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How to flourish without feeling restricted


The Rev. Dr. Christine Hong says all God’s children can flourish together

September 14, 2021

Dr. Christine Hong is an assistant professor of Educational Ministries at Columbia Theological Seminary. (Contributed photo)

Hannah Drake’s “Do Not Move Off the Sidewalk Challenge” says a lot about allowing people to flourish in whatever body God gave them.

During a recent Facebook Live event, the Rev. Dr. Christine Hong, an assistant professor of Educational Ministries at Columbia Theological Seminary, told the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty that for her to succeed as a woman of color, “it might cause those in more privileged bodies to feel like they aren’t flourishing.”

“If you have to share space [for more on that, see Drake’s account above of the sidewalk challenge] and move in ways that are different, that may feel more restrictive to you when you are used to taking up a lot of space in order that people like me might take up my share of space, or live and flourish in ways I might live and flourish. It’s going to feel restrictive for people in dominant cultural spaces,” Hong said. But “flourishing isn’t flourishing if it’s on the back of other people’s suffering and oppression. When I say we have to flourish together, I’m not saying it’s the same flourishing occurring in every body or in every community. Some of us need to flourish in ways that are counterintuitive to the way empire has told us that flourishing looks like.”

Hong’s conversation with Hinson-Hasty, the senior director for Theological Education Funds Development for the Committee on Theological Education at the Presbyterian Foundation, can be heard here.

Hong said she tried the sidewalk experiment in her town, Decatur, Georgia. She was determined not to readily yield the sidewalk to white bodies, particularly those of white men.

“I learned it’s not only that white men don’t know how to move out of the way, particularly when people of color are coming toward them,” she said. “But I have conditioned my own body to move out of the way.”

“I have internalized so much of that,” she said. “It’s about what happens out there and [pointing to her heart and her head] what’s happening in here and in here. “I am still working out ways I am reifying and perpetuating the colonial machine.”

“This should not be the responsibility of people of color with less privilege,” Hanson-Hasty responded. “In a predominantly white church, we have a lot of opportunity for growth,” including in ways churches govern and even in the way they set meeting agendas.

“You have to figure out a way to maneuver around that without getting clobbered,” Hong said. “I’d love to be able to walk down the street and not worry, to be able to talk freely about some of the stuff that I write about in some Presbyterian spaces without having to prove with my body that my pain is real.”

Hong and artist/theologian Darci Jaret have been teaming up to teach a seminary class that employs art that students study in depth.

“When you use art as epistemology, a way of being and knowing and conveying your particular understanding of the divine and the concept you are wrestling with, it’s a conduit for a different kind of dialogue than many times seminary allows for,” Hong said. “I have been blown away every single time. I am learning so much. My pedagogy around using art is to approach it in a noncolonial way, not centering my own knowledge as a teacher but to bring my knowledge and experience alongside the experiences students share themselves. … I told them, ‘I don’t know what will emerge. It’s up to the Spirit, how we listen and engage and create, and have the courage to speak the truth we are hearing.’”

Talking about decolonizing — dismantling the structures that promote the status quo and addressing power dynamics — is one thing, Hong said. Actually doing the dismantling is something else. For Native Americans, that would involve returning the land that was taken from them.

“Decolonization isn’t a synonym for social justice. It literally means return the land,” she said. “It’s not a conversation about a concept — it’s a very real giving back what we stole. … It’s not enough that we write and confess these complicities and violence. That doesn’t get us to decoloniality — it’s a process toward that.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  God’s children can flourish together

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Laurisha Tolliver,  Gift Processing Clerk, Mission Engagement & Support, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Mel Tubb,  Associate, Financial Aid, Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

However small they may be, may our efforts proclaim God’s kingdom plan – life out of death. May our words and actions bring a smile to the One who smiles upon us all. May what we do be something that lifts up rather than tears down. May those who seek, find, and may those who find, share. In the name of the One who shared everything. Amen.

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