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fig tree
A picture taken by my sister with me and a young fig tree, an offshoot of the larger fig tree to the right of the picture.

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And with the larger fig tree!

Some reflections with an imagination partner in response to my “What Commission?” sermon…

Imagination partner: I did get to thinking that…what if…Jesus was a spoiled “hangry” brat who discovered—as if for the first time—that his people had always lived among barren fruits. Outraged, he cursed, and the elders looked at each other to say, “The man-child doesn’t know that the tree has been dead his entire lifetime….” Perhaps it was this same so-called “holy rage” that engulfed Moses, such that he only knew to strike in the way of Empire…. Perhaps the choice is not the false binary between “now or later”…. Oy, if every day is kairos day, then every day is someone’s Good Friday and someone else’s Easter…?

Me: That is a wonderful “what-if” and opens up many postcolonial possibilities. I think you’re absolutely right, and we are challenged to be all the more vigilant in our discipleship (to be students of one another) as a result… in part of my research for the text, an author suggested that maybe the dead fig tree was a fixture in the landscape for a long time, and that the stories of Jesus and the fig tree arose from that, an illustration drawing from a common sight. I am now thinking that in such an old city as St. Louis, how many fixtures we see that we ignore and forget, and what it would mean to reexamine them…

…and similar to your previous challenge to me, who has lived in our communities as “fixtures” who deserve to be seen in their full life as a source of wisdom and knowledge about the past and the future…?

What are your what-if reflections?

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#‎whokilledkimking‬ ‪#‎sayhername‬ ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬

My favorite part of today was hanging out with a kid who saw chalk and immediately said, “Can I draw something?” First he decorated some letters. Later he wrote “JK” and asked me to translate it. “Just kidding, duh!” I replied. “WOW YOU’RE GOOD,” he said, proud of his JK with a backwards J. “Look, look at what I drew!” he said later. He had drawn three leaves, and was very excited about drawing leaves, even taking one on the ground and tracing it.

I thought about Elizabeth Vega’s story of meeting children who were grieving over Michael Brown, and how one wrote justice with a backwards J.

I was warmed by everyone in the community who created the space to remember Kim King, and by the love for one another and the fierceness with which we insisted that she was worth fighting for. Last night, we talked about how art would be the answer to foster empathy in others, to make people aware, to help them get fed up with being oppressed and being the oppressors. Today, I was reminded that art is also delightful because of the joy that comes from creating for its own sake, from celebrating nature and life, even the nature and life of a leaf. I am looking toward a day when we can have the lightness of spirit that allows us to enjoy art like a child, and not only as powerful tools of resistance. …and even as I write this, I feel the contradictions. Enjoying art like a child /is/ resistance when it is life-affirming, when it asserts that a black kid has the right to life, joy, and community.

When it implies that Kim King deserved more life, joy, and community than was stolen from her. From her and her two toddler sons. From her and her family and friends. From her and all communities that share her pain and struggle.

A student came by and asked what we were gathering for. I explained to him that Kim King was held by Pagedale police, and within 10 minutes was dead. They said that she committed suicide. There are 13 cameras in the Pagedale police department, but no pictures or video have been released. It happened last year. It’s recent because as Kristian said, Kim King still does not have any justice. He asked if he could write something and I said sure.

He wrote Peace.

After thinking about the deep level of suffering our communities have experienced and that which was snatched from Kim King, I felt compelled to amend his assertion.

“No justice. No peace.”

Related: https://www.facebook.com/events/1654435254797467/

Karen Yang

My love-hate relationship with white women (and myself):

Love – Grew up with white women as role models. I didn’t know other adults well enough to consider them role models. White women taught me a moral framework, and therefore they were the keepers of knowledge and instructions about morality.

Hate – I could never be a white woman. I tried my best to adhere to white women’s morality in evangelical purity culture, devouring blogs and books with advice and guidance, and finally realized it could never work because I wasn’t generally desirable to white men as an East Asian woman except as fetish (not the model of white Christian woman) and therefore I couldn’t achieve a “good Christian marriage.”

