Oakland, you’re the hot chick now:

Stop letting your boyfriends treat you like you’re lucky to be with them!

Please forgive the heteronormative nature of the following piece.

If you read my blog posts regularly, you know a few things about me: I’ve been the fat chick and I’ve been the hot chick. I’ve been with guys who treat me well and I’ve been with guys who have conveyed to me that they’re slumming it a little. (Added note: I’ve found that guys don’t tend to treat me better or worse based on my size; I just tend to let them treat me badly when I don’t realize that I’m a person worthy of being treated well regardless of size.)

At the last city council meeting I attended, I found myself thinking, “whoa–there are a lot of developers these days who know that Oakland’s the hot chick, AND they know she hasn’t figured it out yet! That’s gonna get messy!”


So, based on my learnings from the dating world, here is my contribution to the upcoming surge in high-end development in Oakland. It’s really addressed specifically to city council, the brains of the incredibly hot chick that is Oakland.


Dear Oakland: (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…)

The Myth of Street Smarts versus Book Smarts

Delivered June 13, 2014, at Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago annual Convocation.

I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.

–Ezekiel 2:9-3:3

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

–Matthew 13:44-46



They say we lose our greats in threes, and that has certainly been true this month: we have lost Vincent Harding, heroic leader of the civil rights movement; we have lost the great poet Maya Angelou and we have lost Yuri Kochiyama, Asian American activist, Black Power leader and survivor of the American concentration camps. (more…)

A Tale of Two Cities: Redemption and gentrification in a “transitioning” neighborhood and a pop-up middle class neighborhood

When I was pastor at First Christian Church of Oakland, a couple of our regular members were homeless. They made most of their income by recycling. They could tell you where to go on Saturdays when the regular recycling center was closed, and how to get money for the wine bottles that don’t have the triangle arrow you need normally, and how to strip the plastic off phone wires to redeem the valuable copper underneath. (Although in retrospect they were a little embarrassed they admitted to their pastor that they knew how to do that last one.)

Monday through Friday, they took their recycling to Alliance Recycling Center in west Oakland, a few blocks from the home where some of my other congregants lived. You can actually catch glimpses of them in the documentary Dogtown Redemption, made by my now-friend Amir Soltani, whom I met and came to trust because my congregants had seen him in action and could vouch for him.

We showed a community preview of the film at the church in 2007 and would show it to youth groups who stayed at the Oakland Peace Center as a tool to discuss gentrification

This all came back to me because of a colleague’s post on facebook today expressing the same frustrations the film brought up for me: the debate between people who have moved into the neighborhood and the people who make their living from recycling continues to be an issue. The people who have moved into the neighborhood expect the neighborhood to be exactly how they want it to be and are frustrated with homeless people hanging out in the park and near City Slickers garden by the recycling center; they would rather see the recycling center moved to a remote area. And a little nuance I would like to add: some of the longtime residents are also ambivalent about homeless people hanging out in their neighborhood, but the ones I knew recognized that the people who recycled at Alliance needed to go somewhere and didn’t have a sense of a better place to send them. They also didn’t generally perceive them as a threat–the recyclers were generally recycling, they suspected, in order to avoid doing threatening things like robbery and violence.

The reason this has lingered with me isn’t just that I used pastor and continue to be friends with people intimately mixed up in this conflict. It’s that I now live a block away from a small-scale recycling center, too. (more…)

Sometimes you’re the restaurant worker; sometimes you’re the hipster: Thoughts on gentrification

I hung out at the intersection of La Mission and the Mission. I was hanging out at the intersection of the past and the future.

A couple of months ago I went to a fundraiser with a good friend of mine at a Mexican restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco. The organization was YWU, Young Workers United, which organizes restaurant workers in the city, particularly Spanish-speaking restaurant workers, and helps them mobilize for fair wages and sick leave and safe working conditions. I’m a huge fan, because these are the folks that unions can’t get to and restaurants take horrific advantage of. It was a good cause and good people and GOOOOOOOOOD food. And it’s also good for me to hang out in places where English isn’t the standard language of operations, because it’s easy for me to forget the privilege I have daily because I speak the dominant culture’s language fluently.


The thing is, the dominant culture had rented the bar upstairs.


On colds and neighbors and unsheltered people in Oakland

I woke up with a hacking cough at about 3AM this morning. I focused solely on my own misery until I heard an accompanying cough through the wall; my neighbor in the next apartment in my fancy Jack London Square building must have the same cold. So we coughed away in solidarity until we both drifted to sleep around 5AM.

I remember about 4 years ago, on a much more typically cold and rainy January night that I had the same cold and work up with the same hacking cough. I was in the garden apartment underneath the church I pastored near Auto Row. That night, my hacking cough was also met by the cough of my neighbor. But that night, my neighbor was sleeping in the alley next to the church, right outside my window, barely sheltered from the rain.