A Power that Gives Life

“….whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Mark 10:43b-44

The past few days I’ve been thinking of the sad story of a young girl who recently died by suicide as a result of peer abuse. Her story is told in her own words in a youtube video that she posted just over a month ago. While it raises a lot of questions about the roles of authority figures in her life (where were her parents, teachers, and extended family?), it is hard to ignore the sad reality that Amanda Todd was the victim of sexual predators, social ostracism, and mental illness.

She was rendered completely powerless. Powerless to change her situation. Powerless to change her psychological state. Powerless to change her past. In her desperation for love and affection, she became vulnerable. And instead of finding an advocate, she became an easy target for those needing to wield their power.

I understand that feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. In my early teens I had my first taste of rejection, betrayal, and social ostracism, or what we like to call “bullying.” It wasn’t until I experienced it that I realized that I had participated in bullying others (I promptly apologized to a girl that I had bullied and experienced for the first time what it meant to be forgiven). I’m starting to learn now the dynamics of power in all relationships; the effects of having power taken from me; and the weight of my power as a healthy, educated, resourceful woman serving as a pastor.

From these experiences of powerlessness, my gut reaction to those words of Jesus about becoming a slave swings between rebellion and resignation. Rebellion because I don’t want power to be taken from me, especially when I have already experienced marginalization in multifaceted ways.  But neither do I desire greatness. I’ll let the extroverts and those out to prove something to somebody to obtain it. Leave me alone to do my work. I already serve others. I’ve already given up dreams, career, and rootedness to follow Christ. Must I stoop even lower? Must I be crushed?

And then resignation hits. Fine. My feelings of “rebellion” must be a sign of pride and selfishness. What else do you want to take from me, God? What lesson am I supposed to learn in this unjust game of life in which I am destined to lose anyways? You’re sovereign and all-powerful, so who am I to complain? I’m just a servant. I’ll just be a tool for your use. This is the way to humility, right?

Neither of these reactions are healthy or the way of shalom. They’re a sign of a hurting heart, bleeding from wounds caused by others and weakened by a poor understanding of who God is and His work in our lives. It’s also a result of a poor understanding of biblical context. Jesus was speaking to his disciples who’ve been arguing over position and prominence, and who’ve been completely oblivious to how Jesus served the most vulnerable in society. He called the privileged to account and invited them to give away everything. He brought in the excluded and established their inclusion into the Kingdom. In other words he restored humans to their humanity, as neither gods nor objects.

I am both powerful and weak. Both saint and sinner.  These particular words about servanthood speak to the parts of me with privilege and influence. These words remind me that I have a duty to serve my sisters and brothers.  To speak on behalf of others who are silenced. To listen when others need to be heard. To use what I have been given to give to others.

To the parts of me that struggle for dignity and acceptance, I hear instead the words that Jesus spoke soon after.  To the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, he said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” You are free now. You have the privilege of sight. You have power that you didn’t think you had before.

What did Bartimaeus do with this new-found privilege? He chose to follow Jesus along on the road to Jerusalem. With his new eyes he likely witnessed the unjust suffering of Christ on the cross. He saw a Savior without power. Scorned, mocked, and hated, for no reason other than being who he is.

But maybe he saw a resurrected Savior full of glory and grace. Maybe he saw the reality of God’s Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom to which he belonged. Maybe he saw a power that was greater than the darkness, a power that gives life rather than takes it.

We may be living in dark times, but we have seen the light. Go, Church, your faith has healed you. Go where Christ leads. Don’t shut your eyes to the injustices. Don’t believe you are without power. But don’t think that power is meant for you alone.

Woe to those who take power for themselves and dehumanize others.

And mercy, oh Lord have mercy, to those who cannot see their God-given worth.
This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

A Voice in the Silence

Thanks AAWOL for the encouragement to speak: http://aawolsisters.com/2012/08/21/a-voice-in-the-silence/

I’ve always struggled with prayer. I still remember the first time I prayed out loud with someone. It terrified me. I felt like I did it all wrong and the corresponding prayer from the older woman confirmed my feelings. She prayed for my spiritual maturity and growth. After all, I only prayed for God to bless me (and only me). Of course, I was a young girl and a young Christian. No one sat down with me and taught me how to pray. Instead, I listened to other people’s prayers. Over time, I learned how to mimic other people’s prayers and use the same vocabulary. I learned formulas and categories of prayer. I learned that one should pray every morning and every evening, and if they’re really holy, they should pray ALL THE TIME.


