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.

Confession as Resistance and Solidarity in Bloomington

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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 19-year-old Triceten Bickford. Police said the woman claimed Bickford was yelling things like “white power,” “kill the police” and derogatory statements about black people.

The following are remarks I gave at the Bloomington Against Islamophobia event today.

Good afternoon, my name is Mihee Kim-Kort, and I’m a Presbyterian minister and director of a campus ministry here in town and one of the conveners of Btown Justice. I’m honored to stand with the wider Bloomington community to speak out against Islamophobia.

A major tenet of Protestant faith is the act of confession, both as individuals and as a community. Confession can serve as a means to honestly and genuinely express not only one’s failures – or the failures of a community, but as way to acknowledge and lament the fragility of humanity. In that vein, I want to offer these remarks up in that posture – I am wholly and painfully aware of the ways in which those who profess to follow the Christian faith have failed over and over in not only the areas of tolerance but compassion – we do lip service but when it comes to truly knowing and loving our neighbors we have so much more work in front of us. Moreover, we have also been complicit in perpetuating those value systems – guilty of prejudice and violence towards those who are NON: non-Christian, non-white, non-male, non-hetero, non-normative at so many levels.

In the same way confession acts as a mode for honesty and vulnerability, as a way of interrogation and self-reflexivity, it is a way to proclaim and affirm the realities of the struggle and what it means to cling to hope despite the realities around us. Click To Tweet

As I reflected on the actions of the IU student, I couldn’t help but feel sad for him. He is a symptom and product of white supremacy. It is in the air we breathe and we consume it like food. This is to not excuse him or his actions or justify any of the violence done towards our brothers and sisters but a way to hold us accountable for our own actions and what we are called to do with the words and opportunities before us, too.

I identify as Asian American. My family and I have experienced physical, spiritual and emotional violence. We have received demeaning and disrespectful treatment, we have been used and tokenized and propped up to support white supremacy while being made to feel like an outsider. This is typical of many AAPI. In the eyes of some, Asians in America are, writes Erika Lee, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.” If Asians sometimes remain silent in the face of racism, and if some seem to work unusually hard in the face of this difficult history, it is not because they want to be part of a “model minority” but because they have often had no other choice.

But I believe as one theologian writes that “prophetic grief transforms our sadness into seeking faith-rooted justice for all so we must speak up and repent by dismantling systemic racism within our institutions, churches, communities, families and hearts, and by becoming humble, supportive allies in the #‎BlackLivesMatter movement, accountable to those who suffer most.‬‬” ‬‬As a person who is committed to a faith that is centered around the life of a 1st century Palestinian who from the beginning stood with the marginalized, the rejected and isolated, the non-normative of society, and even himself experienced state-sanctioned violence and execution, because of his life – I believe and confess and affirm that black lives matter. Muslim lives matter.

You’re Not One of Us

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Mark 9: 38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

I love when people ask me about the kids. People ask “how old are they now?” and “how are they getting along?” and invariably, “how are you still standing?” Desmond and Anna are twins – 4 and a half now, can you believe it? And Ozzie is 2 and a half – it seems the Presbyterian Mission Agency board in particular has watched them – watched me grow up these last almost six years. When people ask me about the kids it’s a way to connect over something ordinary, normal and commonplace, human – we talk about the way kids play and make up games and tell stories and demand apple-pretzels-cheese. All. Day. Long.

It’s a way to feel that I am one of you.

The scripture passage we read together this morning continues a lengthy generative discussion on discipleship and ministry, vocation and call. Earlier in the chapter we have the transfiguration, Jesus starts to talk about his death, the disciples come to Jesus because they need help with casting out a particularly stubborn demon, and Jesus reminds them again who is the greatest in the kingdom by the example of the least of these – a child.

And then, John, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

He was not following us. He was not like us. He was not part of us.  

He was not one of us.

Do you remember that video during the cultural humility training – the ABC News Video with the children responding to different pictures – “20/20” brought together three groups of kids and showed them pictures of two men — one Arab, the other Asian. When we asked the children which man they liked better, over and over, more kids said they preferred “the Chinese guy.” One child preferred the Chinese man “because he looks nicer and he has a smile on.” But both men were smiling. Several children weighed in on the Arab man’s personality, basing their opinions on just seeing his picture. One child said, “I think he’s weird.” Another child said, “He’s like the scary dude.”

Next, “20/20” showed the kids pictures of a black man and white man. This time the pictures were different. Here were some of the comments the kids made about the photo of the black man. One said, “He looks mean.” Another referred to him as “FBI’s Most Wanted.” Another commented, “He looks like he’s a basketball player.” When the white man’s picture was shown, one child said, “He’s nice.” Another said, “I think he’s nice except he might be mad about something.” The boy was probably picking up on something. The photo of a white man was of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Admittedly, the pictures were a little bit different, but when we asked which man is a criminal, most kids pointed to the black man. When we asked which man was a teacher, most pointed to McVeigh. This is ironic because the black man pictured was Harvard University professor Roland Fryer.

