Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016) By Grace Yia-Hei Kao

Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016) By Grace Yia-Hei Kao
In a few days I’ll be heading to Chicago to attend another conference—PANAAWTM to be exact. PANAAAWTM stands for “Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry.”  As I’ve explained in a previous blog, PANAAWTM’s deepest roots can be traced back to two groups of women: 1) Asian American women in theology and ministry in the West Coast who, with the help of Bishop Roy I. Sano, had begun meeting together in the late 1970s for mutual support and encouragement, (2) women on the East Coast who had come predominantly from Asia for graduate school in theology or to work in ministry who, through the assistance of trailblazing feminist theologian Letty Russell, also began to come together in 1984 to “explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network.” Though I have only begun to attend PANAAWTM for the past five years, it has now become a part of my regular conference circuit. It’s frankly so different from the other annual conferences I attend. How so? First, consider its more intimate size. In the past several years that I’ve attended, I’ve spent a long weekend in March with approximately just 50-70 other participants – a far cry from the hundreds that regularly turn up to the Society of Christian Ethics in January or the thousands that show up in droves for the American Academy of Religion in November (the two other guilds to which I belong and in which I actively participate). The small conference size facilitates the ability for us attendees to get to know one another in light of the more relaxed, “family feel,” atmosphere. Second, consider its “niche” target audience—women academicians in theology and related fields (e.g., Bible, ethics) and women in ministry (whether ordained or lay) who are of Asian heritage. The all-women—and all Asian—constituency is really quite unique for conferences and unparalleled in my personal life that going to PANAAWTM has consistently felt to me like moments out of time. And to be clear, these are no ordinary women — the women who attend are bona-fide, groundbreaking leaders in their fields of study or other areas of influence. These are women who are or have been “the firsts,” who are continuing to upend the status quo in accordance with feminist values, and who will not be content with any secondary class treatment or any attempt at marginalization they receive in whatever segment of society (viz., family, church, academy, nonprofit sector, business world). Third, consider its unusual format when judged from the standards of either an academic conference or a more standard, church-style retreat. PANAAWTM meetings in my judgment have always blended really creative and beautiful opening and closing rituals, sessions devoted to formal presentations (on research or community activism), informal sessions dedicated to personal or professional development, and then special fun times of celebration that usually involve a gift exchange, an auction, and either singing or dancing or some other form of merrymaking. PANAAWTM for me is the space in which I both serve – and am served – by others. It’s where I can build more personal relationships with my colleagues  and also learn from the example of our senior scholars of their tireless service and dedication to PANAAWTM (e.g., in the ways in which they keep PANAAWTM running even with our modest budget as they fundraise and contribute honoraria they receive from speaking engagements to provide scholarships for students to attend). It’s also where I can do my part in helping to equip and train the next generation by leading workshops (n.b., past topics of mine include public speaking, work/life balance, publishing) or serving on panels in various capacities (presider, presenter, respondent). This year’s conference theme...
