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.

Why Chris Rock Failed Us

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I’m not a comedian. I also am not terribly funny although I can tell a decent story or joke once in awhile in a sermon. And maybe after a few drinks. But, not together. Drinks with dinner, I mean. Andy will tell you that I don’t have a grasp of timing and executing punchlines. But, like most anyone else, I love to laugh. I love stand-up comedy – I love Kevin Hart, Margaret Cho, Chris Rock, Louis C.K, Eddie Murphy, Aziz Ansari for the ways they make me engage the realities around me differently.

“Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” -Mary Hirsch, Humorist

That’s the point of comedy, maybe, besides letting some of the air out of those realities that on many days feels particularly burdensome and unbearable. On the other hand, comedy can hold a mirror up in a way, and force us to confront those uncomfortable realities. It can give social critique and instigate transformation in a creative way. It can make these issues more accessible because it appeals to something that’s basic to humanity: the spoken word and how stories have a way of opening up the world in a fresh way. 

And sometimes, honestly, you just need a good laugh to keep from crying because so much of the world is ugly and horrible.

Now, Andy and I didn’t watch the Oscars because actually we never watch the Oscars, but mostly because we don’t have cable TV, and we got sucked into watching the Crossfit Invitational on the ESPN channel on the ROKU. But, after following it on social media in between #justiceforflint and watching some snippets of Chris Rock’s stand-up, and then reading the reactions of numerous writers, I felt like I didn’t miss much. Because the kind of comedy Chris Rock employed wasn’t his usual thoughtful and intelligent social commentary on race and race relations. 

Akiba Solomon articulated the problems well: Besides disrespecting women, Black women and making light of the history of violence towards black people from lynching to police brutality, “he effectively disappeared an encyclopedia of interlocking issues within the broader movement for racial justice.” He was as Solomon said, a “cliche monster.” He took the despicable (pun intended because Ali G’s joke about the minions) and easy road, and instead of following through with his initial crusade on the blatant racism of #OscarsSoWhite, he became a pawn for the sake of a paycheck and a few laughs from the people who create, perpetuate, and benefit from these white supremacist structures.

It was more than a little disappointing.

So when he paraded out the three Asian kids on stage, which I did see the next morning, I was done. Because those were our kids. On that stage. Being used as props for a bad (at least), confusing (at most) joke about what? What was the point? Slate writer Lowen Liu wrestles with it:

The joke here is garbled at best and doubly offensive at worst. It fails as a satire of Asian jokes, because while it flatters Rock to be one step ahead of the audience, it relies on equally base premises: Asian kids are either accountants or child laborers. But is he talking about privileged Asian Americans, raised in graduate-degree households (at least one with a Jewish parent!) now stocking white-collar jobs? Or is he talking about kids from a mostly rural China, whose population is trying to leap into the middle class by soldering circuit boards? He points to the briefcase-toting tots on stage as if they are a single group, when, of course, they are not. And this is the very misapprehension that undergirds every stereotype about Asians: that they are all the same.

The optics of the bit were an erasure, which is in itself a violence towards me, and people who look like me, my family, my parents, my kids, my home church, a whole host of people who continue to experience daily violence at so many levels and be used as a wedge and scapegoat between communities of color. There was nothing smart about it and nothing productive. Just another reminder that AAPI continue to be used as the token butt of the joke, but that’s okay because all the Asians in this country are doing well and what’s wrong with having a stereotype like that? 

Grace Ji-Sun Kim writes: “White supremacy works when people of color are in disagreement and in tension with each other. White supremacy works when people of color do not support each other and ignore each other’s plight for equality and opportunity. White supremacy works when we continue to speak about racism in binary terms.”

Remember, Stephen Colbert did the same in the spring of 2014. He tried to make a point mocking Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation and in one segment he said “I am willing to show the Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong, Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Suey Park created #cancelcolbert – she obviously wasn’t serious – but used it to critique white liberals who use forms of racial humor to mock more blatant forms of racism. Because it was a cheap joke – it hit on a narrow image – stereotype – a trope of a minority in order to get a point across. It was the same thing with Chris Rock. Do we really think that it’s okay – it’s helpful or productive – to fight against racism – with more racism?

And so, yes, Chris Rock failed us. Like Anthony Berteaux wrote:

Rock himself has forgotten how the Asian model minority myth has been utilized to relegate Black Americans as a “problem” minority who are lazy and uneducated. It cannot be forgotten that in 2014, Bill O’Reilly used the myth of Asian success and intelligence to discredit white privilege and justify the perception of Black Americans as a “failure” minority.

