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Breathing underwater

I dabble in running. I’ve run a half marathon, but it really is only dabbling. The only reason I do it is because early morning is when my friend’s and my schedules align, and running is how she can rationalize leaving her bed that early, and she seems to have a vague but not annoying commitment to me living beyond the age of 45.

But the other day I was talking to one of my favorite OPC partners who was trying to convince me that going to the gym was fun. “If you need to lie to yourself about enjoying it to convince yourself, that’s fine with me,” I joked back.

“NO, Sandhya!” she said emphatically, her beautiful eyes wide with the enthusiasm of a convert. “I make my [teen] kids go with me every night at 10. That’s MY time. They make fun of me that I spend two minutes on each machine then lie down on the massage chair, but that’s the time NO ONE else can bother me.” This particular partner works so hard that she makes me look lazy, and I said, “yeah…I pay way too much for a gym that has an outdoor pool because if I can sneak away during lunchtime, that’s one hour under the sun with no noise or interruptions. No one can find you under water.”swim-1 (more…)

On choices and Orlando

When I was in eighth grade, I saw a bumper sticker on a car (in Akron, Ohio) that said, “Honk if you support civil rights, religious liberty, gay rights, disability rights, women’s equality…” I turned to my mother and said, “I would honk for the rest of them, but gay rights?” My mother is really smart and so said nothing, knowing I would have to do the math in my head about who deserved rights and who didn’t. Because she had raised me to know that everyone deserves rights and deserves self-determination.

Some folks still talk about homosexuality being a choice. You know what I got to choose every day of my cis-gender heterosexual life? I got to choose whether to acknowledge the basic human dignity of the LGBTQ community as a whole. I got to choose whether to stand with LGBTQ individuals or whether to be silent and therefore participate in violence done to LGBTQ people and the LGBTQ community. Because when I throw the LGBTQ community under the bus (through my words OR through my silence), I’m also doing harm to every individual within the community.

That’s what choice looks like.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe this tragedy is about access to horrifically dangerous weapons. I believe it is about “toxic masculinity.” While I think it has very little to do with Islam or even ISIS, I believe it is about the values cultivated in relationship to craving a role in militarized organizations. Since the instance of gun violence closest to me is connected to two people’s struggle over their sexual identities in relationship to one another, I have no problem believing this might be about the murderer’s internalized hatred unleashing itself on others0cb090198565d4b5fa9c50f5fcfaf2be. And it is about lack of exposure to consistent teaching that God loves all of God’s children and that God never wants to see unmitigated, unrestrained violence against God’s children. For millenia we have failed to teach consistently and strongly that above all things God abhors violence.

But the massacre at Pulse is also about over 100 anti-gay bills in 22 states this year, creating a growing culture of acceptance of contempt for LGBTQ life. And it’s about pastors and politicians preaching hate that creates a culture of bullying and suicide. (More here and here .) And it’s about the ways race and gender identity have been pitted against each other as if there’s only enough tolerance for one, and we might have to choose us versus them…and if you’re both a racial/religious minority and LGBTQ, then there is no room for you. Millions of people helped set the stage for this tragedy. And that’s where my choices matter.

I’m not Orlando. And in all the ways I haven’t fought to reject efforts to legislate against the basic human dignity of LGBTQ people in the past year and for decades, in all the ways I’ve not fought hard enough for LGBTQ incusion in the church, in all the ways I’ve not created space for people to know that they are not bad people for struggling with their sexual or gender identity, I’m the people who let Orlando happen.

“I thirst.” A Good Friday message for today

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

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I don’t know what it is to be thirsty. I don’t know what it is like to only have muddy contaminated water to drink. I don’t know what it is like to be willing to drink anything because I am so parched.

But not far from here I have seen lakes’ edges hundreds of yards from lifeguard chairs. Our land is thirsty. As thirsty as Jesus.

And if you will forgive me being political, our governor made mock of the life of those lakes, letting nestle bottle that scarce water and ship it to other states.

This world made mock of Jesus’ life as well as his death. On the cross perhaps
Jesus was referencing Psalm 69: Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

I imagine none of us hears this fifth word from the cross without thinking of the people of Flint. Elected officials make mock of their suffering and for the people of Flint’s thirst, the government gave them poison to drink.

And they are not alone; dozens of cities around them drinks water even more polluted.

