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.

What I Would Preach on Sunday

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Even though I don’t have a pulpit Sunday, I felt a pull to the call to preach, and so here it is: 

I often take the kids to the protests and vigils in town.

From the murders of Trayvon Martin (the twins were barely 6 months old) to the extrajudicial killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Rekia Boyd, and so many, too many to even begin to count here, when Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, when a Muslim woman was attacked at a cafe to the “Bloomington against Islamophobia” (remarks I gave are here), when we wanted to be a part of “Ferguson Action” and “Reclaim MLK Jr. Day,” when hostilities arose against refugees during the Syrian crisis, when the Charleston 9 were brutally killed by the white supremacist American terrorist, when the Orlando massacre happened very recently. Ever since the twins and then Ozzie’s entrances into the world I’ve felt even more pressed to work for the good. For them. 

But to explain why we attend these gatherings to children under five is a bit of a challenge. When I tried to describe the Charleston killings to them, it hit them much more than any other conversation. They have an image of church in their heads. They have images of white and black people in their heads. They have an image of guns in their heads. The way they responded ranged from questions about how and why, as well as questions about our own safety in our church, and in particular, their daddy’s safety, the pastor of his church. I questioned whether this was sound parenting. Other parents often look at me askance when I talk about these conversations.

In the end, I resigned myself to the reality that all my parenting is likely faulty in one way, but as long as we hold these truths and stories in community – in love and mutual encouragement – perhaps we are laying some groundwork for them to at least cultivate awareness. Because the urgency of these days is far more compelling, for me, as we try to sort out the kind of world we live in and the kind we want to build for and with them.

Even now, I sit outside on our porch and look out on our world – at blue skies and flying birds while hearing the laughter of children and ringing bells on bikes in all its odd and discomforting tranquility. I write this watching my children play in dirt and flowers to fashion homes in old mason jars for all manner of insects. And then, I look at the houses around me on our street. Our neighbors. And this is the question from the lectionary passage in Luke that always, always leaps out at me: Who is my neighbor?

Many know of this story of the Good Samaritan all too well, even the so-called “unchurched” and “nonchurched” “will summon its principles so as to describe and determine a moral way of life,” writes Karoline Lewis at Working Preacher. But, what is it about the Good Samaritan that makes him the model and example of a neighbor?

I remember hearing someone preach once about what it means to help in the time of need. How we are all called upon to be the same kind of neighbor as the Samaritan, that is, someone who goes above and beyond, someone who goes the extra mile, and really shows the kind of love that is more than just good intentions, good talk, good tweets.  

Then, there was the sermon about the priest and Levite, and how they were analogous to not only the religious leaders of our time, but to all of us Christians who follow the rules and uphold the principles of love, the eloquent, but verbose talk and chatter about love, but when it comes down to it, we aren’t able to get our hands dirty. Really dirty, I mean, bloody and dirty, like the Samaritan who picked up the brutalized man, and helped him onto his donkey, and cared for him at the nearest hotel. And again, at the end there’s always the call to be the same kind of neighbor as the Samaritan who showed incredible courage and compassion.

And then, another sermon about what it would be like to look at the injured man as Christ. And, another one about the Good Samaritan as Christ. Truly, the possibilities almost seem exhausted at this point.

And, I’m exhausted, honestly. All around me the world is heavy with grief and terror. I turn to our poets and artists when it feels like what we need is not more, but less words, and that healing space between words seems like the best balm. So, poet Warsan Shire writes:

“They set my aunt’s house on fire
I cried the way women on TV do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.

I called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
I said hello
he said Warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

I’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
I come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

I have an icon at home from the Taize community when I visited there for the first time this past May. The icon depicts the parable of the Good Samaritan in 6 small circular panels around the image of Christ. It was commissioned by the Brothers and inspired by the focus of their community this year which is on the theme of the courage of mercy.

