Laughing When You Don’t Understand

“Don’t laugh at what you don’t understand.”

Okay, so the words sound a bit harsh, but I promise you that my tone of voice and facial expression clearly communicated warmth, love, and kindness. And yes, I did say this to my students. Because my students needed to hear it.

I have avoided talking about the American election with my Korean high schoolers for most of the past few months. It didn’t seem appropriate or even remotely related to what I was teaching. So I just steered away from the topic.

Things quickly turned political in class today, even though I was only teaching conditional sentences.

But then we began a culture exchange, where they communicate by video with Americans attending high school in the U.S., and one by one my students were shocked to discover that many of these American young people were Trump supporters. Or at least had parents who were voting for Trump.

It shocked them because Trump was quite literally the butt of every joke to them. They openly mocked him and dismissed him as a quack. I don’t think they actually understood that he was a real person with real people behind him. They disliked him because of the threats he made to Korea, but they never took him seriously. Nobody that I have spoken to in Korea took him seriously. Adults included.

So I dedicated an entire class period to talk about it with my students on Monday, the day before the election. At the time, I never imagined that Trump would actually win and that this might be a beneficial experience for them to remember over the next four years. I just wanted to help them get along with their new American friends.

“You might disagree with Trump voters,” I said, “But don’t laugh. Understand, instead.”

I’m fairly certain at least some of my students thought I was a Trump supporter by the end of that class. I had them watch and read the transcript of this video, write down two to three genuine questions they had about this new information, and then engage in small group discussions with their peers. We talked about the shrinking middle class and the overburdened working class, the outsourcing of labor, and the growing number of people that work two to three jobs just to survive. We talked about ethnic tension and changing demographics. About the rich and powerful and their distance from everyday Americans.

“These are real problems in America right now,” I said. “And Trump? He’s the only one saying he will fix it.”

For many of my students, something seemed to click when I said that. To my dismay, some of them declared they sided with Trump! Others felt that something ought to be done, but not the way Trump would do it.

In the end, we took the ISideWith quiz online as a class, which settled for most of them that they would all vote third party. A simple solution. But then again…most Americans have rejected the idea.

Most of my students left class that day with a newfound appreciation for the complexity of political opinion, even though most of them remain staunchly opposed to Trump (as evidence: the picture above, taken during class today). But at least they don’t laugh about it anymore.

You can’t laugh when you understand. You can only nod your head in thoughtful silence.


Life Will Go On

Tomorrow, life will go on.

Teachers will return to their oversized classrooms filled with immigrant students whose lives have been suddenly upended, and millions of Evangelicals will wait expectantly for the Republican President and Republican-controlled House and Senate to deliver on their pro-life promises.

And life will go on.

I am told it’s in the name of small government. I’m told it’s in the name of the unborn. I’m told it’s in the name of jobs. Religious freedom. Less taxes.

But I believe in a God that does not see the world through a political lens. I believe in a God that would protect not only the unborn but also the lives of my Latino students, many of whom face permanent separation from their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers if the President-elect actually does what he has threatened.

I believe in a God that has given us all free will, including those who are Muslim.

I believe in a God that despises sexism and misogyny as much as he does any act of sexual sin.

I believe in a God that is holy. I believe in a God that would hold up all of morality as precious. I believe in a God that would not pick, choose, and rationalize, as our Evangelical church would have us do.


When I was a little girl, I would sit in sermons, and the pastor would say things like, “If only every Evangelical in America voted, can you imagine what changes our country would see?”

I don’t know if every Evangelical voted today, but given the polls, I think we have our answer. And if this type of weak, compromising, power-grabbing culture is what the Evangelical church represents, then I am not an Evangelical. Perhaps I never was.

But life will go on. I will mourn for my teacher friends who are still in Oklahoma, working 2 to 3 jobs just to survive. I will mourn for my students, whose futures are suddenly uncertain. I will mourn for my country, which after four hundred years has still not solved our greatest blemish. I will mourn for my church, which has forgotten that we serve a God greater than any political party.

And life will go on. I believe in a God whose kingdom is not of this world, so what can I expect from this world but grief? I will do good where evil reins and have mercy where enmity lives.

And life will go on.



The Second Command… I mean Amendment


I was born in America. I was raised to believe that the Bill of Rights was God’s gift to mankind. I grew up memorizing the preamble to the Constitution and thoroughly internalizing the absolute necessity of the “right to bear arms.” I know all about the dangers of tyrannical government and the importance of self-defense. I get it. I get the Second Amendment and all the reasons why people protect it so religiously.

But actually I don’t get it. Not anymore.