Love – I aligned myself with white women. Going to a mostly white college and being more comfortable with women than men, I felt closest to white women. The model minority myth and assimilation made me most culturally similar to white women.

Hate – I was envious of what white women had. They had parents who were in love with each other. They had nice houses with nice things. They had holidays where they went places and exchanged gifts. They didn’t need anything and they still exchanged gifts. They went shopping for fun.

Love – White women were nice, sweet, and pretty. I wanted to be nice, sweet, and pretty. Our friendships were nice, sweet, and pretty. Nice words. Sweet hugs. Pretty pictures.

Hate – When I was a teen, I imagined my ideal adult self as a thin, white woman with a blond ponytail, a sheen of lip gloss, a tint of rosy blush. Geek-chic glasses, business casual – pencil skirt and blazer, kitten heels– not too high, just feminine enough. I would work for a business located in some skyscraper, go on lunch dates with a co-worker. I never imagined my adult self looking like me, or as an Asian. When I doodled in my notebooks, the bone structure, the eyes, the nose, were all white.

I’m an adult now and mostly comfortable in my own skin. I look in the mirror, and it’s me, goofy ol’ me. Sometimes cute, sometimes pretty, sometimes haggard, sometimes a mess. I like my voice. I like that I’m assertive, I like that I’m loud, I like that I can listen, and I like my opinions. I like that I respect my own thoughts and my own thoughtfulness enough to share those thoughts and not be ashamed that doing so might cause friction. I like that I finally have thoughts that are formed enough to be proud of, that reflect the considerate and critical, if imperfectly informed and sometimes ignorant, person that I am. I like being an Asian American, because I stand in a gap, I stand as a bridge, I stand hyphenated, figuring things out, seeing multiple sides, most comfortable in ambiguity and ambivalence. I’m getting more and more used to trying to add curiosity to my confusion.

I like being Asian American, a woman of color, enough to know that it is most truthful and right to stand in solidarity with my siblings of color. To know that assimilation into white womanhood is neither desirable nor helpful nor realistic.

So I feel a sense of rage when white women get it wrong. When they center their feelings over the needs of people of color. When their answer to stories of racism is not, “How can I better understand?” or “How can I make this better?” but “I feel so sad” or “I’m afraid you don’t like me” or “But I don’t want to be ashamed of being white” or “We just have to be nicer to each other” or “I feel like I’m being attacked.” When communities should be rolling up our sleeves and getting to the work of dismantling systems of oppression and rebuilding communities of love, all of a sudden, the world spins again on its axis, throwing us all off balance, in an effort to once again, center whiteness.

Center the feelings of whiteness and center the comfort of whiteness. Instead of reaching out a hand to catch my falling brethren, my hands by instinct thrust themselves toward the nearest tissue box to wrench a soft piece of fluff to dab onto moist cheeks and catch stretchy lines of snot. Instead of opening my arms to hold tight to my brethren who are being snatched away from life, my arms by instinct rush to fluff pillows and I find myself saying, “Don’t worry. It’s okay. You’re okay. Breathe. Here, have some tea. Do you want anything to eat? Hey, let me tell you a joke.” And her forgetful head turns to me in gratitude, before she gets up to return to her charmed life.

“I know I should be most angry at white men,” I explain to my sister. “But I’m not. Even though patriarchy and whiteness are the fault of white men, I’m most angry at white women. Why?”

“Sisterhood,” she answers. “You expect them to get it and work with you, so when they work against you, you’re more disappointed.”

“I thought they were sisters,” I realize.

babies

I was walking across the parking lot at a Schnucks when a minivan rolled by, three little rosy-cheeked blonde girls in the back. “THERE’S AN ASIAN RIGHT THERE!” exclaimed one, and the entire back seat erupted in giggles.

