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When Streams Run Uphill

My friend Mihee Kim-Kort just wrote a book about sexism, racism, and the church. The conversations that she shares are essential for followers of Jesus to hear. I’m happy to have her here today wrinting about her book, what inspired it, and why it matters. Let’s listen. 


la vida es la lucha

Coined by our mujerista theologians it literally means, “life is struggle,” or even “to live is to struggle.”

Conversely, the flip is true, too – to struggle is to live. Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color was first inspired by an African proverb that echoes the sentiment above:

Where streams run uphill, there a woman rules. The original subtitle was “The Pastoral Identity and Ministry of the Other Clergywomen.”

The word other is significant.

It conjures up orientalism, exoticism, colonialism, and those felt effects still present today even in the more liberal disciplines and vocations. The history of feminism especially in North America has mostly been narrow and excluded women of color until fairly recently. But, this isn’t unusual. Much of majority culture has often marginalized groups based on gender, race, economics, orientation, and ability. Still, especially in the church, there continues to be an urgency in working towards reconciliation at all levels, and at the very least it means making sure there is a space for all voices and experiences. 

It is the dynamic but unexpected harmony of streams that “run uphill” that compels me the most.

There is struggle in an uphill endeavor, but miracle in its very existence. There is an irrationality about it, as well as a subversive, kingdom-shaking quality. There is something off-putting and hard to swallow but undeniably compelling about it. So, too, it is with the “other” clergywomen and our work and ministry, their calling and community relationships, their voices and their perspectives.

I was always told to not “rock the boat,” meaning keep your head down, keep quiet, don’t make trouble, don’t look at people, be invisible, be passive, be submissive.

As a woman and an Asian American woman this was the way to survive in the world, and maybe if I worked hard and honestly enough it would mean accomplishing many things. But this isn’t the sole narrative of subjugation experienced by women. For my Black sisters and Latina/Hispanic sisters, and even Chinese or Taiwanese sisters, the rhetoric might have been “speak up,” “get angry,” and “make a fuss.”

So all these stories widen those borders and draw in all who may be on the fringes – especially in the vocation of ministry.

I let myself savor the stories in these pages like a glass of fine water turned into wine from that wedding at Cana.

I celebrate, I give thanks, and I am deeply humbled by all the sacrifices and risks made by these writers. These clergywomen were vulnerable. They were transparent. They were genuine. And they were and are trustworthy. These are only glimpses into much more complicated histories and larger narratives. Yet, even these small windows allow us to see the possibilities for real connection and community, a little taste of the kingdom of God and how we experience that in the midst of struggle and surrender, in those places where reconciliation with God, neighbor, and self is rooted in embracing the other.

Being the other is not only a philosophical, social, political, or literary concept. It is a theological image.

It speaks of a God of the margins, a God for the oppressed, a God who loves and pursues the stranger. And despite the history behind it and how it traditionally is a negative phenomenon, being the other does not have to be associated with colonial and imperialistic movements or a tool of oppressors or a burden of those who internalize what it means for the oppressed.

The language of the other is redeemable but also an instrument for redemption.

It speaks of the extreme and miraculous routes God forges to connect to us. It is the other that helps us to see God’s love for us even more. It is when we see and recognize the other in ourselves that we begin to fathom the depths of God’s love for us.

Join us in the struggle not only for voice and validation, but – for the sake of all lives – that we’re created with dignity and love.

[ purchase “Streams Run Uphill” ]

published March 18, 2014

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