More Than Serving Tea


Book Club: Lean In With a Men’s Book Club

My problem with Sandberg’s “Lean In” is that men who should read the book, who need to read the book, may not pick it up because it’s for women.

Most of the leadership books I’ve read are men’s books – leadership seen and practiced through the lens of men & masculinity in a business world developed by and and for men. I read, interpret, contextualize, and adapt the material through my lens as a Christian Asian American woman. But I read them. Lencioni. Maxwell. Depree. Covey. Rath & Conchie. Collins. Gladwell. Their books aren’t touted as men’s leadership development books, but they are written through that lens. Any personal stories included in the text reflect it. Sometimes their acknowledgements reflect it. And if I wanted to get really nit picky about it I would say most of these business leadership books (and even the Christian leadership books) are written through the lens of White majority male culture, even as our country’s population makes a shift away from a single majority.

My experience as an author for “More Than Serving Tea” only confirmed what I had suspected for years. The book was written by women for women, but never meant to be exclusively for women. Male pastors told me they had recommended the book to the women in their churches though they themselves had never read the book! Why not? Because why would a male pastor need to read a book that might minister and connect with more than half of their congregation?

So it came as a bit of a surprise to be asked to be a part of a book club discussion on “Lean In” with a group of Christian men. Deep respect for Fred Mok, English pastor at Chinese Church in Christ – South Valley in San Jose, CA, who cold-contact emailed me.

“I found your blog through your book and noticed you’ve been reading through ‘Lean In’.

 Our church men’s group  (4-5 guys) is going to be reading “Lean In” as our next book and would love to have a phone or Skype interview with you about the book as part of our club. This would be a great opportunity to get a prominent Asian American Christian woman’s perspective on some important issues.”
We set a time, and the men sent me the following set of questions to get me thinking about what they were wondering.
1) One of your recent blog posts mentions self-promotion. This is a value vital to success in Western society. But as Asian American Christians, we are not subject to those values. What might it look like to honor our Asian American communal and self-effacing heritage and lead in Western society without the arrogance of self-promotion?
2) Based on your blog post about “If I wasn’t Afraid?” you talked about Sandberg’s motivation “comes in to nudge me back”. What does that mean? What do you need to be nudged back from? Did you mean nudged forward, since Sandberg’s emphasis is to motivate women to be more aggressive in their approach to getting ahead in the workforce? But, if you did mean “nudged back”, then what conflicts as a Christian women and mother is nudging you back?
3)  In chapter 1, Sandberg discusses gender stereotypes and how this starts with children. (For example, bottom of page 20 and following.) Certainly it has been cited for many years, the types of toys given to boys versus girls, and the examples of wood or metal shop versus cooking classes. What is your ‘take’ on this?  To what degree is nature versus nurture playing a role?
4) To what degree does the church cast women into stereotypic roles? Can you discuss any personal examples?
5) How does being married to an Asian American man make it more difficult or easier to take a seat at the table? [does being married to an Asian American man put you at a disadvantage from someone like Sandberg? Do we, as Asian American men, have more expectations for our wives]
6) If you were to give advice to your daughter about pursuing a career, how close would you hew to Sandberg’s party line to “lean in”?
7) What’s it worth from a kingdom of God perspective for women to experience increased corporate advancement [Sandberg’s goal]? 
8) In chapter 4, Sandberg writes about careers are more like a jungle gym than a ladder – but what’s driving jumping from one job to another? From this chapter, it seems like money. Get in early and get rich. She says she joined Google because she believed deeply in their missions. What’s that? How did that change when she jumped to Facebook?
Easy. Right?
What I walked away with was a deep sense that our time on Skype was an example of iron sharpening iron. It’s easy for me to pontificate and then pat myself on the back after I blog. I don’t do this for a living. I have a limited readership. It’s a platform but not really. I have some skin in the game, but I can disappear for the summer like I did.
But when one of the men asked me why women needed a voice at the table, why did it matter that women aren’t equally represented in various public and private arenas I had to stay engaged and talk with him. He was being honest and sincere, not belligerent or snarky in the way a tweet or blogpost could be construed. He thought it was good for women to be in politics and business, but he really wanted to understand why this book and the issue of gender equality was so important to me as a sister in faith.
And I had to take a quick breath and not put up my guard, not go on the offensive and charge into the conversation like I had been attacked, because I hadn’t. I had to remind myself this wasn’t a debate, but I could learn to lean in by listening to his question and his tone of voice and responded honestly and openly.
I said women may have more opportunities open to them now, but because we haven’t legally been allowed in the game as long as men there was some catching up to do. I mentioned that women’s suffrage had been legally secured less than a century ago, that women have not had the same access to education, and that women are still paid less for the doing the same jobs men do. I talked about the challenges women of color face – the ugly complexity of racism combined with sexism. And that I stressed that because we women experience the world differently we bring a unique voice, leadership, and influence.
I also had space to explain that there is a time and place for men’s groups, just like the very book club these men had formed, but that even in that space there was a missing piece as they delved into a book written through a lens with which they were unfamiliar – a woman’s voice and experience.
And right then and there I think there was a moment of understanding. We may not fully understand each other, and we may not even fully agree with one another. But we can really hear, listen to, and learn from one another.

