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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 I don’t mind if my tinies see me on the computer

 

There was a bit of a movement underway a few years ago: Christian women were signing pledges saying that they wouldn’t let their tinies see them on the computer. I think their intentions were mostly good – they knew they were distracted by social media in particular, perhaps, and so they wanted to give their best attention to their children. That idea continues to hang on somehow, particularly in my line of work.

I understand it. Of course, 8 hours of Facebook to the exclusion of fully being present with our families is damaging. And I am wise with my time on social media, not only for their sakes but for my own creativity, health, sanity, and proper sense of perspective. (For instance, when my husband gets home and asks me about my day, I don’t like for my first answer to be, “well, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what this one guy said on Twitter or how many likes this Instagram picture of the kid I neglected all day received!” Not exactly healthy.)

But here’s the thing: I work from our home on a – wait for it – computer. My husband works out of our home full-time in a pretty demanding job with irregular hours occasionally. I am the primary caregiver for our tinies. Granted, we have a (very beloved) baby-sitter for our littlest girl two mornings a week while the older two are at school, so that I can make phone calls, do interviews, and work uninterrupted for a bit of time, but I am usually at home, trying to get in a full-time job at the edges of our life.

Being a work-from-home mother can feel like a juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this choice.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that our family works best in this way with one parent more fully engaged during the day, but I know that I am privileged to be a work-at-home mother. I do not take it for granted, even though there are occasional afternoons when I pick up the tinies from school and then turn on Wild Kratts, hand them a plate of apple quarters with goldfish crackers, and then sit down to answer emails for an hour before supper. There are mornings when the baby and I take the tinies to school, and then come home to a wide-open toy box for her and an open laptop for me to write an article to deadline. When I am interrupted, there are times when I put my work aside, absolutely, but then there are times when I hand her a book and say, “Mum is writing, we’ll go to the park in an hour. Find something to do.”

Early into our family arrangement, I had to take a long hard look at the narrative that it was a shameful thing for my tinies to see me on the computer.

And then, thoughtfully, prayerfully, we decided to call complete and utter crap on any more needless mum-guilt.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cooking supper. That’s part of our life – and in fact, it creates a great opportunity to be together, to prepare them for life, to teach, to have fun.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cleaning the house. Keeping our home clean and tidy is part of my life – and it is part of theirs, too, unless I want to have lazy and entitled teenagers someday. Can I get an amen?

I don’t feel guilty taking them along when we get groceries or pay bills or drop off library books or help others or any other of the chores and tasks and work that goes into running this little family.

Maybe my prairie kid work ethic is showing. My grandpa raised our clan to know that truth: work is honourable. Now I’ve rounded that out with the belief that work is also a gift from God, part of our heritage as co-creators with God. Particularly when our work – paid or unpaid – is personally fulfilling, an act of creativity or beauty or usefulness. What a gift to be able to work!

So, is it a shameful thing for a mother to work on the computer while her children are present? Nope.

Not only is it not damaging to my tinies to see me – gasp! – working on the computer while they’re here, I believe it’s downright good for them.

Yes, it is good for them to discover right now that they are not the centre of the universe. To let them discover ways to entertain themselves – I’m not their cruise director. To let them see their dad choring around on a Saturday, make sure they grab a broom and sweep up drywall dust alongside of him. To let them grab a rag and a bottle of vinegar to pitch in with Thursday cleaning. To let them learn to fold socks. To let the tinies sweep the floors.

Welcome to being part of a functioning family, for heaven’s sake.

(This home doesn’t run by magic or pixie dust: welcome to the real world, darlings.)

In addition to that, we have decided it is GOOD for the tinies to see me loving my job, loving my work, being good at something, and actually doing it. To let them see me being faithful to my calling, let them see their dad empowering me to do it with his enthusiastic blessing, let them see it as part of our family’s gift to the world.

This is what we do in this family: we support each other in our work and in our callings and even in the things we just plain love to do.

Mothers are people, too.

