My kids start school this week. It’s been a great summer. They’re finally old enough to enjoy a good book for a few hours or to get themselves a bowl of cereal (Ask any mom…this is LIFE CHANGING!). Like so many others, summer movies were also on our activity list during the long break. My kids are into the Marvel movies, so we had to see ALL of them… Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Thor: Ragnarok actually came out last year, but they’ve watched it OnDemand at home over and over again….enough times, that even I have started learning some of the lines. There’s a scene in Thor:Ragnarok where Odin says to Thor:
Asgard is not a place. It’s a people.
When I wasn’t shuttling my kids to a camp or movie, one of my favorite pastimes this summer was listening to podcasts and reading. Books always have been and are my safe space – even when they are pushing me into new ways of thinking or understanding. One of the first books I cracked open this summer was Brene Brown’s latest, Braving the Wilderness. And, ‘wilderness’ is certainly an apt term to describe the state of my spiritual life.
The Catholic Church.
The unholy matrimony of Trump + Evangelicals
Scandals coupled with the ongoing evangelical allegiance to The President plus the deafening silence of so many (notice, I said many – not all!) faith communities has rocked my confidence in the church….an institution that has been a lifelong pillar in my life. This summer, I couldn’t go to church on Sundays (partly because of lingering PTSD after my church did a summer at the movies series last year, which included a whole sermon on Beauty and the Beast the same weekend as Charlottesville). But, more than a particular series – it was a particular feeling that the excercise, even if it just going through the motions, had become too painful.
Filling that void and bringing much peace and insight have been a new genre of Christian authors that I’d never known till now, namely Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr – two figures from more liturgical traditions. I won’t even try to summarize the countless ways in which they’ve expanded my understanding faith. In her book, An Altar in the World, there’s a line in the chapter about the Practice of Encountering Others where she says:
The church was not a place but a people.
For generations, God balked at the idea of a temple or a king. And, yet today it seems we’ve forgotten why. Instead, we build-up modern cathedrals and celebrity pastors. All the while, we do give lip service to loving the poor and helping the oppressed, but we dare not utter a word against the systems and structures that perpetuate injustice.
Thankfully, while my faith in organized religion has been at rock-bottom, my confidence in the good work of community organizations partnering with school districts or local leaders is actually growing everyday. That’s not to say I’m not daily dismayed by national or even state politicians or corporate leaders, but I am really happy to report that impactful work is happening at the local, grassroots level. For me, in this season of spiritual wandering and wilderness, my work with Community Equity Collaborative has taken on new significance, as we are in both word and deed, helping the oppressed and feeding the poor. It is faith in action. It is Micah 6:8 lived.
Brene says this in Braving the Wilderness:
Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness – an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous it is breathtaking, a place a sought as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred space you will ever stand.
I haven’t written many blog posts lately. There are no words yet for my wandering. Between the magnitude of what I am sorting in my soul and the pure insanity of what’s happening in the world – I just cannot distill it all into a post. But, there are others who can and do. There are my new BFF’s – the great thinkers of the liturgical world, like Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr, that I’d highly recommend to anyone. There are my longtime favorites, like Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans. And, there’s a fantastic and spirit-filled community of writers and leaders of color who are speaking so powerfully into this moment in history. Check out Austin Channing Brown or Soong-Chan Rah or Michael Eric Dyson or Bryan Stevenson or Eugene Cho or Lisa Sharon Harper.
Go read these people. Wrestle with your faith. And then….
Meet me in the margins. We are a people, much more than we are a place. And, if there is any prevailing theme to the Bible, it is that God’s heart is with the hurting and oppressed. The evidence of our faith, of who we are as God’s people is in the fruits, pure and simple. It is bringing love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to the world, especially those who need it most. This is not only the message of the gospel but the place where God is showing up most visibly in my life. And, so, I’m going to officially push the pause button on my blogging.
This might be the last post. Ever. Or not.
Who knows where the wilderness will lead you or the spirit will act?
I started this blog because I wanted to chronicle my journey to live out the Micah 6:8 command to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. I opted for a blog instead of a diary because I wanted the kind of accountability that comes from making a public promise or statement of intention. No slight intended towards those who write or blog, speak or publish via podcast – but the world has enough people talking about these issues and not enough actually DOING something about it. For the foreseeable future, I know God wants me to focus on:
a) being still, listening for His voice as I walk through the wilderness
b) walking through the doors God has opened for Community Equity Collaborative, where we work to dismantle unjust systems and promote greater opportunity and equity through community partnerships.
A Toast + A Prayer
Wine Country has been ravaged by a brutal fire season. My family decided to drive a couple of hours north for a week in Napa this summer. We love that region and wanted to support the areas that have been devastated – both by the physical destruction as well as the financial losses. I brought along a big stack of books on racism, social justice, faith….the usual! Sitting by the pool, it hit me: I have a social justice blog called, Over Coffee and Wine. I mean, seriously!!!! The irony of my *privilege pastimes* as an umbrella for *social justice conversations* hit me like a ton of bricks. God opened my eyes to the gulf between where I am and where His heart is when I lay claim to His gospel or the Micah 6:8 words. Not that God isn’t in wineries and cafes! But, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and actually step into the margins….that’s where His people are and His heart’s always been. Time to light these words on fire and live them out.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let HIM shine…let HIM shine, let HIM shine.
Here are my favorite books & Podcasts of the summer
Dear Evan Hanson and John Oliver, thank you for saving my Easter.
Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, You can reach, reach out your hand…
It’s the story of tonight and the story of practically everyday since November 8th, 2016. It’s an ache that has ebbed and flowed but could never be fully shaken. The death of what I once knew as my country and my church has shaken me to the core and forever changed me. These posts are where I chronicle my Micah 6:8 Journey. These posts are where I process. To say that there’s been A LOT of *processing* in the last year-plus would be the understatement of the century. Writing helps me sort the myriad of thoughts and feelings.
