gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, discipleship

Archive for the category “church”

women of color ONLY | the protest

well, it’s been a year! in fact, it’s been a crazy year – a year for many people of color, being confronted by lamentable tragedies and injustices in both personal life and on their screens – almost on the daily! so, when january 1, 2015 rolled around, i told myself that my resolution and protest this year would be to ONLY read things by women of color. women. of color. only. all year. meaning, every book/article/blog post i read this year were by women of color.

how hard could that be?! okay…there were a few exceptions:

  1. i had to read my husband’s manuscript draft before he sent it off to the editor. it’s a book on race, he’s my boo, and it’s BRILLIANT! so, he got a pass.
  2. the bible. i actually thought about only reading jesus’ quotes… well…cuz it’s jesus. but, recognizing that i love psalms too much and the fact that i’m on the preaching rotation here at work makes it hard to pick and choose. and, because it’s the bible, it too got a pass.
  3. articles online are hard to navigate whether the author’s ethnicity correlates to their name. most often, it doesn’t. so, if the article seemed like a “must read” and it was a female sounding name, i read it and they got a pass.
  4. i did read excerpts of jennifer harvey’s book “dear white christians.” it was goooood! it’s a book on race and reparations so she got a pass.
  5. and, finally, i do admit that i read most of brené brown’s new book “rising strong.” some of you know that i had a difficult few months this year that totally took me for an unexpected spin. i needed these words to get myself back up, so she got a pass.

other than those 5 exceptions, it’s been a year of filling my mind, thoughts, imagination, and creativity with female authors of color. it’s amazing how difficult it is to only consume words by women, much less, women of color! have you tried? have you ever tried preparing sermons with only commentaries/resources by women of color? have you ever opened a news article or commentary and trained yourself to first look who the author was and then have the discipline to close it if necessary? have you ever had a student ask you to read their seminary paper for them and you tell them you can’t because they’re white or a man? have you ever had a brand new book sitting on your table that everyone was talking about by ta nehisi coates, and couldn’t read it?

well, amidst some surely frustrating moments, i find myself at the end of the year now struggling to allow this protest to end. i have read books and articles by people i may never have heard about otherwise. i have felt empowered by these women’s voices. i have even experienced a righteous anger arise realizing how rarely we allow women to speak into our lives. if you look, you can find them. but, we’re often too lazy to look! how often do we only quote men in our sermons or read books, articles, blogs by white folks? who’s informing our knowledge? who do we think has authority on particular topics?

the struggle…

i sit here today, grateful for this protest. i’m a richer and wiser woman because of it. i’m especially thankful for all the sisters out there hustlin’ and living into your gifts and calling like a BEAST! i see you.

for this new year, 2016, i think i’ll expand my protest/resolution a bit and commit to only reading things written by people of color – men and women.

all that to say, to my white brothers and sisters, don’t be offended if i can’t read your stuff right away. i’ll get to it eventually…like 2017.


**a few of the good books i’ve read this year:

  • citizen by claudia rankine
  • sister outsider by audre lorde
  • ferguson & faith by leah gunning francis
  • daughters of thunder – a collection of black women preachers and their sermons, by betty collier-brown
  • the next worship by sandra van opstal
  • finished reading my beloved world by sonia sotomayor
  • read excerpts of god help the child by toni morrison
  • read excerpts of roadmap to reconciliation by brenda salter-mcneil




real talk#4 -being a woman in ministry

over the past few months, i have been particularly struck by the ways i’ve been subtly and not so subtly formed in the church…. no, i’m not talking about spiritually but a formation of how i’ve performed and continue to perform into a kind of gendered role of both assertion and passivity.

all growing up and even well into my ministry career, the culture within many of the churches i’ve been a part of have predominantly been under some sort of strong alpha male presence and leadership. and when i say “alpha,” i mean it in such a way that is not meant to be judgmental but rather, an indication of a larger cultural reality -a reality that suggests or even demands a particular way of being for what it means to be masculine, which inevitably requires a counter balance of femininity…in other words, dominant and submissive ways of relating. and we all know that it is usually the “masculine” or “dominant” trait that pushes ahead when it comes to our understandings of success and influence. we see this operating not only in the business world and in politics, but also in the church.

for me, entering into vocational ministry at the age of 21, as a female/asian worship leader in the mid to late 90’s, i must admit, it was a battle of sorts -not so much to have the opportunity to do what i do but to be heard. all kinds of folks will hire and use your gifts for their benefit but what does it mean to be heard? to be respected? this is the gap that i have sensed for the past 13 years until perhaps just recently.

