Sunday, August 14, 2022

Mercy

Jesus was not tough on crime. He was tough on those who cause harm. There’s a big difference between the two. Jesus did not preach personal responsibility to poor people. He preached accountability to corrupt elites who created the harmful conditions that lead to crime. Those in power, in fact, considered Jesus a criminal. He refused to cooperate with a counterfeit sabbath system that gave workers one day of rest – and then exploited them the rest of the week. His motivation was mercy, a word that literally meant loyalty to the divine covenant – a sacred social pact that prioritized love and liberation over law and order. Mercy does not police and punish poor people. Mercy cuts crime by investing in a platform that affirms life.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Huron

Yesterday, I attended a press conference on the Huron River about thirty miles northwest of where we live in Detroit. A few weeks ago, a company called Tribar released thousands of gallons of hexavalent chromium into the river – for the 2nd time in four years. When we lived in Ypsilanti in 2017-18, the Huron River held us during a heavy time. The Huron nursed us back to life. At the end of our stay, signs went up. Don’t go in the water. Don’t eat the fish. Tribar did that too. 

In Michigan, we have a Democratic governor, but the GOP owns the state legislature after years of gerrymandering. Every year, there is a bill crafted to keep polluting companies accountable, but Republicans refuse to even give it a hearing. This not a partisan issue. Polluters should pay. The Huron exposes our harsh reality: both parties have been bought by businesses whose sole obsession is profit. Only ordinary, organized people can turn this boat around.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Mob

On the final Friday of June, we woke up to find the red robin's nest removed from where it was resting right under the roof of our back deck. When we went to bed the night before, three baby birdies were chirping. That morning, silence. The predator showed up just a few hours before the Supreme Court overturned Roe. It was a sign. In American society, rights and profits are plundered in the dark of night.
 
This week, on the night that Kansas said "no," I was out on the back deck reading when I was suddenly interrupted by a squawking chorus of red robins. A red-tailed hawk was perched on a pole. The predator! A few of the robins and sparrows took turns “mobbing” the hawk. A couple crows joined in. These winged-Beings formed a union. They darted. They dive-bombed. They drove it out. When the hawk flew a hundred yards away, the mob followed it. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Vulnerable Courage to Tell the Truth

Multitudes of white Christian men equate manhood with being an aggressive, authoritarian protector and provider. Many model their militant masculinity after the Warrior Jesus depicted in Revelation. At the end of the last book of the bible, Jesus has fire in his eyes and leads an army riding a white horse. What white Christian men need to know is that the book of Revelation speaks in code and symbol to subvert supremacist violence. 

On the white horse, Jesus carries a sword—but it comes out of his mouth. His words are his weapons. He wields the vulnerable courage to tell the truth even if it costs everything. The robe Jesus wears is dipped in blood—but the blood is his own. Earlier in Revelation, Jesus shows up as the slaughtered lamb. His nonviolent witness threatens elites so much they had to crucify him. This is the same Jesus of the Gospels who sheds tears and tells the men to put down their weapons. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Bread of Life

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he is the bread of life and that anyone who comes to him will never go hungry. This is not even remotely true. The pain caused by the “all you need is Jesus” jargon has been jarring. The bible writes some checks our souls can’t cash. Of course, context matters. In John, the rhetoric is off the rails because it is rooted in the life-and-death struggle of oppressed people. John wages a war against the supremacy of religious and political authorities, and in the process, sometimes the sacred story sinks into supremacy too. 

Jesus is still a staple for me because his story clarifies, over and over, what love is: a willingness to lay down my life for others. Love subverts supremacy. People experience “God” when they get off the pedestal, stop performing and orient their lives around truth, beauty, goodness and humble service to others. This is what Jesus said and did. When this kind of love becomes the lens and litmus test for everything, it serves as a compelling contrast to popular lifestyles that center success, comfort and entitlement. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Traveling Companion

It’s summer reading season. Last week, I picked up Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time ever. Don’t judge me. I’m way behind. It’s obviously brilliant and beautiful. Just like I’ve heard from countless conversation partners. I usually read non-fiction, but I am slowly learning what this “other” kind of literature does to the soul. 

This sample shimmered for me. It comes right after Native folks, who refused to move to the reservation, cut off the shackles of Paul D, a man who escapes slavery and stays with them in the Southern woods. I love how Black folk and Indigenous people take cues from non-human life. It's not a resource. It's a relative. Just as intended. 
 ------------------------------------------------ 
“Paul D finally woke up and, admitting his ignorance, asked how he might get North. Free North. Magical North. Welcoming, benevolent North. The Cherokee smiled and looked around. The flood rains of a month ago had turned everything to steam and blossoms. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Variants

When he healed the leper, the bible says that Jesus was moved with compassion, a word in Greek that literally means “burning in the bowels.” Jesus felt the leper’s pain in a deep place. What’s weird is that some of the earliest manuscripts of this Gospel story had “anger” instead of "compassion." Scholars call this a textual variant. As we are learning with Covid, if unregulated, variants mutate over time, making things a whole lot messier. The scriptures are soaked with variants, giving voice to a very human element. The good news is that Spirit speaks in spite of the flaws—in the bible and in us. 

