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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Pictures by Marquisha Lawrence, Korla Masters, and Dean Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause.

Today on Monday, February 29, 2016, I co-created a worship service and preached a sermon with the help of a group of people I call “Team Karen.” These are people who have been formative through my years at Eden Theological Seminary through their presence, their ideas, and their friendship. You will see their names in the notes below.

I was mindful that on this day in history, the Kerner Commission gave its report. It was a commission that sought to answer the question of “what happened” and “how can it not happen again” in response to the Detroit uprisings. It spoke boldly about the role of white supremacy in creating poverty and violence (none of the “naming racism is racism” nonsense) and the importance of action to change the untenable course of America toward two societies: one black, one white, separate but unequal. In Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion, Jamala Rogers reminds us that the Kerner Commission has words that ring true today and if we are to do anything to change America’s racism, the recommendations of the Kerner Report are a good place to start. It is troubling that even in the conclusion of the Kerner Report, Dr. Kenneth B. Clark says that its words are a kind of Alice in Wonderland– America has heard such words before and not heeded them, and the sick cycle of analysis, recommendation, and inaction is a moving picture reel that rolls over and over again, as more and more people suffer and die… Lyndon B. Johnson failed to enact the recommendations of the Kerner Report, and shortly after the report, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The whole damn system is indeed guilty as hell.

Last week, the Ferguson Commission gave a report at the St. Louis Public Library. I was not able to be there, so please comment below if you were there with your thoughts. In any case, as I was reading the Commission report, I was struck by the 21st century tone and approach to the commission task. It was not an effort to ask “what happened” (with regard to an event) or “how can it not happen again,” but more an effort to open conversations and uplift stories and research about issues that came to the forefront as a result of the Ferguson uprising. It acknowledged that commissions in the past have been ineffective (often citing Lindsey Lupo’s book Flak-Catchers:One Hundred Years
of Riot Commission Politics in America), but that this commission would be an ongoing effort to tackle the underlying issues contributing to the uprising, though it lacks adequate legislative power to implement such changes.

In short, as an older man notes in Dr. Gunning Francis’ Ferguson and Faith, “The young people have done it!”– they have riveted the world’s attention to a place called Ferguson and made it transcend itself, transformed it into a symbol and microcosm of America’s wounds and traumas, its violence and its sins, its pockets of survival and resistance… It felt more truthful to say that today’s John the Baptist is Joshua Williams because isn’t setting a Quiktrip on fire a form of shouting in the wilderness? In the eyes of many in white America, isn’t private property just as sacred, if not more sacred than our temples and churches? Isn’t the right to private property not enshrined in our nation’s Bible, the Constitution? In any case, I was tasked with preaching, and I didn’t feel like arguing.

So I wrestled with the questions:

In this time of voices and tensions and commissions, what is our commission (call)?

What costs are associated with change?

What is sacred and life-giving in a world full of violence and death?

I didn’t answer all of these questions directly, but I walked toward them. Here is what I came up with…

Bulletin

Monday, February 29, 2016

WELCOME TO THE EDEN CHAPEL

Whatever your faith tradition,

whatever your culture and race,

whatever your age, orientation, or differing abilities,

whatever has happened up until now,

may this be a place of grace and healing for you.

 *“Place in the Sun” by Stevie Wonder – Eliza Lynn
(acc. Brett Palmer, Jacob Poindexter, Donita Bauer)

*Centering Prayer – Sarah Dierker

Readings from the Signs of the Times

Kerner Commission Reading – Brett Palmer

Ferguson Commission Reading – Tracey Wolff

*Gospel Readings

Mark 11:12-14 (CEB) – Michael Atty

Luke 13:6-9 (CEB) – Valerie Jackson

Sermon – Karen Yang

*“The Axe Shall be Laid to the Root of the Tree”– Youvette Bland (acc. Brett Palmer, Jacob Poindexter, Donita Bauer)

Announcements – Gershon Dotse

*Benediction – Karen Yang

*Please rise in body or spirit.

