeheartedness, in peacemaking within myself and thus, outside of myself, this is what I need for recovery – recovery from anger and self-loathing, resentment and ingratitude, bitterness and jealousy.

I’m often paralyzed by this – whether it’s feeling acutely that lack, or feeling in crashing waves that anger, or feeling hollow from the absence of peace, and it was enough to throw me off when it came to any kind of expression lately. But, I will take a cue from St. Margaret. To listen and wait. To trust those scars and markings of the journey on my life. To keep on seeking and living that peace because it will sustain my life.

Being a peacemaker means cultivating more than just an aura of sleepy calm. It means embodiment of Gods promise in the midst of chaos.Click To Tweet