It makes sense to me that the original version of this passage portrayed an angry Jesus—and then, eventually, scribes edited it to make him more palatable for the people. There’s no doubt that Jesus was compassionate. But personally, I love the idea that Jesus got angry too. Because I believe that compassion and anger burn together. When anger is aimed at the actual people and policies that produce pain and suffering, it gives compassion the agency to shake off cynicism, apathy and despair. This healing hybrid empowers us to transform ourselves and the world. Just like Jesus did.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Flip the Coin

One day, some of the powerful religious elites buttered up Jesus with praise. They said Jesus must be from God because he always told the truth. Then they turned the tables and tried to trap him with a trick question: 

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 
 Should we pay them, or should we not?” 

Sniffing out their hypocrisy, Jesus got his hands on some currency. 

“Whose image is this,” he asked, “and whose title?” 

The answer was obvious. Caesar. 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Clear Contrast

I just attended a press conference hosted by We the People of Detroit. Community leaders like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Rev. Roslyn Murray Bouier, Dr. Emily Kutil and attorney Norrel Hemphill called out the latest counterfeit report coming from the Detroit water department, which has shut-off water to more than 170,000 homes in the past decade. Half of these are Black women with young children. Four victims of shut-offs shared their horrifying stories at the presser today, including Valerie Blakely whose entire block was turned off by “two guys in a truck” contracted by the city. Two women talked about running hoses through their windows to help next door neighbors. 

These leaders have been demanding a water affordability plan since George W was the president. The department just approved one with little input from experts and few details about how it will be funded and implemented. They refuse to release the full plan to the public. They are giving 45 days for “community engagement”—without a real strategy for how they will engage the community. They say that the plan will limit water usage—but many of these low-income households have more than ten people living in them. Meanwhile, the city subsidizes the re-development plans of billionaires and uses federal covid funds to give bonuses to the police department. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Soul

I’ve been re-reading Bruce Rogers-Vaughn’s brilliant book Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age. Bruce starts by re-animating “soul” as the fabric that binds every living being together. We are not autonomous individuals. We are a web of belonging. Soul is a posture, an activity, a way of existing within an entangled world where there is so much suffering circulating all around us. The soul fabric is frayed, which is why so many are feeling so much heaviness and anxiety right now. 
 
“Whenever the response to this pain is care,” Bruce writes, “there is soul.” It is a call and response. Soul shifts our focus away from social status to a deeper solidarity with those who are exploited, neglected and abused. Soul grows when we stop cooperating with the values of the profit motive and seek communion and wholeness with others and the earth. Succeeding at the game of capitalism sucks the soul dry. Which means we must slow down and try something else.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

A post-Evangelical Position on Abortion

In 2008, a close friend of mine called me a “baby murderer” after Lindsay and I drove to Vegas to campaign for Barack Obama, a pro-choice candidate. No doubt, many other evangelical christians said these sorts of things behind my back. I felt the distance. I also took the criticism and the silence seriously. So I continued to study the bible—which scripted for me a post-evangelical position on abortion. 

What I found weaving through the ancient text, over and over again, was a fundamental critique of Pharoah, Solomon and Caesar—men of power who sanctified their human hierarchy of value with a supremacy god always on the throne, always in control. The good news is that, throughout the scriptures, there is also a Sabbath God delivering a dissenting opinion that gives agency and empowerment to women, the working poor, the orphans and the overlooked. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

A Resurrection

I drove five hundred miles to attend the national assembly of the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC. Tens of thousands gathered. Folks were there from all over the political spectrum—and many of us who feel like we do not fit anywhere on the spectrum. Right after the heat and humidity broke, Rev. William Barber scripted spiritual language to lament that both political parties shared in the failure to center 140 million poor and low-wealth people in the US. He said our gathering was not an insurrection, but a resurrection. “This is the day,” Barber prophesied, “that the stones that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone of a new reality.”

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Poor Widow

When Jesus went to Jerusalem, he sat down and watched wealthy folks put large sums into the temple treasury. But he shined the spotlight on the poor widow who contributed two small copper coins, which was all she had left in her account. Jesus was not praising her as some sort of sacrificial model for the faithful. The poor widow was a wake-up call, a warning sign. Jesus was lamenting a system that celebrated those whose “abundance” was built by foreclosing on the properties of poor people, denying the landless a living wage and then blaming them for their plight. Jesus knew that the fortunes of the rich and famous are rarely innocent. 

