Latest Posts

Who profits from violence in Oakland? Who bears the cost? (or: Oakland–the vomitorium of the American Empire)

My favorite game to play these days is “spot the end of the empire.”

At the end of the Roman Empire (although the practice pre-dates that, according to one of my Greco-Roman scholar friends), wealthy Romans would eat until they were full, then throw up so they could continue to eat. The term for where they did this was, seriously, the vomitorium. At least that’s what my scholar friend told me.

So, inspired by an episode of This American Life (where the host wondered if the trend of people eating things they knew they were allergic to and then taking vaccines so they wouldn’t die was the modern day equivalent), I started looking for parallel signs of the end of the American Empire. Most of them are fluffy—dog salons and dog bakeries, for example, or maybe that motel made completely out of ice. (more…)

A meandering reflection on why I care about gun violence

I was born in a small village in England. I grew up in a suburban/rural area twenty minutes outside of Akron. In high school, I joke that I was the poorest kid in a VERY rich suburb 30 minutes outside of Chicago. I did not know people who had been shot. I did not know people who had shot anyone. I probably knew some gun owners but none of whom I was aware. Even though I cared about gun control, it was in the abstract.

I still remember the first person I met who knew gun violence and knew it far too soon and too often. Now I know a lot of people like that (and count myself in that group), but I remember the first person for whom it was not an abstract debate about constitutional constructionism. (more…)

Righteousness in Complex Times

I have attempted to convert my sermon notes from yesterday into a sermon.

By means of explanation, this sermon is part of a series our church is doing on the beatitudes, or the sermon where Jesus lists different groups of people who are blessed, although their lives are hard. We are using an accompanying children’s book called “The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights,” and the image that goes along with “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” is the image of a row of Black soldiers in blue, with the reminder that God was with the soldiers as they fought and died for freedom. (more…)

Longfellow, Belafonte and the dream of peace on earth at Christmas

It is VERY unusual for me to manuscript a sermon these days. Usually, I only do so if the sermon’s going to be translated. My style borders on folksy with occasional gospel-preaching ramp-ups, neither of which is well served by tightly managed wording or the temptation to glance down at the paper on the lectern.

This Sunday, words were so hard to find that I did manuscript–coincidentally on a very rare Sunday when our faithful videographer of the past several months was not able to be present. (more…)

If “What To Expect,” “Traveling Mercies,” and “I and Thou” had a baby: A review of Hopes and Fears

It takes a certain amount of fortitude to read a book on the joys and challenges of parenting when you’re single and childless not by choice. To do so during the holidays takes flat out bravery. So I sat down on a Sunday afternoon, girded by a burrito in the mission district following a holiday concert by the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus (both things I can do on a whim, so that I was stocked up on the joys of being accountable to no one) and read Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People. (more…)

A dead young man + an outpouring of rage = rules to limit public speech at city council meetings? A pastor’s response to city council

You may know the story of Alan Blueford, shot by police for the crime of running away and then falsely framed by his assailant (currently on paid suspension).


You may know the story of his family and supporters taking over a city council meeting last night to demand an unredacted report about the shooting.


Blueford's family at city council in May

You MAY know that city council’s first public action is to consider new measures between now and the next meeting in two weeks to adopt new meeting policies (and one council member’s odd blaming of Occupy Oakland for having created this culture of disruption, when a recent Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce poll of Oakland voters found an overwhelming desire for city leaders to exhibit greater civility and ethics, putting to rest the argument that partisanship is the soul of rancor, since our city council is 100% Democrat).


I’ve been on a slow simmer about this all day. And tonight when I got home and learned about the new meeting policy discussion, I sat down to write a pastoral letter to the city council members I respect, because I am so saddened that their first collective response to the outpouring of grief last night was to make sure that no such outpouring of grief happen again. I understand that business was left unhandled last night (including business I care about a great deal). And in a city where we have to grieve far too often for losses that are completely unnecessary, I believe we need leaders who will stand up and say “At least the people in our charge won’t contribute to the violence that is already out of control in our city.” So here is the letter I just emailed them. They are good people I believe can offer the leadership we need, so I call on them, as a pastor and as a citizen, to lead. (more…)