More Than Serving Tea


The Vitamin L Diary: Fear, Faith & Deep Breaths

I see my doctor every six months to make sure the Vitamin L (Lexapro) is doing its thing. Today was that day, which included a flu shot (too late for poor Corban, my second) and an unexpected encounter with the bleeding woman and a dead girl.

My doctor asked me about my mood and whether or not I was having any anxiety attacks. I was honest, telling her there have been several times in the past six months where I have had to take some deep breaths and mentally go “there” – dig deep, to breathe, close my eyes literally or metaphorically, and slow…things…down…to figure out the trigger of the anxiety, the fear.

Instead of asking me about dosing alprazolam, she sent me to the very passage in the Bible that I had used a few weeks ago when preaching at the Asian American InterVarsity chapter at UW-Madison. She sent me to meet the bleeding woman and the dying girl.

My doctor and I have talked about the stigma of mental illness and of using drugs to help address depression and anxiety, and today she addressed it head on by reminding me not to be afraid of fear.

She said to remember that whenever God shows up in a big way, through angels or a vision, God says, “Do not be afraid” and then offers some sort of assurance that He is with them. That fear seems a rather natural physical and mental response, the kind that keeps people from speaking and acting, the kind expressed on your face or in your body language. Fear happens even in the God’s presence. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus encounters people who were afraid of the demon-possessed man, the bleeding woman who trembles with fear having been “caught” healing herself by touching Jesus’ cloak, and Jairus who is afraid because his daughter has died.

If that kind of fear and anxiety exists in scripture, why are we so afraid to deal with it?

I am certain there will be many moments and seasons of fear in my life. The drugs don’t make it all go away. They do not erase or eliminate emotions. But what I have found most freeing in this journey has been to take that which festers in the darkness and elicits fear and to bring it out whether through my blog or when I speak publicly. I do not want to be afraid of fear,

of anxiety,

of depression,

of what people think when the read whatever I’ve written and disagree with me,

of disappointing my husband or my kids or my parents (it’s a cultural thing),

of bombing a speaking gig or not doing what I imagine would be my “very best”.

I

do

not

want

to

be

afraid.

I want only to breathe and believe that God

is

with

me.

 

 

***Don’t worry. My doctor knows I am a Christian, and I have told her I welcome these candid conversations as she is taking my vitals and vaccinating me. I am blessed.***

 

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Voting:Responsibility or Privilege?

Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the  U.S. since the spring of 1971.

I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.

At the heart of my decision wasn’t the right to vote. It was an issue of integrity. As a writer/blogger/speaker who addresses issues of justice, culture, and faith I have a desire to understand and learn from others about policy and politics as it connects with living out my faith as an individual and as a part of a community. But it was one thing to talk about “the issues”, to take a stand, or to share my opinions. It was another thing to consider what responsibilities and privileges I had or could have at my disposal to steward well.

So next week will be my “first time” (I thought Lena Dunham’s ad was funny). This decision hasn’t been an easy one. Neither major party had me at hello. I am tired of my sons being able to repeat the script for multiple political ads. I do not believe Christians must vote with one party over the other.

But I am wondering if other Christians believe that Christian U.S. citizens must vote or should vote as a matter of stewarding the power and privilege they have in a process that impacts those who cannot represent themselves.

Will you be voting? Why or why not?


Saying “I Do” 6941 Days & Counting

Today my husband & I mark 19 years of marriage or 6941 days of choosing to say, “I do.”
Over the years whenever I have the ear of an excited bride- or groom-to-be I tell them to invest as much time into preparing for the marriage as they do for the wedding because with each day of marriage I have been reminded of how much grace, patience, faith, hope and love is required to make a marriage flourish.
And I don’t see any registries, wedding themes, or event planners offering those things. In fact, the very ‘things’ Peter and I stressed over, registered for, planned for or paid for captured, at most, a static snapshot of a day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our wedding photos (though I don’t know if I can say the same for our wedding video) and for the gifts the 1,000 guests at our big, fat Korean American wedding gave.
But as Peter and I get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I can’t overlook the more difficult days when I had to learn over and over again that the wedding was over but the marriage would require daily recommitments.
It was easy to throw a party at the beginning.
So here’s to saying, “I’m sorry” and knowing what I am sorry for. To asking for forgiveness and extending it generously. To saying, “I love you” when it was a choice. To recognizing when we needed help and getting it. To learning about bowling, movies, dentures, coffee makers, memoirs, composting and jewelry even when it wasn’t our thing. To encouraging each other to chase a dream or two. To learning some lessons faster than others and being grateful we haven’t yet given up learning the more difficult ones.
Today I again say, “I do.”