Thousands of abandoned uranium mines on tribal land with no governmental requirements to clean up the mines means water poisoning has been a reality for indigenous people for decades.

Last Tuesday, dozens of low income people, homeless and formerly homeless people went to the city council to plead that money for low income housing not be reallocated to middle income housing. After hours of testimony they were scolded by council for not caring enough about How badly the housing crisis was affecting middle income people.

The people I work with are thirsty for dignity, for shelter, for basic human rights. The government makes mock of their suffering and for their thirst gives them vinegar.

Our people, the people we are accountable to as Christians, and our savior have all felt the Beginning of psalm 69:  Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?

Jesus had few words left as he died on the cross. He used his words sparingly and chose them carefully in the midst of his suffering. Those words conveyed his plight and the plight of the poor and Black and brown and indigenous people.

Jesus lived in a world where the government did not care for the thirst of those in need.

And he lived in a world where his own family feared to respond to his thirst.

We live in the same world where the government does not care for the thirst of those in need and where our own family fears to respond to our thirst.

In this moment, Jesus reminds us in the midst of his own thirst about the end of psalm 69: I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

May we be comforted in our thirst that God hears our need and invites us to liberate one another. And may Jesus on the cross remind us to respond to our family’s thirst.

Milk for my tea – what does economic privilege look like?

My intern and I both like milk in our tea.

Neither of us has a ton of extra cash, but every couple of weeks one of us goes to the discount grocery and buys a pint of milk so we get the little special treat of tea with milk as we work together. We pack our own lunches and take the free shuttle to and from work whenever we can, but we have tea…and sometimes even cookies to go with them.

I’m in the midst of doing my taxes. My income puts me at about 2/3 of the average median income for the city I live in, or 65% of AMI. That means I struggle most months to pay all my bills, even with all the side hustles I have going on. Even so, I owe about the same amount in taxes that a person earning SSI earns in a year. Obviously in one way this troubles me because my side work is mostly contract work, which means my taxes don’t get deducted each month and then I owe more money than I realized I had earned each April…somewhere around $9,000. But what’s more shocking, obviously, is that some of the people I work with are trying to find a way to live in the most expensive corner of the country on $9,000 a year.

I bring up milk in my tea because I interned for a summer at an HIV/STD clinic in Kolkata run by an organization then called Calcutta Samaritans (now called Emmanuel Ministries). Throughout most (although not all) of India, the tea you get on the side of the road is milk, water, tea and sugar all boiled together. It’s thick and sweet and almost condensed. My mother had to tell herself it was some exotic drink in no way related to tea in order to get it down on most visits.

But at Calcutta Samaritans, we always got “lal cha,” or red tea. It was sweet and often had lime squeezed into it. I thought of it as a signature drink of sorts, that set them apart.

Then I found out that the staff, some of whom were there out of commitment to the mission and some of whom had been brought up in the organization through the pavement children’s programs and mentored into staff positions from their childhoods on the streets, sometimes went without pay for a couple of months at a time. All the money was going into the addiction program, the red light district program, the health clinic and street children’s outreach, and staff salaries would sometimes suffer rather than cut programming.

And they saved money by not buying milk for tea.

Times are hard for all of us. The reason people are gravitating towards terrifying, xenophobic leaders is that they see no hope of their lives getting better.

But I have milk for my tea. I remember that and am grateful. And it reminds me of my obligations to those trying to live on what I owe in taxes and to those who can’t afford milk for tea, or tea at all.

 

 

Sureshbhai Patel, police brutality and us

patel_and_son_seated770

An Alabama judge just declared a mistrial in the police assault case filed by Indian citizen Sureshbhai Patel. There are a few reasons this case matters to me.

  • The court system has twice been unable to decide whether Mr. Patel’s constitutional rights were violated when he was paralyzed after a leg sweep by a police officer.
  • I’ve been saying for a while now that we make a mistake when we focus completely on police in police brutality cases: Mr. Patel’s encounter with the police was the result of a neighbor who felt threatened by a “skinny Black guy” looking at garages. An older man visiting his son, going for a walk in his son’s neighborhood, was considered enough of a threat to call the police. Others have died for being brown in a neighborhood they actually belonged in, such as Alex Nieto in San Francisco, because someone thought the existence of a Brown person in their neighborhood warranted calling the police. In each individual encounter it is the police who act, but it is the community that creates the culture for the officer to act. White privilege shapes how law enforcement (and so much else) functions in this country.
  • This story is obviously on my radar because it is being discussed in the South Asian community, but Mr. Patel’s paralysis has everything to do with the culture of anti-Blackness that is baked into our culture. Mr. Patel was a threat when he was perceived to be Black, in the same way that the teenager at the Texas pool party was a threat because she was Black, or the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, or Tamir Rice in Cleveland…all people who clearly are not threats except for the cultural understanding that Blackness is threatening enough to need control and suppression by armed police.