Honestly, I want to ask why this single Amendment is so religiously cherished within the American church. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. As I have begun really looking at the violent data our country produces each year, the rhetoric surrounding gun rights has started to sound absolutely insane. Take a look at the following data. I invite readers to defend a “right” that has created this type of environment:




If you are interested in reviewing any of this data yourself, check out the study published in 2010 by the American Journal of Medicine.

Honestly, I can’t look at this data any longer and pretend that the 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with it. It’s time we took a cold, hard look at what this “fundamental right” is doing to our people and truly consider how to curb its runaway abuse. Guns are not protecting us. They are killing us.

Settling In Across the Ocean


I’m proud to say that Korea is my new home! The photo above was taken a few weeks ago in Jeonju, a traditional/historical district in Korea. While I did participate in the lion dance, the picture is not of me but of two friends instead. I guess I wasn’t good enough to have my picture taken!

My move to Korea has been the culmination of a two-year long process involving much prayer, research, preparation, and counsel from others. If you’ve been in my life over the past two years, you may have been a part of this process! While it is difficult to summarize all of my reasons for moving overseas, I can at the very least try to give you an idea.

When I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, four years ago, I moved there as a “missionary,” of sorts. I had joined Teach for America out of a desire to make change in communities struggling with systemic poverty, and I soon found myself living in Tulsa. Making change in this community was my “mission,” and this mission was strongly tied to my faith.

As a believer, I could not understand how so many Christians in Tulsa were turning a blind eye to the injustice oppressing their city, a city that is home to some of the worst racial baggage in the entire country, a city that proudly considers itself part of the “Bible”belt. In the course of my first year of teaching, I became all too familiar with just how far systems go to marginalize entire communities and pretend that nothing is wrong. If you’re wondering what I mean, I’ve blogged on this topic at length in other posts. Please feel free to browse.

After finishing my two-year commitment with Teach for America, I realized I wasn’t ready to leave. I stayed for a third year and then a fourth year, and during that time I worked with some of the strongest, most resilient people I have ever known, people working under the most impossible conditions, who labor for their students to the point of exhaustion week after week, who take care of their own children at home, work part-time jobs in the evenings and on weekends, and yet who still come to school with a smile on their face everyday and tell you that things are gonna get better. I can truly say that I’ve worked with heroes.

As a Christian, I’ve always believed my mission is to be the hands and feet of Christ. It was this impulse that led me to join Teach for America in the first place, and it was this impulse that prompted me to stay in Tulsa for as long as I did. But during my last two years, I became more and more convinced that Tulsa was not my home and that God was leading me elsewhere.

Leaving Tulsa at the end of my fourth year was bittersweet, to say the least. I had grown to love this little city, a city that broke my heart every day yet somehow filled me with so much hope, so much excitement for the possibility of change. And yes, Tulsa has so much promise. I wanted to stay. I wanted to be a part of achieving that promise. But I also knew that God was leading me elsewhere. I knew it was time to leave.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live outside of the States. I take seriously the command of Jesus in the great commission to “go,” which is why I left home to go to Tulsa in the first place. I guess you could say that the same impulse which brought me to Tulsa also brought me to Korea. But what I’m doing in Korea is vastly different from what I was doing in the U.S.

I’m a teacher here, so at least that’s the same. But I’m teaching at a vastly different kind of school. My high school attracts the top 5 percent of students from around the country, most of whom speak multiple languages (as in, three or more). While many of my students have parents or grandparents who grew up in abject poverty, most of them have never experienced poverty for themselves. I am worlds apart from where I was in Tulsa. Both literally and figuratively.

So what am I doing here?

Towards the end of my first year in teaching, I took two days off to visit different schools in better situations than my own. Even though I worried about my students incessantly, those two days gave me true vision for the first time — something I had never enjoyed in the stress and defeat of my first year of teaching. While observing those classrooms, I saw five year old children writing paragraph-long stories and essays, reading books, and even completing division problems independently. From that moment forward, I knew what could be achieved. It didn’t matter if those classrooms had better resources than mine. It didn’t matter if those kids had more privilege. I finally had a solid picture of where the bar was set, and I knew my students deserved to be there too.

It’s hard to imagine what the world looks like in the sunlight when all you’ve seen is darkness. So I guess you could say that, towards the end of my first year of teaching, I stepped into the sunlight for a brief two days, and that single visit gave me vision for the next several years.

So what does that have to do with Korea? I like to think that I’m doing something similar here. I’m gaining fresh perspective and new vision for what is possible. I’m learning. And I’m preparing to launch into the next season of my life, which I know will take me back to communities in poverty, quite possibly communities that are outside of the United States. I hope that during this time I can grow both as an educator and as a follower of Christ.