i have the wonderful privilege of serving as one of the pastors on staff here at quest church in seattle. from what i’ve gathered, a lot of people here in seattle don’t seem to want to abide by the typically set norm for the most part compared to other places i’ve lived – bikes ride the street like it’s theirs, indie artists and local bands are celebrated more so than what tends to be “popular” in the larger culture, local food and coffee shops are heralded over and against your usual chain restaurants and coffee joints, and so on. i know, i know, these are gross generalizations but coming from living 10 years in the south, these differences are quite stark to me. which makes me wonder if this way of imagining and negotiating the culture we’re so influenced by rubs off on the way we imagine ourselves and our participation within it?

all this to say, since i’ve moved to seattle just over a year ago, anytime i’ve had to teach, speak, preach in a ministry setting, i’ve begun to notice that a certain kind of persona arises out of me. i don’t really want to say that i feel “masculine” per se, but my demeanor definitely rings with a kind of assertive/authoritative confidence that suggests you better not mess with me! well, maybe it is an alpha rising out of me! i know, crazy right? there’s actually a running joke with some of my friends here that tell me i have a definite and particular booming “prayer voice” …..prayer voice?? i didn’t even realize there was such a thing! i think and believe that a lot of it has to do with the ways i’ve been formed. formation in this sense, arising out of a lack -lack of women leaders in the church as role models, lack of trust for women in ministry, lack of faith that women actually have something to contribute in addition to meeting the gender balance requirement on any given staff, lack of respect that because we’re women, we’re only concerned with and gifted for children’s ministry and fluffy women’s ministry tea gatherings. in this way, in order to counter such ill-formed images and perceptions of women in ministry, i’ve had to assert myself much more to have a place at the proverbial table so to speak -to be heard, to be respected for more than my looks and my “sensitive/motherly” gifts.

it’s formation that has arisen out of a need to be like one of the boys.

strangely, a lot of the men around me here, in my particular circles of relationships and ministry, are by no means the kind of image of the machismo-grunting-flexing-jocky males that i’m used to in ministry. it’s weird….but refreshing in such a good way! i’m just finding myself feeling, at times, out of place. i feel like i’m too assertive and perhaps a bit overwhelming to some. i find myself constantly conscious and aware of how i speak in certain contexts but when i pray and preach, i just can’t seem to pull it back! formation takes time. it’s taken me 14 years of being this way and, dare i say, performing in a particular way that has translated into who i am now in ministry.

it’s been a learning process, more about myself than anything else, i guess.

my prayer for ministry now is not so much how well or competently i perform tasks given me but rather, a lifelong promise to myself and the many young women whom i will encounter for years to come. a promise of hope that prayerfully, through the witness of my life, many young women will see and know that they too have something significant to offer this world.

multi-ethnic worship: 3 issues facing worship leaders

so often, pastors and worship leaders find it very difficult to capture and speak to the many challenges that arise within our respective congregations, especially when it comes to meeting musical and/or worship styles across multi-ethnic lines. whether you’re in a church that hopes and longs to be more diverse in this area or already in the thick of it trying to wade through the many voices, concerns and requests, we must all be mindful of our own need for transformation.

i recently wrote a very brief article for unity in christ magazine on the topic, “3 issues worship leaders face in multi-ethnic congregations.”  it’s part of a 5 voice forum on this particular topic and for me, I have found that the three foremost issues many worship leaders/pastors are confronted with are the notions of preference, purity and participation.

you can read the full article here.

what are 3 issues you think are challenging for worship leaders as they/you prayerfully and faithfully lead their/your congregations within a multi-ethnic context?

multi-ethnic worship: YOUR thoughts

so, i’ve been asked to write an article due out in july on the top 3 issues that worship leaders of multi-ethnic worship face on a macro and micro level. as i have my thoughts pretty set on this topic, primarily from years of experience in both homogenous congregations and in communities who are faithfully trying to live into racial reconciliation, i think it would be nice to hear from YOU as well.

i am no fool to think that my experiences alone or my interest/study/research on this topic makes me an authority by any means. however, i am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on it and will post it here once the publication is out at the end of july.

in the meantime, whether you’re a pastor, worship leader, former worship leader, have an innate sense of what your worship leader is dealing with, whatever…i’d LOVE to hear your thoughts/experiences/insights on what YOUR top 3 issues for worship leaders of multi-ethnic worship are.