I have never wanted to flip off a child in my life.

I had to grip my clutch in order to stop myself.

I could feel heat rising from my stomach to my throat, and as I walked throughout the store, I wanted to rip my face off, a mask that didn’t belong, a mask that made me all too conspicuous. I fight all day for the right to be visible, and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be invisible. I whisper an exacerbated prayer, pleading aloud to my brown dusty dirty hairy haggard God-friend, “Jesus, help me.”

[Interlude – I encounter a nice white person who asks me, “How are you?” And I automatically answer a cheery, “Fine, thanks!”]

Later, I retreated indoors, looked outside at the hostile world, and munched on a swirl of vanilla yogurt, blackberry jam, and granola (#whitegirlfood), blinking back hot tears, a lump of han (Korean – embodied rage arising from accumulated oppression, esp colonial) in my throat. All week, I have been called, “Christine.” I don’t know who Christine is– I can only imagine that this is the other Asian who works at the same place.

I thought about the time when a client asked, “Has anyone ever laughed at you? Because you’re short and Asian?” And laughed and laughed and laughed long after I told them that this was not funny. “Eddie Murphy makes fun of Asians, I think it’s hilarious,” they explained, laughing some more. “I don’t really think that’s funny,” I said, anger boiling in my veins.

[Interlude, I rejoin a group of people. I am all smiles.]

I remember the time when I am sitting around a campfire, a group of white colleagues laughing about how Asians are terrible drivers and I look like a geisha for fanning a fire, and they think they are so postracial, laughing at the irony and absurdity of these jokes. I am reminded that I am an outsider, I don’t belong and can never belong, and these are my “friends.” I smile a fake smile until my face feels like it’s going to fall off and I get up and walk away.

[Interlude, a friend asks if I’m okay, and says they’ve always thought that I was confident and self-assured. My mind says, “Confidence and self-assurance have nothing to do with my tolerance for racism,” but my mouth smiles and says, “I have my moments.”]

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Yesterday, I was thinking that I need to move to Chicago, so I can be surrounded by radical Asians. Today, I was surrounded by a wonderful community of friends, Black and Asian, all laughing and talking excitedly and eating good food and playing bananagrams and drying dishes together. I thought to myself, we have a lot of loving power in this home. We have a lot of family here. And it wasn’t something that I “worked hard” at, although I have been working hard. It was a shared yearning that we didn’t know we were sharing at first, for us not to feel alone in the world, to find people who can understand each other. And like magnets, we have been drawing near to each other, and the pull is strong.

When I feel like I need to be somewhere else, I need to remember that in some ways, we pitch our tents where we are at, because we will always feel somewhat lost if we are honest about the ways in which the world is not what it should be. I need to remember that we who look for one another will draw near to each other.

And the pull is strong.

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I am a student at a psychiatric rehabilitation center. It is a place that throws into relief what systemic oppression does to an individual, their families, and their friends. I must adjust to ambiguity and mystery and profound pain and suffering, especially when I see histories of devastating offenses toward other people, with seemingly no other reason than the intersection of mental illness, substance abuse, and/or poverty. It is a place that throws into confusion many of my preconceived notions about what pastoral care and nonjudgmental listening are. It challenges me not to worry so much about meaning-making, and lean more upon listening and presence. Being there matters. And sometimes, being there doesn’t matter at all, because I am not as important as I think I am. I entered this internship with the approach that we all have things to learn from one another, and I have not been proven wrong.

Yesterday, I asked a client what he would do if he was president. He laughed and said, “I wouldn’t want the job!” Then thought a bit, and answered, “If I were president, I’d tax the rich and let the poor go free.” Later, when I asked his permission to tell another client about this idea, she responded, “That’s a bad idea. The rich would kick him out of office.”

