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

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.

Roots and Sky: Book Giveaway and Reflecting on Home

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There are a handful of books I’m reading simultaneously – I do that because I’m impatient and want to digest everything at once. Drew Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, and Diana Butler Bass’s Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution. It’s very random but they all hit various points of need for me right now and in usual fashion, I’m devouring them, which means I am in essence skimming and writing/underlining the parts that slap me in the face.

But, Christie Purifoy‘s book – I’m reading this book by ever so slowly. Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is a journal of sorts, in which “Christie slowly unveils the trials and triumphs of that first year at Maplehurst [her new home in Pennsylvania] – from summer’s intense heat and autumn’s glorious canopy to winter’s quiet grief and spring’s unexpected mercies. Through stories of planting and preserving, of opening the gates wide to neighbors, and of learning to speak the language of a place, Christie invites you into the heartache and joy of small beginnings and the wonder of a God who would make his home with us.” (From the back cover of the book)

Besides being wowed by her pedigree (degrees in English from University of Chicago – I’m still shallow this way, it’s the Korean in me that’s overly-impressed by people who get their doctorates), I was moved by the depth of theological articulation interwoven in these pages – heartfelt and beautiful, and definitely anything but shallow. It’s providing so much for me right now – perspective, possibility, and joy. Because it’s a sanctuary. It’s a space that is allowing me to come back to myself and one that encourages me to simply pay attention to what is happening around me. There’s something about the genuine and honest way she engages the tension between the ordinary and holy because occupying that space in-between is not easy. But the way Christie writes about this sense of wandering and home, I see that this beautiful struggle is necessary. It’s food for our souls. We need this way of being and seeing not only to survive the everyday but periodically revel in the glory of God’s grace.

'We must learn to walk with God on the ground of our own lives.'Click To Tweet

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Somehow I got two copies of this incredible book in the mail. A few of us did and that’s such a sweet surprise because since I love it so much I’m going to have to give it away. I love sending mail and will include a couple of extra little treats with it.

If you’d like to enter to win Christie’s new book each thing you do below will give you a single entry:
1. Drop me a line in the comments section here,
2. Tweet at me on Twitter
3. Like/Follow my Facebook page because though I do post my content there I also post a shitton of other people I read and follow and likely good stuff for you to read, too.

I’ll do the drawing on Tuesday 2/2 (release day!) Consider, seriously, buying it anyway as a gift for anyone who loves beautiful and encouraging stories.

#BeyondSundayMorning: Be the Sign

#BeyondSundayMorning: Be the Sign

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These are the days.

Natalie Merchant came on over the radio as we sat and sipped wine in the brightly lit kitchen that first night. Ministers gone wild is what Jim, one of our hosts, would call the weekend as his wife, Heidi filled up our glasses. Conversations about raising kids and remembering the first week in the church and then lamenting at the exhaustion and hearing how that does change a little when the kids go to school.

When they go to college?!?!? I shrieked, thinking, there’s no way I’m going to make it.

No, no, no, when they go to kindergarten, Heidi laughed. Oh. Thank God.

They talked more about their days, how these days go by so unbelievably fast, and stories of struggle and uncertainty, so human and thankfully real, and that made me think, I’m living those days right now. Truly, these are the days. These are the moments.

***

O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving-maid.
Show me a sign of your favour,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
-Psalm 86

There are days though that I long for a sign of God’s favor, whatever that might mean right now. I’m not in need of anything dramatic like something thundering from the skies or flaming trees, maybe just a whisper, an inkling, even a peripheral ghosting of that divine and human. Something that makes me breathe and remember and see in new ways, and point me in the right direction.

“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” -Aslan in The Silver Chair

Thankful for these words – and thankful for the reminder from the preacher that maybe I’m the sign. Maybe the people gathered together are the sign. Maybe the candles we light together and bread and cup we share together are the signs.

***

I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. -Ezekiel 34

Promises. They’re signs, too. When I feel like perhaps we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere it’s the promises of God’s presence and provision that helps me to see the road marked out in front of me. Even if the road is through valleys, even if the path looks like it’s going straight into an ocean, even if the road is covered in brambles and thorns. The promises are glimpses of that future utopia – a word that I take from Jose Estaban Munoz – an approach to hope as a critical methodology that can best be described as a backward glance that enacts a future vision (from his introduction in Cruising Utopia). To embody hope as perspective, posture, and pursuit – to embody the reign of Christ – to perform it, to enact and live it out – and I’m brought again to the church. How we are called out to do hope – it’s who we are as we have scriptures and stories rooted in resistance. Hope is the stuff of resistance. And so, we gather together weekly, and in gathering together around Word and words, sacrament and song, prayers and peace-passing, we resist the darkness. We receive God’s salvation.