Our thanks to our worship leaders:

Chapel Assistant: Gershon Dotse

Bell Ringer: Lucas Williams

Bulletins: Laura Oesterle

Place in the Sun” – Stevie Wonder lyrics

Like a long lonely stream
I keep runnin’ towards a dream
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like a branch on a tree
I keep reachin’ to be free
Movin’ on, movin’ on

‘Cause there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun

Like an old dusty road
I get weary from the load
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like this tired troubled earth
I’ve been rollin’ since my birth
Movin’ on, movin’ on

There’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun

You know when times are bad
And you’re feeling sad
I want you to always remember

Yes, there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run
There’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run
There’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone…

Service Outline:

Greeters – Rebecca Mularski, Tracey Wolff

Welcome – Michael Atty 10:00-10:01

WELCOME TO THE EDEN CHAPEL

Whatever your faith tradition,

whatever your culture and race,

whatever your age, orientation, or differing abilities,

whatever has happened up until now,

may this be a place of grace and healing for you.

Will you join me in traveling back in time to the sixties for “Place in the Sun” by Stevie Wonder?

 *Song – “Place in the Sun” by Stevie Wonder – Eliza Lynn (acc. Brett Palmer, Jacob Poindexter, Donita Bauer)10:01-10:03

*Collect – Sarah Dierker 10:03-10:04

Will you join me in a spirit of prayer and contemplation?

[centering prayer, setting aside burdens to be open in this space, written by Sarah, punctuated by ringing a singing bowl]

Please be seated.

Kerner Commission Reading – Brett Palmer 10:04-10:06

A reading from the signs of the times, according to the Kerner Commission on this day in 1968.

“The summer of 1967 again brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation.

The worst came during a two-week period in July, first in Newark and then in Detroit. Each set off a chain reaction in neighboring communities.

On July 28, 1967, the President of the United States estab­lished this Commission and directed us to answer three basic questions:

What happened?

Why did it happen?

What can be done to prevent it from happening again?

To respond to these questions, we have undertaken a broad range of studies and investigations. We have visited the riot cities; we have heard many witnesses; we have sought the counsel of experts across the country.            .

This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.

[…]

What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget–is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.”

Ferguson Commission Reading – Tracey Wolff 10:06-10:07

A reading from the signs of the times, according to the Ferguson Commission of today.

“This report is […] a hard look at some hard truths. It is confronting our reality.

Governor Jay Nixon’s executive order establishing the Ferguson Commission stated:“[T]he unrest and public discourse set in motion by the events of August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri underscore the need for a thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions that impede progress, equality and safety in the St. Louis region.”

So often when we talk about our region’s struggles, we flinch. We avoid talking about race, or poverty, or other factors that might make us uncomfortable, even though addressing those issues head-on is what is needed to move forward.

The Ferguson Commission has embraced the call to be “unflinching.””

Please rise for the reading of the Gospels.

*Mark 11:12-14 (CEB) Gospel Reading – Michael Atty 10:07-10:08

A reading from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Mark. This is WHAT HAPPENED between Jesus and a fig tree.

12 The next day, after leaving the village of Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it and he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. 14 So he said to it, “No one will eat your fruit ever again!” And his disciples heard this.

[Valerie playfully pushes Michael aside to offer her interpretation. Michael acts annoyed.]

*Luke 13:6-9 (CEB) Gospel Reading – Valerie Jackson 10:08-10:09

A reading from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Luke. This is A STORY that Jesus TOLD about a fig tree.

Jesus told this story: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’”

[Pause]

Please be seated for the interpretation of the Readings.

Sermon – Karen Yang 10:09-10:19

*Song – “The Axe Shall be Laid to the Root of the Tree” – Youvette Bland (acc. Brett Palmer, Jacob Poindexter, Donita Bauer) 10:19-10:23

Announcements – Gershon Dotse 10:23-10:24

*Benediction – Karen Yang 10:24-10:25

Sermon:

Luke tells a good story, but I love that Mark’s Jesus gets hangry. Can someone help me out, what does hangry mean? Exactly, hungry and angry, or angry because you’re hungry. I love that Mark’s Jesus gets hangry because whether you’re hungry for food or hungry for justice, there is something about hunger that makes us all a little less respectable. Gives us a fire in our belly. Reminds us to fight for what we need.

