Christmas values – Day 9: Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

“Why do you think churches led by people of color are thriving while a lot of White liberal churches are dying?” asked a student at a class where I was on a panel of people of color representing the racial/ethnic ministries of our denomination. The person who asked is a friend of mine whom I value, who is going into the ministry, and whose church full of kind people was preparing to close.

The other panelists talked about the depth of faith of those leaders and their courage in talking about faith as opposed to White people. I was intentional not to contradict them, so I paused before adding my own comment:

“There is a sense of urgency in our communities,” I said heavily. “When we experience oppression daily, the hope that can be found in church is necessary. The challenge of the liberal White church is that it has forgotten the urgency of what it has to offer. The values of inclusiveness, of fighting for justice, of worshipping a God of the oppressed, those things are literally life-saving, but because of White privilege, the church has been lulled into a false complacency that is literally costing lives as well as souls.”


Christmas values — day 2: joy

I woke up this morning feeling sorry for homophobes.

If you know me, you might be surprised by this reaction, because I don’t tend to suffer intolerance. And at some point in my young life I realized that God doesn’t screw up people, so if God made people gay, I probably shouldn’t keep telling God to stop making mistakes.

But I realized afresh today that some of the people who have brought the most beauty and love into my life are LGBTQ. And people who want to make people “pray away the gay” (and hate away and threaten away and terrorize away the gay) clearly need more beauty and love in their lives. This, I know, is an incredibly straight-privileged position to take. If I were LGBTQ, I would probably be a lot angrier than most of my friends are at the world.

All of this came to me as I started thinking of a series I meant to start yesterday for the twelve days of Christmas, lifting up the values of Christmas and how I see them showing up in the world around me.

And not long after I woke up, I read an article about a couple who had “Faggots” scrawled into their apartment door and responded as follows:

front door

I was struck by the joy-over-pain bravery of the response, and I found myself thinking about how joy is a choice. (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…)

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.


Code switching, hipster racism and inter-POC cultural misappropriation. (or, Aren’t you glad I didn’t get braids with extensions when I was 19?)

When I was 19 or so, I thought about getting braids. Braids with extensions. Braids with beads on the ends. “African Braids.”

“You’d look like a poser,” my mother said, and that was the end of that. (Admittedly, if that HADN’T been the end of that, further research into the cost of getting braids put in would have settled the issue almost as quickly—braiding, if you didn’t know, is a serious investment. Another place my Scottish and Indian heritage shines through—I am SUPER cheap. “Frugal,” my mother would quickly correct me.)

My mother was giving me a valuable lesson about cultural misappropriation fairly early in life: don’t take other people’s culture and use it without respect to its history and value and distinctness. Don’t use their culture like a costume. (more…)