Good comedy should take the power out of these stereotypes. It should break down those expectations and empower their communities by providing a way for others to see their humanity. Chris Rock failed us by playing right into Oscars that are always so white, to a world that center whiteness and one that ultimately needs those stereotypes and for us to play them out – our bodies, our children, our lives – to prop up these institutions of whiteness. Whether it’s blatant racism or tokenism or the feel-good language of “diversity” and “diverse leaders” that ends up covering up deeper institutional problems like a flimsy multicultural bandaid or the grandstanding of liberal progressives who love to pat themselves on their backs because they work for inner-city agencies – it’s all whiteness. It’s all about whiteness and protecting its towers and pillars. And, what Chris Rock did failed us – his kids, my kids, our kids. Because this humor isn’t made of rubber. It draws blood.

But, failure and success aren’t static realities. I’m hopeful that the conversations that come out of this – and maybe even Chris Rock will be a part of it – they will accomplish so much more than these cheap jokes and stories. Because we can tell better stories. We can and we will.

Making Peace not War

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There’s a war on women’s bodies.

Earlier this year, a 33 year-old Indiana resident named Purvi Patel was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment. She had sought medical attention in a Mishawaka, Indiana emergency room for excessive vaginal bleeding and eventually revealed to the medical team that she had miscarried, and disposed of the fetus in a dumpster, which was later discovered there by authorities. At the crux of the legal case was the issue of whether Patel had miscarried or self-aborted, whether she had delivered a live baby or a nonliving fetus, and whether her pregnancy was even far enough along to deliver a viable live child.

Yet, Patel is not the first woman to be convicted of feticide here in Indiana as she follows Bei Bei Shuai, who in March 2011 was charged with the murder and attempted feticide of her child and jailed for 435 days.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

About a month ago Bloomingdale’s ran a shiny Christmas holiday ad: A woman is dressed in a black skirt and white cardigan clutching a white purse looking to her right laughing at a conversation or joke. To her left is a man in a tuxedo looking at her with a secret in his eyes. In the space between the two people is the following copy: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” Bloomingdale’s later apologized for it.

Earlier this year Budweiser had a similar ad with the tagline: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.”

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

There was a massacre in my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. A white American terrorist armed with an assault-style rifle opened fire went on a rampage at the Planned Parenthood. According to the New York Times he “began shooting at officers as they rushed to the scene. The authorities reported that three people were killed, a police officer and two civilians, and nine were wounded before the suspect finally surrendered more than five hours after the first shots were fired.” He spouted sentiments like “no more baby parts,” and was described by later as a “recluse who longed for women and mixed religion with rage.”

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

In October, an Indiana University student was arrested over the weekend after police say he attacked a Muslim woman, yelling racially charged comments at her and trying to remove her headscarf. Police on Monday did not identify the woman, but said that she had been dining in a Bloomington, Indiana, restaurant’s outdoor seating area Saturday night with her 9-year-old daughter when she was approached by the 19 year old male who was yelling things like “white power,” “kill the police” and derogatory statements about black people.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

In July five women died in police custody: Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner were all found dead in their cells after being arrested by local authorities.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

Here’s the thing about the Planned Parenthood tragedy. “The shooting last Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was horrifying, but according to a former Planned Parenthood worker, it wasn’t shocking,” (emphasis mine). The former employee goes on to note, “the attack that left three people dead was a continuation of decades of extremist tactics directed at the health care organization’s facilities, staff, volunteers and patients,” as found in this recent Mic article. This former employee went on to explain in detail the various tactics people would employ to harass and terrorize the clinic, and make it a place that employees feared going to for work.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

In a day and age where what matters is fiercely contested on every turf and street what does it mean to say that our bodies matter?

That what is fundamental to our humanity is anchored in our flesh, our faces, our skin, our cells, our blood in every possible way? Click To Tweet

There are so many ways we can expand the reality that bodies matter, and yes, all bodies matter. As Advent allows us space to consider the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, what would it mean to enter into the story of God? To enter into the Son of God coming into the world through the body of a woman, theotokos? How can we let that shape our language, our policies, our systems around the undeniable reality that bodies must matter after all?

To label the realities of violence upon the bodies of those marginalized, often women, often women, women of color, transgender women, and transgender women of color is a way of agency and enacting of power. Though employing a rhetoric of war and violence is often viewed as problematic it is actually one way towards peace – speaking truth, telling the real stories, and naming clearly the realities that are there. It is preparing a way, it is making smooth the rough and leveling the ground.

For those of us who have experienced that violence and long for and hunger after that peace in our flesh and blood we feel those powers against us, and to name it is a way to hold onto and embody that sliver of peace.Click To Tweet

As we journey towards the second Sunday of Advent having feasted on hope, may we name, make, embody peace.

#bodiesmatter