Sibling rivalry–hiccups in my ordination process and being a pain-in-the-butt sister

The great thing about hanging out with people who think just like you is that you don’t have to think about the people who don’t think just like you.

The problem with hanging out with people who think just like you is that you forget that other people don’t think just like you.

The intersection of the great and the problem hit me straight between the eyes during my ordination process. (more…)

The liberal church and the front lines–where are we?

Duck Dynasty, the Nation of Islam and the failure of liberal Christianity

A good evangelical friend of mine predicted that I would fail at growing First Christian Church of Oakland not long after I started pastoring there.

I told her about what kind people were there, and about their racial diversity and their openness to all people and their belief in a God of great compassion. “Well, good luck to you,” my friend said not unkindly. “I’m not sure how you’re going to grow a church like that.”

Now, I had just described about the only faith community I could be with, so somewhat defensively I asked what she meant.

“I genuinely feel sorry for you,” she explained patiently. “Our task as evangelicals is really clear. We go out and invite people into church because we love God’s children and we believe that they will face hell forever if we don’t help them get saved. That’s a lot for us to be responsible for if we don’t do our job. You all don’t believe that. So what incentive do you have to bring people into the church?

I have an answer for that now. I might have had an answer for it then, too. But I’ve been thinking about her point a lot since then.


Police Militarization Makes Us Less Safe: Why I Oppose Urban Shield

“Because we deserve better,” I said to every West Oakland resident I encountered. The 87-year-old lifetime resident and the 30-something hipster alike nodded sagely and said, “that’s right.”

I was canvassing with my clergy colleagues, handing out flyers seeking information on the shooting of 23-month-old Hiram Lawrence, Jr. It was late November, 2011.

Since then, 16 more people under the age of 18 have been killed in Oakland.


My friends and colleagues who prioritize security concerns in Oakland note that the first people who will tell you we need more police on the streets are regular citizens and residents in west and east Oakland. And if you’ve talked to a lot of long-time residents, you’ll find that, with some nuance, that’s pretty true.


My friends and colleagues who prioritize civil rights will note that the people who are most frequently unfairly targeted by the police are also regular citizens and residents of west and east Oakland. They point out that the relationship between community and police is broken almost beyond repair, so that the people who need police protection the most also have the least reason to trust the police. And if you’ve talked to a lot of long-time residents, you’ll find that, with some nuance, that’s pretty true.


Tomorrow, October 25, the Oakland City Marriott will again play host to a program called Urban Shield. A combination of anti-terrorism training and gun show on steroids, County Sherriff Greg Ahern established Urban Shield in 2007 as a means of cashing in on federal funding for anti-terrorism efforts. Bay Area police will be trained by and with security forces from Bahrain, Israel and China, and they will see the latest in munitions and armored cars and drones.


If we are a city that is a war zone, some of my friends argue, we need for our protection crew to be armed for battle. And they are not alone. The War on Terror has moved police departments nationwide towards a strategy of militarization as they seek to make us safe in a scary time, to protect us against terrorists and gang members and suburban anarchists alike.


I am tired of watching babies, little girls, teenagers fall victim to violence in our community. So why would I oppose a program like Urban Shield?


Chris Brown, celebrity relationships and Domestic Violence Awareness Month

editor’s note: additions in italics

“Do YOU like Chris Brown?” my then 10-year-old niece asked two years ago as she and her mom were driving somewhere. I should have noticed the inflection in her tone, but I was being hip and cool aunt Sandhya, so I said, “Yeah,” forgetting who he was and what a political answer I had just given. The glare I got from Tami at the same time her daughter whined “See?” plaintively at her reminded me of my mistake. Tami did a great job of saying, “do you really listen to him, when you care so much about how women are treated?” (more…)

On cruising and colonialism and Christian ideas of community

I’ve learned a few things on my cruise of Greece and Turkey so far:

1) Much of the area that we call Athens is actually 43 distinct municipalities.
2) The national drink of Turkey is Raki (thus confirming the argument my parents’ Libyan friend in the 1960s consistently made that the Q’uran prohibits getting intoxicated, not drinking full stop, please pass the scotch).
3) I talk about colonialism and slavery a lot more than the average cruise passenger.

It’s as if I have enough social awareness to know that what I’m saying is impolitic, but not enough social override to be able to stop myself from saying it anyhow. (more…)

Warning to Jesus, Paul and the socially conscious Christian: Your religion’s fine until you start messing with our business

A hot sun shines down on the port town of Kucadasi in Turkey today. A thriving city on the Asian side of the country, Kucadasi was well below ocean level 2,000 years ago, when the Greco-Roman city of Ephesus, at 250,000 people, was one of the biggest cities in the Roman empire. One of those people, on occasion, was Paul of Tarsus, the man largely responsible for turning Christianity from a subset of messianic Judaism into a religion for all people regardless of the religion into which they were born.

My parents and I are on a tour of Greece and Turkey (how lucky am I?!) and I read bits of the Bible about Paul in preparation for today’s trip to Ephesus, but here’s how the tour guide described Paul’s presence there:

“Here we stand before the Forum, where public speeches and theater occurred. This site is important to Christians because St. Paul spoke here. He said a lot of things to upset people in Ephesus, because he taught things in this new Christian religion like God believed all people were equal; imagine saying to a Roman citizen that he and his slave were equal. So Paul gave secret speeches to his followers in the marketplace  (pointing to a spot 50 meters away) during the hot afternoons when most people were on siesta. When he had enough followers he came here to this public forum.”

And here’s where I want you to pay attention to the tour guide and not get distracted by the scenery:

“He really upset the silver smiths. Remember most Ephesians were pagans–they believed in multiple gods. And some silver smiths made their money selling statues of the mother goddess of Ephesus, Artemis, to locals and sailors. So when Paul started preaching that paganism and idols were sinful, the head silver smith started a riot. Ephesians didn’t adopt Christianity for another 300 years for that reason. And who can really blame the silver smiths? Imagine you make your living selling statues and someone tries to get people to stop buying them; what would you do?” (more…)

Remembering 9/11 as an American and a South Asian American


turban surveillance

I remember my father gathering the papers on a Saturday morning to go to a bank in Cleveland.

“PLEASE don’t go,” I tried not to sound like a 5-year-old. I was 25, visiting my parents in Akron after a successful career in Washington, DC and getting ready for graduate school in Chicago.

Banks don’t usually cause so much anxiety, but it was September 15, 2001, and a mosque in Cleveland had been firebombed the night before. “It’s not safe,” I said in the most reasoned tone I could muster.

“I shall make a tee shirt,” my father joked, “saying ‘I am a HINDU. We hate Muslims, too!’”