“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” – Isaiah 58:12 (NRSV)
For five years I have been a part of a worship band called Menders. Our journey has been interesting and long, with many joys, tears and lessons in what it means to be in a reconciling journey across many divides. We have been in this group together long enough to know that we have learned much, and yet we feel that have barely scratched the surface.
Theoretical knowledge of the theology of reconciliation has intentionally been lived out and experimented with, bit by bit, in this band. We have learned to express these ideas in worship, lead others in it, and we hope to continue to share our stories because although our journey has been short, it’s been incredibly deep.
I have found the meaning of loving your neighbor. I have been confronted with the realities of power, race, reconciliation, and justice. At times, we’ve all wanted to quit—but we’re in it, and we are forever tied together.
The Early Years
After giving birth to my first child, probably suffering postpartum depression, lonely and wondering what the heck I was meant to do in this world, I got an e-mail from the Duke Center for Reconciliation to lead worship at their annual summer institute. I wasn’t leading worship anywhere at the time, except a few guest spots when our local worship pastor was out of town. I was burned out from working as a music therapist in a thriving private practice. I couldn’t force myself to go back into music therapy after having my first child. I was discouraged and knew that my family could probably make more money by me staying at home with the baby than by me working as some sort of musician. All of these factors led me to question my worth, my calling, and my place in life. Lots of moms go through this, but to actually experience it is pretty devastating.
When this e-mail invitation to lead worship with thought leaders in the theology and practice of reconciliation came my way, I decided to rise up to the challenge even with my fear and panic. I knew there was no way I could represent multiple cultures and worship expressions by myself. So I enlisted the help of friends and friends of friends to help me including Reynolds Chapman, Harold Hong, Tomi Oredein, Isaac Park, and Brian Bryant.
We managed to pull off leading worship at this conference. We learned and listened, and God was working to shape us in the theology of reconciliation expressed through worship. After the conference, Chris Rice, then Director of the Center for Reconciliation, came over to my house with flowers and a bottle of wine. He acknowledged that worship was a true gift to the conference and that this was the beginning of something.
As our group got calls to lead worship at local events, and then at regional events, we stumbled into making it official – we were going to be a worship band called Menders, based on this Isaiah 58:12 verse.
The Road Very Less Traveled
We had no idea what we were in store for, but slowly God opened us up to one another. It took a while (maybe two or three years) for us to be fully present and vulnerable with each other. There were many barriers- each of us came from very different backgrounds, racially, socioeconomically, and personally. I don’t think we’re even 100% there, and I don’t think we ever will be.
Musicians are meant to create. But what if everyone in your band has no idea how to relate to you and disagrees with you on almost everything? What if they question your creative process and tell you that they don’t feel invited to it? What if they call you out on your stuff? It just slows you down and you take it personally. And this is how I felt many, many times. It was anything but a kumbayah moment with all of us holding hands together like some Benetton ad. It was tough. I recorded on my Periscope that it took us about three years to write two songs. There was no way that this road was going to be fast, but the lessons learned were deep. God gifted us with this reconciling journey.
In our short time together, we’ve been through some of the following: 2 weddings, 1 new pregnancy and baby, a vague number of breakdowns, deaths, illnesses, immigration issues leading to deportation, lots of moving, job losses and gains, and lots of prayer, laughter, and tears.
Personally, I had to face the fact that as an unassuming short Asian-American female, I too was very capable of being a dominating power and presence over our group. I have been frustrated too many times to count. I love to move fast (anyone who has been with me to Costco knows that I like to move it) and I hated being slowed down. I learned about myself that I wanted to Olivia Pope everyone, commanding my gladiators to do what I said without any questions. But I learned that the tighter my grip was, the harder it became for us to move forward as a team. So I learned to go with the Lord’s flow, and stopped to learn everything He wanted to teach me in these rough moments.
Even though we have done many retreats and conferences together, we wanted to finally host a worship night for our friends and family right here in Durham. Please come out and see us this Saturday, October 10, at 8 PM. Bring some friends!
We’ll share with you some of these lessons we’ve learned along the way. Our set list is killer. We will all worship the Lord together and celebrate what He’s done with this group of misfits and unlikely friends.
And Menders continues to talk through what it looks like to spread the things we’ve learned to others as a sign of encouragement and hope. We have had the great privilege of incubating our ideas and theology into practice at our own pace. Our future projects are all about encouraging other worship leaders to engage in these practices as churches attempt to become more reflective of the Kingdom.
Please join us this Saturday, October 10, for a special concert and sharing time!