Confession: as cathartic as writing has been, there have been many more moments when I don’t feel strong enough to stand or write or do anything.
I Gave Up Donald Trump
A year ago, I gave up Donald Trump for Lent. No, it wasn’t a joke. It was a serious and deliberate effort to manage my election-induced anxiety and create space for God to remind me of the hope and promise of Easter Sunday. I first got the idea after reading Diana Butler Bass’s article in the Washington Post. It was an effort to actually understand a well established and Biblically based tradition that I’d somehow ignored during my evangelical years. This year, though… my spirit is too weary for a program or plan – just sitting with my dog and listening to Found Tonight on repeat. I need a new practice, a different kind of fasting as I find “myself craving a God who would meet me in lament and silence and darkness,” as Sarah Bessey puts it.
I can’t blame Donald Trump entirely for the craziness of recent weeks. Just over a month ago, my husband had a heart attack. One minute, we’re walking around town while our boys are at karate. The next minute (okay, 90 minutes), he’s being wheeled into the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital.
By most measures, he was healthy. Cholesterol, weight, blood pressure – all within normal limits. Diet and exercise – decent. He’d even done a stress test about a year prior and he passed with flying colors. Every test he and/or the doctors had done pointed to a healthy heart.
But he was wrong. They were wrong. They had the wrong tests and measurements. And ,that wrongness nearly killed him. You see, most of us can pass stress tests, even run marathons and live life without much difficulty – until the blockage is more than 70%.
My husband likes to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Something had to change. His very survival required it. For weeks, he poured over stacks of books, reading everything about cardiac health. One gut-wrenching realization: this *new* information was there ALL ALONG. Literally. Two of the most impactful books he read had been sitting on our bookshelves for YEARS – untouched. I guess they waiting for a time when life slowed down or we made a New Year’s resolution to ‘eat healthier’. Or, as proved to be the case, we were *truly* motivated to change.
As Oprah likes to say, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ And, we were ready to ‘do better’ by making major changes. We wanted to not only prevent further heart disease but also reverse it by prioritizing diet, exercise…even mental health. In a nutshell, we needed to decide this mattered.
The American Church (especially, white, evangelical) has some serious health issues, including heart ones. We’ve forgotten to love what He loves or let our heart be broken by what breaks His. We’re addicted to power clothed pseudo religiosity and we’ve turned faith communities for serving the world into legalistic clans that serve ourselves. And, we’ve done it without a guilty conscience by using the wrong measurements and taking the wrong tests.
For decades, Americans surveyed have described Christians as ‘judgmental’ or ‘hypocritical’ – a far cry any of the nine ‘fruits of the spirits’ Paul lists in Galatians when saying how we will be known. Instead, we see “misogynistic,” “colonial,” and “white supremacist” added more recently to the list. Put simply, we are better at preaching about love than actually doing it – especially when it comes to loving the least.
Newsflash: the world isn’t fooled.
Don’t get me started on continued support for Donald Trump, even as the onslaught of Cabinet resignations, porn-star lawsuits and Mueller indictments continue at an alarming rate. It shouldn’t be shocking that the latest Pew reports indicate Americans have warmed up to every religious group EXCEPT evangelicals.
Hybels & Zuckerberg
The *usual suspects* on the far right are not the only ones who have made mistakes. For progressive believers seeking change, our credibility is on the line if we do not advocate for truth and justice – no matter what. It’s not easy, but it’s essential.
Case in point: Bill Hybels and Mark Zuckerberg. In just the last two days, these two leaders, have both come under intense scrutiny in the face of serious accusations of gross misjudgments.
Facebook is facing tough questions related to the Cambridge Analytica debacle. While I never thought Facebook was perfect, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some pride living in Silicon Valley, residing in the very town where Facebook has its headquarters. This is undoubtably the biggest ‘hit’ that Facebook (and its founder!) has taken since its founding.
In the same way that Facebook revolutionized social media, so did Willow Creek blaze a trail for churches around the globe. I spent my young adult years at Willow, discovering a faith that put faith into action. I mention or quote Bill Hybels in at least four of my blog posts. He was a pastor that I respected and saw as an example for leaders around the globe. I was shocked when I read that for many years, he’d been the subject of investigations into sexual abuse/harassment.
I was even more heartbroken when I read an email from Willow to friends/members (I’m still on their distribution list). Its content and tone denigrated those who had brought the accusations and/or had pushed for more thorough inquiries (which included, my current pastor, John Ortberg). In the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, my stomach turned as I saw pastor protection elevated above pursuing truth and affirming victims. I thought of the sexual assault and abuse victims I know and love.
There can be no sacred cows (or golden calf’s). No exceptions if we are serious about the Micah 6:8 life; truth and humility are essential to justice.
How Are YOU?
Equity and justice have become central themes over the last year plus, with my holy discontent manifesting as work with Community Equity Collaborative. (Interesting things happen when you study white privilege and racism….). Our three focus areas are:
Encouraging equity in education by promoting greater early childhood/preschool access
Creating career pathways for early childhood educators
Increasing family engagement at K-12 schools through PTO/PTA Roundtables, along with other resources that facilitate greater diversity and inclusion.
At our latest Roundtable, PTO reps sat around tables, brainstorming ways to recruit more leaders through a more inclusive process. We talked about the steady decline in volunteerism and the challenge in recruiting new leaders. Maybe folks are overwhelmed and tired. Maybe some moms have gone back to work. Maybe volunteers who helped in the past are now burnt out. Then, a leader from a predominantly Hispanic school spoke up.
At my school, we make a point of asking parents, ‘How are you?’. We want them to know we care more about how they’re *actually doing* than trying to sign them up for our project or ask them to do something.
We all just sat there. It was as if she’d simultaneously revealed the most profound yet blatantly obvious mindset flaw…. We’re all just marching towards glorious goals without pausing to reflect on the gap between our best intentions versus our actual impact.
In a room where most of the representatives came from wealthy and/or white communities, I was reminded of how much we gain when we are intentional about building a bigger table where people/relationships prevail above programs or privilege.
So, church – do you ask? Are you opening your eyes to our *actual impact* as opposed to our pretty programs and best intentions? Do you connect with marginalized people or communities and ask them how they are? I didn’t ask whether a black person sings in your choir or you’ve created a special Spanish-language advertisement to your Easter Sunday service or collected an offering last month for your favorite Christian charity. I asked if you’re getting out of the pews and to the people, with an authentic interest in finding out when you get there – how are they doing?
March for our lives
My little boy marched.
I hadn’t made a big deal about the #NationalWalkout. He’s ten. He loves Legos and Star Wars. But, on the morning of the Walkout, I made a last-minute decision to mention the walkout to him, in case it became the topic of conversation or even action at school. Our drive to school is short, but it only took him a few seconds to decide how he felt – he wanted to join. I was honestly surprised, so I hastily said I’d let his teacher know. As soon as I got back home, I sent her a note and she replied back to me that if he wanted to participate in the Walkout, he’d need to go to the middle school. I quickly changed out of the plaid pajamas I’d driven him to school in (Lord, may I never need to get out of the car during school commutes!) and into my yoga gear (standard issue mom uniform). I printed a picture of my grandmother, with the words #NeverForget, then ran out the door.
Soon, my son and I were joining hundreds of middle schoolers, marching around the school campus. He didn’t need instructions. There are moments when opportunity and purpose converge in such a way that instinct naturally takes over. And, this was one of those moments for him. He held up high the picture of his great-grandmother. He was evidence of pain and horror that had rippled through the generations, from the Easter Sunday when she was murdered over 60 years ago – to this moment, as he marched in the rain. At the end of the march, students read prepared speeches and poems. They said the names of Parkland students killed, followed by a moment of silence. I could see it in his eyes; a fire was lit.
These kids….they ARE making a difference. They ARE changing the world. #NeverAgain #Enough
So, my bacon loving, steak eating husband made a bold decision to become a vegan. The evidence for improving his cardiac wellness and overall health with better nutrition was undeniable. It’s not a miracle cure or a guarantee – but it’s the right choice, in light of all he now knows. The rest of us joined him. It wasn’t just an act of solidarity but rather of sanity. How could we not? Now we knew! We not only realized that the old tests and measurements had been wrong but also that there was a better way.
Lenten sacrifices are intended to grow compassion, not simply be a reluctant exercise in giving up chocolate or swearing. The fact that I didn’t have a program did not mean that He did not have a plan. Last year, He met me in the spaces I carved out for Him, by eschewing my daily doses of political satire and news. This year, He’s showing up EVEN in the midst of the madness, teaching me that Jesus is more interested in changing my spiritual diet (and measurements!) 365 days a year than He is a token gesture for forty. He’s reminding me that it doesn’t matter if I ace my own test but fail in every aspect by which He measures faith.
I can almost picture God up in heaven, chuckling at my misguided attempts to jump through so many hoops, check so many boxes. Easter is the ultimate new covenant. It’s not the day for ham dinners or egg hunts or fancy dresses. And so, our family is remaking Easter, not just with vegan recipes but with new practices and different measurements.
Maybe we need a redefinition of ‘right’
Bill Hybels always said that there’s nothing like the local church when the local church it works right. I agree. (Still!)
Maybe ‘right’ looks less like mega churches with celebrity pastors and more like my friend who worked quietly behind the limelight to bring kids affected by gun violence in Chicago together with the Parkland kids so that together they could march this weekend in DC. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like the fancy programs we do on Sunday morning and more like the people we serve in our communities Monday through Friday. Maybe ‘right’ looks less ‘blessing the blessed’ and more like advocating for the poor or marginalized. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like sleek videos and hip worship leaders and more like true allyship with POC or LGBTQ communities. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like upgrades to our own infrastructure (whether a new sanctuary building or fancy remodel) and more like support for more just systems in our communities, whether that’s clean water in Flint or early childhood education for kids across America. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like building shoebox campaigns and more like campaigning for investments in education and livable wages for teachers across America. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like vinyl wall decals in our Pinterest worthy-kitchen and more like teaching our kids about white privilege and systemic racism. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a pro-life platform that is obsessed with my uterus and more like a people who are willing to stand with the thousands of kids marching through the streets today, begging that they not be slaughtered with military assault weapons. Maybe ‘right’ looks less like fancy Easter outfits and more like books that teach us about love in all its forms (thank you, Marlon Bundo and John Oliver). Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a Tesla and more like a donkey.
My boys want a Tesla. The Tesla Roadster, to be precise. (Unless we win the lottery, we’re not getting it!) But, you can’t fault my boys for wanting one. Tesla’s abound in Menlo Park. And, they’re pretty cool. I’ll admit. But, the biggest problem with the church right now is that we have become vehicles for power and privilege and we think that by slapping a ‘blessed’ or ‘grateful’ decal on the back, the world will recognize our good intentions and forget our impact. The world’s not stupid.
The world sees the true fruits of our efforts, the impact of our power and privilege. And, while they might be okay with our Jesus, they’re less impressed with us.
This Sunday, we remember the day that Jesus, Son of God, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only days later to wash the feet of His disciples before carrying a cross to Calvary. We wear the cross, but do we carry it? Do we wash the feet? Instead of just waving palm branches for a moment this Sunday, would we take the time to also remember what Jesus did so long ago AFTER he rode that donkey? He cleared the temple courts. It’s telling that the bookends of His ministry have Jesus teaching us that His house is not a place for power and privilege or profit but a place for prayer and for His purposes.
As we begin Holy Week, it is clear I am flunking lent. By conventional standards, I’ve failed the test. All my good intentions for reading a Lenten devotional or joining #40 acts or picking something to ‘give up’ have fallen by the wayside. And, then I remember….”for all have sinned and fallen short…” No amount of good works or best efforts could ever help us ‘pass the test’ or bridge the gap between ourselves and a holy God…for 40 days or 365, let alone a lifetime….which is why He so loved the world that He sent His only Son.
Jesus held the first March For Our Lives; one man carried a cross up a hill to save all our lives, and in so doing, bridged that gap.
Maybe *this* IS Lent.
To nobler heights
My grandmother was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class. Her commencement speech was titled, To Nobler Heights.
Tonight as we pause at this worthy goal, our hearts are gladdened for we feel we have accomplished something worth while on our march thus far…Our hopes like towering falcons aim at objects in airy heights, for we realize that upon, the youth of today, rests that great responsibility as citizens of tomorrow. As we look forward into the future we see great and noble heights that we may attain if we but climb steadfastly onward. We know not how much time we are given and must constantly move onward if we would not fall back. To those who are older and perhaps great than we, it may possibly seem that our progress is slow and our achievement nothing. But we are not discouraged, for we desire above everything else to climb upward; to give our lives in service to humanity, and thus in a measure repay the world and our Master for what has been done for us.
As Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt’s song Found Tonight begins…
We may not yet have reached our glory, but I will gladly join the fight….and when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.
To nobler heights! Let’s be broken, together. Let’s be stronger, together. Let’s be better, together.
This is the march for our lives.
This is the march for her life.
For God so loved the world that He marched first, so that you could be found.
Sandi Patty. Larnelle Harris. Gaither Vocal Band. These were the household names for me growing up. I was raised on a music diet that consisted primarily of Christian music with a bit of classical thrown in on the side. Sandi Patty was my favorite. I knew every word to every song. To this day, I still believe she has the voice of an angel. Duets, like those with Wayne Watson, sounded like music from heaven. Truly.
Though it has been YEARS, I can still hear one of their most famous songs, Another Time Another Place, play in my head. The main refrain begins, So, I’m waiting for another time and another place, Where all my hopes and dreams will be captured. These lyrics remind me of the verse in Revelation, where it says that He will wipe away every tear, that there will be no more sorrow, no more pain. I love that verse because it speaks to the brokenness that we all carry plus God’s redemption promise.
At my church, we’re doing this series called, Upside Down, looking at the most famous sermon ever given – the Sermon on the Mount. Embedded in that sermon is the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus commands us to pray that Up There Come Down Here. It turns out, the work of the cross continues, in and through broken people like you and me. Till we get to that other time and place, there is work to do.
So what is that work?
In August, I wrote about what I’d learned in my year-long journey of trying to *actually* live out the Micah 6:8 verse. Option B was more about the process than the outcomes. So, here I want to expand on the WHAT….what do justice, mercy and love look like? I am still learning, myself! But, these are the doors God has opened.
Community Equity Collaborative
In May, a few of us met over a cup of coffee to talk about what we could do to promote social justice in our community. At a Starbucks in Menlo Park, Community Equity Collaborative was born.
Who are we?
We launch, support and connect initiatives across the San Francisco Peninsula that promote educational equity, especially in the area of early learning.
While we believe that charity is a cheap substitute for justice, an opportunity to distribute 7,000 pairs of toddler shoes kinda fell into our lap, providing a great platform for connecting with the early childhood education community in our area.
What do we do?
Some examples of the work we’re doing now:
Assist faith-based organizations in assessing their site for preschool and connect these organizations with early learning operators.
Create career pathways into early learning, collaborating with Able Works and Canada College with integrated teacher/student mentoring and individualized coaching.
Support local school districts that have or are building early learning programs.
I intended all summer to write about Community Equity Collaborative. I’m just now doing it because we have been busy, which is a good thing – God is actually using us! Who knew!?! And, it is confirming for me that the Micah 6:8 work precedes the writing, not vice versa. It is as if God keep telling me, “just do the work, I’ll give you the story.” And, stories He is providing!!!!
Domestic Worker Oral History Project
Very little research or reporting is done on domestic workers. They are this essential ingredient, helping us take care of our little ones and keep our homes in order (especially in the high-paced, over-achieving region of Silicon Valley). Yet, we know so little about their *actual* lives. Simone Weil, says, “Attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity.” We have decided it was time to shine a light on these women….to stop and just listen to their stories.
So, what exactly are we doing?
I, along with a partner from Community Equity Collaborative, decided to personally organize and fund the gathering of stories from Bay Area women.
We partnered with Able Works, as many of their clients are formerly or presently in the domestic worker field.
How are we doing it?
We identified someone who these woman would trust and are having her interview the women, using a set of questions we designed, the answers to which are recorded, transcribed and then translated (if needed).
In total, she will have sat down with ten women, and from what we’ve already seen – the stories are amazing, as they paint pictures of both great tragedy and triumph.
Why are we doing this?
Well, for starters, we believe in a God who always seeks out the marginalized and disadvantaged.
Second, we believe in the power of story. It is easy to be indifferent when you don’t know.
Our hope and prayer is that these stories will create a foundation for greater understanding and compassion for domestic workers.
What will we do with these stories?
There will definitely be a blog post!!!!
We will also work with partners, like Able Works, to share these stories though local news outlets and organizations, so that others can learn from these women.
This week, I was back at Life Moves in Palo Alto, serving lunch. Those two hours, serving the homeless, never cease to soften my heart. Here are two stories from Monday that have stuck with me.
PB Guy: We always try to smile and engage in friendly banter as clients move through the food line. One elderly gentleman began trying to tell us something, in Spanish. A handful of us were trying to translate what he was saying. We finally figured out he was telling us that when he eats peanut butter, it gets stuck in his intestines. (Okay….thanks for sharing.) We naturally jumped into problem solving mode….now that we understood, how could we help….what should we do….what did he want? Turns out, nothing. He didn’t want anything, other than for us to know. Later, as we were cleaning up, this same guy starts coming to us with paper-towels, pointing at the towel. Again, it took us a moment to figure out what he wanted. Finally, we figured it out – he wanted us to put some of our cleaning spray on the towels so he could help. I drove home, thinking about the PB Guy – he just wanted to be known. He wanted to help.
Late Girl: Around the same time that the PB Guy was helping us clean-up and stack the chairs, a young lady came running in, asking if it was too late to eat. She explained that the buses were late today and she was really hungry. Quickly, we began gathering bits and pieces…..an apple here, a handful of crackers there. We began stacking it all on a plate. She looked over at a huge tray of pasta. “Can I have some of that?” Those of us serving looked at one another, our hearts breaking. We explained that this tray had not been opened. If we did open it and serve her, we would have to throw out the rest of the entire tray. In the end, we were able to give her a plate that was stacked pretty high with different items we could take from the refrigerator or pantry. I will remember the Late Girl, her eyes filled with longing.
I return to Life Moves, not just because my faith requires that I am loving the least, but because my heart is the life that needs to move – more than any other. If those of us with power and privilege learn how to see PB Guy and Late Girl with the eyes of Jesus, we will see Up There come Down Here.
These ladies are my soul sisters. We read. We cry. We organize. We pray. We celebrate. We talk….a lot. They are my people. I am reading Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Anan. He writes about how Micah 6:8 kingdom work is a long run – there are no easy solutions or short-cuts. I’m in this for the long haul, but in the same way that Aaron helped Moses hold his arms heavenward during the battle against the Amalekites, so we all need folks who come alongside us. I need these ladies to hold my heart and lift my hands, as we put our heads together for how we can do the same for others. WE are better together and we know the same is true for the rest of the world.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
There are my *real* girlfriends and then there are my fantasy BFF’s…..the gutsy, progressive female Christian writers I do not know for real but they mean the world to me and they keep me sane during this not-so-sane season. Sarah Bessey recently tweeted, “I’m fired up and burned out at the same time.”
That is where I am right now. Part of me is so weary but the other part of me remains mobilized and ready to fight. As Cory Booker just recently said, “The opposite of justice isn’t injustice, it’s indifference, it’s inaction.” So I’ll be damned if I go back. This past year or so has been my Damascus Road. Now that the scales are gone, there’s no retreating or surrendering to the numbness, even as the onslaught is unending.
DACA. Charlottesville. North Korea. Puerto Rico. Las Vegas. Weinstein. Earthquakes. Floods. Fire.
Disaster, both natural and manmade, have become a daily reality.
Today, it isn’t just my heart but my literal home that is being burned out. For the fourth day, Northern California, where I live, is on fire. Thousands of acres have been burned. Nearly thirty lives have been lost (that’s surely going to go up). Again, our schools are forced to shelter-in-place. Wineries, like Stag Leap, where I have wandered through the vineyards and tasted Cabernet’s with my husband, are completely destroyed. While we are about 100 miles from the front lines, the smoke is heavy across the Peninsula. You see the ash in the sky and your lungs instinctively tighten. The feeling that it’s hard to breath….It seems oddly familiar.
Church, the world is going up in flames and it’s waiting to see whether or not we give a damn. Too many of us have allowed religion to morph into sanctified indifference enabled by privilege. But, once you take the mask off. Once you open your eyes to the Syrian refugee and the young black man and the Latina domestic worker and Puerto Rican still without power….even if you’re not in the midst of the fire, you still see and smell the smoke. You still can’t breath.
“I can’t breathe.”
Eric Garner’s last words have become the mantra for many protesting injustice. There’s a line in the oldie, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, “When your heart’s on fire, you must realize smoke gets in your eyes.” If you go anywhere near the fire, if you take a stand against power and privilege, if you intend to actually get into the trenches and love the least, smoke will get in your eyes. That is just a fact. What’s also true, is that anyone seeking God will find Him in the margins. He is in the middle of the fire, and he calls us to join Him there.
In a couple of weeks, I’m crossing another item off my Forty-for-Forty list, attending a Lecrae concert in San Francisco. Since November, I just can’t turn on Christian radio. Happy worship songs play and chipper DJ’s banter with nary a mention of those desperate for a gospel that is good news. They sing of love and grace, but where is the fruit? Their silence reminds me of a people who voted overwhelmingly for Trump, take offense at athletes taking a knee but not at police brutality, value life in the womb but not enough to support commonsense gun control, pray for Texas but say nothing of Puerto Rico and I could go on and on. On days when my chest feels tight and I can’t breathe, I crank up Lecrae. One song called, Fuego, includes these lines:
I know this life it comes with pain But it’s through our pain we win though Could be made like Him so treat these streets like flint bro Cause our God can spark up the dark In the hearts of the hardest departed let’s go
Treat every night like it’s the last night Like it’s the last time you get no other chances Get your torches high let’s set ablaze the sky Passion’s a fire bright and we’ll be burning forever Set the world on fire let’s set the world on fire
The world’s on fire. I can’t breathe. But, then, but then…. Up There comes Down Here. John the Baptist says in Matthew:
I baptize you withwater for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Long before Metallica (I now listen to more than just Christian worship and Classical), it was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, “Fight fire with fire.” It means basically that – fight as your opponent fights. In the Kingdom, we too fight fire with fire. But, fire from above is nothing like that of earth. In Christ’s upside down kingdom, the weak are strong, the first are last, there is no hunger, nobody ever receives a cancer diagnosis, justice prevails, the poor are blessed and love always wins. When flames of holy fire come from Up There to Down Here, we taste shalom and see slivers of heaven.
This is not only the promise of eternity, it is His command to the church today. And, the whole point of the gospel is that this is the time, this is the place. Therefore, I am not waiting. Give us this day, bring your kingdom Up There to Down Here for I am here, fired up and burned out. Use me. Let’s set the world ablaze.
I recently returned from a family trip to Mendocino, a small town on the northern coast of California. It was lovely in all the ways you’d expect: unspoiled, rugged, breathtakingly beautiful…and, for our family, the added bonus of super-cool temperatures. Sun-worshippers, we are not! Anyways, part of the charm was its remoteness. We quickly realized *how* remote when we discovered our cottage had no wifi or cell coverage. I had no choice but to turn off Facebook and Twitter, focusing instead on the stack of books I’d thrown into the minivan.
I’m probably the LAST person in Silicon Valley to read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. Friends had told me that it was quite good, and since she lives down the street and has kids in class with mine, I added it to my vacation reading pile – which is otherwise dominated by social justice books (these days, at least!). On a foggy Mendocino morning, I cracked it open, reading about her journey after losing her husband suddenly in 2015. Into her own personal narrative, she integrates research and lessons learned in facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. In the midst of her grief, a good friend told her….
“Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
Post-Eden: Option B
Church, we are living in the era of Option B, Biblically speaking. This broken and hurting world is NOT as God created it nor is it the way He wants it. Option A was Eden. This side of heaven, there will never be full shalom. But, that in no way means that we are meant to circle the wagons around our holy huddle and wait for the rapture. We are called to bring ‘up there’ to ‘down here’. The other book I read in Mendocino, was Love Mercy, by Lisa Samson. Given that Micah 6:8 has become my own mantra, I was keen to dive into the personal story of another believer trying to put this verse into practice. She writes about the moment God met her on the pages of Isaiah 58, solidifying her conviction that she was to orient her life around loving the least. She shares:
God keeps sending me this message because I keep doing a half-baked job of following. Expend your life on behalf of the poor? Expend means to be be worn-out, dried up, caved-in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned & tattered.
I read that and paused. I am on the same journey, but what will it cost me? What is it going to ultimately lead me to? It still don’t fully know. But, I am more convinced than ever that it is time for a revival of love, mercy and justice. It is indeed time for the church to kick the shit out of Option B.
So, part of the reason Mendocino sounded great is that I did NOT have to worry about being ‘swimsuit ready’ come June. With temps in the 50’s and 60’s, I stayed mostly in jeans and sweatshirts. No matter where you spend your summer, I can assure you that most moms out there watched the hilarious video by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley, “I Swimsuit Season So Hard.” It went viral, in part, because all women can identify with the crazy expectations modern life throws our way. And, let’s be honest, when you’re juggling ALL that and then someone wants to give you a lecture being ‘worn-out, dried up, caved in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned and tattered’ for the poor…..I mean, seriously. It. Is. Too. Much.
But, faith doesn’t always make sense. Jesus makes these outlandish claims, like we are to lose our lives in order to find them. But, how do you do that and still pay your bills and raise your kids? What ‘exactly’ are moms meant to lose? Tell me. This chica needs details. I read these amazing books and blogs by the likes of Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans. It looks and sounds so good, but how do you make it happen, a truly missional family and life? Do we go to Africa? Foster kids? Work in the inner city? Must everything we eat, drink and wear be fair trade? What happens if I suck at composting and my kids don’t want to donate their birthday money to charity? Seriously. Where do you draw the line? What does it all mean for a regular family, like ours, just trying to get from one day to the next? How do you make sure you’re stumbling forward in the right direction?
Don’t ask me for answers.
The “control-freak, Type-A, hoping to impress you” version of me would love to unveil my journey as a roadmap that others could follow. But, all I have is my story…a messy one, at that.
Exhibit A: In my last post, I shared how God opened doors for me to donate my car (I truly thought life and faith were all falling neatly into place.) Would you believe that my brand new car was recalled!?!?! As in…I CAN’T DRIVE IT!!!! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been driving around a rental while my new minivan sits in the driveway. That was not Option A!
But, even in these headaches especially in the headaches, God is teaching me. It seems faith falling into place does not equate to life going smoothly.
I’m not sure my messes and lessons will be helpful. But, I’m nonetheless going to walk through some of the lessons God has taught me since I began my journey, nearly one year ago, to *actually* live a Micah 6:8 life.
For the less ‘wordy’ types….here’s a diagram. But, suffice to say that those who truly love me and/or God will read to the end. (JK)
Sorry, white, evangelical, upper-middle class American church – you’re not being persecuted. On the contrary, you’re privileged beyond what you fully realize (Note: central to understanding privilege is acknowledging our own blindness to it). The full extent of that privilege in my own life – born out of my race, nationality, education, income, etc., is what I’ve come to more fully understand and appreciate these last few months.
Research shows that people like me credit ourselves for fortunes, rather than factors outside our control. This hindsight bias, as economics professor Robert Frank explains in his book, Success and Luck, Good Fortune and The Myth of Meritocracy, describes our tendency to think, after the fact, that an event was predictable even when it wasn’t. A similar myth pervades much of Christianity, most blatant with proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. Even Christians who don’t ardently propagate such dogma, still outwardly praise God, while inwardly crediting ourselves. Naturally, we then rationalize stinginess with the rest of the world, citing laziness or bad decisions or immorality, etc., as the explanation for their misfortune. If we get the credit for successes, they conversely deserve the blame for failures. (Or so the logic goes.)
If Americans are good at either not seeing or not caring about suffering at home, they are even more indifferent to the injustices beyond our borders. Folks, concepts, such as manifest destiny, are not Biblical. Americans are not *entitled* to some material global hegemony or economic prosperity or made sacred by our mere desire to justify our excesses at the expense of or in the face of other’s need and suffering. Our brothers and sisters of every tribe and nation carry equal weight with our Father, and so too must they with us.
Remember high school? I’m turning 40 in a few weeks. My boys (ages 6 and 9) declared the other day in the car, that they did not believe I was EVER a kid. Precious, huh?!? Contrary to their belief, I can remember being young. Books were my BFF’s. I remember reading Emerson and Thoreau, finding an inner resonance and harmony between these great transcendentalist thinkers, my adolescent desire for independence and my sincere patriotic belief in American exceptionalism. I saw no conflict between these ideas and my faith, and there is a good reason for that.
The ‘American’ Christian mentality has made subtle but significant shifts overtime, elevating individualism far above the collective. (Note: the worth of an individual should not to be confused with Individualism as an ideology.) Even as Jesus came so that we might enter into an individual relationship with Him via the Holy Spirit, we recognize that Jesus came to save us all.
“For God so loved the WHOLE world, that He gave us only Son…”.
While we are saved individually, we are called collectively. Christ said we will be known by the love we have for one another, not for ourselves (John 13:35). Even the personhood of God testifies to a harmonious duality of One God in Three Persons.
So too must we look for a similar balance between the individual and the collective in our own faith. Sadly, individualism as an ideology within the church has facilitated an unholy indifference to entire communities, from people of color to immigrants to even the poor (and many more). I include the poor because I know most Christians bristle at the suggestion that they or their church don’t care about the poor. What church hasn’t organized a charity drive or two? The problem is that even as WASPY types publicly profess regret and even compassion, they privately support (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) the institutions and systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.
This is not who we are. In Matthew 22:38-39, Jesus clarifies the essence of faith:
This is the first and greatest commandment (Love God).And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
To the natural follow-up question of ‘Who Is My Neighbor’ Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which paints a picture of God’s heart for the oppressed, marginalized and forgotten. These days, we look a lot more like the Priest and the Levi than we do the Good Samaritan. The Bible is explicit in its call to love the least, calling out women, children, migrants, the poor, etc.
Sadly, American Evangelicals are quicker to wag a finger at individual failings than offer a hand to marginalized communities. By our own doing, we have projected ourselves into the public square, with our moral majorities and our compassionate conservatism. And, now that we are married into these often unholy alliances, we cannot wash our hands. To the vast majority of America and the rest of the world, being an evangelical means protecting our individual interests above the needs of the communities where we live.
Even before #45 (who has taken indifference to a whole new level), evangelicals consistently backed policies and politicians that too often help themselves at the expense of those already at a power disadvantage. To that end, Beth Moore recently tweeted:
“We keep empowering the powerful/equipping the equipped/saving the saved/feeding the full/helping the helped and we wonder why we’re unfulfilled.”
Even worse, we not only excuse, but as Judy Wu Dominick calls it, we Christianize our pagan practices. God help us. Thankfully, He does. And, writing about the alternative faith mindset and practice, author Erin Straza advocates what she calls a ‘Comfort Detox‘ (which also happens to be the title of her book. She writes:
“There is too much to do and too much brokenness in this world for any of God’s people to sit idle, amused by life pursuits that benefit only ourselves.”
A church that gives a damn about a world, cares more about meeting the need than counting the cost, loving the broken rather than admonishing the sinner….and, in the midst of it – seeing our OWN need and our own brokenness.
“If your theology prevents you from changing your mind when confronted with the immense suffering it causes, your theology is your God.” – Rachel Cohen
At the end of the day, the gospel is inherently about reconciliation of ALL things….not the well-behaved, polished or polite….but, the ‘as far as the East is from the West’ Redeemer of ALL.
Crap. This is rubber hitting the road. It isn’t easy. But, discipleship is key to spiritual wellness. And, in the same way that physical wellness requires effort (do those damn planks and try to like kale) – so does this effort require carving out space from our crazy lives. We all want a magic wand, to make the problems go away or to create more time. But, sometimes what we need is not a magic wand but an eraser. We have to let go of something else in order to make space for new practices and mindsets.
I love to read. And, there is a growing library of literature on justice and/or faith. Truth be told, much of it’s been there for a looooong time (starting with my favorite, Old and New Testament scriptures!). But, once we find our bubbles, it’s astonishing how little we see outside. Even if you’re not ready to physically step into the margins, you can begin your journey as I did, with a book. I started with white, female Christian authors – women not that different from myself. But, overtime, I’ve found some of the most moving and perspective shifting lessons to be from people NOT like me…..people of color or people with a completely different life story and experience. So, even if you don’t pick a book off of my ‘Favorites’ List – please break your bubble and look beyond your own clan or comfort zone.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
The Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Favorite Folks to Follow – Twitter & Facebook
Some of these categories overlap but they nonetheless provide some categorization. And, this is also the tip of the iceberg! This is a large and growing community, that I was blind to till a couple years ago. It’s been like pulling back the curtain and discovering an entirely new universe.
Faith and Justice: Jim Wallis/Sojourners, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, DL Mayfield, Eugene Cho, Sarah Bessey, Laura Ortberg Turner, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, Judy Wu Dominick, Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Merritt, Jonathan Martin, Joy Beth Smith, Lisa Sharon Harper, Katelyn Beaty, Mihee Kim-Kort, Jenny Yang, ACLU, Preemptive Love Coalition.
POC: TruthsTable, SafetyPinBox, Efrem Smith, Deray McKesson, Shaun King, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Terri Givens, Austin Channing, LaTasha Morrison, Trevor Noah, Charles Blow, April D Ryan, Charles Blow, Bryan Stevenson.
Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee
Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart
Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
Comfort Detox by Erin Straza
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan
Wake Up White by Debby Irving
Sheryl Sandberg writes about the value of journaling, in her book, Option B. I’ve never been good at journaling. I start a journal, write for a few days, and soon completely forget about it, as To Do Lists and Cranky Kids overshadow the empty pages. I began blogging because it was a way to hold myself publicly accountable to this journey.
There’s a Japanese proverb that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Folks who go out on a limb, usually take a beating. #JenHatmaker It takes guts to call out injustice or speak truth to those with power or privilege. If you see someone taking a risk, say ‘thank you’. We need to be allies who stand first and foremost with those in the margins. And, next, we need to be allies to those who are advocating for others, be it a pastor teaching to his white congregation about racism and privilege or the young reporter writing in the wealthy town’s local newspaper about persistent poverty of neighbors next-door. And, as recent months have demonstrated during the current health care debate – your voice makes a difference. Call. Write. Tweet. We cannot afford to be silent.
It doesn’t feel like I’ve made much progress, but God help me – I was so blind, with so much to learn. And, thankfully, it’s been a year of wrestling and questioning and painful growing. Much of it began with a crazy invitation to a handful of girlfriends,
“Hey, would you be willing to meet regularly to study racism and white privilege with me?”
Amazingly, even though they’re all super busy moms with 101 things to do – they all said YES. And, so began a journey that has been broken and transformed all of us.
At the beginning of this journey, roughly one year ago, I honestly didn’t know where God wanted me or what I was supposed to do. But, I could not stand before God and attest for my life, given the delta between what I KNEW the Bible taught about loving the least and what I was actually DOING about it. I needed to take going OUT into the world as seriously as took going to church each Sunday. I needed to take listen to the stories of marginalized or oppressed people as often as I listen to Christian radio (if not more!). I needed to get my head OUT of the books and blogs and INTO the margins I claimed to care so much about. It was time to check my Savior Complex at the door, and just humbly GO. Like the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes, once I walked through the door, there was no turning back….I could see with painful clarity the pain and suffering of so many. While many questions remain and I still feel woefully inadequate, God keeps calling ME back to a few groups.
WHO: People of Color, the Poor/Homeless, Immigrants, Children WHAT: Education, Social Justice and Anti-Poverty Service Organizations WHERE: Bay Area HOW: Launch Community Equity Collaborative, Continue volunteering with Life Moves and Live Able
As a busy mom, trying to ferry kids to appointments and activities, it is easy to fall into ‘paralysis by analysis’. Seriously, there is a lot brokenness out there. Where do you start? How do you decide what issues to pursue or partners to work with? Here’s how I’ve made my choices:
Read books, read your local paper, drive to the other side of town. Identify the areas of greatest need in your community. Here are categories frequently mentioned in the Bible that you can use as a lens when looking at your own community:
I loved the way Nish Weiseth put it in a recent tweet:
“Regardless of your theology, when there’s pain (ESPECIALLY in the margins) that’s always where the church should go first. Always”
The margins are holy places.
Charity is a cheap substitute for justice, and God knows, many well intentioned charities have done more harm than good (Check out, When Helping Hurts). Pick organizations that are not only alleviating present needs but also working to knock down barriers and create better opportunities for future wellness. For your sake and the sake of the folks you’re trying to help, be smart in picking partners.
What places are either my community or my church turning a blind eye too? How can I help fill that gap? Frankly, Evangelicals are largely MIA from the margins (POC, immigrants and LGBTQ folks are more common targets than recipients, recently!), so I highly recommend going with a humble heart, ready to listen, learn and help there. And, here’s the crazy thing about the least….even if we have to leave our usual church activities in order to love the least, the margins are where we find Jesus. As Jonathan Martin puts it,
“Theology that cuts you off from the messy reality of human experience ultimately alienates you from Christ, too.”
Looking back on my life, I’m struck by how desperately I’ve tried to sanitize my life when I actually should have been leaning into the mess of myself and others, for at the foot of the cross, we are all broken.
What can I actually do? What days of the week or times of the day work for me? For me, with young kids and a husband who works long hours in Silicon Valley, my availability is while my kids at school. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I want to find new rhythms of life that can become my life-song for many years to come.
A few days ago, I saw Hamilton with my husband in San Francisco. Brilliant show at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theater….which happens to be located in what can best be called, a ‘gritty’ part of town. Even my sincere desire to see worthiness in the homeless who encamp nearby, with their needles openly littering the ground and the stench of old urine hanging in the air – does not inoculate me to the deeply engrained norms of my lifelong privilege. If this blog sounds preachy, know that I preach to myself first and foremost. I still fall into my old ways of thinking, but I catch myself….I pivot. Bit by bit….that’s the only way.
There’s a refrain in Hamilton that is often repeated: “No, I’m not going to give away my shot.” And, this is the line that reverberates in my mind….I cannot give away my one shot at a Micah 6:8 life…for myself and for my family. I’m leaning that God isn’t asking me for the answers – just willingness to follow, one day at a time.
I’ve matured in my posture to Thoreau, since those high school days long ago. Though, there is much that still resonates, including this quote from Walden:
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
We cannot say we value and love others and yet be unwilling to make significant exchanges to their end. Loving the least means taking your shot and kicking the shit out of Option B, no matter the cost. Ditch the bracelet. Pick up the cross.