It starts early - all the biases, assumptions, judgments, like Wendy said yesterday, it’s in the air we breathe. They’re not part of us. They’re not us.Click To Tweet

Our words and efforts around inclusion, multiculturalism, and diversity mean very little when we see and still say, he is not one of us. She is not part of us. They’re not us.

The disciples said, “Jesus, we saw someone, casting out demons in your name, but we stopped him because he was not one of us…” Jesus “we saw someone” – our penchant for “we saw someone” needs to be replaced by “we see Jesus.” And in Jesus, we see God. Our God is here. But therein lies the irony of the statement, “We saw someone” because the point is, do you see God? Do you see God in the persons who do deeds in God’s name? More than that, and simply, do you see God in that human being?

Foreigner. Alien. Immigrant. Minority. Outsider. Stranger.

Friends, what does it mean for us that we were once strangers, once foreign and alien, but in God’s radical love, we were brought near? More than that, what does it mean for us that Jesus took on this same foreignness – this status of outsider – to be one of us? To be a part of us?

I blogged a couple of months ago:

I keep hearing that chant – the call and response on the short Vine video posted the day after the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. “This is what theology looks like.”

I see them standing huddled together heads down laying hands on each other like it’s an ordination – these demonstrators are being commissioned for something massively important as they shout #blacklivesmatter and #nojusticenopeace anointed with sweat and tears and blood and Spirit and set apart for a holy work in which liturgy is wailing and protest. They are demonstrating resistance in the flesh-and-blood and show us what survival means in its purest form by simply breathing and lamenting together. Hands clutching each other eyes set on the heavenly prize which is the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before them and surround them even now.

This is what theology looks like – this is what faith looks like – this is what love looks like – the way we answer these questions, when “we saw someone” becomes we see Jesus, we see God, in every human being around us – it says who we are and leads us in what we do – with our ministries and with our lives.

It’s not that they become us. We become them, and in doing so we become more like Jesus.Click To Tweet

Isn’t that the ultimate expression of Christian discipleship? To become more like Jesus? 

In the Middle: Wondering and Wandering

I’m devouring books these days like a famished soul that has been lost in a desert wilderness where the only possibility of quenching any thirst comes from the backlit text on my phone. Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her and Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark and Lauren Winner’s Still (a real book, not Kindle) and Amber Haines’ Wild in the Hollow. Books I started a while ago and need to finish, and all the latest – each one somehow about the rawness of being caught in the in-between, whether the middle or darkness, but it all feels like a homesickness and longing. So familiar.

Nobody ever wants to admit that his or her soul is feeling wasted and desolate. That faith feels like a no-man’s land or a ghost town with tumbleweeds rolling through like the cliche Western movie. That feeling or believing or trusting or following is clutching straws that are brittle and fall apart in your hands and slide through your fingers just when you think you have a grasp on something.

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This is what theology looks like.

I keep hearing that chant – the call and response on the short Vine posted the day after the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. I see them standing huddled together heads down laying hands on each other like it’s an ordination – these demonstrators are being commissioned for something massively important as they shout #blacklivesmatter and #nojusticenopeace anointed with sweat and tears and blood and Spirit and set apart for a holy work in which liturgy is wailing and protest. They are demonstrating resistence in the flesh-and-blood and show us what survival means in its purest form by simply breathing and lamenting together. Hands clutching each other eyes set on the heavenly prize which is the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before them and surround them even now.

They are where they are supposed to be – these saints, these angels, these ministers of light and love and power.

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I keep thinking about tactics. That the pursuit of justice requires participants and players at all levels of the game. And in all possible spaces and places. There is no one way to do this justice work. We need all hands on deck. Somehow, this shapes my sense of vocation more and more as the urgency towards the goal and theology of #blacklivesmatter becomes more intensely a part of this life. It’s unavoidable. Another shooting. #andregreen What does it mean to embody this theology here, there, wherever I am? What does it mean as a parent? What does it mean as a woman? What does it mean as a clergyperson? What does it mean as an AAPI? To work towards the tangible goals of decreasing police violence and brutality, better housing, employment, and education for all, and dismantling the prison industrial complex. What can I do from where I am? What can the #church do?

I lift up the darkness. I embrace the middle. I articulate the longing for a profound and meaningful transformation that impacts all – and particularly the church – from within – without – and throughout its currents. I do what I can with what is before me wherever I am. With the sacraments of defeat and loss, the liturgy of protest and grief, I hold up to the sky, prop up on my hands and back, those prophets of today whose voices are crying out in the wilderness for #blacklivesmatter #allblacklivesmatter and the call to #sayhername.

Not An Ally: Getting to Work

3378vangoghvine_00000002657I didn’t come into an awareness of my racialized self until late college, and didn’t really engage the issues around it until seminary, and even then wrestled with whether there was a third way beyond the black-white paradigm of racism because it felt like there wasn’t space for me. For my parents. For my siblings and cousins. Stories of picture bridesVincent Chin and the LA Riots haunted me. Where do we fit in? I would often ask myself. We’re not white or black but the whites treat us like we’re black unless we “act” white and the blacks treat us like we’re white unless we “act” black. It wasn’t until the murder of Trayvon Martin that I began to realize that it is undeniably, in Jon Stewart’s words – “black and white.” That anti-black racism is alive and flourishing. 

