I Hate My Voice

Here’s the thing: I hate my voice.

Sometimes at Christmas, we watch old home videos. There’s this one where I am six or seven years old, and I’m showing my sister Katie, who’s three or four, how to play piano. She’s just having a grand old time banging away on the keys, loving the drama and the noise. I smile sweetly and say, “No, no, Katie. That’s not the way. You put your fingers like this. Here is middle C.”

and this is how you hold a baby

The first time I saw this video as an adult, I cringed. And with good reason. Why was I trying to teach a three year old to play piano? Why was I such a stereotypical firstborn? Why was I such a damn goody-two-shoes? Why couldn’t I just dance to the chaos?

Recently I’ve started reading through my ten-year old journals. It was my first year out of college, and I was living in Southeast Asia, writing sometimes for myself and sometimes for my blog. Much of my writing has the same tone I had as a seven year old piano teacher: it’s sweetly didactic, and very sure of itself. I can’t stand it. 

From the distance of a decade, my naivete shines. The truisms I trumpeted (sweetly, (falsley) humbly) lacked depth or substance. They were sincere, yes, and usually true; but they were also awfully churchy and idealistic.Now, they just sound hokey, and ridiculous coming from someone my age, writing about things I really knew nothing about, railing against the materialism of the western church, coming up with bad metaphors about fireworks and stars and young nations and old nations.

Me, as writer and director of "A Cambodian Christmas Carol" at age 23

I don’t write much now, and in part that’s because I’m afraid of that voice coming out. I’m a teacher, after all; I often sound teacherly. Even if I tell stories, I can't get away from the lesson in them.

But who am I to speak? Who am I to say what’s right or wrong, with my youth and inexperience? Even if I’m right about what I say, isn’t it already obvious to everyone?

Won’t I be embarrassed, a decade from now, of anything I say with sincerity today?

“Not many of you should become teachers,” James warned. He was talking about Bible teachers. Sometimes I wish he had written that not many of us should be bloggers, or tweeters, or preachers with national platforms. (I


think not many of us should be teachers with national platforms.)

But sometimes I can’t tell if my silence is born more of humility (I don't want to be wrong, who am I to speak?), prudent caution (I don’t want to be wrong), perfectionism (I don’t want to be wrong), or fear (I don’t want to be wrong). Sometimes I want to add my voice to the cacophony, and sometimes I want to stay safe. Sometimes I think that of the making of many books (and blog posts), there is no end, so I’m just going to quietly fear God in my own little place.

When your heart burns within you, is that a time to speak, or a time to stay silent?

A question for you: How do you know when to speak, and when to stay silent?

five things I missed

With two weeks of school left, I'm astounded at how the semester has slipped away. Because I've been writing every week for Christ and Pop Culture, I've been neglecting this little space, but at least five notable things have happened that I haven't recorded.
1. We were confirmed as members of Gethsemane Episcopal Church.

2. I bought six chicks (more on that later).

3. Owen turned two. What I love about this boy is his sense of humor, his side-eye glance, his very cuddly nature, and the way he says seriously, "Oh, gotcha," after I answer his questions, or "cookie, yum, good, fun! Sis? Have cookie too?"

Owen's a little bit obsessed with sports balls.

My parents swung by for the birthday party. And an old friend from our ELIC days came by, too.

4. Taylor celebrated Korean Week.

5. One of my students presented original research (conducted for my class last fall) at an undergraduate research conference at Purdue. I accompanied her and a friend. We were all glad to get out of Upland for a night -- and I was very proud of Gowoon's bravery and hard work.

second languages

Today I have an essay at The Curator about how teaching English as a Second Language changed the way I speak the language of faith.  I hope you'll read it; it means a lot to me.

In the essay, I mostly talk about how my understanding of language and ownership changed while I was overseas.  Living overseas was the catalyst in pushing me toward ecumenicism, the understanding that each expression of faith weaves some unique color, some essential pattern,  in the tapestry of Christianity.  

Because of ecumenicism, I am forced to confess that my faith language is always under construction. I can never assume that I have the final say on what things mean.  

Take the word prayer, for example. Growing up, prayer was ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  It was individual, personal, disembodied, methodical and conversational.  It was good. 

But I also needed to learn about prayer from the Catholic church, where prayer was something communal and liturgical and sensual.  I needed to learn about prayer from the desert fathers and mothers, where it was constant, a way of life, and bound up with mundane tasks like weaving and gardening.  I needed charismatics to share their new languages with me, to help me become open to emotion and to the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. I needed to learn about meditation from Buddhists, and to learn from Muslims how posture and practice affect prayer.

And so my faith language shrinks and grows, by turns.  But read the essay, and let me know what you think.  

Have a jolly Thanksgiving!