a sermon from 2 years ago

In the summer of 2006, my family decided to go backpacking in upstate New York. We were far from home and far from anyone we knew. And on one hot day, as our car snaked up a mountain and came around a narrow turn, dad didn’t turn fast enough and we smashed into a large white truck.

I didn’t know I had internal injuries and broken bones. I didn’t know my entire family had internal injuries and broken bones. But I knew that when the old man came running out of his house and got on his hands and knees on the pavement so I could lean on his back because it hurt too much to lie on the ground — I’d never felt so grateful for the compassion of another human being in my life.

He had plenty of excuses not to help us. He was old! We were strangers. And I’m sure it didn’t feel very good to press his knees into the pavement while we waited for an ambulance. But somehow he knew that in that moment, he was capable of something that we weren’t capable of, and his heart was open to providing the compassion we needed.

In today’s scripture passage we read about a Hebrew boy born into a devastating situation. Pharaoh had put forth a decree commanding, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile.” When his mother conceived and bore a son, she was expected to make preparations for his death. But instead, she crafts a waterproof basket. She places him gently into the basket and floats him downstream with her prayers, and with his sister, Miriam, keeping watch.

When I first re-read the Moses story in Exegesis, I had the most trouble with the Pharaoh’s daughter, who appears next. I’d done a power analysis and wanted this to be a pure liberation story where the oppressed band together to overthrow Pharaoh’s household. But that wasn’t the part we were supposed to focus on. No – we were supposed to focus on the part where a member of the oppressing group has compassion on a member of the oppressed group. And she saves the day.

This is the last thing I wanted to preach a sermon at Union about. I have stories about Union that I’m still untangling now — stories about a white liberal institution that doesn’t really know how to talk about race, which are really stories about being teased by kids in my mostly white middle school when I was a new immigrant from the Philippines. And since Union is the first time I’ve been launched back into a mostly white setting since middle school and I’m still angry about how I was othered, this was the last place where I wanted to preach about the “oppressor” saving the day.

Last week I had a panic attack in the middle of the quad and a girl who I’d labeled “queen of the white liberal establishment of Union” took me in her arms and talked me through. She told me to slow down, breathe. She told me about her day. She told me it helped to make eye contact, so I had to look into her eyes. Really, God? Her?

I had never been very kind to her, so she didn’t need to walk towards me, paralyzed on the bench. But she’d been through panic attacks before. She knew that in that moment, she was capable of something that I wasn’t capable of. And her heart was open to providing the compassion that I needed.

When Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket, she knew that in that context of empire — built on fear and slavery and death — she was capable of something this little boy’s mother wasn’t capable of. She could’ve minimized her power in that moment — played victim to Pharaoh’s edict, to her womanhood, to her father. And we would’ve understood.

But Pharaoh’s daughter uses her power. In the end, her compassion creates life from a situation of death and paves the way for the rest of the Biblical narrative.

What are you uniquely positioned to do?

Will you claim your power or play victim to circumstance?

Will you have compassion, if it means overturning and transforming your entire household?

performance of race

I am sensitive to dynamics of performance via my racial ambiguity, my apparent lack of a performative script for being, and my constant moving around to different neighborhoods and between countries, which made me keenly aware of the different “social codes” each space demanded and how these had to be learned. In a sense, I was always performing as I had no “assumed natural state.” The assumption was always that I was the one who had to learn their social codes since I was the stranger in their town and I didn’t have a script of my own anyway. Yet while an awareness of performance can be exhausting, it also lends to a consciousness of the constructedness of social code, and of how norms can and must be questioned to create liminal spaces[1] of possibility for change.

[1] Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Cornell University Press, 1969, pg. 94.

thunder perfect mind

I am weak and strong —
mostly weak, mostly strong

I am religious and too free
a writer who hardly writes
a speaker who hardly speaks
a healer who feels vulnerable to attack most of the time

I am fully alive and half dead
In deep water but hardly diving in

I am oppressor and oppressed
white and brown
straight but queer

I love to dance and I’m paralyzed
a dreamer and growing older by the semester

You who look upon me don’t see me
you who understand me,
know that you can’t, that we aren’t meant to be

I am she who is bursting with a firey rage and
she who hides

Don’t assault me
don’t ignore me
don’t misplace me

“stations” by audre lorde

Audre Lorde – Stations

Some women love
to wait
for life for a ring
in the June light for a touch
of the sun to heal them for another
woman’s voice to make them whole
to untie their hands
put words in their mouths
form to their passages sound
to their screams for some other sleeper
to remember their future their past.

Some women wait for their right
train in the wrong station
in the alleys of morning
for the noon to holler
the night come down.

Some women wait for love
to rise up
the child of their promise
to gather from earth
what they do not plant
to claim pain for labor
to become
the tip of an arrow to aim
at the heart of now
but it never stays.

Some women wait for visions
That do not return
Where they were not welcome
For invitations to places
They always wanted
To visit
To be repeated.

Some women wait for themselves
Around the next corner
And call the empty spot peace
But the opposite of living
Is only not living
And the stars do not care.

Some women wait for something
To change and nothing
Does change
So they change

a list

  1. home
  2. “Our divine origins”
  3. Syncretic
  4. Dichotomous thinking
  5. Reify – making something abstract more concrete or real
  6. “fallacy of misplaced concretion”
  7. exile
  8. speculative (speculative nature of all thought)
  9. truth in poetry
  10. critiquing “foundationalism”
  11. impossibility of communicating univocally
  12. fallacy of the perfect dictionary
  13. clarity as a means of subjection
  14. naming, nameless – excitable speech

what i mean

“The moment the insider steps out from the inside, she is no longer a mere insider (and vice versa). She necessarily looks in from the outside while also looking out from the inside. Like the outsider, she steps back and records what never occurs to her the insider as being worth or in need of recording. But unlike the outsider, she also resorts to non-explicative, non-totalizing strategies that suspend meaning and resist closure. (This is often viewed by the outsiders as strategies of partial concealment and disclosure aimed at preserving secrets that should only be imparted to initiates.) She refuses to reduce herself to an Other, and her reflections to a mere outsider’s objective reasoning or insider’s subjective feeling. She knows, probably like Zora Neale Hurston the insider anthropologist knew, that she is not an outsider like the foreign outsider. She knows she is different while at the same time being Him. Not quite the Same, not quite the Other, she stands in that undetermined threshold place where she constantly drifts in and out. Undercutting the inside/outside opposition, her intervention is necessarily that of both a deceptive insider and a deceptive outsider. She is this Inappropriate Other/Same who moves about with always at least two/four gestures: that of affirming “I am like you” while persisting in her difference; and that of reminding “I am different” while unsettling every definition of otherness arrived at.”  –trinh t. minh-ha, “when the moon waxes red”