Do we give up too easily? | Being a Woman in the Indian Church

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I was watching a video of Aimee Mullens’ Ted Talk, for maybe the eighth time. I had already watched her talk several times before deciding to teach my students about about her speech or more so the power of her passion and how that elevated her speaking. She was poised, put together, passionate and was standing on prosthetic legs. She challenged society’s notion of what a “disabled” person should be and I looked at her and thought that if I were her, I wouldn’t have dared to stand on that stage. I wouldn’t have become a runner like her. But she, with her disability, was doing things I could only dream of accomplishing. 

Watching Aimee Mullens made me think- she trusts her legs. She trusts her prosthetics, probably more than I trust my flesh and bones. If she doesn’t give up, why do I? There are many times in life when we may face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Some of these hurdles have presented themselves in my experiences as a woman in the Indian church. In the moment we believe that things cannot and will not get better, that we are limited in some way. But looking at Mullens I am reminded that our definitions and perceptions of situations can be challenged and that maybe- we give up too easily. 

There are two ways people can respond to set backs. There are the Cains of the world and the Davids.

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Characteristics of Cains 

  • Jealous
  • Cynical

Cain and Abel are the children of Adam and Eve. Cain grew jealous of Abel’s sacrifice to God and this ultimately led to his demise:

…Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. Genesis 4:3-5

Cain’s jealousy of what his brother had and what he lacked led him to ultimately killing his brother. Instead of trying to offer something better to God, to be something more- he turned to sin. How many times do we feel like we just cannot do or be more? I believe we all know that feeling all too well. We fail in some way or form and instead of trying again, we give up. A friend of mine told me that before getting the job he now has at a big financial company, he applied to 99 jobs at the same firm. He now worked in hiring and can see all applications that come in for the company and noted how most people apply maybe once or twice. While hearing his story, most of my friends admitted that we would do the same. If a company rejected us after a couple of applications, that was it for us. But my friend didn’t give up on the company he wanted to work at until he finally got a position.

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Characteristics of Davids 

  • Resourceful
  • Hopeful

David was the youngest of his brothers and naturally passed by for opportunities. But David didn’t let his background hold him back. In fact, David leveraged the very qualities that would make others think he was weak. In the classic bible story of David and Goliath, David used the unusual tool of a slingshot to defeat a giant.

 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.(1 Samuel 17:49-50)

In a situation in which others would have given up, David remained hopeful. He trusted in everything that God had provided and in the end was triumph. Growing up as a female in the Indian church, it was hard to have an older brother in some ways.

Being a Woman in the Indian Church

I frequently spoke at church and was very open about how I loved public speaking but no speech I ever gave seemed to measure up to the sermons my brother spoke. He rarely spoke publicly and didn’t care for it, but the few times he spoke were admittedly spectacular. There were many times I wanted to give up on my love of speaking. Why try to have a voice in a society that would rather hear from a man, especially when others could speak better? There were many times when I felt as though the opportunities given to me in the Indian church would be so much grander if I were a man. How could I not think that way when even in one of our most prominent organization, Pentecostal Youth Fellowship of America (PYFA), I have only once seen a female leader in an organization founded in 1981.

My parents and grandparents would pray every night for my brother to be a minister of God, but I never once heard them pray for me to minister God’s word. My grandfather was a prominent pastor and my brother was the only grandson born with the last name “Thomas”, the default heir. My mom recounted that a prophesying preacher once spoke to my parents and told them that they had prayed and hoped for ministry to come from their family from their son, but it would come from their daughter. My mom shared what was said to me but reminded me that she still hoped for my brother to one day minister.

If Aimee Mullens doesn’t give up even when she was prosthetic legs, why would I give up because I’m a woman? Everyday we choose whether we give up or keep going. Giving up can happen in small ways. We stop working towards that goal we really had set in our heart. Or maybe we stop moving forward in acquiring a new skill we long to have. It could even mean underestimating ourselves because of whatever our “disability” may be. There are days that can feel so dark and times in which all hope is lost but I pray that if you cling to hope, you too can do the seemingly impossible.

 

 

 

 

How my Pride Led to Insecurity

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As a Corporate Communications undergraduate major, I gave a ton of speeches back in college and naturally grew tired of a once intimidating task. On one occasion I gave a better speech than usual and upon leaving class two classmates ran up to me and asked, “How were you so confident?” I don’t remember what I answered but the truth was that the secret to my perceived confidence was that I didn’t care about the opinions of anyone in that class I gave a speech to. In a college of 17,000 people, it was easy to be in a class with a bunch of people I never met before and I didn’t care for the opinions of people I didn’t know.

I began to adopt an odd pattern of feeling a sense of pride around people I grew comfortable around or who I felt better than or didn’t care for because I didn’t know them. That is until one day I realized how my pride was the seed from which fruits of my insecurity sprout. But luckily, in learning this lesson, I was also presented with the incredible hope that comes from understanding that humbleness can lead to a God centered sense of security in who God created us to be.

