The Salt Collective: Embracing Being the Token

The Salt Collective: Embracing Being the Token

Today I’m over at the SALT Collective!

“I am the only one. On most committees or organizations, I am usually the only one. The only woman. The only young person. The only racial “minority.” The only liberal. And most recently, the only mother with young children. It was something I grew accustomed to rather quickly, this being the token fill-in-the-blank.”

This was the opening to the chapter I wrote in Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Clergywomen of Color. A book full of theological, sociological, cultural reflections on the experience of clergywomen of color I had the privilege of editing turned into continuous fodder for my own reflection on the complicated intersections of race, gender, economics, and more.

Being a Presbyterian minister now for over ten years I’ve spent much time struggling to articulate what it means to be the token, a standout and a novelty – a Korean American clergywoman. Though I’ve come to feel comfortable in my clergy-skin teaching, leading worship, administering sacraments, and preaching from the pulpit, I still wrestle with the gaze of the wider public when I am out and about with my collar on. The white tab in the center of my neck surrounded by the somber black seems to cause a double-take by those who walk by me. It’s the clash of the traditional images of the office with the (relative) youthfulness of my face, my being a woman, and my East Asian heritage that perhaps elicits this response.

But, I haven’t always worn a collar – it’s not terribly common attire for Presbyterian clergy. Generally, Presbyterians like to blend in a little more.

I chose to wear one because I wanted to stand out.

Read the rest at the SALT Collective.

Writing to Live: My Three (?!) Books

puzzle Written in October.

I keep thinking about Brittany Maynard. The 29-year old woman who has terminal stage 4 brain cancer and is choosing to end her life on her own terms. I keep thinking about that frail line between life and death, and how easy it is to look at our lives and realize we’re all dying in a way, as each day goes by, but then faith tells me that each day is the first day of eternity. I keep thinking about what it means to die with dignity. And what it means to live with dignity. What it means that each person has a right to that choice, and that choice is there each day.

“The livable life” – something I read in Judith Butler’s book Undoing Gender – chases after me these days. Or is it the other way around? That I keep chasing after it? What makes life livable? My hope is that through my writing, my investigation, my analysis, my reflection and discovery, all of this endeavor is connected to as Judith says of her own work – “tasks of persistence and survival.” To articulate life in particular and ideally, life universal. To speak truth to life.

Like most things, it’s a process. My first book, Making Paper Cranes was never meant to be a grand manifesto but it was important. It came out of a time I struggled to verbalize my sense of self as a Korean American woman of faith. What did it mean to embrace my cultural heritage? What did it mean to speak about racialization? What did it mean to be a woman of color in a predominantly white institution of faith? And what and how could I articulate something about God from the abyss of my own life? The book was deeply personal and became a theologically constructive work as I “conversed” with authors, theologians, liberation theologians, pastors, feminists and poets within the writing. While it only glanced the surface of so many questions about gender, race and identity, faith and vocation, even then I could feel there was so much more that was beyond my reach at the time. Still, it was a beginning. It gave me life.

Then Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Clergywomen of Color was a chance to give myself over to a deeply held belief about community – how we can’t survive without it. I needed to hear the stories of my people, my tribe, my sisters those who already knew and understood my questions about gender and race, and could speak truth to power in their own ways. I continue to read over those stories again and again being moved to tears by the bravery and honesty of the writers. There is so much at stake in these words, and these words continue to feed me.

And then, there were three. I’m not just talking Oz, who slept in my lap as we finished writing this book after his arrival. Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry came out of a compulsion to write out what it meant that our world was crashing down around us. To bring order to the chaos. Anyone who has had a traumatic experience can speak to how much life changes after that trauma. And anyone with children knows how having children falls into that category. Anyone with children knows how traumatic it is to become a parent for the first time. Also, anyone who has done anything like this with their spouse knows how traumatic it is to pick out wallpaper much less write anything together.

Andy, my husband, had the initial dream about this book when we first moved to Bloomington shortly after the twins were born. So much had changed in the span of two months – exciting with the new job, new family, new town, but grief, too, in the goodbyes to a career, community, and any familiar, comforting plans about the future. Yes, there are stories about ministry, specifically ordained ministry within the Presbyterian church. But, there are stories about what we carry into the pulpits and pews, like struggling with infertility, later the threat of foreclosure on our house, flailing under the burden of depression, and all the normal power and identity struggles within a marriage. It is a much more extensive self-reflection of our lives as we try to put pieces together to make sense of our life together.

All this leads me back to livability. The thread throughout all the writing is living and surviving. The constructive and narrative, theological and sociological, reflective and creative –  all are about the ways I’ve learned to embrace this way of living – stumbling and struggling, surrendering and trusting. And marriage – life together – has been the most relentless teacher. Everything Andy and I have gone through – all the good, bad, and ugly – we share it in the book as an attempt at saying what we believe about God. That God is certainly present in the struggle – the valleys and darkness – but it’s in the moments of surrender and trust that we actually see and feel God. We could certainly say that the book is about marriage – the push and pull of an imperfectly lived out commitment in the midst of covenant with God, or about parenthood and family – the ways having children fundamentally changes a person for good, or about ministry – how a vocation that is about giving oneself over to others is thankless but bizarrely satisfying at the end of the day.

But, it’s more than that and oddly – less than that. It’s just…our story. And we’re definitely not done making sense of it. I imagine if we were to write another book like this in twenty years our conclusions would be vastly different. We will probably look back on this book and laugh at it in much the same way I laugh through my old journals from middle school. Still, maybe someone else will find themselves in a part of these words.

