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Thought

The answer would seem to be never, and that is often the wise course of action. Just see “Don’t Read Comments.”

But sometimes the stakes are so high that not engaging doesn’t seem like an option.

And sometimes it is worth recognizing the power of social media, in its ability to connect people instantly all the time, to have conversations that would normally not take place or take months, years, or centuries.

Let me start with some feelings that I have, and that I share with others whom I love.

It’s exhausting to explain how terms and concepts such as patriarchy, microaggressions, oppression, privilege, heteronormativity, and whiteness, are not academic things to debate about, but ways that I understand what is happening in my life and the lives of people I care for. Every time these terms are tossed around in an armchair discussion, it looks like people are taking my life and deciding how to tell its story.

It makes me want to shout, “Just stop it! It’s not all about you!” And take the still frames of my life that you are pitching over my head, like a perverse game of monkey in the middle, and jump high to snatch them and stash them in a duffel bag, run straight home to a deep, dark closet, zip it up, lock it tight, and slam the door, with me in it, clutching the bag like it’s my life, because it is my life, and it’s the only one I know. I want to sit in that closet, with the safety of the darkness pressing in all around me, even when it begins to choke me from the inside, even when it gets hard to breathe, and I feel so, so, very alone.

I know it seems disingenuous or presumptuous to ask people to stop thinking so much about their experience in order to take time to think about my experience, and it’s unproductive to entertain games of “who is oppressed more?”

So here’s a test:
When discussing sociological terms that describe theories of race, gender, sexuality, income, and ability, do you feel-
a) Like you know what’s right, and people who are wrong are just not hearing you correctly or are oversensitive?
OR
b) That you are curious about the subject and want to know more from people who have a greater stake in the subject or know more about it than you do?
OR
c) Deeply that someone (other than yourself) is being violated (in a I-may-have-to-seek-therapy-after-this sort of a way) and that you need to express dissent or clarify further to prevent further pain?

If a, please stop and listen before you talk, if you talk at all.
If b, curious learners are wonderful! But people are not search engines, so go do your own research, then be a good listener, and rock on with your bad (I mean, good and awesome) self.
If c, take a moment, take three deep breaths, pray or meditate, assume the best intentions of the other party (if possible), and compose a kind, productive response. If the response will not be productive, then do the above, and instead of crafting a response, go outside (if there is ample sunlight), absorb some vitamin D, and then do something that makes you feel awesome (like eating chocolate or chasing a squirrel).

Some of you will hate this test, because people on the Internet are wrong! And if they are wrong, they just don’t know! And if I give them enough statistics and history and theories and logic and reason and all the tools of Greek philosophical thought and the scientific method, then they will get it!

Look closer. Do you have a preexisting relationship? Do you have a relationship in which you are constantly conversing, and not just about these academic terms that also function to describe others’ lives? How is that relationship? Is it shaky? Is it one in which you are always arguing?

If your relationship is not on solid ground and you are not always in conversation, that means you don’t have the time and energy to pick up the pieces. It is not responsible or productive to cause an earthquake and not be there to pick up the pieces, to put out the flames, to hold people who are crying. It is not kind or empathetic. It does not make people want to change their minds.

It makes people want to snatch their lives away from you, put them in a black duffel bag, and run to the nearest closet and not share their lives with you anymore. It makes it hard for people to trust you. If they aren’t the running and hiding type, then they are the fighting type, and what do the fighting type do? They put on armor.

It is hard to talk to people when they are in armor.

You may hate the test because you may disagree with me about what interactions are about.

To me, interactions are about relationship. The minute you open your mouth, or the moment you press enter to a few keystrokes on a keyboard, you have created a relationship, as temporary as it might be. And relationships, to me, are about a back and forth. A give and take. And relationships, to me, are meant to make people well, and to make people feel supported. When there is no give and take, and when there is only give give give of information, or take take take of energy, this can make people defensive or tired. Especially when there are power dynamics at play. Regardless of what your intentions are, think about history and the signals you are giving off. Sometimes it’s body language. Sometimes it’s dress. Sometimes it’s skin color. Sometimes it’s the height of your chair. Sometimes it’s the tenor of your voice. These are all things that convey power. If you hold more power, you hold more responsibility.

I mean, just ask Loki, amirite?

Let me give you a little bit of tough love.

If you don’t have a relationship grounded in genuine intentions AND actions that work toward wellness, you are treading on dangerous ground when you attempt to correct someone else on academic terms that describe their lives. This ground is laden with emotional mines. When you charge ahead to correct them, without a prior relationship that aims for support AND without first doing the test to see whether this correction will be productive, you are showing that you don’t care about them.