Jesus was hungry and he wanted figs and when he didn’t find them, he didn’t care that that the fig tree was out of season so he screamed at the tree, “No one will eat your fruit ever again!”

Later Mark says that the fig tree withered and died…

…and I wonder why Jesus had to scream at it, after all, it was only out of season, and Jesus, if you just waited a little longer, now’s not the time, but can we talk about it later?

Jesus, just wait a little longer, maybe later you can come back and get some figs, but not now…

I know you’re hungry, but no figs, Jesus, not now. I know you’re tired, but no figs, Jesus, not now. I know that figs mean blessing and the sun-kissed children of God are tired, and hungry, and poor, but no figs, Jesus, not now.

[Look at congregation]

Tell me, what did Jesus want? Figs. When did he want them? NOW. On the streets, from Ferguson to Palestine, people chant: What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? NOW.

Jesus’ hungry anger is a holy anger. After all, the Gospel of Mark begins with John baptizing people in the wilderness. John’s baptisms are a protest filled with people who are fleeing the religious establishment to make community and search for the sacred in the wilderness. John the Baptist is a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” He is a voice singing in the streets, “What a time to be alive! The revolution has come.” When John the Baptist is arrested for protesting, Jesus takes his place in the Movement. Being hangry is about survival. It’s about affirming that one’s hunger to live matters and deserves to be satisfied… now. Ultimately, being hangry is about affirming the holiness of our humanity.

In contrast to Mark’s version of what happened between Jesus and a fig tree, Luke’s story seems watered down. According to Luke, Jesus isn’t hangry and doesn’t curse fig trees for failing to bear fruit in the wrong season—that’d be ridiculous! Instead, Jesus is a patient storyteller with reasonable advice. If a fig tree hasn’t been fruitful for three years, maybe add some fertilizer to the soil, and wait a year before deciding to cut it down.

Yes, the fig tree is unfruitful. That is a real concern, but just wait, invest where you are now, and be patient. Work with what you have. If you cut the fig tree down right away, it might even grow back up. You’re a vineyard owner, for goodness sake, think long-term. The fig tree can work as a trellis for the grapes, and speaking of grapes, why are you so worried about figs when you have so many grapes? Make your living in the meantime, after all, grapes are as much a sign of blessing as figs… maybe the best revenge is your paper.

The tensions between Mark and Luke reflect tensions we see today. Between protesting in streets full of tear gas and studying the issues that come to public awareness as a result of such uprisings. Between local uprisings and a unified Movement. Between resisting traditional political processes and pushing establishment candidates. Between fighting for power and fighting for rights. The list goes on and on.

It’s easy to be discouraged by such conflict—aren’t we all in this together? Isn’t that why the Apostle Paul asks the early Jesus movement community in Philippi, “complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other?”

Haha, good one, Paul. Communities that contain people that think the same way are few and far between. And forcing people to subscribe to the same ideology can become a form of abuse.

But Paul is right in saying that there is joy that comes when people share the same love and can be united in agreement of that love. For all of the tensions between Mark and Luke, they do agree on one thing: the fig tree is unfruitful, so something needs to change, and that change needs to happen now. While Mark’s Jesus immediately curses the fig tree, Luke agrees that after one year, if the tree doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down. If we don’t get figs, cut it down. Mark’s Jesus says, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” Luke’s Jesus replies, “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”

If we love our neighbors who are hungry for justice, we must be united in our agreement that there are many living systems that promise blessing and life, but are unfruitful. At best, these systems deplete our resources and at worst, they kill our kin. As long as these systems of white supremacy stay standing, we have unfinished business. In the words of the Kerner report, “It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress” and it is time to make good on our promises. In the spirit of the Ferguson report, so often when we think about investing in disinvested areas or laying our axe at the root of the tree, we flinch. We avoid talking about it, even though addressing the issues head-on is what is needed to move forward. Whether it’s shoveling manure or picking up an axe, we must embrace the call to be unflinching.

Mark’s account of hangry Jesus and the fig tree tells us the good news that justice has no season because it is Kairos time, it is magic time, it is the time when we are bold to demand that the powers and principalities recognize our humanity, and that they recognize it now and tremble! Justice has no season because we are commissioned in every season to be a student of Jesus and one another, to learn how we can better love one another every day.