Book Club: Lean In & If I Wasn’t Afraid

Female accomplishments come at a cost. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, p. 17

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? p. 25

I’m finally at chapter one. Now, that isn’t to say I won’t jump back to the introduction.

Working in vocational ministry for 15 years as a married mother of one, two, and then three has come with great joy, transformation and cost. It’s easier to celebrate the joy and transformation, but it has not served me to dismiss the cost of pursuing this particular call as an Asian American Christian woman.

In the eyes of most of my family I still do not have a real job; as an Asian American woman “family” does not (if ever) mean my nuclear family. It means FAMILY – nuclear, of origin, and in-law with varying generational depths spanning continents and time. Despite working 40+ hours in this faux-job, the individual funding model used to raise support does not do me any favors. Traditional networks for missionary support require involvement in traditional evangelical networks from which I do not come from.

In the eyes of the Asian, and particularly the Korean-,  American evangelical church in the Midwest I am a bit of a anomaly, which is a polite way of saying I don’t fit. It ties back to vocational ministry not being a real job. I am not a pastor, nor am I a pastor’s wife. I am not a youth director, children’s pastor or women’s pastor. I am not credentialed – no MDiv, no M anything (not even Mrs. since I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married), no ordination. We women are making strides, but one of my flaws is my impatience.

And there has been a cost to my husband and family. Imagine our horror when a pastor met privately with my husband about my behavior. Actually, I wasn’t surprised, which is the horror of it all.

It’s not all bad, not all horrible, but at a recent book club discussion I did share with my fellow readers and women that I am a bit tired of blazing trails. It gets lonely. It gets hard, confusing, and exhausting.

Which is where part of Sandberg’s motivation for her book comes in to nudge me back.

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?  Actually, the question for me goes back a step. Why and of what am I afraid of? My faith should inform me. The Lord is my shepherd, and I lack nothing. The psalmist writes the same Lord “delivered me from all my fears” .

I am afraid of failing. Of success. Of disappointing others. Of trying too hard to please others. Of losing myself.

But if I wasn’t afraid, what would I do?

When I wasn’t afraid I managed to repel off of a mountain face in Colorado. I helped write a book. I told my husband to get his mother out of the delivery room. I asked a stranger if she was going to be OK because the young man she was with was yelling at her. I told people I was still sad, months after a miscarriage and years after my youngest child almost died. I asked for a brief leave of absence from work when things were getting emotionally difficult.

The Lord is my shepherd.

What are you afraid of? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 


Book Club: Leaning In Into the Unknown

My husband just dropped me off at the airport. I haven’t seen my daughter all day. My two sons put themselves to bed. At least, I think they did.

I’m leaning in, and I have no idea what I am doing. I wish I had a clearer picture, but I don’t.

Sojourners and its founder Jim Wallis wanted to invest in a group of emerging leaders – not emerging as in the emerging church but emerging as in developing, in process, growing. I am honored to be a part of this group, and from the initial invitation I have been challenged to reconsider my presence, privilege, and power. I have asked myself what a suburban wife of one, mother of three is doing in a room with national leaders in social justice, advocacy, and public policy. I am not a pastor, social justice worker, founder of anything.

But apparently those weren’t the only qualifications. I continue to wrestle with the imposter syndrome, wondering when someone will figure out I actually DON’T belong in he room.

Have you ever felt that way?

But here I am waiting for my flight to D.C. – the last flight out today so I could catch my son’s last middle school band concert and still make it in time for the morning session.

