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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 Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)

A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)
In the space of twelve days I will have taken two inter-continental and two transcontinental flights to attend two conferences. I will have slept in my own bed in sunny Los Angeles for only four of those nights and been away from my family in either Bochum, Germany or Chicago for the remaining eight. Thank God this kind of travel is far from normal for me. The conference in Germany was incredible. It was the second of three symposia organized by Dr. Markus Höfner (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät) and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung on “Theo-Politics? Conversing with Barth in Western and Asian Contexts.” Some twenty or scholars  from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China gave papers on the role of theology and the church in the political sphere. We were all in conservation with the thought of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some more critically than affirmatively or indirectly than centrally than others. What made the conversation so exciting was that the relationship between Christianity and either the state or civil society is so differently conceived in these  contexts: state-supported (Germany), disestablished but still culturally dominant (U.S.), and heavily regulated and/or suppressed in key ways (China); associated with the legacy of colonialism (Hong Kong), but a historic defender of indigenous and even aboriginal identity in another (Taiwan). Aside from contributing to discussions and taking a turn at moderating one long afternoon session (a job that I am oddly very good at), my task in this second symposium was to respond to Dr. Stephen Lakkis, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, who had given a thought-provoking paper about the ideal role of the church in Taiwan. (Next time around, someone will be responding to my extended paper on recent male circumcision controversies in Germany and the U.S.). Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) I am now in the midst of attending that second conference–the annual meeting of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, this year’s theme is the “Politics of Solidarity among Women of Color Scholars and Ministers.” With fond memories of my previous PANAAWTM experience and by judging from the warm interactions and high-quality discussions we had on the first evening, this year’s conference likewise holds great promise. (The responsibilities I must discharge here are two-fold: serve on a panel on “finding my scholarly voice” and lead a workshop on public speaking). As a feminist, I am committed to telling the less glamorous side of these experiences and to highlighting the costs borne by others for my participation. While the arrival of Spring Break cut down on the number of classes I’ve had to miss, I still had to cancel one seminar to make it to Germany. My husband sacrificed 3 vacation days to provide “schlepping” coverage (i.e., transportation of our kids to their two schools and back) and to spend more time with our children in my absence. At ages 4 and 6, they do not take my traveling for work well: my eldest cried when he heard that I was leaving for the first conference and my youngest was significantly more needy and clingy when I returned. Beyond that, my being at the first conference meant that I couldn’t attend something I would have otherwise really have enjoyed: a free surf lesson and beach day event sponsored by my parent’s church. In between those two conferences, my suntanned kids told (true) stories of dolphins they had cited frolicking in the waves, friends that they saw stand up (and also wipe-out) while surfing for the first time, and apparently one small fish they had managed...
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A Feminist Eulogy?

A Feminist Eulogy?
My grandmother, my last living grandparent, recently died. She was 84 years old. Because I’ve just come back from Taiwan where I participated in all of her funerary rites and delivered a eulogy therein, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorializing the dead.  Is there such a thing as a “feminist”  or feminist Christian way to remember the dead? What, if any, are the components of a feminist eulogy? My grandmother saw incredible change in her life: she was born under Japanese rule, lived through the decades-long imposition of martial law (after Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists fled the mainland in defeat from the Communists in 1949), and witnessed firsthand the “Taiwan miracle” of rapid industrialization and growth in the latter part of the 20th century. I knew her best, however, in the context of family: as a woman who worked alongside of my grandfather who was a doctor in southern Taiwan, who served as something like a home caretaker/nurse for him after he became semi-paralyzed mid-life from a  stroke, and who capably raised four kids and then came to cherish her ten grandchildren from them. I reproduce below a slightly redacted version of the eulogy I delivered, which my mom then translated into Taiwanese. I confess that as I was writing (and even delivering) it, the feminist in me was worried that I would be reinforcing–as opposed to interrogating–the idea that “good” women should serve others selflessly. (And that was a particular concern of mine because I knew a good portion of those assembled believed that). A-ma was a constant presence in my life, even though she