You are showing that you, in that interaction, at that moment, only care about yourself.

You are showing that you, in that interaction, at that moment, are being selfish.

Think about what you are doing.

Think about the world you are creating.

Think long and hard about your choices.

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COMEDY HOUR – I.E. KAREN, AN ASIAN AMERICAN, ALSO KNOWS HOW TO USE SATIRE! SHE’Z THMART!

Okay kids! Time to do a participatory exercise! Are you ready?

This exercise is called “Deconstructing Insults” or “Let’s find out what the bullies in the sandbox are really saying!”

First, let’s find out what insults people are using! Please stop if you know this exercise makes you want to cry and find your mommy. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.

“Dumb?” “Stupid?”

Yes, that’s right! And what else?

“#$(&#%*(&#(&(&@) ?”

Yup, you got it! Those are racial and gendered slurs that you’re not old enough to be exposed to, but will know because of media exposure and peer influence anyway! What else have the bullies tried to say to scare people?

“You should #@$#@%$^#! (*&)&*&_)(*)(* yourself! I hope you @#$#$^$%^%!”

Whoa, that’s making me do all sorts of horrifying bodily functions. That’s correct!

“Teacher, this is making me sad. And I already got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

Sorry about that, kiddo. Say, how many of you have been kicked when you’re already down?

[…]

Wow, that’s… disconcerting. Good thing I’m a social worker. Bullies are mean, aren’t they.

“Yes they are!”

But guess what? We’re not done! The fun has just begun! The next part is figuring out what the insults really mean! Let’s start with “dumb” and “stupid.” If someone calls you “dumb” or “stupid,” what are they trying to say about themselves?

“That they are dumb and stupid?”

You must have a high emotional quotient! That is called projection and happens when someone uses words to describe another person, when they are too afraid to use those words to describe themselves. What else might they be saying about themselves? What is the opposite of dumb and stupid?

“Smart?” “Genius!” “Nerdy?”

That’s correct! When a bully calls you dumb and stupid, they are trying to say that they are smarter than you, and a genius or a nerd compared to you. They are trying to make themselves feel better by making you feel awful. But is it true that you can become smart just by calling people dumb?

“No way, Jose!”

There you go. Okay, how about the racial and gendered slurs that you’re not supposed to know. When someone says those, what does that say?”

“I don’t know, but it makes me want to cry and find my mommy.”

That’s right! Racial and gendered slurs are used to make you feel unwelcome and sad. But where can you go to find your mommy?

“Home.” “She’s at work!”

That’s exactly what bullies want. Some adult bullies will even say, “GO HOME” or “GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM” to make you do this. But why would a bully want to make you go home?

“THEY WANT YOU TO LEAVE THE SANDBOX!” “TEACHER TEACHER THAT’S NOT FAIR!”

Bullies aren’t fair! And anytime someone threatens to hurt you or says they hope you hurt themselves, you should know that they don’t really care about you. When you are with a bully, you are not in a safe space.

“But what should we do? Bullies are liars because they say they’re smarter when they aren’t. And bullies are mean and unfair. On top of that, bullies make the sandbox unsafe!”

Well, you can do two things: 1) Run away to your mommy and 2) Stand up to them.

“Why can’t we lie, and be mean, and unfair, and violent, too?”

Because you would become a bully.

“Oh… but if I run away to my mommy, don’t I have to leave the sandbox?”

Yup.

“NOT FAIR!!”

You can still stand up to them.

“No way! I’ll get hurt! I’ll cry! I’d rather run to my mommy!”

Me too, dear. Me, too.

“What if lots of my friends stand up to the bullies? What if we say we won’t take it anymore?”

That, my sweetie, is called solidarity. When you’re older, you’ll learn about organizations like the ACLU (https://www.aclu.org/), and activists like Suey Park (https://twitter.com/suey_park), and conferences like PANAAWTM (http://www.panaawtm.org/) that are dedicated to the work of solidarity.

You may not always agree with what they do, or how they do it, and you might not always feel like friends. But the important thing is that you stick together, even when bullies call you names and try to hurt you, even when bullies try to make you hate each other. When you’re all together, you’ll stand solid and you can’t be moved. You will be like a big mountain that no one can shake or take down. And the sandbox might even be yours one day, in which case I will ask you to remember two things.

“What’s that?”

Sharing is caring, and dumb is not an insult because it is better to be kind than to be right.