The first jury deadlocked on September 11, appropriate since that is the day that South Asians learned in a big way that while we had generally (although not ubiquitously) been considered “American enough” as long as we were not disruptive, that status could be removed at will by a government that violated basic constitutional rights and imprisoned innocent people because of their names and heritage, as our government has done in the past. As the second jury deadlocked two days ago, I am saddened but not surprised. And I pray it helps my own community recognize the need to be in solidarity with those on the margins rather than desperately seeking to be accepted by the dominant culture.

In response to anti-Muslim rallies this weekend: an excerpt from Pre-Post-Racial America

solidarity

This Friday and Saturday, anti-Muslim rallies were organized all across the country, including rallies that encouraged people to show up armed. The campaign is, in a word, sickening, and in a hyphenated word, un-American. OK. Two last words, one of which is hyphenated: unequivocally un-Christian.

It is so important for us to learn about one another to recognize why we need to stand with each other in acts of intentional solidarity. Now is such a moment.

I am so grateful for the inter-faithful acts of solidarity with Muslim Americans, and in order to invite Christians in particular to continue to vocally support Muslim Americans, here is an excerpt from chapter 7 of my book Pre-Post-Racial America, “Race and Religion Post-9/11.” (more…)

A litany on resurrection and Demouria Hogg

At the Wild Goose Festival in Charlotte, NC two weeks ago, I presented a workshop called “Who Killed Demouria Hogg: On race, faith and not seeking the ‘perfect victim.'” I talked about the respectability politics of the church that stops the church from publicly mourning losses that are complicated.

I only know Demouria Hogg through what family shared during the press conference and through news coverage. Colleagues involved in the protests of his death noted that in articles about his death, the fact that he was a good father to his three children came as an afterthought, almost as if it were surprising, since they led with his having violated parole and being found in possession of a firearm, an additional violation of his parole. What strikes me is how during the press conference when Demouria jr’s mother was speaking about him being a good father, Demouria, Jr jumped in and said, “He loved to play basketball.”

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

During the discussion part of the workshop, a man said, “I go to a progressive UCC church. We know how to talk about this. Our consciousness is raised. What do we DO as a church?” And a litany poured out of me.

I shared some of that litany at the Disciples of Christ General Assembly on Sunday afternoon during a workshop on my book and the issue of intersectionality, and someone said, “I want to use that litany in church. Can you share it with us?” And I said that it poured out of me due to the spirit, not from a script. He kept looking at me until I said, “but clearly I’ll be writing a blog post recreating it.” So here it is. Please add other suggestions to this litany. I have not addressed them all, but all of them are things almost any church can do.

Demouria Hogg, African American father of 3, age 30, was killed by Oakland police on Saturday morning, June 6, because he could not be woken up while asleep in his car. The church sometimes feels overwhelmed by how to end police brutality. But the church has a role, and the church has a responsibility, and the church has the opportunity to participate in resurrection.

When the church helps its school board provide support for young Black and Brown children instead of expelling them at rates much higher than White children for the same behaviors, when the church disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with its police department to address implicit bias on the police force,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church supports mental health services and homeless services instead of outsourcing those issues to the police,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with new White community members to build relationships with longtime community members of color rather than calling the police out of fear of their neighbors,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church creates job opportunities and housing for returned citizens / previously incarcerated people whose opportunities are almost nonexistent,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church brings restorative and transformative justice practices into the community so there are alternatives to the culture of retribution that is bound up invisibly but inextricably in racism,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg. 

When the church unapologetically claims that all lives will matter WHEN Black lives matter,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church, in all of these ways, plays a role in honoring the dignity of Black lives before they are faced with Black deaths,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg, and in so doing, resurrects the body of Christ.

Amen.