My friend’s installation and my own journey in ministry

Don’t get weary.
Don’t get discouraged.
Don’t get played.
Do you.

That was the charge given to my friend the Rev. Jacqueline Duhart as she was installed as Associate Minister for Faith In Action at First Unitarian Church of Oakland on October 5.


It was a good Sunday, and a deeply self-reflective one for me. I bet every pastor who attends an installation thinks about their own installation(s), and I was no exception.

Here are a few things that popped into my head about church, a year after I left my seven-year pastorate: (more…)

Faith, fast food and the paddy wagon


photographs by Brooke Anderson:

photo by Brooke Anderson

photo by Brooke Anderson

My father worries that if I ever try to go into politics, my arrest will ruin my career. “Not in Oakland,” I told him consolingly. “Ah yes,” he said; “Jerry Brown is from Oakland.” Neither of us is sure Jerry Brown’s been arrested for anything, but he remembered that I live in the city of Governor Moonbeam (and the Black Panthers, but I’m not sure my father knows who they are).

So yes, that’s me getting arrested by an officer who clearly felt that there might be some actual crimes he could be solving instead of this silliness, but the officers were kind to us and we were all released quickly.

It’s pretty silly to call me brave for risking arrest this past Thursday: my part-time paid job told me that as long as I could make up the hours, I was welcome to follow my conscience. There were lawyers lined up to bail me out and to try to get my record expunged. If I receive a fine, I’ll find the money somehow. And also, I was probably going to get treated well because cops hate arresting pastors. An officer friend of mine said he always tries to avoid arresting pastors because whenever he shows up in the news arresting a pastor, he gets really lousy coffee at his favorite coffee shop for a week afterwards. (more…)

The heart (not just the head) of anti-racism

I was reminded today about why I do anti-racism work.

By way of background, I am in the redwoods, at an AMAZING retreat with twenty other “young” changemakers. (The age range is 20-40ish.) It has been a phenomenal week grounded in how we can support each other to strengthen our work and how we can create a world where every person’s gifts are valued and every person’s needs are met. Some of us are radical activists (and no, I’m not on the radical end of the spectrum – well, not at the END of the end of the spectrum), some of us are artists, some of us are social service providers, and on and on. Every person has been a gift to know, and every activity has helped me look at my work in a new, more sustainable way. One of the themes of the week is around being seen.

The premise (and I agree) is that every person, deep down, wants to be known in the fullness of their complexity. We live in a world that moves so fast some of us don’t know what that complexity is and some of us think we have to mask it and almost all of us are too rushed to fully acknowledge and see and truly listen to those in our lives. We’ve done some good work at practicing that this week, and I think we will carry it back into our communities across North America in ways that will help us build up dignity and love in our communities.

We’ve done a couple of sessions this week that have been tricky for me – one on race and one on gender/sexuality. So in the spirit of seeking to be seen, I mentioned this in our group circle last night, sharing that these sessions had been hard for me because without bringing some systemic analysis of race and gender into the conversation, it was hard for me to be seen. What I meant by that was that a person can love me deeply and still not see all of me if they don’t see that sexism (and heterosexism and racism and classism) affect the way we are experienced in the world and how we interact with each other and how we thrive or don’t. And I can’t see all of another person when those –ism’s are invisible to me, too. It was really interesting, because I felt really supported by the group, and a couple of people expressed to me that they resonated with what I said, but it was disturbing to others, who shared the ways they experienced systemic analysis as a cudgel to shut down their stories and experiences or how it moved them out of their heart and into their head. And it took a while and some off-to-the-sides conversations, but I realized the great gift and privilege I have had in that I have gotten to do the work of anti-oppression in the church.

See, many of my circle mates have gone to WAY more progressive colleges than I did, or they have been in WAY more intellectually rigorous (Marxist/anarchist) movements than I have and their exposure to this work has been academic and disembodied. There is nothing life-giving about anti-racism or systemic analysis the way they have engaged it. They have only experienced it as a heady and abstract thing (unless it directly affects their community) and it does nothing to bring people together.

I hadn’t realized before how life-giving it is to do anti-racism work in the church, with the assumption that our goal is to be in full relationship with one another, and that God dreams for us a beloved community in which we know one another and are fully known. And that is WHY we engage in these conversations about systems and power – because those systems seek to separate us and misshape our God-given identities.

And if we truly crave to be equally beloved children, we need to take down the barriers and level the land that keeps us from one another no matter how badly we want to know each other.

Indian Independence, a wandering Aramean and what makes up identity

“Jai Hind!” I greeted my Sikh neighbors in the elevator this morning.

“Jai Hind!” the husband laughed in response. “I told my co-workers yesterday that I should get today off because it’s my July 4th!”

I didn’t grow up celebrating Indian Independence. I knew when St. Andrew’s Day was when I was in Kindergarten, because my mother decided to make the political statement when I came home and asked her why she hadn’t dressed me in green for school. (The teacher kindly gave me a green sticker so I wouldn’t spend all morning getting pinched–she had known there was something odd about me ever since my mother had asked her at orientation what “Sneakers” were before finally figuring out they were “trainers.”) “You tell your teacher that when she makes the children wear blue on November 30, then you’ll wear green for St. Patrick.” Easy for Mum to say; she wasn’t the one getting pinched. (more…)

Homelessness, the woman on my patio and the Woman at the Well

Sermon preached at First Christian Church of Palo Alto, August 10, 2014.

Text: John 4:5-15 (with references to later verses), the story of the Woman at the Well

Preamble to the sermon:

I am known in some circles for preaching a really up-on-your-feet, clap and shout amen kind of sermon. I think that was why I was invited to preach. So I want to apologize in advance. Three things have happened to me this week that placed a more reflective message on my heart:

  1. A friend of mine from FCC Redding told me this week that when she went on vacation to Savannah, Georgia, she noticed there were no homeless people downtown. When she asked about this, she found out they weren’t allowed in the tourist district. Unsheltered people used to get locked up in jail, but too many of them tried to get arrested so they would have a roof over their head and regular meals. So now they get rounded up and put in an open air pen, to create a greater disincentive to be visible or get arrested. (more…)