———————————————————-

SERIOUS TIME

“Han, translated as “suffering,” has multifaceted meanings in Korean. Park (1993, p. 31) defines han as “frustrated hope, the collapsed feeling of pain, letting go [of hope], resentful bitterness, and the wounded heart.” More than the ordinary experience of discouragement, Han refers to life that because of prolonged abuse and injustice has lost its spirit. According to Poling and Kim, this Korean term enables victims to express indescribably dreadful experiences. It can enable pastoral theologians to understand victims and the complicated healing process necessary to recover from such experiences.

Jeong is translated as “love” or “affection” in English. However, according
to Wonhee Anne Joh (2006), jeong is more powerful, lasting, and transformative than love. Jeong describes the longtime attachment or deep bonding within relationships, even those that involve ambiguity and periods of alienation. Jeong helps pastoral theologians explicate the complicated dynamics of human relationships, an important contribution from within a collectivistic cultural framework such as in Korea.” –www.spt-jpt.org/index.php/jpth/article/download/115/pdf‎

I don’t have time or enough emotional energy for sadness to turn to bitterness. I can only make room for han to burn, for anger to lick through my body, for rage to culminate in action. Let’s hope that jeong can cut through the crap and bring about hope and healing.

I don’t have time or enough emotional energy to as Suey Park would say, “enact the labor” to explain what racial slurs on a public platform symbolize to those maligned by them other than the obvious (to me): “You don’t belong. We are not interested in laughing with you, but at you. But don’t make us uncomfortable about it, because that would make us need to, like, change.” Those who know me know that I have a deep, abiding love for comedy for a number of reasons, and it has made me the person I am today. But certain conversations are worth having. I am just not interested in having them for now, because other people have graciously taken the time and emotional energy to articulate their thoughts and document their experiences for me.

Recommended reading:

Reasons Behind #CancelColbert
“You’re stupid” as a Silencing Technique

I will not tell you what to think, but I will tell you facts and patterns worth noting. You can draw the conclusions yourself, because I believe in your intelligence, and refuse to use stupid as an insult.

  1. Suey Park, Korean American activist, has advocated on multiple issues related to solidarity among all people of color, including Native American advocacy, educated in satire as a writer.
  2. Josh Zepps, media personality, educated in satire in white-dominated societies, Australia and United States.
  3. Suey Park and other supporters of #CancelColbert are insulted with racial and gendered slurs, and threatened with rape, death, and other kinds of violence.
  4. Opponents of #CancelColbert are denounced for affiliating with white supremacy (white allies receive shoutouts of appreciation) and for nationalism (Asian Americans who are perceived as uninterested in ending racism are called out).
  5. Variations of “dumb” and “stupid” are taken out of the elementary school sandbox and used to dismiss #CancelColbert supporters’ opinions.
  6. Media headlines emphasize Suey Park as hashtag activist or Twitter activist, erasing or minimizing the in-person, full-time activism that she does outside of her use of social media as a tool. See Hashtags as Decolonial Projects.

Let’s repeat our mantra again:

Sharing is caring, and dumb is not an insult because it is better to be kind than to be right.

The closest English word that I can use to describe the feeling of watching this trailer is bittersweet. I don’t know an English word that encapsulates the feeling of the quiet happiness and spark of hope that emerges from bitter suffering and sadness.

That is the word I am grasping for.

That is the feeling I want to look forward to.

For now, sadness and disappointment is something to be fought, like pushing away arms that are clawing in the darkness, to be waded through, upward through the inky deep, not knowing how long before the sun.

I don’t know why it is so easy for me to fall, and knowing probably wouldn’t help anyway.

Getting better is a journey that never ends.

“when things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. it’s because a little piece gets lost — the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. the whole shape has changed.

[…]

this whole time, i’ve thought the silent treatment was working. because it’s not like i miss her. then i realize that missing her or not missing her isn’t the point. the point is that i’m still carrying around what happened as much as she is. and i need to get rid of it. because both of us poured the toxins into our toxic friendship. and while i [wasn’t exactly at fault for everything], i certainly contributed enough errors to our trials. there’s no way we’re ever going to find an ideal state of it. but i guess i’m seeing that we have to at least make it to an it we can bear.

[…]

this is why we call people exes, i guess — because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating at the end. it’s too easy to see an X as a cross-out. it’s not, because there’s no way to cross out something like that. the X is a diagram of two paths.”

will grayson, will grayson by john green & david levithan

A reflection for a course on Pastoral Theology and Care.