Moving From Fear to Faith to Belonging

Sometimes we agree to do risky things. I would have to say that agreeing to preach at my church on Mother’s Day was one of those things. Not only was I “Mom” I was “guest speaker/preacher”, and my church and I are still in what I would call the “pre-premarital counseling days” – we are getting to know each other after already having made an initial, mutual commitment to one another. But there is so much to learn about one another. And you, my lovely readers, know that I share quite a bit about myself and my faith. My preaching style reflects that, and I never know what God will do as people get used to the sound of my voice.

I felt very much in the zone this morning at both services, and was grateful at how I continued to hear God teach me thing about the passage. And the feedback was good, and I walked away grateful that God honored my faithfulness by helping many connect with God on this special day. Here is the script as I preached out of Mark 5:21-43.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am working on Mother’s Day.

To be frank, I am never quite sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. After I became a mother I became quite annoyed that only one day was set aside to celebrate my many accomplishments and contributions 😉

Yet, it’s honestly a tough time of the year. In fact, the entire month of May and the season of spring is fraught with complicated memories and emotions for me.

Thirteen years ago Peter and I welcomed spring with the grief of a miscarriage. I felt loss and a deep sense of shame that perhaps God was punishing me for my greediness. I already had a beautiful daughter. Friends and family tried to console me by reminding me of how lucky and blessed I already was with one child, almost taking away permission to grieve. Mother’s Day that year was complicated and I was afraid to hope for healing and for more children.

In 2005, we lost my mother-in-law, Rebekah Chang to kidney cancer and Mother’s Day that year was a bittersweet one as my husband continued to grieve his mother and I wrestled with how to properly grieve a MIL with whom I had had a tenuous relationship.

Spring usually marks a time of excitement in our home as school winds down and my kids look ahead to our annual trek to Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s training and conference center in the UP. Five years ago forever changed my relationship with that blessed place as in a matter five days Corban got hit in the head with a rock almost needing stitches; I threw out my lower back and was hobbling around as I lead evangelism training; my mother suffered a heart attack and was in ICU and then the final straw – a series of seizures (to this day unexplained) that put Elias on death’s edge. I left Cedar Campus having taught students to share the Good News of Jesus, wondering if God had abandoned me.

And ever since then, spring marked my annual anxiety and panic attacks and bouts of depression as my family and I begin to turn our minds towards Cedar Campus. Ever since 2006, May and the celebration of Mother’s Day has felt a little like holding my breath and waiting for the crashing wave to pass.

Last year, shortly after Mother’s Day I found myself in my kitchen overcome by a tearful anxiety attack recalling the events of five years past – seeing Elias seizing, Bethany surrounded by other staff kids her age praying with her and for us, Corban rushing towards the closing ambulance doors asking for one last hug and feeling nothing by mind-numbing fear.

Shortly after Mother’s Day last year asking God for strength and faith to face my fears and overcome the social taboos surrounding counseling and medical intervention and sought help from a counselor and my medical doctor to address my fears, anxiety and depression.

Mother’s Day is not easy. Some of you have lost your mothers. Some of you are anxiously awaiting a child. Some of the mothers here have lost children. And many women are not yet and may never be mothers. Some of you can’t for obvious reasons can’t be mothers. And for others, you have your own complicated relationship with Mother’s Day and spring. How can we hope and celebrate when the day-to-day realities don’t fit neatly on a greeting card?

This passage in the Gospel of Mark reminds us that Jesus’ ministry meant redefining categories and relationships and power. Jesus’ ministry is one of hope and healing where fear and dread have once lived. Here we see Jairus , a synagogue ruler, meeting Jesus out in the streets beyond the walls of the synagogue where he has authority, power and influence, falling at Jesus’ feet asking for Jesus to heal his “little daughter” who is 12-years-old. He asks for Jesus to place His hands on her, believing out of fear and desperation that Jesus’ touch is all that is needed.