These realizations around my pride all started two weeks ago after  I taught my sunday school students a lesson on a pride- pretty logical progression, right? We explored how pride distorts things meant to be good.

Beauty can become vanity.

Instead of feeling joy in the accomplishments of others, we wonder why we didn’t get what they have.

When criticized, we are defensive, never assessing the validity of the others claim.

I taught that lesson and admitted to my students that I failed “The Pride Test”. I looked at myself with a sudden awareness of how Pride was ruining what was meant to be good in my life. I realized that Pride had led to my feelings of insecurity.

The lies of Pride become smaller next to God

I became prideful in small ways, in comfortable circumstances. My mom would always joke about my cavalier attitude around family members and my church family. I would take up as much space as I liked and probably said some things I shouldn’t have without thinking much about it. I felt confident of myself because I saw others as less. That person doesn’t have a job, at least I have one. I could only feel secure if I could imagine myself as better than someone else. I hate that I thought that. I hate that I’m writing this paragraph and that I’m admitting something so disgusting about myself. I feel ashamed to admit that I treated others so poorly and in turn hurt myself.

How would God look at my heart? I think he must have felt so disappointed. This is the same God who came to earth and didn’t look for any of the things we look for in others. Does the bible talk about how he chose a disciple because of his PhD from an Ivy league? Did he befriend the stylish woman at the well? Sure the bible will give merit to beauty and wisdom, but those factors never stopped God from loving or helping someone. God chose the lowly and despised of the world to shame the wise.

One lesson I taught my students and continually remind myself to remember is that we can begin to feel humble when we remind ourselves of how great our God is. You’re proud of your beauty or intellect? Have you heard of the almighty God? He’s so majestic and beautiful that our eyes cannot even see him and live. When we change our perspective to see ourselves in light of who God is, how can we not be humbled?

How Pride breeds insecurity

In the same way that I would feel better than certain people, I felt worse than others. Pride lied to me and told me that because of my looks or education or my background, I was inherently worth less than someone else. Seeing the success of others made me fear failure.

Did I deserve to work at my job? Was I worthy to be that person’s friend? All of the things I built my worth on crumpled because my pride was built on such an insecure foundation.

 

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Without Pride, we see ourselves and others and God intended

God offers us a unique freedom and privilege to gracefully accept our limits as humans. We are beautiful but not the most beautiful. We are given wisdom, but only because God allows it. We may have accomplished a lot by worldly standards, but how small are our feats in light of eternity? How different would our lives be in a different place or circumstance?

Just as pride brings forth fruits of insecurity, I believe that humbleness can lead to fruits of security in who we are and who it is that God longs for us to be.

Open letter to those still in the Indian Church

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There are two types of people this blog post is for. First, the older generation within the Malayalee (Indian) church who like myself (as a teacher in a different culture than my own) often lack awareness of cultural differences or the desires of the younger generation to express themselves differently and creatively. Next, the younger generation who needs to go back to God and his words first as a means to better serve our churches.

For Pentecostals (particular branch of Christianity), Acts 2 is a pivotal piece of scripture. The chapter details what happens when the holy spirit comes at Pentecost. It’s some crazy stuff. Vs 2 explains, “Suddenly a sounds like blowing of a violent wind came from heaven.” Then “tongues of fire” came and “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” I remember my brother once pointed out to me that when people are praying in tongues, to the bystander they don’t look happy! People are yelling, crying and praising. It looks insane if you don’t understand what’s happening. And that’s touched upon. In fact people made fun of them thinking they had too much wine.

So now that epic scene has been painted- now imagine my horror when experiencing something very different at a conference this past weekend.

Carefully pick speakers and always think of the Vision

I encountered a book, “For White Folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of ya’ll too” and was captivated as a teacher but also as someone who loves psychology and trying to understand people. I just came back from a region meeting for Indians who are in ‘church of God’ pentecostal churches. Being honest, the Sunday service was dead. In Emdin’s book he refers to Pentecostal pedagogy as a model for teachers. But as I watched a Pentecostal preacher elicit call and reponse to no avail, my heart broke. This pastor poured his heart out to the audience and there we were- dead, as was I as a part of said audience. I felt uncomfortable praising loudly because everyone could hear me. I wanted to be back in my church where my praises mixed with the congregation in a beautiful melody. Some of my church friends had to remind me that the “norm” in my church isn’t the norm everywhere. In fact, today the main speaker reminded the audience that when he was young the meetings were all in Malayalam and the only portion of the message in English was one song. We’ve come a long way. Many people left my church leaving the current youth with a much stronger voice. We used to always threaten that we would leave but when some people actually did, everything was different. People weren’t leaving after marriage or as older adults, they left as college students and young adults. As a result, my service is entirely in English, the speaker speaks English and everything is catered to me, not perfectly, but our pastor tries. He advocates for our youth and makes a lot of mistakes but still sacrifices so much for the younger generation. However, despite my appreciation of my church, this past weekend wasn’t my first “dead” service at a larger gathering of malayalee youth.

