religion

“An Obnoxious Peace”

Image from Urban Cusp, taken in Baltimore on April 23, 2015

Image from Urban Cusp, taken in Baltimore on April 23, 2015

Preached April 26, 2015 at Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago IL, dedicated to the people of Baltimore.

In the days following the Michael Brown verdict, that cold Thanksgiving week, there emerged a debate among my friends regarding the uprisings happening in my hometown and around the country. I called it the debate of the Kings. That is, my friends would quote these two Kings in defense of their positions.

On the one hand was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I am still convinced that nonviolence is both the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.”

On the other hand was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said in 1966: “I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for Black people. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.

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Upon receiving the Christian Church of Northern CA-NV’s annual MLK Award

This award was given to me on January 11, 2015 at Lafayette Christian Church during the CCNC-N’s annual MLK service. Following are my remarks upon receiving the award.

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I find myself thinking a lot about the previous recipients of this award, because they have all deeply shaped me.

I’m in the land of Pacific School of Religion, and many of you know that PSR’s slogan is, help me with this, “a tradition of boldness.” And that is true. I am in a sea of boldness in this region. But as far as I know, there have only been five graduates of the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago in this region, and … I am the fifth to receive this award, following:

  • Carl and Esther Robinson, who lost his parish in the 1960s for refusing to kick a gay youth out of his church’s youth group;
  • Robert Lemon, who lost his parish for standing in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the migrant farm workers’ movement;
  • Vy Nguyen, who hasn’t been fired from anything yet, but is leading Week of Compassion and helping us respond to disasters across the globe and here at home;
  • and while David Kagiwada is no longer with us, his widow JoAnne received this award, acknowledging her work to make sure that Japanese American internment camp survivors received recompense from our government.

So in the land of the tradition of boldness, I’m grateful to have had the chance to import a little boldness from Chicago.

I am also shaped by other award recipients:

  • There is no one who stands with poor people more powerfully and inspiringly than Sandy Perry;
  • I have learned much of what it means to participate in civil rights from Clarence Johnson, who was at the March on Washington, but who was also an ardent worker alongside Stokely Carmichael, which is a reminder to us all that radicalism can be held deep within the most humble servants of God;
  • Ben Fraticelli was about the work of building multicultural community in Oakland decades before the Oakland Peace Center started its work three years ago; and
  • Jim Mitulski, who led us in the chant “Stand Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!” buried more bodies than most of us can count, because so few churches in the 1980s were willing to acknowledge the human dignity and divinity of the mostly gay men dying of AIDS.

I am an Asian American who was shaped strongly by Black civil rights: 4th grade was the first time I heard about India in school, when we learned that Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence was shaped by Mahatma Gandhi’s anti-colonial movement in India. I was hooked; I read every book on Dr. King in the library, and for a long time it was the closest reference point I could find to make sense of my experience as an Asian American in northeast Ohio. (more…)

Oklahoma Pastors give me hope when Oklahoma legislators don’t

My chaplain friend Vinson said it best:

jesus A picture is worth a thousand words.

But if you haven’t heard the controversy, here’s the basic rundown:

An Oklahoma legislator has decided that the current laws on the books about wearing hoods during crimes are not sufficient. (That law, by the way goes back to the 1920s and was the state’s way of reigning in the violent acts by Klansmen in one of the most racially divided states in the union at the time, with some of the ugliest hate crimes against the Black community.)

State Senator Don Barrington is proposing an additional law that threatens up to a $500 fee for wearing a hoodie (or other covering) to disguise one’s identity: “To wear a mask, hood or covering, which conceals the identity of the wearer during the commission of a crime or for the purpose of coercion, intimidation or harassment; or To intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.” You can read a large chunk of the bill here, and you should, if only because a piece of legislation being proposed in 2015 uses the phrase “minstrel troupes” as an acceptable reason for wearing a face covering. (What are you people in Oklahoma doing with your free time? Taking time travel trips back to 1861?)

I am sympathetic to anyone who feels a small sense of despair about humanity at this point.

What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of people have read the bill and believe on its face it is not problematic. (My guess is that they didn’t read far enough to read the phrase “minstrel show,” but…)

And this is what is incredibly complex about issues of race in America today as opposed to 50 years ago. Today, there’s not a whole lot that on its face seems problematic or racist or opposed to free speech.

Our nation’s drug laws do not read racist on their face.

Our criminal justice structure does not read racist on its face.

Our policies for controlling mass demonstrations neither seem racist on their face nor as if they might be seeking to limit freedom of expression.

And yet the way they function in our society functions to hold up systems of oppression that protect White privilege and harm Black communities and communities of color.

I have concerns about the way this law might be implemented. I have concerns that it will be an excuse to target young Black men who are viewed with suspicion. I have concerns it will be used as an excuse to target in particular people of color who are expressing their first amendment rights to stand up against issues like police brutality, because as I read it, the proposed legislation is not just about committing crime (which previous legislation already does) but about people at public demonstrations. Because our whole nation has been trained to assume that young Black men are probably planning to do something dangerous; they just haven’t accomplished it yet. And then we encourage our police to act in our behalf.