I’m also not naive regarding Korea’s own blindspots when it comes to education (a topic that Korean students LOVE to talk about). In that vein, perhaps while I’m here I can also do some good, if only for the students that I teach. I’ve already made many mistakes in the few short weeks that I’ve been here, and I know that I will make many more. My prayer is that God’s grace will cover my faults and that I will learn to become more like my savior in the coming years.

Really, my hope for this season of life is pretty simple — that I can better learn to do what all Christians ought to do in the first place. To quote from Micah 6:8,  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

God help me learn to do this.

Blue Feed v. Red Feed


One of my favorite pastimes is comparing my largely conservative newsfeed to my roommate’s largely liberal newsfeed. I went to a conservative, evangelical, Christian college. She went to a liberal, highly secular, women’s college. You can imagine our newsfeeds are vastly different.

Because of this, one of the most unforeseen benefits of being roommates has been opening up our social media “window” for the other person to look through. Half the time our conversations will begin with, “So you know that _____ that everyone is talking about?” – “What? No I haven’t even heard about it.” – “Are you serious? It’s all over Facebook!”

In other words, it’s all over one person’s Facebook.

The silencing effects of social media have been dividing our country into us v. them for awhile, and I am so glad to see organizations calling out the censorship for what it is. The Gospel Coalition, in particular, just wrote an excellent article challenging Christians to seek out the “other side” to learn from their perspective. Who knows? We might even learn that the other side isn’t so “other” after all.

Check out the article here:

Or check out the Wall Street Journal’s project “Blue Feed v. Red Feed”:

Remembering Greenwood: Why the Sins of the Past Still Matter


“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

– Isaiah 1:16-17

Today marks the eve of the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. The Tulsa Race Riots nearly wiped out the entire African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Angry, white mobs invaded the wealthy community of Greenwood, killed unknown numbers of people, bombed it from the sky, looted its stores, and burned down over 35 city blocks of buildings and homes. For decades after the violence, white women could be seen walking down the streets of Tulsa wearing the jewelry, coats, and clothing of the Black women whose homes were looted and destroyed. Ninety-five years later, the massacre is still disregarded by many as just a bunch of “riots” over race, instead of the terrible act of terror that it actually was, duplicated on a smaller scale in cities across the country.

I read an article the other day by a disgruntled white American who was tired of talking about race. Stop guilt-tripping me over things I never did, they said. I’m Italian. My family immigrated to the states in the 1950s. We were never slave owners. We had it rough too. Stop blaming us for something we never did.

The problem is that sin doesn’t work like that. Wrongdoing is infectious. The effects last like the smoke from a fire that lingers in the smell of your clothes. Maybe you didn’t start the flames, but the smell of it follows you even when you leave.

The point is that white Americans today didn’t start the fire that has been burning in our country, but it has kept them warm for generations. Such a statement is not meant to blame or guilt-trip. Neither is it meant to ignore the reality of poverty in many white communities. Instead, it is meant to dismantle the façade of equity that exists in our country. It is meant to condemn the smokescreen of equal opportunity as a lie.

Most Americans like to attribute their success to “hard work.” Perhaps hard work does play a role. But all people everywhere should ask themselves what else plays a role? What else has contributed to my place in society? If you are white, this means coming to terms with the reality that our systems have been designed to your benefit at the expense of other races. This doesn’t mean that every white person in the country is living in the lap of luxury. Nor does it mean that other social factors don’t exist that contribute to wealth and/or poverty. You will find rich black people just like you’ll find poor white people.

Many things intersect in society to elevate some and denigrate others. Things like hard work (or laziness) matter. Money and opportunity matter. Education matters. The point is that race matters too. More than what the majority of white Americans have been willing to acknowledge. More than what our whitewashed history has led us to believe.

White people control the vast majority of wealth in my city, and people of color make up the vast majority of those in poverty. This reality is directly traceable to the massacre that took place here nearly a century ago, and the laws and legislation that followed to transfer the wealth and power of the city into the hands of white people. It is a massacre that has been largely forgotten and—when it is remembered—often disregarded. But it happened.

My prayer is that we will remember the history of Greenwood this week. That we would reflect upon what it means for us as a country moving forward. That we would not push it aside, as people have done for generations, but that we would face it’s truth and ask ourselves, what now? What can be done to get rid of the smoke? What can be done to make ourselves clean?