But in the midst of this story comes along an unnamed woman, who from all that we can gather has no other family, no sons to speak on her behalf, no husband to represent her, no father to ask for her healing. She has been bleeding for 12 years, separating her from public life. Walking into public she must announce her condition yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no other is affected by her affliction. Hers must be a personal and separating suffering, but her actions mirror that of the synagogue ruler. She seeks Jesus out in public, but instead of asking for a face-to-face audience, the woman reaches out to simply touch Jesus’ garment. I wonder if she had known that Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter for surely in that time a true leader would show preference for a man and a male leader at that over a woman. But regardless, she reaches and immediately knows she has been freed. And Jesus knows power has gone out of him.

Imagine walking in the crowd at the Taste of Chicago and asking those around you, “Who touched me?” That’s just silly. And the disciples thought so too, answering rather sarcastically, “You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Yet, the woman knows and just like Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet. She is trembling with fear. The crowd could easily turn on her, her presence in public alone is cause for punishment. Her physical condition, though healed, is unspeakable.

And while Jairus is waiting for Jesus to heal his dying little daughter, Jesus does that very thing. Jesus heals his daughter. His cloak has stopped this woman’s bleeding of 12 years and then reorders society, culture, power and position by calling out to this woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The suffering of 12 years of bleeding is over, but a woman in her situation during that time and culture suffered from so much more. Jesus’ healing and ministry is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. She is Jesus daughter, a woman no longer unclean and untouchable and alone, but claimed as family and recognized by this Jesus. She belongs because of her faith.

But wait. What happened to Jairus? Imagine being in his place. Are you impatient? Angry? Desperate? Yes? How many time have you or I thought that God was paying too much attention to someone else’s pain and not addressing your own? Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead but Jesus quickly turns to Jairus and tells him before Jairus can utter a word, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

After all, everyone has just witnessed this incredible physical healing as well as emotional and relational healing, but we all quickly forget how Jesus’ power and love conquers all divisions.

So he heals again. This time, the interaction is private with only Peter, James and John there in the presence of this family – father, mother, little daughter. Jesus is the one who reaches out and touches the dead girl’s hand. She, too, is unclean, just like the woman. And Jesus tells her to get up.

But sometimes the most important part of the story of transformation in our own lives and in the lives of the bleeding woman and Jairus and his family is the part after our encounter with Jesus.

Did the woman live as one of faith and one freed from her suffering and as a daughter of Jesus? How did Jairus and his family engage with those in the synagogue or the mourners who were crying in his home? Did those in the crowd welcome the woman who was no longer unclean into their community, and help her ease her fears and take away power from her personal pain? Did the mourners and those Jairus would later encounter in the synagogue play a part in releasing the secret by welcoming the 12-year-old girl and family back?

Before we walk away from this holy place this morning/afternoon, ready to take on the busy plans to celebrate and commemorate, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect. What will you do with your fears and faith? How will you or we as a body react in the face of another’s fear and faith? Are we here because we are ready to acknowledge our fears with our faith in Jesus and walk away freed of suffering or is it just one day of the week we set aside to acknowledge Jesus?


It’s Time to Punch the Ballots

I’m pretty sure I won’t actually be punching a ballot so much as I will be touching a screen or pushing buttons, but in the end it’s all about casting my vote.

(And would someone please tell me if the ridiculous “bot” calls to my home and the shameful stream of campaign fliers and costly commercials will magically stop tomorrow? I never thought I would miss seeing the ED commercials, but at least the blue pill commercials talk about blindness, sudden drop in blood pressure and death without the character assassination and misrepresentation.)

This will be the first time I vote, having just been sworn in as a naturalized US citizen earlier this year, and I’m excited because the information I’ve been taking in and the questions I’ve been asking will mean a little piece of something at the end of the day. Years of  hyphenated American angst will not romantically fade away, but there is a good degree of relief in having equal access to the system regardless of where I was born.

One thing I am learning, and it is a rather steep learning curve, is how to talk politics and policies with friends. There is an American idiom about avoiding politics and religion, but I have found that in recent years the former is almost more deadly a conversation killer than the latter. What has been most difficult is to find that while some of my friends and I share a deep-rooted faith, I am still learning how to listen and learn from others with vastly different viewpoints when it comes to issues of politics.

Citizenship has added another layer for me, another slice of identity that gets so quickly called into question if perhaps I offer up an opinion that is not “Christian” enough. My sense of belonging in the only country I’ve known as “home” has always been questioned, but having dipped my toe into conversations about policy, the economy, the wars and politicians my sense of belonging firmly in the camps of “Christian” and “Evangelical” has a new identity crisis to wrestle with. And while much of my identity angst has been done while my family was very young, it has been a new thing to talk about faith impacting my politics with my husband and children. Worlds colliding.