We are locked in the same cycle of injustice and inequality that Jesus condemned. Extremely wealthy Americans are celebrated for contributing to causes out of their abundance. They also anonymously give millions to political campaigns so that they will not be held accountable for how they “earn” profit. They aggressively promote the police, the prisons and the Pentagon. Then they lobby against basic government services for those barely surviving. The way of Jesus is always partial to a platform that protects and serves the poor widow. We must choose sides. Because justice and love are always on the line.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Gospel

I was on the road again this week. Over the phone, a dear friend asked me how I summarize “the gospel” now, after exiting evangelical christianity years ago. It’s a great question because I do still believe that the message of Jesus matters. While I no longer contend that he is somehow the One Right Path to Heaven, I am convinced that Jesus offers a journey that can set people free from the ways that successes built on supremacy and certainty are counterfeiting us on earth. 

The gospel is not a guarantee. It is a sacred, subversive story built on trust and tenderness, not triumph. It is the good news that a divine Force is fermenting a new world. We are fragile clay jars that hold this feral Force within us. When we are cracked, the love and light can really shine through. The good news is that there is Something that composts our deaths, losses and so-called failures. We can let wonder replace the fear. Because this Something grows our wings out of our wounds.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Greatness

When Jesus defined greatness as sacrificial service, he was challenging those who exercised authority over others. Jesus was speaking to the men, not the marginalized. He summoned them to stop self-promoting and become “servants,” a word that literally meant “those who kick up the dust.” He equated greatness with a willingness to get dirty for the sake of everyone else’s dignity. 

Jesus also told the men they must become “slaves.” Because real masculinity is not being above the fray, but being bound to the destiny of others. It moves on humility, nurture, truth-telling and tenderness. Greatness is not about guns, grit and glory. It is about having the guts to grieve—and give up our lives for those society considers the least.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Compelling

The ancient text says that the love of Christ “compels.” It is the same word for catching a virus. Something that compels is so contagious it does not need to coerce, manipulate, shame, blame or mind-game. It is not safe, passive or self-protective either. Real love woos, beckons, empowers, flavors and ferments us into freedom. It is Jesus touching lepers even when it is against the law. It is Harriet Tubman heading back to the South to summon hundreds home. It is Dietrich Bonhoeffer telling the truth even when it costs everything. It is irresistible on its own terms.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Conspiracy

This week, the US government released its first official report on the buried history of 408 government-sponsored Indian Boarding Schools. The horrific system kidnapped Indigenous children and sent them away to become English-speaking Christians. It set up "the cheapest and safest way of subduing the Indian" so that white people could acquire the best land. The report is filled with quotes like this from congressmen and Presidents. Quotes that many white people still believe in. 

Yesterday, an 18-year-old white boy drove hundreds of miles to murder Black people in Buffalo. He subscribes to a particular brand of white supremacy, weaponized against a conspiracy of forces working behind the scenes to replace the white race. This replacement theory is peddled by Republican politicians and Fox News anchors. It fertilizes the fear and rage ripening in white men. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Racist Racket

The overwhelming majority of evangelical pastors did not start opposing Roe v. Wade until six years after the supreme court decision. This is well-documented. It all started with the GOP getting white evangelicals on board with Ronald Reagan. At the time, the big issue for white evangelicals was the “segregation academies” that they created when the government ordered schools to desegregate. This obviously racist position was becoming less and less popular with the rest of public. So white male Republican leaders surveyed and strategized until they found the perfect issue to make themselves the party of “family values.” Abortion. Same-sex marriage was soon added to make it a combo punch. 

I started attending a virtually all-white Christian school five years into this experiment. My white pastors and teachers told me that these were not political issues. These were moral issues. Biblical issues. My white pastors and teachers were taking their cues from their virtually all-white (and wealthy) social circles. These white people literally just quoted a few bible verses about babies and abominations. No one told us that Black women were three times more likely to die giving birth than white women. They just told us that America was no longer racist because a nice man named Martin Luther King came along. That was about it. The history of “family values” is still in the room with us. It is a racist racket—and totally contrary to the way of Jesus. Happy Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Divine Power is like Dog Piss

On Wednesday, I crossed the border into Canada and drove three hundred kilometers to spend a few hours with my friend Oz, a retired theology professor who dedicated decades to training Lutheran pastors to read and lead with a liberationist lens. Oz was born a few months before my dad and spent his early years in Western Pennsylvania, where my great-great grandfather Harry Brady was laid to rest. In the pandemic, Oz has been writing his memoirs while wrestling with Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer. 