(And, very quietly, I’ll also gently point out right here the privilege inherent in the idea that we can choose whether or not our children see us work.)

Let the tinies learn what it looks like to be a person, made in the image of God, working – no matter if our work happens on computers or at the laundry or on the job site or the classroom – as unto the Lord. Let them see us working: work is a honourable thing.

 image source: Getty Images Lean In Collection as shown on Buzzfeed

Continue Reading · family, parenting, women, work · 110

In which Ms. Frizzle is my new writing muse

Every writer has inspiration and tricks of the trade so I thought I’d share one of mine here today: Ms. Frizzle.

Yep. Ms. Frizzle. I’ll explain:

If, like me, you were not in elementary school in the 90s (me, I was in high school wearing way-too-much-black eyeliner and kissing boys while listening to brand new Nirvana tapes, you understand), you might not have heard about The Magic School Bus. It’s a cartoon show about a magical teacher named Ms. Frizzle who takes her class on a Magic School Bus to strange and wonderful places. They travel through the human body, shrink to the size of bugs, travel in time to dinosaurs, go up into hurricanes, all kinds of exciting things as they learn about science. I discovered them when I was homeschooling my eldest a couple years ago and fell head over heels for the series (I’m a sucker for jokes with bad puns). The tinies adore the Magic School Bus and even though it’s a bit dated, we still watch the shows often. (You can catch the show on Netflix now.)

Anyway, one of Ms. Frizzles favourite ways to teach is to drop the kids into the middle of the experience and say “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

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I love that.

I have been in a bit of a rut as a writer since I finished “Jesus Feminist.” Some of that is pace of life and scheduling, absolutely. Life is a bit busier now than I like. But even when I do write, I feel….guarded. I feel like everything I say has to be edited within an inch of its life, I’m worried about who I will offend, I edit and edit until I have said absolutely nothing. I am cautious to the point of comatose.

As you may imagine, writing hasn’t been much fun for me lately. Instead of being a thrill of creation and communication, it’s become cautious and exhausting.

I’m interested in a lot of things and I have a (sometimes too) full life. But one of the things I’ve always loved about blogging is that I get to my whole self here: I get to love theology and Church talk, I get to write about mothering and family and marriage, I get to crack jokes at my own expense, I get to love Doctor Who and Call the Midwife, I get to love thrifting and knitting and pretty things as well as being a Jesus feminist, I get to be a homemaker who talks recipes and cleaning and laundry as well as a lover of literature and poetry and history and Girl Power, I love the local church and yet I don’t wear rose-coloured glasses about this stuff.

Obscurity is its own protection. When people read your stuff, you start to realise: crap, people are actually reading this stuff. And then you start to edit. And if you’re me, you edit until you are saying nothing. Or you edit until you don’t end up publishing anything at all.

So back to Magic School Bus. Ms. Frizzle has given me my new focus in writing this year: take chances, make mistakes, get messy.

I don’t want to overthink writing right now. I’ve decided to write like it’s fun again. I’ve decided to bench my inner critic – and ignore the thousands of Internet critics – and just write like nobody is reading it. (Which may end up happening.)

If I want to write about something, I’m going to write about it. No more overthinking, no more fear, no more worries about “what might happen” or if it “fits my brand.” Every time I am writing and I can feel my inner critic taking control away, I want to turn to The Friz: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” And keep going.

As an example, that was a big reason why I wrote the post about “biblical marriage” last week. It was a bit of an experiment. The initial news story came up over a few days, and I thought, “God, I want to write about that, the old me would have written about that.” And I didn’t. I have begun to be afraid of my anger, afraid of my passion, afraid of being my whole unedited self. Sometimes I think that I couldn’t write half the brave stuff I wrote in “Jesus Feminist” now because I have all the caveats and “but-what-abouts” and critics in my head too much. Now I have something to lose perhaps.