Jamison’s “Mourning and Melancholia” is a compelling read, especially in light of Kelley’s “Grief.” Jamison’s observations reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ reflections in “A Grief Observed” which were highlighted in Kelley’s “Grief.” Jamison’s opening remarks on how grief comes in waves, catching Jamison off-guard reminds me of how Lewis was hit by grief when he was not expecting it, and that grief had different forces of impact at different times. This reminds me of the wisdom to be mindful that people may experience grief long after people have stopped calling and helping out with hot meals, that especially during anniversaries or special occasions the grief can be acute. Jamison notes this with the anecdote of going to a different church in order to avoid interacting with other people who would remind Jamison of Richard. I particularly appreciate Jamison’s description of mourning and melancholia because it highlights the experience of grief as compared to mental illness. Kelley’s “Grief” does not much focus on how mental illness can intersect and contrast with the grief process. I appreciated Jamison’s insights into how grief felt distinctly different from depression and mania in that it was grounded in reality, that there was a “sanity” about the grief. I found Jamison’s comments on how grief was instructive to be particularly beautiful. Jamison makes the profound observation that grief contains grace, and counter-intuitively, also contains life, because it reminds us that suffering and death are experienced by everyone as part of the human condition. I appreciated Jamison’s insight that death can create pauses for us to observe and learn things about those who have died that we might not have learned when they were living with us. In a recent television show, a character rhetorically asked himself whether he regretted marrying early, and having a life with his wife who had died early from cancer. He emphatically said that he did not regret marrying early at all, but that if he could, he would have married earlier, so that he could experience more arguments over the bills and who was going to cook, before his wife died. I found it poignant that death can allow us to reflect on the past in a way that makes even petty squabbles and the ordinary conflicts of everyday life seem extraordinary and precious.

Sources (with Amazon links):

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Kay Jamison, “Mourning and Melancholia” in Nothing Was the Same, book review on NYTimes

Melissa Kelley, Grief: Contemporary Theory and the Practice of Ministry

Also, this is touching:

And the response:

Tying together the oppression that binds those who can’t scream loud enough.

Chapter 11 of Honor Betrayed reminded me of my work with SAGE Metro St. Louis when it highlighted the fact that data on sexual assault has not been collected until recently. At SAGE Metro St. Louis, I became acutely aware that data on LGBT older adults has not been collected until recently, so there is vast underreporting of instances of LGBT elder abuse and discrimination. This lack of data makes it difficult to prove that a problem exists, although in the cases of sexual assault in the military and LGBT elder abuse and discrimination, it is clear that the evidence that we have suggests that there is a problem. Thus, advocates for victims of military sexual assault and LGBT older adults face the similar challenge of emphasizing that oppression faced by military sexual assault survivors and LGBT older adults affects everyone. These are national problems that threaten to break the strength and shake the well-being of our nation and our communities. It is difficult to convey how injustice faced by the minority can affect the majority as well; Dr. Mic Hunter writes, “Most people accept that sexual abuse harms those individuals who are the target of it. However, many people, including those in the military, do not fully appreciate how the wide spread existence, and tolerance, of sexual abuse within the ranks causes grave damage to the military as a whole” (Hunter 209).

Dr. Hunter thoroughly lists the ways in which military sexual assault adversely affects military effectiveness. Of course, enlistment, retention, communication, mission readiness, morale, discipline, command authority, respect, trust, loyalty and reputation have different implications and applications in military environments versus our local communities, assisted living centers, nursing homes, hospitals and hospices. On the other hand, many of these factors which break down as a result of military sexual assault are factors that also crumble for LGBT older adults when elder abuse and discrimination occurs. Marketing to, retaining, communicating, pursuing goals (e.g. physical, psychological, spiritual well-being), emotional affect, respect, trust, loyalty, and reputation are all affected when LGBT older adults are abused and discriminated against. Those affected include LGBT older adults, those who care for them (e.g. friends and family of choice, social workers, doctors, clergy, advocates), and those who care about living in a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect. Hunter writes about how a damaged reputation will adversely affect the recruiting process, because people will not want to belong to an institution or unit that treats its members badly. The FY 2012 Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military aptly lists the objectives of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategic Plan by beginning with “to achieve unity of effort and purpose across all of DoD in the executive of sexual assault prevention and response” (Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military 4). This aim suggests that we will benefit more from unity, rather than division, and a military that consistently and intentionally treats all of its officers and recruits with dignity and respect. Similarly, we will achieve better well-being in our nation if we seek unity, rather than division, and create a country where all people are treated with dignity and respect everywhere, rather than in select cities or states.

“Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military.” Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Department of Defense, May 6, 2013. Web. 14 September 2013.

Hunter, Mic. Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse in America’s Military. Fort Lee: NJ. Barricade Books. 2007. Print.

Pastoral care can enhance social work, but what the heck is pastoral care?

These are my first reading responses for a class on Pastoral Theology and Care, in which I write too much, and also have to use MLA citation after years of using APA.

