More Than Serving Tea


How To Build Your Platform. A Gentle Warning.

Isn't this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What's wrong with you?

Isn’t this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What’s wrong with you? These are my favorite, but I do wish I had bought both patterns of the same shoe because these are so comfy.

 

Now that I have your attention…

I’m not exactly sure on how to build a platform, and by platform I do not mean shoes or a stage. I know shoes, but I am not a carpenter. I am talking about social media platforms, and there actually are experts out there. It’s a thing. Just google it. The experts talk about platform, branding (which I associate with advertising and cattle, but that is another topic for another day), messaging, consistency, etc. I occasionally read about building a platform because I have promised a certain editor or two book proposals multiple times, and book proposals in today’s market require some knowledge or understanding of platform. The experts KNOW. I’m not sure but I have some thoughts and warnings.

  1. Just because you have traffic doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. Deep down we all get a rush knowing the traffic on your blog ticked up or a tweet was retweeted, etc. Admit it. If you can’t admit it, you’re not being honest. And if you’re not being honest, then you will never be able to handle reality which is traffic does not equal your best content. My highest traffic posts involved some megachurch pastor who never communicated with me personally. Those posts were not my best content. Those posts were not examples of my best writing. IF you are just looking to increase traffic write about sex, Game of Thrones, megachurch pastors, or sex.
  2. Just because you don’t have traffic doesn’t mean you’re bad writer. Some of my best posts are the ones that sit there and are read quietly by my dear readers, who don’t number in the thousands but more in the hundreds. In fact, yesterday there were only 42 readers on this blog. I have less than 300 people following my blog.
  3. When you write from your heart, pray while you write, edit, and before you hit “publish”. And keep praying. Much of what I write about hits at the intersection of gender, faith, race, and ethnicity. It’s not everyone’s “thing” but it is the thing that God has compelled me to write and speak about. That intersection is what catches my heart and keeps me up at night because it affects the way I heard and hear God. It also makes people upset, angry, defensive. Racism and sexism are touchy subjects amongst the church-going crowd. If you are writing to build a platform, I humbly suggest you reconsider your motives. Writing for an audience is soul-bearing work. It’s work. It’s a discipline. Just like praying.
  4. Engage with your readers not your critics. My dear readers are thoughtful. They respond with open hearts and honest questions. Writers should engage with their readers. However, when my stats go through the roof because I’ve written a controversial post or about something that became a controversy I get crazy comments and crazier personal messages that demand I repent, retract, kowtow, etc. Am I judging those commenters? Yes. Those commenters usually are not regular readers and their comment is a critique. I let my readers respond to them. That’s right. Let your readers engage with your critics. If your readers are like mine they are thoughtful and sharp, and they will call out a troll when they see one.
  5. If you are serious about building your platform you have to be committed to writing consistently. This is where I offer advice I have heard but have not taken. I am not building my platform. I write when I want to write because this isn’t my livelihood nor is “writer” my primary vocation. However, I have been putting much more thought into being a better, more consistent blogger for my own development as a writer and for my readers who deserve more than a post here and there every few weeks.

For my fellow writer/speaker friends and readers out there, what have you learned about building your platform? What words of advice, warning, and encouragement can you give?

 

 

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I Emailed Pastor Rick Warren & There Is No “If”

This is it, I guess.

This is it, I guess.

I guess this is it. This. Warren has apologized.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. Reconciliation comes with time and more often than not at great cost. This is no picnic or attempt at building a reputation or platform at the expense of someone else.

A wonderful opportunity to engage publicly, because that is where this whole thing started, on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission, in the Gospel, was missed. Poof. Context, words, forum, influence matter. They are not “secular” things we Christians need not worry about. Jesus knew his audience, context, words, power of place and space. (If you’re not sure about this, I would be thrilled to walk you through a manuscript study of the book of Mark.)

For those of you just tuning in, please start here and then I would suggest going herehere or here. This is Day Four, and in social media time that means you are probably late to the party. Here is a quick synopsis.

  1. Monday morning Rick Warren posts an image of a female Red Guard with the caption. “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
  2. Hours later there are many, many Facebook posts by people concerned about the use of the image, evoking the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, and trying to connect that with a church staff’s attitude. There are also commenters rebuking people for communicating their hurt and concern over the image.
  3. By 8:30 am Monday morning, Warren responds with this: People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines – jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!”
  4. By Tuesday afternoon Warren’s controversial post, image and comment thread and tweet connected to that thread are erased, which is why I have chosen to leave all images and posts, and to quote directly when possible.
  5. Tuesday night I sent him a personal email so that I could Matthew 18 the situation.
  6. Tuesday night I received what appears to be a standard response indicating that there will be a response to me forthcoming. As of this morning (Thursday), there is not.