Even if on face-value there might not be any point of overlap for the single person or the childless couple or the college student who thinks, “what does that have to do with me?” that’s where the Holy Spirit, the wild-child of the Trinity, my favorite, comes to play. I take Kwok Pui Lan’s words to heart in her book Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, where she says when the Spirit is present, “one catches glimpses of oneself in a fleeting moment or in a fragment in someone else’s story.” The most important revelation I had when writing started to be a mode of living, I mean literally, breathing and feeling – each day – was that we’re not alone. None of us are alone. If the words found in any of these books, blogs, articles, essays, and ramblings offers that glimpse of shared life to someone else then I can’t imagine anything more satisfying, more dignifying about these stories. It would make life worth living.

Streams Run Uphill: Highlighting Other Voices

Streams Run Uphill: Highlighting Other Voices


This week Jim Kast-Keat of Thirty Seconds or Less will be hosting the writers’ voices of Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Clergywomen of Color .

“Where streams run uphill, there a woman rules.” -Ethiopian proverb

After Making Paper Cranes I found myself desperate to uncover the meaningful and pertinent experiences of the rare but growing number of other clergywomen. I needed to know that I wasn’t totally alone in this journey. I needed to hear from the ones that looked like me. Those that are other in that they are non-Anglo. Those seen as exotic, foreign, and mysterious.

Some have accents. Some look and sound “American.” Some look incredibly young. Some are bilingual. Some are quiet. Some are vociferous. Some are incredible preachers. Some have a healing pastoral presence. Some are mothers. Some are single. Some are gay. Some are recent immigrants. Some are second or third generation. They serve in Asian American, African American, and Spanish-speaking congregations, or, like me, they serve congregations that look nothing like them. I hungered for the life-giving words that came from our unique calling and the acknowledgment of the distinct challenges we faced from the moment we decided to say, “Lord, here I am. Send me.”

Because there are times I question whether or not my call is as real as others around me – those who seem to have the unwavering support of their congregations and communities, those who seem to have little struggle beyond the “usual” in ministry, those who look so comfortable in their robes and in the pulpit.

All of us – the writers – felt it behooved us to share a little glimpse of the struggle – that perhaps this would be an encouragement for women of color pursuing the call to ministry, but also women of color in any leadership type position in whatever context, and even the congregations who are led by women of color. I grow increasingly convinced that women of color voices need to be centered in the kingdom of God, and that the way to a deeper faithfulness by the church is to position themselves towards these lives and perspectives.

Thank you again to Jim Kast-Keat who provided the space and inspiration for these voices this week:

Larissa Kwong Abazia
Yana Pagan
Laura Cheifetz
LeQuita Hopgood Porter
Cheni Khonje

Streams Run Uphill Blog Tour: Week 1

Streams Run Uphill Blog Tour: Week 1


So thankful for the words and support, and honest engagement for those who’ve posted so far about #streamsrunuphill. It’s so hugely important to me that these writers and stories are heard widely in the church. Please spread the word so that the resource becomes available and known especially to those young women of color!

Caryn Riswold

Dan Wilkinson

And for Unfundentalist Christians for reposting at their place.

Publishers Weekly
Ministry Matters by Bromleigh McClenaghan

More to come including:

Sarah Bessey
Krista Dalton
Kathy Escobar
Young Lee Hertig
Adam Hollowell
Grace Ji-Sun Kim
Kathy Khang
Carol Howard Merrit
Micah Murray at Redemption Pictures

Streams Run Uphill: Official Release

Streams Run Uphill: Official Release

SRU Book Cover
Where streams run uphill, there a woman rules. —Ethiopian proverb

Happy Women’s History month! 

I’m also super happy to announce the release of Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color.

After Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology (The Young Clergy Women Project) I felt like there needed to be something about ministry and vocation itself as a follow-up to my journey towards a contextual feminist theology. Something a little more on the ground and touching issues that are often completely absent or misunderstood by others.

Some excerpts from the beginning:

It is the dynamic but unexpected harmony of streams that “run uphill” that compels me the most. There is struggle in an uphill endeavor, but miracle in its very existence. There is an irrationality about it, as well as a subversive, kingdom-shaking quality. There is something off-putting and hard to swallow but undeniably compelling about it. So, too, it is with the “other” clergywomen and our work and ministry, their calling and community relationships, their voices and their perspectives. There is a necessity for their ministries and their stories, a need more pressing now than ever.

I remember from a seminary class the words of our mujerista sister theologians: La vida es la lucha. Life is a struggle. Despite the distinctive quality of these stories, what ties us together, and with all our sisters around the world, is the struggle. We claw. We scuffle. We rise, tooth and nail, tear-soaked and blood-spilled in it all. But it is not only the hardships, the obstacles, and conflicts; it is the miracles. It is the miracle and wonder, the undeniable beauty of grace we encounter in ourselves and in our callings. We overcome much. We surmount even more. We triumph over the impossible. Yet, even more importantly, while much of the journey is uphill, the promise of God in community is that we never journey alone. We share each other’s burdens. We carry each other on our shoulders. We hold each other’s tears. And so, I hope it is with these words: that they would remind us of our shared baptism, the promise and proclamation of God’s claiming us, and how that is the most important voice in our lives, and one that comes to us and we hear in this community.

And in that sharing, we hear and know God’s unquenchable love for us and press on all the more.

To all those women, 
the mothers, the writers, the artists, and the prophets, who are an oasis 
and who stir up a fresh vision of God’s kingdom with their work and lives
so that we might continue faithfully in this journey.

We’ve got a great line up for the upcoming blog tour, author videos in the works, and hopefully webinars/discussions. These are SUCH important issues and all the honesty and vulnerability from the authors has compelled me to make sure we hear their voices, and offer a space for those needing to articulate the struggle. Please join us!