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In which streams run uphill :: guest post by Mihee Kim-Kort

I’m honoured to welcome my friend, Mihee Kim-Kort to this little corner of the Internet today. You’ll see why I love Mihee as you read her important essay below – she’s brave, she’s honest, she’s smart and so on – but beyond all of that, there is a realness and authenticity to her that is so needed in the Church. I love to listen to her, to learn from her, to walk alongside of her even from far away.

And as a sidenote, this book project of hers below is a must-read. Mihee is a pilgrim pastor for many reasons – race, age, gender, politics, stage of life, among other reasons – and she is forging a path for many other women to follow. 

Me and Anna on FB

la vida es la lucha

Coined by our mujerista theologians it literally means, “life is struggle,” or even more simply “to live is to struggle.” Conversely, the flip is true, too – to struggle is to live. The book Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color was first inspired by an African proverb that echoes the sentiment above.

Where streams run uphill, there a woman rules.

The original subtitle was “The Pastoral Identity and Ministry of the Other Clergywomen.” The word other is significant. It conjures up orientalism, exoticism, colonialism, and those felt effects still present today even in the more liberal disciplines and vocations. The history of feminism especially in North America has mostly been narrow and has excluded women of color until fairly recently. But, this isn’t unusual. Much of majority culture has often marginalized groups based on gender, race, economics, orientation, and ability. Still, especially in the church, there continues to be an urgency in working towards reconciliation at all levels, and at the vey least it means making sure there is a space for all voices and experiences.

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.

I find myself often being 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. 

One of my favorite novels, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, speaks of the struggle of this phenomenon. There’s a telling scene between Samuel and Lee, the Chinese servant who is with the family, about Lee’s (exaggerated) Chinese accent: 

Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to 

open and deepen until they weren’t foreign any more, but man’s eyes, warm with understanding. Lee chuckled. “It’s more than a convenience,” he said. “It’s even more than self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all.” 

Samuel showed no sign of having observed any change. “I can understand the first two,” he said thoughtfully, “but the third escapes me.”  

Lee said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but it has happened so often to me and to my friends that we take it for granted. If I should go up to a lady or a gentleman, for instance, and speak as I am doing now, I wouldn’t be understood.” 

“Why not?” 

“Pidgin they expect, and pidgin they’ll listen to. But English from me they don’t listen to, and so they don’t understand it.”

“Can that be possible? How do I understand you?” 

“That’s why I’m talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.”

Before reading this Steinbeck piece, I could never put my finger on that slow chipping away at my dignity and humanity I often felt each time someone introduced him or herself, and met my response with surprise. “You’re English is so good!” or “How long have you been in this country? You have no accent!” Even the most educated would ask, “Is English your first or second language?” I still struggle with simply glossing over those comments with a smile and nod as if I just received a complimented somehow.

Not everyone has these experiences. And thankfully, I didn’t have only these experiences. But they’re out there and real.  

I let myself savor the stories in these pages like a glass of fine water turned into wine from that wedding at Cana. I celebrate, I give thanks, and I am deeply humbled by all the sacrifices and risks made by these writers. These clergywomen were vulnerable. They were transparent. They were genuine. And they were and are trustworthy. These are only glimpses into much more complicated histories and larger narratives. Yet, even these small windows allow us to see the possibilities for real connection and community, a little taste of the kingdom of God and how we experience that in the midst of struggle and surrender, in those places where reconciliation with God, neighbor, and self is rooted in embracing the other.

Being the other is not only a philosophical, social, political, or literary concept. It is a theological image. It speaks of a God of the margins, a God for the oppressed, a God who loves and pursues the stranger. And despite the history behind it and how it traditionally is a negative phenomenon, being the other does not have to be associated with colonial and imperialistic movements or a tool of oppressors or a burden of those who internalize what it means for the oppressed. The language of the other is redeemable but also an instrument for redemption. It speaks of the extreme and miraculous routes God forges to connect to us. It is the other that helps us to see God’s love for us even more. It is when we see and recognize the other in ourselves that we begin to fathom the depths of God’s love for us.

Join us in the struggle not only for voice and validation but for the sake of all lives that are created with dignity and love.

Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained Presbyterian minister and mom to 3 under 3 (twins Desmond and Anna, and Oswald now 13 months old). Her current ministry is UKIRK (www.iukirk.com) to college students at Indiana University through the two PCUSA churches in town and collaborating with others on ecumenical community at Fringe Christianity (www.btownfringe.org). She graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a BA in English and Religion, Princeton Theological Seminary with her MDiv and ThM (Religion and Society). She is author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology and blogs at Deeper Story, 8asians, Fidelia’s Sisters, and First Day Walking (www.miheekimkort.com).

Continue Reading · Guest Post, women, work · 13

In Which Jesus Offers Financial Independence That No One Wants :: a guest post by Ed Cyzewski

I’m excited to welcome my friend, Ed Cyzewski over to my place today. Ed has been an online pal for years now. He’s one of those rare guys who is able to be funny without being mean and is wise in the ways of our Jesus without being preachy or weird. His new book is coming out soon and I am honoured to make a bit of room here to celebrate it.

Have you ever looked at your bank account balance, a troubled relationship, or a job situation and wondered, “God, where are you right now?”

I’m not the first person to make my life circumstances the measuring stick of God’s presence or blessings. I certainly won’t be the last.

Over the past four years I’ve grown weary of constantly watching our bank account balance as the end of the month nears. We carefully pay off our essential bills and manage day to day expenses while leaving enough money to cover unexpected bills that come up.

I think about money way more than I’d like.

If there’s one story that a writer living from pay check to pay check doesn’t want to read, it’s the story of the rich young ruler. Nevertheless, my latest book project, Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus, required that I study it. While I started this project because of the ways I related to the Pharisees and their heavy-handed use of scripture to divide and conquer, my investigation of the “unfollowers” in the Gospels led right to my least favorite Gospel story of all time.

Doesn’t Jesus appear rather unreasonable with the rich young ruler? Sell everything? Really?

No, thank you, Jesus. “Unfollow!”

We’re trying to just make ends meet each month. I find it hard to relate to both the ruler and Jesus in this story.

It’s tempting to explain away the sharper points of this story, to minimize their impact in my life. How do we encounter the full force of this story today without turning our family into homeless vagabonds?

As I struggled with this story, I was reminded of my four years living in a small Vermont town, and it added a bit of insight into what Jesus was trying to do.

While living in the southwest corner of Vermont, I rubbed shoulders with a bunch of people from New York City who retired in lavish homes throughout the countryside. They made their fortunes early in life and were finally reaping the “rewards” of their abundance.

I could sense the attractiveness of their comfort and affluence. A friend of mine lived in a modest home surrounded by larger vacation homes, and he said that he often struggled with comparing himself to the wealthy people around him. I too caught myself coveting a larger, fancier home filled with fine artwork. Let’s toss in a small swimming pond while we’re at it too—that’s what most of the wealthy folks would do.

There is something about being around large amounts of money that proved difficult, if not destructive to my mental health. I always craved more possessions. When we moved away from that town, I sensed a huge relief in my spirit. I wasn’t comparing myself to others or spending imaginary money I didn’t have.

I felt greater freedom by just getting away from affluent people.

Money changes us, and whether we want to admit it or not, it can often change us for the worst.

As I imagine the rich young ruler approaching Jesus, he simply wanted Jesus to affirm his existing decisions and to welcome him as a disciple according to his own terms. He didn’t think that his money could have changed him all that much. He was fully committed to the law after all. What more could Jesus ask him to do?

While preaching on this passage one Sunday, my pastor suggested that Jesus may have been offering this particular man the only path to freedom left for him. He had to learn how to live with nothing if he wanted to experience the fullness of life with Jesus.

In other words, having less is not necessarily a punishment. Owning less can be more of an advantage than we expect. Some days I’d rather believe that financial abundance equals blessing.

I know that the good Sunday school answer is that we should be content with Jesus and Jesus alone. But let’s be honest: If you’re a parent, you don’t want to risk losing your home or running out of money for food. The weight of Jesus telling this man to leave ALL of his possessions behind hits parents especially where it hurts.

