leadership

Raise Your Voice

Today’s a big day!

Today is the one year anniversary of Kathy Khang’s important book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How We Speak Up! To celebrate, below is an excerpt from her book. Go buy it. Give your money to women, especially women of color.

This excerpt is from her first chapter, “Seen and Not Heard”. How very true this is for women. I also wanted to share this particular excerpt because it highlights friends Amena Brown and Soul City Church, which is co-pastored by Jeanne Stevens.

Last year, I hosted Kathy on The Global Fringe podcast. In that episode, we talked about the biblical story of Esther in a way I’d never heard before but resonated with so deeply. Kathy’s attitude is empowering. She doesn’t shy away from addressing issues of justice and mercy and how we are created to use our voices for the betterment of another. And as a justice warrior, Kathy helps us identify necessary self-care as an act of political warfare.

She’s a force. Listen. Follow. Learn from her.

Raise Your Voice
Kathy Khang - Raise Your Voice

The Stories We Tell

I had the honor of watching my friend, author and artist Amena Brown, raise her voice at Soul City Church in Chicago. Amena told us a story about her grandmother and the care she put into packing food for family members who were traveling. Her grandmother would carefully wrap a slice of cake in waxed paper and put fried chicken in a paper towel and foil. These lovingly packed meals were important to African Americans in the time before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, when black travelers didn’t know if they would be able to find a restaurant that would serve them.

As I recall Amena’s performance, mannerisms, and imitation of her grandmother’s speech and cadence, I can see how the warm memories of food dovetailed into a story of racial injustice. Amena can tell this story because of who she is and who her people are. And while I can share her story here, I can’t pos- sibly embody the story because it’s not in my bones or blood.

But I can share the story of how my grandmother, who was a child in Korea during Japanese rule, was widowed before she turned forty while raising five children and how she never remarried. I can tell you how she refused to tell me her Japanese name, but did tell me about why she choose not to remarry—because she would have been forced to prioritize her role as wife over her role as mother, even though it was difficult to live as a single mother in her patriarchal culture.

Amena’s grandmother and my grandmother. Two different women, two different periods in history—but injustice didn’t silence them or stop them from acting on their own behalf and on behalf of their families. We need to give voice to these uniquely embodied stories. We need their complexity and beauty. And this is where I see my story, and the various stories of diverse communities, and the biblical stories of Esther, the bleeding woman, Moses, the women at the cross, and the resurrection colliding—in identity formation, in community, and in advocacy against racism and misogyny.

Most of the books I’ve read and speakers I’ve heard on the topic of voice and identity have been white men or women with little nuance and contextualization for individuals and communities that reside both on the margins and simultane- ously in the intersections. I believe we need to address voice and identity through the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and class, as well as in personal and public spheres of communication. The growing focus on racial reconciliation and the pursuit of justice only highlights the lack of nonwhite and nonblack voices, especially but not exclusively in evangelical circles. Women of color need to be part of the reconciling work of the gospel. We all need to understand that voice, identity, and agency are given by God but often underdeveloped or ignored in people on the margins. We need to be seen and heard.

Here Breathing (feat. Amena Brown Owen)

Ever forget to breathe?

Have difficulty taking deep breaths in stressful moments?

Me too.

Breathing is essential to being alive. It’s core to living fully in your body, mind, and spirit. And yet, too often we hold our breath, take hurried, shallow breaths, or are gasping for breath because we feel like we’re drowning.

Last year I hosted my friend, Amena Brown Owen, on my podcast, The Global Fringe. We talked about what it’s like to be black and female in America. If you’ve ever heard Amena preach through her gift of spoken word, you know that she uses her voice with powerful poignancy and persuasion. In the episode, we talked about redefining womanhood when it all doesn’t go as planned, the beauty and terror of being black, and how to care for your soul in it all. A storyteller at heart, Amena weaves us through her narrative, easily finding connection to ours. I asked if she’d be willing to share her poem “Here Breathing” with us. Generously, she agreed.

Take a deep breath. Listen. You are still here. Breathing.