Luke’s story about the vineyard owner and gardener tells us the good news that we have life in the meantime, when we are still in the struggle, during the already, but not yet. In the meantime, we are called to roll our sleeves and get familiar with the sweat and tears, the muck and the dirt, the joy and the pain of caring for one another. It’s not glamorous, but it is good.

In the words of Stevie Wonder, there’s a place in the sun, where there’s hope for everyone, where our poor, restless hearts can be free. I know you’re tired, but will you go with me?

Benediction

I grew up with a fig tree in my backyard. Some of my favorite memories were climbing in its branches to watch the birds, looking over my neighbor’s yards, eating the fresh figs, and most of all, playing. In the summer, my sister and her friends would come over, and we’d all climb the tree and pretend we were flying a plane to Australia, with our stuffed animals and our guinea pigs. When I grew older, I started going inside to play mom and fill spoons with icing, or honey, or jam, and call my sister and her friends over to the back door to eat “spoon pops.”

Inspired by these memories, my benediction is this:

Friends, the axe is at the root of the tree. May you practice reckless imagination and sweet hospitality. And may you have the strength to climb higher and higher until you reach your place in the sun. Amen.

“A Place in the Sun” with Lyrics

“A Place in the Sun” with Stevie Wonder

To support Eliza Lynn’s music, please visit: http://www.elizalynn.com/
  Buy her music and stay tuned for her shows.

To put the axe at the root of the tree, please support:
Organization for Black Struggle
Hands Up United
Palestine Solidarity Committee
Latinos En Axion STL
Baitul-Mal
Fight for 15
MORE
Solidarity Economy STL

Other thanks:
Josh Gibson for switching sermon dates with me.
Sarah Dierker for writing the centering prayer.
Youvette Bland for matching “The Axe is Laid at the Foot of the Tree” to the Scriptures.
Eliza Lynn and her mother for thinking of “Place in the Sun” by Stevie Wonder.
Kyle Chears for playing drums.
Stephen Stark for telling me to breathe. Just breathe.
Gershon Dotse for filming my sermon.
Marquisha Lawrence for pre-listening to my sermon before her bedtime.
Harrison Sand for helping me to bring the good news out of the Gospel readings.
Mama Chengfen Frances Yang for giving me the spirit of the benediction.
Jessica Yang, Rebecca Mularski, Amy Stark, Chelsey Hillyer for moral support.
Eliza Lynn, Sourik Beltran, Jenny Gates, Jake Lyonfelds for going out of their way to come to this service.
Jamala Rogers and Tef Poe for their prophecy.
Rev. Dr. Damayanthi Niles for teaching me to love my Asian self.
Rev. Dr. Mai-Anh Le Tran for challenging me.
Dr. Leah Gunning Francis for helping me to see kairos time.
Dean Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause for being an example for going into the streets.
My elders and ancestors who were farmers.
And more…

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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.

-2448695094282359694_700x390
Letters to Hop Alley was phenomenal. Anya and Georgia did an amazing job of creating an exhibit that was both artistic and historical, emotionally evocative and well-researched, humanizing and soul-searching. Reading the small red cursive print forced me to really pay attention to its words, reminded me of history exhibits with old loopy words scrawled on faded letters, and made me narrate experiences of Chinese people seeking refuge from the violence of the West by fleeing to the Midwest, working hard to make homes and communities where they were, being brutalized and targeted by police with the justification that they were drug users and gang members (all of them), exotically fetishized as desirable while being labeled by policies as undesirable, erased in the name of development, having their homes and communities labeled as slums to justify the “headache ball” that would destroy them and erect Busch Stadium in its place, a tribute to the moneyed white developers who would line their pockets with cash gleaned from taxpayers and game attendees alike.
 
My body’s response to gazing upon the images and words in the gallery and reliving and reimagining places in St. Louis in like of those recalled memories that I had never known, and resurrecting the lives that had gone before was a strange warmness. Like my heart was being drawn to these memories and wanting to blink my eyes with tears while wanting to keep my eyes wide open to take it all in as a witness, a witness to the past. Like I was traveling through the past and communing with ghosts.
 
