“Things taken: Finding Healing on foreign soil this Thanksgiving”

18th annual Berkeley Multifaith Thanksgiving Service

Northbrae Community Church, host

Message by Sandhya Jha, Director of the Oakland Peace Center and Director of Interfaith Programs at East Bay Housing Organizations


It is a real honor to be here this evening. I have worked with a number of you on affordable housing issues in Berkeley, where the faith community is deeply engaged. But I want to offer a word of confession this evening in relationship to my work with the Oakland Peace Center.


When the Oakland Peace Center was launched three years ago, I traveled across the country to speak, and wherever I went, I explained, “This is the Oakland Peace Center, not the Berkeley Peace Center.” And from Nashville to New Orleans to Chicago to right here in the Bay Area, people knew what I meant by that: we were about stopping people from shooting people in the street, and we were about ending the school-to-prison pipeline that punishes Black and Brown children much more than White children and we were about creating equity and justice and ending disparities. That was Oakland peace. Berkeley peace, to me, was about banning the bomb and saving the whales. (I told you this was a confession.)


A pastor’s lament: 60 years later, and we still don’t give a s*** about each other

Last night as we waited for the Darren Wilson verdict to return, I went to the right place: I went downtown, where faith leaders and anarchists and socialists and nonviolent youth movement leaders and queer activists of all races had convened because we needed to be a public witness but more than that, we needed to be with each other.

Then I grabbed dinner and grieved and processed with a White clergy friend who is also family-of-choice.

My mistake was falling down the rabbit hole of facebook and twitter.

What an echo chamber. And what a heartbreaking reminder that we have no f***ing idea about each other’s lives and no interest in walking in one another’s shoes.


Two White moms and a mixed race baby — one Hapa’s perspective (STOP MAKING IT NOT COMPLEX)

Several years ago, my friend Rita saw a play written by Asian adoptees raised in America. She told me about one vignette in particular that started out with this statement:

“It takes exceptional parents to raise a child of a different race. [beat] My parents were not exceptional.”

I keep thinking about that statement as people, primarily Black people and White people, weigh in passionately about the White women suing a sperm bank that mistakenly impregnated one of them with the sperm of a Black donor.

I think about it as a person who had to figure out how to navigate growing up mixed race, with the benefit of parents who loved me deeply, including a White mother deeply committed to raising me with a deep appreciation of my South Asian heritage, and as someone who pays a lot of attention to mixed race dynamics as a result. I find myself thinking a lot about that kid and the world that’s been created for her by that clerical error. I’m not all that interested in pouring contempt on the parents. I’m more interested in thinking about the world we live in and the world we’ve created that resulted in this moment in history:

  • It is more complicated to navigate multiracial realities than most people in a predominantly monoracial context realize
  • People usually select their baby’s genetic makeup when they choose who to partner with; the outrage over this lawsuit pretends that’s not true and pretends that race matters less to people than it does
  • Advances in fertility treatments raise serious issues about race but also about disability and what constitutes a desirable baby
  • Perhaps what we’re really talking about here isn’t about how we treat multiracial children, but the culture of anti-Blackness baked into America. And maybe we should be honest about that.


When focusing on the “racist” upholds a broken system

or: When are we going to get real about poor people of color wanting to be safe and the underpinnings of the police force undermining the efforts of good police?


I just came across this article about an Oakland firefighter filing a discrimination case because he and his young sons were held at gunpoint by a police officer and forced to put their hands up when the firefighter went into his own firehouse to check that it was secured. The firefighter shared that this moment completely reframed his nine-year-old and twelve-year-old sons’ understanding of police officers from this moment forward. Quoting from the article, “I think they view black males as a threat,” the firefighter said.

(A police consultant said there was no racial aspect to the incident and that the officer was following protocol.)


I came across the article moments before heading to a Buddhist-led nonviolent protest of Urban Shield, (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…)

Michael Brown, Worship this Sunday, and Confusing Unity with Comfort

I am tired of my church breaking my family’s heart.

I wasn’t going to write about Michael Brown. Many others have already done so, reflectively and powerfully, including writing about the role of the White church in the midst of this moment of pain.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I’ve written on it before. And I’ve preached on it. And I’ve posted and I’ve tweeted and I’ve shouted at rallies for Alan Blueford and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I wrote about it when the church didn’t acknowledge Jordan Davis’s murder because…I don’t know; Stand Your Ground fatigue? Lack of information? Complexity? Lack of relevance?

I wasn’t going to write because if I wrote about Michael Brown, what would I do with the stories of John Crawford (killed last week in Walmart in southern Ohio for being seen in the toy aisle with a toy gun the store was selling) or Ezell Ford (shot today by the LAPD while lying down), also pressing in on me? But I am tired of the church breaking my family’s heart. And we have a chance to do something different this Sunday, if we don’t sacrifice the lives of children on the altar of unity yet again.