An older client has been fixating on the idea that I will teach him piano. Ever since he learned that I know piano, his eyes get big as dinner plates when I walk onto the ward, and he wheels himself over to me, quickly and rapidly speaking about all that he knows about opera, Tosca, concertos, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Cash. He talks about how we can start a symphony, he and I, after I teach him piano. That we can play at the Fox Theatre. I nod and laugh and smile, and tell him to talk to his treatment team. He told me yesterday, that “You gotta have dreams. Otherwise, you sit around doing nothing.”

Another client told me that my sermon this Sunday was good. I asked her how it was good, and she said that her favorite part was about Jesus’ students asking Jesus, “Don’t you care about us?” She said it freed her to ask Jesus, “Don’t you care about me?” After all of the complex scholarship and thinking around liberation theology I learned in seminary and all the the social justice I try to work toward, this was the moment that it was most clear to me that I successfully created an opening for imagination around liberation to take place. The ability to demand of Jesus and God, “Don’t you care me?” freed this client to lament, to acknowledge injustice, to see that things are not all good and to hope in the midst of that. That is liberation.

It was a challenge to consider how to acknowledge and address the Charleston massacre, Pride month (especially with how clients and staff and grappling with homophobia and transphobia), grief experienced by the Psyc Center, and Father’s Day into one sermon, especially given the complex ethics and limitations of news access for clients with severe, long-term mental illness, who might perseverate (get stuck) as a result of traumatic news. This is what I came up with:

Mark 4:35-41

Jesus stops a storm

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his students, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

After that story and after all the rain we’ve had, I’m really happy about the sunshine we’ve been having! Raise your hand if you’re with me—who’s glad that there’s been sunshine?

I don’t know about you, but the rain we had this month felt exhausting to me. It was so dreary, it made me want to stay in bed all day. Some days I didn’t even want to smile!

I think it’s because the weather feels different based on how we feel. On a good day, rain can seem like a pleasant surprise, happy drops going pitter-patter, or soothing noise lulling us to sleep. On a bad day, the sun can feel too harsh, like the sun is blinding us or teasing us with its cheery light.

With the losses we’ve experienced here at this Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center and in St. Louis, I’ve felt this rain as grieving rain, like the sky is crying with us.

As St. Louis and our nation is wrestling with racism and white supremacy, I’ve felt this rain as righteous cleansing rain, trying desperately to cleanse the sin and evil of racism in St. Louis and this nation.

When we are already discouraged, rain can be a reminder that things are not alright, that we are afraid that God is not there in the storms of suffering, death, and injustice.

Like Jesus’ students, we might cry out, “Don’t you care that we are going to drown and die?”

Mark writes that Jesus’ students complained like the songwriters of the Hebrew Bible, who cried out,

“How long O Lord?” “Where are you, God?” “Have you abandoned me, God?” “God, if you are so great, why is there suffering?” and finally, “God save me in my time of trouble!”

Raise your hand if you’ve asked these questions. I think many of us have.

In the storm, Mark writes that Jesus is sleeping on a pillow, without a care in the world. How do you think the disciples felt about that? What are some feeling words that describe how the disciples might have felt as they watched Jesus sleep in a storm that could drown them? Shout them out.

Confused? Angry? Resentful? Disappointed? Sad? Upset?

These are all words that describe how we feel when God seems to be missing, like God has fallen asleep and doesn’t care when we suffer, or whether we live or die.

But Jesus immediately wakes up and calms the storm, telling his students not to be afraid and to have faith. If Jesus is God, then Jesus’ actions show that God IS present in the storm and God does care when we suffer, or whether we live or die. By calming the storm BEFORE asking his students not to be afraid and to have faith, Jesus shows that God understands that we can be deeply afraid when things go wrong and that this fear can shake our faith. God understands that sometimes we need a miracle.

But Jesus’ command to not be afraid and to have faith also shows that when miracles are hard to find, we can choose to live in faith and not in fear.

