In her own words
I’ve always been fascinated by this question: “What does it take to build community that can change the world?” To understand how I’ve tried to answer that question, it helps to have a sense of Hawaiian culture. I don’t mean tacky plastic flower leis, sunburned tourists in Waīkikī, or Bing Crosby singing “Mele Kalikimaka.” I’m talking about the deep and rich values of my Hawaiian ancestors:
Aloha (love, respect)
Lōkahi (harmony, unity)
Mālama (to care for, to honor)
Pono (goodness, morality)
Po‘okela (greatest, to excel).
I grew up breathing that tropical air, immersed in that culture, and those values became fundamental to who I am. You can listen to me talk a little more about that here.
My father, Jan, is a leader in the Hawaiian community. He started a foundation that is changing the lives of many of Hawaiʻi’s most vulnerable, and with my mother, Judy, wrote a series of books on these values. Together with my four younger siblings, I learned early and often that the most important thing is ‘ohana—family—and that sticking together, learning to live what we believe, is one of the most powerful and radical ways we can show up in the world. #CantEscape #NeverCould
In addition to my childhood in Hawaiʻi, my Christian faith has provided a professional framework for exploring the possibility and promise of that question.
It will surprise no one to know that in high school I was president of the youth group at church, and I headed to college with the thought that I’d probably marry a pastor and serve the church as a pastor’s wife. That was a ridiculous idea, of course, because I’m terrible at playing hymns on the piano, and I’m also terrible at keeping my opinions to myself.
Given my tendency to bristle at boundaries, I started to wonder fairly early in my college career why I couldn’t just be the pastor myself -- cut out the middleman, you could say.
Wonderful professors at Baylor University helped open my mind and heart to a wider understanding of God’s work in the world, one that embraced and included everyone even women who felt called to lead Christian institutions. At Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, I found an amazing faith community that licensed me to the ministry.
I went to seminary with the idea of eventually serving as the pastor of a church.
In my Baptist denomination it’s still difficult for women to find pastoral jobs, and over twenty years ago it was near impossible. So after seminary I directed a shelter for homeless women in one of the most wonderful cities in the world: New Orleans, Louisiana. In my years of working with homeless women and the marvelous nuns who were my colleagues, I learned more than I’d imagined about the power of community to heal us.
I also learned about the shameful infrastructure of our society, laws and policies that keep the poor in poverty and come down hard on the backs of the most vulnerable. Women and children are among the most deeply affected, and that’s wrong.
By then I had married (not a pastor) and was trying to figure out how to mother three kids under age four. Yeah, that was an interesting time. My three extraordinary children, Hayden, Hannah, and Sam, survived my bumbling early attempts to parent them and are now in their 20s, each plotting to change the world in various wonderful ways. In 2009 we lived through a very painful divorce that rocked our family to its core, and together we came out stronger on the other side. That’s a whole other story, one that isn’t easy to revisit but that I know is shared by many.
Being human is hard. Living in relationship is hard. Love wins in the end.
Since 2000 I’ve had the great honor of serving and loving three faith communities in various pastoral roles: St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans; Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC; and The Riverside Church in the City of New York. Like so many female clergy, I was the first woman to take the senior role both at Calvary and Riverside. This presents special challenges and opportunities.
And church leadership is challenging in general. As I said in a recent sermon: “The church can break our hearts more often than it does the gospel work of healing us.” That’s just the truth. But the church can also be a powerful force for healing and hope, and I’m proud to know and work alongside so many who share that conviction.
My family and my Hawaiian culture taught me early about ‘ohana...that sticking together and learning to live what we believe is one of the most powerful and radical ways we can show up in the world.
That’s a bit of extra commentary about who I am. If you’re looking for a more boring, professional bio, click here.