Reflection 1:

As an Asian American woman who has just finished a year studying social work, I found Kujawa-Holbrook’s “Love and Power: Antiracist Pastoral Care” particularly compelling. I noticed similarities between social work, which seeks to meet the needs of marginalized populations, and antiracist pastoral care, which seeks to correct deep power imbalances experienced by all marginalized people (Kujawa-Holbrook 13). However, while social work aims to enhance well-being and meet basic needs (“Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers”), antiracist pastoral care aims to bring about authentic healing and reconciliation (Kujawa-Holbrook 13). This focus on healing and reconciliation represents two functions of pastoral care highlighted by Lartey in “In Living Color: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling.”

I find that the emphasis on healing and reconciliation are unique to pastoral care, and reveal ways in which pastoral care can enhance social work. Although social work aims to bring about healing among individuals and communities, such healing does not necessarily involve the recognition of mystery and transcendence. Pastoral care uniquely calls for people to be open and attentive to the ways in which “power, grace and goodness are often not found in the obvious places” and that there is a “mysteriousness about life, which is not reducible to sociological, psychological or physiological analyses and explanations” (Larty 26). While social work may utilize reconciliation to bring about forgiveness or to rehabilitate those who have committed offenses, pastoral care does not use reconciliation as a means to an end, but considers reconciliation itself a worthwhile pursuit. This sentiment is reflected by Kujawa-Holbrook’s assertion that “if life is improved for one person, all benefit” (14).

When serving as a chaplain intern at the Texas Medical Center, I recall instances in which there were stark contrasts between patients who embraced mystery and transcendence, and patients who refused to see power, grace and goodness beyond obvious places. The most joyful man I met was a patient who had undergone yet another cardiac surgery, who spoke fondly of his grandchildren, yet lived far from them and was in the hospital without any visits from his children. His eyes lit up every time he saw me; he made jokes and gripped my hand as we prayed together. His conversations were full of praise for God, and he taught me more about perseverance and delighting in life than I could teach him. His smiling presence stood in stark contrast with a woman who had just undergone gastric bypass surgery, who was always surrounded by family, but was grumpy and frowned for most of the time I visited her. I remember nothing about her except the way she lay, a storm on her bed, encircled by her family.

Reflection 2:

However, as poetic as it sounds to practice the Jewish tradition of tikkum olam by seeking to heal and repair the world, and as ideal as it is to believe the Christian tradition that “we are all called to live in community with each other, to be transformed for the sake of one another and the world,” (Kujawa-Holbrook 14), I am troubled by the practical considerations involved with practicing these traditions. In the field of public health, social workers and public health professionals wrestle with the concept of QALYs and DALYs: Quality-Adjusted Life Years and Disability-Adjusted Life Years. QALYs and DALYs are ways to quantify disease burden by considering the number of years that would be added to a life by an intervention and the number of years lost due to illness, disability or early death. QALYs and DALYs are used to make decisions about the cost-effectiveness of producing a life-saving drug, or the risk involved in testing a new therapy, or the age at which a person should be considered too old for a liver transplant. These practical questions, resolved by ostensibly reductionist cost-benefit ratios and cold value judgments based on age and genetic predisposition shake antiracist pastoral care’s assertions that “justice does not admit of partitioning” (Kujawa-Holbrook 14). On the ground, every day, people win and lose– one person’s bone marrow transplant means another person’s failure to receive life.

Yet Lebacqz and Driskill (62) remind me that pastoral caregivers care “in the context of ultimate meaning,” thus “acknowledg[ing] the religious nature of life’s value and significance.” Pastoral care, as defined by the Latin term cura animarum is concerned about the “care of souls” (Lebacqz & Driskill 62). In this way, though people must divide individuals, groups and communities into those who are deserving and undeserving of limited time and resources, those providing pastoral care understand that ultimately, we are called to agape, unconditional love, which “[impels] us into relationship with others, [and] enables us to recognize injustice and to desire to do something about it” (Lartey 29). We cannot love unconditionally perfectly all of the time, nor can we perfectly bring about justice, but Christians conceptualize agape as the “unconditional love of God” (Lartey 29). In this way, Christians and others recognize the mystery of how power, grace and goodness are present in unexpected places, and the transcendence in and by which justice can be ultimately brought about.

Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl A. Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009. Print.
Lartey, Emmanuel Y. In Living Color: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling. Philadelphia, PA: Thomson Shore, 2003. Print.
Lebacqz, Karen, and Joseph D. Driskill. Ethics and Spiritual Care. Nashville, TN: Abungdon, 2000. Print.
National Association of Social Workers. Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers, 2008. Web.