Oz came out to the garage in sweatpants and a bright red Canadian zip-up jacket pulled over his black hoodie. He was wearing mittens and sipped on a mocha. He used his rolling walker to make his way down the driveway into the warm sun. He was wearing what looked like designer women's sunglasses. A cardinal tilted her head on the bare branches above us. Oz apologized for forgetting names, yet despite some cognitive decline, he could easily recall many of the contours of his life. His kids. His books. His beloved Bonnie. His students. His friends. The first time he showed up at a protest. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

A New Song

“What I do know is that love reckons with the past and evil reminds us to look to the future. Evil loves tomorrow because peddling in possibility is what abusers do.”—Kiese Laymon

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song.”—Psalm 96:1

Thirty years ago, four white cops caught on video beating Rodney King fifty-six times were acquitted in Simi Valley by a jury made up of ten white folks, one Latino and one Asian. In the aftermath, a righteous rage fueled the L.A. Riots. At the time, I was getting ready for senior prom fifty miles south. Six weeks earlier, our high school basketball team won the CIF sectional championship at the Sports Arena, where the Clippers used to play back in the day. We beat Lynwood, an all-Black squad from south L.A. In our all-white minds, we were getting revenge.

A Lifestyle Update: The Era of BA.2

Right now, Covid-19 rates are surging. Wastewater—the only reliable testing—reveals the rise. The celebrity test shows it too. More and more “important people” are popping up in the news with positive tests. Kamala Harris just got it. Zach LaVine missed the last playoff game for the Bulls because he entered health and safety protocols. The friends and family test is also coming on strong. Many are getting either “the stomach flu” or the three-week cold with fever. My hunch is that most of these mysterious illnesses are Covid, even though most folks are coming up negative with at-home tests. I am not going indoors with people right now. Because I do not want to get Covid. Despite what most folks think, this disease does serious long-term damage. 
 
The virus is kicking ass right now because the BA.2 variant is super contagious and the immunity of most people is waning. It’s been more than four months since I got boosted. It’s been more than four months since most of our friends and family members got Omicron. I am locking it down for the next three weeks. Because I can. I will read works by Black and Indigenous authors. I will write and revise my book manuscript. I will explore my family tree and study what it means to connect with Ancestors like Ruth Ritter and George Riese at a deeper level. I will make frequent trips to the Detroit River and the Huron River. I will pay attention to birds, bees and trees. I will tap into tenderness, reverence and awe on this Anishinaabe land. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Spirit and Soil

This Easter marks the one-year anniversary of my friend Melanie Magee taking her last breath in the land of the living. She caught Covid-19 for the second time. In our last direct message exchange, I told her we were praying for her, and I sent her my phone number. She wrote back: “adding you to my contacts…thanks…give me a few days.” A few days later she was gone. I am convinced that “a few days” was a reference to resurrection. Like Jesus, Melanie has gone through death and come out the other side. She has moved on to the great cloud of witnesses and merged with God's love in a new way. 

The ancient Jews who wrote the bible believed that "heaven" was God's space on earth, not a disembodied destination where we go when we die. It was Greek philosophy that separated the heavenly hereafter from life on earth. In Genesis, it says “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” At the beginning of the bible, dust is the eternal destination of every living being. I believe that Melanie still speaks through spirit and soil. She’s changed forms, just a breath away, protecting and serving us on our earth journey. My Easter hope is that when I die, I will rise up and be reunited with the loved ones and spiritual leaders who have gone before me—and we will ride on the wind together, working to redeem the world.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A Good Friday Kind of Love

Good Friday shifts the perspective to crucified people. Where it belongs. Consider this. A recent study analyzed the response of white people to horrific headlines saying Black and Indigenous folks and other people of color are 2-3 times more likely to get killed by covid. The study says that this data led white people to drop their fear of the disease and to demand that governments lift mandates and open schools and businesses. White folks embraced entitlement over empathy. Of course, this is not news to Black and Indigenous folks and other people of color. Many call this “whiteness.” Not so much a skin color, but a spiritual condition. 
 
Whiteness is not rooted in hate, but supremacy. It teaches us that we are smarter and work harder—so those outside of our orbit are unworthy of our attention, care and sacrifice. Whiteness trains us to believe that crucified people are dying because they are doing it wrong. Not because their bodies have sustained intergenerational trauma or because they are denied decent health care and nutrition. Whiteness justifies the decisions we make for ourselves and our families—no matter how our decisions affect anyone else. Whiteness is the spirituality behind a national strategy that now swaps out social safety precautions for personal decisions. It’s all about protecting our own families—and corporate profits. Whiteness calls this “freedom.” 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Attunement

Holy week is here. As Easter approaches, there is good news: “christianity” is a contested concept. There are literally thousands of versions. I believe that the differences can be divided into two competing camps. One brand seeks salvation in the atonement of Jesus. The other kind is compelled by the attunement of Jesus. The atonement camp believes that sin stains humanity, separating us from God and an eternal life in heaven when we die. It is a supremacy story. Only Jesus can make us clean and save us from hell. Atonement faith most often supports the status quo, no matter how unjust and oppressive. It says things won’t get better until Jesus comes back—or until we get to heaven. 