My husband, as usual, told me I had to do this. And since he hears this so rarely…

He was right. I had to do this. Sandburg’s big picture message for women is that we shouldn’t take ourselves out of the game until we have to. That means silencing self-doubt, even when it’s REALLY LOUD. It means listening to God and knowing the talents and gifts He has given us are to be stewarded and developed, not buried, ignored, diminished, or disregarded.

I’m scared. I’m intimidated. I’m confused. I’m excited. I’m open to learning, failing, and leaning in.

Is it OK to admit all of those things?

Will you still like me? Wink, wink.


Book Club: Lean In & the Dirty “A” Word

Ambition.

Good Christians usually don’t talk about ambition. Maybe we call it “holy ambition” because if we add “holy” it makes it OK. I’ve read some of the Christian response to “Lean In”, and in a nutshell my take is that we Christians are uncomfortable with ambition. I’m afraid, however, that perhaps we have mistaken humility as the antithesis of ambition. 

And as a result Christian women maybe even more uncomfortable with ambition. I’m uncomfortable talking about it with Christian women until we’ve established some level of safety. I need to know they won’t judge me. That they won’t think I don’t love my children or my husband or my gender because I am considering applying for a promotion.

Sheryl Sandberg is in your face about it.

“This book makes the case for leaning in for being ambitious in any pursuit,” p. 10 (see, still in the intro!)

Any pursuit. Hmmmm. 

As Christian woman I have found it much more acceptable to be ambitious on the home front. Live for your kids and husband, perhaps in that order, because your husband isn’t around during the day and part of the evening, but that’s another chapter. Keep a clean and orderly home. Buy, make, grow, or raise the best, healthiest what-would-Jesus-eat food for your family. Be crafty and a wise steward of money. Be a godly wife and mother.

And that works well, particularly if you are married with children, and that life is something you want and you and your husband willingly agree to.

But not all of us Christian women want that. I want some of that, but I also want to work outside of my home. I enjoy teaching, preaching, speaking, and training. I love it, really. I enjoy writing, and I want to do more of it because (and I say this in a hushed voice) I think I’m good at it.  I enjoy developing those skills as much as I enjoy hearing my husband unload the dishwasher (he really is doing that right now) after I’ve whipped up an amazing meal (that I didn’t do tonight). 

My Christian Asian American parents helped me pay for college, and I enjoy stewarding that gift by also stewarding my gifts of leadership outside of the home. But I know that they have mixed feelings about my sister being a stay-at-home mom after getting a degree in business and about the amount of travel I choose to take on even though I have a husband. 

I just don’t know if it’s OK to say that I have ambitions outside of my home. My home life ambitions have been affirmed in Church. My professional ones? Not so much.

 

Is it OK to tell people I have ambitions? Do you tell people you have ambitions? Would you describe yourself as ambitious? 


Book Club: Lean In & #firstworldproblems

“But knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.” Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, p. 5

“It could always be worse” has never been a salve for my soul. Knowing that someone is suffering more than I am doesn’t make me feel better. It usually makes me feel worse. The #firstworldproblems meme meant to be a bit cheeky, snarky and thoughtful (?) makes me think I spend too much time online and not enough time actually trying to change the things I can change.

There are the little things, the personal things I can change. Turn that frown upside down. Go to bed at a decent time. Walk to the library. Recycle. Reuse. Compost. Garden.

But what are the things that require a bit more heavy lifting? Sandberg’s book has gotten me thinking about leadership and the many venues in which a woman’s leadership can play out. Where do we see the problems and then choose to make the effort to make them better?  Certainly women choosing to lead doesn’t  just mean pregnant women get special parking (though that would’ve been great when I was pregnant with my first child), right?

In my evangelical faith circles, I have to dance this complex dance of affirming God’s will, working within cultural and organizational boundaries/rules/expectations, being encouraging as well as challenging, blessing others to make choices I would never make, asking for the blessing for choices I make that others would never make, and making sure it is all done in prayer, reflection, community, and humility. Sandberg hints at and takes some shots at complexity because she chooses to bring her gender and life stage into play, but in the end many of the solutions are appropriately business-like – cut and dry, you will either choose to lean in or not.  After all of the late night conversations over tears and tissues with girlfriends and female colleagues about the challenges of leading while wearing a bra, I appreciate reading a woman’s voice telling me “we can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today” (p. 9).