It took me a while to get there but it’s all a process, right? To realize that it’s not oppression olympics and that there’s no way to compare the impact of antiblack racism and simply, white supremacy. The three pillars of white supremacy are intertwined but separate and distinct – the one thing in common is the notion of white heteropatriarchy and supremacy as the norm. It’s the center. Bottom line. Full stop.

I woke up the morning after the #ameshooting in Charleston to my Facebook and Twitter covered in photos of the terrorist killer and stories about the nine dead and … whining, screaming kids already going at it outside my door. I couldn’t take it. I did my own crying and screaming all the way down to the kitchen trying to get breakfasts and lunches together, trying to get them to stop shoving each other, trying to get them to put clothes and shoes on and get ready for camp.

After I yelled at them for the 518th time to stop hitting, stop pushing, stop crying I stopped and took a breath. I pulled out my laptop and queued up the newscast video from NBC and told them:

“Last night a bad man (Should I have called him a bad man? Should I have called him a white man? Should I have called him a bad white man? A troubled man? An angry man? A mean man?) walked into a church with a gun and shot and killed 9 black people.

It was a church like our church (Should I have compared the church to our church? Should I make any comparisons even for the sake of understanding? I shouldn’t have said like our church) that we go to every Sunday. The people were sitting together praying and reading the Bible and he walked in and killed (I’m not sure they know what kill means? Should I have not brought up guns?) them. Now there are people who won’t see their mommy or daddy or brother or sister or son or daughter anymore (What does this even mean?).”

They were quiet. Commercials about body lotion and luxury cars came on in between videos of the newscast that derailed the conversation. The twins asked questions. Anna asked, “Did the man shoot Jesus?” Desmond said, “Your hair is black.” Anna said, “Is the man going to shoot our church?” Desmond asked, “Can I have pretzels?”

Ugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything?

Eventually, they figure it out, assures Seth, a writer-friend of mine, who shared a story with me about his eldest son asking about the confederate flag, what it is and why it’s all over the South. He basically walked his son through the Civil War. Thinking through the ideological conflicts and what the flag represents even today, the son asked: “The people who still display these flags – aren’t they traitors to the country?” Seth replies, “That’s a really good question, isn’t it?”

This is the work. With my own kids. Even if I have no idea how they’ll respond and what kinds of questions they’ll ask me. Even if it means taking them to protests and demonstrations and have them shout “Black Lives Matter” with me when they don’t totally understand the words. Even if they fall asleep in my arms as we stand in vigil for lives that were lost this past year. Even if we sit in the pews of an unfamiliar church in town to pray for a similar church in Charleston, South Carolina.

We tell them the right stories. We tell them the real stories.Click To Tweet

We show them how we live and love and what we believe by speaking up and pointing out that those flags need to come down. Now. Why? What we say or do or pursue – it matters.

Because part of the work is yes, making space and listening, but now is also the time for so much more as Rev. Tawyna Denise Anderson calls us to in this movement. Now is the time TO SHOW UP (yes, I’m shouting). Now is the time for not cringing and shying away from the “awkwardness” of race conversations, now is the time for calling it EXACTLY WHAT IT IS then talking and questioning, now is the time for the messy work of tearing down and building back up again. As my sister Austin says, “I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.” Austin, Micky, Darnell, Broderick, Denise, Laura, Chanelle, Michelle, Christina, Monica, Bridgett, Mashadi, Nyasha, Grace, Kimm, LeQuita, Tara, Cheni, Erick, Derrick, Kesha, Kwame, LaMont, Jessica – I’m in this with you.

So, right now, for the kids, “it’s the bad man who shot the nine people.” Later maybe it’ll be “the white man who shot and killed nine black people.” Then maybe it’ll be “the white American terrorist who murdered nine black people in a church.” It’s a process for me. It’s a process for them. And by God they will get there, and they will be working right alongside us. And it’s going to be in the church where we learn these stories and perspectives, too.

It is, precisely, because race and racism is a reality, and because of everything that has come out of those constructs are ongoing, that we need to talk, write and catalyze these conversations in order to become aware of the depth of this disease, even as it has infected the church. – Ruth-Aimee Rosario-Belonni

No more talk of allies. We’re hitting the ground running every single day. We’re going to see it and call it out every single day. We’re getting in the trenches with our brothers and sisters every single day. I don’t care if people question my motives or methods, or question my platform, or question my mistakes because fuck, I’m going to make a ton of mistakes a long the way but that’s no excuse, or question my expertise or background or my investment because I’m not black. I don’t have time for that – you’re either in this now or you’re in the way. It starts now every single day whether I’m in college, seminary or the mother of three children who aren’t even five years old.

KEEPING IT REAL: Jon Stewart on Charleston Church Shooting! It’s like Jon Stewart is the only white dude with a name who keeps it real and has the back of the wrong doings happening to black people.

Posted by ROCK-SOLID on Thursday, June 18, 2015