Attunement faith is a dissenting opinion. A minority report. A remnant path that actively participates in the radical love of Jesus—which is rooted in his attunement to what Dr. King called the inescapable network of mutuality. To be attuned like Jesus is to be present, to pay attention, to be in awe of the spiritual reality that we are intimately connected to divine Presence, each other, our ancestors and the more-than-human world of trees, bees, birds, wind and water. Jesus gave his life for the inescapable network of mutuality. Powerful elites crucified Jesus because they knew they could not keep exploiting the network if everyone else was tuned-in to what was happening—and willing to respond in truth and love. Just like Jesus.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Agbaji Set the Standard

The season is finally over and I am in total shock. I got to watch this Jayhawk squad play twenty-four times this season. One of my favorite teams ever. Because the more I watched, the more I became convinced that they genuinely liked each other, that they did not care—on any given night—who got the credit. When they rooted for each other, it was real, not the rigid kind of quid pro quo support that’s become the society standard. I’ll root for you—as long as you return the favor. When you watch a team enough times, you can tell the difference between authentic love for teammates and when they are just doing it because coach told them to. 

Senior Ochai Agbaji set the standard. He was under-recruited, but became a first team All-American. He had games where he scored in single digits, but he still willed his team to win by diving on the floor, making the extra pass, taking a charge. After these games, when the box score failed to animate his impact, Agbaji consistently beamed a smile soaked in sincerity. His rare blend of poise, purity of heart and sculpted athleticism made Omicron isolation bearable. The last time these guys lost, I was on Mass Street in Lawrence. I wish I was there right now. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Migration in March

On Fat Tuesday, six days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I drove out of Detroit while it was still dark. For the first two hours, the slipped disk in my upper back was screaming. This thorn in my flesh, this messenger from Satan, was signaling a lack of emotional support in a world collapsing with the 4 C’s: capitalism, climate, covid and conflict. I drove through all four time zones as gas prices sky-rocketed and the stealth BA. 2 variant spread. On the road, in this mess, I was trusting in Something greater than myself, a divine Presence percolating the world with steadfast love and solidarity. This Force does not sit on a throne. It hovers low like a nurturing mother bird and runs fast like an open-hearted, emotionally expressive father figure.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

This is What 40 Looks Like

Don’t worry kids. There’s hope. This is what 40 looks like. Inside and out. Today, I celebrate Lindsay’s beauty, wonder, wisdom, compassion, kindness, truth-telling and solidarity-with-the-underdog-all-the-time. In her 40th year, one summer night in Central Oregon stood out. There she was: leading a game of truth-or-dare with elementary school boys—and then assessing the Enneagram tri-type of every adult in the circle. She knows the secret recipe for soul sauce. Just add presence, play, an agenda-free curiosity and full transparency. It never gets old.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Same Weary Drama

This week, employees of an Applebee’s Restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas—the home of the Jayhawks—leaked an email from their regional manager who detailed how rising gas prices are good news for the company. An excerpt: 

Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck. Any increase in gas prices cuts into their disposable income. As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Cancelling Jesus

During Lent, I am leaning into the good news that, according to the Gospels, the only folks who Jesus comes close to canceling are those who use their power to cancel others. He calls King Herod a fox. He turns over the tables of the Temple bankers. He demands that the rich young ruler give away all his possessions. The text says that Jesus loved the rich man—so much so that he put up a boundary to his destructive behavior. Jesus wouldn’t allow him to join the movement until he stopped making his money off excluding and exploiting and evicting those Jesus called blessed: the meek, mourning, poor, persecuted and pure in heart. The very ones that many American churches are hell-bent on canceling. 

