What It Means to Be a Woman in a Male Dominated World

Shamed for being too vulnerable,
chastised for being strong.
No permission to be weak,
balancing the world on your shoulders.
If you refuse,
it just may topple.

Few take up the mantle, the burden,
to care, raise, provide and protect,
and still,
‘May I,’ litters your tongue lest your actions be mistaken for insolence,
instead of survival.
It’s all about survival.

The idea of freedom is just as perplexing,
paradoxical.
Free to work, free to self-educate – well at least some of us – free to think,
but not to speak, challenge, or rebuke.

One’s opinions, caution, wisdom mistaken as disrespect.
Or theologically incorrect.
Words spoken to ensure you stay in your place.
If you are not careful, any semblance of peace you do have could vanish,
in a twinkling of an eye.

Aim high, but don’t you dare fly.
Be but don’t think you actually exist.
Caught somewhere between humanity and deity.
Sex object and goddess.
Jezebel and mammy.
Yet power, true power no where in reach.
Too constrained and tried to feel and breathe.
To resist.

Slowly destroying the mind,
killing the spirit,
until you become a version of your former self.
That’s where dreams die,
that’s where the will to change ceases.

The hope of living in another world where equality could actually be real becomes foreign,
unknown.
All of the visions of yesteryear are replaced by the wish for rescue by any means necessary.
No longer about revolution or upheaving the wretched system of patriarchy that created this mess.
No capacity to think about the possibilities.
Responsibilities and expectations choke life out of you.

And still, you march on.
You march on for your sisters and daughters.
Your mothers and grandmothers.
Your nieces and play cousins.
Yourself.
Understanding the quitting isn’t truly an option.
If you really want to survive.

 

 

 

 

“I’m American, Too” – My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

This article is the first piece in the ReDEFINING Blog Series which aims to dismantle the dominant, destructive, and inaccurate perceptions of people by crafting a new narrative for ourselves and defining who we are and who want to be. For more information about the series > 

Guest blogger: Daniel Perez

I wish I did not have to write this piece, but I do It is indeed necessary that I write this piece because I am sick and tired of hearing about the myths and misconceptions about undocumented immigrants that the media feeds the public at large. The media would tell you that I, as an undocumented immigrant, am a law breaking, non-taxpaying, and job-stealing person receiving welfare for me and my family.

However, you and the media would be wrong. I, like the majority of undocumented people, have been paying federal, state, property and income taxes since we began living and working in this country. Even without a social security, paying taxes was possible through an Individualized Tax Paying Number (ITIN) given to me by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You see, the U.S. government loves my money but hates to provide people like me with a path towards legalization.

Read the reminder of Daniel’s piece over at redefiningus.com >

I’m Blogging at Missio-Alliance Today: Diversity is Not Enough

Over the past year, I have come across countless resources calling for more churches to be racially and culturally diverse. I have had conversations with pastors and other church leaders wanting to do the diversity ‘thing,’ who are exploring how they might attract congregants of a skin color other than their own. In all honesty, I think this is a worthy goal. As our nation’s demographics change and we become a country where people of color are the majority, it makes sense. If our mono-cultural churches do not learn to embrace the change and at least reflect the communities and neighborhoods surrounding them, the reality is that they will run the risk of irrelevancy and subsequently death.

Those in church leadership understand this well, hence the desire to embrace a new way of doing things: diversity. They want more black and brown people like me to fill the pews, contribute financially and just maybe, if we are lucky enough, serve on a committee or two. But nothing fundamentally changes. We are not represented in leadership. Our traditions, language, or customs are not represented in worship besides that random Chris Tomlin song translated into Spanish. Our opinions are not welcome and our theology, wisdom and expertise are not considered valid. This leaves many feeling like diversity is just another church growth strategy instead of an authentic means to bring about reconciliation in the body of Christ.

Read the rest of the article over at Missio Alliance.

Be back next week with my series on the Lord’s Prayer. Follow me on Twitter so you don’t miss it.

Wrestling with Existential Realities – Does God Exist for Us or We for God?

questionmarkDo we want God to bless our efforts or do we want to be a part of efforts God is blessing?