I meditate on the icon often during the few moments of quiet I find here and there. I linger on the various panels – on the image of the two robbers hands raised above the man who is on his knees, on the image of the two religious leaders who are praying with eyes upward standing above the man now lying on the ground, on the image of the Samaritan picking up the man to place him on his donkey, on the image of the Samaritan carrying him into the hotel, on the image of the Samaritan caring for the man’s wounds, and on the final image, which is of the Samaritan, the now-restored man, and a third, presumably the innkeeper gathered around a table for a meal.

It’s that last panel that catches my eye as it reminds me of another icon, the one of the Trinity. Both have three people sitting around a table, with two heads on the right tilted towards the third, and there’s a large bowl or chalice in the middle of the table. And it strikes me that there’s a deliberate connection between the restoration of a human being to community and the very communal nature of the Triune God. It is a glimpse of the kingdom in that when we pursue mercy to its end it will always result in the full restoration of every single human being to the wider human community.

It is a glimpse of the kingdom in that when we pursue mercy to its end it will always result in the full restoration of every single human being to the wider human community.Click To Tweet

This is the intersection of #blacklivesmatter and a flesh and blood trinitarian theology. Black Lives Matter is about the liberation and restoration of black lives in this world, yes. It doesn’t stop there though because what many critics don’t realize is that this means when the most marginalized of our world, Native, black and brown lives are free, we will all be free, when black lives thrive and flourish, we will all thrive and flourish. We will all be living as God intended in right relationship with one another, and in a radical table fellowship rooted in the courageous mercy of Christ. Meanwhile, we are called to be a part of this work, and we have a choice – what kind of world will we work toward in the here and now?

Asian Americans cannot afford to be bystanders in this fight, because this is our fight, too. All of America stands at a crossroads, staring down a quintessential moral choice: what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we choose a society where the lives of Black and Brown people — including Black and Brown Asian Americans — has value? (From ReAppropriate)

I ponder this after another week of violence and death – two black men and five Latin@s were killed by police. During a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, a military veteran unassociated with the protest killed five police officers and injuring more. Last week there were numerous terrorist attacks abroad in Istanbul and Baghdad tragically disrupting a holy season for our Muslim brothers and sisters. And all that on the heels of the Orlando shooting, and the memory of a vigil full of tears, rainbow flags and bubbles still fresh in our minds.

Who is my neighbor? This question isn’t only about who we are a neighbor to, and who is a neighbor to us, in some ways, it feels rhetorical – this time for me it challenges me to think about what it means to live in this world together. It is recognizing the plurality of the question, and the reality that we have systems and institutions that have created the conditions in our society that permit these tragedies – from the killing of black and brown bodies to refugee children to LGBTQ lives to police officers – to occur on a regular basis. We won’t experience true healing and reconciliation until we reform those structures so that all are free and equal.

“Are black people Americans? Are black people human beings? I’ll go that far. Because I’m confused, because it does not appear that we’re human beings, because we dot have the inalienable rights that human beings are supposed to have.” Actor Jesse Williams

Who is my neighbor? is a working out, a continuous process of waking up to the people around you, and drawing near, as my dear Andy preached a few Sundays ago, drawing near in the same way God draws near to us, God draws near to us over and over in the most unexpected ways, the least likely places and faces. Maybe in ditches or roads or even on freeways. Who is my neighbor? means to live like we belong to each other, to live like we need each other, because we do. We aren’t going to survive for much longer on the road that we’re barreling down. Who is my neighbor? looks like choosing joy, and then choosing to love harder, love stubbornly, love persistently, so that neighbor looks more like kin-folk and family.

I haven’t talked about any of these recent tragedies with my children, yet. I’m not sure if I will or when I will, though if there is a vigil in the near future, I do expect to attend with them. Because if there’s anything I believe about following the Christ that is about solidarity and hospitality, the Christ of the Triune God, it’s that we keep showing up. Even when we don’t understand, even when we are guilty or complicit or fragile or confused, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we are despairing, we show up to be with people. To pray. To light candles. To hold hands. To chant Black Lives Matter. To whisper, God, have mercy. 

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.

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.