In candid conversations with his disciples, Jesus accurately predicted that a coalition of religious and political elites would use their power to cancel him on a cross. He also predicted that the powermongers would not have the final word, that his cancellation would only last three days, that he would rise up in the bodies of the unhoused, uninsured, unfed, unclothed, immigrant and imprisoned people of the world—and that whoever uses their power to cancel these precious people are actually canceling him. Hallelujah! Here’s to extending grace and mercy to the marginalized and to those in a process of healing. And here’s to keeping the real cancelers accountable. Apologies are good. Making amends is even better.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Cancel Culture

During Lent, a season of “giving up,” I’ve been thinking a lot about how conservatives have doubled down on the term “cancel culture.” They feel like folks are “giving up” on them over matters of race, sex and gender. Many moderates and liberals resonate, feeling ostracized for unpopular or politically incorrect perspectives. There’s definitely a deficit of grace and mercy in America. What unsettles me is that a lot of the same folks lamenting “cancel culture” attend churches—conservative and liberal—that cancel folks if they do not pass a certain litmus test of beliefs. In fact, the fear of being cancelled keeps a lot of folks in the fold. They stay silent and just go along with the program so they won’t be dissed or dismissed by their friends, family, pastors, bosses and colleagues. Speaking out leads to social death—what Jesus called “taking up the cross.” 

In some of these faith communities, if you are gay, lesbian or trans, you are disqualified from leadership positions—and your marriage is not recognized. If you do not believe the bible and Christianity is supreme, you will be side-eyed and labeled a relativist. If your heart bleeds for Ukraine, it’s cool, but if you pour out the same passion for Palestine, people will question your salvation. If you refuse to put up the American flag in your house of worship, you will be called a Communist or a traitor. If you say Black Lives Matter or join up with the Poor People’s Campaign or advocate cutting budgets for police, prisons and the military, you will be ghosted or gaslit, accused of mixing politics with “eternal” matters. What’s weird is that I’ve never heard anyone call these churches a “cancel culture.” Why not?

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Kindness Needs Some Accountability

I saw this yard sign in Lawrence, Kansas last week. Our society is soaked with this sentiment. I’ve seen it all over the continent the past few years. No doubt, American culture desperately needs more kindness. However, I really struggle with this over-simplified scripting. Because kindness alone does not possess the power to end poverty, the pandemic, police murders and the bombing of Palestine—or Ukraine. Kindness alone simply cannot block the predatory behavior—from banks, corporations, bosses, coaches, politicians, priests, husbands and whoever else. I want a sign that says, “Be Kind and Keep the Abusers Accountable.” A message that demands more out of each of us —which is what real love does.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

My Baptism

It’s Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten journey in the Christian tradition. I did not go to a service or get ashes on my forehead today. Instead, I find myself reflecting on the night I got baptized, in 1987, at a little fundamentalist bible church in Orange County, California. Back then, I held many strong convictions that I have since rejected. I no longer believe that non-Christians are going to hell or that queer folks are condemned or that the bible is perfect or that America is uniquely blessed by God. In the spirit of Lent, I have given up on these ideas. Forever. 

I now believe that my baptism was a radical act of breaking rank with imperial identities that say a certain race, religion, country or creed is supreme. My baptism, as I now see it, was an initiation into a process of dying to the destructive ideology that God ordains a human hierarchy of value—that some people matter more than others. Lent reminds me of this renewed vision of baptism, a continual immersion into the love-soaked, hierarchy-subverting way of Jesus—who died for all so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Divine Dialysis: A 7-Minute Sermon

 

To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.—excerpts from Psalm 51

This week, I read Psalm 51 in the wake of dear friends sharing the details of a sexual assault they experienced. My response was rage. I struggled to tap into tears. I was just so angry. At the perpetrator for what he did. At the police for what they did not do. Lindsay asked me if our friends’ story was triggering my own trauma. I wasn’t sure. I needed to go away to reflect—and sit with this Psalm, attributed to David who was called “a man after God’s own heart.” He was also a sexual predator.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

More Than A Month

Juwan Howard threw a blow at an opposing coach. There’s no excuse for it. He got fined and suspended for the rest of the season. He apologized and is facing the consequences. He made a mistake. He is making amends. He is a role model. But what about the opposing coach, who escalated the situation by sprinting into the scrum where he aggressively interacted with Coach Howard’s players? In a situation like this, the role of coaches is clear: use your body as a buffer to the violence. Grab your own players and get them out of the mix. He did the exact opposite—and he is facing zero consequences.
One of the reasons that I believe race belongs in this conversation is because the opposing coach is a 6’7” white dude who has always been allowed to move his body and use his words—on and off the court—in ways that Black players and coaches cannot. If Black History Month means anything, it must be a reminder that this double standard still determines the way power operates in society. This painful reality remains invisible for most people who look like me. We are trapped in a history we do not understand—as James Baldwin wrote—and until we understand it, we will never be released from it. This is real spiritual work—and it is going to take more than a month for us to see it and get free from it.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Litmus Test

Our present polarization over mask mandates and vaccination status bears a striking resemblance with a topic that had some of the first followers of Jesus in a tiff: circumcision. I’m not equating today’s choice to get vaccinated—or to wear a mask in public—with the ancient argument over whether Gentile Christians should cut foreskins or eat kosher. But this current beef over what to do with our bodies is just as polarizing today as it was two thousand years ago. There is good news in the sacred text for those of us seeking common ground. Even as pillars of the faith passionately disagreed, they unified over one vital practice. They committed to prioritizing the poor in their midst.