Mark’s stories show that living in faith means following Jesus through stormy seas and windy lakes to tell the good news that God is in the world today, generously healing and loving everyone. Living in faith means listening to Jesus’ command to generously feed people with physical food and spiritual teachings about the goodness of God.

We might not be able to do God miracles of taming the winds and the waves, but we can do human miracles of generously healing, feeding, and loving all people. I know this, not just because Mark said that Jesus and his students healed, fed, and loved crowds of people, but because I see human miracles every day at this Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center.

Doctors, nurses, and psyc techs heal clients physically and mentally. Janitors keep the Center clean so that healing can take place. Social workers help to heal clients’ relationships with the community.

Cafeteria staff feed clients with food and staff of the client work program staff feed clients with productive activity.

Most of all, clients and staff love each other when we call each other by name. We love when we smile, say hi, and play games with each other. We love when we pray with each other and share kind words. We love when we meet our families and share memories at memorial services. We are generous when we invite others to sit at our table at the cafeteria, ask each other about how we are doing, and when we share stories with each other.

There are always storms that make us afraid and shake our faith. Storms like racism, budget cuts, program changes, homophobia and transphobia, peers who are hard to trust, behavior and diet restrictions, going to court, not being able to see your family, unwanted noises and smells… the list goes on. But in these storms, I see that you make miracles happen every day.

These miracles are God’s work, because they treat people like family, worthy of healing, feeding, and loving. God is described as both Father and Mother for treating people like family, so this Father’s Day, we remember all those who have been like a parent to others and perform everyday miracles. And we challenge ourselves to be parents and siblings to one another, so that we belong to one another as family.

Mark’s story teaches us that miracles don’t happen when we are too afraid to care for others. Miracles happen when we live in faith that God has not abandoned us and so we don’t abandon others. In faith, we can welcome others as our family. In faith, we may not be able to make every storm go away, but we can steer through choppy waters to reach the other side.

Because on the other side of every lake, like Jesus, we encounter not just one or two people, but CROWDS who need healing, feeding, and loving. It is up to us to welcome them into God’s family and say, “Rain or shine, welcome home.”

Watch this. Watch all of it, and remind yourself of what it means to be human. And how radical it would be if we cared for each other more than the state would like.

Support Alok here.

Almost every morning this last week, I have asked myself, “What is the point?” And Alok’s words, “I wasn’t born in the wrong body. I was born in the wrong world.” helped me to make sense of that. This world is too brutal and unkind, so of course I am asking whether my life makes a difference, and whether it is worth being or discovering who I am. America’s society and our nation discourage community and care, because community and care are unprofitable and unimaginable. As Alok reminds us, we live in a nation where healthcare is inaccessible, where land and space has been stolen and portioned off, where we violently enforce the boundaries of who we are allowed to be.

As Alok says, I have to outsource the work of making sense of my trauma, even if it is hard for me to afford it. I woke up this morning to an email from my spiritual director, who I see because my communities are not enough to help me make sense of the brokenness inside and outside of me. She wrote,

“Learning how to focus on our union with God, thus our truest self, takes time, effort, and patience with ourselves. Most of all, it means we have to learn to love ourselves with a wholesome healing love which we receive while and when we are in union with God. I don’t mean to be trite when I offer you the advice Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet–

…I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear Sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I sat with these words, wishing that I could be patient, when my questions were less like locked doors and more like doors with rattling knobs, shaking violently, made with brittle, rotting wood. I sat with these words, numb, and expressionless, so I was asked, “Is everything alright with your email?” because it seems more likely that I am focused being productive early in the morning, than searching for answers to the questions of my soul from a stranger who I pay to see.

This afternoon, I read charts at a psychiatric rehabilitation center and I was struck by how persistent self-harm and suicide attempts can be. What great lengths people go to hurt and kill themselves. I could only wonder and imagine what great pain and trauma they must be feeling, so that they are more likely to hurt and kill themselves than to love and assert themselves.

“I wasn’t born in the wrong body. I was born in the wrong world.”