And I will light candles tonight. For Marissa Alexander. For Michael Brown. For John Crawford. For Tamir Rice. For Akai Gurley. For Trayvon Martin. For countless others. For Emmett Till.

We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple. By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. Psalm 64

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

windshieldMy eyes flutter open. Reluctantly. I squeeze them shut trying to shut out the sounds of the twins already going at it about some god-forsaken book or toy this morning in their room next door. It’s not even light out. I crack one eye open and look at the clock.

6:11 AM.

Noooooooooooo. I can feel every aching joint and muscle and cell – even my skin hurts somehow. The tops of my feet are sore. Didn’t they just go down? I groan inwardly. It pushes itself out through my lips a little – an exhalation of pain. Andy mumbles, “What’s wrong.” Not as a question but a statement of fact. I don’t respond as I hear the escalating conflict rumble towards our door with shrieks of “Minnnnnnnnne!” and “Noooooo!”

They burst through our door both pleading their cases at the same time as I put the pillow over my head.

Oz starts bellowing from next door banging on the crib with his empty sippy cup.

So it begins.

***

It’s always about work and time and kids and work and rest and work and kids. We go in circles trying to make the other one see

how it’s my turn or
    I’ve put in so many hours already or
I’m so beat down and tired from the yelling and screaming and
   can’t you just deal with them to
you’ve been gone so many nights and
   you’re out of town all the time.

What about me? What about my commitments? What about my needs?

At this point it is less sharing and more shouting. Then it’s no words and just slamming doors.
Stomping feet down the stairs.

Storming out.

And the howl of storms inside. Inside my mind and soul. Too much to sort through and too many feelings mixed up into obligations and commitments. I sit back trying to figure out when and how the last fight started – was it something that was left out on the counter or a door unlocked or a conversation or schedule forgotten? And I wonder how these fights started in the first place. I wonder how we will extricate ourselves from these moments where we are on edge and fists clenched and hearts cold – that are becoming too familiar. Because this angst has become the houseguest that has stayed so long we can’t remember what life was like before. Someone we can’t just kick out of the house because what would be left of ourselves if we tried to disentangle from this odd triangle, this trinity of life overflowing with stress maintaining the day to day? The daily toil of survival has become engrafted on to skin and psyche so any kind of rupture would tear more away than we would realize in front of us. Would we be in pieces that would be easily salvageable? Or is that light at the end of the tunnel only the flickering of stars and night?

Being a peacemaker means more than keeping the peace. It means redefining it in flesh-and-blood, and the possibility of wounds and scars.

***

I’m in my car and listening to the scripture passage on the beattitudes read aloud by someone with a slight Irish accent – warm and soothing, like the rain falling on the windshield. I only say it because I can actually hear the rain since the children are blessedly asleep.

Being a peacemaker means more than hasty promises and temporary truces. It means seeing conflict as opportunity for deeper connection.

I think about the bit on peacemakers being children of God. How we are all children of God and how there’s something interesting happening here. Like maybe since we are all children of God then we are necessarily called to be peacemakers. Not – “only certain people are peacemakers so therefore only certain people are Gods children.” And then I think about the kind of peace I have longed for a while now – the sleeping kind – the quiet kind – the one that I breathe in as I look in my rearview mirror at the children asleep clutching books and stuffed animals. Empty snack traps and half empty juice boxes. Maybe the peace that we make isn’t always between humans who are fighting and arguing or going at it over some stupid toy. Maybe the peace that we make isn’t necessarily treaties or compromises or resolutions. Maybe the peace is simpler than that. Maybe we make peace within ourselves when we see that we are children of God. That we are all children of God struggling and flailing trying to make sense of life and family and work. Maybe that peace is something to be practiced in our families first and with our children and spouses. Maybe that peace is tenuous and fragile like human life but it is still real, it is still promised because it is God-breathed into our bones and marrow.

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