Korean Women’s Narratives of Being Pastor and Pastor’s Wife

By AHyun Lee

Last month, I shared my personal story of being a Samo (a pastor’s wife) and Moksa (a pastor) as an invitation to explore the meaning of women’s leadership in Korean immigrant churches. This month, we look at the five common and unique struggles of Korean women’s narratives of being a pastor and a pastor’s wife, based on interviews I conducted for my research.

I.     They dont want to call me the only pastor

All my interviewees shared similar experiences with their titles, being called a Moksa and a Samo. They know it is just a title, and at the same time, recognize that people’s difficulties in granting them that title discloses the reality of sexism. Also, one of my interviewees said some Korean church members always wanted to put the title of Samo along with Moksa like MoksaSamo.

II.     I am so tired

One of the unique experiences of Korean clergywomen is the painful experiences with transitioning to appointments, especially with the people and communities involved. When the private experiences of the interviewees being appointed to cross-cultural and cross-racial ministries became public knowledge for the congregations, the women all faced resistance and rejection from the Korean congregations, which continuously impacted their ministries, becoming an emotional and spiritual burden for them.

Also, they all decided to take on both roles of being a pastor and being a pastor’s wife. After leading an English-language service in their cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments, they then went to their husband’s churches and put on the expected role of a Samo, for the Korean immigrant congregation. They expressed their tiredness and weariness with overwhelming expectations from performing double the ministerial responsibilities in both places.

III.     Am I inappropriate?

Being Moksa Samo means taking on the different stereotypical expectations within different communities. For example, the stereotypical image of an Asian (Korean) woman as sweet and indirect is problematic in a ministerial setting because they are seen as ‘not-assertive,’ ‘vulnerable’ or ‘not-independent.’ Although there are strong cultural expectations for a pastor’s wife in a Korean immigrant church that are hard to ignore, she is easily regarded as ‘not independent enough’ as a person from others in leadership, such as the cabinet members or district superintendent, when she still wants to be a pastor’s wife in a Korean immigrant church. She is seen as ‘not enough’ or ‘inappropriate’ in a cross-cultural and cross-racial appointment.

On the other hand, a Samo is often expected to be a ‘traditional mother figure’ or ‘a tradition keeper’ in the Korean immigrant church. However, a Korean clergywoman is often regarded as being “too” liberal and a westernized feminist against traditional values of Korean-ness. They are again regarded as being “not enough” or “inappropriate” for their husbands or their Korean congregations and Korean churches. Experiencing these contradictory and different narratives, they face their sense of inadequacy and inferiority in their relationships with others and in the daily functions and roles they serve. The narrative of being a Moksa Samo illustrates the difficulties Korean clergywomen face to a fully integrated sense of self. The church needs to be aware of their struggles and provide the support.

IV.     Do I belong, here?

Although they are Korean immigrants, they serve in cross-cultural and cross-racial ministry settings. While they are pastors in cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments, they are also a pastor’s wife in a Korean immigrant church. It is hard to define where they come from or where they belong in daily life. They had unavoidably experienced rejection and the feeling of being a stranger through their ministerial experiences with both communities (Korean churches and cross-cultural and cross-racial churches). Each of the women experienced feeling rejected and blamed for abandoning and breaking from their own community for their own betterment. Finding where they belong between the Korean immigrant church and their cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments causes them to feel a sense of loss both emotionally and relationally.

Unfortunately, there is not a safe space to lament and grieve about this rejection, loss and isolation from the community.

V.     Am I really called by God?

The last unique narrative of being a Moksa Samo is the question, “Am I really called by God?” Korean clergywomen tell of church members asking them, ‘How could God call you as an ordained pastor when you are already called as a pastor’s wife?’ Critical congregations see the woman’s pursuit of ordination as a way of fulfilling her own selfish ambition to make money for her own financial benefit.

In addition, along with the relational conflicts with Korean congregations and the physical and emotional weariness of these women, there were also feelings of deep fear and guilt regarding the failure and abandonment of her husband’s ministry and guilt and shame of not fully being present for her family.