And I am amazed. For all of the political garbage on the radio, on tv, online and on my doorstep, I am amazed that regardless of faith and partisanship, the polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. at a neighborhood church where a wooden cut-out of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door is brightly lit. What a strange moment of convergence it will be…

But I’m curious. Will you, dear readers, be voting? Why do you vote or why do you not? Or, why are you choosing to opt out this time around? For fellow evangelicals, which is more difficult to talk about -faith or politics?

 


The Sex Talk Lady Is Back

This post is going to generate a ton of spam.

I’ve been invited to sit on a panel to discuss sex, specifically on the topic “Respecting Sex and Reducing Abortion: What Can Churches Really Do?”  I was reluctant to accept the invitation for a variety of reasons including fear of putting at least one foot in my mouth, fear of digging a hole large enough to discredit me but not large enough to sink into and disappear, fear of looking and sounding like the least experienced expert and the potential scheduling acrobatics for me and my husband so that we had morning coverage on the home front. However, the sex talk lady is back.

Let me first explain the nickname. A few years ago I took on several campus speaking opportunities – every single one on the topic of sex and sexuality. I suppose writing the chapter on sexuality in More Than Serving Tea and also helping lead a weekend college student training module entitled “Christians, Sex and Intimacy” for several years had helped shape my reputation as a Christian woman who was not afraid to talk about sex, faith, ethnicity, gender, sin, failure, guilt, pleasure and hope. It was during that crazy year of sex talks that I had the opportunity to speak at Wheaton College during chapel on the subject of sex. That’s right. Wheaton College. Chapel. Sex. The sophomore class, I believe, invited me back to do a Q & A, and the promotional flyers and posters said it all: The Sex Talk Lady is Back.

When it comes to the topic of sexuality (not so much abortion, though I will certainly address the issue on the panel) my hope is for church leaders to understand that the Church can do and must do a better job teaching a theology of sexuality that acknowledges and encourages understanding and thoughtful engagement with the cultures around us and the realities we face. And as a parent of both a daughter and sons, I cannot leave the topic of sexuality and the ongoing conversations up to the youth pastors, health ed teachers and pop culture.

Because in reality repeating the line I heard in church – “Don’t have premarital sex” – did not prepare me well to deal with the warm fuzzies I felt after watching those Hollywood rom-coms and definitely after my first french kiss. Sure, the script kept running in my head (Kathy, remember, premarital sex is bad. JESUS IS WATCHING!) but NO ONE TOLD ME that the script in my head would have to compete with nerve endings I did not know would fire and feel that way and the emotions that became enmeshed with those physical experiences. All I heard was “sex is bad” and then I walked away feeling like “I was bad”. And then, for awhile, it was easier to just walk away.

I could rant on and on, but I won’t because this morning I have a list of things I must, must, must get done. However, I would again appreciate hearing from all of you. Please, be respectful of one another’s opinions, which may differ from yours. Please.

What, if anything, can the churches do to respect sex and reduce abortion? Should churches be doing anything at all? What did you learn about sex, sexuality and abortion at church and how has that helped (or not) you understand and respect sex? If you could help shape and change the message your church is sending about sex, sexuality and/or abortion how would you do it and what would that message be?


Keep It Simple, Stupid: Going Green

Over the years my understanding of the creation account has changed. I would picture Barbie and Ken doubling as Eve and Adam, and, maybe it had something to do with a series of Bible stories on tape that my parents bought for us, I always heard God’s voice as Burl Ives. (Imagine my shock when I watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. God was also Sam the Snowman.)

Some Sunday School teachers would emphasize the number of days while others would focus on things like Adam being created first. My mind would wander off and imagine dressing my Barbie and Ken dolls in fig leaves or animal skin.

Once in a blue moon a teacher would remind us that having babies is God-ordained by quoting Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Fruitful? Increase? Fill? (Insert very optional abstinence lesson here, which didn’t matter since none of our parents were ever going to talk about sex. I don’t even know the Korean word for sex, now that I think about it.) Check.

Subdue? Rule? Doesn’t that mean we can do whatever we want ‘cuz God left us in charge?