Do we want God to go with us, or do we want to go where He already is?

Do we want to know God’s will for our lives or do we want to know how our lives play a role in his will?

Do we want God to be on our side or would we rather be on His?

These questions are more than just a play a words or their ordering. They get at the heart of the age old existential question of why we exist, taking it one step further asking: does God exist for us or do we exist for God?

The idea of the creator of the universe existing for our fleeting pleasures is as preposterous as it is comical (not to mention heretical since He is existence). He was not made in our image, but we in His so that we reflect His glory, not the other way around. Everything begins and ends with Him, not us.

Many of us know that at an intellectual level (at least I hope). But this knowledge has fallen short in reorienting the way we live and think and move. We are a very selfish and prideful people. We seem to think that everything in life, including God, exists to serve us oblivious to the fact that our lives our just a microcosm in the grand scheme of things. We are just grains of sand – too innumerable to count individually. But together, we reflect before God a beautiful image on the shorelines of the beach.

We are like flowers of the field, here today and gone tomorrow. And yet God chose to sacrifice His son, for dust, not because we were worthy for we are not! Dust is not worth much. But for His namesake, and his glory and his great love toward us, He sent His Son while we were challenging Him and each other for His position and power.

We exist for God. So let us find where He is moving and be there. Let us discern where He is blessing, where His presence is and plant ourselves in that place. Let us ask the bigger existential question – what is God’s purpose and plan for the earth – and reorient our lives around that plan, abandoning every other that places us at the center instead of God. And perhaps we will find that life gets a little bit easier. Maybe it’s not as difficult, as taxing, as competitive, as draining as we have always imagined it to be. Maybe it’s not about building our individual kingdoms, our towers of Babel if you will, but building and proclaiming His kingdom as it exists now and forever will be. Not our names, not our success, not our jobs, not our careers, not even our vocation (which I need to remember), but Him and Him alone.

In the Absence of Worship

worship2I’m not a huge fan of John Piper’s ministry. However, one of the best quotes I’ve heard comes from him: Missions exists because worship doesn’t. This is actually part of a fuller quote where Piper talks about worship being the central purpose of the Church and thereby should be central to the life of every believer. Yet, this doesn’t always hold true. In fact, it often doesn’t. As a people, we continue to fall short in our worship of God. This absence of worship is what drives the need for missions and related evangelism/ outreach ministries. By drawing others to Christ through missions, they now have an opportunity to worship God and bring glory to his name.

But the absence of worship doesn’t only necessitate certain things like missions. It also breeds sin and all of its related vices. In the absence of worship, we fail to appropriately honor God which also affects our relationships with others. In fact, I would argue that our inability to fully and completely worship our creator causes us to minimize the image of God that is present within others. His image, his fingerprint, rests in the life of every single person that has been conceived – whether they are a believer or not. Our failure to recognize this proves that we don’t understand what worship is all about.

When we despise one another on account of our skin color, language, ethnicity, gender, ability or any other factor, in truth we are saying that we don’t think God knows what He doing. We call into question his handiwork, his integrity every moment that we say that someone else is not valuable or worthy of love and acceptance. This is hardly worshipful, in fact, how can we worship someone who we consistently belittle? The truth is that we can’t. We can’t even come close.

In the absence of worship, what we end up doing is ascribing honor to a caricature of God – who we would like Him to be. We want God to be down with what we are down with, and we want Him to be against what we are against. As a result, we have defined God as Republican, Democrat, Black, White, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, anti-Semitic, Xenophobic, Homophobic, Progressive, Conservative, Rich, Poor, Protestant, Orthodox, and so much more. We fashion and mold Him into an idol that is easier for us to swallow, easier for us to get along with. Now God reflects our image, which gives us license to condemn all of those who don’t.

But we are not here to worship an exalted version of ourselves. Christ did not die to bring the nations into a relationship with someone who looks like us, thinks like us, believes like us; He died to bring the nations back to Him. When we understand this, we begin to understand that it is not about us. It is not about our ideals, our comforts, our positions, our politics. It is about Him, and us worshipping Him alone.