triangulated between our house, my auntie and uncle’s house in San Marino, and her own and other relatives’ homes in Taiwan. My earliest memories of A-ma was of her cooking, cleaning, taking care of A-gong [grandfather], and reading the Bible. I can’t recall one episode when I heard her complain; she accepted her caretaking responsibilities with grace. Even with our language barrier, she did whatever she could to help my brother and me. When I was in elementary school, A-ma would generously send a large package of new clothes every summer for my brother and me to wear – this was in the late 1970s and 1980s, before clothes became inexpensive in the U.S. I also remember that in fifth grade, A-ma sewed me a beautiful pink dress and pink hat for “Civil War Day” and I won first prize for my costume. She was very proud. My fondest memory of A-ma when I was little girl, however, was when we used to go digging for clams. We would roll up our pants and the sleeves of our shirts and feel for clams with our toes. A-ma always managed to find the largest ones. After soaking and rinsing them, she would steam them for our whole family to enjoy. These were some of the best meals of my life. Apart from the birth of my two children in the last five years, Ama was present at every major milestone in my life: from my college graduation, to graduate school graduation, to my wedding day. I will also never forget the fun times we had when we were on vacation. I especially remember the look of glee on her face when she helped to reel in a 150 lb. marlin in Cabo San Lucas and then began practically lecturing the person cleaning and filleting the fish not to waste any of it and to keep the eggs. The only memory I have of A-ma upset about anything was on our trip to Alaska. When we were walking around town one afternoon, we...
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Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students

Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students
  I’m officially in “back to school” mode, as I put the finishing touches on my syllabi, get my course websites ready, and prepare my 5-year old son for Kindergarten. As I think about new graduate students studying theology or ministry, I’m reminded that while women make-up approximately 1/3 of all seminary students nationwide, at the place at which I work  (Claremont School of Theology), they comprise half of the student body. In honor of all the new, especially female, matriculates (at my school or elsewhere), I’m reposting below one of my first entries on this blogsite. It was entitled “Undermining Our Own Authority.” The advice I gave then still captures what I’d say now. *           *            * “I’ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult, if not exhausting, for women professionals to discern how to be strong and assertive (and thus be taken seriously) without coming across as arrogant or b*tchy. But there is indeed room for play between over-deference and cockiness, and the ability to code-switch while in formal settings would be a good step in the right direction for many of us.” Whatever your take is on Madonna’s feminist bona fides, she was definitely on to something in her 2001 hit “What it Feels Like For a Girl.”  Madonna sang about the tremendous pressures females of all ages face to conform to gendered norms of physical appearance and demeanor. I use her lyrics below to discuss some ways I have seen young women in academe subtly undermine their own authority. To cut to the chase: female students and junior scholars have a greater tendency than their male counterparts to engage in self-sabotaging patterns of speech, writing, and body language. I say these things both as someone who has worked with undergraduate and graduate students for the past 10 years and as someone who has had (and still has) to train herself out of certain bad habits. Many of us have been conditioned under mainstream conventions of femininity to self-efface, remain deferential toward men, and project an aura of a soft and inviting presence. The problem in academic settings is that these “ladylike” behaviors lead others to see us as insecure, under-confident, and unqualified. “When you open up your mouth to speak / Could you be a little weak?” (Madonna) Let’s start with public speaking. While there are several pitfalls to avoid, the one I’ll focus on here is very common: the tendency among women (and also, anecdotally, among “out” gay men who have affected speech) to end their declarative sentences with an upward lilt or inflection, effectively transforming their statements into questions. What I mean is the following. Instead of hearing this: “Today, I’m gong to talk about Kierkegaard. I’m going to argue that standard interpretations of his Fear and Trembling are mistaken.” I effectively hear this: “Today, I’m going to talk about Kierkegaard?  I’m going to argue that standard interpretations of his Fear and Trembling are mistaken?” To state the obvious, the speaker in the second set of sentences projects uncertainty, tentativeness, and a desire to please others. Those might be good things if the speaker is an already established senior scholar or is otherwise speaking in a context where s/he is clearly the one with more power or status (e.g., a veteran teacher to students), since the upwards lilt “works against type” in suggesting openness and an accommodating posture. But the upwards inflection generally won’t help those students or scholars who are trying to establish themselves as credible, competent, and authoritative. Embodiment, in short, counts. Speakers who appear younger or smaller in size than those in...