I was convicted, in particular by the words that reminded and taught me that it is a misconception that Asians are rare in the Midwest, that they have been here (partly due to brutality, abuse, and lynching that drove them away from the West) and have always been here. My school never taught me. My parents were immigrants. I grew up on the West Coast. I came to St. Louis and saw Asians as international students at WashU and went to a mostly white seminary as the only Asian American in my class. I didn’t know. I couldn’t know.
 
I think about how I got annoyed whenever clients talked about how much they loved Chinese food because it was not the Chinese food I recognized. Orange chicken, St. Paul sandwich, and egg foo young were not things I ever experienced and they didn’t sound “authentic” to me, even though, as a Taiwanese American and not a Chinese American, I am hardly in a position to judge. And now I realize that they were markers of what was cooked and sold by people who were trying to make a living in the Midwest (I think, I have no idea about their origins). I’m remembering how the stadium just created a policy saying no signs or banners that they don’t agree with, which sounds to me like a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement that has unashamedly disrupted stadium activities in order to call white St. Louis to account for the brutality and death inflicted upon black St. Louis. Chinese were criminalized and displaced to make room for the stadium (reaching an apex in the 60s no less). Not to mention the bohemian community and another black community nearby. Blacks can’t belong at the stadium as people with rights, only as pacified consumers. The stadium is a monument to white supremacy. The transit I ride every day, a reminder of white supremacy, because mainly, only working class people ride it, until games, when white people take over (Metro only, not the buses) and crowd it so that all the seats are taken and filled with red shirts. And going only in the directions East-West and not North-South, so explicitly to serve whites going downtown for games, and not actually for workers.
 
And now spending at least $1 bil of taxpayer money on a Rams stadium to keep a team that doesn’t want to stay, when our schools are hurting, food deserts still exist, redlining hasn’t been corrected, and justice for Black St. Louisans is still not being served. On top of an Osage burial ground.
 
White supremacy and white greed will swallow us alive if we don’t stand against it. Sign this petition for $1 bil to go to the needs of the people, and not wealthy white supremacists that have already destroyed St. Louis communities. http://www.powerbehindthepolice.com/justicefund (Side note: this editorial from last year said $1 bil doesn’t grow on trees so transit expansion proposal had poor timing – http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-platform/editorial-north-south-metrolink-expansion-could-help-rebuild-st-louis/article_4753a174-1c33-5dfa-8366-43a260f99e3a.html – because of stadium proposal, I call BS.)
 
 
In short, if you love me and love St. Louis, you will go to this art exhibit, which runs through September, and you will sign MORE’s petition for $1 bil to go to worthy causes, not neglecting our communities while lining the pockets of developers who displace people.

arrest

I finally told my mom that I was risking arrest by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, because I stand with clergy, professors, and people of conscience against white supremacy which murders and harms black folks in US-America. I told her that I didn’t immediately tell her that I got arrested for Moral Monday because I didn’t want to worry her or cause her to lose sleep. I said that I was planning to go to the Clayton inJustice Center (jail) to protest because Brittany and Alexis were snatched off the street for no reason and were being held for over 24 hours, and I was worried that they would experience even more harm. Moreover, being there implied that God does not condone the kidnapping and lying and brutalizing actions of the police. I asked her to pray for them.

I expected her to yell at me, or scold me, or tell me not to go, or ask me why I was worrying her.

Instead, she prayed this prayer in Chinese:

Dear God,

I beg you to send celestial troops and generals (angels) to St. Louis.
It is not sending clergy to jail that needs to happen.
Clergy do not need to be in jail.
Your hand is strong and mighty and long,
And it will reach in and pluck these black women out.
Let these police fear you.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

Later, I told Dean Deborah Krause about this prayer. She said, “She sounds like someone who frequently talks to God.” “Yes, she has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” I answered, half joking and totally serious. “She did a pray preach,” said Dean Krause. “Like she was trying to say, ‘Dear God, Please help Karen know she doesn’t have to go to jail.'” “Sounds more like a pray lecture. A precture?” I replied. “A precture,” Dean Krause affirmed.

Alexis and Brittany have been released. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to the warring angels. Thanks be to woke mamas.

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.”]