I was a freshman in high school the first time I remember speaking up and pushing the envelope. (I am quite certain my mother would tell you I started speaking and pushing things much earlier, but I digress.)
I was educated in a small community of families who home-schooled for religious reasons. I had friends with whom I attended classes, participated in drama club, and hung out at the roller rink, but as we entered high school, my friend and I noticed our social calendars differed pretty significantly from some of our friends who attended public schools. We decided to plan a Christmas party for all the high school students in our little home-school community. We wrote a proposal, presented it to the parents who provided oversight to the community, ruffled a few feathers, but when all was said and done, we had the permission we needed to throw a party that was unlike anything the group had attempted before.
It’s a small (and slightly silly) example, but that moment freshman year is when I first remember speaking up about something I saw lacking and then working to create change in my community. Those small moments from high school were informative to what has turned into a life in which I find myself frequently speaking up about the things I see lacking in my community, or in the world at large.
As a person who makes it a habit to speak up around issues I care passionately about, I was incredibly excited to read Kathy Khang’s book Raise Your Voice (which released this week, and you should go order it here). Kathy’s writing is equally conversational and profound. At one point in the book she refers to herself as an “auntie,” and that is truly how Raise Your Voice reads – as though you were sitting with a wise, funny, and deeply caring auntie or mentor who has no time for bullshit.
Carefully weaving together biblical narratives of saints who spoke up, and her own experiences as a Korean-American woman, a journalist and a minister, Raise Your Voice is a practical tool for any person of who is considering how their Christian faith may call them to public action, or perhaps simply to more intentional private discourse.
Intersections, voice and privilege
“Voice is not limited to what comes out of my mouth but what comes out of my being,” Kathy observes, challenging her readers to consider the intersections of life on which they find themselves. “When more of us from different intersections and margins raise our voices, we live a fuller picture of the good news.”
As a white, married, college educated, heterosexual, able bodied woman, my own intersections tend to fall toward the center of what U.S. culture has deemed “normative,” except that I am a woman in ministry – a vocation that continues to raise eye brows even though women have been proclaiming the good news of Jesus literally since He rose from the dead. What has become increasingly important in my life in recent years though, is learning how to de-center my narrative and listen to people raising their voices from intersections that are toward the margins of society. Addressing privilege, Kathy looks at the familiar story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush.
Moses’ sandals were a symbol of his privilege as a free person who had some status or degree of wealth. An encounter with God not only renders the space holy but also render a symbol of privilege absolutely unnecessary.
Like Moses, in order for us to begin the journey of finding and using our voices, we need to be fully present and also recognize and take off whatever privilege as best we can.
Dear reader, when I read this section of Raise Your Voice, please know that I shouted out loud in my living room and almost fell out of my chair. I have loved this story since college, and was notorious in that era of my life for taking off my shoes when leading worship as a sign of entering holy space. Kathy bringing the discussion of privilege into Moses having sandals to take off blew my mind, and challenged me to think of the ways in which I too need to take off whatever privileges I can, to the greatest degree possible. I no longer lead worship barefoot, but I am now considering in what ways I can remove the shoes of my privilege whether I am in a corporate worship setting, in a classroom discussion at seminary, or in a digital space.
Raising your own voice
The second half of Raise Your Voice is incredibly practical. Kathy invites her readers to consider the nitty gritty of their daily lives. Looking at the interactions people have in personal relationships, communities, neighborhoods, church congregations and online, Kathy offers suggestions, ideas and questions to consider before, during and after speaking out. (AND she uses bullet points, which is my love language.)
In a world that feels so loud sometimes, Kathy encourages readers (and herself) that “finding and using our voice isn’t a zero-sum game where we compete with others,” and that “part of learning to speak up is also about encouraging others to do the same…We were created with community and mutual flourishing in mind.” I have the honor each school year to work alongside a team of high school students who work as interns in the after-school program I run. Every September I get to come alongside new and returning interns, and help them find their voice and their footing as leaders. We talk about personality and experiences, and how to build relationships with the younger students they’ll be working with and teaching. I tell people often that my goal is to “work myself out of a job” as I work alongside these emerging leaders, but perhaps it would be better to say that I’m trying to “work myself into a different job.” As I walk alongside young leaders and help them find their voice, my own isn’t diminished but it may change. And that is a beautiful, good and holy thing.
For those who fear getting engaged, speaking up and telling their story lest they may mess up or do something wrong, Kathy assures them: you will, and consider doing it anyway. “You will be misunderstood or questioned. You may even be un-friended or blocked. As you face questions, you may consider staying silent…If we truly believe we are the body with each of us as a different part but connected and dependent on one another [see 1 Corinthians 12:27], our failure isn’t ours to bear alone. We are one body. We are bound to be misunderstood. We are bound to make mistakes. We are bound to learn. We are bound together.” I have made plenty of mistakes in the ways that I have spoken up in my life, and I am sure that I will err again–no matter how much thought I put into what I say beforehand. I have also erred in moments when I could have spoken up, and did not because I was so afraid of failure (whatever that meant in the moment). As a recovering perfectionist, the temptation to inaction because I don’t have the “perfect” thing to say, often means I don’t say anything at all. I am learning that my words don’t have to be perfect to be good, and to learn to share my failures with those who surround me.
I bought you a copy of this book!
Raise Your Voice is timely, necessary and loaded with practices you can implement in your daily life. I think it’s such an important read that I bought you a copy! Well, not all of y’all–though it is my dream to one day have the resources to keep boxes of “the books I think everyone needs to read” in my trunk to hand out to anyone and everyone–but I do have a copy of this book for one of you.
To enter to win a copy of Raise Your Voice leave a comment below telling me about a time when you raised your voice, then click here to confirm your entry. You can get bonus entries by liking and sharing on social media, details about this are on the confirmation link. I’ll choose a winner at random on August 8th.
So tell me, how have you raised your voice?