Automated response. I get it. I really do. I don’t have followers or a congregation. I have three kids. My automated response is, “In a minute.”

I am going to break this down for clarity sake because I and others who have been vocal about this have been accused of being un-Christian, mean, thin-skinned, sensitive, unaware of how much Warren’s ministry has done, racist, stupid, and all sorts of things we grown-ups hopefully are not teaching the children in our midst to call other children. I am breaking it down because sometimes, as a bicultural woman, I think I am being direct, but, because of multiple cultural influences on my language and approach, folks who lean more towards the Western culture find my Asian American tendencies indirect. Let’s break this down and put this puppy to rest. I’ve been here before. I suspect I will be here again. Every time I learn something new.

So, here is the dilemma. Do I think so highly of myself to think that Warren’s apology and reference to an email is actually about me? That is ridiculous. I know there were others who emailed him. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Warren is talking about my email, which I re-read. I never say “I am offended”. I had a lot of questions because I wanted to understand. I wanted to hear and open up dialogue because I didn’t understand Warren’s logic, humor or joke. I really didn’t understand why Warren’s supporters would then try to shut down those who were offended (and I include myself in the camp of those hurt, upset, offended AND distressed) by telling us/me to be more Christian like they themselves were being.

There is no “if”.  I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image and then Warren then told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated.

I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom.

When apologizing you do not put the responsibility of your actions on the person who is hurt, upset, offended, or distressed. You do not use the word “if”. You do not communicate that the offense was to one person when, in fact, it was not. You clarify and take the opportunity to correct those who mistakenly followed your lead. Your apology is not conditional on the “if” because you should know because you have listened, heard, and understood the person you hurt, upset, offended, or distressed.

A dear, wise friend offered this rewrite:

“I am truly sorry for my offensive post and the insensitive comments that followed. Thank you for teaching me what I did not know. I need to be surrounded by people like you, who bring a perspective and experience I lack, so I can continue to learn.”

Words matter.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. This was not a pissing contest. This was and still is a wonderful opportunity to engage publicly and privately on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission.

 

 


Full-time Ministry and Motherhood

I’ve had another quiet spell on the blogging front. Writing energizes me, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for public consumption. The end of the year came and went, and Peter and I have spent quite a bit of time fixing the flaws to our calendaring system. If only our refrigerator had an iPad on it where our perfectly synced google and iCal calendars could appear in its rainbow glory.
This is a cheat blog post. The content appears in “Models of Ministry: Husband in the Workplace”, which is part of a resource developed for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff. It is linked on the staff website this month, which I didn’t know about until a few e-mails and Facebook posts alerted me to the fact that I had written something. While the following piece was written with InterVarsity staff in mind, I do believe that quite a bit of translates into a non-Christian ministry context. Every mom I know is a working mom, and for all of us parents, calendaring is a verb. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a paying job that is personally satisfying and has made me a better mother. Not everyone gets to say that.
But parenting is not easy. I have plenty of stories of bringing sick children to lie on the floor during meetings I had to run or leaving a grocery cart full of groceries in the store because when I say, “If you don’t stop (insert unacceptable behavior), we are leaving the store” I am not making an idle threat. So being a part of an entire resource for and about working mothers for the organization I work for and with was hardly work.
(For those of you who only “know” me through this blog or the book I helped author, I am a full-time working mother – the regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and am based out of my pretty green home office. For more information please visit www.intervarsity.org and if what you see makes you want to be a part of what I do, feel free to join my financial support team by going to www.intervarsity.org/donate/to/kathy_khang ).

What were the key factors shaping your choice of model for ministry and motherhood?
I had already been in the marketplace for five years, gotten married and had my first child when I made the move to join InterVarsity staff. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a working mom just because I was going into campus ministry…until I realized there were so few of us.

What was most difficult or challenging about your choice?
Hands-down childcare was and continues to be the most difficult and challenging part of the decision because it affects my family and my personal development. Campus ministry doesn’t fit neatly into daycare hours, nor does the level of financial compensation fit easily into the cost of quality childcare. Overnight student retreats and staff meetings and travel have required constant negotiation with family, friends, supervisors and colleagues. And because my husband is not on staff, has a set schedule, and has limited flexibility and because taking advantage of any flexibility has a direct impact on our finances, figuring out how to manage two careers takes a great deal of energy, planning, communication and grace.

During my CSM days I was blessed by a wonderful group of students who watched my kids for free as their ministry to the chapter, freeing me up to meet with other students while they fed my kids jellybeans and McDonald’s and pored love and affection on them. But it was never easy or seamless.

My husband and I decided that we would do our best to schedule my job around his for very practical reasons – his job paid more. That meant staying part-time because the full-time job required three weeks at Chapter Focus Week as well as additional area, divisional, regional and national meetings that did not and could not offer childcare.

I made the choice to put personal leadership development and training on a much slower track in order to accommodate my family’s needs and time limitations. It also meant feeling like I had no choice but to say “no” to many wonderful opportunities to teach or be trained, and digging deep into fears that saying “no” too many times would mean the invitations would dry up. To be honest, some opportunities do dry up but others have come back around now that I am full-time and my children are all in school.

My childcare needs have continued to change as the kids have gotten older, entered school, added activities, etc. and as my roles and my husband’s career demands have changed. We are frequently at our desk with our calendars mapping out requests for time-off, adjusting doctor’s appointments, notifying the school and teachers to call Peter in case of an emergency because I am out of town. It has forced us to communicate better.

What have you valued or appreciated about your choice?
Being on staff with InterVarsity has been a gift to me and to my family. It has not been easy, and I often step back to make sure this decision is right for this time in my life and in my family’s life. The choice gave my husband and me a chance to put our values into practice and honor our marriage vows in tangible ways. Honoring one another in a two-career family has required some difficult, heartfelt, honest, conversations about ambition and opportunities and sacrifice.

I can still find myself envying staff couples who would serve their weeks at Chapter Focus week or attend staff conferences and still have vacation time to spend together. For us those situations have required us to either use my husband’s vacation time to stay home with the kids, for the family to come with me at our cost or for me to ask my supervisors to be excused from meetings, conferences and training. It has meant being sure of the calling but uncertain about the intensity or feasibility of pursuing that call at various points in our family’s life.

But all of those choices have in turn opened up an extended family to us. Alumni and fellow staff who met my children when they were young enough to nap in a carseat in the corner or stay busy with a few coloring books when I was able to attend meetings don’t see them as often but from a distance continue to watch Bethany, Corban and Elias grow up, and they have been blessed through a few key relationships developed through my years on staff. My kids look forward to Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus and talk about the various conferences and retreats, which to them have been mini-vacations with an ever-changing extended family.

It has also kept me honest and forced me to dig deep into my soul and then run to Jesus about my personal ambitions, frustrations, envy, calling and roles. There are roles and jobs I would be interested in pursuing, but I continue to need a job with some degree of flexibility because the public school system isn’t flexible and my husband’s boss’ vacation requests will always take priority over his.

What advice would you give to women as they’re considering what path is appropriate for them?
You need to do three things: pray, talk with your husband and find support. Whether you choose to stay on staff or leave, and whether or not your husband is on staff, you need to pray and sit at Jesus’ feet because there are many things motherhood will make you worry about. Whatever you decide you may have moments of regret, of feeling like you’ve lost a part of your identity, etc. Be with Jesus first.

And then talk with your husband. There is nothing as demanding as parenthood (well, maybe caring for an aging parent, but that’s another discussion), and I’m not close to being done yet. Your choice may be crystal clear so talk about it with your husband so that when the decision doesn’t seem so clear the patterns of communication are set and they are strong.

Pull out your calendars, know what your babysitter can or cannot do (Evenings? Weekends? Overnight care? Sick child childcare?) You will need to look at the realities of your schedules. How flexible is your husband’s career? How will his schedule look against your schedule work with consideration to childcare? How will scheduling demands affect your effectiveness? Will you or your husband run home from a meeting to pick up your kid from school because she has a fever? Will it always be you because your students will understand or will you take turns? How will you help your husband understand your job and InterVarsity when some of your donors or students don’t even understand all that you do and the importance of it?

How can you explain to your husband (and children) that the emotional intensity at the recent set of meetings means that even if you are “home” by 5 p.m. you aren’t really ready to get dinner ready before he gets home or to appreciate the dinner he made before you got home? The topics and scenarios are endless.

Nothing makes you look crazier than putting on a Wonder Woman costume every day. We are not supermoms and we’re not meant to do this alone. Don’t let the brokenness of our culture and our families isolate you and let you think you have to or should do this alone.

Find a mom’s group or a group of moms who may not have chosen your exact path but support you, pray with you and for you, ask you challenging questions that bother you until you have to go pray and journal. Find women who are single, widowed, empty-nesters from whom you can learn from and with whom you can also find a different audience for the things you’ve learned as well.

Oh, and let me add a fourth – don’t judge. Whatever decision you make, you know it wasn’t a piece of cake. You may not make the same decision as I did, but one decision isn’t better than the other.

 


How Old is Old Enough: Facebook

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on Facebook and how old is old enough for Facebook.

My older son is in middle school and has periodically asked about FB, but he has not asked me often enough for it to be an issue. Yet. But I’m sure it will be because I am certain the day is coming when I will be told that he is the ONLY one at school who doesn’t have a FB page OR a cellphone.

My oldest was allowed a FB page before she started 8th grade. We agreed on the following restrictions:

  1. We would be her FB friends. We would not post obnoxious “We believe in you” messages on her wall or tag her baby pictures, but we wanted to be “there”.
  2. We would have her password.

Pretty straightforward. Over time there have been a few minor conversations –  photos I asked her to take down, inappropriate photos her friends have posted and that I can see because their privacy settings are so low that I can see them, etc.

But as any parent learns, each kid is different and each kid may grow up in the same home but in their own world. The three year gap between each kid means my oldest knew a few kids in 5th grade with cellphones and my youngest will know many more kids in his 5th grade year who own phones.

We are a wireless, electronic society. Our desire to be connected to one another has created entirely new ways of communicating (and spelling) bc its fastr 2 txt 2 ur bffs. My kids talk about “Skyping” their cousins instead of calling them. My older son has asked if I tweet. As a parent who wants to stay connected to her children and their lives, I continue to weigh the pros and cons.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed FB. Social media can be an amazing way to connect people, but I can waste a lot of time following tweets and status updates when I should be connecting with people face-to-face or, at the very least, by phone. There is much to be said about tone, inflection and pitch as well as facial expressions and physical posture. I can and do share a lot of information about myself through blogging and FB, but it’s far more difficult to convey emotions and interest. Personally I find it the easy way out to relate to someone. If someone pisses me off I can block them. If I piss someone else off they can block me without me knowing about it. It’s the electronic silent treatment. Honestly it can feel rather soulless and disingenuous, which is ironic for a generation demanding authenticity.

Back to FB and my son. What do you think? When is a kid old enough for FB? What other restrictions, concerns, issues should I be considering?


What Will the Terrible Twos Look Like?

Today marks two years since I jumped solo to start blogging here on WordPress. It has been…interesting. 😉

I started just before my youngest child entered first grade, which for me meant the end of the tunnel (one of many parenting tunnels). For those of you who are unfamiliar with that tunnel it starts the moment you give birth. Completely and utterly surprised, baffled and overwhelmed by the love and fear you have of raising said child takes over a part of your heart and soul and mind (the body part got taken over the second you got pregnant). For me the light at the end of the tunnel was repeating the birth cycle two more times realizing that until the youngest entered full-day school I would always have a little person near by on days I wasn’t working outside of the home.

It was no coincidence that as several more hours of the day opened up that I jumped back into the silence and solitude of writing.

There are few interests that have been a continuous thread in my life, and writing has been one of them. Diaries with little brass locks, lined journals, blank-page sketch books and then clips and tear sheets documenting life and lives have always been a part of me though there was little room for personal reflection and pontificating during the moments my infants raced into childhood and now, for the oldest, to the brink of adulthood. Which is why the blog seemed to fit with my youngest entering full-day school. He was taking a big step forward as was I. I just didn’t get a cool new backpack and a magic penny to get me through the day.

So, happy birthday to More Than Serving Tea and many thanks to all of you who have made what happens in silence and solitude into a space we can hear, learn, encourage and, I hope, bless one another.

Just watch out. More Than Serving Tea is now two….


Blogging, Tweeting & Other Forms of Communication/Self-Promotion

I’ve been asked a number of times why I don’t “tweet”. To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s been fun blogging and trying to build time in each week to write a few posts. Gaining readership and seeing comments has made the moments of blogging drudgery worth it and incredibly fun. And, yes, it gives my ego a little boost.

Which is why I’m thinking about tweeting and spending a bit of time thinking about the dangers to my soul.