But I’m not the only one concerned, and more importantly, I’m not the only one of faith.

A friend of mine made sure I read an article today about the head of our denomination’s Black community (National Convocation) and his role in protesting the hoodie act. And a White Disciples pastor was quoted in the same article as participating in the same action.

Rev Jackson will preach in a hoodie on January 18.

On Sunday, January 18, many Oklahoma pastors will don hoodies as they preach from their pulpits to bring attention to this legislation which will be considered the week of Martin Luther King Day.

I reached out to the two pastors from the article, Rev Jesse Jackson (Oklahoma City) and Rev Michael Riggs (Tulsa).

Rev. Jackson was on his way to a funeral, but I asked Rev. Riggs what his faith motivation was for participating in this action. Here was his response:

“By wearing a hoodie in church, Christians demonstrate the radical empathy of Christ with the marginalized and oppressed by standing (or in this case wearing hoodies) in solidarity with them, advocating God’s freedom and justice for all peoples in peace and love. Because hoodies have become associated with social justice movements such as Occupy and BlackLivesMatter, the proposed Oklahoma legislation reaches far beyond criminal activity — it makes for easy criminalization of those who would publicly voice their dissent. Just as Jesus ate with the sinner and tax collector (and others pushed to the margins of society in his time), both hearing their and giving them voice, I believe he would wear a hoodie for and with them. I choose to do the same.”

I don’t know if I have anything to add except Amen.

If you have friends in faith communities in Oklahoma, please share this with them. AND EVERYONE CAN PARTICIPATE IN WEAR-A-HOODIE-TO-CHURCH SUNDAY! What a powerful opportunity to witness and help their state legislature be its best self.

If you would like to become a patron of the arts by supporting Sandhya’s writing, you can do so by visitinghttp://www.patreon.com/sandhya. She would be honored by your support.

My sermon at Cathedral of Hope a year ago

I am really honored that I got the chance to preach at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas when Jim Mitulski was interim minister there. I got to lead an anti-oppression/anti-racism training filled with 45 of the most amazing folks, and I remain in contact with several of them today.

Cathedral of Hope has done so much to create healing and love in the face of hatred and harm. On MLK weekend a year ago, I got to share a message with an inspiring congregation at the invitation of an inspiring friend and colleague.

https://www2.cathedralofhope.com/worship/2014-worship/118-2014-january/2512-january-19-sermon

Christmas values – Day 11: Overcoming fear

A friend of mine has vowed to recognize every action as an act of love or reaching out for love.

She vowed that in the midst of the Ferguson and New York protests and possibly even after the police shootings that was followed by some truly alarming statements by Fraternal Orders of Police and police officers’ unions (the Bay Area’s statement was somewhat tame in comparison) about the need for a police state and unquestioning loyalty to the police. (Another friend explained that they were doing what unions do — assuring their members that they have their members’ backs under any circumstances, in ways that can be alarming or seem entrenched and militant and hostile to outsiders; he noted that teachers’ union statements can come off as militant and unyielding as well, although I bet they don’t talk about teachers as the only barrier against anarchy and chaos and the only line of defense of civilization.)

I would like to be as compassionate as my friend, because in my heart I believe that is true; it’s just that many of us have been scarred so much that our expressions of love or need for love have become misshapen in some incredibly problematic ways.

And so my intermediary step is this: I’m going to start trying to find compassion for the FEAR that underlies aggressive language and behavior. (more…)

Christmas values – Day 6: Charity

“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

It feels like at this time of year, liberal or conservative, we all grow a little more tender hearted towards those in need.

Ok, our definitions of who is in need are sometimes head scratching: a friend of mine in the midwest recently started pastoring a church that runs a toy drive among its working- to middle-class congregation (a lot of nurses and administrators and so forth), with the toys going to their own children at the church’s big Christmas celebration. When he asked about whether they might want to give to children in real need, maybe through the town’s fire and police annual Toys for Tots project, they stroked their chins and acknowledged that one year, they did give the leftover toys to charity.

But that congregation notwithstanding, we all donate a little more and smile a little more and hope it all balances out when we claim our tax deductions in April.

Of course, there are some people who worry that even this season is becoming less charitable as a warped version of free market capitalism becomes laudable in certain circles (what Ayn Rand horrifyingly referred to as “the virtue of selfishness”). Witness here Jimmy Kimmel’s rendition of the Fox News interpretation of It’s a Wonderful Life: (more…)

Christmas Values – Day 4: Hope

There is a certain gallows humor among hospital chaplains, I’ve been told — it’s a way to blow off steam in the midst of carrying so much grief for so many people. But it’s something that doesn’t generally leak out beyond those who live the experience, because there’s still some reverence for what is sacred about being with people in such vulnerable moments.

Something similar shows up in some activist circles — the ones where people do this work of trying to transform broken systems all the time. People make flippant comments about elected officials that they would never make in mixed company as a way of blowing off steam about their sisyphean task.

But there’s a fine line about who can make the jokes and to whom. And at the heart of it, I think, is hope. (more…)