On earbuds, harassment and not wanting to block out the world. (And on Mrs. Hall and “Seeing a Woman.”)

I use earbuds now. I use them reluctantly but at full volume, ever since a woman shouted out the passenger window of a passing car at me, “eat more salads!” And when I pulled out my earbuds (softly playing This American Life), thinking it might be someone I knew, she hollered, “you heard me!” and laughed maniacally as the light changed and her friend pulled off. A congregant said loud music in her ears all the time was how she drowned out the harassment–and to her, anyone she didn’t know talking to her constituted harassment.

Extrovert and optimist and deeply connective person that I am, I wanted to keep the world buzzing in my ears but eventually decided I get less bruised when I drown it out periodically. So, when it’s daylight and I’m walking in a safe neighborhood, in go the earbuds.

But sometimes the world slips in through the earbuds. That happened today. (more…)

To everything… a reflection on seasons of a radical

I gritted my teeth as she said it. A colleague I deeply respect was speaking at a luncheon, and she, with the full force of her Memphis charm, put forward this statement: “When I was twenty, I wanted to change the world.” She paused for dramatic effect. “When I was thirty, I wanted to change my community.”

I could see the punchline coming, and I knew it would win over the baby boomer-plus crowd in ways that left the young folks on the fringes again. “I just turned forty—and forty looks GOOD on me”—she flashed a smile that could melt butter as I balled up my little fists—“and now I just want to change me.” (more…)

First person plural: the Lord’s prayer and liberation

This is a reconstructed version of the sermon I preached as my last sermon as pastor of First Christian Church of Oakland, July 1, 2013.


The “scripture reading” for the morning was actually this skit.


How many people in the congregation knew that the Lord’s Prayer is actually in the bible? (Most hands go up, and someone shouts “twice!”) That’s right—the original and the extended versions. And because we hear it so often, it can be easy to forget that there are many things that prayer is teaching us about who we can be together. In fact, here’s how MUCH we can take it for granted.


Love in the Time of Theodicy

I don’t manuscript sermons, but this final sermon in the series, “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Bible but were afraid to ask,” at First Christian Church of Oakland, was on one of the toughest questions out there: “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there suffering?” So I’m doing my best to re-create my sermon based on the outline I used in my sermon this past Sunday, June 16, 2013, my second-to-last sermon as pastor of FCCO.

When I was in seminary, I worked as a chaplain at a respite care center for homeless people. The people I worked with had been to hell and back, or not quite back yet. I remember one man who had gone through deep grief—a physical setback, the loss of a family member, and real constant pain due to an infection in his leg. I was in the midst of a brief love affair with process theology at the time, and I had the textbook pastoral response for him: “I want you to know God is suffering with you.”

He patted my hand kindly, said, “I know you care about me and you’re trying to help, but the God I worship doesn’t suffer.” (more…)

The Cross and the Lynching Tree—Atonement Theology and Beyond

Several people have expressed interest in my recent sermon about my concerns with atonement theology. Let me first say that I might never have preached this sermon if our church weren’t doing a sermon series on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Bible But Were Afraid to Ask,” where congregants got to submit questions that formed the basis of our worship. One of my favorite congregants asked the question, “If we worship an all-loving, justice-oriented God, how could He demand that his son be sacrificed?” Here’s a close approximation of the sermon I preached. (I preach from notes so I can be more present with the congregation, but this is my best recollection of what I said.)


I remember the exact moment I decided to start hosting bible study in this congregation. I had been here a year or two, and one of the newer members of the congregation led a communion meditation about Jesus’ love and compassion and about the Roman empire’s violent murder of Jesus. He never mentioned how Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan of salvation. And so after worship one of the longtime members of the congregation said to me, “You have to start teaching these new people that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.”


The new member overheard this and jumped in. “I’ve actually studied this. I know that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. I know it’s kind of conventional wisdom. But I’ve read a lot and I’ve decided that idea of God needing a blood sacrifice in order to forgive us is just Cosmic Child Abuse. It doesn’t fit with my understanding of a God of love.”


The longtime member turned away from him, faced me head on, and said, “See? You need to start teaching them that Jesus died on the cross for our sins!”


Monsoon Wedding, my childhood, rape culture and no-go-tell.

I was inspired by the tremendous essay “My so-called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” by writer Deborah Copaken Kogan. One of the many issues she touches on is not talking about sexual assault because we will get smeared. We’ve seen that in the Steubenville case and also in the recent suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, harassed because her rapists circulated a video of the rape and she was “slut-shamed” into depression and suicide. My very mild experience of unwanted sexual attention during childhood is so far removed and so clearly not my fault that I want to lift it up simply as a way of reminding people that harassment happens all the time to women, and the shame we carry because of a culture that judges us runs deep enough to misshape the most ardent of feminists. My silence contributes to rape culture, so I wanted to break my silence.


A Good Friday poem by Sandhya Jha and Tai Amri Spann-Wilson

Tai Amri and I had five minutes to preach on the “third word” at a Good Friday service yesterday.

We co-created this poem, each taking a stanza and passing the growing work back and forth, over the course of an hour, in response to the following passage:

John 19:25-27: Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.


Mother, Behold Thy Son. Behold Thy Mother.


Pre-teens skating on church steps, leaving their mark

black wheels on marble—

Hipsters sipping single origin espresso served

by carefully ungroomed baristas.

Heavy woman swaying into wispy man

eastbound on the 57 rolling down MacArthur;

Clustered together, pressed together and utterly, completely alone. (more…)