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Speaking Up for Animals

Speaking Up for Animals
“I hope that readers will rethink their consumer choices, monies that have long been offered at the expense of nonhuman animals–overwhelmingly female and exploited because of their female biology. We choose where our money goes, and in the process, we choose whether to boycott cruelty and support change, or melt ambiguously back into the masses.”   This passage nearly concludes Lisa Kemmerer’s Introduction to her Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Lives (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). Her book is divided into three parts: (1) Pondering what I put into my mouth, (2) Working for wildlife, (3) Potpourri: From dancing bears to undercover investigation. We find in this anthology 18 powerful stories of women animal advocates: women who have founded sanctuaries, volunteered in rescue and rehabilitation organizations, protested the inhumane treatment of animals in various industries, taken in stray or abandoned “pets,” gone vegan, and/or engaged in other forms of animal activism. I was deeply moved by this book. All the contributors report working as animal advocates out of some combination of pity or compassion for animal suffering and outrage at the injustice of their exploitation by fellow human beings. But each does so in a way that is deeply personal and narratively powerful. As readers, we are not simply introduced to an abstract concept of “animal cruelty,” we are told about Hilda, a still-live sheep that was literally discarded as trash on a stockyard “dead pile”–and then we learn how that shocking discovery led Lorri Houston to cofound Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter in the country for farmed animals. We read about Tua Rohd, a severely injured and “bare recognizable” gibbon who was captured from the wild in Thailand for the exotic pet trade. While recounting this story, Amy Corrigan, Director of Research and Education for the Animal Concerns Reserach and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore, shares that she was “emotionally crushed” when this gentle creature died in her arms after only surviving a few days post-rescue. These chapters reveal real wisdom. One contributor, scholar-activist Dana Medoro, notes the importance of being “dexterous” when advocating for animals because “it’s difficult for people to absorb the shock of the information about all of the hateful ways in which humans treat and use animals.” Many others speak freely about the anguish, guilt, and grief they regularly experience in the work they do, knowing that they cannot save them all, or even most, and that they regularly face real “Sophie’s Choices” (on which animals to save and which to leave behind). What might be of particular interest to readers of this blog is the women who cite their religious commitments as motivating forces in their activist work: Anuradha Sawheny notes how her Hindu commitment to ahimsa grounds her compassionate approach to animals and accordingly her work for the Indian chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Linda Elin McDaniel, an ordained United Methodist Church minister and board member of the Christian Vegetarian Association describes her turn to vegetarianism as both a blessing and an enactment of her commitments to be peaceful, just, and compassionate like Jesus. For Sue Pemberton, it is her internalization of the Budddhist teachings on compassion and karma that lead her to help rehabilitate pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses) at The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California. Kris “Risa” Candour, an African American woman, operates a Reiki natural healing practice for humans and their animal companions in Vancouver, Canada. To be clear, the book is not simply about women “saving” animals, but in several cases of animals “rescuing” them. Lynette Shanley, the founder of two Australian organizations (one for wildcats and one for primates), writes beautifully about how her own companion animals and her...