The litmus test for authentic Christian faith is protecting and serving those struggling to make ends meet. Which makes perfect sense. These are the people that Jesus the peasant-rabbi from Nazareth poured out his life for. I know Christians who refuse to get vaxxed—yet they are doing everything in their power to protect poor and vulnerable people. With their masks. With their distance. With their political and economic commitments. I can party with these people. We can shelve our disagreements over the jab and pursue justice together. Because radical love transcends the culture war—and compels us to conspire for a new world where those most at risk finally get to make the rules.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Unscrambling: A 7-Minute Sermon

And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves—Genesis 11:3-4

Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.—Genesis 11:9

Five years before George Floyd was murdered, back when it was possible to fly coach without catching covid, we were at the Detroit airport waiting in line for the TSA screening when Lindsay started unpeeling her banana. She was moving with a sense of urgency. She put down her bags, pivoted to me and proclaimed that she needed to eat it now. Because if it went through the x-ray machine it might scramble the nutrition. I scanned the perimeter to see if anyone heard her. It was 5:30 in the morning. She had not had one sip of coffee.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Abel Still Speaks: A 7-Minute Sermon

*Dedicated to Dr. James Perkinson who paradigm-shifted my reading of the Abel story. For more, check out Perkinson's Messianism Against Christology: Resistance Movements, Folk Art, and Empire (2013).

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.—Genesis 4:2b

Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!—Genesis 4:8-10

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.—Mark 6:34

“I'm more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible today only on the fringes of society, where one then runs the risk of starving or being stoned to death. In these circumstances, a sense of humor is a great help.”—Hannah Arendt

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In the ancient world, shepherds tended their flocks on the edge of civilization, on the borderlands, straddling two cultures with the side-eyed and sidelined. Shepherds resisted mass migration to cities, built with resources extracted from somewhere else. What we called "civilization" was sculpted by strong men exploiting the masses. Shepherds were not part of this program. They stayed nomadic, foraging for food, going wherever the grass was growing. Shepherds were dirty people. Outcasts. Their testimony was not trusted in court.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Our Thinking

I was listening to an interview with Chris Hedges recently where he says that the students he teaches in New Jersey prisons are more brilliant than his students at Princeton. Because those in prison—mostly poor people of color—have a deeper understanding of how power works, how American history affects the here and now. The lives of these students have been devastated by neoliberal policies, many drafted by Democrats like Clinton, Obama and Biden who have made it clear they are “tough on crime” too. These policies have overwhelmingly impacted people who are not wealthy, white or middle-class. They have also contributed to making our society even more segregated than it was when Dr. King walked among us. 

In this split-screen society, I often hear how important it is to think for ourselves. Which is weird when most of us who grow up in the sunlight of opportunity do not see the devastation on the other side of the tracks. Our thinking is shaped by sources, by the opinions of those in our algorithms, echo chambers of decent people often deceived or in denial about the dehumanizing outcomes of this indecent system. We the people protected by the system find comfort in corporate-sponsored narratives that convince us that we think for ourselves. The alternative is to intentionally think with those who have borne the brunt of the pain and oppression—to think with those who went to prison instead of those who went to Princeton.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Spiritual Leader of the Household

Every other week, I zoom with a little theology cohort of a half dozen led by Jim Perkinson and Lily Mendoza. Right now, we are reading a piece from Indigenous theologian and activist Vine Deloria, Jr. who writes that reflection is not the same as logical thought. Reflection is a special art that requires spiritual maturity. Reflection allows wisdom to approach instead of seeking answers to self-generated questions. It requires patience and courage and trust. Reflection is a special art that Lindsay has pretty much mastered—and I have been marinating on this rare quality of hers today as we celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.  

Lindsay’s superpower has made me a profoundly deeper person than I was seventeen years ago. Sometimes I struggle. I have a strong tendency to control outcomes or just dwell in that district called Denial. I am slowly learning from her how to wait for wisdom to approach and wash over me, instead of anchoring in answers that absolve me from further consideration. What’s weird is that when we got married in 2005, we were just starting to second-guess the Christian fundamentalism that says “the husband” should be the spiritual leader of the household. This is a broken model on so many levels. I cannot even imagine my life without her leadership.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Busyness as a Badge of Honor

The pandemic has been a spiritual wake-up call for me. Perhaps the steepest learning curve has been deprogramming my default of living without limits. Like most white folk and middle-class people, I have been scripted and subsidized to dream big, to be all that I can be, to find my value in production and performance. The profit motive, the patriarchy, professional careerism and social media self-promotion have taught me to wear my busyness as a badge of honor. The problem is that doing so much chokes out my presence, playfulness and tenderness. When I try to gain the whole world, I lose my soul. Just like Jesus said.