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A Prayer for our Troubled Times

A Prayer for our Troubled Times
A few days ago, I received a private message from an old friend who’s now living and working in Taiwan. We hadn’t corresponded in years, but he had heard about the recent shootings in San Bernardino and wanted to check-in after realizing that this was second set of mass shootings that I’d experienced so close to home (i.e., I live in a city just west of San Bernardino County and was faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007 during what became known as the deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in U.S history). As anyone keeping up with current events in the U.S. well knows, the news has been terrible of late. While liturgically speaking for me as a Christian, the season of Advent should inspire hope, it can be easy to grow despondent upon hearing about the latest act of global or domestic terrorism, the latest heartrending story of desperate refugees, the latest victim of U.S. police brutality, the latest occasion for heightened racial tensions on a college campus, or the latest sound bite of hatemongering by a politician or so-called “Christian” leader hoping to capitalize on the rising fears of an increasingly anxious American voting public. In such times, I find that I am at a loss of words. I feel like I can offer no critique of xenophobia (be it directed at Syrian refugees or at Muslims in general), no argument for greater gun control, or no commendation of nonviolent peacemaking initiatives over the recourse to violence to resolve conflict that has not already been offered by others. Though I’m much more a woman of action than of silent contemplation, it’s strangely times like these that I find myself turning to the wise and thoughtful prayers of others for guidance on how to articulate my own thoughts. So I’ve turned once again to one of my favorite collection of prayers, Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) as edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders. The following prayer by a fellow Presbyterian layperson and director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rick Ufford-Chase, really resonated with me and I’ve reproduced (the majority of) it below. For Those Torn Apart by Violence O God, we confess that we are a fearful people. Each day we grow more afraid of those who are different rather than becoming more open to embracing that difference as the mysterious and marvelous gift you intend it to be. We assume the worst intentions in those whom we meet, and all too often we act in ways that fan further the flames of mistrust, causing the culture of fear to grow greater each day. …. We weep with you, O God, for countless families that have been torn apart by violence and war…. We confess our complicity in the vicious spiral of violence that grows steeper with each passing day…. We take what we want at the point of a gun or a missile. We misread the resistance to our tyranny by sisters and brothers around the world as an irrational hate that must be met by force. We turn to simple, foolish answers of violence as we feel more and more afraid. We are seduced by the ways in which we ourselves profit from our involvement in the vast military-industrial complex that drives us deeper and deeper into war. We confess, O God, that we are numbed by our media’s unrelenting reports of irrational acts of terror. Even as we are repulsed, something inside of us continues to be drawn inexplicably toward the commodification of suffering. As...
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Finding My Voice

Finding My Voice
In my work with doctoral students, I’ve noticed that what often sets apart “good” graduate students from “good” junior scholars is the ability for the latter to say something important and distinctive. That is, while it may be sufficient during coursework and qualifying exams to master the canon of whatever counts as good scholarship in one’s field, success beyond graduate school will require academic hopefuls to make a bona-fide scholarly contribution to her field of study. For this reason, I am frequently asked by the graduate students I mentor, particularly those who are women, about the process by which I came to find–or claim–my scholarly voice. What follows bellow is a version of a talk I gave at the annual conference of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) in 2014 on this very question. The year was 2001. As an ABD, I was delivering a paper at my first academic conference (one for theology graduate students). There were four of us presenters, one from each of the schools represented in the Northeast (Harvard, Boston College, Yale, Brown). Naturally I was equal parts honored and nervous about making my debut. I remember stumbling over a few phrases, but being pleased overall with my performance. The Q&A that followed also generally went well. As it turned out, however, I had mentally prepared for nearly every question save one, which in hindsight had been the most important. In a nutshell, it was this—what say you? A senior white male faculty had noticed that I had let other thinkers do the talking for me. He observed that my paper had mostly been about advancing a theoretical paradigm of a particular scholar for a certain purpose and that I had responded to questions mostly by referencing what this same scholar or others would say. But that gentle soul kindly pressed to hear my authentic voice: he told me that those 50 or so assembled there were eager to hear me and that someday if he or others were to buy my books(!), it wouldn’t be because I had mastered the literature on any given topic, but because I had something unique to say about it. That exchange is one of my earliest and clearest memories of being invited to find and claim my own scholarly voice. Post-conference, I wish I could tell you that I experienced a Saul-to-Paul conversion and no longer deferred to the views of others. The truth is that the process of emerging as a scholar in my own right took longer than that. As I see it, I only started to grow comfortably into that new role in my second or third year as an Assistant Professor. Though certainty about our own motives ultimately remains inscrutable even to ourselves, my best guess of what initially kept me from speaking in my own voice was a fear of being wrong. I had always done well in school and had long grown accustomed to a conception of myself as a good student. And while I continued in grad school to succeed in absorbing and critically interrogating difficult material, the prospect of offering something constructive, something to take the place of what I had in whole or in part undermined, was much more daunting. Who was I to stake my claim on a weighty theological or philosophical question, particularly when some of the brightest thinkers throughout history had yet to resolve or reach a consensus on the matter? What I now interpret as enabling me to overcome this fear of being wrong was a combination of several factors: (1) a few “wins” or occasions where I took a decisive stand...