lenten reflection: death does not have the last word

i always feel an enormous tension when it comes to the tradition and practices of lent, holy week and good friday/holy saturday. it is a tension that lies within the notion that this season must be marked by a certain posture of somberness in reflection of our own sinful state and in anticipation and remembrance of christ’s death. i often struggle with the idea that our mortality and christ’s death on the cross are somehow the focus of the entire 40 days and lived out in ways that make me believe that the resurrection is merely the “after effect.” beginning on ash wednesday as we are crossed with ash on our foreheads and reminded that “from dust we’ve come and to dust we shall return,” we begin a ritual of mourning -mourning our sinfulness and the burden that christ bore on our behalf.

why do we receive such words spoken over us? yes, we all do return to dust but is there not a redemption that specifically marks our faith in christ? an ashen state of being is not the final word. the death of this body is not the period at the end of our sentence.

i believe that our redemption happened not only when christ took our sin upon his own body, becoming sin on our behalf and died (it would be tragic if that were the culmination and seal of our redemption), but i believe that it is only in the resurrection of that death, the rising of our lives in christ’s body rising that we can know our redemption. this is a glorious event, a miraculous event. as i anticipate and ponder the magnitude of  christ’s death on good friday, i also take great joy in that death as the precursor to my resurrection and the resurrection of the saints. it is a time of recognizing what i am not in the realization of who god is. it is also a recognizing of who I am in the realization of who god says that i am –a joint heir, a daughter and beloved -forgiven and redeemed.

thus, as we now enter into this most somber season of lent taking a posture of humility and in anticipation of christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, i also choose to take great joy in the realization that christ did not have to, yet christ did. i take joy in christ’s death as it holds within it, the promise of resurrection, the promise of hope. for me, it will never be a season of mourning for i mourn those who have been separated from me, but in christ’s death, i have been brought near.

the greatest of these is LOVE

1 corinthians 13:1-8

if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, i am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. if i have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if i have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, i am nothing. if i give all i possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, i gain nothing. love is patient, love is kind. it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. love never fails.

wow! i’ve probably read this passage a million times but today, i am struck with something quite convicting inside of these words. i have heard this message about loving others preached or taught within the context of marriage, relationships, within the scope of extending the depth of our desires, realms of possibility…basically, loving those whom we can comprehend ourselves loving -friends, family, those in the margins, etc. after all, we have a foundation of love for these people, or our love toward them is centered on human compassion. we leave the message reminded that we should stop harboring resentments, petty grudges and that we should begin coming out of ourselves enough to help those less fortunate, right?

however, i was challenged when i thought about a love shown through obedience….because doing something out of obedience is often more challenging than doing it out of desire or willingness. that all so famous phrase we like to quote, “love your enemies” is strangely more than a simple charge to make ammends. though it could mean that as well, i think this kind of love calls for a real and honest engagement of who we consider our enemy. for example, what about those people who are absolutely unlovable in our minds? perhaps those who have harmed us or those who have harmed others -murderers, traffickers, the unmentionables. to love such people is unimaginable! however, should love be a respecter of persons?

as valentine’s day (our culture’s dedicated day of love) approaches, as well as the first day of lent a few days following, i think about this word: love. as christian’s, we believe that christ came and bore all things upon himself on the cross because god loved, loves and will continue to love that which god created. the reality is that love means nothing unless there is a cost involved. this is what i believe 1 corinthians 13 is trying to convey. what is profound in loving something or someone that is already lovable? god did not send his only begotten son to suffer and die for those without stains, those who were blameless and without sin. no, christ died for the wretched, those deserving of eternal separation. christ died for all -you, me, child traffickers, and the murderer on death row…. yes, christ died for ALL.

the thought of this makes me cringe, if i’m being honest. in my mind, i am SO different than my enemy. yet, to know that christ loves the same. this is a truly difficult passage to swallow. somehow though, it challenges me that my faith has to be something more than talk and to continually remember that christ died for me just as much as anyone else. may my heart toward greater love begin with confession and repentance. if i cannot love the small offenders in my life, how can i possibly extend love to those that seem tragically unlovable?

i pray that as we ponder and prepare our hearts for the lenten season, may we be continuously reminded of the infinite and immeasurable love of our god and may our lives emanate with a costly love that the world would think incomprehensible.

faith, hope, love. but the greatest of these is LOVE.


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