Wednesday, December 27, 2017

White Washing the World

I pay attention to what I see. A lot. In the past few years, I've paid additional attention to what I don't see.

Today, I saw two interesting things.

The first was brought to my attention by the professor and Biblical scholar, the Reverend Doctor Wil Gafney (to whose work I commend you). Dr. Gafney noted on Facebook that, regardless of one's actual race, if a person indicates interest or support in issues, authors, or topics at all related to Black Lives Matter, the Root, or any other item that indicates interest in being an accomplice to equality... Facebook assumes that person is African-American.

At her urging, I checked and, sure enough, Facebook's #1 categorization of me is African American. While I would happily claim this designation if I could, it's not even close to correct. Ironically, despite the fact that I belong to multiple Jewish groups and an equal number of knitting groups, Facebook is more certain that I am black than it is regarding anything else about me. (Let's not mention the number of clergy groups to which I belong.)

This means that Facebook ad bots assume that any interest in black issues, race equity, or social justice must automatically be correlated with BEING black. There is no positive correlation, in the algorithm for non-black people supporting these issues.


Then, today, I saw my first ads for A Wrinkle in Time. I'm excited about this movie because I have loved the book for years. Meg Murry is a hero of mine and she doesn't get mentioned on enough girl hero lists (in my opinion). Ava Duvernay is directing. Excellent. I am a huge fan, among many, of her work.

The trailer revealed that Meg is played by Storm Reid. Her mom, Dr. Kate Murry, is played by Gugu Mbatha. Her dad is played by... Chris Pine. Furthermore, the movie poster looks like this: >>>>>>>>>>>>

Now I last read the book 3-4 years ago, but a central plot point is that the dad is MISSING. He's not actually a central character. In fact, his absence is central to the story. So WHY IS THE WHITE GUY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE POSTER??? Why not the inquisitive, brave, tempestuous Meg? Seriously? I don't know why the whole family couldn't be people of color. And I don't know why Chris Pine has to be in the center of the picture.

Except that I do know why.

The world still presumes that if you aren't catering to the money (ego) of white men, then failure is assured. There is little to no acceptance of the fact that women, people of color, and everyone else in the world (who are not white men) have money to spend and are begging to be catered to. Do we need Chris Pine so that this movie will make money? Without his melanin-deficient appearance, will white men fail to see this movie? Will white women? (Actually, I don't want to know the true answer to that last question because I will likely throw my computer across the room. Which indicates that I do know the true answer. And I am pissed about it.)

We can do better.

Facebook can. Hollywood can. I can. You can.

But what will it take?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Six Cans

I realize these six cans don’t look like much, but they represent a big deal to me. I made dinner for a group tonight and I wasn’t entirely sure how many people were coming. I have a tendency to overestimate and overprepare, ending up with way more food than necessary. 

I have come to realize, though, that cooking too much is my attempt to control a situation. I want everyone to enjoy themselves and for the event to be perfect. This isn’t actually mine to control. Having too much food doesn’t guaratee a good time. It’s just a lot of food.

No one who was coming would likely be in danger of starving. And if someone came who I knew needed more food, I could help with that in a different way.Furthermore, having a good time is up to each person. I am not the guarantor of other people’s good times. (#truth)

So, four cans of black beans and two cans of vegetarian refried beans represent not only my desire to be a good hostess, but also my willingness to let go of the outcome. If we run out of beans, it will be okay. Fun can still be had. 

Who knew six cans of beans could mean so much? 

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Better Way

A friend recently expressed frustration that empowering people to take ownership and leadership takes a lot more time than doing something one's self. This is true... in the short term. In the long term, empowerment is the more efficient means of reaching a given destination because empowerment involves honest recognition of one's own limitations, the skills of others, the need for community and relationship, and the reality of having a few more eyes on an issue. 

As a person who often makes an idol of efficiency, I confess that I have sometimes let empowerment fall by the wayside. This is not because I lack the skills to empower others, but because I haven't taken the time to offer the opportunity or been willing to let something flounder when others didn't step forward. I have come to realize, through time and experience, that enabling is not actually an efficient path to any destination other than the Land of Resentment, Burnout Island, or Frustration Station. 

In the church, as with many other organizations, good leadership does not mean that one or two or even a small committee handle the majority of the work. Instead, good stewardship of the resources of people, locations, time, and money means sharing duties between those who have the necessary skills, those who could learn them, and those who would like to assist, but not be in charge. 

Lay leaders, as well as clergy, can be guilty of taking the enabling path by way of control (doing it alone resentfully or instructing how it should be done). They may also grow tired of doing a thing, but not let go of it- lest it be changed or "done wrong". Some may make a choice, certain that their way is correct and that change is good, and lead off- only to find that no one has followed. Others may distribute activities, chores, or roles without considering the skills, abilities, and desires of the ones whom they are pressuring as recruits. 

Empowering involves a certain level of vulnerability- a willingness to be honest with one's yes and one's no, the effort to ask for help or explanation, the patience to listen reflectively and with self-control, and a level of discernment via the Holy Spirit. None of these things are outside of the grasp of anyone in the church. Often we tolerate bad behavior because that's just "the way someone is" or because we don't like confrontation. Both of those options seem efficient, but are the way of enabling. 

The fruits of the spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control- all contain an element of honesty within them. When we embrace and are embraced by this honesty, then we can become communities of empowerment, not enabling. And empowerment seems like the most efficient way to help one another live the baptized life of imitating Christ to which we have been called. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Jesus Test (A Corollary to The Rock Test)

In response to new/old news about powerful men abusing and manipulating women, blogger Anna Victoria Clark wrote a fun and true piece called The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want to Be Accused of Sexual Harassment. I recommend this piece and if you haven't read it yet, take a moment, click over, and then come on back for some theological reflection.

I like The Rock Test, but it's not totally great for my context.

Confession: I don't think about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as much as I do about Jesus.

Thus, I'd like to propose that for a certain part of the population, "The Jesus Test" may be a more effective hack to prevent bad choices and encourage good (and godly) behavior.

Setting One: Passing the Peace

Sure, maybe you're a "hugger", but you know the person who has always stiffly held out their hand? That person doesn't want to be hugged. You don't know why. It may be taking all they have to be in the presence of all these other people. It may be that they have an illness where even light touch is painful. They may just not like to be touched. Your identity as a "hugger" doesn't surpass their desire not to be hugged.

Think of this Jesus:

This is when Christ appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden and asks her not to touch him. We don't know if he didn't want it because it would break his resolve to ascend to the Father, because it would be hard for her, or if it would disrupt some other divine part of His work. 

Jesus has the right to ask not to be touched and to have that request respected. Look at the person you are approaching. What are their body signals? What do their eyes say? If you know you are a person who is NOT good at reading those things, a handshake is always your best bet. If someone has a hand out, respect that hand. Noli me tangere, Jesus says, "Do not touch me." We listen to that from him and when he says it from within our neighbor. 

Pro tip: This applies beyond passing the peace. When someone asks you to withdraw your hand or to step back, additional commentary or pressure is absolutely uncalled for and unnecessary. No means no. It did for Jesus, it does for those whom Jesus loves. 

Setting Two: The Inappropriate Story

Are you in Bible study or a group meeting? Are you having a one-to-one with another person? Are you having coffee, drinks, or a snack with a group of 2-3? Are you leading? Are you a participant? Do you have a question you want to ask or a story that you want to tell neither of which is for the full edification of the group? 

Is your story because it gets a good laugh or because you like to shock people? 
Is your question to show how much you know, rather than to offer information? 
Is your goal to disrupt or unseat the person in charge? 
Is the purpose of the story or the question to show your power in the group and/or in the community? 

Would you tell this story to Jesus? Would you interrupt Jesus to ask the question? Is there a way that you would frame things differently if Jesus were the one in the front of the room or the one listening to you teach? 

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons


I began this blog post on 10/11/17, right after the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out and the "Rock Test" was fresh and viral. However, I never mustered the energy to finish it. Frankly, my dears, I'm tired of having to think of clever ways to say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

It's not about how you would want someone to treat your mother or daughter. It's not about how you feel about your gay son or your cousin who is trans. It's not about whether you could see your Indian neighbor's face or your Muslim cab driver's family picture. The truth is that you either believe all people to be your equals in the eyes of God or you don't. 

And if you don't, if you don't... you won't- even if someone rises from the dead. 

If you don't, it's not about things being different in the era in which you were raised. 

If you don't, it's not about a boys' club or what was good enough for you or your father or your grandfather. 

The fact is that you think that you are better than people around you and that the rules that govern everyone else don't apply to you. 

My carefully constructed writing will not convince you that other people are not means to your end of power, perceived control, money, awards, rewards, or advancement. 

So, here's the deal. I will not be sad when you lose your job. I will not be sad when your empire collapses. I will not shed a tear if you find yourself without everything that you so carefully built, believing yourself to be invincible. 

Someday, when (not if) it happens, I will have tea with you. If you want. I will not be sympathetic to your plight. I will look you in the eye and say, "This was always going to be a totally shit time." 

And I will wait to see if you want to make it better or make it right. 

I will not offer cheap grace. 

That's the true Jesus' test. 

And many people are shocked to find themselves failing. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Something New

Knitting a basketweave hat! 
I recently taught myself how to knit, with the help of videos, books, and a few friends. I ultimately want to make a certain kind of sweater and I can only find knitting patterns for that sweater. Knitting makes a different kind of fabric and would open up more projects for me. 

However, in order to start knitting, I had to stop crocheting (at least for a little while). To fully learn and grown in my new skill, I had to set aside other habits. While there was nothing wrong with crocheting, I can’t crochet and knit at the same time, so one had to be put down while I took up the other.

It seems that we often try to do two things at the same time, even though they are mutually exclusive. We harbor longing for change, but we do not set aside harmful habits or take up helpful ones. We try to fit complacency and courage into the same space at the same time. We like the idea of something new, but we don’t want to put the energy or time or thought into how it might come about.

The only way to truly change, to embrace a new way of being, is to set aside the thing(s) that cannot continue to happen at the same time. As we enter in the season of holidays, apocalyptic scripture readings, donation requests, and thoughts of a new year, let us remember that God promises to make “all things new” which is NOT the same as “all new things”. How do we lean into the renewal work of the Holy Spirit in this busy time? What are we being called to set aside, so that we might take up something new, grown in a new way, or be led down a new path?  

Friday, October 27, 2017

Human Being

I have been thinking about getting a new tattoo for over a year. For a while, I thought
about the phrase I read in a book by Augusten Burroughs: “Harder is just harder”. I felt comforted at the idea that harder isn’t impossible, it’s just harder. However, the right time and place for that tat never materialized.
That idea faded when I came upon another phrase: fida et audax- faithful and bold. I loved the idea of this motto and it made me feel strong and courageous to imagine it on my wrist or on an ankle. This was my plan until about 3 weeks ago.
A variety of life events came to a culmination and I found that I was exhausted, frustrated, and tense. Overwhelmed by all things that seemed insurmountable, I marinated in the idea that in this intense time, I couldn’t “do” very much. All I could do was be.
I’m not very good at being. I am good at doing. I am good at thinking. I am okay at feeling, but I tend to put that aside for what I think I should do.
I went to visit a friend in New York. She was with me in 2005 when I got my first tattoo. Getting my second with her was a natural choice, but as I thought about what I wanted, I realized that I couldn’t get fida. That was about doing. It was about actions, resistance, and persistence. Those things are very important to me, but if I was getting a permanent reminder... I don’t need one for how to do, I need one for how to be.
Then I knew... I would get sola gratia- grace alone. One of the rallying cries of the reformations of the 16th century, this phrase grounds me not in my own doing, but in God’s doing. In light of God’s doing, my response is to be. Being beloved. Being saved. Being healed. Being welcomed. Being held. By grace alone. Not by my doing, my thinking, or my successes or failures.
By grace. Alone.
So now it is permanently inked into my wrist. It is a reminder that what I am, first and last, is God’s. Thus, whether I am trying the hard thing, the bold thing, the faithful thing... there is always time to still myself. To know I am loved. To be washed again in grace alone.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


I've been having a lot of difficult conversations lately. Racism, sexism, classism, privilege, and anti-LGBTQ sentiments are all part of my usual fare. Then I have the occasional conversation with a person who is put off by religion or by religious people, so then I am in heavy listening mode. Good energy in patient listening takes away some of the energy I would put toward careful writing.