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Does the Term “Women of Color” Bother You?

Does the Term “Women of Color” Bother You?
I recently came back from a weeklong camping retreat for Christian faculty and their families in beautiful Catalina (an island an hour’s boat ride away from the Southern Californian mainland). This year’s conference theme was “Power Revealed: Gifts, Dangers, and Possibilities.” Not surprisingly, the topics of race, race relations, and institutional racism came-up repeatedly in sessions and informal conversations. As they had last year, the conference organizers again provided an optional time/space for faculty women of color to gather together for a luncheon. Last year’s meeting (which I also attended) had been so successful that an assemblage of faculty women of color in the greater LA-area have been getting together periodically ever since for networking, mutual encouragement, and fun. Without betraying the confidentiality of what was disclosed in our luncheon, something that surprised me was the ambivalence that a few attendees expressed about the very term “women of color.” I also became privy to some confusion—and even discomfort—that some other folks (outside of the luncheon) felt about the term. For example, one Asian American woman had not thought that the term “women of color” included her since she had assumed that the phrase was simply the newest (perhaps politically correct?) way of referring to black or African American women. And one white guy told me that he had long found the phrase “[X] of color” (e.g., “communities of color,” “people of color”) odd, because wasn’t it simply a reversal of the antiquated and maligned term “colored people”? The ambivalence, confusion, and discomfort I encountered at the conference about “women of color” was something I hadn’t anticipated. For in the academic and professor circles I frequent, the descriptor “[X] of color” is commonly used without comment (e.g., I’m on the steering committee of the Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching, and Activism group of my professional organization and arguably the most-respected leadership/professional development organization for Christian ministers and scholars in my field provides substantial grant and fellowship opportunities for students “of color,” by which they mean persons of African, Latino/a, Asian, and First Nations descent.) I have since done a quick internet search to see if the hints of dissonance I heard at the conference were echoed elsewhere. Sure enough, questioning the purpose, scope, and desirability of the term is a “thing.” Here are three examples: DiversityInc’s popular “Ask the White Guy” column has provided a response to the question “Is ‘People of Color’ Offensive?” (Short answer: no, “it’s a respectful-sounding phrase…in common use” that is reminiscent of “Dr. Martin Luther King[‘s] us[e] [of] the phrase ‘citizens of color’ in his 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech”). The NPR program “Code Switch” did a piece a few years back entitled “Feminism and Race: Just Who Counts as a ‘Woman of Color’”? (Short answer: the term is inclusive of Asians and Latinas, among others). The feminist digital media site Everyday Feminism recently introduced a video clip (reproduced below) about the origins of “women of color” with this lead-in: “Have you ever wondered where the term ‘women of color’ came from? Have you mistakenly assumed that it was created by white people? Are you unsure about how you feel about it?” I was heartened to see several sites pointing to well-known human rights and feminist activist Loretta Ross’s mini-history lesson of how the term came to be. Methinks the three minutes it’ll take to watch it will be well worth your time. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw&w=420&h=315] For those wanting these ideas to simmer, gratefully Andrea (AJ) Plaid of Racialicious, has provided a transcript: Loretta Ross: Y’all know where the term “women of color” came from?  Who can say that? See, we’re bad at transmitting history. In 1977, a group of Black women from Washington, DC, went to the National Women’s Conference, that [former President] Jimmy Carter gave $5 million to have...