No. Subdue and rule doesn’t give humankind carte blanche over the earth. Left to our own devices we have some issues to work out. I’ve grown to understand that God’s mandate to us is not to rape and pillage the earth but instead to care and create.

Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth writes:

In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first phrase, “be fruitful and multiply” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations-nothing less.

I continue wrestle with this interpretation as much as I am grateful for it. It reminds me that I can stop having babies (thank you, Jesus!) and still participate in being fruitful and multiplying by helping develop the social world. It also makes me think about the natural world. As a Christian I can often be guilty of living in the not-yet – looking heavenward so much so that I lose sight of the life here on this earth God has given me.

So over the years my family and I have talked about what it means to participate in harnessing the natural world, so to speak. What does it mean for our family and the impact it has on the world/community/neighborhood around us? How can we make what can become so complex and beyond us (like building bridges) into something simple?

Well, we’ve tried a few simple things can slowly change the way we interact with the natural world to see how that changes us and our relationship with God and others.

We garden. It started out with some potted plants and then a raised bed with patio plants and then a smaller and then larger chunk of the grass that we hate to fertilize, water, mow and rake.

We recycle like crazy. Our village makes it easy with curbside collection in a separate rolling cart. We usually fill the recycling bin and our garbage bin feels left out.

We compost. Again, it’s easy for us. We have a very nice yard and some bushes that hide the ugly compost bin. The kids quickly caught on, and it’s fun throwing in dryer lint with the banana peels. No critter problems or strange smell. It’s a little bit of a pain in the dead of winter since that means sub-zero temps and snow/ice to trek through. A couple of times the lid was frozen shut.

We bought rain barrels. Again, this has been easy for us. We could afford to buy the barrels through the university extension office, and we have a gutters we can cut (well, Peter cut them) because we own our home. We have two barrels, not homes. I would get another one if I could figure out how to replace the chain link fence with a nice hedge of bushes for free.

We use a random unscientific combination of Craigslist, Freecycle, Goodwill and garage sales with the usual stores. You cannot believe how thrilled I was last summer when Elias came along with me to a garage sale and snagged a box full of legos and a box of Bionicles for a mere $10. Never mind that I need more legos like I need a hole in my head. He understood the art and skill of second-hand shopping!

Nothing new, complex or completely odd in that short but simple list. But isn’t that what makes it become easier? One step at a time? What are some of things that you have tried/are trying to harness the natural world and why are you doing those things?



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?


Love Or Hate “Eat, Pray, Love”?

Have you read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert? If so, did you love it or hate it or was it just “eh”?

Well, I have not read the book, but enough folks around me have shared their opinions about the book. I know of one woman who, after a few chapters into the book, absolutely loved the book. Others who have read the book, and mind you they were all women, were turned off by the author’s story – divorce leads to travel, food and love with a dose of whine.

Minus the divorce and travel it sounded a bit like “Julie & Julia” to me, which I enjoyed in the theater but never bothered to read the book…I did end up buying Julia Child’s French cooking tome but I digress.

The general consensus was that Gilbert’s book was a whiny memoir, but I came across this op-ed piece (via Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed) and had to ask all of you who have read the book or decided not to read it like I did based on the reviews.

Jessica Wakeman contends that:

“…Eat, Pray, Love the book (and soon, “Eat, Pray, Love” the movie, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem) has turned out to be a lightening rod of controversy in the most disappointing of ways. The negative reactions to “Eat, Pray, Love” show just how resentful, bitter, contradictory, and quite frankly, hate-filled we are towards a woman who does something for herself.”

So far there are 401 customer reviews that rate the book 1 – star on Amazon out of more than 2,000 total reviews. I’m an author, but I’m not that kind of author – New York Times best seller kind of author, and I’d be lying if I said/wrote that I wouldn’t want to be that kind of author. NYT best seller? But with the fame comes the crap, and I’m not that good of a writer nor do I really want to deal with more crap. But it’s worth thinking about whether or not the criticism is, as Wakeman writes in her opinion piece, gendered and taking shots at Gilbert because she is a woman doing what Wakeman contends would have been an adventure story had a man lived the same life and written about.

There was similar criticism of the movie “Julie & Julia” – mostly but not exclusively from male movie reviewers. My thought at the time was that the movie critics were taking themselves too seriously and perhaps not understanding that this was the coming-of-age story for one almost-30 woman. Yes, Julie Powell was whiny, which is why she needed something else to ground her. Lucky for her, pounds and pounds of butter and bacon fat helped ground her, and she happened to gain some self-awareness and some success.

