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…)

Things said and left unsaid at #MillionsMarchOAK

Thousands gathered in Oakland yesterday, joining with marchers in San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC. I marched with them, as part of the API solidarity contingent. And I found myself reflecting on what my solidarity looks like with this movement.

from the podium

What I did say:

  • Black Lives Matter. Sometimes I want to clarify, “Black lives should matter more than they do,” because a lot of people are irritated by the slogan and seem to miss the point. But without hesitation I said it.
  • Tell the truth, stop the lies, Mike Brown didn’t have to die. I’ve been surprised and disappointed by how much explaining away of Mike Brown’s death (and even Eric Garner’s death) has happened among people who understand themselves to be against racism. Additionally, good and decent citizens I know have explained away the undercover CHP officer pulling a weapon on an agitated protest crowd this past Thursday. Yes, when under attack in this country people do have the right to defend themselves. But perhaps this situation wouldn’t have arisen if they hadn’t infiltrated the crowd disguised as anarchists looking to break some windows at a moment that tensions between police and civilians are particularly high, particularly in relation to fears of a resurgence in COINTELPRO.
  • I…I believe…I believe that…I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN! This was the chant that closed out the rally. It felt both desperate and hopeful, because the goal of this campaign is so big, and yet it is what many of us have been working towards for years without believing we will actually win on a large scale – the rooting out of systemic racism from our structures of government, including those systems that protect and defend.
  • APIs in solidarity with Black Lives. One of my favorite things about the community I have found here in Oakland is that other communities of color recognize that our own struggles for dignity and value matter, and that those struggles are deeply connected to the culture of anti-Blackness in America. In recent weeks, I’ve been in conversations with API activists who recognize that our immigration rights are connected to the civil rights struggle, and that we are often used as a lever or fulcrum in the racial hierarchization that keeps White privilege in place and keeps Black people on the bottom. (I am also grateful for the Model Minority Mutiny, which additionally brings attention to the ways the model minority myth functions to benefit Asian Americans like me at the expense of many of my API brothers and sisters who are refugees, poor, darker skinned, Muslim, and so on, buying the silence of those who benefit from the model minority myth.) And I am grateful that simultaneously some of us are taking seriously what it means to be in solidarity with the Latino community around both immigration and indigenous rights and dignity in this country. It all needs to happen.allives

What I didn’t say: (more…)

The spiritual journey to a secular job

I’ve got one thing on my mind, baby, and that one thing is…fundraising.

Sexy, right?

The Oakland Peace Center is hosting our very first fundraising campaign ever, and it is all I can think about right now.

I sent a couple of appeal emails to people I know through church, and it got me thinking about how a pastor ended up setting up a nationbuilder account and encouraging friends to host house parties instead of creating liturgy and preaching about stewardship. It also got me wondering, if I was called to the spiritual life, why does this secular work feel more spiritually fulfilling?


My friend’s installation and my own journey in ministry

Don’t get weary.
Don’t get discouraged.
Don’t get played.
Do you.

That was the charge given to my friend the Rev. Jacqueline Duhart as she was installed as Associate Minister for Faith In Action at First Unitarian Church of Oakland on October 5.


It was a good Sunday, and a deeply self-reflective one for me. I bet every pastor who attends an installation thinks about their own installation(s), and I was no exception.

Here are a few things that popped into my head about church, a year after I left my seven-year pastorate: (more…)

Faith, fast food and the paddy wagon


photographs by Brooke Anderson:

photo by Brooke Anderson

photo by Brooke Anderson

My father worries that if I ever try to go into politics, my arrest will ruin my career. “Not in Oakland,” I told him consolingly. “Ah yes,” he said; “Jerry Brown is from Oakland.” Neither of us is sure Jerry Brown’s been arrested for anything, but he remembered that I live in the city of Governor Moonbeam (and the Black Panthers, but I’m not sure my father knows who they are).

So yes, that’s me getting arrested by an officer who clearly felt that there might be some actual crimes he could be solving instead of this silliness, but the officers were kind to us and we were all released quickly.

It’s pretty silly to call me brave for risking arrest this past Thursday: my part-time paid job told me that as long as I could make up the hours, I was welcome to follow my conscience. There were lawyers lined up to bail me out and to try to get my record expunged. If I receive a fine, I’ll find the money somehow. And also, I was probably going to get treated well because cops hate arresting pastors. An officer friend of mine said he always tries to avoid arresting pastors because whenever he shows up in the news arresting a pastor, he gets really lousy coffee at his favorite coffee shop for a week afterwards. (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.