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Dreaming of Sabbatical

Dreaming of Sabbatical
  In the midst of doing last-minute shopping, decorating, and entertaining for the holidays, I find myself on the eves of Christmas and New Year furiously trying to meet several important work deadlines. While burning the candle at both ends writing and grading, I also find myself from time to time breaking out in a wry smile. The reason? I get to start out the New Year with a one-semester sabbatical leave. Here’s the deal at my school: we tenured or tenure-track faculty work six full semesters and then, pending approval of our application (which nearly always happens), get to take a break from regular teaching and service commitments in our seventh semester. We get to spend our sabbatical time in any way that we wish so long as we return refreshed and provide a satisfactory account for the work we did (i.e., we submit a report to the Board of Trustees of how we advanced in our teaching, research, and service). Since we are paid our full salaries during sabbatical, such policies can be understood as recognition/additional compensation for prior service and as forward-looking investment into our and our institution’s future. (Yes, I know how privileged I am. With adjuncts now constituting 76.4% of all faculty in institutions of all types according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors and with educational institutions clamping down (or at least threatening to tighten up) on sabbaticals for tenure-stream faculty as a cost-saving measure, I am incredibly grateful that my institution has retained its generous sabbatical leave policy.) The heart of the word “sabbatical” should conjure for anyone familiar with the Bible the notion of “rest” – either for a day, as in the case of God resting on the seventh day of creation and later commanding the Israelites to do likewise (Gen 2:2, Exodus 23:12) or for an entire year, where no work (sowing, pruning, reaping, gathering) was to be done on the land. Regardless of the length of time (day or year), the point has never been to “do nothing” for its own sake, but to spend time honoring God without the distractions of ordinary life as well as to provide much-needed rest for humans, other animals, and the lands so as to enhance all of our ability to “produce” in quality ways for the long haul. Apparently the origins of the modern sabbatical for professors dates back to the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when ten colleges and universities (beginning with Harvard in 1880) established sabbatical leave programs in the U.S. By 1920, some 40 other institutions had followed suit. Of course the translation of the religious concept of “sabbatical” into any modern educational institution (secular or otherwise) will never be wholesale, but it seems appropriate that academic institutions today retain the heart of the biblical notion, which I understand to be spiritual regeneration and the reconnection as well as righting of relationships with all creation (especially when one factors into one’s understanding of sabbatical the “Jubilee” tradition, see, e.g., Leviticus 25, Luke 4:16-30). Practically speaking for me, the origins of sabbatical means that I must resist filling my sabbatical time in nearly exactly the same way I do in my regular life. (For faculty like me whose life circumstances–young children in my case–preclude me from jetting off to some foreign locale for a sabbatical stint, sabbatical life mirroring ordinary life, minus teaching and service, is a real temptation). In short, I shouldn’t think of my sabbatical as merely an ability to churn out more of the same, but to bear different kinds of fruit. I need to plan my time so that the quality, not just quantity, of the work I do improves in the aftermath. So on...
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Ecofeminism is in the House (at the AAR)

Ecofeminism is in the House (at the AAR)
My social media accounts have recently been ablaze with announcements of meetings, sessions, and receptions to attend for those of us who study or work in religion/theology in the U.S. Some 12,000-15,000 scholars and students will descend upon San Diego this weekend for the annual American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) conference. While as a theological and philosophical ethicist I attend this gathering every year regardless of venue or conference theme, I’m particularly excited about this year’s focus on climate change. Sessions devoted to the topic include a panel on the release of the Public Religion Research Institute/AAR National Survey on Religion, Values, and Climate Change (Sat, 9-11:30am, CC-20D) presentations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Sat, 11:45-12:45, CC-20D), a talk by environmentalist Bil McKibben (Sat, 7:30-8:30pm, CC-20D),  the AAR Presidential Address by Laurie Zoloth (an eminent bioethics and Jewish Studies scholar; Sun 11:45-12:45,CC-20D), and remarks by former president Jimmy Carter on “The Role of Religion in Mediating Conflicts and Imagining Futures: The Cases of Climate Change and Equality for Women” (Mon, 4-5:30pm, CC-20) among others. Beyond that, I’m especially excited about the number of sessions I see devoted to discussing ecofeminism–the scholarly and activist movement that takes seriously the interconnections between the oppression of women and the exploitation of nature. Let me enumerate a few of these (n.b. the following is a non-exhaustive list): – On Friday, 1:30-3:30pm (CC-14A), the Women’s Lounge Roundtable will entail a pre-conference luncheon on “Ecofeminism and Earth Healing” featuring emerging scholars from Claremont Graduate University. – On Sunday, 9-11:30am (CC-3), the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group will feature a panel of papers on “ecological, epistemological, and ethical habitations.” – On Sunday, 1-2:30pm (CC-30A), the Feminist Theory & Religious Reflection Group will sponsor another session tied to the conference theme: “Strategic Negotiations with Feminism on the Borders: Rhetoric in American Homiletics, ‘On the Move’ Ethics in Ecofeminism.” – On Sunday, 3-4:30pm (CC-26), the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group will convene a session entitled “Ecowomanism 101: A Roundtable Discussing Vital Themes and Trajectories.” I’m looking forward to this conference and wish all AAR/SBL attendees an enriching and eventful time as well! Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011), has a forthcoming co-edited anthology with Ilsup Ahn on Asian American Christian Ethics (Baylor University Press), and is working with Rebecca Todd Peters on anthology of women’s theological lives.  This blog was originally posted at the “feminism and religion”...