I wasn’t really holy.

In recent years, I struggled particularly with hearing from God. I struggled with knowing what His voice sounded like and how to recognize it. I envied other people who seemed to have God speaking to them on a regular basis. They could speak in tongues, receive visions and dreams. They received “words” from other people. But with me, all I heard was the sound of my own longings. Why was God so silent?
In time I realized that I was interpreting God’s silence as anger or as distance. I felt that I had either disappointed God or made Him feel ashamed. His silence was a sign of disapproval or apathy. Funny how it seemed rather similar to my relationship with my father.

This silence matched my time of depression, a time marked by my inability to express grief, loss, and anger at being hurt by people. A time when I silenced myself as any good Asian woman would.

I can’t give a particular moment when God’s silence began speaking to me. Was it when I stopped comparing myself to other people, and comparing my prayer life to their prayer lives? Or when I began to protest and express my anger not only to God but also towards God? Or when I simply began talking to Him as I would to a friend, in trust that though He is quiet, He still hears.

His silence began to feel lighter like cooling summer breezes instead of scorching desert winds. His silence became more like an invitation to be more real rather than a rejection of who I am. His silence allowed me to present my innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires to Him. His silence gave me space to kneel and to outstretch my arms to the infinite and holy. His silence gave me my voice.

Then I am silent….

And it is He who speaks all the time.

Shameless self-promotion

In a very non-Asian move, I’m shamelessly promoting what felt like a self-absorbed post (if you’re going to break cultural taboos, then you might as well do as many as you can). At the API Women in Leadership Conference, I met some very cool people. One of them was the contributor to Mirrored Reflections: Reframing Biblical Characters and the editor of AAWOL. I was quite surprised when she asked me to contribute to AAWOL. Here’s my first entry for them, and you can read more insightful entries from Asian American Women leaders at http://aawolsisters.com/

On a side note, my hope is that someone, who perhaps is going through or has gone through similar experiences would know that they’re not alone. That just because they don’t see the possibilities, doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

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This wasn’t my dream.

If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing in five year’s time, I would have given you a blank, helpless look. What I did know was that I was coming to a crossroads and a choice had to be made. My passion was for the Church but my paycheck came from my day job. For years I had been deeply dissatisfied with what I was doing, but I had no idea what else I could do. I had no vision of what my life could or should be.

Thoughts of going into seminary kept returning to me. If full-time ministry was a goal, it seemed logical to acquire theological training. But I didn’t even know what kind of ministry I wanted to do. The available and acceptable positions I saw for a young woman at that time were for children or youth ministry. Were there no other possibilities? The Chinese church where I came to faith in had no female elders and no female pastors, at least until the time I began considering seminary for they had just hired a female children’s pastor. They rarely had female speakers and when they did, the women “shared” instead of preached. I was discouraged, by people in authority, from considering seminary on account of being a woman. Ministry would be too difficult, they said, because the opportunities would be so few. It seemed that life would be simpler if I just stuck to my job. Still, there was a restlessness in my spirit.

Eventually, after much questioning and probing, I made the jump. In 2008, I quit my work and moved to Vancouver to attend graduate Christian theological studies. I went into the MDiv program because I thought it would open more doors. While studying, to my surprise, I began to receive a call into pastoral ministry. I reacted in panic and terror. It dawned on me that I was the only Canadian Asian woman in the MDiv program. Not only that, I still didn’t know of any Asian Canadian women pastors. I felt alone and the thought of trail-blazing into the battlefields of ministry was anything but encouraging.

What settled my heart was repeated assurance from God. Assurance that I have been called. Assurance that women were welcomed by Jesus. Assurance that my identity as a Chinese-Canadian woman was not a problem for God, but a gift from Him.

So it is with a strange and wonderful sense of awe that I can be composing this post for AAWOL. I am now a newly-installed pastor of a local community church. I haven’t been alone for I have been supported by mentors, friends, and family. Five years ago, I could not dream that I would be here and doing what I’ve been grown to love. This wasn’t my dream, but I have a suspicion that it has been God’s dream and God’s doing all along.