The pandemic has prodded me on to a path of letting go, saying goodbye, sitting on the bench, saying “no” and waiting for who knows when. This is what my soul desperately needs, but the long process continues to be a daring prospect percolating with grief. I attempt to numb the loss of “normal life” with beer, NBA basketball and scrolling to read as many articles as I can possibly find on the internet. My spiritual life is a glorious mess, but I am grateful for therapy and a line-up of kindreds, first and foremost Lindsay, who consistently model vulnerability and give me full permission to do far less—the simple, subversive paradigm-shift that will set me free.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The God of the Groan

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a spirit from God swept over the face of the waters.—Genesis 1:1-2

…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.—Genesis 2:7

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From the sidewalk, a cell phone caught the viral voice of God speaking through the mouth of a Black man forty days younger than me face down on the street pavement calling for his mama while a white man in uniform with his left hand in his pocket took his life by kneeling on his neck. I can’t breathe. George Floyd gasped these words twenty-seven times in the last nine minutes of his life. I can’t breathe. He was speaking on behalf of those Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the other America,” those Jesus called blessed: the poor, the persecuted, the pure in heart, the meek and mourning, those who hunger for justice.

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Real Disease

Yesterday, Kyrsten Sinema took the floor of the Senate to say that the disease of American society is that we are divided. I disagree. The real disease is that democracy is counterfeit and that we the people—at least most the people—are distracted, deceived and lack spiritual depth. This is how powerful elites like Sinema, controlling both parties, have designed it. A false unity founded on fake democracy, a frenzied life, repressed realities and incentives to keep everything on the surface. This is cancerous. We should not feel guilty or ashamed about this. We should take responsibility to heal it.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Real Controversy

When asked whether his painting features an image of Jesus or George Floyd, the artist answers “Yes.” It brims with the biblical proclamation that the risen Christ will be found in those that society considers “the least.” Meanwhile, Mary recovers her original skin tone and looks at us with eyes that wonder whether we will respond to the injustice—or just move on. Mary bears witness with Ella Baker that true freedom will not come until the killing of Black men, Black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons.  

 The icon was hanging from the wall at Catholic University in D.C.—until it was stolen. Twice. It became a controversy when conservative news outlets scorned it and recruited folks to sign a petition to remove it. The real controversy is that Jesus and George Floyd were both crucified by agents of the state hired to protect and serve powerful elites in an unjust society. Jesus and George Floyd were both considered criminals, but I believe the Roman soldier at the foot of the cross spoke for them both: “Truly, this man was innocent.”

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Radical Royalty

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.—Genesis 1:26-27

My spirituality is saturated in the biblical claim that I bear the image of God, that we all bear the royal image of God. Hebrew scribes wrote and edited the book of Genesis after they were captured and exiled to Babylon, an empire that placed “images”—or  statues—of their king in public places to remind people who is supreme. Citizens were supposed to bow whenever they passed by. The Hebrew scribes subverted this human hierarchy of value by crafting their own creation story. The scribes stamped every human Being with the royal image of a God of love and compassion who designed a world without a human hierarchy of value. We are all royalty, born to bow in reverence to each other.

When I read the Gospels through the lens of this radical royalty, Jesus jumps off the page, pitching the idea of a reign of God that belongs to peasant people who have been incessantly lied to and deceived by the propaganda of priests and politicians devoted to what the Romans called “the paterfamilias,” the imperial caste system, their version of the human hierarchy of value, with Caesar at the top and children at the very bottom, just below the women, the working poor, the sharecroppers and slaves, the chronically sick and injured.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Thin Places in 2021

In 2021, these were some of the times and spaces when I felt the divine shine a little closer than usual. My Celtic ancestors called them “thin places.”

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Countless texts and phone calls with kindreds who had the courage to share vulnerably.
The lentil soup my mother-in-law Nancy made when I was recovering from covid.
Long runs and hikes along bodies of water called Deschutes, Detroit, Huron, Kansas, Bridge Creek, Still Creek, Tumalo Creek, Twin Lakes, Arroyo Trabuco, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Soaking in the grief of learning more specifics of the settler colonial history of my ancestors, in a span of fifty years, moving from PA to OH to MI to the Dakotas to MT to WA—land tended by scores of Indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
Quiet mornings with coffee, a sacred text and an open laptop screen.