Maybe it was that the call and response method isn’t enough? He would call out Amen only to hear faint amens respond back. Or perhaps it was because he asked men of God to imagine how God would use them to speak and women of God to dream of being pastor’s wives. Heck, maybe it was because he was a 60 year old southern white man speaking to a group of young 13–30 year olds. Whatever the reason, the room was hard to work with and I found myself saddened because it was a long time since I attended a meeting like this. I’m reminded of the book I referenced earlier, “For White Folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of ya’ll too” It’s really hard for white teachers, or even suburban minorities to come into the hood and expect to understand our kids, their music, clothing, food and so on. The same holds for my parent’s generation. Our worship sounds different, our idea of church clothing looks different, we prefer Amerian food compared to rice and chicken- we are different. So when you transplant someone unaware of our differences, it will be hard, as it is hard in teaching. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just as a teacher in the “hood” I need to be aware, but my students can still learn from me. And in our churches we are all still unified under Christ, we just need to be aware of the needs of our youth.

The scene I encountered this past weekend was not the scene of holy spirit coming to Pentecost, it wasn’t anything close. In college I got involved with a group called InterVarsity Christian fellowship and at our region gatherings it was a dance party- literally! We would go twice a year and the room would be packed and my worship with inaudible in the room. I could sing and praise in such freedom. The same thing happened at our conferences once every three years called “Urbana”. I felt such a freedom and strength in a room surrounded by fellow believers. The enthusiasm I once felt is drastically contrasted with the overall feeling from the meeting I attended recently. It felt like the preacher was pleading with the audience to offer something to God and we stood their limp and lifeless.

Go Back to the Basics.

The same message would have been very different for the older generation’s audience. Something was missing and I don’t believe it’s as simple as I would like to make it. I would like to just blame the older generation for not be culturally relevant, which they weren’t. But I know it goes deeper than that. What was the difference between the men who were praising on Pentecost and those who stood and laughed assuming they were drunk on wine? Well Peter addressed the mockers , “These men are not drunk as you suppose.” and explained that God had poured out his spirit on the people as he promised. Peter essential threw down the gospel for these people detailing how the world was made perfect, but then sin came in and created a division between Christ and us. Jesus was then sent as the bridge between that division created by sin. “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose…But God raised him from the dead.” Peter points to the first thing we need to do.

Ultimately, so many people fall between the cracks and need to be reminded once again what Jesus sacrificed for us and how much he loves us.

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Looking back at scripture we see how these people respond, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Do you know what that feels like? Even reading those words pierces my heart. This generation needed Peter to remind them that they needed to, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So when I look at my generation, I see myself. A broken person who as a senior in highschool drifted so far from God that I needed to hear what Christ had done for me once again. I was that person who willingly, proudly stood limp feeling power in denying my praises. I was afraid and stupid as the fool who denies God.

Now 5 years later I am a very different person. But I still needed someone like Peter to remind me of what Christ had done for me and pierce my heart.

Yes, our meetings should be culturally relevant. And a preacher shouldn’t have to beg an entire audience to praise God. But looking at God’s word the answer to those on the sidelines who mocked was not anger or judgment but God’s word spoken through Peter explaining all that Christ has done. I believe our generation needs Peters with the ability to stop and minister to our youth.

Day 24: Something you’ve learned

Something that I’ve learned over the course of the past 24 days, or more so my life, is that you can never make some one love you.  And I don’t just mean this romantically.  All relationships, be it between family members, friends or romantically require the cooperation of two separate entities.  And because of that you can never make someone love you.

Trust me, I’ve tried.

It reminds me of the idea that I can meet someone for the first time and know within seconds that we’ll be best friends.  But then I’ll know someone my entire life and never really feel close to them.  Yes, I’m the type of person to make annoying small talk.  I do it to be polite, even if it’s excruciatingly boring.

Basically, it comes down to this idea that you can really be friends with absolutely anyone.  You’d be surprised by how much you can have in common with a stranger.  You can talk for hours on end about your favorite television show or a good book, but they need to want to talk to you.  And you can love someone to the moon and back, but they need to want to love you.

They need to be excited to see you and take time to show you that you matter.  Otherwise, why are you even wasting your time on someone who doesn’t care for you.  I have this stupid rule in friendships.  I’ll be the first person to initiate a conversation, almost always, but if you don’t respond don’t expect me to try again.  It may be harsh but its a rule I’ve followed and a rule that he done me well for a good while now.  Because if someone wants to talk to you, they will respond.  And if someone cares about your friendship, they shouldn’t ignore you.

I’ve always found the idea of a guy chasing after a girl with little interest in him sickening.  This may be the influence of Korean dramas in my life this past summer but it just looks pathetic to me.  You’re painted this picture that a guy who comes close to stalking a girl is the model of true love.  It’s not.  It’s the model of being a stalker and needed a restraining order soon.

And maybe once in a while pining after someone you don’t know works.  But how much do you really want someone who never really loved you in the first place?  And who made you work for their admiration?

People make time for the people they love in their life.  Stop wasting your time on people who don’t make time for you.