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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is It Possible To Talk About People You Haven’t Met?

Written by: on November 21, 2019

https://youtu.be/BacjILwcJf4

PC: @detroitshooting James

I stood before my brothers (형제) and sisters (자매) staring into their souls, hoping to hear what I wanted to hear. I have read a portion of their lives in the anthology, “Mixed Korean: Our Stories,” but that is such a small tidbit of who someone is.

“The act of reading is disassociated from the material book; the important thing is the encounter, which might just as easily involve an immaterial object” (32).[1] Yes, the encounter is the important part. The encounter is so important to the personal connection. That is why we travel the country doing book readings. We lift our voices by showing the underbelly of our lives in hopes that others will not feel alone. We read our stories out loud, throwing the words into the air, knowing that someone’s ears will hear them, and, collectively, they will know that we are here.

Umberto Eco’s, In the Name of the Rose, centers around a monk, Baskerville, who arrives to investigate. Before he handles the book, he feels it necessary to put gloves on in order to leaf through the pages – to find answers, if you will. But then he realizes that if he is to merely turn the pages, he “would have to take off his gloves and moisten his fingertips and that in so doing he would poison himself” (36).[2]

Let’s take this thought and turn it on its head. How can a person really get to know someone else if they always wear gloves? Yes, there might be some poison that just might spill into your ears and shake your heart, but isn’t that what encounters are about? People are not “screen books” (44).[3]

It is true that we cannot fully remember all of the words of an encounter. We forget. This is why there are four gospels. Not only do we forget but we remember only what resonates.  Is this then a matter of unreading? Is it possible to meet someone and unknow them? Can we erase from our memories what we have learned and heard? Maybe.

As Mixed Koreans, we live in the in-between. There have been so many myths spoken and written about us, which pushes us into the margins of loneliness. One of the women at my Discovery Session said, “we have lived in racial, solitary confinement.” Perhaps that is why people handle us with kid gloves or not at all. Isn’t it easier to read about a mixed Korean or listen to what others tell them instead of getting up close and meeting them yourself?

I want to scream, “Pick up the damn book! We’re not fragile. We just want to be seen and heard.” I pick up my tears from the floor, kneeling next to each one, staring at the distorted view I see of myself. I don’t have anything to wipe them up, but I know that God sees me, and God is scooping up each tear along with my collective Mixed Korean brothers’ and sisters’ tears. I don’t want to hide anymore. So, instead, we all drop to our knees and collect the tears – all of them. We no longer question whether we are alone because we stand not shoulder-to-shoulder, but heart-to-heart with each other.

And if you, the reader, are offended by my cursing, know that it was used intentionally. The word “damn” as a verb is used to condemn or curse. As an adjective or adverb, it is used to express or emphasize anger. This is what living in the in-between feels like. It is continually being told by someone that you aren’t Korean enough or white enough or black enough. So, flip it upside down. The antonym of “damn” is “praise” or “compliment” or “defend” or “protect.”

We represent a new “inner book” (82).[4] There is more than one foundation for our existence. We live in the in-between not because we want to, but because we were born mixed. Just as the Tiv tribe in West Africa is a collective, so are Mixed Koreans. We represent the common idea of humanity, but we also represent two families. We are both and. Each of us is woven with a different background, but always with the thread of Korea. “The trick is to define the book’s place in that library, which gives it meaning in the same way a word takes on meaning in relation to other words” (117).[5]

What would it look like if you played a game of Humiliation (121) but based upon mixed Koreans, not books? Think of one mixed Korean that you might know, and no, it cannot be me. Maybe they’re a celebrity, maybe they’re not. Yes, you can stop right now and google mixed Koreans. After reading a little bit about someone who pops up, such as Insooni or Dok2, what generalizations do you make? Isn’t that the same as talking about books you haven’t read? Doesn’t that mean that you have departed the game? Doesn’t that mean that you have laid the book down in order to look elsewhere? We turn to reviews and internet searches to fill in the gaps of knowledge. We want to fill our “virtual library”[6] (124) with more knowledge so that we don’t embarrass ourselves. We put our gloves back on and make the decision to continue to look through life, but not allow the poison to penetrate our souls. Living by the rules of the virtual library means “that life in the virtual library would quickly become unlivable if not for a certain amount of ambiguity around the truth of our statements…” (126).[7]

So, again I say, “Take off your gloves and pick up that amazing book!” If you don’t take the time to read us without the gloves, then the truth will become deformed.

 

[1] Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

About the Author

Nancy Blackman

15 responses to “Is It Possible To Talk About People You Haven’t Met?”

  1. mm John McLarty says:

    The quick answer is “yes.” We talk about people have have not met all of the time. Starting with celebrities and people in the news- we form all kinds of opinions about who they are, what they value, and what life must be like for them, based on nothing more than a handful of video clips, sound bites, and still photos. It works the same, on a smaller scale, with anyone and everyone we might encounter. And more often than not, while we may be right about one little sliver of a person’s life, we’re dead wrong or completely ignorant about most of it. The bigger question is, “What do we miss when we talk about people we have not met?” And I interpret your post as an answer to that question, “Almost everything.” We judge books (and people) by their cover. We make assumptions as we skim the pages (and take quick glances.) And we miss the potential transformation of a thoughtful and spirited conversation. My inclination is to observe first and enter into dialogue later. Your post offers a challenge to jump in more quickly.

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      John,
      What I’m encouraging people to do is to not be afraid to engage. I completely understand taking a moment to observe. I do that as well, but when you’re observation is done, walk across the room and say hi. Start the conversation.

      Thanks for reading!
      Nancy

      • mm John McLarty says:

        You’re right. My interaction with Jer’s post led to a realization that relationships could be the “rocket ship” that moves us from seeing the constellation to truly being among it. This is stretching me this week, but I’m grateful for it.

        • Nancy Blackman says:

          John,
          Yay!

          Know that your presence in people’s lives is impactful. The brief encounters that I have had with you (via blog posts and zoom sessions and advance outings) have all impacted me. There is alot to be said in your posture and there is so much more when you speak, even when you’re being snarky! ha ha…. (which I appreciate as well).

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    Nanc,
    Your best yet. This is beautiful. Raw. Real. Thank you.

    What I hear you saying is as a person, a community, not only are you in between, you’re almost not real; a mere illusion of a human. I think what bothered me most about the Bayard book was the illusion people project and perceive about something they know nothing about. Yes, as John noted, we do this all the time. And yes, there’s a place and time for surface learning, observing, and interacting. But what are we missing when we do that on a consistent basis? Based on your sharing, if we do that both with people and books, we miss a lot. So how self-actualized and creative are we really, when we live life with gloves on all the time? Not much. Not much at all.

    The glove imagery is powerful. Could you envision using it in your NPO as a springboard for inviting others to take the deep dive into a more intimate knowing about the unseen identity of your community?

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      Oh! That’s good. I just saw a vision of a skit or a dance piece involving gloves, but I can also imagine a mixed media piece as well. I’m going to chew on the NPO and gloves.

      I think we miss alot when we don’t engage with people. As I shared in a previous Zoom session, the church that my husband and I attended (New City Church of LA) is a multi-ethnic, multi-socieconomic church. It is situated close enough to skid row to have men and women from the nearby missions and homeless to attend as well as downtown LA loft dwellers. Because the Lead Pastor is a Fuller grad, and the church is a model that many Fuller students are learning about, there is also a population of seminary students that attend.

      One day I heard a bit of conversation from some of the students about how cool it was that they attended a church that included so many layers of people to which I responded, “When is the last time you walked across the foyer and said hi to someone from the streets?”

      The response was the wide-eyed look and instant silence. I didn’t stop there. I know, what a surprise, right? I said, “if you got to know some of those men and women you’d probably want to become friends with them. How cool would that be!” and then I exited so that they could chew on that.

      Sometimes we think it’s “cool” to say you know someone and talk about them (and books) like we really know them, but do we really know them?

      I know I’m talking to the choir.

      I have lived my entire existence in the US with people making a snap judgment about me based on what they see and then I can see them categorizing me and trying to figure out where to put me on the bookshelf — without ever having a conversation with me! For the love of God, I don’t bite! Ok, maybe I do at times — ha ha. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t talk (and it’s not because I’m an introvert). It’s because I say, “what’s the point?” And then I meet wonderful people like my classmates and my mixed Korean group and all is well in the universe :-D.

      • mm Darcy Hansen says:

        Keep stepping boldly. Don’t shrink back. Your voice matters. Those seminarians, heck, these seminarians need to be pushed a bit to engage with others different than ourselves. As an introvert and a chicken, I’d sit back and just watch the room. Walking across to visit with one of the homeless in your community would take a large measure of courage for me. So keep pushing. I know you get tired, but we need you. Also- yes to the gloves! So many possibilities for that!!

    • Simon Igesa Bulimo says:

      We sometimes talk about people we have never heard or seen , but someone has told the story of the person. In using illustrations in our sermons, we give stories we have heard from someone trusted. Its interesting
      Great

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    Nancy,
    Powerful blog! Loved the analogy of the gloves. Can we truly represent Christ and wear gloves? Is it possible to be salt and light in the world without getting out hands dirty? Though we do talk about people we have never met do we really know what we are talking about. We discuss people, politics and religion all the time without first hand knowledge. The question may be are we willing to interact with others without gloves knowing we may be hurt in the process?

  4. Nancy Blackman says:

    Greg,
    Yes, I get it. We build walls and protect ourselves so that we don’t get hurt. I do it too.

    You and I and many others took our gloves off when we decided to enter into a monogamous relationship. We decided to do this “for better or worse.”

    I’m going to throw the question back at you. Why do we take our gloves off with some people and not others? Is it only because we are afraid of getting hurt?

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Nancy, this is dynamite. You bring such richness, righteous anger, lament, and yet hope and strength giving this voiceless community a voice. It is truly inspiring to watch you develop the needs here. As you develop your future posts, would you be willing to include some of the conversation we had offline about the history that uniquely impacted Mixed Koreans? The stories of individuals is compelling (and there are no shortcuts, to your point!) as is the collective historic story of Mixed Koreans. There is no compassion without connection; no connection without stories shared. I’m so grateful you have helped me see this overlooked people.

    • Nancy Blackman says:

      Shawn,
      I will try to bring those bits of our conversation to the posts, but I’m still wading through tears (at times). I did choke up even speaking with you.

      It’s heavy stuff (the things that I’ve been hearing) and I find myself wanting to curl up in the fetal position so know that I am also practicing self-care and self-preservation through this.

      Keep reminding me though.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Nancy, I so appreciate the approach to ‘encounter’. It’s chancy; not everyone is ready for it.

    There’s so much I don’t know. I have no idea what is going on beyond the world that I know closest. Really, we all live on islands don’t we? And, when we have expanded our care and understanding on the global culture scale, there is so much more on the microscopic, under the surface that would take lifetimes to get.

    When the opportunity presents itself are we willing to care, to open up and to learn. I just listened to Dok2 and Insooni. First time I have heard either of them and they are both popular!! And, talented living with cultural diversity nearby and inspiring. From those living so closely to cultural diversity, interpreting the world from the get-go through multiple lenses, we have so much to learn from. Thank you, Nancy. Please, if I’m way off with this, correct me! My gloves are off.

  7. mm Steve Wingate says:

    This is why there are four gospels. And, for takes or impacts that the gospel writers had on scenes and all of them had and give glory to God!

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