What Every Christian Should Believe


“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

I’ve only been a teacher in a low-income school for four years, but sometimes it can feel like too long, I’ve started the school year with no supplies, no curriculum, and no principal. I’ve walked into my classroom to discover it had been trashed by “construction crews” the night before. I’ve sent thirsty children to get water, only to discover that the fountains don’t work and the water from the classroom sink runs yellow. I’ve taught over 30 students by myself at one time, watched children with learning disabilities sit in classrooms for years without receiving help, given paperwork for parents to sign that makes them believe their child is getting extra support when no such thing is happening, and seen countless children pushed onto the next grade when they don’t even know how to write their name.

I’ve spent nights weeping after laboring to the point of insanity to do everything in my capacity that I could possibly do, and it still wasn’t enough. It never is enough.

And then I read the words of Jesus in Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new,” and it hurts. It hurts because it is easier for me to believe in the brokenness of our systems than it is for me to believe in the power of God to protect our children from the evil at work in this world. It is easier for me to believe that the world is corrupt than to believe it is being renewed. It is easier for me to see the tears of a six-year-old child because they cannot pass a standardized test, than it is for me to see the fullness of who they are, a fullness that even the worst systems in the world could never take away.

It is sometimes easier to despair than to hope. But the words of Jesus in Revelation push me to hope. They force me to come to grips with a world that is broken, yes, but with a world that is also in process. A world that isn’t finished yet.

When I was a child, I took an art class where the teacher had us intentionally smash a series of glass plates so that we could take the broken pieces and reassemble them into mosaic art. The end product was a beautiful mosaic platter that (last I checked) my mother still enjoys in her dining room. But lest you think it was easy, the process of getting there was a frustrating mess. Many students never completed the assignment. A friend of mine wistfully kept her half-finished project for months without completing it. For many, it was just too difficult to envision what the shattered pieces could become.

The world is much the same, except the finished product doesn’t depend on us. We were the ones who broke the world, yes — but God is the one recreating it, and the process is frustrating, and the pain that we see is heart-wrenching, and sometimes I am discouraged enough to lose vision of what we will become. Of what we are becoming.

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

When I read the words of Jesus here, I don’t imagine some future utopia where Jesus returns and everything is suddenly perfect. An ethereal utopia located somewhere in the distant future doesn’t mean a whole lot when children are suffering now.

So no, that’s not what I think Jesus is talking about. Instead, when I read those words, I see a present tense savior located in the now of our broken world. I see a current reality where Jesus is working even in the awful things our children suffer, a reality where Jesus is making even those things good, fitting even those pieces into a final mosaic that is beautiful to behold. This mess of a world, shattered by the hands of humanity, is being recreated by the hands of God.

Jesus’ words challenge my faith to believe not in the future but in the present circumstances of my life, of my students’ lives, of my school and my community. I am challenged to believe what all Christians are supposed to believe: that nothing is too broken that our savior can’t fix, no system so evil that he cannot change it, no child so hurt that they cannot be healed.

All that we have are broken pieces, and the final mosaic is difficult to see, but let us not lose hope. Behold, he is making all things new.

Do Your Best: The Lies We Tell Our Children

Stock photo

We held a “testing rally” on Friday that was quite possibly the most depressing experience of my year. The purpose of the rally was to get kids “pumped up” and “excited” for testing. In preparation, my students and I created a giant poster saying, “Don’t forget the power of yet!” The poster was a reference to Janelle Monae’s Sesame Street song.

We crammed all 320+ students into our gymnasium while they listened to a small speech informing them that, “This test will decide what opportunities you have in life, and even what colleges you will go to.” A speaker came up and told the children to chant, “I am smart. I will pass!” And younger students stood to perform cheers for the older grades.

As the spectacle unfolded, a queasiness settled into the pit of my stomach. The chanting and cheering was supposed to generate excitement, but it created something of an ominous contradiction to the actual spirit of the school. A spirit of defeat. Continue reading “Do Your Best: The Lies We Tell Our Children”

The State of the World/Where Christians Spend Their Money

“Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you cloth yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” – Ezekiel 34:2b-4

Messianic prophecies such as this one are at the heart of why Jesus came into the world. He came to strengthen the weak, to heal the sick, to bind up the injured, to seek out the lost — when those responsible for such tasks would not. Passages such as these remind us of the necessity of Christ in a broken world, but they should also prompt us toward self-reflection. To what extent is the modern-day church guilty of the same sins that condemned the leaders of God’s people in ancient times?

We discussed this question (in part) during my church’s small group meeting last night, and though we did not arrive at any decisive conclusions, we did take a look at how current trends in Christian missions demonstrate a concerning tendency toward nepotism. We took a look at the following video in light of the passage above and discussed its implications for the common believer: