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In which the women of Haiti make me stand straight

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

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A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

 

 

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

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When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work. What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories. What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 

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You can catch up with the other bloggers on the trip here. Or follow along for the days as wi-fi permits on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #HONbloggers.

Want to help?

We need to sign up 100 child sponsors in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and 100 hosts for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking while we’re here on the ground. And as always, pray for us, pray for our families – and help spread the word by sharing our posts on social media.

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women · 13

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 you are a beloved warrior

beloved warrior

Who do you think you are?

It’s the lie that whispers like smoke, breathes down our necks, and dismantles our vision and hope.

How odd that a simple question can sound more like an accusation.

Who do you think you are?

And as women, we often hear this as the answer: insecure. manipulative. can’t be trusted. gossips. bossy. only valuable if beautiful or married or the mother of children. controlling. catty. easily deceived. victim. used. damaged goods. too emotional. not logical. terrible friends. high maintenance. untrustworthy. dangerous. afraid. too fat. too thin. too smart. too ignorant. too strong. too weak. too pretty. too ugly. too feminine. too assertive. just too much and not enough. on and on and on and on….

Who do you think you are?

I think it’s a question that might change our lives, if answered honestly.

My life today looks very different than I expected or intended. And if I’m honest – with you and with myself – it has required and is requiring more courage than I often think I have.

It seems like every time I have entered into a new season or a new calling or a new opportunity, the voice in my head has always been, “Who do you think you are?”

Who do you think you are? to preach? to write a book? to raise these beautiful children? to pray for someone? to love? to lead a home group at church? to speak up? to challenge authority? to teach Scripture? to talk about marriage? to even try to move with God towards justice? to talk about peace making? to try to work with a developing nation towards justice? to push back on the powerful? to tell your story without sanitizing? to advocate for others?

Who do you think you are?

My insecurities – and answers – are likely different than yours but for me, learning to answer that question with the truth has changed everything.

Our lives often preach a very different Gospel than the one we think we believe. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded us that we must begin with our own life-giving lives. Our true being brims over into our true words and deeds.

It’s an important question because to truly be able to love God and love others, to move with God to rescue, restore, and redeem humanity, we have got to know who we are.

Who do you think you are?

I’ve started to answer that question with one imperfect phrase: I am a beloved warrior.

Here’s why:

Right at the beginning, God separated day from night, land from sea, created animals and fish and fowl, and then on this sixth day, he creates humanity. And here, after creating man from the dust of the earth, God says in Genesis 2:18, “it is not good for him to be alone. I’ll make him a helper.”

That word, helper, is a Hebrew word, EZER. The word that accompanies ezer is “kengdo” which is often translated as “suitable”  so that is why translators often list this reference for women as “suitable helpmeet.” Many of us have heard a teaching or two on the word helpmeet, which solely focuses on woman as a man’s wife, mother, or homemaker for this defintion. But that narrow view excludes more than 60 percent of women. How many millions of girls and women are we leaving out? Focus on women as “helper” has led to the belief that God gave primary roles and responsibilities to men and second or supporting roles to women in the Kingdom of God. It has even led to practices that communicate that women are second class citizens at home and sadly sometimes in the church. The fallout from patriarchy chokes us still.

Ezer Kenegdo actually means “man’s perfect match.” It is the help that opposes, two parts of equal weight leaning against each other to stay stable and strong. It means that women were created to be man’s strongest ally in pursuing God’s purposes.

In the Old Testament, the word EZER appears 21 times in 3 different contexts: the creation of women, when Israel applied for military aid, and in reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purposes. God isn’t a “helpmeet” in the watered down way we’ve been taught or understood that word in our churches though, right? No, our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior, an ever present help in times of trouble, bringing more than simple might or power.

God created the first woman out of Adam’s side, and he named his daughter after an aspect of his own character and nature. By naming his daughters – us! – ezer kenegdo, God did not name women as secondary helpmeet “assistants.” No, women were created and called out right at creation as warriors.

You are a warrior, right alongside our brothers, on God’s mission in the world, an image-bearer. (The other reason why this makes such sense is that it isn’t exclusive to men and women in a marriage relationship: holistically, men and women together in the Kingdom of God are meant to be allies.)

Throughout Scripture, we can see women of valour, women operating in their anointing and created purpose as ezer kenegdos. Warrior is an ethos or attitude, not necessarily a vocation, gathered against the forces of evil and darkness. We are deployed into creation as the perfect ally. And then we have a lineage and legacy of Church mothers, women of God, who were warriors in the situations where God placed them, in ways unique to their temperament and character, callings, gifting, and even choices. Women from Ruth to Rahab, Deborah to Mary Magdalena, Corrie Ten Boom to Evangeline Booth.

As we live in a world desperate for a glimpse of God, desperate for a rescue, crushed by evil and poverty and war and the grind of lonely existence in quiet desperation, we, the Church are part of God’s plan to push back that darkness and make space for his Kingdom. We are commissioned to multiply his image bearers, care for the poor, and minister life and hope and healing in the name of Jesus to the glory of God. We are warriors.

I’m a pacifist so my definition of warrior is a bit more spiritual, perhaps. I see it as an advocate or a peace maker or a shalom prophet, a warrior living into the Kingdom of God, a worshipper, a disciple – courageous and unafraid.