Written + Performed by Amena Brown Owen
DP/Editor Zac Holben from Friendly Human

This fall, ten women in spiritual leadership from all over the country will intentionally connect for six months. Imagine not drowning in your life and leadership. Imagine what it would look and feel like to be set on fire, breathing deeply and fully, with purpose. Join us.

Get all the details and apply HERE.

Ezer + Co. Coaching Group - Drowning Breath

Lamenting Rachel Held Evans (+ Women in Leadership)

About 5 years ago I wrote a lament for women in leadership as a sidebar for a new Bible to be published by Tyndale House. The piece was pulled in the editorial process because the publisher knew Lifeway Christian Bookstores wouldn’t carry the Bible because of that piece (and a couple others they pulled regarding LGBT issues).

I was really upset but I let it go, because as women we are taught to be grateful for what we have and not push it. Until, months later my girlfriend Rebecca got fired up for me and told me I should share the lament on my blog (not originally on that website) and write a public post about what happened. I did and the post went viral.

Ezer + Co. - Rachel Held Evans

Somewhere along the way, Rachel Held Evans and her dear friend Sarah Bessey, got a hold of it. They shared it which made an enormous difference in the reach and impact of these words. They both used their privilege and influence for the betterment of all women. I want to be like them.

When I heard on Saturday that RHE passed away, I was in shock. I’ve cried multiple times. I haven’t been able to articulate my grief and broken-heartedness for all we’ve lost with her tragic death. I’ve felt gutted at how her tiny son and daughter will not grow up with their mother. I’m devastated for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the wandering who’ve lost a kind defender. My heart hasn’t ached like this in quite some time.

Though I never met Rachel personally, her words breathed comfort, life, and healing into my soul. She spoke a language I couldn’t during periods of confusion and loss. She did the hard work white women need to do to pursue justice and advocate for those who’s voices have been silenced. Mine included. #BecauseofRHE

Even in the last few days as I’ve cloaked myself in others’ words about her life and impact, I’ve lamented how equality and partnership are still a dream for us women. I’ve re-committed myself to elevating women’s voices, supporting their dreams, creating space for them to flourish, being generous however I can. Rachel did this for me (as have many others). Ezer + Co. is committed to be a place like this too.

I’ve been wanting to share this lament for women in leadership and now seems like the (horrific) time to do so. May you find comfort and courage in these words. May you be seen for who you are….


LAMENT FOR WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP
INSPIRED BY PSALM 40

Waiting. No one likes waiting. Maybe least of all me. I’ve waited for my entire life to see your Church reflect your heart to see men and women lead your people. Equally. With skillful hands and integrity of heart [Psalm 78:72]. I’ve waited for your Church to wake up and get it that we have as much to contribute to the Kingdom as men do! I wish your Word was painfully clear about our contribution equality!

Too many times I’ve seen women in the pit of despair because they have not been allowed to use their voice, their gifts, their experiences, their very calling to build the Kingdom. You have not stopped them from leading and teaching, Lord; your people have.

My sisters and I have cried when we’ve been told “no”, “be quiet”, “this is not your place”. We need your rescue, God. We desperately need you to bring good news in places where we are pushed down, snuffed out, and negotiated around. Your Kingdom suffers when we are relegated to roles and ministries and places where we are not gifted or passionate. How long?

Our circumstances may not change, our culture may never fully reflect your heart for your Church, but you never change. You are solid and steady and trustworthy. When your Church may fail me, I can still be amazed by who you are. I will find my hope in who you are, not in an outcome – a promotion or a platform or power. I will receive a new song that you give me and sing to the rooftops of who you are and what you’ve done. I will serve you fully and contribute my best to your Kingdom, even in the midst of broken systems and unjust theology. Give me the courage I need to be faithful today.

How long will we sing this song? When I grieve for what your Church is not yet, I must remember that you are a God of justice and have called ordinary people like me to bring justice on earth as it is in heaven [Matthew 5:10]. Help me not be afraid to speak out and speak for those who do not have a voice.

You have written your calling upon my heart and I will not forsake you. I will take joy in following you no matter what anyone else says. Help me listen to you more and more and follow you obediently. Thank you for my calling, even if it’s not honored among others.