So, who are the women who are  making things better? Who are the women you all look at examples of this?

I can think of several. Nikki Toyama-Szeto. Joanna Lee. Janet Cho. Jessica Lynn Gimeno. They are just some of the women I look to because they are doing more than laughing over #firstworldproblems and living out Jesus’ prayer in their spheres of influence: Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

 


Did She Cross a Line?

If you haven’t read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (pepy3, where are you on the waitlist?) I humbly suggest you put your name on the library waiting list, borrow a copy from one of your friends or buy one if you’re the type who likes to own books. I finished the book last month, but it’s following my soul.

It’s a story about Southern African American women who work as housekeepers, nannies and personal chefs  and the Southern White women they worked for. It’s about each group of women and their communities, friendships, mothers and children, and the unspoken and explicit rules that governed their complex relationships across racial, socio-economic and even religious lines.

One thing that I’m still wondering about and thinking through is the author’s own admission that she has and had feared her narrative, particularly writing in the voice of African American women, had crossed “the line”. Clearly, the story she wanted to tell required multiple voices, but by her own admission she acknowledges that while our recent history used laws to draw the line some lines are beyond the scope of law and policy.

A few of us from book club took a field trip to see and hear Kathryn Stockett at a reading/Q and A/book signing earlier this week in Lake Forest. (A little shout-out to “M” who snagged a seat in the front, which meant she was one of the first in line to have her book signed and agreed to take additional copies belonging to Bedtime Stories members to be signed. “M” also asked a great question about the author’s own journey in understanding race and racism – much better than the question asked by the lady behind me who apparently thought there were no significant Southern voices after Eudora Welty from whom Stockett could draw inspiration from. I suppose no one has ever heard of Harper Lee or Zora Neale Hurston…) Anyway, Stockett briefly addressed the real-life complexity of the relationship between White families and their “help” as well as her personal concerns about telling a fictional story by assuming the voices of African American women.

It was slightly amusing and ironically appropriate to be sitting there in a room that was predominantly White and looked like a dress-rehearsal for a Chicos/Talbots/White|Black fashion show to hear Stockett talk about her teenage years when she, by her own admission, was naive and unaware of the rules of race and class even though she had been adhering to them in one way or another her entire life. It was just the way it was and there we were just the way it is.

But does it matter that Stockett is a Southern White woman who was raised by Demetrie, her family’s “help”, and is now telling a fictional Demetrie’s story? Were you worried as you cracked open the book or did it not even cross your mind to worry? Is there really a line and did she cross it by assuming the voices of Aibilene, Minny and Constantine? Was it too much? Or is it a line we should all be crossing?


Why Can’t I Just Shut Up?

I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.

My parents did the best they could, teaching me to be appropriately silent first in the way children are supposed to be silent and then in the way young ladies are to be silent. Opinions are best left in the head, and simply naming my alma mater should be enough to gauge intelligence. Words, particularly spoken ones from my mouth, aren’t necessary. Besides, who would want their son to marry an outspoken, opinionated woman? Those traits aren’t high on the “myuh-new-ree” (daughter-in-law) list.

There are times when the properly trained Asian American woman-ness kicks into high gear, almost as if someone dialed me up to “11”. I can smile, nod, look like I am in agreement with whatever is being said and then walk away without a word. It happens, I swear.

My parents also knew enough to know that some things were irreversible. We were here in America, and one day (or almost 40 years) their firstborn would be an American. They struggled to keep the “Korean” first through language, dance, songs, food, worksheets and flashcards and hyphenated “America” by reminding me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or is the oil?

I suppose that is part of growing up part of a generation raised to be bicultural – Korean and American – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects.

So there are times when I get squeaky. The dial gets turned the other way, and I can’t shut up. The raging extrovert in me, the angry Asian American woman who is tired but clearly not tired enough to shut up comes out and I hate when that happens because I hate that I feel like I should apologize for bringing to the conversation a different voice, a different perspective.

I can talk about things other than race, gender or class. It’s not always about race or gender or class. But many times race or gender or class (or all of the above) are in play. And the other night it was soooo easy. We were discussing The Help
, and there are still hours of thoughts and questions inside my head. Last night was just a taste. Why couldn’t we have started out with something lighter like a Nicholas Sparks book? Bahhhh!