But then I sat back and remembered Ms. Frizzle: I want to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” And I just banged out that post in an hour on a Monday morning because I wanted to do it – heart in my throat and fully alive – because I was passionate, because I believed in it, because I thought it mattered to me. I took a chance (and yes, I ticked off a lot of people – I’m still being burned in effigy across the Internet for it), I made some mistakes with it (absolutely), and I made a mess (the blog crashed, it was uncomfortable, the post created tension).

And you know what? It was freaking brilliant.

Imperfect, messy, uncomfortable but I felt alive again. I felt like I said something, like I created something, like I ignited something, and it was awesome. Even if it didn’t matter to anyone else, the experience of it mattered to me. It wasn’t just about the topic – even though of course I’m passionate about that topic –  it was also about wanting to write something and, instead of talking myself out of it with all the logic at my disposal, I said, “to hell with it” and I wrote anyway.

I want to do that more. I want to just write when the mood strikes instead of worrying about “best times for posting” and “driving engagement” and “consistent branding.” I want to be able to get angry. (I’m not afraid of my anger in my life – why should I be afraid of it here? Often our anger is an invitation to do something.) I want to be able to be sentimental and foolish, naive and inclusive again. I want to write blog posts instead of free content for Facebook disguised as status updates, I want to write my second book! I want to create and make art and disrupt and rabble-rouse, I want my art to reflect my life.

Once you open the door, it’s true: to whom much is given, more will be given. My brain is positively teeming with ideas again, it’s like being drunk with words.  I want to write about the hard things of mothering and the glorious moments of transendence and joy. I want to write about trees being cut down in my back yard and favourite recipes and fashion, I want to write about knitting and Sherlock and the way the sun descends in the late day and inspiring Jesus feminists. (“Write all the things!“) I want sh*tty first drafts and imperfect arguments, I want sloppy love and awkward silences. I want cold mountain air instead of quiet formal living rooms.

So here’s to my writing muse, Ms. Frizzle.

Here’s to taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy again.

 

Continue Reading · work, writing · 39

In which I talk a bit about writing

writer

I so enjoyed my chat with Chris Dikes about writing - as most writers know, it’s a rare pleasure to talk with a sympathetic someone about our work. We talked a  bit about how I became a writer, discouragement, finding your voice, blogging, the difference between blogging and book writing, why I decided to write Jesus Feminist, my process as a writer, and the best (and worst) parts of writing among other things. Also: laughing (secret’s out: I laugh at myself all the time).

A bit about blogging:

One of the other things I really love about blogging is that it’s accessible. There’s no gatekeeper to it. When, in the history of the church, has someone like me ever had anything remotely resembling a voice that people can listen to? Never. It’s been a huge amplifier for voices that have been disdained or not listened to or just not noticed. Not just for women in the church but for a lot of people’s experiences in the church. And it has given us a platform and a voice that we never would’ve had. I feel very loyal to blogging and to the medium of blogging. Even the fact that it’s accessible and it’s free and anybody can get at it. It feels a bit subversive.

A bit about my biggest impediment to writing:

I think (it’s an impediment) when I’m trying to write for someone other than my own self. There have been times where I would think I need to have all the disclaimers and I need to make sure that I’m putting everything in place for every single critic who will read it and tear it apart and barbecue me. That’s just the quickest way to stifle what it is you want to say. You can’t be writing for people who fundamentally disagree with you because no matter what you say they will criticize it and then you end up not saying anything.

A bit about writer’s block:

Writer’s block – that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say – it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. That’s usually a big signal to me that it’s time to stop beating my head against the stone wall.  So, for me, having a really rich well to pull from is a pretty big deal. For instance, I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.

A bit about being a writer:

I feel like (writing) helps me notice my life.  I remember reading Luci Shaw talking about poets having this slender antenna that kind of combs the air, picking things up, and learning things. I feel like being a writer has conditioned me to go through life with that antenna always out, watching for things, seeing things, noticing things. Not because I’m looking to appropriate it for material, but because it fills me, because I notice now, and it’s part of how I see the world now. I love going through my life like that.

Read the full interview over at Writer Talk with Chris Dikes…..

 

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Continue Reading · work, writing · 11