I don’t think that this story is necessarily a template for how to live. There’s no way that Jesus called all of his disciples to sell all of his possessions. After all, he was supported financially by a band of wealthy women. He entrusted his mother into the home of John. Followers of Jesus in the early church owned homes that were used for church meetings.

We need to stop reading this story with white knuckle grips on our laptops, furniture, and cars.

This is a story about what can hold us back from Jesus. We shouldn’t approach this story asking “how much am I allowed to own?” That misses the point. We should approach this story asking, “What would keep me from following Jesus?” This is a story about finding freedom from the control of money and possessions, not about living in condemnation because of what we own.

Do you own something that distracts you from Jesus?

Is there something in your home that makes it hard to pray?

Would you find it easier to seek first the Kingdom of God if you could change one thing?

Do you measure God’s approval or blessings according to your bank account?

Do you trust in your work or financial goals for security or fulfillment?

This is a story that can lead us to conviction and freedom rather than condemnation and isolation.

For some of us, the cost will be steep. For others, the cost may only be a dramatic change to how we see the world.

Sometimes it really hurts to let go of financial security or standards we use to measure our personal worth. Some days I don’t buy into the “freedom” offered in this passage. I want security that I can hold and control.

This story upends our standards and narratives about wealth, blessings, and “financial independence.” Jesus defines freedom in terms of having less.

It’s hard to admit that right now I may have the most freedom I’ve ever experienced.

Learn more about what we can learn from the Rich Young Ruler and the other “unfollowers” of Jesus in Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus.

EdC200 Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation. He shares his imperfect/sarcastic thoughts on following Jesus at In A Mirror Dimly and lives in Columbus, OH with his wife and son.

Continue Reading · Guest Post · 16

In which the dream has died – now what? :: by Sheridan Voysey

Today, I’m making a bit of room here for Sheridan Voysey. I think his words will strike a cord for many of us who have had to experience loss before we could experience resurrection. When I read his post here, I knew it was for us: those of us who have had to see a dream die before another could take its place. Yesterday, Ray Hollenbach (a spiritual formation director, pastor-heart, and fellow Vineyard-y guy) tweeted this:

I think we often don’t make enough room in our churches and lives and families for the death of something, for the navigating of the loss that accompanies deep change. I’ve been thinking about it more and more with our “Your Turn” series here, as well as a few other situations. So I’m thankful for Sheridan Voysey’s words here and pray that they minister to you. Check out his book on this subject, Resurrection Year.

****

‘I think that’s all of it,’ my wife Merryn said, pushing a play rug into the last available space in the car.

‘Thank you,’ my sister-in-law said, rubbing her hand over her baby bump. ‘This will all be so useful.’

The car now overflowed with all the paraphernalia one needs for the arrival of a baby. There was a baby carriage in the trunk, along with a stroller. A highchair sat on the back seat beneath the children’s books and portable playpen, and a play rug and bags of bibs were pushed into the spaces leftover.

My sister-in-law closed the trunk, gave Merryn a hug, then drove off up the street.

It had taken Merryn and me a decade to accumulate all those baby things.

Preparing for a dream that was never to be.

Christmas 2010 had been shaping up to be a Christmas like no other. After ten years spent trying almost every means possible to start a family—including special diets, courses of fertility-boosting supplements, healing prayer, numerous rounds of IVF treatment, an agonizing two-year wait on the Australian adoption list, followed by more rounds of IVF—we had been told we were pregnant.

Pregnant! After a decade waiting we were going to have a baby.

Then a call came to Merryn’s cell phone on Christmas Eve.

‘I’m afraid,’ the nurse said, ‘your pregnancy hormone levels have dropped significantly…’

‘But,’ Merryn said, ‘you told us we were preg…’

‘I am so sorry.’

Merryn had put down the phone, walked into our bedroom and curled up in a fetal position. Our dream of having a baby was over.

Now the remnants of that decade-long journey were being carried away in my sister-in-law’s car.

