Streams Run Uphill


La vida es la lucha. Coined by our mujerista theologians it literally means, “life is struggle,” or even more simply “to live is to struggle.” Conversely, the flip is true, too – to struggle is to live. The book 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.

From the Prologue: 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.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 vey least it means making sure there is a space for all voices and experiences.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

Colossians 1

Growing up, and even today, my parents love to say, “고생해.” Loosely translated it means, “You need to know trouble/grief/pain/sorrow.” It’s an odd blessing to offer one’s child, but they knew that there was something valuable to facing one’s struggles. It reminds me a little of Paul’s words in Romans about suffering producing character, etc. and somehow ending up in hope.

As a woman of color I’m always forced to struggle with the questions: Is it because I’m Korean? Is it because I’m a woman? Whenever I left an interview for a position or felt sidelined or silenced during a committee meeting, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something else beneath the situation. I can’t begin to count the number of times I had heard a church’s rejection and wondered if my ethnicity, gender, or age had more to do with it than the cop-out language of “God is leading us elsewhere.” And for a long time, I was silent in my response to it. Perhaps the “encouragement” from my parents to face these struggles head on meant more than developing a thick skin and more character, but a word to work for a greater change.

Those that are outside of these particular experiences can never understand how those questions are always agonizingly a part of the equation. No one makes this up. If I were white and male or even simply white I would never wonder if my race/ethnicity would make an impact on the dominant culture’s questions and doubts towards me. But these questions have been there from the beginning and stayed with me throughout seminary, my call process and interviewing at churches, and ministry. Not everyone has these experiences.

And thankfully these weren’t the only experiences I had throughout my life. But they’re out there and real. The stories in this book blessed, challenged, and inspired me to continue in the struggle.

From the afterword of the book: 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.