It’s that little voice inside my head – the self-doubt – that is met with equal voice and footing by another voice – the ego.

I need both to dance inside my head with some degree of balance and a good dose of Jesus. I am not the center of the universe and my words -whether through blogging, tweeting or speaking – cannot change the world. But I am part of the universe, and my words can do powerful things for good and for really, really bad.

Which is why I’m still thinking about tweets and whether or not it will be just another fun thing that God begins to use to shape me (which is what has been happening with the MTST book and then blog).

To tweet or not to tweet? Do you think Jesus would have tweeted? (JUST KIDDING!) Do you tweet or blog? Why or why not? Obviously you read blogs. Do you follow someone’s tweets? Why?


You Can’t Make Me But You Might Make Me Want To…Read This

Bloggers blog to have an outlet for the many thoughts cooped up in their heads. At least, that’s what I’d like to think. Sure, there are some who think their writing will compel thousands to instantaneously subscribe to their blog, which then leads them to fame and fortune.

I blog because I love to write, and it’s a bonus when my writing is good enough that it connects with you, challenges you, annoys you and makes you want to keep reading. The weird thing with blogging is that most bloggers I know want people to read their posts. You make it fun in a different way. The comments let us know you’re there, but there are ways to know that there are silent ones who read as faithfully as they can. Thank you. We/I can get needy that way, wanting readers. We’re very vain that way. We figure if we write it, it surely must be worth reading. But with a bajillion blogs out there it’s easy to get lost and be very lonely.

So in the spirit of broadening our RSS feeds, I’d love to know what blogs – other than More Than Serving Tea, of course – you follow and why.

Thanks!


Popular.

Being a published writer is a very strange thing indeed. I remember feeling grateful and proud when I saw my first byline, and I remember that More Than Serving Tea didn’t seem real until the first copies arrived at my home. I couldn’t believe someone was going to read what I had written.

But that’s when the fear and doubt really try to settle in and get comfortable. Getting published (or writing a public blog) doesn’t mean anyone is going to read what you wrote. It just means you’ve entered a new kind of crazy, manic, creative, wishful, hopeful, fearful place. Being published doesn’t mean having readers.

Blogging has opened up an entirely new avenue for writers to do just that – write and then hope their words will have readers who not only read what they’ve written but love it. Or at least like it enough. Is there anyone out there who blogs on a public blog and doesn’t want people to read it? You? You write a public blog but you don’t care if anyone reads it? Liar.

😉

We bloggers all have our good days when we write something that we think is funny or thoughtful or thought provoking, and our lovely readers concur. And then we have our bad days when inspiration never strikes or the words aren’t as clever or don’t turn quite right.

I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t know how many readers I have. It keeps me humble because most days here at More Than Serving Tea it’s a small but faithful bunch. It’s been fun over the two years or so to learn a little more about some of you, and even better to actually meet some of you (Alvin!).

But today (Friday) was not a good day or a bad day. It was weird. I was popular.

I’ve seen surges in my readership, especially when the likes of Scot McKnight or Sojourners crosspost or link to my blog. It is flattering because I respect both blogs and the communities that read those sites, and I’m grateful to have that exposure and mutual respect. And it is dangerous because I see how easily my humility turns false and gratitude for a God-given ability to write wants more than feeling God’s pleasure as I write. I want fame . Or at the very least some blogosphere popularity.

But today the blog stats were beyond anything I had seen, so initially I thought my post on keeping my mouth shut was beyond amazing. I still think I had a pretty good line or two and that the overall post was well-written, but that really wasn’t it. I lucked out and my post made some popularity list that I think is created randomly. I could say that it was a God-thing, and maybe it was. I’m pretty sure in some way it was. I just don’t think it was to make me popular and famous, per se. Popularity, even for one day, can feel like success, and even success is fleeting and misguided because it easily makes me stare at my bellybutton.

Today was a good lesson in popularity because I had it and I was “it”, and, friends, it is the same as it was in high school. Fast, flattering and fleeting. I can only hope that a handful of the many first-time readers (heck, I’d take one) would stick around for the ride to join the ranks of my long-time readers, first-time commenters. But that’s popularity.

I could work hard to try to be witty and write posts with popular tags in popular categories. I could try to be popular, but if today was a God-thing, God was giving me a tiny bit of space for me to think about why I gave a “bleep” about what other people think about my writing before I gave a moment’s thought to whether or not my words communicated integrity, faith, grace, hope and love.

Do I want to be popular first or do I want to be found faithful first?