Is/was the criticism of “Eat, Pray, Love” or “Julie & Julia” gendered? Are readers (and are they predominantly women?) doing the same thing they accuse Gilbert of doing – whining and complaining – but about someone else’s success instead of about their own average lives? Or would the book even mattered had it been written about and by a man or would the publishers have looked at it and thought “this is nothing new”? Perhaps the issue of gender isn’t so cut and dry; isn’t it possible that a big reason this book made it is because Gilbert is a woman and leaving everything behind to find herself is a novel concept?

Now, I chose not to read the book. Instead I read several other books by non-white female authors because, quite frankly, I needed a different perspective, point of view and voice than what is so prevalent and prevailing. Gilbert is a woman, but the older I get the more frustrated I become with the false dichotomy of race and gender that I often experience. As Gilbert’s book became a rising star her star wasn’t in the same constellation as what I was seeking out – authors like Amy Tan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Yen Mah and Toni Morrison. So my reluctance to pick up her book was less gendered criticism and more cultural/racial and spiritual. I’m certain there are common bonds between all women, but I’m tired of people telling me the differences don’t matter. Differences make life complicated, interesting, compelling, frustrating and hard. I don’t want the same all the time, especially if someone else is the one always defining the “same”.

But I could be wrong about it all, so I may request the book at the library and revisit my reluctance. I’ll have to think about that some more. For those of you who read Gilbert’s book, what do you think?


Life and Death and Life In Death

It has been a long week.

By the end of tonight I will have been at the same suburban funeral home three out of seven days this week. One evening and morning were set aside to mourn the loss of Peter’s uncle, and one evening was set aside to mourn the loss of a friend’s father.

The two deaths this week gave way to opportunities to talk. I talked about my mother-in-law’s death with my husband and my sister-in-law – what we remember from the days leading up to and after her death, feelings and memories that rose to the surface after being together at the beginning of the week for Peter’s uncle’s wake and funeral.

I talked around death as my parents shared with me some details about their estate since it’s never a good time even though it’s always a good time to talk about life insurance policies and living wills.

All this talk, and I’m tired. I’ve been to many memorial services and wakes, but I have found those of first generation Korean immigrants to be some of the most mournful, sorrowful, and emotionally draining. Outward expressions of grief are limited to the occasional sob and cry, but the room is filled in black with a respectful, honoring, but heavy grief. No one but the presiding pastor speaks above a whisper, and stories are told without smiles or laughter.

Photo displays may include pictures filled with smiles and fond memories, but the photo by the casket, often marked by two black ribbons around the top two corners, is an expressionless headshot. It’s as if the person knows they will not be around to see this photo that captures life and death. It’s not unusual to see rather large flower arrangements adorned with messages of condolences written on ribbons or banners from the deceased’s or surviving family members’ Korean high school or college/university alumni association.

Some of the traditions, even in Christian Korean funerals, are connected to Korea’s Buddhist roots where the dead are wrapped in yellow hemp; the men of the deceased person’s family wear small bows made of yellow hemp and the women still wear small white ribbons (white being the color of death and mourning) signaling to the world around them that they are in mourning.

I once told my mother that I would not want to put my own children through that kind of memorial service when I die. My mother quickly shot back, “That is how you show respect to us when we die.”

The wake for a high school classmate’s mother was the first example of a different way to celebrate life and death. I walked in and was quickly alarmed and confused. People were sitting casually in small groups around the room, some dressed as if they were headed out to a nice lunch but there was enough color and lightness in the room that surprised me. I was wearing all black. (Actually, I wore a lot of black in those days, but that’s for another post.) They were talking, laughing, sharing tears and memories of my friend’s mother. There was talk about life in the presence of the dead, talk about life with life and laughter.

But in neither my Korean or American contexts have I found a good space to talk about death, particularly death in light of the living. I find it fairly easy to talk about those who have already died, but death and ways to celebrate life in death are more often than not reserved for the moments as families plan the funeral.

So it has come as some relief in the weightiness of the week’s events that this week began with Easter and last night was spent  preparing for Sunday’s worship service…

There’s a day that’s drawing near

When this darkness breaks to light

And the shadows disappear

And my faith shall be my eyes.

Jesus has overcome and the grave is overwhelmed

The victory is won, He is risen from the dead.