Returning to the Hood

house 4About 13 years ago, I sat in my 11th grade Spanish class struggling to keep my eyes open. I was tired, having worked late the night before. After coming home from work, I spent an hour or two on homework before I hit the bed, maybe around 12 a.m. Then I was up no later than 5.30 a.m., so that I could be out of the house by 6.30 a.m. or so, and in class by time the bell rang at 7.20. So I was tired, you see. I think I even fell asleep, which was a shame because I really enjoyed this class.

We were reading ‘The House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros in Spanish which I loved. Because I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, I kept a copy of the book in English so that I could understand the storyline a little bit better. It wasn’t a long book and I found it incredibly honest and funny. For some reason, I identified with the main character Esperanza who wasn’t very fond of her neighborhood. I didn’t like mine either; in fact I hated the whole dang city.

Growing up in Milwaukee in the 80s and 90s was rough. For the majority of my childhood, my family lived on 37th and Lisbon. Our house got shot up so many times I have lost count (by the grace of GOD we all survived). Hitting the floor became a custom that we were all too acquainted with. I learned to despise holidays like New Year’s, which in my neighborhood triggered more shooting. It was so bad that whenever my youth pastor would drop my sister and I at home after youth group on Wednesday nights, he wouldn’t wait for us to get into the house before he pulled off speeding. One time, my friend’s father was dropping me off at home after church on a Sunday afternoon and cop cars filled our street. He decided that we should go out to eat until whatever drama filled 37th Street passed.

When I was 15, my family moved to a slightly better area of the city. Slightly. No, our house wasn’t getting shot at anymore, and I did feel a bit better about moving through our neighborhood without looking over my shoulder every second but only if I stayed within a few blocks.

For years, I had reoccurring nightmares about getting shot. I don’t think they stopped until I came to college. Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it to college with all of the violence and madness that we lived through. Friends and family members got shot or shot at on a regular basis, some were blessed enough to live to tell about it. Others not so much. I promised myself that as soon as I was able, I would run like hell from the literal hell that I lived through almost every day. I had no intentions of ever coming back.

Neither did Esperanza. But one day she got cornered about her intent to escape:

Esperanza. The one with marble hands called me aside. Esperanza. She held my face with her blue-veined hand and looked and looked at me. A long silence. When you leave you must remember always to come back, she said.

What?

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are.

Then I didn’t know what to say. It was as if she could read my mind, as if she knew what I had wished for, and I felt ashamed for having made such a selfish wish.

You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you. You will remember? She asked as if she was telling me. Yes, yes, I said a little confused.” (page 105)

When I read these words back in the 11th grade, I was horrified. I resisted. I didn’t want to ever, ever go back to Milwaukee, or in fact, anything remotely close to what Milwaukee represented. I wanted to escape, not because I was ashamed of my city but because my city had caused me so much pain.

And so I came to the Twin Cities for college, only going back home one or two times a year at the most. I visit for just a few days and then I quickly run back here where it’s nice and safe and secure. I attended North Central University, a small Bible college in downtown Minneapolis. While many of my friends were majoring in Urban Studies or Youth Development, I took up Pastoral Studies and Missions so that my ministry work would take me some place exotic, even further away from the spaces and places that I didn’t want to be.

After North Central, I went to Bethel Seminary to earn a Master of Arts in Global and Contextual Studies, a fancy way of saying missions. While studying I took a missions trip to Africa and got even more excited about doing ministry in some far off place that didn’t have the hoods that had been a part of my life. I wanted to be safe. And I wanted my children to be safe. I didn’t want them to experience half of what I did, and I definitely didn’t want them to experience anything worse.

But what about other people’s kids?

In “Deep Justice in a Broken World” authors Chap Clark and Karen E. Powell interview Jim Wallis and ask him about his own commitment to justice. Wallis says, “Because we’re all made in God’s image, a kid living in a garbage dump in Mexico is just as important as my own kid…what has got to motivate me is that other people’s kids are just as important to God and to me as my own kids.” (page 58).

A kid living in a drug house on 37th and Lisbon in Milwaukee has got to matter to me just as much as my own kids living in a comfortable apartment in Roseville.