A few weeks before that fateful phone call, I had interviewed British author Adrian Plass on my radio show. Chatting after the interview, I told him about the difficult decade Merryn and I’d had, and how we hoped 2011 would be better. He listened intently to my story then said something profound. ‘In the Christian scheme of things,’ he said, ‘new life follows the death of something, just as Jesus’ resurrection followed his crucifixion. After what you’ve been through, I think a Resurrection Year is what you need.’

A Resurrection Year—a year of new life after the death of a dream.

The phrase struck a chord.

Little did we know it then, but in just a few months’ time Merryn and I would be setting off on an adventure we’d never forget—walking the streets of Rome, climbing the Alps of Switzerland, and settling into our new city of Oxford, United Kingdom, where Merryn would get a dream job at the University and I would write a book helping others recover from their broken dreams.

None of this was what we had planned for our lives. God turned our broken dream into a new beginning.

But this new beginning required something of us.

The baby carriage, the stroller, the children’s books and play rug—like burs that cling to your clothes after a forest walk, they were all reminders of our past. And to move on we had to say goodbye to that past.

We had to say farewell the dream that was never to be.

When my sister-in-law announced she was expecting again, Merryn and I were given an opportunity to do that. And as she drove up the street with our baby things in tow, something significant happened in Merryn’s heart:

The forest burs were plucked from her clothes.

The symbols of the past were carried away.

And that meant we could finally grieve, and say farewell to the dream that for a decade had made our hearts sick.

So, perhaps you long to be married but are still single, or your artistic career has never taken off. Maybe a crushing diagnosis has shattered your dreams for your loved one, or the whirlwind romance has ended in divorce. The good news is, you can start again after your broken dream. God may even turn it into a surprising new beginning.

But for that to happen there comes a time to relinquish that dream.

So that God can give you a new one.

___________________

Sheridan Voysey is a UK-based writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His latest book Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings chronicles his and his wife’s journey to start life afresh after ten years of infertility. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and catch his podcasts and videos at www.sheridanvoysey.com Sheridan will be touring the US in October 2014.

Continue Reading · Guest Post · 19

In which these 21 things shouldn’t be said to sexual abuse victims :: guest post by Mary DeMuth

I love Mary DeMuth. And I don’t mean that in the lame say-it-but-don’t-mean-it way. She was my roommate when we were in Haiti together in 2012, and she is genuine, whole, brave, loving, funny, and smart. And her morning alarm was a song by Elvis Costello. She has written a very important book and I am so honoured to share my space here with her hard-won wisdom today. 

 

 

As a sexual abuse survivor, I’ve heard my share of insensitive comments. I’ve also talked to enough victims to be able to gather some of the most damaging words here—all for the sake of those who truly, truly want to be loving, sensitive and helpful.

My intention in writing these is not to shame those who want to help, or make them walk on eggshells. Instead it’s to help friends and family members of victims best love and understand the sexual abuse recovery journey.

One. That was so long ago, why can’t you just get over it?

In this case, I simply ask, “How long did it take you to ‘get over’ the death of a loved one?” Sexual abuse involves grief—the loss of innocence, the shame of sexual violation, the removing of living life free. I’m not sure we ever “get over it.” We grow. We heal. We process. But there will always be that grief.

Two. Are you sure it happened?

Telling is the hardest thing to do for a sexual abuse victim. While there are people who make up stories, err on the side of belief. Believe me, none of us wish we had this terrible story to tell. And yes, we’re sure it happened.

Three. If you talk about it so much, you’ll never heal.

Processing is important. There will be times when a victim spends a lot of time talking. This is part of the process. It won’t always be so. Offer your understanding. Listen. Ask questions. Making snap judgments about someone’s healing journey and how long it “should” take only makes them want to quit.

Four. You know that song, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Or it makes you weaker, jumpy, more fearful, less trusting.

Five. I could never go through what you went through.

What this communicates is that, in a way, you’re glad it didn’t happen to you. Which is completely natural to feel. But it also makes us feel like we’re marked somehow, and we’re left with the very real truth that it did happen to us.

Six. That perpetrator must live with such awful regret.