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My Take On “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives”

My Take On “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives”
I recently had the honor of serving on a panel entitled “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives” with three of my faculty colleagues: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Monica A. Coleman, and Najeeba Syeed. It had been organized by the Claremont School of Theology Alumni/ae Association in partnership with the La Plaza United Methodist Church and the Los Angeles United Methodist Museum of Social Justice (where the event had taken place). We had an incredible time. La Plaza UMC, led by CST alum Rev. Vilma Cruz-Baez (’07), graciously hosted a reception before our panel discussion. As we feasted on hearty Mexican food (my favorite was the watermelon agua fresca), we perused the Exodus exhibition in the Museum of Social Justice, which featured dramatic black and white photographs of migrants and others who had made their lives in Los Angeles (n.b., the Museum is located in the basement of the Church, which is itself located on historic Olvera Street). I was grateful for the warm welcome and short history of the Museum that Director Leonara Barron provided. After further introductions and words of welcome, moderator Thea Mateu Zayas (CST ’14) cued us panelists to begin our presentations. Our esteemed colleague, Rosemary, went first. In her typically erudite manner, she explained what ecofeminism is, particularly to what exactly ecofeminism is serves as a corrective. I was especially grateful to hear her denounce any simplistic identifications between women and nature as well as tease out what ecofeminism implies for ethics and theology. Professor Monica A. Coleman went third. She spoke beautifully about the ways in which her entrance into religious studies had been shaped from the start by black women’s scholarship–the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Katie Geneva Cannon, Delores Williams, Renita Weems, and others. She then explained what “third wave womanism” is, the impetus behind her widely-anthologized “Must I Be a Womanist” article, and the many ways that she and others will continue to “wade in the water” by “troubling” conventional wisdom. Our fourth panelist, Professor Najeeba Syeed, brought down the house! She opened with an original poem and then, with the commanding presence and passion of a scholar-activist-preacher, enumerated in eight different ways the difference that a critical feminist perspective can make to interreligious encounters or studies and transnational politics. I can’t possibly do justice to her many points (e.g., she encouraged the audience to consider who has access to sacred space, interrogated the supposed link between women’s liberation and particular expressions of public piety, delimited the ways in which feminism “busts up” traditional categories of analysis in religion), though one tweet I read later about her presentation captured what I suspect was a widespread reaction among the students in the audience: “Friend turns to me after @NajeebaSyeed finishes: ‘Holy shit.’ Me: ‘Yeah, she’s awesome.’ @CST_News feminist theology panel.” What about my remarks? I spoke second. I began by offering my understanding of feminism–one that I named as having been influenced by the work of Judith Butler, bell hooks, and Sister Margaret Farley (among others). I also stressed how the best feminist scholarship today is intersectional. I next described how feminist theo-ethical commitments inform my current research projects. I spent most of the time talking about an anthology I am co-editing with Rebecca Todd Peters (“Toddie”) that is tentatively entitled Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives. But I also took the opportunity to acknowledge how the work of Carol Adams and others had led me to develop scholarly and activist interests in nonhuman animals, given the parallel ways that women and nonhuman animals can be exploited and commodified under patriarchy. In the final segment of my talk, I spoke of the ways in which I remain in the debt of flesh-and-blood feminist theologians, particularly those I am fortunate enough to count as mentors, colleagues, and friends. I named fellow...