I’m not exactly sure where this leaves or rather leads me. But God’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. As my husband and I prayerfully look for vocational ministry opportunities, Cisnero’s words ring in my spirit: You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you. You will remember?

Go back. To breathe life into the city. To prophesy over the city. To do good and justice in the city.

And then on the final pages of the book, Esperanza’s friend Alicia says these words to her:

Like it or not you are Mango Street and one day you’ll come back too.
Not me. Not until somebody makes it better.
Who’s going to do it? The mayor?
And the thought of the mayor coming to Mango Street makes me laugh out loud.
Who’s going to do it? Not the mayor?” (page 107)

Who’s going to make Milwaukee or any other city with its complex problems better? It has got to be me, and the people of God and the people of the city standing in solidarity to make it better. Together, we are called to do deep justice and right the wrongs that have caused places like Milwaukee to even exist. Together, we speak against racism and ugly housing policies that force people of color into certain neighborhoods and out of others. Together, we call out police practices that target our young men and leave our children fatherless. Together, we create jobs and other entrepreneurial opportunities that pay a living wage so that no one has to get dinner from McDonalds. Together we make it better, together we make a difference and bring a little bit of the kingdom of God to earth right now.

Not ministry from a distance. Not ministry so that it makes us feel good and safe and secure. But ministry that causes us to sacrifice and live a little with gratitude because of everything God has done for us. Because remember, we once were that city. We once were dead and decaying. But God called us forth out of the dead and breathed life so that now we live.

Glimpses of the Kingdom of God

on earthIn a world that is so torn apart by war, oppression, poverty and more, it is hard to believe that there was a time when it knew peace. It is hard to think that this same world that is characterized by power-grabbing, division, and hatred in this present day and age once enjoyed unadulterated love, harmony and giving for completely altruistic motives. Although we would never know it simply by looking at the things that are going on in societies across the world today, once upon a time this place that we call earth was completely whole and pure.

And then something happened. Nothing has been the same since.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 3, that once Adam and Eve disobeyed God, everything that we knew to be true changed. All of a sudden, blame, shame, guilt, and despondency characterized our existence. For the very first time, man turned against himself, his God, his wife, and his land, which has left an enduring mark of horror upon the world.

The good news is that God provides a remedy to this new norm in his son Jesus Christ. Through Christ, all of humanity and the entire earth are in the process of being reconciled back to God. Our relationship with God is being put back in order as is our relationship with one another. As a result, we can now get a glimpse of the peace that was known in the Garden of Eden. A glimpse. The reality is that Christ’s sacrifice jumpstarted this renewal but it won’t be fully realized until His return which will bring about the completion of what He started on the cross.

Understanding that we are living at this point of tension between the already and not yet components of the gospel, we must ask ourselves what we are supposed to do. How are we supposed to live in light of what Christ did in the past and what He will do in the future?

We pray what Jesus instructed His disciples in Matthew 6:9, 10 – “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” According to this prayer, our focus as believers should be on the bringing of God’s kingdom to earth. In this kingdom tears of sorrow will be replaced with tears of joy, curses will be replaced with blessings, death will be replaced with life, and brokenness will be replaced with the healing of the nations. No longer will people be at odds with one another and despise others on account of their race, ethnicity, or gender. No longer will people fight over resources or jostle for position. At last, we will be whole. At last we will fully and completely known by God and reign with Him for eternity. (See Revelations 21 and 22).

In directing His disciple’s attention toward this prayer, Jesus didn’t only want them to pray about the coming of God’s kingdom. He wanted them to be active participants in bringing it to fruition. And so he spent His earthly life showing them what that looked like by preaching the good news, healing the sick, feeding the poor, comforting the downtrodden, forgiving the sinner, and welcoming the outcast.

Jesus’ life served as an example for the disciples but it continues to speak to us in the 21st century. In the power of the Spirit, we are now able to be partakers in His quest to bring the kingdom of God to this broken world. In fact, the Bible says that in the power of the Spirit we are able to do even more than Christ did. We are fully capable ministers of reconciliation. What we need to do now is reclaim our calling – a calling that encompasses the life of every believer not just clergy – and step into our destiny.