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The Boldness of Grace Ji-Sun Kim

The Boldness of Grace Ji-Sun Kim
“The Grace of Sophia is an openly ‘syncretistic’ work….That’s fairly radical for an ordained Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergywoman.” It’s that time in the academic year when classes are winding down and when faculty and students alike are looking forward to the summer. While putting together a final oral exam study-guide for my doctoral students, my mind kept returning to one of the books I assigned in my Spring 2012 Asian American Christianity course—Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (2002). The two things that shocked me about the book when I first read it still do not fail to amaze me now. In the first case, Dr. Kim unabashedly champions a concept that many believe is hopelessly laden with negative connotations—syncretism. In the second, Dr. Kim not only writes from her particular social location (as many feminists and other contextualists are wont to do), but devotes her book (only) to the same niche demographic—Korean North American women. The Grace of Sophia is an openly “syncretistic” work. It adopts an explicitly “multifaith hermeneutics” by “relating Christian biblical interpretation positively to other religious texts and traditions” (p. 24). It affirms that truth and wisdom are found in the “cultures, histories and religions of other people”—not solely in the Bible (p. 26). It offers that when syncretism is done well, the “insights of two or more religions are genuinely integrated without violence or loss of identity on either side” (p. 37). That’s fairly radical for an ordained Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergywoman. More specifically, what Kim does constructively in her book is link biblical wisdom (Hokmah, Sophia) to the feminized notions of wisdom in Asian cultural and religious traditions (e.g., prajna, Kuan-yin) as well as to the ancient near East (e.g., Isis). In my view, Kim’s boldness on this first count has less to do with how ultimately comparable or assimilable these models of wisdom are than with her willingness to even attempt to syncretize them. Kim’s second move is no less shocking, particularly when one keeps in mind current realities in the academic publishing world. Kim doesn’t offer her Sophia Christology to all Christians or even to all feminists. She doesn’t even present her findings to all Asian Americans. No, her book is explicitly for Korean North American women, for she hopes to present a model of Christ that can liberate them from their han—from their unresolved resentment against injustices suffered. Why is this move so bold? The answer, in short, is that Kim has deliberately narrowed her target audience. While I don’t know the figures for Asian Canadians (n.b., Kim emigrated to Canada at the age of six), Asian Americans in the U.S. make-up a small minority—5.6% (17.3 million) of the total U.S. population and among that racial categorization, Korean Americans comprise only the fifth largest ethnic group (behind Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, and Vietnamese) at 1.6 million. I don’t know anything about the negotiations she might have had with her publisher, but I can imagine that there might have been pressures to market the book not specifically for Koreans, but at least for Asian Americans (and still much better: for Christian women in general). Even putting aside the issue of marketing are the larger pressures that many of us experience to homogenize our discrete experiences under a pan-Asian umbrella and accordingly minimize our differences. But because I am an Asian American who also takes seriously her particularized second generation Taiwanese American identity, it is precisely because this book was NOT written for me that makes me appreciate it all the much more. Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her...
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The Power of Feminist Rituals

The Power of Feminist Rituals
“These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful.” Jeanette Stokes’ 25 Years in the Garden is on my bedside table. It’s a book I read several years ago with a small group of feminist Christians when I was living in Blacksburg, Virginia. The following passage from one of her essays got me to thinking back to the 2012 PANAAWTM conference (Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry) I had attended just two weeks ago: “Rituals are part of everyday lives: reading the newspaper, checking the weather, waiting for the mail to come, or talking with a family member at the end of the day. Rituals can also mark the extraordinary events in our lives: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a birthday, marriage, anniversary, or divorce” (Stokes, 2002, p. 37). We PANAAWTM attendees participated in two rituals that, while neither “everyday” nor “extraordinary,” were nevertheless symbolically very rich, meaningful, and unifying. As I mentioned earlier in a previous blog, all PANAAWTM participants had been instructed to bring 3 oz. of water “from a source of nature near [o]ur home.” This water ended up playing a large role in our opening and closing worship. During the opening ceremony, each of us was invited to introduce ourselves, say something about the origin of our water, share a prayer or concern, and then pour our water into a large crystal bowl on the altar. One by one, my fellow Asian and Asian American sisters took turns sharing the water they had collected locally—from the tap, the rain, the Hudson River, the River Jordan even (the latter definitely got some “oohs” and “ahhs.”) We laughed together as one sister shared how she was inadvertently offering shampoo-contaminated water (in light of the 3 oz. travel-size bottle she had used to transport it on the plane), while another admitted that she had misunderstood the purpose behind the instructions, which is why she had brought drinking water from Costco. At other times, the mood was more serious and reflective. For instance, many of us nodded empathetically as one student shared her pain and then noted that she had thought of offering 3 oz. of her own tears. After two days of inspirational speakers, workshops, and genuine fellowship over meals, our time together drew to a close. We collectively sang songs, exhorted one another, and then ended in a way consonant with which we had begun: each of us took turns sharing a burden we were leaving behind and a new insight or sense of direction or confidence that we were taking with us as we made our journeys home. As each of us came forward to speak, we washed our hands in the communal water. Each of us remained at the front until the next person came up to speak, and then we dried our sister’s hands with a small towel. That cycle repeated until all had had their turn. These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful. I loved the highlighting of individual experience and corporate togetherness, the juxtaposition of solemnity and comedy, and the sharing of trials and triumphs. I also loved how the drying of hands (with the towel) conjured images of Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet. The more I think about these two simple rituals, the more I think how appropriately contextualized they were for me. Culturally, I come from people who take ritual and ritual propriety very seriously (that’s my Confucian heritage). Religiously, however, I was raised among people who do not—the conservative Taiwanese evangelical Christian church I grew up attending was of the “four...
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My First Experience at a Women-Only Conference

My First Experience at a Women-Only Conference
“This ain’t your daddy’s conference!” I knew that I was going to be attending a totally different type of conference than I had ever been to before when I received the following instructions on additional items to pack: (1) my own mug with which to drink coffee or tea (“we will go green in this conference as much as possible”), (2) 3 oz. of water “from a source of nature near your home” to be offered during “opening worship,” and (3) a small, modest, pre-owned, homemade, or inexpensive “earth-honoring gift for exchange.” When this blog goes live, the second day of the PANAAWTM Annual Conference will be in full swing at San Francisco Theological Seminary. PANAAWTM stands for “Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry.” Its deepest origins can be traced to two sources: (1) Asian American women in theology and ministry in the West Coast who, with the help of Bishop Roy I. Sano, had begun networking among themselves in the late 1970s,  (2) a small group of women who, under the assistance of trailblazing feminist theologian Letty Russell, also first came together in 1984 to “explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network” (n.b., these women had come predominantly from Asia and were either pursuing graduate theological education or working in ministry in the United States). Today, PANAAWTM’s goals are as follows: To facilitate the development of theologies in our own voices; To provide a group in which we are able to support one another and exchange ideas; To support our ministry and leadership in our churches, our educational institutions, and the larger society; To increase our contribution to the development of Third World and other liberation theologies; To participate actively in the feminist theological conversations in the United States and Canada. My attendance here this weekend will mark not only my first time at PANAAWTM, but also my first time ever participating in an all-women conference. On top of that, I’ll be sharing these experiences with fellow attendees who are also all of some Asian heritage and heavily and unabashedly steeped in feminist theology, liturgy, ethics, and other scholarly/activist/spiritual pursuits. Simply put, this ain’t your daddy’s conference! The opening panel, which was open to the public and held at the Chapel of the Pacific School of Religion (a longtime supporter of PANAAWTM), was amazing. The 2012 theme is “Abundant Life and Unjust Prosperity” and each panelist spoke out her expertise and passion. Gale Yee (Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies, Episcopal Divinity School) began with the provocative bumper sticker pictured below, explained the true meaning of shalom, and then proceeded to describe how Jesus came to liberate people from material, not just spiritual, poverty. She invited us to reconceptualize Mary, the mother of Jesus/God not as the white, upper class, royal looking “lady” of many portraits, but as a dark-skinned, poor, and racial-ethnically/religiously/and politically oppressed outsider. Nadine Cruz (Consultant on Pedagogies of Engagement in Higher Education) spoke soberly about disturbing trends in the academy—the commodification of “service-learning” and disvaluing of indigenous and nonWestern forms of knowledge chief among them. She also explained why she is ambivalent about the popular rhetoric in the U.S. of the 99%.: from her vantage point as someone who has come from the Philippines, the majority of the world is the 99% while the U.S. as a whole represents the 1%. Still, she offered us two case-studies of peoples who have acted courageously with “moral brilliance” and discussed (especially during the Q&A) the importance of creating spaces to begin to imagine (not simply move hastily to strategize) what genuine alternatives to empire could look like. Rita Nakashima Brock outside of...
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