Maybe. Maybe not. Sociopaths and psychopaths don’t process regret or shame like others. They tend to blame society, their upbringing, and even the victim for their violations. A sexual predator is redeemable, but their pathway to health is long and excruciating. One article that truly helped me understand how many predators process “getting caught” was a recent one by Boz Tchividjian.

Seven. That’s how men act. It’s normal.

This is one of the most demeaning things anyone can say about a man. Men aren’t enslaved to sexual desire unless they choose to be. Men can act nobly, honoring the women in their lives. They will not die without sexual release.

Eight. So and so forgave her abuser; it was easy.

While forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, it is not simple or easy. And it can take years to get to a place where you choose to forgive. Telling us how easy it was for someone else makes us feel like the path of healing we’re on is the wrong one.

Nine. It’s just sex.

Unwanted sexual touch is violation. It’s not just sex. That’s why there’s a difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. One is an act of choice and love. The other is predatory and criminal.

Ten. But was it full sexual abuse? He just leered? That’s it?

Dan Allender in his book The Wounded Heart shares that healing from sexual abuse is difficult no matter what form it takes. Don’t minimize someone’s journey just because it doesn’t fit with your idea of violaton.

Eleven. Was the perpetrator drunk? Were you?

The fact is this: one person chose to violate the will and dishonor the NO of another. This is a criminal act, regardless of the state of inebriation. If someone murdered another while drunk, that state of drunkenness does not excuse the crime.

Twelve. Well, what were you wearing?

Sexual predators prey on people, regardless of what they are wearing. I have not had this question leveled at me because it would be ridiculous. I was five years old when I was assaulted. I wore a kindergartener’s dress, corduroy, with pants underneath and patent leather shoes.

Thirteen. Did you flirt? What did you expect?

Flirting is different than asking to be violated. In the case of date rape, it makes sense that flirting went on because it was a DATE. But a date is not a precursor to unwanted sexual touch.

Fourteen. Why didn’t you tell me before?

This is not about you. It’s about the victim. Don’t place a guilt trip on someone if it’s taken her a long time to tell you. Telling is a HUGE risk. Many people are violated a second time because the people they tell don’t believe them, blame them, or flat out walk away.

Fifteen. Hmmm, but you look normal.

Looks can be deceiving. Inside the mind of a sexual abuse victim is all sorts of chaos, shame and worry that the secret will define them the rest of their lives. We may look “normal,” but we struggle to heal, to believe we are worthy to take up space on this earth.

Sixteen. Just stop thinking about it.

Flashbacks and triggers happen when we least expect it. Many victims suffer from PTSD and cannot control the sudden thoughts that invade.

Seventeen. It could have been worse. (Insert worse sexual abuse story here).

This is not helpful. Everyone has a unique story, and no matter what level the sexual abuse, it is very real and hurtful to each individual. Don’t minimize one person’s story by sharing another.

Eighteen. Oh, I understand totally. (No, you don’t).

Unless you’ve walked the sexual abuse path, don’t say this. And even if you have, no two people will process their abuse or heal in the same way.

Nineteen. You sure you didn’t make this up to get attention?

This is demeaning and utterly dismissive. Err on the side of belief and empathy rather than misinformed judgment.

Twenty. Well, why didn’t you (insert thing you should have done here)?

No one can walk in the abuse victim’s shoes. No one knows exactly what could or could not have been done. Looking back, I did everything I knew how to escape those neighborhood teens who sexually assaulted me for a year. Some of those things worked; most didn’t. And in the middle of violation, most victims are so typically shocked and taken off guard that there’s really no way to have a “right” reaction. Besides, the abuse happened, and saying there had been a way for the victim to escape is just heaping further shame.

Twenty-One. This was part of God’s plan, so you’ll have to make your peace with it.

I don’t even know how to respond to this. I have a strong belief in the sovereignty of God, but I must be honest: I still wrestle with why He didn’t protect me as a small child. I know as a parent, that if I knew my child was being exploited, I would have stepped in. So I still wrestle with God’s ways, and I think I always will. I still love Him. I’m utterly grateful for the healing He has wrought. But I don’t really understand why I wasn’t protected.

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I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Sarah for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.

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