All this listening has changed my prayer life. I find now that my most common prayer is "Soften my heart. Soften my neck." I know that a hard heart and a stiff neck, both metaphorical, will interfere with the patience and kindness that I am trying to embody. I actively seek Christ in myself and in the other person by focusing on even my internal organs being gentled by the Savior.

This has caused me to pay attention to how often church people bifurcate their lives. Our bodies are our daily vehicle- the daily throne of God and inhabitance of Christ, driven by the Spirit. The experience of church, Bible study, the sacraments, and mutual building up for discipleship that happens in the fellowship of other Christians is a kind of fueling up for the rest of our time. It is not the only time we drive the car.

When I talk about living and dying for Christ, remembering that there is only one God, or yielding to pull of the Holy Spirit, I mean doing it in the grocery store, at the mailbox, in the bank drive-thru, and at the dog park. I mean that because I trust that Jesus means that when he explains discipleship to the apostles and all those gathered around him. A faithful life is a whole life. A whole life means every minute of every day. In order to live all our minutes faithfully, we may need to change how we pray, how we talk, and how we listen.

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Romans 12:1
There is not a part of the day when a Christian is not in Christ. There is no place that we can go that is outside of God's view or the Spirit's urging. There is no time that we are "off duty" and can make choices that have nothing to do with the faith we have been given. As much as Western Christians like to think of their faith as private and personal, being a person of Christ recreates your entire self, reorienting your understanding to comprehend that all that you have, all that you are, and all that is belongs to God.

Being a follower of Christ is our reality. It impacts our every decision. If we are not thinking about or considering that fact, it is not that it doesn't have an impact, it is that we are ignoring it. The non-religious people I meet who are grieved by or frustrated with Christians notice this the most. The actions of those who claim to follow Christ surprise them most because their Monday-Saturday actions don't match their Sunday words.

If you see yourself in this, I encourage you to adopt the prayer of "Soften my heart". Perhaps you need to be in my conversation schedule. We are compelled, by Christ's love for us, to witness to his love, call to turn around (repentance), and show his mercy in all we say and do, every day, in every place, with all people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Confession for Healing from Racism

This was written for Stand Against Racism: A Community Prayer Vigil sponsored by the congregations of Anchorage Faith and Action- Congregations Together and three other congregations, including Congregation Beth Sholom. 

The base idea for this litany came from the ELCA's Service for the same purpose. 

In some religious traditions, confession is used a kind of internal housecleaning. Confessing one’s sins- things done and left undone, said and left unsaid- clears the spiritual detritus from one’s heart and mind and better helps a person perceive the truth and guidance of God. Confession to God does not eliminate the need to confess and seek forgiveness from one’s family, friends, or neighbors. Like physical housecleaning, spiritual housekeeping is best done sooner rather than later and with a whole-hearted effort. Confessing together helps us to acknowledge that none of us is any worse or any better than the other, especially before the One who Made All Things.

Gracious God, you are the source of all that is, was, and ever will be. We give you thanks for making one human family of all the peoples of the earth. We praise you for creating a wonderful diversity of cultures.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship
and show us your presence in those who differ most from us.

From the bondage of racism that denies the humanity of people based on their skin color or ancestry,
God, we want to be free!

From the lies of history that imply a hierarchy between cultures, classes, or genders,
God, we want to be free!

From the grip of silence in the face of white supremacy, bigotry, and false equivalencies,
God, we want to be free!

We humbly ask for forgiveness for how we have failed to acknowledge the presence and work of your wisdom.
Be merciful to us, O God!

We humbly ask forgiveness for our silence when we should have spoken, our nervous laughter in times of discomfort, and our doubling down in wrong behavior because we are afraid of change.
Be merciful to us, O God!

We humbly ask forgiveness for the history of racism, religious discrimination, and injustice that many of us have benefited from and that most of us have perpetuated in intentional and unintentional ways.
Be merciful to us, O God!

Guide us in the work of reconciliation, relinquishing of privilege, and lifting up of all people.
God of grace, unite us to your will!

Guide us toward relationships and fellowships that build peace, promote justice, and reward humility.
God of grace, unite us to your will!

Guide us toward the words and actions that will resist racism and hatred and will dismantle their false power.

God of grace, unite us to your will!