No spoiler alert here for those of you who are still on the library’s list for the book or in the process of reading it. You know that the book touches on issues of race, gender, class, friendship and love. And if you read this blog you know that those issues are what keep us here in this cyberspace.

But those issues are uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy to go from discussing our feelings about a book to how those feelings translate into real life when it’s all so new and we don’t yet know our similarities let alone our differences. But how could I not talk about how I see life in our town as being different but not so entirely different than what we had just read? How could I not bring up how the rules of engagement between the junior league women and their help are as subtle and dangerous as describing “suspicious” cars and their drivers in broad generalities? Don’t we still have subtle lines drawn and communicated about who belongs where? How could any of us read the book and not choose to be uncomfortable if not for one night?


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

I love a good book, and Wednesday night is “Bedtime Stories” – the book club my neighbor and I started. I’m hoping the name catches on. Anyway, we will be meeting to talk about our first book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which I’ll blog about later. But finishing our first book means needing to have suggestions for our next book.

We aren’t book snobs – any genre will do, and a book that has already been out for a few years is preferred. That way we have a better chance of getting it for everyone through our public library system.

So, which five books would you recommend and why?


Making New Friends

I’m not “new” to the neighborhood, but there have been many days where I have felt deeply the absence of good friends nearby. I spent way too much time in crisis-mode (work transitions and conflict, church transitions and conflict, MIL’s cancer and death, FIL’s transition, son’s brush with death, and too many problems with the house) to be bothered with making friends. There didn’t seem to be enough time to make new friends, but just enough time to know I needed some.

In college I was blessed, truly blessed, to have made several life-long friends. We have weathered life’s transitions and remain close, even when time and distance make intimate friendship inconvenient. When I think of friends who will be with me when my parents leave me and see Jesus or be with me when my kids get married I think of a special group of friends. They are all Christians. They are all Asian American. They are all now married and mothers. We have had shared experiences during college and common childhood/cultural experiences. Our value systems are the same. Our life stages currently are the same.

Making new friends and then nurturing those friendships into deeper friendships can be difficult. Why? Because I’m a sinner, broken, crooked-hearted and selfish. Just ask my husband. My insecurities get in the way, and then when someone else’s garbage meets mine it’s just a bigger pile of garbage, most days. Because I find being friends with people who are more like me in race, ethnicity, age, education, life-stage, etc. easier – less explaining and wondering about the big things and little things that make me who I am. The broader the common ground the easier it is to walk on together.

But as we’ve shed our college lives and expectations behind, my college girlfriends and I have realized that even with so many things in common maintaining and deepening friendships takes work. And at the end of the day, venting on a blog post isn’t nearly as fun as calling up a friend.

So what do you do to meet new people and deepen friendships?

I have learned to be honest. Honestly, I can be stand-offish and intimidating. To quote “Up In the Air” – I type with purpose. I walk with purpose. I talk with purpose. And just like in the movie it can look like I’m really angry. My mom has told me that I have a hardened look on my face and that I need to smile and soften the intensity. I was angry with her for a long time over that comment, and then I realized she was right. I hate that.

A little bit of honesty and lots of forgiveness, grace and love from others, especially Jesus, has allowed me to step into situations and create situations that make friendship possible.

I’m looking forward to an overnight with a group of women I’ve been slowly getting to know over the past two years. I’m excited to find out what we may have in common other than our children attending school together and our delightful personalities. I’m relieved to find out  I wasn’t the only one wondering what others were going to pack and wear, and I wasn’t the only one who was going to make a beeline to the hot tub. The only other times I’ve done something like this have been in safety with friends I’d known deeply for years. This is new.

Another thing I’m trying is to use my mad e-mail skills and gather people together. I had heard of some local neighborhood book clubs and felt sorry for myself that no one had ever invited me to join. Well, here in America if you can’t join them, throw your own party (hee, hee). I shared my book club fantasy – a room full of women with diverse viewpoints and experiences and sharing their interactions with a common book over a glass of wine and laughter. It was creating space for relationships to develop into friendships. I’m not expecting a room full of new best friends, but I am hopeful for the possibilities.

And I guess that is the third thing I’m trying. I’m trying to be hopeful for the possibilities.

So what has helped you make new friends and stay hopeful in friendships? What do you do together that has made your friendships richer and deeper? What are the roadblocks that you keep coming up against?