Although racial and ethnic minority clergywomen encounter lots of challenges in their ministerial roles, there is a lack of institutional and structural support for her ministerial functions and little spiritual and emotional support for self-care.

Where and what is the hope in their stories? In the next and final blog in the series, I’d like to invite you to share your hope in learning from their narratives toward the transformation of our community.

Rev. AHyun Lee is an ordained Elder serving the Mayville United Methodist Church in the Wisconsin Conference of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of Garrett Evangelical-Theological Seminary (Ph.D.) and Wesley Theological Seminary (M.Div.). Her research focuses on transnational and multicultural pastoral counseling in global and postcolonial contexts. AHyun is the Coordinator of the Asian and Asian American Ministry Center at Garrett-Evangelical. She is also a clinical fellow as the pastoral psychotherapist at the Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago. She has a strong passion for empowering women’s leadership and sharing women’s narratives for serving psychological and spiritual care for women in the church, conference, community and the world.

Somebody, but Nobody… Nobody, but Somebody

By AHyun Lee

Somebody, but nobody nobody, but somebody

I am a Samo, a pastor’s wife (Korean). Yet, I am also a Moksa, a pastor (in Korean). The ambiguity of having uncertain identities being both a Moksa and Samo seems to make others uncomfortable.

I sometimes encounter people who intentionally avoid calling me “Pastor”. That part of me is not acceptable; it is invisible. It has been my ongoing journey to wrestle with this invisibility and ambiguity in my life. Is it just my personal issue or is it a more extensive issue?

I have often heard clergywomen and pastors’ wives say, “I thought I was somebody, but I was nobody… but, when I thought I was nobody, they expected me to become somebody.”

Narratives of being a Samo in a Korean immigrant church and a Moksa in a cross-cultural and cross-racial appointment stand with all the complexities of race, ethnicity and patriarchy within the United Methodist churches. Their narratives share how they navigate their lives in the midst of multiple modes of oppressions and healings.

Tracing the narratives Korean American women as both being a Moksa (a pastor) and Samo (a pastor’s wife) in my work, it becomes the essential source for rethinking what the meaning of being a woman in the church is and how their ministry connects to the United Methodist churches.

‘Just the pastor’s wife’

My mother is a Samo, a pastor’s wife (in Korean). She is a very gifted leader; she is smart, talented and thoughtful. When she was in her mid-twenties, she wanted to devote her life to God and she married my father who was a pastor. My mother helps my father’s ministry. She is ready to open our home to members of the congregation at any time and serves them lots of food. She wants me, a pastor’s kid, to be a model Christian. She does everything a pastor’s wife can do.

I always think of her as a minister in her own right. However, some in the congregation do not respect or appreciate what she contributes to the church. I was very confused when I heard, “She’s just the pastor’s wife.” Although I see her as a minister, she is not the minister. Although she is a church leader, she is not the leader of the church.

In addition, her life as a Samo is not only in private aspects of the religious institution, but also in public spaces outside church contexts. She is expected to be a Samo to people who are not members of her church. Who my mother is, is always ambiguous.

I am a Samo, a pastor’s wife. One day, I realized I did not feel called to be a Samo. I have had critical reflection about my internal reluctance to be called as a Samo, a pastor’s wife. What does it mean to me to be named as a Samo? I probably have a deep fear of being asked to accept the ambiguity my mother experiences every day.

When do you think you are somebody?

I keep questioning the meaning of my and my mother’s narrative of being a woman, especially a female leader in the church. What is the meaning of their unique stories being a Samo and Moksa in the ministries? What does it really mean to be a woman leader in the church?

Through my work researching the narratives of being a Samo and a Moksa, I learned that my personal narrative is not only related to my own emotional and subjective experiences, but also to the dominant narratives which are constructed by social systems, cultural and religious structures.

Here, I invite you to ask yourself, “When do you think you are somebody? When are you expected to become nobody?” Let’s start to build attentive solidarity together for empathically embracing their struggle, joy, cry, and pains through being present in a sacred space where we don’t even know whether we are somebody or nobody.

Coming up…

In the next blog, I am going to share the unique story they each encounter as a woman of color in their ministry. There are crucial narratives they experience with the different cultures, ethnicity and nationality. Their narratives also disclose psychological conflicts highlighted by colonial tensions and relational struggles with patriarchal and Confucians structures, as well as contradictory expectations in the relationships with others and the wider community.

In the third blog as the end of these series, I will look for our hope of listing to their narratives for those whose points of references of belongingness are multiple and how we as a woman in the church empower their own narratives as unique and meaningful narratives for transforming our community.

Rev. AHyun Lee is an ordained Elder serving the Mayville United Methodist Church in the Wisconsin Conference of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of Garrett Evangelical-Theological Seminary (Ph.D.) and Wesley Theological Seminary (M.Div.). Her research focuses on transnational and multicultural pastoral counseling in global and postcolonial contexts. AHyun is the Coordinator of the Asian and Asian American Ministry Center at Garrett-Evangelical. She is also a clinical fellow as the pastoral psychotherapist at the Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago. She has a strong passion for empowering women’s leadership and sharing women’s narratives for serving psychological and spiritual care for women in the church, conference, community and the world.

Generation Transformation

By Laura Wise

Like many of my peers in the millennial generation, I want to change the world; and I have chosen to live this out through Generation Transformation, the young adult missionary programs of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

The Generation Transformation program is one that every young adult in the church should know about, especially young women. The mission field is a place where young women can grow personally and socially through faith and justice. It is a place where young women can explore their calling and vocation. Mission is a place where I and many other young women have been able to hone in on our gifts and talents.

As I quickly approach the end of my three-year commitment to missionary service, I find myself reflecting over all that I’ve learned.

Answering the call

I remember four years ago when I first felt my “call”–a call to something bigger than myself. Believe it or not, giving up my life of fashion and design in Los Angeles to move to the Philippines in mission wasn’t a particularly hard decision for me to make. I seem to have an insatiable appetite for wanting more out of life, so I trusted in God that there was a lesson for me to learn along the journey on which I was soon to embark.

Learning to serve in different environments

Spending 18 months in the Philippines working on peace and human rights taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I spent months at a time in rural communities, some with no electricity or running water. Growing up in a suburb of Dallas did not prepare me for these experiences. I learned to adapt to my surroundings, to different cultures and customs and to unfamiliar language.

The Philippines, eventful as it was, still couldn’t prepare me for my next and current phase of mission: 18 months in the concrete jungle of New York City. Yet again, I had to adapt to mission in a new setting. I’m no longer working with rural communities; rather now I’m working with highly populated urban communities.

I have a dual placement here in New York. I am a writer on the content team at Global Ministries/United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). I’m also working as the community engagement coordinator for a local emergency food pantry, Hope for our Neighbors in Need (HNN), a ministry of Church of the Village United Methodist Church, New York, N.Y.

At Global Ministries I’ve found true passion in my work. Every day I have the privilege and responsibility of sharing the stories of United Methodist missionaries serving all around the world. At HNN I work directly with the clients that come into our food pantry and community meal every Tuesday and Saturday. Living and working in such a diverse city has taught me how to be in community with others, not ignoring our differences, yet using them to build bridges of tolerance and understanding.

Committing to missions

There are three core values of the Global Mission Fellows program. The program encourages all fellows to engage, connect and grow wherever we serve. I’ve learned that to engage in community is something that I must do at all times, such as getting to know the individuals and establishments in my neighborhood. I connect the church in mission by exposing all those I come in contact with to the young adult missionary programs of the church. I have also grown in personal and social holiness; I’ve taken the Creator out of the box I had placed God into.

I’ve come to realize that after my time as a commissioned missionary has expired, I will still be involved in mission work. Although I’m not yet sure of my plans after the program, I am pursuing opportunities that will allow me to further God’s mission of justice and equality in the world. Being mission-minded is a lifetime commitment that I will continue to live out.

Encouraging others to get involved

If you or someone you know–specifically a young woman–wants to make a difference in the world, keep the Generation Transformation programs in mind. Changing the world takes much energy, so why not engage in a program that is sustained by something greater than us? Step out on faith and allow mission service to change your life.

Check out the Generation Transformation programs here: www.umcmission.org/gt and/or free to contact me directly with any questions you may have: lwise@umcmission.org

Laura WiseLaura Wise is young adult missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. You can read more about Laura at http://www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service/Missionary-Profiles/Wise-Laura

The Intern’s Corner: Reflections on the Past Year

Pat Trask interned with GCSRW over the past year. The GCSRW staff would like to thank her for her work and dedication to the mission of our agency. We wish her well in her final year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary! 

By Pat Trask, GCSRW Seminary Intern

The school year is over, the sun is out (it was probably out before…), and it is time to reflect on my year of internship at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW).

In the beginning, there was reading and observation. What is GCSRW? How does it function? What is my role here? These answers became clearer as the work began. Blog. Assist with an expansive language webinar. Research on sexual ethics policies across the American connection. Help prepare for the Do No Harm seminar and for Annual Conferences. Work on reformatting the UMSexualEthics.com website. I was only in the office two days a week as an intern, and there was always something new on the horizon each time I returned for someone in the office as seven staff members did the work of the agency for the roughly 12,500,000 United Methodists across the international connection.

Meanwhile, in my other studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, I learned about the backdrop of United Methodist history, polity, and doctrine. These studies helped illuminate my experiences and observations at GCSRW, strengthened my ability to reflect theologically on my work at the agency and to understand the position of the agency within the United Methodist structure. They helped me understand the history of GCSRW (available at gcsrw.org), the history of General Conference actions regarding the agency (for example, Plan UMC from General Conference 2012), and the necessity of an agency to monitor and advocate on behalf of gender equity within the church. My studies and my internship blended theory and practice so that both experiences were enhanced.

Just as a local church in Nigeria or Manila, the Philippines, is connected to a local church in Iowa or Alaska, my experiences at GCSRW this past year are connected to my seminary education and, I believe, to the church as a whole. I won’t forget what I learned at GCSRW anytime soon, and I will encourage others to get to know the work of GCSRW too. The perspective voiced by GCSRW is important to us as a church, and it is important to have various voices heard as the church moves forward in the 21st century. I look forward to watching the work of GCSRW as I continue in my studies at Garrett-Evangelical and as I move forward into ministry following graduation. It has been a great experience, and I would encourage others to learn about the work of GCSRW and to support its mandated work within The United Methodist Church across the connection.

pat trask for web

Pat Trask is a former lawyer and a second-year student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  She is working this year as GCSRW’s seminary intern.

Firefighting is a Ministry

By Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith

Not all ministries require a pulpit. We can be called to ministry in a number of ways. I felt a call to serve God from an early age. It wasn’t until I entered into training to become a deaconess that I realized I could serve God and serve my community by becoming a volunteer firefighter.

My name is Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith. I’m a firefighter and EMT in Sumter, S.C. Attending church and engaging with my church community has always been a part of my life. I knew early on I desired to be in missions, perhaps to serve as a missionary. I didn’t know how or when this would be a part of my life; therefore, this dream remained just a dream.

In 2006, I decided to become a volunteer firefighter for my community. I never really had an interest in firefighting until I challenged myself to take the training and learned more about fire service and the great tradition of the career. It was tough physically and mentally, but in by 2008, I became a career firefighter.

During this time, I also resumed courses to become a deaconess. A deaconess is a layperson, not clergy. To become a deaconess (in the United Methodist denomination) you must have an identified focus for your ministry. It wasn’t until a year before I was commissioned that I discerned the nature of my ministry. It was right in front of my face and I didn’t even know it! I was called to enter a firefighting ministry.

Deaconesses (and the male equivalent, home missioners), “function through diverse forms of service directed toward the world to make Jesus Christ known in fullness of his ministry and mission, which mandate that his followers:

a) Alleviate suffering;
b) Eradicate causes of injustice and all that robs life of dignity and worth;
c) Facilitate the development of full human potential; and
4) Share in building global community through the church universal.”

United Methodist Book of Discipline, UMC, 2012, p. 623

My understanding of my call to ministry heightened when I realized there was more to do in the kingdom of God than “preach.”

My ministry is described as “cutting edge” because it is not standard, mainline ministry. Cutting edge is a great phrase for kingdom building because there are different layers of ministry: I’m (1) female, (2) a firefighter and (3) active in ministry. Often times, before leaving an emergency scene I provide words of comfort to the people I’ve rescued and served. I’ve prayed with numerous patients whom were ejected and trapped in vehicles. Too many times, I have prayed with a person whom was alive when reached them, and died while I was still praying.

Three decades ago, there weren’t many females in the fire service or ministry. I live the life of being “cutting edge” daily. As a deaconess, I know that my work to make sure everyone knows their worth is a continuation of Jesus’ legacy of kingdom building.

My favorite bible verse, Galatians 3:28, compliments my calling and ministry as a firefighter. In this passage, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It’s amazing how the destruction of fire, a motor vehicle accident or a rescue emergency can break barriers. A person needing your help doesn’t care about your gender, economic status or race. They just desire help. Likewise, when the tone drops at the fire department, regardless of my political, religious or social views, my oath as a firefighter is to serve the community.

My ministry is that I can be that help as a deaconess and a firefighter!

img005Selena Ruth Smith is a Deaconess serving as a firefighter and is a member of the South Carolina Annual Conference.

When I Changed My Mind…

By Linda Bales Todd

When I was a youth, I went to church every Sunday morning as well as to every Sunday night youth group. Ohmer Park United Methodist Church was my home church. I loved this church and all who worshiped there. Many of the members of Ohmer Park were like my second family. I, along with my two sisters, was baptized at Ohmer Park. Later in life, I, too, was married and had our two sons baptized in this special place in the heart of Belmont, a blue-collar neighborhood in Dayton, OH. I trusted the people at Ohmer Park and felt loved.

Like most Christians, reading the Bible was something I did.

If one were to ask whether I had a favorite scripture passage, I’d have to say I have two: Psalm 139 and Luke 18:1-8. Psalm 139 is magical, loving, and filled with assurances that God is with us from the very beginning and would be forever. A sense of awe and gratitude runs through my veins when I read that God “formed my inward parts and knitted us together in my mother’s womb.” One could not imagine a more intimate verse in the Bible – a verse that, indeed, causes me to “praise” God and know that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” When reading this scripture, I feel special and loved, or, according to Henri Nouwen, “beloved.”

In Luke 18:1-8, standing up to those in power to challenge the injustices of the day is the call of the widow. Her boldness reminds me of an actor who takes on the “bad guys” and wins the day by some grand act of will and courage. The widow is bold as she makes her case for justice and keeps “coming” to the judge begging him to do what is right. She is a strong woman standing firm on a belief that she, indeed, is worthy and is loved and is “made in the image of God.” Jesus’ use of women in his stories was not unusual – women who, in that day, were seen as “less than,” marginalized and powerless. Jesus, the Son of God, loves women, too, by valuing and trusting them to lead others for righteousness sake.

During Sunday school as a youth, we studied about God and viewed different artists’ renditions of God. Typically, the renditions were always older, wiser-looking men with beards usually white and long. God was “Father.” God was a male image that permeated the Holy Bible and bestowed upon humanity both judgment and love. I dutifully prayed the Lord’s Prayer, which began as “Our Father.” I read scripture after scripture that referred to God as “Him” and believed every word of it. God and Jesus were one with the Holy Spirit, which, I suppose made all three of them “male.” I believed every word of that, too.

In 1972, after the birth of my first son, I joined United Methodist Women, an organization that changed my life. It was as if I found another home – one where I felt affirmed as a woman and trained and valued as a leader. My mind was stretched by educational initiatives on issues that mattered most to me at that time – theology, spirituality, world realities about women and how they struggle for wholeness, and how to bring balance to being a mom and working for justice at the same time. It’s amazing how one finds such life in a community – life that empowers one to seek answers, seek truth and ways to be a critical reader of everything including the Bible! And, it’s also amazing when an organization and a strong community of “believers” can cause one to shift one’s thinking.

Those scripture passages I loved so much, where women were truly valued, became woven into my heart affirming that certainly God had to be something other than “Father.” It no longer made sense to me. Changing my mind about the image of God didn’t come through some sudden act of transformation like a lightning bolt. Rather, it happened through my interactions with women and men theologians who viewed the Bible in the cultural context of the day, which was centered in patriarchy and power. Through this, I claimed a more expansive understanding of God. Believing that God had feminine qualities such as a “mother hen,” God “giving birth” made sense if I, a woman, was really created in God’s image!

The scales continued to fall off my eyes after reading, “Words that Heal, Words that Hurt,” a UMC publication telling the damage language can do when using male language for God, especially to women who are victims of domestic violence. How can she relate to a male God when a male has just levied emotional, psychological or physical damage to her body and soul?

Now I rarely use pronouns to describe God due to their limitations. I resist falling back into that pattern of restrictive language whether it is the spoken or printed word. I no longer pray the Lord’s Prayer as “Our Father,” but as “Our God”.

I changed. I moved from being a passive bystander and accepter of a historic theological dogma to one who more clearly grasped the vastness of God’s being and meaning in the world. This awakening was a catalyst for my professional journey as a social justice advocate for women around the globe. My strength, confidence and self-esteem were magnified through claiming a larger God. It is what I hope for all God’s people – women and men. This evolution of seeking the truth to life’s questions has created a new human being who has found greater love, sustenance and affirmation through a God who is, in reality, beyond description.

Linda Bales Todd is retired and a member of the West Ohio Annual Conference

Images of Liberation and Life

IMG_0345_2By Rev. Vicki Flippin

Last year a photo was taken of me leading a worship service. When I saw the photo, I was mortified. My first thought was her BARE FEET! While our church is pretty “come as you are,” few of our parishioners are brave enough to discard the shoes—until, in the frantic crazy of getting an infant out the door in time for worship, we celebrate if we manage the essentials for a summer day: onesie, pants, diaper. Had we known she would be photographed, we might have added shoes, but we do the best we can.

My first reaction to the photo from that day was embarrassment about the bare feet. But, as the adrenaline of Sunday morning wore off, I began to feel some serious shame. The moment was a result of frantic desperation. My head pastor was away so I was leading the service on my own, along with teaching a pre-service class and attending a post-service meeting. Usually on those days I would leave the baby with a few bottles and I would take a milk-pumping break after the sermon to relieve my breasts of their painful and symbiotic longing for my baby’s hungry body. But this day there was no time for a break. And a hungry baby and full breasts in worship meant that this happened – I had to nurse her while leading worship!

As I stood in front of the congregation, we were all a little dazed by the unfamiliar moment. I stumbled over my words, distracted by the assumption that the church was reevaluating the ideal of putting women in charge.

My constant companion, Self-Doubt, had a lot of questions about my behavior that day. Why did you have to nurse in front of your parishioners? So what you are telling them is when the senior pastor is on vacation, they are left with you, someone who can’t get her act together? Why did you agree to lead worship if you can’t manage your time? A male pastor would have never been in this situation.

Life after baby has felt like an endless stream of impossible alternatives. Strip baby naked on subway platform or continue long journey home with poop all over baby’s clothing, skin, and stroller. Eat or sleep or shower. Interrupt baby’s meal (Screaming!) or lead worship while breastfeeding.

Life after baby has overwhelmed me. In fact, in the first few months, it felt less like life and more like death. I gave birth last year during the first week of Lent and made my first appearance at church with the new baby on Easter Sunday. The time in between was spent huddled in what felt like a dark, eternal tomb. My body was torn, bloodied, burning, cramping, and completely disoriented. My mind was in shock from the birth and in desperation from the sleep-deprivation. And each careful tip-toe out of my apartment with this creature, now so vulnerable on the outside of my body, was terrifying.

So I experienced Easter that year as a time of picking grave clothes off of my reanimating body and taking those first steps out of my postpartum tomb.

But even as I started to get more comfortable physically leaving my apartment, I was still terrified of being out when the baby’s hunger cry began. Breastfeeding was a choice I had made long before the birth, but I simply hadn’t thought through how I would really feel feeding my child in public.

My BFF, Self-Doubt, had her fair share of opinions. People are going to stare. Teenage boys are going to snicker. Old men are going to recoil. And “lactivists” are going to judge if you show any sign of weakness!

And then there was that liberating, progressive alternative for working mothers: the pump. I HATED this machine. I felt like my professional office was turned into a milking barn every few hours. And I always felt like more time was sucked in that milking barn than milk. (I have long had a fantasy of recreating with my pump the scene in Office Space in which a group of employees takes a printer out into a field and violently destroys it with a baseball bat.)

Needless to say, while I chose to do it, I have had a somewhat ambivalent relationship to breastfeeding and mothering generally. And it has all been inseparable from the realization I have been making since first trimester exhaustion that, no matter how much we talk about equality between men and women, there are in fact real physical differences in the experiences of men and women who produce biological children—differences that can affect their work and careers. Women who get pregnant and have children cannot avoid some of the biological impact on their career. While men have a choice in how much burden they will take on or how much time they will take off, women’s bodies are actually changed and broken and exhausted in the process of creating a baby. And that has often felt completely unfair and infuriating to me.

And then this photo was taken – Another humiliating reminder that women sometimes have to make more impossible decisions.

I shared the photo on my personal Facebook page, hoping to defeat Self-Doubt with some encouragement from a few other close friends. Some encouragement turned into an outpouring of strength and solidarity. One professor friend even asked to use it as an illustration for her sexual ethics class! For me, that image was a reminder of the shame, the isolation, the tomb of my postpartum experience. But, as affirming comments and emails poured in, I was able to see my public, breastfeeding self through the eyes of other women clamoring for images of leadership and religion that reflect the reality of the female experience. And, to my surprise, that image of embarrassment was transformed into a reminder of the rising sisterhood of mother-priests supported by empowering communities that are transforming our patriarchal shame into a celebration of the gifts of the feminine.

Transforming images of shame and isolation into images of liberation and life is the Easter work of God. The cross is one such transformed image. Today we string it around our necks, bedazzle it, accost it with stage lights, and hang it with dramatic mounting techniques. But, to understand the real meaning of the empty cross on Easter morning, we must understand that in Jesus’ time it was a symbol of oppression, fear, and shame. So the fact that the Christian community now reveres this instrument of God’s death, lifting it high, surveying its wonder, points to the true miracle—that God can always turn what is oppressive and shameful in our world into salvation.

Today when I look at that photo of me breastfeeding in front of the congregation, I do not see the shameful and oppressive burden of breastfeeding and mothering that I once felt. Instead, because of communities that have supported me and cheered me on, God has transformed that image into a reminder of the great privilege I and many other women have of nourishing our children in such intimate, healthy, and even public ways. If more communities were vocally supportive of working mothers, how many other images of women could be transformed from visual symbols of our struggle to signs of liberation and strength?

As we adorn our crosses, once a symbol of oppression, with Easter lilies and pastels this week, I find myself wondering what other struggles, injustices or shame in our lives and in our movements are about to be turned into signs of salvation and victory for ourselves and our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters!

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! (And so shall we rise!)

unnamedRev. Vicki Flippin serves as Pastor of Social Justice, Intergenerational, and Exploring Faith Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Village in New York City. She is passionate about LGBTQI equality, racial justice, and the future of the progressive church. Along with many years of work with Methodists in New Directions and her conference Commission on Religion and Race, Rev. Flippin was named this year Co-President of the Board of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.