gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, discipleship

Archive for the category “life”

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




waiting may feel like a lifetime… but we wait together

over the past few months, in the wake of such tragic racial injustices brought to the forefront yet again by ferguson, mike brown, eric garner, john crawford, renisha mcbride, marissa alexander, tamir rice… i’ve found myself feeling every difficult emotion you can imagine – anger, grief, lament, sadness, disappointment, confusion, weariness, disbelief, and the list continues. a few days ago, someone said to me, “i’m sure it’s been a hard week caring for your husband and kids?” to which i had no response […..]. and then, i realized that the space i’m in mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally actually runs much deeper than even being married to my husband and raising mixed-race sons.

my 25 day advent journey here on my blog has reminded me that i’ve paid a high cost for my community, my friendships, and my family from the time i was a child! when you’ve had hoops yanked, earlobes ripped, been chased, threatened for being a n*$%#* lover, kicked out of your house, and disowned by your father – ALL, because you believed that your friends and those whom you love are worth the fight, you realize that your whole body and your life have become your love language and your protest!

it’s been a difficult season as i remember the many, many, many times over the course of nearly 4 decades of my life that i’ve found myself literally fighting for, advocating on behalf of, and risking my own sense of security for black lives to matter. and, today i find myself still fighting, advocating, and risking. it took everything in me to not lose my salvation when my oldest son was called the n-word at school a few years ago!

waiting in advent this year has been a struggle, to say the least. it literally has been a lifetime that i’ve been waiting alongside so many folks i love. but, i’ll keep waiting. i’ll keep advocating. i’ll keep risking. and, while my “fight” may look a little different now, i’ll keep fighting however i can.

i look back and remember all the people who’ve made my life so beautiful and redemptive, and i would risk it all over again if i have to. because at the core, these are the people who’ve been the tangible presence of jesus to me and god’s love embodied throughout the story of my life.

in the words of ruth to naomi: your people will be my people. your god will be my god. where you go, i will go and where you die, there too, shall i die. 

~ selah

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.

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.


be still and know

in the wake of what seems to be at this point an utter devastation of an already impoverished nation, i find myself restless and always checking fb and the various news feeds that are streaming in. though i know that the little i have donated to relief efforts makes a difference, i feel helpless.

i find myself praying constantly yet know that so many have already died and will continue to die. i pray for those who are worried about loved ones that were visiting or temporarily located in haiti, that they would soon hear a word of hope at the other end of the line yet know that so many natives of the land have lost generations of their entire family. it is a restlessness that is rooted in the realities of this world – pain, suffering and death that we all endure as human beings. it is also a restlessness in the realization of knowing that though i am not haitian nor do i have close relationships to anyone that has been impacted, i feel the common bond of what it means to be human – to hope in something, the need to love and be loved, to be overcome with compassion for those who suffer, and to help those who are in need. but i realize that this restlessness must be tempered with a stillness of faith in a god that sees and hears the cries of the people. it is a restlessness that cries out in desperation on behalf of those who are suffering and a stillness in knowing that god is present in their midst.

we are called to be witnesses of this god to those who are in need, called to be the feet, the hands, the words of hope. to those who are tirelessly giving of their lives for others in haiti and elsewhere, may you have strength in your well-doing and may god continue to sustain and undergird you and make fruitful the works of your labor. grateful.

if you are looking for a place to donate financially with the relief efforts, OneDay’sWages is supporting an already ongoing org called world concern who have offices and personnel already in haiti. 100% of all donations will go toward these efforts.

more than anything, please continually be in prayer. do not lose heart but let your restlessness stir an even greater desire to desperately seek after god on behalf of others.

the burning bush -a life of being and pursuing

the burning bush

by artist He Qi

so often in our lives when we face difficult situations or trials, we look and seek after signs of some sort -signs that tell us that someone knows us, signs that someone hears our cry and actually cares. we wait for that definitive voice from on high or a strike of lightening, etc…. kind of like an “in-your-face-can’t-deny-the-truth” moment. a burning bush moment.

in the old testament, in exodus 3, we are given a story of a man named moses and a mysterious burning bush through which god speaks and makes god’s self known to him. it is a bush that is raging with fire but never consumed, it is alluring to the one who comes upon it yet is too great to take full on, it offers words of hope but a hope that is marked with a call to action. a bush that, upon it’s presence, acknowledges that the battles we face are not ours alone but that god is and will continue to be with us.

though we say and we know that christ has come and has sent the spirit of god to each of us, to dwell within us, we find ourselves still looking around for that bush. waiting for a sign, looking and hoping in things external when god in god’s love has come to dwell within us through the holy spirit. the same spirit that ignited a bush is the same spirit that abides in us. in this way,  i like to think that our lives are like flaming bushes, which burn but are not consumed. the very god that is in us purges the death on our branches in order that we may bring forth new life. as we are continually made new, we manifest and speak forth a light and a hope to those who encounter us. and in such lives of givenness, we are not found depleted but renewed.

the burning bush is a call to faith, a call to hear and a call to action. believe that god actually hears your cry as he heard the cries of the israelites in captivity. silence the clammering noises of fear and uncertainty and rather choose to hear the voice of hope and love as god is continually speaking to us and through us. know that a life of faith is never a life of comfort or a stagnant reality but a call to put feet to that which we claim as just and right, feet to that which we believe love is. faith is active and always in pursuit of the other. it is in our pursuit of the other that god promises to be with us as he was with moses and the people of israel. god does not call us to something just to abandon us later but calls us in order that god’s faithfulness may be witnessed more fully.

friends, i pray that we do not remain satisfied in our own well-being but the flame of the holy spirit would forever ignite a passion and a fervant desire for those around us.

“up close” with darlene zschech

i am continually grateful to those worship leaders who have and continue to pave the way for others and who inspire us to live faithfully into such a calling. i have decided to dedicate some of my blogs as a tribute to those whom i admire dearly and to those who have been mentors, through written interviews that i have done with each worship leader.

so, it is only appropriate that i begin my “up close” tribute with the one and only pst. darlene zschech from hillsong church in australia. on many levels, she has been my mentor. she has not only pioneered and paved the way for female worship leaders around the globe but the team she has led at hillsong church has gone on to equip churches worldwide with worship songs for over a decade….a mother, grandmother, wife, friend, pastor, songwriter, worship leader, mentor, advocate, justice fighter, are just a few of the reasons why i love her. what an inspiration she has been and continues to be.

“up close” with darlene zschech

GSB- What is the name of the ministry/ies that you work with?

DZI am an ambassador for Compassion, helping to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.  Mark and I also started Hope Rwanda several years ago so we could do more to help the people of Rwanda who are rebuilding their lives after the genocide of 1994. I also had the great honour of writing and recording with some great worship leaders for the CompassionArt project.

GSB- When and how did you know that you were called to ministry?

DZ- At the tender age of fifteen, I committed my life to the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ.  Since that moment, His plan for my life has continued to unfold as I have learnt daily that Jesus is both my Lord, and also my best friend.

GSB- What is “worship” to you?

DZ- Simply this.. WORTH SHIP…

To give all glory and honour to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords…for He alone is worthy of all honour and praise.

It is inclusive, not exclusive, it is not for the gifted, but for every man, woman and child, every nation, tribe and tongue. It will come from the very poor to the very rich , and will cover every style imaginable.. but as long as it is brought in Spirit and in Truth… This is worship..

GSB- How long have you been a worship leader?

DZ- My passion for worship really started to develop from the moment that I got saved, at fifteen.  Once I got saved and really met Jesus, my whole understanding of why music was even there, started to change, and I’ve been on that journey, discovering freedom and integrity in worship, for many years now.  I didn’t want to be a worship leader.  I love being in the background arranging, recording and producing.  But one Sunday Pastor Brian Houston was leading worship and he just walked off and left me in the middle of the service.  At the time I had no confidence when it came to leading worship.  …  One thing I do know, is that through worship, and through learning how to love my God with a whole heart, through that process, the walls of my heart have softened, and I just want to worship my God in spirit and in truth…

GSB- Who were/are your worship leader role models?

DZ- I LOVE Chris Tomlin.. and I believe he writes the best songs for the greater church.. so theologically rich, and so easy to sing. I LOVE Martin Smith.. the prophetic voice he brings to any song, I love Matt Maher.. aahh, I could listen to him teach on worship every day. And his songs are so so pure.. there is something in him that makes me want to be more like Jesus. And  I love all of our own guys and gals… with my whole heart.

GSB- What genre of music influenced you most growing up? Today?

DZ- When I was a young Christian, it was Michael W, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Keith Green….then I became addicted to any female singer.. ( I LOVE Alicia Keys)… and now I love SO many different styles of music.. Coldplay, John Legend, Orchestral music, of course u2…. Natasha Bedingfield… Kari Jobe, The Passion guys…. I am just getting started…

chasing after you

from the often hype and high-energy gospel artist tye tribbett, this particular song is refreshingly subdued and prayerful and still carries within it that passionate something i love about tye’s interpretations and musicality.

it is a song that declares an incredible hope and faith in an active pursuit of the one who has and continues to pursue us. i will go and i’ll be chasing after you are the two main lyrical lines that capture the essence of this song. both are active and suggest a doing on our end. as much as we tend to seek and long for the receiving aspect of our relationship with god, i wonder if we are reminded in this song about god’s desire for us to chase after toward the one who has already chased after us.

though we can never equitably love god in the way god loves us, and though we are often inadequate in our pursuit of god, i am grateful that this god continues to chase me down and refuses to let go! at points in this song, i hear the words as if it were my own prayer and at other points, i hear it as if it is being spoken over me.

as you hear this song may it be your prayer and know that you are loved by a god who never abandons or forsakes but rather, chases after us in hopes that our lives would be turned toward and in pursuit of the one whom we declare to be the lover of our souls.

life as a stranger

RuthAndNaomi by HE Qi

what does it mean to be bound to a people who are “other?” to see your identity in someone that is a stanger? or, in a different light, what does it mean to be the stranger? the other? these are some questions that i believe are central to the issues of our christian identity narrated through the lens of immigrant reality.

in this piece entitled, ruth and naomi, by the artist he qi, i am reminded of such a story in the old testament about a daughter-in-law, ruth, who had decided to leave the only land she knew in hopes of being bound to a new people, a new land, through her mother-in-law naomi.  it is a story of a woman who saw her identity so closely bound to her husband’s people that she chose to become the stranger as a moabite in bethlehem. in ruth 1:16 she tells naomi,

where you go i will go, and where you stay i will stay. your people will be my people and your god my god….

what does this mean? why is this so profound?

for those who have been to my home in seattle, you know that this artwork stands prominently as the focal point in our living room. it is not only a reminder of my immigrant parents who each, in their own way, struggled with the overpowering pull of assimilation, but more profoundly, it is a reminder of my own struggles of placedness and identity, both culturally and as a christian.

though i am an asian-american woman, more specifically, a korean-american woman, i have often found my home/refuge/comfort to be amongst a people whom most koreans have historically considered as “others”- the african-american community. in friendships, in communities of worship, in my affinities, and ultimately in my spouse, i have found a freedom, love, embrace with a people who i now cannot see myself without. however, like many things that are worth something, it has been costly.

as the painting so intimately depicts, our binding to another that blurs the very lines of where one begins and the other ends, is the binding that christ calls each of us to – to a people who may be strange to us, foreign, or alien to all that makes us comfortable. in this way, are we willing to be the stanger? to be the one who picks the fields after another, who waits for the other to determine our livelihood?

friends, this is the space where christ dwells. it is in christ’s body where all are bound together. may the same spirit that binds us to our creator, bind us in ways that begin to transform who i think you are to who christ says we are.

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