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What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting

What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting
Like many others, I’ve been following the aftermath of the recent shooting death of an 18-year old black teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri with a mixture of shock and horror. Mainstream news coverage and my Facebook newsfeed have been appropriately flooded with commentary about systemic racism, racial profiling, civil unrest, and the militarization of the police. As several African American thought leaders have noted, Brown’s death was not an aberration but “just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men.” I probably would have only continued to think about these horrific black-male-deaths-by-white-police accounts through these familiar lenses of racism, police brutality, parental grief, and communal protest had I not stumbled upon several reflections explicitly identifying Michael Brown’s shooting as a feminist issue. Xochitl Alvizo, for one, analogized between the “everyday existence of young black men, of boys in this country, and that of women” (viz., “the lack of safety in public places; the need to always be aware of one’s surroundings; the lack of trust in the intentions of another; living with the knowledge that people like you experience violence at much higher rates than others”). While any astute observer could have made this comparison, I’m not surprised that it was a queer feminist of color (Latina) who did so in this case.   Other feminists of color, including Dani McClain of The Nation, senior legal analyst Imani Gandy as quoted in Feminist Newswire, and Emma Akpan of RH Reality Check, explicitly named police violence against black and brown male youth as a “reproductive justice” concern in a way that I had not heretofore considered.   According to Loretta Ross, co-founder and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, the term “reproductive justice” was coined by African American women in 1994 after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. While widely adopted and used by activists, academics, funders and others alike, the term is “not merely a substitute for the terms ‘pro-choice,’ ‘reproductive rights,’ or even ‘sexual rights.’” Instead, the framework is at once intersectional and holistic in seeking to go beyond the narrow “it’s my body, it’s my choice” language in attending to the harsh realities that disproportionately block underprivileged women of color from self-determination in crucial aspects of their lives. As black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett explains, “We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence….If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”   More specifically, the shooting death of Michael Brown (and others) violates the third of the three core reproductive justice principles for which SisterSong has stood since their founding in 1997: Decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth Decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy Parent the children she already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government This lesser emphasized third principle among those committed to reproductive rights seems entirely appropriate to me—a helpful corrective to the mistaken view that all that is needed on this front is legal, safe, and affordable access to reproductive healthcare for women. It both angers and saddens me to read of accounts from black feminists like Akpan that they “grew up listening...