Who do you think you are?

Warrior.

Sometimes the truth of who you really are is a wake-up call, and other times it’s a challenge. Because we’re not after behaviour modification. We don’t want to “try harder” to be warriors. It’s not another addition to the to-do list or an addendum to some weird Proverbs 31 job description: “be a warrior.” No, we’re after transformation.

And so, we are here, where I begin and end always: Jesus. (You know me.)

In 2nd Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes that therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

That old identity from your past or from your culture aren’t actually your identity. Not anymore.

Through the life and ministry of our Jesus, we know what our God is really like. He pulled back the curtain on all the ways we have misunderstood and mischaracterized his very nature. And what did we learn from Jesus: we are loved.

Who do you think you are?

Beloved.

We are worthy of a rescue, worth saving, worth loving. We are the one sheep in the ninety-nine worth leaving everything behind to rescue. We are redeemed. We are whole.

Loved. You are loved. You are loved. You can engage in your life from a place of love because you are.

We believe that we’re only worthy of love if… if we do this or if we do that. That’s what our culture or our broken world tells us, right?

But Jesus does not love us conditionally. In fact, if you look in 1 John 4

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God….God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

Are you weary? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Get away with me, you’ll recover your real life. Those are the words of our Jesus in Matthew 11:28. Walk with me, see how I do it, learn to live freely and lightly. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Abba invites us to the banquet tables, to communion, to community, and to life in the Vine, not to a religious treadmill or a life of conformity to someone else’s best-case scenario for your life until you finally measure up, until you are no longer too much or not enough.

We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life or the sit-down-and-shut-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the she-who-the-Son-sets-free-is-free-indeed life.

We’ve been called to the spirit-filled and God-breathed life, living out the ways of the Kingdom and the life in Christ to every corner of our humanity. We are, what N.T. Wright calls, parables of hope.

We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple.

Who do you think you are?

I am a Beloved Warrior.

Your true identity is this: you are a Beloved Warrior. Start there. And then we live out our lives and our callings, the seasons and roles, the challenges and the victories, the healing and the mourning, from a deep well of love and freedom and wholeness – because we are. Creation tells you that you are created, called, chosen, made in the image of God as a warrior. Jesus tells you that you are loved, you are free, you are redeemed, you are beloved. Even – maybe especially – our imperfect, contradictory lives are singing a beautiful prophetic song of invitation: you are so loved.

Who do you think you are? 

And I know now to say and to live out the truth: I am a beloved warrior. 

And in the midst of my life, as it stands, I’m walking out that truth, sometimes moment by moment, choice by choice, sometimes faltering and stumbling but still walking in faith. Old things are passed away. New things have come.

Wherever life may take us, regardless of our choices or our roles or our story, regardless of the seasons of our lives, of our failures and imperfections, let us make living like we are beloved warriors the radical discipline of our lives, filling our minds and our hearts with the truth of Jesus Christ, and the goodness of the freedom he offers to us as his own.

Who do you think you are? I am beloved. And I am a warrior. 

 this post is based on a sermon that I recently preached at our church

(There is such richness in our identity in Christ – too many to name – but I’ve had my life changed by this one in particular.)

Continue Reading · faith, jesus, Jesus Feminist, journey, love, women · 33

In which I am curating empowerment :: a post for SheLoves Magazine

People have tried to tell us that women aren’t as visual as men. To which, I respond: “Um, have you heard of Pinterest? because YES WE ARE.”

I love my Pinterest - no shame in my pinning game. I often treat Pinterest like a magazine – a bit of time to browse, to be inspired, to chill out on a Friday night at the end of a long week. I pin everything from clever life hacks to activities with the tinies to clothes I like to photos so beautiful they make me feel a bit achy.

But more than two years ago, I noticed a trend on Pinterest that disturbed me a bit. Some people called them Fitness Boards or Thinspiration (code from pro-anorexic groups) but it seemed like there were a lot of people posting pictures or sayings designed to shame themselves into a better body. Pictures and pins about fitness and healthy living can be very empowering, don’t get me wrong, but when it’s captioned “I’m so fat, I’ll never look like this,” it has crossed the line of what is helpful, motivating, or challenging. Women were pinning frightfully Photoshopped models as a standard of femininity and lamenting how they couldn’t measure up.

So, being rather passive-aggressive and subversive, I decided to start a little Pinterest board of my own called Wise Women. Saving the world, one pin at a time, eh? I began to pin pictures of women who are beautiful, even though our culture may not agree. Maybe she had grey hair or was a bit more curvy or shorter or taller, maybe she wasn’t Caucasian with blonde hair, maybe she was older than twenty.

I wanted to celebrate a broader view of womanhood: Lines are lovely, aging is not something to fear, life is more than your dress size.

But as the years have gone by and I’ve steadily been curating images or stories or sayings for that board, I began to realise it was about so much more than simple beauty.

I have been steadily pinning stories of women who changed something in the world, quotes from bold leaders, images of women working and writing, photos of women who are ferocious and feminine, news stories about women of valour, even fictional characters or lines from songs or graphic art.

I am curating a vision of empowerment.

Read the rest of this post – and join in our creative challenge! – over at SheLoves Magazine.

 

Continue Reading · SheLoves, women · 6