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A Prayer for our Broken World

A Prayer for our Broken World
The news of late has been terrible. I read about the following headlines yesterday (July 17, 2014): 1. A Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers aboard. Both the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russia separatists have denied responsibility and it is still (at the time of this post) too early to assess blame. I feel for the families and loved ones of those lost, the people in the war-torn region of eastern Ukraine, and Malaysian Airlines for the tragic year they have already undergone. 2. Israel begun a ground offensive in Gaza “after 10 days of aerial bombardment failed to stop Palestinian militants from showering Israeli cities with rockets.” I had been following reports of Palestinian and Israeli children being caught up in the cycle of violence and my heart has been heavy with sadness. 3. Closer to home, I’ve been reading about escalating protests by both sides of the immigration debate as throngs of “unaccompanied alien children” (to use official parlance) from Central America who have been apprehended at our southwest border await their fate. As a Christian, parent of young children, and an American, I am totally baffled about what to think about this humanitarian crisis and political-legal quandary. So it is days like these where I find myself speechless. I have no witty analyses to provide, solutions to propose, or words of comfort to offer. Instead, I find myself turning to the eloquently written prayers of others to see if their words can help me form my own. I found myself thumbing through my copy of Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders. I was especially moved by eminent process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki’s prayer entitled “For Peace.” Beloved God, you have shown us through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that you feel the pain of the world, the sins of the world, the griefs of the world. You have shown us that our relentless turn to violence is ever more gall, more nails, more spears. And our hearts cry out in sorrowful confession that we crucify you anew through every pain we inflict upon our world.  Beloved God, you have shown us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that you receive our ills for the sake of transforming our ills, that you experience our deaths for the sake of renewing our lives, that you feel our many forms of violence for the sake of impelling us to join in your own loving will toward reconciliation and peace.  Beloved God, upon us to sharing more deeply your own love for this our world. Pull us into your will toward reconciliation and peace. Transform these agonies of war into agonies for peace, until we yearn for peace so profoundly that we become your channels for its accomplishment.  Through Jesus Christ our crucified and resurrected Lord, Amen. May Suchocki’s prayer, or that of another (including your own), bring us peace. Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and her co-edited anthology with Ilsup Ahn on Asian American Christian Ethics is forthcoming (with Baylor University Press). She is also co-editing a volume with Rebecca Todd Peters that is tentatively entitled “Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives.”  This blog was originally posted on the feminism and religion...
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No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith

No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith
I’ve recently read Jim Belcher’s In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity (2013). Even though I had several issues with the book, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading and finished it in the space of one day. What’s the book about? After spending a decade planting and leading a church, raising four children, writing his first book, and fixing up an old house, the author found himself totally worn out and in deep need of spiritual rest. So, too, did his wife Michelle who desperately craved “some time away from the bubble that was pastoral ministry, where every decision or action was open to scrutiny, where private life was difficult to maintain.” So the couple took their four school-aged children and embarked on a yearlong sabbatical across Europe. In addition to recharging and recuperating, the plan was for them all to explore the biographies and places of some of the great heroes of Christian faith. Their pilgrimage sites included C.S. Lewis’s Oxford University, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary and place of imprisonment, Vincent Von Gogh’s asylum in Saint-Rémy, the French village of Le Chambon that served as a haven for 5000 or so Jews fleeing the Nazis and their French collaborators, and the key places in the life of Maria von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame), among others. The book was an inspiring read. I found myself entertaining thoughts of how some day in the distant future I, too, might manage to take an extended family trip that would also be rejuvenating, educational, and spiritually uplifting. What I had (and still have) a hard time identifying with, however, is a parental fear explicitly named by the author that served as another part of the rationale for the pilgrimage. In his own words, “we worried about [our children’s] faith—would they grow strong in their trust of God or would they fall away?” Belcher was especially concerned about what would happen when his kids went to college “and faced all the temptations of university life, both morally and intellectually”: would they “abandon the faith because it did not mean much to them…[because it would get] in the way of their happiness and success?” I can’t say that I share this fear, let alone concern. Granted, my kids are only 4 and 6 and so perhaps my time to worry will come later. (At this stage, my husband and I are preoccupied with much more basic concerns than spiritual maters, such as getting our 4 year-old to be less picky of an eater and teaching our 6 year-old how to have better impulse control.) On deeper reflection, however, my inability to relate to this apparently widespread  concern about passing down the faith is probably tied to my own baggage. When I majored in philosophy and religious studies in college, countless individuals from my evangelical Christian community (though fortunately not my parents) expressed worries that I would “lose my faith.” I remember being warned away from taking academic courses on Christianity or the Bible because they weren’t taught by “believers.” These fears of others only grew when I pursued a doctorate in theology and philosophy in graduate school. I resented their paternalistic interventions and wanted to pursue “the truth”—wherever that led me. [It would be appropriate here to note an important contrast: the Belchers tackled their fears for their children by providing them with more knowledge and experiences while members of my home community wanted to prevent me from having either.] Sure enough, one doesn’t emerge from a serious study of philosophy, theology, and religion unscathed and the faith that I had prior to these studies is...
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